I didn’t date much in the 1990’s. Not because I didn’t want to, but mainly because I would become paralyzed by fear almost every time I tried to talk to a female—not as bad as Stan throwing up in South Park, but almost. I wouldn’t puke, but I’d do this nervous, talk-too-much thing, which may have been even worse.
Still, I had some friends that were really encouraging, and eventually, we made a deal that the next girl I met I was even halfway interested in, I would ask for her number. It wasn’t much, but it was a start, and at that point I didn’t really expect anything to come of it.
This was back when I was at Grossmont College (aka Harvard on the Hill), and most of the girls I met were probably 5 or 6 years younger than me, and either had hair under their arms, or chain smoked and sat outside the library wondering when the next Lilith Fair was coming to San Diego. Whatever 19 or 20 year old girls did in the mid 1990’s.
Then the unthinkable happened. I met a girl named Shannon in a theater arts class, and I was immediately attracted to her. If you happened to see the M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Village,” she looked exactly like the blind girl (I can’t have been the only one who watched it). Anyway, we started hanging out during breaks and talking on the phone. And by the way, she asked me for my number. This was before cell phones, so I actually had to sit there on the couch with a really big handset. With really big numbers on the pad.
My friends were happy (and probably surprised) I’d gotten that far, and eventually, started to put the screws to me about asking her for a date. After about a month of this, I decided I was going to just go for it and ask her out.
So I did.
I have to admit I was utterly shocked when she accepted (I’ve always been one to expect the worst-case scenario). I intended to do the usual “dinner and a movie” cliche, but Shannon suggested that since one of the class requirements was to attend a play (three plays, actually), we’d catch one on campus (she had a Friday late-afternoon class), and then get dinner afterward. We decided I’d meet her at the theater, and then we’d go to dinner together.
I showed up at the theater a little early, and I was standing there examining the cast photos when I realized how un-romantic the evening was beginning to look. The play was the story of John Merrick–the Elephant Man.
Great, I thought. The freaking Elephant Man.
If that doesn’t get a girl in the mood for romance, I don’t know what will. Shannon showed up a few minutes later and I was nearly struck dumb by how incredible she looked. I believe the expression is “dressed to the nines.” I, of course, figured that since the play was on campus, I’d go casual–Jeans and a long sleeve shirt. My only concession to dressing up was tucking it in. I think all I could manage in the way of greeting was, “uh, hi.”
We made our way to the box office I reached for my wallet, realizing to my profound horror that it wasn’t there. I’d left it on the seat of my car after driving through an ATM. “Aw, crap,” I muttered.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I left my stupid wallet in the car!”
“Don’t worry about it,” she smiled. “You can get the next one.”
Cool, I thought. There’s going to be a next one. Still, I was uber-embarrassed. I looked like one of the Dukes of Hazzard, and I didn’t have my wallet. But, I figured, I could make up for it at dinner. I’d take her someplace relatively nice, and we could talk, and get to know each other better, and start planning the engagement party.
The play lasted until 1045, and by the time we got out after chatting with a couple of classmates, we realized two things: we were both utterly starving, and the only place open late that was anywhere close was Denny’s.
So we went to Denny’s, and over our burgers, we start having this totally in-depth conversation. Life, the universe, everything. Cool, I think—I’m really starting to like her. Then, we started talking about our favorite times of the year.
I told her mine was Christmas and she frowned. Then we started talking a little about religion, and I realized why (I know, I know. Never talk religion or politics on a first date). I told her about my brother, who’d been a fiery Southern Baptist, and an even more passionate hypocrite.
Her entire family had been Jehova’s witnesses for generations. She’d recently been questioning her “faith” and had fallen away from it some. I had no faith at all, so I could get that. But she still felt strongly enough about it to start expounding on its virtues. To start proselytizing.
I began to drift away on a sea of rhetoric, trying mightily to focus on the fact that this amazingly attractive girl seemed to be interested in me. She really was the most attractive person I’d ever been out with, until I met my wife in 2008. I paid attention for a while, but even though I wasn’t a Christian at that point, I knew enough of the gospel to know there was something awry.
So I fell back on my old high school defense mechanism. I started thinking about baseball. I nodded my head when it seemed appropriate, but I was really replaying the 1996 playoffs that the Padres had with Houston.
Just try to remember she’s beautiful, I kept telling myself. It’s enough.
I was at the end of the playoff series when I realized Shannon had stopped talking.
“What do you think?” she asked.
I think your religion is nuts, I thought. That little magazine you guys always try to get people to read? The Watchtower? Also nuts. But I think you’re pretty freaking hot, so I’m going to try and ignore that stuff…
What I said was, “I don’t know, really. It’s a lot to think about. Still dealing with my Baptist issues from high school.”
So I paid the check and we left. I dropped her off at her car with a hug and a promise to see her again, soon. I wasn’t sure about that, but I figured I could probably resist the brain washing a while longer.
There were actually two more dates. The next was lunch at Souplantation. After that, one more play, this time even more romantic–Oedipus Rex.
That was it. I didn’t think I could afford deprogramming…