Dim Sum Date

—Saturday, February 11, 2012—

Good advice for just about any first date? Try something new. Or at the very least, give your date something new to try. Such was the case when Paige and I traveled out to Flushing, Queens for dim sum.IMG_1648

Paige and I met up at noon on the top level Queensboro Plaza N/Q/7 subway platform. I was a few minutes late but the timing worked out well, as an outbound 7 train was pulling into the station as I greeted her. I said hello and asked her if she wanted to jump on the train. Our first decision of the day was easily made.

She was taller than I thought she would be, though I had no real reason to think that she was any shorter, since I’d never met her before. I enjoyed being surprised like that.

We had been set up by an old buddy of mine, Michael, who was in fact, the little brother of a very old buddy of mine. He and Paige were very close friends from college up in Boston and Michael had sent me an email a few months earlier, telling me about this friend who lived in NYC and was one of the coolest people he had ever met. She sounded like an awesome date and Michael said that she would be up for it, so I got in touch. After some weeks of back and forth, we finally settled on a date.

The train ride out to Flushing, Queens offered Paige and I a good amount of time to talk to each other for the first time. She asked about my previous night. I had performed in an improv show and gone to Bushwick for a college friend’s birthday party. Paige said she was going to Bushwick that night for a birthday party as well. I told her that the name of the bar I’d gone to was The Bushwick Country Club and she said that was the exact bar she’d be at that night! What were the chances of that? She and I were going to birthday parties on back-to-back nights at the same bar in Bushwick. It might be more normal if one of us actually lived in that area, but I was in Astoria and Paige lived in Midtown East. What a fun coincidence.

She had a lot of friends in Brooklyn and said she would probably move there at some point. Even being in Astoria, near a number of friends, I felt like I could relate to that desire since Brooklyn seemed full of so many cool people and cool things to do. One thing that Brooklyn had in abundance which Queens sorely lacked was music, the thing on which Paige made her livelihood.

Unfortunately, she had just been laid off from a record label and was looking for work. She said that since she was originally from LA, and that was where a great deal of music was centered, it was logical that she might find work out west. However, it would be a last resort as she had no desire to move away from NYC at that time. She would just have to grind it out and find something in New York, but she didn’t seem too stressed about it. It sounded like she knew what she was doing.

We talked about riding the 7 train out into Queens and how we’d both been to Mets games before. I did not mention that my one CitiField experience was for a date, but I did relate to her that I thought it was a great stadium. Neither of us could ethically root for the Yankees, especially myself (Go Sox!), and we agreed that the Mets were a safe team to root for as an outsider in New York. We weren’t going to offend anyone by liking the Mets and, most of the time, they needed all the help they could get. I told her that they were very similar to my beloved Warriors of the NBA in that way.

Though I was born and raised a Celtics fan, liking the Warriors posed little to no threat to my Celtics since they played in separate conferences and were basically never competing against each other for any kind of title. This got us talking about Jeremy Lin‘s then current four game streak of starting for the Knicks, which was the official kick off to Linsanity, a period of excitement that rivaled any professional sporting experience in my memory.

Mostly, I wanted to brag to Paige about how I had known about Jeremy Lin a year earlier because he had played for the Warriors. What was actually cool about the story was that pre-Linsanity, Lin had already been extremely popular in the Bay Area because he was from Palo Alto and played in arguably the largest market for Asian-American NBA fans outside of Asia. I remember his jerseys selling in large numbers even though he was only playing very limited minutes as a rookie.

Once we exhausted the subject of professional sports, Paige and I talked about our mutual friend Michael and his family. She knew Michael from college and I had grown up being friends with his older brother. I’d known their family since I was in the sixth grade, but hadn’t seen them much in recent years.

Since Paige had become friends with Michael more recently, she knew the family better as of late. She said that Michael’s mother loved her and sometimes teased that they were going to get married. However, Paige said that they could never get married because Michael was a Republican, not Jewish and wouldn’t settle down anywhere besides Winchester, Massachusetts. It was fun speaking with a total stranger about people I had known for so long, especially since they were from my home town. It was like talking to a brand new old friend.

