For twenty-nine-year-old Hannah O’Dowd, finding a decent man in Portland, Oregon, is like pulling teeth. Luckily, the self-employed seamstress has work that she loves and friends to ease the pain.
As she nears the big 3-0, Hannah wonders why her life doesn’t look like she expected: where is her Volvo and her house, her husband and her golden retriever? Plainly something needs to change.
But as she trudges through her military-style campaign to find Mr. One-in-a-Million, Hannah finds that nothing could be worse than what she experiences… except maybe a trip to the dentist.
Dating without Novocaine
Sequins and Gossamer
“Anoint your sacred body parts,” Sapphire said, passing round a small blue and white Chinese bowl. “I made this rose water with the petals of flowers from my own garden, plucked under the full moon to call forth the power of the Goddess.”
I slanted a look at Cassie, seated cross-legged next to me on a cushion on the wooden dance floor. She was wearing a short top that ended just below her breasts in a row of dangling, shimmering silver disks, her slightly poochy belly bare above the heavy belt of coins around her hips. She narrowed her tilted elf-green eyes at me in warning.
The bowl came to me, the rose water a dark burgundy that smelled safe enough when I gave it a cautious sniff. I dunked my fingers in the water and dabbed the stuff on my throat and wrists like perfume, and passed the bowl on to Cassie.
With reverence, Cassie anointed her breasts and her crotch, then bowed over the bowl and shut her eyes before passing it to the next novice belly dancer.
“I never knew you had sacred boobs,” I whispered to Cassie, as Sapphire invited the class members to share their experiences of the past week. “I would have paid them proper respect, if I had. Shouldn’t you be wearing a more expensive bra, if you’re carrying around holy orbs?”
“Hush!” Cassie scolded.
A long-haired woman with hurt-looking eyes started talking about the telepathic conversation she had had with her dog.
“You’re going to have stains right over your nipples.”
“Hannah, be quiet. You won’t experience the Goddess if you don’t open yourself to Her.”
That didn’t sound a particularly awful threat at the moment.
The belly dance/goddess worship class of ten women was sitting in a circle around a small terra cotta sculpture of figures linking arms around a lit votive candle. I’d seen the same piece in Robert Redford’s Sundance catalogue, that we’d gotten in the mail last week.
The psychic-dog woman finished, and a middle-aged woman with about fifty extra pounds showing between skirt and halter-top started to weep. “My fiancé had to go to court this week. My neighbor says he flashed her, that he stood in our front yard and exposed himself to her. But he wasn’t naked, and he didn’t do it on purpose! He was wearing panties and gartered hose. He went out to get the paper, that was all.”
Sapphire made soothing noises, while the other women murmured and cooed.
“If she’s in touch with the Goddess, why is she dating a pervert?” I asked Cassie.
I shrugged. It seemed a reasonable question.
“It’s time for the mantra,” Sapphire said, and everyone put their palms together in front of their chests, fingers pointing upward. Cassie hadn’t told me there’d be a mantra. I put my palms together and tried not to feel like I was praying.
“The Goddess gifts us with thought, with a voice, with a heart,” the women said in unison, touching their prayerful hands to forehead, lips, and heart, “and the power to create.” The hands inverted, pressing down into bespangled crotches. Pervert-boyfriend woman parted her thighs to get her hands down in there.
I lifted my hands away. I didn’t want to create with my loins,not while I was still single. Good God, that’s what being on the pill for the past eleven years was all about. Didn’t the Goddessknow how to create with the mind or the heart? Or the hands? How about the hands? Leave the womb alone, for God’s sake, atleast until I got a husband.
And that, of course, was the whole point of my being here and subjecting myself to Cassie’s belly dancing class of Goddess worshippers.
“If you get in touch with the Divine Feminine within you, men will sense it,” she’d told me. “You’ll loosen up the energies in your chakras, get them flowing. Men won’t be able to take their eyes off your lower belly, the center of your sexual power, and they’ll be swarming all over you.”
Sounded good. I was twenty-nine, and it had been six months since I’d had sex. Something had to be done.
I didn’t know if warming up my chakras was going to help things, but floating in the back of my mind was a vision of myself in a gauzy costume, strings of tiny bells wrapped around my hips, the faint shadow of my pudenda visible through the fabric, nothing but heavy jeweled chains concealing my breasts. Some strange, thumping, wailing music would be playing in the background as I put on a private, belly-undulating show for Mr. Right, working him into a froth of reproductive urges.
Whatever Sapphire wanted to say about belly dancing being about getting in touch with the Goddess and discovering one’s inner self, I’d seen my Desmond Morris on The Learning Channel. I knew that anthropologically speaking, this hip rocking was about showing a man I was young and healthy enough to bear his children.
That was fine by me.
