Dive Bar Date

—Saturday, October 1, 2011—

It was about a quarter past ten at night and I am certain it was the latest I’d started a date so far.Dive Bar Date 1

I had left my friends at a bar in Chelsea and headed down to the West Village. It only took me a few minutes to get my bearings and I found Johnny’s Bar in its familiar spot. I was fairly early, so I posted up outside and waited patiently. In no time at all, I saw Monika rounding the corner.

We waved to each other and smiled. She was unexpectedly well-dressed considering the venue and I would even say she looked lovely. I almost felt a little under-dressed, although I was at grade or better for the bar in question. We hugged and exchanged pleasantries.

I’d forgotten how bright and blue her eyes were. They were strikingly beautiful.

She apologized for being so dressed up, but she was coming from a fancy family dinner. It was all right, I told her — she looked good. She laughed and joked that it would go well with the dive bar theme.

This might sound weird, even for an Internet whore such as myself, but I knew Monika from Google+. I never expected to meet a date through Google’s most recent, and not particularly fruitful, foray into social networking, but that was where I first caught wind of Monika. She was bouncing around on some thread with a few ImprovBoston friends and I jokingly yelled at her to date me. Honestly, I had been joking. I had no clue who she was or even what she looked like aside from a tiny little thumbnail. It was a cute thumbnail though.

None of that really mattered until she was down in NYC for the Del Close Marathon that August with the rest of my ImprovBoston brethren. I saw her, met her and unabashedly flirted with her. She was so cute and so friendly, I just couldn’t help myself. By the end of that Saturday night, I had even (fairly smoothly) given her a kiss on the cheek. By Sunday, I had her agreeing to go on a date with me sometime in the future.

Monika seemed like merely a weekend-long flirtation, but on that Saturday, months later, she was right there in front of me.

Once inside, we went directly to the bar and ordered a couple beers. I told her of my Friday night, which ended far later than I ever could have imagined. I’d only slept just a few hours that Thursday night and then I was (easily) convinced by my friend Danielle to go to a midnight screening of The Room on Friday night, which was hilarious. Even when I got to my door at 2:45 a.m., I was happy I had gone. I was less happy when I realized that I didn’t have my keys. My roommate was away for the weekend and my closest friends in Astoria were away with my roommate. A couple cab rides later, I had gone to my office and back, and I was in bed. Four in the morning wasn’t what I had had in mind though.

I was honestly worried about being able to stay fun and energetic for this date, which was why I had slept in later than usual that morning. I felt fine right at the start, but I was concerned that I would exhaust myself quickly. Lucky for me, Monika told me she’d be extra peppy in order to keep me awake.

As I looked over the options, I was reminded that they had Coors Original on tap there. I loved places that served the Banquet Beer, and I distinctly remember making a note of it the first time I ever went to Johnny’s. I asked for a Coors and a Sam Adams Octoberfest for Monika, who was securing us two seats by the front window as they opened up. It was crowded in the small bar, so we were lucky to find somewhere to plant our butts.

I handed Monika her beer and asked her if it was too cold there by the window but she said she was fine. I’m not sure there was anywhere else to sit anyway.  The breeze aside, the window was a lively place, giving us a full view of the bar as well as a portal to the chatter out on the street. As soon as we were both seated, Monika kicked her heels to the floor and out of her bag emerged a pair of flats.

Nice. I liked a lady who kept it real.

Monika was visiting from Boston but I didn’t fully understand why she was in town other than “family stuff.” I thought she had told me it was a party for her dad, but I also didn’t recall her being from New York, so I was a bit unsure. It made much more sense once I learned that her grandfather lived in NYC and it was where her father’s side of the family tended to congregate. That day was a birthday party for her father and her grandfather’s birthday was the next day, so they’d made a weekend out of it.

We talked more about Monika’s family and how she grew up in the greater Washington DC area, in Virginia. Her mom was a big time worrier and she had lost it after 9/11 occurred, buying supplies left and right, stockpiling them for the eventual end of the world. I caught myself as I begin to think, “That’s crazy! What would she be afraid of all the way down in Virginia?” Like so many from the Northeast, my 9/11 point of reference had always been New York.  In fact, I think I’d only ever heard NYC accounts of the attacks and never anything out of DC.

I asked Monika about what it was like being near DC on 9/11, but before she could elaborate on any kind of answer, You Make My Dreams came on over the sound system. I immediately wanted to pause the conversation — point out how great the song was and then dance — but that just seemed insensitive and rude. Instead, I tried to carry on and Monika was the one to stop and say, “I’m sorry, but this is the best song ever.”

