In 2001 I abandoned a long and serious relationship largely over my career aspirations in the arts and lack of desire to move to Westchester and have a child anytime soon, and left the sanity of my Brooklyn home to crash on the couch of my uncle Joey in the Chelsea neighborhoo of Manhattan. Two years into being single again I often quipped to friends that I was going to write a one-man show called This is a Date? I Thought You Were Gay, the title a reference to the tragic punchline I received at the end of the first date I went on after ending a seven-year relationship.
I admit that to the untrained newcomer to Manhattan I might have appeared that way — I was in my 30s, childless, living in Chelsea, and a playwright. The date had been with a beautiful blond religion professor from Pennsylvania, and it had gone down in the great timeline of my petty existence as The Date From Hell. Everybody is destined for one. There, that was mine. Dating could only get better from there on out.
Well, I don’t know what’s worse than Hell among the world’s religions, but whatever that place is called, it’s the place from whence my two-headed demon dog of a night out emerged. The prelude to my courtship Armageddon had begun two weeks before.
A casting director friend was in town from LA and had a gathering at a Hell’s Kitchen watering hole known for its theatrical clientele and its dark history as a former Irish mafia hangout in which a gangster once rolled a freshly severed human head down the bar. This particular gathering would no doubt be full of bloodthirsty networkers not at all shy about serving as their own publicists, myself among them. We’re in show biz. It’s part of the job in this racket filled with desperate freelancers. Within 30 seconds of my being seated next to an attractive, intelligent-looking, cheerful woman sipping a glass of white wine, she had introduced herself and, without my prompting, she had immediately launched into the reason for her giddiness. “I’m a director and my first movie’s about to be released!” She was trying to impress me and I’ll admit it worked. I was impressed. She explained that it was a movie about the garment industry, a field in which she had worked in the past. She was writing what she knew. I liked that.
I also liked the fact that she had a head on her shoulders and she was hot. I explained that for the past few years my focus had been on playwriting because I was having some success there, but that I’d gone to film school, dammit. I wanted to make a movie, too. One of my screenplays had been optioned by a small but successful indy production company in New York, and funding was being sought. I eagerly shared all of this with her, and in a flurry we chattered our bios happily away at each other; where we’d gone to film school, what brought us to this particular gathering, whether we were LA types or committed NY types. She put herself firmly in the LA camp. I was NYC through and through but had enjoyed my short stays in LA to pitch my wares at the studios. The more we talked, the physically closer we got, frequently leaning into one another. I bought her a drink. Neither of us moved from our spots for the next two hours.
Now, in a situation like this, a fine line quickly develops between networking and flirting, between genuine attraction and a desire to get ahead. I knew my attraction was genuine. I was getting that butterfly feeling in my stomach, a good feeling. I truly liked her, and I had the unmistakable feeling that she truly liked me back. In this great big city two strangers had met by chance and that rare click had happened. I asked her how she’d gotten her movie financed and she explained that the entire budget had come from an individual investor (later I would discover it to be her rich uncle). Without missing a beat she offered to send this unnamed investor my script, explaining that she sends lots of her friends’ scripts to him in hopes he’ll want to produce another film. I told her that was incredibly kind of her given that she didn’t know my writing at all and was going on blind faith. We exchanged cards and I told her I’d drop my script in the mail right away for her to pass along to her friend.
But I didn’t want the evening to end on that note. I had not been talking with her all this time in order to get my movie financed. I wanted to see her again, and told her so. She said she’d like that too, but would be insanely busy until her movie opened two weeks later. Fair enough, I said, let’s keep in touch.
I left the bar shortly after she did, strolling out with an actress friend who had also been at the gathering and who had seen my whole evening with the director unfold. She was thrilled for me. She had acted in the director’s flick and affirmed that she was a warm and wonderful person.
Then I committed my first sin that in retrospect makes me cringe. That very night before I went to bed I emailed her. Told her I was going to hold her to her promise to have drinks with me after her movie opened. I also stupidly asked her if she’d Googled me yet. It was a joke, a flip reference to the fact that we’d met at a party full of frenzied networkers who were no doubt Googling each other at that very moment. I added that I was going to Google her, too, before I went to bed, something which I had no real intention of doing, and which I did not do.
