The Weird and the Strange III: Nancy Sendate

{Disclaimer: The name Nancy Sendate is arbitrary. I do not know a person named Nancy Sendate, and any similarities to anyone named Nancy Sendate are coincidental. This story is a work of creative nonfiction.}

“I’m lonely,” a recently divorced woman said to nullify whatever sense of accomplishment I thought I achieved by asking for her phone number, and asking her out in that phone call. I can’t remember how long after agreeing to be seen with me that she first said that, but her declaration informed me that whatever it was we would be doing in the coming days, and weeks, would be conditional, short-term, and almost solely based on good timing on my part. Once that characterization of our relationship was established, she congratulated me for mustering up the courage (and she did say courage) to ask for her phone number and asking her out.

“That had to have been difficult for you,” Nancy said. “Congratulations!”

“I shouldn’t be excited,” I said. “Got it!”

If you’re reading condescension in her comments, you’re not a genius. By making those comments Nancy was informing me she was not dating me because she found me attractive, or that I exhibited any charm or charisma. She was dating me because she just happened to be fresh off a divorce, and she was lonely, and I was the lucky beneficiary of some excellent timing. She also wanted me to know that these elements would serve as the foundation for the course of whatever events that would follow.

After congratulating me, she offered up a moment of silence for us to reflect on the humanity and generosity she was displaying to those of us of average appearance by agreeing to date me. Had I filled that silence with an ‘All hail the power of the beautiful woman!’ sentiment, I’m not sure she would’ve laughed. I was in no position to do so, for while there was some exaggeration on her part, regarding our stations in life, there was some truth to it too.

Nancy Sendate was above average intelligence, and she was not a co-worker. Her pros outweighed her cons in that regard, but the idea that she was beautiful, and she wasn’t afraid to use it, dominated just about every conversation we had.

As an average fella, I wanted to date extremely attractive women for a while. My average fella friends dated beautiful women on a regular basis. I never did. I thought it said more about me to date women of personality and substance. I thought it said a lot about me that I focused on trying to date marriage material. If that’s what I was trying to say, no one heard me. No one thought more of me for dating women I thought they should hold in high regard. No one thought less of me either. No one paid near as much attention as I thought they should. No one thought any less of those who dated superficial, somewhat vacant individuals either.

“That’s just Willie,” is something they would say. People like Willie chose to date beautiful women exclusively, and he was willing and able to put up with their eccentricities to go out in public with them for however many dates they would allow. I saw it, and I wondered why he would date a person that drove him insane. “Not every woman you date has to be a potential bride,” Willie told me. “I don’t plan to marry her. We’re just having fun. You have to get over this mindset and just have fun with a beautiful woman for however long it lasts.”

To those men who agree with that sentiment, but suggest that I should not have dated this particular woman, based on the insults and the level of condescension she hurled at me, I have but one rebuttal: “You didn’t see her.” She was mean to you though, is something they said, and she was, and she was condescending and dismissive of me, but I dare say that most men, with any degree of fortitude, would’ve been able to endure it all, if they received the smile I did when I asked for her phone number. I heard that smile, and I heard the excitement in her voice, over the phone, when she agreed to go out with me. I tell those men who ‘told you so’ed’ me that they were right, but I added that if they saw and heard what I did, they would’ve been able to overlook a lot more than they think. If these men witnessed the effect her presence could have on a restaurant full of patrons, and they were able to maintain the stance that they would not have gone out with her, I take my hat off to them and concede inferiority in this arena. If you’re like me, and you’ve never dated a woman that could do that, I say you cannot know what you’d do in a similar circumstance.

I viewed Nancy Sendate as the type of woman that the movie star pursues in those romantic comedies we all love and live through vicariously. We all know that there’s nothing special about the appearance of that male star of the movie, and that’s the reason those in charge of casting considered him perfect for the role. They wanted the average fella demographic to believe they have a chance at dating the bombshell they cast for the female role. Those of us who fit that demo, know that the woman is otherwise unattainable to us, no matter how ‘feel good’ that movie is, but we all enjoy the fantasy.

Nancy Sendate was the type reserved for the jocks in high school. She was the prom queen type who left the rest of us with nothing but rumor and speculation, as ammunition, to try to undercut her otherwise enviable prestige. She was also my vindication, however brief, against those who told me that if I wanted to date more often I would have to lower my expectations. Nancy Sendate was my personal Holy Grail.

When I write Holy Grail, I’m referring to her looks exclusively. Is that a superficial thing to add to my testimonial? It is the very definition of superficial. There was no other reason to date Nancy Sendate. The old line ‘beauty is only skin deep’ certainly applied to her. The very idea that a man would tell someone as beautiful as Nancy Sendate to go pound sand, however, after hearing that smile, and that excitement in her voice, just doesn’t make figure in my knowledge of the world.

