Considering the number of things that can go wrong on a first date, it's amazing any of us great apes couple up at all. Then again, romance kicks in like adrenaline with all her rosy colored glory and we are willing to ignore glaring faults and red flags, at first. However, could a single act sink the Love Boat before it ever leaves the metaphorical harbor - even on Valentine's Day?
Let me begin the story by ruining your climax. If you are hoping for fart jokes then you're not really going to dig this post because I'm in a bit more of literal mood today. It started one day in a now defunct sushi joint near my place called Creative Sushi.
The most creative part of Creative Sushi was the decor that looked to have been assembled by a dental hygienist hopped up on a bit too much nitrous oxide. It had the same wallpaper I remember from the dentist's office as a child. It was a mountain scene, with trees and a lake. The wallpaper wrapped around the entire eating area. In the dentist's office this was meant to be a calming effect while you sat in his little sadistically designed chair. In the sushi place I can only assume it was meant to create some sort of exotic feel, seeing as how most of your local eateries only had paint on their walls.
The designers of Creative Sushi went one step further though. They found fake bamboo fencing and placed it around the walls, creating the feel of a fake bamboo fence placed around the wall. They added some real bamboo to the actual sushi bar and created what would normally be called a Tiki bar. They then added some very plastic looking ferns that fell from the roof and draped over the Tiki bar. It was it's own special kind of aesthetic experience but they weren't quite done.
The chef was a huge fan of reggae music. Apparently he had one CD, a mix of Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley and UB40. It was on an endless loop and took roughly an hour to cycle through. Thus, if you were there for any amount of time over an hour, you would get to hear from UB40 at least four times.
Are you picking up what I am putting down? Dental wallpaper, fake bamboo, plastic ferns and UB40. However, despite the decor, the sushi was above average and very affordable. Personally, I happened to dig the place and I really enjoyed seeing the faces of people who walked in for the first time. I would always find a seat facing the door so I could see the slight look of panic of each new person unfamiliar with the inner-beauty of Creative Sushi.
This night, I had dragged a book along with me. If I remember correctly it was something Steinbeck - probably Tortilla Flat, as that was the last Steinbeck book I remember reading. It was the week before Valentine's Day and I didn't have anyone special in my life so going out to dinner with a book was sort of the standard.
There is a young gal across the way from me, also reading a book. I notice her looking up at me a few times. She has long, straight brown hair and a certain chic bohemian flair to her. Then she smiles at me and so I smile back. She picks up her sake glass and walks over to my table and asks to join me.
She's wearing a flattering pair of designer jeans, a grey tshirt and one of those long sweater coats that were all the fashion a few years ago. Hers was black and about this time you could find at least a dozen other women wearing them around town.
So she sits down and asks me what I am reading. Here's something to consider - reading in public can be a great way to meet people as I have demonstrated before. It gives an instant ice breaker and something to serve as a catalyst during the usual perfunctory exchange of who is who and what they are doing.
We discuss Steinbeck for a moment but all she has read is Of Mice and Men. I am really surprised she didn't have to read The Grapes of Wrath or The Pearl but somehow she made it through her high school English classes without those requirements. I didn't know that was possible.
Steinbeck was a good segue into discussing Monterrey and Big Sur and we had a nice 15 minute discussion. She finished her sake and, due to the fact that we were both patently single at the time, we discussed not only going out but having our first date on Valentine's Day. I mean, why not put everything on red and roll the die?
A proper date is one in which I pick the girl up, have a plan and take her out. It's not a booty call disguised as a let's meet up for drinks event. It is something to which I have given a little thought. My thoughts for this occasion were Melisse, an upscale, Michelin rated, French restaurant in Santa Monica. What could be more romantic on the day of romance than a fancy French restaurant? I had been looking for a reason to try it for some time and since Violin said she was a 'foodie' and we were going out on the biggest date night of the year, I thought it would be a good place to start.
Yes, you read that correctly. Her name is Violin and she never thought to change it or pick up a nickname along the way. However, what is more troubling is the fact that she used the word 'foodie.' I loathe that word and all the prententious pricks who are prone to use it. Now that the Food Network is pervasive and celebrity chefs are the new porn stars, everyone out there who can braise a lamb shank, grill up prawns, fry an egg or roast a chicken wants to call themselves a foodie. We all have to eat and we all love food. The culinary arts are just that - culinary arts. So I say be a patron and not a groupie.
