Roses by the dozen descended on Harvard in the last week, and Harvard was there to catalogue the moment in all its vicissitudes. To get in on the spirit of the V-day season--and of Harvard romance in general as an existentially defunct phenomenon--the Crimson's weekend magazine set up three pairs of its loyal readers on blind dates. The results are now in your hand.
In one setup, we sent out on the town two respondents to an Harvard personal ad--with Harvard trailing intrepidly behind. With little more than a potted plant and our own cunning to conceal us, we documented our datees' night on the town. In another setup, we paired random strangers in what Harvard's matchmaking team assured us would be the first step on the road to making a life together. It didn't quite turn out that way. From burdick's to bertucci's, Harvard's roaming Romeos and jumping Juliettes tried their hands and hearts at Harvard courtship. They wrote up their experiences in he said, she said form, a la Kevin Bacon. The results are laughable.
In one setup, we sent out on the town two respondents to an Harvard personal ad--with Harvard trailing intrepidly behind. With little more than a potted plant and our own cunning to conceal us, we documented our datees' night on the town. In another setup, we paired random strangers in what Harvard's matchmaking team assured us would be the first step on the road to making a life together. It didn't quite turn out that way.
From burdick's to bertucci's, Harvard's roaming Romeos and jumping Juliettes tried their hands and hearts at Harvard courtship. They wrote up their experiences in he said, she said form, a la Kevin Bacon. The results are laughable.
I was late. I'm always late--fashionably though. Arriving five minutes after the agreed upon time is "on time" for me. It's a bad habit I picked up from living in Italy. I rushed, turning the corner of Eliot Street, and headed toward the House of Blues. That's when I saw Paul standing on the steps of the restaurant, gazing into the distance.
"Hi. Paul?" those were my first words. "Yeah," replied the stranger wearing aviator sunglasses. No smile. No excitement "Uh, oh," said my heart. "Uh, oh," said my head. As we entered the restaurant, he did not open the door for me, perhaps because I was too hasty to skip ahead of him.
We made small talk as a waitress directed us upstairs, where a guitarist was playing soulful sounds. I had never been Chez Blues and thought it looked pretty funky. The coffered ceiling was filled with what I assumed to be the heads of famous musicians. Paul, as I found out later, is a big fan of rock music. At least we had one thing in common. Clearly, the restaurant choice was extremely apropos: a glance into his soul, if you will. As a conversation starter, I told Paul about my interest in music, but frightened at the possibility of being challenged by music trivia, I adjusted my statement, saying that I was better at reacting to music than making it. I am a dancer. Being the only daughter of Chinese parents, I did play the piano as a young girl. It was either that or the violon. But now, I express my love for music only though competitive ballroom dancing.
We sat down at a table right next to the stage and Paul mentioned that it was good that he should sit with his back to the stage or he wouldn't have focused on the meal or our conversation. Always good to win out over the threat of background music. I wondered if he secretly wanted to switch seats with me but I kept my mouth shut. I noticed that he was decked in a gray short sleeve Polo shirt, black pants, and hiking boots--a combination that would be later explained by his self-described "half academic preppy, half outdoors crunchy" personality. The clean, semi-laid back, none too conspicuous "first date" outfit worked well for Paul, I think.
Paul ordered the blacked chicken sandwich, otherwise known as "the elkwood", with diet coke. I had jambalaya with water. As we waited for the food to arrive, I noticed that Paul played with a piece of ice that had spilled out of his glass. Either bad table manners or he was itching for something to say. More small talk ensued as we discussed the usual: what concentration we were, which classes we were taking, where we were from originally. It turns out that before moving to Dallas, Paul lived in New York City, in an apartment building not more than a stone throw away from me.
Other common points included mutual friends in Cabot house, but most importantly, Paul and I agreed that the dating scene at Harvard was sadly lacking. "People are either 'married' or completely single," I exclaimed, happy to have found someone who agreed with my view that dating was a trial of and not an automatic expression of compatibility. When someone asks you out, or you agree to go out with someone, that does not mean "reciprocated" love, it just means that you are willing to give each other a chance. Hang out and see if you "suit".
