As he walked, Jean-Michel tried to think of the last time he went out on a date. When was it? A year ago? Surely it couldn’t have been more than that. Indeed, it had been; nearly a year and a half, unless he was mistaken. It was a blind date, set up by a friend of his he no longer talked to as much, though not because of how the date had gone; sometimes friends just grow apart, over time, if they are separated by distance. In any case, the date did not go nearly as well as Jean-Michel hoped it would; he was so terribly distraught that he swore to himself an abstinence from dating. Was he still abstaining? What had been so terrible? Nearly colliding with a homeless man wearing a garbage bag caftan, he reflected on the events of that evening. She had come to his apartment to pick him up.
The first thing Jean-Michel noticed about her was that she was considerably shorter than he was; at his height, this was not an easy feat to accomplish. She had dirty blonde hair that barely went below her ears, and she had such a tiny frame that Jean-Michel imagined she must have had some difficulty when shopping for clothes. For their date, she wore denim shorts (it was a rather pleasant day), a tan short sleeved collared shirt, and black leather pumps with faded white socks. He had certainly found her to be physically attractive.
It was a moment or so after she had opened her mouth that problems began to develop. Over dinner, she began expressing her views on love, marriage, and the role of men and women in society. Jean-Michel thought she must have come to his apartment by way of the mid nineteenth or eighteenth century. He disagreed with her on virtually every issue: agog when she suggested that women were meant to cook, not to work. Being someone who cooked quite a lot, he did not quite know how to respond. Did reincarnation exist, and if so, had she been a male chauvinist pig? Jean-Michel was reminded of one evening he had spent with a close friend of his, Carolyn.
She, too, had a petite figure, with long black hair. The kind of small glasses a person could quite easily hide behind, but which weren’t overwhelmingly ridiculous. She was brilliant, and subscribed to Ms. “She likes Gloria Steinem”, he told some friends, “so surely you can tell she’s just right.” Carolyn was more to Jean-Michel’s liking than this vapid blind date of his. During the evening, Jean-Michel and Carolyn were appalled to hear some unkempt men sitting in a nearby booth in the diner they were in saying that a woman should be chained to an oven. What a repulsive way to speak of a human being, they had said. Conversation was in French that evening, as the brute men were unlikely to understand them in this manner.
How terribly saddening, Jean-Michel thought to himself as he compared the two evenings and wished that he was closer to Carolyn than he was. Alas, that was never to happen, for she was with someone now. Even if she hadn’t been with someone, she expressed a strong disinterest to have with him anything other than a platonic relationship. Rounding the corner, Jean-Michel looked at his wristwatch. It was barely after three, but he was quite hungry. It was probably because the muffin and coffee had not been at all that filling a meal. Fortunately, there were many great delis in the city of New York.
Finding one, Jean-Michel entered, his heart and mind set on a corned beef sandwich on Jewish rye bread. When his waiter came, that was exactly what he ordered. It was not his first visit to this deli, and they somewhat knew him. A cup of coffee arrived shortly thereafter. As he waited for his order, a cell phone started to ring. Oh, those infernal machines, thought Jean-Michel, what terror they brought to an ordinary experience. Why did people feel such a strong need to be able to receive telephone calls twenty-four hours a day? The phone continued sounding – it sounded like Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” – was the phone owner so thoughtless that they couldn’t turn off or respond to their phone? After four rings of the phone, a man’s voice was heard to say, “Hello?”
One of the fascinating things about cellular phones is that, short of a loan or a theft, there is exactly one person who will pick up the phone you are calling. This reduces the awkward phase of voice recognition, wherein the callers are trying to determine the other’s identity. Advanced technology, thought Jean-Michel, has robbed society of much of the mystery and fun of making a phone call. On the plus side, it got rid of most prank phone calls and telemarketers, whose sole purpose in life seemed to be calling people who are in the midst of doing something more important (such as scratching the cat) and would prefer not to give out any money or opinions on the individual they are thinking of voting for in the next election.
Only in a New York Deli
Jean-Michel looked at his half-eaten sandwich and smiled. Why was it that you couldn’t get a decent sandwich like this one outside of the New York area? They used the poorest bread imaginable, and were ridiculously small. A New York corned beef or pastrami sandwich was thick enough that it was nearly impossible to hold with one hand. What he had before him was, indeed, a thing of beauty, as far as sandwiches went. The coffee cup rarely was empty for long, as the servers were quick on their feet and knew how to get customers to come back.
A young couple caught his attention. They both looked no older than twenty. They also shared a remarkably similar sense of dress style – a sort of androgyny, in a way. Bellbottom jeans – hadn’t those gone out of style at the end of the seventies? As far as bellbottoms went, these were comparable to the bells at the church of Notre Dame in Paris, or the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The couple often laughed, and looked fondly at one another. He would put his hand on her face – she blushed, and smiled. They called each other pet names, and fed each other from their plates. Feeling almost envious, Jean-Michel could not help but think of the absurdly high divorce rate. How did people get from the merry couple that sat drinking coffee near him into a couple of people who were so fed up with each other that divorce was the only option? It wasn’t exactly the most pleasant thought.
People got married too quickly, thought Jean-Michel, before they would even have time to get to know the other person, their various quirks, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies that might in the long term be maddening. Jean-Michel slowly shook his head. They were so young! True, he was only a few years older, if his estimate on their age was at all accurate, but those few years seemed quite long, Jean-Michel thought as he considered the last few years of his own life. The couple was now in a bit of an argument, over the bill for the meal. He said that he had paid for the previous meal, and so she should pay. Her argument ran along the same lines. The young woman finally agreed to pay just to shut him up, according to her loud protest prior to paying.
Jean-Michel was grateful not to be the young man involved in this conversation now. Of course, he thought to himself, he would have acted differently were he in the place of the young man at the table. He would have worn an entirely different set of clothes, for one. Ah, but this was not the most important thing. In a situation such as this one, he would have immediately offered to pay, even if he did recall paying the previous time. In the long run, did it really matter if one person paid a few more times than the other? The couple left, ostensibly in a huff.
Across the deli, an elderly couple was sitting in a booth, sharing a strawberry milkshake. This sight got Jean-Michel to smile widely, showing off his neatly aligned teeth. Not everyone that got married ended their marriage in divorce. With compromise, and effort on behalf of both people, Jean-Michel thought, there could be a long-lasting marriage. “Till’ death do us part” might have some meaning.