Over dinner, I made a deliberate effort to memorize something about each of her five children, including names and ages. I casually demonstrated my mental accomplishment during the return trip on the Merritt Parkway, hoping to win a certificate of attentiveness. If you look like Christopher Plummer or Paul Newman, you don't have to resort to such qualifying antics. She permitted a peck on the cheek at the door.
Safe at first, nobody out.To get into scoring position, so to speak, I took a slight lead off of first base. I called and invited her out for dinner.
"Bring the children," said I.
Borrowing a friend's van, I showed up at seven sharp and rang the doorbell.
"You must be [Daughter Age 12]," I exulted, pronouncing her name carefully. "My, what a pretty dress."
"Skirt and blouse," she corrected me unsmiling.
A small boy wearing suit and tie peered around his sister.
"You must be [Son Age 7]," I said hopefully. "And you just turned seven, right?"
"Guess again. I'm nine and a half!"
My compliments to [Daughter Age 14] about her hair caused [Daughter Age 12] to laugh. "I told you he'd say that," she shrieked.
Standing on the front porch, already down one out.Meanwhile, [Daughter Age 8] appeared at the top of the stairs beside her mother. I decided to limit myself to a smile and wave.
"You paid compliments only to the girls," said the mother en route to the restaurant.
"The boys look fine, too," I blurted hastily. "Do you think it's too late for me to -- "
"That's not the point," shushed my date. "Don't you see! You're unconsciously reinforcing the stereotype that girls have value only for their looks."
Called strike three. Two out.The seven of us took a large table and ordered individually from the menu, except for [Son Age 7], who was assisted by his mother. The children quite obviously had plenty of restaurant practice. Conversation was about family and school matters and for the most part excluded me, which was understandable enough. In an age of what used to be called "broken homes," this was what has come to be called "quality time."
As baseball is "a game of inches," so too is table talk. My misguided efforts attest to that.
Thrown out at second base.Here is a slow-motion replay.
"Are you a Mets fan?" I asked [Son Age 7].
He looked me in the eyes and shook his head.
"You probably like the Yankees, then."
Nobody spoke. The boy glanced across the table to his mother. I should have done the same.
"How about you, [Son Age 9 and a half]? Hey, I'll bet you're a Little Leaguer."
Silence. No chewing, even. I scanned my young guests one by one. They were all watching their mother. My date for the evening was giving me the Evil Eye and turning crimson. All at once, I figured out my egregious error.
"Uh, [Daugher Age 14], what position do you play?"
Her mother made a fist. "What makes you think, only boys like sports?"
" -- and you, [Daughter Age 12]? Softball, maybe, huh?"
"You men are all alike. Why do you cling to sexual stereotypes! When are you -- "
I held up my hands in surrender. "Easy does it. I didn't mean to -- "
"Of course you didn't mean to. Males never mean to. It's your mind-set. You simply must learn to accept the new realities."
End of the inning.The new realities? New stereotypes, maybe. I am still learning to accept them.