"Where do you want to meet?" I ask my blind date on the phone for our last-minute get-together. I find it's best to set up these things in haste, on the fly, soon after a phone call, so expectations are kept to the barest minimum. (And yet, somehow, no matter how low hopes seem to be, disappointment always seems possible.)
"How about the Coffee Bean on Wilshire?" he says. It's a nice place, actually, for a Coffee Bean. With a fire pit outside and the cool ocean air wafting in from the water a dozen blocks away, it's reminiscent of a perpetual fall night with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But suddenly an image of my last date there pops into my mind. He was a very confident (read: obnoxious) Israeli, who confused our heated political debate for passion rather than loathing.
"You must like me," the Israeli said after a time.
"Why's that?" I wondered aloud, because I certainly did not.
"Because you're still sitting here," he concluded.
In his estimation, because the date had lasted longer than an hour, and I hadn't fled like other women before me, I was smitten. So when he persisted in talking about politics despite my attempts to steer the conversation somewhere less conflicted, I considered throwing him in the fire pit next to us, but decided I'd not be able to lift his 200-pound frame. So I got up to leave.
"You said I could," I explained over my shoulder on my way out.
So I tell my soon-to-be date, "Let's not go to the Coffee Bean."
When it comes to dating, much has been written about territorial acquisitions: How you should never date someone in your neighborhood because who will acquire the local hangouts after the breakup. (My last boyfriend was from the east side -- way east -- and when I saw him after the breakup at the Sunday Santa Monica market I wanted to shout, "Mine! This is my neighborhood! My territory! My settlement in the breakup proceedings!")
Here in Los Angeles, our services are more important than our dates. (I learned this the hard way by dating my mechanic's assistant -- a budding screenwriter -- and soon had to find a new mechanic. Not worth it.)
Maybe it sounds silly, but consider this: I am a woman who left New York City -- a giant metropolis of millions of people and millions of square miles -- just because it reminded me too much of my ex-boyfriend: That street in Times Square where he first surprised me and kissed me; that restaurant on 14th Street where he told me he needed some space; the green chess bench on the Lower East Side where he kissed me one last time and told me he wanted me back; that club on the Upper West Side, where, years later, after a broken engagement (his), he drunkenly confessed he still loved me; that cafe in the Village the next day where he denied it all and blamed it on the wine. In the end, it had seemed like the whole city was a backdrop -- scenery created solely for our relationship -- so when that was over, I fled. I just couldn't bear it.
One of the beauties of Los Angeles is that it's so big. (Come to think of it, I've almost never run into a former date here; I wonder if they were just imported here for that one evening with me...?) I don't feel in danger of this city being ruined for me because of a relationship. But dating, that's a different story. Do I really want to slowly but surely taint every restaurant and cafe in the city with a scene from my one-hit-wonders?
There are alternate strategies: You can inundate a place with so many dates that a particular bad one no longer stands out. Still, I can't go to Casa Del Mar for a drink now because the ghosts of Dubious Gay Guy, Argumentative Man, This Was a Bad Idea Man and many more haunt the cavernous, beautiful room.
I'm not so cynical to say that all places are tainted by bad dates. Great dates can take a place out of the running, too: That awesome night at Canter's where he and I stayed up till 3, 4, 5 a.m.? Who knows. I fell in love, I think, somewhere between the coleslaw and the kasha varnishkes, or maybe laughing at the ancient, bored waitress or out in the parking lot in front of a mural depicting the history of Jewish Los Angeles. I can't go to Canter's on a date anymore -- or any of the other places I've left pieces of my heart -- because of sweet nostalgia.
Am I too sentimental? Do I take mistake the background for the foreground? Humphrey Bogart said it best in "Casablanca:" "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine...."
But listen: a girl has got to dine out. So tonight after running through my Dating Zagat's (Starbuck's on Main Street, 22: Good lighting but "tedious conversationalist," in the "nice outfit" was "mean to waitress" and "put me to sleep" despite "triple latte/no foam.")
So I pick a sweet little cafe for writers and daters in Santa Monica with couches and cute little lamps and funny drinks like Creamsicles and Fudgesickles -- in other words, a place I'd never need to go to again in case things don't work out.
But go figure. My date is cute and he's sweet and he's hard to pin down into one neat little box -- i.e., he's an actual person, not just some bad date to sum up in a rating -- and who knows what will happen in the future for us?
This sweet little cafe could become our place -- or at least the place where we had our first date.
Oh brother, here we go again.