Excerpted from Yes, Again: (Mis)Adventures of a Wishful Thinker

 

     ...When I lamented my solo status to my former apartment manager, longtime friend, and to this day brother‑equivalent Russ, he suggested, “Why not try the Bay Guardian?”  The widely distributed and wildly popular Guardian was a free newspaper, covering left‑leaning politics, cultural events, and, of course (being San Francisco‑based), drugs and sex with scandalous articles designed to shock all but the most liberal readers.  (The paper also printed a much‑coveted annual nude beach issue.)  To my Southern belle way of thinking, the paper overstepped the bounds of propriety by leaps and bounds.

     “Russ,” I told him, “The Guardian is too weird.  It’s tacky.  That’s what losers do.  I can’t do that.” 

     “Sallie, you’re wrong.  I’ve met impressive women through the personals; they’re not losers or pathetic or even close to that,” Russ chided me.

     Ultimately I gave in.  I picked up three weekly issues of the newspaper and marked a total of 20 personals ads with a red pen.  I sent 14 letters to the Guardian P.O. boxes listed.  Eight of the 14 men responded to me, and l met five of them.  The brief coffee dates convinced me the men doing the personals weren’t psychopaths.  I enjoyed meeting them, even if I wasn’t finding “him.”  To prepare how to present myself in my ad, I studied how other women described themselves – sensuous, sensual, highly imaginative, erotically oriented, skilled in amorous techniques, and curvaceous in body – and then went in a different direction, keeping the text as short as I could to minimize the cost: 

Share the good things. 

Attractive, sensitive, professional W/F,

34, seeks male kindred soul, someone 

bright, serious, fun, strong, gentle.

Guardian Box 12‑51‑E.

      I ran the ad twice at a cost of around $40.  Maybe $45.

     Over the next few weeks I received and sorted 60 responses into three piles:  12 YESes, 40 NOs, and 8 MAYBEs.  The NOs were easiest to categorize.  I instantly rejected letters from:

  • numerous older men who specifically sought younger women,

  • a man and his wife looking for a threesome,

  • a 20‑year‑old college student who was hoping for “an experienced, older woman for hot tubbing and smoking weed while watching the sun set over the Golden Gate,” and

  • two prisoners at San Quentin who wanted me to visit them on weekends.

     The only NO that I answered was an articulate, sensitive man who wrote me that his wife had advanced multiple sclerosis, and he hoped to find a sexual relationship and close friendship.  He did not want to mislead me:  he loved his wife and would stay with her until she passed away.  Without mentioning my last name or address, I wrote, saying I sympathized with his situation and wished him the best in his search. 

     I met every one of the 12 men in the YES group for coffee in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco.  They were engaging, intelligent, and accomplished.  I met the conductor of a local Bay Area symphony chorus; a novelist working part‑time as a postman and getting his Masters in English; a U.C. Berkeley professor of history; and Tim, a manager at Xerox.

     Tim’s ex‑wife Joan had responded to my ad on her ex‑husband’s behalf without his knowledge.  He was still her best friend, but their relatively short marriage hadn’t worked out.  She said more than enough about him – brainy, kind, hardworking, great sense of humor, outdoorsy and fit, adventurous – to intrigue me.  She gave me his office phone number.  It took a while to get my nerve up, but I finally phoned him, dialing very slowly.  When he answered, I stammered uncomfortably, “Hi, Tim … um… my name is Sallie and I know you aren’t expecting my call, but … Joan responded to my personals ad in the Bay Guardian.  She thinks you and I might have a lot in common.”

     The only thing he said after “Hello” was “Hey, guys, can we finish this meeting in a little while?”  He sounded puzzled. 

     "Go on,” Tim said after he had his office to himself.  I gulped and continued, “Joan says you’re athletic and outdoorsy and so am I.  And you like to read and travel.  Er … Would you like to meet for coffee sometime?” 

     Flummoxed, he agreed to a Saturday afternoon encounter.  I liked him on sight – he was the only one of the dozen men in the YES category who made my stomach do flip‑flops.  Two or three years older than I was and handsome, Tim had medium‑length brown hair and brownish‑green eyes.  He was dressed a notch below preppy casual, without sinking into Berkeley shaggy:  clean jeans with a nicely ironed wine colored shirt, with long sleeves rolled up to his mid‑forearms.  I recognized him first and introduced myself.  “Hi, Tim, thanks for meeting me.  I know it’s a little weird for you.”

     “Yep,” he agreed, straining to smile. 

