The Right Stuff and I met after work at Fifth Floor, near the Chronicle. He was still upset that the paper had opposed Prop 8. Did I turn on my heel and walk out? To my shame, I ordered another martini. “You liberals,” he grinned. He did look a little like Clint Eastwood.
Politics aside, Howdy—that was for Howard, actually Howard III, also known as Three-Sticks—was fun. There was absolutely nothing politically correct about him. Over drinks—he had three martinis, I switched to lite beers—he told me stories about the restaurant he had been running near Fisherman’s Wharf for two decades. Like the half-dozen “slip and fall” injury lawsuits he got hit with by a family that also kept tripping in front of city buses. Or the time a waiter had accidentally knocked a tourist’s false teeth to the floor—the poor guy had taken them out and wrapped them in a napkin next to his plate—and stomped on them, then wrapped the crushed dentures neatly in a clean napkin and returned them to the table.
“The guy never knew what hit him,” Howdy roared. He had beautiful teeth.
Howdy invited me to his “pad” for a lobster dinner. I told myself that it would make a nice change from rice and beans.
“Change” was an understatement. Howdy lived in a penthouse in Pacific Heights with a fantastic view of the bay and, unlike most single guys, he furnished it in style. Appropriately, it was decorated in early American, most of it inherited so it escaped the divorce settlement ten years ago, he explained. A couple of portraits of dour-looking ancestors. A vintage armoire to house his flat-screen TV. An enormous insulated “closet”—Howdy had ripped out the library—with redwood racking that held about a thousand bottles of wine. No vinyl sofa for this guy. No books either, but at least I didn’t see any guns.
The evening resembled those inaugural parties that Ronald Reagan had each time he was sworn into the presidency, where everything was donated by wealthy corporations. The champagne came from grateful wine merchants who sold to Howdy’s restaurant, the flowers from grateful florists. For all I knew, the lobster—which, Howdy said meaningfully, was an aphrodisiac—came from grateful fishermen. It was so nice not to have pick seitan out of my teeth.
I would have felt like a kept woman except that I did the dishes before we went to bed. Howdy liked everything to be shipshape. Probably that attitude explained why Republicans were usually so good at getting elected.
* * *
Life couldn’t have been any better. I had a job. I had a man—actually, two men. I’d even dropped a few pounds, thanks to all the exercise I was getting.
And Christmas was just around the corner. My editor warned me that the Chronicle was shorthanded over the holidays and I might be borrowed to cover some of the season’s society galas.
Howdy and I went to the bilingual Christmas Eve mass at Mission Dolores, then back to my place for our own little communion. He brought champagne and foie gras, which he told me proudly he’d smuggled into the state. It was easier to buy marijuana than foie gras these days, he complained.
“It’s tragic that California’s imposed a ban on this stuff,” he said. “We expected better from Schwarzenegger. Must come from sleeping with a Kennedy.”
“Well,” I told him, “you can always import it from France.” That was a deliberate dig: I knew that Howdy was still pissed off that the French had opted out of Iraq. But when it came to food—and virtually everything else in life—Howdy was a pragmatist.
“Thank goodness for the French,” he agreed. “At least they’ve got something right.”
It was hard to anger Howdy. Maybe that’s why I found him such a restful change from Joe. Sure, he hated the axis of evil and he loved hearing Savage rant, but basically he was as easy-going as dan, my dozy eHarmony match. Deep down in Howdy there was a seed of good humor that only needed a little vodka to sprout.
In fact, the only thing I could do to really annoy Howdy was to tell jokes about WASPs. You can’t badmouth women or Jews or blacks anymore, he’d say waspishly, but it’s always open season on white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. He even ransacked my bookshelves to find a copy of the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. The term WASP, he read, “is usually disparaging to a segment of the population wrongly thought to be impervious to slurs.”
On Christmas morning, I gave him argyle socks and he gave me a gorgeous silk camisole and the new Sarah Palin book.
“Is this a joke, or homework?” I asked.
He smiled benignly and went on his way. He was expected at his daughter’s for lunch, and Howdy liked to be prompt. It was a good thing, too, because he narrowly avoided hitting Joe with his Range Rover.
