—Saturday, October 15, 2011—
Here’s what I love about my favorite comic books: They allow me to engage with something fantastic while still making me feel like they are possible in real life.
If only I were bitten by the right spider; if only they would invent a flying suit of armor; if only an alien fell to Earth and delivered to me a power ring. Those things could happen. They aren’t likely, but you never know, and so my hope stays alive for a better, stronger and more super-powered me.
The same could be said for women I encounter on the internet. Until I physically meet them, they’re still only a possibility. They’re intangible. In the ether. But they could be real.
And for one woman from the internet, I was a total fanboy.
On this Saturday, Julie came off the screen of my internet-connected device and into my real life. Up until then, she had been nothing but a hope, a fantasy of sorts, and so this date was just as good as any comic book I’d ever read.
It was almost 10 a.m. as I rolled over in bed and picked up my phone to see what was going on in my world. I had a 6:19 a.m. text from Julie telling me that her bus had just left Boston. Her trip was estimated be about four hours.
Four hours after six was ten, right? Yep, it sure was.
Please tell me this is a joke.
I jumped out of bed and into the shower, but not without texting Julie that I was getting ready. I tried to spike up my hair with sculpting crème, which was all I had in terms of hair styling products, but it wasn’t very strong and I knew it wouldn’t hold. I hustled back into my room to get dressed, and by “get dressed”, I mean put on my costume.
Julie and I were going to the 2011 New York Comic Con as characters from Scott Pilgrim, which is a wonderful comic book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley which was made into an excellent film by Edgar Wright. I was reprising my 2010 Halloween costume, Evil Ex #3 Todd Ingram, while Julie was going as the aptly named Julie Powers, who was played by Aubrey Plaza in the movie. I loved Aubrey Plaza and I loved that Julie loved Aubrey Plaza too. Seriously, Plaza was probably my number one celebrity crush, so having my internet crush dress up like my celebrity crush was just perfect. Hearts all around.
As soon as Julie arrived in Chinatown, she texted me, asking where to meet. I gave her a location as I threw a change of clothes into a backpack. I double, triple and quadruple checked to make sure I had our NYCC passes, and I headed out of my front door to the train.
Once I was above ground on Broadway, I called Julie to see where she was. As the phone rang, I realized that I’d never heard her voice before. In moments like this, it was clear how different our world had become with the leaps and bounds made in technology since my childhood. I was meeting up with Julie for a date, and I’d never heard her speak a single word.
Social media was a powerful tool.
The only reason I knew Julie was because of that wonderful 140 character social network that is Twitter. Julie was a host of Live Tweet Tuesday (@LiveTweetTue), which was a twitter experiment I ran for about a year with my brother from another mother, Geoff Ross (@GeoffIsFamous). Apparently, I loved one year experiments. It was this thing where each Tuesday, a host would live-tweet their entire day.
It produced some interesting results along the way but as far as I’m concerned, a date with Julie date as its best by-product. Geoff knew Julie from ImprovBoston, where he and I used to be cast members together, and while Geoff was a common link, I had never actually spoken to him about Julie, nor to her about him. It was merely his fault that we ended up following each other on Twitter.
Our entire interaction began that September with a thoughtful Direct Message from Julie, wishing me a happy birthday. Immediately, I knew that a unique opportunity had presented itself. I asked her on a date two DMs later and by the end of our conversation, a date had been set and NYCC passes purchased. I was incredibly excited. I would even say that I was psyched, if that’s still a term. I had been moderately stalking Julie for months and thought she was funny, cute and super cool. After all, she loved comedy, the internet, photography and she dished out craft beers at my favorite bar in Boston. I’m not entirely sure what more I could have asked for in a woman I’d never met.
Ever since then, we’d been text messaging with each other on a regular basis and I always found her to be upbeat and fun. But damn, as she answered the phone, I was crazy nervous. I’d built Julie up to be some kind of super heroine and I could only hope I was right.
I met her at 27th & Broadway, and when I saw her from across the way, my nerves transformed back into excitement. We greeted one another somewhat shyly and decided we should have something to eat before getting lost in the convention. We headed over to 7th Avenue and eventually settled into Andrew’s Coffee Shop, a place I’d walked by a million times, but had never entered.
