Flirting with disaster, and dating it, too

When my best friend offered to set me up on a blind date several years ago, I breathed a heavy sigh and prepared for disaster.

Ever since high school, after all, my track record with dating had been something less than Olympic.

I suppose it started in my sophomore year, when I secured a date with the most popular girl in our class. The only real challenge would be meeting her father, a devout Christian with a strong sense of propriety.

That gave me little worry, since we were going to a Christmas party and I had been recruited to dress as Santa Claus. What father could quarrel with his daughter dating Santa Claus?

Wearing my red regalia and fake beard, I showed up at the appointed time to collect my escort. Her father seemed genuinely charmed by a boy with so much wholesome holiday spirit. Bristling with confidence, I extended a black-mittened hand to greet my newfound ally.

It was at that moment that my fur-trimmed Santa pants, insufficiently supported by some hastily placed padding, fell to the floor and gathered at my ankles. I quickly retrieved my trousers, though the date was beyond salvaging.

By the next year, I had recovered enough to try dating again, inspired by the arrival of the junior-senior prom. To break the ice before the dance, my date and I met several other couples for dinner.

Attempting to charm my date with undivided attention, I fastened my attention on her polite conversation as I blithely picked over my dinner salad. But I wasn't, as it turned out, toying with my salad. Instead, my fork had harpooned my companion's wristlet corsage, shredding it into floral confetti. The evening was also in tatters.

College did not improve my dating skills. Taking pity on her hapless little brother, my sister brokered a date for me with one of her friends.

As I gallantly ushered her into my spotless Ford, I summoned some chipper Dale Carnegie enthusiasm and told my date that I fully expected to have a wonderful time.

Then I backed out the driveway and demolished her mailbox.

With some help from her father, who had run from the house to investigate the crash, I righted the mailbox as best I could. But it was clear, before we ever left the house, that my date had marked me "Return to Sender."

So, with that personal history in mind, I was skeptical when my best friend offered to play matchmaker for me with a woman he promoted as "just my type." Who, I wondered, would be my type? A female Jerry Lewis?

But resolving to try, try again, I cleaned my hatchback from top to bottom, bought a new set of clothes, and got a haircut.

Then, on the morning before the date, I went to the swimming pool at my apartment building to work on my tan, confident that a Casanova complexion would complete my rebirth.

I quickly fell asleep in the warm July sun, waking up three hours later to discover that I had a bad case of sunburn.

Since it had taken weeks to arrange, calling off the date seemed out of the question. How could I make myself presentable before nightfall?

Desperate, I went to the drugstore and bought a bottle of that flesh-colored makeup that women use as a cosmetic foundation.

The first coat faded me from deep crimson to tropical orange. The second coat muted my skin tone to the kind of magenta found only in crayon boxes.

The third and final application made me look like a terra-cotta pot.

I arrived at my date's apartment and was introduced to her pet, a charcoal kitten named Zane Grey.

Zane immediately became interested in my slacks. Then, insulted by my mild rebuffs, he found a loose thread and started unraveling my right sock across the living-room floor.

At least the involuntary striptease diverted attention from my forehead, which had moistened with perspiration and was verging on a cosmetic mudslide.

Thankfully, the lighting at the dinner theater where we spent the evening was subdued, the dim table lamps obscuring my features from close inspection.

But in an abrupt end to my winning streak, the management called my name over a loudspeaker and asked me to stand up. It seems that I had bought the 50th admission ticket of the night, which entitled me to a free drink.

To showcase my good fortune, a spotlight was swiveled around to shine on me, exposing a face that looked as though it had been shoplifted from Madame Tussaud's.

Chastened, I eventually told my date about my afternoon mishap – and my awkward attempt to conceal it. She seemed impressed by my honesty, as well as the hardships I would endure to honor a social engagement.

We've been married for seven years now.

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