Let’s face it, we would all like to meet someone cute, someone sitting next to us on a plane or a train like in a movie—think of Before Sunrise. I have my own fantasy; I see a gorgeous, tall man who looks familiar at a writers’ conference and he starts coming toward me saying in a foreign accent “You look familiar, have we met before?” Trite, I know, but oh so perfect! But when all else fails, when we have tried several Internet sites, when we have placed an ad in The New York Review of Books and have answered a few of them as well, when our friends and relatives have introduced us to several suitable acquaintances and we have tried to strike up a conversation in airports, supermarkets, local bookstores and just about everywhere we go, there is always the matchmaker.
Yes, I’m not inventing this, a matchmaker, like in an old-fashioned film, say Fiddler on the Roof or Crossing Delancey. George, from my Pilates class, told me about her. I tried to hush him up, embarrassed to death that our teacher would hear him in the one place where I haven’t made it obvious that I’m on the prowl. He couldn’t say enough good things about Jo. She was lovely, so knowledgeable and courteous. With such a high recommendation, I jotted her number down on my gym membership card. She hadn’t yet given me her charming pink business card with a gold heart in the middle.
I drove to her place in suburban Philadelphia, a few exits off US 95 North from the center of town. Her tiny office walls were covered with pictures of happy, smiling couples just like an OBGYN doctor has hers covered with adorable babies. Jo was so chatty and friendly that I wondered if she had met her husband as a client. She kept saying how nice my skin was and how young I seemed—I shouldn’t tell my age to anyone—that I looked at least ten years younger. How was I not to like her? She wasn’t cheap, but gave me an introductory price of $200.00, perhaps given my lovely skin. That fee was good for two months and guaranteed four matches.
Going to a matchmaker, just like joining a new website, helps one focus. “What exactly do I want in a partner?” Jo asked. First of all, he has to be accomplished, cultured, attractive, energetic, financially conservative and politically liberal. He must want to travel. Of course he will be kind, pleasant, good company and all the usual social requirements. My therapist says that I’m not demanding, but that, since I have lots to offer, I want lots in return. Maybe I’ll have to lower my expectations if I ever want to find a mate.
Since I like to make a research project out of everything, I had some questions of my own for Jo: Who are her typical clients, how does she meet them, are the women happy with her services? Turns out that she has been in business for more than twenty years, and she advertises in the local press and on dating sites, but most of her men and women come referred by someone else. “No, they are not desperate,” Jo assures me, they are all professionals, like me, and they just don’t have time to waste on the Internet.
But, just like in a dating site, there was a protocol to follow. I would get a phone call from the men first. “Don’t expect to talk too long; men hate chatting on the phone,” Jo said. If it goes well, then a short date is set for coffee or an after-work drink. No one wants to spend time and money on dinner if there isn’t chemistry, a word she used often, making her service sound more like science than magic. She expected a call with my first impressions after the initial meeting and then we were on our own.
I’ve done some matchmaking myself, with little success I might add. I have been known to fix my ex-boyfriends with some of my own girlfriends. I think of it as a way to soften the blow, if I was the one who initiated the breakup. But, for some reason, the guys get touchy about this and by the time they make the contact I’m not even sure it was a good idea. Like the time I suggested to a Rutgers University professor, who loved his Maltese puppies, he would like to meet Mary, who was crazy about her Dalmatians. I’m not sure if he didn’t like her or her dogs. I also fixed Mary up with Charlie, a tango instructor, since she loves ballroom dancing. I don’t know what happened, but that was a fiasco, too, and I retired from the business of meddling in my friends’ love lives.
Jo fixed me up right away with three men and, she was right, their phone conversations were indicative of what there was to come. In fact, Jack and I never made it beyond the first phone conversation. Jack admitted that he hadn’t been in Philadelphia since the fifties and didn’t like it anyway. I said that he didn’t even know the city; it has changed so much in the last six decades! No wonder he mentioned Famous Deli as a good place to meet, which is about the oldest, most stuffy place to eat off South Street, while I was thinking of one of the many trendy places I’m familiar with, like Amada or Garces Trading Company.
