The Baby Dinner

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.

“Can’t you find a personal trainer to do this? I hear Carlos Leon is looking for work,” said Adam, helping me out of the cab.

“Ever heard of sperm bank?” said Sloba.

“We are the sperm bank,” said Joey.

“Are we gonna get to do a little practice lending?” asked Curtis, giggling.

Adam’s a textbook yuppie, wolfishly handsome, with some help from an East Side plastic surgeon; works in the film business; age 29. Joey’s a software engineer from Queens who looks a bit crazy, with a shaved head and great big dark eyes (35). Curtis is a dreadlocked writer, a teddy bear who favors fuzzy sweaters (26). And Sloba’s the Serb, and exceedingly proud of it; looks like a European film director, which is what he is (43). All of them smoke a lot, except Adam.

They were a motley group, but they would have to do. I looked them up and down and thought, these weren’t the guys I was supposed to have had a child with, not the stars of my so-called romantic life. But then, you couldn’t really invite, say, Al Pacino (Michael) to your Baby Dinner, though you could invite Robert Duvall (Tommy).

“Listen, if I do it, are you gonna take out an insurance policy?” Joey said anxiously. “‘Cause I can’t afford to raise a kid alone if you die. I think the policy should be at least $3 million.”

“Now, there’s an icebreaker,” said Adam.

“This isn’t a Hitchcock movie,” laughed Curtis.

“Hmmm, not a bad idea,” said Sloba, the director, making a mental notation.

We went inside.

The other four bounders were already at the bar, drinking. And so it always was at Bayard’s, a former gentlemen’s club (est. 1914) with a distinctly back-room feel.

“They say Mr. Bayard was a bit of a swordsman,” the bartender was saying (his name is Max, and he resembles Larry of the Three Stooges).

“Well, that’s appropriate for tonight,” said James, downing a whiskey.

“‘We’re having a baby,’” sang Rick, kissing me on the cheek.

“Congratulations!” said João, the Brazilian, who was always a bit out of it.

“Wassup, baby?” said Kamal.

James is a journalist, silver-haired and obsessed with Elvis, so much so his voice has taken on an Elvisian tone (he’s 51). Rick’s an impeccable art dealer who brings to mind the young (pre-gargantuan) Orson Welles (35). João’s a producer for Brazilian television and telegraphs “George Hamilton” (38). And Kamal’s one of those beautiful New Yorkers of several extractions; a club kid and party promoter (24).

My dating history looked like the Marx Brothers’ visit to the U.N. Introductions went awkwardly round. I’d also brought along my cousin Lisa, so in case I didn’t get any offers she could keep me from throwing myself in front of a bus.

“How’d you meet all these guys?” asked Lisa, looking alarmed.

“Elevator,” “college,” “work,” “party,” “bar,” “nightclub,” said James, Rick, Curtis, Adam, Joey, and Kamal.

“Destiny,” said Sloba, smiling.

And João reminded me of how he’d looked over my shoulder at the cash register in a deli one night in order to read the information off my driver’s license – and then tried to convince me he was psychic.

“You believed me,” said João.

All the men seemed to find this very funny indeed and said they would have to “try that.”

Max – the bartender, who doubled as our waiter for the evening – escorted us upstairs to our room. At Bayard’s, you can reserve a room of your own to hash out such problems as whether the biological continuum you’re traveling on is going to end with you.

The table was set elegantly for ten. I sat at one end, Lisa at the other, four men on each side.

“It’s like Agatha Christie,” said James. “Not a whodunit, but a who’s-gonna-do-it.”

“If I do it,” said Joey, “can we take the baby to visit my parents? Then they have to stop thinking I’m gay.

“It’s amazing how little we seem to have in common,” Adam said dryly.

“What?” said Rick, raising an eyebrow. “We’re all schmoes.”

I admitted to being the biggest schmo of all and thanked them for coming. “None of you would be here unless I thought you were really swell,” blah blah blah.

