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House Hunting

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When I call Anna for our blind date, she’s blunt about not wanting to do anything ordinary. “You’re not going to ask me out for a drink, are you?”

“God, no.” I scoff.

Of course I was. Several, in fact.

Our mutual friend promised me Anna wasn’t some wide-eyed Midwestern transplant who’d be wowed by my middling screenwriting career, and that she’d “keep me on my toes,” but I can’t help wonder when asking a woman out for a drink became so hopelessly bourgeois. Having just relocated to Los Angeles, Anna wants to see the city and suggests we do something during the day. Now I really cringe. At thirty-one, a daytime non-drinking blind date sounds suspiciously like a dry run to see if I’m worth an actual grown-up date. I’m beginning to suspect our friend talked Anna up to me more than she did me to Anna. Before she suggests something excruciating like a hike to the Hollywood sign or a long slog up to Malibu, I quickly bluff that I want to surprise her.

That Sunday, I grab the L.A. Times and pick her up with a plan to go house hunting. Not really of course, but for kicks. I’m impressed with myself for coming up with a creative way for her to see her new neighborhood that doesn’t feel recycled from an old episode of Blind Date. Anna had mentioned an interest in design, and the mossy hills of Silver Lake, Echo Park and Angelino Heights are dotted with architectural gems from the likes of Neutra, Schindler and Lautner — names I’ve picked up as an eastside resident and hope to impress her with.

I regret such a half-baked idea the moment Anna answers her door. Strawberry blonde with a ski-jump nose and lanky tank-topped frame, she’s a natural knockout. I could have planned all week for this date and still felt ill-prepared.

“So.” Her smirk puts Drew Barrymore to shame as she gets right to the point. “What did you come up with?”

Our first stop is a Spanish colonial with wall-to-wall carpeting and baby-proofed interiors. The owner is some kind of producer;framed posters for straight-to-video crap with titles like Sweet Insanity and Poultrygeist dot the walls. We smirk at an autographed photo of a winking Wesley Snipes and offer mock critiques of the kiddie artwork on the refrigerator. As the realtor eyes us, Anna tests the faucets and I knock thoughtfully on the walls.

“The study could easily be converted into another bedroom for guests.” The realtor corners us. “Or children.”

“We’re infertile.” Anna says without missing a beat and motions towards me. “Mostly him, though.”

Once outside we both crack up, which is about as positive a date barometer as one could ask for. We’re still chuckling as we walk into a stilt-supported postmodern with a $2 million price tag. Anna signs us in with the realtor as Chauncy and Zelda Van Helsing. We smile at the other perusing couples and graze on the platter of cheese and deli meats in the living room.

“I guess this means I don’t have to spring for lunch,” I say and Anna laughs through a mouthful of Ritz crackers.

The afternoon continues breezily like that. We visit a half-dozen open houses that neither of us could dream of affording, squinting critically from room to room and stumping the realtors with arbitrary questions.

“Is there room for a fallout shelter?”

“Do the neighbors swing?”

We discuss the novels on the bookshelves, peruse the medicine cabinets and try to pick out the owners in mantle photographs. In one master bedroom, Anna shouts “think fast” and quarterbacks me a dildo she fished out of the dresser. A young couple walks in before I have a chance to snap the rubber monstrosity back to her.

“Don’t worry, we’re not snooping,” she explains to the other couple. “That’s ours.”

My friend was right about Anna keeping me on my toes.

In the next house, we stand on the back porch and enjoy a jaw-dropping view of the afternoon sun bleeding into downtown. It’s unusually clear for Los Angeles; we can even see the mountains towering over the skyscrapers like mirages. I reach over and hold Anna’s hand and the moment feels more intimate than any other first date I’ve had in a while, even the ones that ended in bed. I realize how much I want that second “adult” date, but when I glance over I catch the realtor watching us from the kitchen window. Anna sees him too and I wonder if she’s only holding my hand for his benefit.

The last house we visit is a cozy Craftsman fixer-upper nestled high up in the hills. We gaze up at its skylight, finger its fireplace masonry and accept the realtor’s glossy business card, complete with smiling headshot, all without a single wisecrack. Another couple our age smiles at us. We recognize them from a previous house and as we leave; they’re talking with the realtor in hushed, excited tones.

Out in the driveway, Anna and I fall silent for the first time on our date. I’m sure we’re thinking the same thing: that other young couple is buying their dream home while we’ve been playing pretend. We’ve both fallen a tiny bit in love with this charming little bungalow with the sunset view and its implied endless possibilities, and we’re suddenly taking stock of our own lackluster apartments, careers and futures in a way that can kill the mood of even the most ironic first date.

Back in the car, I play tour guide and point out a couple local points of interest, including a hole-in-the-wall taqueria with the city’s best molé sauce, but Anna apologetically says she got a lot work to get back to. By the time I drop her off, it’s dark out and the date’s fizzled. Anna gives me a hug goodbye, a poker-faced smile and starts walking up the steps to a graffitied old apartment building that’s pretty instantly forgettable.

I curse myself for such a stupid idea. Why not just take my first date to a maternity ward? Or better yet, a funeral home to go mock coffin shopping? That might have been less awkward.

As Anna disappears inside her walk-up, I break every rule in my book, dial her cell and ask her out for a plain old boring drink. A woman like this needs to be kept on her toes.

This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.