Nathan found me online, where I’d been waiting for a man with perfect spelling and great taste. He was Ivy League and used the phrase bee-loud glade to describe his backyard in Georgetown.
In his emails, he seemed serious but often wrote things like this: “I really like fun. I want to be part of a fun couple.” And, hey, I’m from Baltimore. No one likes fun more than us.
“Shall we meet at the zoo, then?” he asked on the phone. “Let’s say the Elephant House?”
“Maryland Zoo or Washington Zoo?” I asked.
He snickered. There is no other word.
“The National Zoo,” he corrected me. The more we talked, the more I began to think that Nathan believed my city was really a sound stage for The Wire. And there was a part of me that wavered on that. I’m from a place that conjures up formstone and Natty Boh, while the District is all “Hail to the Chief” and gleaming white marble. Of course we’d meet there, I started thinking.
It had snowed, and traffic was snarled, yet I managed to miss the Connecticut Avenue exit. When I walked in, the smell of the Elephant House made me gag a little. Nathan’s eyebrows formed a serious, knitted line.
“Aren’t the elephants fun?” he asked. A wan smile from me. “Is this your first time at our zoo?”
“How about our Capitol? Our Smiths?”
Move over, Pierre L’Enfant. Nathan talked about his adopted city with Chamber of Commerce enthusiasm and, for the first hour, I was willing to give it to him. After all, I knew the Belvedere Hotel couldn’t keep up with the Willard any more than Fort McHenry and the Lincoln Memorial should be allowed in the same sentence. When I attempted a little Baltimore aside about the Cone Sisters, he nodded quickly and moved on to the majesty of the National Gallery.
I was surprised—but kind of relieved—when my Baltimore inferiority complex began to disappear on our walk to lunch. It happened somewhere between Nathan’s connection to the Corcoran (emotional) and his affection for the gelato on Wisconsin (sinful). My inner voice kept saying, “Hey, Nathan, over here. I’m from somewhere, too.”
When we were seated at the restaurant, he began looking over the wine list. He called for the sommelier. More wine list. More brow. The waiter stood, pencil poised, for a long time. “Excellent choice!” he sang out when the word finally came down. It seemed like a lot of work just to get buzzed after a long day at the zoo, as we might say in Baltimore.
To keep myself from making inappropriate comments about drunken crab feasts I’d hosted, I mounted my last defense—pretending to listen. By the time I merged onto the Beltway on my way home, I’d already started thinking of him in the past tense. There would be no more literary emails, and I would miss the Nathan I’d come to know in Times New Roman.
When I got home, there was a message in my inbox from a man who lives in Logan Circle. He seems to know his way around the Reading Room at the Folger, but there was no mention of elephants or fun. Worth a shot. Maybe I’ll suggest an afternoon in Fells Point.
Linda DeMers Hummel is a freelance writer who lives in Baltimore.