The long and short of this is that I just wanted to date a beautiful woman. Did I want to do unspeakable things to her, yes, but I would’ve been a fool to think that I would’ve been able to do them to her long-term. How many rational human beings –who have any experience in the dating world– enter into a date with long-term plans? We might want that idyllic scenario to play out in such a fashion, but how many of us count on it, and how many of those people who do are now on a series of mind-numbing anti-depressants as a result? I wanted to have one date with one beautiful woman, and I was perfectly willing to take all the slings and arrows that came with doing so.

Nancy did admit she was looking forward to our first date, because I appeared to be what she called “normal”. That description would prove to be the second best compliment she gave me. I was not a passive participant in this conversation. I cracked jokes.

I said something along the lines of, “Gee thanks!” to that condescending description, and I added something along the lines of, “I knew if I was good to my ma, and I ate all my peas, I knew that one day some woman would tell me that I appeared to be normal.” She didn’t laugh at that. She simply used it as a pivot point to add another to her list of why she decided to date me. She said she thought she it had something to do with the smell of the ‘D’ word she had on her. The ‘D’ word being divorce.

“How else can one explain the fact that only the wackadoodles that have the courage, (and she did say courage) to ask me out,” she said.

“I’m going to guess that a couple of them.” She paused to gather her thoughts. “Make that three. I forgot about Gary, Gary the maintenance guy. Make that three guys who have asked me out, who I assume are on some kind of watch list.”

She also told me that her fellow employees at the clinic hated her. She said one of them suggested that Nancy might be barren. Another woman called Nancy another ‘B’ word, and she didn’t mention that word, but I knew which one she meant, and I knew it caused her some pain.

“They don’t even know me,” Nancy Sendate said. “Where do they get off thinking they know me so well that they can say such things? Happens all the time to me.” She said the latter to imply that people reserve such prejudicial judgments for her, a representative of the beautiful.

“The overwhelming amount of things I say on a given day, are to my patients,” she said. “They’re my peeps.

“As for my fellow employees, there’s a lot of down time in clinics,” she continued. “People sit around filling out paperwork, filing, what have you, and they shoot the stuff. I come into a room, and the room goes silent. People hush. You ever had that feeling that people are talking about you?” she asked. “Happens all the time to me.

“I truly don’t care why they won’t speak to me,” she added. “They have nothing interesting to say anyway. Never have. You’d think that common decency would prevail at some point though. You’d think that when seated next to someone, for a couple hours, that some conversations about some stupid TV show someone watched last night would come up. You’d think some ‘my husband is such a jackass,’ ‘my kid did something so cute the other night,’ or a ‘my dog took a dump in my shoe again’ conversations would arise. Never do with me. We sit there in silence and file, and fill out blanks, and my day is spent in silence.”

As if to prove that point, Nancy spoke. She spoke, as if she hadn’t said a word all day, on every date we had, for the three weeks that we saw each other. She spoke as if she bottled up her thoughts throughout the day, until they exploded all over me. I said some things, but they were in reaction to what she said. As evidence of this, Nancy Sendate didn’t know any of my particulars for the first couple of weeks. She displayed no interest in where I worked, and she didn’t even know my last name until she ran out of things to say at the midway point in date number two, but she enjoyed my company.

“I must admit that I look forward to our little outings,” she said somewhere around date number three. “You’re a good listener. I enjoy the company, and I was lonely.”

Most people won’t admit to being lonely as often as Nancy did. I suspected that this was a luxury exclusive to the beautiful woman. Regardless how good looking a man is if he says he’s lonely, he is apt to hear, ‘Well, get off your tailbone and go get yourself some’. If any other woman admits to being lonely, the room silences. They feel sorry for her, but they all know it’s not proper to discuss the reasons they might come up with regarding why. A beautiful woman does not have to fear those assessments, and she does not have to endure the condescending condolences that include a line like, ‘You have a lot to offer Shelley. Some guy will come along and see that.’ A beautiful woman says she’s lonely, and her audience is just as confused as she is.

I don’t think Nancy ever worried that she might be hurting my feelings, but at one point in her all too numerous ‘I’m lonely, and that’s the only reason I’m with you tonight’ discussions, she realized that she might be pouring it on a bit thick. “Hey, I’m not saying you’re ugly, because you’re not,” she said to conclude those revelations.

Those on the receiving end of such an assessment might believe it would serve as a launching point to the woman going into the finer details of my physical characteristics. For Nancy Sendate, it was the beginning and the end of her assessment, and it would prove to be the best compliment I received from her. I don’t think she said it to bolster my confidence. I think she said it because she didn’t want me to perceive her as a type that would purposefully hurt another’s feelings. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would prove to be a key to understanding Nancy Sendate. She didn’t mind saying things that might hurt another person’s feelings, but she didn’t want to have the perception of one that did.

