OneCuddly, Ferrari-driving 38-year-old, GSOH, travels extensively with job, WLTM fun-loving woman and see where life's wide open road takes us.
It's 8 p.m. and a particularly gripping East Enders' plotline is reaching its long, drawn-out conclusion in homes across the country.
I'd like nothing more than to be curled up on the sofa watching it, with a glass of chilled white wine in one hand, a tube of salt and vinegar Pringles in the other.
But instead, I'm on a blind date with Chewbacca.
Cuddly? The man is a walking rug, with the notable exception of the top of his head, a shining dome that gives way to an ample forehead you could show movies on. In wide screen and with subtitles.
"Shall we order?" he says, snapping his fingers in a rapid-fire motion at the waitress. With each click, my neck sinks further into my body.
"Just a main course for me, thanks," I simper. Please God, don't let him order one of those complicated dishes that takes twenty minutes to prepare.
Of course, if this was my friend Madeleine, she would have established at first sight that her date could be tried under the Trades Descriptions Act, excused herself to the loo, then slipped out of a back door never to return.
But I'm too nice to do that. And cowardly. I'm worried he might track me down through my e-mail address and start stealing underwear from my rotary washing line, shortly before putting it on and turning up semi-naked at my parents' Ruby Wedding celebrations. OK, so I have an overactive imagination, but you get my drift.
Nope. Coward that I am, I'm stuck with Yeti man for at least the next hour.
"So!" I say brightly, desperate to resuscitate a conversation that's already flatlining, "you travel a lot?"
"Yes, I do." Chewy--otherwise known as Graham--says this with the measured gravitas of a man who's just announced he's head of a global peacekeeping crusade. He doesn't show any signs of elaborating.
"Abroad?" I persevere.
"Sometimes." Leaning across the table with a large lump of bread in his hand, he wipes it, Neanderthal style, across the top of the butter and rams it into his mouth. The things you see when you haven't got your gun, as my old grandma used to say.
"So, tell me about some of the places you've been to." Oh God, I have suddenly metamorphosed into a daytime television presenter. It can only be a matter of minutes before I'm asking him his favorite color.
"Not much to tell." He shrugs, cramming yet more bread into his mouth. A large blob impales itself on his stubbly chin. "Mostly Germany, occasionally France, but most of the time I travel around Britain."
It's a personal rule of mine never to resort to the "what do you do?" question within half an hour of meeting someone for the first time. But on this occasion, the word desperate doesn't cover it.
"So what do you do?"
"I work with cars." He sits back in his chair, which creaks ominously, and I get my first glimpse of the sizable paunch he's been hiding under the table.
"Ah, hence the Ferrari! I don't know much about cars, but even I know that's an impressive one to own." I inwardly sigh with relief, thinking that, finally, I have dredged up something that may inflame an enthusiastic response from this world-beating dullard.
But no. In fact, he looks a little sheepish, and a vein on the side of his hairless temple starts to pulsate rather noticeably. "I don't actually own one, I just drive them occasionally."
"What, like Michael Schumacher?" I laugh. He doesn't reciprocate.
"My car company sells them." He clicks his fingers at the waitress again, indicating for her to fill up our wine glasses.
car company," I emphasize, determined to get to the bottom of his deeply mysterious job description. "Oh, I see. You own a Ferrari garage?"
He shifts in his chair in obvious discomfort, and a bead of sweat appears above one bushy eyebrow. His right cheek twitches. "Not as such, no. The company is owned by someone else, I'm involved in the regional redistribution side of things."
I blink a few times whilst my brain computes his explanation. "You mean you're a deliveryman?" I say. "Basically, you're one of those men who takes new cars to customers, then stands on the side of the road with the temporary registration plates trying to hitch a lift and save your expenses?"
Knocking back two large glugs of his wine, he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "Well, there's a bit more to it than that, but if you insist on talking in sound bites, then yes, I deliver cars."
"As I said, occasionally," he says testily, clearly annoyed by my questions.
Call me pedantic, but I always hate to feel I've been bullshitted, even by someone I don't know. "So why did you describe yourself as 'Ferrari driving' in your ad?" I plow on.
He blatantly scowls at me and sits back in his chair with an irritable sigh. "Because
," he almost spits, "that's what you women want, don't you?"
The waitress appears brandishing two steaming plates of food, a pasta primavera for me, a Texan-sized steak and chips for him. She places them in front of us, passes over the mustard tray from a nearby table, and beats a hasty retreat.
"Sorry?" I persist. "Run that by me again? What
are you saying we women
want?" Dog with a bone now, that's me.
"You want men with pots of money and fast cars, you're not interested in anyone ordinary," he states, hacking into his steak and taking a large bite. "Ugh!" His face screws up in disgust. "This is repulsive."
This time, the clicking fingers are abandoned in favor of his clapping hands, loud enough for him to attract the attention of just about everyone in the restaurant except the waitress, who's taking a booking on the phone. Anxious at the disruption, the manager scuttles over. "Yes, sir?"
"This steak is totally inedible," Graham booms. "I can't believe you've had the gall to serve it to me."
"What's wrong with it, sir?" The manager keeps his voice low.
"Everything. Your chef is clearly incapable of cooking anything but the simplest dish. Just bring me one of those," he says dismissively, pointing at my plate of pasta. "That is, of course, if he can manage not to screw that up too."
Grim-faced, the manager scoops up his plate and catches my eye as he turns to walk back to the kitchens. Mortified, I smile apologetically, praying my expression encapsulates the fact that I don't really know this oaf, am here under sufferance, and will never
. . . ahem . . . enjoy his company again after this evening.
I'm torn between castigating Graham for his atrocious manners and returning to the patronizingly sexist remark he made shortly before tasting his steak. The former seems too ingrained for change, a lost cause.
