by David K. Kessler
|When I graduated college, my life with girls simply stopped. It was like driving a car for four years, going for miles in a desert but comforted by the fact there would always be something up ahead or around the bend. This was like hitting the end of the road and discovering the earth was flat.
My father had warned me too. He said, Date as much as you can in college, because in the real world, everyones married or has a boyfriend. There wasnt much I could do that I hadnt already done in most classes I took, I met someone I was attracted to and asked them out, but either they progressively blew me off or refused my invitations straight out. But these rejections didnt phase me, because there was always another course to take and with it, more opportunities. And you cant meet girls on buses, my father added, squashing my fantasy of meeting someone on a Manhattan corner, exchanging witty banter and falling in love like from a nineteen-thirties screwball comedy. In the New York of 1992, it was hard to approach anyone on the street, especially women, without coming off like a psycho.
I tried though.
I worked part-time for an art director in Soho, mainly running errands and would stop in Rizzoli Books at least twice a day. There was a pretty, nervous pale salesgirl whose manner reminded me of a injured bird stranded on a sidewalk -- a quality I found attractive. I would say hello and goodbye to her on my way in and out and she would from time to time whisper the same with her head bowed, but usually gave me a little forced smile, one that she probably developed for such occasions. One day she ran past me crying as I came up the stairs to the second floor tier where she was stationed, her face red and blotchy another quality I also found appealing. The next day when I saw her again, I decided to use that as the ice breaker. You were crying yesterday are you okay? I said, trying to come off more concerned than imposing. She immediately burst into tears again and fitfully waved me away with trembling hands.
Another time, I found a thick, leather bound address book sitting on a display pile. I fingered through it and discovered it was a costume makers. It had the dress, shoe sizes and fabric preferences for stars like Andie McDowell and Anthony Michael Hall, along with business cards for seamstresses, dry cleaners, and managers. Amid all this, I finally found the number of the owner and called her from a phone booth on West Broadway saying I had found her address book. She wasnt thankful as I expected, but sounded irritated as if I was the one who lost it. When I suggested bringing it up to her studio in hopes of getting a reward or if she was hot, a date, or even making a new friend she insisted that I return it immediately to the cashier at Rizzoli. I just figured you needed back right away and who can trust these stores anyway, I explained, watching my face turn red in the reflective metal of the pay phone. Later that week I sent her a letter on my company stationary, in which I expressed my hope her book was returned safely, thinking maybe I could get some design work out of it or still meet her. She never replied.
I spent my nights watching television. Midway through the season, I discovered a program called Street Match that Fox must have been airing as filler, as it didnt have a set time or day and I never saw commercials advertising it. The show had a twenty-something, wisecracking Jewish/Italian host with gelled hair and a perfect complexion who ran up to handsome guys and pretty girls on the street in various cities and found out if they were single. If they answered no, he wouldnt spend a second longer with them, even thank them for stopping, but just quickly move on in search of an available contestant. Though by the end of the block, he would always find someone. I was suspect at first, given my experience in the real world which my father confirmed most moderately attractive people, even plain Janes, had someone, but maybe the people the host discovered were recently separated, new to the city or were saying they were single as a lark and wanted to be on television. Anyway, once he found them, he would explain that they would walk around until the contestant found someone they were attracted to and he would do the introductions. If everyone was in agreement, the host would follow each from preparation stage to the actual date, shoot it a discreet distance and then interview them each afterwards, like a post-game review.
I was watching it once when they were scouting in New York. In the middle of a spring day, the host was rushing down West Broadway, not far from where I worked and where the Rizzoli was located. I was surprised I hadnt seen him during my errands for Robert, the art director. I would have liked to have been on the show.
Excuse me, miss, are you single? the host was asking a beautiful brunette in her mid-twenties stepping out of the Korean deli on West Broadway between Spring and Prince. She had that unusual mix of blue eyes, freckles and dark hair.
Yes, I believe I am, she said with a smirk. I liked her immediately. Just from the way she answered, you could tell she was smart, playful and game, but not a push-over.
Nope, sorry, she shrugged.
Good, Im glad to hear that, he grinned, almost relieved to have such a lively contestant or if he was just going to screw the show and keep her for himself. Im Danny, Im the host of Street Match, where we will fix you up with someone you find on the street, do the introductions and tape the final results.
The final results? she repeated with a smile.
Well, maybe not the final final results, damn close to it, he guffawed to camera.
The semi-final results, she added.
I wished there was a number on the screen I could call to go out with her. I berated myself for not being at work or stuck in the office the day they filmed this. Had it been live, I would have cabbed it over there in a flash and lingered further up the block with a sign that said Pick Me.
The host and the girl began strolling down West Broadway.