That assessment of my physical appearance might have shattered another man, but what Nancy didn’t know was that area had already been devastated. I don’t know if the women before her thought this was my area of vulnerability, or if they thought my confidence needed to be torn down, but by the time I met Nancy her shots had little effect.

“Okay,” one of my friends said when I explained all of that to him, “but you don’t stay with a girl who says such things. I know I wouldn’t.”

“She’s not nice to me, and she’s really not that enjoyable to be around,” I admitted after thanking him for his concern, “but have you ever had an entire restaurant go silent upon your entrance? Have you ever had all the tables around you go silent, so that they could hear what you and your date were discussing? We’ve all heard about people doing this, but how many people get to witness it firsthand? How many have “been with” a product of such fascination before? Until you have,” I told my not ugly friend, “you can’t tell me what you’d do.”

I also entered this situation knowing I was a huge underdog, and any points she scored against me were to be expected. It was the ‘not ugly’ team against the beautiful, and my defense wasn’t rattled by her 76-yard touchdowns. We just regrouped and got ready for the next series of downs, but anyone who has played any level of athletics has been in a game when they know they’re overmatched. It might be obvious midway through the first quarter, it might take a couple of quarters, but at some point you realize that you might be able to score a couple of points on her, but you’re not going to win.

When Nancy attempted to lay me out, on the first date, with self-serving assessments of my appearance, I laughed most of them off. I wasn’t sure if her insults were an attempt at humor, or if she meant them, but I found most of them quite humorous. Those insults weren’t in the initial phone call, I can tell you that much, but as soon as she began to feel more comfortable with me she began leveling insults. They were so over the top that I didn’t think they could be anything less than attempts at humor. As I laughed, she grew emboldened. I don’t know if she felt encouraged to pursue a joke she thought I was in on, or if she attempted to pound me so deep into the dirt that she broke my laughter. Whatever the case was, the repetition eventually drained the joke of the provocative, or humorous, value that it might have had in the beginning, and her insults began to bore me. I don’t know if Nancy sensed that, or if she got bored too, but whatever the case was she decided to take her game up a notch.

“If you can guess my last name, I’ll go to bed with you tonight,” Nancy said.

Nancy Sendate said that on the first date, before our meal arrived, and she said it loud enough that I feared other patrons of the restaurant might hear her. That challenge arrived at the tail end of a “Guys don’t pay enough attention to a woman” rant. In that discussion, she said, “Guys will notice the superficial traits of women, but they don’t appreciate the little things. They don’t even notice them.” When I argued that she might find me an exception to that rule, she asked a series of questions, “What color are my eyes?” She closed her eyes when she asked that. When I answered that correctly, she asked me where she worked, and a couple other questions about her life she discussed throughout the night. When I did fairly well throughout her initial challenges, she pressed harder and harder to expose me as yet another man who doesn’t pay attention. “What’s my last name? Seriously? You don’t even know my last name?” I knew her last name, but I temporarily forgot it in the intimidating rapid-fire interrogation. That’s when she dropped the challenge, “If you can guess my last name, I’ll go to bed with you tonight.”

It’s impossible for me to know if Nancy knew the effect she had on this restaurant, and if I’m going to be objective, I have to admit that I might be exaggerating the effect our entrance had on the patrons. I might have exaggerated the ‘What’s she doing with him?’ looks I thought I received when I entered. It’s also possible that I over-dramatized the effect her challenge had on the neighboring table, but their reactions to the challenge suggested that they heard her. If it was as real as it thought, however, I have to believe that Nancy was more aware of it than I was. Her challenge, I assume, was either to reassert her dominance of me, or to assert some kind of dominance of the room, and if it was the latter, it had a profound influence on the former.

The neighboring table housed a party so large that they required the restaurant employees to push three tables together. They sat behind Nancy and before me, and they were having a group discussion. I did not know the subject of that conversation, of course, as I was paying attention to Nancy. Other than the fact that I knew that a large party of people was over there, I didn’t pay attention to them in any way, until their conversation came to abrupt halt in the aftermath of Nancy’s loud challenge.

I did not immediately suspect that this abrupt halt in conversation occurred because of her challenge. I noticed it, but I thought it might be a coincidence. Even as their silence continued, I stubbornly refused to believe they were trying to hear my answer. As hard as I tried to be objective about this moment, however, the fact that the entire restaurant did not go silent, just the one within range, became difficult to deny. Then, as if to confirm my greatest fears, a woman at that table began to speak. I think this woman was oblivious to the challenge Nancy issued, and she thought a lull occurred at her table, nothing more. After this woman’s initial sentence received no response, she spoke again. That second sentence trailed off, as if the group had overtly, or subtly, silenced her in a collective manner.

“Sendate,” I said, as if this was nothing more than a test of my memory, equivalent to the challenge Nancy offered me regarding her eye color.

