Single White Nerd: The Litmus Test
a blogumn by Michael Kass
I have just returned—literally moments ago—from a ‘date.’ For the past two hours, I sat across from a lovely young woman. We chatted. I found out all about her. She grew up in New Jersey, loves Italy, and is learning to cook homemade pasta. We laughed and did that sort of flirty thing where you accidentally-on-purpose brush up against each other.
I won’t be seeing her again.
See, it was going so well that I did something that I usually reserve for the second or even third date. I subjected her to The Litmus Test.
Don’t look so appalled, Fierce Nerdites. You probably have a litmus test, too. Maybe you don’t call it that, but every time you sit across from someone and wonder if they’re right for you, if you can really stomach that laugh every day, if you want to put up with a lifetime (or even 3 months) of that habit of cutting the food into absurdly small pieces before eating it: Litmus Test. I just deploy mine with malice of forethought.
And so it was that, as the date wound to a close, I let loose with the Litmus:
“So,” I said, “I was hanging out in this bookstore the other day.”
That’s the first step. Introduce the concept of “hanging out” in a “bookstore.” If her eyes roll or she harrumphs in any way: test failed.
But she actually leaned forward and said, in a breathy voice: “I love bookstores.”
My pulse quickened. “Yeah, me too.” No one had ever made it this far before. I didn’t quite know what to do. So I told a story:
“So, anyway, I’m hanging out, minding my own when this book plops in front of me. I look over and see a guy. This guy looks like a vagrant. He’s wearing short pink running shorts and a ratty t-shirt. He’s about 70 years old and he’s just thrown this book in front of me.”
She reached her hand up and brushed her hair out of her face, eyes raptly on me, hungry for more. “What happened?” she asked, adding, “I love stories about weird men in bookstores.”
My heart leapt. “Well, he asked if I like quirky books. I said ‘yes.’ Then he revealed that he had written the book that had just landed in front of me. I expressed some degree of skepticism. He showed me the author photo—it was him!”
“Yes! He offered to autograph the book—it was an autobiographical memoir about coping with OCD—if I wanted to buy it. Well, I mean, I didn’t particularly want to buy it, but he seemed so desperate. And old. I said sure. He proceeded to inscribe the book.”
“That’s so sweet. So you bought the book?” Her eyes were glistening. The woman clearly vibrated on my wavelength. My imagination shot forward to our wedding. I would no longer be a Single White Nerd. I would be a married white nerd who hangs out in bookstores!
“No. Are you kidding? It was eighteen bucks. I wandered around the store for a bit until I was sure he wasn’t following me, then stashed it behind some reference book on cooking small mammals.” I laughed in what I thought was a charming manner.
“Oh,” she said, the shine fading from her eyes. “That’s sort of a jerky thing to do.”
“That sweet old man. His entire life is books. He shared it with you. And you just shoved it behind some stupid cook book? All to save less than $20. That’s. . .well, that’s pretty awful.”
“Oh—look at the time!” she said. She wasn’t even wearing a watch. “I have to go. To this thing with a friend. It was great meeting you.”
And with that, she was gone. Leaving the faint scent of self righteous indignation and disappointment in her wake. “But,” I whispered, “you passed the Litmus Test.”