Friday, November 17, 2006

The Date From Hell

Herewith, dear reader, a cautionary tale on the perils and pitfalls of the dating scene in Greenwich and environs. Names will be omitted to obviate potential lawsuits, though since the truth is always an absolute defense in any action for defamation, I would have no problem in defending one. It's not so much that I'm protecting the guilty as shielding them from further embarrassment.

It was, of course a first date - the type of situation in which a budding relationship hangs in the balance, and everyone's expectations are high. The occasion was a foray into the city to attend a cocktail party in honor of a personage of high birth (read prince) who is also active in diplomacy. The venue was a blue-blood upper East Side private club, of the type whose initials can be found following people's names in the Social Register. The weather was forecast to be execrable. (Drum roll, please, Mr. Bulwer-Lytton.)

The original plan as discussed over the phone the day before was that I would pick up the DFH at her back-country house and drive us to the station. We discussed the merits of leaving from Port Chester rather than Greenwich, which is to say that I made the suggestion and she reacted with horror at the thought of being around "those people". Not sure of which people "they" might be, I immediately confirmed the Greenwich station.

Next, I suggested that we walk the few blocks from Grand Central to the club. More horror. Didn't I know that women in cocktail dresses and heels could not be expected to walk in the city? Actually, I didn't - most of the young women I've dated have not had any problem in this regard. But I gamely said we would, of course, take a cab.

So far, so good, with the exception of the warning bells in the background (remember the old World War II song, "The Bells of Hell go Ding-a-ling-a-ling"? - yeah, those were the bells I was starting to hear, as it turned out. And the ding-a-ling part was also beginning to resonate....). Then I listened to the weather forecast, which was for torrential rain to arrive concurrently with us in the city.

Some years ago, a North Street squire of my acquaintance would rent a limo to take him and his wife, and occasionally me, into NYC. It was very civilised - door-to-door, quiet, comfortable, and hassle-free. Gee, I thought to myself, maybe I should look into that - after all, how much more could it be than the cost of train tickets and cabfare?

Quite a lot, as it turned out. I had mentally budgeted $200 for the evening using the limo option, but when I called for a reservation I was informed the cost would be about $300. So I compromised, figuring that we could limo in during the bad weather, and train out afterwards when the storm was over. I mean, one wants to make a good impression on a first date, no? Surely the limo upgrade on the trip in was a move in the right direction?

Well, the DFH at first said there was no need for a limo - the train was fine. But when I mentioned the weather forecast and the door-to-door convenience, she went along with it. I told her we might run into friends and go out for dinner afterwards, so that we would eventually head home by train. No problem, she said. Be ready at 4:30, I said. Right you are, she said.

Well, you can see where this is heading. The old game of he said/she said had already begun, though I don't think either of us realized it at the time. At 4:20 I pulled into her driveway, with the limo, which had been lurking nearby so as to be on time, right behind me.

I rang the doorbell. Nothing happened. I waited two or three minutes, and tried again. Nothing happened. I was beginning to get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I rang the bell a third time.

At 4:25 the DFH appeared at the front door in a bathrobe. "You're early," she said. I agreed I was. "Give me five minutes," she said, and closed the door. I stood there on the doorstoop looking and feeling rather foolish. Was it wrong of me to think that she should have invited me in to wait in the living room? But then I looked from the stoop into the living room windows, and saw nothing but a jumble of boxes. The same decor scheme had decorated her hallway, I'd just noticed. More queasiness.

I walked around the property a bit, which had evidently been a farm at one time. The wind started to gust. The limo driver got out and joined me, telling me how much he hated his job and how he really wanted to stay home on his couch and trade currencies. Time passed. Five minutes turned into twenty. At 4:45 I decided the DFH was officially late.

Shortly thereafter she bustled out of the house and into the limo, and in a cloud of pungent perfume we were on our way. Her little black dress was becoming if not overly large; generous amounts of cleavage and thigh were on offer. No wrap or raincoat in sight. The first crisis was that of the stuck lipstick, which she had jammed into a travel case so tightly that she could not get it out again. After a few minutes she told me to try, and by getting my fingers underneath and applying firm, even pressure I managed to liberate the lipstick. My hero? Hardly - "Thanks, dude," she said.

