Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The New York Woman and the Big Con

Dating in New York has been likened to many things, none of them salutary. War (for me, it's World War I -- you know, hand-to-hand combat, trench warfare, and protracted, bloody battles over the same patch of ground). Survival of the fittest. An outpatient clinic. A supermarket in which you are the shoppee and often end up feeling like that off-brand can of peas with the ax-driven dent in the middle -- the one with the label withering off and "20¢" written in black magic marker on its top.

To that unfortunate list of analogies I now can add the Big Con. An elaborate ruse in which the grifter (the New York woman) tricks the mark into believing that she is sincerely interested, that her interest is based on a recognition of his looks, charm, wit, warmth, etc., and is devoid of any ulterior, commercial motives, and that the two of them have forged a precious spiritual bond.

Yes, and my uncle, the king of the Ibo tribe of Nigeria, has personally entrusted you, Jim Gerard, to deposit his millions in your Chase checking account with the -$13.00 balance.

As a longtime bachelor (non-toxic variety), I've heard and seen just about every variety of female aberrance. The false cell phone number. The bipolar waxing and waning of interest. The flirtatious pursuit, followed by the faux naif declaration (i.e., "I just want to be friends. I thought I made that clear."). The invitation returned for insufficient funds. The self-hating rejection ("I'm worthless, and you like me; ergo, you're not worthy of dating a worm like me."). The paranoid rejection ("I won't go out with you because I know you're married.")... Ad infinitum. (Note to Generation Whatever: If women alone give you that much trouble, why would you even think of going bisexual?)

Look, I'm not innocent. I've fender-bendered a few hearts in my day. And I realize that women play the field, and that sometimes a woman is only floating a rumor of her availability to gauge market interest -- and to reassure her vanity.

And women have used me for favors -- help me move, edit my term paper -- by feigning interest. My bad.

Yet, I've never experienced a woman's warm attentiveness as an element of a marketing plan.

I just joined a rather upscale gym. I befriended a young personal trainer, who confided in me about her father's precarious condition -- he is being treated for cancer and recently had a heart attack. I offered my prayers and best wishes for his recovery. We exchanged a bit of back story. She's a dancer; we both like swing. She said she would never forget my name. Or my face. I felt that, unlike the other women I'd met lately, she was sincere, transparent. I worked up my nerve to ask her out. She said she'd love to, but she was busy and going out of town (i.e., the pile-on alibi rejection) and ...by the way, "how long have you been a member here at X gym?"

"A month or so," I say.
"Have you gotten your free Equi-Fit session?"
"You should let me know if you're interested."

And then it hits me: All this time she's been playing me for a potential personal training client, so she can reach her "target" number. This is a standard policy at the contemporary health club: The trainer as salesman. Tony Little meets Willy Loman. No sooner has the member paid his $150 a month dues, plus an "initiation" fee -- as if he's being inducted into the Skull & Bones -- than he's inundated with sales pitches. He has been reduced to a thin slice of market share. In the gym owners' eyes, he wears a huge $ on his Nike sweats. Ideally, they wish he would walk outside, get knocked in the head, forget he is a member there, walk back in and re-join. And then get run over and never actually work out there -- unless he promises to buy lots of p.t. sessions, energy drinks, overpriced exercise gear from the pro shop and physical therapy.

Anyway, I got hustled, I admit it. And I had been warned by another member on the first day I joined to be wary of trainers in sports bras.

This was just the latest in a series of improbably disappointing romantic scenarios:

*A Taiwanese artist I meet in Williamsburg who not only fails to thank me for the wine I bought her, but when I call her 48 hours later, only recognizes me after we've been speaking for several minutes. I'm telling you: One sentence you never want to hear during a phone call with a woman you're dating is, "Oh, that Jim!"

*A woman I meet online sends me her photo: She is posing with a Native American chief at what appears to be a Cherokee theme park, and who looks as if he wants her condescending scalp. She is wearing sunglasses that obscure her features. I ask her for a second photo: In this one, she is wearing a Maid Marion-like medieval wimple and trailing gown that seem made of chain mail. I'm afraid to ask for another photo, and have to restrain the urge to tell her she's making an ass of herself across 800 years of Western civilization.

*Another woman I met online who spends our entire first date pontificating about conspiracy theories. I'm afraid her idea of foreplay will be to play the Zapruder tape.

I'd like to give this up, forever wash my hands of N.Y. dating. But I need the material.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to thoughts, attitudes, and emotions of the real Jim Gerard is purely coincidental.

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