Before the internet arrived, bringing with it a whole new way of shopping for both material goods and mating material, people used to place personal ads in the newspaper to look for love. Back in those olden days, when I was single and not very adept at meeting men of dating calibre, I answered one of those ads.
I didn’t start reading the newspaper specifically with that in mind. As a matter of fact, I rather disingenuously chuckled to myself while reading those ads, thinking about the poor schmucks that had to resort to putting ads in the paper to get a date. Of course, my laughter was echoing off the walls of my empty apartment, so my feelings of superiority eventually turned to realization of my current condition. Pathetic realization turned into curiosity. Curiosity turned to extreme interest, when one of the ads was written as if a friend had instructed him how to pique my interest. My recollection of the ad is fuzzy at best, but I faintly recall something about being a music and animal lover. Whatever it said, it was all right up my alley.
I called the number printed in the paper to hear his recorded message, and thought that he sounded charming and a little shy, both attractive qualities. After dancing back and forth between one leg and the other, I decided to answer the message, and I think what you had to do was leave your phone number. What’s the harm, I thought?
Tomorrow Never Knows
When the man called me back, we’ll call him Pete, we had a nice conversation, nothing earth-shaking, but pleasant and seemingly promising. His favorite band was the Beatles, as was mine. We seemed to have several things in common. I was intrigued.
Remembering what has been drilled into every single, I suggested we meet for coffee, or a drink. “Meet in a public place! Make it something short so you can escape! Go somewhere familiar! Tell someone where you are going to be!” “I know, I know!” I told the paranoid yet practical place in my head. “Don’t be a complete killjoy!” Now, older and wiser, I know to always listen to that little voice, and ignore the others that scream about boiling bunnies and such, but in those days, I was young and carefree enough to avoid such undue caution.
That’s why, when he pressed to have dinner rather than just a drink, I relented and agreed. How bad could it be? It’s in a local place I know, the food is good, it’s only dinner. We agreed to meet at the restaurant.
Devil In Her Heart
Now, in order to understand the story, a little background is needed. My small group of college-aged girlfriends had bonded over our mutual love of the Beatles. This was sort of unusual, because the Beatles had ceased to be a group long before we all met, so it wasn’t exactly during the days of Beatlemania, where their fans were a dime a dozen. We were latecomers to the scene, so we naturally gravitated towards each other, and then towards the Mecca of all other latecomers, Beatlefest.
In case you don’t know, a New Jersey family has built an empire on setting up an annual convention for Beatle fans, that is now know as The Fest for Beatles’ Fans, and is held in three cities. My friends and I looked forward to the Beatlefest in Seacaucus, NJ like some people wait for Christmas. An entire weekend filled with musical and visual presentations about our heroes, with a huge collectors market and all day events. Couple that with being able to get as drunk as we wanted in the hotel room away from parents’ prying eyes, and we were in heaven. Mind you, this was pre-internet days, so the music, films, commentary, etc. that you can easily find on the internet now was fairly rare, so that convention was like getting fourteen kinds of cake and eating it, too.
I’ve Just Seen A Face
One of the other, less desirable aspects of going to this convention full of fans, was that there were also a healthy dose of fanatics whose lives seemed to revolve around all things Beatle, but in an unhealthy way. Even though conventions for any niche group is where people expect to let their freak flag fly without too much judgement, there were still those folks that even the most hardcore conventioneer had to look at and think, “Oh man, that guy is really saaaaad.” It was to this small but noticeable population of the convention that my friends and I turned our judgey and sarcastic keen powers of observation, and spent each convention verbally eviscerating the weirdest and saddest of the lot. We called our mean game the “Best ‘Fest Retard Competition”.
