The Love Lottery

“Intelligent, sensitive artist. Unstable creative type. Friend of little children and dogs. Enemy of bankers and landlords. Seeking pretty, slender lady with soft heart and sense of humor.”

I confessed to my friend that nobody had called in over two weeks. In fact, nobody had called at all. “You see,” I told my friend, “they’re all just a bunch of materialistic Yuppies. They aren’t interested unless you have a bank account and play tennis on the weekends.”

“Look Dave, you’re the kind of guy they want to go see movies about, then discuss with their real date over a four dollar cup a Cappuchino.”

“Gee Sue, what did you think about that fellow who was nice to the little children and dogs?”

“Oh, he was swell, but I wouldn’t want to go out with him.”

So it went. Okay, I realized I was cutting my chances by throwing in that “unstable” bit. But hey, it wasn’t like I was an axe murderer. I was just a little broke. Well, actually I was on welfare. But a lot of semi-respectable people are on welfare these days. Besides, I had real qualities to offer. I was intelligent. I was sensitive. I could write and take great pictures. I was an artist by God! I had an imagination-the very prerequisite of romance. I didn’t need to take my dates to movies to entertain them, or engage them in trite conversations over four dollar cups of Cappuchino.

Women were supposed to dig artists. I was a rusty jewel in a sea of Yuppie geeks. I wanted to see what would happen if I put the real truth in my ad. I wanted to eliminate all those shallow, superficial, would-be dates.

It turned out I eliminated them all. Well, almost all. Of course, there was Gail.

Gail sat there drumming her fingers nervously as she stared out at me from behind large horn-rimmed spectacles. “What do you think about this bar-isn’t it cool?” I glanced around the seedy bar. There was the requisite television at the end of the counter. A lone biker in cut-off denims was shooting pool under a dim, smoky light. To my date, a good ten years younger than I, this was the cat’s meow.

It didn’t take either of us long to figure out we weren’t exactly compatible. I would draw out my thoughts in carefully orchestrated sentences, weaving little stories. Gail would respond with a “Well, I guess so,” or an “I don’t know,” accented by a well placed shrug or here, or a quasi-thoughtful look there.

We obviously weren’t getting very far. In spite of my previous experience and the Codeine that I had ingested I was beginning to feel decidedly anxious. I began searching for my out. Perhaps a trip to the men’s room would provide the answer. Maybe there would be a handy little axiom scribbled on the wall for situations just like this.

My date had never played the personals before. It showed. Her friend and her had made a bet. Each had to pick an ad for the other to answer. I had to admire Gail, or at least her friend. They were the only women who responded. I figured anyone who responded to an ad like mine deserved credit. Gail said that anyone who was an adversary of bankers and landlords deserved to be met. Now she was telling me I looked old.

My earlier ads were more successful. They were advertisements in the true Madison Avenue sense of the word. I was a knight in shining armor.

“Nationally recognized photographer, successful novelist, motorcycle adventurer. Tall, slim, attractive. Seeking warm, slender lady with similar attributes.”

Now there was an ad a warm, slender lady could sink her teeth into. And at a $1.49-a-minute, the 900 people were happy to run it. And I was amazed to discover how many 5’4″, 150 pound ladies there were out there with “similar attributes.”

“Well, I’m not the best looking woman in the world,” Amy said. “But guys honk at me when I’m riding my bike.”

“Maybe they’re just telling you to get out of the way.”

Amy may not have been the best looking woman in the world, but at least she had a sense of humor-she didn’t hang up-our date was set. I arrived at the seedy bar, entered, and scanned the row of stools. A woman in a long dress and curly black hair gave me a quick, furtive glance. I was hoping it wasn’t her. It was. It was too late to slither away.

I made my approach, introduced myself, and resigned my fate to the empty bar stool beside her. She was right, she wasn’t the best looking woman in the world… but she wasn’t scary. In fact, viewed through a smoky, alcoholic haze, she didn’t look half bad. I ordered another beer and studied the situation. My formerly vociferous phone mate was suddenly acting quiet and shy. It was obviously a case of low self-esteem.

Perhaps she was overwhelmed by my dashing good looks. I joked, feeling a bit cocky, and struggled to carry on the conversation. Amy responded with quick, terse phrases, mostly averting her eyes.

I finally couldn’t take it any longer. “Why are you being so quiet?”

“Well,” Amy stammered, “we’re so… different.”

We’re so different? Was this an obtuse way of telling me she didn’t like me? That she wasn’t attracted to me? Me? A guy who had worn his Irish Spring sweater? I pondered the implications. A half an hour of carrying the conversation with this beady-eyed, pointy-nosed woman, and here she was, rejecting me. My confidence sank like the foam head in my waning beer.

“You mean your not attracted to me?” I said.

“Well, we’re just so… different.”

