Yenta Takes Manhattan

There’s quite a conglomerate of people here tonight,” says Janis Spindel, craning her head to inspect the crowd at the opening party of the 61st Street Reebok Sports Club/LA. “Not really Upper East Sidey, just … I don’t know.” The 48-year-old matchmaker shakes her head. “I wouldn’t exactly call it crème de la crème.”

Not having been apprised of their sub-crème status, the several hundred prospective members of the tony health club seem to be having a perfectly fine time tonight, feasting on extremely caloric appetizers near a fleet of Nautilus machines and chatting over a steel-drum band playing “New York, New York.” Blaringly obvious in her neon-pink blouse, clutching a crumpled Saks shopping bag filled with her belongings, Janis swoops in and out of the “conglomerate,” her eyes peeled for “fabulous, professional, jet-setting, beyond beyond beyond awesome-quality women” – and the waiter with the chicken satay.

“Janis!” says a woman in a bright-red dress, running over to give her a kiss. “Have you lost weight?”

“Lost weight?” cries Janis, putting a hand to her nonexistent belly. “Please! I look like a baby elephant.” She pats her friend’s hand. “All right, I’m working, babe. I gotta cruise.”

This is no time for small talk. Like the handful of matchmakers working in high-end Manhattan, Janis is here tonight on a mission; she’s got more than 100 male clients who are counting on her to get them married, pronto, and it’s up to her to find covers for those pots. Stylish covers. “Bottom line is, this is not Idaho and this is not Montana,” says Janis, a devoted mother of two with a gritty born-in-Jersey voice and a head of brown hair that rises from her skull in at least three inches of frizz. “There may be a lot of nice girls in this city, but my men are not looking for nice. They want beyond beyond beyond spectacular, and it’s up to me to deliver it.” She laughs, a low-pitched cackle. “That’s why I work around the clock, like a schmuck.”

Janis’s quest for “glamorous, smart, skinny, feminine, soft-spoken women” has taken her to Hamptons polo matches, the MTV Music Awards, the front row of the U.S. Open, her corner deli. “The way I look at it, it’s a numbers game,” she says. “I have to go out all over the place like a crazy person to meet everybody. And through quantity, I find quality.” Tonight she’s not only looking to restock her main inventory but also trying to fill a few special requests. For example, she’s recently acquired a celebrity client, for whom she needs to find a black woman, someone classy and over 30, without any surgical enhancement – “that’s a deal-breaker.” Her first priority, however, is securing a thirtyish white woman who she thinks will click with another high-profile client. “I’ve got this guy who wants Jappy, Jappy, Jappy,” explains Janis, who is very fond of repeating words three times. “He’s on a mission to get married, big-time.” She leans in confidentially: “And I’ve got a contract for six figures when he gets into a serious relationship.”

Over in one corner, leaning against a thigh machine, there’s a pretty brunette in a black tank top that accentuates her ample chest – “Boobs, too! Perfect!” – chatting amiably with an older man in a navy shirt. “That guy,” says Janis, jabbing a finger in his direction, “has been single since before I was single. Ridiculous.”

Peeking out from behind the lats machine, Janis narrows her eyes at her prey. “What’s that on that girl’s finger? A wedding ring? I can’t believe it.” She creeps around to tap the woman on the shoulder. “Excuse me, are you married?”

“No,” says the woman in the tank top with a good-natured grin, her green cat-shaped eyes lighting up. “Why?”

“Your ring,” says Janis.

“God, that’s so annoying,” she says. “I know it looks like a wedding ring. I think I lost a date over it once, so I even switched it to my other hand.”

“Janis,” says the guy in the navy shirt, in a whiny voice. “Meet Rebecca, my cousin.” He laughs. “It’s the better-looking side of the family.”

“I noticed that,” says Janis dismissively. She squints at Rebecca. “You live in the city? East or West? How old are you? What do you do?”

“East,” says Rebecca. “I’m 28 and I work in real estate.”

“Residential or commercial?” asks Janis.

“Residential,” says Rebecca.