How perfect could one song be such that it had the exact same effect on two near strangers even in the middle of a serious conversation? So perfect.

She said, “How do you not want to dance when this comes on?” I couldn’t have agreed more. My friend Bradley agreed too. I told her how he and I used to put it on at work when we were both still working in Boston. It would only take maybe thirty seconds until the entire room’s heads were bopping. Monika had been dancing down the street to this song well before 500 Days of Summer made it a thing.

The 500 Days of Summer reference prompted me to tell Monika how much I loved Joseph Gordon Levitt and how I would want him to play me in my life story, or the One Hundred Dates movie, whichever came first. To be perfectly honest though, I think JGL is a bit of a reach. Topher Grace would probably be more realistic. Monika disagreed. She thought Joseph Gordon Levitt was an appropriate level for me. God bless this woman. That was one of the best compliment I’d ever received.

Please consider that I used to be told I looked like DJ Qualls.

Monika was often told that she looked like Reese Witherspoon, and as soon as she said it, I could see the similarity. I never want to tell a person that they look like another person, especially when I’m trying to flatter them, but she did look a decent amount like Reese Witherspoon. I don’t mean that if you looked at their photos side by side you’d be confused, but apart from the familiarity of their features, they both had a certain sparkling demeanor which linked them just as much as their blonde hair, blue eyes and adorable smiles.

I had been sitting on a stool at a level slightly lower than Monika’s, which made me feel silly and inferior, so as we discussed pillows and their various arrangements, I switched to a taller one. I’d never thought about “pillow talk” in quite this way, but it was actually good to hear that someone thought about their pillows as much as I did. Did she prefer soft, firm, down or memory foam? I for one had a combination of medium-firm, faux-down and memory foam pillows. On my old twin bed, during high school, I had five full pillows all nested in against the headboard and wall. I admit that it was probably a bit crowded but I much preferred by adult bed anyhow. The mattress was entirely memory foam, with a pillow topper, and it was the best purchase I’d ever made. Monika had a double down pillow set up and assured me that her bed was very comfortable as well.

She had been working at a prominent Boston theater for some time, but was soon leaving to take a position at a travel website. In fact, she had just put in her notice. She said her boss had been expecting it. Apparently, things hadn’t been too fabulous at the theater.

Monika had actually worked down in NYC for six or so months after her graduation from college but landed back in Boston thanks to more gainful employment. It was similar to my story of how I ended up in New York. I worked and lived in and around Boston right out of school and then escaped to NYC, a whole four and half hours away, thanks primarily to my job.

Our most common interest, besides pillows, was improv. It was why we knew each other, after all. When Monika arrived at college, it was either improv or a Capella and she chose to sing. She chose the one collegiate performance activity even dorkier than improv comedy. At least she wasn’t in an adult a Cappella group — those freaked me out. A Cappella in college was still entirely acceptable though, just like walks of shame and being a virgin.

After college ended, she wanted to get back to improv and at the time of our date, she was a company cast member at my old theater, ImprovBoston. She had just had her first retreat with her cast and said that it had gotten a bit crazy. She arrived to the retreat destination with the late crew, and for their tardiness, they were forced to drink ample amounts of alcohol. She said this was problematic since she was such a lightweight, as evidenced by her half empty glass of beer. I was a slow drinker myself but even I’d nearly finished my Coors at this point. Long story short, she got very drunk and kissed a woman for the first time in her life — two of them! It had been very unlike her, she told me, and I believed it. She didn’t seem particularly wild.

However, she did have some crazy / slutty friends in Boston (duh, she went to BU), though she was rarely involved in their shenanigans. She tended to be the caretaker rather than the enabler. As the non-drinker with a huge van, I remember filling that role often in college. It was easy for me to play Dad sometimes.

Also, I knew what it was like to have a group of friends you loved, but because their social activities weren’t your favorites, you didn’t always involve yourself. That was kind of how I was with my “sports friends” from high school. I called them that to distinguish them from my other high school friends, with whom I played music and would watch smoke pot.  When you went out for a night in Faneuil Hall, or down Boylston Street, in Boston you just had to just know what you were in for. I usually managed to have a lot of fun because I knew what to expect and because I only did it every so often.

Naturally, Monika wanted to know about the craziest drunken night of my life, but because I never drank in college, I didn’t have too large of a depository to draw from. I did know the craziest I’d ever been when out with coworkers though, which was the infamous Double Graduation of Erika and Emmet. [Names changed for the legal purposes.]