Paige was raised in Philadelphia until age seven and then her family moved to Los Angeles, so while she called LA home, the Northeast was a big part of her life. I asked her if she was given a nickname based on her LA origin when she arrived in Boston for school, but such was not the case. I only asked because at my small New England school, we had a girl from LA who everyone called LA. We also had Tex from Texas and Wisco from…well, you get it. Since most everyone was from the Northeast, we strongly felt the need to label people from anyplace novel. Even Michael’s brother had been dubbed Boston John at his school in Maryland. But no, Paige had not been given a location-specific nickname, though Michael began calling her by her two initials and that nickname stuck around.

We talked a little about Mike’s high school rock band as well as the band that his brother and I had played in, though I told her that improv had more or less taken the place of having a band in my adult life. I explained to her how the improv theaters functioned in regards to education and performance, since like most regular humans, she was unaware of their training programs and hierarchy. However, she did remember going to The PIT while on college visits in high school and she also somehow knew one of my UCB teachers through a cousin or something. I often thought of the improv scene as tiny and insular, so it was really cool to find someone who had already been exposed to it in some way, shape or form.

Finally, we made it all the way out to Main Street, Flushing. As we stepped out onto street level, the place was not as hectic as the last time I had been there, but even still, there was a good crowd. I was only 75% sure that I knew where I was going, since I had only been to the restaurant once before. Fortunately, we made the correct left turn and I recognized where we were.

We talked about how Flushing seemed to be its own little city within NYC. You could grow up and work there and never really leave if you didn’t want to or didn’t have the means. To many of the people living there, Flushing was probably what New York was to them.

Upon arrival at Asian Jewels Seafood Restaurant, we took a number and waited for 63 to be called.

We revisited Paige’s previous job working at a record label, and talked a bit about being laid off. She told me about how a large part of her work involved going to shows. She was still going to shows, since she had so many contacts and friends in the know, but it was less about business. In fact, she had just been at a show in Brooklyn the previous night and I realized that I had seen pictures from it posted on Instagram from a tattoo artist I followed, who must have been there too. It was another funny little coincidence, though Paige told me that the venue (Glasslands – I think?) was fairly popular.

I knew it was coming, but I was not looking forward to when Paige asked me about my job. It was one of the many times I had a conversation that basically sounded like, “So you do something cool, and I’m a boring drone for a corporation.” It was nothing to be ashamed of, but you know, it made me feel like a sell out or something similarly lame. By this point in the project though, I figured that the one cool thing about my job (which only mattered to some women) was that I could pretty much always be relied upon to cover the bill.

During the course of our wait, a couple seats opened up in the waiting area but we both felt bad taking them. There were kids, parents and grandparents waiting there. Plus, we were the only white couple present. We weren’t allowed to take those seats, right? I mean, that would have been rude, I think.

There were a number of kids occupying their waiting period by playing on tablets and phones around us. I felt like all those screens had to be bad for their eyeballs and general brain melting, but then again, maybe if it could be focused at education, the technology would do great things. Like Math Blaster. Math Blaster was rad. Somehow though, I suspected they were all just playing Angry Birds.

I had been to the Asian Jewels once before. It was the only time I’d ever been to dim sum in my life. My co-workers, one of whom was Taiwanese and actually understood what was going on, had taken me there on a trial dim sum run so that I could check it out before dragging a date along. Also, it was a great way to stuff ourselves with food on a Sunday afternoon. I decided to return to the same restaurant for this date because then maybe I would have a prayer of recognizing the food and we could eat something worthwhile instead of totally guessing. Plus, I don’t think Paige had ever had dim sum, so I needed to have some idea of what was going to happen.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with how dim sum works, it can actually be quite intimidating. You stay seated at your table while servers roam the floor with carts or trays of food off of which you select what you’d like to eat. You receive a stamp or mark on your bill whenever you are served something and this just kind of goes on throughout the meal, with servers passing by fairly continuously. It’s sort of like a wandering buffet that comes to you. However, if you lack the proper language skills, it can be tough to know exactly what you’re getting other than the main ingredient, which the server can usually tell you in English: shrimp, beef, pork, vegetable.

After a bit more waiting and a bit more talking about my hometown and our friend Michael’s family, number 63 was called. We followed a hostess into the large banquet hall that was the restaurant and then led into a second room, which I didn’t even know existed. They seated us at a two person table, which was a welcomed surprise. I had figured we would be a part of a larger table, as was the case the last time I had been there with three people. They didn’t like to waste any open seats.

We were asked right away if we wanted tea. Yeah, duh, of course. We were also given plates, chopsticks and napkins in those first 20 seconds.

