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SINGLE IN THE CITY

His ZIP Code is 9021-nowhere

October 23, 2003|Ralph Frammolino | Times Staff Writer

My friend was mortified.

"You're not going to actually admit where you live, are you? The kind of woman you want is never going to go out with someone from there."

The topic was how honest I should be on an Internet dating questionnaire. My thought was women would have to judge me by who I am, not where I love.

Wrong.

Welcome to my ZIP Code, and it's a long way from 90210. While the rest of the world is caught up with sex and the city, I'm struggling just to keep up as a single in the suburbs. Someone get me a lawyer; I'm the victim of census tract discrimination.

My domicile is the sum of a life calibrated by school district scores, crime stats and affordable housing. When the marriage imploded, and I fought for joint custody, I bought my own cookie-cutter house to minimize disruption for my two daughters -- then hung on.

I'm so beyond cool that it's virtually impossible to get urban-wise folk to visit. They mistake my e-mail directions for spam. When I do succeed, get-togethers require GPS and cellphones. We're on the I-5 now.... How much farther?

The aforementioned friend, who lives in a downtown Chicago high-rise, said her instinct upon coming up my driveway for the first time was to turn around and run. Her nieces, in for their maiden visit to Hollywood, thought they had landed on the set of "Edward Scissorhands." At one point in a work-related party, a former editor of mine stepped out for some fresh air and looked around, disoriented.

"Where the heck am I?" he said. I told him. Then he went existential on me. "No, I mean -- where the heck am I?" This from a guy who won the Pulitzer Prize for foreign reporting.

When it comes to dating, my address might as well be Mars. Whine all you want about despair in the Conga Room. Baby, it's a jungle looking for Ms. Goodbar during a 50-50 raffle at the high school football game. Ah, gazing into the eyes of a stranger ... as you both lunge for the same vegetable steamer at a garage sale.

The odds are against you, here in the land of white vans, where we cling to the low end of the Starbucks-per-capita scale.

More than 95% of the population is "happily married." The smart singles long ago escaped to the Hollywood Hills, if they ever made it here at all. And in the event you find a possible match, coordinating schedules between back-to-school nights and birthday parties is like landing the Goodyear blimp in a teacup.

I once conducted an eight-week dialogue with a single mom over picking a night for sushi; I quit when she was so frantic that she forgot to lock it into her PDA.

Dipping into the never-married/no-kids pool has its own challenges. Even such women intrigued enough to tear themselves away from the beach and put a little mileage on their Hondas seem to be taken aback by the suburban nature of my life.

The lawn. The frog fountain. The family pictures. As one person so delicately put it: "You represent stability."

Yeah, like a millstone.

Even when I was engaged, my then-fiancee refused to come over, claiming the local housing stock made her depressed because it was "too sterile."

One romantic interest took a different approach. "Have you ever gone up there and looked over?" she asked, pointing to the hill nestling my home.

It was a Robert Kennedy, I-see-things-and-say-why-not moment. Perhaps a candidate who could look beyond the chair rails into the human heart.

She eventually bailed. But, inspired, I got off my tractor mower one Saturday and scaled that darned hill. For the first time in five years, I beheld the other side of my suburbia.

I saw other mountains. And rows of houses, just like mine.

Ralph Frammolino can be contacted at ralph.frammolino@latimes.com.

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