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Thursday, December 1, 2016

That First Date (REVISED)

Nick Drake – Northern Sky
I never felt magic crazy as this
I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea
I never held emotion in the palm of my hand
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree
But now you're here
Bright in my northern sky.
It's been a long time that I'm waiting
Been a long time that I'm blown
been a long time that I've wandered
Through the people I have known
Oh, if you would and you could
Straighten my new mind's eye.
Would you love me for my money
Would you love me for my head
Would you love me through the winter
Would you love me 'til I'm dead
Oh, if you would and you could
Come blow your horn on high.
I never felt magic crazy as this
I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea
I never held emotion in the palm of my hand
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree
But now you're here
Bright in my northern sky.

I think Paul McCartney would understand those things that I felt when I set to drive out to Heather’s apartment on that night. The things that he seemed to feel for Linda when he put pen to paper and wrote “Maybe I'm a man and maybe I'm a lonely man who's in the middle of something that he doesn't really understand maybe I'm a man, maybe you're the only woman who could ever help me baby won't you help me to understand in “Maybe I’m Amazed” are the things that come from overcoming the butterflies and nervous anticipation of the first date to be something more loving and open in who we are and who we want to be, as well as who we want to be around.

For the most part, the music I was listening to on that drive made absolutely no sense at all. Most of it was from things that I was listening to at the time, but in the middle were a few songs that would come to say the particular something that I hoped that they would say for a new relationship potential.

Nevertheless, to illustrate how muddled these choices were, the Foo Fighters’ “Miracle” was smack dab in the middle of songs by Kings of Leon, New Pornographers, the Eagles of Death Metal, and the Black Crowes! To break up that assortment of rockin’ tunes, Dave Grohl sang softly over a sensitive post grunge orchestrated ballad that “Everything that we survived It's gonna be all right Just lucky we're alive Got no vision I've been blind Searching every way You're right here in my sights.”
Somewhere later on the soundtrack, more sensitive mope, all be it really good sensitive mope, followed through as Rogue Waves sang out to me that even if I cut off attachments, the “one thing I’m missing is in your eyes.” Polyphonic Spree’s “Light to Follow” made the cut, but then again, so did Moe’s restrained studio jam “Spine of a Dog” and Chron Gen’s Europunk burst of energy that is “Jet Boy Jet Girl.”
See, no rhyme or reason.

Through what was happening at the moment, this wasn’t a drive to cut off attachments; it was a journey to find them. And for that, I probably should have fast forwarded to the end of the disc and listened to James Brown sing about getting “off on the good foot,” but I was nervous and feeling so much stress from job and life and past failed relationships that I was trying not to introspectively rationalize things, so I was going with something that wouldn’t make me think about anything, date or otherwise, until I got close enough to start to feel those butterflies that would always make me feel uneasy and nervous inside.
While some people go into first dates with the concept that they’ve broken out their best condoms (ribbed, for her pleasure), I was trying to combat that feeling of potential uneasiness, which might make me feel like I have to go to the bathroom to expel the feeling of nervous worry. Thus, I wasn’t thinking about what would or wouldn’t happen as part of a nightcap, something that I might be moved to with the sounds of early 1990s radios crap like Color Me Bad’s “I’m Gonna Sex You Up;” instead, I was going with the surrealistic indie noise of Olivia Tremor Control’s “Jacqueline 1906.”
In thinking about that needless worry now, I should just have skipped over the rockin’ tunes and moved on to the end of the CD to go with funky tracks like “Baby I’m a Star” and “Super Freak” so that I could feel at least a better version of what the palatable R+B of my youth felt that I needed to be thinking if I wanted to have a successful first date. However, it was a different time in my life, and for that guy, un-necessary worry was all the rage.

Using my directions that Heather had provided for me, I drove into the sizable town of Ephrata proper, and when I drove down the big hill that is 322 / Main Street, I knew that I would have to turn on Park Avenue and follow it back to the corner. In a tiny apartment there, Heather would be waiting. When I got there, I sort of kind of knew that I would be making the course of a relationship happen despite being a bit nervous for our first date.
As to what “a relationship” was, I’m not sure, but I was looking for connection and easy conversation that would move toward something.
If I got that, I would be happy.

