—Saturday, April 7, 2012—
A bad date was bound to happen. After 75 dates, my luck finally ran out and I went on a less than pleasant date. Unfortunately, it was a date that lasted roughly ten hours.
Elaine found me on OkCupid and asked if I would like to go out with her for one of the hundred dates. She said she was totally intrigued by the project and, though she had initially thought it was a bit strange, she’d come around to find it very interesting. Playing off of my own profile, she told me that she wasn’t uptight about sex and dating and that she loved travel, music and comedy. She even went to UCB to see shows on the regular.
I checked out her profile and she seemed awesome. Our interests lined up wonderfully, she had a well written profile and she lived in Brooklyn — all things that I was into. OkC hadn’t given us a 95% match for nothing.
We had first attempted to make plans in mid-March, but Elaine took a spontaneous trip to SXSW, which was a super cool excuse for not being available for a date, so we ended up scheduling for this weekend. I suggested Tourist For A Day Date to Elaine and she readily agreed. We threw around various ideas of sights to see and decided that we would meet for breakfast at Tom’s Restaurant and then make our way up to The Cloisters.
After that, I had a list of potential tourist destinations to choose from and we could simply wing it. It was a big date, in the sense that it would take the full day and involve quite a bit of patience, but I was unworried because I knew that Elaine was interested in the project and such dates were always game for pretty much anything.
At around 10:30 a.m., we convened upon Tom’s Restaurant in Morningside Heights to have breakfast. Tom’s was famous for being the frequently seen exterior shot of Monk’s Café from Seinfeld, so it was definitely a very touristy spot to begin our day. I arrived in front of the restaurant a few minutes before Elaine and saw her wave from across the street as she approached.
I waved back and, as she crossed the street to greet me, I saw a small map fall out of her purse. At the sidewalk corner, I said hello but then rushed out into the street to pick up her map. I knew that she hadn’t seen the map drop, so I thought that my retrieving it would be a nice little way to start the date, rather than merely point it out to her. She thanked me as I handed it back to her and we said say hi again before heading into Tom’s.
Seated for breakfast, we talked about living in NYC and work, which was common fodder for a first date. Elaine was in-between jobs and living at home in New Jersey at the time, though she seemed reluctant to give up this information. As soon as she told me she was between jobs, I put the pieces together, since she had told me the day before that she’d be coming in from NJ. Though her profile had listed her location as Brooklyn when we first connected, she informed me that it had since been updated to say New Jersey. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with moving back home while unemployed but she seemed to fear I would think less of her and I totally understood that concern.
No matter how practical the reasons, it could be embarrassing to be unemployed and living at home. For better or worse, one or both of those things had been true for a number of people I knew, especially in their first few years out of college. Elaine was still just a year or two out of school herself and, hell, I had lived at home for nearly two years after school and it was pretty damn okay. It sounded like she was with her parents temporarily while she got back on her feet. It was a smart move, in my opinion.
I told Elaine about where I lived in Astoria and found out that she had previously lived in LIC for a few months. It was a pleasant enough beginning to a date and a good conversation to have while looking over the menu and placing our orders.
Over breakfast, we talked about various comedy shows and the improv world. It sounded like Elaine saw a decent about of stuff at UCB, which was really cool. I don’t think I had been out with anyone who had such a good grasp on the comedy world that I inhabited without actually being a part of it themselves. Major cool points there.
In addition to all the comedy stuff, Elaine was also a big music fan and so we discussed different artists and concerts we’d both attended. I was happy to talk with her about these things but I couldn’t help but notice that she seemed to be sprinkling in smalls brags when she could. Now, this was par for the course on first dates, so I wouldn’t normally point it out, but there was something about how Elaine went about it that felt ever so slightly competitive. I knew that I probably behaved similarly on occasion, so I didn’t worry about it very much, but it was one of the rare instances where I noticed such behavior so early on during a date. I was sure that she was likely nervous and simply trying to show me that she was up to snuff. I couldn’t reasonably get down on someone for trying to be a cool person to date.
By far Elaine’s most distinguishing feature were her beautiful blue eyes. They had this incredible color about them that was really captivating. Unfortunately, she very rarely made eye contact, talking mostly into her coffee, at her food or around the booth at which we were seated. I found myself staring at her as we talked, waiting to catch her in a moment of eye contact. I figured she was nervous, which was totally understandable, and that if I showed her some openness, we could build from there. However, these attempts did not bear fruit and we hardly made eye contact over the course of our meal.
The food at Tom’s was whatever, but I had expected that much from what friends had told me. It wasn’t the point anyway. The point of this date was to do things that tourists did and eating overpriced, mediocre food was right in line with that.
Elaine did manage something pretty incredible during the course of the meal though, which was to irritate a pet peeve I didn’t even know I had. As we talked, she took her buttered toast and, with seemingly no rhyme or reason, tore it apart with her hands. She more or less just played with it, similar to what someone might to with an old post-it when bored in a meeting, or with a beer bottle label when chatting at the bar. Once torn apart, she would mindlessly pass it back and forth between her fingers, making the bread smaller and more condensed, eventually eating it with her eggs. The combination of butter on her hands and the aimless nature playing with her food just…I don’t know…I couldn’t deal with it.
