Linda DeMers. From High School?

People frown at you if you wear flip-flops to a funeral. This thought came to me as my plane touched down on Long Island, and I realized I was due at one in a few hours and had forgotten to pack shoes. Luckily I was in my hometown. Giving myself the requisite half hour to get lost in traffic on roads I used to know, I finally pulled into the shoe store I’d frequented as a teenager. I started looking.

“Do you need some help?”

I turned to the clerk in back of me to say, “Yes” but stopped.

It was Bobby Werner. From high school. Class of ’68. His hair was all gelled up, committed to a bad comb-over I wish someone had talked him out of. He’d lost those full cheeks he had as a kid. But it was him.

Before I even say my next words aloud, here’s where I’ve been in my head: Bobby Werner made Honor Society our junior year, which was the province of kids whose fathers were internists, so it was doubly impressive because his father worked at Grumman, like mine. He scored touchdowns against rival football teams. He lived on Forest Avenue. His house was green.

There’s more, and I retrieve that, too. He sat in front of me in English class junior year, where he turned around to pass me the SAT practice ditto every morning. So if my math is right, Bobby Werner was forced to look in my direction 180 times, give or take. I had such a thing for Bobby Werner, and I was wondering — now that we were face to face all these years later — if the feeling had been mutual.

“Wow,” I say as if we’re old friends who just haven’t gotten around to seeing each other in several decades. “How are you, Bobby?”

I see blank. Of course, it’s probably not Bobby anymore, I’m thinking. He’s probably ratcheted it down to Bob. Hence the void, I’m sure. So I hop right back in.

“Linda DeMers. From high school?”

Not a glimmer yet. But he’s squinting a bit, so I think he’s trying.

“Massapequa?” I add, just in case he secretly went to more than one high school.

“You went to Massapequa?” he asks. I nod. He stares, and the pause sashays over, right into awkward.

“Impossible,” he says. “I know I’d remember you.”

At first I think he’s flirting with me, but maybe he sees this conversation as an attack on his powers of memory. Whichever it is, I bet he never guessed he’d end up working in a shoe store in his hometown. Or come across a woman who knows the details of his illustrious past.

There’s another pause — even longer than the first one — signaling that we’re finished dancing down memory lane. So remembering why I’m here in the first place, I break the silence.

“Do you have this shoe in black?”

When he returns from the back, he has a shoe box in his hand. He doesn’t say he recognizes me after all, now that he’s had time to think. He doesn’t say he’ll look me up in the yearbook when he gets home.

I bet Bobby Werner remembers graduation day when we smiled for the camera with our proud parents. Our class motto was “We are good! We are great! We’re the Class of ’68!” When we screamed it at pep rallies, we emphasized the middle sentence, believing we were immune to the chips and scratches that would eventually find us.

“Anything else today?” he asks.

I hand him my credit card.

“We’re letting you go.”

I knew my days were numbered as soon as the new org chart came out. It was complicated and confusing, with squiggles and two-sided arrows. It was like a corporate Escher print, and I couldn’t — for the life of me — figure out where I belonged anymore in the company that had been my employer for six years.

“We’re letting you go.”

I love this phrase, don’t you? It made me seem like some sad, caged bird, who was now free to explore the world, thanks to the kindness of the Board of Directors. At least that’s how I tried to hear it.

My laptop was gone by the time my boss and I walked back to my desk. According to company policy, he was supposed to watch me pack up and escort me from the building.

“Really, you don’t have to stand here,” I said, trying to get him off the hook. I felt sorry for him having to bounce me out. “I’ll come by your office when I’m done,” I told him. Then as he walked up the hall, I reached for an economy 12-pack of Post-it Notes and threw it in my purse. It’s been five years since I was fired, and I’m mentioning it here since I’m sure the Statute of Limitations has kicked in. Apparently my new life hasn’t called for Post-it Notes the way I thought it would. I still have 11¾ packs.

By 7:45 I’d signed a letter giving me a generous severance and making me promise not to sue them for firing a person so old she had actually watched the Moon Landing on live TV and remembered Thin Elvis.

