By Mandi Benet
Since romance writers are meant to know everything about romance, we’re often asked about the worst date we ever had. I’ve never answered the question because no one can take that much humiliation in public, but bad (and good) dates are great fodder for writing (isn’t that great?!) and here’s one scene I wrote based on a bad date I had that I tried very hard to get out of. My friend Anne, who arranged it, would not back down, however. She said Dennis, a dentist, was all that.
All that what? He turned out to be bald and have bad breath, bad teeth and bad lines. Example: “Why don’t you drink? Are you an alcoholic?” (I’m not an alcoholic. I would just prefer a piece of chocolate cake.)
The next line: “How many times have you been in rehab?” (Not one.)
I managed to scurry away after an hour and a half. Not bad, considering. And I was able to use the time with Dennis as the basis for the following scene, a variation of which is in The Blasphemy Box, my 2013 novel in which fifty-year-old Maddy Nelson’s husband dumps her for his twenty-four-old personal assistant.
My friend Cameron could say what she wanted but since this was my first blind date in twenty years, I imagined the learning curve still might be steep. The day of the date dawned cold and foggy, of course, to match my mood, and by the time I arrived at the restaurant Café, a bistro kind of place with a long wooden bar and shiny brass fixtures, my stomach was roiling so much I nearly drove back home and inhaled the bottle of Pepcid sitting by my kitchen sink.
When I walk in, I see a man who fits the description Cameron had given me. He’s sitting at the bar surrounded by several waitresses. So that’s what Cameron meant when she said he was outgoing. He was indeed very good looking, in that preppy kind of way, with a full head of hair to boot, which at this age, by the way, was no minor consideration.
“Are you Gary?” I ask, sliding in between two of the waitresses.
Drink in hand, he wheels around on his stool to face me and then stands up. He’s about five feet three and his face is already flushed from booze.
“Jeez, yes, hi, you must be Maggie. Cameron didn’t tell me you were so tall.”
I want to say, “Cameron didn’t tell me you were so short.” But what I actually say is, “It’s Maddy.”
“Well,” he says, knocking back his drink, “Cameron said it was Maggie.”
I smile, wanting to tell him that a woman I’ve known since kindergarten probably knows my name better than a lush who’s never met, but I restrain myself. This is going south already, I think, but the image of an angry and disappointed Cameron persuades me to soldier on.
“Shall we sit over there, then?” Gary says. I nod. We sit down at a marble-topped bistro table in the bar area. The waitress comes over quickly.
“What are you drinking, hon?”
“Orange juice is fine.”
Gary looks puzzled. “Hmm.” He looks up at the waitress. “A screwdriver for me, then, and orange juice for the lady.”
The waitress heads off.
Just then, two twenty-something women walk in, dressed in tighter-than-right jeans and bra tops. Gary’s eyes bug out, but, to give him credit, he catches short his staring and turns sharply back toward Maddy.
“So you’re getting divorced,” he says.
“Yes. It’s almost final.”
“Cameron says you’re newly divorced.”
“Yep. My bitch of an ex-wife, who already took all my money, now wants more, if you can believe that.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “The money part of divorce is very frustrating.”
“You bet it is.”
The waitress returns with the drinks. He quickly slurps his and starts listing everything he’s frustrated with in his life: his Presidio Heights neighbor, who is the reason Gary has crab grass and dandelions on his front lawn; his huge alimony payments to his most recent ex-wife, who he says looks like Kim Kardashian without the big butt; President Obama, who should go back to where he came from, which Gary seems to be suggesting is the Gorilla Age; and his patients, who balk at paying his huge fees.
“I went to school for years so I could charge those prices,” he says petulantly. “It’s unfair for people to complain about them.”
I sit across the table looking at him, nodding, smiling politely, wondering if he will ever show any semblance of knowing he’s on a date with a person other than himself. And as Gary bleats on about how he thought the Middle East problem could be solved with the judicious dropping of an atom bomb, and how young black men should probably stay home more so white police officers wouldn’t be forced to shoot them dead, I think of all the laundry that needs doing.
“So,” Gary says then, “why don’t you drink?”
“I don’t really like the taste of alcohol too much, and it makes me sleepy.”
He looks skeptical.
“I’d rather have a piece of chocolate cake.”
Gary frowns. “You know sugar’s really bad for your teeth, don’t you? But no, really, are you in rehab or AA or something? Do you not drink because you’re an alcoholic?”
“No,” I say, “would you please excuse me?” and I get up and run as fast as I can toward the bathroom. Once in, I flatten myself against the wall and breathe deeply. How could Cameron fix me up with this cretin?
When I get back, Gary is chatting up our waitress, who is flicking her long blonde hair from side to side. I say, “I hope you will excuse me. I just got a text from the babysitter, and she said one of my twin boys is feeling poorly.”
“But if the babysitter’s there, why do you need to go home?” he asks. He’s slurring his words a bit from all that vodka.
“Because I am a mother and…”
“OK,” he says grudgingly.
I hold out my hand to shake his. “Thanks for the drink, and nice to meet you.”
“Same here,” he says. “I’ll call you.”
I just smile and leave as quickly as I can.
Soon after I get home, Cameron calls. “How did it go? He’s really good-looking, right? And rich!”
“Well, yes, all that is true, but he’s really not my type. We didn’t hit it off. ” I can feel Cameron reproaching me down the telephone line. “Too short?”
“No. Too drunk.”
“Too bad. He’s such a catch.”
Yes, I think. I’d have to catch him as he fell off his barstool.