—Tuesday, January 31, 2012—
Lara’s approach was not what I had expected. She walked up to me so casually, I had no idea she was my date, and yes, I had seen a picture of her before.
“Hey, I’m Lara,” she said with no inflection or emotion behind it.
“Lot’s of people hug, but that’s weird right? We don’t even know each other,” she added.
I laughed. I couldn’t tell if this was going to be awful or if I already loved her. I didn’t know her well enough to intuit whether she was deadpan hilarious or totally bizarre. She certainly didn’t strike me as the type of person who would be meeting up with me to attend a Pilates class and go out to dinner.
We had joked only an hour earlier, via gchat, about me showing up with a single rose, so I had actually run around the block surrounding my office building looking for one, but no luck. It would have been funny to show up with a rose, but I bought her a water instead. That was still kind of cute, right?
Still, Lara was so…uninviting…that I didn’t tell her about the rose search and it even took me a minute or so to present her with the bottle of water. Despite my worries, she was appreciative and told me it was very nice.
Maybe it was hard to get a read on her at first because I only knew Lara from her email to me, wherein she asked me out on a date. It was the funniest email I had received that year, for OHD or otherwise.
My sister forwarded your blog to me, and since I live in NYC, have a past in the world of NYC comedy, and do weird shit, she assumed I must know you. I read over your blog a bit, but I don’t think I do, though I guarantee we have mutual friends. I actually just searched you on facebook (hey, you put your last name on the Internet), and we have 5 mutual friends. One of them is Alan Starzinski which really means nothing since Alan is friends with everyone who has ever set foot in an improv theatre.
I didn’t read through your whole blog for several reasons. One being that I have one of those jobs that does not allow me time to bullshit on the Internet all day. But the other is that when she told me the gist of your blog, I basically immediately decided I was going to email you to ask you on a date, because this type of thing is my cup of tea. I also have the tendency to make up people’s personalities in my mind before I know them, and then I get disappointed inevitably. So I only want to know the basics, which I more or less do.
I did read the post about your mom, and your tattoo. I, coincidentally, have a tattoo about my father who passed away on my wrist. It also contains his initials, but within a line of aol instant messenger conversation. I swear, I am not a hipster. Okay, I live in Williamsburg.
About me: My name is Lara Benson, but many people call me Bara Lenson, a nickname I accidentally created for myself that I reluctantly have accepted. I’m 26, I look angry all the time, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out my interests, and I have significantly polarized luck. Feel free to google me, or ask around about me. Then maybe we can go out from there.
Sent from my iPad, because I am douche
She was taller than I had anticipated and far more drab than I would have guessed. She had been so funny in her emails to me and her text messages that I thought she’d be goofy. To my surprise, and relief, she was actually very funny, just cynical and dark. I parsed out her sense of humor by the time we had walked the two blocks to the gym.
It worked out quite well that we both belonged to NYSC gyms and both worked in Midtown. Though there could have been a number of factors at play, this was actually a very easy date to put together.
As we rode the escalator up to the second floor of the Crown Plaza, wherein our NYSC was located, Lara asked me what I did for work. She had just met me outside my office, after all. I worked close by, I told her, and well, I set up financial compliance software. Super exciting.
The gym was in an odd location — on the 15th floor of a Times Square hotel. Imagine if we’d had to go all the way up on escalators? That would have been cool. For better or worse, the escalator only went to the hotel lobby on the second floor and then we took an elevator to the 15th floor from there. On the 15th, in the middle of a floor of guest rooms, was the entrance to a two story gym. Odd.
We each checked in at the front desk and then went into our separate locker rooms. Getting changed, I was only slightly nervous about what the Pilates class would hold. I hadn’t been to the gym or worked out in seven months, not since I had started OHD. Lara had already told me that she went to the gym often, so I was thinking I might get blown away. I just had to have faith in my skinny little body that it would get the job done. I changed my clothes and used the bathroom, and it was time to see my date again.
These kind of dates — ones that involve physical exertion — are kind of great because people have to get dressed in athletic wear. There are no date night clothes to flatter anyone’s bodies or heavy makeup to conceal someone’s face. I mean…you could wear make up, but the sweat would help to destroy it soon enough. I enjoyed the reality of something like an exercise date. If you can’t stand to see a person sweating in workout gear, how could you possibly be into them over the long term?