She appeared insulted by that guess. Her head clicked into a ‘c’mon, think about it!’ angle that suggested I just insulted either her intelligence or her virtue.

“You think I’d make it that easy for you?” she asked. “That’s my married name. I kept it, after the divorce, because I like the way it sounds. I’m talking about my maiden name. I’ll give you a hint. It will remind you of one of the most popular horror movies of the eighties.” I expressed some confusion, regarding how that narrowed the field down. “Just guess then,” she added. “There’s a lot on the line.” 

Nancy said she wouldn’t count that ‘Sendate’ guess, and that she would give me three more chances. “Three strikes and you’re out,” she said.

That put me at the plate. I didn’t have to imagine it. I had three chances. I thought the men at the other table –those who presumably identified with my ‘not ugly’ average fella characteristics– were telepathically sending me messages of support. I imagined them thinking that this was an opportunity our ‘not ugly’ demographic are rarely afforded, and they were putting a lot of vicarious support behind me getting it right. I swung.

That swing was symbolic. I can’t remember what movie I mentioned, but it was nothing more than a swing to show the audience that I was trying. Every untalented baseball player has made a symbolic swing to show their audience that they tried to hit an eighty mile an hour pitch that every man thinks they should be able to hit, but most know they can’t. The problem with a symbolic swing is that it can reveal more about the batter’s level of talent than keeping the bat on the shoulder to gauge the speed of the pitch will. I looked around after the swing, and when I saw no one was looking at me, I swung again. The silence from the neighboring table was now so palpable that Nancy’s eyes swiveled back to them, while pumping her eyebrows at me. It would prove to be the only recognition Nancy would give the idea that the neighboring table was listening in, counting on me, and prodding me to find a needle in haystack.

“How many popular, horror movies of the eighties were there,” I wondered aloud. I couldn’t think of one that would remind one of a surname. I guessed a third time. If I were a batter at the plate, I would’ve been on my keister after this swing, in the manner Reggie Jackson would in the seventies when he would put everything he had into a swing and missed. There were no groans, or audible sounds, but the pressure in the room lightened, and what filled that vacuous hole was silent disappointment.

“Geist,” Nancy said, as if that should’ve been my first guess. “As in Poltergeist.” 

The conversations that occurred prior to Nancy’s challenge resumed. I still had some trouble believing that the group at the table next to us went silent in the manner I thought they had. Even with all of the evidence I now had to back that up, coupled with Nancy’s recognition of it, I still couldn’t believe it. I never experienced anything like that before, so it seemed implausible, until two different guys in the party sent me smiles of encouragement. Those smiles suggested that they recognized how futile the effort was, but they were pulling for me. Another man tightened his lips in a smile and shook his head with disappointment. All of these smiles confirmed to me what just happened, and it confirmed the sentiment the men had been sending me for my effort. The tight lip smiler’s look and nod suggested that he didn’t think I would ever be ready for someone like Nancy Geist-Sendate.

That smile and nod led me to believe that my inability to answer this question correctly had caused diminished morale among the troops. It felt like a moment that called for a sanctimonious, eighties movie type of monologue. ‘I’ll take your arrows, I didn’t get the answer correct, but I wonder how many of you, with those smug smiles on your face, could have done better? How many of you, when hit with a similar question, out of the blue, could have come up with the answer?’

As the old saying goes, though, when one window closes, another opens for the true opportunist. The true opportunist will wallow in the disappointment of failure for only so long. They know what every farmer knows regarding the nutrients that can result from burning the current fields for a future harvest. My window of opportunity would not open on that date, but when it did, at a minor league hockey arena, I would capitalize. When I capitalized on it, I wanted to go back to the patrons of this restaurant, and that tight-lipped smiler, to inform them what I did with the moment of failure they witnessed.

Before cashing in on that failure, I would have to deal with the Nancy Sendate’s pedal to the metal pressure. We were still on that first date, and we were both awaiting our over-priced meal, when she told me a story about the short and happy date she had with a Francis Becker. Francis Becker, by her account, was a good guy who opened doors for her, addressed her properly, and he even took a moment to ask if she was comfortable in his car on their drive to the restaurant. Francis Becker was, by her characterization, the ideal man for her, until he made the fateful decision of asking the waiter for a doggy bag.

“Do I even need to tell you what happened next?” Nancy asked with a look of incredulousness that she invited me to mirror. “Nothing. Nothing is what happened. I never saw the guy again, and for all intents and purposes our date ended right there.”

I empathized with the plight of Francis Becker. Francis Becker was me, and I was Francis Becker. He was a ‘not ugly’, regular fella who just happened to trip up on one of Nancy Sandate’s trip wires. Francis’ faux pas sounded like one I would have made if she hadn’t warned me. Perhaps that’s why she told me this story, I thought, to warn me.