He also told me he had written a memoir of his Italian family and their move to New York City. The unbelievable part is that, even though it hadn’t been published, it had been picked up by a director and it was being made into a film. Saying that I was envious doesn’t even come close to how I felt. The producers had given him a Lexus (he usually drove a Ford Taurus) and a credit card, so he could go from his Southern Jersey home to the big city to be a consultant. He couldn’t take me out yet, because they were filming in New York, and on the first snowy day he would have to leave immediately to shoot the outdoor scenes. All this conversation took place in what I would call immigrant volume. I remember how my family screamed on the phone when they used to call from Spain before the days of Skype. “Helloooo,” Jack would say and, without meaning to, I would answer “Whaaaat?” in a very loud voice. I never heard from him again.
The first man I met through Jo was Pietro, also an Italian, this one from South Philly. He was as good-looking as she mentioned, dressed all in black, with a tight muscle shirt to show off his physique. He smelled good, too. Come to think of it, all of Jo’s men smelled delicious. His best feature was his silver hair, sleeked back with lots of product, framing his handsome face and his eyebrows, which were shaped like upside down Vs. Think of Rocky Balboa without the broken nose. Unfortunately he was covered with gold jewelry: a big watch, a thick chain bracelet and most prominently, an elaborate crucifix, hanging from a gold chain, in the middle of his powerful chest. There was no doubt that Pietro was more handsome than I’m pretty, and I’m no wall flower. He spoke with a South Philly accent, which is funny if you hear it on a TV or radio ad, but is very embarrassing if you are in a sophisticated Society Hill bar and one of your neighbors is right behind him. Luckily, my neighbor was not with his wife, so he also pretended not to see me.
This Italian jock had never been out of the country; the only time he had been on a plane, he went to Florida. He admitted that he would need to be sedated to get airborne again. As I’ve said before, I won’t go to bed with Republicans, but this guy probably didn’t even vote. He was incensed when he heard that I had been to Cuba with my students and had loved my recent trip to China. “What are you, a Communist?” he said gesturing with his hand under the chin. No, he didn’t go to movies. No, he didn’t know Italian, although he spoke with his hands and showed me some not so nice gestures. How’s that for a match?
We spoke about our children. His daughter was a waitress and his son already had his own heating and air-conditioning business. And there I was telling him that not everyone needs to go to college. If either one of my daughters could hear me now! At that point he told me how perceptive he was and how no one could BS him. What a good time we were having and how much he wanted to see me again! He couldn’t wait to make some of his mother’s spaghetti with traditional gravy for me—that’s the word for sauce in South Philly. What was I to do? I told Jo the truth: that physically Pietro was very attractive, but that he wasn’t my type and that I could never take him home to meet my children.
Steven, a retired corporate man, also dressed in black, was my next match. His hair was perfect as well. I started to wonder if Jo had a dress code for her male clients. I made the mistake of dressing conservatively with a matching outfit that made me look like an Iberian Airlines flight attendant, without the white gloves and the box hat, because despite his business career Steven was a biker now and there were his helmet and leather jacket to prove it. That would teach me to dress to please my date.
Our conversation started well enough. At least he had made money from his real estate investments and I love talking about the ups and downs in the real estate market. But then, I don’t know how, The Bible made an unscheduled appearance and he was telling me that marriage was supposed to be between a man and a woman only, period. Appearances can be so deceiving; despite being Jewish, Jo attracted conservative Catholic men and, despite my goody-two-shoe clothes, I was a Communist and a radical.
Again, I called Jo immediately and told her that Steven and I weren’t a good match, only to find out that he had already called her and told her that there was no chemistry between us. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Concha. And here I had painted my nails a provocative deep red—something I hadn’t done in decades, certainly not for a date, maybe for a fund-raiser gala someplace.
James, however, took the cake. He was one of the most unpleasant dating experiences I have ever had. He was talkative on the phone, although there were plenty of red flags: this country is toxic, his sister is also toxic, his brother’s children are toxic. He described himself as a European because he had lived in Paris for a period of time (not). He did have an interesting career. He was a physician with his own practice that specializes in curing cancer with intravenous doses of vitamin C, although I had never heard of that kind of experimental treatment.
