Sunday, June 19, 2016

From the Archives - How Not To Go on a Date


Once again, I find myself with nothing to write.  (Actually, plenty to write but no time.)  And so, I offer you this glimpse into the embarrassing life of my younger self.  This true story from my archives is from almost 28 years ago.  Perhaps in another 28 years I’ll look back this sheepishly at my current self.

How Not To Go On A Date – November 19, 1988

Right off the bat, I don’t consider myself to be an expert at dating.  In fact, if you know me well, you’re probably thinking that this story will chronicle another personal blunder, social faux-pas, and/or abject humiliation.  But actually, there is one person on the UC Santa Barbara campus more inept than I.  And naturally, she’s the one I ended up asking out.

I sort of met her by proxy a couple of weeks ago in the La Loma parking lot, of all places.  See, my roommate T—, from Ethiopia, often recites little sayings from his knowledgeable uncle, and on this night, after a scrumptious meal, he quoted, “After lunch, rest awhile, after dinner, walk a mile.”  So we went for a walk, and as soon as we reached the parking lot, these girls came stumbling down the stairs from the second level.  One was holding up her friend, who was outrageously, pathetically, disgracefully drunk.  It was a vexing sight, as neither my roommate nor I felt like assisting the girls, but feared a life-threatening accident otherwise and couldn’t just stand idly by.

It appeared that the sober girl of the duo was also helpless, not due to alcohol but to lack of common sense.  She had taken her friends to a party, and locked herself out of her dorm room in the process.  She knew she could get her dorm key from her roommate Cindy, and was supposed to meet her at The Graduate, a local dance club catering mainly to UCSB students, but couldn’t leave her drunk friend behind and found her too unwieldy to bring over there.  So she sent me there instead.  This was certainly a novel mission—as you may know, I don’t dance—so I figured what the hell.

Somehow, I managed to find Cindy in the mobbed dance club.  That’s really saying something, because most of these college girls look more or less alike.  Okay, I guess that’s not fair, but it wasn’t like Cindy was seven feet tall, or bald, or had any particularly distinct characteristics.  She turned out to be very attractive, but that’s not really distinctive around here.  (God bless this place.)

I might have overstated to Cindy how drunk her roommate’s friend was, and how much danger she was in, or maybe Cindy was just a good friend ... whatever the case, after only 15 or 20 more minutes of dancing she agreed to head out with me.  (It could be that my horrific attempts at dancing spoiled her appetite for it.)  In fact, in the interests of time, she agreed to ride on the handlebars of my bike.  Now, this kind of thing goes on all the time around here so it wasn’t like romantic or anything.  Nevertheless, this kind of thing doesn’t go on with my bike and my handlebars very often, so I was actually pretty stoked. Frankly, there are a whole lot of things going on around here I don’t personally get to enjoy.  I guess it doesn’t help that I have no poise at all when it comes to females of the opposite sex, and that I look like I’m about fifteen years old.

And yet, surfing the exhilaration of having ridden this cute girl on my bike, I was feeling bolder than usual, and got her phone number.  At least, I hoped it was really her phone number.

(Did everything come out okay with the drunken friend?  I never learned and honestly didn’t really care.  I mean, here I’d met a good-looking chick, and I got her phone number!  The roommate and drunken friend were no longer relevant.  Their minor role in my life had run its course.)

I ended up needing to call that phone number the very next week.  Not like I was suddenly really desperate for female companionship or anything; after all, I’d flown solo most of my life to that point and was resigned to it.  But I really wanted to see a movie that was playing on campus, “A Fish Called Wanda” (two thumbs up from Siskel & Ebert), and I didn’t have anybody to see it with.  The 7:00 showing wouldn’t end until like 9, which ran up too close to my roommate S—’s bedtime.  Meanwhile, T— had seen the movie already and didn’t like it (but I disregarded his critical review after hearing that he liked “Coming to America,” which looked so bad I wouldn’t even rent it, especially since I don’t have a TV or VCR). 

Now, I’ve never gone to a movie by myself in my life and wasn’t about to start, so I was determined to get somebody to join me.  But the sad fact is, though I’ve lived here for three months, I haven’t made any real friends other than my roommates, and I can’t just ask some random guy to go to the movies with me because he’d get the wrong idea.  But it’s never the wrong idea with a girl—there’s no such thing—so I figured there was no harm in asking one, other than getting turned down of course.

Over the last couple months I’d felt that I’d really hit it off with this fly Norwegian girl at La Loma, and two weeks ago I’d have asked her, but it turns out she has this boyfriend she’d never told me about, and he’s a former Marine.  I learned this when I knocked on her door and he answered.  I was just standing there like an idiot, like, “Hey, I just came to ask your girlfriend out.  You wanna come too?”  He looked pretty pissed.  So I couldn’t call her! 