By 7:55 my boss and I were standing awkwardly in the parking lot, as he sweetly lifted cartons into my car: all of my framed photos, potted English ivy, my extra pair of winter boots in case it snowed while I was at work, and a pencil holder my son made in 3rd grade.

He said, “You’ll be just fine.” He looked sad. I thought about confessing about the Post-it Notes.

By noon I was almost buoyant. “It was for the best!” “Thank God!” “No more pressure!” “A blessing in disguise!” All me.

I did the usual things a person does after getting fired: I called everyone else who’d also been fired so we could bad mouth the company that didn’t realize how phenomenal we were. I considered careers that seemed like they’d be much more fun than the one I’d been tethered to —Personal chef? Yoga instructor? Restaurant critic? Then I drank a lot of wine and took a nap.

When it was time to get out there and find my next job, I sent out cover letters only to find the silence they received unsettling. So I did what I do in times of uncertainty. I took to the Internet to find 16 diametrically opposed opinions about what I should do next. I found some job counseling companies, loaded with experts who were dying to help.

I gave my credit card number to one of the companies with the words “PLUS” or “PRO” in its title, and three days later, my new résumé was delivered. Was I was concerned I didn’t recognize myself on paper anymore? Yes and no. It was unsettling to read all the things I had expertise in that I really didn’t. But I still thought as long as I could get an interview, I’d shine. Thanks to the fiction team now selling my wares, it would take the CIA to uncover how old I was until I arrived at their doorstep. Then my charm would take over.

I landed three interviews within the next week.

It takes a lot of time to get sparkling for an interview when you’re 61 — this much I learned. You have to project a certain maturity and know-how without letting them find out you’re wearing Easy Spirit pumps. You have to invest in Spanx. You can’t eat a poppy seed bagel for breakfast. It’s a long list.

For my first interview in the marketing department of a local hospital, I had to enter by walking right past the cubicles of the people I’d be working with. As I opened the door, everyone in the room popped their heads up, like those adorable little prairie dogs you see at the zoo. Immediately I watched their shoulders all slump in one communal exhale (sort of a silent “Oh, pulease”).

No, really, I wanted to say, I’m lots of fun! I know who Taylor Swift is! You’ll like me! I smiled and entered their boss’s office where his 15-minute interview was just over the line of perfunctory. It wasn’t worth the ten minutes it took me to get myself wedged into my Spanx.

The next two interviews weren’t any better. At the second one, the person in charge was — just a guess here — nineteen. At the third, I was interviewed by a panel of women my age, which might have held more promise if they hadn’t been Nuns at a women’s Catholic college and the only thing our lives had in common was that we were all wearing black.

I got three responses all in polite, templated email. All three ended with, “Best of luck in your job search.”

I sat at my computer, reading, and realized something I had glossed over before.

The part about being 61.

T-T-Talking ‘Bout My Generation

Facebook and Baby Boomers. When Mark Zuckerberg and his pals at Harvard sat around in their dorm rooms and envisioned the future, you can bet this did not happen: “Someday, people in their sixties, anxious to cling to a time when their knees didn’t ache and they could read menus without glasses, will turn to our invention and see what’s become of all their high school friends. It’ll be fabulous.”

Yet, that’s pretty much what’s happened. I’ve learned everything I know about the Class of ‘68 from Facebook. The biggest revelation? No other generation has been able to conclude, the way we have, that the cool kids got much less cool as time went by. Past generations have had to live long enough to get to that 50th high school reunion to get the final word. Not us. We’ve got newsfeeds.

And conversely, something wonderful has happened to the glasses-wearing, science-loving geeky kids, who were always in the background. I know because I’m friended to two of them — lifelong friends of each other — who were so sweet, smart, and dorky you almost had to look away. If they were boys who got their lunch money stolen or got stuffed in someone’s locker between classes, Facebook tells me this is no longer true. They’ve had lucrative careers and long, happy marriages. These days, they upload glorious photos of the two of them hiking mountain ranges together. I don’t know how this happened, but they’re almost athletic.

