About a year ago, I was in a bookstore and I saw this incredibly cute guy sitting in a manual wheelchair in the café. He was a low quadriplegic from what I could tell. He was slumped a little in his wheelchair and his hands obviously didn’t really work. He was flipping through a copy of Wired Magazine (one of my favorites), using his whole hand to turn the page. At one point, he dug out his phone to make a call. It was a flip phone, and I nearly had three orgasms watching him flip it open. I’m exaggerating a little, but it was definitely hot.
I was sitting with my friend Brenda in the café, and she had no clue that I’m a devotee. I kept sneaking looks at the guy, making sure Brenda didn’t notice. It was hard even concentrating on what my friend was saying, but luckily, she’s one of those people who talks and talks, regardless of whether anyone is listening. I kept wondering if I should go over and try to meet the guy. And if so, how?
“There are no cute, decent guys left in the city,” Brenda sighed. “I swear, Sam, you got the last one.”
And oh yeah, I was dating Patrick at the time. So going over and hitting on another guy was pretty skeezy.
“It’s hopeless,” Brenda said. “The only single guys left are ones who are total perverts or commitment-phobes, or like, cripples.”
Yeah, I definitely couldn’t go hit on that guy.
I did make a half-hearted attempt to meet him on my way out of the café. I accidentally-on-purpose stumbled over one of his wheels. He looked up at me, and I flashed him my most seductive smile, “Oops.”
He didn’t smile back. In fact, he gave me a really dirty look that surprised me. “How about an apology?”
“Sorry,” I mumbled, racing away as quickly as I could.
Brenda witnessed the entire exchange and asked me what that guy’s problem was, and I didn’t think it was his problem at all. Apparently I’m just terrible at trying to meet men. I always just… met them. Like I met Patrick at a friend’s party. Strangely enough, Patrick had been brought along as a possible date for another girl at the party, but we started talking and hit it off. Then my friend started playing swing music and it turned out that Patrick was a great dancer. (It occurs to me that if I start dating a guy in a wheelchair, there won’t be any more swing dancing, but I think I can live with that.)
There was another occasion, a few years ago, when I was driving and I saw a car pass me that had handicapped plates. I caught a glimpse of the driver and he actually looked cute. So I did something completely crazy and started following the car. I was literally following this car for twenty minutes. Then I started thinking about what I was going to do when the car finally stopped. Was I actually going to try to introduce myself to the driver, and pretend the whole thing was a coincidence? I may be sick and twisted, but I’m not a stalker. So I drove home.
Obviously, the normal way to meet guys is not to drive around town, looking for handicapped plates. And I can’t just float around, waiting to get hit on. I need to take real initiative. So after our dinner together, Kate comes back with me to my apartment and we get on match dot com.
“Online dating is so skeezy,” I say.
“Skeezy is not a word.”
“Yes, it is!” I insist. It’s, in fact, my word of the day. Skeezy!
We then spend five minutes googling “skeezy” and find out that it means a combination of “sketchy” and “sleazy.” Also, it’s a website of the hottest gay sex movies.
“All right, no more messing around,” Kate says, clicking furiously on my mouse. “I’ve created a profile for you and now we just have to search for disabled guys.”
“Really skeezy,” I say. Plus I’m a little worried about what Kate wrote in my profile. I have a feeling she didn’t mention the fact that my favorite book is Ender’s Game.
Kate ignores me and types “disabled” into the search field. I have to admit, I’m kind of excited. I might actually get to meet a hot wheeler this way. Except I honestly can’t believe this will work. “What’s the oldest guy you’d date?”
Kate clicks a button and a bunch of male faces appear on the screen. I lean over her shoulder to look at them. “They don’t look disabled,” I say.
“They’re headshots, Einstein.”
You want to hear something irritating? We click on each of the photos and not one of these guys is actually disabled. They just have in their profile that they like working with disabled people, or like one guys said, “I like doing stuff because only disabled people sit around the house.” And then there was one guy who went on and on about how he wants to work with amputees, and if you’re an amputee, he’d really really like that.
Can I still call him skeezy even if I’m thinking the same thing?
“Maybe that was the wrong keyword,” Kate says thoughtfully.
