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.)
I’m not a real date-r. I’ve been on dates, obviously, but any relationship I have ever had has not come out of that traditional set-up. I’m a horrible flirt. I don’t know how to do it unless I mean business. I’ve been practicing, with sometimes-dubious results, but I’m sometimes successful! It’s definitely a skill. 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 to be one of the best dates I have ever been on before IN MY LIFE. Not because there were sizzling romantic sparks between us (there weren’t) but because of where he took me to dinner, the people we met there, and what we ended up doing. We went out to eat at a great old-school Greek restaurant (sadly, the joint is closed now). 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, talking and laughing, 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 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 about two generations. The median age of everyone there was around 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 majestically 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 American 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. The atmosphere was sexually charged and exhilarated, more so than any hip dance club filled with 20-somethings like ourselves. 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.
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 he (bless him) seemed completely fascinated by the idea of having a picture taken of the back of his eyeball. The photo of the back of my eyeball was very weird and I was kind of obsessed with it: It looked like a big burning red ball. It looked like a close-up photo of the red storm circling Jupiter in the cold depths of space.
The back of my eyeball looked like that, basically.
During the date at the Greek place, he already set up the next date. I’m telling you, he had the basics down!! “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 Zorba-ed my way through the carpet of money, plastering 20 dollar bills on my arms, and said, “That sounds like fun!!”
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.
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 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 in. He got me a drink. We didn’t really know each other at all, but we had had (no contest) 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.
The second I saw the roses, I remembered the little red envelope in my purse, and I could feel my face getting 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 suppose I could have chosen to not give him the picture of Jupiter’s eternal red storm. But, as I said, comedy is important to me, too, and I knew that what was going down here was freakin’ funny, even if I am the butt of the joke.
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 BURST into laughter. (Thank God.)
Throughout the night he kept making jokes about it, pretending he was describing his Valentine’s date to friends who didn’t know me. He would do both sides of the conversation.
“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, hand it over.
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 a Polaroid of the inside of my body.
We 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. It was totally casual. We weren’t hot for each other, we weren’t burning like the backs of our own eyeballs to see each other. I don’t even think we kissed. 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, 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.
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. But I was, God help me, being truthful, and the entropy was already swirling me into its polar vortex and I could not, conceivably, in any biologically-sound carbon-based universe, go any slower than I was already going, without stopping outright.
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.