I already didn’t like this guy.
Here’s what happened: My profile is on a number of personals sites. Usually, if a guy emails me and I’m not interested, I just ignore it. This is generally successful. But not with Mr. Knucklehead.
I’m calling him Mr. Knucklehead because I can’t be bothered to think up a fitting name for the man with whom I spent such an awkward and unpleasant few hours.
Well, anyway. Mr. Knucklehead didn’t take no for an answer. About a week after his first email, I got a follow up, asking if I’d left the country or something equally unlikely. OK, this second up email was quite witty, but I still didn’t find him attractive. I wrote back. Not to say “Thanks, but I’m not interested,” which, in view of later events, would have been best, but “Sorry, I’m really busy right now… maybe in a few weeks.” I was blowing him off, I thought, albeit it in a vague manner. The thing is, if someone wrote me that, I’d have gotten the hint. Obviously, Mr. Knucklehead wasn’t as schooled as I am in deciphering texts for passive aggressive rejection. Did he never go to high school? Or perhaps he wasn’t a neurotic with a history of compulsive email analysis? As it turned out, he just didn’t care that I wasn’t very interested. I guess he figured that once we met, we’d hit it off. I would never want to date someone who seemed so unenthusiastic— my poor fragile ego can’t take that. But Mr. Knucklehead was made of stronger stuff, apparently.
So, a few weeks later, I found another missive from Mr. Knucklehead in my inbox. At that point I thought, “Oh, what the hell, it can’t hurt.” How wrong I was! (Foreshadowing!) Stupid me.
The plan was that we’d get a drink. Mr. Knucklehead had expressed sympathy for me as a job hunter, and said he’d pick up the tab. We arranged to meet on a Thursday evening.
Well, he was almost on time, which was a point in his favor, but he still looked as unappealing as he had online. To wit: balding, badly shaven and short. None of these qualities is by any means a deterrent to me finding someone attractive, I’ve discovered, but in his case we were fighting an uphill battle, since I already resented the fact that I’d allowed myself to be dragooned into this date. But I smiled and prepared to endure the evening with goodwill if not actual enjoyment.
We were at a very crowded bar. Mr. Knucklehead decided we should leave, and swiftly led me towards the exit, without asking my opinion. I swallowed my disappointment, because the longer we searched for a place to drink, the longer our date would last.
Mr. Knucklehead expressed great surprise that all the bars seemed crowded, including the one we ended up in. But it was a Thursday night, and we were in Union Square! We halted in a dimly lit, noisy bar off Broadway. I figured an hour and a half should do it.
There was bar service, and a very nice though over-enthusiastic waitress promised us the next available table. Meanwhile, we stood and sipped our drinks. I was clutching my bag, and it has a clasp that closes the middle, rather than a zipper. “What’s this?” Mr. Knucklehead asked, grabbing an empty Ziplock sandwich bag from the top of my satchel and examining it.
“I just had some food,” I mumbled, completely nonplussed. What was he doing touching things in my bag? I wouldn’t reach into his briefcase! Worse, Mr. Knucklehead had a patronizing smile on his face, like it was hilarious that I hauled around a plastic bag full of pistachio nut shells.
When we were finally seated with our second rounds of beer (Mr. Knucklehead) and Merlot (me—for the anti-oxidants, of course) Mr. Knucklehead told me about his Worst Date Ever, with a whiny and over-talkative girl who expected him to buy her knick knacks at Duane Reade. I gave my standard First Internet Date speech: that, in fact, I haven’t had many bad dates. It’s true, except for my date with Laurent. Possibly because I review all incoming emails for evidence of self-deprecating wit and an ability to spell, I don’t think I’ve encountered any entirely humorless morons. Or psychopaths, for that matter, thought I’m not sure if my criteria are particularly useful in weeding out the criminally insane. But, as I pointed out to Mr. Knucklehead, even my bad dates haven’t been so bad. You’re meeting someone new, which is interesting even if your date is not, and you’re both on your best behavior. Even if you aren’t attracted to the person, it’s two hours of your life and there’s usually alcohol involved. How bad can it be?
That last sentence was what I believe is known as the ironic lead in.
Anyway, I revealed that, in addition to job hunting, I also work as a temp.
“You have a job?” Mr. Knucklehead was surprised.
“Well, I temp,” I said, confused. I am looking for a full time editorial position. But I don’t sit around all day doing nothing – not every day, anyway. I mean, I have to pay my rent and everything.
And Mr. Knucklehead said, “Oh, I thought you were unemployed. In that case, this is your round!” He smiled. Menacingly.
“OK,” I said, taken aback. On one hand, Mr. Knucklehead had offered to take me out, and pay, in not one but several emails. And I really do think that on the first date, the person who does the asking does the paying. Even Miss Manners says so! On the other hand, Mr. Knucklehead had been under the impression that I had no source of income whatsoever. And perhaps it’s unrealistic for me to expect to be treated on the first date. As has been discussed …. Here. And, finally, I didn’t have the chutzpah to refuse.
He looked at me; he was waiting for me to get the money out of my bag. Christ! “You actually have money on you, don’t you?” Mr. Knucklehead watched with a sour smile as I fumbled in my bag. “You’re not one of those people who says they’ll pay and then doesn’t have any cash?”
“No,” I said, coolly, and at last pulled a twenty out of my bag. Thank God I’d gone to the ATM prior to this date – I almost hadn’t!
“So you’re a temp,” he said. “I think you’re too old to be temping full time.”
Of course I’m too old to be temping full time. I’m 33. I have entitlement issues. I haven’t lived up to my potential since I was nineteen! Did he think I wasn’t aware of this? You are a creep, I thought. I gave Mr. Knucklehead my coldest, most unfriendly smile: “Thanks,” I said flatly.
I have never walked out on a date, and even though at this point I sort of wanted to, I didn’t have the nerve or the sense of drama required, at least not after only a glass and a half of wine. Besides, I was sitting on a high stool, and it would have been nearly impossible to engineer a graceful exit.
Mr. Knucklehead seemed to realize that he’d offended me, and while an apology would have been impossible, apparently, he sought to ease the tension by instead complaining about how wasteful we Americans are—Mr. Knucklehead is English. When our waitress came around with his next beer (he drank five; no wonder he wanted help with the bill) Mr. Knucklehead said, “No, no, no, you’ve got to do it this way,” when she poured his beer so that there was too much head. He said it nicely, but still. This was the friendly waitress who’d found us the table and insisted on replacing his dirty glass each round (prompting Mr. Knucklehead’s complaints about American wastefulness).
Our waitress smiled carelessly: “Oh, I’m sorry. They tell me how to pour, but I just don’t do it right.”
“You see, she knew,” Mr. Knucklehead fumed when she had disappeared back into throng. “She knew she wasn’t pouring it correctly, but she did it anyway.” And we stared as the beer’s foam returned to drinkable proportions. Jackass, I thought.
When Mr. Knucklehead finished his beer he announced that he was going to go home. We left the bar, and when it became clear we were taking the same train (in opposite directions, though, luckily) we started walking to the station. Everything he said annoyed me. At this point he could have been talking about his volunteer work with African orphans and I would have despised him. At the station, I gave him a big smile (of relief) and said, “Well, Mr. Knucklehead, I guess this is me.”
“We could do this again sometime,” he offered, like he was doing me a favor.
I paused, not quite sure how to respond.
At last I rallied: “It was so nice to meet you,” I lied, and smiling, I ran down the steps.
I'm sure there's a moral here somewhere.