When Alice-Anne calls, asks whether I can come at the last moment and volunteer, saying that I will need to dress up, my calendar is open and I say yes. This time, it is a high-end auction and a $150-a-plate dinner to raise money for the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven. As the auction is winding down, a young man who is also volunteering at the behest of a friend, and who has routinely stopped by to chat during the auction, comes back around and stays.
As the dinner guests are directed to the main room for speeches, thank-yous, three courses of overpriced vittles — for a good cause, of course — and for the announcement of the auction winners, the private club’s staff sets up an impromptu table in what had been the auction room and I learn the volunteers who aren’t also working the main room will be treated to dinner for our good-hearted efforts. The young man takes a seat next to mine, pulls out my chair, smiles. He is handsome, buzzed dark blond hair, that Jewish nose and facial features, slim build, muscular, smoke filled eyes, and though I lean to younger men, it doesn’t occur to me that this might be anything more than friendly. He buys me a drink, though in truth drinks are on the house.
It turns out he is a writer and we talk over dinner about style, recommend books to each other based on writing quality over story-line, discuss our current projects, his novel, my memoir. We ignore the others at the table for most of the evening. At dessert, he hands me a small notebook that he carries to record thoughts, lines to be used at a later date, the way many committed writers do, and I think he simply wants to share a few ideas he has captured about this evening, or something that struck him as worth remembering from our conversation. How could I have missed it, but I did, so his written invitation takes a moment or two to process. I stare at him, silent, slightly unnerved, and when I don’t give him an answer, he prods me with Well? Mundane as it was, I finally cough up “I’m old enough to be your mother.” Age doesn’t matter. Of course he would say that.
Another young man at the table is discussing art. I turn to join the conversation, notice Alice-Anne’s fiancé directly across the table staring at me and blushing, quite aware of the exchange between me and the young man sitting to my right. I involve myself in talk of art. After dessert, a final drink, people begin to gather themselves for home, and when I turn back to the adorable hopeful sitting next to me, he reaches for my chair, May I, pulls it out with the right touch of grace, leans in slightly, May I walk you to your car. I had parked a street over in downtown New Haven and it is now quite late. I accept his offer.
After coats, goodnights all around, we meander through the alleyways to the parking lot where I left my car. Along the way, he pleads his case. I find him charming, entertaining, non-threatening, and when I say I have had my fill of younger men, that “they are most often a disappointment,” he is even more determined, but never pushy. It is this, in particular, that he is polite with the enthusiasm of a puppy, that makes it easy to accommodate the frivolous banter. He wants to know whether he would be the youngest, well, you get the picture. “No.” He’s disappointed but not deterred.
At my car, he asks if it would be okay to kiss me. He doesn’t presume, he doesn’t cross any line without permission. “I have children older than you,” I say. I have parents older than you, I think that makes us even. He had me at I think that makes us even.
Volunteer, it’s good for the soul, good for the community, good for humanity.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill
“If every American donated five hours a week, it would equal the labor of twenty million full-time volunteers.” — Whoopi Goldberg
Image: “Magnolia,” Charleston, South Carolina, 2005. © Faith Vicinanza