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The Patient

Published: July 29, 2014

The Patient sent an introductory email referencing porn stars, au pairs, the IQ of fashion models, and John Donne. I was wary. But we were being set up, and I’d seen his profile online. I gave us a try.

He chose a hidden restaurant in the bowels of a midtown office tower, and arrived 30 minutes late. He had a scarf thrown casually over his shoulder as if he were not from Milwaukee. He didn’t believe in cell phones, so he couldn’t call ahead to apologize. Or make reservations.

Patient: It was so crowded getting here. I don’t understand why tourists come to New York. It’s not Paris. It’s dirty; there’s garbage everywhere. It’s not the Grand Canyon. I mean, New York. Who cares?
Me: I love New York.
Patient: I just had a New York moment: I had to move out of my apartment because of mold. I’m in a sublet, and now my roommate is investing in the movie I’m making with the important and famous producer of Taxi Driver.

After another half hour we were seated. He ordered one of everything on the menu and two bottles of sake. I settled in for a long night.

Me: I ordered your book but it hasn’t come yet.
Patient: It’s a best seller, so they have to print more. Isn’t that wonderful? I just finished my second book and am halfway through writing my third. Writing just comes so easily to me.
Me: Not to me.
Patient: Jonathan Franzen said it doesn’t for him either. And Eugenides too, and he’s got a Pulitzer. I’m just lucky I guess. Not that getting cancer is lucky. Elizabeth Spiers will never finish her book, and Elizabeth Wurtzel, who knows what she’ll write next? You must know her, she went to Harvard.

Name-dropping, school-checking, and a terminal illness. It was the blind date trifecta. At least there was booze. I was eager to leave the Patient to his dueling Elizabeths, but he ordered more food and sake. He seemed to enjoy the date he was on.

At last, he asked a question.

Patient: What was your degree in?
Me: Literature and philosophy.
Patient: Has a philosopher ever affected anything really? I mean, who cares?
Me: Thomas More. Adam Smith. John Rawls. You’re not serious.
Patient: Martin Luther King wasn’t a philosopher, and his ideas actually changed the world.
Me: And he read Ghandi. And he read Tolstoy. And we have a black president in a post-colonial universe who read Edward Said. Who cares? I do. I care a lot.

The Patient blinked back tears. Had I been so hard on him? Was he not accustomed to other people talking?

He ordered another bottle of sake and disappeared to the bathroom for 15 minutes.

When he returned, I looked at him more closely — truly, I had been avoiding it — there were holes in the elbow of his sweater. With filthy hair and creative bona fides, it was clear I would be splitting the check. I reached for my credit card, and he made no attempt to stop me. He added his card to the folio.

Waitress: This card has been declined.

Holy cow! I was maxed out. As if this date could get any worse.

I took the folder, and saw it was the Patient’s plastic that had been denied.

He wiped the magnetic strip with his thumb. He polished it with the cuff of his soiled sweater.

Patient (*blowing on card*): You get this round. I’ll get the next?

He emptied his wallet of cash and threw it on the table: $30.

The bill was $200.

The following day, the Patient sent an email to let me know that he had gotten violently ill the moment he met me. Possibly it was my brains and beauty that did him in, he wrote. But most likely it was his chemo. I can read all about it in his next book.


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