Joe had brought me a wool sweater hand-knitted by Bolivian peasants. They must have forgotten to wash out the lanolin or something, because it felt like a hair shirt, only greasier, when I put it on, even over Howdy’s camisole. I told Joe that I’d donated one-tenth of a heifer in his name to some family in a developing country.
“An entire heifer was more than I could afford,” I said apologetically, “and a trio of rabbits—a gift that keeps on giving and was within my budget—didn’t seem that exciting. Also, Chris would never forgive me for treating bunnies like a cash crop.”
Joe said it was a great gift, but could I make sure it was a dairy cow, and hurried off to cook Christmas dinner for the homeless at Martin de Porres on Potrero Avenue. Meanwhile, with less seniority than anyone else in obits, I headed off to work; we needed to be staffed in case someone noteworthy dropped dead.
The following day, as promised, the society page borrowed me to cover a fundraiser for Gavin Newsom at the Palace of the Arts. Foolishly, I invited Joe along, partly because he got such pleasure observing the lifestyles of the very rich. Howdy walked in with a society bimbo on his arm. Actually, as I would report in the next day’s Chronicle, it was the appropriately-named Dodo Gunn, who had no shortage of homes herself, with residences in San Francisco, London and San Miguel de Allende.
I must say, Howdy looked great: Black tie suited him. Dodo turned her back for a moment to let Howdy help her off with her mink, and he gave me that shit-eating Clint Eastwood grin. Joe heard me whimper.
“Lisa, do you know that guy?” Joe said.
“I might,” I said cautiously. “Doesn’t he own a restaurant?
“Yeah. The place that hires illegals and pays them below minimum wage. I picketed it last year.”
Joe stalked over to Howdy. “Dude, you still paying your help $3.50 an hour?”
“Darling, who is this man?” Dodo asked Howdy.
“Darling?” I said to Howdy. “Darling?”
Joe froze. “Lisa,” he said, “how well do you know this guy?”
So I told Joe that, yes, I’d been dating Howdy for a month, and I told Howdy that I’d been dating Joe for a couple of months, and I told Dodo—who looked, like her namesake, ready for extinction—that Howdy was dating both of us.
Joe was devastated, although he seemed less upset that I’d been unfaithful than that I’d been unfaithful with a Republican. I could imagine what was going through his head: He’d shared bodily fluids, indirectly, with someone who’d voted twice for George Bush.
Howdy, typically, took it all in stride. He shook his head at me on the way out. “You liberals . . .”
At least one quandary was solved: I wouldn’t have to choose a party for New Year’s Eve. Once again, I’d become an Independent.
* * *
Lynn said that BrainTrust.com was for the very smart, or at least for people who thought they were. To qualify, you had to have graduated from an Ivy League college or one of a couple dozen other upscale schools; the site screened out pretenders by demanding a transcript or some other proof that you had actually attended.
Also, the site was a lot classier-looking than, say, RepublicanSingles. The backdrop looked like parchment and, instead of the American eagle, it featured a drawing of a cupid who resembled Mahatma Gandhi with wings. The slogan was “smart is sexy.” Personally, that hadn’t been my experience, but maybe they knew something I didn’t. They also said that the best dating motto is “You never know.” That sounded like something my mother used to say and she didn’t even go to college. I wrote a profile:
A Frida in search of her Diego. Stanford BA ’82, editor, interested in languages—je parle francais un petit peu—literature, other cultures. Leads eclectic, occasionally glamorous professional life. Loves reading, movies (indies and classics), museums, fine wines, European cities, beaches (and, yes, the clichéd walk at sunset). If it doesn’t bother you that I do crossword puzzles in ink, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“It’s okay,” Amy said. I could tell that she wasn’t enthusiastic. “But do you really want a fancy degree to be your main prerequisite? If that’s your standard, you could be matched with both of your ex-husbands.”
She had a point. This was a time to try something different. She urged me to go on jdate.com, too. “You don’t have to be Jewish to like Jewish men,” she said. “In fact, it might be an advantage. And it’ll be more efficient. You won’t waste time waiting for guys who don’t write back.”
