The Yenta

Having her only daughter married to a nice Jewish boy (preferably a doctor) is very important to my mother. She gives my number to people she meets at funerals or airports. That hasn't been working too well. Last year I got an e-mail from a 38-year-old Orthodox guy who's divorced, has four kids, lives in Israel and said he's looking for a wife. He sent me his "stats" and told me to check out his profile on J-date, the Jewish dating network. My mother and I had a very big fight. I told her I'm not an e-mail-order bride.

Despite my mother's bad taste in men (sorry, Dad), I think that it'd be nice to meet a Jewish guy. Because a Jewish guy wouldn't feel my head up for horns or tell me I'm going to burn in hell because I'm Jewish. (This happened. More than once.) If a guy's Jewish, then I don't have to explain all the holidays and services and foods to him. And besides, I've got a thing for dark, hairy men.

A guy at a networking group for young Jews tells me about Louise Lihn, the matchmaker at Houston's Jewish Community Center. My mother's ecstatic. She loves the idea of sending me to a yenta. That way, if I hate the men, I can't yell at my mother.

So I call Louise and tell her the networking guy said she was the matchmaker.

"And you believed him?" she asks.

I like her already.

Louise describes her dating service."It's friendly, it's nice, you should go," she says. And it's better than hanging out in bars. Usually a year of matchmaking costs $200, but right now she's running a special: "It's only $99."

A hundred bucks? To look at pictures of people I might want to date? And I can't even see the books first?

"I know," she says. "We're underpriced."

I'm getting less interested.

"How old are you, may I ask?"


"You must, you have to do this," she says. "Do you know that there's two medical schools in town and a law school? They're looking for girls your age."

I dated a Jewish doctor this summer, and it didn't work out too well.

"Was he a surgeon?"


"Surgeons cut for a living," she says. "They get instant gratification."

What does that have to do with me?

"How was the instant gratification with your doctor?" she asks. "Or was there any?"

I go to the JCC a couple nights later and find Louise's office in the basement. She's a tiny elfish-looking lady wearing fashion-magazine high heels and Harley Davidson eyeglasses.

"Are you over 21?" she asks when I walk in.

Yeah, I say.

"Good," she says. "Sit down. Have a cookie."

Two other girls have just taken seats, too: a blond lawyer and the married girlfriend she brought along for emotional support.

The way the service works, Louise says, is that on either side of her office is a boys' room and a girls' room. You flip through the pictures in the alphabetized books and pick who you'd like to go out with. You pay $2, and she mails a little green slip saying, "You may have struck a match!" If the person wants to date you, they get your number and your last name. If they don't, you get a blue rejection slip.

The lawyer thought it'd be more like Fiddler on the Roof, where you tell the matchmaker you want to get married and she finds someone for you.

"No," the matchmaker says. "You choose. You can read."

All right, the blond lawyer and I say. We'll do it. Louise makes us sign a form saying that the JCC doesn't test for STDs and isn't responsible if we get AIDS or anything nasty.

Then she hands us our profile forms to fill out with our first name, date of birth, how tall we are and what we do. You have to write down your "social goals." I've never had social goals.

"What'd you put?" I ask the lawyer. She skipped it.

We flip to the back where the tricky yes-or-no questions are. Do you describe yourself as: self-reliant, flamboyant, old-fashioned, talkativeŠ

The lawyer turns to her married friend. "Am I witty?"

"Put 'on occasion,' " her friend says. "That's witty."

The lawyer skips down to where it asks if you're Orthodox, conservative, reform, non-practicing or non-Jewish.

Non-Jewish? This is the JCC. Stars of David are at the top of every form.

Turns out non-Jews are allowed in the dating service. It's funded by the United Way, the matchmaker explains; they can't turn anyone away. But of about 200 members, only one isn't Jewish.

But I want more than just "someone Jewish." On the back of the page, it asks you to describe in 25 words or less the most important characteristics or qualities you're looking for in your ideal match. "I want someone endlessly interesting," I write. I want to live on an episode of Mad About You.

Below that is the space for pictures.

The lawyer brought three pictures of herself. How many did you bring? she asks me.