She wrote back a day later and said it was nice meeting me and to keep in touch but that she remained busy for the next couple of weeks. Without asking, she also promptly added me to her eblast list. The next morning I received a promotional message about her movie premiere. Was this flirting or networking? I still wasn’t sure but continuing proceeding as though it were the former. I dropped my script in the mail to her so she could pass it along to her investor friend.
A week later I emailed her again and said I knew she was busy but that if a hole happened to open in her schedule to let me know, I’d love to meet for a quick drink. She wrote back and said yes, Thursday at 7:00pm we could meet for a drink. She mentioned that she hadn’t read my script yet and I told her that was no problem at all, I was not in a hurry. It was of little importance. I had followed up on a lead and moved on. I was, however, in a hurry to spend more time with her. I liked her.
Thursday, 7:00pm, Bar Six. We meet. I’m thrilled to see her. She flashes a big smile when she sees me. We hug. It’s sweet. She appears happy. I’m happy. We’ll joke about this night when we’re canoeing down the Amazon on our honeymoon one day. We order drinks and hors d’oeuvres. She knew I had just come from a pitch meeting and right away asked how it had gone. It had gone well, I was excited. I told her all about it. She became excited for me. She had had a crazy day dealing with promotional issues for her movie but was pumped for the big premiere. We ordered more drinks, continued to banter a mile a minute about our dreams, our career goals, what we’d done and what we hoped to do. We talked about our siblings, where we’d grown up. I felt comfortable and natural around her, and I believed she felt the same. Our legs kept brushing against each other beneath the table, and every so often she touched my hand when emphasizing a point. My pride had me convinced this was the start of a wonderful relationship. That pride was my second sin.
After about an hour of this, I looked up and found her gazing intensely at me. It caught me off guard but it was nice. Our eyes locked. We stayed that way, eyes fixed on each other, for a full 20 seconds of warm silence. Then the Four Horsemen showed up. On a dime, in the midst of our beautiful staring contest, she leaned back, sneered, and asked, “So what’s your deal?” It was unmistakably hostile, and directed right between my eyes. I’d been a sitting duck.
“Um, I don’t know what that means. Could you rephrase the question?”
She hadn’t dropped the sneer. “I’m not impressed with you.”
I began looking around for a hidden camera. “I wasn’t trying to impress you. I’m just telling you about myself. The same way you’re telling me about yourself.”
“I’m not impressed.”
“Yes, you said that. It’s okay. Don’t be impressed. I wasn’t trying–”
“Maybe this is what you do to get women, maybe you’re not looking for anything serious, but this isn’t impressing me.”
“I’ve said repeatedly now that I’m not trying to impress you. That’s not what this is about.”
“I’ve been listening to you rattle off your résumé for the past hour. All you’ve done is talk about your writing.”
“You were asking me questions about my writing.” I was incredulous. “I was answering them. I’ve also asked you where you grew up, I’ve asked you about your family.” She brought up that in my very first email I’d asked if she’d Googled me and that she found it disgusting. Ouch.
I explained that it was a joke. “I also said I was going to Google you but I didn’t actually do it. I looked at your movie website two days ago, that was it, I swear!” I had become defensive for no reason. I was on trial and fighting for my life. “Wait a minute,” I stopped. “Are you accusing me of being smarmy.”
“No, no,” she insisted with a forced innocence.
“Yes. You are.”
“I just think you’re having drinks with me because you want me to hurry up and read your script and you think I’m going to help you get your movie made. I’m shooting straight to the top like Madonna,” she said, skidding one palm against the other with a loud smack and raising it high in the air like a rocket.
My jaw dropped. “You asked me send my script to you. You insisted. Do you think you’re the only director I know?” That momentarily stumped her. “I was merely following up. It’s standard operating procedure.”
She leaned back, ran a hand through her blond hair and looked away. “I just think you admire me.”
“I used to.”
“If I’d told you I’d read your script and hated it you’d have never asked me to meet you for a drink.”