One thing I felt very self-conscious about was the fact that I looked like an idiot. My hair was in a terrible state and I was wearing white jeans. Luckily, my numbered white jersey was under wraps beneath my jacket. And my costume wasn’t even that good — I realized that I had left my black wristbands at home. On a positive note, was that despite my apologies, Julie told me it looked good. She was a sweetheart.
Over breakfast, we talked about some basic stuff like where we were both from, how we both got into improv and what we liked to do for fun. Aside from a coffee mug smashing on the ground next to me, it was an otherwise calm meal. Julie was a little quieter than I had expected, but very pleasant nonetheless. I think that her comedic side, which I had seen online, was a bit different. I was probably the same way though.
From the coffee shop, Julie and I walked over to NYCC. Neither of us had ever been to a comic book convention before, and we chatted a little bit about how being nerdy was more acceptable then than it had been when we were younger. The geek culture was pervasive in 2011. Dorky glasses were in, The Big Bang Theory was popular on TV and it was even cool to work at software companies (I hoped). We discussed our expectations for the convention and also, glasses, which I suppose are geeky. We both had them, so why not talk about our glasses, right? Given that rationale, we might as well have discussed foreheads.
She asked about my hobbies outside of improv and dating. I guess I didn’t really have any others around that time. I told her that music and sports had previously been big in my life, but improv and dating had really taken over. Julie told me that she liked to read and do other things that made her an “old person”, as she so put it.
As we approached the doors of the Javits Center, we took off our jackets so that we were in full costume. Julie was wicked adorable as Julie Powers. I was ecstatic that she was my date, but I was trying to keep that under wraps. She was a comic book nerd’s dream girl. Well, maybe not — I think some of those nerds dreamt of giant green women with massive breasts and laser eyes — but at least she was my dream girl.
The place was HUGE and we had no idea where to go first so we just jumped on the escalator right in front of us. The first adjective that came to mind was overwhelming. There were so many booths, row after row, and swarms of people milling around. Some folks were in street clothes but many of them were dressed up similar to us, or even more intensely. Moving from one large room to the next, we saw lines of people waiting for autographs from comic celebs we’d probably never heard of.
It was only maybe 15 minutes before we walked by a younger girl dressed as Romona Flowers, another character from Scott Pilgrim. She wanted a picture with us, which was horribly cute, and so we posed with her for few seconds before carrying on. Many of the people who put a lot of effort into their costumes probably did so because they would get to feel famous for a day. Everyone stopped to take pictures with the best dressed. The cosplay element of NYCC was a big deal.
We looped around the second room and found a bathroom for Julie to use. I waited in line with her until I was too close to the entrance to not be a creep, and then I stepped aside and waited with all the other characters waiting for people using the bathroom. I got on my phone to see if I could locate my few friends who are also at the convention, but I couldn’t get any service. The combination of so many people in one place, the giant building we were inside and the shitty service AT&T provided made it so I was electronically out of contact the entire afternoon. It was somewhat frustrating, but at the same time, it gave me an excuse to spend all of my time there with Julie.
A scarlet-clad vixen emerged from the bathroom and I swear all proximal light sabers reached half-mast.
Nerd boners aside, all the spandex-wearing women were just noise compared to Julie, who joined me again shortly thereafter.
We went to grab programs in the main lobby so that we’d have a map to navigate by and could maybe understand the place a bit better. Julie had a friend working in the “Cult Yard” section, so we went in search of that, which took us over to the southernmost hall and past lots of anime booths.
Julie found her friend Mike, who was working the Johnny Cupcakes booth. If you don’t know Johnny Cupcakes, it’s a clothing brand out of Boston that makes fun things. We talked to him for a few minutes about the convention and how Johnny Cupcakes was doing, and then we carried on.
Even in that brief interaction, I experienced a pang of jealousy. Who was this dude? How did Julie know him? Why was I not nearly as cool as he was? Dammit. I experience jealousy with very few people, so it was not a good sign that I was already getting territorial with Julie. Or, it was kind of a great sign since it meant I liked her?
We wandered back north and saw some crazy costumes along the way including Transformers, anime girls and a hulking Mr. T surrounded by people taking his picture. I’ll say it again for emphasis: people really got into the cosplay stuff.