There was a pregnant pause, and I wondered how to proceed. I suddenly felt as if I were having a particularly Freudian dream. I’d had a dream once, in college, actually, that all my old boyfriends met to try and figure out why I’d been unable to sustain a relationship longer than about the time it took to walk across campus. Finally a wiry law student I’d dated named Paul (a marathon runner who lisped like Sylvester the Cat) threw up his hands and said, “It’th really too bad, you know, because you’d make an ex-thellent mother!” For which I gave him a kiss.

James grimaced. “Nance, like, what are you gonna tell this kid? Who’s Daddy?” He asked. I hadn’t ironed that one out yet: “Daddy is a friend of mine?”

It seemed like the best thing to do now was to find out how my guests felt about becoming fathers. None of them had children, either – except for James, who was divorced and had already told me he wanted more. What were they all waiting for?

I decided to start with Rick, since I’d known him the longest.

“Rick, what do you want?”

“I want the jumbo shrimp,” said Rick.

“I’m serious.”

“So am I,” said Rick, making a check on his menu.

Rick, to my mind, was an ideal candidate: He was intelligent, he was kind, and he could remember things like what to call the carved saints sitting above cathedral doors (“tympanum” – I had to look it up). He was also gay, which I thought put us in a uniquely symbiotic position.

We’d never had sex, but we did have a rather steamy night once snuggling in his parents’ house in Connecticut, both wearing pairs of his white Brooks Brothers pajamas. And he’d told me once that, when it came to having children, he’d consider “an arrangement.”

But now he said, shaking his head, “It’s just too messy in my opinion. I’ve known gay couples who’ve gotten into situations with women – usually lesbian women – and someone always ends up getting hurt.

“Frankly, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Guys can have children until much later in life than women can, so generally we think we have a lot more time to start worrying. Maybe when I’m 75, and biotechnology has reached its height, I’ll impregnate a 20-year-old boy and we’ll have a beautiful family together. Or I’ll clone myself and then carry it to term – “

“Maybe you could just fuck yourself,” James said, laughing.

“I’m too much of a pessimist to hope for that,” said Rick.

“Oh, I guess we’re not in Donna Reed Land anymore,” I moaned.

“Did Donna Reed ever exist?” Rick said. “That crap was shoved down people’s throats for years and years, and as far as I’m concerned, fuck the Cleavers.”

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.

“A couple of years,” James said sheepishly. “But like, if we hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have my daughter now. Having a kid is the ultimate. And, um, you know, I want to do it again.”

“May I ask how?” I said.

“Well, I was hoping maybe someone from New York Magazine would ask me to dinner, and … ,” he said, winking.

“But you know,” he added, “I don’t know if I could have a child with someone I’m not really involved with. I still think, like, you gotta be in love to have a baby.”

“Did I mention that I love you?” sloba said, leaning into me.

“Oh, be quiet,” I said, pushing him away. I was getting antsy. It was 10:15, the men were well into their entrées, and I was still a pauper in the baby business.

“Well, has anyone thought over my proposition?” I said.

“Wait! We still haven’t heard from Sloba!” said the men, clearly avoiding the moment of reckoning.

Sloba, Sloba!” They pounded the table.

How Sloba had become the alpha male of the evening remains a mystery to me. All night, the other guys had been splitting their sides over his odd Serbian humor and watching him with the indulgent smiles of boys whose dad is known around the neighborhood as “a trip.”

I knew him as a guy who sat alone in his West Village apartment all day listening to obscure jazz records and arguing with credit-card companies. About a decade ago, he’d directed a really wonderful film in Yugoslavia, where he was known as the “Yugoslavian Jim Jarmusch.” He shaved irregularly.

“How about you, Sloba, do youwant children?” asked Curtis.

“Wahl,” Sloba said, pouring himself another gallon of red wine, “ever since I was kid I wanted to be a gangster, and that’s why I came to New York. But whenever I envisioned myself as old a man as I am now, I thought I should already be somewhere fishing. Maybe on some island somewhere.

“On the island there, it’s pretty safe, and babies can do whatever they want to do and live the life I think I had when I was a kid. They can go out on the street and play, and if they’re late coming home nobody gets too worried. We, uh, radio them.