At my old department in Boston, we had a tradition of throwing “graduation parties” whenever employees would move on from their entry level positions into whatever their next roles would be. These nights were really just an excuse to go to a bar after work and get drunk. Well, Erika and Emmet were graduating at the same time, and not only was it a double graduation, but Erika had most often been the only woman in a department of 22 fresh-out-of-college males, so we had extra reason to celebrate. She had survived, after all. We went to our favorite bar serving seven dollar pitchers of beer and proceeded to drink entirely too much.

I did shots for the first time in my life that night. Emmet threw up in the middle of the bar and was escorted out. Erika played X-Rated Photo Hunt with our team manager. I wrestled my much larger buddy in the streets of Boston. Two of my coworkers chatted up some prostitutes. Erika and our manager made out. I woke up at 5 a.m. on an antique couch in the sitting room of Erika’s best friend’s mother’s house in Brookline and went to work in the same clothes I had worn the day before. I wasn’t hungover the next morning; I was drunk. All in all, it was a weeknight that had yet to be matched.

On that note, I needed to pee and got myself another beer.

There was only one bartender working so it took me extra time to get another cold one. As I waited for service, I continuously looked over at Monika, worrying that I was stranding her. I hate leaving someone alone for too long. It not only feels rude, but there’s a sense of desperation that kicks in after a few minutes. I got nervous as if some other guy at the bar would take my seat and start talking to Monika, and she would forget all about me.  I’m sure that would never happen on a date, but it happened at bars and parties all the time.

Monika asked me about my serial monogamy. I dished about the number of girlfriends I’d had and the duration of their stays. Her only serious relationship had been earlier that year and it had lasted three months. I had previously run into people who had never had a particularly serious relationship, or they’d had very few, so it was not totally surprising to hear this.

What I couldn’t believe was that she only got her first kiss at the age of 20. I found this baffling at first. I mean, Monika was *really* pretty. It seemed crazy that no one tried to kiss her for 20 years. She also could have refused advances for 20 years, but that seemed ridiculous as well.

As soon as I felt the impulse to question why that would be the case, I realized that there was probably a very good reason why she didn’t kiss anyone until that point in her life and that she would likely have offered up that information had it been any of my business. I’d met so many people who were vastly different in their mid-20’s than they were in their teens, and most of them preferred not to relive that period. Who knew what dark times I would dig up by prying?

Switching gears, Monika asked me a question that I’d never had to answer before: What was the best gift I’d ever given to someone? I was taken aback for a minute because I really didn’t know. As meaningful as many gifts can be, so many of them were given over the years that it was difficult to remember them all. The first best gift I could think of was the song I wrote for Jamie, my girlfriend from my senior year of college. It was the year that Juno came out, so twee songs like those of The Moldy Peaches were incredibly popular. I wrote her one about how I’d be leaving at the end of the year. It was filled with inside jokes and references only she’d understand, so I thought it was pretty cute. She certainly liked it.

The best gift(s) Monika had ever given were pillows that she used to make for her family. Maybe just for her mother, I honestly can’t remember. Either way, it sounded pretty cute.

See, I didn’t remember the exact detail because I have a problem listening when I’m immediately reminded of something else. I check out the second I have my own thing to say and it causes me to disconnect from the person I’m supposed to be listening to. We were told about this aspect of active listening in mediation workshops in college, and it’s drilled frequently in improv, but I’ve never been great at correcting it. I really wanted to be better about listening, but old habits died hard. I was working on it. If I didn’t, I would never remember the things I needed to remember in order to write about these dates.

Anyway, that was what happened. Monika’s answer reminded that I used to sew and stitch things for my grandmother when I was little. Nothing too important, but I wish I’d stayed tuned into Monika instead of making sure I remembered that golden tidbit.

Asking Monika if she liked show tunes was as safe a bet as guessing which one of the Baldwin brothers was loved most. I told her that I knew another dive bar nearby that we’d have to go to after Johnny’s.  There was a piano player there and it was always a fun atmosphere.

For a moment, I mimicked the drunk girl seated next to us, who was putting her leg up on her man. Only a minute later, she fell off her seat. Monika and I diverted our gaze from the surely embarrassed drunkard and took it as a sign to leave.

We exited Johnny’s talking about improv once again. I told Monika about how I had learned improv at my college and how it was different from most anything we experienced in the real world. At Fairfield, improv was filled with heart. She rolled her eyes when I told her we used to do a lot of truth circles, which was where everyone sat in a circle and then one at a time, each person sat in the center and answered questions from the outside. It was a way to bond and to learn to trust each other and blah, blah, blah. I understand why she was skeptical.

She changed her tune when I told her about heart ritual. At the end of each semester, we would gather all of the troupes together for a big day of improv fun. The first part of the day was Improv Olympics, where we’d mix up the teams and play short form games with each other, none better than the 60 Second Freak Out. After the fun and games, we would begin Heart Ritual.

