Monday, September 23, 2002

You've Been Hit on the Head How Many Times?

One day at work I got a really nervous call from Laura, one of my best friends and the person with whom I had entrusted the care of my "highly active" six year old son. The hesitancy in her voice caused my palms to break out in a sweat as I tried to guess what my little darling might have done this time. Laura sensed my tension, laughed and told me, "It's nothing bad." I could see her grinning on the other end of the phone and my curiosity skyrocketed. 

She asked if I had ever noticed her neighbor, because he had apparently noticed me the evening before when I picked up my son. He wanted to know who I was and if I was a cop. I found this a little odd, but I was wearing dark blue pants with my hair up -- and reeling from a horribly star-crossed romance -- so I shrugged it off and got all tingly, wondering about the point of this call. It took hardly a second more before she blurted it all out. He thought I was attractive and wanted to know if I might want to go on a date.

I, too, had noticed him the night before, but only in the most cursory way. While walking to Laura's door, I smiled politely as I passed a man. The only firm detail I could pull out of my memory was that his lower jaw went up so much that I wondered whether or not he had all his teeth. That and the fact that his name was Don was enough for me to say no.

Okay, so your name is Don and you're a nice, normal guy; or you know a Don who's just wonderful, and you can't understand why I'd be opposed to dating this Don. I admit it: I'm shallow; the name Don reminds me of this bespectacled, buzz-headed, scrawny boy I knew in first grade who seemed to be incessantly picking his nose or eating pudding from those little metal cups with the pop-top lids.

Laura wasn't insistent, but she was quite a proponent of this guy. I can't recall how many times she said he was really nice. Her kids liked to play at or near his place because he was always friendly. That he was a single custodial parent of a sweet little boy was only further testament to his upstanding nature. Plus, Laura was pretty sure he had teeth. Still, the four years since my experience with Cemetery Man hadn't dulled my repugnance for blind dates.

My dear friend Laura, with whom I share mutual trust in judgment despite the crazy things we've done together, or maybe because of them, appealed to me to meet Don before making my decision. She pointed out how much courage it had taken him to even broach the subject and I was flattered. We talked about the fact that I really wanted to start dating again and I thought of my recently acquired piece of body art. Wasn't I the kind of woman who did crazy things like getting tattooed, not once, but twice (and eventually a third time)? What could it hurt to spend a few hours with some guy who was so nervous about asking me out that he went to my friend first? If he tried to take me to the cemetery for any reason, I'd be out of there quicker than you could say "eighty-nine cent carnation."

So I'd meet this guy -- this Don -- and maybe even go out with him. Why the hell not? Honestly, I began to feel a little like a fairy princess who would tap her magic wand on the shoulder of the kneeling knave and let him know that he was worthy of her time. Yeah, my head was so huge that it threatened planes soaring above.

Laura suggested that the introductions take place that evening when I picked up Corey. "Just dive on in!" I thought to myself. I straightened up a little before leaving work and hoped that the combination of heat outside and the pleather seats in my car wouldn't conspire to give me a sweaty butt before I got to Laura's. Not to worry, it was late March and the weather was pleasant. I arrived looking a lot cooler than I felt, parked as close to Laura's as possible, and practically ran in.

All the kids were banished outside to play, but Laura's husband Scott was there at the dining table making fun of Don, and of us for getting all worked up over him. Although Laura had seen Don hanging out in the garage with Scott, he apparently came unbidden and was full of improbable and often incomprehensible stories. When Laura said she had talked to Don a couple of times that afternoon and still couldn't be sure he had teeth, fuel was heaped onto Scott's flaming humor. I reminded myself that I didn't have to go out with him at all if I didn't want to. It was hard not to laugh with Scott, but I was afraid that if I started I wouldn't be able to stop when the big moment came. Inappropriate laughter has been a hallmark of my life.

An instant later there was a knock at the door.

Scott found not-so-subtle ways of making his feelings known. Don didn't appear to notice, but I was struck by how difficult it must be for guys. Certainly I had never been brave enough to do what he was doing. My swelled ego deflated and I was touched by his efforts on my behalf. How could I possibly say no? Laura helped Don get through his request and we agreed to go out to dinner on Saturday evening. Phone numbers were exchanged so we could choose a place to meet -- no matter how shy or sweet or nervous he seemed, I was taking my own car.

Early Saturday afternoon I went out and bought a pair of black jeans and a pink sweater for the occasion. I was a little nervous about the sweater because it revealed a small part of my tattoo if I moved certain ways. It was still such a new part of the formerly conservative me and I wasn't quite sure what Don would think, so I tried to keep it covered.

We met at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Rancho Cucamonga. Don no longer looked like an oversize little boy. He was wearing a plaid shirt and his hair was now plastered straight back. He was fairly attractive, but was clearly older than me. While waiting for our dinner, Don asked about my interests and I asked about his. We talked about sports. He liked football; I liked all the girlie sports, plus running. He mentioned car racing, so I told him that my dad was racing Legends cars. Don didn't know about those, but he did bring up a race he'd seen in 1979. My curiosity could be held back no longer, so I asked his age.

"I was afraid this would come up."

"Why? What is there to be afraid of?"

"I just knew this was going to come up."


"How old do you think I am?"

"I have no idea, that's why I asked."

"Forty. Does that scare you?"


"Does that scare you?"


"Does that scare you?"

"No. Why would that scare me?" (Especially since I'm never going to see you again.)

"But does it scare you?"

"What scares me is that you keep asking me the same question, even though I've answered you three times. Don't keep asking me that."

"Okay. Does it (long pause) frighten you?"

"That's the same question! I refuse to answer. You can't make me." (Yes, I, too, could be an eight year old.)

When the server came, Don ordered for both of us. Our waitress must have seen a million bad dates before because she recognized this one instantly. I got sympathetic looks from her and another server periodically throughout the evening. Dinner went quickly and without much trouble, but I did come to realize that Don had interesting habit of leaving off parts of words and making connections that did not seem to fit together. It's hard to explain, but reminded me of a student I had worked with who had suffered TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).

Dinner came with dessert, but I declined. I wasn't interested in vanilla ice cream and have never cared for spumoni. Don's pronunciation made it all the less appetizing. He kept trying to get the waitress to bring me the spewmoni that came with my meal. The poor woman ended up bringing it, but set it next to Don, not me.

On the way out, Don snagged two children's menu packs as "a gift for your son." He seemed quite surprised that the date ended at the door of the restaurant and even outraged that I wasn't interested in setting up another date. Apparently he realized that railing at someone for not wanting to go out with you again is not likely to produce the desired second date, because he calmed down suddenly. As we were walking toward the parking lot, Don said he'd wait to hear from me. I turned to thank him, but he was already stalking off to his car.

About two hours after I returned home, Don called, trying to set up a second date. A few more calls and he finally believed that I wasn't interested. He remained bitter for at least the next 18 months or so that Laura was his neighbor. The last time I saw him was on a Fourth of July party at Laura's, when I put up with a lot of comments that one would expect from an overgrown child or a man with a damaged frontal lobe.

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