I spotted the Alex Ross booth, who was one of the few artists I could even recognize, and stopped there to admire some of his prints. When I actually used to read comics more regularly, Ross was my favorite artist, despite being only a cover artist much of the time. Still, his work was legendary and I loved going through the prints. The man himself was not there, but it was cool regardless. As we left the Alex Ross table, we ran into a fellow NYC improviser, Matt J. Weir, who was filming something for the convention. I said hello and we moved on.
Julie and I explored the Artists Pavilion, talking about why people liked comics and why the fans stayed invested for so long. I think it has something to do with hope. Comics enable us to believe in things that are impossible. People see themselves in their heroes and of course they wish they could fly, lift a car over their heads, read minds and generally save the world. In a way, comics prey on our weaknesses. That might be why so many “losers” fall in love with them when they’re children. The kids who like comics are typically neither strong nor popular, attributes which almost all super heroes possess. Those heroes stay relevant because the readers don’t completely lose those insecurities. Often times they grow up to become well adjusted adults, but in certain situations they can revert right back to that sniveling dweeb who was picked last for basketball, and that’s what allows them to continue to look to comics for solace. Or rather, for hope.
It was the same reason why at 26 years old, I still didn’t think women wanted to talk to me. In certain situations, I still thought I’d be picked last. But when I saw someone like me with a kick-ass girlfriend, I found hope. That guy was a superhero to me.
Call it silly, but I have this hope that one day I’ll be put in a situation to save the woman of my dreams from certain peril and she’ll love me forever as a result. It’s a cliche as old as time, but it’s powerful still. If only one of those dweebs had tried to attack Julie, I think I would have had a pretty good chance of winning that fight. Then again, so would have she.
Speaking of being intimidated by women on a regular basis, I’d seen pictures on Facebook of Julie in an advertisement for a sneaker company, so I asked her if she modeled. I almost didn’t want to bring it up because if she had been a model, it would have been just another thing that made me feel like she was out of my league. I was a bit relieved when she told me she used to model and got into it as a kid when her mom put her in a beauty pageant. Still though, it didn’t make her any less attractive. The more I hung out with her, and realized how great she was, the more my imagination ran wild with how many guys were probably vying for her attention.
I would have had to fight an army to be with her.
We cruised through the video game section and I was amazed by the crowd of people watching the multi-player game being played on the giant screen. There was a small office of gamers sitting on the opposite side controlling the action and battling each other for glory. Julie said she had watched her fair share of video games since she had had friends who were professional Halo players. Oh, sweet, so Julie was much cooler than I was, even when it came to being cool at being nerdy.
Overlooking the room was a big window with “MTV Geek” plastered across it. Inside the small peripheral room, MTV was filming segments for the web. They must have been trying to cash in on the geek subculture, which seemed very disingenuous for a network that typically tried to tell us what was popular. This kind of went back to the geek culture discussion we had had earlier. If MTV was co-opting geek culture, it must have been acceptable by mainstream standards.
The expo rooms had been conquered from our novice perspective, so we found our way downstairs to the first floor. Looking through the NYCC catalog, we heard some Harry Potter fans discussing Quiddich. Julie’s ears perked up immediately and I suggested we go watch. We descended to the lower level and wandered into the large room hosting a quiddich tournament.
The quiddich was probably the nerdiest thing we’d seen all day, but it was rather entertaining. It was the first time either of us had witnessed a real live quiddich match and I found joy in watching “inside kids” attempt coordination. We watched a few games and I asked Julie more about herself. It was great to finally sit down with her again. She told me about her siblings, of which, she was in the middle. We also talked a good deal about Harry Potter because, duh, it’s the best.
After a bathroom break, we decided to check out a panel about Boilerplate: History of a Victorian Era Robot which was a book about a robot placed fictionally throughout history. The two creators of the book, a historian and a steampunk expert were both present at the panel to provide their insights. It sounded like it would be cool.
While waiting in line, we were both getting a bit quiet. I asked Julie, “So, I know everything about you then?” She said no, of course, but told me that I could ask whatever I wanted. Well, I didn’t like being overly inquisitive so it was a great combination. Instead, I decided to tell her something she wouldn’t know about me, which was how much I used to love pop-punk music and how my fashion sense was almost entirely dictated by Blink-182. It was a phase I am glad I went through but I’m happy that Dickies, Macbeth, Famous Stars & Straps and Atticus are no longer a part of my life.