“The problem with me right now is, my country is being bombed …” His voice trailed off.

It was May, and the bombing of Kosovo had started about a month earlier. Sloba had been spending every day in front of his computer, monitoring information on the Internet to see which part of his past was being blown up next.

“For some strange reason, the priority of my life has changed. Suddenly, I feel I have to protect my own well-being. And what is the answer? Create a family,” he said.

The men were silent.

“Wait,” I said, frankly floored, “are you saying you want to have a child?”

“It’s an existential reaction in the face of disaster,” said James.

“I’m being propelled in a different fashion than I’ve ever been before,” Sloba said. “Although the life I’ve created for myself in New York is …”

“Uneventful?” I offered.

“It is really blessed,” he said. “But now, I’m confronted with being alone in New York under a whole new set of realizations. You’re surrounded by people here, but without family you’re more alone than if you were the last person on the planet.

“The thing is,” he added, “I’m just not sure New York is the right place to raise children.”

“You know,” said James, “when I saw the news about that high-school shooting in Colorado, the first thing I thought – after being utterly horrified – was, that’s the kind of place I feel guilty for not sending my daughter to! I mean, that big school with those big fields – “

“Oh God, don’t feel guilty,” said Rick. “Not just because those kids in Colorado were being blown away, but because obviously something about that place was deeply sick. It isn’t New York that’s unsafe, it’s the world that’s unsafe – “

“Are we just afraid to have children?” asked

“I’m afraid of children,” Joey said. “Have you taken a look at the average 15-year-old lately?”

“Wahl, let me just illustrate one point which has become a very valid one for me,” Sloba said. “About a year ago when I was in Belgrade, a friend of mine thought she might be sick with cancer. She turned out to be okay. But she said something to me – she’s the mother of a young girl – that I’ll never forget: She said, ‘I can’t even think about dying until her 18th birthday.’”

“Kids change everything,” said James. “You’re no longer living for yourself alone.”

“It’s a very animal thing. And it’s very serious thinking,” said Sloba.

There was now a plate of festive little Italian cookies in the center of the table. Max, the waiter, was serving bright raspberry scoops of sorbet. The men were smoking cigars I’d picked up as a pre-congratulatory gesture. But suddenly, the mood in the room had become a bit grave.

Sooo,” I said, putting my hands on the table; my arms were shaking. “Who’s it gonna be … ?”

Just then, Adam’s beeper went off.

“Biological clock,” said James.

Adam got up to say his good-byes, explaining that an urgent work-related matter had come up – at midnight. “I’m sorry, gorgeous. Call me, okay?”

Kamal and João also rose, heads ducking as they made for the door. “Yo, can we do it one more time before you get pregnant?” Kamal whispered hotly in my ear.

I sighed. Now they were gone, and the rest of us sat looking at one another like passengers on the deck of the Titanic. Sloba was blowing smoke rings.

We were down to five men. “Oh, are you still here?” I said. “There seems to have been a stampede.”

“Like, Nance, you don’t really want to have a baby with present company … do you?” asked James.

I looked at them all, and tried to imagine a child sitting next to each of them – a little dreadlocked Curtis Jr.; a little James in a velvet jacket and shades; and they were all beautiful – except for the one with Joey, but I loved him anyway.

“I want to be a mommy,” I said.

“Look, don’t worry,” said Rick, trying to be comforting. “You have time – just wait. My sister’s 39, and she has a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old. There are going to be men in your life who want to have a family – “

“But what if it doesn’t happen?” I said. “What if I get into a two-, three-year relationship with a man and then we decide we can’t stand each other? I’ll be 37, 38 …”

“You could adopt,” Curtis said.

“I could; I would. But does that mean every woman who turns 40 without being married has to give up the right to bear children?” I knew there were people, especially in Utah, who’d answer yes to this, and they were entitled to their opinion.

Lisa made a face. “Even if you do get married, it doesn’t mean the man’s gonna be around after the baby’s born, so what’s the difference? More than half the people in America get divorced.”

