It's rather embarrassing to be twenty-two-years-old, a college graduate, and then have your family set up a date for you. But that's what happened to me in the late summer of 1977. Maybe they thought they had to do it because I wasn't getting any dates on my own.
I was still living at home at that point, so it was difficult to hide my predicament from my relatives. Perhaps I could have claimed that I was just having a string of casual encounters, but they knew me well enough to know that was highly unlikely. Besides, even if that was true, they tended to be on the prudish side and they wouldn't have appreciated hearing about it.
In any case, they had never seen me go out for a date, or even talk about one, because I indeed had never had such an experience.
One may find that hard to believe if one thinks of the 1970s as being a time of completely uninhibited sexuality. But I was there at that time, and I know that there were a considerable number of guys then who were, frankly, very eager for a girlfriend or even just some pussy. It may sound like I'm being - unenlightened, retrograde, or even "chauvinist" to use a popular term from that era. But all I wanted was a girlfriend, or maybe two if the first one didn't work out, and I wasn't even getting that.
The sexual revolution wasn't working out for me, and after more than fifteen years of it, women seemed to have the upper hand in choosing partners. Sexuality had turned into a marketplace, although few people were explicitly aware of it at the time.
Yet I was sure that I was doing something wrong personally if I couldn't compete. I was on the skinny side, but I supposed I wasn't that bad looking. I didn't stop clocks, as the expression goes.
I certainly lacked confidence, although I could do a plausible job of pretending I had it. The problem perhaps was a combination of passivity and procrastination, two of my biggest weaknesses. It never seemed that I could find a girl I felt comfortable approaching. It was always something I'd do next month - or next semester.
In early September after my graduation, I was working at a desultory job in Manhattan when my family in The Bronx found somebody for me. She was the daughter of one of my mother's co-workers. My mom worked as a production manager at a television studio on the West Side of Manhattan. That co-worker had a daughter named Janet Pankin, who was my age and also a graduate of the City University system, namely Hunter College. I had just left City College further uptown.
The main advantages that this Janet had, as presented by my parents, was that she was a "nice" girl and might even be considered in the longer term as a partner in matrimony. She lived with her family in a part of Inwood, in upper Manhattan, bordering Fort Tryon Park. That was a reasonable distance from where I was living in the North Bronx.
The idea of getting married was completely against any interests I had at the time. It may sound crass, but I was interested in getting laid, not getting "hitched." The idea of a steady girlfriend, however, did seem reasonable to me. I would consider something longer term than mere casual sex, which was I good thing because I suspected that this Janet person wasn't going to be introduced to me for just screwing around.
I wasn't that enthusiastic about the whole thing. Who exactly was this chick, and was there something odd about her that required her to be set-up too? I didn't want to think too much about that. However, since my dating prospects had been nil for my entire life up to that point, I figured I would give it a try and see what happened. I hoped this nice girl wasn't too "nice."
Thus these two possible lovebirds, Janet and me, had to put together "packages," one could call them, which included photos of ourselves plus introductory letters describing - well, whatever seemed worth saying about our lives up to that point and why we should meet.
It was a chore to create this message for a complete stranger. I struggled to write something plausibly interesting about myself, the main item being that I had written for and edited one of the college newspapers. This bi-monthly journal had printed some strange, sometimes pornographic materials at different times since the late 1960s.
In fact, it would continue to do so again after I graduated. It was influenced by publications as diverse as The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and even Screw Magazine, but of course, it was nowhere the quality of any of those.
I wasn't part of the wilder journalistic scene there; what I wrote were fairly conventional news and feature stories. There was a kind of weird schism in this paper, being half conventional and half outlandish. I decided to mention the name of the paper but not go into any details about it just yet.
The package I got back from Janet had some headshots and one full-body photo. My first impression was that she was just a generic girl like tens of thousands of others who were produced by the CUNY system every year. She had a roundish face and dark hair that came down just to her shoulders, which was a little short by the standards of the era.
