Chapter Nine – Part Two
Joe thought that he wouldn’t hear from Mrs. Rosenzweig for at least a week, but already on Wednesday she surprised him while he was grabbing lunch at a kosher pizza shop downtown.
“You spoke with my rabbi?” he asked in disbelief into the phone. “I only spoke to him yesterday.”
“I did,” she replied. “A very nice man, I must say. He says that you two could meet.”
Joe was watching the faces of the strangers passing him as Mrs. Rosenzweig’s last statement registered in his psyche. Would they understand why he was smiling? Why his heart was pounding? That he was just given approval to date a certain woman somewhere on this island? Something about that gave him a sense of pride. It was a passing ambulance that brought him back to Earth, only to discern that Mrs. Rosenzweig was asking him something. “What’s that?” he asked over the ambulance’s wail.
“Is tomorrow night good for you?” she asked.
Joe struggled to keep his voice even. “Tomorrow night?”
“Look, if it’s better for you we can push it to Sunday. I don’t like Saturday nights in the summer, especially because you two are traveling from so far apart.”
“Sunday is fine then,” Joe replied quickly. “Sunday is much better.”
“All right. I thought that you two should meet in Midtown. Can you think of anywhere?”
Isn’t this something she should decide? Racking his brain, he only came up with the few kosher fast-food places near NYU he’d frequented, nothing worthy of a date. “I don’t really know…”
“How about the Marriot in Times Square? It’s quiet and usually unoccupied. How does five sound?”
He was ready to agree to anything. “Sure, fine with me.”
“So, meet at the Marriot. It’s a little hard to find the elevator to the lobby, but you’re smart enough. It’s on the eighth floor. How will she know it’s you?”
“Isn’t there some central location?”
“Trust me, it’s better to have something to indicate you so she doesn’t end up meeting Joseph Charnofsky and marrying him and leaving you crying. It doesn’t have to be too much, but something.”
The only ostentatious thing in Joe’s closet that he could see himself wearing on a date was his orange tie. It was a dull orange with white diagonal stripes that matched an orange shirt that he used to wear during his more ‘fashionable’ days at NYU. “I have this orange tie…”
“Orange tie it is,” she repeated. “I’ll let Rachel know and I’ll call you back to confirm.”
“Wait,” he retracted hastily, drawing strange looks from a passing elderly woman. “I mean, you think that’s OK? It won’t make a bad impression?”
“What do I know? You should see what some of the boys on my block are wearing.”
“Hold on…aren’t you going to give me her number?”
“No, not while I’m in charge of this shidduch. I’ll get back to confirm.” She hung up without any further explanation.
Somehow he went inside, ordered his lunch, sat down and ate it, but the whole time his mind was occupied with several phases of inner dialogue:
I’m not ready to go on a date with a stranger – It’s been checked out, so she can’t be that bad – They didn’t check out how she looks – There’s no obligation to marry her just because you meet her once – I’m not even really ready to get married – Who says I’ll marry the first girl I meet? – Who says I won’t? Most people date for a long time before getting married – Who says I’ll be like most people? – I want to remain single forever? – No, but I don’t have the money, and I’m not done with school, and I don’t really know why I did this in the first place – But I did, which means that I have the guts to see it through – Maybe I’m just acting on impulse – Maybe I’ll really like her though…
When he got back to his office, he told the panel of judges in his head to postpone their decision until after work, when he would try to call Rabbi Tzvi. They remained dormant until he finished his day’s work and got on the train, reiterating their positions ad nauseum, somehow yelling over the music coming from his mp3 player.
When he emerged at Nostrand Avenue, the voices accompanied him to his basement through a thick fog that cooled the night and gave him a slight chill. After unlocking the door and dropping his bag onto the table, he fell into his bed. The audible ticking of the clock in his kitchen reminded him of his learning partner, and with twenty minutes until he had to get on his bike and get to the yeshiva, he decided to call Rabbi Tzvi. Heaving himself off the bed, he went out to the stairs and waited four rings before loud crying pierced through the quiet night.
“Hello,” Rabbi Tzvi said amidst the noise.
“Rabbi? It’s Yosef Charnoff.”
“How are you, Yosef? Did Mrs. Rosenzweig call you?”
“Yes, we scheduled a date for Sunday.”
“Why so late? You couldn’t do tomorrow?”
Joe huffed. “How fast do you want me to get married?”
“It’s just a date. How much time do you need?”
“I…I guess not much, but why the rush?”