The football team, many of whom ended up with bad backs and regrets about two-a-day practices — sure didn’t see this coming when they tossed around these guys on the bus. And as for the surfers whom I worshipped from afar, like the rest of us, sun damage hasn’t done their faces any favors. But the science nerdy boys, who tried to stay under the radar of the locker room crowd and have been wearing sun-proof gear for decades, look remarkable. Even when they smile they don’t look weathered, the way — ahem — some people who peaked early and went around saying “Kowabunga” all through high school do now.

In the garden of the late bloomers, the kids who were in the background have blossomed. Facebook tells me so. And it’s the news I’ve been waiting to read. So thanks, Facebook.

 

Older, Wiser, Hipper

In my family it is known as the “Jongebloed Hip.” Amazingly, it is even less glamorous than its name. The Jongebloed Hip caused my grandfather and his twin brother to lilt to the left for their last thirty years. It caused my mother to concede that a hip replacement was on her horizon (but only after her exasperated doctor convinced her he was pretty sure her bones were well on their way to becoming dust).

I’m not sure what it means for me. Only that sometimes my hip speaks to me as I’m getting up from a seated position.

I’ve always been a person who didn’t give in to every ache and pain. These good intentions sometimes get waylaid in your 60s. That’s just the way it is. I’ve also been a person who took pride in aging gracefully. That’s not to say I don’t spend a small fortune on highlights for my hair or the best make-up I can find. We live in an age when you can still be pretty at 65, even if you need extra time getting up from a seated position.

I have aging-gracefully role models in this endeavor. Lots of women who got on with the work of getting older without wringing their hands or flying to a plastic surgeon for answers. I was only 21 when I met the first of these. She was 93. I was in college, and Mrs. Clark lived in one of the town’s last magnificent mansions still owned by its original family.

She hired me for one afternoon a week so she could “go to town” and have lunch with friends. Her husband’s nurse drove her to and from the restaurant, so she needed extra help with Mr. Clark, who was 97. He was bedridden by then but had been known to try to get out of bed to sneak a cigarette.

The first time I met Mrs. Clark, I arrived nervous and a little early. I was ushered into the vestibule (the only word for it) by her uniformed maid. We made small talk, our voices echoing.

Mrs. Clark began her slow descent down the curved mahogany staircase. Radiant, she smiled at me as I waited below.

“I’ll be with you in a bit, my dear,” she called down. “As you can see, I move with all the grace of a lame camel.”

Although she moved slowly, none of the rest of it was true. Mrs. Clark was still shining, still beautiful in her 90s. I picture our meeting now, the year when I was just getting to that full bloom of womanhood, when somehow I just figured I’d never get old.

I wonder when her hip gave her the first twinge. I wonder if she was surprised — like me — that she wasn’t going to stay young forever.

For now, I’ll keep her in mind every time I feel my hip say, “Not so fast.” I’ll keep leading with my better foot, taking my time. I’ll remember to smile from the inside, to be as pretty as I can be. And believe that if I take extra care in those first few steps, everything will even out. Just like Mrs. Clark did.

 

Can We All Just Take a Breath?

As scandals during my childhood in Massapequa went, this one had legs. I didn’t understand it completely, but I could tell by my parents’ tone it was bigger than the brouhaha about the Townsends refusing to pick up their dog poop, which had rocked Hamilton Avenue the summer before.

This one started the day my mother drove me to our family dentist — a man I’d known all my life — for my 6-month appointment. While we sat in his waiting room, I silently recited my usual prayer to the molar gods about no cavities. My mother immediately noticed that Dr. McGarrity had placed a copy of Barry Goldwater’s book, The Conscience of a Conservative, on each end table. And as if that weren’t enough, instead of the usual pamphlets about brushing your teeth after every meal, there were now red, white, and blue brochures explaining why people should vote for the senator from Arizona.

“And not just one table,” my mother told my father that evening, “but all five!”

“Did you say anything to him?” my father wanted to know.

“Of course not!”

We talked politics often in my house — the keyword being “in.” I knew that Goldwater was diametrically opposed to everything my parents held dear because they were liberals of the highest degree. If any of our neighbors actually believed in Goldwater (and undoubtedly there were a few on Hamilton Avenue), they kept their leanings to themselves. As did we.

