—Thursday, November 3, 2011—
Art is subjective. As is dating. I was asked often over the course of the project, “What is a good date?” and much like good art, it is often left up to the audience to decide.
I was meeting Selina just south of Madison Square Park, on Broadway, in lovely New York City. It was a stretch of Broadway that had tables and chairs set up to enjoy and where cars could not run you over. I always felt uncool taking my own picture in public, but I’d done it enough by then to get over it. I snapped my pre-date picture and checked my phone for any communication from Selina.
[I shaved for the first time in a year and a half for Movember! ↓↓↓]
No text messages were coming through because my phone couldn’t connect to the 3G network, a somewhat common issue for AT&T users in Manhattan, but Selina called me, solving the communication meltdown. Two minutes later and she was standing in front of me in a funky outfit of knee-high striped socks, a short skirt and a double-layered tank top. I’m not sure if this is the right reference, but she looked she could have been a cast member on Roundhouse, only updated for 2011.
Already, the date felt extremely casual, which was fitting considering the majority of my relationship with Selina had been casual. We knew each other from the improv scene and we’d also known each other (Biblically) prior to One Hundred Dates. For those of you not familiar with the Biblical use of knowledge, it means that we’d slept together.
I asked Selina how her day had been and she told me that she had worked a shift at her bar and then ran home to shower before meeting up with me. I thanked her in regards to the latter.
The building we were going to was just south of us on Broadway and I had to sign us in at the front desk, which felt overly formal for a rudimentary painting class, but that’s NYC security for you.
Paint Along NYC was on the 8th floor and when we entered the room, I was surprised to find that the whole shebang was that single space. For some reason I had pictured at least a waiting room and studio, but it was simply a single room with chairs for sixteen. The walls were brightly colored and it had a kindergarten classroom vibe to it that I wasn’t completely against. It even had cubbies on the back wall for us to store our things. All we needed was some juice boxes and mats to nap on.
Selina picked two seats in the back left of the room and I hung up our coats. Seated, we waited as our classmates trickled into the room. We joked around a little bit about the childish room and what kind of person would attend a beginner painting class alone. I mean, it wasn’t real art. We were simply going to paint the exact lines that the instructor told us too. It wasn’t particularly artistic.
Also, it must have been a fairly odd job for the instructor. As an artist, she was making money by instructing adults to create rubbish. I suppose it’s not unlike teaching an entry-level improv class in which you simply lead the same simple games or exercises over and over again. It must feel similarly juvenile at times, although I’m sure there was a certain payoff in seeing people amaze themselves with something relatively simple.
Dammit — I forgot to get wine.
It was a BYOB class and I had totally forgotten that they billed it that way. Other friends and couples were all pulling out their bottles and I felt like an idiot. Everything would have been just a little bit looser with some vino. Not that it was awkward, but Selina and I were both more friendly with a couple drinks in us.
The last three people who entered were very dressed up, like they had someplace swanky to be later. A couple sat in the front row and the boyfriend was a total smartass, saying that he was the pro painter and his girlfriend was only a novice. He was the man. Until a final group walked in, he and I were the only men in the room, but that last group had added a third and I felt more at ease with the hormonal balance of the room.
Jessica was our instructor and as soon as everyone was in the room, she began the lesson. She walked us through chalking out the boxes which would serve as the background of the painting. Once completed, we started covering our canvases in paint, getting tips along the way as to which colors to mix for lighter and darker shades. Jessica also told us how add white to wash out mistakes and then add back the desired color. And in case we couldn’t do it ourselves, she was on hand to fix anything we’d really fucked up.
Selina and I were both relatively quiet throughout the painting, trying to concentrate on what we were doing. We made small talk, mostly funny quips to each other, but no real conversation ensued. It felt similar to when people enjoy a really good meal. The silence was not a bad sign — it merely meant that everyone was enjoying themselves. Jessica appreciated our humor, which was good — the atmosphere was generally fun and encouraging. There were no real painters there, so there was no reason to be embarrassed of your mistakes and simply enjoying it was so much better than worrying about the final product. Art is all process over product, right?
Aside from adding too much black to one panel, something Jessica had warned us about, neither Selina nor I had too much trouble and our paintings came out fairly well. It looked like a real painting! I felt undeservingly accomplished having something to take home and as a bonus, the whole session had been really fun. Definitely more fun than I had expected it to be. That must have been the idea.
I asked Selina if she wanted to get dinner, but she had eaten towards the end of her shift at work and wasn’t hungry yet. So, how about drinks? If for nothing else, drinks would make up for the lack of wine at our painting class. Drinks sounded good to her so we ventured outside to find a bar. The weather was surprisingly temperate compared to the snowstorm we’d encountered the previous weekend. The only bar I knew right in that area was Live Bait, where I’d already brought two dates, so I didn’t want to go there with Selina. I thought there might be some options on Park Avenue, so we walked in that direction.
Jokingly, I suggested the bar at The People’s Improv Theater since we were walking by it. It was a joke largely because we were both students of other theaters and it would have been poor form to patronize a competing theater on our date. It would also have been a terrible choice for a date since we were bound to run into people we knew. However, it was a legitimately decent bar, so I mentioned it.
