That Time I Sold Myself for Charity

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

I can probably count on two hands the number of times I've been asked out on a real date. Narrow it down to requests from someone I'm actually interested in? One hand.

I've never been the girl that guys flock to, or flirt with, or talk about with each other — like, "Is she gonna be at the party? Is she single?" 

I've never been the girl who gets the attention. 

Until two weeks ago.

My attitude toward life for the past six months has gone a little something like this: fuck it.

I was fed up with roommates, flaky friends, internet dating nonsense, money worries, job troubles, and my life in general. So I started taking a new approach.

Sick of my living situation? I moved, broken budget be damned. Tired of trying to arrange outings with other people? I started going solo and exploring on my own. Bored and unappreciated at work? Time to stop saving those vacation days.

This might sound like common sense to most people, but for someone who's spent the majority of her life meticulously planning, constantly worrying, and always trying to please everyone else, this was a revelation. And it was at that point that an email circulated around the office: a friend of an employee was running a date auction for a local charity and needed volunteers to be auctioned off.

Fuck it. Sign me up.

NAME: Lisa L
AGE: 29
OCCUPATION: Copywriter
INTERESTS/HOBBIES: Reading, road tripping, trying out new recipes, fixing up my apartment, exploring the city, pretending I'm outdoorsy
SUPERHERO POWER I'D LIKE TO HAVE: Teleportation (no more parking tickets or taking the T!)

I submitted my profile info and then promptly forgot about it for the majority of the next few weeks. It felt like this abstract thing that I mentioned to people, as a sort of "Isn't this hilarious?" conversation topic. (Also: a "these things still exist!" conversation topic.) It didn't feel like something I was really going to have to do.

Until the week before, of course.

In a panic, I got my hair cut and colored. It was a disaster, and I had to go back to the salon to get it fixed. I walked around with frizz and zits for days, certain it wouldn't get better before the auction. In my attempt to not make the night feel like a Big Thing, I hadn't bothered shopping for a new outfit, and that just added another layer of anxiety to the mix a few days beforehand: Do I own anything appropriate for this kind of scenario? Do I own anything that makes me look even vaguely appealing?

The day of, I rushed home from work, cracked open a bottle of wine, and frantically texted my friends for makeup tips. (When was the last time I'd worn eyeshadow?!?) My dress of choice was one I've had for probably four years at this point; the heels were shoes I cursed at last year's Christmas party when I could barely walk by the end of the night.

I inhaled a burrito, downed half the bottle of Chardonnay, and hopped into a Lyft.

The event was held at ICON nightclub, and this marked my first ever visit to a nightclub, period. I teetered up the steps, signed in, and was forced to slap on a name tag that I spent the rest of the night trying to smooth down. I'd known that another girl from work — the pitcher from our company softball team — was doing the auction, too, but it turned out that two more Wayfair people had volunteered, as well. I chatted with them for bit while I sipped my $14 (it's-for-charity, it's-for-charity) vodka tonic, and then forced myself to work the room.

We were encouraged to mingle and talk to guests before the auction, but at that point in the evening, it was nothing but a sea of fellow auctionees. I was impressed by the array of people who'd thrown their hats into the ring: heavyweight fighter, CEO, personal trainer, designer, police officer, engineer, performance artist (yup), marketing manager...the list went on. One thing I realized after talking to people was that most had brought along an entourage of friends and family who could be relied on to bid for them if things became dire.

Per usual, I was completely and utterly solo.

I was having a pretty good time talking with the others, joking (but secretly serious) that my goal was to go for at least $30. It was at that point that one guy, who had participated in the auction before, proceeded to tell me that the highest bid last year was $450.


If you know me, if you've read this blog, if you've ever talked to me for a significant amount of time, you know that I'm a total Scrooge McDuck. I don't pinch pennies; I cling to them with a death grip.

It's at this point that people usually chime in with "Yeah, but it's for charity..."