Anyway, I stepped out of the mens locker room to see Lara already waiting for me. Lara looked cute in her workout gear. I don’t know if that transformation from office gal to workout woman had made her nervous, but she had nothing to be worried about. We asked the desk where Studio 2 was located, as that was where our Pilates class would be and the staffer confirmed that it was the larger of the two studios, just at the foot of the stairs.
Approaching the downstairs studio, we cold see a class in the room already and so we read the schedule on the door. This was a 6:15 p.m. Pilates class, not a 7:15 p.m. class. Maybe we had the time wrong? Lara and I ventured back upstairs where the staff member told us that it was merely an earlier advanced class and that our 7:15 p.m. class was still on.
We returned downstairs and went over to the stretching / body weight area to get loosened up. Stretching was an interesting way to begin a date. We were both there next to each other, talking about whatever, while we more or less put our bodies on display. Butterfly stretch? Don’t mind if I do! I hoped she wouldn’t mind that I had nothing physically impressive to show off.
As we began stretching, she pointed to my tattoo and told me she liked it. “Thanks,” I said, and then she showed me her tattoo. She had her father’s initials on her wrist. She had told me about it in her initial email to me, which I maintain was the funniest date proposition I’d ever received. Lara told me how she used to keep it covered up at work with bracelets and wristbands until her boss one day asked if she had tattoos, so she showed it to her and she said, “Cool.” Since then, she could do what she wanted with it. She also told me about how she had only recently quit smoking, and although she used to run and whatnot while smoking, it became much easier once she had stopped. I could only imagine.
By that point, we were fully stretched, so we went back to Studio 2 to check on the class.
No one was waiting yet, and we had roughly 15 minutes to kill, so we hit the ellipticals. Lara had to tell me how to start it, which was fairly humbling (this was done simply by moving my legs). Honestly though, I had never used such a machine because, as all tough guys knew, ellipticals were made exclusively for pussies. A dude flying solo on an elliptical was always an embarrassing sight because anything associated with femininity or not being super tough was bad. At least I was talking to a woman while I jogged / elliptical’d / ???, which meant I was probably straight and looking to bone.
Soon enough, a group of women began to amass outside of the studio and we jumped off so that we could secure Pilates mats and have places in the room. “What do you think the chances are that I’m the only guy in this class?” I asked Lara. They were looking pretty high as we prepared to enter the room.
The class ahead of us let out and we entered into the room as everyone spent at least 15 seconds figuring out which way to orient the mats. “Where you here last time?” one person asked. “What did she have us do last time?” questioned another. “Let’s just do it this way,” they agreed. Also, it was apparently a no-shoes kind of thing. Lara and I went over to the corner of the room to take off our shoes and socks and returned to our mats barefoot.
Minutes later, our instructor arrived and pretty much launched straight into the lesson. She didn’t seem like one for lengthy welcomes, just straight to business. What was this first Pilates pose she spoke of? I had no idea what it was, but I figured it out by watching those around me. Here’s to trying new things!
As we went through the hour long class, I did all right. I wasn’t subjected to anything too embarrassing, mostly because there was not much time to look around. There were some attractive ladies though. Oh, and I was definitely the only dude. I survived the lesson, only struggling once or twice, and Lara seemed to have done well too.
We were the last ones out of the room because it took me a little while to get my shoes on. Lara made a remark about her giant feet. Were they actually giant? I couldn’t tell. She told me she was wearing size nine men’s shoes. Huh. Yeah, I guess that was fairly large for a woman.
With no further desire to exercise that night, we retreated back upstairs to get changed. I jumped in the shower quickly and changed back into my work clothes. It was too cold outside for my gym shorts. I felt bad for taking the shower and changing since I knew Lara was probably just going to wear her workout clothes. I’d have worn something casual, but officewear was all I had with me. I rushed to get changed and as a result, I was probably just as sweaty by the end of my cleanse and change as I had been from the class. Great.
Back out in the lobby, Lara was waiting for me and asked if it was gross that she didn’t shower. No, it was not. I didn’t think she would. Showering was a different process for women than it was for men. It generally took way longer and there was hair stuff involved.
