I am accustomed to being taken for several years younger than my actual age. For one thing, I didn’t make it past about 4’8” until the 7th grade (the same year I finally stopped wearing stirrup pants), so I got used to people resting their elbows on my head.
Even though I eventually reached a towering 5’4”, the age-to-image disparity still crops up. A couple of years ago, my family was at a farmer’s market buying goat cheese from a lady who gushed, “It’s wonderful that your teenagers will come to these things with you!”
My dad, flanked by his then-18-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter, said, “Well, one teenager.”
The goat lady looked at my six-foot, bearded brother, looked at me, and replied, “And one not quite yet?”
Then again, it seems that I project a somewhat different image at work.
At my office, we work with a number of contractors who teach safety classes and drop by occasionally to pick up materials. One of these instructors, Delia, approached my desk a couple of months ago and said, “Clara, I have a question for you.”
I foolishly anticipated a question about work, but instead I heard, “I didn’t know how open you would be to blind dates.”
“I met this guy in a class I was teaching,” she said, “and I think you two would get along.”
I reflected that Delia frequently taught classes to lifeguards, EMTs, and similarly intriguing groups of people. Even better, she promised to eliminate the uncomfortable one-on-one component: “Ron and I go eat dinner on Fridays a lot, and you should come with us next week.”
So the next Friday I met Delia outside a local Mexican restaurant that offers free hot wings and queso during happy hour, because it’s nice to have a really classy dinner.
“I told Ronald that if he’s not dead, in the hospital, or in prison, he’d better be in this restaurant,” Delia told me. She led the search for Ron while I wondered just how probable those options were.
When Delia stopped to talk with someone at one of the tables, I thought at first that she had run into another friend by coincidence. This turned out to be the right table, though, featuring the first plate of hot wings, a pitcher of margaritas, and my date—a polite-looking, largely bald man at least 45 years old.
To his great credit, Ron clearly had not been warned that he was being set up with someone half his age. We introduced ourselves and began doggedly pretending to forget that this evening was intended as a date, but Delia kept awkwarding it up every few minutes by reminding us. “I just realized,” she’d say, “his last name is Barton. If you two get together, you’ll be Clara Barton!”
“Ha ha ha ha ha,” said Ron. “Who needs more salsa?”
We all sat there for an hour eating cheese dip while I made sure that every story I told featured my parents or high school or both. “We used to have another guy who would come eat with us,” said Delia. “He’s about 22. But then he got a car, and I guess he didn’t want to hang out with us old folks anymore.”
“Kids today, huh?” I said.
Finally, Delia announced that she had to leave. “I’m teaching a class early in the morning. You two stick around and talk.”
“You could stay!” offered Ron enthusiastically.
“Oh, no! This is a blind date! You’re supposed to get to know each other without me hanging over your shoulders. Good night!”
Ron and I made it through the last four hot wings and went our separate ways. “I have to help my roommate with a project,” I lied. He didn’t actually say “Oh good” out loud.
Delia was in the office again on Monday, and she wanted to know how Ron and I got along.
“You know,” I said, “Ron seems like a really nice guyyyI’m 23.”
“Oh,” said Delia. “So he’s a little too old for you, then, 'cause he’s 49. I guess that’s the last time I play matchmaker.”
It is also the last time I accept a date without inquiring whether he is 213% of my age.