Valid. But the way my mind works? Something like $175 would be my big, all-out bid. Even if it's for a good cause. So, needless to say, I was pretty shocked.

At that point, guests had finally begun to arrive, so I said goodbye to my comrades and started circling the room, awkwardly trying to insert myself into conversations and introduce myself to people. I managed to talk to four non-participants before the bidding began and I was summoned to the stage, told that I'd be the second woman auctioned off. (What do you mean, second?!)

The stage was a tiny thing at the front of the club, and our hosts for the evening were two local radio personalities. (Thanks for dressing up, guys.) The first man up had a little choreographed number planned to the James Bond theme song, and bidding started at $100.

It started at $100?? There went my $30 goal.

Number One had bids pile up pretty quickly, and eventually sold for $300 (they went in increments of $50). One of the next guys opted for a PG-13 strip tease to earn his bids. The first female was an executive chef who loved yoga (theme of the night: all girls "love yoga") and she had a respectable number of bidders.

It all went much too quickly. It was my turn before I knew it.

The upside? There was no time for a full-blown panic attack. I clung to the stair rail and made my way onto the stage. The hosts had some fun with my profile, offering to the crowd that I was good at fixing things: "Guys, she can fix your toilet!" (Nope, really can't.) And the second they started the bidding, I had an offer — one of the people I talked to earlier in the evening! Two points for awkward socializing.

And then something crazy happened. Someone else put in a counter-bid. It was a guy in the back of the room, too far to tell if it had been one of the other people I'd met. But it set off a full-on bidding war.

If there's anything more surreal than watching perfect strangers offer to pay large sums of money just to spend an evening with you, it's this: watching a perfect stranger pay $650 to spend an evening with you. Also known as: the highest bid of the night.

I think the look on my face in that picture pretty much says it all.

So what have I learned from this experience?

#1. I will do almost anything for a good story.
#2. I should probably invest in different shoes.
#3. I'm actually pretty good at holding a conversation when forced to turn on the charm.
#4. I should avoid mentioning my love of yoga in any future dating profiles.

Am I pleased I was able to raise that much for Project Smile? Heck yes. Did I gain a little smug boost of confidence in that moment? Guilty. By the time the night was over, though, that had worn off and mostly I just felt a combination of hysterical laughter, confusion, and squirming uncomfortableness.

I don't all of a sudden think I'm hot stuff, and that guys are going to actually start noticing me now (though I did leave the club with a phone number). Realistically, I just happened to talk to the right person at the beginning of the night — someone who was willing to donate a significant amount of money to the charity no matter what — and I managed to pick a good conversation topic (books, you never let me down).

But at the very least, I learned this, too:

#5. I'm worth more than just $30.

Hanging up my Apron

by Lisa Lombardi in , ,

My first kiss was sprung on me by a boy I'd pined after my entire senior year of high school. We were saying goodbye before leaving for our respective colleges in the morning, and all of a sudden his mouth came out of nowhere, leaving me feeling both terrified and confused.

I did not appreciate it. At all.

My second kiss came from an older gentleman who was watching a Syracuse sporting event from one of the upper-level suites of the Carrier Dome, where I was stationed as the Suite Manager/Suite Liaison/Suite Bitch/whatever they called it. I was in charge of getting the food and drinks to the suite at the right times, and just generally making sure everyone had a good time and that the buffalo wings weren't cold.

It soon became clear that my duties also included making polite small talk with guests who couldn't care less about the game and just wanted to hang out by the bar the whole time. So I did. And when the game was over and the stadium began to empty out, this man walked over, bade me goodbye, laid an efficient smack on my lips, and pressed a $70 tip into the palm of my hand.

This, at least, I appreciated.

It makes sense that the food service industry has played a part in some of the more formative experiences in my life: I've held jobs ranging from bored hostess to harried bartender at various points in my life from the time I was 17.