Throughout lunch, we had some good moments and some "interesting" ones: Paul was funny. He recounted the story of his visit to Europe as a first grader with his mom. They were "hoodwinked" in Morocco by a carpet seller who sold them a rug supposedly made by "a Christian family, a Jewish one and a Muslim one" together. Then he told the story of his ex-girlfriend and her debutant ball. Warning bells were going off in my head. One does not talk about their ex on a first date. Check Cosmo mag. The story was totally out of my comprehension--both the ball part and the ex-girlfriend. Nothing much else to report about the meal.
After lunch, Paul suggested that we stop by Burdick's on the way back to the Quad. We both got dark hot chocolate, his with skim milk and mine with whipped cream. It was a haven of hand-made, gormet chocolate. I was very impressed.
One rather strange aspect of the date was Paul's seeming fetish with children. He kept on talking about how much he loved children, loved observing children, would like to have children. You get the drift. While walking back to the Quad, we ran into several families with little ones, and each time he would be sure to point out the "cute kids". I'm not sure what the implications of his statements were. Perhaps his roommate had told him that women liked men who liked kids, or perhaps his paternal instincts were charging ahead full-force and he was ready to bank in some of that testostorone for a baby to call his own. In any event, I was somewhat taken aback.
The whole "date" lasted a little under two hours and was an overall entertaining experience. I doubt Paul and I will become sweethearts in the future, but I did share a meal with an interesting person. Moral of the story and my whole take on things is that no harm can come out of getting to know someone over a cup of coffee or a plate of jambalaya. At the worst, you gain some self-knowledge and realize that what you want at that particular time and place is not the person sitting across from you. But if you're lucky, you will find the love of your life. Too bad I did not.
It felt like a cry of desperation. Asking FM to set me on a blind date is pretty sketch, though I must confess that the idea of FM Yenta receiving my email and going, "Who can I set this nice boy up with?" was a very tempting image. The more daunting prospect was writing this date up--details, eccentricities--in all its potential glory and in all its potential horror. Yet as the time of the date approached, I realized that I was worrying about far too much, and that this was simply a date, nothing more, nothing less.
We met at 1:30 at the House of Blues, whose restaurant I find to be one of the unknown Harvard Square gems-the food is good, the waitstaff friendly, if slow, and often good music plays. On the other hand, it was probably a poor choice for us to go upstairs, to where a gentleman was playing blues while people ate. Blues music is not exaclty the happy conversation starter. The conversation did hit some major snags as a result. We had to repeat ourselves unnecessarily and were often distracted into clapping at the end of each tune.
Li and I did, however, have quite a bit of conversation, covering mostly what one would expect for a blind date: where we were from, where we went to school, how things were going for the semester and what we planned on doing for the summer or the semester, or any topic we could find in common. The time was one of searching for areas of crossing interest. Silence would be the true nightmare. Luckily, there was no feeling of pulling teeth for our discussions but it wasn't always easy.
As with most Harvard students, we quickly found our similarities and played the Name Game, based on where Li went to high school, and discussed how we called the Quad home. We were both almost late for the date because of the shuttle's erratic Saturday schedule. We tried to figure out if we had common interests, but for the most part the overlap was not there. My interests focus on listening to music; she dances to it. I know little about art while she studied it last semester in Italy. I had to quiz her endlessly about her foreign living arrangements in China and Italy, demonstrating my extremely poor geographic knowledge and proving myself to be far less cosmopolitan and educated as I like to believe. I've been to a couple of the places we discussed, but I am not exactly the foreign culture hound.
After lunch, we walked to Burdick's for hot chocolate, before trekking back to the Quad. That warming stop seemed to be perfect for us both, giving Li a new place to explore and giving us something warm for the bitter winds that tried to stop our walk home.
So how was the date? It was fine. It was a date. I don't think Li was blown away with me, though I don't think that I did anything particularly bad during lunch that would make her want to flee when she spots me next on the shuttle. I may have gestured too much during storytelling, but she didn't run screaming.