“That’s absurd. It wasn’t about you reading it, it was about your friend reading it. And I’ve told you more than once I’m in no hurry.” I was hurt and I was beginning to stammer. “I mean — you hadn’t read it when you offered to send it to him, right? So why does it matter whether you ever read it?” I spewed on, caught up in saving my soul from an emotional demon. “I was in a relationship for 7 years. Do you think my ex never hated anything I wrote? My friends? My agent? If you had read it and told me you hated it I’d have taken out a pen and paper to take notes on what you didn’t like. It’s called being a writer.” She waited, uncertain. “And besides, I haven’t seen your movie yet. What if I hate your writing? What if I hate your directing? You know what would happen if I did? Nothing. I’d still want to hang out with you. I truly liked you. I honestly thought you liked me back.”
She shuddered like she’d just tasted a bad olive. I was bewildered.
“If you didn’t like me then why?” I begged. “Why did you keep emailing me? Why did you start eblasting me about your movie? If you think I’m a moron why didn’t you skip it altogether and move along? Why are you even meeting with me?”
“I wanted to teach you a lesson,” she said with the smuggest expression I have ever seen.
My head was starting to spin. “Wait. You keep claiming you’re so busy. But you’re going to take time out of your so-called busy schedule to come and teach me a lesson?”
She nodded again.
“But why bother? You barely know me.”
She nodded once more, her lips becoming tighter, her eyes narrower. I watched her that way, unsure what to do. I couldn’t walk away, the bill hadn’t been paid and I had only come armed with plastic. Besides, I was in pain. My dreams of the Amazon had become irreparably polluted. “That’s incredibly mean,” I said quietly. “It’s spiteful, antagonistic and egomaniacal. It’s evil.”
“No it’s not!”
“Yes it is!” Suddenly I was seven and arguing with my sister. I backed off. Perhaps it was a defense reaction, some form of intellectualized machismo, but my hurt was being quickly replaced with a scientific curiosity at the thought processes of this woman-child sitting across from me. I had to ask: “What’s the lesson?”
“You talk too much about your writing.”
That pulled me into the flames. “Now listen, lady– ”
“Listen, lady!” The diners at the tables on either side of us bristled. They couldn’t help but overhear our conversation, no doubt with a certain delight. “All you’ve done from the moment I met you last week, from the moment you opened your mouth, is talk about yourself!”
At this she lunged, yes lunged, across the table at me, ass off her seat, elbows splayed across the table, her face an inch from mine, and through clenched teeth she screamed, “MY MOVIE’S OPENING IN TWO WEEKS! OF COURSE I’M GOING TO TALK ABOUT IT!”
The dining room went silent. I remained incensed, but was also now incredibly embarrassed. “Could we get the check please?” I pleaded to the nearest passing waiter. He saw the agony in my eyes, nodded and scurried away.
Watching that sneer, those clenched teeth, I had finally begun to grasp her logic. When she talked about her career it was because she was excited, and therefore had a right to be narcissistic. When I talked about my career I was doing it to impress her. She was the center of her — and she assumed my — universe. And I suppose for a few days that week she had been the center of my universe. The passing waiter dropped our bill on the table. I reached for my credit card.
“You’re not paying for my half either!” she snapped, I suppose to curtail any effort on my part to play the gentleman.
“That’s right!” I shot back. “I’m only paying for my half.” She slapped her own credit card on the table next to mine and the waiter quickly took them away.
“I have an idea,” I tried soothingly. “Let’s not speak anymore. Let’s sit here quietly, pay the check, get away from this table, and we never have to see each other or speak to each other ever again.”
“Fine.” We sat in awkward silence, as did our neighbors. Soon a tempting little devil me appeared on my shoulder and whispered in my ear. I obeyed. I took out my pen and on the paper tablecloth I began scribbling a bulleted list of everything she had said about herself that evening:
- “I made a movie and it’s about to premiere”
- “I have a publicist”
- “I am modeling my career after Madonna’s”
- “You admire me”
She couldn’t help but twist her head to see what I was writing, her face reddening. She knew it was all true. She’d said every word verbatum. I continued to write.