     We sat down and talked over coffee for 45 minutes.  The conversation was pleasant but strained, with talk centering mostly on his work and mine.  We weren’t connecting, and I knew it, but couldn’t do anything to change the dynamic.  I tried to get him to talk more about personal things – he’d briefly mentioned bike rides and hikes he’d taken, but I had minimal luck.  I was disappointed when he didn’t call after our awkward get‑together.  But I could tell he wasn’t ready to pursue a relationship.  He was, I assumed, still in love with his ex‑wife and might have suspected she’d contacted me to assuage her guilt at choosing to end the marriage. 

     At that point, I had met all the YESes and my plan was to dump the MAYBEs into the NO pile and repeat my ad.  I’d enjoyed my adventure and felt jazzed, confident I’d find the ideal man within a reasonable time.  But first I’d make my profile text a little longer and a little zingier.  I was determined not to worry about what it would cost to run it for another two weeks.  I’d go for the big bucks:  $60!  Maybe $75!

     But there was a hitch.  One MAYBE guy, Matt, had included a photo of himself on a beach with his Australian shepherd, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope. 

matt and dog color website.jpg

He requested the photo back because it was the only one he had of his beloved dog Pirate, now living with his ex‑wife and four daughters.  I had decided not to meet him because his response struck me as glib and self‑important.  Still, I had to return the photo.  But the price of mailing a letter had gone up, and I needed to add a two‑cent stamp.  Finally, after two weeks of not getting to the post office, I figured it was easier just to meet him. 

     Matt and I met at Ortman’s Ice Cream and Sandwich Parlor.  With its white walls, old‑fashioned counter with cheerful red stools, and charming white wrought iron tables and chairs, Ortman’s was the equivalent of a neighborhood bar for families with small kids.  It was my daughter’s and my favorite place to go – our warm spot, our home away from home.

ortman.jpg

Unwilling to primp up for a MAYBE guy, I wore blue jeans, a blue work shirt, and a navy blue parka.  The most I’d done to prepare for our meeting was to comb my hair, which back then was a frizzy perm. 

     I was seated at a small round table for two, when Matt entered and walked toward me, making his way between the tables of animated customers.  He was wearing a long‑sleeved red checked shirt, a brown leather vest, jeans, brown boots, and a soft gray wool Scottish‑style fishing hat.  “Jaunty” was the word that came to mind as he approached me with a self‑confident, lively stride.  Jaunty.  I recall thinking to myself, “He’s attractive.  But what’s with the hat?” 

     We introduced ourselves, and he sat down, leaning forward with his arms on the table.  We fell into easy conversation. It didn’t take any prodding to get him to talk.  And Matt asked me questions, listened to my responses, then asked more questions.  “You’re divorced, right?  Why did you get divorced?”  I recounted the short version of my failed marriage:  how both Daniel and I were military brats.  “We went to ninth grade together in Tokyo, Japan, and he told me then he was going to marry me.  I didn’t believe him, but that’s what happened.  We wrote each other for eight years, then met again when I was in graduate school at Berkeley and he was in advanced infantry training at Fort Ord, California.”  I explained that, at 22, Daniel and I had a lot in common; at 29, I’d changed from being the girl he knew to a woman he didn’t.  “I wasn’t willing to be a dutiful military wife, as both our mothers had been.  Their husbands were their careers.”  

     I told Matt Daniel had volunteered for Viet Nam over my protests.  “Besides, I wanted a shared relationship, with both of us supporting the family financially and both of us helping out at home.  Daniel’s world view didn’t include helping with the dishes, running a load of laundry, or making himself a sandwich.  I gave him six months’ notice to shape up or I would ship out.  He didn’t.” 

     Matt nodded for me to go on.  “But why leave Louisiana?”

     “I came to California,” I continued, “because my mother was upset at my decision to leave my marriage.  She said Daniel hadn’t ‘beaten me, run around with other women, gambled or turned into an alcoholic or drug addict,’” the only four reasons that, to her, would justify a woman’s leaving her marriage.  “I couldn’t stay in New Orleans and listen to more of that.  I had to leave.”  I sensed that this man was not only listening to me, but getting me as a person.

     While Matt was asking me questions, I was squeezing in my own questions, to learn everything I could about this intriguing man. 

     “You’ve asked why I left.  Now it’s my turn:  why did you and your wife get divorced?” 

