Open Mic Date

—Tuesday, August 23, 2011—

I was going to need to overcome a couple hurdles that night. The first was one I was getting used to — attempt to impress a date whom I did not know. The second was far less familiar to me — I’d have to perform two songs I’d written at an open mic in front of my date.

With those two challenges already on my plate, the last thing I needed was a communication breakdown. Alas, there I stood on Lexington Avenue, trying to locate Nina.

The most unfortunate thing about using Google Voice on my phone was that it relied on a data connection and I had AT&T, and I worked in Manhattan. At any reasonable hour when the city was alive with the hustle and bustle of its daily workers, I had relatively zero data signal. As such, I called Nina from my regular phone number and told her that I was on the southeast corner of 59th & Lexington. She would be there in a minute, she said.

I waited a minute, two minutes, three…

Shit. I was on the southeast corner of 60th & Lexington.

I walked south at a hurried pace and saw Nina waving to me from the other side of Lexington Avenue. Even from across the way, I could tell that she was just as friendly as anticipated. A number of emails had gone back and forth between Nina and I, leading up to that very moment. She had found me in a somewhat serendipitous fashion.

Months before, and living many states away, Nina had decided to move to New York City the coming fall. She was drawn there predominantly by the excitement of the city and its contrast to her then present environment. Along with the big move, it just so happened that Nina wanted to get to know the city, and herself, by going on fifty dates when she arrived, and she wanted to blog about it. By chance, one of her friends had attended a wedding back on the East Coast with a friend of mine who had been speaking kindly of OHD, and word made it to Nina that I was already underway with a similar project. She emailed me very excited to collaborate on a dating level, and that was the short story of how I came to be hugging Nina hello on the northeast corner of 59th St & Lexington Avenue at that very moment.

That day was Nina’s first day interning for a friend of hers as a online creative consultant and she was already very excited about the role. We would be attending an open mic in Astoria, not far from my apartment, and as we boarded the train, Nina asked me which stop was mine. When she found Astoria Blvd on the line, she remarked positively that we were only nine stops away.

As we rode the train, looking out over the Queens skyline, we discussed her move to NYC just one week earlier. It seemed as though the predominant fiasco had been her missing box of books. I told her not to worry. If she just had faith that the books would turn up, I was sure they’d appear. I’ve been told that this was what The Secret is about, but I just believed in positive thinking.

Nina was quite striking, I should mention. She was wearing an outfit that was well put together but casual in every way. Enough detail so that you could tell she had put thought into it, but nothing flashy. Not only did she look great, but her personality was remarkable. Nina must have been among the most upbeat and cheery women I’d ever met. All of those wonderful characteristics are what makes it feel terrible to say that I was truly not as comfortable around her as I wanted to be.

Without a doubt, Nina made me nervous. Physically, I was easily intimidated by tall, attractive women. Her outgoing nature only made me retreat further.

Also, I had my doubts as to how she viewed the date. All of my dates were supposed to be “real” dates, but because she was working on a similar project, I took her carefree attitude for one of apathy. Perhaps she was purposely not investing much in the night so that she would have nothing to lose. Truthfully, that would have been a smart strategy, but like most men, I prefer it when women actually want to be around me. Add to all of that the fact that I was going to have to sing in front of her, and I was not my typical self.

Nina told me of her battle with assembling her new IKEA furniture as we walked from the train to my apartment. She was very friendly and borderline bubbly, in a way that was enjoyable and sincere, but once again, I was not reciprocating at an appropriate level. As we walked down my street, Nina commented on it being a nice neighborhood. I had originally felt somewhat guilty about having her come all the way out to Astoria for the date, especially when there were so many open mics elsewhere, but she really wanted to explore the city. The fact that she seemed to like it so quickly was reassuring.

It was somewhat awkward entering the apartment and having Nina, whom I hardly knew, meet my roommate Pat, who was making himself dinner in the kitchen. Fortunately, Pat was the nicest guy that side of the Mississippi so everyone enjoyed meeting him. I drew her a glass of water [very important for dating] and as she talked with Pat, I changed out of my office clothes in the bedroom.

Once transformed, I gathered my guitar and the tools needed to tune it. Nina sat down to “listen” to me tune and suggested that I might need to warm up. She had no idea.

I needed to warm up, expand my vocal range and become a better guitar player all within the following 30 minutes. I had trouble singing in front of people. I was comfortable with other kinds of performance, but not singing, which was why I was painfully nervous at that moment.

We talked as I tuned and Nina made me laugh.

“That’s only the second time you’ve smiled all night,” she informed me.

“Oh yeah?” I questioned.

“Yeah, I’ve been counting,” she said in an endearing tone.

Well, that was just fantastic. Not only was I nervous, but it was obvious to my date that I was both nervous and acting noticeably withheld. I tuned my guitar, knowing full well that I needed to warm up, yet doing my best to avoid it. Nina continued to encourage me and soon enough I had no excuse not to play a song. She asked me if I wrote the tune and I laughed again. No, the song I played was by The Avett Brothers. It was exciting to know that she liked it though — it couldn’t have been too terrible.

The café hosting the open mic was at most a 10 minute walk away and we soon found ourselves outside its front doors. A peak inside of Waltz-Astoria told us that it was not very crowded. As such, we decided to grab a quick dinner about a block away. The small eatery, Fatty’s Cafe, which had been recommended to me, had a cute back patio and we got a table under the rear awning. An order of guacamole for Nina and chorizo tacos for me did the trick. She was fun to talk to because she asked interesting questions like, “What are you top five dream professions?” Also, I was beginning to loosen up a bit, which was good for both of us. Maybe the dark lager I drank had helped.

