"My mother would die if she knew what I was doing right now," Wendy laughed, sifting through her own pile of letters. Four of us had placed personal ads, hoping to meet some friendly guys. So far we'd each gotten one copy of the same letter (mass mailed?), one note from a pathological liar (a billionaire and an athlete?), and one from a heavy-breathing Bob Guccione type; but we each got more mail than we'd received all year.
I suggested we spy on each other's dates: "That way if it gets ugly, we can bail each other out." Actually I was just nosy and anyway, we were all looking for a few evenings' entertainment.
Lisa met her choice at the Blue Frog. We watched the two of them chug beers and play Ants in the Pants for about 20 minutes. We'd rehearsed the distress signal: start coughing with the right hand cupped over the mouth. So far so good. We'd all agreed it was safe to leave when suddenly, without warning, we heard the cough.
"We must save her!" laughed Jackie.
We moved in on the ailing couple. The guy looked scared. I hated having to wreck his night.
"Lisa!" we yelled, trying to act surprised. Ten minutes later he was out the door, claiming he had to work the next day (a Sunday).
"Why didn't you like him?" we asked.
"I don't know. He started imitating presidents."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Bush or Carter would have been funny, but he was imitating Wilson."
"Yeah. It was lame."
Jackie, being the most paranoid of the group, refused to call any of her respondents and instead wrote a note to one guy inviting him to a party. There were so many people at this bash it was impossible to distinguish between drunks, accountants, drunk accountants, and potential dates. Jackie finally gave up hope and focused her attention on an ex-boyfriend who crashed the party and looked much better than any of us remembered. We never found out if her blind date made it or not.
Wendy met her date in a Lincoln Park bar. (We instantly dubbed him Suspicious Tan Man since it was winter and he was a little too crispy for his own good.) The problem wasn't his personality, but Wendy's. She refused to cough for two straight hours, and when she finally did cough, she demanded that we all go to Shelter, where we all ended up dancing around Mr. Tan in a big circle. By midnight he was barking and twirling his tie over his head like a lasso. We finally ditched them and when we called Wendy the next morning, she informed us that "what's his name" was there too. (She swore, "Nothing happened! He passed out!") Later, after they'd been out a few times, we learned he was a personals junkie who answered up to five ads per month and called 900 numbers. (Wendy accidentally saw his phone bill.)
I'd never had a blind date before so I was pretty nervous the night of my event. OK, he sounded normal in his letter, but what's normal? Am I normal? No, I know what normal is. Normal is my friend Kristin, the dude magnet. She walks down the street and they follow. But me, I don't know. I get stuck with men who are in rehab, believe in world conspiracies, have beat someone up in a bar recently, or all of the above. I told myself this man, this personal-ad man of the 90s urban jungle, was gonna be different. When we spoke on the phone to arrange our date, he had a slight accent, though it might have been a Grace Kelly kind of thing. He was 35, so I thought, great, he'll be wise. Maybe he'll even have a job.
We agreed on Coffee Chicago on a Monday night, which meant if we hated each other we could call it quits early. An hour before the meeting, I decided to wear my wig.
"No way! I wanted to wear it!" Lisa screamed when she saw me in my getup.
"Why on earth would you wanna wear it?"
"Because I've always wanted to wear your wig on a date."
"But this is my date."
"So. I'll live vicariously through you."
"Then what am I gonna do?"
"You should go as yourself, OK? What if you like the guy? You don't want to end up telling him you were wearing a wig, do you?"
I thought about this for a minute. "Fine, you can wear it," I answered.
Once Jackie heard Lisa was wearing a wig, she had to wear a wig too. (We'd bought them in a shop on Washington, hoping they would come into style, sort of like go-go boots and miniskirts. The fad never did catch on.)
Lisa left early so she and Jackie could spy on my date while I primped. I was running about ten minutes late when the phone rang.
"He's here," Lisa whispered.
"He matches his photo and he's here, but..."
"Is he cute? What's he doing?"
"I don't know how to tell you this, but he walked up to this other woman and asked if she was you, and when she said no, he explained his situation and they started talking, and well, now he's sitting at her table and he just bought her a cup of coffee. But she has a friend with her who was in the bathroom when they first met, so now he's with two women. They're very attractive, actually. One's from Denmark."
"What should I do?"
"Hurry up. He obviously knows that neither one of them is you."
"Oh my God, this is horrible!"
"So what. You gotta get your booty over here!"
I walked into the joint and immediately saw Jackie in sunglasses and her wig. Lisa was standing at the pay phone, but when she saw me she hung up and walked past me whispering, "He's in the corner by the window." I looked over and saw a slightly balding guy with two very blond women. In other words two Kristins. This was just too much. There were no free tables and he had hit the jackpot, so what was I supposed to do? The only place open was at a table with a dapper man in his mid-60s who was reading Tropic of Cancer.
"Mind if I sit here?" I asked. The man nodded.
Then I saw Lisa get up and bolt toward the bathroom. When she passed my date and the two blonds they stared at her and seemed to talk about her. I glanced over at Jackie and she mouthed, "He didn't see you come in."
So what! I snapped back, wishing we had walkie-talkies. The man was obviously having fun without me.
When Lisa came out of the bathroom, the guy jumped up from the table with the Danes and grabbed her.
"Yes?" she asked.
"Are you supposed to be meeting me? I'm Bill. From the Reader?"
Her face turned red as a beet and she started stammering. "No, ah...you must have made some mistake." I couldn't hear what she was blabbing about because I had buried my head in the crook of my arm. She somehow got away from the guy, though I'm not sure how. She passed by my table and muttered "You owe me!" and went back to Jackie. The older gentleman heard her say this and stared at me inquisitively. "What's going on?" he asked.
"Nothing. It's too complicated."
"Do you play chess?" he asked.
I thought about this. What else was I going to do for the rest of the night?
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.