In-teresting,” says Janis, nodding her head. “I have the perfect guy for you.”

“Is he …” asks Amanda, giggling, “a putz?”

“No,” says Janis, horrified. “I don’t do putzes.”

“Except for me,” jokes Navy Shirt.

“I’ve got a guy that you’re going to go out with so fast you’re going to be shaking, my dear,” says Janis. “He’s thirties, a mega-mega-businessman, a billionaire at least, maybe a zillionaire, five ten, brown hair, blue eyes, just totally beyond beyond beyond awesome. Interested?”

Amanda giggles again. “Maybe.”

“Hey, Janis,” whines Navy Shirt. “Do I get a referral for this?”

“Ugh,” says Janis, waving a hand at him. “Could you just get married already?”

it makes good business sense that Janis would have little patience for the perennially single guy in the navy shirt, because the currency of the modern matchmaker is how many couples she’s sent down the aisle. Denise Winston, the blonde matchmaker who attracts the over-40 set, has 60 to her name, and 32-year-old ex-matrimonial lawyer Samantha Daniels says that she’s just hit the very respectable number of 26. Barbra Brooks, a tough-talking, ex-private investigator who works out of her office in Long Beach, claims that no one can beat her record, though she doesn’t keep track of her total count. “There’s still a stigma to matchmaking, and sometimes the people you hook up just disappear,” she says gruffly. “So what. You think I need another wedding in my life?”

Brooks sees a lot of faults in the matchmaking business. “It’s a horrendous industry,” she says. “There are so many people out there just looking to rip you off.” Janis even maintains that her contracts were twice stolen by other matchmakers posing as clients. “There are spies all over,” she says. “These people are not above anything, my dear.” Yet Janis has claimed the title of reigning queen for herself, citing a total of 87 marriages and 298 monogamous relationships to date. “I,” says Janis proudly, “am so good at this it is scary.”

It’s also a little scary to think about how lucrative Janis’s business must be. Even though her fees are not exorbitant for this brand of personalized matchmaking, the charges are a bit shocking: She gets $15,000 for twelve dates over the course of the year with people chosen expressly for the client (like Rebecca at the Reebok party). “And my rates go up every time my number of marriages goes up,” crows Janis, always one to work an added-revenue angle.

After seven years in the biz, Janis now includes in her empire singles-only mixers, small dinner parties, a new Website, and a quarterly newsletter with tips on how to “age gracefully and attractively.” “Memberships” to her service can be renewed for up to two years, but no longer. “If you’re not in a monogamous relationship by then, there’s something wrong with you,” declares Janis. “Let me be very clear about this: It’s not me who’s the moron; it’s you.”

Even in these post-feminist times, the matchmaking business lives and dies by men. “Men, men, men,” muses Janis. “I should call my business ‘For Men Only.’ ” It’s the single-mindedness of what men want, she says, that drives her business. “Men are superficial and shallow,” she explains. “Essentially, they all want an attractive woman, and that’s easy for me to find. I give them someone who isn’t gorgeous, and their response is: ‘Janis, I could’ve met ten of those on my own.’ What can I do?”

The problem with women clients, she says, is that they’re way too picky. “I had a woman the other day say to me, ‘I don’t date lawyers and I don’t date doctors.’ ‘Hmm,’ I say, ‘what’s left?’ ‘An investment banker, and they’ve got to be Solomon, Goldman, or Lazard.’ I say, ‘Oh, and where should they have gone to college?’ She says, ‘Harvard, of course.’ Now that’s why she’s 37 and unmarried.” She sighs. “This other one the other day telling me, ‘I don’t do beards.’ I said, ‘Belinda, there are razors!’ “

The relative importance of male and female clients is clear from the get-go with Janis. The first step for a man who wants to become her client is a lengthy meal. “And you know I don’t go to McDonald’s,” she says. On the other hand, female clients are scheduled in back-to-back half-hour consultations at DT.UT, a Second Avenue café around the corner from her apartment. Unlike men, who simply buy Janis dinner in a non-McDonald’s-like environment, women pay $250 for their consultations plus a mandatory $45 fee for a subscription to her newsletter. “These girls want to deal with the best,” she says. “They’ve got to pay the piper.”

