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If Only Dates Came With a Fast-Forward Button

August 30, 2000|CHRIS ERSKINE

So imagine you're on a first date, and it's going really well, and you're able to stop the date--just call "date timeout"--and project you and your companion 10 years into the future.

"What's 'date timeout'?" my wife asks.

"That's when you stop the date, right in the middle, and you call timeout," I explain.

"How many timeouts would you get?" she asks.

"Two," I say.

And I explain how during the timeout, a video crew would roll a big TV into the restaurant and play a tape of the two of you 10 years in the future.

In this preview of your life, you'd just be doing normal things, like helping with homework or cleaning up after the dog or putting eardrops in the baby's ear, while the baby wails and the dog gets sick again and the phone rings and a nurse you've never met chirps, "Congratulations, you're going to have another baby." Just normal everyday stuff like that. Nothing major.

"And you'd get to see how the other person handles it?" my wife asks.

"Exactly," I say.

I say "exactly" because that's what everybody says these days. You can't go through a conversation without one of the participants answering a statement with "exactly." Know what I'm saying? Exactly.

And I tell my wife that if you liked what you saw in this date timeout, liked the video pre-play of your life together, that you could then go on a second date. On the second date, if things were going well, you could call another "date timeout," then project the two of you 20 years in the future.

"Twenty years?" she asks.

"Exactly," I say.

"Yikes," she says.

I don't know what she means by "yikes." We're almost 20 years into our marriage and having dinner in a nice Pasadena restaurant. There are no yikes about it. It is all too nice.

Of course, we can't usually afford the nice Pasadena restaurants. But this one comes courtesy of a gift certificate from the softball team. There is wine. On our plates, $6 salads.

"Great salad," I say.

"Mine too."

A guy comes by with the pepper grinder. My date declines, but I ask for extra. For 18 years, our dinner dates have been just like this. Pepper never touches her salad plate but falls in giant heaps on mine--almost in dunes--till people three tables away begin to sneeze in their soup.

"You eat too much pepper," she always says.

"I'm trying to cut back," I always respond.

For the main course, scallops.

"Great scallops," I say.

"Mine too," my date says.

They do great things with scallops at this restaurant. They spread six or seven of them around the huge plate. Like a spa, this plate--a hot spa of butter, garlic and scallops.

But that's not all. In the middle of the plate is a mound of mashed potatoes with a large architectural device, possibly a giant piece of cereal, maybe Wheat Chex, resting right in the potatoes.

I stare at the Wheat Chex. It looks like a spinnaker there in the potatoes, ready to catch a gust of wind and return these scallops to the ocean where they belong.

"What's this?" I ask my wife, nodding at the Wheat Chex.

"It's lovely," she says.

"Can I eat it?"

"You ate your parsley, didn't you?" she says.

As our dinner progresses, I try to talk her into pretending this is our first date.

She thinks this is a particularly dopey suggestion. If this were the 1950s, she'd blow a cloud of cigarette smoke in my face and check her watch. Pull lint from her sleeve. Make eye contact with the bartender. Like many men, I would find this appealing.

"OK, go ahead," she finally says, daring me to be date-like.

"So tell me about yourself," I say.

"Me, there's not much to tell," she says.

"Try me," I say.

"Well, I've got three kids, a dog, a cat and an orange-bellied frog," she says.

"Money's tight?" I say.

"Exactly," she says. "I spend my weekends at soccer fields, my nights helping with homework and my free time scrubbing vomit stains off the carpet."

"So life is good?" I say.

"Can't complain," she says. "So tell me about you."

I tell her how I once invented the street curb and some years later, the harvest moon. Just thought of it all at once, as a way to improve autumn evenings.

"That's very interesting," she lies and checks her watch.

"I'm also a very wealthy man," I say.

"Street curbs?" she asks, pulling lint from her sleeve.

"No, baseballs," I say. "I'm rich with baseballs. I keep them in buckets in the garage."

"So life is good?" she says.

"Can't complain," I say.

While we're eating, she gives me one of her scallops. I take this as a good sign. Under the table, I gently bump her knee. Knee contact, an indicator of good things to come.

"Can I see you again?" I ask.

"Not in a million years," she says.

"How's tomorrow?" I ask.

"I think I'm free," she says.

Finally, dessert arrives. Like always, we share a spoon.


Chris Erskine's column runs on Wednesdays. He can be reached at

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