She didn't strike me as either plain or pretty, but somewhere in the middle. I doubted I would have noticed her on the street or in one of my classes. The full photo showed her in a blouse and jeans, and she had a bit of chunkiness about her body. That was actually fine with me because I liked women of different body sizes. I guessed that she was about five-foot-six.
Her letter to me was fairly short and I found out that she was an English major. That fit in well with my own shaky employment prospects, having studied history myself.
There was one more notable detail; she wasn't smiling in any of her four pictures. One would think that she would do that to make a good impression. But then I wasn't smiling either in the five shots that I had sent to her. I wasn't that fond of being photographed in the first place.
My overall passivity left me undecided about what to do about this particular chick. I had her phone number and address now, but I procrastinated about taking the next step. I had no clue as to how to make the next move in the approach.
She, however, solved the problem for me. She didn't call me, but I soon received a short note in the mail. All it said was, "Hey Paul, I'd like to meet you. Please call me and we can go for drinks and get to know each other a bit more." She simply signed it, "Janet."
It was very short, but it was a bit flattering I suppose that this was the first woman who had ever said she would go on a date with me. It was also significant that she was the one who had initiated the meeting. What had she seen in my meager offerings about myself that I had mailed in my package? I had recently grown a straggly mustache in an attempt to look more mature, but I doubted that fooled anybody.
I called her number the very next evening and she answered. Her voice seemed pleasant by unremarkable. It seemed to be my role as the male to pick a venue, so I chose The Piper's Kilt bar on 231st Street. That was a lot closer to her house than it was to mine and she did know the place. She made one suggestion, "If you get there first, just go in a get a table. I'll meet you in there."
That was set for the following evening, a Thursday. I got there a few minutes early and didn't see her, so I went in and ordered a vodka and tonic from a waitress. I figured I'd dress up a bit, and I wore a new gray sport coat that was classier than the shabby, five-year-old blue polyester one that had been my only jacket for quite some time.
Janet was more than ten minutes late, and being the somewhat pessimistic sort that I was, I started to assume that she wasn't going to show up. My first actual date ever, and I feared she would flake out and I'd be stood up. I felt a twinge of disappointment; I was eager to talk to any female who would give me at least half-a-chance.
I didn't have to worry. Janet surprised me by making a fairly dramatic entrance. If you've ever seen the movie Sea of Love, which came out twelve years later, her arrival by coincidence was similar to a scene in the film. Al Pacino was just sitting at a table, waiting for his date, when Ellen Barkin comes sweeping in and just plops down in the seat opposite him without even saying hello.
That's what Janet did. Suddenly she was just there and sitting down in the other chair. Later I figured out that she had planned it in advance.
Somehow, Janet's next move also mirrored what Barkin would do later. She didn't say anything, but she just had a look that said, well here I am. What do you think? Not too bad, right?
I didn't say anything immediately either. Janet knew she had caught me off guard, and yet she also was getting the first hints that I was impressed by her. It was the confidence she was exuding that got to me. Later I figured out that women are very good at picking up cues on what men are thinking. In those first few seconds, she probably knew she could have me if she wanted me. I was there for the picking, and that seemed to please her.
I guess I was pleased too. She looked better than she did in her photos. For one thing, she had a sly grin at having pulled off her little stunt. She was dressed up too, and she was wearing a gray suit with a white blouse. I was getting a sense of the shape of her body under her clothes, and I wanted to see the back of her skirt so that I could make a judgment about the roundness of her ass.
She said, "So what are you having?"
"It's just a vodka and tonic."
"Well, get me one too, if you would please."
I knew I was gaping at her, and I had to get myself back on track. My first statement was pretty lame, "So Janet, how are you doing?" Then, "Have you ever been set up on a date before?"
"No, never. I've heard from my family that I might be a potential wife for you."
I had heard that too, from my own family, but I decided to deny it. I didn't immediately catch that Janet was teasing me. I said, "Really? I didn't know anything about that."
