Empanada Man & The Crystals of Evil

So, I've told this story to friends, but lest it get lost in the timespace of my overworked brain, I thought it wise to record it for the ages.  It is a cautionary tale about modern dating and how good manners may sometimes get us into trouble, but usually lead to entertaining, enlightening and bizarre life experiences, as you will see.

The world of online dating is a scary place and one that I've had numerous conversations about lately with friends who are currently exploring it.  For those that have not experienced this Russian Roulette of romance, I can only describe it in this way:  Go to a foreign city and walk aimlessly for three hours just staring people in the face.  All rude and up-close like they can't even see you.  Then pick the best looking one with the biggest hands (that matters, trust me) and ask their name:

"Francois?  Hi, Francois.  Tell me one thing you like - anything!  Food?  OK, I like food too!  Let's go on a date!"

That's pretty much as detailed as you get because, after all, you've found out that this person, like you, needs to consume carbon-based plants and animals to sustain their life form.  What more do you need in common?  You don't care, because before you can think about that, you're mind is off in La La Land planning the flirty dinner, incredible sex and possible future wedding.

And maybe you're not the romantic type and you don't even get as far as picturing your matrimonial celebration and what you'll wear. You may just be horny. Or hungry.  Or both, but you hate taking care of either need alone. Whatever the motivation, it's date time! I mean, after all, you are paying a monthly fee for the privilege of meeting potential killers online, so you might as well get your money's worth!

This is pretty much the conversation you're hoping to have, reduced to its key components:

"You.  Look.  Nice."
"Me.  Look.  Nice?  Thank you."
"Let's have dinner."
"Applebees it is."

"Applebees!?" you exclaim in disgust, judging me as a cheap and tacky date before even giving me a chance to explain.  Oh ye of little faith. I've been there.  I know what it feels like to be just a badly-lit thumbnail image on a dating site, getting scrolled right on up and off the screen without even a slowdown of the mouse to get a better look.  I've been to this place before.  I've also been in that place where people do stop and they click-click on your thumbnail image. Yes!  Someone is interested! Then you find out that they've been in management training at the last remaining Blockbuster Video on Long Island for the past three years and have anger management issues.  It's at about this time that you wish you'd stepped back for a moment of reflection before giving them your number, because now they're texting non-stop.

I'll tell you what's happened. You've entered the vending machine for people.  Hopefully you're a snack like Doritos or something really delicious.  That helps.  If you're more like Boston Baked Beans or Wintergreen Mints or something, then expect to stay in the machine longer than your Dorito comrades, perhaps even past your "sell by" date. But, don't fret.  We live in a diverse and unpredictable world and the odds are in favor of pockets of people out there who are really into Boston Baked Beans.  Those people will eventually sniff you out and hit the right combination of buttons on the machine to make you fall down so they can open your wrapper and eat your goodies.

Are you seeing a common thread?  It's food.  It's pretty much what separates dating from a hook-up.  Dinner.   Whether it's a steak, a foot long hotdog (a somewhat suggestive and potentially embarrassing first date food choice, if you ask my opinion) or movie popcorn, every date requires it and you can rest assured that the pants aren't coming off until you've had the obligatory meal and provided a quick synopsis of your entire life to your new potential mate.  You have to recoup the Match.com fee somehow.

Even with all the extra hoopla that gets generated when you call it a "date", people still go through the process, even if all they want is sex.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe they like the game.  The seduction.  Which is part of why I always preferred to take dates to Applebees.

1) It's cheap and if I don't like you, I'm only out of $20.

2) They have two-fers at the bar for dinner. You have no idea how helpful copious amounts of alcohol can be to the process.

3) They're everywhere, so you can pick one outside of your area, in case your date decides to pick your date night to have a nervous breakdown (it happens).

And 4) If I take you to Applebees and you fall for my charm, I know I don't have the food to thank for it.  In fact, that half-frozen chicken tender dinner you just ate meant I had twice as much work to do.  You wouldn't believe how hard it is to seduce someone when they have e-coli.