We exited the club, took the elevator down to the hotel lobby, rode the escalator to the ground floor, walked out the hotel’s doors and walked over to 9th Avenue for food. We didn’t know where we were going to eat but we knew that Hell’s Kitchen would provide us with a plethora of options.
Lara didn’t like fish or meat on the bone — sinew grossed her out. I’d been contemplating sushi because it seemed like a nice, light post-workout meal, but I could retool. We talked about foods we didn’t like and she tried to convince me that mustard was amazing. Sorry. Not going to happen. Mustard is gross.
We stood at the corner of 48th Street & 9th Avenue and debated our options. The Delta Grill was right next to us, and she had known people who once worked there, but creole food had too much fish and boney meat, so we settled on the overly-trendy looking restaurant Traffic, across the street.
It was a Choose Your Own Adventure seating deal and we took a small table in a long empty row of them in the back half of the restaurant. We were handed menus and tried to decide on food, but by the time the waitress returned to us, we still needed more time to think about our orders. Our waitress came to us probably three times before we were ready and she got very friendly, joking with us and sitting down in a chair next to us to take our order. We each got a class of red wine and a sangwich (LOL DANE COOK).
Lara was very funny, but her strong sense of humor made it very hard to perceive how she actually felt most of the time. She was just so dry and sarcastic. In other words, I really enjoyed hanging out with her but I couldn’t tell if she was happy to be out on the date or merely acquiescing to the dinner at hand.
We got into talking about improv and comedy and what her experiences had been with that world over the previous few years. She didn’t do comedy any more but she had once been pretty involved in the scene and was still connected through friends and roommates in certain ways. Some of those ways were less than pleasant and involved bad relationships and strained roommate situations.
Also, we discovered that Lara’s sister was friends with one of my old bosses from college. She had gone to undergrad with him and then he oversaw the resident assistants at my school, of which I was one. Lara’s sister, who had told Lara to go out with me, had actually first heard about OHD because of something that our mutual acquaintance had posted on his Facebook wall. It was a funny connection to make.
Lara had made a comment in her first email about how, and I’m paraphrasing, she liked to pre-judge people and then psychoanalyze them when they met, so I asked her what she thought of me. Had she figured me out yet? That was for me to find out, she said. What a vague answer! I had to wait to find out what I thought she thought of me? I guess she might just tell me at some point? Maybe that was what she had meant.
Of course, she wanted to know what I thought of her and I wasn’t going to be so vague though. I told her that I thought she hid behind “funny” all the time. It was hard to know if she was happy, sad or what. She probably had a very common and true comedic mind that was spawned from something fucked up or uncomfortable in her past and so she learned how to deal with it by using humor as a defense mechanism. She laughed. I was right, right? Right, she confirmed. That was pretty close.
Most importantly, I made her laugh and I think she smiled for the first time that night.
This conversation somehow led into another on dating and intimacy. Lara didn’t like compliments about her looks. She was already confident in her looks and didn’t need someone else prioritizing that. She wanted compliments about her brain. I could totally understand that desire, especially as a woman, since they are mostly always complimented on their looks and that must get old.
I then went into a long-winded ramble about my discomfort with nakedness over the years. I told her how I’d been an insecure young man coming into his own and all of that fairly typical stuff. I asked her afterwards if she would psychoanalyze me, based on my ramble, and she told me that I already had. I laughed. It was a fair point.
We talked and joked a while longer while finishing our food and drinks and the music grew progressively louder. The restaurant was way too intense for a Tuesday night, especially considering how empty it was. Like a dude wearing a spray tan and half a bottle of cologne to a christening, Traffic was trying too hard.
Lara told me about some of her terrible dates and the stalkers which she’d had. I also got to hear a bit about her mother and father. By the end of it, she was laughing and smiling more and more, cracking that tough exterior. I think I did a pretty good job breaking her down. Or perhaps, it just took her some time to warm up.
Escaping the restaurant, Lara and I walked to the nearest N/Q/R stop, but were headed in different directions. As we parted, Lara dryly said, “Well, this was fun. Thanks,” and with faux-reluctance, opened her arms to her sides for a half-hearted hug. I embraced her with mild enthusiasm and thanked her. I knew it probably took a lot for Lara to initiate a hug on a first date, so I took it as an awesome sign.
It’s good to stretch yourself sometimes, especially that little heart muscle.