Personally, I hated having greasy hands, so it irked me immediately, though I knew I was being unreasonable about it. Clearly, this was just a nervous habit and in any scenario where it had been a post-it or a beer label, I wouldn’t have cared at all. It was so unfortunate that the only paper-like substance within her reach was buttered diner toast.
It was incredibly fitting that I stumbled upon this moment of neurosis in Monk’s Café, since the entire incident seemed straight out of an episode of Seinfeld. Some member of the gang would have an interaction with a human in the real world who had done something maybe only slightly atypical, though entirely unoffensive, and said gang member would enter Jerry’s apartment fuming about it. Countless times had I watched those characters have unreasonably negative reactions to mundane encounters with people and thought that they were crazy. Yet, there I was, becoming one of them. I was incredibly grateful when the meal ended.
Before we left, I said I needed to use the bathroom. However, I did not need to pee. I simply wanted to plant the idea of using the bathroom in Elaine’s head so that she might do the same and, assumedly, wash her hands. When I returned from the facilities, I was relieved to hear that she also needed to use the bathroom and I waited patiently. Now, I didn’t actually think I was all that clever, and I acknowledged that she was probably going to use the bathroom anyway, but I was playing it safe.
We paid up at the front counter and then stepped outside, where Elaine suggested I take a picture. Since we were intending to spend the day as tourists, we had both brought cameras along to take photos. I had no problem taking pictures of buildings, landscapes and other pleasant sights, but I was the type who felt awkward posing for the camera myself or asking others to step into frame. Luckily for me, Elaine had no problem suggesting that I jump into a photo or two and she offered to capture such moments. I was grateful that she encouraged me in this way because, without her, I wouldn’t have taken a single picture all day that featured a human as the subject. Apparently, her timidness wasn’t as pervasive as breakfast had led me to believe. This was a good sign.
Having taken a few photos, we walked to the 1 train, which would take us uptown toward The Cloisters. The 1 arrived quickly, but we were left waiting for a few minutes at our 168th Street transfer to the the A. While we waited, Elaine asked me multiple times if I thought the trains were running normally. Yes, I did. I thought we just had to wait a few minutes because that was how trains in NYC could be sometimes. Clearly, she was feeling a tiny bit anxious and, for whatever reason, I had begun to lose my patience, which was incredibly rare for me.
This was, for sure, the fastest I’d become disillusioned with a date. At this point in our day, I already felt pessimistic, like this date wasn’t going to pick up. For anyone who knows how I approached these dates, they will recognize this as highly uncharacteristic of me. I have always preached an optimistic approach to dating, in which each date has something great about it to make it worthwhile. All I had to do was have the patience to find out what that thing might be. I always had faith that my date and I could connect about something or have a lot of fun with our activity, but for whatever reason, it already seemed like that ship had sailed.
It was about an hour or so into the date and I had found that Elaine didn’t make great conversation, she was not flirtatious and, as a result, I was starting to check out. Honestly, her eyes were the only thing keeping me interested. And the hope that some of the tourist destinations for the day would turn out to be fun. I was in some kind of rut and I needed to find my way out of it.
We talked about our study abroad experiences on the way up to The Cloisters and about how we’d both been wanting to visit the Inwood outpost of The Met for some time, but had yet to make it. The Cloisters wasn’t super touristy, but it was a part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, so it counted for something.
As we walked through Fort Tyron Park, on our way to The Cloisters, Elaine finally asked me about the project in earnest. Up until this point, she hadn’t asked anything particularly probing about it, which was totally fine, but I knew that she was curious about it, so I expected to discuss OHD at some point.
The only problem was, she could barely seem to get her initial question out. It was as if she had five different questions to ask (Likely) but couldn’t pick which one to present, so she stumbled through them all, creating an amalgamation of queries. It felt a bit awkward because I had to ask her to clarify her question a couple times and I knew that I probably sounded defensive while doing so, as if I didn’t want to answer her. We got through the confusion though and I answered some questions for her.
At one point, Elaine asked me about a response I had recently given to a question I was asked on the blog, wherein I mentioned that I did not usually tell the good dates how I felt about them. She asked if I didn’t allow myself to feel emotions, which was not the case. I simply wouldn’t tell some dates how I felt if I thought they might get attached, because I knew that I couldn’t give up on OHD and having that option created a higher chance of derailment. I had followed through on the impulse a few times before and it hadn’t worked out, so I decided to be more guarded about those positive feelings. She understood better what I had implied in the post and we continued talking about the project for the remainder of our walk. It was nice to dig into that stuff, and though she challenged me on a few things, I appreciated her curiosity.
Entering The Cloisters, Elaine mentioned how great it was that the museum’s admission fee was merely a suggested donation. I readily agreed with her — it was a really wonderful aspect of The Met, that money was not a barrier to entry. Though we could pay whatever we liked, I paid the full suggested donation because I could afford to and that was the whole idea — the people who could afford the full price helped pay for those who could not. I think Elaine paid half-price, which was totally fine by me, but she seemed to imply that she never paid full price. It seemed as if she treated the museum like a system to game rather than a system set up to provide the underprivileged with arts education. It wasn’t the act of not paying full price that made me think this — she was unemployed after all and I’d have done the same — but rather, the way she spoke about the suggested donation.
