I had made an idle joke to her on the streetcar on Tuesday, on my way into my office hours, after noting a famous book icon on her bookbag, displayed in a sort of nerdy glory, and confessing that I had the same bag, and that she was the only other person I'd ever seen "nerdy enough to dare" to use one in public. She laughed at that and we got to talking, where I discovered that she was an agent of this famous publisher's, and she finding that I was a professor, and the sort of contact she is supposed to cultivate in giving out samples, so that we might order the company's books for our courses. After a quirky and funny conversation that somehow touched on my being a Catholic theologian, on the both of us having the names of famed Catholics, New Orleans architecture, and obscure European stigmatics, she was off on her way to canvas part of Tulane's faculty and I was off to my office with a business card and instructions to email her with selections I'd like to examine from the company's catalog. Having heard from her that she had been vacationing in New Orleans for a while, prior to organizing her work at the big anthropological conference in town this weekend, I responded in my email not only with regard to books, but also with an invitation to dinner, should she be interested in more conversation.
I was a bit surprised when she accepted (and then insisted on taking me out), for the same reason I had hesitated in just making the initial joke to her on the train. While I have struck up a number of conversations with people on the streetcar – that's just New Orleans – I hesitated with her just because I thought she was so beautiful that I didn't want to be just another one of those guys that women have to deal with all the time. After having walked Beth through her stalker troubles during senior year in college, I know what a burden unwanted attention is, and so I find myself least inclined to speak to any stranger that I find immediately attractive, which I suppose is sort of backwards. As I found out over dinner, though, she had apparently noticed me getting on the train, with the thought, "New Orleans guys are so cute!" so I apparently wasn't on the uneven footing I supposed. Maybe it's just being very hetero, but part of me just has trouble imagining why women find men attractive in the first place, and not being particularly impressed with my own looks, I've always harbored doubts about the mental health of women who find me personally attractive, not that it isn't fun to hear. I guess I sort of got used to being asked out in college, but for who I was more than how I looked.
So then she was standing there calling up to me from the foot of my front porch stairs, dressed beautifully in black and white, a scarf at her throat and long stockings under what she later called a "flirty" short skirt. I looked up from my phone message from Kev, and I lost my words. I had already been charmed by two days of emails and texts arranging the evening. Now the part of my brain that had been dutifully reminding me that this was just a casual dinner with a friendly but chance professional acquaintance abdicated immediately, and I was just a little bit smitten right there. The conversation was great fun, as she turned out to be the sort of all-over-the-place, embrace-the-tangent, kind of talker I can be when I really get going. Family and hometowns, nieces and nephews; traveling in Ireland and Geneva for me, the Czech Republic and Turkey for her; music: her obsession with Motown, funk, soul and old vinyl, my immersion into the company of Freeks and Folkheads; food in New Orleans, and the details of what we were eating there at Gautreau's; starting from small towns and ending in big cities; best friends and old breakups; Vatican II and honest agnosticism; what was in a mint julep and was there a current crisis in masculinity? Meeting someone who dives into that sort of talk, like when Jules and I got to be friends back at Marquette, is always an entertaining discovery.
So here was someone who could be a great friend, and who I also found really attractive, which isn't the same thing, but in a situation where the deck was just stacked against much coming of it. The logistics are awful, with her heading back to her base in Chicago, and there's real differences, of course. But as the conversation went on, walking from Gautreau's and catching a streetcar for a mile down St. Charles Avenue to lounge over drinks in a corner of The Columns (which I was keen to introduce her to), the feeling just grew and grew that this was a woman I could get: and just being able to offer that raw understanding to another person can be a rare gift. But how and when? So it appears that we just got to enjoy one of those chance meetings, stretched out over dinner and drinks – and I always do love these opportunities to just honestly meet someone, like when Erik and I spent an evening with the Nicod sisters in Geneva – but that there won't be a chance for any further development to friendship. Before I put her into a taxi, I readily confessed to her that if I was in Chicagoland, I would definitely throw my hat in the ring to be able to pursue her. However it works that certain people grab our attention, she pulled it off with me: her sense of humour, her wit, and her insight on the world, her elegance: I thought her dazzling in every sense of the word.
And so it goes. Somehow doing my usual work this weekend, building my exam for Monday's session, just seems a whole lot more dull than it did before. :-)