A while back, I was talking with a friend who lamented how it's nearly impossible to meet someone at a regular place like a supermarket who would meet all the rigid requirements of compatibility and attractiveness — and still be Jewish.
"It's tough enough, and then, it's not like you can ask someone if they're Jewish," she said.
A few weeks after that chat, I had happened to meet a young woman in the supermarket. In fact, it took me months to even get a face-to-face encounter with the girl I'll call "Merry."
Merry and I both work for the same giant institution, albeit in separate divisions. There are not so many nice, attractive Jewish women in the entire city that she wouldn't stand out. But without a valid excuse, there was no way I was going to cold-call her or approach her without an appropriate "in." It's not like I could walk into her office and say, "Hi, here I am, let's go out."
However, several months earlier, her name came up in a conversation with a colleague who told me that I needed to find a girlfriend. When I asked her if she knew any nice Jewish girls, this colleague told me she was friends with Merry, and that she would be happy to broker a meeting.
One Enchanted Evening
Several months passed by, and nothing happened. But when I saw this beautiful woman sitting in the corner of my mega-grocery store's food court several weeks in a row, I took notice. I also thought I picked up a vibe. She came there to work on her laptop, and I was usually there to eat dinner. She looked busy, and it's not my style to approach strangers and interrupt them.
But after dinner one of those nights, I saw her in the aisles doing her shopping. That's when I snapped into action. We passed each other and there was some eye contact, but still, I hesitated.
As a generally shy person, I sometimes need to talk myself into more overt kinds of behavior. Some guys are just better skilled in the art of meeting total strangers. I've found motivation in a scene in the Quentin Tarantino film "Reservoir Dogs" in which Tim Roth, an undercover cop, gives himself a pep talk to a mirror. "You're cool. No, you're super-cool," he says to himself.
As I strolled through the store, I engaged in a similar mental monologue. I reminded myself that I've interviewed presidential candidates, liars, cheats and thieves. I even once sat face to face with two killers, one who is now on death row in Ohio. I could certainly handle this girl. Go for it, I told myself. Just talk to her.
There she was at the end of the beauty-care aisle looking at cotton balls or shampoo when I sidled my cart up next to hers and said, "So, did you finish all your work?"
To my relief, she did not recoil, and even seemed slightly cheerful and polite as she told me she still had more work to do, but was tired. Then, because most of the people who work at the food court are graduate students, I asked, "Law school or med school?" It was almost a smooth line of questioning because I was fairly confident that I knew the answer.
Neither, she answered, telling me what she does.
That's when I knew who she was, and surprised her when I told her I knew who she was. I thought she would know me because of my conversations with our mutual friend who tried to broker the meeting months earlier. But she had no idea who I was, and probably now thought I was some sort of nut or stalker because I knew her.
Anyway, we talked for a few minutes. Though I'm usually not forward, I went farther out on the limb and gave her my card, and said something to the effect that we should meet some day, outside of the store. I was pretty proud of myself. I thought that she had to be single because a woman like her would not be spending so much time alone at the food court if she had a partner.
A few days later, I followed up with an e-mail. She replied a day afterward. Only her response was a gracious denial. She said that she thought our paths would cross either at the store or at the institution, but she had some "personal things" going on that were keeping her from making extracurricular plans.
For a full 24 hours or so, I had basked in optimism. Not only did I meet this great girl who I'd wanted to meet for months, but I did it myself with a full-out independent foray. Then, the bubble burst. This rejection hit me harder than some of the others in recent months. But rejection is part of life.
A couple of weeks later, my rabbi gave a sermon about talking to strangers, and being warm and receptive, even at places like the grocery store. His message was eerily similar to my own encounter. After the service, I recounted my story in such a suspenseful manner that he said that he expected a happy ending.
I'm still waiting for the happy ending, too.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.