In past years, my Valentine’s Day column concentrated on the somewhat wry, cynical anecdotes about love. In this modern age where lust is often mistaken for love (I feel as if I might break out in a couple of choruses of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” right about here), sometimes it seems as if romance is an antiquated idea.
I admit when I watch the HBO series “Girls,” there is anything but love connected to the so-called act of love. What am I as an older male doing watching “Girls” anyway? I watch the show primarily as a conversation piece to discuss with a friend and hopefully to get some insight into a generation that is as different from mine as aliens from another planet. And hey, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tweeted recently about the show! While the show is well-written by Lena Dunham and sometimes has good comedic moments, it paints a picture of a generation of young men and women for whom sex is more often about consoling a disappointed friend or as something you do after you knock down a few beers.
In many ways, I marvel at how friendships among young folks often cross gender lines. We always viewed the other sex as something mysterious to be approached with caution. Today, the big question hovering over a first date for females is: Do I have sex with him? Compare that to the 1950s when the big question was: Do I kiss him on the first date? More often than not the answer was “no.”
I look back upon my own past relationships more with amusement than regret. I recall the breathless excitement I once felt, as a college student, calling a popular girl who lived in the dorms for a date. And that riotous rainy night when I picked her up in a taxi. As she entered the cab, I inadvertently slammed her head with the handle of my umbrella. If that had happened today, they would have called in a concussion specialist to examine her.
Not surprisingly, there was no second date, although the way she called off our second date was unusual even for ’56. She sent me a telegram saying her out-of-town family had paid her a surprise visit. A telegram! Later I learned from a friend of hers that her Jewish parents were not keen about her dating a gentile. We accepted, without resentment, that some families didn’t allow dating across religious lines (or ethnic or racial lines either). It meant a distinctly smaller dating pool at Temple in the late ’50s for me.
There was the girl at school with a reputation. Reputation or not, I still struck out. On prom night we double dated only to find out the other girl had “forgotten” to request an extension of her curfew, so the night ended early for the four of us.
My next romance didn’t end well either. Her parents were strict Catholics, born in Ireland. When they saw me show up at the door wearing my father’s chocolate brown cashmere coat, it was if they had seen Lucifer in the flesh. It didn’t help me with her dad when I showed up at the door at 5 p.m. on Memorial Day to take her to a picnic.
“What kind of a picnic begins at 5 o’clock?” he wanted to know.
It was a good question for which I had no ready answer. The girl was very devout and let’s just say I was less so. This led to her seeking advice from a friend, who also happened to be a priest, about where our relationship was heading. He told her exactly where it was heading and our romance was no more.
One source of dating for young radio disc jockeys in my day were anonymous female listeners who would call while a record was playing to flirt with you. Disc jockeys of that time always placed great stock in the possibilities of such relationships (and likely still do today). I tested those perilous waters twice while playing jazz at WHAT-FM.
The first time began with a phone call from a young woman with a French accent, which, at least on the telephone, made her seem very sexy. It turned out she was much more interested in meeting the late French jazz pianist Bernard Peiffer. I was a poor, unsophisticated substitute whose contact with things French was limited to French toast and French dry cleaning. The second date with an anonymous caller (she liked the Miles Davis-Gil Evans version of “My Ship,” a song by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin) also ended with me boring her out of her mind (she expected Miles Davis?).
Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in awhile. This blind squirrel found the Hope Diamond on a typical ’50s first date in Wildwood, N.J. We got caught in a thunderstorm walking to dinner and had to flee to safety in a nearby Laundromat. There was a first kiss standing in the darkness near the entrance to her parents’ apartment house. We stood there, fearful her parents would catch us. A mist was falling and once we jumped in fright when a taxi rode by, we were bathed in the glare of its headlights.
If Rodgers and Hart had seen us, they would have written a song about it.
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