i give up," my conservative doctor friend Oliver said to me on the phone.
"Oh, God, not you too," I groaned. There must be something in the water of all the single people in San Francisco. Oliver was a very good friend, maybe my closest. "Listen, before you do, I have a little proposition." I paused delicately. "Her name is Penny."
Why do people fix up their friends? Naturally, if the two hit it off you're automatically elevated to hero status forevermore and may even get a few free dinners out of it, like my match-making friend Adair. But everyone knows that this is rarely the case. More often than not, the outcome is a colossal fizzle. The set-uppees go out for the neutral lunch, make small talk, chat about you, the weather, possibly Alan Greenspan. After an hour and a half they deem it safe to extricate themselves. They politely and tepidly thank one another and walk away in separate directions, each fuming at you and your lack of insight as to the inner workings of the human heart.
Ah, but when it succeeds! We fixer-uppers are nothing if not optimistic. I thought how nice, what good karma it would be if I could set up my closest friend with someone he would fall in love with. And there was no reason why Oliver and Penny wouldn't hit it off, on paper. Both were smart and upwardly mobile. They had an easy sense of humor. They were friendly and presentable-looking. They each dressed conservatively and had, at least in Penny's case, a retro, almost '50s way of looking at things that I found bewildering but rather charming. Best of all, they were itching to be involved with someone.
After a long silence, Oliver asked skeptically, "Who is she? What does she do?"
"She's a horse trainer." I heard him sigh. "Wait," I said. "This is a good thing. She's not a crazy, creative type. She's very sane. I went to high school with her, she's a great friend. She's stunningly beautiful. Really. In high school, all the guys wanted to go out with her. She has amazing hair. And very white teeth." I thought about Penny's big breasts, and her way of gazing out from under her long eyelashes. I wondered if Penny had read "The Rules." It seemed like the kind of book she'd like.
"How come you've never mentioned her before if you're such good friends?"
"Well, we're old friends," I said. "I don't see her that much. I ran into her the other day in the Marina. But she laughs easily. She likes cultural things, just like you. Believe me, she's a piece of ripe fruit, ready to be plucked."
This seemed to mollify him. I heard his beeper go off as he wrote down Penny's number and we hung up. Seconds later, my phone rang. "I forgot to ask you," Oliver said. "What kind of fruit?"
I considered. "A peach."
"That's fine," he said. "As long as it's not a melon."
Oliver made a date with Penny for the following Tuesday. They'd had a nice chat on the phone, he said. Over the days leading up to the date, we talked more about her. I tried to recall all I could about her in high school. I could feel Penny growing and morphing in his mind: First she was Cindy Crawford, then Claudia Schiffer, finally Maria Shriver. Pretty soon his impending date was the subject of every conversation he and I had that week. In my mind, they'd already gone out on the date, gotten engaged, married and were now divorced. He didn't even need to go out with her. "Well, don't get your hopes too high," I said. I was starting to feel uncomfortable. "You might not like her that much. I don't know what she thinks about managed care, for example."
"You don't seem to know very much at all about her," he said, "except that she's not like you."
The day after the date, I hung around the phone. I started to feel this creeping sense of ... what was it? Dread? Anxiety? Why hadn't I heard anything from either one? At 3 p.m. I couldn't stand it any longer.
I finally reached Oliver at the hospital after beeping him two times. "Well?" I demanded. What if they had fallen into bed? Worse, what if they had fallen in love? Would Oliver and I still be friends? Could I call him whenever I wanted to, as I did now? I was seized with a sudden irrational surge of ... oh, yes. Now I knew what it was. Jealousy.
"It was fine," he said blandly. "She's a very nice woman. She's very sweet." These were not the words of a smitten man.
"Didn't you think she had amazing hair?"
"I didn't notice, to be honest." He gave me a dutiful synopsis of their evening: mediocre ballet, pretentious restaurant, bad service. During dinner she'd laughed like a maniac at everything he'd said, whether it was funny or not. "I think she had a good time," he added dryly. "But I have a question for you, Courtney. Why?"
"Why what? Why did she have a good time? I don't know. You tell me."
"No, that's not what I mean." He paused as I heard the hospital intercom squawk in the background. "Why did you set me up with her?"
"I thought you would like her," I said lamely. My call waiting suddenly beeped in my ear. I paused, and it beeped again. "I guess I should take that," I said. "It could be Penny. Do you want to hear her version? Would you say that you are very interested, somewhat interested or not interested at all?"
"Whatever," Oliver said. We hung up.
To be continued ...