Southern Date

—Wednesday, August 17, 2011—

I expected the night to involve nothing more than a nice and pleasant date, which I was happy for since it was the third woman that I’d gone out with in as many weeks who did not know about the project. I was looking forward to her being the last. It felt too dishonest to do any more that way.

All we had planned was dinner, and since it was with someone I didn’t know, there was not much pressure.

My second date from the website How About We…, I found Belle because she had a southern reference in her username. When I took a look over her profile, I saw that she had studied abroad in Florence, Italy and had loved it. I too had studied in, and loved, Florence, so I figured she would be a fun person to take to an Italian restaurant. I was still prone to passionate ramblings when I talked about my Italy experience and I knew I’d love to spend time with someone who related. My pitch to her was that we’d try to find some honest Italian food and reminisce a bit.

Who wouldn’t love to get together and talk about a romantic period of one’s life while enjoying a fine Italian meal? Only a fool, that’s who. A buddy from work, Matt (the same guy who’d hooked me up with Mets tickets), recommended a restaurant in Park Slope — Scottadito Osteria Toscana. After looking it up, I thought it sounded like a great choice and was made even sweeter since there was a Scoutmob deal at the place.

It was also appropriate, given that Matt was instrumental in planning both Sporting Event Date and this Southern Date, that I heard from Ariana earlier that day. We had seen each other a handful of times since attending the Mets game together and were in contact regularly. I had told her my date would be in her neighborhood, so we made very tentative plans to meet up after. After all, we had done the same thing two weeks earlier after Comedy Date.

As I approached the restaurant, I took my headphones out of my ears, coiled them up and slipped them into my man purse. I saw a young woman with blonde hair standing outside and assumed I was looking at Belle. She saw me as I approached and we greeted one another. I wasn’t really sure if she was looking for a handshake or a hug so I awkwardly did nothing. My hands went to the strap on my murse and I squeaked out, “Heyyy. Belle? It’s nice to meet you.” She gave me a very friendly hello in response and we entered into the restaurant.

No sense in wasting time there not hugging, we had Italian food to eat.

The door was a bit confusing in regards to pushing or pulling, but we managed to enter the restaurant without too much trouble, as entering a restaurant should be.

We were seated outside on a small sidewalk patio. The décor was very Tuscan — unfinished wooden beams, stone table tops and fleur-di-lis everywhere (the city’s symbol). The menus were even covered by fleur-stamped leather, a specialty of Florence, which was one of the more cow-centric cities in Italy.

Holy shit. I love Florence. I need to go back. 

That’s what I was thinking as I opened the humble menu. It was not fat with choices, like so many we are used to in the states, but one which was perfectly indicative of Italy. A lesson I had learned from living there and eating the food there, is that it is always better to do a few things well rather than many things in mediocrity. I haven’t lived too well by that lesson, but I’d be better off if I would.

Our waiter came out to greet us and also to tell us the specials of the night. Everything except the asparagus soup sounded lovely. I don’t know, I just don’t like cold soups. We poured over the menu as we talked about our study abroad experiences.

Belle was in Florence within a year of when I was there and we even attended the same school. We also discovered that we had the same teacher for our History of Mafia class: the always friendly Lorenzo. I returned to Florence three years later as an employee of another school and I’d been in touch with Lorenzo ever since. In fact, I last messaged with him only two or three months prior. Belle was mildly jealous of this fact. Lorenzo was a great guy, so I’d have been a little jealous too.

That reminds me, I should message Lorenzo.

While looking at wines, I mentioned that I took a wine tasting class while in Florence, so Belle designated me the sommelier for the evening. When the waiter returned to take our orders, he informed us that all the wine bottles were half price that night. Suddenly, it looked like we were getting a bottle! They were all out of the Montepulciano, so I went for another old standard, Chianti Classico. Belle ordered the gnocchi and I ordered one of their homemade pastas. I’m an absolute sucker for homemade pasta. Do you guys remember that movie where the guy makes an offer the other guy can’t refuse? And they’re both Italian? Remember?!?! Well, that’s how I feel when I see homemade pasta on a menu.

Before anything else arrived, we were brought samples of the asparagus soup, free of charge. The staff there was wonderful. Plus, the soup was delightful and warm, unlike I had expected! I don’t know why I had assumed it would be cold. We spoke even more about Florence, and traveling all over Italy. Travel, in general, became a topic of much conversation, carrying us all the way through to the arrival of our meals.

Throughout the ordering process, and the initial introductions, it was apparent that Belle was very thoughtful and wanted to make sure that everything would go smoothly. Her nearly constant smile and bright eyes painted the portrait of a very warm person.

She asked me where I grew up, so we went down the origin story road for a while. She was from the foothills of Georgia, a true southern girl. She said like she liked it in NYC but that she would probably return to Georgia eventually. Much of her past travels had involved scuba diving, which was something she grew up doing with her father and brother. I told her I never expected to meet a scuba diver from the foothills of Georgia, but I guess anything was possible.

