Today is the thirty fourth anniversary of Jamie’s and my first date. All things considered about the evening, it is a wonder there was ever a second date.
We met in a crowded elevator at Saks Fifth Avenue when, in front of everyone, he asked me out to dinner. Mortified I snapped, “I don’t even know you!” and exited at whatever floor it was when the doors opened.
After scurrying to the escalator and sighing in relief at leaving the crazy man in the lift, I heard a voice behind me.
“If you won’t go to dinner with me, how about the beach?”
I whirled around, overbalanced, and nearly tumbled down the moving stairs. “What are you doing? You scared me!”
He shrugged. “Sorry. But do you want to go to the beach with me? It is supposed to be beautiful tomorrow.”
“I can’t go to the beach with you. I work. I work here.” I pointed to my tiny SFA lapel pin.
“Well, you get days off, don’t you?” he asked reasonably.
“Sure, but mine was yesterday.”
We reached the eighth floor and I stepped from the escalator to the marble floor. I pointed myself toward a door that read Employees Only and stalked away purposefully. Growing up in New York teaches you to leave the psychos in your wake so I didn’t look over my shoulder as I ascended the stairs to the ninth floor Executive Offices even when I heard the door swing behind me. I was nearly at the top when a voice called “So if it’s no to the beach, how about dinner?”
Startled I turned and flared downward. The man from the elevator and escalator was standing on the bottommost step looking up with a wide-eyed , hopeful expression.
I surrendered. “Okay, sure. I will go to dinner with you. I get off at six so meet me at the employees’ entrance at six-fifteen tomorrow night.”
“I’ll be there,” he grinned.
“I doubt it.” I muttered. “Asshole.”
The next morning I awoke glazed in sweat and feeling nauseous. Whatever was going around the store had landed on me. I considered calling in sick but then I remembered that I had made a date for that night with a good-looking, well-dressed lunatic whose name was a mystery so I had no way to contact him. What if he actually showed up? He didn’t know my name either so he wouldn’t know who to ask about. I sighed, ruing my idiocy, and heaved myself from the mattress. I felt a bit better after standing under the shower stream and drinking ginger ale, so I decided I would definitely go to work: I could always leave if I felt worse.
I stared at the clothes squashed together in my overstuffed closet and tried to figure out what to wear. It was an Indian summer September Friday so I needed something that would suit the air conditioned store, the sweltering day, an iffy restaurant, and a cool evening. I chose a fuschia cotton Calvin Klein shirtwaist and ironed it.
I made it through work without any problems, most likely because I was too busy to notice how awful I felt but as the afternoon wound down I grew hot and nauseated again. Convinced that my admirer wouldn’t show, I decided to just go home and go to bed. Punching out and exiting on Fiftieth Street I headed west when someone grabbed my arm. It was the man from the elevator.
“Hi. I thought you wouldn’t come.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because I thought you were kidding.”
“I wasn’t. Come on; let’s go to The Top of the Sixes for drinks then to the Village for dinner.”
We entered the express elevator at 666 Fifth Avenue and floated silently upward. Just as the doors opened, I turned to my escort. “What is your name, anyway?”
Brown eyes met brown eyes. “Jamie. Jamie Cella. What is yours?” I told him as we were ushered to a tiny table for two. We both ordered sodas, he a Diet Coke and me a ginger ale.
The view from the forty first floor was spectacular. As we admired it and sipped our drinks we began to know each other. He was neither a stalker nor a lunatic. He was in grad school at NYU and worked part-time in his mother’s family’s construction business. I began to like him even as I fought my nausea. I didn’t want to go to dinner but neither did I want to go home.
He whistled to hail a taxi headed downtown. We were going for dinner to Marylou’s, an Italian restaurant on West Ninth Street. The night was warm and I was beginning to run a fever so I lowered my window and practically shoved my head into opposing traffic all the way there.
We trotted down the steps into a lovely old townhouse and had just been seated when I knew I was going to be ill. I excused myself, walked as quickly as I could to the ladies’ room, and practically threw myself into the first stall where I vomited. After rinsing my mouth and wiping my face, I returned to our table, certain that everything would be fine now.
It wasn’t. I began sweating and feeling worse. I ran to the ladies’ room every ten minutes or so purging ginger ale, salad, and shrimp scampi. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten, hell, I shouldn’t have even come, but I had and I liked him now and didn’t want to go home, so I sucked it up and stayed. Reflecting on my decision in a silent taxi ride uptown as he escorted me home, I realized that I had been foolish and troublesome and he would probably never want to see me again.
Paying the taxi, he walked me to the elevator in my building. “I am sorry I cannot ask you up,” I mumbled, bleary-eyed “but I am not feeling too well.”
He gazed at me understandingly and kissed me good night. The elevator door opened and I entered, holding it open until he had exited the glass and wrought iron front door. Immediately after I lifted my finger from the Hold Door button I vomited again. The smell was making me swoon. When it reached the ninth floor, I jammed a chair from the hallway into the door so it couldn’t close and ran to my apartment. I was barely able to open the three locks on my front door before I vomited again.
Afterward, I brushed my teeth and stared at my reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. I looked like hell in a pink dress. My hair was clumped from sweating, my mascara had run, and my eyes were dull. I just wanted to get into bed. Spitting into the sink I realized that the worst of the evening’s entertainment still awaited me: I had to clean the elevator. Grabbing a roll of paper towels, I crept into the hall. I spread the Bounty sheets all over the mess to absorb as much as possible and returned to my apartment for a pail of hot water and antiseptic cleaner. While kneeling in my designer dress and scrubbing the tile floor, fat, hot, tears mixed with Lysol as self-pity washed over me much as the nausea had earlier. I had actually liked that guy and now he would probably never want to see me again. I couldn’t blame him; after all, I had seemed like a crazy person tonight.
That was over three decades ago and, to quote Charlotte Bronte, Reader, I married him. Nevertheless it was nearly a decade before I learned the rest of the story of my first date with the man who became my husband. Jamie’s parents were also dining at Marylou’s that evening and, not wanting to embarrass their son on a date, did not call attention to their presence, however, after watching me rush to the rest room every quarter hour my future father-in-law couldn’t resist. Tiptoeing behind Jamie on their way out, Carlo tapped him on the shoulder, leant close and whispered in his ear, “What are you doing to that girl, son? You are making her sick!”