What she meant, but was too nice to say, was this: I wasn’t getting any younger—except, of course, in my profiles. I wrote another, for jdate:
I’m petite, pretty and very family-oriented—a devoted mom to my two teen-age sons. Divorced after 25 years of marriages (consecutive, not concurrent), I keep in touch with all my ex-mothers-in-law. I like big cities, liberal politics, NPR. I’m not Jewish but my best friend is and she sent me here. I admire Jewish culture—Phillip Roth, Woody Allen, Larry David, rye bread—and family values (not Woody Allen). I’m told I have great shoulders and a nice sense of irony.
* * *
I was drowning in emails. Orthodox Jews. Princetonians. Secular Jews. Yalies. And women! With other sites, I had often gone to the “Women Seeking Men” area to check out the competition, but with jdate.com, anybody you clicked on could see you and click back. Which was why my first email through jdate was from Slim_Streudel. “What do you have in mind???” she demanded. Absolutely nothing, I apologized.
In fact, I would have chosen Slim_Streudel over the first guy who contacted me from BrainTrust.
I’m a sucker for a steep learning curve. Bet you’ve got some great ones. Check out my profile.
Let’s take a sensual stroll along the beach, the sunset reflected in our eyes as we hold hands and enjoy the tide. Then back to my place for the best night of your life. Here’s what I’m looking for: You’re beautiful, busty and brainy, with legs and an IQ that won’t quit.
“Willy’s an Ivy Leaguer?” I said to Amy.
“Probably Penn,” she snorted. Her first husband had gone to Penn.
While we talked, four more emails popped up. A wink! A flirt! I clicked!
Princeton ’70, Stanford MBA ’72. Attractive (usually taken for tenured faculty). Having spent 30 years in investment banking, I’ve finally discovered what I want to do, crafting a line of “all things Canterbury”—Canterbury Cathedral liturgical jewelry replicas. I’m seeking an equally vibrantly alive Episcopalian who’s open to the idea of having children. “Animis opibusque parati/dum spiro spero.”
Even though the Latin was Greek to me, I sensed that this guy was over the top. The mention of Canterbury reminded me of my sophomore year seminar on Chaucer. Tenured faculty certainly hadn’t looked attractive then. Delete. And click.
I’m 52, with two grown daughters who are the light of my life. You can see them in the photo. My ex-wife is there, too; I thought you might want to see the entire mishpoke. We’ve been divorced for three years. It was an intermarriage—she’s Catholic—so I suppose you could say we’re interdivorced now. I’m a small businessman—I mean, my business is small, but I guess I am, too. Anyway, if you’d like to talk, drop me a line. If you don’t, that’s all right, too, I understand. References from my rabbi on request.
PickleMan was funny. But did I really want somebody who did shtick? Delete. And click.
Berkeley BA ’60, Boalt Hall JD, Mensa member, Dante freak. Happy in Patagonia or black-tie. After spending some time in research, I now teach. I enjoy quaffing a brew with fellow thinkers, philosophical après-ski discussions over glug, travel to exotic climes, but am also happy to lose myself in my home library. (See photo.) Are you that special “Jane Eyre” type of woman in her 40s or 50s who knows who she is, has weathered life’s challenges, and is intellectually curious to explore the arts and the world via travel?
No, I’m not, I replied silently. I always thought Jane Eyre was a wimp; I preferred Mr. Rochester’s homicidal wife. Delete.
I had to turn off my email anyway. I’d promised the boys that I’d drive them to visit their father at Stanford Hospital. Martin had had a setback in pursuit of his own glory days. After his first hair plug treatment, the dermatologist gave him steroids to reduce the swelling, but then his scalp started bleeding heavily. Two days ago he had been admitted to ER with a high fever and trouble breathing. Apparently he had picked up a staph infection that, because of the steroids, his immune system couldn’t fight. He almost died, but the hospital cleaned him up, put him on an antibiotic drip and deposited him in intensive care.
Johnny said Dawn, his girlfriend, had not been compassionate: She told Martin that he looked like a Cranshaw melon. Frankly, I was impressed. I would have thought the only melon she knew was a honeydew.