Shopping Date

—Sunday, February 5, 2012—

It was Super Bowl Sunday and the New England Patriots, my hometown football team, were playing against the much hated New York Giants. Rather than watch the game, I was going out shopping, because One Hundred Dates had a wonderful way of ruining my life.IMG_1589

My date for the day was a dancer and we’d come to be dating in a pretty random fashion. My high school girlfriend / long-time bestie, Andrea, had posted a video of Juliana on my Facebook wall and wrote, “I think you should find this girl and marry her.” Well, Andrea might have come on a bit strong with the marriage recommendation, but a date couldn’t hurt. The video of Juliana dancing in her room was totally cool and she was cute. Plus, I’d noticed that it started with a NJ Transit bus ride, so I assumed this mystery woman might be from near NYC.

I found the dancer’s website, which had a number of other videos, and her contact information, so I sent her an email, asking if she’d like to go on a date for my project. She emailed back and, after warning me that she might be a bit awkward, agreed to partake. I was excited to be going out with someone so cool and so…unexpected.

In coordinating our date, Juliana had told me to meet her on 14th Street, outside a Red Mango froyo spot. I arrived there and saw there was a dance studio next door, so I assumed that was where she’d be coming from, since she’d also said she had to meet with a trainer beforehand. I waited on the sidewalk, trying not to look like I was anxious and also, not addicted to my phone. I think I kind of pulled it off.

To my surprise, I caught sight of Juliana as she approached me from the subway, not the dance studio. My assumption had been wrong and the nearby dance studio was just a coincidence. As it turned out, she only told me to meet her there because she was coming from Brooklyn on the L and knew that the froyo shop was near the subway stop.

After greeting her, I asked Juliana about her training session and she told me it had been cancelled. She admitted that though she could be a flake sometimes, her trainer was even worse in that regard and had simply not shown up that day. What a bummer. I asked her if she felt hungry and she says she did, so we decided to find food before beginning our shopping. There were plenty of places nearby, so we just took off walking, hoping to bump into something.

Juliana was much quieter than I would have guessed, although she had told me in her email that she tended to be very awkward when meeting new people, so that shouldn’t have surprised me. Apparently, she knew herself quite well.

In her videos, she was so incredibly outgoing. In fact, one of her videos, which was really more of a film, had become quite popular on the internet and consisted of her dancing all over the city with a number of strangers. We talked about improv and dance and about how both of us often played characters. I asked her if the character from the film felt that way — like someone other than herself. She said that it did. She was not some silly dancing girl. We didn’t all end up as creative types because we had always had vibrant, outgoing personalities. We sometimes developed them from the things we did to hide away. That was common in the comedy world and sounded like it might have resonated with Juliana.

She explained to me a bit about her philosophy of dance — that it should be fun and that she spent years training to be a ballerina but ended up hated it. Ballet was too rigid. Those dancers had no life in their faces and no stories to tell. I knew very little about the world of dance, but I asked her if she’d seen Sleep No More, since that was the one thing involving dancers I had experience with. She had seen it, but didn’t like it. I was somewhat stunned. Juliana was the first person I’d met who didn’t like Sleep No More and I was even more surprised because she was a dancer. I found it very interesting. I was going to see it for a third time in about a month with Katie, my High School Friend Date

We passed by the Limelight Shops and the music was pounding out of the doorway. It interrupted our conversation and we laughed. We also saw Grimaldi’s Pizza next door and Juliana said that she’d always wanted to try it. It was from Brooklyn, right? Or Hoboken? Well, I thought there was one in Hoboken either way (there was).  We stepped inside and got a table.

I asked her if there was anything she didn’t enjoy for toppings, and she told me she really didn’t like broccoli on her pizza but they didn’t even have that option, so it was easy to avoid. We settled on a cheese and basil pizza — a safe bet all around. We also got some waters because it was important to stay hydrated whilst dating.

Juliana and I talked about her family which consisted of three older brothers and separated parents. She grew up in nearby Bergen County, NJ, moving out of her mom’s house at 15 and in with her dad. She danced a lot growing up, and her mom pushed her quite a bit, which made Juliana unhappy. She preferred doing her own style of dance, without the rigidity and pressure of the ballet world, and it was paying off.

While eating, Juliana received a phone call from her friend Carl, who needed a key from her. Carl was in her dance crew and we’d have to meet up with him a bit later. She showed me a video of him dancing in his specific style, which I think she called creeping. We also talked about the film she had been in and though Juliana was reserved about the attention it had brought her, she was honest when answering questions. My biggest takeaway from the meal was that she was fairly quiet, but that wasn’t such a bad first impression. She had just met me, after all, and it could be intimidating to go out with someone who would write about it later.

