Editor’s Note: “Living in Spin” is a recurring Albumism column, in which Grace Curtis taps into firsthand narratives and vivid recollections to examine the moments in life when the aural, carnal, and emotional impulses converge.
His personal ad is different from any other you’ve read. You don’t believe in numerology, but you have a great faith in serendipity, so when he says he is looking for someone born on a 22, it strikes you. You even star his ad without answering it. But a few days later when you go back to the site, you see it again. You have wondered since you first saw it why you feel compelled to answer it, but you don’t question it the second time you see it, and you send him a short note telling him you were born on January 22nd, and you include a bikini picture, because you have nothing to lose, and you think it’s kind of a hot photo.
He writes back right away, letting you know he also thinks it’s a hot picture, and sends a shirtless one of himself that you are taken with. You send each other messages throughout the rest of the night. And more pictures, which make him pronounce you “super cute,” and you in turn tell him he’s “totally cute.” It’s easy conversation, nothing too deep, but you get a sense of him immediately and you like what you are feeling from him. He is smart and respectful, and seems genuinely interested in you. He asks good questions. He doesn’t seem to have an agenda that he’s trying to shoehorn you into. You like him.
You feel fine telling him about yourself and talk about your passion for music and your vinyl collection of old Memphis soul, which makes you feel slightly shy because you are aware of what a nerd you are about it, and you are embarrassed about your tendency to prattle on once you get started on the subject. He is into Mississippi Delta blues, which makes you beam a little, because you feel those roots in the music you love, and you feel like you understand a lot about him immediately.
He asks what you are looking for, and you tell him you want something light and fun, that you are recently out of a serious, long thing, and that you aren’t ready for anything like that again soon. You mean it, too. You have been unable to think of ever loving again. You wonder if you need to explain it further, but he understands, he just ended something serious and long himself. You think of the good reasons you left your husband, and the good reasons to stay single, but you need something beyond your solitude, which is why you were looking at his ad in the first place.
Rather than wondering if he will ask you out, you ask him if he’d like to go on a date with you, because you want to know if he’s the sort of guy who can handle your assertive nature. He accepts the invitation with a level of enthusiasm that lets you know he doesn’t mind your forwardness a bit. You are relieved because you can’t help the part of you that needs to drive sometimes, and some men don’t ever want to be in the passenger seat. Your schedules won’t work right away, but you get something on the calendar.
You exchange a few messages leading up to the date, and you surprise yourself by asking to switch to texting at some point. You are so guarded and wary about sharing your number after the last three years of creepy disastrous online dating experiences. But you don’t hesitate with him. It’s not even a concern that he might not behave well. You just know. You have therapy that week, a couple days before your date, and you tell your shrink about him, you say, “I don’t know why this guy is different, but he is.” You use his name, Phil, instead of an ironic nickname like you’ve given the others: EDM, Hockey, Pinball, Bartender. Your therapist tells you not to run away from this one, because she knows you well and she cuts through the bullshit to say directly what she thinks.
You are buzzed about meeting him. You look back at his pictures and at your messages and try to put together who he is before the date. You are looking forward to discovering him. You dress up that night. You pull Paul Simon’s Graceland from the record crate that holds your most important albums. That line in Graceland, “The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar” has been running around your head while you’ve been thinking of him for the last week, and it feels good to belt out the song while you step into your dress and zip it up, while you slip your feet into your high wedge heels and bend over to buckle the thin straps.
Your friend John always tells you that the line “There is a girl in New York City who calls herself the human trampoline” makes him think of you, and you understand why. You have been “tumbling in turmoil” so long, you don’t remember another way of being. You are feeling pretty. Your hair is smooth and straight. Your makeup is on point. Your dress flatters your hourglass figure. You check the mirror and smile at yourself. You make a deal with the girl you see there that this man will be different—you won’t be his trampoline. He will not use your elasticity, your flexibility, he will not jump on you to get higher like you have allowed other men to do. You promise her that you will walk at the first whiff of anything less than you want because you’re done with being a launchpad.
The record spins on the turntable. You will always know every nuance of the album, every lush vocalization, every nod to Delta blues, to zydeco, to South African rhythms. You can still sing every word, hum every ta-na-na-na-na. You love how Simon blended his New Yorker’s sensibility with the sounds of worlds far away from that. You revel in his bodegas and taxi rides, in the accordions and the a cappella. You are taken back to 1986, the year your mother died, the year your stepmother moved in, to the year that this was the only album that everyone who worked in the record store with you agreed upon playing, despite the usual bitter battles over the turntable during every shift you worked.
This album is a happy little nook in your soul and you are in such a good mood as you put the finishing touches on your makeup, singing along. When the infectious sound of “I Know What I Know” comes on, you can’t stop yourself from dancing, just like you have for three decades every time you’ve heard this song. You feel you are the girl from the line “She moved so easily all I could think of was sunlight.” You think about this guy you’re going to meet, and you are so excited to see if there is a spark in person.
You text him once you’re in the restaurant to let him know you’re there. This is your special place, you come here all the time and every member of the staff knows you and greets you with a kiss when you walk in. You have never brought a first date here—you are loathe to share this with anyone who might not be worthy of the magic that happens in the kitchen. But you have done everything differently with this man, and you suggested coming here when you made plans with him, and he agreed, and now you are here at the bar, waiting. He must have gotten there early and sat in his car because he is walking across the street a moment after you text.