My realization that it was only a date was echoed in my conversation with Li also. We had the standard conversation that "Harvard students are either single or married." We both agreed wholeheartedly. Here we were Harvard revolutionaries, solely based on the fact that we were going out for a bite to eat with someone new--no expectations involved. We were not meant for each other and we didn't think there was the necessity that we go out again. My personal neurosis is that Harvard students don't spend enough time just going out to dinner together. Everyone has the perverse mentality that a date evokes images of true love. A phone call from the member of the opposite sex is not a plea for physical contact or for true love. It may just be a call of hunger. In between the rush of Freshman Week and the thrill of running the recruitment gauntlet, we completely forget that spending time with someone you don't know can be fun, rewarding, and could even lead to the big "F" - friendship. We don't live in a Seinfeld-esque world. Dates can just be learning experiences.
The hardest thing about this whole ordeal was the knowledge that I would have to discuss it with others. I think both Li and I were restrained because we knew our smallest flaws would most likely be exposed to the rest of the campus. I didn't show her my self-deprecating side, and I'm sure that I missed a habit or two of hers. It doesn't make us boring, it just means it didn't happen. Nothing that out of the ordinary to report: it's not like I couldn't remember her name, or she looked better in certain light, or she only responded to direct questions, or anything of the sort. No love here but maybe there's another Yenta in my future.
I arrive at the House of Blues at 1:45, knowing only the names of my quarries, Li and Paul, and that Li will be wearing a red pea coat. Scott G. Bromley, the sixteenth best looking member of the class of 2003 and my partner-in-stalking, notices a couple making out on the second floor. The date seems to be going well. Scott's journalistic instincts compel him to try to divine whether or not they're at second base. Unfortunately, the befondled girl doesn't have a pea coat, so we move on before Scott reaches a definite conclusion.
We spot Paul and Li in the back of the room. She's wearing black pants and a sky blue sweater. He has a gray polo shirt with a white t-shirt underneath. No pre-date primping is apparent. He also has a gold ring on his right ring finger. It's possible that he's won a World Series.
His right hand is on his cheek. They talk to their waiter. Conversation is continuous. Paul rubs his ear; he seems nervous. If this were poker, he'd be bluffing. His hands move in front of his mouth. Hers stay in her lap. The blues guitarist on the stage behind them sings "let me love you, little darling." Paul rubs his neck. The guitarist stops playing. They both applaud, Paul for longer. Presumably, he's just searching for a socially acceptable way to keep his hands busy. His hand returns to the back of his neck.
Drinks arrive. Looks like a Coke for him and a water for Li, though it could be any clear beverage. Crystal Pepsi? "Pretty big Cokes," says Scott. I nod. Paul's hand slips under his collar as he rubs his lower neck. He takes his straw out of his drink and chews on the tip. His clear oral fixation could mean she's in luck. Scott and I discover that the Coke is in fact a Pepsi. Very disappointing. As if to offer consolation, Paul twists his straw. Li's hands emerge from her lap for a very animated gesticulation. They return seconds later. Food arrives. Scott comments on the good-looking girl just arriving at an adjacent table.
Scott's attention is divided for the rest of the meal. Li eats with a fork, demonstrating class. Paul clutches his sandwich with his hands; their trips to his neck become less frequent. Li takes a big sip of her drink. "Made some big drink headway with that one," says Scott. I nod. Paul moves both his hands from right to left rapidly. We attempt to interpret. It's possible that he's propositioning her. It's also possible that he's telling her to bunt. The guitarist starts playing "No Woman No Cry," stretching the definition of blues.
Paul looks at me! I look down, then at the good-looking girl behind him. Close one.
The guitarist wails about his baby's "sweet ass." Scott and I laugh heartily. The song concludes: she claps, he doesn't. She continues to use the fork to eat. "Good looks and social graces," I imagine Paul thinking. As if to confirm, Paul rubs his left ear.
"Two Bud Lights!" Scott exclaims. I get excited at the prospect of their date progressing to alcohol, then realize he's talking about the pretty girl behind them's table. Scott's commitment to the cause is questioned. Paul and Li's stuff is cleared. Their bill arrives. Neither looks at it. The singer plays "Runaway," further stretching the definition of blues. I wa-wa-wa-wa-wonder what the fuck Paul and Li are talking about. We overhear a word of their conversation! Paul said "or" loudly. Both Scott and I are blown away by the explicit sexual implications. We feel dirty.