Nancy also alluded to the idea that Francis was indecisive, and how that made him appear weak. She said that in a manner that suggested she thought I was indecisive. She had no idea that I withheld opinions that differed from hers, in the hope of a second date. When I would later introduce her to some of those opinions, and the idea that the intellect that formed those opinions could achieve a grade above that of the average chimpanzees’, they did not move her. I could agree or disagree with her all I wanted, as long as I shut up long enough for her to get her point across.

Throughout the course of this meal, and the few dates that would follow, I learned everything there was to know about Nancy Sendate’s politics. Politics was her favorite subject, and her least favorite. She loved to talk about her viewpoints, in other words, but she didn’t care to hear another’s. Dismissal also motivated Nancy Sendate’s worldview. I’ve met all sorts of political people over the years, and I’ve encountered more than my share of people that believe we live in the best of times and the worst of times, but I don’t think I met a person before, or since, who could dismiss such large chunks of human history before I met Nancy Sendate.

Nancy Sendate was about everything modern. She didn’t want to involve herself in discussions of other eras. If I started a conversation about an historical figure from another era, she shut it down.

“They come from a time that I don’t want any part of,” is what she said. The implication being that anything from any era prior to hers reeked of sexism, racism, and patriarchal hierarchy.

The mistake I initially made with Nancy Sendate’s refusal to partake in any bygone era was that it was based on an informed political view. The more I spoke with her, the more I learned that her adamant dismissal of previous eras was a ‘get out of jail’ card for having to know the details of human history.

She didn’t have to know anything about Winston Churchill, for example, because she could dismiss him on the basis that he was probably a racist, sexist pig that contributed to the patriarchal norms of his era. I don’t know if this was the lone motivator for her dismissals, but my overarching philosophy dictated that if I wanted to refute the philosophical tenets of one who disagrees with me, I should know their subject as well, if not better, than they did. Suggesting that we should not even discuss topics that made her uncomfortable seemed to me an excuse on Nancy Sendate’s part for not knowing much about history. If this wasn’t the case, I thought the onus was on Nancy Sendate to prove that we should dismiss every era that preceded ours with factual refutation.

For a woman that focused so much of her energy on politics, Nancy Sendate did not appear to pay much attention to the politics of food. One would think that one of her like-minded cohorts would take her aside to inform her of the political sins of waste. “That pork that you so casually ordered the waiter to dispose of was a part of a pig, a living being that gave its life for your nourishment, and one of the best ways to pay homage to that pig’s sacrifice, beyond not eating it in the first place, it to avoid wasting it.” I do not engage in virtue signaling, unless it involves money. Call me a tightwad if you want, but I find it difficult to sit quiet when I think another person is casually wasting money, especially when it’s my money. I didn’t say any of this, because I didn’t want to talk politics. Nancy Sendate did, and for her politics were a narcissistic means to achieving a self-serving end.

Thus, when the waiter finally provided us our meals, I was so sure what was going to happen that most of my attention was devoted to watching Nancy Sendata eat, or should I say nibble at the over-priced meal that would end up setting me back about two hour’s wage. The inevitable was so set in stone that I began translating this situation into a word problem. If Nancy eats X number of bites before her meal assumes room temperature, how much of that food, symbolized by the letter Y in our algebraic expression, will she end up ordering the waiter to discard? If X is attributable to Y and Z represents the monetary value of each bite she takes how much of my money will she end up wasting? It was such a fait accompli that I considered asking her to talk less so that she could eat more before her meal could assume room temperature, and I knew she wouldn’t deign to eat anything that assumed a degree below room temperature. I determined, by the ratio of her cuts, and the pace with which she was eating, that she would finish one quarter of her meal. I didn’t realize how focused I was on this inevitability, until she said.

“Would you like to help me finish?”

‘Yes’ was so far out on the tip of my tongue that it required a space of about three seconds for me to restrain it. I knew that accepting this invitation would lead me to suffer a shelf life similar to that of poor Francis Becker, so I successfully restrained my impulses. I said no.

“Will you need a take home box?” the waiter asked after he thought we concluded our meals.

Nancy said, “No!” in the midst of a sentence that she did not conclude, and she said it with such force that she shook the waiter out of the routine of asking that routine question. She concluded that sentence, as if there had been no interruption. “No thank you,” she said after completing that sentence. Nancy did not extend this pleasantry for my sake. She didn’t want to give the appearance of being rude to a waiter.

After she said no, I assumed that she would continue eating, but Nancy gave the plate a subtle scoot of her one-fourths finished meal to the center of the table.