Whats your name? he asked, shoving the mike into her face.
Donna, what do you do for a living?
I work at a interior design company.
Thats fascinating, the host grinned, like he cared or even heard her.
How about this guy? he side-lipped to her, referring to a prospect across the street.
Nah, she shrugged.
How about this one? he nodded up the block.
Okay, hes kind of cute, she consented.
The host scurried up to a muscled blond guy with short hair in a white T-shirt and blue jeans. The camera followed shakily behind like in a episode of Cops.
Excuse me, sir, are you single?
Yes, why? he said, startled, glancing nervously to the camera.
We at Street Match are trying to match up Donna here... He motioned to her. ...and treat her and her date to din
Im gay, the guy interrupted.
Im sorry, he said mournfully, as if apologizing for the mans sexual preference than for bothering him. Danny began to move quickly down the street, grabbing Donnas arm as if to get her away, just in case she wanted to go out with him regardless. I later considered that Donna figured he was gay from the get-go and wanted to put the host on the spot.
Walking ahead of him, she turned into an art gallery, not one of the more legitimate ones which were usually on upper floors and streets more east of West Broadway, but a schlocky franchise with overpriced, ugly abstract paintings and mobiles in the window. In the middle of the gallery there was a guy posted who could have been a guard, receptionist or salesman. He was well built, conventionally handsome and over six-feet tall, with a beige suit and long dark hair pulled into a greasy little ponytail.
How about him?, she whispered.
I slapped myself in the forehead and actually said Doh! out loud.
Danny immediately rushed the man of her choice. Whats your name?
Mitch, he said, focused on Donna, who stood a few feet away, pretending to be interested in the closest painting.
Are you game? the host asked after filling him in.
Im game, Mitch nodded excitedly.
I think weve got a match, Danny confided to the camera while Donna and Mitch smiled flirtatiously at each other.
During the commercial, I wrote her off, disappointed that such a smart girl would fall for the mook. But I guessed everyone had superficial leanings and Street Match exploited them. I mean, they only had a minute to pick someone off the street. I got up from my bed and walked the two feet to the small fridge in my cramped studio apartment above the Homestead Restaurant on Ninth Avenue and Fourteenth Street. I paid four hundred dollars, water and utilities included, no fee. No women lived in my building. A lot of gay guys, elderly men and those who otherwise would have been homeless, like my bearded, strange neighbor who lived on disability. When I initially looked at an apartment twice the size of this one a floor underneath during the open house, all the women viewing it immediately fled once the super opened the door like exposed to a toxin only men were immune from. I vividly remember this one woman, a dangerously thin prissy type with a Dorothy Parker haircut and arms that looked like twigs covered in flesh who was the first to flee. Sometimes I saw her around the neighborhood after that, usually along Fourteenth between Eighth and Seventh Avenues and wondered where she lived and how much she paid now. I always wanted to ask her, but never bothered, remembering that terrified look, clipped gasp and how fast she moved on those skinny little legs and not wanting to see that again.
When I returned to my bed, Street Match was back on. The camera was now in the girls apartment, a sprawling Upper East Side one or two bedroom, furnished in a very modern style glass coffee table, large paintings in thick simple frames hung above a black leather couch it must have cost anywhere from two to three grand a month. It looked like a set from a Woody Allen movie. I was surprised and even jealous that someone so young could afford such a place. Off camera, the host casually talked with her as she prepared for her evening out like a roommate would.
So, what are your favorite things to do in New York?
Donna was in the bathroom, applying make-up. She was wearing a tight, sleek black dress and looked to the mirror to answer, instead of turning around, giving it an intimate appeal.
I hate to say this because it sounds so cliché, but I love to shop. I dont like to tell this to guys especially on a first date because you can kind of see panic in their eyes, like she raised a hand to her face and making two fingers in a V sign, placed them in front of her eyes, curled them twice in rapid succession accompanied by a ching ching sound of a cash register, which was both clever and incredibly endearing.
From there, the show cut to Mitch, the gallery guys apartment. Titles came up on the bottom of the screen: Park Slope, Brooklyn and the camera ran wildly through a dark hall like it was placed on the front car of a roller coaster while Smells Like Teen Spirit played loudly. Mitch jumped out in front of the camera wearing a backwards baseball hat, a red tank top and had a bottle of beer in his hand.
Welcome to Party Central, man! he shouted, waving the camera to follow him further down the hall. They came into what appeared to be the only lit room, what assumedly was a bedroom because of the two futons on the floor and the smattering of clothes all over, in various piles, hanging from the lamp, laying on a dresser. A set of weights and a barbell lay in the corner. There were posters taped to the walls of grinning, buxom bathing suited girls holding beer bottles as well.
