Searching For a ‘Mensch’ in all the Right Places

I am not seeing dancing babies. The little computer miracle whose boogie haunted television’s 27-year-old, single Alley McBeal as her clock ticks away has not been on the prowl in my bedroom. Clearly, my single status is not driving me to hallucinations . . . yet.
But at 27, with an all-consuming career drive, I have started to notice how cute other people’s babies are. And then there are the weddings I’ve started attending as a bridesmaid . . . and the girlfriends who are no longer free to go clubbing.
Always the determined reporter, I sat down two weeks before Valentine’s Day and studied my story pitch. I needed to plan a strategy for questioning and managing my available time before deadline.
The object: to locate a nice, single man. A "mensch," if you know the Yiddish for a decent, responsible person you could bring home to Mom.
The best source: Robin Gorman Newman.
Newman, a native of Fresh Meadows, has published and since had a second edition of a reference book entitled simply "How to Meet a Mensch in New York."
Though Senators and Police Commssioners, Mayors and even one Bill Clinton did not make my palms sweat around my notebook, I looked up along the quiet apartment building on the quiet Great Neck street where this keeper of the knowledge I need lives quietly and for a moment . . . I quaked.
And that is mistake number one. Never be afraid.
"You can’t live life for love. You have to live your life and love will come," Newman said.
For her, who led an active, managed and "resourceful" social life that took as much scheduling as any business deal, it came at Kennedy Airport. She found herself with vacation time and no planned vacation, until she found a trip to London and Paris organized by a Jewish singles group in the Boston area. Scoping her fellow travelers as they arrived at the meeting site, she was not overly impressed until one man caught her attention.
During the trip, they clicked.
And so she left the country to meet her mensch, who came from Bayside.
Now 37 and six years of marriage later, Newman said she knows more about how to meet someone nice now than she even did when she met her own husband.
"When you’re single, you are so busy living your life that you don’t stop to analyze life, you just live it . . . . You always think you are doing the right thing so you don’t stop to think ‘what am I doing wrong?’ You don’t get it. I get it now, but I don’t need it anymore . . . I did the homework for everybody so you can just go out and enjoy."
And that is exactly why her book has received so much interest and sparked her business "Mensch Finders" (516-773-0911). With a completed application describing your likes and dislikes, as well as what you are looking for, Newman will sit down for a consult and advise you how to restructure your social life providing optimum opportunity to meet a mensch (which can apply to a man or a woman) and – most important –have fun.
"There are three rights you need . . . the time, the place, and the attitude. Doing what you like isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to stretch yourself . . . break old patterns."
Noting that my profile included a love of music, theater, and movies, she shook her head and stated the problem. These were "women dominated" activities, and Ineeded to focus my social structure on "activities where there will be . . . well, er . . . men."
That should be kept in mind when looking to take adult classes at the Learning Annex in Manhattan, or at Queens College, St. John’s University, York College, Queensborough Community College or LaGuardia Community College. Don’t go for the sewing classes . . . try film, wine tasting and dining, or sex in the modern film, she smiled modestly.
Newman jumped down my application to the outdoor activities I enjoy and my Tae Kwon Do lessons, suggesting I expand these efforts.
And back on the music front, she suggested jazz, because single men will go alone (or in groups) to a jazz performance more readily than other kinds of musical performance.
My sincere interest in volunteering can also be an opportunity, Newman said. Numerous New York charitable organizations hold fundraising events for young professionals that can combine a good cause with a good social event (try calling National Multiple Sclerosis’ Manhattan Society, the Fresh Air Fund about their Spring Fling, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Apollo Circle). Other organizations offer a chance to volunteer and make a difference in the world while you meet new people (try New York Cares).
"You have to look for it . . . though it will happen when you least expect it. Being in the right places doesn’t guarantee it," Newman said. "I believe fate steps in. Everyone has a schedule in life, but you can influence that. You have to help yourself."
As for hitting the scene alone, she said that can be a sign of bravery to a man, and stressed that better than "The Rules" any day is simple self-confidence.
"In general, I don’t think ‘The Rules’ are great for most people. It is really just important that you have respect for yourself . . . don’t act desperate, don’t get in a state of panic. Set a tone at the beginning of the relationship . . . be your own person. [‘The Rules’] are a little radical for your average person just trying to meet someone. Have fun and go with the flow."