It all started with a part-time hostessing gig at an Italian restaurant franchise in my town, something to fill my summer days and then, when school started again, the odd evening or two each week. I was in charge of walking patrons to their tables, pre-slicing endless loaves of crusty bed, and telling every group — no matter how small or large, no matter how busy we were or weren't — that it would probably be no more than a 15-minute wait. Okay, if we were really busy, then maybe I'd predict a 20-minute wait. Max.

First lesson of the food service industry: hostesses are full of shit. At least, the teenaged ones making only $7.75 an hour are.

Second lesson of the food service industry: be wary of restaurant owners whose idea of appropriate business attire is a quarter-zip fleece pullover that fully exposes their yeti-like chest hair. Give your two weeks' notice the second said owner tells you that you're "looking foxy today."

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I graduated to a waitressing gig at a Middle Eastern place in the middle of our downtown. Its central proximity didn't do much for its popularity, though; when friends and former classmates learned where I was working, their first response was usually "Where? Never heard of it." That should have been my first hint that I would be making no money that summer.

At the time, it had the look of a dingy cafe — nothing terrible, but nothing particularly appealing, either. The menu options averaged $9 and there was no liquor license, so I quickly realized that I would essentially be making only $2.75 an hour. My "tips" were like puddles in the desert: juuuuust enough to keep me going.

I was also the only person working there who didn't speak Lebanese, something the assistant manager — a tiny, somewhat shriveled old lady with a permanent frown — seemed to hold against me, if her constant glare and muttering whenever I asked a question were any indication.

The restaurant has since acquired a liquor license and undergone a full renovation, turning it into a swanky-looking place that's packed every time I've driven by during visits home. 

I bet the tips are amazing now.

I curse its name every time I see it.

In college, I worked a variety of odd jobs, but the one that stuck all four years was slaving away for the Carrier Dome's catering department. I started out as a runner, literally running giant platters of food from the kitchen to the suites just before the mad rush of halftime. I then worked the hotdog concession stands on the lawn before football games, waking up Saturday mornings while it was just barely light out and walking to the Dome through grass that had begun to frost over during the night. When it switched to basketball season, I mastered the cash register at the Italian Stand, handing over endless subpar chicken parm sandwiches and overpriced meatball subs.

I soon graduated to Suite Master, and then some sort of vague senior role during my final two years due mostly to the fact that I was reliable and had been around long enough to know the ins and outs of most of the jobs. I started working during the week, managing the meals for the different sports teams after practices or helping with special event dinners. I stocked the suites in between games, riding pallet carts filled with cases of beer down the empty halls of the stadium and having endless pointless conversations with my coworkers about how much homework we had, how we longed for the free time our peers wasted, which events we hated working the most.

It was expected to bitch about the job, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. There was something eerie and exciting about working in that giant space when no one else was around, and I secretly loved it. My meals were more often than not provided by the events I worked, or simply care of the friendly kitchen staff who would feed us leftovers even on days when there was nothing going on. If I could change anything about my college experience, I wouldn't have worked less — I would have chosen to simply study less.


So that's how I ended up in Boston, nearly three years ago, applying to work for a catering temp service that hired out servers and bartenders to events that needed the extra help. That's how I worked my first wedding that was marked by a hysterical bride and three gigantic performing drag queens. That's how I slowly got to know each of the million universities within the city limits, serving re-heated bacon-wrapped scallops and mini quiche by the trayful to both alumni and prospective students. That's how I had my first visit to the Cape (summer wedding) and attended the very first Boston Calling concert (beer garden).

When I finally landed a real, full-time job, I continued to bartend on the weekends because I have never been one to turn down extra money. Time went by. Raises and bonuses happened for the first time in my life. I got another new job. And I finally realized a month ago, with a weird jolt, that I really didn't need to keep bartending.

Maybe, instead, I should, like, try to have a social life? We'll see.

