—Sunday, October 23, 2011—
This was the cherry on top of what had been a crazy ass weekend.
My bus from Boston had pulled into town only a couple hours before the date. I ran home to Queens with just enough time to change clothes before turning right back around and returning to Manhattan.
That morning, I woke up at my high school girlfriend’s house after celebrating her birthday well into the previous night. It had been a blast — I didn’t see my hometown friends enough in those days.
The morning before that, I woke up at Katherine’s place after our Cocktail Date, before which I’d been hanging out with Julie and a couple friends at a bar, following my middle of the night bus trip to Boston. Between all the shenanigans, I had managed to catch a few hours of sleep on my brother’s couch.
Sleep had been sparse. Social interactions had been high. I felt like crashing on the bus ride to NYC, but was then revived by the prospect of my date with Pearl. I knew that excitement wouldn’t carry me all night though, so I was hoping for a fun evening to keep the energy up.
Bowling was likely to help. It was at least half-way active.
I was waiting for Pearl outside of the Times Square Bowlmor, which wasn’t such a bad place to wait. It was a Sunday night, so rather than that typical Times Square hustle and bustle, it was just me and the neon.
Pearl and I were set up by one of my improv classmates, Kris, who had given me Pearl’s number months earlier. Since that time, we had played phone and text tag, never quite being able to make schedules work. Often in such situations, interest would wane and I never actually got to date the person. I felt lucky that our schedules had finally aligned.
All Kris had told me about Pearl was that she was very fun, a wonderful person, a dancer and beautiful. Needless to say, I was sold immediately, and in talking with Pearl I had come to very much look forward to our date.
When she arrived, the first thing I noticed aside from her radiant smile was her height — she had to have been nearly 5’11”. I was 5’10.75” and she seemed just about the same. Typically, I think of a woman as “my height” when she’s probably something like 5’8” — a height where I still have an advantage, but you know, we’re pretty close.
This seems to say a lot about how men, even okay ones like myself, view gender equality. What if you applied the 3” shorter rule to all things which should otherwise be equal? There are probably HR executives who think that 13% pay differential is somehow equal, right? Man, I hate us sometimes.
Anyway, Pearl was super close to my height. Like, half an inch close. Plus, her tall cloud of hair reached up another few inches to truly trump my sub-six-foot stature.
Here’s a cliché of the hetero-dating world: Tall women are intimidating. I know that I feel it from time to time, and I think that the majority of men do too, but in my experience, it’s only because we assume that we’re not tall enough for such women and therefore inadequate. Rarely is there anything wrong with women being tall. Rather, there is something emasculating and therefore embarrassing about men being short. See ladies — not all of society’s fucked up gender things fall on your shoulders! Though, shit, I guess you still experience second hand bullshit because of it. Sorry! (Really.)
Despite my initial insecurity, Pearl was able to put me at ease with just a few words exchanged. It was quickly clear that she didn’t judge me based on my height. If she wasn’t worried about it, then I wasn’t worry about it either.
Also, from a blind date perspective, Kris had done a fantastic job. Pearl was super cute and exceedingly friendly.
On the elevator up to the third floor, Pearl asked me if I bowled often, but I’d probably only gone twice that year. She said she used to go a decent amount as a kid for birthday parties in southern New Jersey, but it had been a while.
Wow. Bowlmor was such a huge complex! There were different location themed rooms, and while it all seemed over the top for a bowling alley, it was actually pretty cool. It was like the Epcot Center of bowling alleys, which says a lot because Epcot is magical and bowling alleys are traditionally where dreams go for hospice care. We were in luck too, because it was Sunday Funday, which meant special rates on bowling, an activity which was outrageously expensive in New York City.
Lane 16 in the Coney Island room was all ours for as long as we wanted it that night. We picked up shoes and as we walked to our lane, I attempted to explain candlepin bowling to Pearl, with its smaller pins and smaller balls. I was not surprised that she didn’t know about it, as almost no one from outside New England seemed to know of candlepin, but it had been the bomb in Massachusetts when we were kids. As was saying, “the bomb.”
Pearl kicked things off and bowled a decent first frame, which was a relief to me because I always worry about the fundamental ability of my date to perform a task when I ask someone on a game/competition/Thunderdome date. There’s nothing worse than putting someone in a potentially embarrassing situation and telling them I will write about it later. Fortunately, Pearl was entirely capable and there was nothing to worry about.
