Excerpt from “Looking for Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing”

New Girl in Cybertown: June 2010

by Kate Walter

After the fiasco with Mariana, I decide to try online dating. As a new girl in Cybertown, I was attracting interest. I had been online for two weeks, exchanging e-mails and setting up meetings with women. Since I had no idea how to do this, I was following the concepts in Leslie Oren’s helpful book, Fine, I’ll Go Online! The Hollywood Publicist’s Guide to Successful Internet Dating. From this savvy expert, I learned how to craft my image, pitch myself, and, field incoming offers. I kept updating my profile until it felt just right. People even wrote me, “It is obvious you spent time on this.”

The Hollywood publicist suggested exchanging three or four rounds of e-mails, talking briefly on the phone, then setting up a meeting for coffee or drinks. The book offered great advice, although I had to make minor adjustments since it was geared for heterosexuals. To me, it made sense to invest time up front. That way we’d know more about each other when we met, and if the phone conversation did not flow, why meet at all?

Some women who contacted me reacted to my e-mail request as if it were an onerous task, indicating they’d rather just meet in person. I did not get it. Then again, as a writer I loved e-mail and was at my computer all day. Sandra, an attorney who contacted me, wanted to meet right away. She bristled at my suggestion to exchange a few e-mails but she reluctantly agreed so I compromised and waived the requisite phone call. I had to loosen up more. I was relying on these rules because I was nervous and out of practice.

Sandra and I set up a date for drinks and agreed to meet in front of the legendary Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street. It was a hot summer night and I was tempted to wear shorts but thought that too casual, so I settled on tight jeans and a white blouse. As I looked through my closet, I decided it would be good to have some new clothes for dating. I still had a gift certificate from Macy’s from my winter birthday, except I hated shopping so much.

I stood in front of the Stonewall sipping my bottled water, looking west, expecting Sandra to get off at Sheridan Square. But as I turned around, a short woman coming from the east walked up to me and said, “Are you Kate?” We shook hands, introduced ourselves. She wanted to sit outside, which did not appeal to me, since it was 90 degrees. But I was trying to be open and agreed. I’d already considered where we might go, nixing the women’s bars as too loud for conversation—and none of them had outside tables.

“How about the Cornelia Street Café?” I said. “They have outdoor seating.”

“Sounds good,” she replied.

Sandra was wearing Capri pants, a striped shirt, and flip flops, and as we walked down West 4th St, I realized she was about five feet, three inches—not that short. I was five feet, six inches but never considered my height above average because I’d spent many years with a much taller partner. To my relief, the sidewalk seats were filled, so we went inside and grabbed a table near the bar. She ordered a rum and coke; I got a beer. I don’t drink hard liquor.

As the bartender went to get our drinks, I wondered why I’d had agreed to meet an attorney since I viewed myself as too much of a maverick to be with someone whose job was to uphold the law. What tipped the scales in Sandra’s favor was that she played bass in a rock band. Our drinks arrived and we started filling in our backgrounds. She didn’t come out until she was forty-three, even though she always knew she was a lesbian.

“What took you so long?” I asked.

“I was a good Catholic girl,” she said.

“So was I,” I shot back. “Did not stop me,” although technically I’d already left the Church before I came out at twenty-five during the heyday of the sexual revolution in the 70s. Like me, Sandra had graduated from a Catholic women’s college in the Northeast, but other than that, our early lives could not have been more different.

“I missed the 60s,” she explained. It was hard to believe that her being just a year older could make that much of a difference, but it did.

While I spent the early 1970s living in a hippie house on a lake in New Jersey, having sex with men and women, taking drugs, and going to concerts at the Fillmore East, Sandra was a suburban housewife who married at twenty-two and quickly had a baby.

“Desperate housewives of Westchester,” I joked when she told me this.

“I was more like your older sister,” she said, “in that generation.”

“How did you know I had an older sister?” I was thrown off because we had not discussed siblings.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, I found your website and read most of your essays.”

“What? How did you manage that?” I said, annoyed. “I never gave you my last name.”

“Oh, it’s easy,” she said. “I had your first name and you told me where you teach so I put it together and found this video of you on the college website. You’re talking about some writing award you won. So once I had your last name, bingo! You have a lot of stuff about yourself out there on Google.”

Now I felt blindsided. This smartass lawyer had researched me as if she were preparing for a case. For many years I’d written about my life (way before blogging). There was a lot about me on the net but I never had to deal with it on a date until now. If we were already seeing each other, I’d welcome the interest in my work. But it felt unfair for her to do heavy research before we even met. It gave her the upper hand as she kept bringing up stuff.

“You were born in January,” she continued, “and you’re the middle child, older sister, younger brother. His name is John and—”

“You have a good memory,” I said, still a bit shocked.

“So I’ve been told,” she said. “Now I want to hear about Slim.”