The screaming coming through the phone got so loud Joe had to move the phone away from his ear. “Sorry about that,” the rabbi then said. “Now isn’t good. Try tonight around eleven.” He hung up.
That was when Sharon had called. Joe was going to ignore her, but how long could he snub her before she became suspicious? For about ten minutes after they talked, he sat listening to his inner dialogue drive him farther from sanity:
Why did I say that I’ll wear an orange tie? What will she think about that? – It isn’t a bad tie; but it definitely isn’t a frum thing to do. A gray tie is perfectly fine – My gray ties are so bland. I also have to get my suit dry-cleaned. Who will have it ready before Shabbos? Is there even anywhere open now? That place on Avenue J? – Why did I agree to go to a hotel lobby? Aren’t dates supposed to be in restaurants? – Rabbi Tzvi said that the point of the date is to talk – I don’t know the first thing about dating. I’ve hung out with girls before, but never with the formality of a real date – So I’ll talk to Rabbi Tzvi later – I can’t stay up so late, I’m beat…
The automatic unlock of the Grand Cherokee behind his head interrupted his thought, and soon after he heard the unmistakable husky cough of Mr. Gruberman. “Joe,” his landlord addressed him from above, “How’re you doing?”
“Fine,” he answered, not facing him.
“What are you sitting out here for?” he asked, concerned.
Joe turned around and mustered a smile. “My cell phone doesn’t get good reception in the basement.”
“Really? Hmm. You davened yet? I’m going to Landau’s now.”
“I’ll come,” he said, the yeshiva not far from where Mr. Gruberman was going. Joe jumped up, dashed down to his apartment, grabbed his suit jacket from the chair and locked the door. Mr. Gruberman was already getting into the car as Joe reached the ground level and went around to the passenger side. As he opened the door, Mr. Gruberman started the ignition and turned down the volume of some Jewish pop music.
“Girls,” he grumbled as Joe put on his seatbelt and they backed onto the street. “So what’s new? How’s work?”
“All right,” Joe answered absently. “Keeps me busy.”
“You need to keep busy? What about school?”
“Grad school? I have a few weeks off.”
“Oh.” They were waiting for the traffic light at the end of the street, silently staring ahead and listening to the very faint Jewish pop. Mr. Gruberman then joked, “Maybe you should start dating.”
Joe laughed hollowly. Mr. Gruberman never gives up. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, if you have some time off…” Again, Joe laughed. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” Joe lied. Should I confide in him? “I don’t know. Dating is not for me.”
“What do you mean?” Mr. Gruberman shot him a glance. “You’ve never been on a date?” Joe shook his head. “It’s no big deal, really. Just call up a shadchan and get set up.”
Joe faced the window to hide his smile. “Still, I wouldn’t know what to do. There’s probably all these steps and rules—”
“Nah,” Mr. Gruberman waved his hand. The light changed, and they accelerated through the intersection. “Please. All you do is talk. No dinner, no mini-golf, no big whoop. You buy her a drink and just sit and talk without being bothered.”
“That’s it?” Joe asked in disbelief. “I mean, aren’t you supposed to ask certain things?”
“That’s for later on, after you’ve met two or three times. But the basic idea is to listen. Is that too much for you?”
“I guess not,” Joe conceded. “I just figured a date,” he emphasized the last word, “at least from what I gathered, is supposed to be an event of sorts.”
“OK, so you dress up in a suit and comb your hair and present yourself as a gentleman, as you always should. You certainly want her to think you’re something special. But a shidduch date is a short affair. Two hours or so.”
“Two hours?” Joe interrupted. “How much can you find out in two hours?”
“It’s certainly enough to see whether you want to hear what she has to say the next time. If you don’t want, then you aren’t stuck wasting an entire evening.”
Joe listened to the faint music and his smile widened. His whole apprehension seemed to disappear as the entire house of cards he’d built in his head toppled with Mr. Gruberman’s nonchalance. Joe breathed deeply and leaned his elbow on the window. “And you did this with Mrs. Gruberman?” he asked.
Mr. Gruberman chuckled. “That was a long time ago,” he said before slamming on the brakes and sending Joe’s elbow flying into the front window. “Sorry, I saw a spot. So…you want me to get you in touch with a shadchan?”
Joe tried soothing his elbow with his other hand. “I’ll think about it,” he said.
Does Joe need hospitalization? Is Mr. Gruberman trying to get Joe married for ulterior motives? What was bothering Rabbi Tzvi’s toddler to prompt such violent screaming? You can speculate the answers to these and more when you order your personal copy of Outdated NOW from www.nathanwolff.com or from Amazon!