The first part of any new computer dating get together is the same feeling as a job interview. We’ve e-mailed, we’ve talked, and we’ve made arrangements to do something. Every stage is a new bit of nervousness and the feeling of having to say and do the right things to get to the next level. At any place that the feeling is less than ideal, there’s no next interview and no formal job offer. It’s definitely a lot of pressure unless you’re the one doing the interviewing, which means that you are the one getting to choose between multiple competitors looking for you. In a situation like this, dating becomes some version of The Bachelor(ette). Here, there are a ton of suitors looking to trade blows over the person of their dreams who is looking to sow his or her wild oats with a variety of sexually compatible partners. For one person, the notches are adding up and it’s the life. For the other people, it’s excessive competition in the name of “love.”
However, provided it’s not a case of having to wine and dine someone you’ve just met who has very expensive tastes, all is well.
On that note, I can remember meeting one gal at my friend Jeff’s Beatles tribute band show. We danced a little, and I got her number. It turned out that she had driven over an hour and a half to be there, so if I wanted to see her, I had to go to New Jersey. I was willing to go, so I picked her up and we went to a pretty expensive first date restaurant visit in the year 2000. Between the drinks and the food AND the tip, it was about $50 a person. I’m sure she felt that she deserved it and wanted to get something out of the evening, but I just felt gouged, and as we sat at her apartment watching Yellow Submarine, I can say that I wasn’t happy with how the evening had gone, and for that, I couldn’t wait to get home.
Not coincidentally, we never went out or spoke again.
I don’t think this is a unique experience, all things considered. I have heard of many women who want to go out on dates for the free meal, at least if men’s stories about them can be believed. For all the talk of “all men want is sex,” it seems equally true that all some women want is a night of companionship and supper, which is paid for, with no possibility of sex, pre-ordained, going through the door.
As for me, I just wanted to find someone that I could be myself around. Was this too much to ask for?

Through the first computer date process, there seems to be a right way to say these initial answers and a wrong way to say them. When there is a sense that the interviewee is just answering questions based on things that are desired to be heard, it doesn’t feel real, and it’s hard to get to the next level. When people can just be themselves, it tends to work a lot better than the feeling of having to dodge attempts to look at our baggage.
Nevertheless, when the interviewee and the interviewer are shy, it’s even more difficult for both parties to pick up on exactly how things are really going and the feeling afterward of how things went. This might require another date at a coffee shop, movie, Appleby’s, or something low key to establish a more natural rhythm that can occur when the two parties ascertain that the picture that was used on the computer profile was actually taken during the current president’s administration and that the person that they are with isn’t either a serial killer or an escort.
While, in theory, a nymphomaniac isn’t always a bad thing, at least if it’s a lady in the street and a freak in the bed, finding one that is looking to complete the circle of sex-life with a rendezvous with a guy in the morning, one in the afternoon, and another one at night… let’s just say that most of us don’t want to find out the hot date we’re going on is with Ke$ha and that we’re about to taste the Jack that she just brushed her teeth with before she came to see us (or Enrique to play it from a female perspective), let alone get her naked and find some other guy’s name tattooed to her hip (let alone find that she’s still wearing the same underwear all day and hasn’t showered between dalliances… ill).

And so I parked the car and walked up to the apartment building. It was a factory building that had been refurbished into about a dozen apartments, and for that, it had a certain charm to it. I knocked on the door, and Heather answered. In my first glance over at who I was actually meeting, I was surprised to see the entirety of who this Heather Jones gal was, and I remarked to myself that she looked very good in person and that I was happy to be beside her at the movie theater.
After a brief conversation at her apartment, we left to go see Fred Claus, the at the time new Vince Vaughn Christmas movie (he and I would be good friends, by the way), which was just released in time for our date. We conversed in that question and answer way as we drove the 20 minutes to the theater nervously chatting as we lined up to get tickets and went to the movie.
As I stated earlier, people on a first date wonder what kind of an impression they are making on the person that is with them based on the dialogue that they are having. I was already worried because I felt so nervous and lacked any witty charm and easy flowing conversation. I worried that I was shyer than normal, and I felt consumed in the knowledge that I rarely have any semblance of smoothness this early in getting to know someone, so I was beginning to worry if I would be able to get another shot at connecting based on my lack of presence other than the going all out with the shirt and tie mojo I was trying to create. Fortunately, I had time to come up with a game plan while the movie was going on, or at least I hoped that I did.
As was planned, the movie would take place, and we would be together after it as well. Hopefully, there would be an opportunity for hand-holding or arm around the back – that yawn and stretch and drop it down thing. The romantic moves of a teenager never get old! It’s not like we can just drop a Nick on Jess New Girl first kiss with the turn around and touch the face pull in to making out feverishly… or maybe we can.
Oh, to dream. Real life is rarely that smooth.