Next she tries “wheelchair.” And this brings up two profiles of guys who seem like they really are in wheelchairs. I actually feel a twinge of excitement.
“Sam? What do you think?”
I point to the first photo. “Not that guy.”
“He has a ponytail.”
“I freaking hate ponytails on guys. You know that. It’s my only rule: no guys with ‘tails.” In the movie Born on the Fourth of July, Tom Cruise plays a paraplegic who sports long hair and/or a ponytail through most of the movie, and it was not sexy. And that was a young, hot Tom Cruise—before his Scientology crazy fest. In any case, if young Tom Cruise in a wheelchair with a ponytail isn’t sexy to me, then what chance does a normal guy with a ponytail have?
“He’s cute though,” Kate says. “Maybe you could get him to cut it off?”
“It’s not the ponytail itself,” I explain. “It’s the type of guy who would wear a ponytail. It just shows an obsession with appearance that completely turns me off. So even if he cut the ponytail off, he’d still the kind of person who’d have a ponytail. You know?”
“You can cut the ponytail off the guy, but you can’t cut the guy off the ponytail.”
“Something like that.”
Kate clicks on the other photo. It’s a guy with short black hair, which is a good start. He’s a little overweight, but I could deal with that. I mean, he’s not my type otherwise, but when Kate clicks on a photo of him where he’s obviously sitting in a wheelchair, I get a little tingle. I could deal with a few physical flaws for a guy who’s a wheeler.
“His name is Rob, he’s of Italian descent, he likes good food, movies, and spending time outdoors,” Kate reads off the screen. “And listen to this: ‘As you can see from my photos, I use a wheelchair. I’m in great health, but if that’s a problem for you, I guess we’re not a match.’ So what do you think, Sam?”
“How do I contact him?”
Kate grins. “Omigod, you’re really going to do this. That’s awesome.”
At this point, I actually have to enter my credit card number for a chance to meet this guy Rob. I then compose a brief message to send to him:
Hi Rob. My name is Samantha but everyone calls me Sam. I’m a sucker for good food and movies too. Maybe we could get together some time to enjoy them?
Kate and I literally spent an hour coming up with those four sentences. Will it be alluring to Rob? Only time will tell.
Don’t laugh at me, but I actually have trouble sleeping that night, thinking about Rob. I dream about my potential date with him over and over, where he’s anything ranging from cute to a monster. Or worse, I’m worried he won’t email me back at all.
The next morning, I log into Match with butterflies in my stomach. Surprisingly, I already got some responses to my profile. A few winks and a couple of short notes from some random guys that I mostly just ignore. The guys aren’t unattractive, but I’m not here to just meet a cute guy. I have something more specific in mind.
And there it is: a reply from Rob. I feel a little like throwing up as I click on the message:
Hi Sam! Gr8 to hear frm u! Do u want to get tgether 4 drinks or dinner?
Okay, maybe this is dumb, but I totally hate it when people substitute numbers for letters in writing, even casual writing. I find it really obnoxious and it shows a lack of proper education. It’s one thing if you’re ten years old, but a thirty-something guy should be a little bit more articulate. Then again, I hear Kate’s voice in my ear: “Quit being such a snob, Sam!”
So I try to ignore the numbers and I write back a reply with my phone number, telling him to call me to iron out the details. It takes me about five minutes of hovering over the mouse before I click send. Once the guy has my number, I actually have to go out with him. I can’t back out. But I guess that’s kind of the point.
I go through the full range of emotions that day, waiting for Rob to give me a ring. First I'm excited about the call. Then I'm nervous that I'll say something dumb on the phone and wreck it. Then I'm regretful, thinking I should have just found myself a nice able-bodied guy to go out with. Then I'm hungry, because it's lunch time. And that's when Rob calls me.
I didn't actually expect Rob to call me at work. I figured he'd call later that night. I guess he liked my profile picture a lot? In any case, it's a little awkward, because I don't want anyone to figure out that I'm talking on the phone to a guy from Match. So I race into the stairwell and hide there to take the call. Nobody is ever in the stairwell because we're a company of fat engineers, so we don't dare walk even one flight.
"Hi, is this Sam?" Rob asks. His voice is deep, a little husky.