Once the nonsense about the Goddess was finished and we started dancing I started to enjoy myself. Sapphire demonstrated Snake Arms, Egyptian Walk, Lotus Hands, and an unnatural, rolling wave of belly muscles that for some reason came to me with ease.
There was nothing attractive about it, but I knew it would come in useful at parties when others were showing off their ability to move ears or wrap ankles behind their heads. “Sure, you can touch your eyebrows with your tongue,” I’d say, “but can you do this?” And then I’d pull up my shirt and give them an eyeful of rippling belly.
We stood in three staggered rows, facing a wall of mirrors and copying Sapphire’s moves. My movements looked stiff compared to those of the others, my limbs about as loose and flowing as a senator’s. I’ve always been one of those dancers who loses the beat and has no natural sense of rhythm. Maybe my sex chakra really was blocked.
We repeated the mantra at the end of the class, Sapphire gave us a homework assignment of watching for circularity in our daily lives, and then we were out the door and headed to the car.
Sapphire’s house and dance studio were at the outer edge of southwest Portland, where suburbs give over to pockets of country, and we could hear a concert of frogs croaking in the spring night air.
“So what’s with that blue rhinestone Sapphire had glued between her eyebrows?” I asked Cassie as we were driving home.
“I knew I shouldn’t have brought you. You’re going to make cracks about this for the next week and a half, aren’t you?”
She knew me well. “And how about those little dots and diamonds beside her eyes? Suppose she used organic eyeliner to draw them? I mean, what are they supposed to signify? They make her look like a playing card.”
“You don’t have to come again.”
“I don’t think my chakra got any looser.”
“It’s not the only thing about you that’s blocked,” Cassie said, and turned on the radio so she wouldn’t have to listen to me yak.
The dance lesson hadn’t been a complete waste of time. Watching pervert-boyfriend woman move with sensuous grace, I’d imagined her fat-folded belly transformed from a disfiguring burden into some sort of symbolic representation of Mother Earth, ample and giving. Despite the woman’s lousy taste in men, the flowing way she moved showed she was in tune with herself in a way I decidedly was not.
I didn’t want to admit that to Cassie, though–it went against the firm stand I had taken against New Age flakiness and vegetarianism. I also didn’t want to tell her that while looking at myself in the mirror amidst those other women, I’d realized I was neither as fat nor as tall as I’d thought I was. I was altogether smaller than in my own mind, and I didn’t know if that said something good or bad about the inner me.
It occured to me that I had been unfairly obnoxious about the class, in my quest not to admit to kind of liking it.
“Sorry, Cass,” I said above the noise of the radio. I had been making fun of her religion, after all. “Want to stop at Safeway and pick up some Ben & Jerry’s? I’ll treat.”
“And Chunky Monkey.”
That was the great thing about Cassie. She never held onto her pique, and any difficulty could be smoothed over and forgotten with a bit of ice cream. A girl could do worse in a housemate, and the Goddess knew I had.
I’d known Cassie since my first year of college, down in Eugene at the U of O. Three years older than me, she’d already been at the school off and on for four years when we met. She’d joked she was on the five-year plan, then a year later on the six, and finally she’d abandoned all pretense of finishing her degree in sociology and turned her talents to her boyfriend’s
She’d spend her Saturdays sitting in a stall at Eugene’s open air market, candles arrayed around her, a book on how to awaken your intuition in her hand. To the right had been a booth selling incense, to the left one selling little pewter sculptures of dragons and wizards holding crystals.
When the boyfriend started dipping his wick in other wax pots than her own, Cassie moved up to Portland and went to work at Shannon’s Pub as a bartender. She’d been working there ever since. Sometimes she sent away for brochures for career training programs, but they sat on the coffee table gathering dust and crumbs, until finally three or four months down the line, during one of our rare cleaning binges, I’d hold them up in question, she’d shrug, and they’d get tossed into the recycling bin.
She swung her hips to a wild and foreign drum, did Cassie, and Icouldn’t decide if I admired her for it, or wished she’d grow up and join the same concrete world as the rest of us.
Well, most of the rest of us. Sapphire and the woman who held psychic tête-à-têtes with her dog obviously lived in another realm entirely.
Later that night, as we sat on the futon eating ice cream and watching TV, a question slipped out that by all rights should have stayed tucked behind my lips. Maybe it was something about the dance class that had stirred it up. I don’t know.
“Are you happy, Cass?” I asked, as on TV a woman with an ultra-white smile held up tube of toothpaste.
Her slanted, lovely eyes glanced at me, the light from thetelevision reflecting off them in the half-dark of the living room. “Happy? What do you mean? Right now, at this moment?”
She held her spoon motionless above her container of Cherry Garcia.
“Happy with your life, with how it’s going. Is this where you expected you would be, when you became an adult?” I thought it came out sounding judgmental, as if I had decided already that she was not showing the proper drive and ambition of any self-respecting American.