Oh my God, I said out loud, sensing disaster, kicking my legs off the bed and sitting up.
This is my roommate and best friend in the whole wide world, Andy. Mitch pointed to a slacker type, who was laying on his futon with his arms behind his head and had a little smile like he just awoke from a nap in a park. Yo, Andy said, nodding up at the camera, trying to act casual, as if there wasnt a entire camera crew standing on top of him with blinding lights.
So Mitch, what are your best qualities? the host asked offscreen.
Mitch cocked his head and tried to act modest. Well, I hate to say this, but its true cause a lot of people have told me this honest
Im really good in bed, he blurted, grinning proudly, then lost his smile for a second. Sorry Ma, he added before it crept back.
Jesus! I shouted, leaning closer to the TV until I was sitting on the very edge of the bed.
The next visual was a long shot of a restaurant, obviously taken from across the street as if with surveillance equipment, though I was able to make out Donna and Mitch sitting by the window. Titles came up: La Tattorios, New York City. The next shot was a closer one, as if right at the glass, but still retained that poor quality, with a lot of static and was generally dark as if they were using a film or videotape that didnt require much light.
Mitch was grossly underdressed, still wearing his baseball hat and faded blue jeans, a T-shirt over a sports coat. I couldnt tell if he was wearing sneakers or not. Donna, on the other hand, looked like she could have been at a thousand dollar plate benefit, with her black dress, subtle simple earrings and a miniscule cross of gold around her neck. I dont know why he didnt wear the suit he had on at the gallery, unless that was the only one he owned and didnt want to show up in the same clothes he wore when he first met her, especially on TV.
They buried their heads in their menus. To break the silence Donna asked, Do see anything you like? The vocal was muddy, probably gotten from a bug on the table or maybe they both were wearing a wire, I considered. What they said came on the screen as subtitles.
Ah, nah...theres a lot of seafood on here.
It is a seafood restaurant.
Yeah, I know, but the thing is, when I eat seafood, my face swells up like this... Mitch dropped the menu, blew up his cheeks with air, put his hands to his neck and made a motion like he was strangling himself.
I see, she said icily and went back to looking at the menu. He exhaled the air he was holding in, sounding like a fatigued sigh.
Midway through his meal, Mitch pointed at her neck with his butter knife. So, whats the story with your cross?
What do you mean Whats the story? Donna snapped, looking up from her plate. There is no story.
I mean, are you religious or something? he shrugged, backing off slightly.
No, not particularly. She focused her gaze on him, almost challenging him to continue.
So why wear it? he said to his salad.
So I dont forget what religion I am, she responded without an obviously sarcastic lilt and might have truly meant it.
Im Jewish, he added meekly, still looking down at the table. Although it doesnt matter, you know. To me at least, he muttered.
Mitch made me embarrassed to be Jewish. I threw myself back on the bed and flung an arm over my eyes, but then raised it to see what horror would follow.
As if to spare viewers, but probably more so for time restrictions of the half hour show that usually featured two dates, it cut to the end of the meal as they were saying goodbye. Donna and Mitch could hardly keep up a civil tone to one another.
Well, see you, she said, making no attempt to kiss him or even put out her hand.
Its been real, he said, stood there for an awkward moment and shrugged before walking away.
Real sucky, I added and expected her to say the same.
The producers of the show then added graphics on top of the parting shot a heart breaking in half drawn in a red crayon and the dancing words No match.
Then Donna and Mitch were interviewed separately afterwards, the camera close to their faces like they were delivering a confessional.
Donna: What the hell was that cross thing about? Its just a cross. What was he, a vampire or something?
I laughed and pounded the mattress with my fists.
Mitch: I dont know...that cross really wigged me out. It was so big and all...
The host, who you hadnt seen since the beginning of show, stood in front of the restaurant, like at the scene of the crime and said, slightly bemused, Well, its too bad Donna and Mitch didnt work out, but hopefully theyll find love real soon. Im Danny for Street Match. Take care! He waved to the camera and the credits rolled up.
I considered writing a letter to the show, suggesting that I go on a date with Donna, on or off camera, or one directly to her and hope theyd pass it along, but decided to forget it, as I wanted to forget the state of my social affairs altogether.
A week later, while I was running errands for Robert, I walked past the gallery, which turned out was a half a block away from his studio. Mitch was standing outside of it, either surveying passerbyers or taking advantage of the spring weather. We caught each others eye. We stood in our places contemplating each other for a long while, like two cowboys ready to draw our guns. I knew. He knew I knew. There was such rage in those eyes, I felt ashamed for considering asking for Donnas number, for meeting his gaze with my own, then just for knowing.
from ODD JOBS & Bad Dates (1988-1993), a memoir
©1996 David K. Kessler