There was a girl at the panel who I was almost positive I knew from high school. I was this close to going over to her as we all settled in, but the moderator began speaking before I got up the nerve. Hopefully, I’d get to talk to her afterwards.
What an interesting panel it turned out to be. They talked largely about the romanticism of the Victorian age and how to insert fictional characters into history. I was entertained. I hope Julie was too. That girl from my high school left before it was over. Oh well.
Following the panel, Julie and I walked back upstairs, pondering what to do next. After some waffling, I proposed that we leave. I was enjoying the convention, but I mostly wanted to be on a date with Julie and I’d seen enough of the NYCC world. I didn’t care about the comic con aspect at that point. We had to leave in an hour anyway, because I had an improv show that night, and I wanted to sit down with her before we did that. She agreed with the idea and we left the convention, snapping a couple pictures on the way out.
We covered a lot of ground on our walk down and over to a cafe on 8th Avenue. After finding out that she was not done with college, merely taking some time off, I asked her how old she was. Julie was 22. Okay. I could handle 22. Though, I don’t think I would have ever guessed that was her age.
She carried herself so well, with a quiet confidence about her. The age thing spurred a conversation about the role of age in dating and we both agreed that it was more important where the people were in their lives rather than their actual ages. Julie had been a working adult, supporting herself and living on her own, longer than many of my friends who are quote, unquote adults.
I also learned that she had somewhat recently been in a long relationship that ended poorly, which wasn’t too different from my world, pre-OHD. I asked if that was something that drew her towards the project, like if that was one of the reasons she decided to go out with me. That similarity made it relatable, she told me, but she had also taken a “what the heck?” approach to it. She was not the first. In fact, it reminded me of Betsy, my date from a couple days before. In fact, a number of my dates up to that point had been long time monogamists and thus, they saw where I was coming from with the project. Some of them were even doing their own “intentionally single” thing — they just weren’t writing about it online.
Julie and I talked about social media and how it influenced our interactions with and perceptions of those around us. Social media was not meant to replace real life, but rather to augment it. Things like Facebook and Twitter were tools which were best used as a supplement to one’s human interactions. The people who found the most utility in such services, found ways to make them matter offline, the way we were doing that day. As for the individual, it was often self-marketing. On the internet, you actually had some control over how you were seen.
Now that would be a superpower for real life — social image projection. I think some people actually have that one. It’s called confidence.
Given the possible dissonance between real and online personas, Julie asked me how I viewed her from the internet. Normally, I would have watched my words in that kid of situation, but I didn’t think there was anything to hide from her. I told Julie I had expected her to be louder and more outspoken. I had thought she was kind of glamorous, in a way, what with being a cute bartender, a sometime model and a generally funny person. I hadn’t expected her to be even a little bit shy.
Entering Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Co, we discussed how an online persona wasn’t necessarily a misrepresentation of someone but maybe just a representation of what they hoped to be. A person’s online character may be their own little version of themselves as a super hero. It’s what they aspired to be. In the context of dating, it was possible for two shy people to help each other become the more confident personalities they both hoped to be.
For instance, I was proud of my tattoo and it told a story I was always willing to share, but I wouldn’t just mention it for no reason. A near stranger like Julie, who would only have known about it from the internet, could ask me more about why I got the tattoo and what it meant to me, thereby raising up a piece of me that gave me strength and confidence. That moment didn’t necessarily happen without the internet there to serve as a jumping off point.
A tea for Julie. A chai latte for me. A banana for Julie. A rice crispy treat for me. I felt fat! (Not really.)
I asked Julie how she perceived me based on the internet alone. From my Twitter, she originally thought that I was merely a somewhat funny guy. Then when OHD began, she thought I was a ladies man. And when she was able to read about some more “real” things on OHD, she thought that I was actually kind of cool. I cracked up when she said “ladies man”. That was ridiculous! She said it hadn’t taken long that morning to realize that I wasn’t as confident and smooth as she’d originally thought.
I was glad that my true colors had shown through.
