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Dates From Hell: #2 (Rebecca, 1995) a.k.a. The Gnome
by C.J. Michaels
2007-01-10 21:52:08
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The thing about blind dates is that you’re expected to be nervous and shy and maybe socially inept. If you weren’t at least some of that, you’d be out trawling the bars, hunting for whatever you could find who’s either drunk or uncaring enough to take home.

Doing the personals is easier - there are rules.  Always be early, neat but casual, non-pretentious location.  Hardly rocket science.

I’m meeting Rebecca at seven-thirty in a small New York club in the heart of Greenwich Village. It’s a bitterly cold January Saturday and, after a day skiing upstate on Hunter Mountain, I’d rather be across the river in a cozy Hoboken pub like Fabian’s. Rebecca lives here though and, being a typical New Yorker, could not leave Manhattan without being chained and kidnapped.

Her directions are vague and it takes a few passes to find the club, a subterranean hideaway called The Basement, half way between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, on West 4th street. It’s not even seven thirty when I arrive, but already there’s a bouncer on the door. He puts me in mind of a gorilla dressed in a suit, as he looks me up and down as if I’m from Mars and grunts that there’s a two-drink minimum. Per person, he adds, which seems redundant, as I’m alone.

The bartender’s focused on a personal phone call and ignores me until I pull out one of the chrome-legged stools and scrape the legs on the floor. It’s a fifteen-dollar minimum, he says, giving the same you’re-from-Mars assessment. I don’t care that there’s a minimum and I don’t care that his version of the rule is different. Mentioning the disparity would be pointless, so I order a Budweiser and hand over my Bank of New York visa card to start a tab.

According to my notes, Rebecca’s a thirty-one year old associate for a major Wall Street financial corporation. I remember her saying it on the phone with the air of secrecy that’s a New York trademark. In other words, she holds a vague position for an unnamed corporation engaged in an unspecified financial business.  But major and on Wall Street

She’s five feet one, has dark curly hair and will be wearing black. I can’t claim any skill at recognition and, since she’ll be dressed the same way as every other female in the city, I need all the help I can get. The Village Voice makes a good nameplate when it’s folded to make it stand up, so I do that. It might look tacky, but she can’t miss it. Not that she’d miss me, anyway.

I wear exactly the same on every date; blue jeans, black denim shirt and black Reeboks with the little British flag on the back to show where I’m from. I learnt, when I did this years ago, not to screw with what works. But not tonight. In a place where everyone will wear black, the nocturnal uniform of Manhattan, a European turquoise and yellow ski suit should stand out significantly.

Maybe she’ll assume I’m an avid skier who didn’t have time to get home to shower and change after a day on the slopes. Part of that would be true – but not the avid part.  The black and yellow ski boots on the floor show I’m not just a pretender, though.

The door opens at exactly seven-thirty, according to the giant neon clock at the end of the bar. I’m impressed. She’s wearing a full-length black coat and pointed woolly hat and, with the light behind her, looks like a silhouetted gnome.

We make eye contact as she walks in and hers switch several times from me to the stood up newspaper, as if she’s hoping I’m not who I am. There are only six other people here, all at tables and all in couples, so it’s obvious.

She walks over and I expect some comment about the ski suit but, surprisingly, get none. I can’t pretend that it’s even stylish, being typical of 1980’s design and sporting an over-abundance of flapping, extraneous material, designed with no apparent purpose except to make the wearer look like a bat. A turquoise and yellow bat, with a giant white collar.

As she sits down, I offer a token excuse about the ski bus being delayed, but she doesn’t care. She’s impatient for a drink and begins drumming her fingers on the counter and staring at the barman as if trying to summon him by strength of will.

She wants iced water, but it comes in a glass that’s too big and not ladylike, so she sends it back. The replacement has lime instead of lemon and that’s a problem too.

Conversation is a non-starter. She gives one-word answers to everything, “No” being the most frequent.  Personal ad dating is the only subject about which she makes a whole sentence, but her opinion of that is definite and negative and I wonder why she bothered to come out. After the adrenalin rush of a day skimming powder followed by drinks around the log fire for après-ski, this is disappointing.

Fifteen minutes of what could be described as passive aggression pass and then music starts. It’s not intrusive, but Rebecca decides that we must leave. It’s too loud, she says. She can’t think with the distracting noise and the place is too smoky. I want to point out that only one person is smoking and he’s as far away as possible, but her insistence is such that it seems she might explode into a thousand fragments if we stay.

Since I’m the only one who’s had anything to drink, there’s no need to feel annoyance by the expectation that I would pay, but I feel irritated that she simply walks away from the bar and through the door without looking back. It’s as though I have no option other than to deal with the check and follow.

The barman brings it on a black plastic platter, together with my credit card. He’s already run it through and all I have to do is sign – but how can the total be thirty dollars?

He shrugs, as he explains, in the tone of an impatient teacher instructing a slow child. The minimum is fifteen per person and we were two persons. “Let’s see,” he says, fingering his chin, as if he considers me a dolt, “Thirty bucks.”

I point out that I’ve only had one drink and my date’s had nothing.

“Minimum policy.”

He points at the water glass, then spreads his hands wide in a think-I-care manner.

I start to redden and tell him that I’ll cover two beers, since I agreed to that up front, but iced water does not count as a drink and that I won’t be signing the credit card slip if he doesn’t change it. That’s when the gorilla from the door reappears and it seems that what little humour he had earlier has now dissipated.

He and the barman both explain loudly, at the same time and at different rates, their varying opinions of the minimum. It is like listening to two rap records at once. One says it’s fifteen dollars per person, the other states two drinks each and both stab their fingers repeatedly towards my turquoise and yellow chest. My credit card will be charged, regardless of whether I sign, they say but, should I continue in this hostile manner, the police will be called.