- “I’m shooting from the bottom straight to the top, no middle ground for me”
- “I don’t talk too much about myself”
“You know, that’s really mean!” she sputtered breaking our mutual vow of silence. “If I did that to you you’d get up and storm out.” I knew she wouldn’t be able to keep her mouth shut and I’d made her see it herself. It was a small and petty victory but I’d settle for it.
I had gotten her goat, and so I had no more reason to raise my voice. “But you have done it. You have done this exact thing to me tonight, pretending to like me all week just so you could come here and shit all over me, asking me questions about my writing so you could then tell me I talk about my writing too much. It’s insane. Do you see that it’s sick and incredibly sadistic?”
She said nothing. Our separate receipts arrived and I reached for mine. She raced to finish her signature first and stood up to pull on her coat. “You’re probably going to make me a character in one of your plays.”
I was no longer amazed that her clinical narcissism still showed no sign of dissipation. I watched her for a few moments–her agitation, her smugness, the look of unmitigated sourness on her face. “You need a therapist,” I said blankly. I was no longer hurling insults. I was offering what seemed to me a sincere evaluation.
“Excuse me?” She dramatically leaned over, cupped her ear and aimed it at my face.
“You’re a textbook case. You need to talk to a therapist.”
She moaned, shook her head and stormed out. I waited 60 seconds, gathered my things and walked out not long after her. From the sidewalk I saw her hailing a cab as I kept on walking away. I didn’t dare look back at the carnage.
You have probably guessed that I didn’t bother attending her premiere, though I took great delight when every paper in town slammed the film the day after it opened, one major critic describing her directing style as “neurotic fingerpointing,” an unwitting but apt summation of her personality.
But my apocalyptic night hadn’t ended yet. Another trial awaited me in the same neighborhood. I was walking home from Bar 6, still in an existential fog, when my cell phone rang. It was my friend Lewis, a media consultant and art dealer with a bevy of highbrow friends. “Hey, we’re going to a party, I’m coming to pick you up. The only rule is, in order to get into the party you have to come prepared to tell a story about something not going as planned.” Boy, did I have one of those.
An hour later we were walking into the tail end of a dinner party that was more posh than I had expected, and I felt a little out of my element. About twenty people, mostly women, sat around the perimeter of a living room sipping wine and nibbling on cheese. One of them was standing and finishing up her story about being a documentary filmmaker. I found the most anonymous seat I could find and began looking around at the faces, listening to the stories, and soon realized I might not be in the best company to tell my story. I was in a room full of accomplished journalists, movie executives, and at least one bona fide, stunning movie starlet. My longtime fantasy of running away with her, similar to one George Costanza once had about her for an entire episode of Seinfeld, was about to go out the window forever. Soon it was my turn to speak. My legs were weak but I stood up and plunged ahead, recounting the story I have just told here, using the party as a free group therapy session.
To my relief, my story received resounding applause, hoots and hollers. I also received an unexpected benefit. Several women, unfortunately not the starlet, lined up to give me hugs and words of encouragement about the “wretched” “vile” “evil” “psycho” “female version of a frat boy” who had set me up for a phony date. I had exorcised my demon. I smiled. I felt better. After a few minutes the party ended. Lewis was leaving with his cohorts to meet someone named Elizabeth in the West Village. I trailed along for one last drink of the evening, exhausted and ready for bed.
We got to the West Village bar and met up with this Elizabeth. Lewis and company all sat with her at a side table while I remained alone at the bar and quietly sipped a scotch, my tail between my legs. After half an hour of nursing my drink I headed for the door, stopping to say goodnight to my friends at the side table and give a polite hello to the stranger, Elizabeth. She said she was on her way outside for a smoke, hopped up and followed me out. She was kind and seemed eager to talk, and I suppose I still needed to talk as well because I plopped down next to her on the restaurant steps and we chatted while she chain-smoked.
She was incredibly forthcoming about her family, her failed relationships, and a stint as a prescription drug addict. She lived nearby and I walked her home. Outside of her building she asked me to light her cigarette. She smoked while I told her about my outlandish evening by way of explaining that I wasn’t quite myself at the moment. She jotted down her phone number on a matchbook cover, I gave her my card — swearing it was not to network, it was to see her again because I liked her — and walked home. The next day I mentioned to Lewis that the evening hadn’t been a complete nightmare after all. I had really dug talking with that Suszanne.