It was not long before the carts began whizzing by us. It was up to me to make the first selection since Paige had no idea what was going on. There were dumplings on the first cart that came our way. The server told us “shrimp” and the seafood delights looked familiar, so we took a steamer tray of them. Dig in!

The dating gods must have had my reputation in mind because the shrimp dumplings were delicious. We both went for them at the same time and I waited to finish chewing before I asked Paige what she thought. She loved it. NICE. The first selection was a good one.

Pretty soon, a cart with leaf-wrapped packets of rice pulled up and a woman told us, “sticky rice.” I thought I’d had some version of this the previous time I’d been there, so we took one. I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t bad, and I realized that we had turned down such a dish the previous time. I could handle a 50/50 success rate though.

There wasn’t much to discuss during our meal other than the food at hand. We had some more dumpling-esque treats, which I think involved pork. They were obviously great. Then some peppered beef, which I had definitely tried on my previous excursion. It was messy and filled with bones, but well worth the effort it took to extract all the tasty meat.

I spotted some pork buns, which was great because I actually knew they would be fan favorites. Paige was all about the pork buns. I mean, they were awesome, so I understood why. What kind of monster didn’t love pork buns?

More tea was poured. Things were going well.

Some odd looking pastry wrapped in rice paper with hoisin sauce came by and I recognized it, so we grabbed some. YES. It was really good. We had something else wonderful with shrimp and we were on a roll.

Soon enough, our stomaches were nearly full but Paige still desired more pork buns, presumably because they were so delicious. We kept looking for them, but it took a little while for another order of the fluffy pastries filled with sweet pork to be set down in front of us. It was our last treat and there were three of them. We each ate one and though I asked her if she wanted the last, she was too stuffed. Down into my belly it went.

We took a moment before getting up to leave so that we wouldn’t totally disrupt the large amount of food settling in our stomaches, but the frenetic nature of the place didn’t make it feel like the kind of restaurant where one would linger. So, we didn’t delay too long before we got going. We brought our bill up to the front counter and paid.

I had to be back in Astoria at around 4 p.m. and we still had some time to kill, so we decided to walk through a nearby mall. We had no idea where else to go in Flushing and it was fairly cold out, so a small Chinese mall seemed like a pretty good bet.

The place was interesting because it was filled with stores that we would probably never have otherwise seen, much less patronized. There was one shop which was more or less a collection of furniture and statues spread out over an open floor, not in an actual storefront. There was a home appliance and household cleaning supplies store and a place you could buy traditional Chinese harps.

My personal favorite was a photography studio which clearly specialized in engagement and wedding photography. The portraits they had on display were totally crazy. The poses these people were in, and the seemingly dramatic facial expressions that they wore, were really something. They looked so over-the-top that, had the context been different, I would have thought them parody of actual wedding photography. Luckily, they were totally sincere.

The little shop that we spent the most time inside of was a sort of eclectic mix of toys, school supplies, household items and other random trinkets. The one feature that really stood out was the incredible number of items that were Angry Birds branded. There were pencil cases, pillows, hats — you name it. I couldn’t tell if I was more impressed by how great at licensing the people who made Angry Birds were, or saddened by the fact that the children of America were obsessed with a game played on mobile devices. Either way, it looked like the days of Math Blaster were far behind us.

After our little adventure into the strangest little mall I’ve ever been to, Paige and I walked back towards the 7 train at Main Street, so that we could head home. I felt bad imposing a time limit on our date, since I sincerely always tried my hardest to avoid such a thing, but I had some improv committments I needed to attend to. Plus, four hours wasn’t exactly a rushed date.

I found Paige really easy to be around and, as Michael had told me, a really cool person to spend time with. I could only imagine how fun she would be in her element — a show at a club with a band she knew and loved on stage. Despite how rad she clearly was, I didn’t think there was any real spark between us other than friendship. She was definitely someone I wanted to hang out with again, but I didn’t see an immediate potential for romance.

It’s a bummer that I haven’t seen Paige since our little dim sum adventure, because I am sure it would be fun to hang out with her sometime. I suppose it’s mostly my fault though, allowing my own life to distract from the potential new friend.

Once back at Queensboro Plaza, I jumped off of the train to catch the N towards Astoria, but I made sure to give Paige a hug first and thanked her for going with me to try something new.