—Friday, November 11, 2011—
Walking to Penn Station, I stopped to get some snacks for the train ride. I felt somewhat unprepared for travel without snacks — they were essential to passing time. Plus, I couldn’t forget to bring some water — the lifeblood of a good date.
The air was a bit cold in New York and it would be that much cooler by the time we got to Providence, Rhode Island, a little over three hours north. Providence may not be the most exotic of travel destinations, but Travel Date only required that we travel and stay overnight somewhere as a date. Providence worked well, given each of our schedules.
I retrieved my ticket from the automated machine and waited inside the 8th Avenue & 32nd Street entrance for Liza. It had been months since we’d seen each other and I missed her. It was great to see her smiling face come through the door and I was thrilled to know that for the next two days, we’d be attached at the hip.
Liza and I knew each other through improv classes in New York. We became friends easily in our first class and I had always been attracted to her. She was petite, olive skinned, wonderfully friendly and it was always a blast to spend time with her. It was a dangerous combination that had led me to almost pop the question a few times. If I hadn’t met her at a time when I knew I didn’t want a girlfriend, I would have likely asked her out in earnest. Although, I did fool her into going out on a pseudo-date with me once.
I had invited Liza to see Sleep No More several months earlier, very much under the pretext of friends who both enjoyed performance art. It was a perfect setup for a secret date. At the bar before the show, we were talking about my ideas for OHD and when I described Secret Date, she asked if she was on a secret date. I laughed and told her, with a wink, that it was. Truth be told, I would have loved for it to be a date, but I wasn’t intending to trick her into anything — I was totally fine with it being a platonic outing.
Since our last class ended, I hadn’t see Liza very often. One of the few times that I had spent with her was at her July 4th party, the weekend that I moved to Queens and only one day before my first date for the project. I spent the day at her place, drinking and hanging out with all of her friends. At the end of the night, she walked me outside to my bike and as she hugged me goodbye, we kissed. It was a simple goodbye kiss, but still, I felt that it signified a mutual attraction that I had been unsure of until that point.
Needless to say, that kiss had planted a seed of hope for romance on the upcoming trip.
In the Amtrak lobby, we found our gate and were there just in time for boarding. I glanced back as we began our descent down the escalator to the track and I spotted someone familiar. It was a friend from Fairfield who I had not seen since we graduated. We caught each other up a bit as we walked to the train but separated once on board so that I wouldn’t fall victim to a full on college reunion at the detriment of my wonderful companion. It was tempting, but I was on a date, and I was there for Liza.
By the time we arrived in Providence, we had discussed Liza’s new job, my new improv class, our families, Judaism as religion, Judaism as culture, the Birthright experience, our opinions on marriage and our desires (or lack thereof) to have children. I learned that although our fathers may have shared similar traits, our families were very different, and that my knowledge of Judaism was only the tip of a much larger iceberg.
Liza and I were able to pass the time effortlessly, as I suspected we would be able to, and it reinforced my happiness to be on the trip with her. Two more days of this would be a breeze.
BRING IT ON, DATING GODS.
Upon arrival, we were both tired and agreed that we shouldn’t hit the town too hard that night. I mapped the hotel on my phone, and although the night’s air had some bite, it was close enough to make the trip on foot.
As we entered City Hall Park, we found a number of tents surrounding us and realized that it was Occupy Providence. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep out there on a night like that — it was too damn cold. We passed straight through the park and our hotel rose in front of us. The Providence Biltmore had been there seemingly forever, looming over the park, an iconic piece of downtown Providence.
Here’s another reason why I was genuinely excited about that weekend: Getting a hotel room. It was an unimpressive reminder that we were allowed to do grown up things. I didn’t have to ask anyone to book the hotel and I even had my own money to pay for it. Growing up, we almost exclusively traveled to places where we could stay with family and spending the night in a hotel had always felt like a luxury. I reveled in the freedom of financial independence as we rode the elevator up to the fifth floor.
As soon as we entered our room, I was thrilled to find that they had bestowed upon us a spacious two room suite. A bedroom, a living room and two bathrooms. It was fantastic — we wouldn’t need to pass fluids, mass or gas in the same space. For my money, I don’t think it could have been much better.
Although we were both exhausted, our stomachs told us that we needed to eat before turning in for the night. The front desk informed us that the only place open for food so late was the Haven Brothers Diner around the corner. Take a right out the door and we couldn’t miss it. The diner really was impossible to miss, elevated on wheels, parked just on the other side of City Hall. It was a gritty, trailer car diner and I loved it.
