The Dating Game

I didn’t date much in my early twenties. Dating was for girls who wanted to settle down, get married and raise children, and none of these things was part of my plans. I would rather dance the night away with my friends at some seedy new wave club in downtown Detroit than spend an evening that most likely would go nowhere with some guy I barely knew.

Dating was not my scene.

Nevertheless, at 22, I found myself in an audience of young, single women on a Detroit morning TV show. The men on the “Kelly & Company” stage had been voted Michigan’s 20 most eligible bachelors out of a pool of 1,000 applicants, and we, the audience, were their potential dates for a group luncheon cruise on the Detroit River.

Unlike the other women in the audience, I hadn’t chosen to be there. I didn’t buy a ticket or win a seat. I was the assistant editor of the magazine cosponsoring the event, and my boss had requested that I go. It was my first job out of college and, even at my most idealistic and militantly feminist, I knew I was lucky to have it.

So there I sat in the studio audience, hoping desperately that none of the bachelors on stage would notice, let alone pick, me. I had abandoned my loud, funky post-punk wardrobe that day for a modest paisley blouse and long skirt, borrowed pearls, and sensible navy blue hose and pumps. I was dressed for a job interview, not a date. My goal was to blend into the walls of the television studio, and I thought I was doing a fine job.

Meanwhile, in the seat next to me was another young woman from my office, a sales assistant in a short red skirt, her shiny black curls and pink lips glistening under the studio lights. She hooted and hollered as the guys chose their dates, while I nonchalantly slumped further into my seat. I was sure all eyes would be drawn to hoot-and-holler girl or any of the other brightly dressed, heavily lip-glossed women surrounding me. I was safe, I thought.

But then something terrifying happened. One of the men on stage made eye contact with me. At first I thought I was mistaken, so I quickly looked away. When I glanced back, he was staring directly at me.

“I am a photographer,” he told the show’s cohost, Marilyn Turner. “And the eyes are the windows to the soul.”

My cheeks reddened and my heart pounded, but it was not out of newfound passion.

“Holy crap,” I mumbled to hoot-and-holler girl, praying he was looking at her and not me. She started to squeal, and I sighed with relief. It was like going to a concert and thinking the lead singer is singing to you. Only this time I was really happy he was singing to my friend.

Hoot-and-holler girl shrieked again suddenly and grabbed my arm. “He picked YOU, Kathleen! He picked YOU!”

And she was right. He was pointing directly at me, the sensible feminist in borrowed pearls and navy blue pumps. If the eyes were the windows to the soul, he really needed a pair of glasses.

I went on the group date with Picture Guy, and it was predictably painful. During the limo ride to the Detroit River, he bragged about his photography and made worrisome comments about his living situation. A man who took himself too seriously and lived with his parents was not on my personal list of most eligible bachelors. Did I mention he liked pop music?

I had an out, though, and thankfully it didn’t involve swimming to shore from the cruise ship. Since I worked for the magazine cosponsoring the contest, I was obligated to talk to the other bachelors, or at least that’s what I politely told Picture Guy.

Too bad Lenny and Squiggy weren't on the boat.

After lunch I wandered around the ship, drank champagne and made awkward small talk. I had no expectations; I just wanted to get away from my boorish date. To my surprise, I met someone remotely interesting as I made my rounds. Lawyer Dude was as apathetic about the contest as I was and mocked it openly. He was sarcastic and had a sense of humor, and he was a music fanatic. When he asked for my number, I didn’t say no. But I was sure not to slip it to him in front of Picture Guy, whose calls I already knew I would never return.

We went out a few times, Lawyer Dude and I, but there was a generation of musical distance, not to mention life experience, separating us. During a heated discussion of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” for example, he championed the album fervently while I, who had never even listened to the whole thing, wrote it off as dinosaur rock.

Sometimes age makes exceptions for youth. In this case, it never called her again.

It was OK, though. Youth was quite happy dancing the night away with her friends.

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Not for Just an Hour, Not for Just a Day

I sat alone by the pool, listening to the mix tape he had handed me at Detroit Metro, right before I boarded the plane for Florida.

“They’re just some songs I like,” he had said, in his usual flippant tone. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

I listened to the tape anyway. Belinda Carlisle sang, “Never-ending love is what we’ve found,” but The Pogues countered with, “You took my dreams from me when I first found you.”

He was right, I thought. It doesn’t mean anything.

I turned off the Walkman and headed back to my family’s mobile home. As I walked the path I had taken so many times as a child, the streets, homes and palm trees seemed smaller than I remembered, almost miniature.

They hadn’t changed. But I had.

I had just graduated from college and was about to start my first full-time job. The weight of responsibility loomed, and I wanted, needed, to relax with my aunt and uncle, my second parents, the people who loved me unconditionally.

It wasn’t a typical spring break for a 21-year-old. My aunt and uncle were Michigan snowbirds who spent the colder months at their mobile home in Lake Seminole Resort, a retirement community in Pinellas. Instead of keg parties on the beach, I visited the local flea market with my uncle, played bingo with my aunt at the community hall and caught early-bird dinner specials with their retiree friends.

After dinner we would sit on their screened-in porch, and my uncle would tell stories about their early years together. They met at the dime store where my aunt worked in downtown Detroit. My uncle, who managed a theater nearby, was immediately smitten and kept trying to get her to go on a date. She finally agreed.

“I found a million-dollar baby in a five and ten cent store,” he sang, with a big grin. They had been married 50 years, but it was as if they had just met.

Toward the end of my visit, my aunt and uncle surprised me with a trip to the Salvador Dali Museum. I was a big Dali fan and had no idea my 70-year-old aunt even knew who he was.

As we drove to St. Petersburg, I remembered the other tape in my purse, Patsy Cline’s “Always,” which I had brought to share with my aunt.

My love for Patsy began when I was a young girl living with them. A family friend used to sing her songs at parties, and I knew my aunt would enjoy reminiscing to “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

When she popped the cassette in the tape deck, my uncle took her hand in his and began to sing along to the title track:

“I’ll be loving you, always. With a love that’s true, always. When the things you plan, need a helping hand, I will understand, always…”

That’s what I want, I thought. I want it to mean something.

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