“You know who has a nice body?” my roommate said over coffee one morning. “Joel. He has amazing shoulders.”
He did? OK, cool. Joel was someone she was casually dating, and he seemed like a contender for her. Both of them were attractive and athletic, with bohemian tendencies that she expressed through organic gourmet meals and he through a wardrobe of embroidered shirts, old-man tweed jackets, and a raggedy ponytail. They seemed like a match, at least superficially.
I was a single tabloid reporter on the lookout for a match of my own. I was hoping to wind up with an edgy, funny Jewish guy of some measure, but wasn’t fielding a lot of prospects at the moment.
She was doing considerably better, and so it wasn’t tragic when she and Joel both concluded that their pairing checked all the boxes except the most important one. For all of their various attempts, he turned out to be a brief stop along the way to a long happy relationship with someone else. Joel moved on too, but not to anything lasting.
It didn't occur to me to think anything was up when he popped up at my birthday party—wearing a tattered Indiana Jones hat—and was the last person to leave. Another time, a bunch of us went out to hear a friend’s band and he gravitated my way all night. I enjoyed his big laugh and his warmth but found myself staring at his long, overly brushed curls and fantasizing about taking him to Devachan.
One night I ran into him on the street and we shared pleasant, if uneventful, takeout at his place. He put me on the phone with his sister, who was having problems with an inattentive boyfriend. I advised her to dump the guy, and apparently, that made a positive impression on her and Joel. (The boyfriend, not so much.)
A few months later, Joel called me randomly to get together. Sure, he could swing by on Sunday when he was in the neighborhood, if it worked out. I’d show him my first solo apartment. Maybe we’d walk my dog, grab a bite, visit a friend of his.
When he turned up, he wasn’t wearing anything that appeared to have been recovered from the lost-and-found at a Phish concert. All the better to have a few undistracted beers while sitting on the brand new flokati I unrolled in my living room that very day, joking to my sister that the rug was going to revolutionalize my love life. I didn't expect it to happen within hours.
I fell for Joel quickly. Behind the hippie clothes was a loving, considerate mensch with an unusual music collection and shared values on faith, family, and community. Plus, he could fix things, a turn-on to rival seeing Milo Ventimiglia in a towel.
My job was to fix his wardrobe. Through gentle coaxing (and sometimes covert theft), the Guatemalan vest, Tabasco tie, and pleated pants disappeared one by one, though there are still occasional shipments from Duluth Trading to contend with. Over time, his hair shrunk from Frank Zappa to Jon Snow and settled into, on a good day, Patrick Dempsey.
Underneath it all, my roommate hadn't been wrong. As it turned out, nice shoulders are also good for resting your head during a movie, white-knuckling during labor pains, and wearing a tallis at your son’s Bar Mitzvah. And they are really good for hoisting your former roommate on a chair at her own wedding—especially in a Paul Smith shirt.