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Jessica #5 - Membership Drive to My Heart

May 8, 2009 | by Jessica

Jessica gets dragged, kicking and screaming, to a Jewish singles social. No one told her that Adonis is on the guest list.

Have you ever looked up and suddenly realized that two weeks of your life just flew by? I just did.

Work has been intense. When I took this new TV job in Phoenix, I guess I assumed things would be more set up when I arrived. They weren't. The filing cabinet here looked liked it hadn't been updated since the Eisenhower era.

I finally managed to hire a skeleton staff, which should help lower the pressure level on me a bit. I keep forgetting that I've never produced a TV show before and therefore, everything takes 50 times as long. Now that the technical staff is in place, I can focus on the content and writing, which is what I do best anyway.

I was sending the last "Thank you for applying, but we hired someone else" email when the phone rang, startling me. It was Alison.

Alison and I grew up on the same picturesque cul-de-sac in suburban Philadelphia. We'd bonded at age six over an elaborate paste menorah project in first-grade Hebrew school. Now we were friends as much out of habit and history as anything else. While I'd opted for the New England liberal arts experience, she'd come to the local PAC-10 and stayed. Her presence in Phoenix was as much a draw as the job that had moved me here.

Before being overtaken by the work tsunami, I'd told her about my run-in with Dan Albom. She had agreed that it was time for a change, and was now calling to share her plan of attack to make me socially shrewd. She had collected flyers advertising Jewish singles events and had the phone numbers of several organizations she thought I should join.

Join a singles group? I can't be that desperate yet.

"Flyers?! You're not serious?" I said. "The last social event I attended from a flyer was in college. I think that would be a step backward. Don't you, Alison?"

She didn't. "I don't understand you," she said. "You'll join any organization that you think would benefit your career. You'll network like crazy and be nice to people you don't like for your job. But you're not willing to put in a quarter of that effort to find the right guy?"

"But to join a singles group?!" I squawked. "I can't be that desperate yet."

"Look," she continued over my inarticulate sputterings, "You're not in the Eastern megalopolis anymore. If you want to meet Jewish people, you have to work at it."

I dryly suggested hiring a marketing consultant to design a website touting my desirability.

Before I could say "no," I found myself sitting in between an overly friendly accountant (male) and an extremely introverted special ed teacher (female) at the "Matzo Ball," an enormous singles social that was filled with unattached people in their 20s, 30s and - yikes! - 40s. I felt like I was at the junior high dance.

Alison seemed to know half the people there. I tracked her progress through the room by the sound of her tinkling laugh. Sorority girl at heart, she was much more at home in big parties than I'd ever be.

Do women usually put on sunglasses to counter that smile?

I felt distinctly uncool. The accountant seemed to have lost interest in me and had moved on to the teacher. Just as I looked at my watch and decided to tell Alison I was leaving, a man - a tree, in fact - stood in front of me and smiled.

Feeling a bit woozy, I wondered if he was accustomed to people doffing sunglasses to counter the radiance of his perfect, luminous smile.

"You're Jessica Shaeffer, aren't you?" the man asked, leaning down so I'd hear him over the music.

I think I said "yes."

My mother's voice called out in my head: "Sit up straight, Jessie!" I did, and smiled gently, hoping I looked like the Jewish Mona Lisa.

Adonis was calling. Aphrodite I'd never be, but I might be able to manage Athena.

"I'm Harry Parker. I was hoping I'd find you tonight," Harry said.

And I was hoping to be found, Mae West answered in my head. Just as quickly, my-mother-in-head answered, this time aloud: "Find me? Have we met?"

Harry, it seemed, was the chair of the local Jewish Federation's young leadership division. Alison had called him and told him about the mini-media-mogul who'd just blown into town.

Drat. He wasn't interested in me. He was doing a membership drive.

He wasn't interested in me. He was doing a membership drive!

I listened attentively, not caring a whit, but quite content, as he told me about the world-changing accomplishments of his young leadership committee.

He used phrases like "tikkun olam" and "Eretz Yisrael" and several words longer than two syllables.

Hmm, Jewishly and Englishly literate, I thought. Also eager.

"Isn't it really just a way for people to scam on each other while getting accustomed to writing checks?" I asked.

Oh, I didn't just actually say that... did I say that out loud?

He stopped his soliloquy and threw back his head and laughed.

"Well, you're certainly honest," he smiled.

Oh, thank God. I thought I'd blown it, alienating Mr. Tree.

"And you're very right, Ms. Shaeffer. We think it's terribly important, but we need to sell it in a social way."

"Am I being sold?" I asked.

Then, there was one of those wonderful, too-long pauses.

"I hope so," he said.

"Then charge my credit card now!" Mae West replied eagerly, thankfully this time staying in my head. If only I knew what exactly I was buying...

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