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The Baby Dinner

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The men raised their wine glasses. "Fuck the Cleavers!"

But Adam, I noticed, failed to join in.

"I want to be a soccer dad to my wife's soccer mom," he said, almost wistfully. "In the next five years, I fully expect to be married with children. I want to find someone I can admire to be the mother of my children, someone who does fulfilling work outside the home, even if it's volunteering."

Hearing this description of his noble future bride, I remembered why we'd never clicked; he'd also bitten me so hard once on the ear I thought I was going to have to walk around like Van Gogh. But babywise, I liked it that he was tall and had a knack for impersonations; it'd be fun to have a little one who could do Jimmy Cagney.

Still, I wondered about a guy like Adam: In another era he'd have been taking the 8:02 from Scarsdale and lobbing golf balls into the neighbors' hydrangeas as the children near-drowned in the pool. Now he just went home to Thai takeout and reruns of The Simpsons, like the rest of us.

"You're just hoping," Lisa said, "that in the next five years you'll meet the perfect mate? What if it doesn't happen?"

" 'There is a rose, but I may not have met her,' " quoth James, adding, "The Clash."

"Then, I don't know, it'll be six, seven years," said Adam, shrugging.

There was some speculation he was just making excuses so he could continue to frequent Scores.

"I'm just not ready to support a family in Manhattan," Adam said defensively. "There are financial considerations."

"You know," said Curtis, putting fingertips together professorially (no wonder I'd thought of Curtis as a candidate -- at 26, he already looked fatherly; too bad he was always pursuing several women at the same time), "people of a certain class in New York seem to think they have to become millionaires in order to give their children all the advantages necessary. Not only is there private school, there are English nannies and summers in Spain. Which is why I think when you walk around the city, you see two demographics with children -- 16-year-olds and 46-year-olds -- "

"People who don't think at all before having kids, and people who think too much," observed James.

"Outside of New York -- and maybe cities like L.A. and Chicago," continued Curtis, "I think the idea of family occurs in people's lives a lot more naturally."

"Because there's nothing else to do out there," Joey said. "All they do is pump out babies -- and wish they were here."

"Whatever the reason," Curtis said, "New Yorkers seem to have a lot more anxiety when it comes to having children. We're more career-centric -- "

"We're more selfish," said James.

"We're more uptight here -- and in ways that are measurable," said Curtis. "Um . . . did you know men in New York City have the lowest sperm count in the country?"

There was a small silence.

"Well, this dinner's over," I said. "Ahm goin' to Texas!"

The men laughed, coughed.

We'd launched into the appetizers and fourth bottle of wine when Joey conjectured, "Thinking about New York, I just had the idea that living here impoverishes people's relationships, because they're always thinking there's somebody better waiting around the next corner. No matter what happens, you can tell yourself, well, the woman of my dreams -- I'm gonna meet her tomorrow night."

The last time I'd called Joey up and asked him what he was doing, he'd said, "Staring at the ceiling wondering if I have enough energy to masturbate." He was smitten with a snaggletoothed girl bartender at an East Village dive, though there was no timetable on when he was going to marry her, much less ask for her number.

I had to admit, he looked like Kafka, but he could be amusing, and a child would need his computer skills in the next millennium.

"Forget about getting to the marriage-and-children part -- people can't even get to the second date here," said James.

"People throw out relationships when they get difficult and never really have to commit," said Curtis.

"Plus, it's a boom economy -- " I said.

"With lot of boom-boom going on," added Sloba.

" -- so everyone just wants to party, not settle down."

"I mean -- at what point do you know you've failed to find someone who you can deal with?" asked Joey.

They all looked at me.

"Tonight?" I ventured.

João put down his napkin and cleared his throat. "I -- uh -- met someone. And I'm -- ahem -- going to have a baby with her. It is time for me to stop living la vida loca."

No one was more surprised by this than I (first off, I didn't know that any of the men were attached -- but never mind); João had always struck me as the quintessential New York playboy, the kind of guy who buys a lot of scented oil. What I liked about him for baby-making was his temperament -- as sweet as mangoes. Probably from calming down all those jilted girls.

Maybe there's a new family unit forming: A group of friends, hardworking misfits, dreamers who'd make awful spouses but could be good, loving parents.

"Oh, your girlfriend is pregnant?" I said.

"No, but we are planning on having a baby," said João. "It is her idea. She is 34. She is an astonishing woman. I love the way she looks at life."

"And," he added lightly, "she is very well off financially."

The men hooted, cheered for him

They were all listening with rapt attention as Kamal explained, "Older ladies always be wanting to have babies with me! I want to have kids, hell, yeah, but not right away," he said, putting a hand up as if to stop the onslaught of the "older ladies."

I popped my dentures back in and checked to see that my walker was still parked by the door, wondering if I should feel offended. But Kamal was so pretty.

I'd met him at Life (where else?), where he put my hand on his lap, claiming, "This never happens to me in public!" He was actually a lot more mature than some of the 40-year-olds I'd gone out with.

"When you date younger women, the subject doesn't come up, but every time I've dated an older lady it comes up, and there's always some insane discussion over it," said Kamal. "It's like its gotta happen, it's gotta happen -- "

"You have, like, my ideal 25-year-old life," laughed James. "I always wanted to be around women with kids. I felt like I was benefiting from walking into this family that already preexisted."

James launched into a riff on the joys of fatherhood, with all the men listening as if he'd discovered how to make fire. He had a 10-year-old daughter, of whom he had custody every other week. "She's, like, the greatest," he said proudly.

I'd been a little in love with James once, but I was 26 and at that time of life quite retarded. Anyway he'd just gotten divorced from his wife then and was going through a second bachelorhood. He never took me seriously, which I should have known from the way most of our dates wound up at TriBeCa strip joints.

I wasn't in love with him now, but I did love the way he felt about music, which he wrote about; he had soul. Above all, you want a baby with soul.

"How'd you make the decision to have a kid?" Curtis asked.

"Er, truthfully, it was kind of complex," said James. "My relationship with her mom was a little rocky, and to steady it -- prolong it, I guess -- we decided to have a baby."

"How long did it last after that?" asked Rick.


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