Then the traffic problems began. The driver ditched the Hutch, as it were, and took us through twisty country and suburban roads that eventually brought us to the Bronx River Parkway; he was assisted in this feat by an online GPS map system that tracked our progress every mile of the way. Thus he was able to keep us almost on time, until we got to Manhattan and its rush-hour gridlock. The last two blocks took twenty minutes, and since our safety margin had gone by the boards from the get-go, we were about the last to arrive.

Which, of course, did not stop the DFH from disappearing into the women's room for an additional twenty minutes. I paced back and forth, wondering if possibly this whole thing might be a mistake. Hah! I hadn't seen anything yet.

Just before I sent a member of the club staff to search her out, the DFH emerged and we went into the reception. The personage himself was there to greet us, and we spent a few minutes in polite chit-chat. Late as we were, the few nibbles that were being passed were down to tag ends; and just before the personage began his address, the DFH looked at her nearly-full wineglass and said she needed another. A brief pause ensued during which it became apparent that I was supposed to go and fetch it for her. And so, of course, I did.

The personage had barely started his remarks when the DFH looked at me in horror and whispered that her ring was missing. It appeared that she had taken it off when she was washing her hands for those twenty minutes, and forgotten to put it back on. So of course neither of us was able to pay much attention to the personage. At least the DFH had her two wineglasses to work on, which she did with gusto. As soon as the address was over, we raced to the bathroom. No ring.

We made inquiries of the staff and at the front desk. The club manager assured us that none of the employees would have taken the ring (the DFH looked dubious), but there were two large parties of non-members that evening. Just as the DFH was resigning herself to the loss of her ring (and I to having provided her with an unforgettable evening which would taint our relationship forever), one of the staff heard her complaint and opened a drawer where he had placed the missing ring for safekeeping. One would think this might have filled the DFH's heart with gratitude and joy, but you couldn't tell from looking at her. She put it back on her finger and made a beeline back to the bar.

No sooner had she procured another drink than the bar closed down. An older, rather skeevy lowlife came up and introduced himself to her, and immediately started to monopolize her while staring down her dress. The DFH did not seem to mind the attention, even as some friends of mine were whispering to me that the lech was well-known for his inappropriate behavior. I began to wonder if she was thinking of going off with him, and half-hoping that she might.

Alas, no. In the event, it would have been far easier on your scribe if the evening had ended then and there. For now a full-blown monsoon was raging outside, and it quickly became apparent that the DFH wanted me to produce another limo on the spot to take her home. I told her it would take at least an hour for a car to reach us, even assuming one were available, and that we would be better off taking a cab to Grand Central and getting on the train as planned.

Well, apparently that was not her plan. It now developed that she had a phobia about the train, and furthermore, it seemed there were no cabs to be had to get us to the station - the weather had seen to that. I had visions of being marooned for hours in the club lobby. The DFH seemed to think the situation was all my fault, and headed back to the bathroom to sulk.

Suddenly a cab pulled up at the club's doorway to discharge a fare, and I seized on it as a ray of hope. I hustled the DFH into it, earning a few dirty looks from her in the process, as though I were out of line to interrupt her sulk, and told the driver to take us to Grand Central. Well, this was definitely not to the DFH's liking. She wanted to be taken to a restaurant instead. I told her there were lots of restaurants at Grand Central, but it appeared they would be populated by more of "those people", and thus not appropriate. While we went back and forth about this, the cab pulled up at the station. I paid the driver, ran to the entrance through the rain, collared a young black man with a large umbrella, and asked him to escort the DFH from the cab to the station. From the cab I could hear the screech, "I can't step out into THAT!" For once, the DFH had a point: there was a six-inch deep river running along the curb. So the driver manoeuvered the cab closer, the young man proffered his umbrella, and the DFH made it into the station only a few drops of water the worse for wear.

Well, even a few drops were not acceptable. Right there in the entrance hallway the DFH threw a full-fledged fit. Her purse was ruined, her dress was ruined, and her shoes were ruined. It seemed that her life (not to mention our relationship) was at an end. There was no f**king way she was going to get on a train. It was all my fault for not having had another limo to bring us home.

I told her we could call the 800 number and have them send another car, if that's what she wanted. The absurdity of sending a limo to Grand Central, and the logistics of telling the driver how to find us in that huge complex, kept running through my mind. But all I wanted was to get the DFH to calm down, and to somehow bring this hellish evening to a close.