As it turned out, Grimaldi’s was cash only and I didn’t really have any cash, so I excused myself and ran (literally) to a nearby ATM. I had done the same thing during Comic Con Date. I felt dumb and awkward that I hadn’t been prepared but she didn’t mind. She was nice about everything.

By the way, the pizza lived up to its reputation. It was great.

The Limelight Shops were accessible through the rear of the pizzeria, so they seemed like a good place to begin our shopping. We entered the shops and I was immediately struck by how upscale it was in there. I don’t know what I expected from a place that was inside of an old church and attached to a pizzeria, but for some reason I thought it would be a little less posh.

I spotted a pair of JD Fisk boots, which were the same brand of boots I was wearing at the time, so that felt cool, like maybe I knew something about fashion. There was a gelato place on that level, and Juliana told me they would have free samples. Well, gelato places always gave samples so you could try flavors, but I thought they did it with the understanding that you would buy something. I never considered them free samples and I never took them unless I intended on purchasing a serving. However, I could tell that Juliana intended to only have a sample, so I did it with her because I didn’t want to come off as judgmental or uptight. We got our samples — they were good — and the people working didn’t seem to mind that we didn’t buy anything, so maybe she was right. It was just something I wouldn’t have done on my own.

The shops were cool — spread throughout the old church — although there was very little that I would have bought there. Also, it didn’t look like all the shops were full, like maybe it wasn’t doing too well. We talked about fashions we didn’t understand and standing out as an American while traveling. I told her I had been able to blend in once or twice while in Italy. She told me that everyone thought she was foreign Eastern European or something — and while she was by blood, it had nothing to do with how she spoke for behaved. I could see it though, once she mentioned the common misunderstanding. Juliana did (sort of) look (kind of) foreign. Something about her hair, her face and being quiet most of the time. I would have never assumed it of her though.

Soon enough, it was time to head somewhere else. Juliana had only one item on her list: a suitcase. She mentioned that maybe a big department store would be ideal, considering she didn’t want to spend many dollars. As such, we made our way down to an NYC staple: Century 21.

I had never spent much time in Downtown Manhattan, so it took me a second to orient us, but it was pretty obvious where Century 21 was, as people walked by us with numerous shopping bags. We got down to the lower level and the first section we saw was bedding. I asked if she needed anything and actually, she realized that she needed a cover for her comforter.

We wandered through the aisles debating what exactly a duvet was versus a comforter. I’d thought it was a different kind of quilt but really maybe it was just the cover. [Wikipedia seems to think that a duvet and a comforter are two different quilts.] As we browsed, it appeared there was nothing exciting and cheap enough to spring for and purchase. Giving up, we went in search of luggage, walking through a load of crap that moms tended to buy at Kohl’s.

In the suitcase section there were many options but not a ton that jived with Juliana. She wanted a spinner (four wheel, vertical) carry on and it couldn’t look like one a guy would own. And it couldn’t be too boring. She warned me that she might not buy anything. That was fine, I told her, I was just trying to be helpful. Also, it couldn’t be a piece of crap. We found some decent options but nothing great. It was all either cheap and awful or nice and expensive. Nothing filling that in-between sweet spot. After much searching, we called it quits on the luggage search.

Up to the first floor we went, home to the men’s department, and while walking around, I scanned the neckties. She asks me if I liked ties, and I did, but I didn’t wear them very often. Honestly, most of the ties I was looking at were not my style at all. I needed that shit slim! Juliana checked her phone and saw that she had missed calls from her friend Carl, looking for his keys so she tried to call him back. No answer.

We walked over to the next section and found a rack of “European Jackets” which I knew would be great. I immediately found a ridiculous, futuristic glitter jacket (almost $2,000), which Juliana wanted me to try on. I did and I looked very stupid. The shopping suddenly went from utilitarian to fun. We were both laughing at how I looked. We decided to get a few more items and play dress up. I found a clear plastic poncho/jacket thing (almost $1,000) and knew it would be stupid looking. I found an awful checkered shit to try on and then, a section over, another awfully conceived shirt. It had a collar and a hood? Why would you do that?? We had four pieces to play with.

First, the hooded shirt. Yup, it looked pretty dumb. I was glad I didn’t own it. Then the checkered shirt on its own. Gross. It looked so bad. No one was really looking at me yet, but I received a couple wary glances. I made sure to give Juliana my camera to take pictures.

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On top of the shirt went the awful $2,000 leather(?) jacket. This is when I started getting looks. The jacket was absolutely abysmal. The sleeves were so long and it was not comfortable at all. Lastly, I tried on the poncho and it was the most ridiculous piece of clothing I had ever worn. It made no sense. I couldn’t tell if it even fit because nothing about how it was shaped was made for any normal body. I looked so silly, but Juliana was laughing and enjoying herself, and that was the whole idea. I took off the ridiculous clothing and put my regular duds back on. I hung up the clothes on our way to the door.