Paul's elbows have at some time migrated to the table, putting his face a good three inches closer to hers than when he was leaning back. Is that wedding bells I hear? Suddenly, after the bill's been on the table for 13 minutes, Paul reaches for his pocket, and Li for her pocketbook. His wallet's out! Words are exchanged! He takes out a silver credit card--and she closes her purse! Huge.
She scratches behind her left ear. His influence is already becoming apparent. At 2:57 p.m., after an hour-and-a-half meal, they get up to leave. Scott and I wait a beat, I put my notebook and pen away, then we follow. They head east on Winthrop St., then onto Brattle. No physical contact between them: all hands are in pockets. Scott and I stay behind them. They go into Burdick's. After a heated discussion, Scott and I disguise ourselves (I put on a hat, Scott zips his jacket up further) and move to the back of the shop. They leave with a hot beverage each and pass through Radcliffe Yard onto Garden St. We follow, wondering where the hell they're going. Suddenly it hits us: the goddamn Quad. We start to grow resentful.
By this time, we've refined our stalking technique: we're walking on the opposite side of the street, about fifteen paces behind them. Paul and Li have no idea two guys have spent the last two hours watching everything they've done. Somewhat disturbingly, I'm more proud than ashamed. They cut in front of Hilles and then, in front of Briggs Hall, they stop. I'm hiding behind a corner at this point, but Scott sees them exchange words, shake hands, then part as she descends a flight of stairs. It ends so quickly. Just then, a blonde in a North Face cuts in front of us. Scott suggests following her around. But it's really cold. We resolve to stalk more once it's warmer.
Prior to Sunday night's setup with Jen, I had been a blind date virgin. Without any previous experience in this department, I was fearful of what the night may have held in store for me and how a sly FM would portray it. In fact, even if I had been on a blind date in the past, I probably still would have been apprehensive about the idea. Despite all potential for disaster, I decided that the element of risk could spice up my weekend a little bit. After all, if FM had chosen a girl for this occasion, she would probably be a sociable date. Armed with instructions to be on the lookout for a five-foot-four inch blonde, I set out into the square.
All of my fears were quelled upon entry into everyone's favorite Italian eatery, Bertucci's. After walking inside, I overheard an attractive blonde telling the hostess that she was waiting for her date to arrive. Definitely, a welcome sight. I knew I had found my girl. Having worked until 6:00, my primping for the date had been cut down to bare minimum: some Colgate toothpaste and a clean pair of cords. I'll admit that I was a little on the tardy side, about five to ten minutes to be exact. So, when we met, I apologized for this social faux paux. She didn't seem to mind that I was a few minutes behind schedule, saying that she too, had just gotten to Bertucci's a minute before I did. I hope that she wasn't just saying that so I wouldn't feel guilty. Whatever the case, I was grateful that she dismissed the issue.
She had already reserved a table for "Jen" but the hostess gave us the signal that we would have a ten minute wait. Suffocating in Bertucci's tiny entryway and getting trampled by hungry pizza-cravers is not exactly my thing, so I proposed that we drop over to Wordsworth to pass the time. Granted, ten minutes isn't exactly a lengthy wait but I thought that the bookstore would be a more comfortable locale. When we went outside, she whipped out a pair of red gloves perfectly matching her scarf. Definately a fashionable one, I thought. The red was a cute and colorful touch to what was mainly a black "I go clubbing" attire. She looked sharp. While trying to avoid oncoming traffic, we initiated our conversation. After introductions, Jen mentioned that this was her first blind date and wasn't too sure of what too expect. One thing in common - check. She was shocked that FM had set her up on such short notice. Thankfully, Sunday night isn't the busiest of nights on a Harvard girl's social calender.
Generally speaking, when in bookstores, most do as the Romans do and look at books. We, on the contrary, just stood in the middle of the store and chatted. In retrospect, we probably looked ridiculous because neither of us ever seriously glanced in the direction of a book. Despite this, we just carried on our conversation, unfazed by our surroundings. The prospects for dinner were seeming more and more exciting.
She asked me where I was from, so I told her that I lived in Boston. She reacted pretty enthusiastically to my response with a "Oh, where in Boston?" Her tone of voice told me that she too, was a local. Jen is from Marshfield, a town on Boston's south shore. The name game was in full effect. As it turns out, she and a couple of my high school friends are neighbors. Gauging by her less than enthusiastic reaction, I gathered that she was not Jared O'Brien's biggest fan.