"Actually, it's a possible idea. I could really make your life hell if that happened."
By that point, I had gotten that she was being tongue-in-cheek, and my decision was to make a joke about it. I had no "game," as the expression is now, but I was so inexperienced that I was running on pure instinct. Perhaps I had the game of "no game," if that's what it could be called.
I said, "At least you're being honest about it. But if that's the way you're going be, then I'll just have to take a mistress on the side."
To my surprise, she was amused by that, "So you think you can get away with that, do you?" At that point, the waitress brought over her drink.
I tried another joke that worked too, "Actually, I know I could get away with it." Then I wanted to be honest about my intentions, "Look, to be very straight with you, I'm not looking for a wife, I'm looking for a girlfriend."
She shrugged and mildly said, "That certainly could be arranged." She must have noticed some confusion in me because she went on, "I mean we've been introduced by others, but we're adults. We can handle this in any way we see fit."
Did this girl just suggest a proposition to me? She had an immediate follow-up. "So you've never been set-up either, I've heard. I've also heard that things have been a bit slow for you if that's the best way to put it."
That seemed a bit impertinent. Our families had certainly been quite chatty with each other. I didn't know much about what I was doing, but I knew enough not to confirm my lack of experience. "I've actually been going okay; I was just curious to know who my family would come up with for me."
That didn't sound either very romantic or even convincing and from her expression, I got a hint that she didn't believe me. "Well, as you can see, they came up with me!" Then she gave me a look that was hard to interpret but I caught a bit of sadness from her. She said, "Don't worry, it's definitely been very slow for me too, I'll admit that to you."
I turned it around on her, "So what's your story been?"
"I don't know, I just haven't met any guys that I wanted to pursue, or even make a move one." Then she brightened a bit, "But I did pick you, didn't I?"
I was tempted to ask, why me? But again I said that right thing, more by accident than anything else. "You did, but I agreed to go along with it."
"Ah, but I did take the initiative and make the first move." For a second, I thought I should have made that move, but it was too late now. I had let the opportunity pass
Yet I got the feeling that she wasn't bothered by that. I was still wondering what she saw in me. Was I Mister Right, or just Mister Right Now? But I understood a lesson that would always stay with me. It didn't matter why she had picked me; the only important thing was that she had done it. For the moment I was simply Mister Right Here.
I commented, "I suppose this isn't truly a blind date since we knew what each other looked like. Plus we wrote those notes or letters or whatever you'd call them."
"I didn't feel comfortable writing that. In fact, I almost hated it."
"You actually did a plausible job with it."
"Well, so did you!" I wasn't sure what I had done right with it, but I didn't ask her.
We talked about ourselves for a while and got a second round of drinks. The subject of our college majors came up. I said, "With our majors, we practically have guaranteed futures in life, don't we?"
"I got decent grades, but I didn't exactly bust my ass in school."
"Neither did I. I'd write most of my term papers two days before they were due. I'd be up most of the night doing the final draft." In those days of typewriters, two drafts were about the limit most students were willing to do. "Anyway, maybe we should have studied engineering or something like that."
"Could you handle the math? I don't think I could have done it."
I replied, "No, probably I couldn't have done it either." I thought, what do I have to offer this girl financially in the long-run, assuming there is a long-run? Well, don't worry about it now, you're getting way ahead of yourself. It may sound boorish, but getting laid was a bigger priority at that point.
She said, "The whole point was just to get a degree in something, and then worry about a job later."
"That probably works better at Columbia than at CUNY." I didn't tell her that I had applied for Columbia but had gotten on the waiting list only. Not too bad, I supposed, but it seemed like a long time had passed since that had happened.
I was also aware that I was beginning to like this new Janet girl. She was blunt but she seemed good-natured too. Perhaps she was a bit eccentric, but then so was I. I wondered what she was thinking about me in turn. A little later, as the alcohol had its effects on us, I started to find out. She said, "I've heard you've got a car."
I was a bit embarrassed by it, "Yeah, but's it's only a '67 Impala."