I did not think this was first-date material, and why should I go into the painful details with a stranger if she’d already read the pieces I’d written about my breakup? But I briefly sketched in the details, telling her the most disturbing part at this point is that after all those years together, Slim won’t speak to me or have any contact.

“Then she’s a jerk,” Sandra said. “I’m friendly with all my exes.”

Unlike me, Sandra had never lived with anyone, which seemed odd, considering lesbians are known for their nesting instincts, and her longest relationship was four years. I gathered she had put most of her energy into her career. Sandra told me that lately she’d been having sexual flings with women in their forties. I was intrigued and wanted to hear more. I’d like to get me some of that and started thinking of this cute gay woman from my church. We’d been chatting that morning on the sidewalk after the service. She was forty-four and very hot, like a darker Halle Berry.

I was impressed Sandra was having affairs with women twenty years younger. While she played volleyball and was in good shape, I wouldn’t call her a knockout.

“Where do you meet these women?” I asked.

“Mostly at work,” she replied. “But it has no future. Look, I’m sixty-two. They don’t want anything permanent with me. When they’re sixty, I’d be eighty, so I decided to go online and meet women my age.”

“Wow,” I said, not ever thinking a forty-year-old would give me a tumble.

“So did you really see a psychic and an astrologer about your breakup?” she asked, changing the subject and once again bringing up things I’d never told her. “Do you actually believe in that stuff?”

All her background knowledge was throwing me into a tailspin. It gave her an unfair advantage and I felt like she was putting me on the spot. I could see why she was a good lawyer, except we were not in a courtroom Plus, it was obvious she thought that psychic stuff was bullshit. I felt like I was being mocked, which upset me.

“I don’t write fiction,” I said. “Whatever you read was true. Yes, I saw a psychic and an astrologer and still do occasionally. I believe certain people have gifts in those areas.”

Sandra looked at me like I was crazy, and I was sure she’d think I was nuts if she knew I attended meetings of Six Sensory New York. I was working on developing my own intuition, which was signaling that there was not a match between us.

“Did you read my piece about joining a church?” I asked. This was one of my favorite pieces.

“I skipped that one,” she said. “I’m not into religion. I left all that behind.”

“I did too,“ I said, “but then I rediscovered it. That’s what makes the essay interesting—it shows a big transformation.”

While I didn’t expect to go out with someone who shared my idiosyncratic belief system, I’d never want to be with someone so cynical. Good to know. I could already see how dating would help me figure out what really mattered.

“This place is a far cry from the Catholic Church,” I said, describing a recent service where three members of the House of Ninja vogued on the altar in front of a rainbow flag.

“I’m getting buzzed,” said Sandra as she quaffed her second drink. “I’m drinking on an empty stomach. Why didn’t you want to meet for dinner?” She said, irritated. “By the time we leave here, we will have spent two hours.”

I was following the Hollywood publicist’s advice about not having dinner at the first meeting. Foolishly, I mentioned the book to the lawyer.

“So you are following the rules in some stupid book.”

“Only the ones that make sense. Look, we could have left after the first drink,” I said. “You suggested another round and I agreed because the conversation was flowing.” But flowing was not the right word. It was more like being examined and questioned by someone who’d read my files. It was fascinating in a sick way.

Sandra kept asking me about stuff I’d never shared with her but I’d written about in personal essays. My site has lots of material and as her Q and A continued, I kept thinking what piece had that info about my siblings? Where did I publish that one about dropping my hair cutter? How many pieces talked about psychics? Which one mentioned Ocean Grove? When I told Sandra I was going there July 4th weekend, she said there was someone new on the site who mentioned Ocean Grove. Maybe I should look her up.

As I did my best to answer her questions, I realized what bothered me the most was that she never once said “Your writing is funny” or “You’re a really good writer.” But she was not reading my creative work as an art form, but as a means to obtain information she could use. This was new to me and in the future, I could be more prepared for this exposure, but hopefully, I would not meet anyone else so tactless.

The bill arrived and I offered to split it even though her drinks were more expensive than mine, but she took out her credit card and I gave her cash for my share. I did not understand why she didn’t order food if she was hungry. We were in a restaurant.

I walked her to the West 4th Street subway stop, even though it was out of my way. The air was stifling and now the two beers hit me.

“Nice meeting you,” I said and gave her a quick hug. A handshake seemed too formal for someone who knew so much about me so fast. “Maybe we should go out for dinner,” I blurted out, not sure why I said this. I had no practice ending bad dates.

When I got home, my lower back was killing me on the left side. I was not sure if this was from sitting for too long on stupid high stools at stupid high tables, or because I felt like I had just gotten off the witness stand.

                                                                   ………………… 

 

KATE2_14_15(85)Bio: Kate Walter has been living in downtown Manhattan since 1975 when she escaped across the river from New Jersey. Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing is her debut memoir.
Kate‘s essays and opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, New York Daily News, AM-NY, the Advocate, and many other outlets. She teaches writing at CUNY and NYU.
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