—Tuesday, July 5, 2011—
I walked up from the 1 train and took out my phone to orient myself. This was still common practice and I didn’t feel that it made me look like a novice, although I’m sure it did. I had moved to New York a year prior, and admittedly, I was still getting my bearings.
I headed east towards the river and realized that I’d never been to that particular neighborhood, nor to much of TriBeCa at all. But you know what they say about mini-golf: If you build it, they will come.
The sun glared in my eyes, which were protected by my safely-hip red shades. I was ten minutes early and I surveyed the Hudson River Park at Pier 25. It was a very cool public space. A skate park greeted me first, followed by a children’s water playground, and then the mini-golf course. Beyond that were beach volleyball courts, a soccer field, and even more activities further down. It was easy to find and very inviting – no long line and friendly teenagers working the makeshift ticket / concession stand. In addition, at $5 a game, it was perfect for a cheap date or some family fun. Indeed, almost every group there was a young family or a couple.
Lily arrived about five minutes after me and I recognized her from her website. She had a website because she was an actor. I’d seen her website because the url was in her email. She sent me an email the first week the One Hundred Dates website was live. So, there she was: my first date.
She smiled immediately, letting me know I hadn’t chosen someone completely terrible for the venture. As I moved to greet her, I was wholly unsure if I should approach this stranger with a handshake or a hug. I decided to be bold, since that was something I was working on with my therapist (myself). I gave her a hug and she didn’t seem thrown off in the least. If she was, she hid it well.
Remember: she was an actor.
Before we got going, Lily mentioned that she needed to use the bathroom and asked the cashier if she may do so, only to be informed that the bathrooms were under construction and not yet open. There were however, portable toilets around the corner. I immediately felt like I hadn’t done my homework and there was an ominous feeling that it wouldn’t be the only time that night that I’d feel unprepared. Unfazed, she left to use the facilities.
In the meantime, the in-between time, I bought us a couple waters because it was still hot out and there is nothing worse than sweating on a first date and not at least having water there to stop your mouth from turning into a cavern of cotton balls. Also, I was perpetually worried about hydration that summer.
We selected our clubs (both purple) and balls (hers: pink?; mine: blue) and I asked Lily how her day was. First thought: “Nice Evan. Start with the smallest of talks ever.” I got over my own dullness quickly as we entered the Thunderdome (mini-golf course). She warned me that she was not very good at golf. Uh oh – I didn’t want the date to be embarrassing for her. It is not fun to play a sport against someone you want to impress and then crush them with skill. Fortunately, mini-golf was not my strongest game either. That would be Apples to Apples.
As we began the mini-golf, we discussed where we each grew up. She was from a Seattle suburb – I’m from a Boston suburb. So similar, and yet opposites! I could smell a one-season sitcom. We talked about New York and where we lived in the city before I asked her what she thought made New Yorkers different from everyone everywhere else. As an out Bostonian living in New York City, I had come to recognize that while there were things specific to New Yorkers, it was largely a Northeastern culture that we represented. We hate each other because we’re so similar. I know plenty of people will disagree with that but that’s only because they’re dumb New Yorkers. Lily couldn’t quite articulate what makes us unique from the rest of the country, but she assured me that it was something.
She worked as a tour guide to pay the bills and even though Lily had been here for four years, she regularly added two to the count to provide legitimacy. “You know that they say it takes ten years to be a New Yorker,” she told me. If that’s really all it takes, I can certainly see myself becoming a New Yorker. I suppose something might cause me to pick up and move, but hopefully nothing dumb like fear, panic, or a sense of failing.
It’s about this time that she took out the bottle of water she brought with her. Despite not needing the extra one I gave her, she was kind enough to say “thank you” when I did.
Oh, and then she sank the first (and only) hole in one of the evening. I followed by hitting my ball out of play. I was officially losing. Good thing we were not keeping score.
The mini-golf stabilized at decent to above-average, and the conversation moved to acting and improv. We had both taken classes at UCB and Lily offered encouraging words about actors who didn’t get their break until they were a bit older. It was nothing new to me, but it was nice to hear that other people had some kind of faith which I seemed to lack. I should mention that comedic acting is my “Cocktails & Dreams” of this Tom Cruise life I live.
