According to Helen Gurley Brown, the world is simply teeming with available men. And in Sex and the Single Girl, she lists place after place where one could meet them: work, political clubs, get-acquainted clubs (get-acquainted clubs?!), sales conventions, business luncheons, the men’s department of clothing stores, churches and AA meetings all make her list. So do planes, trains, and boats. Somehow, embracing this belief over the time I spend imersing myself in all things Helen inspired me to think of even more possibilities and I began compiling my own lists in my head. What about the Genius Bar at the Mac store? I’d think one morning. Or: Volunteering at a soup kitchen would certainly introduce you to some men with good values! But the day that a photographer friend was taking photos of me was when I had what felt like my greatest Eureka moment.
The fire station.
It was one of the only environments I could think of that’s 100% male but where a woman wouldn’t necessarily be considered an intrusion. Sure, I knew that I could crash a poker night or run up to a team of guys playing pick-up soccer but in those cases, I’d probably be considered annoying if not insane. Yet at a fire station—assuming a fire wasn’t occurring—a woman might be thought of as a not unwelcome surprise, perhaps even a welcome one. And there just so happened to be a fire station across the street from my apartment.
I’d never gone in for the fireman or cop type but plenty of women do; I even had a rather unsettling memory of my deceased grandmother, a woman of many facelifts and even more husbands, confessing to me that she always found police and firemen attractive and that she believed they’d probably make wonderful partners (it’s worth noting that she never married one). Maybe I’m single, I thought, because I just hadn’t discovered that what I really wanted wasn’t a witty, creative type who could charm me with his words but a brawny, brave guy who could charm me with his ability to save people’s lives.
With this in mind, I coaxed my photographer friend into walking with me to the fire station to take photos there.
“Hi, I’m Anna and this is my friend Matt,” I said to the cute—yes, cute!—broad-shouldered, button-nosed fireman standing at the front of the station. “Would it be possible for us to take some pictures here?”
The guy smiled. His teeth looked braces-straightened. “Sure,” he said. “Why not? It’s your property—your taxes pay for it.” He held out a hand. “I’m Danny, by the way.”
Matt began taking my photo and within a few minutes, Danny became so helpful—suggesting different ways I could lean on the truck and letting me wear his fire boots that were stacked next to it—that he was, essentially, doing everything a photo assistant would. “Why don’t you try on my fire suit over your clothes?” he suggested.
Who can say no to offer like that? Pretty soon, I was lunging around the station in his suit and massive boots, laughing hysterically, Matt seemed to be taking great photos, and Danny appeared amused. God help New York City if there’s a fire, I thought.
Before we left, I told Danny that I thought the work he did was impressive and honorable. He turned nearly the color of the fire truck behind him and asked me what I did. With Matt standing behind him and urging me on, I explained that I was a writer. “What kind?” he asked.
“You should check out her site,” Matt said. “She writes a lot of stuff.” To me, he said, “Give him your card.” Everyone seemed to be equally embarrassed at this point but I handed Danny my card and we left.
Later that night, I got a text. Unfamiliar number, 917 area code. It read: “So is the hottie fireman you met going to be in your next book?” I stared at my phone, theorizing that no one calls himself hot, let alone “a hottie,” and that no fireman refers to himself as “the fireman.” Would I ever identify myself as “the writer” to someone I’d just met? I called Matt.
“I got your text,” I said. “Ha ha. Were you using someone else’s phone so I wouldn’t know it was you?”
“What?” he asked.
“You mean you didn’t…?” My voice trailed off. He clearly didn’t. And I didn’t tell anyone else about the day’s adventure. “Did you happen to mention to anyone that we went to the fire station and took pictures and met a nice fireman?”
“What?” he asked again.
Apparently, it really was the fireman. I texted back: “Are you really allowed to refer to yourself as a hottie?” He sent me a smiley face and even though I still thought it might be someone screwing with me, we texted back and forth for a few days and I eventually believed that it was him. He never asked me out and after a while, the banter grew a little tired and I realized that the real reason I was engaging was that I was fetishizing the mere notion of flirty texting with a fireman. My grandmother would be so—er—proud? I didn’t respond to him one day when he asked me where I was and that was the end of what might have been.
I ended up concluding that if I was going to be listening to anyone from that generation, it had to be Helen. The last person I should have been allowing to advise me about men, posthumous memory or not, was my multi-married grandmother.
If only, of course, I could figure out what in God’s name a get-acquainted club was.