There’s a girl in my French class, Leigh, but I can’t ask her right now.  She’s kind of odd:  if I pay much attention to her, she suddenly gets kind of cool toward me, and it’s only when I ignore her that she’s suddenly friendly again, and I’m in the wrong part of the cycle at the moment.  A week or so ago I called this girl Monica but she never called me back, so she’s banned for life.  So I was left with no other option than to find out once and for all if Cindy, the girl from the nightclub, had given me her actual phone number.  One promising sign was that the number she gave wasn’t 867-5309.  (As you can see, I have a rather lousy track record with girls.  But I never false-start!) 

I considered calling Cindy on the same day as the movie, to make it seem really casual, and to soften the blow of the inevitable rejection by giving her an easy excuse to beg off.  But in my (albeit limited) experience these dorm freshmen don’t do anything spontaneously unless it’s being herded along in packs by whatever dorm pal has the most charisma or social status.  (These dorm types mainly travel in packs.)  But I figured if I called ahead and made an actual appointment I might just have a shot.  So I called on a Thursday to propose the Monday show.  (God, you’d think I was planning a transcontinental voyage given how much forethought I’d put into this stupid movie.)

Eureka!  The phone number was legit, and Cindy answered, and even seemed to remember who I was, and believe it or not she seemed really excited about seeing the movie with me.

Well, on Monday, she called me up, and asked if it was okay if a couple of her friends came along.  Oh, boy, that’s just swell.  As if it’s not hard enough for a social retard like me to deal with a girl one-on-one.  At least if we’re both strangers, she’s as nervous as I am, so we can relate on that level.  But once she brings her friends along, they’re a society and I’m the outsider scratching on the door, hoping to be let in, while she and her friends are probably getting a little kick out of watching me squirm.  Like roasting me alive on a rotisserie while making snide comments to each other about how bad my flesh stinks when it burns.

First-date rule #1:  do not do anything to cause social trauma

Cindy’s question really put me on the spot.  I couldn’t really say no, but was suddenly feeling too grumpy to feign enthusiasm.  “Well, uh . . .” I said, waiting for her to fill in the blanks with, “Oh, it was just a suggestion.  If you’d rather not, I’ll just forget them for tonight, for once in my life.”  Instead, there was just dead air over the phone.  Finally I said, “That’s really not what I had in mind.”  Believe me, I’m wincing as much at recalling that as you are at reading it.  In fact, I immediately wished I could rescind that comment.  It sounded so stiff, and lame, and actually just a tiny bit creepy.

So I backpedaled a bit.  And once the initial shock of her request had worn off, I decided it kind of made sense, since we were going to the 9:00 show, it would be dark, she hardly knew me, and the “date rape” scare is in full force on the UCSB campus.  I also considered that if she brought along two girlfriends, that tripled my chances of hitting it off with at least one of them.  Besides, with her two friends along, I wouldn’t even have to think about paying for Cindy; even at $3 a ticket, economics are an important consideration.

We agreed to meet at the theater.  When I got there, there were two incredibly long lines stretching from Campbell Hall almost all the way to Cheadle.  The problem was, I couldn’t really remember what Cindy looked like, and I figured it would be awkward walking the length of the lines seeing if any face looked familiar.  It would be a bit like going door-to-door asking, “Are you Cindy?  Are you Cindy?”  So I got in line, hoping I’d look familiar to her.  Otherwise, the whole damn scenario would collapse under its own weight. 

Eventually a familiar-looking girl showed up and seemed to recognize me, so I decided she was Cindy.  She was with a friend whom she introduced as Annie.  (I think a prerequisite to living in the girls’ dorms is having a name with an “ee” sound tacked on, so that when you’re close friends, you can leave it off, as in “Hey Barb.”) 

Annie was a real doll, let me tell you. 

First-date rule #2:  do not show up with a better-looking friend

I was trying to decide if I should shift my attention to Annie (who, after all, I knew every bit as well as Cindy) and whether this would mean I was a bad person, when I noticed that Cindy was holding about forty bucks cash.  “Let’s see, I’m paying for Cathy, Marcie, Tracy, Annie, Chip, and Aaron,” she said.  Ooh, Chip and Aaron — instant problem here.

First-date rule #3:  do not bring opposite-sex friends with you on your date

I really didn’t feel like locking horns or fluffing my plumage to compete with these guys.  So I decided to do something really sly, which I’d first experimented with last week in French class.  As I mentioned before, I’d been accidentally giving Leigh too much attention, so in response she was getting all flirty with David, this surfer dude who always wears a visor to pile his hair on.  He also wears Lycra tights sometimes.  To class. (Yes, I confess I’m feeling just a tiny bit competitive here.)  If Leigh had been completely ignoring me, I’d assume she’d forgotten about me or was just really into Dave.  But she’d give me a quick glance every now and then, maybe to see if I looked jealous (or was I just flattering myself?).  So I walked up to the two of them, calculating that she’d think I was going to try to cut in on their conversation and chat her up, which was half true, but instead I whisked Dave away to ask him about the crew team.  (He’s been trying to recruit me so I knew this would work.)  He suddenly seemed to forget all about her, and I pretended to as well, and who knows, maybe I’ll actually go out for crew.