And this — to put it simply — was the way the world worked before Facebook. It was a place where your dentist throwing his conservative beliefs out there on a table could horrify people who were just there to get their teeth cleaned. Long before Twitter came along and we realized how cleverly we could condense our opinions into 140 characters, my parents were aghast that Dr. McGarrity would want the world to know how he planned to vote.

Anyone reading my blog for the last year knows I’m not above hauling out parts of my youth and giving them nostalgic air time. And anyone who is lucky enough to make it past forty begins to see how “simple” life was then. Some of us pine for the past  — loudly and often — especially this year, when the world seems to be upside down.

I’m not one of those people.

Every time someone talks about the Fifties and how perfect they were, I shift to other thoughts: Separate water fountains. Polio. Gay men cheerfully described in their obituaries as “lifelong bachelors” by family members who didn’t know the truth. Or the unrealized dreams some women mourned when they signed up to become housewives and spent every day of the rest of their lives slowly disappearing.

This election cycle looks like it will get crazier before it gets better, and as much as social media is something I can’t live without, these days I feel like I’m drowning in it, especially when my fellow Baby Boomers are at the keyboard. In one corner, we miss the civility and quiet of the Fifties. In another, we’re generating memes and comments — about our candidate, our issue — at an astonishing rate. We need to feel right. About everything.

Maybe it’s time to take a breath. Which is what I’ll do. As soon as I update my Instagram account.

 

 

 

“You got a boyfriend?”

Auburn is not just any city in central New York, and I found that out on my first day of student teaching. There is a maximum-security prison right in the middle of town. It was built in 1812 and takes up square city blocks, its walls and guard towers made of forbidding gray stone. When it rains, huge black splotches appear on the walls, making it look even more ominous. Auburn Correctional Facility is famous for being the site of the first electrocution in the United States, which, I thought, might be hard to get behind in the hometown pride department. But the prison comes up a lot in conversations.

A bell rang and the kids swarmed in and took their seats. They stared at me as Mr. Donatelli went through a solemn introduction of their new student teacher, making me sound like I had lots of reform school experience. One of the kids thought Miss DeMers sounded like Mr. Mers and blurted out, “You a man or a woman?” and his audience erupted in laughter, because for all the things I was not in 1973, a man would have been at the top of the list even to the most casual observer. Mr. Donatelli quickly showed me the way this was handled in his world.

After lunch, one of the boys feigned a question he already knew the answer to, and took advantage of having me all to himself as we stood in the back of the classroom. After I gave him a much too-long answer to whatever his fake question was, he scanned my body up and down and his gaze lingered at my breasts.

“You got a boyfriend?”

I don’t remember what I said, but I’ll bet money it had the word appropriate tucked into it.

He backed down, like all of a sudden he remembered he was ten and not his 13 year-old brother, who was most certainly getting some. Mr. Donatelli gave me a thumbs up from across the room.

When I got to school for my second day, Mr. Donatelli was already in the classroom.

“Well, you’re on your own! You know where I am if you need me, but I don’t think you will.” And he whistled as he walked to the faculty lounge with the newspaper under his arm.

We never knew when, but one day a week Mrs. Ambrose, the student-teacher supervisor from Cortland, would show up for a surprise observation. Never knowing when she’d pop up, Mr. Donatelli and I had a scheduled sit-down every Monday morning before the first bell.

He’d start by saying, “So how was your weekend?”

Since I was spending weekends back in Cortland cozied up with my boyfriend, doing things I knew Mr. Donatelli had never dreamed of, I usually went with, “Great! How was yours?”

His wife cooked Italian on weekends, and he took his dogs for long walks, so pasta and the weather usually headlined his recaps. Then we’d get down to a review of the previous week, and by that I mean he would say, “So how did things go last week?” and I’d assure him Piaget couldn’t have done a better job.

He’d say, “Alrighty, then!” and give me his sweet, toothy grin. And then I’d wait for Mrs. Ambrose to appear out of nowhere. Sometimes, if the gym teacher was holding his class outside and he’d see her car pull up, he’d send a kid running up to my classroom ahead of her with a note: “Eagle has landed.”