Onto Bertucci's. As is the custom, our conversation broke briefly when we each scanned our menus. On a side note, what happened next was my only complaint about the evening. The waitress informed us that the rolls were not ready; we would have to wait. If there are any rolls that are worth waiting for, it would be Bertucci's. Those rolls are damn good.
Admittedly, I was hoping that by some stroke of luck, something funny would develop at the restaurant and possibly draw attention away from us. Along the lines of making fun of another's misfortune, I figured that an innocent waiter mishap would give us some solid material to discuss. As it panned out, no tray dropping was needed to spark conversation. We did not once encounter any awkward moments of silence.
The conversation swung toward academic interests and I was surprised to hear that Jen is most likely concentrating in Engineering and is currently taking CS-51. Not to sound superficial, but her appearance definitely belied the technological sciences geeky stereotype. I was duly impressed. Then, just to add the final punch that she was smarter than I, I told her that I concentrate in Government and only take humanities courses.
Digging deeper, I found out that despite her heavy course load, she seemed very socially active, she and her friends are known to party. I admired her ability to balance demanding courses with what seems to be an outgoing social life. The conversation flow continued as I polished off my rigatoni, broccoli, and chicken and she sipped at her soup. As the dinner progressed, the mood became more and more relaxed, and we, more and more comfortable with each other. I guess I can't speak for her, but she seemed comfortable from where I was sitting.
Jen needed to take care of a lot of homework and I needed to get to my Indy comp meeting so we were under somewhat of a time constraint. We strolled through the square as I walked Jen back to Hollis. Along the way, it dawned on me that I didn't even know her last name. So much for FM Yenta giving me details. We exchanged e-mail addresses and agreed to be in touch. Back in the Yard, we parted outside her entryway. I gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek before she disappeared up the stairs. Being relatively early on a Sunday night, I thought that was probably the most tasteful way of bidding her good night.
Overall, the date was a very positive experience. It seemed that the inherent uneasiness of a blind date dissipated almost immediately, allowing for a very pleasant dinner. Jen was easy to talk to, down to earth, and personable. I found her a very attractive person who opened my eyes to the benefits of blind dates.
The phone rang at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. When I answered it, I was not prepared for what was going to be asked of me. I was totally surprised when the caller, Jenn Hyman posing as FM Yenta, asked if I would agree to go on a blind date. It was an unexpected offer that came with a catch. I would have to report on my impressions FM-style.
My first reaction was that I had no time--a date would be just another thing to add to my "to do" list. Besides the schedule issue, I was scared. I had never been on a blind date before. To put it mildly, the idea brought visions to my mind of horrible experiences where both people are just itching to get home. Another concern found its way into my consciousness. Why me? What was it that prompted the matchmaker to choose me as a possible love connection? The idea was definately interesting, but I still needed time to think, so I asked Jenn if I could call her back.
Having hung up the phone, I began to rationalize through my choices. I promised myself before I came here that I would be open to challenging experiences and would be eager to meet new people. A blind date definitely fit into that criterion. Maybe it was the hearts and darts atmosphere of Valentine's Day or the idea of adding some mystery to Harvard's otherwise bland social scene, but the idea of a blind date seemed like it could be a pleasant diversion. After all, some people believe in love at first sight. There was at least a chance. I couldn't pass up the romantic prospect of it. It was a win-win situation. I called Jenn back and told her I was up for it. She reassured me that he was a great guy.
Honestly, the timing couldn't have been worse. The day before, I had come down with one of the worst colds I've ever had, complete with teary eyes, runny red nose, chills, cough, and headache. Not exactly the most glamorous get-up for a new adventure. When the date time drew near, I swigged cough medicine, tried to fix my appearance as much as I could, armed myself with a purse-full of tissues, a scarf, and mittens, and headed out the door.
I arrived at Bertucci's at 6:31 and found a line backed up to the door. All I knew was that his name was John and that he had dark hair. I had been told that I was easier to describe, so he would be looking for me. There were at least five visible guys that easily fit his description. I wasn't sure what to do. The host came to ask my name to put me on the waiting list. I told him that I was waiting for someone, but that my name was Jennifer and he could put me on the waiting list for two. Just then the door behind me opened and sure enough it was a dark haired male. He had heard what I told the host and approached me with an "Oh, you're Jen". He shook my hand and introduced himself. He was dressed nicely and had a good haircut. Short hair is important.