We approached the toughest hole on the course, which was a narrow bridge going over a creek, talking about our college experiences. With a population in the neighborhood of 4,000 students, I always thought my alma mater (Fairfield University) was fairly small. Well, StagNation is a giant compared to Santa Fe University’s 800 students. Between size, location, and majors (Musical Theater vs International Business/Finance) I guessed that Lily and I had somewhat different college experiences. That was cool though. I’ve never been one for homogeny.
By the time we finished playing, it was a toss up as to who had won. Again, I was glad we didn’t keep score. I am far too competitive for my own good.
As we walked to dinner, we talked about siblings and familial relations. She was the eldest of three, while I’m the youngest of two. Her parents guilted her about not visiting enough. My father did the same. It was all fairly normal, I suppose. I told her I had a gift certificate to a place nearby so we turned in that direction. I’d been holding off on mentioning the gift certificate because well, some people view that as being cheap, but based on her earlier praise of GroupOn, I calculated the risk and went for it. She was totally cool with discount dining.
The restaurant, Ivy’s Bistro, was quaint, casual, and sparsely populated, but not in the way that said, “This place is terrible; do not eat here.” We found a table for two in the back corner and settled in. I suggested she take the booth seat because I assume that everyone, deep down, wants the booth seat, even if they tell you they have no preference. That claim is bullshit. Everyone wants the booth seat. And since I’m a decent guy, Lily got the booth seat.
A couple pinot noirs were set in front of us as we waited for our dinner to arrive. We chatted about wine and craft beer, both speaking independently about the same West Village bar before realizing what we were doing and finally settled on, “Oh yeah, Blind Tiger. That place is great.” It was a solid “ah-ha” moment.
I dug into my chicken marsala while Lily took her first bite of mac & cheese fancy. We landed back on the topic of career and ambition. Since I have always had a million back up plans of what to do with my life [none of them are actual plans, per say, just things I might like to do], I asked Lily what was her back up plan. “I don’t have one,” she told me. I love that. Do you hear me, world? I LOVE that mentality. I read all the time about people who have “made it” in their respective fields and the recurring theme is that they couldn’t do anything else with their lives than what their doing. They don’t know what they’d be doing if not pursuing their dream. I’m envious of those people. They’re the Tom Cruises in this Cocktail of a world.
The food was good and the wine was better. I mean to say, I really liked the wine. We finally talked about pop culture for the first time, which was an immediate indication that we were running out of gas and getting to the end of the date. It wasn’t a bad thing mind you; this was a first date and we were entering the third hour. I think we’d gone a long while without discussing movies or books.
Our server brought us the check and I, like a young, suave Tom Cruise, took out my gift certificate and gave him a wink. [OK, so I didn’t actually wink, but Tom would.] He hesitated a moment and then went to the register to apply my $25 of guilt-free, non-cash money to the bill. Naturally, he returned a minute later to inform me that the gift certificate was only good with the purchase of two entrees, and while it was a fine effort, Lily had indeed ordered a “pasta” not an “entree”. I immediately went into big man mode, assuring both Lily and our server that it was “not a problem at all” and I took out my AMEX (Blue) to pay for the meal.
There’s no sense in lying. It was awkward and embarrassing. There I was, trying to save a few bucks on a dinner, trying to impress this young, attractive woman, and my gift certificate was rejected. I made it even more awkward by not acknowledging that the whole deal sucked. We probably would have laughed about it if I had admitted how stupid I felt and how sorry I was for taking her on a date where a waiter had to tell me that my frugality was futile. I did no such thing. I simply brushed it under the rug like a redheaded stepchild, we gathered our things, and left.
We walked a few blocks together before saying goodbye. I gave her another hug. This one was much better than the first. More comfortable. Less forced. Due to a lingering guilt from the gift certificate debacle and because she was my first date of the One Hundred, I thanked her no less than three times before parting ways.
It was very much a first date. It was probably the most first datey first date I’d been on at the time. But that was fine. In fact, I think that was the perfect way to start this project because I would be going on many first dates and if this one was good, I imagined most of them would be just as pleasurable, if not more so. That gave me confidence going forward. I met up with a complete stranger, got to know her a bit, and had some fun along the way. I’ll take it. One Hundred Dates was officially off the ground!
*Thanks to Tom Cruise for making the movie Cocktail, for all us dreamers out there.