     With a pained look in his eyes, he confided, “I waited way too long.  I should have called it quits after Jane started drinking seven years into the marriage.  But by then we’d had three girls, and I couldn’t leave them.  And no judge would give the children to their father unless the mother simply couldn’t function at all.  Believe me – I checked around, but I didn’t want to ask them to testify against their mother.  That would have been the only way.” 

     He went on to tell me he stayed seven more years, and her drinking got worse and worse.  They fought openly, in front of the (now four) kids.  As a trial attorney, he’d argue cases during the day, come home, and argue with Jane during the evening and into the night.  A few years before we met, with his wife complaining about the reduced income, he’d left his downtown San Francisco firm for a job with the state of California.  “Private practice was bringing out my worst qualities.  I considered myself a ‘paid gladiator’ and didn’t like who I was becoming.”  As a judicial educator, he was relieved, writing bench guides for new judges and coordinating programs in which experienced judges trained incoming judges.  Matt and his wife separated, and he moved to an unfurnished studio apartment in Berkeley, where he slept in a sleeping bag on the floor, while maintaining his family in their house in affluent Marin County.

     By this point in our conversation, I couldn’t swallow any more of my root beer float.  I was swooning.  This MAYBE candidate wasn’t the way he’d seemed in his letter.  Glib?  Not at all.  He was revealing his feelings and was eager to learn about me.  The longer we talked, the more there was to talk about.  We leaned increasingly closer to one another, unaware of the customers around us entering, ordering, sipping, eating, paying, leaving.  The anticipated hour to hand over a snapshot turned into an animated hour and a half of exchanging intimate confidences.  Strangely enough, it didn’t seem unusual to have spoken so openly with someone I wouldn’t have recognized without his photo in my hand.  Now he knew more about me than my coworkers or friends in California did.  We had discussed how we had recrafted our lives by resolving work miseries, overcoming marital disappointments, and nurturing our daughters.  Our miseries and disappointments had led us serendipitously to this special place, on this magical evening.  Here we were, sitting across from each other in an ice cream parlor, talking as if we had known each other forever. 

     By the time we realized it was time to get up from the table, Ortman’s was nearly empty.  We hadn’t noticed how quiet the store had become; our voices were the only sounds to be heard.  Matt had long since finished his iced tea and polished off my root beer float.  Reluctant to say goodbye, we stood in front of the ice cream parlor and shook hands for longer than a handshake should take.  I invited Matt to dinner at my house the next week, and he accepted.  “I’d like that.  A lot.”  I remember hoping he’d kiss me on the cheek, but he didn’t.  When I got home, I raced to my Guardian file and reread his letter.  I shook my head.  “What was I thinking?  He’s better than all the YESes.  Where’s glib?  Where’s self‑important?”  Something promising had definitely happened, but I wouldn’t prematurely count chickens.  Still, with more than a few butterflies flying around in my stomach, I shelved my plans to revise my personals ad for the time being. 

     Matt insisted on bringing some of the food to our dinner. “I’ll bring the main dish and dessert.  I’m expanding my limited culinary repertoire, one recipe at a time,” he laughed.  “I’m tired of ramen and scrambled eggs.”     

     He showed up the following Thursday at the appointed 6:30 p.m.  Both of us were smiling as I opened the door.  He handed me a spinach frittata and a cheesecake, both made from scratch, along with a bottle of red wine.  Given that my ex‑husband had been unwilling to learn to use a can opener, I was pleased Matt was boisterously invading so‑called women’s territory with a masculine flourish.  My heart skipped a few clichéd beats.  “Come in.  Your frittata is beautiful,” I said, trying to hide my nervousness. 

     We sat at the kitchen table and talked as easily as before.  Our conversation continued without interruption, since Heather had been invited to spend the night with a school friend.  We ate the frittata and the salad and drank a second glass of wine.  Once again, I had trouble swallowing my food, but the wine went down easily.  

     Matt had turned on the radio to a channel with Big Band music.  After finishing his last bite of frittata, he stood up, took my hand, lifted me from my chair, and put his arm around my waist.  “Let’s dance,” he said.  Frank Sinatra sang “These Foolish Things” and then “It’s not the pale moon that excites me, that thrills and delights me.  Oh, no, it’s just the nearness of you.”  The music was slow and romantic, and we both sang the lyrics word for word.  He had a firm grasp on my back, and I followed easily.  Everything was Hollywood dreamy, including when he said, “You follow well and are light on your feet.”  Of course I was light on my feet – I was levitating.  And when he added, “I love how your body feels against mine,” it didn’t sound smarmy or practiced.  It just felt like the truth.

     We had cheesecake for breakfast the next morning.

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