So now that we've established the food connection to love in American society (All You Can Eat is our mantra for everything we love here), let me describe to you a story of the food component of the dating scene going awry.  His name was...I forget actually, which is sad because it reveals my weakness for not being able to remember the names of people I don't like but...I shall call him Empanada Man, because that's the kind of Nacho Libre title that he deserves for being Charles Manson crazy.

Empanada Man and I met on a dating site and quickly (because we were both obviously desperate for something) switched over to texting.  He was pretty funny and showed some wit by text which is definitely the way to my heart...and my unmentionables.  OK, I'll mention them - my sex organs. There, I said it, AND I called them sex organs...or genitalia, if you will...because doesn't THAT sound better than cock and balls?  No?  Thank you.  My father was a PE/Health teacher, so we always heard the scientific terms for everything as kids. Did I just expel flatus? Nevermind.

So, Empanada Man and I text for about a week, joking around, feeling good, flirting and planning our date and, of course, what to do for food.  We had decided upon a restaurant in Queens when he had the great idea to cook!  Yes! He was a Latin food expert and would cook me a gourmet meal. His parents lived in an apartment on the first floor, so his mother could help him get everything together.  "Red flag!  Red flag!" (I'm just inserting these warnings because this is a moral tale and I want you to get the point.) In one brief paragraph, he had both invited me into his apartment - his private carnival of oddities - and at the same time let me know that his umbilical cord is able to stretch 30 yards to his mother's place on the ground level.  Please take notes, there will be a test after.

At 2:00 am the day of the date, I was still up watching old movies.  I get a text from Empanada Man explaining that he had something to tell me before our date.  He had mental powers.  And not just any abilities - he was telekinetic.  He could move solid objects with his mind.  "Red flag! Red flag!"  Being obsessed with super heroes as a child, and a total believer in extraordinary senses, I let this one slip.  I asked him what I could bring the next evening, and he said vodka.  I asked what kind he preferred, knowing it would be Grey Goose, because it almost always is.  Part of the dating thing is also asking for premium things you don't really deserve obviously.

I plug in Empanada Man's address on my GPS and I am on my way, driving into unknown territory.  I arrived at his apartment complex, which didn't scream "white collar!", by the way.  It didn't even scream "blue collar!"  In fact, it did it's best just to scream "we have collars!" but with its accent it sounded like "we've collahs!"  At least there were collars.  So, this impudent, naive young man that I call me proceeded.

After remarking to myself about the remarkable lack of teeth and snide remarks of the woman who helped me find his door, I knocked, only to find more remarkable the lack of teeth residing in the mouth cavern of my date.  It was like the entire complex shared a tooth and he'd borrowed it to impress me.

So there I am, standing at the top of a rickety flight of stairs guarding a bottle of Grey Goose like it's the key to the check cashing store, and Empanada Man answers.  And, I could say he didn't look like his photo.  In fact he didn't, but what I should say is "I'm sorry that I can see that other photo somewhere inside this face, because, man, you look like Janis Joplin, if she was Latin and still alive."  Oh Lord, buy me a Mercedes Benz so I can get the fuck out of here!

Not knowing what to do, I walked in, still clutching the bottle like the baby Jesus.  And he smiled, revealing teeth that looked like a topographical map of Brice Canyon.  It was at this moment that I vowed that I would die rather than to ever get a good night kiss from that - two floppy sphincters holding in place some yellowish stalagmites and stalactites of teeth.  I didn't want to get any water on him, lest he multiply or something.

So I walked into the kitchen, which was the size of Polly Pocket's summer house and put the bottle of vodka down...right next to the 1 liter jug of chemical-rich, plastic-bottled mudslide mix.  Sure, I always use Grey Goose for my mudslides.  Was I being hazed for a sorority?  Was some crazy blond bitch going to leap out of the closet and tell me to flash my tits?  I was so confused.