James grimaced. “Nance, like, what are you gonna tell this kid? Who’s Daddy?”

I hadn’t ironed that one out yet. ” ‘Daddy is a friend of mine?’ ” I suggested.

Sloba’s smoke rings were hovering over the table.

Suddenly, Max the waiter was stepping backwards in a strange dance; he was cracking up. “We’re taking bets on this in the kitchen,” he said.

Rick had stubbed out his cigar and left to go and meet his boyfriend (“I’d give this a few days to jell if I were you,” he said in my ear). So now there were only four men left: James, Sloba, Curtis, and Joey – all sloshed, their ties all loosened. They had started singing (“Babyface, you got the cutest little babyface …”).

Time was fleeting, and for one slippery moment I thought how easy it would be to get any of them into bed … oh, but these were my friends.

“Oh, Nance, I’m thinking about it,” Curtis said suddenly, burying his head in his arm.

My heart leapt around as if it had been shocked by those electric hospital bricks.

“You are?”

“Yes,” he said, sounding pinched.

“You talk to her on the phone every night anyway, Curtis,” Lisa started babbling excitedly; “now you could just be talking about the baby – “

“I’m thinking about it,” he repeated.

“What do you mean, ‘thinking’?” grumbled Sloba. “You’re not serious. I am Serb. We don’t think, we only … misbehave.”

“Um – the weight of it,” Curtis said, “hadn’t settled on me until this moment, but I’m, um, thinking about it very seriously. Look, I don’t always love being around kids.” He sighed. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have some.”

“Oh, I’ll take care of them!” I piped up.

“Convenient,” said Sloba.

“No, no, wait a minute – I’ll do it,” Joey hissed.

“Is that an offer, Joey?” I said. “It sounds like you’re agreeing to hard labor.”

“Yeah, that’s her department,” said Sloba.

“Well I don’t know how I feel about being attached to you forever,” Joey whined. “But I’m sitting here tonight realizing I’m never going to get married. I really only like to date lesbians.”

“Oh, well, thank you,” I said. “I think.”

“Hey,” Joey said. “I want the kid to be a tennis star. We gotta get it right into a tennis training camp.”

I looked from Curtis to Joey – it was like looking from a lion to a turtle.

“What do you say to a duel?” I said.

“Nance,” said James impatiently. “Why don’t you just go for it? We all know who it’s going to be.”

I was bewildered. “Tell me.”

He pointed at Sloba. “Like, he’s the coolest.”

“He’s the drunkest. And I haven’t heard him offering,” I said.

“I thought I made my feelings quite clear as I explained the circumstances surrounding my present situation,” Sloba slurred, attempting diction.

“You said you wanted a baby, but it all sounded very abstract,” I said.

“If somebody else at this table had a child with my cousin, would you regret it, Sloba?” asked Lisa, fixing her gaze on him.

Then he looked at me with an intensity I hadn’t seen since we first met, at a party in the Village seven years ago. I was eating a chicken leg at the time, and dancing in a conga line with some lively Chileans.

“I wouldn’t allow it,” Sloba said quietly.

The room began to spin.

“well why didn’t you tell me this before?” I said, recovering.

“You’re supposed to read,” Sloba said, “between the …”

“The ellipses,” said Curtis.

“You really want to have a baby?” I said.

“Yes,” said Sloba.

“You’re offering?”


“You’re serious?”

“Is it my English?” he said, glancing around. “Y-E-S.”

Max the waiter handed me the bill. I stared up at him dreamily. “I’m gonna have a baby,” I said.

“Wonderful,” Max said, pleased, producing a pen. “Now just sign here.”

The men were getting up and putting on their jackets.

“When was the last time a patron got pregnant here?” asked James.

“It’s been done,” said Max, pocketing the credit-card receipt. “I’ve seen it before, and tried not to break it up.”

“Hey,” said Joey, frowning. “What about me? Now I want a baby.”

“Relax, brother,” said Curtis, putting a hand up on his shoulder. “I think you missed the baby boat.”

And we left.

“All my love, all my kissin’, you don’t know what you been missin’ …” James began to sing.