There were a couple other stragglers when we walked in the door but they filtered out as we looked at the menu. Stuffing our faces with a burger, chicken fingers and french fries, we disagreed on the merits of mayo and mustard, but it was mostly my hatred of both condiments that was driving the debate. It wasn’t the meal we deserved, but it was the meal we needed right then. Liza summed it up acutely when she asked, “Why is fried food so good?” I still don’t know the answer, but I am sure scientists are working on it.
We left Haven Brothers with the energy that came with a hot meal, so we targeted the bar attached to our hotel for a couple glasses of wine. Between the wine and the wedding party cutting loose in the bar, there was plenty to keep us entertained. After one round, and a lot of talk about weddings, we retired back to our room, exploring the hotel lobby’s balcony on the way.
Getting ready for bed, I discovered that I had forgotten to pack shorts, so Liza had to deal with me and my somewhat minuscule underwear. She laughed at me, but it was in a way that I hoped translated to endearment. We watched television in bed, which was something I had not done recently, being that I hadn’t had a television in my bedroom since senior year of college.
I lay next to Liza innocently and it was not until I used the bathroom and climbed back into bed that put my arm around her waist.
“On hey, cuddler,” she remarked.
“Hey,” I mumbled back.
I timidly embraced her for the rest of the night but did not make any further advances, because well, while Liza was not resisting the affection, she was certainly not reciprocating too strongly either. As we drifted off to sleep, I was hornier than I care to admit and I focused all of my energy on suppressing the desire. I much preferred to share a bed wrought with sexual tension than move too fast and end up on the couch in the next room, with Liza in bed, feeling like she couldn’t trust me.
—Saturday, November 12, 2011—
Waking up the next morning, I thought Liza might still be asleep. I would have felt bad waking her, so I lay motionless, still with my arm around her, for a unknown amount of time.
We both got up and showered in our respective bathrooms. I took a shit because well, I had an open window and my own bathroom. I wished there was a literal open window in there, but I’d take what I could get. I heavily considered releasing the sexual tension I’d been feeling, but concluded that masturbating within 30 feet of a woman who hadn’t instructed me to do so would have qualified me as a degenerate.
I emerged from the bathroom fully dressed, as I imagine Prince always does, to Liza preparing to dry her hair. I played on my phone while she blasted hot air at her head, and once she was ready to go, we took to the streets of downtown Providence in search of breakfast.
Although some of its buildings were impressive, Providence was a somewhat depressed city. We talked about how Northeastern small cities, like Hartford or Worcester, had come and gone. I wondered if they could be sustained after a certain point, or if they should be left to die. Many such cities, as Providence had done, were trying to revitalize themselves as centers for independent business and the arts. I couldn’t tell how well it was going for them there but maybe we’d find out as we explored the city.
We finally stumbled upon a coffee shop (thanks Yelp!) which was spacious and largely empty. They had breakfast sandwiches and coffee and it was enough to tide us over.
Following breakfast, we walked over the Providence River, through South Main Street Park and began our ascent up College Hill, which was superbly named, towards Brown University and The Rhode Island School of Design.
As we walked by the RISD Museum of Art, I had an overwhelming sense of deja vu and realized, “Oh! I’ve been here before!” It had been years earlier — the summer of 2003 — when my high school girlfriend took a summer course at RISD. I would drive down from Boston every few days to see her and we once went to the museum. It’s all coming back to me now.
We wandered through the museum and talked about art, which I believe is what most people in museums do. What made a piece of art good, or even valid? It was the kind of circular questioning that gets undergrads all hyped up and philosophical.
Liza enjoyed warm light, human subjects and the abstract work of Pollock. I loved landscapes, earthy tones and relatable content. We found common ground in our appreciation of Egyptian artifacts. I recalled how when I gave up on becoming a chef, the first profession I had thought of was to be an Egyptologist and that I’d written to the head of the Egyptology department at Brown, which sat only a few blocks away.
I forget sometimes how thoroughly I had considered making Providence my next location towards the end of high school. I would visit RISD, I’d written to Brown and I was accepted at Providence College and Johnson & Wales. In some small way, this trip was a homecoming to a place I only almost called home.
Leaving the museum, we strolled up to Lookout Park and took some pictures. They were not as great as I would have liked, but then again, I was a poor photographer. We took our time there despite the fact that it was a bit cold — there seemed to be something very nice about lingering. I over-romanticize things easily, and this was one of those occasions. I wanted to take Liza’s hand, turn her and kiss her over the Providence vista, but I knew better, I told myself, and I refrained.
