I had just broken up with my boyfriend. I was crushed, I was lost, I didn't know where to turn. Actually, that's not true. I wasn't that upset over it. He sucked.
Even when we started dating, I knew I was taking a chance with breaking my never-date-an-actor rule; but maybe this guy wouldn't be as moody, self-absorbed and tortured as the rest of his movie-star pals. Alas, he was, he was and he was. But this was L.A., and avoiding actors is like avoiding the palm trees. They're everywhere, lining the sides of the roads. You have no choice.
So on my first day back in the land of Singleville, I decided to celebrate my newly adopted singleness by meeting my single friend Langston for a cup of coffee, which I prefer with a single packet of sugar. As I walked to our table, I grabbed the local gay paper, sat down and I turned to the personals.
"Gay Millionaires Club," said the ad. "Dating service for the discerning, successful gentleman..." It was a large display ad, with a picture of two lovely gentlemen smiling at each other over glasses of wine. How very, very interesting.
"Did you see this?" I showed Langston the ad.
"'Gay Millionaires Club,'" he proceeded to read aloud. "'Young candidates ages 18-25 screened by appointment only, at no charge.' Sounds perfect, sign me up."
"Would you? Sign up for this?"
"Now why would I do that? I am not 25, and while my impeccable taste and keen sense of style may create an illusion otherwise, I do not have a million dollars."
"You could lie and say you were young enough."
"Just so I could go on a date with one of those old men who you know are ugly as sin?" Langston said. He arched his eyebrows at me as he stirred something into his fancy blended latte. "No thanks."
"You don't know they're ugly."
"Seriously. There could be some guys who are okay."
"And do you want to go out with 'okay'?"
"I would if he had that much money."
"Chile," he said, dropping the last d, "Money is like a big dick. It's nice if you have it, but the fact that you give me some is not going to make me love you."
"I wouldn't know. I am a magnet for the unemployed and poor. And for the record, I have dated men because they have big dicks. Don't knock it."
"Well, knocking them isn't what I like to do with them, but that's another topic for another day."
"I'm just so sick of this starving-artist crap," I said. "I was with Chris for a year, and he was nice, but he never worked and never had any money."
And it was true, in hindsight. Every man I had met in the past five years had a headshot, a demo reel or a guitar in the back of his car, none of which were making them any money. Clearly I needed help breaking this habit.
"So go find a man with a job." Langston was looking at his drink. He was still so busy fussing with it he hadn't actually tasted it yet.
"I'm just so tired of being the responsible one. I'm always the one taking care of things. And I'm not even that responsible." I looked at Langston, who didn't disagree with my statement. I decided to remember that, for some other day when I felt like getting mad at him. "Other people get to date rich people. It's my turn. How do they do it, anyway?"
"Because marriage for social advancement is destined to lead to a life of happiness? I think this sounds very healthy."
"I'm not saying marry a man only for his money. I just think if he did have money, it would be nice."
"Yes, you say that now," Langston said, "but just like my mother says-you go looking to a man for a free ride, and you never worked so hard in your life."
"What if I do like him?" I looked at Langston, who paused to ponder. Apparently he hadn't considered this as a possibility. "That's not a free ride. You're presuming I won't like the guys I'm set up with. There are millionaires in this world who are perfectly nice." I took a sip of coffee as punctuation.
"But do those millionaires sign up for the Gay Millionaires Club?" Langston threw his arms up into a shrug. "Let's think about who you'll meet. And we're not even going to talk about what they look like. You're going to go out with a man actually looking for someone only interested in his money?"
"That's not what this is."
"That's what it sounds like. The first thing they're doing is letting everyone know they're rich."
"It's a dating service! It's no different from hiring a therapist to help you with your problems. This problem is just a very specific one."
Langston looked at me incredulously. Apparently his eyebrows were frozen in the raised position. "Yes, it is a dating service, and the main draw to these men is their money. You're not looking at an ad for the Gay Good Personalities Club."
"This is Los Angeles," I said. "If they wanted to impress someone with their money, they could just walk into any bar on Sunset and say, 'I have a million dollars,' and the wannabes would come running."
"Which is why you shouldn't have to pay someone to help you do it." He took a bite of his chocolate croissant and dusted the crumbs off the table. "But then again, I do suppose anything will look more valuable if you put a price tag on it."
Later that night at home, I pulled the ad from my pocket and unfolded it. Fate wanted me to pick up the phone.
