After several books, four kids, and a few marriages, Abigail Thomas gets back in the saddle.
It was fun while it lasted and it lasted three hours and 45 minutes, from 6:45 until 10:30. That's when the restaurant closed. It wasn't a blind date because I'd seen him around, first at Yum Yum Noodle Bar, where he looked gentle and gallant, and next at an art opening, where he looked angry. I was struck by his angular face, and asked a friend if she knew who he was. She nodded, saying she thought he was an artist. "I love the way he looks," I said. A week later he turned up in the audience of a concert my friend gave, and afterward she told him she knew a woman who'd like to meet him, but that the woman was shy. "Tell her that if she doesn't call, I won't eat for a week," he said, which charmed the hell out of us. He (let's call him Luther) gave my friend his number and e-mail so I could get in touch. The telephone was more than I could handle, so I e-mailed. We made plans to meet the following Monday.
The best way to prepare for an evening out when you're pushing 70 is to put the blue eyeliner on before you make coffee in the morning. Eyeliner always looks best after being napped in, blinked on, and showered with, and over the span of a day achieves the smudgy look so prized by Egyptians. The same is true for blush. Put a lot of it on early, and as the day passes it may begin to look natural. I recently found out that if your face is as lined as mine it is better to use cream than powder. I had always thought it was the other way around. "Put it on the apples of your cheeks," said the pretty young woman who had also asked as tactfully as she could if I spent a lot of time in the sun.
"Every chance I get," I told her.
By 6:45 both blush and eyeliner looked perfect. I wore a black skirt and a red velvet shirt and my best flowered Betsey Johnson tights, since my ankles are now my best feature. I showed up on time. Three young women were ahead of me in line, whispering, then one turned around and shyly declared that she loves my books. I thanked her, we blushed, and they were shown to their table. What a lovely way to begin an evening, I thought. Oh, I wish Luther had seen it, I thought.
I had prepared myself to see Luther's face fall when we met, but he betrayed no disappointment or surprise. Hello and hello, a pleasant shaking of hands, we took a seat at the bar. He was handsome. His shoulders were like great big folded angel wings. He was tall. His face was bony and also very deeply lined, and he looked as if he made things. We ordered drinks. I had a Manhattan, he had a ginger ale. When did you stop drinking, I wondered, because he didn't look like a man who'd been ordering ginger ale all his life.
Was I hungry? Oh yes. We moved to a table by the window overlooking the icy creek I can never remember the name of.
I think I loved him from the moment he looked at the menu, read "petit rack of lamb," and asked the waitress how big the portion was. "That's just what they call the way they cut the chops," she explained, "nothing to do with size." He had the lamb and I forget what I had. (I never forget what I have.) We talked about making things, we talked about how he began a sculpture, "with a gesture," he said, swooping his arm in the air. We talked about what he did after the gesture part was over, and what he did was a lot like what I do with writing, figure out what it's all about by heading off in different directions, and it was all very exciting. He talked about the boring suburb where he grew up, and how in his early 20s he had become a wilderness leader. Then when he was proficient at everything, rivers, mountains, rock climbing—"there was nothing left," he said, " but to take acid and go into the woods." Acid scares me to death and so do the woods. I asked if he'd ever had a bad trip. He shook his head. "The trick is to get out of the house in time," he said.
"When did you stop drinking," I asked.
"Eight years ago," he said.
We looked out the window at the creek, the shifting patterns of dark water and thin pale ice, and the flat rocks on the bank. "I have already recorded the shape and color of those stones," he said. This reminded me of Matt Damon telling Franka Potente, "I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside," but I didn't say so.
Somebody bought us a round of drinks, the waitress wouldn't tell us who, they wanted to be anonymous. I thought maybe it was the nice young woman who had spoken to me earlier. "No tip unless you tell us," Luther said, but she kept her secret. I kept wanting to lean across the table and kiss him. "Hold still," I wanted to say. I haven't felt like that in 20 years. We were still talking when we realized the restaurant was closing. We split the bill, got up to leave. He introduced me to two friends still at the bar, both of whom were named John. Then we left. He peered into the back of my car and mentioned something about the dog food there. "I'd love to do this again," I said, and he said something I didn't hear because I was opening the car door.
I got home and called my friend. "I had the best time," I said. "I just love him."
I never saw him again. I e-mailed him after a day or two saying I hoped he'd had as good a time as I had, and asking him a quick question about something he'd said. "Who was it you said said, 'Man wants but little here below, but wants that little longer'? Was it Oliver someone?" Of course I knew the answer.
His reply was brief. "Yes, Goldsmith, but not but, it's nor." Not another word.
"Oh my God," I thought—"you're a dick!"
But being 70 has its advantages. I did not spend any time wondering what I'd done wrong, or what I could or should have done differently, whether I was too old or too fat or asked too many questions. I am who I am and it has taken me a long time to get here. But part of me was sad, because I liked him, and we did have a good time. The date was like an island you stumble on with a stranger, and you spend a few pleasant hours together there, but you can never find the island again. I ached a little.
And then oh God, I suddenly remembered waiting for a glimpse of my first serious crush, Tony Wallace, as he drove up or down the hill outside our house. It was 1956, I think. I swear I could hear his car coming 40 miles away, and I'd rush to the window hoping for a glimpse of his elbow sticking out the driver's side if he was driving up the hill, or a girl in the passenger seat when he was driving down. Either way I was filled with love and longing, an ache that was almost pain. Tony was tall and gentle and beautiful with sad, sad eyes. He was a few years older than I was. He had asked me out a few times, and it was he who taught me how to French kiss on that hill overlooking the Hudson, the smell of wisteria everywhere, but finally I was just too young. "Oh Tony," is all I'm thinking now.