so what buffoonish thing did the San Francisco boys do this week?" e-mailed Peter, a friend in New York. "It being Tuesday morning, I assume you're hung over."
"You know that stuff that collects in your navel?" I asked. "That's me all over. Fuzzy. Gray. Dislocated. Thank God I telecommute."
"I gather it was a successful meeting of the Monday Night Club. Who was there?"
I tried to focus. "The usual suspects," I wrote, though Peter didn't know any of them. Peter, 20 years older than me, was simultaneously amused and horrified by what he regarded as the congenital passivity of the West Coast dating scene -- in particular, the men. "Is it age or geography?" he'd ask me. "From what you tell me, I'm surprised the human race still exists out there."
In the past, I'd tried to explain to him, during one of our e-mail exchanges, that we were all still having sex. Or at least, we women were all talking about it. "It's a lot of talk and not much action," I'd said. "But you're right -- it is different on the West Coast." I thought some more, and typed, "more tentative."
The Monday Night Club was born when a few of us women decided Monday was the only night, apart from possibly Tuesday, worth braving the town at all. Restaurants were empty, bars were quiet, parking was to be had. There were fewer droves of young professionals mobbing the sidewalks in search of $19 pastas and the quintessential Cosmopolitan. Sports utility vehicles weren't poised to mow you down at every corner.
"It's the best night to go out," I had reminded Peter. "Believe me, if you were still single, you'd be planted in front of your VCR or your new Richard Ford book every Friday and Saturday night like clockwork."
I left the computer for a minute in search of Advil. Bits and pieces of the evening floated down to my memory bank as I turned my medicine cabinet inside out. There was Renee, sitting at the bar, smoking elegantly and asking how she could introduce sex toys into a new relationship. There was the drone of the trivia quiz in the next room. There was Deborah, quiet as usual, opining only that she'd made a vow not to sleep with anyone until she moved. It was bad karma, she said, to sleep in the apartment you'd held with the ex. Then a lengthy discussion of the 1 percent apartment vacancy rate, and how Deborah was destined for the nunnery, and more shots of Oban ...
And a few discussions with tourists ... Now it was all coming back to me.
"Well?" Peter wrote. "Anyone ask you out to dinner and then let you pay for half?" That story had always amused him. "How much did he tip? No, wait, he showed you the bill and asked you what 15 percent of it was, right?"
"This may be generational, your opinion that men here are cheap," I said. "I'm trying to be kind here. Maybe young men mistake strength in womens' personalities for wanting to control every aspect of the relationship. Speaking of controlling, weigh in on this little anecdote."
I'd met Renee and Deborah at a bar in North Beach, ostensibly to play the pub trivia game that was sweeping the country like a plague. Ten Guinnesses later, we had given up the game after we'd been unable to remember which '80s group had penned "I've Been Waiting (For A Girl Like You)." At midnight, Renee declared she needed some more verbal stimulation than what we were offering and began talking to a man who was sitting at the other end of the bar, lugubriously peering into his beer. By 1 o'clock, I'd somehow gotten Mr. Ponderous onto the topic of his marital problems, and by various therapeutic and journalistic machinations had gotten him to divulge all the details that he'd said at the outset that he would never divulge, particularly to a strange woman in a strange bar. Meanwhile, Deborah was passionately kissing a Chilean tourist she'd met and Renee was sparring with the bartender when not half-listening to my marital counseling.
"Mr. Ponderous was from New York, I want you to know that," I wrote Peter. "When we got thrown out of the bar, we were looking for a cab. And -- after all that counseling -- he asked if he could kiss me."
"He ASKED if he could kiss you?" I felt Peter's incredulous silence across the country. Then, "What a fool. That's terrible. No wonder he's a cuckold. He must have been born in San Francisco, then."
"Actually, Glasgow. My Unsuitable Celt Meter is apparently still working. I have to say that I appreciated the fact that he didn't lunge. And I told him no, he couldn't kiss me."
"Of course you did," wrote Peter. "You know, there's a middle ground between lunging and asking. But asking is just plain stupid West Coast guy passivity. If he'd just done it, and not asked, you'd probably still be in bed with him right now, marital counseling or no. You can bet the Chilean didn't do any asking. Tell Mr. Cuckold to come back to New York, and quick."
"You know, Peter," I wrote back, "all my Manhattan friends complain that they feel like they're on the butcher block when it came to romance. They're virtually required to bring résumés, financial statements, tax returns and references on the first date. So this cut-to-the-chase thing has its drawbacks too. What do you suggest?"
Peter finally e-mailed me an hour later, impatience fairly bristling over the phone lines. "Maybe it's time for all of you to pick up and move to Cedar Rapids."