I was living in Chicago, having a grand old time. There were a couple of men buzzing around me. One of them, who was so sweet, so nice, a guy I had seen perform numerous times, approached me at a party and, after chatting me up for a while in a very humorous and effortless way, asked me out to dinner.
I said Sure, I would go out to dinner with him. I already knew he was very talented and very funny (having seen him on stage. Henry Kissinger was wrong. Power is not the ultimate aphrodisiac. Talent is. Or, I would say, more specifically, for me: Comedy is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Make me laugh? I’m yours.)
I’m not a real date-r, I haven’t been on too many “let me pick you up and we’ll go have dinner” kind of dates. I kind of cut to the chase, for better or worse. I have swirling romances that start immediately. I’m a horrible flirt, meaning: I’m bad at it. I don’t know how to do it unless I mean business. But this guy was very traditional, and so – like a true gentleman – he set up this entire date (picked the spot, picked the after-dinner spot, etc.)
It turned out being one of the best dates I have ever been on before IN MY LIFE. Not because there were amazing sparks between us (there weren’t, at least not romantic ones) – but because of where he took me to dinner, and the people we met there, and what we ended up doing. We went to dinner at a great old-school Greek restaurant, which has since sadly closed. The coffee they gave us at the end of the meal was so thick that our spoons could stand up in it. The food was amazing. We stayed there for hours, and then, after 11 or so, the music started. There was a round dance floor in the middle of the tables (it was like a nightclub you see in 1940s movies, although dilapidated and decaying), and people started dancing. These people were all Greek. They weren’t doing the Macarena. They all danced in a circle, holding hands, shouting and whooping. To give you a more specific image, we were the youngest people in the joint by far. The median age of the guest at that place was probably 75. So when the dancing started, it involved a bunch of 70-year- old Greek women, caked with makeup, jewels glittering on their ears, their fingers, dancing around in a circle, holding hands, gesturing majesterially out to us to join their dance, as their 70-year-old Greek husbands, or lovers, stood on the outskirts, throwing money up into the air. The air was filled with floating currency. 78-year-old Greek women picked up 20 dollar bills and plastered them onto their sweaty necks and sweaty 78-year-old cleavage. Everyone was laughing, and dancing, and whooping it up, and everyone except for us was over 70 years of age. It was 3 a.m., and he and I finally joined the geriatric Greek dance, as money swirled through the air. We scuffed through the bills on the floor, laughing at how much fun we were having, how awesome it all was.
But that’s a tangent, and not the story I want to tell which is the story of the Eyeball and the Dozen Roses.
During the great date at the late-night Greek place – for some UNFATHOMABLE reason – I told him that my eye doctor had taken a picture of the back of my eyeball. (Great date banter, Sheila. Way to go.)
He: “Your grey eyes look so lovely. I could drown in their sparkley depths.”
Me: “Oh yeah? I should show you a picture of the BACK of my eyeball, pal.”
I have no idea how the subject came up – but anyway, he (bless him) seemed completely fascinated by the idea of having a picture taken of the back of his eyeball. (Or maybe he was just being polite. Politeness was in this man’s veins. He did gentlemanly things instinctually. Holding out the chair, holding out my coat, holding open the door …) The photo of the back of my eyeball was very weird and I was kind of obsessed with it – a big red ball, basically – a circle of red. It looked like a close-up photo of the red storm circling Jupiter in the cold depths of space. That was my eyeball, apparently. I didn’t have a howling Mr. Bill face inside my body, but it was close.
During the date at the Greek place, he already set up the next date. “Okay, so Valentine’s Day is next week. And I know we don’t know each other at all or anything, but I think it would be fun to have a date on Valentine’s Day. Whaddya say?”
I said, as I Zorba-the-Greek’ed my way through the carpet of money, plastering 20 dollar bills on my arms, “That sounds like fun!!”
A date on Valentine’s Day. I’m not big on Valentine’s Day – not being a romantic type (as this story will OBVIOUSLY prove) – and also: it just seems like a hell of a lot of pressure. When I see couples out on Valentine’s Day, the men look stressed and cowed, and the women look either vicious or triumphant. It’s not my scene, man. But he and I had such an unbelievably fabulous time on that first date, I thought: It’s cool. It’s cool. We’ll have a good time again.
And then I came up with what I considered to be an inspired idea.
