The Art of Picking the Wrong Ones
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"There's nothing wrong with you except that you're picking the wrong guys," said my friend after suffering a recap of my most recent date. If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard this phrase, I would have bought my own football team. It always makes me wonder why my record of poor choices has remained so perfectly flawless. This was not for lack of careful consideration. Through experience, I had determined one type of guy to definitely avoid is the one that purports to be nice. If he actually comes out and says, "I'm a nice guy," he's big trouble.

I was looking for someone with a penchant for words and a dark sense of humor. These were my Phoenix years, an especially low point in my life. I would run personal ads in The Boston Phoenix whenever they offered free ones. It was more a creative outlet for me than anything. My ads got plenty of responses, but for some reason, they caused concern amongst friends and family. Especially my favorite: "Fresh Kill. Still warm. Wretched wench wants churlish rogue for intense chemistry and intellectual sparring. No husbands, boyfriends or convicts. Smokers and ax-wielding homicidal maniacs preferred."

"What if some total lunatic answers that?" my friend asked with a furrowed brow.

"Come on. Any self-respecting ax-wielding homicidal maniac would be out on the streets looking for victims," I replied.

"Well, why don't you answer a couple of ads? Let me pick some for you and you can call the ones that sound good to you," she suggested.

It sounded like an interesting experiment. She had a nice boyfriend. Maybe I was picking the wrong ones and another set of eyes would help. I handed her my Phoenix. She returned it an hour later with four ads circled. One seemed somewhat appealing: a romantic chef that likes local bands. A smoker. I left a message. He called back and we talked for a bit. He had a nice voice. We arranged to meet the following Thursday at 6:00 p.m. at the gates in Chinatown.

Chef boy's name was Phil, and he was cute. He had big shoulders, light brown hair and blue eyes. We walked through Chinatown. He took me into a small Vietnamese restaurant, introduced me to the host and immediately led me back outside. He then took me into two more restaurants, introduced me to various employees, and again, we left immediately after the introductions. Each time I thought we might sit down and get a drink and maybe a bite to eat, but we did not. And I found being introduced to various restaurant employees to be a somewhat strange activity. Perhaps he was an undercover health inspector.

We continued walking for a long time and my feet were beginning to hurt, so I suggested that we stop somewhere for a drink. We were near Copley Square, and he led me into a quiet Chinese restaurant. We sat at a table in the bar and I ordered a beer. He ordered nothing. When the waitress left, I asked him why he wasn't having anything and he admitted that he had no money. I offered to buy him a drink and when the waitress returned with my beer, he ordered one too.

He spoke about his childhood. His parents were terrible and had him committed to a mental hospital when he was 16. He had one older brother that used to beat him up all the time. The waitress returned with his beer and I lit a cigarette.

"May I?" he asked, gesturing towards my pack of smokes.

"Of course."

When I asked him where he was a chef, he explained that he didn't have a job right then. He had recently been let go from Bickfords. At one point, my hands were folded on the table in front of me. He gently took them in his, turned them so my palms were facing upward and ran his fingers over the insides of my wrists. "Good," he said. "No scars."

I played along. "No, they healed years ago," I replied.

He wistfully told me about his suicidal ex-girlfriend, Vivian. "She was a cutter," he said.

We ordered another round and continued to talk and smoke my cigarettes. We discussed Vivian, different methods of suicide, alcoholism and depression. By the time we finished our drinks, my cigarette pack was empty. It suddenly occurred to me that my date fell into the category of smokers that prefer not to buy their own. I paid the check and we went outside.

Was I being too picky? This didn't seem to be getting off to a very good start. I'm no gold digger. I do not expect my dates or anyone else to carry me. And I'd been in enough relationships where I'd done all the carrying to know that I didn't want to be responsible for someone else. Maybe he was just nervous. I was smoking more, too. This dating crap is nerve-wracking. I spotted a Walgreen's and told him I needed to go in and get more cigarettes.

"Sure," he said, and followed me inside.

I paid for my smokes, turned around and he had disappeared. I walked across the front of the store looking down the aisles for him when he suddenly emerged from an aisle at the far end of the store.

We went back outside and continued walking. He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a bottle of dandruff shampoo and turned it over in his hand. "This is good stuff," he said. He returned the shampoo to his pocket and pulled out a votive candle and a toothbrush.

"Yeah, the price was right," he continued, sounding pleased with himself. Clearly he was trying to get a reaction from me, but I would not bite. I just walked alongside him, undaunted, acting as if all my dates shoplift.

"Not bad," I replied nonchalantly, hoping to imply I'd seen bigger heists. We walked further. It seemed he was navigating us somewhere.

"Where are we headed?" I asked.

"My friend works the door at Axis on Lansdowne. There's a good band playing tonight and he'll let us in for free," he replied.

"We're walking to Lansdowne?" I asked.

"Yeah, why not?"

"Well, my car is parked downtown and if I don't get it out of the garage by 11:00, it's locked in for the night." I explained.

"Then let's go get it," he said, turning in the opposite direction.

"Maybe we should call it a night," I suggested.

"Let me at least walk ya back," he replied.

He could have mentioned these plans sooner. I made a mental note to add “communicative" to my list of adjectives to include in my next ad. Yes, a communicative ax-wielding homicidal maniac.

During the walk back, he showered me with lines. "Beautiful hair," he said, gently tugging on a curl. "Great legs. You must spend a lot of time at the gym," he continued, smiling. He did have a nice smile, and an innocent face.

As we neared the garage, he told me that he wanted to spend more time together and at least reciprocate for the drinks and cigarettes. Would I just come to see this band? He had a free parking spot for me right around the corner from the club. In a burst of poor judgment, I reluctantly agreed.

When we got near Fenway, he directed me to a small parking lot behind an apartment building. "I live here and I have my own parking space, but no car," he explained.

I parked my car and we made our way over to Lansdowne Street, three blocks away. When we arrived at Axis, it happened that his friend was not working, so we went two doors down to Jillian's, where there was no cover.

During a brief pause between stories of Vivian and other suicidal and/or psychotic ex-girlfriends, I yawned and told him that I had to get up early for work and needed to start heading home.

When we arrived back at the parking lot, my car was gone. It had already been stolen once, and my heart started pounding as I thought about the expense and aggravation that would lie ahead. Visions of police reports, rental cars and smashed steering columns danced through my head. I started to cry.

"Even if they find it, I'm going to have to start it with a screwdriver," I told Phil through choked sobs.

He patted my shoulder and told me not to worry. "Maybe it wasn't stolen," he suggested.

"Then, where is it?" I asked, wiping my nose with the back of my hand.

"I'll make some calls. Do you have any change?"

I handed him four quarters, and he went to a nearby pay phone and called the police. They told him that my car had been towed and gave him the address where it could be retrieved. Phil apologized. "I don't know how this could have happened," he said earnestly.

He flagged a cab and made a gentlemanly offer to go with me to get my vehicle. Since surely this would involve me having to drive him back to his house afterwards, I politely declined.

I would need cash to pay the cab fare and retrieve my car. The first two ATMs that the cab took me to were "temporarily out of service." Finally we found one that worked. I got my money, proceeded to the tow lot, paid the cabbie and the lot lady and rescued my car. $140.00 later, I humbly made my way back to the comfort of my home.

I entered my apartment and did what I always do after such dates. I poured a shot of scotch, buried my face in my hands and wondered how many more nights like this I would have to endure before I (or one of my well-meaning friends) stopped picking the wrong ones.

I took a long sip of scotch and lit a cigarette. My cup was half full. This would make for a very funny story. Tomorrow. Besides, he could have been an ax-wielding homicidal maniac.

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