Melisse is one of the few places on the westside of LA where you feel compelled to put on a jacket and comb your hair. You go there as much for the service and the experience as you do the food and they make everyone feel special, regardless of the size of your check. By the way, throw out all conventional ideas of pricey when you dine there. A modest bill there will squash the more expensive ones you've rung up recently.
Violin looks lovely and we get a great table, probably because how lovely she looks. She's wearing a smart black dress and I notice the nice shape of her legs and exquisite ankles. The misgivings I'd had about a Valentine's first date subsided with one look at her walking across the restaurant.
We sit down and she uses the foodie word again. I fight the urge to give her the same rant I just gave you and leave it alone so people like Anthony Bourdain will have material for his next show.
The sommelier comes to our table and asks if we've had a moment to look over the menu. Violin pipes up saying that the cheese plate looks great and could we possibly start with that before anything else. He recommends a wine to go with our 'bolder' cheeses and disappears. Violin starts to go into detail regarding what she knows about cheese. She actually knows a good deal and I'm content to listen.
The cheese arrives and I realize immediately that 'bold' would have been a rather flaccid word in my opinion to describe the foot-stank aromas emanating from our cheese plate. Pungent seems a little soft as well. I am having visions of Adidas sweat pants, with the crotch coated in garlic cream cheese and then worn by an already unshowered man during a vigorous 45-minute workout and tossed unwashed into a mildewy pile of other sweaty garments, allowed to fester for three days and then picked up and placed to my nose. Holy. Shit.
I pick up the cheese knife and cut into what I hope is one of the less offensive varieties but am gravely mistaken. I give a slice to Violin and take one for myself. Simaltaneously we place the cheese into our mouths and simaltaneously watch the other's face implode into a crumbling mass of putrid disgust.
The beautiful Violin of five minutes before now looks like a Muppet, soaked in water and punched in its withered nose. I'm sure I look no better. It is all I can do not to wipe off my tongue with my cloth napkin but I choose instead to reach for the white wine the sommelier suggested, thinking that perhaps kerosene might have been a better pairing.
To make matters worse, the stubble of my 5 o'clock shadow is smeared with the cheese funk grease of the nastiest dairy product ever to touch my lips. My eyes want to water and I blink to hold back the tears as I look at Violin's mascara running down her cheeks and listen to the makings of her gag reflex kick in. She excuses herself momentarily and I immediately flag down the waiter and ask for two vodka martinis. I plan on gargling with the first one and drinking the second before Violin ever makes it back to the table.
Back to my initial question - could a single act or moment ruin a first date completely and make anything beyond that moment unsalvageable and unthinkable? Yes, yes it could. Even on Valentine's Day? Absolutely.
The funk of the cheese was so profound it overwhelmed the rest of the date. Moreover, the convenient location of my olfactory nerve to my grey matter makes me revisit the smell of the cheese, and ultimately the taste, every time I think of Violin. Moreover, I cannot think of an orchestra or a string quartet without gagging.
We finished dinner as politely as possibly. She received a complimentary Valentine's Day rose and a small box of chocolates and I decided to punt on the rest of the evening. We hadn't talked much after the cheese debacle. Really, what could be said? I walked her to her door, gave her a hug and the obligatory 'had a nice time' shtick. I heard her say 'Happy Valentine's Day' as I walked off but I knew she didn't really mean it.
I then immediately drove over to a local Irish pub to cleanse my palate once again but with scotch. I sat at the bar with a few other solitary figures who were quietly bemoaning their own lonliness while I tried to get over the cheese. The guy next to me looked to have a broken heart but I didn't really give a crap about him as I was worried about my tongue. Somewhere between the first scotch and the third, I erased Violin's name and number from my phone but I never could erase the memory of the cheese we shared.
I haven't seen her since but I do think of her from time to time, mostly when a plate of cheese wafts by or someone unleashes a gnarly fart. Ok, I lied - there's your fart joke. Satisfied?
Happy Valentine's Day
reprinted from jackson's blog @ www.igetpanic.com