"Hello, and thank you for calling the Gay Millionaires Club," said the peppy voice on the other end. "We are so happy you called. Please listen to these instructions carefully?" Millionaires: call a different number. Non-millionaires: send in a short description of yourself, with a picture, for consideration. You will be contacted on receipt of your materials.
I opened my computer and found a recent picture of myself at the beach, and then typed some cheesy drivel highlighting my outgoing personality, sense of adventure and desire to meet a "successful" mate.
I got a phone message the next day. "This is a message for Daniel." The woman's voice was filled with personality, energy and ideas of how she was going to find me a rich man. "This is Judy, president of the Gay Millionaires Club. I am the person in charge of your love life. I need you to come into my office so we can discuss your future."
I arrived at my appointment 10 minutes early. A slightly disheveled-looking redheaded woman flew into the waiting room. "Daniel!" She said it like it was a command, as if she had just instructed me to be myself. I committed myself to trying my best. "Hi, it's nice to meet you." I stuck out a sweaty palm. "I'm Judy. Please come in. Excuse the mess, but if I clean this place up I won't know where anything is." She bounced from her desk to various tables in the office, picking up random files and papers; her two-tone green silk suit fluttered in her wake as she buzzed busily about. Her hot-rollered red hair fell loosely down to her shoulders, and the only makeup she seemed to wear was the lipstick on her smiling lips.
"The Gay Millionaires Club is a service for affluent, successful men of a certain status in life," she explained, "interested in meeting a more exclusive clientele than what is usually provided in dating services. By offering our services for free to those who qualify, GMC aims to attract men who would normally not join a dating service simply because it costs too much money. Instead, the millionaire pays a fee to cover both himself and the prospective date."
While Judy declined to specify the exact amount, she did say it is in the "thousands" of dollars. According to Judy, the millionaires-who do not have to be actual millionaires, but still have to show documentation of their personal assets so Judy can decide whether they're rich enough-are all in their 40s or above. Apparently it takes a guy a while to make a lot of money. The non-millionaires are young-the median age is in the low 20s. And that's the way the millionaires like them.
Within mere moments of my interview session, "What do you do for a living?" turned into "What do you think your biggest flaw is?" and "Why did your last relationship come to an end?" Questions like "How often do you go to church?" were then followed by the always-fun "Are you a top, bottom or versatile?"
When it came time for the picture, I excused myself to the restroom, so I could check my hair?okay, really I wanted to do a round of push-ups, just to make myself feel more confident. I returned to Judy's office, where I found her muttering absently as she frowned at the gadget in her hands. She just purchased a new digital camera, and after three days of photographing potential candidates for her millionaires to meet, she was working on faith that it actually saved the pictures she took. She had no idea which microscopic button was in charge of letting her see her past work. Where were those reading glasses, anyway? When I showed her how to use it, a string of smiling faces, all quite beautiful and quite young, and with identical sticky-uppy hairstyles, flashed across the screen. God help me if they had any brains or personality whatsoever, I thought. I won't have a chance against them. My heart sank to my guts as I subconsciously clenched my abs. Judy hoisted the camera into action. "Say 'Millionaire!'" Click!
Steve is a 45-year-old "businessman," living in LA's South Bay region, where he has lived for the past 20 years. Athletic, spontaneous and young-at-heart, he serves as CEO of the company he created himself back in the late 80s. His kind nature often transcends into being "generous to a fault," and he enjoys lavishing his friends with the rewards available to a man of his financial resources. He admits to a quirky sense of humor, he likes to cook, he loves to travel, and he has just as much fun taking in a show in London as he does spending quiet evenings in his backyard jacuzzi. And in his spare time, he is the Speedo-wearing superhero we all know as Superman...
Steve tagged me after reading my profile, seeing my picture and discussing me with dating-guru Judy. She felt our personalities would be a great mix, especially on the "quirky humor" aspect; I would just need to cope with his workaholic tendencies. I agreed to meet him at a glam Westside Asian-fusion restaurant for a 1:30 lunch date-his treat of course-sandwiched between his afternoon's business meetings. Judy instructed me to ask for the "Duke" party at the host stand, as she made the reservations under that name. Her rules for the date were simple and clear: Do be on time. Do dress appropriately for the restaurant. Don't expect too much, it's just lunch. No discussion of personal wealth (inappropriate), politics/religion (only leads to arguments) or "the Club" (touchy subject for some). And once the check was paid, Judy's work was done. From then on we were on our own. Exchange phone numbers at your own risk.
