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Naked Lunch

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Today I spent $400 on gifts for my boyfriend of three months. There's no particular occasion coming up. No pushing him to commit. He decided I was his soul mate about eleven minutes into our first date. It's just that he's normal and I felt the need to celebrate it. Two years ago, having reemerged in Manhattan after a five-year stint as a married woman on Long Island, I decided it was time to hook up again. Test the waters as a single woman -- albeit one with a 2-year-old daughter. No more trying out guys who didn't have "the necessary credentials," warned my shrink. This time around, I would date only men who were well educated, cultured, and . . . employed.

While I was married, I had watched a segment on the news about a dating service that claimed a pretty decent success rate. After an initial interview, you'd get set up on blind dates in restaurants, either for lunch or dinner, and take it from there. You aren't given a lot of information about your date, just a first name, a profession, and very surface-y personal info: "Susan is a writer who ran the marathon. She enjoys theater and tennis and is a nonsmoker."

My initial encounter was set up at Barolo with a man named Elmo. Though his name was a bit of a distraction, he was billed by the matchmaker as a sweet guy who is an editor at an international news service.

To sum it up, Elmo needed work. He spent the entire meal talking about the miserable life he had led. His father was a dermatologist who expected more from his son. Elmo fell into journalism accidentally and hated it. Two torturous hours later, as we parted outside, Elmo blurted out, "Is this your first date with the service?"

"Yes," I replied. "How did you know?"

"They always give me the virgins. Look, I'm sure you don't want to go out with me again, but here's my card." Elmo was right about not going out again, but it killed me to think he had the deflowering title.

Date No. 2 was equally odd. Harvey, a garmento, was fifteen years my senior and looked like my grandfather. Looks have never been a deal breaker to me, so I attempted to get to know him. We met at a joint well-known for its burgers, so I ordered a bacon cheeseburger deluxe. He ordered a green salad, no dressing. He asked me whether I ate so poorly all the time. Waiter! Check, please.

Next came Adam, a lawyer. We met at Cibo in the former Daily News building. "Where are you from?" I asked. "I'd rather not say," he growled without looking up from the menu. All righty, then. Uncomfortable silence. Thankfully, the waiter appeared and we ordered.

More silence. "I understand you're an attorney. What type of law do you practice?"

"Is there any reason you're interrogating me?" Adam snapped. With that, he got up from the table and walked out the door. Nothing like a little humiliation at lunch to quell your appetite. The wait staff saw what happened and rushed over. One waiter even gave me a supportive back massage. My friend Mercedes happens to work in the same building, so I called and told her that a turkey club was waiting downstairs.

The agency assured me that Adam's behavior was highly unusual and his contract would be canceled. To make it up to me, they added another date to my contract.

Enter Marshall. Another attorney. Marshall, who had equal amounts of money, flab, and gall, proceeded to down one scotch after another until he was so abusive to the waiter that they asked him to leave. I hightailed it over to Old Town bar and called a former boyfriend for comfort. I also demanded my money back from the dating service. Instead, they added more dates to my contract.

Soon after came Stanley the dull doctor, Don the "entrepreneur," and Sean the real-estate guy who lives in his ex's basement.

Clearly, it was time for a different approach. At this point, the only man I had considered sleeping with was the waiter at Cibo.

One Sunday, I opened up New York Magazine and turned right to the personals. Ad after ad was clearly not for me. Then I stopped at an ad placed by a man looking for a strong-willed, literary woman who was not model-thin. The guy wanted me. Bad.

I left a message, and David called back a few days later. Within a matter of minutes, we both knew there was no chemistry. At all. But David suggested I would be a good candidate for his brother, an engineer in Way-the-Hell-out-There, New Jersey.

"Don't worry -- he grew up in the city," he said.

"Where?" I asked.

"Forest Hills."

"I grew up in Forest Hills. Did you go to Forest Hills High?"

"I went to Stuyvesant, but Jon went to Forest Hills. He graduated in '77," he replied.

"I graduated in '77. What's your last name?"

As it turns out, Jon and I went through junior high and high school together, knowing each other only peripherally (though in tenth grade, Jon's best friend, Bob, asked me out to see The Towering Inferno).

At first, I was wary about a cute guy with no heavy emotional issues, no bad attitude, and no baggage. It took me a while to break from the hunting mode, but with time, it worked out. Now he jokes that when we get married (yes, he says when), we should have the ceremony on the steps of the high school. I'm sending an invitation to the dating service.


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