So then, if I was different from my online persona, what was my secret identity hiding? What didn’t people know about me from following my internet presence? The main thing, I said, was family stuff. I’ve mentioned it before on the site, but I love my family too much to ever paint them in a negative light despite the troubles that arise from having lost my mom, so this sentence is intentionally vague. It turned out that Julie had a difficult parent situation as well, with her father out of the picture and a step-father she was not very fond of. Everyone has their battles, right? That kind of ongoing tension honestly sounded more difficult than simply losing a parent.
To know that you have a parent out there who just does not want you, I think that hurts more. Choice is always more painful to deal with than fate. And the complications that can arise from step-parents was something I was only mildly familiar with but I knew it was not fun. I was gaining a different level of understanding — this was not simply the Julie I knew from the internet.
Walking up to The Magnet Theater, we talked about how we both felt guilted into going home at times and although she hadn’t always wanted to, there was a period when Julie would go home frequently because her mom was fighting cancer. She told me about the day she found out. She had been standing by the train with a week’s worth of pay (cash) when someone ran up from behind and stole it from her. She had been on her way to the bank to deposit it. Upset and distraught, she went over to her boyfriend’s place and while she was crying about what had just happened, her mom called to tell her about the cancer. Julie had done her best to act like nothing else was wrong, to be strong for her mom, but it was a double blow. I can’t imagine dealing with those things back to back. What an absolutely horrific day.
Julie had already lost one parent and then dealt with almost losing the other. Maybe she was the kind of expert I needed in my life. I told her about my dad — that he was diagnosed with lymphoma a week earlier. It was possible I’d be dealing with a similar family situation soon. It was unlikely that what they found in my father would be life threatening, but it was scary nonetheless. Julie was very sympathetic to my worries, I suspected, because she was not a monster.
As showtime rolled around, I was disappointed that we had to leave our date behind so I could perform. We had just stumbled upon the most significant part of our date. The previous hour had been heartfelt and encouraging. The last thing I wanted to do was leave Julie on her own while I went to warm up for a show. However, if I had to be leaving for anything, I suppose being in a comedy show was the best case scenario.
While changing into regular clothes in the bathroom, I couldn’t stop thinking about Julie. She was still on my mind as I exited the bathroom and walked straight into my friend Mikaela, who was actually going to be one of my dates a couple weeks later. She introduced me to her father, who seemed like a nice guy. I told her that my current date was going to be at the show as well.
That was kind of awkward, right? Talking to Future Date about Current Date? Such was OHD.
Hidden to the left of the stage, I stood with the other members of SCORESBY and watched the audience filter in. I spotted Julie, making her way to a seat, and I could see that she had changed her outfit as well. She was so cute. Like, SO cute. She took a seat and the lights dimmed a few minutes later. I was nervous right before stepping onto stage. I really hoped it would be a great show. I wanted to look good in front of Julie. I wanted to make her laugh!
Fortunately for my ego, it was a good set. After the customary hugging and high-fiving, we walked out into the lobby to meet the public. I introduced Julie to a number of my friends and she said she had liked the show! I couldn’t have been happier right then. Not only was the coolest girl in the theater there with me, but she was mildly impressed by something I’d done. Everything was coming up Evan!
A number of us were going to a “Tweet-up” down in the Village with a few twitter friends [they exist] we’d never met before. However, as we walked to the train, I got the urge to bail. The host of the Tweet-up, Leslie (@DarlingStewie), had been at NYCC earlier and had I seen her there, I would have suggested to Julie that we do our own thing, but since I hadn’t been able to meet up with her, I felt it would have been rude to not show. After all, Leslie had come all the way from PA just to see us fellow Twitter idiots. Then again, it felt wrong to bring my date along to a Twitter thing, even though she was kind of into it as well.
My mind raced to find some middle ground as we all talked and joked around.
On the train down, Julie laughed along with my friends and I at our stupid antics. It was a good sign. She seemed to like them and she fit right in. My friends were going for food prior to the Tweet-up, and since I wanted more time alone with Julie, I seized the opportunity. While they walked off in search of food, Julie and I ducked into the Blind Tiger Ale House ahead of everyone else. Hopefully in doing so, I’d not only get to spend more time with Julie, but we’d be the first ones there when Leslie & Co arrived, allowing us to leave earlier to get some dinner of our own before Julie had to catch her 11 p.m. bus back to Boston.