I’m a Loser
The winner of at least one year’s Best ‘Fest Retard Crown was this guy who showed up every year wearing a perfect replica of the Beatles’ collarless suit worn on the Ed Sullivan show, complete with Beatle-styled hair and cuban heeled boots. He looked the part perfectly, but his demeanor seemed to tell the tale of a lonely, socially-inept guy who worshipped the Beatles because he had nothing else going on in his life. He was not exactly ugly, but he was not handsome either, and had something about him that made me nervous. Perhaps it was the dark circles around his eyes, and a tendency not to look people in the eye, that reminded me of my own mentally ill mother’s pals from the day treatment center she went to. Something was definitely “off” about him, and I made a point of steering clear.
Of course you know who was waiting for me at the restaurant. Karma is a bitch, and this was definitely my payback for the Best ‘Fest Retard game.
I had a moment when I realized that I could run. I could just walk over to the bar and sit down, and act like I was waiting for someone else, or I could turn around and leave. The only thing was, damn it, in the intervening years between our mean-spirited contest and that night, I had somehow grown up a bit, and felt compassion for the poor guy. Here he was, putting himself out there, which was a far cry more than a true socially inept person would do, and perhaps I had misjudged him after all. We’d had such a nice phone conversation. Maybe he just looked a little odd, but was perfectly nice?
Oh, I guess he was nice – but I didn’t really have a chance to tell. The only part was that between the phone call and this evening he had become mute. I wondered if I had really spoken to him on the phone, or was it some sort of Cyrano act that I was part of. Either way, I broke all of my dentistry tools trying to get this guy to talk. About ANYTHING beyond yes or no answers. I even pulled out the old “What would you do if you won the Lottery?” chestnut. He said he didn’t know. Oh, for the love of all things holy, everyone has fantasized about winning the damn lottery.
I tried to backpeddle into just having a drink, but he insisted on dinner, so this was a pretty torturous meal. Well, it was a torturous half-meal. During the middle of the meal, he excused himself to go to the bathroom. I didn’t find that strange, until after a long while passed, maybe 10 minutes or so, and he hadn’t come back. Even the waitress seemed to be wondering where he’d gone.
By then, I had to pee. What to do? Do I just abandon the table, and have him come back, only to think that I’d left? Or worse, that I’d gone to check on him in the bathroom? Or had he ditched me there? Either way, I’ll come back and the waitress will have cleared my unfinished plate, perhaps even thinking we have left without paying. Whatever the social protocol was, I didn’t have time any more to dwell on the niceties, and the waitress was not around to explain to. My bladder won the argument, and I was off.
On the way to the ladies’ room, I had to pass a pay phone, (remember them?), and there was my date, on the phone, looking very nervous indeed. What the hell? Did he call someone for a pep-talk to get through the date? Was he on the phone with his therapist?
Ticket to Ride
When I got back to the table, he was sitting there, his normally dark circled-eyes even blacker than usual. He didn’t explain why he had been on the phone. Instead, he apologized because he was getting the beginning of a migraine and was sorry to shorten the evening. Okay, I’ve known people to get them, and they are awful, so if that was true, I would understand, and said so. But in some kind of mistaken bid to be a gentleman, he said that I should finish my food and he would wait. Uh, no. I don’t care if it was the only food I had all day, I was not about to sit there and keep eating when sweet freedom presented itself. I didn’t even care if he was lying about the headache, if he thought I was a troll, or if he needed to get back to him room pronto to play some Wings records and suck his thumb until he rocked himself to sleep. I was all over getting that waitress over with the check.
My date suggested we split the check, which was fine by me, but he wanted to tip the waitress. I happened to see what he tipped her, and it was embarrassing! After walking out, saying goodbye to him from the safety of the other side of my car, I waited for him to leave, ran back in, and gave her the “rest” of her tip. She and I had a good laugh while I waited for two friends to come meet me at the bar.
The interesting thing is that he called me again, after a couple of weeks, and left a message that he’d been away in Florida with his parents for two weeks, and hoped to get together again. He may have been a fine person, and he may have just been nervous, but I figured that I’d just chalk this one up to experience. And just use the newspaper for what God intended – lining bird cages.