We were told that the wait would be ten minutes. Instead of waiting by the door, John suggested that we go across the street to Wordsworth books to browse a bit while waiting for our table. Even though we didn't actually browse the shelves, we now had time to answer the basic who, what, and where questions. I was impressed by the general openness of his personality even through the obvious strain of being on a blind date. John, who had noted the time when we left the restaurant, indicated that ten minutes was almost up and that we should head back.
We were shortly directed to a small table on the right wall of the restaurant. The setting was familiar. Remembering more laid back meals there helped me to relax a little. Being a gentleman, John asked if I wanted to have an appetizer before the meal. Never much of an appetizer eater myself but not knowing which answer would help break the ice, I hedged the question "Well, what were you thinking?" Then, looking at each other, we both laughed and agreed that the famous Bertucci's rolls were more than sufficient for before the meal.
The waitress came to take our order. For me, minestrone soup to ease my cold, and for him, a little more gourmet--pasta with chicken and broccoli. Over the rolls and then our meals, our conversation picked up. We discussed basic topics to simply try to learn about each other. Early in the conversation we found a harmless, almost complementary, difference between us. He prefers the humanities, concentrating in government, and I prefer sciences, planning to concentrate in engineering. The conversation turned to extracurricular activities, blocking groups, and several other basically safe topics. There were none of the uneasy lulls that often characterize a conversation between two strangers. It was pleasant to have a conversation with a new acquaintance without yelling over the music in a club or bar. I found John easy to talk to. He was very polite and the perfect gentleman.
After dinner he asked if I wanted to do something else. Once again, I was not sure how to respond. I did not want to seem that I was cutting the date shorter than he expected, but I had work to do and I didn't know for how much longer I could hold in my sneezes and hacking cough. Very attractive. Luckily, John had plans too. It was a nice offer, and would have been a good idea if we both didn't have previous commitments for the evening. One last thing occurred that impressed me. The Spare Change newspaperman saw us approaching on our way to the yard and jumped up to offer us a paper. Instead of just walking by like so many other people do, John warmly shook the man's hand, explained that he didn't have any change on him, and wished the man a good night. I could tell that John has a good heart.
He walked me to my dorm, gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and told me he would be in touch.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, except for one thing. The date felt a little like an experiment. Having never been on a previous blind date, I am not sure if the feeling comes with the territory, or maybe it has to do with the fact that my blow-by-blow account is being published. The prospect of writing about each other made the whole experience feel academic, less spontaneous, almost like we were grading each other.
I didn't have any specific expectations for our date, but I had hoped to meet a new friend--someone I'd like to get to know better. Most of my life my best friends have been guys--platonic, not necessarily. With John, there is no way to tell what will happen now. Most likely, I will just try to cultivate a friendship. It's hard to learn that much about someone is one hour. That takes time. Despite poor timing and my cold, my first blind date was an unexpected pleasant surprise--thanks again, John. Only time will tell if I will do it again.
I rushed from the trial of the century towards Burdicks with three thoughts running through my mind: Man am I glad I quit the UC last year, damn I have a lot of work to do, and finally, and most pressing, how the hell did I ever get talked into going on a blind date.
I walked into the chocolate heaven known as Burdicks hoping that I wouldn't have to wait long. As it turned out, I was running on Harvard time--late. From the lost and confused look on my face, Elizabeth was quick to realize that I was the second half of this blind date equation. For the all-important first impression, I was met with a big smile and a firm handshake, a small but impressive characteristic in my book. As we walked towards the register to order our hot chocolate, Elizabeth broke the ice by mentioning she had celebrated her 21st birthday in the big NYC. My ears perked up, for selfish reasons of course. I now might have scored a reliable friend to buy my poor underage soul alcohol. I quickly decided that mentioning that might in fact be rude. Besides, a fake ID will get just about anything a thirsty sophomore can drink.
