BY BEATRICE TRAFFORTE
It all happened because my roommate was drinking.
She gets bold when she’s been drinking, and on Wednesday night, she’d been drinking a lot. So when the tall handsome man walked in and sat down at the bar, he had already piqued her interest. And then he pulled out a book and started reading. At the bar. Then she couldn’t resist.
“I walked up to him and asked if he was waiting for someone,” she recounted to me later that night. “And he said no. So I sat down and I said, ‘You need to go on a date with my roommate’.”
This was not how I had expected this story to go.
“Bea. He’s perfect for you. He’s tall. He’s handsome. He reads at the bar. He was wearing a belt, goddamit. A BELT. Do you know how put together that is? That’s like… an adult.”
I’ve got seven years on my roommate. She’s very mature for her age, but I still sometimes feel like her big sister. And here she was setting me up on a date. With a man. A man who wears belts. Belts that match his shoes, no less. There was more, I learned. “It was a philosophy book, Bea. He was reading about the philosophy of that family you like. You know, the president. The Camelot. The…” – she found the word – “The Kennedys! Perfect. He was made for you. I told him about you and showed him your Facebook photo. I gave him my card. He’s gonna email me if he wants to meet you.”
This was Wednesday night.
I ran through the possibilities. It could be the beginning of an amazing relationship. He sounded promising. As for the convoluted nature of the match, if anybody could make this work, I could. And hey, there’s no way this would end up being as bad as some of the other horrendous blind dates that I’ve been on. And there have been many.
Fast forward to Thursday night. We were meeting at a high-class but low-key pub that was a couple of blocks from his hotel and a few blocks from my apartment. As I walked up the sidewalk, I spotted him coming out of the Palomar. Tall? Yes. Handsome? Very all-American Prom King. Put together? Decidedly: suave sleeve roll, a confident gait, an amazing pair of jeans. I looked for the belt – check – and the shoes – check. Wow. Nice shoes. Things were looking up.
“Joe?” I said. He was surprised I had recognized him on the street, but really, how many tall handsome men are walking from the Palomar to the pub on the corner at exactly 9:28pm? We found a spot at the bar and I ordered a Hefeweizen to show that I could drink a beer and wasn’t one of those wine spritzer girls (whom I disdain). And then he ordered an Old Fashioned. I blinked twice, impressed, and thought, “I should have ordered my whiskey.”
That was the peak of the night.
It all went downhill from there, starting with an awkward, precipitous drop.
“So you were reading at the bar?” My opening gambit.
“Yes” he said, smiling. “It’s actually a great book. It’s all about how Aristotle Onassis orchestrated Kennedy’s assassination.”
I was stunned into silence for a hot second. Not that it was a huge loss that he wasn’t actually reading a philosophy book at a bar – that’s a bit much, even for me – but giving credence to the most ridiculous conspiracy theory I’d ever heard? Even Mel Gibson channeling Jerry Fletcher would have scoffed at this idea. But tall handsome belted man was totally convinced. So I told him he was crazy.
“No, it’s true. Turns out, Jackie Kennedy was screwing this Onassis dude while she was still in the White House.”
I really should have stood up and walked out. Never mind the ridiculous conspiracy theory. Never mind that, even despite the weak tenets of the Camelot myth, there’s no way on God’s green earth that Jacqueline Kennedy was cheating on Jack while she was First Lady. But he had used the words “screwing” and “Jackie Kennedy” in the same sentence. Nobody talks about Jackie that way. Nobody.
But no, I stuck around. I’m a glutton for punishment. And I figured the magical powers of the whiskey gods would somehow transform crass and dim to charming and bright. After all, whiskey is pretty powerful stuff.
But it’s not that powerful.
Because then I was regaled with a charming story about how it took him seven years to get out of a state school with what he admitted was “the easiest major I could get for the least amount of credits.” Alright, I’m a snob. I value my college degrees, perhaps a little over much. This isn’t to say I don’t respect and admire quality human beings who passed on the B.A. and skipped straight to meaningful contributions to the world. But if you’re going to college, try at college. Try at something while you’re there. And if you’re on a first encounter, do not ever tell a woman who (clearly) reveres the hierarchy of higher ed., stories about how you lived in your parents’ discarded station wagon for your first three years on campus and couldn’t make it to class because you were too busy experimenting with drugs.
Me: “Your parents were paying your tuition and you were skipping class to do ecstasy? Seriously?”
Him: “My parents could afford it.”
Now, maybe he was just unlucky. Maybe he was trying to sound like a nonchalant bad boy who was well enough off in the world to not worry about little things like paying for a college degree. Maybe he never even considered that the girl knocking back the (now) whiskey sitting next to him had recently sent off her last loan payment with a kiss because she recognized the value in something she wanted, worked at it, earned high honors at it, and then continued to work for it for 8 more years. So he spews out some words and suddenly I’m mentally comparing two scenes: Me, discussing Kierkegaard’s perception of divinity with my favorite professor before scurrying off to sit in the library basement and file law school manuals as an assiduous work study student (admittedly, a glorified scene). And him, high in the back of a Buick somewhere in rural Pennsylvania, an unopened brand new copy of Calculus for Business Majors discarded on the floor as he pisses away his parents’ money and ignores their phone calls (admittedly, probably not his actual college experience). That’s what flashed through my brain.
Looking back, I’m embarrassed that I continued to sit there. Maybe it was boredom. Maybe it was laziness. Maybe part of me was entertaining the idea of actually going out a second time with this giant useless person, only so that internally, resolutely, emphatically, I could reassure myself: “Yes. Yes, I would rather be eternally single than subject myself to a repeat encounter like this one.” I’m pretty sure at one point I played a high-stakes game of mental either/or. “If you had to choose, either marry this belted moron or join the convent,” to which the very core of my being rang out with some out of context Shakespeare: “Get thee to a nunnery!”
In the countless debriefs I’ve had since then (the story gets better every time), I’ve decided a number of things. 1) Always give it a shot. You never know when your beer-emboldened roommate might set you up with a winner. 2) The story is always worth it. Whether he’s great or horrible, the experience will bear recounting. And 3) Though I try to be accepting (really, I do), I reserve the right to be pretentious and close-minded about a select few things. Things like respecting the value of the dollar, pursuing knowledge when you’re afforded the opportunity, not glorifying drug habits, and of course: Jackie’s uncompromising fidelity.
And that’s a true story.