There it was, laid out on the table. I was a dog. Now it was my turn to be quiet. I was used to being rejected by beautiful women, but this was disconcerting. I was used to viewing matters in a two-dimensional framework-either a woman was attracted to me or she wasn’t. “Differences” only became apparent after time. But Amy knew we were different immediately. Women can sense these things, especially women with sharp noses.

Amy sensed my rejection. She was a sensitive soul. She was Jewish. She felt guilty. “There’s some young women over there,” she said. “Why don’t you ask one of them to dance? I’m sure they’d dance with you.”

I glanced around the room. Reggae music was blasting at ear splitting levels. There were men dancing with men, women dancing with women. There were a few young ladies milling about on the sidelines. Somehow, being rejected by a below average looking thirty-eight old woman did not inspire me to go sauntering up to some foxy young chick and say “Hi, wanna’ dance?”

I decided to call it a night. Amy decided to walk me to my bike. It was going to be one of those long, drawn out goodbyes. In the harsh, glaring light of the street lamp, her features became acutely apparent. A sharp mouth and long nose set against a thin bony face. Stubbly black hair protruding from unshaven legs adorned with black shoes and white stockings.

Amy watched as I readied my motorcycle, going through the motions in silence. She was giving me lingering looks that said “You’re actually kinda’ nice-perhaps I was being a bit hasty.”

“It was nice meeting you,” she suddenly blurted out. “Would you like to get together sometime… as friends?”

I sensed it was coming. As I banged the bike into first gear, I turned to her… “Amy, I’d love to, but you know… we’re really too different.”

There were more women. I met them in bars, in clubs, in vegetarian cafes. But the best part about the personals were the telephone conversations. I got to know womens’ life stories. They called me in the middle of the night, crying. I was a good listener. I made them laugh. I was their friend.

I talked to women who wanted life commitments, women who wanted to talk, women who wanted to screw. I spoke to some who were shy, some who were outrageous, some who were downright nuts. It was love at first sound… “My god, you’re the karmac reincarnation of my deceased lover!” exclaimed one. “You and I, we’re pod mates,” announced another. So on and so on. After this, meeting was often an anti-climax.

Then there was Paulette. Paulette had given up a high-priced Yuppie career to work with homeless animals. She was my kind of woman-Nouvelle poor -someone I could relate to. Paulette sounded wholesome. We were meeting, rather appropriately, in the park. The best thing about meeting in the park was that I could get there early and bring my binoculars.

Once I was securely ensconed in my strategic spot, I whipped out my binos and zeroed in on every female bicyclist who happened by. Paulette was just a tiny speck in the distance. I zoomed in. She was pretty and petite with long brunette hair. I had plenty of time to hide my binoculars as she huffed and puffed her way up the steep park drive.

I took to Paulette immediately. She had freckles and a funny, vivacious manner. She took to me too, sitting closely, smiling at me with warm brown eyes and laughing at my jokes with eager anticipation.

We laughed and strolled through the park like two giddy adolescents. I was totally attracted to this spontaneous women-child. In comparison with all the ludicrous and disappointing experiences of the past two months it was an overwhelming feeling. That heady sensation you have when you’re completely comfortable with someone-the beginnings of true love.

Although I liked Paulette, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to drag out a first date. I was tired and decided to cut it short. Paulette didn’t want me to leave. She pulled out a cigarette, took a long drag, and sat down beside me. We sat in the cool, foggy San Francisco afternoon and talked some more.

“I really had a great time,” I said. “I’d like to see you again.”

“We can go to the cafe,” Paulette said. “It’s right down the street.”

“I’d love to, but I didn’t get much sleep last night. I really should go. How about I call you on Thursday?”

Paulette stood beside her tiny bicycle, sulking like a petulant child. “But who will I hang out with?”

“I really like you. I’ll call you on Thursday, okay?” I said, as I peddled away. Glancing over my shoulder, I caught a glimpse of her standing on the sidewalk in front of the passing rush hour traffic, looking lost and confused, like a small abandoned child. Perhaps she was abandoned as a child, and I was simply re-enacting the traumatic moment as I peddled away.

In spite of her obvious insecurity I really liked Paulette. Moreover, I knew she really liked me to. I thought about her all evening and the following day. I felt like calling her, but I was pacing myself-I wanted this to last. I also wanted to demonstrate to her that I was someone who kept his word-someone she could trust. I called her on Thursday; we made a date for Saturday night.

Saturday couldn’t arrive soon enough for me. Our date was set for eight. Paulette called at seven. “Dave, there’s something I gotta’ tell you…”

There was something she had to tell me, an hour before our date? She was a Republican. She was a transvestite. Perhaps she worked for the CIA.

“Dave… I… I decided to get back together with my ex-boyfriend. I hope your not mad.”

Mad? I wasn’t mad. The following day I reworded my ad.

“Frustrated, sensitive artist. Friend of crying women and dogs. Potential pod mate. Likely re-incarnation of deceased lover. Seeking slender, pretty wom… Seeking… anybody!”

©1998 David Hoffman

Pick up David Hoffman’s book, “The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror,” available in most major book stores.