Dana Norris is the founder of Story Club and she once went on 71 Internet dates.
I meet Ernie on OK Cupid. It’s my first foray into this particular dating website, which I chose because I’m tired of paying to go on bad dates. I’d much rather go on bad dates for free.
Ernie’s profile indicates that he has a sense of humor and says that he’s a Ph.D. student in engineering. I’m a humanities woman and I’ve always thought that I could get along well with a science guy and then we’ll spawn a hoard of tiny Leonardo DaVinci’s. Ernie wants to meet up right away and I agree. We decide on Tiny Lounge, a very small bar that serves very intricate cocktails involving celery root and ginger-infused syrups and ingredients that I don’t even know what they are.
The bar is within walking distance from my apartment but I drive there as a way to ensure that a) I won’t overindulge in tiny, delicious cocktails with this stranger, and 2) I can run for my life if need be. Meeting strangers in bars has yet to result in me being murdered, but there’s always a small voice in the back of my head telling me that this is a dangerous thing I’m doing. This voice was placed there by the “Don’t Talk to Strangers” filmstrips I was forced to watch in elementary school. But then my parents signed a waiver to get me out of all future “Don’t Talk to Strangers” school programming because I was refusing to talk to anyone I didn’t know, including nurses at the doctor’s office. And here I am, completely disregarding that filmstrip advice, on my way to talk to a stranger.
Parking near Tiny Lounge is tight so I rejoice when I see a spot on the street about to open up. The driver has the front wheels turned as though he’s going to pull out, but the passenger isn’t in the car. She’s on the street, glaring at the white Oldsmobile in front of their car, writing down the license plate number and asking everyone who walks by, “Do you know whose car this is?” Apparently that car smashed into their car while it was parallel parking and left a wide streak of white paint across their bumper. No one on the street knows whose car it is. The woman is getting more and more agitated and the driver of her car indicates that it’s time to close the case of the missing douchebag so they can leave already. The woman sighs, grabs her keys out of her purse and, as she walks back to her car, uses the edge of her key to leave a long, deep gash along the passenger side of the offending Oldsmobile.
I’m sitting in my car, mouth open, bouncing up and down in my seat because that was awesome. Vengeance in real life! Also, I get their parking spot!
I park and go inside Tiny Lounge to find Ernie already there. He’s a slender man with well-manicured nails and a button-up dress shirt, which is buttoned the whole damn way up. He’s nerdy cute. The hostess seats us in a circular booth big enough for five people, but Ernie goes out of his way to sit right next to me. I don’t mind at all.
We order drinks and start chatting. He tells me that he spends most of his time reading and doing research and that tonight is the first night he’s been away from the library for months. I tell him that I’m also in grad school and we talk about what nerds we are that we can’t seem to leave academia. As we talk he slowly scootches closer and closer to me, which I still don’t mind, and then he puts his hand on my knee. I’m wearing jeans so I suppose that’s OK, but I also think it’s a little early in the evening to be breaking through the physical contact barrier. Ernie starts telling me a story about a professor in his program and, as he talks, he starts moving his hand up my thigh. I listen to his story and nod along and wonder, “When is his hand going to stop? Does he know how close he’s getting to my crotch right now?”
I’ve never thought about what exactly my time-spent-talking to copasetic-with-crotch-touching ratio is, but it’s definitely more than an hour. I consider how I’m going to shut this move down. Ernie is so nerdy and seems to spend so little time outside of his research lab that I consider maybe he isn’t aware of how close to my lady bits he’s getting. Like, maybe he doesn’t know exactly where lady bits live? It’s entirely possible that he doesn’t realize that he’s being incredibly inappropriate. But, meanwhile, his hand continues to move and he continues to be completely inappropriate.
I decide on my counter move. I grab Ernie’s hand and hold it firmly so it can no longer move. I then pick up his hand with my hand and place it on top of the table where I continue to hold it firmly. From a distance it looks like we’re just holding hands. Ernie makes a few small movements to get his hand back but I hang on tight. I want to non-verbally demonstrate that his hand is in time-out and he’ll get his hand privileges back once I can trust that he’s not going to try to finger me through my jeans again.
After I release his hand he doesn’t resume pawing me so I figure it’s safe to order another drink. Our conversation has been great throughout and he’s telling me stories about all of the weird little things that happen in everyday life and how amazing and interesting it all is. I completely agree and share with him the story of what happened just as I was on my way into this very bar—that I saw some angry woman key a car. I describe the offending vehicle to him—it’s a white Oldsmobile, the license plate in the back is hanging on by one screw, and I notice that nothing I’m saying is surprising Ernie. He already knows what the car looks like. I ask, “Is that your car?”
“It’s actually my friend’s car. I know, it’s kind of a wreck.”
“Yeah. And…it just got keyed. Really bad.”
“I didn’t hit that other car.”
“OK. Is your friend going to be mad that it got keyed?”
We sip our drinks while I think, “You absolutely hit that other car, and your friend will for sure be super pissed.”
We chat a bit longer but then I say that I need to go. Ernie gets up and walks me to my car. We’re on the sidewalk and he asks me if I want to go to a party with his friends the next night. I say maybe because I’m a coward and can’t think of a way to let this man know in this moment that I’m no longer interested. He moves to hug me goodnight, I hug him, and then he is full on frenching me. He’s throwing a lot of intense tongue action my way and I’m a bit too stunned to do anything about it, but then he gets bolder and grabs my butt with both of his hands. So the leg thing before wasn’t an accident.
I remove Ernie’s hands from my ass and push him back a foot, saying, “We’re in public.” He responds, “No one can see us here,” and goes in for more making out. I push him back again, and say, “OK, well, I’m not comfortable so I’m going to go.” He looks disheartened and moves to hug me again. I bob and weave so he can’t reach me and half-sprint to my car, waving and yelling, “Good night!”
As I drive home I try to decide if the weirdly high level of groping was just Ernie, or if that’s what all OK Cupid dates are like. I decide that, regardless, if I ever see that white Oldsmobile again I’m going to key it.
Dana Norris is the founder and host of Story Club, a monthly show for stories in Chicago. She has been published in Tampa Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and The Rumpus. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Northwestern University. She performs around Chicago—you may find a list of upcoming shows at www.dananorris.net.