FIRST SHE CALLED and later we mer, but most of what she told me she told me on the phone that first day. Meeting her was important, though, because then I got to see what she looked like. She was short and her hair was cut short and she was, as she said, 20 pounds overweight -- looking. I have to tell you, like all the easy marks of days gone by. The difference now was that she was 41 and the mother of four and twice divorce, and you would have thought, too old to dream. She wasn't.

She told me her story on the phone. Before she got to any of the details she told me she had been "conned." That is the word she used and that is why I became confused. She went through her story, the story of meeting a guy in a singles bar, and she said she wanted me to write her story. She wanted to warn other women about the con. There was that word again and I thought of a guy I once knew who conned women, who took them for their money or their jewels or something like that. So I asked about money or jewels and finally about her car, and she said no, it was nothing like that.

Anyway, it didn't mater to me because just a month or so before I had gone out to dinner and then dropped into a place called the Apple Tree, which is, I suppose, a singles place. I watched what there was to watch and then it all came back to me --how I hated them.

What I hated the most. I guess was how there was no way to say with your looks what kind of person you were -- how you were a wit and a poet and a scholar. There was no way to say that, so you tried all the standard lines and sometimes you cornered some girl and talked to her and noticed that she was looking through you and around you and sometimes playing eye games with some greaseball with a Corvette parked outside.

There were nights like that but there were nights, too, when things clicked and you had to say other things -- how you would respect her and how you didn't do these things all the time, and yes you cared about her as a person, and of course there was more to it than sex. But there wasn't and afterwards you wondered why you had done what you had done and what in the world you were now going to talk about and how in God's name you were going to get out of driving her home. So you would make up some story and she would listen to it and she would say it was all right and she understood, but she would give you that look. You remember the look.

So anyway, I was thinking of these things and talking to the lady on the phone and we both agreed that, yes, singles bars were the pits. She told me her story. She told me how she had been talked into going to a singles bar and how she had met this guy there. He was a lawyer, he said, and he was new in town and he was going out of town but he would call. And he did. He called three times from out of town and when he got back they had a date.

His car was broken so she picked him up and they went to the cocktail lounge at the Howard Johnson's near the Watergate. He kissed her and told her he had missed her and he said there were birthday presents in the car for her -- he hadn't forgotten after all. He asked her if she wanted to go sailing on Sunday and then when they were talking about resorts he said his friends had a place in Jamaica. They could go there Christmas --

Well, it was quick all right and there were things he said that contradicted things he had told her the first night, but he was good looking and he was smart and made, he kept saying, a nice living. She said he was the "perfect man." She said he was "like a dream." So when they went over to the Watergate Hotel to pick up his keys in a room he said his friend was using they wound up smooching on the couch and then making love on the bed. Later they went out for dinner at the Rive Gauche where he said he had a reservation. She drove and he sat next to her, telling her what a lucky man he was. When they got to the corner where the restaurant was, he said he would jump out to check on the valet parking. He got out and she saw him near the bank and then she lost track of him.

When she got to the restaurant he wasn't there and so she checked the reservations. There was none in his name. So she went back to the Watergate and she knocked on the door of the room they had been in and no one answered. She went down to the lobby and she sat for a while. She was angry and she was hurt and the breaths came in deep gulps. Finally, she went home.

She called me and she told me the story and she said that she had been conned. I listened and I took it all down, and as I said, I sort of missed the point. I asked what she meant by a con and later I asked another women -- what had she lost? She fixed me with her eyes and patted me on the head as if to say "typical man," and she said, "A dream." And I said "Of course" to myself, and then i thought of those other women and those other bars and that look.

Now I know what it meant.