This first date did not end there, but I don’t recall anything that occurred after it. I don’t remember what we said, and I don’t remember how we parted ways. The only thing I remember about the tail end of that date was that one-fourths finished plate. I would think about that plate throughout the night, the next morning at work, and for the rest of that week. I would think about how delicious each of those bites could’ve been for me, had I the courage to help her finish that plate. I didn’t think of how beautiful she was, how charming, or how much I looked forward to our next date. I thought only of the food, and the subsequent money she wasted.

✽✽✽

When I managed to put that plate, and that date, behind me, I called her up to ask her out on another date. I don’t think she was shocked, but she continued to play power games, with some humor, to pound the point home.

“I had a lot of fun last week,” she said, “but do you really think you deserve another date?”

“Well, I don’t think Jesus of Nazareth suffered and died on the cross so I could have one more date with you,” I said, “but I think I could show you a pretty good time.”

My definition of a good time turned out to be a fateful one. I started the conversation, as I always do with women who agree to be seen in public with me, by asking her what she wanted to do. She said, “I don’t know. You’re the one who asked me out. It’s your job to pick the place.”

“How about we go to a minor league hockey match?” I asked. I like hockey, but I don’t love it. I have no loyalties to the game, but I’ve always found the sport fun to watch in person. I wasn’t set on hockey though. I just thought it would be something different to do, and I said so. “Besides, how many dinner and movie dates have you been on? Let’s do something different. Let’s do something memorable,” I added.

When my pitch didn’t bowl Nancy over in the manner I thought it would, I provided her a number of alternatives. Even though she said she didn’t think any of my alternatives were any better, she couldn’t come up with any of her own.

Nancy wasted no time informing me that I made an incorrect decision, and this rant continued past the phone call and into our one-hour drive to the arena. This non-consecutive rant concluded with the window of opportunity that closed that day at the restaurant opening just enough for a true opportunist to capitalize on.

“No matter how all this goes between us,” Nancy informed me, after we found our seats in the minor league hockey arena. “You’ll always be the guy that took me to a hockey match for a date. I’m serious. If I forget your name, which I see as a distinct possibility, I’ll say, ‘and then there was the guy who took me to a hockey match.’”

“Do you know what that machine cleaning the ice is called?” I asked, as the Zamboni resurfaced the ice before the hockey match could begin.

“Does it even have a name?” Nancy asked.

“It does,” I said, “and it’s well known in the hockey community.”

At this point in our relationship, unbeknownst to me, my opportunities for future dates were dwindling. Nancy would later inform me, in our exit interview, (a post-breakup phone conversation) that hockey night was the beginning of the end. She would also say that the reality of attending an actual hockey match began to supersede the joke of her forced attendance. A hint of that mindset occurred in the following rant:

“Seeing as how I’ll never be attending another hockey match for the rest of my life, a sport I’ve barely heard of, and seeing as how it’s cold, dirty, and Canadian in here. Isn’t this sport Canadian? Yeah. Ick. Seeing as how there are probably ten college graduates in this audience tonight, and this is what these people consider getting gussied up, I’m guessing that I’ll never be a part of the hockey community, if I can avoid it, and I will try. For the rest of my life, I will try. So, you can just go ahead and tell me the stupid answer to your stupid question, because I’m not going to be able to guess the answer if you give me a million guesses.”

“If you get it right,” I said. “I’ll go to bed with you tonight.”

I could’ve added something more, something along the lines of, ‘Three strikes and you’re out’ to the joke, but the look on her face suggested that Shakespeare was right, ‘brevity is the soul of wit.’ The powerful slam of my window of opportunity closing on that first date in the restaurant, such that it echoed throughout the establishment, was just as loud as the slam of the window of opportunity opening with the delivery of this line. I didn’t say that line as loud as Nancy had hers, so no one else heard me, but even if they had, they wouldn’t have understood its relevance. Nancy heard it, of course, and her shocked expression was one I still live with. I can still see her face go through contortions of laughter, confusion, laughter, surprise, and laughter again. Her face informed me that my line challenged every assumption she made of me prior to that point.

“You copied me,” Nancy Sendate said in a feeble attempt to take back the reins. She couldn’t, and she knew it. She examined my face to see if I knew how clever that comment was. Nancy looked at me in a manner of newfound respect that suggested that while she was not ready to place me on the evolutionary plane she had designed for her preferred suitors, I was not a chimpanzee either.

After I delivered that line, Nancy Sendate allowed me to complete my jokes without interrupting me to inform me that my punchlines were probably going to be stupid and juvenile. She even offered me a one-time opportunity to finish one of my stories without interrupting me to inform me that it would probably end in stupid and disappointing fashion. When I finished that story, she informed me that its conclusion was just as juvenile and disappointing as the others she heard, but I wouldn’t have been able to finish it without interruption were it not for the smooth delivery of that one, timely, clever line.

✽✽✽

On the next, and final date, Nancy decided to inform me that last week’s late night reward for a clever joke was a one off, and she decided to punctuate the point by insulting the multi-colored scent tree I had dangling from my rear-view mirror.