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Juliana called her friend again and spoke to him this time. He was around SoHo, which was perfect because that was where we were going next.

As we walked to the train, waited for it and rode it uptown, Juliana and I talked about music. She liked electronic music like Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers. I liked everything except certain things, which was pretty unspecific. I told her I didn’t like reggaeton and dancehall very much, at least not what I’d heard of it. We then we talked about grinding and I told her about the time that a woman in Jamaica made me grind with her and how uncomfortable it had made me. We both agreed that we didn’t like grinding. Good to know.

We got off the train and walked north to Bleeker and Lafayette. We met her friend Carl, so she could give him his keys back. He had left them at her place, where their dance crew sometimes practiced. She was the only female and only white person in the crew, which I imagined made her a pretty cool addition, not only because she was a rad dancer, but she added some diversity to the line up. Anyway, we talked to Carl for a few minutes and he seemed like a really nice dude.

Checking in with Juliana, I asked if she needed anything at the moment. “Maybe something to drink?” she said. “Water, beer or a warm thing?” I followed up. She wanted “something like a chai” and we’d passed a cute little café around the block on our way over, so we turned around and headed there.

We found the cute cafe I’d remembered, Café Angelique, and set our things down. Juliana ordered a chai latte and the cashier waited for my order as if our orders would be together. I waited a few beats and then asked for a latte and a croissant. Although I had waited a bit to order, they didn’t ask whether we were together or not, and rang the orders up as one. I happened to have checked in on Foursquare and saw that I could get $5 back on my AMEX, so I told Juliana that I would pay since hers would be free, and I held my phone out to show the guy taking our money.

At his first sign of confusion, I remembered that the AMEX promotions were redeemed automatically and not by the cashier. Ugh. I looked both weird and stupid, shoving my phone into this guy’s face for no reason. I told Juliana I would explain in a minute, so that I didn’t have to do it there at the counter. The cashier certainly didn’t give a shit.

We sat down and I offered her some of my croissant. She took one rip, but then no more. I told her about Foursquare and she didn’t know it was a game, or had any point at all. Somehow, we ended up talking about Japan and its culture. I mentioned that her film would seemingly do really well over there and she told me that they were going to try and have a screening in Tokyo. Speaking of Japan, there was a Uniqlo nearby.

On the way to Uniqlo, we discussed American excess, sweatshops and questionable practices as they pertained to the bootstraps economic theory of pulling yourself up and doing whatever necessary to make a country successful. During her travels to India, Juliana observed that people had less but appeared happier. I suggested that materialism was a never ending cycle. Having stuff made us want more stuff, but if we never had it in the first place, we might be far for content. As a point of contrast, Juliana tried to live very simply. I liked that notion quite a bit, but in the back of my mind, I wondered how long that lasted once you really had money. College Evan was great about being thrifty and even enjoyed it at times, but Adult Evan had enough money to not worry about it and so I lived far less thrifty.

Entering Uniqlo, all I could think was, “This is so Japanese.” I loved it. We walked in with only about 20 minutes left until 8 p.m., their closing time, but they were so nice despite the fact they had to force us out soon. For some reason, I inherently trusted that Uniqlo didn’t take advantage of any large group of people. I’m sure that was flawed thinking, but they did seem to have a good reputation.

Everything was so meticulously organized in the store. On the top floor, which was menswear, she danced through the displays and, though I wasn’t as used to dancing in public as she was, I tried to similarly bob along. I could tell she had loosened up quite a bit.

I asked her if she got asked out a lot or if she even went on dates often. She replied timidly that no, it didn’t happen much. She didn’t even really go out much at all, like, on the town. I hadn’t meant to harsh her good vibes, but I was curious. So, I asked her, if she didn’t go out much, what did she do for fun, dancing aside? She said that her friends usually sat around editing their videos and doing similar productive things and though much of it fell under the category of Work, the work they did was pretty awesome. I probably wouldn’t have needed so many hobbies if that were the case for me. 

There was so much good stuff at Uniqlo that I couldn’t bring myself to pick up anything. It was a slippery slope because I could have bought most everything in there and I didn’t want to get started. Though, they did have some very colorful briefs. If only they had been boxer briefs, I probably would have gone for them.

One thing I’d had in mind for some time was a trench coat, and we found one that I liked as we were on our way out. I tried it on but Juliana thought that it could fit better. Not even the XS at Uniqlo fit me — I was such a skinny bitch. I debated for ten minutes probably, but finally put it back. Maybe I would come back for it. Plus, they were closing. We exited the store and decided to make one last stop at at the neighboring Urban Outfitters.

