A Brief Experiment with Married Men Part Two
Next on the list were Devesh, the Indian financial adviser, and Daniel, the lawyer. On a Saturday afternoon I had a brief conversation with Daniel, who was at his office plowing through piles of paperwork because he was about to go off on a Caribbean cruise with his wife and kids. Then all the next week he emailed me from on board, telling me more about his spouse (“I married a résumé, but we have a lot of history together and great affection for each other”) and telling me what a great trip it would be if only he were with someone “more romantic.” He also confessed to finding “mature” women much more sexual, and this threw me for a loop because he was only two years younger than I. (And where the hell was Mrs. Daniel while he was drumming on his Blackberry?)
And there were emails from Devesh, who never sent a phone number (nor did he request mine) or a photo (ditto), but was so enchanted to find someone who knew a bit about music and opera that he went ahead and bought tickets for La Traviata. When I protested that it seemed like a good idea to meet first, for a drink or coffee, just to get a gander at each other, he suggested dinner on Friday. Okay, fine. But I had a sinking a feeling about this one. Nevertheless, I seemed to be stuck.
I met Devesh at an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side, and as soon as I was within 10 feet of him, following the svelte hostess to the rear of the dining room, I knew this was never, ever going to work. He looked like Yoda without the distinctive ears. From the outset, he was formal and reserved, with a singsong accent, tilting upward toward the end of sentences. There was no trace of warmth or humor, and when he told me, for at least the second time, that his wife traveled half the year, I was not surprised. I would, too, if I were married to him. He became animated only when talking about his clients and how much money he made for them. I knew things were not going to improve during the course of a three-hour opera (though in the back of my mind I was wondering if perhaps he could turn into a music buddy, if only he weren’t such a stiff).
Still I hadn’t been to the Met in two years and so I dressed up in a little black number and wore sexy heels and my best fake pearls. Devesh offered no compliments. He simply commented, as I was wrestling my way out of my coat with no help from him, that he never wore a coat to the opera or theater because it was too much of a bother. But he had bought excellent seats, and Verdi is Verdi. I found myself fighting back tears even as the orchestra launched into the plaintive overture.
How fitting was it, or how deeply ironic, that a would-be mistress was attending a performance of an opera about a courtesan with a heart of gold who comes to a wrenching and tragic end? Too late, as Violetta is collapsing from consumption, everyone realizes just what a splendid person she was all along, how noble and self-sacrificing, even in her foolish quest for pleasure. I reminded myself to double up on the vitamins when I got home.
During intermissions, Devesh complained about the quality of the singers. The tenor did not project well enough; the soprano was “washed out.” I told him my favorite Violetta is Teresa Stratas’s interpretation in the Franco Zefirrelli production, made into a movie directed by Zeffirelli. He pulled a sour face. “Too froufrou for me.” I began to wonder if this man ever had any fun at all. It made me uncomfortable to be sitting next to him, as though I were trapped in the middle of a five-seat economy row next to some whining obnoxious stranger.
After the performance, he excused himself to move off to one side of the lobby and make a phone call. I assumed he was calling his wife, as the conversation went on for several minutes. But no, he’d been trying to summon a private car, and as we stepped outside the opera house and crossed the plaza toward the curb, he was fuming. The driver from the car service, which he had used many times before, couldn’t find the Met. “How is it a driver does not know the way to the Metropolitan Opera House?” Had he considered that not every stratum of society is familiar with high-end New York landmarks? That maybe the driver was a newly arrived immigrant, just trying to make it, as he, or possibly his parents, must have been doing so many years ago? No, I did not like this man and his arrogance.
And, besides, there were plenty of cabs, and as we were going in different directions, he hailed one for me. I parted from him gratefully and as graciously as possible, taking his long cold spatulate fingers in my hand and thanking him for the evening.
The next day I got an email from Devesh, telling me he did not think we were a match but adding that he would be delighted to offer financial advice whenever I needed it. I didn’t think so. I preferred to wing it with only one IRA.
And that left Daniel, still on his cruise, and Sam the banker, with whom I’d been having a fitful email correspondence. I am a terrible sucker for men who can write sprightly prose and trade bon mots online (and that’s partly what got me in so much trouble with Michael), but that was not Sam. He came across in his words as solid, capable, perhaps a little dogged….but he also sounded, well, genuinely nice, and that’s a rare enough quality in anyone.
We exchanged bits of information, and he told me that he grew up in the South, the oldest son of a large churchgoing Baptist family, but he long ago gave up his faith. His apartment in Manhattan was less than half a mile from mine, which did sound awesomely convenient should anything, ahem, ever develop between us. Without having so much as a phone conversation, we agreed to meet for dinner at a restaurant midway between us. I knew it well, and liked the upstairs dining room, and so I emailed back telling him I would request a table there (“We’ll see just how much clout I have in this town!”).
I arrived first and was pleased to see we’d been granted a corner table in the intimate space on the balcony. Sam showed up a few minutes later and I was almost immediately smitten. Tall with sandy graying hair and an easy smile, he looked a little like the actor William Hurt in the dim light of the dining room. He also had a trace of a charming Southern drawl, and the talk flowed easily between us. We quickly established that we were both of a liberal political persuasion, both, at that time, not completely sold on Hillary and a little contemptuous of Bloomberg, both big fans of New York. He spoke of his daughter, who was a student in Boston, with pride and affection, making me just a little envious because I always wished I’d had a daughter (even if Jeff’s little hellcats weren’t quite what I had in mind). Sam also mentioned paying the college tuition for a disadvantaged African-American boy he had met through a volunteer program in St. Louis, and my heart really warmed to him. It was the sort of dinner you don’t want to end, and after he’d paid the check (he waved my credit card away when I pulled it out), I suggested an after-dinner drink at a bar three blocks downtown.
The place was packed with people in their twenties to forties, but we found a couple of stools and ordered B&Bs. After a few sips, I was brazen enough to ask, “So when’s the last time you had sex?”
“I don’t know….almost two years ago, I think.”
I shot him an astonished look—could he have been lying? No, he just didn’t seem the type—and decided at that moment that it would be an excellent idea to plant a kiss on his wide amiable mouth. He responded with alacrity and the merest suggestion of tongue. Pretty soon we had entered that zone where you don’t care how many people there are around you and if any of them are staring (I know, I’ve been here before). The middle-aged make-out session went on through another round, and Sam’s hand grazed my breast. I found myself apologizing for the bra, an Iron Maiden number from Calvin Klein, the only undergarment I owned that gave me a whisper of cleavage. “And it cost me all of twelve dollars online,” I said. “Worth every penny,” he responded.
Around midnight we reluctantly parted on the sidewalk. Of course I woke up the next morning to a thumping hangover, but also to a lovely message from Sam. He had already told me that the wife and daughter would be in town over the weekend and all next week but he wanted to meet for lunch, and get together again on Sunday after his family left, and I began to make plans for a killer roast-chicken dinner at my place ten days hence.
Top: Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of La Traviata.