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For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Food for Love

I learned to cook because my mom made sure I could take care of myself. Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, sewing, ironing... you name it, she either taught me how to do it or made sure I knew what to do. Her argument was that she never wanted me to hook up with a woman simply because I was useless in the self-care department.

For a while, I quipped that I'd make a great wife for some lucky guy. Uh-huh.

More as a form of amusement than anything else, I bought two good cookbooks and spent some very merry (you think I'd say "gay"?) hours experimenting with meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, legumes and more herbs than you could ever grow on a windowsill. Two things emerged quickly: I loved it and it was the perfect hook for getting dates.

First, there was the surprise factor. "You? Cook dinner? Yeah, right," was a common response. The riposte was easy: "What would you like to eat?" Didn't matter what they said: I either had the recipe, or in those pre-Internet days (early 80s, people, early 1980s, okay?) I could find it at a bookstore or by calling a restaurant for some pointers.

Second, there was the "comfort" factor. I never asked any woman for a date unless they had known me for a while. By the time I asked, the woman would know two things about me: I didn't ask just anybody and what I said was the whole agenda. If I invited her to a dinner and a movie, that was it. I played no games, made no demands, eschewing the wolf act in favor of what was described as a "stress-free evening."

Was I aiming low? Certainly. But I rationalized that my batting average was excellent: I was only turned down once in three years. (Her fiancee was in town for the weekend, so she gave me a "rain check" for Tuesday. She actually said "rain check.") By being a gentleman, and a good cook, I gained a reputation that also helped make getting a date much easier, going out once or twice a week.

Whether in my apartment, the car, the restaurant or just walking to keep the night alive, the questions would come eventually:

** Why don't you try to kiss me? Don't you find me attractive?
** You seem nice. Why don't you have a girlfriend?
** You're not what I expected. Why are you alone so often?

And other variations on the core question: Why are you strange? (Sometimes hiding "Why are you strange to me?") I was strange because I am. Sounds like a vapid response, but it was/is the truth. When I entered college, I was 16, skinny, small, acne-scarred and half my face hidden by Coke-bottle glasses. My hair was long in a time and place that considered long hair a slap against nature. I saw challenges everywhere, chips on both narrow shoulders and hated the notion that anyone could label me and be accurate.

But label me they did. We all do it. So rather than continue to receive the "little weirdo" or "bratty braniac" label, I chose to morph it into "mystery guy." Not in any James Bond way, but in the sense of defying expectations. Lo and behold, it worked. I got dates, on my knowingly-limited terms. I discovered that interesting women are worth the time invested in getting to know them, and that most interesting women are hidden gems. And I learned that my self-image, even my public image, was mine to alter as I saw fit. Sadly, it was a lesson I forgot years later.

Did my acne clear up? No. Did I hit the gym to add muscle and bulk? No. Did I dump the massive cheaters for contacts? No. The terms may have been limited, but they were still my own. "My way" is not a song title in my life. The bottom line was, I developed a passion for cooking, met some beautiful women and grew up enough to not care so much what others thought about me. I may have been alone often, but eventually that was by choice, not timidity. In many ways, my kitchen became my best classroom.


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