By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
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The men ranged in age from mid-twenties to mid-fifties. About half were white American-born males; the rest came from countries such as India, Turkey, and Nigeria. For a while, Cara had a regular client whom she would meet for vegetarian food on Friday nights, but most men aren't repeat customers.
One man I found who was willing to share his motivations was a 32-year-old consultant from India, who said he contacted the girls out of desperation. "I was feeling bad and looking for someone to be with," he said. "I tried everything—Match.com, Chemistry.com. I tried everything for six to eight months, and it didn't work."
After contacting the agency, he didn't go through with the date. He said it was because he was bound to have dashed hopes: "I thought I might meet a nice girl, and then I realized these girls would just be coming to work and then moving on."
It's somewhere between the bottom of the first inning and the top of the seventh. I'm not really keeping track, and neither team has scored. Carlos and I are sipping beer and munching on the pulled-pork sandwiches we had delivered to our seats. I've already learned that baseball is not big in the Philippines and that a former IT colleague of his got him into the game a few years ago. He prefers the Mets to the Yankees for underdog reasons.
"The Yankees are too easy," he tells me. "They always win."
The sun is bearing down on us, and I've borrowed the black Mets baseball cap Carlos bought on Opening Day to deflect some of the heat. Every few minutes or so, an airplane glides behind the stadium's giant Pepsi-Cola sign in its descent into nearby LaGuardia. The second video congratulating Gary Sheffield on his 500th home run the previous night has already played, and I've asked, "Who's Sheffield?" and "When's halftime?"
Our conversation moves in fits and starts, as small talk does with a stranger with whom you don't have much in common. To keep things rolling, I find myself asking silly questions, like who his favorite player is (José Reyes), and wondering if the Dominican players have a hand in selecting the reggaeton songs that are blasted every time they swagger up to the plate (he thinks so).
And then it's Carlos's turn.
"So what do you normally do on Saturdays?" he asks.
"Depends," I say. "Last week, I went for a walk and made dinner for a friend. And you?"
"I go to a lot of friends' kids' birthday parties," he says.
The conversation lulls again, and Carlos pulls an SLR camera with an expensive-looking lens out of his bag and begins snapping shots of the players on the field. Watching him out of the corner of my eye, I notice that he's into brands: He's wearing Prada shoes and has a Prada backpack, and his sunglasses are Hugo Boss.
I hear Cara and April in my head telling me about the types of guys they tend to attract through the agency. April told me she gets a lot of recently separated, depressed guys who need someone to listen to their woes. The shy, reserved types are drawn to Cara for some reason. She says she's OK with it because she can carry the conversation if necessary. Despite the occasional questions, Carlos seems to fall into this latter category.
I slip away to a clean and quiet ladies' room, from where, after exploring the contents of the coin purse, I send April and a concerned friend text messages to confirm that all is well, if not a bit surreal. I think about how Carlos and I have not yet discussed the obvious: why I'm working for a dating agency and why he's paying me to watch the game instead of bringing one of his friends or a real date. There's so much I want to ask, but I'm reluctant to broach the subject for fear that he may freak out. He seems to prefer this façade of normalcy. I remember April telling me that she thinks a lot of the men like the fantasy that they are on a real date. Standing in front of the mirror, I'm suddenly struck by the oddity of the situation. There is nothing to prevent me from hightailing it out of the bathroom and out of the ballpark. Not that there's any reason to, but I contemplate fleeing for a second. But then, I head back my seat.
The first thing nearly every guy requests when he first contacts the Austen's Janes Agency is, "Pictures, please." Though the girls still post on Craigslist, they now have a website, designed and built by April, with partial photographs of the trio and their carefully crafted bios. Even for a platonic service, the physical is clearly important. The three white women field requests for Jewish, African-American, and Asian women. And once, a guy requested someone who looked like Uma Thurman, which Cara still laughs about: "Uma Thurman for $60. Seriously?"
Some men change their minds after seeing photographs. One turned down all of us, saying that he was used to dating "really pretty girls." As Cara says, you have to have a thick skin.