Instead of getting him a nice Hallmark-y little Valentine’s Day card, I put the photo of the back of my eyeball into a little red envelope, with his name on it. On the margins of the photo I wrote, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
I know it is insane.
I cannot defend it.
I am just reporting the facts of the case, which are: I put a photograph of the back of my eyeball into an envelope to give to a guy on Valentine’s Day.
I went over to his apartment for our date on Valentine’s Day. We were going out to dinner or something like that. He greeted me at the door, so nice, so sweet. He let me into the apartment. He got me a drink. We didn’t really know each other at all, but we had had (hands down) the best date EVER. One for the books. We were kind of proud of ourselves for that.
He went into the kitchen, and came back out, holding a dozen red roses for me. For Valentine’s Day.
He got me a dozen red roses.
I gave him a picture of my eyeball.
Let me say it again, just so we all are clear:
He got me a dozen red roses.
I gave him a picture of my eyeball.
The second I saw the roses, I remembered the little red envelope in my purse, and I could feel my face getting all hot with mortification. My face was as beet-red as the back of my own eyeball.
Oh my God. I am such an asshole. I have given him a photograph of the back of my eyeball. What the hell was going through my mind at the time that made me think that was appropriate??? My head was literally burning with embarrassment and shame about my eyeball.
I could no longer bear the agony.
I said, “Okay, so this is completely embarrassing, seeing as you gave me a beautiful bouquet of roses … but here’s what I got you.”
He opened it up – looked at the Polaroid – and then he BURST into laughter. (Thank God.)
Throughout the night he kept making jokes, pretending he was describing his Valentine’s date to friends who didn’t know me:
“Hey, man, did you go out on Valentine’s Day?”
“Oh yeah, dude, I went out with this sweet girl I just met.”
“Really? What does she look like?”
Long long pause.
“Oh …. she looks like a burning red circle.”
“Dude, you went out on Valentine’s Day? What did the girl look like?”
“Uhm, sort of like a raging fireball.”
Or – when someone would ask him, “What did your date look like?”, he would take out the photograph of the back of my eyeball and, smiling proudly, give it to them.
He ended up being very kind about the whole thing, turning it into a huge joke – which I appreciated.
So that is the mortifying story of a man who gave me a dozen roses, while I only gave him my eyeball.
He and I ended up going on something like 4 dates, stretched out over an 8 or 9 week period. Obviously there wasn’t a sense of urgency to it all. We weren’t hot for each other, we weren’t burning like the backs of our own eyeballs to see each other. I didn’t mind. We were in the same place with it. Occasionally we would go to a movie, or out to dinner, whatever – but nothing ever really happened beyond that. There were no games, no weirdness, nothing like that. It just was what it was. I would forget for weeks at a time that he even existed, and then he would call and invite me to do something. I was dating other people, I’m sure he was too. Whatever. No biggie.
The whole thing ended when I called him up, after another 3 week “break”, and asked him to go to a movie, or something like that.
He sounded very hesitant. I could tell immediately something was up.
I said, “What’s up?”
He said, “Well … I guess I’m thinking that we should slow down.”
I sat there, on the other end, filled with utter blankness. I thought nothing, I felt nothing – I was completely blank. There was nothing to say, but obviously I was required to respond. In some way. But I had lost my verbal capacity for a moment.
4 dates in 9 weeks? Slow down?
And what finally came out of my mouth, was: “I literally do not know how much slower I can go.”
This was greeted by a deafening silence.
And then what came out of my mouth was: “If I go any slower, I think I will stop.”
An even louder silence from the other end.
I wasn’t being bitchy. I’m not bitchy with men I like. But I am, God help me, truthful, and the entropy was already swirling me into its vortex and I could not, conceivably, in any biochemical quantum-mechanics-based universe, go any slower than I was already going, without stopping outright. So I said so.
Needless to say, we stopped.
And to this day, amongst my group of friends, “If I go any slower, I think I’ll stop” is a favorite phrase. It really works well in a multitude of situations.
I ran into him a couple of years ago at a party in Chicago, and we had a hilarious conversation about our dating. I said, “To this day, that date at the Greek place is the best date I’ve ever gone on.” He said the same was true for him as well.
But I didn’t ask him if he had kept the picture of my eyeball. That would have been too embarrassing.