—Tuesday, August 16, 2011—
The day in question was my first vacation day of 2011 and I took it in the name of One Hundred Dates.
It felt fantastic to sleep in a little, run a couple errands, get some work done and then finally head out to start my day. Having plenty of time to work at my own pace and going from one place to another really reminded me of college. Appropriate then, that my date that day was College Girl Date. I dressed myself, responded to a couple work emails and headed out from my apartment around 2 p.m.
On my way to the train, I grabbed a coffee and an apple from Othello. The apple was finished as I boarded and the coffee was gone by the time I reached Manhattan. A stick of gum set my breath relatively straight. I arrived a bit early and sat on a bench on Broadway, wondering exactly how the date might play out. I was not nervous at all. If anything, I was concerned about making my date feel comfortable.
I tried to imagine myself being a senior in college and going out on a first date with a real live adult that I’d never met before. I would have been freaking out. I would have worried about being too “college”. I’d have been stressed about the differential in lifestyles.
As a 25 year old though, I was not worried because my date was the exact same age as my most recent girlfriend, down to the month, and my ex had been in college the entire time we dated. Unlike most of my soon to be 26 year old brethren, it was very familiar territory for me.
Plus, someone even older than me had already vouched for Sarah, my date for the day. It was all set up by Sarah’s supervisor, and future date of mine (who would end up being my Stargazing Date), who recommended her as “a very adorable (age appropriate) intern at my job.” When I got the email from Sarah’s supervisor, I was not only thrilled to have someone pimping for me, but was also very happy that an adult woman was setting me up with my College Girl Date, since it was one of the more predatory-sounding dates on my list.
When I arrived to the billiards hall, I saw Sarah standing outside with her phone to her ear, her back towards me. I held up on my approach so she could finish her call but as soon as she saw me, she dropped her hand to her side and said hello. She hadn’t been having a conversation, just listening to a voicemail or something. She greeted me in a very friendly fashion, going right in for a hug. She instantly seemed perfectly at home with the whole date thing. So much for needing to make her feel comfortable.
As we entered the pool hall, she told me that she was having kind of sort of a terrible day. When I asked her why, she told me about how she had been going through an appeal process with her school to get additional financial aid which she needed for her next semester. I could relate to that struggle to get the money she needed for college. People got it in different ways and I knew it could be tough. She was supposed to email some form that day but realized she hadn’t done it properly as she was on her way to our date. For a moment I wondered if she needed to bail so I asked her, but she said that wasn’t necessary.
I was relieved that our date wasn’t over as soon as it began.
We were greeted by the manager and quickly given our billiard balls and table number. The billiards club was not a smokey dive like so many others, rather one with fine hardwood furniture, classic interior decorating, low lights and a surprisingly decent bar. I racked our first game as Sarah went in search of the bathroom.
Upon her return, I asked Sarah if she wanted to break but she told me that I had better do it since she was not particularly good at that part. To think, this was coming from someone who warned me via text message to bring my “A-game”. It sounded like she wasn’t the pool shark her intimidating text would have led one to believe.
I didn’t know anything about Sarah, so I actually asked her a lot of questions, more than I normally might on a first date. Like most people, I prefer it when details arise organically, but sometimes it just makes sense to ask questions. To my benefit, it felt much more casual to do that while playing a game of pool rather than sitting face to face at a table.
Learning about Sarah’s family was interesting and made me feel like a boring white person. She was half Haitian and half Taiwanese, which was a combination I can’t say I had ever seen before and question whether I’ll run into again. I could have never guessed her background by looking at her. She even told me that most people thought she was Hawaiian or a Pacific Islander, which was what I would have assumed. On top of her intriguing ethnicities, she was very cute too, so it was a solid mix her parents had bestowed upon her.
Me? I was just super white. Both sides of my once-European family had been in the country so long that we had no traditions, customs or known family held over from anywhere else. I was straight up American, through and through. It was probably why I liked traveling so much.
I had already scratched once by the time we moved on from family and background and onto some other topics. I ended up scratching five times over the course of the game, almost entirely off of the 13 ball, which wound up being my last on the table. That little devil.
Sarah was in school at Penn State, which I’d never been to, but wasn’t too far from where my friend Brian was married the year before, so I had some geographic point of reference. She said it was a big party school, but that wasn’t really her scene most of the time, so she got bored with it occasionally. I felt like some old know-it-all when I told her to not take it for granted. Life on the outside just wasn’t the same.
She asked me about how I liked my job, and the whole adulthood thing in general, in comparison to college. I remembered some people who couldn’t wait to leave school and they loved their jobs and making money, but I’d have been lying if I said that the real world was better than college. It just wasn’t. Sure, I was very happy not to be poor any longer and I was happy to be in a big city rather than a small suburb, but the way I used my time and the accessibility to so many friends wasn’t close to what it was in college.
