Jewish Journal

Charm School

by Teresa Strasser

Posted on Apr. 11, 2002 at 8:00 pm

"I'd like to give you the keys to my apartment," he said. This was after our first date, if you could call it that. We met for a couple drinks at a bowling alley bar with all the ambiance of a Greyhound station in Lompoc.

I picked the bowling alley. You don't want ambiance when you're going on a curiosity date, more gawking than bonding. This guy wasn't my type, but he asked me out via e-mail and I'm a sucker for prose. We'd had only one brief conversation when I got his e-mail, which ended with this: "Don't dislike me because of how much I like you. If you do, we're doomed."

The note was lousy with misspellings and totally free of punctuation. Words were missing. Still, something called to me.

Bowling pins crashing in the background, he told me he was "already too wise in the ways of women," he was looking to settle down, find the one. "When I met you, there was something in your eyes, something grounded. I thought I willed you to appear," he said. "You're the kind of girl I've always wanted to meet." Strike.

Grounded? Me? I took a deep breath, because grounded people are always doing that. I straightened up in my seat. I was soaking it up like a bowling alley bar napkin sops up gin.

The guy was so animated, he would emphasize points by actually rising from his chair, peering down at me, asking, "Do you know? Do you know?" At one point, I could swear he was getting choked up, telling stories about his old neighborhood in Brooklyn, his days chasing women, waking up lonely.

At this point, he decided it was time for full disclosure. He'd known me three hours and I was "the one" so I might as well know what I'm dealing with. He showed me a tattoo on his arm of a skeleton, running, a dagger in its teeth. "This is to remind me not to go to the dark side, to run from it," he said, dripping with gravitas. Gutter ball.

When he walked me to my car, he asked if he could sleep on my couch, nothing sexual, just wanted to be there to make me breakfast in the morning. "How can I leave you right now? I already miss you."

I politely refused breakfast and the keys to his apartment. "Okay, I know you're not really looking for a relationship right now. I'm going to give you your space. I'm not going to call you. I'll wait for you to call me. Goodnight," he said, wistful and earnest as a douche commercial.

It was like dating Pavarotti, a walking one-man opera with no intermission. In fact, that's the nickname I gave him when he called first thing the next morning -- giving me my space.

We went out a few more times. Every creepy thing he did, crass references to bodily functions, pouting when e-mails weren't returned within four seconds, was neutralized by something almost breathtaking in its charm. One night, I admired a burnt-orange strapless dress on a mannequin in a window. The next day, he showed up with it. He made me a bear out of chocolate chip cookie dough. He told me we had a date with the moon; we each had to look out our window at midnight and ask the moon what to do.

I didn't have to ask the moon what to do because I had already asked everyone else I knew. The problem was simple: When I stood close to him, which I generally avoided, he didn't smell right to me. It's not that he smelled bad, just that chemical thing -- the pheromones weren't right. I couldn't even imagine kissing him, though I wished I could. The man offered sculpted snacks, keys to his apartment, apparel. He was prepared to worship me, in his grandiose and self-absorbed way, and who isn't prepared to be worshipped?

"Love makes one blind and deaf," goes the saying by Jewish poet and philosopher Solomon Ibn Gabirol. But it doesn't remove one's olfactory abilities.

I once read that when someone smells good to you, what you're smelling is the fitness of their immune system. You may actually be able to smell whether someone is right for you, at least for mating purposes. I'm sure I haven't been everyone's cup of pheromones myself. To each his own, lid for every pan, all that stuff.

"If it isn't there, it isn't there," said my male friends, who seemed to understand.

"Maybe he'll grow on you," said my female friends, who've all tried to work around a lack of basic physical attraction.

"I'm right outside your door," he said late one night, while we were talking on the phone. "Can I come in? I'm having a bad night. I need comfort."

I told him he could only come in for a minute. He asked for a hug and I gave it to him. He wouldn't let me go. This man carved you a bear, my head screamed, Let him hug you! My chest got heavy and I got to feeling like a salted slug. My arms got wooden. He let me go. I haven't seen him since.

Teresa Strasser is now on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com . She will be appearing in "The Teresa Monologues," April 28 at the University of Judaism. For tickets and information, call (310) 440-1246.

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