He had me at "allo"

My Ukrainian composer spoke no English, had carpetlike back hair, and smelled vaguely of cooked cabbage. What's not to love?

Published August 20, 2003 8:11PM (EDT)

From Russia, with love and cabbage

Like any confident, sexually available female with nothing to lose but time, I surveyed the respectably full event room of the annual graduate student social (not the oxymoron you might think it would be) for other like-minded, similarly sexually situated, attractive, or at least interesting-looking, males. It wasn't long before I spotted him. There, among the international students, sat "Yuri," wearing a long black overcoat and looking like he was about to leave.

Despite his heavy Russian accent and the inability to form plurals, we managed a few minutes of conversation. He was an orchestra conductor from Kiev, Ukraine, studying for a music education degree. He said he'd been invited to the U.S. to apprentice with the New York Philharmonic, but given some unspecified creative differences, he'd left the city to blaze his own musical path.

Looks and attitude, I thought, what a great combination! Even better, he didn't ask me anything about myself, so I gave him my phone number and insisted we see each other again very soon.

It took him four days to call me.

"Allo. Kristen? Deees is Yuri. Ah. Ah. Yuri from the bar."

We had our first date at Young China restaurant, where I cast all manner of seductive looks over crusty egg rolls and beer, but Yuri remained impassive to my charms, and we didn't exactly have the same sense of humor. Sure, he chuckled gleefully when he said "pu-pu platter" out loud (later, enunciating the word "Lubriderm" would inspire the same abandon), but sarcasm and irony, at least in English, weren't funny for him. I looked at Yuri's untainted sensibility as a refreshing change from the dark wit practiced by most of the men I'd dated. Here, and finally, I thought, is innocence without irony.

For four really nice weeks, I got close to infatuation, especially when Yuri would talk of my visiting Kiev and Vienna with him during the summertime. I even renewed my passport. I didn't mind that he kissed like a plunger and bathed in Designer Imposter's Polo. I just chalked it all up to life in the Eastern bloc. The abundant chest, back and shoulder hair merely announced his virility. The fact that our only common cultural reference was "Singin' in the Rain" just meant more opportunities for transparent conversation. Besides, I really liked the stories he told of composers driven to prostitutes and syphilis by unrequited love.

At the beginning, I even liked the faint smell of cabbage that lingered everywhere around him -- in the walls of his one-room cottage built over a septic tank, in the clothes that hung in the moldy closet, in the Ukrainian delicacies he cooked, and of course on his breath and through his pores. It seemed earthy and suggestive of his proletarian past.

But as my interest waned, and his grew to, uh, operatic proportions, it was the funk, literally, that started to bring me down. I tried to let the affair die a natural death, because he was supposed to be leaving for a summer tour in just one week. Inexplicably, however, he decided not to depart, and it took three agonizing weeks of avoidance and awkward conversation before he finally boarded a plane, taking his fugue states and cabbage stench with him.

-- K.

So much for the hot-tub fantasy

First things first: I didn't know she was gay. I might not be the smartest guy in the world, but I know enough to realize that lesbians generally don't date men. Had I known she preferred women I would have never gone out with her. Unfortunately, a friend of mine hooked us up, and since she wasn't willing to admit to her Sapphic tendencies, she agreed.

We talked several times during the week of our blind date, and everything appeared to be going well. She was several years older than me, but seemed to have a youthful attitude. She was a good conversationalist and had a great sense of humor. Her personality and the fact that my friend said she was hot had me anxiously anticipating our date.

On the night of our date I got to her house a little before 11. Meeting her wasn't a total blind date nightmare, but I was a little disappointed. My friend had really hyped this lady up, and she just didn't meet my expectations. She was better than average, but certainly not the best-looking lady I had ever seen or even gone out with. Still, I decided to put it out of my mind and have a good time.

On the way to meet our friends I began my evaluation of her. She quickly earned a gold star in my book by unlocking the driver's-side door once I let her into the car. She was also a big fan of Stevie Wonder, so I gave her another star. The only negative so far was that she talked too much. I don't know if it was nervousness or what, but her mouth kept going nonstop.

After arriving at the club we found our friends getting ready to leave. They had already been there for several hours and wanted to go bowling. We followed them to a bowling alley located in my friend's neighborhood, but quickly left when the manager wanted us to pay extra because the place was closing in an hour.