We took our seats in the movie theater and had some more small talk as we waited to see when this movie would actually start. In the nervousness, it seems to take longer, but then it happened and we knew that we’re onto another stage of the date.
Such is the nature of the game.
When the movie started, we watched it for about fifteen to twenty minutes… and then Heather vanished to go to the bathroom. However, she didn’t come back in the normal amount of time, and I started to wonder not about what happened to her, but rather, I wondered where she really went.

Having heard the tale of a co-worker named Kim, my deepest fear was that Heather was mimicking Kim’s recent bad date that ended in her stepping out of the moment to call a friend to rescue her from a bad time. However, in what was actually a short while but that felt like a longer while, Heather came back to her seat, and I resumed watching the movie in the knowledge that because she was here, she had not left. But that said, there was still a mystery as to what had happened that kept her away so long.
Here, Heather assured me that she was OK when I asked her. In spite of this statement, Heather vanished again a short while later and went back to the bathroom. At this time, I wondered if she was just killing time in the theater for a few short minutes until her friend came to get her. However, I didn’t have to wait too long in real time, only in waiting time, before she came back a short while later and told me that she hadn’t been feeling well.
For the rest of the movie, she stayed put, and so we did see the rest of the movie, but I can’t say that I remembered any of it past something about elves that were actually full-sized humans filmed with green screen and shrunk down to size. One of these elves was played by Ludacris. Then, there was Santa Claus, who was the guy who played Pig Vomit in the movie of Howard Stern’s life (Paul Giamatti), and his misguided brother Fred, who is played by Vince Vaughn, having to rescue the holiday from a grinch of a man played by Kevin Spacey, and yeah… other than something about the meaning of Christmas. Well, at least at the time that was about it. I wouldn’t do well on any VH1 I love the 2000s special when it came to remembering that movie.
Thus, with the movie over, the plans for what we could have done were left to let her go home and sleep off the bad sugar-free candy that she had eaten, so we drove back to her apartment to let time heal her nasty first-date interrupting intestinal bug.
When we got to the apartment, she did offer me a kiss good night, which I happily accepted and returned because who turns down even the quickest kiss? And then, it was goodbye, and it was all just the drive home to figure out what had happened and what would become of this latest Match Dot Com date.

And so the next day, I did call to make sure Heather was ok. She was, she assured me; it really was just a case of gastrointestinal problems at the worst possible time, and with that, there was still hope for what could possibly be.
And so we commenced to going out again. This time was equally plagued with not being what it was supposed to be. We were to go bowling, but instead, her sister Stephanie had a minor fender bender with Heather and her roughly one year old daughter Christine in the car, so once again, she wasn’t feeling 100%, but we did get to spend time connecting together.
From this point on for the rest of the year, we had another couple get-togethers that led to a night spent decorating my Christmas tree in my tiny Mount Penn apartment. However, that night was equally plagued with not being what it was supposed to be as Heather’s other sister Valerie was losing her long-time partner, Vicki, to cancer. This was all happening right before Christmas, so it made the situation even more emotional back in the Ohio world that she used to live in and Valerie and Heather’s family still lives in. Heather wasn’t sure where she should be at this time, but as a result of the need to be with family, I encouraged her to go back to Ohio and be with her sister in this time of family and need.
In hindsight, I’m glad that I did and that she went back because Vicki’s life ended late in the night on Christmas Eve. Missing the last opportunities for goodbye and the need to be with family in these moments isn’t something that family should miss, for anyone – even someone as handsome and wonderful (ahem) as me.
This is especially true when the family of sisters, 6 in total and a few brothers thrown in for good measure, is as interwoven as they are.
Way before Heather was ever born, her brother Scottie died at age one and a half. However, for the rest of the Jones family that grew up in rural Ohio on the Lake Erie coast, they were the only friends for each other, and so the ten surviving members of the eleven brothers and sisters grew close together. Over time, the oldest brother did get estranged somewhere in the South, but for the rest of the family, they stayed close to one another.

