More than fifty years ago, my mother's father went to a dance. Back then that was how you met people.
The room was divided into two sides. The guys were standing near one wall, and the girls were at the other. In the middle were a few couples dancing, but more prominent was the wide open space that separated the two groups.
No man's land.
In my mind I imagine that it was brightly lit, lights illuminating the gym floor. I picture people hiding in the shadows on either side, huddled in groups.
That's probably not what it was really like, but that's what it felt like when my grandfather decided to make the trek over to the other side. He had a crush on a girl named Elaine and wanted to ask her to dance.
But she didn't want to dance with him. She wasn't particularly interested in him, but she was compassionate. She knew how embarrassing it was to walk to the side, and how much more it would be to walk back across alone.
After they danced, my grandfather told her something that he had probably rehearsed in his mirror a thousand times.
"You know, we used to live in the same tenement building. Do you remember?"
"I have a picture of us both sitting on the steps. Would you like to see it some time?"
She agreed. She visited his house, saw the picture, and he asked her on a date, which she accepted.
The timing was good for him. As a an accountant he had finally made enough money to save up for a car, which he would be getting before their date.
He drove his new car to pick her up, and parked a block away.
As they walked down the street he pointed out the new car.
"Wow. Look at that beautiful car."
It wasn't beautiful. In fact, it was an unusual pea green color. She wasn't impressed.
"It's nice, John."
He moved closer to the car, examining it carefully.
"Let's sit inside it. It looks so nice."
She thought he was weird and wasn't especially comfortable sitting in someone else's car. He laughed and told her that he had just bought it.
As they drove home he made a crucial mistake that no man should ever make.
"Would you like to drive it?"
She didn't have much experience driving, but after a bit of cajoling she took the wheel.
Then she backed it into a wall.
They got out and examined the damage to his brand new car.
"That's okay. It's no big deal."
He didn't say another word about it, and acted as if it hadn't even happened. She was impressed, and they continued dating and ended up getting married.