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Maxed Out: What’s love got to do with it?

'Love that shoots like a firework and explodes, raining down flaming debris. Ah, love'

Generally, this time of year, Pique runs a Valentine’s Day contest inviting readers to share their most touching love stories. This year is no exception. The subject is your most memorable first dates. Young love, nascent love, love that grows into long-term relationships, marriage, kids, mortgages, love that shoots like a firework and explodes, raining down flaming debris. Ah, love.

I used to enter those contests using one or another nom de plume. I never won. I sometimes got admonished since, I’m told, I tend to write in a distinctive style editors easily see through. Oh well.

I wasn’t tempted this year. While I can think of memorable first dates, they all seem memorable in the way showing up at your date’s door and having her father greet you wearing his police uniform and cleaning his sidearm would be. Scary, off-putting, life threatening.

And since Valentine’s Day rolls around on Wednesday, I’ll share the five worst first dates I ever went on.

The fifth-worst first date I ever had taught me a valuable lesson: Get to know something about your date before you go out together.

I knew next to nothing about No. 5 except I was attracted to her, a fairly populous universe at the time. We shared a class together, and I was surprised when she agreed to have dinner and catch a movie with me.

Feeling flush, compliments of the semester’s student loan, I made a reservation at a middle-of-the-road steakhouse, thinking it’d be a treat for otherwise semi-impoverished students.

I picked her up in my decrepit Volkswagen, apologized for the clutter, it looking more like an unkempt home than a car, and made small talk on the drive to the restaurant. My spider sense started to tingle when we pulled into the parking lot and I felt the temperature drop noticeably.

It wasn’t until we were seated she said, “I probably should have told you I’m vegetarian.”

“Me too,” I replied without actually thinking.

“So why are we here?”

“They have a great Pomodoro pizza... no meat.”


“I have no idea. Let’s go somewhere else.”

Needless to say, there was no second date.

The fourth-worst, ironically, took place at a pizzeria. We were enjoying each other’s company and lies, drinking good draft beer and looking forward to dinner when our pizza arrived. Looked good. Smelled good. Tasted like burnt tires.

“Yuck,” we said more or less simultaneously. Checking the bottom of the pie, it was charred and blistered black. The waitress was apologetic, agreed it was too burnt to eat and took it back into the kitchen.

That’s when the fire alarm went off. Panic is an ugly thing to see, and panic ensued, notwithstanding there was no immediate threat of spontaneous human combustion.

The upside was free beer. Never a bad thing. I don’t remember where we went after that for dinner, but at least there was a second date.

The third-worst first date was more of an embarrassment than disaster. I had a summer job in a law office. I was 24. There was a very attractive receptionist working for another firm a few doors down the hall.

I passed by frequently since the route to the small kitchen took me past her location. Chit-chat ensued, attraction grew, and after several weeks I broached the subject of maybe having dinner together. Much to my surprise, she agreed.

She had a winning personality, warm, gracious, engaged, attractive. Carnivorous. Italian? Love it.

Since we tended to work late, we left from the office for an Italian place I loved. Seated in a cosy, out of the way booth, I perused the wine list and asked if she had a preference.

“I’m only 18,” she said. My heart stopped. My brain fogged. Drinking age was 21. Did she just say she was only 18?

Dinner, sans wine, was nice. My brain finally started working again. The math bothered me. Maybe it shouldn’t have. But it did. Oh well.

The second-worst didn’t involve a restaurant. It happened on a tennis court. She was my lab partner in organic chemistry. She had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. I found out later they were contacts. She was gorgeous. I was grasping beyond my reach. She finally relented and said, “Do you play tennis?”

“Of course I do.”

The closest analogy I can come up with to my skill at tennis is one I’ve heard used to describe chess. Just because you know how the pieces move doesn’t mean you know how to play the game.

I’d hit tennis balls around. Played games with other miserably skilled friends. Found the game almost as frustrating as golf. But of course I play tennis.

We met the next Saturday morning on a campus court. She looked radiant in her whites. We soft volleyed the ball back and forth a few times to warm up. “You want to serve?” she asked. “Naw, you go ahead.”

The ball was past me before my eyes registered it was coming. Fifteen-love. Thirty. Forty-five. Game. Love? What’s love got to do with it?

She, it turned out, had formerly been women’s state tennis champ. We remained lab partners for the rest of the semester... but that was all.

The worst? We were friends. With benefits. We were both law students. We didn’t have time for a social life. But one of us was getting squirrelly. Not me. So I agreed we’d maybe go out on something like a date on Friday night.

But Friday afternoon, when neither of us had classes, my climbing partner said, “I can’t study any more. You want to go to the practice area?”

Oh yeah. The practice area was a stream cut in the foothills of Sandia Mountain. Maybe 80 feet of vertical and over-vertical rock. We’d been working on a route for a long time. Couldn’t make it go.

That day it worked. We celebrated into the night. I forgot about my go-on-something-like-a-date promise. Oops.

“I’ll make it up to you,” I said, annoyed I’d have to make anything up after such a victory.

The next day I took her hiking up another cut in the mountain. Nothing too hard. A little hard. A little too exposed. But we made it to the top of an outcrop. I pulled a split of cheap, Spanish Cava out of my pack. A container of strawberries. Choosing the least squished one, I cut the top off, filled it with bubbly, handed it too her and smiled.

“I suppose you think this is romantic?” she said, through thinly-veiled disdain.

To my credit, I did help her back down. Lost my benefits.

Oh well.