He made mudslides while describing the menu:  "Well, I made you a big meal!" he exclaimed with the wind whistling on his tooth.  "We're going to have empanadas.  My mother's recipe.  To die for.  Goya is buying the recipe.  We're also going to have matzoh ball soup.  Yeah, Goya has accepted several of my recipes.  And after that, we're having spinach pie, but I also made coconut encrusted shrimp and egg rolls.  All homemade.  Yeah, Goya wants me real bad."  I think Goya was more likely tired of receiving his childlike crayon drawings of murder scenes, but maybe they were buying his recipes.  It didn't seem likely.

All I could reply was "well, this is like a trip around the world!"  What do YOU say when sipping a mudslide prepared by a man you hope isn't drugging you?  Believe me, I watched every step of the drink preparation closely.  I snapped into my Clarise Starling personality very quickly.  I'm just glad he didn't use his long pinkie nail to measure out the vodka....

And at this point, my Southern kicked in.  I'm a Virginia native and can't help it.  "Well, he did cook ALL this food, God bless him.  I should at least stay for dinner." Yes.  To us, this is a big deal.  Why? I'm not sure.

So, I sat down to the biggest feast I'd seen in my entire life.  There were multiple cheeses and sauces and just this weird variety of food in front of me.  It was like the Benetton models had gotten together and made dinner.

"I'll make Mexican because I'm the brown one!"
"And, I'll make the foods my mother used to make for Passover, before my brother married that shiksa!"
"And I'm pasty white, so I'll make fish!"
"Gooooooooo Benetton!"

In my head, all I could think of is "you are NOT letting this man touch you."  I hated that I was doing it, but as I was sitting there, I just kept imagining that he had some horrible disease and I was going to catch it.  These thoughts combined with the spinach pie led me to determine that I was through eating.

Thankfully dinner ended quickly.  Regretfully, singing time came next.  At this point, my Dixie heritage once more reared it's head and instructed me to remember "you can't rush out after dinner!"  So I accepted his invitation to come sit in the living room.   If I'd seen the iPod connected to the mini-speaker on the coffee table, I might have thought twice.  Soon, I was being serenaded by the refrains of...wait for it...wait for it...Hello Dolly!...while forcing my face into a shape that I hoped conveyed happiness and interest rather than near laughter.

"I have more music in the other room." he said.  "Really great stuff you'd love."

I don't know what was wrong with me.  Maybe I was just really hungry for some great new music.  Mainly I think my brain had just partially shut down as it struggled to understand the sideshow that my love life had become.  So, I followed him to the "other room" which, of course, was the bedroom.  It was like I'd been kept in a box for 26 years and had a 10 year old's street smarts.  I've seen enough after school specials in my life to know where the "other room" is.

OK, so there I was.  Sitting on the edge of his bed in the most un-alluring position I could assume.  If I could've made snot run out of my nose through the power of my mind, I would have.  I'm not sure it would've mattered.  He was singing. His eyes on my eyes.  My eyes trying to say "no, not me!" and his eyes saying "it will always be you." in reply.  Since Hello Dolly had really gotten my loins ablaze, he logically assumed that Take My Breath Away from Top Gun would fuel the fires.  All I felt in my loins was a penis and a set of balls, fully inverted out of fear.

Misreading my discomfort as sexual tension, he moved towards me and, in slow motion, I watched his tooth as it made its way towards my mouth.  My hand went to his chest.  Think fast Jason...think after school special!  After school special dammit!  And using this inspiration, I quickly come up with, "I'm having a good time, but I'm not really feeling you in that way.", like I'm Christy McNichol trying not to get pregnant and ruin my scholarship.  It didn't have the desired effect, per his reply...which deserves its own line:

"You're right.  We should take it slow."

And all I was thinking was, "yeah...let's take it so slow that we stop."