Nina wanted me to relax a bit, telling me I seemed tense, and although I was trying my hardest, the very act of being told to loosen up only assured that I would become more stiff. I turned her top five dream profession question around on her and I got sassed for not being creative, so I asked her what she liked to drink, which wasn’t very bold either. Alright then, think Bardy, what would be provocative?

As we left for the Waltz-Astoria, I asked Nina what her impressions of me were at that point. She told me that I seemed reserved and uncomfortable. I had also told her previously that I was nervous, so she mentioned that as well. I told her that there was a lot of truth to her observations but that I was not uncomfortable, it just took me a little while to warm up. Typically, my confidence would have been a bit higher, but I told her that she intimidated me.

Often, I could meet a date and depending on our history, or why I knew her or her body language, I could tell if I had any kind of reason to be confident. When I knew I had something like that, I was more sure of myself, more fluid and far more relaxed. But Nina had reached out to me with a mission of her own. She had sent the longer emails. She was the one who was perfectly at ease. She even had excellent posture, which I sorely lacked. All of those things factored into the equation. Also, I told her, the fact that I would potentially embarrass myself in front of her quite soon added considerably to my nervousness.

Naturally, Nina wanted to know what I though of her. What I’d already said painted a part of the picture but the main thing was that I didn’t think she was considering our date to be a “real” date. It seemed almost transactional for her. She then said, “Well, the whole thing is a bit contrived, isn’t it? I mean, you’re going on a hundred of these, how real can they be?” I told her that in the moment, and because it was still new to me, they were all real. I was there to be on a real date and I wanted her to be as well. I was not upset, but I was impassioned, as I told her that.

She said that almost immediately, I had shed my skin and loosened up — all it took was for me to tell her what was wrong. It always helps to clear the air.

We entered the café and I signed up in the 13th spot — looked like we would be there a while. The place was pleasantly small and rather quiet. Everyone was paying close attention to the stage. That kind of environment made me feel very intimidated. I almost would have preferred a pub atmosphere where many of the patrons would be going about their business and ignoring me. There was less pressure in that. We watched the end of some miserable stand up set and then went to the bar in the back so that we could actually talk. If we stayed in the main room, we wouldn’t have said two words to each other.

I wasn’t aware that the open mic would include comedy and spoken word, and when we both realized it, it was too late. Nina had meant to bring some of her poems, so that she could perform them, but failed to ever print them out. She spent a few minutes searching through her inbox for anything she might have saved, but no luck. It would have been nice if she could have performed as well.

With a pair of white wine sangrias in our hands we launched into a long conversation about our respective blogs. Perceptions, feelings, inspirations, and expectations. It was all quite interesting but it also added to the feeling that maybe it wasn’t a real date. We agreed on one thing wholeheartedly, which was that we both loved flirting and that it was a primary reason why dating was so fun. Once that was out of the way, we could flirt a little more openly.

Nina got tired early, so we went to sit outside for some fresh air. Out there, we began talking about the duality of how I could be both nervous and confident in the same night. By that time, I’d seen a number of acts and most of them weren’t very good. As cocksure as it was to say, I felt like I could have out funny’d any of the stand ups and that I would be on par or better than most of the musical guests. Eventually, I was told that I was three acts away from my slot.

I always have to pee when I’m nervous, so I used the bathroom and grabbed my guitar on the way back outside. I tuned up one last time while talking with Nina. She had been so encouraging of me all night and it was really making a difference. By the time I stepped onstage, I was nervous but in control of myself. Nina took a seat in the back left corner of the café as I placed my beer on the piano and plugged my guitar into the sound system.

I introduced myself, and in the moment before I began my first song, the nerves kicked in. I’ll spare you my own critique of the set and just say that I played my songs. I messed up in a couple places but it didn’t go terribly. My stage presence was most definitely my weak point. I stood relatively motionless, with my eyes closed, for almost the entire set. When asked about it afterwards, I told Nina that I knew it was poor form, but it allowed me to get through the nerves and therefor had its purpose. I was sure that if I continued to play shows, that behavior would subside.

On the walk back to my apartment, it was obvious that Nina was quite tired. She lived a good hour away and so as carefully as possible, I offered her accommodation at my place. It was a delicate subject to breach with someone I didn’t really know, but I assured her that I would do everything I could to make sure she was comfortable.

Ten minutes later, as Nina browsed through my DVD collection, she stopped on Wet Hot American Summer and remarked, “I have a friend in this.” Exqueezeme? She had a friend in one of my favorite movies of all time? Sure enough, Nina had gone to college with Cure Girl. And so, we found ourselves watching Wet Hot American Summer on my couch.

I expected Nina to fall asleep quickly, but she didn’t. I also expected that she had no plans on kissing me. Although the date had definitely transitioned at a certain point to where we were not longer merely two bloggers hanging out for the night, I still didn’t get the impression that she was attracted to me. In situations rife with such uncertainty, I found it far too risky to simply lean in for a kiss.

So, I can’t say I’m proud of it, but I asked if I could kiss her. Not very romantic, but respectful, no?

She told me she would rather be surprised. Ok then — not a rousing success — I guessed it was a no-go.

Maybe I would have some luck if I waited five minutes and then kissed her. So that’s what I did. It went better the second time around. We made out briefly on my couch, the movie ended and by then, it was definitely time for sleep.

I left Nina nestled on my couch and crawled into my bed for a night’s rest.

Hurdles jumped. Soul bared. Date accomplished.

Read Nina’s far more concise account of our date at 50 Dates Project.