Chris, our waiter, came to introduce himself and left us with menus. When he returned a frame or so later, Pearl asked him which was their darkest beer. Hold up. This was a great sign, because though it didn’t really matter, I always preferred to date someone who appreciated beer. Asking for a dark beer was a good indication that Pearl was at least slightly snobby about brews. I loved it.
They didn’t have anything particularly dark so we decided on a pitcher of Yuengling, which was fine because I think Yuengling is great.
When we initially got in touch with each other, Pearl was traveling to Boston, so I gave her a bunch of recommendations of things to check out. She had stayed in Cambridge, which was where I used to live, so we talked about that trip a bit. She really loved Boston, she told me, which is an opinion I’ve found to be common amongst people who grew up near Philly. They’re somewhat similar cities, I suppose.
Our drinks arrived and the bowling carried on. She was a dancer, so I asked her what kinds of dance she did. While she had always done hip hop, she spent more and more time with modern dance those days. That was where the gigs were, she told me. In addition to dancing, she had recently begun her first full time job — working at a school in Manhattan, largely running the after school programming. She liked the after school thing because she was allowed some creative freedom with it.
The after school program I attended as a child, Kids Corner, was highly influential in my life. I remember one teacher in particular, Jay, was like a parent to me. I forgot about it for years but when I met up with him shortly before moving to NYC, it all came back to me. That group of people really helped raise me. The kind of influence an after school coordinator wields can be awesome (in the full of awe kind of way) and it is interesting to reflect upon as an adult. It was fun talking about Kids Corner with Pearl since it was something I don’t think I’d mentioned previously on a date.
We spoke briefly about the project, but only enough to find out that she had never read it. She didn’t want to have any preconceived notions, as she assumed people acted differently having visited the site. I told her that the project usually faded to the back as long as it was not being discussed, but I greatly appreciated the fact that she knew nothing about me. That was rare those days.
As our bowling skills improved, we talked about travel and she asked me about my somewhat recent trip to Asia. After a brief recap, I went to bowl another frame. I noticed that a Bob Marley song was playing, which reminded me that I had gone to Jamaica the year prior. I mentioned the trip and stumbled upon the fact that Pearl was actually born in Jamaica and then moved to the States as a toddler.
The next half hour was spent discussing Jamaican history, culture, politics, music and tourism. I shared the insights I had gained from visiting the country and from studying it in my senior year of college for my international business capstone. While I was hesitant to do so, I related to her my fascinations with reggae and the Rastafari Movement.
Talking about someone else’s culture, like I had any fucking idea what it was really like, could have been considered a brazen move. Fortunately, I didn’t say anything offensive and Pearl only provided further insight. We got along swimmingly over all things Jamaican and the date seemed to gain momentum following that discussion.
We continued to talk about travel for a long time. It was awesome to actually get into a conversation about a single topic rather than just jump around. It’s not too common on first dates. Often times, a conversation about travel consists of merely listing places visited and highlighting favorites. With Pearl though, we dug into a lot of good stuff. We started another game and Chris checked in with us to see how we were doing. We were doing great.
There was one thing that puzzled me though. As previously mentioned, each room was themed around some location, and for the life of me, I did not understand how the room we were in was Coney Island themed. Pearl had no idea either. Virtually nothing about the scenes painted on the walls depicted Coney Island. I should have known, I had been there on a date that summer. If anyone ever ends up in the Coney Island room at Bowlmor Times Square and can decode the artwork, please drop me a line.
Once we got into our second game, we began taking longer breaks between frames to talk to each other. So much so, that we occasionally forgot whose turn it was and needed the board to remind us. An engaging date was the best kind of distraction to have.
We were both bowling better than the first game but it was not until the fifth frame of the second game that I finally bowled a strike. Then another in the sixth frame! Where was that NBA Jam announcer when you needed him?!
A word of advice to single people: Bowling makes for a great date.
As a date, it offers an interesting dynamic because while at once being playful, it’s also about trying not to look incompetent. I am generally a very competitive person and I hate looking like I’m terrible at any sport or game, no matter how inexperienced I may be. But in front of Pearl, or any date, I needed to shrug it off and have some humility. Seeing someone fail, and how they react to that failure, are great insights into who they are as a person.
Failure aside, it also offers many chances to celebrate the little things. Eight pins down? Awesome! Let’s get a high-five in there. Let’s break down that physical barrier between us in a casual and playful manner. These little baby steps go a long way.