Stuffing their checks into a pink zippered purse, Janis receives a half-dozen women from her perch at the back of the café one afternoon. She claims – claims – more than 550 calls a week from women looking to become clients, and says she will agree to work with only two or three. Today she meets a blond widower from Park Avenue; a 31-year-old investment banker whose mom forced her into this meeting; and a Korean hedge-fund manager in an elegantly tailored purple suit. “I don’t know, that Oriental one is Wharton and MIT,” says Janis, shrugging her shoulders. “Normally I wouldn’t do … that, but there are some guys who are into … that.” She laughs. “Jewish man wants a nice Korean wife. His mother would love me.”

Janis is harshest in her assessment of a 45-year-old female editor looking to get married for the second time. “That one was just beyond,” wails Janis. “Now, my friend Christina Oxenberg raved and raved and raved about this girl, and she was not someone to rave about. She was plain, she had no makeup on, she had a haircut from World War II. Now, I’m not saying I look so great today, I’m like a fat person, but I’m not the one looking for a husband.”

Arriving late in the afternoon is a best-selling author. She’s 42 years old, with a 9-year-old child and two ex-husbands, a hard-bodied five-four ensconced in tight tan leather pants. “Okay, let’s get going,” says the author as soon as her spike heels hit the café floor. “I’m a very late bloomer. In the past two years I’ve hit the woman that I am. I had a long, hard road. The kind of guys I went out with, including my ex-husband, who is a loser and a schnorrer, have not been on my level. The last guy I went out with was self-medicating himself with heavy drinking, sex, deals, and food. The guy before that has been a porn addict since he was nine.” She pauses. “I have a very strong soft side, that you’re not seeing right now, but it’s dominant in me. The right man brings out a very feminine woman who goes bare-legged and wears sexy dresses. But I need a guy guy – masculine, not macho. Someone who can be my best friend. I need someone. I have a gaping hole in my life.”

This is the kind of nakedness that each of her clients shows Janis, and even after all these years it is a lot to deal with. “These women are desperate desperate desperate,” says Janis in a far quieter tone of voice than usual. She spends much more than the allotted time with the author and is quite gentle with her, talking about housekeepers, therapy, and island vacations. “I’ve had people start to cry, begging me with their checkbook,” says Janis. “One girl went crazy on me: Thank God she was a chain-smoker – I got out of it by telling her I don’t take smokers.” She sighs. “Of course, it makes me sad, but I can’t find someone for everyone.”

It’s a balmy september day when I next see Janis. Her hair is wilder than ever, and she’s shaking with excitement. In her hands are the typical shopping bags she uses as purses, but today she seems to be carrying a few more than usual. “I’m coming from my daughter’s school for this meet-the-new-headmistress night and I see on Lexington that there’s something going on in front of this new restaurant,” she says. “I see that there are all these ‘beautiful people’ ” – that phrase gets in-air quote marks – “so I march right in. The party is something about Race to Deliver, who knows what, and boom boom boom, in five minutes I’m out of there with two goody bags from Polo Sport!”

Crossing Second Avenue against the light, to the honking of many taxi horns, Janis starts talking about how she met her husband, and a dreamy smile crosses her face. “I remember how he first saw me in my little pigtails and pink bandanna at the 56th Street Health & Racquet Club and said to his friend, ‘You see that tall one, I’m going to marry her,’ ” says Janis. “I had just broken up with someone after four years and I was sick sick sick in love with this jerk, and I said, ‘Well now, that is quite a line.’ ” She laughs at the memory. “He followed me home from the gym, and before we went to Tony Roma’s he drank a whole bottle of wine in my living room, he was so nervous. Now I went back to that jerk 88 times while we were dating and I treated my husband like a piece of garbage, but I married him. It’s the best thing in my life.” She laughs. “You know, I do believe in love.”

Yenta Takes Manhattan