Most times, though, Mrs. Ambrose would just appear. She was forty years into her job, without a hair out of place and a purse to match every pair of shoes she owned. After she sat down in the back and smoothed out her skirt, she would rip a piece of paper out of her notebook and fold it in half with (+) on one side and (–) on the other. And for twenty minutes she’d watch your every move and take copious notes. You tried not to notice if she was writing on the left or right side of the page.

Afterwards Mr. Donatelli would pop back into the room to give Mrs. Ambrose time to critique me in private. He seemed to show off a little as he strode in with, “Hi, boys and girls!” Maybe he wanted to stay on her good side so he’d continue to get a stream of student teachers. Maybe he was just happy to see the kids after another week of seclusion in the faculty lounge.

I’d thank her for the feedback, although at least half of the time I thought she was sadly out of touch when it came to the pulse of young children, of which I was now an expert. These sessions tended to end abruptly, like she had to get extra time in with poor Patsy Rossi, who lately was breaking into hives as the first bell rang. But then one day she paused.

“There’s one more thing, Linda. I just found out about an opening for September. Fifth grade. It’s in Skaneateles, right down the road. I’ve arranged for you to interview on Monday. I told the principal there you’re my strongest candidate, so don’t let me down.”

I had the job a week later. And just like that my bravado evaporated.

 

[Next Thursday: A Teacher’s Regrets in Skaneateles, NY]

Okay, Okay, I’m Getting Older. I Get It.

I seem to be repeating stories. Even when I take a second to ask myself, Have I already told this person my adorable story that took place thirty years ago? Either I don’t wait for my own answer, or I can’t remember if I did or not, so I launch into it, because, really, it’s my best story of all time: I joined a health club the year after giving birth to my last baby when I was in my early thirties. One morning, as I was walking to my aerobics class, all the way across the entire gym floor, I noticed men looking at me and nudging their friends.

I was getting a lot of attention, just by walking through the club! This was terrific. Men were noticing how well I’d whipped my saggy postpartum body into shape. I was naughtily delighted at how much they all seemed to want me.

When I got to class at the far end of the building, the instructor came rushing over to me, saying, “Oops, you’ve got toilet paper coming out of your leotard, and it’s dragging behind you!”

Lately when I’ve told the toilet-paper tail story, I see a little impatient nodding going on, because my listener has heard it all before and is trying to save me the trouble of finishing.

I believe I’ve now told this story to everyone, though I can’t be sure, so I’m going to keep telling it, just in case.

This happens, too: I’m driving in a perfectly orderly and cautious way and come to a four-way stop sign. A young dad in his SUV is already there, waiting. He spots me and begins waving that I should go. It seems like a panicky wave, like he can’t trust me. Like he wants to save his kids in the backseat. I want to open my window and shout, “Hey, I’m still an excellent driver!” But those were my father’s words to the Police after he mowed down an entire hedgerow in front of their condominium in Florida. So I do go first at the intersection, but I also give the SUV dad a little thank-you wave, showing off I can still do two things at once without hitting the fire hydrant on the corner.

There are more signs that I’m not, shall we say, the young bloom I used to be.
I never run out of anything. Ever. My days of trotting next door for a cup of flour while I’m in the middle of making a pie crust will never happen again. I stock up on everything, even things I will never use if I live to be 100. My heirs can count on inheriting economy packs of toilet paper and a subscription to The New Yorker that will expire in 2045.

When I have to bend down, I always look around carefully to see if there isn’t something else I should be doing as long as I’m down there. I hope the cheerleaders from high school also have to do this now.

I’m not sure I’ll ever remember to cough or sneeze into my elbow because every time I feel one coming, I still hear my mother saying “Cover your mouth!”

I’ve never taken a selfie. I reject that word on principle. It’s quite enough that I’m of the generation that established the School of Epic Self-Importance. I don’t need pictures taken at bad angles to remind me that I’m the center of the Universe.

And somehow I totally missed the demise of phone booths. One day they all just seemed to have disappeared from the landscape. This happened while I wasn’t looking, which troubles me.