We walked further up and over College Hill, commenting on the beautiful houses that surrounded us. Large and small, upscale and modest, they were all quite nice in their respective ways. Liza appreciated the houses more than I did, and it was only then that I realized I had been spoiled by growing up in a small New England town. These houses looked like what by suburbs had looked like, not those big developments right off of highways like in New Jersey. Wait, Liza was from New Jersey. I’d misspoken and I apologized to her. She let it slide.
Walking through Brown’s campus, there were students playing frisbee in the quad and some absolutely picturesque tall trees hanging over the lawn. It hit us like a ton of bricks: we both sorely missed college.
Liza asked, if I could go back and do it again, what would I would do differently? I’d return there with what I know now, being more confident in my personal life, and choosing a completely different major. Business and finance, which I had studied in my first go around, had been cop outs. They allowed me to delay following my passions because others valued them highly. If Liza were to begin again, she would only change her major slightly, to focus more on what she was doing in her adult life, and agreed that it would be nice to have a better sense of self.
Finding ourselves on the ever popular Thayer Street, we ventured up towards the more densely packed portion, browsing in fun little shops and casually looking for a place to have a drink. We found a sufficiently dope shoe store that featured mostly urban fashion where Liza was right at home — she had a love for great kicks. The manager suggested a bar just a couple doors down and we thanked him for the advice before heading out.
At the bar, the special was a hot mulled cider, which I took with spiced rum, while Liza ordered hers with honey bourbon. I enjoyed it well enough, considering I didn’t drink much rum. The bartender was standing right in front of us, doing bartender things and ensuring that our conversation lacked all sense of privacy. Thankfully, as more customers sat down, he left us on our own.
For our second round, we opted for a couple beers and also ordered some lunch. I was feeling more flirty after a couple drinks and a lot of good conversation. Those over-romanticized feelings from earlier bubbled up again but I placated them with food this time.
With lunch in our bellies, we decided to return to the hotel for a siesta. It was vacation, anyhow, and the perfect time to relax. Plus, it was not as if there was an overwhelming amount of things to do in Providence that day.
As we passed by the much more lively Occupy Providence encampment, I asked Liza if she remembered kissing me on the Fourth of July. She said of course she remembered and added, “It was short and awkward, like most things in my life.” We laughed. It was fine, we agreed. It was just a thing that happened. It was just a thing that happened that I was bringing up again in hopes of it happening again. So much for suppressing my flirtation.
Back in the hotel, we snuggled up under a big blanket on the couch and watched Storage Wars for a couple of hours. Storage Wars was an incredibly romantic show about shitheads in LA who would bid on defaulted storage lockers and I am sure it will run in syndication for all of time.
After four enthralling episodes, the sun had gone down and if that nap was going to happen, it was going to happen then. As Liza rose from the couch, I gave her a deliberately unwarranted hug — the kind that existed for no other reason than to break the contact barrier. Liza seemed to reciprocate and I’m not sure why it seemed like a good idea, but I reached down, picked her up and carried her over to the bed.
I am fully aware that some women hate being picked up without notice, especially if they’re on the petite side. It was a potentially dumb ass move.
As I landed with her on the bed, we began kissing. It was mutual and I didn’t feel like I was doing anything out of line. We made out for a while and it was exactly what I have been hoping for. It was looking like it might get serious when I excused myself to use the bathroom. I returned to make out a bit more, but we were both so mutually tired, and without words, we decided to crash. Anything that might have happened could happen later. Liza and I fell asleep intertwined with each other. Moments like this were what I missed about having a girlfriend.
I woke up an hour or two later with Liza still out cold beside me. She eventually woke and went to use the bathroom. Once out, she put on her sweater and made no indication that she was coming back to bed. I waited a couple minutes longer, just hoping that she might sleep with me, but gave it up and readied myself to go out. After all, we had plans to see an improv show.
We walked to the nearby AS220 for food and drinks before the show. I told her how I’d been there a couple times for the Providence Improv Fest and about how I was somewhat familiar with the improv troupe we were going to see because of its connections to ImprovBoston folks that I knew. We had a somewhat quick dinner, but the food was great and we were out in plenty of time to walk the two doors down to see Improv Jones.