The best part though, is that no one cares whether or not you’re a good bowler. It’s just a game, really, and a goofy one at that: the shoes, the shirts, the general esthetic. The most important things that bowling does for a date is that it gets you up and moving, breaks up the pace of conversation and invites surprises -— like a first hug after a big strike.
The bottom line is that it’s just more engaging than a dinner.
Towards the last few rounds of our second game, we were both standing, getting closer to one another, and talking a little more about the actual bowling. Pearl had been watching me carefully and while I bowled, told me that she was going to mimic my form on her next turn. I couldn’t wait to laugh at her impression of me.
As soon as I finished my frame, the man in the lane next to ours began talking to me about personal finance.
Holy shit, dude. I can’t even begin to tell you how little care about what you have to say about personal finance. Can’t you see that I’m on a date here? I don’t need your help saving money. What I need is for you to stop talking to me about a very uninteresting subject.
Of course, by the time he had said his piece and given me his card, I’d missed Pearl’s impression of me bowling. She had been trying to do something cute and that moron got in the way.
I bowled my last frame and we called it quits on bowling for the night.
Not wanting the date to be over, I asked Pearl if she would like to go get another drink, or maybe some food. She was enthused and told me that the late night was okay since she didn’t need to be at work until 12 p.m. the next day.
On the other hand, I needed to be in the office at 8:30 a.m. but I thought, “Fuck it. This is what I do.” I have nearly always sacrificed sleep to pursue things that intrigued me. Though I was already running on fumes, I could not pass on the opportunity to spend more time with Pearl.
We walked over to 9th Avenue and I rattled off a few bar options. After describing Rudy’s, Pearl gave a definitive, “Done.” We entered the local dive and though it was crowded as usual, we made our way to the bar and Pearl ordered us a pitcher of Rudy’s Red. I told her that the hot dogs were free and she said we’d have to get some some those too.
This woman was so right on.
I saw the jukebox, and in very first date fashion, I asked her about what kind of music she liked. Pearl provided a fairly standard list for a Jamaican woman growing up in NJ: Reggae, pop, R&B, early 90’s hip-hop and bluegrass. Some dancehall and reggaeton too.
Wait, did she say bluegrass?! Hold up.
Pearl was the second Jamaican woman I’d been out with that month who liked bluegrass. I wouldn’t have expected that to be a typical association, but maybe I was missing out on some rad subculture. We talked bluegrass and I was able to give her some recommendations, which was cool. I was happy to give her some new music I thought she’d enjoy.
I talked about my childhood (and present) love for Boyz II Men and Michael Jackson. We discussed the search for real rap or hip hop in the modern age of Black Eyed Peas and LMFAO. I mentioned P.O.S. and K-OS and then realized that I had actually seen them both before. At the same show. They were both openers.
In fact, I was wearing the Gym Class Heroes hoodie that I had bought at that show, which they co-headlined with RX Bandits, the band whose name was on the t-shirt was wearing at the time. Look at that! I was like a walking spokesperson for all four acts from that one show. I felt a little silly about it to be honest. Whatever. It was a funny coincidence.
A couple seats opened up in a booth and we took them. We also grabbed a couple hot dogs.
The conversation moved to the relationship between rap and reggae, how they influenced each other, and then the history of reggae and all western popular music. It was another long extended conversation and I loved it. I really hadn’t had a lot of those since starting the project. These were topics I was wholeheartedly interested in and knew a little something about, so I was excited to be discussing them.
The prevailing descriptor for most of my previous in-depth date conversations would have been “emotive” whereas most of our serious talks that night sounded more “academic”. It was a very cool change of pace.
Eventually, during a pause in conversation, Pearl laughed and tapped my hand saying, “Yeah, this is a good date.” I agreed with her so hard.
The hand tap led to a hand holding (hold up).
It had been a really good date, and as we approached 2 a.m., it was nearing its end. Damn. What happened to being exhausted six hours earlier? Pearl seemed to have provided a second, third and fourth wind to my weary body.
I tugged her hand so that she turned towards me and I kissed her. It was great — really fun. Nothing sloppy or drunk or awkward. Just someone I was really attracted to and connected with in that moment and we were kissing.
She scratched at my pitiful little beard. I tried to run my fingers through her hair, forgetting that her densely curled mane didn’t really allow for that. One day, I would figure out how to be smooth with women.
After a few minutes of kissing, it was definitely time to leave. We walked over to 8th Avenue and both caught cabs home, but not before one final kiss.
I texted her on the way back to Queens, “Yeah. That was a great date.”