The PIT aside, there were no great options coming to us on Park, so we walked over to Madison. As we strolled along, we talked about improv and the scene around the theaters. It was a good talk but that topic can be exhausting after discussing it all the time with people from the theater. It’s the same as going to the bar after work and only talking with your co-workers about work. There is always that moment of, “we need to talk about something else.” Indeed, we eventually found that moment and transitioned.
Selina told me about growing up in Manhattan, near Union Square, and being a kid in the city. She said that your friends were down the hall instead of down the street. You needed to be picked up from school not because you lived too far to walk, but because someone might walk off with you. It was not a confined upbringing, just a different version of the same thing — you still got to be a kid. That was good to hear. I always worried that kids in Manhattan were just reading books and trying on corduroys. Having a good friend in her brother didn’t hurt either.
For whatever reason, I had thought there was some kind of BBQ joint around where we were, but we couldn’t find it. I mean, we hadn’t walked by one. We slowly crept towards the part of Chelsea where the other improv theaters were and I mentioned this fact to Selina so that we could consciously not go to the bars we always went to and so that we were not bothered by other improv hoodlums.
Apparently though, we were very close to the bar where Selina worked, so she suggested going there as a compromise. I certainly didn’t want to make her go back to the place where she had toiled for the better part of the day, but she said that she really wouldn’t mind. She liked the bar and added that I’d probably enjoy it. I think a part of her almost wanted to show off her place of work. Taking that all into consideration, I was easily convinced and we walked the short distance to the bar.
For some reason, maybe because Selina had talked it up, I had the feeling that Shorty’s would be a hearty sports bar. One of those places that had the age and character of a dive, but without ever falling into disrepair or succumbing to graffiti and stickers. However, as soon as we entered, I made note of the crowd and décor and began to think that it was more of a sleek sports bar like any other you might find in Manhattan.
Quickly though, I realized that the clientele was more indicative of the neighborhood than the bar itself. There was a solid beer list, great staff (obviously) and they served really killer cheesesteaks (they were famous for importing the bread from Philly each day). Come to think of it, I had heard of the place before — I just had no idea where it was or of its name.
We were sitting in a small lounge area in the back of the bar when one of Selina’s coworkers came over to greet her and take our order. I needed a second, but Selina ordered her beer while I was looking over the menu. I ordered a Kelso Nut Brown Lager when the waitress returned with Selina’s Delirium Tremens.
Once I had my beer in hand, the stories began to flow. Selina and I talked about exes, a taboo subject for first dates that I had probably discussed far too many times at that point. This led to our separate tales of coming to New York, or in Selina’s case, back to New York. After growing up there as a kid, she moved to Florida, where members of her family still lived. She detailed her relationship with her brother more than before, telling me how when they first moved to Florida, they had made a promise to each other that they would move back to New York — a promise they had kept.
It was an incredibly endearing story to hear her tell. That her brother had always been her fiercest protector seemed right in line with my impression of him — a tough looking kid, covered in tattoos, who was always friendly and bursting with positive energy on stage (he was also a performer). Their sibling camaraderie was something I wished I could share with my own brother. Maybe one day he’ll get tattoos and fight people for me.
Another round, and we began to exchange drunken stories, focusing largely on those which ended in sexual shenanigans. Once again, not typical fodder for a first date, but we were cracking up sharing these stories openly and comfortably. That was the benefit of knowing Selina previously and having slept with her — it was just not a thing.
She had gone through a crazy drunken makeout phase after her previous relationship ended, which I could completely relate to, even if I might have gone about it differently. Wasn’t this high-volume dating project only a better disguised version of the same thing? Some people found it easier to get hammered and make out with a stranger. I would rather go to a painting class, apparently.
In all honesty, it was the most fun I’d had hanging out with Selina since I’d known her. We were just letting it ride and it was not restricted at all. I was really enjoying myself, probably more than I had thought I would. That must have been the idea.
The woman taking delivery orders on the phone in the rear of the restaurant came over to say hello to Selina. She was very friendly and extremely talkative. I forgot her name almost as soon as I heard it though. She chatted with us until she had to take another phone call.
We ordered more beers and I got a cheesesteak with provolone and broccoli rabe. It came several minutes later and the first few bites were so damn good. I’m talking crazy tasty. By the time I was four or five bites in, the take out lady was back. She talked to us through my sandwich eating and beyond. I got up to use the bathroom and wondered if the take out woman would realize that we were on a date because she had not let us alone for the past 30 minutes, save for a quick call here and there. I shouldn’t have been annoyed though — I’d want someone to talk to if I were just taking orders all night.
I was getting tired and didn’t know how much longer I could stay out. When asked if we wanted another round, I declined, but Selina got one more. I guess I hadn’t broadcasted my fatigue so well. Maybe I should have yawned a whole bunch? Or repeatedly mentioned my coming early morning?
We talked for a while longer, mostly about relationships — both romantic and familial. It was more grounded than the rest of our conversation that night and it was nice to get some insight into the softer side of Selina. She asked if I was tired and I told her I was.
Standing to use the bathroom, Selina told me to drink half of her beer. I gulped down a few big mouthfuls and I also took care of the check.
Upon her return, we finished her beer, and she asked about the bill. I told her it was taken care of and like a good friend, never wanting things to be unfair, Selina insisted that she would pay for my cab back to Queens.
We stepped out of the bar, onto Madison Avenue, and I hailed a taxi home.