Everyone stood in a circle, holding hands and, one by one, Heather (the teacher who ran improv my first two years at Fairfield) would approach each person with a stone. She would hold the stone in her hand and tell you what she saw inside you and furthermore, she would fill the stone with that which she thought you might need. Once you had your stone, you would find other people with stones, exchange them and fill each other’s stones with things like courage, love, trust, friendship and strength. The possibilities were endless and the nights often seemed to go on forever as well.

Heart Ritual was what made improv really stick for me. It was what convinced me that it wasn’t just about getting up on stage and having fun with some fun people. It connected me to the people I performed with and it gave me the confidence to trust others. As long as you also learned the technical skills needed, it was a really cool base for learning improv, especially when so much of college improv is joke brigades like BU’s Liquid Fun. (Sorry, but I’m not sorry.)

We arrived at our next destination after only one wrong turn. The scene at Marie’s Crisis could be described thusly: A cramped basement bar packed almost entirely with gay men, singing show tunes as they crowded around a lone piano player in the middle of the room. I think Monika was in love with the place as soon as we walked in. I barely knew a single show tune, but I could see that Monika knew the first song being played as we headed toward the bar in the back.

“Pretty cool, right?” I said to her.

She agreed wholeheartedly.

I ordered us a round of drinks and we found a corner to stand in. Before I’d had too much of my beer, I ran downstairs to the bathroom. When I returned, Monika had moved along the wall, but she was not far from where I’d left her. As we talked over the music, we somehow found ourselves on the topic of physical appearance and Monika mentioned to me that she used to be heavier. She also told me that there was a stark difference in how she was treated between when she weighed more and after the lost the weight.

Immediately, I understood (possibly) why she had not had a kiss until she was 20. I assumed she was not only treated unfavorably by a lot of boys, but also that she probably didn’t have the same confidence that she had now. I could be imagining it all, but the combination of the two seemed like it could have made for some lonely teenage years.

I wondered if I was any better than the guys who may have snubbed her when she was younger. Certainly, Monika’s appearance was one of the primary reasons we were on the date. I only knew who she was from a picture at first, and then when I met her for the first time, looks had clearly been a factor. Yes, I genuinely wanted to get to know Monika, but my interest was only piqued in the first place because I had thought she was pretty.

Would I have paid her the same attention had she been heavier?

I hope so. She was incredibly fun to talk to and I had a great time with her all night. It was a shame to think that I might have passed on the opportunity to spend time with her just because of her body. It was definitely something I had to consider as I moved forward with the project.

We saw some space open up on the other side of the room so we relocated to more open pastures. As we stood there taking it in, I weighed the possible outcomes of trying to kiss Monika. With all the stress I’d caused myself and others recently, I was really trying to hold back on the making out with everyone front. On the other hand, I’d wanted to kiss Monika since I had first met her. It wasn’t like we talked all the time or anything. And she lived in Boston, so it couldn’t become a thing either.

Okay. I was convinced that I should kiss her. Still though, I was nervous.

In my mind, I had two lines I could throw her way to see if I would get a kiss. Unfortunately, the one I chose was this: “So, considering you’ve recently made out with two girls, what are the chances that I might get a kiss?”

What?

So stupid. Jesus. I thought it would be funny. You know? “If you’re willing to kiss women, who you’re not even attracted to, you must be willing to at least give me a shot.” I could tell immediately that it didn’t play the way I wanted it to.

Monika asked me why I had presented it that way. God. Yeah, I know — it was a bad joke. It was either that, or the sentimental version I’d thought of first, which was to tell her that I had wanted to kiss her since the first time I saw her and I’d been waiting almost two months to do so.

Yeah, that probably would have been better.

“Well,” she said, “I would say your chances are 100%.”

All right! Awesome. That was basically a green light, wasn’t it? Twenty seconds later, I went in for a kiss.

To my surprise, Monika backed away and laughed.

She told me “not here” — not in the bar.

Oh man, another faux pas. What was with me that night?

I was yawning by this point and Monika was getting tired as well. She had to be up early and I was honestly burnt out from the last two nights. We finished our beers, left the bar and hailed a cab at 6th Avenue.

We both got out at Grand Central. Monika’s hotel was nearby and I was going to catch the subway home.

As we said our goodbyes, we went to hug and finally, we kissed. It was a great one. A solid romantic-movie-scene quality kiss.

I let go of her, told her to let me know when she would be in town again and I crossed the street to the train.

Once back in Queens, I texted Monika to say thanks and to make sure she made it back to the hotel alive.

Google+ for the win.