Tonight while I was making a salad with balsamic vinaigrette, I remembered a date I went on almost 20 years ago and it made me laugh. But, it wasn’t the memory of a really fun date during which I busted a gut that made me chuckle: it was the sudden realization that the date itself was funny in a way I hadn’t noticed before.
The setting is Bay Area, circa 1993. I am 24 years old. I had just moved up from San Diego, where I’d worked as a file clerk in a law office. Before that I worked as an au pair for an Austrian family in Vienna. Before that I finished college, barely. By the time of the Bay Area—the time of the date—I probably felt a little worldly-wise, like I knew a few things.
In truth, I knew nothing.
My date was a hunky blond Berkeley senior who played water polo. We were put in touch by the woman I was staying with, a friend of his mother. We first met briefly at a party at his fraternity, where I said something sexy and brilliant like,
“So, playing water polo, you must have an amazing lumbar region.”
He looked puzzled and said something like, “Isn’t that part of your spine?”
No…I don’t think so…it’s not your spine I want to see. I told him I thought it referred to stomach muscles. He was pretty sure it didn’t, but he showed me his stomach anyway. Let me tell you, it was one hell of a lumbar region.
For some reason—perhaps because I seemed forward and mysterious, having inquired about his spine (clearly my true fetish) until I saw he thought that was weird, leading me to feign interest in his six-pack—he called me for a date. We went out for dinner, then stopped at a grocery store on the way back to his place. In the checkout line, there was a big friendly-looking dog. (I don’t think I’ve seen a dog in a grocery store before or since. It was late, it was the weekend, it was Berkeley.) I reached down and gave him a couple of good pats, and with each pat a cloud of dust rose off his coat as though he were the canine version of Pigpen. My date laughed—it was funny!—but I didn’t, couldn’t. My hand and arm were covered in dog dust, and I was embarrassed. Along with feeling worldly-wise, it seems I took myself rather seriously.
About being at his apartment, I remember two things. One is that he lay down on the couch with his head facing away from where I sat in a chair, and the other is that he said he liked to make balsamic vinaigrette for salad, and did I like it, too? I don’t know what I said; it’s possible I didn’t know what balsamic vinaigrette was. (Back then balsamic vinegar was still relatively new in the US, like lumbar regions.) He and I were young, and these were grown-up words of our time: balsamic vinaigrette. Just knowing about it was a sign of sophistication, never mind actually making it. I definitely wasn’t making it.
This reminds me of when I was a senior in college and a friend was interning at an office in Washington, D.C. She talked a lot about faxing, clearly proud of her use of this technology. And I was impressed. At that time my knowledge of fax machines came from the fact that, during Christmas vacation, my mother used one at her office to instantly send my late term papers to my professors, making them a little less late than they otherwise would have been.
In a similar vein, if you have two books on your nightstand, one the latest bodice-ripper by Danielle Steel, the other Guns, Germs and Steel, which do you tell your friends you’re reading?
But back to my date. Was his lying down a signal for me to come join him on the couch, or was it a signal that he was tired or bored and wanted me to go home? Was he trying to impress me with that vinaigrette business? At the time, I felt he wasn’t interested in me—he seemed a little aloof—and I soon said good night. (Afterward I learned he thought I wasn’t interested in him.) But twenty years later, in my kitchen, far away from Berkeley, I felt the answer to the latter question was “yes,” he had been trying to impress me, and in looking at it through older eyes, I found his attempt endearing, and I laughed at all the youthful posing that had taken place between us, the desire to appear a little more adult than we were, each of us with our own visions of what that should look like.
So, is he more sophisticated now? Am I? I’ll never know about him, though of course it’s possible he was, in fact, sophisticated back then. As for me, I no longer think that asking to see a man’s stomach at a party constitutes mature conversation, and I know about and use balsamic vinegar. Heck, I’ve even heard of argan oil. But a few years ago, at an elegant seaside restaurant, I used a fish knife to spread butter on my bread, which, when I learned of my error, made me feel a bit like Julia Roberts in the movie Pretty Woman when she mishandles her tongs and shoots an escargot across the room of a fancy restaurant.
Well, at least now I can laugh when my snail hits the wall.