We wandered through Wall Street singing Buddy Holly songs; none of us wanted to go home. We wound up in an empty bar by the water with a nautical theme, and I thought, We’re like sailors, blown in here to escape our rootlessness.

We watched James dancing by himself to the jukebox, the tails of his velvet jacket swinging around as he did a Michael Jackson twirl. He and I danced cheek-to-cheek to “Refugee.” He sang the words to me, Elvis-style: “I said ya don’t – have – to – live like a refugeeeee – “

“Nance, you sure you know what you’re getting into?” he asked, hugging me tight.

And I remembered the night I went on my first date with him and we wound up at the Blue Angel watching a woman with fangs do a “reverse striptease.”

I smiled. “I never do.”

Curtis and Lisa were huddled together talking about how they’d like to invite all their old flames to a dinner party, “just to see what would happen. It’s the ultimate fantasy,” I heard Curtis saying, giggling. He was flirting.

Joey laid his head on my breast and I cradled him like a baby. “Ma-ma,” he said.

Sloba and I hardly talked to each other. A couple of times, we caught each other’s eye. Finally I went over to him.

“I don’t want to move to an island,” I said.

“Wahl.” He put his arm around me. “How about West 4th Street?”

But it didn’t work out that way.

The bombing of Yugoslavia continued, and Sloba and I were acting like we were in love again. We were having romantic dinners, planning on moving in together. All I’d wanted was a baby, and now I had a husband-to-be.

For a couple of heady weeks, the Baby Dinner seemed to work A Midsummer Night’s Dream sort of magic on all of us. All the men were calling me up, wanting to see me, to be with me. João wanted me to meet his fiancée.

Adam and I went to Notting Hill and afterwards danced up and down in the aisles of the Virgin Megastore to “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,” like little kids. James and I cried in each other’s arms at the Corner Bistro when the Knicks lost game five. Kamal and I went dancing and laughed our heads off watching the Austin Powers video at 4 a.m., eating pancakes. Then we safely said good night.

And Rick and I drank wine and did something we never do – we talked about the past, wondering, to paraphrase the Talking Heads, how we got here, and when we were ever going to have children.

“Are you and Sloba really going through with this?” he asked.

“No, we’re not,” I said, without thinking.

And then in its inevitable inverse magic, the potion began to wear off. Sloba became … unavailable. I became … irritable. Everything about us that had ever made each other crazy came back in a rush of slapstick incidents.

“But I love you,” he said.

“I love you, too.” But it was hopeless.

The bombing of Yugoslavia stopped.

He went home to see his parents; and as we parted he made some half-hearted joke about going to visit “Grandma” (his mom). But it wasn’t even painful, because we are family, he and I, and all of us.

Maybe, I’ve been thinking, there’s a new kind of family unit forming here in New York. Its base is a group of friends – all hardworking misfits, loners, dreamers, who are disastrous candidates for marriage but would actually make very interesting and loving parents. Pardon the expression, but it’s Friends – with kids.

After all, the two-parent family structure is only a couple of thousand years old in a species that dates back tens of thousands of years. Friends-with-kids makes sense in a city where a cave big enough for your brood costs $200,000, and a nanny $25,000 a year, at least. You could pool your resources, buy a little brownstone in the Village, and employ communal nannies, or figure a way to rotate your schedules, like the chore wheel at camp.

Anyway, in some way the Baby Dinner gave me faith that somehow, it’s all going to work out. My single life in New York hasn’t been the unfulfilled search for a connection I thought it was; there have been connections, and they all mean something – just something different from what it means to have a husband.

And that’s why I plan to call on Uncle Adam when I need someone to go with the baby and me to a baseball game; Aunt Lisa will come in handy when I need to make Halloween costumes; Uncle Rick can teach the baby all about art; and Uncle Curtis, no doubt, will have something to say about everything. (With Uncle Joey, of course, there will need to be additional adult supervision.)

As for getting pregnant, well … I’ll try to be patient. It’s just not easy, with all this ticking going on.

The Baby Dinner