I missed the days of bouncing from class to meeting to lunch to class to rehearsal to the dorm to a townhouse to the diner and seeing eight different groups of people in the process. Taking a Saturday night and walking from one house to the next, visiting with people. It was the best. I tried to recreate it as much as possible in adulthood, but when the equivalent of going across campus was going from Queens to Jersey City, it was not that easy. Really though, it was not all bad, I told her, it just took a little more effort.
We sipped on a pair of cocktails as we began our second game, which would hopefully not contain such an unreasonable number of scratches on my part. Unfortunately, the game started very slowly with neither of us being able to sink any balls for a while. We talked to each other about our hobbies and she ended up asking a lot of questions about improv, so we talked about that for some time. Improv eventually transitioned into more of a discussion on life philosophies, which is a really vague and pretentious way to say that I told her I was an optimist and believed that you could not control the world, only do your best to prepare for it.
Sarah and I finally got our second game moving along and we were actually hitting some shots. I asked her about growing up and living in Queens, since I imagined the experience of a young woman deep in Queens was significantly different than a boy in the suburbs. I never once had to worry about my safety growing up or what time I was walking through certain neighborhoods. Not only did Sarah have those general concerns to deal with, but she also had overprotective parents looking after her. I noted that many immigrant parents seem to be overprotective in certain ways, and Sarah definitely said it was true in her case.
Her dad was a particularly intimidating man growing up, she told me. I quipped that it must have been tough then to bring boys home and she affirmed my suspicion. That led us into a conversation about her first and only boyfriend and my first two girlfriends. The date was so relaxed at that point that it really didn’t seem inappropriate to dive into our mutual histories. I also felt like it was more common to talk about relationships when you’re young or haven’t had many. People who have dated extensively rarely want to drag all their old, ugly, treated-them-like-shit skeletons out of the closet.
As we started our third game, we only had 10 or 15 minutes until our time was up and the manager came over to remind us of that fact. As we rushed through what ended up being an incomplete game, Sarah commented how she was surprised she hadn’t been carded — it was still her first summer in the city being legal. I’d forgotten how big of a deal that was as the novelty had long worn off for me. Still though, my previous girlfriend was 20 years old the entire time we dated. Only after we had broken up had I gone out once or twice with her and seen her drink legally. That was only eight or nine months earlier. Things had changed quickly.
I pointed to the four guys at the bar who were clearly borderline in terms of being able to legally drink and I said, “Maybe that’s why they come here. Maybe this place never cards.”
We sank as many balls as we could before our time was up and returned everything to the front counter. As we exited the billiards club, I asked Sarah what she wanted to do; whether she was hungry, wanted a drink, or what. She told me she would like to be outside and she asked if I wanted to go to Central Park. Since we were only a few blocks south of it, I suggested that we check out Madison Square Park instead and she jumped on the easy access option.
It was actually my first time in Madison Square Park during daylight hours. I was always there at night, it seemed. In fact, it was the first time I’d ever noticed the tall, oblong sculpture of a face in the middle of the park. Its gaze almost seemed to be following us as we passed by the front of it. It was somewhat unnerving. We made a full loop around the park before finding an open bench. We even stumbled upon a colorful little caterpillar along the way.
Before I was able to take a seat, my friend Matt tapped me on the shoulder to say hello. I don’t think I’d seen Matt for roughly three years, although we had stayed in touch via Twitter. And yes, I mean that. We went to college together and knew each other through the radio station. He could only stay long enough to tell me that he worked nearby and needed to run to catch a train. It was really good seeing him though. He was one of those kids from school who I really appreciated and still wanted to get to know better. Sarah asked me if that was weird, running into people, but I told her that it happened fairly frequently in the city because of where I went to school.
“So, how’s your life?” Sarah asked me.
“Like, right now, or in general?” I responded.
“Just…in general,” she clarified…I guess.
That was actually kind of a loaded question, right? She was not asking me in passing. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to simply say, “Oh, life’s good. How are you these days?” She was asking a casual question in a situation where I actually had a chance to answer. It really wasn’t an opportunity which came along too often.
As much as I hated those obnoxious yuppy tee shirts from the nineties, I really had no choice but to answer, “Life is good.” And it was the truth. I had plenty of things I could have whined about because they caused me stress or emotional conflict, but to be honest, they were all good problems to have. They were not real problems like mental illness, poverty or hunger. My life, compared to most of the world, was really fucking good. I was glad that Sarah took a second to remind me of that.