Either way, it's time to hang up my apron for good; pack away my bow and bistro ties, my scuffed black wingtips, and my now-dingy white Oxford.

Goodbye, my friends. You served me well. Probably better than I served anyone else.

A few more friendly tips learned from the food service industry:

Lesson #3: When they put out coffee at the end of an evening event, it's all decaf — no matter what the sign says.

Lesson #4: If the hors d'ouevres look like the frozen stuff you can buy at Costco, they probably are.

Lesson #5: You can become — and remain — a bartender without knowing anything about mixing drinks as long as you're charming and hard-working.

Lesson #6: Everyone should work a food service job at least once in their life. At worst, it will teach you humility and appreciation for others. At best, it will bless you with endless crazy stories and experiences, as well as some impressive biceps courtesy of all the heavy trays, racks of glassware, and cases of beer.





Date Night Win: Picnic on the Charles

by Lisa Lombardi in

It's officially winter, and while other people are gearing up for holiday cheer and cozy fires and pretty snow, I'm filled with dread.

I've long suspected that I am, physiologically, just not built for the cold. I'm someone who gets a chill just from sitting. Inside. While wearing three layers of clothing. Every winter, I waddle around like an overstuffed sausage because the only way I can manage to leave the house is if I've armed myself with an especially thick pair of long johns under my (logically) skinny jeans.

As I type this, I'm rapidly losing feeling in my fingers and my nose is like a half-melted ice cube: cold and drippy. It was 55 and sunny today, people. This doesn't give me much hope for when the actual cold weather arrives.

All this meandering whining is to say: I'm feeling nostalgic for those blazing hot summer days.

Dock along the Charles River

Dock along the Charles River

One of the great things about living in Boston is getting the "Major City" vibe while still being in close proximity to the ocean. Like, hop-on-the-T close. Some days, however, a trip to the beach just isn't in the cards. For those days, I've found the Charles River to be a pretty solid stand-in.

This past summer, on one of the hottest, most humid days of the season, Tim and I packed a picnic and rode our bikes to the docks by the river. We spent the afternoon napping, reading, and watching the boats go by, and it was one of my favorite dates yet.

Fellow Bostonians, keep this in mind for next summer. Use it as your shining beacon of hope to help you get through this hellish period that some people are dumb enough to call "the most wonderful time of the year."

Here's what you do:


FIRST Grab your (1) bike and pack a (2) guilty pleasure book and (3) pair of shades. (I think I was actually reading something way more embarrassing at the time, probably with a pink cover and a picture of a sassy cartoon lady walking a dog.)

THEN Put a couple bottles of your preferred (4) ginger beer in your backpack (mine is the house-brewed Minuteman from Brookline Liquor Mart), along with a (5) lime, and a (6) piece of fresh ginger. If you're not the type to walk around with a knife in your pocket at all times (yes, even at weddings) like my boyfriend is, maybe grab that, too. Fill your dad's old army canteen with whatever (7) rum you have on hand (Kraken is good for this), and you are officially prepared to enjoy some riverside Dark and Stormys — the ideal beverage for watching boats as they both sail majestically and capsize hilariously.

A NOTE Alternatively, you could take the T to the Hynes Convention Center stop, get off, and walk to the Esplanade from there, but why would you want to? Riding your bike beats being crammed into small quarters with a dozen other sweaty people any day.

DON'T FORGET On the way, stop at the Super 88/Hong Kong Supermarket and purchase a couple (8) bahn mi sandwiches at the food court. The lady there is nice and says you're pretty, and the sandwiches are a steal for under $4. 

MY BOYFRIEND SAID IT WAS OKAY If you're feeling brave, cool off with intermittent jumps into the Charles. Yes, it sounds sketchy, but the river was officially cleared for swimming in 2013, when the first public community swim in more than fifty years was held. Technically, you should only swim in it on official, sanctioned days, but sometimes it's just too damn hot to follow the rules.