At that point, Improv Jones had to be the longest running improv team in Providence. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but I suspect it is. It was a fun show. Definitely different from what we were used to in NYC, but similar to things I had seen when I was starting out in CT and Boston. Despite the difference, Liza and I both enjoyed it for what it was.
Afterward, we returned to AS220 for another round of drinks. They had a great beer selection there and I would recommend it to all my snobby friends. Sitting at the bar, Liza asked me her random question of the day, which was, “Why did you make out with me?”
As in, why had I decided to kiss her earlier? I’d known her well before the project so, why had I waited until we were on a OHD date to make a move?
I felt as though I was caught in a trap and there was no right answer. Guilt immediately set in. I was being called out for bad behavior and I had no excuse. I felt bad that I didn’t have anything great to say.
The best answer I could grasp onto was, “Why not?” I explained that I had always been attracted to her and we were there and the opportunity presented itself, so I went for it. But that was a weak reason that no one wanted to hear — that I had kissed her because I could.
Although my initial reaction was to feel defensive and attacked, Liza admitted that at least part of it was mutual. She had fun kissing me, and she was not angry with me, but advised that I should think more about what my actions said to others.
The real bullshit though, was that as soon as Liza admitted that it was mutually enjoyable, my mind let me off the hook and I started to think of what might happen when we got back to the hotel. How shortsighted I was, even at 26 years of age, looking for any open door without caring what was on the other side. For shame.
Back at the hotel, the dust from the bar had settled and we did nothing more with our night than ready ourselves for bed and put the TV on. We lay for a while and I remained incredibly unsure of what would be appropriate. I thought the door might be open, but then maybe I would be even more of a prick for walking through it if that were not the case.
In what had become a somewhat standard, albeit spineless, move, I asked Liza if I was allowed to kiss her. “You asked?” she replied, “That’s cute.”
Well, that hadn’t help much. I couldn’t tell if that meant she was not interested or if I needed to take more assertive action. She hadn’t shut me out, but she hadn’t let me in either. That sort of grey area was where I became most nervous with women.
To test the waters, I started small and I kissed her cheek. As I had hoped, she turned to me and we began to kiss. It did not take long before I noticed that it was not as hot and heavy as it had been earlier and that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. She might have wanted to kiss for a bit, but I don’t think Liza wanted anything else to happen. I took the cues and allowed it fizzle out.
As we drifted off to sleep, I gave her some distance, only gently resting my arm on her side.
I woke up in the middle of the night because Liza was asking me to move over — I was pushing her off of the bed. At that point, I shifted fully to the other half of the mattress for the remainder of the night and next morning.
My guilt seemed to have fully quelled my hormones.
—Sunday, November 13, 2011—
We needed to check out by 11 a.m., so we left our bags with the hotel and took off on a walk. I wanted to go to Federal Hill, which I believed was their Little Italy, but I didn’t know exactly which streets to hit. We trekked across I-95 into no man’s land Providence, and found no Italian gems along the way. It was a lackluster start to the day and I wished I had done some better research.
As a consolation, I knew of a good diner around there and so, Liza and I landed there for some breakfast. The morning turned around as we ate our meal and talked about our college days. I got to hear all about her sorority experience, everything from her initiation to her senior year leadership positions. I tended to think that Greeks were bone-headed and antiquated, but she said that her sorority was her saving grace during her first year. She had been very depressed and the community that it provided rescued her.
For many at my school, theater and improv had served the same purpose. I remember so many people saying that if they hadn’t found improv, they would have transferred. And although Liza also had improv, it wasn’t enough to keep her there. The sorority was what ultimately saved her and her story gave me some faith in Greek life after all.
Our bus was still a few hours away, so we walked back towards the pickup spot, near our hotel, and found a bar at which to watch football. We drank beers and cider, and conversed about this and that, mostly that, until it was time to retrieve our bags and catch our bus. I couldn’t remember the last time I had sat so peacefully in a bar on a Sunday and watched football but it was nice, in that All-American kind of way.
We talked as our bus left Providence behind, until Liza split her earbuds with me and played some Little Dragon as we cruised down the highway. The rest of the ride was mostly silent between us, the way rides home often are, particularly when the sun sets and darkness takes over.
The bus dropped us near our improv stomping grounds and we walked the few blocks to Herald Square in order to catch our respective trains to Queens. An R train arrived first and Liza climbed aboard, giving me a hug goodbye before departing.
I rode home unsure of what I’d done, but glad that Liza and I didn’t seem the worse for wear.