In the middle of our conversation, I saw a familiar face pass by us and I rose up as I yelled, “Aamina!” Another long-lost friend from Fairfield had crossed my path less than 15 minutes after seeing Matt. I hadn’t seen Aamina since she graduated in 2007 and I’d barely been in touch with her at all, which made it even more of a significant run in. We spoke for a few minutes, and much like Matt, I learned that she worked very close by. I told her that we’d have to catch up soon, and she was on her way. I never did meet up with Aamina, but it was so cool to run into such great folks. Plus, Sarah must have thought I was a big man on campus.
The fact that Sarah was asking me questions was a good sign. After a couple hours together, I think she was beginning to get even more comfortable around me, which led to more of a dialogue than merely question and response. She told me that her life was also good, which was what I would have expected from a college senior. If your life is bad at that point, I’m sure there’s something big going on. It was good to know that we were both good. In that moment though, I did have one problem: I really needed to pee.
We crossed the street to the only bar I knew in the area: Live Bait. I was such a city drifter sometimes, particularly when I would be in and out improv classes, that I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’d purchased a beer or a coffee only so I could use the establishment’s bathroom. This was one of those times though.
It was funny too, because on my most recent trip to Madison Square Park, I had also gone to Live Bait, and it had been just two weekends before, for Museum Date.
As we crossed 23rd Street, Sarah asked me what kind of person I was.
Wow. She really had a way of asking extremely simple questions which required extensive thought. I began to answer as we entered the place, but I ran to the bathroom as soon we found two seats at the bar.
What kind of person was I? Jesus. I was eighty different people rolled into one. I was the confluence of all my friends, my family and my society. There had been times in my life when I had no good idea where Evan ended and external influence began. Needless to say, I gave Sarah a very long-winded answer which involved a good amount of talk about my mother’s death. It was one of the events that had shaped my life the most and continued to do so. It was a process which had yet to end, although it certainly got easier. It had a profound effect on how I lived my life, that was for certain.
So then, what kind of person was Sarah?
She didn’t know.
Gosh, that answer was just SO college. I made light of it, but really, she probably knew herself just as well as I knew myself. She was just more honest in saying “I don’t know” rather than my ramblings, which only maybe constituted a knowledge of oneself. I told her though, that I though she probably did know a bit about what kind of person she was. I could already tell what kind of person she was, I said to her. Based on the conversations I’d had with her that day and by the fact that she was on the date with me, I knew that she was adventurous and judgmental, yet open minded, and that she preferred to have just a few close friends over many distant ones. Those were all pretty good indicators of the kind of person Sarah might have been.
We moved on to talk about dating and relationships. Sarah had only had one relationship, and she felt the way about dating as I had after my first relationship. I always felt that you had to be friends first and that otherwise, dating was kind of insincere and you were never clear about the other person’s motives. I told her though, that after I experienced a couple more relationships, my mind was opened up to different approaches to finding love.
I went into detail about my previous relationship at her inquiry and, since I was very open to talking about it, she heard all the good parts. After hearing my story, Sarah told me she’d never been heartbroken before. How very lucky she was. We were getting hungry though, so we decided to head elsewhere for some food.
We walked down to Republic, an Asian noodle restaurant in Union Square, for dinner. I asked Sarah if she would like to have some dumplings as an appetizer and she said that she had a policy of only eating dumplings at home, since she had grown up with a Taiwanese grandmother. As much as I loved dumplings of all kinds, I thought that her policy was a great one to have. We got something else off the menu instead and put in our individual orders. I asked for a Vietnamese iced coffee and Sarah smiled as she was about to order the same thing. She told me how she and her friends loved getting them in Chinatown.
As we ate and drank, we found ourselves discussing dating in college versus dating in the real world. Since she had previously told me she thought dating was insincere, I asked her to elaborate on her thoughts. Sarah told me that a date was just two people getting together to hang out. If someone were to have asked her on a date, she wouldn’t have been excited and she wouldn’t have truly considered it a date in the romantic sense. It had to be one of the oddest opinions on dating I’d ever heard, but then again, she was in college and she had never had to deal with real dating. I told her that it would be different once she graduated. It did, however, explain why she’d been such a casual, easy going date.
The food hit the spot and although the coffees were not as good as Chinatown’s, they weren’t bad either. We shared our meals with each other, which is something that’s always worth doing when you haven’t eaten somewhere before. In line with Sarah’s non-romantic view on dating, we split the bill before heading out.
We both got on the N train towards Queens but by the time we rolled out of Queensboro Plaza, Sarah realized that the N wouldn’t get her to the transfer she needed. We both hopped off at the next stop and I mapped it out on my phone. I gave her a big hug goodbye and Sarah exited the platform, down to the street, and headed for the E train. I texted with her until she made it to her station, which was right around the time the next N train came along.
I stepped onto the train and headed home, ready to face the reality of adulthood the next morning, but it was nice to have been back to college for a day.