I haven't had much luck with men named Stuart.
My first encounter was at 16, when I asked a Stuart to escort me to a dance (girls asked boys). Stuart lived around the corner in a blue house with beige shutters. He matched his house and wore blue Brooks Brothers button down shirts, beige pants, and gave new meaning to the word, "preppy," which, back in the day, was a prerequisite for being cool.
Stuart was accepted to MIT in his junior year of high school and always carried a slide rule just in case the subject of logarithms came up.
"You won't be bringing your slide rule to the dance, will you? I asked, nervously.
"Probably," he said. "I never go anywhere without it."
Stuart's favorite topic of conversation was quantum electrodynamics.
He once gave me a protractor as a birthday present.
The next was Stuart Sternheim, whose family owned Sternheim's Deli, where Stuart worked on weekends. His parents, Mel and Joyce, were fine, upstanding members of the community who raised their son to be civic-minded and taught him how to slice Nova Scotia salmon with great skill. When Mel Sternheim learned I was dating his son, he always added an extra slice of smoked salmon to my bagel. I liked Mel and Joyce, but Stuart always smelled a little fishy.
The Stuart of my college days was handsome, edgy and had a photographic memory. He could recite passages from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," which he did with annoying regularity to try and win me over. Stuart went to Princeton, where I visited, and once threw up behind an eating club after drinking too much Lancer's rose wine. Even now, when I see rose on a wine list, my thoughts turn to Stuart, who plied me with liquor, resulting in the biggest hangover of my life. My parents believed Stuart was big trouble, which he was, and not in a good way.
The Stuart who came along in my early 20s was swarthy and rugged. He came from money and tried to impress me by taking me to fancy restaurants and ordering in French, even when we were dining Italian. He was obnoxiously pretentious, and the worst kisser I ever had the misfortune of experiencing. His parents were rumored to own Coney Island.
"How can anyone own Coney Island?" I asked him.
But they did -- at least a good chunk of it. They owned concession stands, amusement rides, and stretches of boardwalk. They also invented a hot dog named "Stuart's Spicy Devil Dog," which was the best hot dog I ever tasted but not quite good enough to lure me into a relationship.
Months later, another Stuart materialized. This was Stuart the dermatologist, who enjoyed examining my skin, and could spot a seborrheic keratosis from across a room.
"You have tight pores," he told me over a candlelight dinner, but you need to apply No. 30 sun screen, of which he gave me samples, along with Stuart's Day Cream, Stuart's Night Cream and Stuart's Exfoliating Cream. If I had stayed with Stuart the dermatologist, I would probably never visually age, but he was so boring I would rather have deep wrinkles than spend my life sitting under umbrellas, and applying sun block four times a day.
The Stuart who arrived between husband No. 1 and husband No. 2 was my rebound, British Stuart, whose accent, as it turned out, was more appealing than the man himself. Stuart was a philosophy professor at Columbia. Once over dinner, when we were engaged in a heated discussion on Spinoza, he whipped out a long strand of dental floss and began waxing his teeth as I sat there looking askance. His excuse for this abhorrent behavior was that he had an irrational fear of tartar buildup. I now have an irrational fear of men named Stuart.
It's been years since a Stuart crossed my path. I prefer it that way. My experiences with each of them have been remarkably underwhelming, except for my friend Wendy's husband, who is the nicest Stuart I know.
And yet once, after they had a fight, Wendy confessed the truth. "Stuart can be very narcissistic." she said, "And," she added, "he clenches his teeth in his sleep. Otherwise, he's a keeper."
A keeper for Wendy, perhaps. As for me, a narcissistic, teeth-clenching Stuart is a recipe for disaster.
Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.judithmarks-white.com