In his later years, every morning and every evening, my grandfather wrote down the weather in the little boxes of the free calendar he got from his newspaper boy. I’m happy to report I’m not even close to doing that. But the world does seem to be spinning so much faster than it used to. And I’m not ready.

For anyone keeping score, the weather was miserable today. But I don’t remember what it was like yesterday because I don’t keep track. I swear I don’t.

The Dumpster Fire Dates

So far on this blog, I’ve only mentioned the dates that went awry. One reader, who is also a writer, has told me that my dating years are not quite the literary gold mine I’d been thinking they were. He’s become bored. Others have commented that sometimes these tales make me sound — shall we say — a little uppity.

One more. Just one more, I promise, and then I’ll get on with the rest of the story.

The truth is many dates were magical. I had relationships. With good men. But no one I wanted to live with or marry. There was no second husband at all — ever — waiting in the wings.

But I still think I’m a laugh riot when I get on a roll about the dating years, so indulge me just once more. Here they are, in abbreviated form.

Sam, who, halfway through dinner, started calling me Wendy. I had a panicky moment. I was a pro by now, and I’d entered the restaurant, looked at the man waiting who looked expectant, said, “Sam?” and he said “Yes, hi!” and we began our date, as I’m sure we’d done many times according to the rules of the midlife online dating ritual. The second time he called me Wendy,  I was thinking there might be two Sams at this restaurant and this was the wrong one. But my anxiety was premature. He came back to calling me Linda right before his phone rang. And he took the call. On speaker. For a good ten minutes. From a woman who called him Sammy Baby.

Pete, who never took a breath. He would look like he was going to take a breath and give me a hint that maybe I should speak. But then he’d tap himself on the side of his head and say, “Let’s see. Let’s see, let’s see, what else can I tell you about myself?”

Charles and Tom, who spent most of our dates spewing venom about their ex-wives and letting me know all about their screaming fights and standing their ground in front of cars in driveways and protective orders. These men needed a dating coach. I actually excused myself to the ladies room during one of them, hightailed it to the parking lot and left before he could get my license plate number.  He seemed like the type of person who wrote down license plate numbers.

Larry, who got to the restaurant ahead of me on our first date, and had the hostess place a bouquet of flowers on our table. A large, expensive, Queen of England bouquet of flowers. He had great hopes for it going well apparently. He led off with a story about how his sister died of kidney disease because his father had refused to be a donor. (Now that’s a story that makes you hope you’re invited to Sunday dinner soon.) As we parted ways after dessert he asked, “How about going out this weekend?” When I said I didn’t think so, he looked at the flowers and said, “Shit, what a waste of $75.” I wished he’d taken them back because for two days I looked at them and all I could think about was his sister.

Henry, who emailed me after our dinner. It began, “I hope you won’t be offended by this,” at which point you know you’re about to be offended. “I don’t see it in the cards for us. I’m still thinking I can get a woman who will look bangin’ in a thong.”

There was John, who still lived with his mother, and slept in the bedroom where he achieved puberty.

Then there was George, who still lived with his wife.

And Ian, who apologized for leaving his wallet at home. Twice.

And when I list all those dates in one place like this, I think maybe I’m descended from Pilgrims even though my name is not Alden or Standish. I think I must have come from people who spent months sodden, starving, and all full of Scurvy, wending their way across the ocean on a leaky wooden boat. Between lung-crushing coughs, they said things like, “Hoist the sails! Give thanks!” Tomorrow will be better!”

I sat down at every date, thinking the man across from me might be The One. Or as my ancestors probably said, “I’m sure we’ll see land any day now!”

A Date with Nathan and the Elephants

Nathan was the first date I’d had in 26 years. Based on his emails, I was pretty sure it would be magical. He was brilliant and literary. He’d gone to Harvard and worked — in a somewhat vague capacity — for a think tank in Washington, DC. I pictured him spending his days lounging with other think-tanky people on leather chairs in some opulent office on Massachusetts Avenue. From what I could glean, he doled out advice for less-smart people somewhere, and that was plenty good enough for me.