No problem; Louise says she'll take mine with her Polaroid. Besides, the pictures don't matter that much, she says.

"Everybody," she says, "everybody is better in person."

The phone rings. "Excuse me, ladies," she says. "My public."

The blond lawyer and her friend go in to look at the books. Louise sits down at her computer, inputting the forms while I write out a check.

"Anybody worth their salt who's Jewish is doing this," she tells me. Just between us, she doesn't think too much of some of the guys in the singles groups. The good ones are here, she says. They're willing to spend a little money to do the service. And who wants to date a cheap guy?

A guy pokes his head in and says hi.

"This one's a doctor," she says.

He's a urologist. Sexy.

The lawyer brings in her list of guys she wants to date. "Is that guy in the book?" she whispers to Louise.

"His name's Benjamin -- he's the only one -- go!"

She scuttles back to the books, hands the matchmaker $2 and gives me her phone number; we'll go through this thing together. She doesn't say anything to Benjamin.

It's picture time, Louise says, grabbing her Polaroid and taking me to the lobby.

I stick my hands in my pockets. She wants me in a bunch of fake poses like a model in JCPenney's back-to-school catalog. I don't think so.

I slump down on the block.

That's nice, she says.

In the picture, I look like my dad.

That's good, she says.

She hasn't seen my dad. Mom's prettier.

I flip through the books and find a really hot Israeli guy. But his handwriting's neat and he's a hairdresser. I take the book into Louise's office.

"Is he straight?"

"Yes," she says. "I know his mother and his sister. Look what he does for a living."

He's a color specialist, which is why I asked.

I go back into the room. She brings me a yellow wallet-size card with my ID number: 172366.

"It's not good at Neiman's," she says. "Only here."

"Hey, cute stuff," Louise says when I walk in the next night.

Some guy is telling her about all the jobs he has been laid off, and about his job now, and how he doesn't want to be laid off again.

Boring. I'm bored. "Can I go look at the girls?" I ask.

Louise turns sharply to me. "No," she says. "That's not allowed."

"Why not?" I ask. "Are you afraid I'm a lesbian?"

"No," she says. "That's on Monday nights." She isn't open on Monday nights.

A woman my age comes in. "So let me ask you this," she says, real slow. "Are there a lot of guys here who watch Star Trek?"

I figure that's code for "Is the book full of geeky guys?" Yeah, I tell her. There are a lot of guys here who watch Star Trek.

"Great," she says. "Because I'm a Trekkie!" She pulls out a pack of pictures she took of Brent Spiner at the San Antonio Star Trek convention.

Worf is on her checks. "My mom's paying me back for this," she says.

Louise takes the check. "Most mothers do."

A week later, I get to see the guy Louise calls "the cowboy." He's about 900 years old. She calls him the cowboy because he lives on a ranch. She can't say his first name. It's too hard. Too Hebrew.

"Did you get your mail?" she asks me.

What mail?

"Somebody picked you," she says, and pulls out a stack of penciled papers.

She hands me a card. I go into the picture room and meet a Baylor student.

"Find any hot ones?" I ask, throwing down my bag.

She looks up. "No," she says. "There aren't really many."

We check out the guy who picked me.

"He's cute," she says. "You should go out with him. Look at his arm veins."

She's got three green slips in her hand. "These three guys picked me, and there's no way I'd go out with any of them," she says. She was excited when she got the slips, but now that she has looked at them, she's a little bummed. And almost insulted.

We flip through the books together. She shows me two of the guys who asked her out. Both bald. The last guy disgusts her even more. He's fat.

Later, the Trekkie arrives in Louise's office. She's excited. Somebody picked her. "Louise," she asks, "how did it happen so quickly?"

"Our mail is really good," the matchmaker says. "It goes out first-class."

I go with the Trekkie into the picture room. "I'm scared," she says, covering her eyes as I find him for her. It's the fat guy the Baylor student just rejected.

"He's cute!" she cries.

She flips the page back to read his profile. "Dang," she says. "He wants to learn how to play golf, get a master's and run for Congress."

She keeps reading. "He's still looking to make a difference in the world. Yes! That's wonderful."