The prior conversation put us on the topic of the North versus the South. I’m not talking about the War of Northern Aggression, just some of the differences between the two. On the whole, she thought that people in the South were definitely nicer than those in the North. They were friendlier and often had better manners. Also, she didn’t really like the winter, but neither did I, so I probably complained about it just as much as she did. I did like the snow though. I used to love snowboarding and skiing when I was a kid. Belle almost seemed in awe of the fact that I could once do either. It was funny. Growing up in the Northeast, almost everyone I knew could ski.

She asked me if I liked any other sports and, despite the fact that I only played it until I was twelve, I told her I liked to watch basketball. I didn’t score any points with that though, because the sport didn’t do anything for her. She was from Georgia, so college football was king. She was a huge college football fan. That was how she spent many Fall Saturdays. Plus, she said it was easy to love college ball when Atlanta professional sports were so routinely disappointing.

I asked her about where she lived, which was nearby in Prospect Heights, and she said she really enjoyed the neighborhood. She loved living in Brooklyn because there were so many good bands from there and out of town bands that played there on a regular basis. Live music was one of her passions and she went to shows regularly. She used to get to see many shows for free while working at a major label and was still able to since she was working in media marketing. I was jealous.

If I could do anything with my life, what would it be? That was Belle’s first real probing question of the night. She was very surprised when I told her I would choose to be an actor. She said she never would have guessed that. We talked about how I did improv and how I used to act and play music in college. Apparently, I was not giving off neither the sensitive nor entertaining artist vibes that night. Maybe it was the work clothes. All that talent was pretty amazing, she thought, but I knew my talents were pretty limited. That was the curse of having seriously talented friends.

Belle didn’t think she had any talents of her own but would love to become a tour manager. She supposed that her real talent was organizing the talent. I have often thought the same thing about myself. I just refuse to admit that I’ll never be in the spotlight. I’ve always been good enough not to give up. I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

We talked about the different music we liked and about going to see shows. She was going to see the Dave Matthews Band the following week and had recently seen Beyoncé in rock start fashion, sitting right by Diddy. She got the hook up from work for that one. I told her about the recent Rx Bandits and Incubus shows that I had attended. Also, I talked about the Black Crowes show I saw in college when I used to work for the radio and write for the paper. That was about the coolest hook up a job ever gave me in terms of concerts.

Somehow, some way, we found ourselves talking about children’s names. Don’t ask me why this would ever happen on a first date, but it was happening. Belle always had some kids names picked out and they changed frequently, but she liked rock star last names for first names, such as Jagger. I couldn’t seriously talk about naming my never-to-be children so I told her I wanted to name my kid Hammerhead Shark Barden. It got the best laugh of the night.

“James Aldrige, Betsy Baker, Hammerhead Barden, Owen Callery…”

“I’m sorry professor, but that’s actually Hammerhead Shark, not Hammerhead.

“Oh, you prefer your full name?”

“Yes, please. Full name.”

“All right then Mr. Barden. Hammerhead Shark it is!”

We sat for a long while after we’d eaten, finishing our wine, and talking the entire time. There was no rush at all from the staff or on either of our ends — a perfectly Italian experience. Once our food was cleared, we were served limoncello. Although I’d never particularly loved the sweet liquor, it was not a bad finish to the meal.

I got up to use the bathroom and to show the waiter my Scoutmob deal. This dude was all over it. I didn’t even get my phone out before he guessed, “Scoutmob?” “Yeah, “ I replied. “No problem,” he told me. It was the total opposite of my first date where I tried to use an online deal and was denied. I enjoyed the successful approach much more.

Also, I texted Ariana to let her know things were wrapping up.

Belle and I talked for a little while longer as we finished our limoncello and then we split the more than reasonable bill. Very easy, very casual.

She insisted on walking me to the train and I didn’t have to balls to tell her I wasn’t leaving Brooklyn just yet, so I let her walk me there. As we walked, we talked about snow days and how even a dusting was enough to shut things down in the South. I laughed. My dad had been plowing snow for years by that time and we’d seen all kinds of storms growing up. As much as I hated him for it, he always made sure we went to school when it snowed. Oh well, one more small difference between the North and South.

Belle had been really good company, and a really nice date, but I was glad to have it behind me. While I was not looking forward to telling her that the date had been a part of a project, I was looking forward to having it be the last of the dates which would have such an odd guilt attached to it.

We said our thank you’s and goodbyes and went our separate ways.

My night wasn’t quite over though.

I waited underground at the entrance to the subway until I thought Bella would be gone and I texted Ariana.

Ten minutes later, I greeted Ariana at the entrance of Union Hall and the second part of my night began.