Dani Shapiro
August 28, 2013

Be Mine Department

On patrol at Barney’s with a professional matchmaker. “Talk of the Town”

One recent Saturday afternoon on the main floor of Barneys, R., an attorney in his early thirties, huddled near the Chanel counter with an auburn-haired woman. She was too old to be his girlfriend but too young to be his mother. They spoke quietly, their eyes scanning the cosmetics department. Finally, R. focused on a young woman with wet dark hair and a black backpack. He pointed discreetly. “What about that one?”

Janis Spindel left R. and walked toward the girl, who was outlining her mouth in nude lip pencil. Spindel leaned into the counter, staring intently. The girl didn’t notice her. Spindel came back, shaking her head. “She could be awesome, except for the nose,” she said.

Spindel is a professional matchmaker who started her business seven years ago, when she realized that she had set up dozens of her friends for free. Each of her males clients pays her ten thousand dollars a year for a minimum of twelve dates.

She and R. moved on, gliding past parents with infants in Snuglis and middle-aged men in weekend leather. “There’s nobody here today,” Spindel said. “Maybe we should try Bloomingdale’s.” Then she spotted a small-boned, very young woman riffling through a basket of tortoiseshell hair ornaments. “What about that one?” she asked. R. shook his head. “She’s, like, fourteen,” he said.

“I beg to differ,” replied Spindel, who briskly walked over and struck up a conversation with the young woman. She returned, triumphant. “She’s twenty. Goes to B.U.,” she said. “Still too young for you. Adorable, though.”

They moved on, to the Stila counter, where an array of pretty women were squeezing lip gloss from industrial-looking aluminum tubes. An Amazonian blonde in orange spandex running pants stood out among them. “Check her out,” the five-foot-seven-inch attorney said. He looked up at her through rectangular wire-rimmed glasses and ran a hand through his hair.

In a flash, Spindel was by her side. “Excuse me,” Spindel interrupted. The blonde paused, two different shades of shimmering pink goo on the tips of two long fingers. “I know this is going to sound like an insane question, but are you married or single?” A flush spread across the woman’s healthy cheeks, and she smiled broadly. Lip gloss momentarily forgotten, she dug through her bag for a business card.

“She’s thirty-four. An agent for fashion-industry photographers,” Spindel reported back to her client, who had been watching from across the aisle by a glass case filled with chiffon scarves. Not for you.”

“N.M.O.T.?” R. queried.

“Certainly not,” Spindel answered, and then explained, “He needs to marry a Jewish girl. She was clearly Not a Member of the Tribe.”

Spindel and R. proceeded downstairs to Fred’s, the lower-level restaurant. They passed two thirtyish women who were eating soup and drinking cappuccino at the bar. They had salon-fresh hair tucked behind diamond-studded ears, and each had a small Fendi croissant bag on her lap. What was wrong with them?” Spindel asked. R. looked over at them. “They were chewing with their mouths open,” he said.

An elegant, angular woman in a fur-collared coat stood near the maitre d’s station, talking on a cell phone. Spindel homed in on her, eyes narrowing. While she went off to check out her target, R. took a deep breath. “You know, I’m just a friend of Janis’s. I’m not a client,” he said. “I’d never pay five dollars for a date. I don’t have to.”

Spindel came back, looking dejected. “Married. Mega-diamond on her finger.”

Not to be deterred, Spindel struck up a conversation with the two women at the bar, despite R.’s reservations about their table manners. After all, this is what her clients pay her to do. If these women aren’t right for R., they might be right for someone else.

Outside, on Madison, R. kissed Spindel goodbye. As he disappeared into the crowd of weekend shoppers, Spindel pulled out her cell phone and hailed a taxi. “He’s very neurotic about the whole matchmaking thing,” she said. “No one wants to admit to being a client. It breaks my heart.” In the back of the taxi, she checked her beeper. “Out of seventy weddings, I haven’t been invited to one.”