I guess it was about a year ago that I started to wonder if I was ever going to have a child. I'd always assumed it would just happen for me, a kind of cosmic trade-off for death itself. I knew I was going to drop dead some day, but there my children would be at my funeral, senseless with grief and wondering how they were going to divide up my things, and how they'd miss the way I laughed at their jokes. Or so I hoped.
But then it began to dawn on me that after a certain age, motherhood might require some planning, maybe a war room. There is a biological clock, and its ticking gets louder and louder to the ear without an alarm's going off to warn "time's up." Would the cutoff date for me be 40? . . . 43? . . . 45? Was I going to be one of those mothers who gets written up in the medical journals for delivering seven babies at the age of 59, after extensive fertility treatments derived from the pineal glands of Tibetan yaks?
I was about to turn 35, the point at which the baby books say your body starts to change, like those medieval maps where the earth drops off and dragons swish their tails in the darkness. In this day and age, things are probably going to be okay (my own mother had twins when she was 42), so I guess what I'd really started to wonder was not when, but how. Because I felt ready.
There was just one problem. Though I learned how babies were made when I was 6, I'd yet to find out how to get into a baby-making situation with a decent man on the island of Manhattan. I'm not talking about dating, "relationships," whatever you call these twitching singles dances we do here in New York; there'd been plenty of that. I'd dated tall men, short men, fat men, skinny men, men who are no oil painting, and men who made you want to get on your knees and thank God for men, they looked so good; rich men, poor men, a couple of famous men, and men who will live forever in head-scratching obscurity; a doctor, a lawyer, and not an Indian chief but, yes, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan.
But I'd never been blessed with a relationship with a man I thought I could put up with until our baby's college graduation day. I was even married once, at 25, and there was a good argument for celibacy. What is wrong with New York guys? Pardon me, but these could not be the same men who saved us from Hitler: They whine, they lie, they cheat, they can't commit to a haircut, they think Heidi Klum would give them a hummer if she had half a chance.
Meanwhile, this city is a man's playground, full of the best-looking women in the world, plus free sex, sometimes free cooking and laundry too. Why get married and have children, say the men of New York. They know they can have kids well into their forties (or the Viagra eighties), at which point they'll marry someone in her twenties who thinks she's getting rescued by this grown-up child in a wrinkled mask.
I'd had it with New York men. Just give me some sperm, I said.
It was in this upbeat frame of mind that I conceived what I started calling "the Baby Dinner." Here was my plan, a scheme only a mother could love: I'd invite a bunch of old boyfriends to a wine-fueled dinner party and at the end of the evening get one of them to impregnate me.
Raising kids is expensive enough; I didn't see why I should start the process with a five-figure donation to a sperm bank. And when I went through my list of old flames (the ones who weren't truly mental, or on the lam), I couldn't bring myself to single out just one guy because that felt too much like genetic engineering. So I picked . . . eight.
Sort of like applying to college, I had long shots and I had "safeties." These were all good friends and all lighthearted, if not positively irresponsible, fellows I was thinking of inviting, so I was expecting at least one offer, maybe a bidding war -- maybe we could stage a foot race, or arm wrestling.
What would be the arrangement? I wasn't sure. It all depended on who said yes and what he wanted from the deal. Anyway, there'd be no strings attached -- unless the willing guy wanted to work out something amicable regarding visitation, holidays, etc. "Johnny played 'Für Elise' on the xylophone," I'd relay, after which there'd be a nice masculine chuckle on the other end of the line, a nice safe distance across town.
"Are you nuts?" said Sloba, my Serbian ex-boyfriend, when I called him up to invite him. "No, wait, let me ask non-rhetorical question. Are you serious?"
Here was my plan: A wine-fueled dinner party and at the end of the evening get one of them to impregnate me.
"Yo, it's all gonna be paid for, right?" said Kamal, the 24-year-old (he meant the dinner, not the baby).
"Hey, I'll make a baby with you right now, babe -- I'm free tonight," chuckled James, the rock-and-roll writer. "It's only 11:30."
But none of them said no; all of them promised be there, with ties on. So we were really going to do this thing.
What do you wear to a dinner party where the objective is to wake up the next morning with child? I'm sure the question's come up before, if not in the same way, but as I didn't have Martha Stewart to go by, I just went for something sexy but motherly (i.e., cleavage).
The whole day of the Baby Dinner, I felt like I was leaving town. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by cheerleading women -- the shoe saleswoman, manicurist, haircutter -- all trying to buoy me up with stories of other, valiant women who'd gotten babies by unconventional means: "My cousin went to Romania to get one and came home with three!"
But then, as I was getting dressed that night, I was visited by a strange calm. I know what I'm doing, I thought -- the sign of either a personal breakthrough or some kind of meltdown, like when Al Haig said, "I'm in charge here."
I'd chosen a place called Bayard's as the site; actually it was suggested by a candidate who couldn't make it, a magazine editor who already had plans to go to the racetrack to bet on a nag he'd gotten a good tip on. Faced with my bet or his, he opted for the mare.
Since Bayard's is down in the unfamiliar (to my orbit) Wall Street area, I was hoping to get lost on the way there. Unfortunately, the restaurant flies a large flag. In case there were any more doubts, as I approached in the cab I saw four disgruntled-looking men I knew walking up the street toward me, like that scene from Reservoir Dogs.