You see him through the windows as he approaches. Even from across the street you can see his brow is furrowed. He looks nervous. This touches something in you, and you have the strong urge to set him at ease. You already like the look of him, the way he carries himself. You leave the barstool and walk towards the door so you can be right there when he gets inside. The closer he gets, the bigger your smile gets and you put your arms around him and kiss his cheek when he opens the door. When he smiles at you, it is radiant and transforms his face. You feel a kerwallop in the pit of your stomach. He is so handsome. Your smile gets even wider.
You bring him to the bar, and when the bartender doesn’t know his own rye selection, the furrows reappear on Phil’s brow, and he is gruff as he points out the Michter’s Rye right in front of him. You can tell it’s nerves, so you engage him in conversation to make him feel more comfortable. You like his warm brown eyes that crinkle up when he smiles. You like his full beard that makes him look like such a man. You like the timbre of his voice, enjoy hearing the tinge of a Queens accent that curls his words into the sound of New York. You don’t want to gawk, but you can’t help but notice that he has thick, solid thighs, which are the thing you sweat most over in the opposite sex, and you feel yourself strongly drawn to him physically.
He is mild but sure as he talks. He is both confident and humble. He answers questions, but he also deflects by asking you more questions and soon you have moved to your table and are in spirited conversation that moves all over your interests. You both talk openly about everything, your failed marriages, your exes, the many bad dates you’ve been on, all the things that the rules of dating forbid. But you are just natural and real with each other and don’t play games.
As you sit there getting to know this man, you see the quick movement of his mind, you see it flash behind his eyes when he is considering an answer, you watch the emotions cross his face as plainly as clouds move across the sky. You mention that you are 46 and he is genuinely surprised and pleased by that. He says you look much younger. You know you do, but can’t take any credit for your genetics. He is 43 and it’s been some time since you went out with a guy near your age, it’s easy for you to feel detached from the young ones you meet, and you are sure you want to stay detached from feelings after the end of your marriage laid you so low.
You talk about your obsession with following the path of music as it travels through place and time, and informs other music, unknowingly sometimes, and that is exactly what he likes about Delta Blues. He loves hearing the influences even when the bands don’t know they’re being influenced. You feel silly for thinking this is an important thing to share an opinion on, but it feels significant to you. He understands a big part of you. You find yourself humming in your head “After the dream of falling and calling your name out / These are the roots of rhythm / And the roots of rhythm remain.”
You feel so comfortable with him. He seems really at ease with you. You think he likes you, but you are absolutely sure when he says very plainly that he finds you beautiful, sexy and interesting. You feel so good in that moment. You tell him you think he’s handsome, sexy and interesting and he answers quietly that he doesn’t feel that way. You know he is sincere, and it makes you ache a little to see this man in front of you, so clueless about all he’s got going on. He is humble and vulnerable and you feel such a deep tenderness for him.
He pays the check while you are in the ladies’ room and you are mildly annoyed by his assumption. You have your own money, and you don’t want him to think you are a woman who meets men off the internet for free dinners. You would have asked him anyway, because you like him so much, but you invite him on a second date and say that it will be your turn to pay. He looks so happy when he says he would like that and you stop feeling annoyed as soon as that smile beams across his face.
He asks if you have a long way home and wants to drop you off so that you don’t do the 15-minute walk alone. You are happy to take the lift to have a little more time with him, but you have an ulterior motive—you are dying to know if he is a good kisser, and you work up your courage on the short drive. He pulls up across the street from your house and you thank him for dinner and lean between the seats to kiss him. It is sweet, so sweet. At first it is just small kisses, pressing your lips to his firmly, his beard against your face, and then your mouths open and there is passion mixed with the sweetness. He asks if his beard tickles and you tell him you like it. You feel so much in those short moments, a flash simultaneously of attraction, lust and affection, that you say goodnight and bolt out of the car.
You get inside, and your heart is pounding. What just happened? Did you just meet a man you actually like? A man you want to know? One who rings every bell, even ones you didn’t know you wanted to hear? Wait, is it possible that you still have it in you to like anyone again in this way? You thought that was done, done, done. You stop yourself in your tracks and double check your true feelings, and whoa, there it is, scary and real as anything else you’ve felt.
You think of Phil, of your date, which was your idea of perfect, and go to your turntable to play the record that has been running through you, traveling through time with you to this moment. You are thinking to yourself, That was such a good time, and he was such a great kisser, when he texts to say almost the exact same words about the evening and you. You smile at the serendipity, at the way you already feel a connection with him, and somehow your inner song changes from the usual litany of “I don’t want no part of this crazy love / I don’t want no part of your love,” to “This is the story of how we begin to remember / This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein.”
Just then you recognize that Graceland marks yet another milestone in your life, the night you met Phil, and it will be partially his from this moment on. And it makes you smile hard to share such a perfect record with him, while you dance in your room, singing “There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland / And I may be obliged to defend / Every love, every ending / Or maybe there’s no obligations now / Maybe I’ve a reason to believe / We all will be received / In Graceland.”