"I have to take issue with your comment that women only want men with money and fast cars," I say quietly. "That's grossly inaccurate and unfair."
"Some do," he sniffs.
"Some, maybe," I acquiesce, "but by no means all. Far from it. That's like saying all men want stupid women with large breasts."
He looks wistful for a moment at the thought. "Well, why else are you
here?" Taking another slice of bread, he wipes it across the butter. "Go on, admit it, the bit about driving a Ferrari made you think I had money."
His expression is so self-satisfyingly smug that, just for a second, an image flashes into my mind where I leap to my feet and pronounce: "I'm out of estrogen and I have a gun" or, at the very least, press my hand down on the back of his head and grind his face into the crumb-covered butter dish. Amazing, I ponder, how such a large head can house such a small brain.
"Actually, it was the 'good sense of humor' bit that caught my eye," I say matter-of-factly. "And the fact that you looked very genial in your photograph." I resist the urge to point out that both were woefully wide of the mark. "When was that picture taken, by the way?"
"Two to three years ago."
More like twenty-three, I think mutinously. Either that, or his hair did the off with the lightning speed of Lance Armstrong.
"Anyway, never mind all that," he says rather conveniently, considering it's a tricky subject for him, "are you seriously telling me you have never . . . how shall I put this . . . sexed up
a description of yourself to attract members of the opposite sex?"
He's absolutely right, of course. I have. Shaving a couple of years off my age is an old favorite, as is pretending to be far more extensively traveled than I am. And of course, my trusty Wonderbra is a deception in itself, presenting the illusion of ample bosoms to any admirer, only for them to miraculously disappear the minute it's unclipped. Which, if I'm honest, isn't very often these days.
"No, never," I reply piously. "I don't see the point because they'll eventually rumble your exaggerations anyway. So you may as well just tell the truth in the first place."
"Hmmm." Graham looks unconvinced by this argument. "Well, I find the Ferrari reference gets me a lot of dates."
"Maybe," I shrug. "But it doesn't keep them, does it? Or you wouldn't be here with me."
My barbed remark is somewhat lost on him as, like a condemned woman approaching the hangman's noose, the waitress homes into view with Graham's pasta. Garnished, no doubt, with extra spittle.
He sniffs disdainfully as she places it in front of him. "Let's hope this is an improvement on the last culinary fiasco," he intones.
"It's not her fault," I whisper as the poor girl slopes away. "She just serves it up."
"She's the front line to the customer, so dealing with complaints goes with the job." A strand of tagliatelle dangles from the corner of his mouth and I feel quite queasy. "I don't make the cars I deliver, but I have to deal with any fallout. Same thing."
"Except that I doubt you're on minimum wage," I counter, pushing my empty plate to one side.
We lapse into silence for a few moments, his cement mixer mouth devouring pasta, me showing fake interest in the painting behind his head that looks like an Alsatian has parked its soiled backside on the canvas and wriggled around.
Much as I know I should step away from the subject, his obvious conviction that the majority of women are mercenary is compelling me to explore further. The neuroses that people lug around with them from one relationship to another have always fascinated me, and I suspect Graham's baggage is best described as a boarding school trunkful.
"So why do you think women are only interested in money?" I ask, taking care to keep my tone casually neutral.
He shrugs. "No reason. Just a gut feeling."
"Have you ever been married?" There I go, emotional potholing, crawling right into what I'm pretty sure is the nub of the problem.
He looks slightly taken aback by my directness. "Um, yes. For about five years. It ended a year ago."
The cheek twitch is back. "No, not really. She fleeced me for most of my life savings, as well as the house I bought and lovingly renovated before I even met her. Then, when the ink was barely dry on the decree absolute, she moved her boy toy in. The only saving grace is that we didn't have children, or she'd still be fleecing me now."
Ah, a shorter tunnel than even I expected. "The high cost of leaving, eh?" I smile. "And you think all women are like her?"
"Aren't they? You tell me."
I'm suddenly overpowered by a sense of weariness at having dinner with a man who has (a) few social graces and (b) a chip the size of Mount Everest on each shoulder. Which both add up to (c) I don't find him in the slightest bit attractive.
It also strikes me that, during a torturous date that has wasted two hours of my life, he hasn't asked me one question about myself.
"Did that meet with Sir's satisfaction?" The manager has reappeared to remove our empty plates. He's looking at Graham with an expression that suggests "Don't upset me, I'm running out of places to hide the bodies."
"It was passable," says Graham, shoving the plate towards him. "But we won't be coming here again."We
? Ye Gods, I probably won't be coming here again--mainly because of the prices--but I'm damned if I want them thinking we're an item. "He's not speaking for both of us," I say chirpily. "I'll be back again, definitely. The food was lovely."
"Thank you, madam."
The manager vacates the area, leaving me faced with a glowering Graham. I'd like to say he gets more attractive with each mouthful of wine, but I'd be lying on a grand scale.
"That was rather unnecessary," he says pompously.
"So was the rude way you spoke to the waitress," I retort, throwing caution to the wind in the sure knowledge this date is in its dying throes. My left leg has now gone to sleep and the rest of my body is desperate to join it.
He lets out a long, impatient sigh that suggests he's dealing with a petulant child. "Well, this has been a complete waste of time and money, hasn't it? I think we both know we won't be seeing each other again."
I nod silently and unhook my handbag from the back of the chair, relieved this charade is over. I knew from the moment I clapped eyes on him that he wasn't my type, yet dating etiquette propelled me to sit here and see it through to the end.
You may be wondering why I came here at all . . . why I put myself through this experience when I clearly don't have the inclination, or indeed the stomach, for it.
But the fact is, it wasn't my idea. Let me explain . . .From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Love @ First Site by Jane Moore. Copyright © 2005 by Jane Moore. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.