Archive for February, 2011

“I thought you were somebody else”
February 3, 2011

NEW YORK, 1979 — At midnight, every corner was crowded on a Friday night back then. Taxis, limousines, streamed by on light-dappled black streets and young people who seemed both luckier and more desperate than I could imagine, laughed as they spilled out of bars on Second Avenue.

I was waiting for the light to change there on East 78th Street, alone, probably wishing in some well-worn groove of my mind that I was having as much fun as everyone else seemed to be, when a nice enough looking man came in front of me.

“I’m attracted to you,” he said. He waited what would otherwise have been a logical time for an answer, and added, “are you attracted to me?”

That’s what it was like then. I had been to a singles’ bar with a college classmate, not having been apprised that it was one, not having ever gone to a bar before for any other reason than socialize in a less goal-oriented way, and I had been astonished. There was no place to sit, play pool, dance; no band — and my friend ordered a Perrier, which you could get for less than a dollar at the corner store, but my friend paid $1.50 for. Why were we here? Then, in the five minutes that followed, she met someone, exchanged phone numbers and they tongue-kissed goodbye. Oh. I was 22. I had grown up in the city only to discover, finally, that to be a grownup in the city was a lonely thing.

“No,” I told the man, bemused and disgusted. He looked at me coldly, in a way I took was meant to indicate that I had shown myself to be shallow, and, after all, unworthy of traffic-light-timed attraction, and then he darted off.

It was weeks later when I was about to enter my building, a few blocks away, that suddenly he was standing in front of me again. I stepped away from the door to the vestibule, into the middle of the sidewalk. He looked at me, again, as if I had behaved oddly, inappropriately.

“What do you want?” I said.

“I thought you were somebody else,” he answered, and stood there.

“Well, I’m not,” I said, but he stood there still.

I lived a few doors from a bowling alley and a couple emerged and strolled our way. I fell into step with them. He darted off.

When I was sure he was gone, I finally went up to my apartment, shaking.

So last week when I saw a headline in the New York Times that a man on death row in California was now a suspect in two long unsolved murders on the Upper East Side of Manhattan of young women, both 23, in the 1970s, I shook again.

This one was on the Dating Game in the early ’70s and had “won” the Bachelorette of the day by exceeding the other two contestants in wickedly vulgar innuendo. But the Bachelorette had ended up passing on the date after meeting him.

It wasn’t the same guy. The one in the New York Times story was in jail already at the time of my encounters. In the era that introduced the term “serial killer” into common parlance, creepy encounters weren’t so rare. They aren’t now.

The Bachelor, in which a guy dates a number of women simultaneously while weighing his “connection” to each, dependent largely on how much humiliation they are willing to subject themselves to in order to “win,” came out on top in the ratings last week.

All of which is a long way to say that while happy couples might meet on dating shows and street corners, I wish mass media would quit marketing strangers and intimacy as a good mix, since it’s stupid.