Stuck out in the cold with nothing to do, we started trying to think of other places to go. Someone, possibly my date, suggested we go to a local gay club and see the drag show.

Looking back, that was the beginning of the end of my good time.

We found a section of seating near the front of the stage and started watching the show. I'm always weirded out by it, but I also appreciate all the practice and hard work the performers put into it. Shortly after we sat down my date wanted to get something to drink. I said OK and was preparing to get something for us, when she started asking everyone in our party what they wanted. Soon I was burdened with what seemed like a trillion orders and several different people's money. I was so confused by the time we got to the bar that I paid for everyone's drinks out of my own pocket. I turned to hand some of the drinks to my date, but she said that she really, really had to go to the restroom and left me to juggle them by myself.

Several minutes later she returned to our party and we resumed joking and having a good time. Eventually she was ready for another drink and asked me if I wanted anything. Since I was driving, I declined, but gave her money to buy something, and watched her walk over to the bar. I watched her walk up the steps toward the bar and didn't see her again for over half an hour.

The show continued. No date. The show ended. No date. We left the theater area. No date. I returned to the theater area. No date.

After not seeing this chick for more than 30 minutes I was pretty heated. I told my friends that I was leaving in five minutes and that one of them would have to take her home. I noted the time on my wristwatch and started my countdown. With about 40 seconds to spare she returned and introduced us to her brother's boyfriend and two ladies that had to be gay.

Her absence had thrown a damper on our good time, and the others decided to leave. I told her of their intentions and also noted that I was ready to go. She said that was fine, but asked that I give her a minute to say goodbye to her friends. I walked over to the dance floor to give them some privacy and ran into a woman from my old neighborhood. I talked to her for several minutes and returned to my date ready to exit the club.

When I approached their little gathering, they were still talking very animatedly. I couldn't tell what was being said, but I did notice that my date had just nodded in my direction and that one of the lesbians was leaving rather angrily. At first I was confused by the situation, but then I thought about the body language. The lesbian had stormed off from the group like someone who had just been told that their former lover was seeing someone else.

My date was finally ready to leave but had to go to the restroom first. I sat down at a table near the bar and spent more of my night waiting for her. After a few minutes I became angry and uncomfortable. I wanted to leave but decided to remain a gentleman. I gave her 10 more minutes before I was leaving come hell or high water. With less than two minutes remaining, she came back.

On our way out of the club we ran into the same lady. She acted like a jilted lover, and my date stopped to talk to her for several more minutes. I didn't hear what was said, but the body language spoke volumes. There was definitely something between them.

After her second talk with the Jilted Lover, my date returned to me like nothing had happened. She tried to hold my hand while we walked out of the club, but I pulled away. All I wanted to do was take her home.

As we rode back to her place she asked me if I wanted to pretend we were on the television show "Blind Date." She would be the host and I would be one of the daters being questioned. I agreed and she asked me if I'd had a good time. Since I enjoyed the first part of the date and have trouble telling people negative things, I lied and said yes. Then she asked me if I would ask her out again. I started to say no, then thought about the old proverb regarding a bird in the hand and said maybe. She asked me why I said maybe, and I told her that I thought her disappearance was not good for a first date and gave me a poor impression of her. I wanted to ask her about the woman but decided to remain a gentleman.

She apologized to me and then talked about a few other things. She explained that a lot of the people at the club were her brother's friends and that she was talking to them about a social event that was happening the following day. Somehow in the conversation she also mentioned that she felt more comfortable around them than around our friends, but she was quick to tell me that she wasn't gay.

I walked her to her door and said goodnight. She gave me a hug and asked me if I would call her again. Like an idiot, I said yes.

The next day my friend called me at 9 in the morning. We talked about the previous night's events and I told him about Jilted Lover. He continued having fun at my expense, then put his wife on the phone. I recounted the story to her and got a clearer view of the situation. She informed me that a friend of theirs had suspected my date was gay, but when confronted on the issue she vehemently denied it. There was also a rumor among their circle that she had at one time had a live-in girlfriend. Despite this, my friend's wife had taken her word for it and never questioned her about it again.

I called my date later that night. We talked for a while and she told me how glad she was that I had called her back. We made tentative plans for another date the following weekend, but I haven't heard from her since. I don't know what's more pathetic, her sexual shell game or the fact that I called her back after such a crappy date.

-- Jackie Williams

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------