It's a funny thing. An unpredictable dance of nature. People searching for people. Like tiny little molecules floating in the air, they bump into each other. Sometimes they stick, form new elements. Sometimes they simply bounce off.
“E-mail me,” he said.
I gave him a nod, then watched him disappear into a cab and up Eighth Avenue, his business card still in my hand.
I looked at it, “Billy Morgan, Consultant.”
Clean card, clean name, clean smile. Soapy clean guy.
We'd just met at a dinner party at the urging of a friend.
“He’s perfect for you.”
“No thanks.” I tell him. I know he means well, but “I really don't like blind dates.”
“But why? He’s cute, he’s smart, he’s got a job. Besides, what have you got to lose?”
“Listen, it’s a large dinner party. I'll seat him next to you, if you don't like him, you can just talk.”
I realize there’s no way of getting out of this. Single people, like beggars, can only be so picky before deemed ungrateful. I agree reluctantly.
“Good, it’s settled then. This is so exciting!”
Second, third and forth thoughts, all before I even hung up the phone.
I'd completely forgotten about the whole thing when I showed up at James’ Fifth Avenue apartment for one of his elaborate dinners. I'm not big on these things. Hate dressing up. But James promised it was going to be "casual." By the time I arrived, his living room was filled with an eclectic group of people. An author, a broadcaster, a photographer (whose life-size creations were hanging on the walls), the photographer’s young muscled boyfriend (whose nude portrait I believe was hanging in the bedroom), a restaurateur and a gay rights activist. Nothing casual about them. All decked out in designer clothes they looked as though a Vanity Fair spread had just exploded all over them.
I tucked in my shirt, grabbed a glass of red wine, tried to blend in, a swine in shul.
The table, set in the middle of the living room was sparkling with a sea of crystal and silver. On each plate, a little card with a guest’s name on it. I found mine somewhere in the middle between the photographer and a guy named Billy. I looked around, who the hell is Billy?
“Hey Ethan, I'd like you to meet someone.”
Then I remembered. Mr. set-up guy.
“Hey, nice to meet you.” I said as I held out my hand.
It took me a second to compose, erase that dumbfounded look from my face. Aphrodite, it seemed, was feeling generous. Can it be? Billy, adorable.
It was his eyes that caught my attention. Baby blue, almost neon-like. He had short strawberry blond hair and pale skin, the Irish kind. Quiet, soft-spoken, he was handsome, in a Republican kind of way. But it was his mouth that had me at a lock. His full lips, when stretched into a smile, revealed a youthful set of dimples that accentuated his face like an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence.
As the evening progressed I learned that Billy had just come back from a two-year stint in Zimbabwe, working for the State Department. He recently moved to New York where he accepted a high-paying job with a consulting firm on Madison Avenue. As he was telling me about his life, I kept thinking how much I liked him, how unassuming he seemed, and how much he looked like a Billy. The name fit him like a comfortable pair of old sneakers.
Like tiny little molecules floating in the air, they bump into each other.
There was something different about him. He was reserved, attentive, a good Protestant boy. So different from my world. No emotions, no hot temper, nothing on his sleeves but buttons and cufflinks. It's that illusion of impenetrability that attracted me to him. That and the fact even his loose button-down shirt wasn't enough to hide what seemed like a stunning body. The fabric kept clinging to his arms every time he moved, suggesting that underneath all that Banana Republic was a secret, a beautiful man.
"If he reads," I thought, "I'm going to have to marry him."
You know you like someone when you find yourself dusting off old material. Jokes, stories, anecdotes were all taken off the shelf, delivered with panache. Heard by everyone at the table, meant for an audience of one.
Then it was time to go.
"It was nice meeting you," I tell him.
"Same here man. I'm actually leaving myself."
We walk out together, take the elevator down. Then he pulls out his wallet, hands me a card.
We're out on the street, he's hailing a taxi.
"E-mail me," he says.
I nod, then watch him disappear into a cab and up Eighth Avenue, the card still in my hand.
Molecules, elements, floating.
I wait the required 72 hours before sending a message. Not because I like to play games but because I've come to realize that the rules you so painfully learn in high-school are all true. We want what we can't have. The secret to keeping a fire alive as it turns out, is not throwing more wood at it or even gasoline. On the contrary, it's blowing cool air.
"Was nice to meet you the other night," I write, then sign off with a "Hope you're having a good week," a carefully designed mixture of aloofness and a hint of interest.
The response came a couple of days later. "Would love to hang out sometime. Is everyone as cute as you in this city?"
Perfect. I write back. "Let me know when you're free." Then add "And no. They're much cuter," for humility's sake.
Then silence. A week goes by. Then two. Then this:
"Great. How about this week? I'm free every night but Tuesday."
Huh? I want to tell him, "hey buddy ever heard of broadband?" but I don’t. Instead I say, "How about Thursday?"
Again, a few days go by.
"Cool. Where should we meet? Any preference? I'm pretty flexible."
Again, I say nothing about the delayed response.
"Let's talk tomorrow and figure out the when and where," I write back.
By Thursday afternoon I'd heard nothing.
"Are we still on for tonight?" I finally ask, more of a rhetorical question than anything.
"I'm sorry," comes the answer. "I'm probably going to be on your shit list for this but I think I have to work late today. Can we do Sunday brunch instead?"
A voice inside my head is yelling at me for even considering this. But again, I let it go. Who knows? Maybe he really is working late, maybe he just forgot to mention it all day. Maybe.
"Not a problem," I lie. "Sunday's fine. How about Foodbar?"
This time I do hear from him. On Sunday, at 11:30 am.
"I'm so sorry. I just got your e-mail, I guess it's too late for brunch huh? Let's do lunch next week. Any day. When are you free?"
I hit delete. I realize that in the process of a few days, I've been demoted from dinner, to brunch to lunch. His e-mails are saying let's meet, but the space between the lines reads something entirely different.
I shut down my laptop and call a friend, "Hey how about brunch today?"
The world is filled with people searching for people. Like tiny little molecules floating in the air, they bump into each other, sometimes sticking, forming new elements, sometimes bouncing off.