But the question wasn’t truly directed at her, and she sensed it.
“Aren’t you happy?” she asked me, and if there was a Goddess, she seemed to be looking at me with infinite compassion from Cassie’s eyes.
I felt tears start in my own, taking me by surprise, and I tightened my lips against the sudden quivering there.
“Oh, sweetie,” Cassie said, as the X-Files theme started whistling in the background. “It’ll be all right. You expect too much of yourself, is all.”
“But…” I blubbered, a vast blackness of want seeping up from the dark depths, the ice cream in my hand a cold and empty comfort. “But there’s so much I–”
“So much you thought you’d have by now? Husband, children, SUV, golden retriever? A house in the west hills?”
“A Volvo, not an SUV -”
“Hannah, you’re so predictable,” Cassie said, and somehow her gently sardonic tone was comforting. “Everyone thinks they’re supposed to want those things, but I don’t think you really do.”
“Yes I do. Especially the husband.”
“If you were ready, you’d have one. Maybe right now you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.”
I looked down at my Chunky Monkey. “You think so?”
“It’s your sewing business that matters to you. That’s why you moved up to Portland to begin with. Concentrate on that, and let the universe handle the rest in its own time.”
I wished I had her faith that all would come right in the end. It seemed to come so easily to her, so naturally. I never saw Cassie worry about anything. “Can’t I have a little of the rest right now? Like a boyfriend?” I asked.
“He’ll come when you’re ready.” She smiled. “In the meantime, there’s David Duchovny.”
I looked at the screen, where Mulder and Scully were arguing in an old repeat, and sniffed back the remainder of my weepy self-pity. “I don’t want him.”
“Why not? I’d do him.”
“He never smiles,” I said.
“You don’t want a guy to be grinning while he’s got your legs over his shoulders. Talk about creepy.” She shuddered, and I gave a small laugh, glad of the change of topic and of mood.
“Can’t be much worse than how they usually look.” I squeezed shut my eyes and groaned like I was in pain, straining out the words, “I’m coming, I’m coming! I’m almost there… Can I come?
Can I come now?”
“They ask you that?”
“One of my ex-boyfriends used to.”
“Did you let him?” Cassie asked.
“Depends how long he’d been going at it. Past a certain point, I just wanted him to get it over with. I started thinking about urinary tract infections.”
Cassie winced, and I knew both our minds had gone to the unopened jug of cranberry juice in the cupboard, kept there in case of emergency.
“Maybe it’s for the best that your sex chakra is blocked up,”
“Maybe you’re right.”
Dating without Novocaine
Worldwide Library/Red Dress Ink
Publication date: 03/02
by Lisa Cach
Reviews :: Dating without Novocaine
“Ms. Cach’s writing is open, bawdy, and laugh-out-loud funny.”
“Lisa Cach’s Dating Without Novocaine is a witty, sexually frank look at what a smart self-employed woman might do to find the man of her dreams….. Wiser than Bridget and warmer than Sex’s Carrie, Hannah may find her man just in time.”
“If you love to laugh then DATING WITHOUT NOVOCAINE definitely is for you. Hannah is a delightful main character, surrounded by a cast of pals to rival the hit television show Friends. For those struggling on the trail of commitment, or for those hoping to find their own Mr. Right, DATING WITHOUT NOVOCAINE is better than jelly doughnuts for commiseration. Sometimes it’s simply better to laugh than to cry….after all Prince Charming might be just around the corner.”
The Word on Romance
“Fans of amusing contemporary tales will fully relish DATING WITHOUT NOVOCAINE. The story line is a refined mainstream romp that employs humor to depict the agony, apprehension, and anger of a single person struggling with the relationship game. Hannah is a great lead character while her friends and her dates augment the reader’s understanding of her desires and motives. Lisa Cach furbishes her fans with a charming modern day tale.”
The Best Reviews
Background Notes with Photos :: Dating without Novocaine
Portland, Oregon, is a long way from New York City. The 20 year olds may go club-hopping, but most of the rest of us spend our time in coffee shops, bookstores, pubs, and hiking either in Forest Park (the largest city park in the country — something like 8,000 acres of wilderness) or in the Columbia River Gorge. Then there’s the beach 90 minutes away, Mt. Hood an hour in the other direction… Well, you get the idea. The labels on our spendy fashions say Gore-Tex, rather than the name of a designer.
Which isn’t to say we don’t love the Saks that came to town a few years ago.
The characters in my story, likewise, are less interested in sophistication than they are in trying out a new dessert shop. I really don’t know any sophisticated people (well, maybe one, but she’s originally from Brazil, so she doesn’t count).
Portland is just big enough to have the elements of a big city like a symphony, and still small enough that you feel like you’re a part of it. I love the place, and hope to set more stories here in the future.