In Urban, we walked around a bit, taking in all the faux-culture. I saw a fun umbrella and opened it indoors because I lived life on the edge. Juliana told me that she had once seen an umbrella with cats and dogs on it and had really wanted it. I asked if she had owned animals growing up. In fact, there had been a ton of animals at her mom’s house. They were actually the impetus for her moving out at age of 15. Her mother would take in animals in need and often had far too many. At one point, she’d taken on a large litter of puppies and the number of animals in the house really became overwhelming. Juliana asked her mom to choose between the animals and her, and her mom chose the animals. Woof. It sounded fucking rough. I told her that it reminded me of the time I asked my dad to choose between his sons and his girlfriend. I didn’t really win that one either.

Walking around some more, I looked at various pieces of men’s clothing. I put on a Pabst Blue Ribbon hat and ask her where I was from. Williamsburg! Get it?!?! I was so funny.

After some perusing, I found a cardigan that I liked, so I grabbed it and rejoined Juliana as she was looking at something else, bopping her head and kind of dancing to herself as she had been. She told me that I should try on the sweater.

We went to find a mirror and ran into some cool crocheted phone covers. Ultimately, they were impractical, but they seemed cool at first. I also found another nearly identical cardigan. Juliana told me about how she always wore her brother’s things and that she only had one girly friend who would try to get her to dress better. She wanted Juliana to wear things that were tighter and more feminine. Her friend would  always pick things out for her that she would never wear, but then they would often look good and Juliana ended up liking them. I told her that it had taken me a couple years to figure out what to wear, and even then, I was only kind of getting it right. I had wasted a lot of money at H&M, learning which things went together and how thing were supposed to fit.

The second cardigan was the same brand as the first but was sized Small, not X-Small, like the first. Plus, they were both on clearance, which was rad. I tried on the XS one first. Juliana approved.

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While checking myself out in the mirror, Juliana brought over a light purple track jacket for me to try on. It wasn’t something that I would normally pick out and as she held it there, I honestly didn’t love it. However, when I tried it on, it suddenly seemed like a great item. It was very comfortable and looked good. Nice job, Juliana! She had done well. Handing it to her to hold, Juliana put the jacket on herself and, while it was oversized on her, it was pretty cute. She liked it too.

I then tried on the Small sweater and, though I liked the color better, Juliana didn’t think it fit as well as the other one. Stubbornly, I thought both the S and XS were fine. We took pictures so that I could compare. Sure enough, Juliana was right — the XS was better. I took it off and gathered my things, putting back the larger of the cardigans. I told her that I would buy the purple jacket and she could borrow it whenever she wanted. She told me it was a very big brotherly thing to say.IMG_1606

After checking out, we walked to the N/R station to catch the train. It seemed like time to end our little adventure and plus, in the back of my mind, I’d been concerned with trying to catch the end of the Super Bowl, if at all possible.

We had ourselves a little bit of a wait on the train platform and we filled it with conversation. She asked me if I had learned anything about myself since starting the project. I told her that I’d learned to be more bold and take more risks, like emailing her. I’d also learned that I had probably always been more reliant on women in my life than I should have been. I had always had some kind of female validation and learning to live without that was tough. My immediate family wasn’t the kind that reached out to each other often, and so women had typically filled that void.

I had written about this in a piece somewhat recently and Juliana told me that she had read it. I apologized for rehashing a lot of information, but she said that it was fine, telling me that it was good to hear it from the horse’s mouth. She also congratulated me for making something of it all, the loss of my mom, I mean. I said thanks. I guess I was fairly proud of myself in that way.

Juliana told me about a friend of hers, the girly one we’d just been talking about, who was adopted and had lost both of her mother figures. Juliana wanted to talk to her about it but was never sure how to bring it up. It was tough, I told her. Everyone was different and all of our difficulties were relative. While I had no problem talking about that stuff, I knew that many people did. I suggested she simply ask her friend if she wanted to talk. She’d likely be able to intuit from her reaction if it was safe to probe further.

We rode the R together to Union Square where Juliana would have to transfer to the L and I could transfer to an N or Q train. Mid-transfer, I asked her what she had learned about herself over the previous year or two, with all the stuff that had come with striking out on her own and being a part of a film. She had been in a place where she was just doing everything she was supposed to do and she finally quit because that was not what she wanted. Ever since she had quit, things had gone more her way. She was learning to trust that letting go could lead to great things. As my train arrived, I told her not to worry, because I was sure things would work out.

Juliana and I hugged goodbye and, as we separated, there was a moment, the first moment all day, where it seemed like maybe we would kiss. She had given off zero kissing vibes all day, so I more or less dismissed it as something I was making up and the moment passed. I jumped onto my train and went back to Astoria.

Finally, I made it to my friends’ Super Bowl party for the very last possession of the game. I arrived just in time to see the Patriots lose the game in a very disappointing fashion and all I could think was that I’d have been better off hanging out with Juliana a little bit longer.

It was a good reminder that it was Boston area sports teams that ruined lives, not fun dates with interesting women.