In this time apart, we did talk on Christmas night, but we didn’t have a first Christmas proper. In some ways, it’s nice that we got to begin to celebrate our Christmas tradition the next year and to do it up right together. Being together only a short time would have made for a more high-pressured meeting with my family and hers as a whole on such a large and important holiday, and there would have been lots of pressure to make things feel more like an established relationship when we were still very much getting to know each other. That said, we did decorate my tree, and we did exchange gifts with one another. In this, I remember getting her the Gwen Stefani perfume, and she got me a Christmas ornament, a tradition that she has followed every year since, a gag gift of a bottle of lubricant, which was a reference to a line from Superbad, a movie that we watched together, and a copy of Spoon River Anthology, which featured George Gray, her favorite poem:

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me—
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire—
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

When she showed it to me, I told her I also loved the book, and I showed her that I had a very marked up copy with annotated text, so it was nice to have a clean copy that I could enjoy on my own.
When Valentine’s Day came, she also bought me another book that I owned, Pete Rose’s My Prison without Bars, and so began and ended the tradition of buying me books before she saw all of what I owned properly, which happened when we began to spend more time together. All things considered, I was very appreciative of both books, which were thought out and well intentioned. Hell, they must have made sense to buy since I owned both of them already!

More poignantly in the gift of Spoon River Anthology, I was drawn to a poem that wasn’t referring to a lost lover of Abraham Lincoln (Anne Ruttledge) or one of the poems translated to songs on Richard Buckner’s The Hill CD, which was a great interpretation of the passion and lost dreams of a Midwestern town, but rather, it was a man talking about how we all hunger for meaning in our life and to live without it is a lost life.
Wasn’t I lost on that road to see Heather for the first time? Though it might end in the same fate I had when I left my house, the fate of being left alone, it was better to lift the sail and take the chance, to catch the wind of destiny and to go off into life and find what is there for my life. I assume that Heather felt much the same in letting some strange man knock on her door and take her out for the evening. Sure, it was a free movie and food, even if it wasn’t a $50 a plate meal, but it was also being confined in the company of some shy, nervous man who could have been anyone to include some schizophrenic kidnapper who might be hording road kill at his house. And while I’m not this person, I know that this type exists.
And while I say with absolute certainty that I’m just me, and I’m a good person, who is to arbitrarily believe this is true until they meet me and get to know me and get engaged to me and marry me and live her life with me up to and after she finds out that I have some progressive deteriorating neurological disease?
What’s left to do in the time after that except to love me in sickness and health, hopefully, since it’s not a guarantee? However, I’m not sure what I did, but I must have been something good. All of the reality, my sense of humor, my compassion, intelligence, and appreciation for things in life and in nature must have been something. My honesty and lack of game playing must have been something, too. Whatever it was, I must have done something right because we’re still here for one another today and we’ll be here tomorrow, too.
But before all of that, what was it?

Hell, I’d like to think that I’m an awesome person with a lot of good things to offer, but what did my Match Dot Com resume, which was doctored up by a female friend really show? What did my first nervous phone calls and e-mail interviewers offer to a potential significant other? What was my Value over Replacement Boyfriend? In this, what did I offer that the average guy off the street who was going to take Heather out offer to her didn’t?
And as we went into that first full season of being together, we might have had our own restlessness and vague desire, but all of that would change soon. Like the movie Serendipity with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, there are two people who are meant to be together, but first, to be together as they truly are meant to be, they must go through the passage of time to find one another. There will be uncertainty and wonder, but in the end, they will find a way to brighten up each other’s northern skies from who they were on that first night to who they were over five years later.
As Nick Drake sang behind Cusack and Beckinsale’s quest to be together again, Would you love me for my money Would you love me for my head Would you love me through the winter Would you love me 'til I'm dead Oh, if you would and you could…” and while I had heard Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” and “Hazy Jane Part 2” and his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” I had never really felt much for his depressive songs of being lost and hopeful at the same time. It’s not that I didn’t like them; it’s just that most of the music I was listening to at the time was done at the wheel of my truck, and let’s be honest, Nick Drake as a whole was really not someone that kept me motivated to drive long distances for long periods of time.
Now, I can listen to his albums, especially songs like this, as I type out my words. There are some really beautiful songs in there. Heather likes them a lot too – though she would also agree that it’s not something to drive to.

But for me, that song is now something to symbolize a relationship that was about to turn into something more… something that would come with the shaking off of the chilly January air for February’s increased sunlight and brighter horizons.

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