“Dude,” he chuckled with sadistic glee. “Do you know who that was? Do you have any fucking idea who that was?” I had no fucking idea who that was. He explained that she was none other than Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel. the well known author of an extremely popular memoir about depression which had been recently adapted into a major motion picture. Later that day I had lunch with an entertainment magazine editor friend, told him I had met her and asked him what he knew about her. He informed me that she is known to be completely off her rocker and that, given my own fragile state, I ought to skip it. Next I emailed an author friend who has also written a popular memoir and asked her what she knew about Elizabeth. Same answer: the woman is a psycho, stay away from her. Then I emailed a movie producer friend to see what he thought: “I hear she’s out of her mind.”
With all of these dire warnings to stay away, I of course had to go see for myself. Perhaps my friends were jealous and wrong about her. I gave her the benefit of a doubt and called her, leaving a voicemail. Two days later my phone rang at 4:45am, waking me. It had to be a wrong number so I let it go to voicemail. I listened to it the next morning. It had been a return call from Elizabeth without apology or explanation about the early hour. That should have been a warning sign, but I plowed ahead.
A few days later we made a date to see a documentary at the Film Forum, then went for a drink at the Empire Diner in Chelsea. We made the mistake of talking politics on a first date — it had been sparked by the documentary, and by the fact that Desert Storm was about to begin so it’s all anyone was talking about. I told her the invasion was predicated on lies and that we already knew for a fact that there were no WMDs. “Then you’re an idiot!” she hissed.
“If you’re going to call me names for disagreeing with you we aren’t going to get very far.”
“I know there are WMDs! I just know we’re going to find them! And the Iraqi people will thank us for getting rid of Saddam!” Good Lord, she was an acolyte of Cheney and Rove.
“I know there aren’t,” I said. “You don’t send thousand and thousands of your ground troops into a country that has WMDs ready to launch at other countries, get it? It’s why we never attacked Moscow during the Cold War, or why we don’t invade North Korea now. They have the fucking bomb. If Saddam has chemical WMDs ready to launch on his own populace or on our army, or he has nukes ready to launch into Israel then we wouldn’t be rolling in like gangbusters. They won’t find any WMDs and they’ll make up another lie later to explain why.” That stumped her.
I was sorely disappointed to learn that one of the main spokespeople of her generation was a rabid, right wing warmonger. Oh and that she was an idiot.
Having lost the Iraq debate she looked for a more personal way to attack me and emerge from the evening with her ego intact. When we left the diner and I was hustling for home she began a tirade at me in the middle of the street, hurling personal insults when she learned that my ex and I had given away our cats to trusted mutual friends as an upshot of our split.
“No, see, I’m not a kitty killer. I made sure to not give them to a shelter. We gave them to trusted friends who already knew and loved the cats.”
“I made sure to find them homes. See how I’m not a kitty killer?”
I smiled, said goodnight, and erased her number from my cell phone’s memory the moment she was in a cab and fading into the night. Unfortunately she still had my number, and called me seconds later from the cab to continue excoriating me in the form of a long voicemail message regarding my former — very much alive and well taken care of — pets. The disturbing message consisted primarily of her chanting, “kitty killer, kitty killer, kitty killer” over and over again in a creepy, high-pitched little girl voice. I would like to think she had been joking or even flirting in her own twisted way but I decided to wise up and stop ignoring all of my Elizabeth mentors’ advice: stay away from her; she has made a career of her mental illness and there’s a reason for it.
God help me. Suddenly the idea of getting married and moving to the suburbs to have a baby and a 9 to 5 job didn’t seem like the Hell it had felt like two years before. I’ll keep these horrific date nights in mind the next time I meet a woman who says all she wants is to get out of New York City and buy a house in the suburbs raise a family. At least I’ll think twice before excusing myself and moving to the opposite end of the bar. Perhaps Westchester isn’t so close to Hell after all. I don’t need Heaven. Earth would be nice.
– Jeffrey Stanley
Written 2003. Published online 2021.
[photo via blanny.net]