"Yes, this is she," I say, already sounding like a moron because I'm so damn nervous.
"It's Rob," he says. "You know, from Match."
"Oh, hi," I say, breathless now from my race to the stairwell. Like I expected, it's completely desolate.
"So how are you doing?" Rob says.
"I'm fine," I say. "How are you?"
"I'm good," he says. "Up to anything fun today?" Because I totally have tons of time to chat right in the middle of a workday.
"Working, actually," I say.
"Oh, sorry about that."
“You’re a dental hygienist, right? That’s what your profile said.”
“No!” I’m going to kill Kate. What was she thinking? I know she thinks the engineer thing intimidates men, but dental hygienist? Really? “I’m an engineer.”
“Oh,” Rob says. “Sorry, I must have forgotten.”
“Maybe I typed it wrong.” Because an alternate spelling of “engineer” is “dental hygienist.”
"So, um," Rob says. "I really liked your profile."
"Thank you," I say. "I liked yours too."
Long, long, awkward pause.
"So I was wondering if you're up for getting dinner this Friday night?" Rob suggests.
I'm biting my fingernails so hard that a large chunk of thumbnail comes free in my mouth. I spit it out onto the floor. "Um, sure."
"Great," Rob says. We decide on a diner that's sort of midway between where we both live. We're going to meet there, which I guess is fine. I wouldn't agree to get picked up by a guy I've never even met. That's how nice girls like me end up with their throats slashed.
"Listen," Rob says. "I don't know if you saw this in my profile, but I just want to make sure you know I'm in a wheelchair and you're okay with that. I don't want you to be shocked or anything."
"Um, yeah, I saw that."
"And... you're okay with that?"
"Yes," I say. Unsatisfied with the damage I've done to my thumbnail, I start digging in to my index finger nail. When I die, my stomach will probably be filled with fingernail clippings.
"Are you... disabled too?"
"No, I'm not."
"Oh," Rob says.
I know what he's thinking. How come a girl who looks moderately cute in her profile picture is willing to date a disabled guy? And I'm thinking maybe I ought to be honest with him, or else he's going to think this is all an elaborate joke on him or something. "I don't mind disability," I explain. (To say the least.) "I know a lot of people who are disabled." Not really. "So I really don't mind."
"Oh," Rob says, still sounding a little unconvinced.
"Actually," I say. "I sort of.... like it."
There's a really long pause. Possibly the longest pause in the history of the world. It's not an awkward pause like last time though. It's something entirely different. By the time Rob speaks again, I've gnawed off half the nail on my index finger.
"Really?" is what he says. He doesn't sound angry. More like... baffled.
"Yeah," I manage. "Is that okay?"
"Yeah, it's..." Rob exhales into the phone. "Kind of cool, actually. I mean, I sort of heard of guys who are into amputees and stuff like that, but I never met a girl who..."
"Right," I say, hoping he won't finish that sentence.
"Okay," Rob says, "so..."
"So I've got to get back to work," I say. I can't stand another second of this conversation is the truth. "I guess I'll see you Friday night?"
"Right, okay," Rob says.
I hang up before he can say anything else. I'm not sure if I did the right thing telling him, but I guess we'll see. At least he didn't call me a sicko or anything. And soon I'm going to be going on a date with the guy. God, I hope he's cute.
I always shop at a Trader Joe's a few blocks away from me, because I love their food and they're way cheaper than the local market. But I always go really late because Trader Joe's is so damn crowded. And usually if I go late enough, the cashiers are too tired to hit on me like they usually do. Okay, Kate says they're just being friendly and maybe that's true, but either way, I just want to pay for my groceries and leave.
I'm perusing the frozen aisle, looking for their newest interesting foods. They always have some new bizarre frozen food that tastes amazing. Like sweet potato gnocchi in sage/butter sauce. I got that last time I was here and I've been craving it ever since, but I can't seem to find it.
