Catch and Release: Chapter 4 | The Christmas Date Part 1

West Village Model Karen Rempel Fleeing the Scene of the Crime

Fleeing the Scene of the Crime. Photo by Philip Maier.

By Karen Rempel

George called me the other morning and said he had thought about me when he woke up. “You’re like a steel cube. You only do what you want to do.” I quite liked this image. “I think you should marry a rich man and bump him off.” Impressive—he’s really starting to get me! But his brainstorm presents a few difficulties. How does a steel cube attract a husband? And how will I get my hands on arsenic? Besides which, I don’t fancy spending the rest of my life in prison. As much as I love a good Agatha Christie novel, I’d rather write about crimes than commit one. These days, it’s crimes of passion that are on my mind. In this realm, I am quite the hardened criminal. Let’s pick up where we left off last month

Keith escorted me down the escalator from Ascent, stealing kisses, electricity sizzling between us. Our arms linked and steps in sync, we spiraled a quarter turn around Columbus Circle to Jean-Georges, and he handed me off to Lew, who was waiting at the foot of the steps. “Good evening.” They eyed each other, nodded, and Keith strode away. I felt like a tag-team princess as Lew and I went up the steps and into one of the most elegant restaurants in New York.

Lew and I had a sublime dégustation with wine pairings, ensconced ten feet from the other white-draped tables, Central Park greenery filling the windows. We had never been attended by so many servers in a single meal. The constant water-pouring was a bit disruptive, but our conversation was consumed by course after course of incredible flavors, from wasabi-and-yuzu-topped sashimi to molten lava cake. I was glad my little red suede dress had an empire waistline, as I was truly puffed by the end of the feast. Lew hailed a yellow cab and we groaned down to the Vanguard. Appletinis and Ravi Coltrane blew our minds, and from there I stumbled home, feeling all’s right with the world. I hardly thought about Keith at all.

I like having a few men around, so that one doesn’t become too important. What usually happens is that the leader eventually edges the others out of the picture. Not yet! The following week, I had a lot on my mind and Keith was just part of the jumble.

I had a co-op board interview on Tuesday, which required a great deal of strategizing with my best friend Sally. After a hilarious interview with the board of another co-op a few months ago, which involved gorgonzola cheese, lopsided lipstick, a red-wine stained David Bowie t-shirt, and a coke-sticky handshake, I was ready to play this one straight. I dressed in a nice navy business suit and black four-inch pumps. I met three members of the board in the president’s home at the Mark Twain, and I complimented her beautiful new hardwood floors. The three of us had a very pleasant conversation in her living room, and I managed not to mention my drumming circle at all. Two days later, I was approved! Wow, lightning struck fast.

Have I mentioned that I don’t like to be smothered? Over the next few days, Keith’s texting pace hit warp speed. He texted me every day to wish me a good morning. He needed information to book our flight to London. He wanted to know if I’d like to stay at the Bloomsbury Hotel. It was all a bit much for a single woman who hasn’t been in a relationship for ten years. A bit clingy. A bit cloying… I began to feel quite irritated each morning when I took my phone out of airplane mode and heard the tinkling chime of his text. But I reminded myself of his good points. That smile! His feet! That hair! A romantic trip to the UK. We were going to spend a few days in London, and then he was going to visit his brother for Christmas. I decided to extend my trip to spend Christmas in Barcelona, so I did some whirlwind Googling and made reservations for my flight and hotel.

Naturally, Keith agreed with my sensible proposition that we should gain carnal knowledge before our trip. The man has style! He staged a romantic scene for our peccadillo, booking a room at the boutique Standard Hotel on the High Line. To keep our footing equal, I invited him to see the Rockettes at Radio City that same evening. This entailed more texting and the odd phone call as we planned our upcoming non-nuptial bliss with Prussian precision.

Meanwhile, I was closing on the purchase of my new apartment, and had a million things to do. I started to feel more and more irritated each time I heard the text fairy tinkle. It strengthened my resolve to keep up the man parade.

The following Sunday I went with Arthur to see his friend David Hockney’s exhibit at The Met. David was giving a private showing to a handful of his friends the day before the public opening. I was gobsmacked by greatness, and absorbed into the gigantic garden landscapes, transported to the English countryside. Keith was the farthest thing from my mind.

The next day, I had coffee with Michael and margaritas with Ralph. Wednesday was wine with Guido. He wanted an affair; I wanted his filing cabinet. You can guess who was the victor of that encounter. It’s a lovely cabinet, as Italian as Guido, mint-green with chrome trim. Afterwards I went over to my new apartment to take more measurements, and imagined where I might like to do my filing.

Then it was Thanksgiving dinner with a group of friends up in Nyack. I brought pecan pie and whipped cream. On the drive up to Bob’s, I told my girlfriends about the dream date planned for the next day, but it didn’t seem quite real. We gathered around a massive table in Bob’s old country house, fire crackling, fine Scotch after dinner. Bob and I flirted a bit in the kitchen. This was real.