Setting up a date with James was a complicated affair. He was a vegetarian, so we couldn’t meet at a Jewish deli I suggested (as if they didn’t serve salads there). We met at a Starbucks at 12:30 PM, which I thought meant lunch. But when he arrived a few minutes late, I might add, he didn’t want anything, because he had already drank a protein smoothie somewhere and I had to buy my own sandwich and drink. No problem. From the very beginning, the conversation was strained and his toxicity list had grown to include some of his patients and friends. I changed the subject to traveling, mentioning some of the study tours I had taken with my students to South America, Cuba and South Africa…
“Oh, paid vacations,” he said. I thought he was kidding, so I laughed, but he was serious. When I mentioned that perhaps he said that because he never had children; traveling with fifteen or twenty teenagers is never a vacation, he said that he was offended, got up and left. I sat there eating my sandwich alone, shaking in my seat. Being left in a coffee shop, that was a first. This time, I told Jo that I was taking a leave of absence and that I wanted to take a break from dating. I didn’t mention to her how I missed using Google to find out information about perspective dates and how much better it is to communicate on e-mail for a while before having to pay for one’s lunch.
Several months later, out of the blue, Jo called me up with another possible match. I think she felt badly about my last one and I was again between boyfriends, so I agreed to try one more time. Dating is like childbirth; you forget how painful it is and you end up trying again. Clark worked around the corner from my home, so we could meet very easily. He was younger than me, but as young as I looked Jo was sure it didn’t matter. This time a happy hour meeting at a trendy new place, The Red Owl Tavern, was set effortlessly. Clark was not Superman, but he was also attractive, blond and dressed casually with a Hawaiian shirt and khakis. He had never been married, lived on the same street where he grew up in suburban Philadelphia. No, he didn’t come to the city on weekends, since he was there every weekday for work. No, he didn’t see foreign movies. No, he didn’t care for the opera, the orchestra or the ballet. His favorite activity was playing Trivial Pursuit on weekends with a so-called “meet-up” group (I made a mental note not to ever try that possibility).
This time I felt guilty calling Jo with the bad news; Clark was such a nice guy. I kept thinking of a Spanish word I haven’t been able to translate into English, desencuentro. The trusty Google dictionary says that it is a “disagreement,” a “misunderstanding,” a “failure to meet up,” a “mix-up,” and “unmeeting,” (is there such a word?). But none of these do justice to this Spanish concept. Literally it means an “un-encounter.” Let me illustrate it. A desencuentro is when two people would have never met had it not been for an introduction by a well-meaning matchmaker. A desencuentro is when two people would be on a different time zone even if they live in the same city, like Clark and I. Not surprisingly, when Clark called Jo with his report, he told her that I was delightful, but I seemed “a little long in the tooth.” How’s that for an apt American expression?
Concha Alborg was born in Spain during the difficult years after the Spanish Civil War and went to school in Madrid until she emigrated with her parents to the United States, where she finished high school. More than any other event in her life, this move defines who she is, an immigrant living between two cultures. She may seem Americanized to her Spanish relatives, but she is from another country as far as her daughters are concerned. Although Concha fits well enough in both cultures, a tell-tale Spanish accent marks her speech as well as her writing.
Concha Alborg earned an MA from Emory University and a PhD in Spanish Literature from Temple University. In addition to numerous academic publications on contemporary women writers, she has been actively writing fiction and creative non-fiction. Recently, she left Saint Joseph’s University, where she was a professor for over twenty years, to write full time. She has published two collections of short stories: Una noche en casa (Madrid, 1995) and Beyond Jet-Lag (New Jersey, 2000) and a novel, American in Translation: A Novel in Three Novellas (Indiana, 2011).
Concha Alborg didn’t think that anything could hurt her more than the death of her husband from cancer, but hours after his death she learned how wrong she was. Within days of being made a widow, she discovered that her marriage and her husband were not what she had envisioned. In Divorce After Death. A Widow’s Memoir, with a unique point of view, due to her bi-cultural background, and a self-deprecating humor, she takes us on a personal journey. Her strength and determination to build a new life led her down a path that allowed her to reject the veil of widowhood and instead embrace a life of happiness, love and acceptance.
Concha Alborg lives and writes in Philadelphia. See more information about the author at www.conchaalborg.com. Her Humor Outcasts’ author page link is http://hopress-shorehousebooks.com/concha-alborg/.