There were a lot of moving parts and keeping the date romantic, or at least high priority, was tricky business when I overextended myself, but I wanted her to know that she was the most important part of my night.
Julie ordered us a couple beers after we squeezed into the only two seats available at the bar. She asked me about paying for dates and related how she hated it when men assumed they would pay for her. I had sort of already figured that out, based on all our other transactions throughout the day, and I thanked her for the beer. Julie was a great person to drink with since she worked at a craft beer bar and knew her stuff. We sampled each other’s beers and made conversation.
A little while later, Leslie arrived with her boyfriend Mark and their pal Dale. It was so great to meet her! Leslie was the first purely Twitter friend I’d ever had and I was finally meeting her. Julie got to meet Leslie as well, who quickly asked which date Julie was in the project. Not only were both of these women from Twitter, but they were both very important to OHD, since Leslie was the graphic designer behind the OHD logos. Pretty cool, right? The power of the internet!
It was not long before everyone else arrived and the internet nerd revelry was in full swing. They were all distracting each other while I continued to talk to Julie more and more. As the bar crowded, we found ourselves closer and closer to each other. We finished our beers and I took note of the time. We had to go if we wanted to eat before her bus. Julie and I said our goodbyes and I gave Leslie a Totoro hat as a ‘thank you’ for the design work. Oh, and I gave her a business card too, with her logo on it! She loved both.
As I pushed through the crowded room, Julie grabbed my arm, and as we exited, I dropped my hand down to hers. She took it without hesitation.
Freeze frame. Let’s just soak in this because it was so good.
I love a woman who holds my hand, and I was becoming straight up enamored with Julie, so having her hand in mine was like winning a grand prize. I was winning the date, guys! Admittedly, it was the small privileges such as this that I missed the most about having a girlfriend. It stirred something inside my cold, dark heart.
We waited to cross the street and Julie rested her head against my chin. It as adorable. I wanted to kiss her. I really wanted to kiss her.
But I didn’t. We were about to walk again and I didn’t want it to be rushed. Plus, I was being as cautious as possible with Julie. It was crystal clear to me that this wasn’t a situation I wanted to mess up.
We walked down Bleeker Street and found Numero 28, a pizza place that I’d always passed by but had never patronized. It was cash only, so as Julie was seated, I ran to a nearby ATM. I literally ran.
I was already hustling back when I got her text asking red or white wine, and within 20 seconds I said, “red”, as I sat back down. I was a bit out of breath, but some deep breathing and a few sips of water [stay hydrated!] took care of that.
We ordered a pizza to split, a couple glasses of wine to drink and we talked and talked. Mostly, we discussed the Boston comedy and improv scene as well as college improv experiences. And like that, dinner was over. It was far too short. Sure, by that point I was a bit tipsy, but I don’t think it was fooling me at all. I was plain old smitten with Julie and the bus she needed to be on 20 minutes later was my number one enemy.
I hailed a cab to Chinatown and in the car, Julie rested her head on my shoulder. I took her hand, felt her return the gesture and I kissed her. There was something in it that was very special. It was a great kiss, not some sloppy taxi cab make out. It was a real kiss — from the heart. I hoped to hell she felt the same way.
Jumping out of the cab, we could already see the line for the Fung Wah bus across the intersection. I waited in line with Julie, holding her hand like it was all I had in the world.
I kissed her goodbye, a long kiss goodbye, and she boarded. I stepped back and waited on the sidewalk for the bus to pull away. I could see her in the window, on her phone. She was texting me.
Julie: Thanks for everything. Had a blast. Maybe I’ll see you soon. 10:58 PM
Me: Thank YOU. I had a blast too. And yes, I hope to see you soon. Look out your window. Haha. 10:59 PM
Julie: You’re cute 11:00 PM
Me: You’re beautiful. Really. Can’t believe you were here with me today. I’m the luckiest guy. 11:01 PM
A few texts later and I was on the subway home to Queens with a swelled heart and a head full of crazy ideas.
Two things were clear though:
1. Julie was real.
2. Julie was going to be trouble.
What a super day.