"I don't care how old it is, but it's roomy inside, isn't it?"
I almost said, so what? Then I picked up on what she meant.
She leaned back and put her right arm over the back of her chair. "Paul, I'm going to make this plain for you. I think we should be going out with each other."
But I really didn't know her and she didn't know me. But maybe that was also irrelevant. There was something unsaid between us. We were two lonely people who had found each other. Would that be enough to make it work?
She practically confirmed it for me. "You see, I'm not in high school any longer; I'm not even in college." That seemed to imply that she had - what? That she was losing precious time out of her life? Then she smiled at me, "Unless you have those better prospects you were alluding to before."
I had almost forgotten what I had said, "Oh, those. Well, we'll see."
"Right, I bet you have a whole flock of chicks out there."
I knew that was a tricky test I'd have to pass. I figured I'd have to appear interested in her but not excessively so. The best I could come up with was, "Well, they can always go on the back burner if you know what I mean."
She obviously knew that was bullshit, but she liked how I had handled it. She boasted a bit, "Oh, I can think I can put them back there myself if you know what I mean." That was her own version of bullshit, but she grinned as if she was enjoying the game anyway.
Maybe this date was going better than I had expected it would. I felt more relaxed than I had anticipated. The feeling came back to me; we could have each other if we wanted it that way. She seemed aware that I was indeed interested in her.
She's was a bit offbeat, perhaps. And I caught that hint of sadness in her again. She made another direct appeal to me.
"Come on, take a chance, what have you got to lose?" She was teasing me a bit, but I could tell there was a serious side in it too.
Maybe I should take that chance. She wasn't trying to impress me, but she mostly wasn't trying to give me a hard time either for its own sake. Girls would sometimes do that as a kind of test, or so I had heard. Yet I was having trouble believing that a plausible girl had emerged in these unlikely circumstances.
I decided to be quiet for a bit; I was finishing my drink and we stopped talking. For the first time, I caught what was playing on the jukebox. It was an Aerosmith song that had just started.
Every time when I look in the mirror,all these lines on my face getting clearer.The past is gone.
And it went by, like dusk to dawnIsn't that the way?Everybody's got their dues in life to pay.
I said, "This is a very evocative song, isn't it?"
Janet looked very serious, "Yes, I know exactly what he is talking about."
Sing with me, sing for a year.Sing for the laughter, and sing the tear.Sing with me, if it's just for today.Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away.
I said, "Come on, lighten up. Isn't he saying to enjoy the time you've got?"
"Of course, I do get that." Then she said, "Let's go out again soon, like this weekend."
A second date; that seemed very promising. I thought it was my male obligation to come up with something. "Sure, we can go to the movies. Sunday evening, let's do it then."
In an off-hand kind of way, she said, "And let's also go in your car soon."
"All right." Now I was unsure and I wanted to confirm it with her. "Any place you'd like to go?" I knew as the male I should be taking the lead on that too, but my inexperience in these matters caused me to slip a bit.
Perhaps with her own lack of experience, she didn't notice or care. "Oh, I'm sure you'll find a place we can go in it." For a second that went over my head, and then I got it. She wasn't shy about being a bit more explicit, "I meant after dark. You think I'm a bad girl now, don't you, I mean getting in cars with guys?"
Now she had gone beyond proposing a mere second date to something much more serious. She had gone way beyond flirting. I tried for some humor. "Hey, it's the 1970s. All girls are bad now." At least I thought so; I hadn't actually met any of them yet.
She asked me, "Are you are a bad boy yourself?"
"Me? I'm a complete gentleman as you'll probably soon find out."
She liked that. "Well, let's hope that we're both not too good if you get what I mean." Yeah, I knew for sure now what she was talking about but I just smiled at her. I didn't need to comment further at that point.
When it was time to leave, we stood up and I got a better look at the totality of her. She knew I was checking her out, and she didn't seem to mind. In fact, she folded her hands in front of herself and looked back at me without being self-consciousness.