Matchmaking is a precarious art. Like minesweeping, it requires a high degree of altruism, nerves of steel and knowing that a mistake could be fatal. Especially to a friendship. Which is why I rarely asked friends to "fix me up," other than with an affordable dentist or hair colorist. So, it wasn't easy for me to ask for help from a long-married female friend.
"I'd like to meet a mensch," I told Mindy.
Mindy and I had been childhood playmates and confidants. (She's the one who told me where babies really come from.) Only a week or two elapsed before Mindy came up with a possible match.
"I think this could work," she said. "His name is Mitch. His wife died two years ago. May I give him your number?"
I didn't ask about his physical appearance, age or occupation. I trusted Mindy's judgment. A few days later, Mitch called. He sounded upbeat, but he monopolized the conversation to the extent that I could've done the New York Times crossword puzzle, run a marathon and brokered peace in the Middle East before I got a word in. I credited Mitch's verbosity to nerves and the fact that he hadn't dated since the Eisenhower Administration.
Which brings up what could've been a deal-breaker. Mitch was considerably older than I am. But he didn't sound old. Plus, the idea of being a "trophy wife" at my age had a certain reckless appeal.
We met for lunch at a popular restaurant. My first impression? Mitch was taller, leaner and more youthful than I expected. He asked the hostess for a table where we could have "privacy." Nice move. No sooner had we slipped into a booth, than Mitch launched into The Story of His Life. My eyes wandered surreptitiously across the menu while Mitch provided a detailed account of the Korean War.
"Give him time," I thought, while debating the merits of the orzo salad. Our waitress made several futile attempts to take our order, but Mitch shooed her away. My stomach was making audible noises. I dug my nails into my hand so I wouldn't scream.
"My father-in-law was in the bread business," said Mitch, warming to his subject.
I nodded like a bobblehead doll. I would need more than a salad to get through this. Maybe a French Dip and a Bloody Mary? If I didn't eat soon, I'd faint. But Mitch was deep into in-law issues.
"I hated the son of a bitch," he said.
In spite of my discomfort, I desperately scanned the horizons of Mitch's epic tale for common ground. I found none. Politically, I have a crush on Elizabeth Warren. Mitch was hot for Mussolini. I love to travel. The only time he left American soil was in army fatigues. I love literature. His reading didn't extend beyond the Dow Jones averages.
Whenever the waitress passed, I tried signaling for help with my eyes like a kidnap victim. Finally, he relented long enough to place our orders, but without skipping a beat of his saga, somehow squeezing in a mention of a club sandwich between his addict son and fallen arches. At one point, I interjected a comment just to see if I could possibly lure Mitch into an actual conversation.
"You interrupted my flow," he replied. "Now where was I? Oh, yes, so there's this woman in the other building …"
Why didn't I fake a restroom emergency, headache or simply run out to my car? Partly because I felt allegiance to the friend who had set us up. And partly because I was intrigued. How long could this guy ramble on without asking me a single question?
The answer was two and a half hours! During which I learned more about the bread business and the woman in the other building than I ever wanted to know. When the check finally arrived, Mitch rewarded me for my endurance by walking me to my car and reciting the Gettysburg Address.
Well, not exactly Lincoln's speech but with equal fervor. It had something to do with Mitch's "needs," his deceased wife's valiant efforts to meet them and how he frequented massage parlors to appease his virility. I wasn't listening. Mentally, I was cruising the shoe department at Nordstrom's.
When we finally parted company, Mitch gave me a tight hug and two new problems. One, what do I tell Mindy? And two, what do I do if he calls me again? I decided to be pragmatic. I would thank Mindy for making the introduction. If he asked, I would see Mitch again, if only for scientific purposes. In other words, I would pay my dues.
Every day that passed without a call from Mitch felt like a reprieve. Maybe the woman from the other building got cable. Then, after two weeks, just when I thought it was safe, he called on a Sunday afternoon.
"Listen, I want to be honest," Mitch said. "I'm looking for a woman who is pleasant, intelligent and attractive. You are pleasant, intelligent and attractive enough …"
"I've been giving it a lot of thought," he continued, "I don't want to live with anyone again but what I miss most is affection."
Where is this going? Mitch took the scenic route and finally got there.
"I don't feel we have chemistry," he said.
Thank God! This is where I was tempted to tell Mitch all the things he never asked about when we met. About my conviction for murdering my first two husbands. Working as a dominatrix in Amsterdam. And being on the waiting list for a brain transplant. None of which are true, but after listening to Mitch's stories, I felt he deserved to hear my Top 10.
Instead, I said, "I agree."
According to Jewish tradition, matchmaking is a mitzvah. It is believed that anyone who makes three successful matches in their lifetime gets to sit in first class in heaven. I don't know if that is true but I feel as if I narrowly avoided the red-eye to hell.