Friday dawned chilly and overcast. My spirits were high as I made coffee and did a couple hours of work for my Poo Distribution client. I looked around my 400-square-foot garret overlooking the gardens between West 10th and West 11th, with the charming cream-painted slanting ceilings, and felt caught up in a rush of change, out of control. My apartment purchase was closing in five days, and I’d be leaving this wonderful nest. I was jetting off to London a few weeks later. And now I was about to meet my almost-dream-man for a night of love! I put on Tattoo You and packed my overnight bag. Start me up!

I met Keith at the Standard Hotel on the High Line at three o’clock. Water features, snooty staff, cool artwork—it had everything. We were both wearing jeans, turtlenecks, black boots, and leather jackets. Talk about Vulcan mind melds! I had dyed my hair brunette for the board interview. Psychological research shows that people with brown hair are viewed as trustworthy and intelligent. There is no research on people with orange and teal hair. So I was rocking more of a Joan Jett vibe than David Bowie. “Darling, I love your new look!” We kissed and signed our Mr. and Mrs. Smiths at the marble slab that served as a front desk.

Keith took me up to our room on the fifth floor. He had arrived before me, and when we walked into the room he said, “I’ve laid on a few treats. I hope you like them.” He poured us each a glass of Prosecco. Somehow he knew all the things I liked. Smoked salmon. Raw veggies and hummus. Dark chocolate. Soft jazz was playing on a portable speaker he’d brought along. Have you ever heard of such a thoughtful man? Trying so hard to please me. It breaks my heart. “Darling, this is wonderful,” I said, looking at the spread on the table by the window. Even little paper napkins! “Cin cin.” We clinked.

I took my black-spangles-and-tulle party dress out of the overnight bag, shook it out, and hung it in the closet. Then we feasted, holding hands in between bites. The room was Euro-modern, with a partially frosted glass enclosure for the bathroom. No sound separation, and barely any visual separation. Yikes! The bed was very large, with a gigantic fluffy white down bedspread. Yowza! What a playground. My eyes kept returning to the bed. I was tempted to start swinging right away, and was a bit disappointed that Keith didn’t drag me to the playground, overcome by passion.

But we had our detailed Prussian plan for our romantic evening, and funtime in the playground was going to be the dénouement, not the prologue. We changed into our evening clothes—me in my party dress, strappy black sandals, and faux fur, he in black dress pants, a dark green brocade jacket with black velvet lapels—and took a taxi to Bar SixtyNine, oops, Bar SixtyFive. You may recall this was the place we had tried to go on the night we met, when we whirled through all those revolving doors. It’s the rooftop bar at Rockefeller Center, just sixty-five floors and a few steps from Radio City Music Hall. Our hostess showed us to a high-top table by the window. Goblets of red wine glowed ruby red in the candlelight as we gazed down at the lights of the city. All the black-and-white movies I’d seen as a kid, with Fred and Ginger twirling around the Rainbow Room, flashed through my mind. It was all happening to me!

“Darling, there’s something I have to tell you,” Keith said. He looked into my eyes. The moment had come. I had an idea of what he was about to say. There had been plenty of clues. He didn’t laugh at my jokes. He thought I worked for a Poo Distribution factory. His passion-darkened hazel eyes searched me intently when I spoke, but he often completely ignored what I said and responded with something random. Then there was the thick, toneless way he spoke. My stomach clenched. “Yes, honey? What is it?” I could feel Prudence standing guard behind me, Brazilian hardwood staff in hand. For once, her presence felt reassuring, protective. This was a new side of Prudence—less mother hen, more Amazon warrior. My own inner Pallas.

“I’m a bit hard of hearing,” he said. I gulped a sip of red wine. It went down the wrong way and seared my throat. I sputtered and coughed. “Really, I hadn’t noticed,” I lied.

“I have cochlear implants,” he continued. “It takes a while, but eventually the implants will learn to interpret the sound of your voice.” I was trying to take this in, and trying to stop coughing like a wretch. What did this mean? Had he literally not heard a word I’d said?

He saw the consternation on my face, though I was trying to appear placid and understanding. My eyebrows were frozen an inch higher than normal as I tried to process the implications of cochlear implants. I had never heard of them. Kitchen implements? It didn’t compute.

“How do they work? Do you know what I’m saying?” I asked. “I can make out a few words, but mostly I read your lips,” he said. Note to self: Touch up lipstick often. Was that Prudence? No, just me. In fact Prudence was strangely silent. So was Pallas. None of us knew how we felt about this.

My gaze fell as I scanned my memories of Keith. Had this been an issue on any of our dates? This explained the incessant texting, at least. My eyes fastened upon his impressive British-cobbled black leather shoes. I looked at his gorgeous face. It was even more dear to me now. He had a twinkle in his eye.

“Don’t worry darling, I love reading your lips.” He smiled and my brows dropped to their normal horizontal plane. In for a penny…

I had so many questions, but it was time to go to the show.

Tune in next month for The Christmas Date Part 2. And take a peek at this month’s Karen’s Quirky Style. It might be the best ever!

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