IN MY NEXT LIFE, I want to inspire grand romantic gestures the way my girlfriend Leon does. Leon, a model-turned-author, is like a character out of Colette's "Gigi," a time traveler from the Paris of a century ago, when the biggest news on the boulevards was the amorous adventures of the femme fatales. "It's just the usual," says Leon, "being flown places, being sailed to supper, getting the gifts everyday. You know . . ."
No, I don't. For weeks, I've been trying to persuade my husband to take me to dinner at some dreamy little restaurant with tablecloths and candlelight instead of a two-for-one special. "What's more romantic than loading the dishwasher together?" Duke asks. "What could be more intimate?"
Maybe cleaning out the garage.
Don't get me wrong. I love my husband. But a woman needs a romantic pick-me-up now and then. I don't expect anything dramatic, like when Charles MacArthur introduced himself to Helen Hayes by giving her a handful of peanuts and saying, "I wish they were emeralds." I just want some small indication that Duke doesn't think of me as an old shoe.
"Honey," Duke asks, "do you think there's a woman on this planet who doesn't think she deserves more romantic attention from the man she's involved with?"
Yes, I do. "Here's my secret for getting the romantic gestures," Leon says. "I tell guys that I'm not a great romantic. Then they break their necks trying to turn me into one."
Take the World Famous Artist (W.F.A.) with whom Leon enjoyed a long relationship. Once, before she went away on business, W.F.A. took her out for a farewell lunch. "There was a highly personal drawing--framed, of course--wrapped up on my plate," says Leon, adding that this was the first of many such museum-quality offerings.
"I was thrilled," she says, "and then he exclaimed, 'No, it's not romantic enough. I've got to give you something that I really need.' And he handed me his driver's license. It made me curl up in ecstasy."
I confess that my response would have been a little more practical. "Are you out of your mind?" I would have stammered. "What if you get stopped by the police?"
"You can't be practical and complain about the dearth of romance," Leon says. "If a guy goes out and blows his paycheck on 100 gardenias, say, 'Thanks.' Don't ask how he's going to make his car payments."
I wouldn't dream of it. Last night, when Duke brought me a loaf of rye bread, his car payments never crossed my mind. "I guess this doesn't rank with hiring mariachis to play 'Malaguena' under your window," he conceded. Actually, I really don't like "Malaguena," which only goes to show that romance is all relative.
"You know what romance is for men?" my friend Rob asks. "Romance is money. The more you spend, the more romantic you are. Sending a dozen roses is romantic. But three dozen roses is really romantic, and it's really expensive."
I hate to think that romance is just the reduction of a man to a desperately twitching checkbook. It's more the art of making your sweetheart feel special. Many men would be amazed by the results of an unexpected card or a seductive telephone call.
Of course, the fastest way to find romance is to leave town. "Want to drive down to Mexico?" I ask my husband after another stressful, unromantic week. A couple of hours later, we're cruising down I-5. Suddenly, around El Toro, the lights on the dashboard flash, and my car dies in the fast lane.
While I sit in shock, cursing the mechanic who just two days before handed me a large bill and assured me that the car was reliable, Duke takes command. My heart melts as he coolly pushes the car off the road and gamely pokes around under the hood, oblivious to the half-pitying, half-belittling stares of passing motorists. "Don't worry, honey," he says later as we climb into the tow truck. "I'm sure it's nothing major."
But the diagnosis at the nearest auto shop is that I need a new carburetor, which won't be available for five days and will cost a small fortune. Undaunted, Duke gets on the phone and miraculously finds a tiny garage in San Clemente with a mechanic who can rebuild my carburetor right away for $1,000 less. I haven't seen anything so romantic since "Gone With the Wind."
I can't wait to tell Leon.