“What man has a multi-colored scent tree in his car?” Nancy asked me.

“I didn’t realize that scent trees had gender orientation,” I said.

“I didn’t either,” she said. “Until I saw this one.”

No matter how many creative insults I endured throughout the weeks that we dated, I was not going to take the bait. I did not view them as bait at the time, but I now know that her comments were attempts to bait me into a display of frustration. I viewed her insults as attempts at humor. I thought that she might have been trying too hard to be a fella who bonds with other fellas through creative insults.

I now know that impulsive assumption was wrong. I don’t think Nancy wanted to date me in the first place, but she was lonely, and no one else was asking her out, aside from those who were probably on a watch list. At some point in our time spent together, she decided to end the charade. If she ever characterized our relationship as dating, she wanted to break up with me.

I don’t think she cared about hurting my feelings, in the manner a breakup might, but she didn’t want to leave the impression that she broke up with me for no reason. Nancy’s antagonistic insults were intended to rile me up, so I would break up with her, and she could tell her people that she was the good guy in the breakup. As evidence of this, Nancy made several attempts prior to that one, to find a ‘good guy’ exit by declaring that she couldn’t handle my ‘awful temper’, an assessment she made about me without seeing any evidence to support it. I didn’t know anything about Nancy’s desperate attempts to end it, while maintaining her perception, and I didn’t know that just about anything I did could’ve lit the fuse, but the futility of her search ended when I made an ill-advised decision to snap at her cat.

We were sitting on her couch, watching a movie. Her cat was sitting between the blinds, holding two of them open. Nancy hated that. She feared onlookers. She asked the cat to move. It decided it would not. She pled with the cat to make a decision other than the one it had. Nancy offered the cat what she considered a suitable alternative for its sitting pleasure. The cat didn’t so much as turn its head.

“Boopy,” she said calling the cat’s name. “Come here boopy!”

Boopy continued to look out the window.

To her credit, Nancy did warn me that her pets’ opinions of me would be “a determining factor” for her.

“These are the people I live with,” she said on that prior night, (and she did say people). She had two boxers and a cat. She might have had more pets, but I didn’t receive a formal introduction to them.

Dogs love me, always have, and I have a long history of kids enjoying my company. Cats and I, however, have a strained and estranged relationship that is beyond repair.

Cats and dogs are like little kids in that they watch adult humans, and they study our patterns and routines. These patterns and routines help them co-exist with humans, in that they use the knowledge they attain to develop a comfort level with the animal kingdom’s most complex creatures, and any deviations from those understood norms spook them. I normally try to deviate from the norm with cats, because I know how susceptible they are to a good spooking. When I write ‘a good spooking’, I’m not talking about overt or obvious tactics. I’m talking about a quick itch of the chest, while the cat is studying me. I’m talking about flipping a thumb up erratically while watching TV. I’m talking about subtle variations from the norm that cause a cat to sprint from the room until the subject of their study leaves, but I didn’t do any of that in Nancy Sendate’s duplex, for she cautioned me against following any such impulses with her warnings.

“C’mon Boopy!” she continued to plead to a point that was becoming uncomfortable to watch.

“Why don’t you just move it?” I asked. “Do you want me to?”

“No!” she said. “If I force Boopy to do something she doesn’t want to do, she will never learn how her mommy wants her to act. She’ll just think she’s bad. I want her to make a decision in line with mine, and you will not do anything to damage that relationship.”

She resumed her pleading with the cat, until I grew embarrassed for her. The continued pleas took this episode outside the parameters of the joke. To this point, I was just starting to understand that this was not some drawn out joke about a pet owner’s inability to get a pet to do what she wanted it to do, but Nancy was so good looking that I accorded her great latitude in judgment. The culture conditions us, via TV, movies, and other repetitive messaging to believe that the beautiful are more in control of their facilities than we are, and that they have a complicated agenda that the ‘not ugly’ are too simplistic to understand. If we see an average to ugly person in a pair of bellbottoms, we might think they look foolish. On a beautiful, young woman with a shapely figure, the same pants can take on a retro nu vogue look. If a beautiful person decides that a seventies Marc Bolan, stovetop hat is due to be back in style, we will drive to our local thrift shop to search for the rare commodity. If they decide that a terrible old sitcom now has some redeemable qualities, we might think they’re onto something we don’t understand. If the beautiful decide to become ambivalent about the culture, we might re-examine the idea of being too in tune with it. We give their opinion far more cachet than we would the average person, in other words, because our conditioning leads us to believe that their opinion matters more than ours. Thus, when Nancy continued to plead with her cat, I initially viewed it as quirky and endearing, but the episode eventually went beyond the considerable latitude I afforded her. I began to feel sorry for her, and my instinct to help a damsel in distress kicked in. My problem-solving reaction was impulsive, and it ignored all previous warnings.