While I'm searching, that Carly Rae Jepsen song "Call Me Maybe" comes on the overhead radio. I'm embarrassed to admit that I kind of love that song. It's so damn catchy! How could you not love it? In any case, I'm pretty much singing out loud with the song, waggling my hips as I go, when I hear a voice from behind me:
Before I even turn around, I'm already mortified beyond belief. To be caught singing in public is just the most embarrassing thing that can happen. And then when I turn around, I realize it's about a million times worse. The guy who witnessed my little private concert was none other than Chris Barrett from the Apple store. He's got a basket of food in his lap and an incredibly amused expression on his face. He looks completely adorable too. I love the way his baggy khakis fall over his legs and his loafers sit quietly in the single footplate. I’ve almost forgotten that our last conversation ended on kind of an awkward note.
"Oh, um, hi," I say.
"It's Chris, from the Apple store," he says. “The guy who saved your phone.”
"Oh, right," I say, as if there was any way in the freaking world I could have forgotten him. I can’t even believe he caught me singing in public. How can I put a spin on this? “Um, I was just… I mean, I wasn’t…”
“It’s okay,” he says with a shrug. “I really admire a woman who can belt it out in the frozen foods aisle.”
“I wasn’t ‘belting it out,’” I say. My face is really burning by now.
“It’s okay, you have a really nice voice,” Chris says, even though I don’t. I’m so off key, I don’t even sound good in the shower. “I don’t blame you. It’s a catchy song.”
I look down at my nails, which are still shredded from my lunchtime phone call from Rob.
“Anyway,” Chris says. “Is your phone still functioning?”
I perk up, glad he’s changed the subject to something slightly less embarrassing. "It's working great,” I say. “Thanks again.”
"I’m glad the reboot worked," he says. "But if it didn’t, I had one other idea to try to fix it.”
"It's kind of a secret," he says. "But I'll give you a hint. It involves peanut butter and a dog."
I stare at him.
"I'm joking," he says. God, he's cute.
It occurs to me that this conversation isn't going badly at all. Chris is being really nice to me and this isn't even in the context of selling me anything. He's actually sort of flirting with me. Maybe I didn't blow it after all by telling him I dropped my phone in the toilet. Also, I'm looking at his basket, and I don't see any relationshippy food in there. By that, I mean, it doesn't look like meals for two. I see a couple of cans of soup, some Spanakopita, an individual frozen pizza. Looks like he's just shopping for himself. Plus the fact that he's shopping at all means that there probably isn't a serious girlfriend in his life. Patrick had me do most of the shopping in the second year of our relationship.
"So I was just thinking..." Chris begins.
Ask me out! Ask me out!
"Maybe you'd like to upgrade your phone pretty soon," he says. "I know you revived it and all, but you’d really benefit from a newer model phone. The 3G isn’t getting any of the software updates. I bet I can get you a great deal.”
I feel my heart sink. He's not interested in me. He's just trying to make a goddamn sale. "Yeah, maybe."
"Come by the store again sometime," Chris says. "Do you still have my card?"
"No," I lie. I still have it in a drawer, okay? That's not that weird. It's not like I sleep with it under my pillow or carry it around in my underwear.
Chris fishes around in his wallet for a card. As he hands it to me, our fingers accidentally-on-purpose brush against each other, and those Carly Rae lyrics start running through my head:
Hey, I just met you and this is crazy
But here’s my number, so call me, maybe?
Except a stupid song is a lot different from real life, and I’m pretty sure Chris’s card isn’t going to say “call me” on it. And he doesn’t even put his cell number on it this time. Yeah, this is definitely all about selling me a phone. Oh well. I've still got my hot date with Rob.
"I'm telling you," Chris says, "once you get a 4S, you'll never look back. And you seem like a professional, someone who could use a good phone."
"Yes, I am," I say. I might have told him what I do, but I remind myself that he's just looking to earn a commission here, not hear my life's story. Plus I’ve noticed that telling men I’m an engineer doesn’t exactly make them desire me.
"Great," Chris says, beaming at me. He smiles at me and his smile is absolutely adorable. My knees are literally shaking. "So… you’ll come by the store and see me?”
“Sure,” I lie.
He puts his hands on his wheels like he’s ready to move on from this conversation. “Great. So I’ll see you at the store then.”
"Uh huh," I say. Then I add, "Happy shopping!"
Because it would be impossible for me to end a conversation with Chris without saying something completely idiotic.
Well, at least I’ve got my date with Rob.