The Bonnet Channel (aka Turner Classic Movies) is focusing on the work of director Hal Roach this week.  Among many other movies, Hal Roach did a series of short films featuring a goofy taxi driver in various mishaps with friends, reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy.

The taxi driver theme reminded me of the worst first date ever, one I had when I was 19, back in Boston.  I worked in Harvard Square at a little clothing shop called Serendipity, and would take my dinner breaks at the old Mug n’ Muffin.  I loved the Mug n’ Muffin.  It had ancient waitresses who had been there forever, wooden chairs and tables with no tablecloths, and a big open space.  It sounded mariner’s bells every fifteen minutes so you knew what time it was (which is how I learned what the mariner’s bells were.)  And it had wonderful coffee.  It was a local hangout, and people who frequented it had a nodding acquaintance with one another.

I had a nodding acquaintance with a handsome young man with beautiful blue eyes.  We were quite shy around one another, but finally, we actually started talking.  He was a taxi driver.  After a couple of days of chatting over coffee, he asked me out.  I was so excited.  He picked me up a few days later at my house.  The plan was to go to the movies and then go out to dinner.  We were both so nervous – I think we really liked each other, and we both wanted to make a good impression.

I’d let him pick the movie – if it was produced after 1950, I knew very little about movies, even then, and I thought this would give me a good idea of his taste in such things.  We parked at the theatre and waited in a long line to get tickets, encouraged that the film would be good because there was such a crowd.  I thought in passing that the crowd was a little different, but didn’t really pay attention.  It was a foreign film, but it had the word ‘Taxi’ in the title, which he took as a sign that it would be entertaining, since he knew that driving a cab was a world of entertainment in itself.  Truly, he had some amazingly funny stories about his fares.

We got our tickets and settled into two seats in the center of an aisle in a packed theater.  I noticed that I was about the only woman there, which I thought odd, but at the time, I just thought how many taxi drivers there were in Boston.  (Can anyone see where this is going yet?) 

The lights went down, the curtains opened (it was an old movie theater) and the film came on.  The first frame was a full-body shot of a naked man sitting on a toilet taking a dump.  Seriously.  We were both a bit taken aback, but hey, it was an artsy foreign film, so let’s just stick with it.  The man in the film gets up  from the toilet, goes to the bedroom and proceeds to have sex with his male lover.  And you saw everything.  EVERYTHING. From every angle.  Going into every orifice.  Oh. My. Goodness.

We both just sat there, horrified, not looking at each other, not saying a word, mesmerized like two people watching a train wreck.  After that endlessly long scene, the film progressed to a semblance of normalcy with German subtitles for about 5 minutes.  Then we dived into graphic Glory Holes in department stores, Turkish Baths, and public park toilets.  My date started whispering, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I really thought it was about taxis.  Do you want to go?  We can go.”  Remember, I was 19.  I wanted to be sophisticated.  I didn’t really know if this guy was joking, testing me, being sincere, or just being a creeper.  I still wanted to impress him, so I whispered back, “No, it’s okay, we can stay if you want to.  Maybe it has some artistic merit.”  Artistic merit my ass.  Or the asses of everyone on the screen. 

We continued to whisper these lines to each other through the entire highly intimate movie, all the way to the end.  He could have just said, “Let’s go,” and I’d have said, “Right behind you.”  OK, given the context, I wouldn’t have said “Right behind you,” but I would have agreed immediately.  I spent the entire film aghast and trying to figure out if I should be offended, interested, aroused, shocked, suspcious…on and on and on.  I had no idea what the right reaction should be.  Maybe I should have said “Let’s go.”  Maybe he thought I was into it.  Who knows?  As it was, we spent an endlessly uncomfortable two hours, and when we got out into the fading sunlight, we had no idea what to say to each other, except that we continued to apologize.  I was pretty ready to laugh it off, but he remained positively mortified.

I suggested we put it behind us (or something like that) and go to dinner, and he readily agreed.  We got to the cab, and it was dead. Dead.  Dead like, I realized at this point, our freshly planted relationship.  He tried and tried and tried to get it to start, with no success, until he finally had to call for a tow.  This failure, even though it was no big deal, just added to his embarrassment.  He couldn’t even look at me with his pretty blue eyes.  In fact, he never met my gaze once after we left the theater. 

So, he went off in the tow truck.  I lived close by, so I walked home.  He never called me again.  He never came into the Mug n’ Muffin again.  I saw him once, pulling out of an alley in his cab the following spring, and when our eyes met, the same look of terrified mortification rushed into them, and he pulled away quickly.

I suppose my reaction to the film wasn’t the right one.  I should have insisted we leave immediately.  Who knows what he thought of me that I sat through it.  At any rate, it was a relationship that clearly was not meant to be.  (And though this was both a first and a last date, it was not my “worst last date”, but that’s a story for another day.)

The film was called “Taxi Zum Klo” for those of you who wish to see it or who wish to be sure to avoid it.  It was actually a groundbreaking, award-winning film about gay male life.  With a title like that, his thinking that it was about taxis was understandable, but a little extra research might have been helpful.  Poor guy.  I hope he, to this day, thinks of it as his “worst first date ever” story as well.  And I hope that now he can laugh about it.

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