She vaguely remembered a restaurant she had once been to in the station - somewhere underground, she thought. I suggested she might be thinking of the Oyster Bar, but she didn't want to hear from me. She looked at the few shops still open, and picked one that she thought was suitably "upscale". In she went with her vague story of a downstairs restaurant. The salesgirls from the Bronx looked at her and shrugged. Then she came up with Plan B: to accost a suitably upscale commuter, and ask him the same question. To my astonishment, she proceeded to do this; and to my greater astonishment, the well-dressed man (after a brief pause of surprise), humored her.

His answer, of course, was the Oyster Bar, and he helpfully told her how to get there. So off we went, but upon arrival she pronounced it the wrong place and said it looked "like a cafeteria".

But at least by this time she was willing to listen to my suggestions (I had, after all, been right about the Oyster Bar). So I suggested the restaurant upstairs on the Vanderbilt Avenue side, which over the years has changed its name frequently but has always provided a creditable meal. Even late on a weekday night it was hopping, but we managed to find two seats at the bar, which turns out to have been the right place for us to have wound up.

After a few hefty pulls at her wine, the DFH again asked how I proposed to get her home, and again firmly nixed any idea of taking the train. After all, she said, she might have to go "pee-pee", and there was no way she was going to use the Metro North railcar restrooms. So I gave her the limo service number and suggested she give them a call.

The first time they hung up on her. She was fairly disjointed, giving her name, our erstwhile driver's name, and my name, and finally getting around to setting forth the request at hand. She called back, pleading "Don't hang up!", and tried again. This time she got an answer: because of the weather, no cars were available, and none would be until well after midnight.

After a few more observations on my shortcomings for not having foreseen the problem and ordering a second limo in advance, she started chatting with the barman about the football game on the large-screen TV in front of us. Then she made friends with the people on the barstools beside us. Then she ordered some food to go with all the wine she'd been drinking. Then she went off to the ladies' room, which turned out to be suitably appropriate, with an attendant who sprayed the toilet seats with disinfectant between customers (who knew?). Then she announced she was ready to be taken home.

Well, dear reader, I'm sure you know people who have taken cabs from Grand Central to Greenwich, but usually that happens after the trains have stopped running. I left her persuading the bartender to give her "just another half-glass" of wine, which (after checking out the cleavage) he was happy to do, even making her glass substantially more than half-full. I went out into the night, noting thankfully that at least the rain had stopped, and made my way down the cab rank to find someone willing to make a run out to Greenwich. I learned in the process that there is actually a published book of fares to locales outside New York City, and that the rate for a cab was almost exactly the same rate as that for the limo we'd taken earlier.

I also learned that the published fares were subject to negotiation. A nice Indian driver agreed to take us for about three-quarters of the published rate. I ran back to collect the DFH, who (as you might have guessed) had a large crowd of barflies around her and an empty glass in her hand. I bundled her into the cab, and off we went.

We had a close call on the FDR when a car just ahead of us did a 180 and wound up facing us. The driver braked and we slewed all over the road, almost pancaking into the car ahead. Luckily they must teach defensive driving in India, as he released the brakes long enough to regain traction and twist the wheel before sending us into a second skid away from danger. Clearly the tires on the cab were all but bald; the driver did a magnificent job of avoiding a catastrophe. He whispered, "Thank God!" The DFH clapped and cheered and stomped her feet.

We made it back without further incident, unless you count your scribe having to hear the DFH's lecture on men's hygiene. Nose hair and ear hair were unacceptable. Eyebrows must be kept short and waxed. Chest and back hair are a no-no. Fingernails must not show any white - only women are allowed to have nails with white rims.

The driver finally deposited us in her driveway. I gave him an extra $20, feeling he had earned it not only by getting us back safely, but by having had to listen to her drivel during the whole ride. I'm sure he had a tale or two for his wife when he finally got home.

So there we were in her driveway, with the cab lights receding in the distance. "Aren't you going to ask me in for a glass of wine?" I said. "Oh - I don't have any," she replied (yeah, right!), and gave me a hug and a sloppy kiss. We chatted for a moment or two, but as she was wearing nothing but the little black dress, it was clear she should be getting inside. One more kiss, and then as I was walking down the driveway to my car came the fond farewell: "Thanks, dude."


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