Armed with her list of personalized suggestions, I started out with a "Drip" — which in this case was a good thing. On any given night at this coffee shop at 489 Amsterdam Ave. (212-875-1032) you can have a satisfying cup of Milky Way Latte and curl up with a good book of available men. Looseleafs labeled "Men Looking For Women," "Women Looking For Men,""Men Looking for Men,"and "Women Looking for Women" are crammed with personal profiles complete from "turn-offs" to " favorite Drip beverage." Profiles are identified not by name but by number. For no charge, the coffee shop staff will record your code number and name and arrange a meeting– over coffee –at Drip for you and that profile person who seems just right. I am waiting for word on a 30-year-old lawyer who enjoys his New York Times and a woman with something to say. Word behind the counter is that his name is Fred.
From there I headed to one of Stan & Jeff’s Parties (718-428-6447), this night at a club called Twist (call or check listings in "Time Out New York" for this week’s parties). Newman said Stan & Jeff parties are good, but I had never been to a "singles" party before. Bring on the lonely hearts and pocket protectors, I thought.
I thought wrong.
There was a wide range of singles dancing, shooting pool, and socializing, or standing along the walls as if it were a junior high school dance and from wall to wall there were what I though was hard to find . . . someone single! I danced my way right into a conversation with a polite and handsome young law student from Queens. Nice guy number one, and I found hope.
And speaking of dancing, Newman said it was good that I liked to dance – go with that. So I contacted a friendly and energetic Jennifer McCalla of the Fred Astaire Dance Studios at 666 Broadway in Manhattan (212-475-7776).
McCalla was in her early 20’s when she started lessons at an Astaire studio not unlike the one she now co-directs. She spotted a man she liked dancing and believed she should be dancing with him — "I’m prettier than that girl." The married dance couple now direct the Broadway studio together and Jennifer is expecting their second child.
But what should I dance? For a $25 introduction fee, I learned an hour’s worth of salsa, tango and swing in two private lessons and a one hour group lesson (small in size and perfect for being matched with a single partner. Instructors also have you change partners, so you have the chance to politely mingle with all the men).
It was my secret rendezvous in Manhattan, slipping away from my hectic schedule to the spacious and elegant studio far away from my cares of the day. And better yet, it was relaxing, and fun, and invigorating. At my group lesson, there was David, nice guy number two.
For jazz, I traveled into the Carlyle Hotel for a Monday night session where Woody Allen plays clarinet for the first showing (You can check out the Jazz Cafe at Flushing Town Hall.) Standing at the bar in the intimate and elegant club area was Alex, nice guy number three.
And on my second Monday of a tight schedule I decided to try out my swing. I wander into the Louisiana Community Bar & Grill (622 Broadway) because they are supposed to have a live swing band Monday nights. There were mardi gras-style reliefs behind the bar. A banner warned Bon Temps Rouille (Good Times Roll) and Hurricanes flowed from the bartender’s steady hand. But most amazing was the band of 20 and 30-year-olds in their pin-striped suits, suspenders, and gangster hats playing perfect swing.
And then they danced, over heads, under legs, around waists in a frenzy of swing I had only seen in movies. At the bar and putting up with my personal style on the dance floor was a 27-year-old Manhattan Assistant District Attorney named Luke — nice guy number three.
But the moral of this story of hope for all those who have ever bought into the endless complaining that floats about in groups of lonely x-er’s –"It’s so hard to meet somebody nice" – was found in Queens.
Bouyed by good experiences and a new outlook in socializing, I broke from Newman’s regiment of tightly scheduled, two week suggestions. I stopped by to see a friend working at Pizzeria Uno on Bell Blvd., Bayside. I had a bite at the bar before heading home and Robert stopped in for take-out.
He stopped waiting by the hostess and stepped closer to the black and white pictures near where I sat. With newfound confidence, I stood up and stepped closer to the pictures he was looking at. Awkward silence continued a moment.
"That’s a great picture of Al Capone."
And eagerly I agreed, "it certainly is." We ended up listening to music at The Gasper Room on Bell Blvd.
The rest is –well–investigative journalism history and the search is still on. Take heart, dear reader, the nice guys are out there and all you need is the right attitude and the right scheduling.
To Be Continued . . . .

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