Alone, I might have forced the issue and waited for the cops. For a few moments, I manage to forget that my date herself is somewhat hostile and decide that a scene at the bar, ending with me leaving in handcuffs, will be detrimental. Telling them, as haughtily as I can, that they can expect to hear from my lawyers in the morning about their fascist policy, I snatch back my credit card and walk out.

Fury and indignation boil through me. I hardly feel the cold as we turn onto Seventh Avenue. It takes a while before I realize that Rebecca is talking and, for once, not complaining. She needs fish ‘n’ chips. Needs, not wants, as though her life will terminate abruptly should she be denied. They have it in the Jekyll and Hyde, she says. This I already know.

We could have met there. They have an English tourist menu and I wouldn’t have been intimidated by a suited gorilla and a phone-addict. It requires an effort of will to not point this out. My manners are shredding like a well-used rope, but they still have a few strands left.
The Jekyll and Hyde is a theme bar and their subject is a mix of comedy and horror. Stools rise and noisily fall, green-eyed Frankenstein and Dracula heads come to eerie mist-exuding life at regular intervals and all around hangs the décor of a medieval torture chamber. The odds on getting a table immediately at eight-thirty on a Saturday night are slim.

The hostess is a pretty young redhead and tells us there’s forty-minute wait. I’d be more than happy to stand at the bar with a beer and really don’t care that people smoke, regardless of my current date might think. Rebecca, however, sees an unoccupied table covered with the remnants of a past meal and immediately sits down. The hostess repeats that we have to wait, but she is not to be budged.

“This table was empty,” she says, “I’ve been watching it for fifteen minutes.” It’s escaped her that the hostess knows we’ve only just arrived and I have to marvel at the barefaced lie.

I’m expecting a confrontation. The hostess looks to me for support but there’s nothing I can do, so she capitulates with an expression of sympathy.

Rebecca wants a gin and tonic. I expect the waitress to be some time, since we’ve hijacked the table, so I go to get drinks from the bar.

There’s lemon in the gin, I discover when I get back to the table. I hadn’t noticed. Rolling her eyes to the ceiling, Rebecca states that lemon is for soda and lime is for alcohol.

I’m considering the legalities of cutting off her head with the table knife or possibly beating her to death with the chair when a waitress arrives and casts a disapproving eye on the drinks. There’s no time for a polite excuse before my bad-tempered date tells her that service was too slow, so I quickly order two fish ‘n’ chip platters as an act of appeasement.

The staff have attitude, I learn, once she leaves. The pub is too crowded, too noisy and too smoky. The bartenders don’t know how to make cocktails and their drinks are watered. When I say, not unreasonably, that hers wouldn’t be diluted if she took the time to drink it and stop moaning, I realize, too late, that I have transgressed.

From the tirade that follows, I hear of my own many faults. My hair is messy and quite definitely out of style. I misled her with the contents of my personal ad in the Village Voice and have lied about my blue eyes, although it is a mystery how she could see their color in the dim light. Indigo is a shade of blue, I point out, and lying is too strong a word for a difference of opinion about a color, but I am accused of always having to be right.

After a twenty-second pause, at a point when my temper is rising and my narrowing eyes have wandered, she accuses me of paying attention to the girls at the bar. I have no manners, I am rude and I do not know how to treat a date. She does not know what the other women I have dated thought about me, but she is not impressed. It is, apparently, no wonder that I am single.

The last strand of good manners snaps. It is time to go to the men’s room. I stand up without excusing myself, throw down my napkin with what I hope looks like disgust and walk away from the gnome-like source of vitriolic argument.

Inside the sanctum of the toilet, all is peaceful. People passing through exchange good-natured comments about skiing and we briefly laugh about the fact that I am dressed the way I am on a Saturday night in Manhattan. It is pleasant. I wish I were with them.

I make new friendships each time the door opens and, despite the smell of disinfectant and stale urine, I stay longer than necessary. The break gives me time to consider my options, but they are few. The more pleasurable visions that flit through my mind involve something untoward happening to the gnome at the table; abduction by aliens, perhaps, or possibly a direct hit from an uncannily accurate meteorite.

Neither of these is likely to happen without divine intervention, and I’ve never found praying to be successful, so I come to a decision. It’s time to put her in her place and assert myself as a human being. I’ll fight back, insult her, and tell her what she really is. I’ll use words like rudeness, spoilt, bitch and JAP, then tell her we’ll be splitting the check.

The crowd opens as I re-enter the bar and I get a covert view to our table. Food’s arrived, sooner than expected and Rebecca’s intent upon eating.

 What will she find to complain about? Maybe it’s too hot or not hot enough, or too greasy or the fish is too small or there aren’t enough chips – which she’ll call fries. Not that I generally care about the language difference, but tonight and with this person, I do. I can now understand why people kill their partners for leaving the cap off the toothpaste, or squeezing it in the middle.

Despite the plan of active assertion, which seemed so definite in the men’s room, the prospect of another hour of verbal conflict is not appealing.

The crowd parts again in the other direction. Just a few yards away is the front door. It opens as a couple come in and can see snowflakes twinkling in the yellow streetlight. It looks so peaceful and I realize that there’s another option. Fight or flight? Do I stay or do I go? I can’t stop my legs from guiding me, beyond conscious control, through the people at the bar, down the hallway, out of the door and into the freshness of the night.

It’s an hour later, on the PATH train back to Hoboken after a beer and two slices of pizza, that I realize I have a problem. Which of the two pubs, that I would rather die than be seen in again, do I revisit first tomorrow, to look for my ski boots?

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