I put my naughty finger to my thumb and made the fateful decision to show Nancy and Boopy how loud one person can snap. I’ve received compliments for that snap in the past. “That’s the loudest snap I’ve ever heard,” one person said. “How do you snap so loud?” another asked.

“I have no tips.” I said. “I don’t think one method will make a snap louder. As far as I know, some just have louder snaps, others don’t.”

That snap did cause Boopy to jump about three feet off the ground. Fear fueled this jump in a manner that increased the animal’s natural abilities tenfold. I was in the midst of putting together a joke regarding what I thought Boopy could achieve if Nancy learned how to harness that ability. My planned punchline involved Boopy experiencing a short-term contract in the NBA, if Nancy could find a way to continually prompt the cat’s launch sequence. There was not enough time to deliver that joke, however, for immediately after the snap, Nancy scrambled to her feet. She was attempting to be so quick to her feet that she tripped a little. It was embarrassing. I wasn’t certain if embarrassment reddened her face, or if it was the rage.

Whatever the case was, she shouted, “Get out!” before Boopy could scamper from the room. I laughed. I didn’t laugh at the cat, Nancy’s trip, or the order that I vacate the premises, but the culmination of events led me to believe that she was punctuating the series of events with obnoxious randomness.

Nancy Sendate enjoyed speaking about herself, as I’ve said. She told me everything there was to know about her workplace, her dating life, her maturation, and the life she spent with Boopy and the boxers. In almost all of those stories, there was an element of seriousness. Intermingled within that seriousness, however, were self-deprecating jokes that suggested that Nancy Geist-Sendata didn’t take herself as seriously as such descriptions might entail. As a result of that, I thought the mean expression she had on her face while looming over me and pointing at the door, was laced with this over-the-top, self-effacing humor. I thought I should’ve received some points for taking charge of the moment and ending her embarrassment. I thought that she lost some respect in her animal kingdom by pleading with Boopy, and I believed I restored the humans to dominance in the room with one loud snap. Even if I read the situation wrong, I didn’t think I read it so wrong that she might be serious about her order that I leave, not without some sort of self-deprecating humor attached to it. My mistaken assessments of the situation were reinforced by her demand that I get out, coupled with the silent fury with which she continued to point at the door.

“You’re serious?” I asked. I measured her glare, awaiting the break of a smile. 

“I am serious.” 

We went through three or four of these attempts at clarification, before I could determine that she was, in fact, serious.

“Serious as a heart attack,” she added.

The arbitrary nature, with which Nancy ended our relationship, put me back a step. When I write that it didn’t affect me, I must admit that I am now so far removed from that month long relationship that I view the incidents as a third party looking back at one of the most unusual dating experiences I’ve ever had. In the immediate aftermath of it, however, it wounded me. I asked her why she ended it, during our exit interview (a post-breakup phone conversation). She talked about the hockey match, and she attempted to list a number of other determining factors, including my fiery temper. In the end, my guess is that her decision to kick me out after I snapped at her cat was the conclusion of her attempts to find a “good guy” exit that she could tell her friends, and her reflection in the mirror. My guess is that event created a plausible end that no one would perceive as an arbitrary ending of a relationship on her part.

Nancy stated that my reaction to our breakup bordered on unhealthy, and I accepted that pronouncement as fact. What I did not do was hold her to account for what she did to drive me to an “unhealthy” reaction. I think she saw how excited I was to date her, how much fun I was having on each date, and I think she thought that I was calculating my chances at long-term possibilities. I wasn’t doing the latter, but I think those concerns drove her to be awful to me.

Every experience we have can provide a lesson for those looking hard enough to find one. If that’s true, Nancy taught me that beautiful people don’t need a reason to break the hearts of the women and men attracted to them, but they do need an excuse. They’re not immune to the fear that others might consider them mean, heartless, or in any other way a ‘bad guy’ for breaking up with another person for a reason that’s difficult to justify. Their justification allows them to sleep at night, even if it’s not a very good one. The rest of us know that if the reason we break the heart of one that wants to date us is arbitrary, karma will find a way to bite us in the tailbone that could lead us to being lonely, and everyone around us will know why. Even if they’re not brave enough to say it aloud, they will know why. What still burns me up about the end of this particular relationship is that I gave her the justification she needed to break up with me. I fell for it. I’m sure she told people that I was mean to her cat, and she framed that incident in the same manner she did Francis Becker’s request for a doggy bag. I didn’t intend to be mean to her cat. I saw a problem, and I thought I had a solution. Yet, she used that incident to arbitrarily end our relationship in a manner only the beautiful can, because they know that all they have to do is call out “Now serving number 19” to those patiently waiting in line for us to be arbitrarily dumped.

 

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