A Crazy Thing
By Mark Winkler
Love is a crazy thing
Love is a crazy thing. For a long time, I never thought I’d find it. I didn’t think I even knew how to recognize it. And when I did see it, I didn’t know I had. I was so naïve that I almost missed what was going to become the greatest gift of my life.
It was 1985. I was going to a stranger’s house for a blind date. He lived in Brooklyn, Bensonhurst to be exact. His name was Charlie. When I got to his door, I noticed he had a mezuzah on the side of the entranceway. He was Jewish, that had to be a good sign.
Another good sign appeared when he opened the door. Charlie was one handsome hunk. He wore a tight-fitting black T-shirt, washed-out blue jeans, and a pair of Adidas. You know, the traditional ones with the blue stripes on the white background. It’s funny the little things you remember from so long ago.
First date with a hunk
Unfortunately, despite his good looks, it was an uncomfortable first date. We talked about mundane things, the weather, where are you from, what hobbies do you have. Part of me wanted to leave since I was kind of bored by the small talk. It’s just not me.
We did make out a bit, but it was awkward. I never did feel great about getting intimate with somebody on a first date. So, as I was leaving Charlie’s apartment, I thought I would never see him again. After all, our first encounter was hardly the sort of earth-shattering experience that would necessitate a second date.
Now I should tell you that I drove from Connecticut to Brooklyn for this date, and was living on a very tight budget at the time. I had exactly 35 cents in my pocket. Charlie had no way of knowing this. As I was leaving, he asked how much money I had on me. I told him the truth and made the excuse that I hate to carry cash, in case I get mugged.
A memorable act of kindness
He then did something that caught me totally off guard. He went to his bookshelf and pulled out a book. When he opened it, I was shocked to see that he had carved out a rectangle in the center of the book where he had stashed a wad of $20 bills. He handed me a twenty from the pack and said, “take this, you should know better than to have only 35 cents in your pocket. What would happen if you got into an accident?”
I was simultaneously put off that he was lecturing me, and touched that he cared about me. I thanked him, but, mostly because of my hidden embarrassment, blocked the entire exchange out of my mind. After all, I was never going to see him again.
On Wednesday of that week, Charlie called me at precisely 4:15 PM. Another one of those little details you never forget. He asked me if I wanted to go lampshade shopping with him the following Sunday on Delancey Street. I thought it was kind of a strange venue for a second date, but he extended the invitation and so I accepted.
Big mistakes lead to love
Big mistake! We spent six hours going door to door to every frickin’ lampshade store on Delancey Street. That’s two dozen stores if you’re counting. And don’t even try to count the number of individual lampshades we tried on. None of which — not one single one — was the right one for Charlie. Too tall, Too short, Too wide, Too skinny, Too beige, Too contemporary, Too declasse, Too louche. Charlie’s encyclopedic arsenal of rejection criteria completely obliterated the purchase possibility of any lampshade available for sale in the largest lampshade district in the largest city in North America. I now knew for sure I would never see him again. I wasn’t going to be driven out of my mind with his obsessive antics.
When I went to my therapist that week, I told him the story of my exasperating date with Charlie. His response was not what I expected. He said, “So let me get this right. You go on a first date with a stranger who gives you $20 because he’s concerned about you getting home safe. On the second date, you spend a whole day with this man who proves to be a very discerning person. He knows precisely what he wants. And this man, who’s good-looking, compassionate and very, very particular, shows initiative and interest and calls you for a second date. Are you blind, Mark? Do whatever you can to get a third date.”
Well, my therapist earned every one of his $125 for that session. Charlie turned out to be my soulmate for 25 years, the only person I could ever love. We had such a wonderful life together. My family adored him (being Jewish didn’t hurt). Charlie’s sweet simplicity was in stark contrast to my high-strung alpha dog directness. I cherished his calm nature, his ability to relax and not to let things get him down. I’d like to think that I also taught him a few things about being more outgoing and taking more risks in life. It was just a perfect combination.
The little things that count
Oh, and by the way, Charlie continued to call me on Wednesday’s at 4:15 PM every week for 25 years, no matter where I was, just to make sure I was okay. Our love was unconditional, and the years we spent together were the greatest times of my life. Since he passed away in 2010, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Charlie.
As I said, love is a crazy thing. When it first comes your way, it may feel awkward and uncomfortable. But here’s what I learned. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. Keep your eyes open, keep your mind open and, most importantly, keep your heart open. You never know when love will give you the chance to turn your last 35 cents into the treasure of a lifetime.