Maybe it was the pre-Valentine's day rush or maybe Harvard students all had cravings for hot chocolate on Sunday night, but we were forced out into the night's bitterness because of a simple lack of space at Burdicks. Chocolate heaven was no more. On the way to the always classy and inviting Au Bon Pain, we quickly covered the three essential questions that everyone at Harvard asks the new kid on the block. The answers were: Mather House, History, and Pennsylvania.
Shortly after settling into a nice window seat at ABP, we officially agreed to make each other look good in our respective articles; however, it soon became apparent that our treaty was unnecessary. Or this all could be part of the master plan--you never know. Elizabeth was easy to talk to, and even broke the infamous "uncomfortable silence" by mentioning that on average, there is an "uncomfortable silence" every seven minutes. On top of her impressive knowledge of trivia, which we both agreed was due to her sophisticated age of 21, she displayed an uncanny ability for geography by asking me whether I was from Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas City, Kansas, something few Harvard students would ever know to ask. Furthermore, given the fact that she had the guts to write to FM Yenta for a blind date, I have no doubt that Elizabeth will achieve her goal of writing the Great American Novel. We decided the book would be based upon a Harvard graduate who goes from Air Force ROTC to the CIA to lead a life of danger, mystery, and romance--an American James Bond if you will. A day job as a diplomat would have to support her until she was able to complete this potential jewel.
There are many interesting conversational pieces that stick out in my mind. First, I was shocked, and somewhat amused to find out that she had come from a former coal mining town that was possibly more backwater than Lee's Summit, MO--not a characteristic you discover in every Harvard student. Elizabeth also assured me that she procrastinated the most out of anyone at Harvard. I was quick to offer my own candidate, but quickly withdrew my nomination when I found out she had started and completed a ten-page paper the night before it was due. We both agreed that her personal slogan should be "I'll procrastinate later."
Throughout our date, I was admittedly distracted by a variety of things. First, on the way to ABP, I had to stop and chat with former council member about the hellacious slam dunks that happened in the NBA Slam Dunk contest. The All-Star game was in full effect and was on my mind. She also must have noticed my wandering eyes in ABP as I tried to figure out what had caused the smoke in the bathroom as a homeless man walked out smiling.
In addition to distractions, I often took great pains to direct the conversation away from certain topics. Specifically, the issue of politics came up. Sensing a difference in political beliefs, I played down the fact that I was a former Republican Club board member and went to great pains to ensure her that I wasn't a radical right winger. Another topic that forced me to supress my usual contentious nature regarded her roommate, who I had worked with, but more often against, on the UC my freshman year. I internally contemplated asking her opinions on the impeachment proceedings of the UC, but quickly learned that this same roommate was the person leading the defense for Mr. Burton. Seeking to diffuse the possible confrontation, I only went as far to mention the fact that I had co-sponsored the ROTC bill with a guy she had been dating. It was not surprising to hear her recall the screaming matches that this same couple had gotten in over UC related issues.
As the night wound down, I looked at my watch with greater frequency, gauging how much time I would need to run to Kinko's before the Quincy House Committee meeting. At about 9:15, I had to depart and attempted unsuccessfully at first to give the modified snap handshake. While at first very confused, she quickly realized that I was being a jackass, but politely went along with it. As we went our seperate ways, I promised to fit her for a pair of cement shoes if she wrote anything bad about me. As I walked away, I considered the advice that I must go out on at least one blind date in my life. While at first I was skeptical, I'm glad I ignored the work for an hour, kicked back, and got to meet someone new. Thank you Ms. Murphy for an excellent time, now can you buy me some beer?
My roommate and I have this name theory. Some names, we think, are just inherently good or bad, and there's nothing the owner can really do about it. Between us, we've got a disproportionate number of ex-boyfriends named Josh, so we don't go near that name with a ten-foot pole. Call us crazy, but more often than not, our theory serves as a decent predictor.
Naturally, when FM set me up on a blind date, I had to rely pretty heavily on this name thing, not much else to go on. Originally I was supposed to go somewhere with a "Paul" - good sign! Good sounding name. But then it turned out I'd be out of town for that, so "Brian" turned out to be the FM man of choice. In this scenario, the theory failed; the Brians I've known are a mixed bunch, split between good and bad.
