I happen to love food. Not in a fat kid way, I just really appreciate a good meal. It’s hard to find a better excuse for that than dating, but since I care more about the meal than the conversation most of the time I’ve developed a bad habit of making reservations and worrying about who I’m taking later on. OK, so maybe I’m not the most romantic guy in the world, but I’ve been to a fair amount of the best new restaurants in Boston, and that’s far more interesting. Early in 2014 I was looking to knock one off the list in Harvard Square, and since Valentine’s Day was a couple weeks away I just went ahead and booked the table early. I mean, I may not have had a real V-day date in a decade, but how hard could it be to find a woman worth talking to for a couple hours over a good meal and dark red bottle? Gotta be better than watching Eternal Sunshine and getting stoned, right?
A few days before the infamous night of cheesy decorations and dimly lit dining rooms, I got back into town from a trip and decided to find out who was around. First came the former roommate who loved good food and Harvard Square – and was working really early the next morning. I considered calling up a single friend or two next, but decided to go for the glory and try a former co-worker I had had a crush on for months: a stand-up comic who’s an incredibly passionate and intelligent liberal with a penchant for mockery and a feminist ideology. Honestly, the only thing that could make her better would be looking like a pin-up model’s sexier sister, which she does. (But, I mean, who the hell mentions a feminist’s looks? That’s just crazy.)
There was no point lying to her: a last minute Valentine’s Day date means I didn’t make the reservation with her in mind. I’m fairly sure she found that funny. Well, in retrospect, maybe not. Maybe I’m just a dumbass. You know what? Let’s just go with that. Anyway, she gladly accepted and I had a date with an incredible woman at a restaurant near the top of my to-do list. That’s just how you roll when you pull in – well, less money than your average elementary school teacher, admittedly, but fuck it – I’m clearly the damn man, right? Even my last-minute, “holy shit she said yes?!?” date is better than most guys’ best effort.
So the most ridiculous of faux-romantic nights came, and I left work early to make sure I was ready on time. Tie? No tie? Yes, I do worry about those things sometimes. And since I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat, you should know that I did not, in fact, put on a tie. Rebel without a collar. A sport coat, a pea coat, and a pleasant walk through the snowy Harvard campus later and I found myself 5 minutes late, so I sent a quick text knowing full well she wouldn’t be there yet either. No response 5 minutes later – must be driving. I ducked inside to get out of the snow, found that she really hadn’t arrived yet, and just went ahead and got our table – a 6-person booth all to myself while yuppie couples all wearing the same bland facial expressions of contrived pleasure were stuffed into small cafe-style two-tops on the floor. It’s good to be the king. Maybe this friendly date would actually go well. 5 minutes later I waved down the waitress who was clearly waiting for my date to show up. The reservation had been for 8, and the beer came a little after 8:15. Still not there, so, what do I do? Start worrying? Not really my style. I just assumed she was running late and was about to show up profusely, apologetically embarrassed. Two-adverb embarrassment.
The first sip of beer tasted wonderful, but marked the exact moment that the universe officially decided to conspire against me. The next 5 minutes, I can assure you, lasted half an hour. Every second the bartender made five drinks, and every minute another couple ate an entire meal. Perhaps time was slowing down so she would get there without people realizing I was alone! “The universe truly loves me and wants me to be happy! Certainly she’ll be here any second!” Another hour and a half passed and it was 8:25, so I decided to give her a call. That’s long enough to not sound desperate, I assume, because I thought I should call and I don’t get desperate. Desperation was part of my childish, insecure, youthful years. Since then I’ve traveled. I’ve lived. I don’t sweat these things, and she’s certainly walking up the block right now trying to find the place. I should give the poor girl a call – it’s sort of a small alley and she could be lost.
No answer, but you already knew that. I know you did, because: 1) look where this is posted and; 2) I knew she wasn’t coming at that point, too. So when do you cash-in and walk away from that red leather booth? Half an hour. That’s a rule. I know it’s a rule, because I was only willing to wait a half hour. An even half hour – authoritative, decisive, not wounded, just practical. At 8:29 I was about to reach for my coat when…
…a couple near the window got up to get some fresh air. I saw them because that window was where I was about to see my date show up all flustered and apologetic. (I may have been watching intently for that last 4 and a half hours since I made my call 4 minutes prior.) The woman getting up was light-headed, so they were briefly stepping outside. Well, almost outside. She actually stepped near my table, and at 8:29 and 40 or so seconds, she fell into the edge of my booth and collapsed on the ground, momentarily but completely unconscious. Directly at my feet. I don’t know if you’re aware of the protocol, but you do not step over the unconscious woman to go pay your tab at the bar and leave. You put your coat on the bench, offer the full, slightly warmer than ice, water that has been nervously sweating across from yours for the last 23 minutes, and you wait. Patiently.
You wait for the manager to make her comfortable up against your booth. You wait for the bartender to call the ambulance. You wait for the EMT to show up, and the cops, and a full-on fire engine loudly parking in the middle of a quaint side-street in Harvard. (Apparently, even with the snow it was a slow night for them.) You sit patiently while the cops talk to her husband, not knowing that no, he didn’t drug his wife who was entirely fine half an hour later. A grueling half-hour. Half an hour of the entire restaurant staring right at you because it would be rude to stare at her, but you’re the only other show in the room. Half an hour of the hipster kid who didn’t even wear a fucking tie to a date on St. Valentine’s Day sitting alone without some nervous woman standing nearby waiting to get back into her booth. Half an hour of the (admittedly cute) bartender shooting you half-apologetic glances. (What was the other half? Pity? Judgment? Silent, mocking laughter?) It was nearly 9 o’clock when I was finally able to get up from that cursed booth that had been contrived by the gods for their own amusement at my shameful hour of coming to grips with the fact that no, she really never would have gone out with me. I wonder how many hours passed in the minute that it took Icarus to discover that the sun was too lofty a goal, and too dangerous a foe.
I finally got to confront my demons and the mocking bartender the only way I knew how: whiskey and beer. The 2nd whiskey was on her. The 2nd beer was on the other bartender.
On the way out I decided to cut through Harvard the long way. Truly, there are few things on this planet more gorgeous than that campus in a fresh coat of still-falling snow, on a night barely cold enough for the water to freeze. The only things moving were a few small animals that seemed to be out for the show and a small handful of couples that couldn’t be happier if they kicked me into a snow bank and hit me hard in the face with a ball of ice. I fucking hate those goddamn assholes.
Luckily, there’s a particularly wonderful bar up the street that hosts a “Fuck Valentine’s Day” party every year, and I happen to have a 25-ounce mug hanging on the wall. I also probably have liver damage, but more drinking had to happen. I had finally been truly stood up; on Valentine’s Day; at a restaurant I had really wanted to try; and been stuck there for half an hour being intently examined as yuppie drama unfolded a foot and a half from my sheepish expression; a look of “yeah, she stood me up, and I don’t care. She’s just one more dame in a world full of women that should jump at the opportunity to be sitting across from me. I’m just stronger than you could possibly conceive.” A sheepish look indeed, that probably was more along the lines of, “just stare at the recently unconscious woman instead! Please! Anything else! Just stop looking at me! Please!”
Lesson learned: when you get stood up, you should wait 29 minutes before leaving. 30 is far too long.
Next year I’m going back to Eternal Sunshine and a bag of weed.