She runs into the matchmaker's office.

"He's cute!" she says.

Louise looks up. "Of course, that's why I took his money."

"Why did he choose me?" the Trekkie asks.

After the Trekkie goes home, I stick around and chat with Louise. She's the grandmother I've always wanted. She reminds me of home, but she's far less irritating.

She says there's a whole lot of happy stories. The back wall lists over 100 married couples who met through the service. She has had to take only three couples off the wall: two annulments and one divorce. The divorcée came back and said to do it right this time.

Then there was another lady who was in the book for seven or eight years. She was getting frustrated, so she asked out just about everyone. A geologist said yes. Now they're living happily ever after in Tunisia.

The matchmaker got the wedding invitation. She didn't go; she doesn't go to any of the weddings. But she saves the invitations.

A geologist wanders in to visit Louise and flip through the books. When he comes out, he has memorized my profile and says I'm the best one in the books. That's sweet, I tell him. But I doubt it. We go drink a beer, and he tells me about his cockatiel, Sunny, and that he lets his fish eat each other to keep down the tank population.

I meet the guy with the big arm veins at The Ale House. His profile says he's five feet nine, but he doesn't look taller than me. He's got braces; I didn't see braces in his picture.

He talks about traffic and his mom for the next hour and a half. He says he's real protective of his mom since his dad and then his stepdad left. He's wearing his grandmother's wedding ring on his pinkie -- in Hebrew it says, "I love you more today than yesterday." In high school he was the leader of an organization that turns young boys into young men.

Nice guy. Really, truly, genuinely nice.

If I were a nice person, we'd make a nice couple.

The geologist calls, the one with the cockatiel and the cannibal fish. He's got tickets to see Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. I've never seen Bob Dylan. The geologist has just become an intensely cool guy.

He picks me up Friday night wearing a super-tucked-in shirt, a bottle of cologne and sneakers that add a couple inches to his height. In the car he sticks a Grateful Dead boot into the stereo and explains the string theory because he saw it on TV the night before.

We spread our blanket just as the lights dim. I'm wondering just how small this blanket is as he snuggles up to me. He opens his backpack and pulls out binoculars and a pen and paper. He's gonna write down the set list, then he's going to put it in a folder marked "cool stuff."

My neck hurts. (I was in a car accident, and it's making weird crunching noises.) His mom's a massage therapist, so he rubs my neck. He's good at it. "I learned from the best," he says. She used to practice on him. I doubt his mom licks her clients' shoulders.

Even more irritating: He talks during Bob Dylan's set. Nobody talks during Dylan.

I call the blond lawyer. The last I'd talked to her, a guy she chose had called and they'd had a really great conversation. They planned on going to high holy day services together and were joking about getting married.

So how'd it go? I ask.

"Eh," she says with a wrinkled-nose-not-so-thrilled voice. "He's a really nice guy," she says.

I totally understand.

The geologist-with-Dylan-tickets keeps calling and not leaving messages, and I keep not answering the phone, and the place he works keeps coming up on my caller ID. I know I should call him, but I don't want to.

The lawyer and I both want to take our profiles out of the book. We've done this only a month, but we're already feeling bitter and jaded. After a month of bad first dates, we don't want to date anyone. At all.

I was thinking last night about that Fiddler on the Roof song: "Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch." In the first verse the girl sings, "night after night in the dark all aloneŠ make me a match of my own." But I'd forgotten the second part of the song, where she tells the matchmaker to take her time -- find her no find, catch her no catch. Because playing with matches, a girl can get burned.

And doesn't one of those Fiddler girls end up marrying a Christian and moving to Siberia?

I call the matchmaker and tell her this isn't working for me. The last guy she set me up with said he picked me purely for my cleavage. He spent the rest of the night talking about his psychologist and how wounded he is from the girl who dumped him a week ago. Right now, I don't want to date anyone.

"Hopefully that feeling will last only a week," Louise says. And talks me into volunteering at her games night. I'd rather hang out with her than any of her men.

She tells me to stick with it. "I've got a guy for you," she says. "He's fun. He's a physician."


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