Jessie, part 1

26 Jul

Regardless of the fidelity of internet pictures, you can still be surprised by the people who belong to them. It’s true that cameras do not lie. Often, however, they tell the same version of the truth told by mothers and lawyers. This is one of the great cruelties of the internet.

I waited for Jessie near the entryway to Dewey’s Pizza, sitting on a cushioned bench next to the wall with a beer wedged between my knees. I’d settled on Dewey’s as part of my ever-refining dating algorithm. It was expensive enough not to seem proletarian while still cheap enough not to seem desperate. Also as part of my method, I arrived ten minutes early so I could put in our names and avoid ten minutes of standing small talk with her. Her user name had referenced punctuality; if I played it right, she would be showing up more or less synchronously with the next available table. I considered this to be crucial; I wanted to have slices available to stifle any conversational gaps as early as possible.

Dewey’s is the sort of place that tries to elevate pizza by offering, say, five kinds of mushrooms on the same pie and then tacking on four dollars. It’s in the gaslight district, just down the street from Cincinnati’s only theater with pretensions to art-house status, and it’s one street away from that neighborhood’s main drag. For the suburban weekenders in the atrium, this passed for uptown fancy. My new, awful job had allowed me to afford this place. I could feel my soul beginning to corrode, but seemed like a fair trade. I tasted my beer, still impressed with the novelty of drinking something better than Hudy Delight. That felt like an accomplishment. With any luck, I thought, I’d move on to something better in a year or two. Back to grad school? Maybe I could ask Jessie about it.

I jammed myself into a corner, trying not to touch other people and looking expectantly at the door. Any of the women who came in could have been Jessie; it was hard to tell. Unlike most viable internet daters, her profile included no picture. Still, she had spelled and punctuated it correctly, so I thought I’d give her a shot. In our correspondence, she told me that she’d decided not to put her picture up on OkCupid in case one of her students came across the profile. I supposed it was reasonable, but it struck me as the sort of thing that people do when they’re afraid of the internet. Students notwithstanding, my photos remained the same as they’d always been, mostly upper body shots that suggested the true nature of my thickening middle without confronting the viewer with harsh, photographic reality. I thought they seemed suitable. In return, she sent me two pictures, playful images of herself having fun in the company of other cute woman (none cuter than herself, naturally). She wore fashionable glasses and a wide, toothy smile. On the strength of this evidence, we scheduled the date.

As the time grew closer to seven, the foot traffic in Dewey’s became heavier. Each time the bell rang to announce someone’s entrance, I glanced at the door with a Pavlovian twitch. A few maybes walked to the service counter and transacted business, but no one looked like they were expecting me. My beer disappeared by nervous inches. At three minutes to seven, I let the next waiting couple have the table with my name on it. At seven exactly, Jessie walked in the door. Then came the moment of mutual assessment.

There are people whose smiles transform their faces. Jessie was one. Her face relaxed from greeting into neutrality, and as it did, it sagged beneath itself. I tried to adjust to this new, other face and decide whether or not it was disappointing. As polite human beings, we gave each other the polite smiles of mutual disappointment and made inconvenient small talk for ten more minutes while we waited for a new table.



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