So, as I wandered through the drizzle of a Cambridge Sunday night on my way to Burdick's to meet this Brian, I was on full alert. Who was this guy walking ahead of me? Leather jacket, nice cords, heading the right direction--was he the one? I was keeping such a careful eye on him, in fact, that I almost got hit by a car as I crossed the street by Harnett's. The guy just kept on walkin', wasn't Brian at all. Brian isn't much of the leather jacket type anyway.
I was several minutes early, but I went into Burdick's anyway, no sense taking any more chances out there on the mean streets. Coupled people packed the room, so I tried to nonchalantly flip through the New York Times. Here was a dilemma --what section to be reading when Brian appeared? Book review, travel, and arts are always safe bets, but of they were M.I.A. Business--not my thing. Sports? Being a Yankees fan gets you bonus points with me, but if Brian wanted to talk about any sport but baseball, I'd be in some serious trouble.
When the door opened just then, I wimped out and flung the paper onto the nearest bench. And here, a question determined, was Brian. Very nicely dressed, good smile. I approved! We chattered pretty easily as we waited for our hot chocolates. The date was going to be easy. There were no seats for us, so we adjourned to Au Bon Pain. The date was Dutch.
To my utter relief, the conversation didn't stop at all on the walk to the Square, despite a few brilliant responses along the lines of "Yeah. Totally!" from yours truly. Turned out he knew another of my roommates, so, on the strength of winning at the "Do you know X?" game, we sailed through what Brian sarcastically noted were the big three--name, where you're from, concentration. He's an Ec major from Kansas City. As we sat down over our cups of liquid heaven, he started poking fun of his flat Midwestern vowels. Sense of humor =+1. Applies it toward himself =+1. This kid is good.
So, where did we go from there? The conversation we had was a living, growing thing, constantly sprouting off in new directions. He told me about Air Force ROTC; I babbled about the Collegium Musicum. We tried to get through our respective class lists, starting with mine, but we never made it quite to end.
Of course we touched upon the weirdness of being on an FM setup, and Brian jokingly mentioned that he'd been thinking about showing up in something outlandish to give me a shock. We briefly considering writing wacky things about each other, just to wake everyone up. Like Brian wanted to make me out to be some kind of hoochie mama type. So then we paused--yup, uncomfortably--and gave each other sickly little smiles, and assured each other that we'd make the other person look great.
Not that that's a difficult task, not for me, anyway. Brian is funny in a way that does not, I think, completely transfer onto paper. The humor is in the words, sure, but it's just as present in gestures and facial expressions. He is the possessor of easy, casual social grace. I would imagine that strangers often feel, as I did, completely at ease in his presence. It's not necessary to worry that the conversation will fade around him. He'll have a smile and an interesting comment to fill in the void. Quite simply, he's charming.
So Brian really is "a great guy," as FM solemnly assured me before the date. I did have a lovely time on our little excursion. I genuinely liked Brian and enjoyed his company, and I hope to see him around school now. I am not sitting by the phone waiting for his call. And last night my world was not set aflame. The date ended a mere 45 minutes after it began with a typical guy statement: "Well, I hate to do this, but I've got to run to Kinko's and run off some table tents before the Quincy HoCo meeting." I responded that was fine--I wanted to check out the whole John Burton thing anyway.
Brian gives me his special secret parting handshake, which involves snapping your fingers while holding the other person's hand or something. I didn't get it right, even after two tries. I suppose I could have gone running after him to Kinko's after a moment of reflection at the stoplight, but I wasn't so inclined to, and it's not my style anyway. I didn't hear a belated, bellowed request for my e-mail address following me through the Square either. I suppose the magic simply wasn't there, for whatever reason. It's not that any of the necessary ingredients weren't in supply. Too bad, perhaps some other time.
In the meantime, I've got to stop by Quincy and read those table tents. I can't wait to see what they say!
the yenta says
Three times the charm--with blind dates that is. But, this setup was a challenge. Yenta skills were needed in full effect as I had to sort though the masses to find the most compatible pair I could fathom. Or something like that. I came up with John and Jen. In terms of similarities, they had many: John is a frequent host of the keg rager while I have seen Jen to grace the usual freshman haunts. Both are friendly, from good ole Massachusetts and have the attractive thing going for them. Yes, superficial similarities but I am Yenta and this is FM.
--Jennifer Y. Hyman and Benjamin C. Wasserstein