His emails contained perfect spelling, and this seemed important to me, as if bad spelling were a character defect I wanted to avoid in a man. His messages were didactic in spots, but then he would write, “I really like fun. I want to be part of a fun couple.” I sent him my telephone number. He called when he said he would. We talked for a while. He didn’t seem like a serial killer.

“Shall we meet at the zoo then next weekend? That might be worth a giggle,” he said.

I shuttled to the back of my head a few red flags that had surfaced during the call. For a man who’d grown up in Michigan, he had quite a British accent going for himself. I could tell he didn’t think I was funny. And I am funny.

I was game. “Baltimore Zoo or Washington Zoo?” I asked.

Was that a snicker? I believe it was. Nathan was clear he didn’t actually ever leave Washington, which he called The District. He suggested we meet at the Elephant House, and added, “It’s the National Zoo.” But he wasn’t finished. “And, by the way, the name of yours is the Maryland Zoo,” he added, just so I’d know I got both zoo names wrong.

Traffic was horrible, and then I missed the exit for Connecticut Avenue. I was almost 45 minutes late. I didn’t want him to think I’d ditched him, so I ran for the Elephant House as soon as I parked.

There he was, at the entrance of the smelly building, jacket slung over his shoulder. Black hair, very tall. Eyebrows that had merged together to form one serious, knitted line, probably years ago.

“So have you ever been to our zoo?”

I hadn’t.

“How about our Smiths? Our Hirshhorn? Our Corcoran?”

We kept walking, and Nathan kept talking and taking credit for Pierre L’Enfant’s life work. The history of the zoo, the pandas by name. He knew a lot about the llamas, too, which didn’t surprise me. He was like the Chamber of Commerce with a unibrow.

Nathan had planned ahead — lunch at a restaurant within walking distance after we’d seen everything the zoo could teach me. My feet hurt in my ill-advised shoes. He’d chosen a place known for its wine list, which sounded like a great idea at this point. But it also felt like we were walking to Philadelphia.

When we finally got to lunch, the mere act of sitting down felt glorious. Especially since I knew there would be a glass of something earthy, with mellow tannins and a strong finish on its way. For the last five blocks, Nathan had been talking about his wine collection. I had no idea what tannins were but I was in favor of them floating down my throat. Soon.

As soon as the waiter passed out menus, my first-date jitters arrived. I like to stay ahead of worries, so I was already nervous about how the whole paying-the-bill thing would play out. I’d brought lots of cash, in all denominations, covering my bases. I knew most men were now comfortable splitting the bill, so I came prepared. If the bill had come to $350, I was still prepared, so I probably had nothing to worry about.

“What are you thinking about having?” Nathan asked, peering at the wine list. He was asking about my food choice, I knew, because I’d come clean I knew nothing about wine in bottles (although I was hardly a neophyte when it came to wine in boxes, my little joke that had dropped dead on arrival).

“I was thinking of the chicken and pasta.”

More looking at the wine list. More eyebrow. When the waiter came back with his pencil poised, Nathan seemed pleased that the waiter answered, “Excellent choice!”

It seemed like a lot of work just to get buzzed after a long day at the zoo.

Then Nathan leaned over the table and touched the top of my hand. It was the first physical contact beyond the awkward introductory hug we’d shared hours before at the Elephant House.

“So, Linda. . .”

A pause followed. It seemed to last a week.

“I have just ordered an expensive bottle of wine, and I will pay for lunch.” (Another pause almost as long as the first one.)

“But I don’t expect you to sleep with me on our first date.”

On my way home, as I exited Nathan’s Capital Beltway and Baltimore came into view, I was wondering how I was going to tell him. I thought, “Nathan, Nathan, Nathan. Not enough grapes in the Napa Valley for that to happen” was much too harsh.

This would be the first time — but hardly the last — that rehearsing exit lines would be a total waste of time.

It was a new world. Men appeared as words on a screen. They disappeared with no follow-up email, on their quest to be part of a fun couple. Which, clearly, I wasn’t ready for.

[Up Next Week: A Date with Ben and his Hair]