Seeing that no pants would be shed that evening, he proceeded to wow me with his telekinesis.  When I see there'll be no sex, I just do the dishes, but apparently, this is what he does.  So, he grabbed a ball point pen and laid it on his desk.  He flamboyantly waves his hand through the air over the pen, his forehead wrinkled from concentration, and the pen rolls.  Knowing that it was a trick, but a pretty good one, I asked to see it again.  Watching the second time, I notice that he is blowing on the pen and that it is his breath that is making it move across the desk.  To give him the opportunity to say he was joking, which I would have respected as at least a good prank, I said, "you know, I'm watching you and figuring out how you're doing this."  He continued to insist that he had these powers and it was at this moment that my ass clenched and I realized that I wasn't just in a world of toothless, attention-deficit cooks, but in one of Dahmers and Bundys.

He eventually lost interest with the telekinesis and proceeded to show me his crystals. Me, still being polite, said "ooh, I love rocks and crystals!"  What am I, a 10 year old girl with a unicorn calendar?  Well, apparently, these were special crystals because each had a use. "This is the one I use when I want someone to injure themselves." he began.  "And this is the one I use when I want someone to get sick."

"Wow.  Really?  Wow."  These are the three words that I had at my disposal.

Eventually, I figured that my way out of the bedroom was to kill myself, so I said I was going into the other room to have a cigarette.  It was a slow, cowardly way to kill oneself, but at least it got me back into a room without a bed...or Kenny Loggins karaoke.

And, this is when he decided it was time to tell me that he was really depressed. That after his break up with his ex, he had landed in several mental institutions, in which he was not allowed to actually touch other inmates and was strapped to his bed.  And here I am, all mudslide happy, listening to all this and really feeling like crying for this man.  At one point, he had been handsome and had some sort of future for himself and because of some events in his life, he had become this toothless, lying, frightening individual. I reminded myself to stay alert.

I stayed to listen for a bit longer, mostly because I realized that a good exit line was essential.  Honestly, at this point, I was afraid that he wasn't going to let me leave.  I was sitting there thinking...wow...in your first six months of dating again, you're going to be killed.  This isn't how you thought it would happen, did you? You thought you'd die while sleeping in a pile of cute, newborn kittens.  No.  Nope.  It's happening in this apartment, with Hello Dolly playing in the background.  "You're looking SWELL Dolly! Your skin would look good on my lamp!" What?  Yikes!

I used the bathroom strategy.  I walked into his bathroom, closed the door and propped my boot against it.  I looked at the shower curtain, which was one of those clear plastic ones, but stained in a way that only clear plastic things can be stained.  I was like, "I'm going to be on the Crime & Investigation Network someday.  Shit!  I hope they get Bruce Willis to play me in the reenactments." Really though I was wondering if he cut up bodies in the tub and whether his parents really lived downstairs.

I was able to finally leave after saying I had an early meeting the next day.  He seemed disappointed, but prepared me two shopping bags full of to-go containers filled with excessive amounts of food.  I tried to avoid having him walk me out, but he assured me that this was not a good neighborhood and that he should come with me.  "Whew.  Glad to hear that after surviving your apartment, I might die in the street.  That's a relief.  And with all this food, I can even cater my own murder!  Spinach pie sir?  Bleed, bleed, bleed.  Coconut shrimp?"

And in summary, this is my point.  There are crazy people out there and we're making it all too easy to find them.  We are all so lonely in so many ways, even with all the connections we have, both in person and with hundreds and hundreds of people online.  But, we still yearn for that one person who is going to fulfill all our desires.  It used to be that we met at work, at church, at a bar.  Now, we can meet in an instant with just a few pictures and a brief description of ourselves and our love for evenings by the fire and basketweaving.  Of course we're going to meet a lot of insane people!  We've turned dating and sex from something slow, cautious and lovely into a process.  An algorithm.  We have to expect that there is an equal and opposite result to this increase in efficiency -  an increased exposure to deficiency.

But, despite the risk, get out there!  Enjoy your life and click on those thumbnails.  Send suggestive messages and meet some new people.  Learn from the mistakes and become a dating pro!  Eventually, you'll find the right one.  Or not. And then, you just get cats.  Just never go to their house and always cancel if they say they're telekinetic.

And remember - no matter what, you get a free dinner.


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