Wearing my best white button-down shirt, my best jeans and my lucky underwear, I stepped out of my car and headed for the restaurant. I love that outfit. The heavyweight poplin shirt alludes to how I liked to read, while the jeans infer how I like to drink trendy cocktails at hip nightspots. And my underwear, a special pair of shorts that hike up my junk to make a nice bulge, make me look?well, you know. While I appeared nicely dressed-up, the ensemble also conveyed the idea that I hadn't thought about the date too too much, which of course was an even bigger lie than the bulge.
My sweaty palms and I entered the restaurant at exactly 1:30, but Mr. Steve the Millionaire Man had not arrived. The hostess escorted me to our table, and I immediately read the menu to agonize over what I would eat. I am horrible at decisions, especially when racked with nerves, and I appreciated all the extra time I could get. Noodles? Too messy. Salad? Too wimpy. Chicken? Oh how boring, everyone always orders chicken when they don't know what to get.
I snapped my head around. Standing before me was a smiling man with a really straight, pearly-white set of teeth. "I'm so sorry I'm late," he said. "Twenty years in Los Angeles and the traffic still-"
Sadly, while sliding out of the booth and extending my hand, my leg caught the tablecloth and pulled it along. Apparently the silverware wanted to meet Steve too. Crash.
You can tell a lot about a man's character by his initial reaction to stressful situations, before he can gather his thoughts and plan a response. As I stood there staring blankly at the mess on the floor, I immediately recognized that kind, genuine nature of which he liked to boast. And as he used his foot to gently nudge the silverware out of the way, I also recognized his presumption that the restaurant's staff was there to pick it up for us. Fabulous.
Behind that million-dollar smile, Steve was a really good-looking guy. Streaks of silver flowed through his black hair, all of which framed his strong jaw and high cheekbones. Nicely tan, his skin had a sexy roughness, while it was still beautifully smooth, if that makes any sense. And besides being attractive, he was incredibly charming and witty; his warmth disarmed me within minutes. The waiter had to return twice before we realized we (still! why do menus paralyze me?) hadn't decided what to eat.
"Would you like an appetizer?" he finally asked. "The sushi here is delicious."
"No thank you, but I would like the scallion pancakes."
"Do you not like sushi?" Steve asked.
Why is he asking me this question? Does he really care what I like, or is he just asking to see if I'm brave enough to try strange foods? He's testing me, I know it. God, this guy is making me nervous.
"I've given it a shot," I said, "but I just can't seem to convince myself I like it."
"That's funny," he said as he peered at me over his menu. "That's what I used to think about going down on my wife."
We spent the meal talking about our careers. He told me of his business, a manufacturing company he had started himself shortly after his divorce; I told him about the years I worked as a model, a career I had appreciated for the freedom it provided and simultaneously resented for its banality. We had both traveled extensively through Europe, so we discussed our favorite places to hide away and he added colorful, luxurious tales of his trips to Southeast Asia.
After our meal we stood at the valet parking and he handed me his card. His home number was scrawled across the back. "Please call me the next time you get a chance," he said, "or if you'd ever like to come down to the South Bay."
My heart pounded and I jammed the card into my pocket. "I'd like that," I said. "We should talk again."
The valet rolled up in a huge black Mercedes. Steve shook my hand. "It was very nice to meet you," he said, and stepped into his car. With a flash of gleaming white teeth and a whoosh of German engineering, he was off, leaving me standing on the street, thinking about how his smile looked so nice on his face, how his hands felt so good on my skin and how the curtains would flutter in the ocean breeze that blew through the open windows of our gorgeous multimillion-dollar South Bay estate. And that breeze felt so, so good.
I never heard from Steve again. After our lunch, he contacted Judy and claimed that while he had a nice time he did not feel there was a "love connection." Judy called me to tell me this while I was walking down the street, and the shock of the news stopped me dead in my tracks. In my head we were already married, and now I'm not even being given a second chance? I was the one who was supposed to be making the choices here, and what I had chosen was not what I was left with in the end. Rather than worrying about what I looked like, or what his money looked like to me, perhaps I should have listened to my own rhetoric and believed that he might be interested in an actual relationship. Apparently, he felt that takes more than enjoying one day at lunch. There is more to be said for finding a connection with someone?and for that, I would just have to start looking again.
Actually, I take that back. Fuck him and his millions of dollars. He has a lot of nerve.
A few days later I stepped out of the shower, and noticed I missed a call. I hit the speakerphone button and dialed into my voicemail. "Dan, it's Judy again." Her voice, edged with her omnipresent optimism, pealed from the speaker and bounced around the room. "Call me back. We need to talk. How do you feel about San Francisco?"