So, with this episode fresh in my mind (to be honest, in my measly little world I counted it as a major triumph), I decided to try the friendly guy thing again.  I looked Chip in the eye, shook his hand vigorously, and said, “Well, Chip, damn glad to meet you.”  Either he’s a nice guy or was working the same strategy because he didn’t laugh in my face.  Hopefully, this planted a seed of fear in the girls that we would abandon them for some more meaningful male bonding later in the evening.  If not, at least I didn’t let her see me sweat.

The movie had drawn a huge crowd, so we were waiting in line for about twenty minutes. While we waited, Cindy talked with her friend about her photography class, glancing towards me only every so often and making no effort to include me in the conversation. 

First-date rule #4:  do not make your date feel like an idiot

Cindy explained to Annie that she hated her photography teacher, who wanted her students to take pictures of “nature”, and exhorted them to create “art” through photography.  “I hate nature!  I hate art!” she said.  What would you rather take pictures of, Cindy?  Your BMW?  Give me a break! 

Suddenly one of the “scouts” returned with his report.  “They aren’t sold out, but it’s pretty full — we might not all get to sit together!” he cried.  I wanted desperately to clap my hand to my forehead and shout, “Oh no!  That’s terrible!” but I thought better of it and kept my mouth shut.  The truth was, I didn’t care if I ever saw any of these people again; forget about watching a movie with them.  “Maybe we should come back for the 11:00 show,” said Cindy.  “Uh, I’ve got a French test tomorrow, so I don’t want to do that,” I said.  At this point, she should’ve said, “Well, why don’t we just see it together then, and not worry about my friends.”  But of course, she didn’t. 

First-date rule #5:  assume you’ll only get this one chance to behave yourself

Nothing was resolved until we got to the ticket counter.  I asked the guy if they still had tickets to the 9:00, and he said yeah.  Since I had spent all this time in line, I was going to see this movie come hell or high water.  I bought a ticket, and then waited for Cindy to buy hers.  She just stood there, paralyzed with indecision.  She kept looking at me, and then her friends (who were babbling amongst themselves, seemingly unaware of her existence).

First-date rule #6:  don’t compare humans as you would grocery shelf commodities

Finally she said, “I think I’d better wait and go with my friends.”

First-date rule #7:  never, ever abandon your date

It’s bad enough to getting stood up for a date; getting stood up during a date is a fate undeserving of even the most boring or offensive companion.  I said, “Well, maybe we can try this again sometime, like when a lousy movie is showing and they can seat your entire dorm.”  I wanted to add, “or maybe when you grow up a little,” but I didn’t have quite enough nerve. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie by myself before.  Actually, it was kind of nice because I didn’t have to pay attention to anything but the film.  Nobody was saying, “Oh, I love this part.  Check the expression on this guy’s face when....”  I also didn’t have to worry about a companion being offended or bored by a movie that I picked out.  Perhaps the best part was that nobody attempted to sum up the whole theme of the movie as we left the theatre.  Nothing ruins the cinematic experience like some schmuck philosophizing about the inner meaning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “The Terminator.”  Before the movie even started, I was already enjoying myself, listening into various conservations so as to gain insight into the UCSB student’s mindset:  “Gosh, your hair looks redder than usual,”/”Yeah, I know, I had it reddened.  You should see it in the sun,” or “And then, like, Barbie’s boyfriend starts hitting on Christy, and I’m like, no way!”

Still, I was still a bit disappointed with my evening.  I don’t get to go out on dates very often, and I’d looked forward to this one.  (You’d think I’d learn never to get my hopes up, but I guess I have a stubborn, misguided hopeful streak.)  I can’t imagine when I’ll get another chance to go on a date.  Where do you ask a girl out if you don’t have a car?  Walking limits you to Isla Vista, which is a great place to pass out drunk in the street, but not conducive to a romantic evening out.

I guess there’s always coffee.  People are always recommending that for a first date:  simple, cheap, low-stress ... heck, maybe a girl could find a coffee shop such a safe environment she wouldn’t even need reinforcements.  The problem is, I don’t like coffee. 

Even so, in an effort to salvage my self-esteem after the terrible aborted date with Cindy, I put my tastes behind me and the next day I asked Leigh out for coffee.  It went okay, I guess, but it was so low-key it almost felt like it didn’t happen.  I mean, we might as well have still been in French class or something, especially since neither of us actually bought a beverage of any kind.  Even so, afterwards Leigh said, “Thanks for coffee.”  I guess going for coffee refers to the coffee shop, not the beverage.  Maybe I’ll figure all this out by the time I graduate.

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