After dropping our things at the bag and coat check, she asked if I had felt compelled to pay full price and I told her that yes, I really did. I could, so I would. The whole thing ran on a bit of an honor system and I wanted to uphold that and support it. Over breakfast, I had mentioned that I had been to almost no museums since moving to NYC, so it wasn’t a big drain on my bank account to donate the full amount the one time I finally decided to patronize one. It seemed like a no brainer to me, but she had questioned me like I was an oddball.
We began to make our way through the museum and I couldn’t tell if Elaine was uninterested in exploring the place or if she was simply being reserved. I still couldn’t get a good read on her. In any case, I felt like I was the one leading us through most of the rooms and deciding where to go next.
Despite my lack of museum expertise, or perhaps because of it, I was not particularly impressed with the art that The Cloisters had to offer. Maybe I just didn’t love medieval art, which was the primary focus of its collection. The appeal of the place seemed rooted in the building itself (an amalgamation of five European cloistered abbeys) and as a peaceful reprieve from the hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan. To be fair, both of these features were fantastic. The architecture was definitely the most interesting part to me, although I knew that if I were from Europe or somewhere else similarly old, I would not have been very impressed by it. The old stuff in America was a dime a dozen in Europe.
It reminded me very much of Castello di Amorosa, a reconstructed castle and winery in the Napa Valley of California that I had visited that past December. I told Elaine how it had come to be, that the owner had shipped over pieces of real Italian castles, brick by brick, and then put them back together to make a patchwork Italian castle on America’s western coast. It was essentially the same method used to build The Cloisters, so it was no surprise that they reminded me of each other.
Since we were in a Frankenstein European abbey, we talked mostly about study abroad, travel and things like that. We visited each of the cloisters (Enclosed gardens), which were very nice, and also took any and all chances to catch the view from its various terraces. Fort Tyron Park and The Cloisters were situated at a much higher elevation than the majority of NYC, so it was a rare opportunity to have a hilltop lookout.
We finally made our way out onto the one terrace we had yet to visit and it provided not only the best view of them all, but there was hardly anyone else out there. Elaine had been on top of the photo game this entire time, more so than me, consistently asking if I wanted to have my picture taken. While I mostly abstained, she managed to get me into a few here and there, which was good, because I wasn’t otherwise compelled to show my face. I’d probably have suggested it if I was having a ton of fun and wanted to flirt, but you know, that was not how this was going.
Once we’d checked the whole place out, we both used the bathroom and passed through the gift shop before taking off. It was a nice gift shop, for whatever that’s worth.
On the way to the train, I asked Elaine what part of Brooklyn she had been living in. She laughed and said that she was never actually living in Brooklyn, just intending to move there. Admittedly, I found this a little bit weird. I had heard of people not changing their location on OkC after a move, especially not right away, but she had never lived in Brooklyn. Why not just associate with New York City, in general? There was obviously a particular association people had with Brooklyn and the fact that she was intentionally trying to tap into that made me think she was a poser. I mean, I had used that association, however silly it might have been, when assessing her profile. I’d met a lot of women from Brooklyn that I had liked, so it played into the enthusiasm I had for this date. I guess that was the intended effect, but it rubbed me the wrong way.
More importantly, we debated as to what we should do next. Based solely on proximity to Inwood, I thought that it would be great to grab lunch in Harlem at Sylvia’s, though I admitted it was a bit early for food given our late breakfast, and then maybe we could walk by The Apollo. I also thought that we’d be well positioned to check out the American Museum of Natural History or maybe The Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum. Elaine didn’t seem excited by any of these suggestions, so I didn’t even bother mentioning how those options would lead us down towards Times Square and Top of The Rock. I felt like I was pulling teeth trying to figure out what touristy thing we could do next.
Again, I couldn’t tell if she disliked my ideas or if her natural state was to appear unenthused. I still couldn’t get a good read on her. I knew that I was hard to read most of the time, being fairly stoic or seemingly nonplussed, but I usually tried using my words to express my enthusiasm when I sensed my physically might be lacking. That just wasn’t Elaine’s approach.
As such, I asked her what she might like to do and, as she had previously done via text message, she suggested the South Street Seaport and the Bodies exhibition. Despite being very far away from us, I was intrigued by these ideas because I had never seen either of them and if they were going to be things that Elaine was excited to see, then they sounded like great prospects. Besides, I had visited The Intrepid when I was in seventh grade and I worked in Times Square, so those weren’t massively attractive to me.
We went with the sights we hadn’t seen, though they were probably less touristy, and jumped on the A train down to Fulton Street. The trip downtown was surprisingly fast. I guess I had never actually been on an express A train, so I was impressed with its speed.
Once out of the station and walking down the street, I started feeling a bit tired and, since we were headed towards a museum of sorts, I suggested we stop and grab a coffee. Elaine asked if I was planning to bring it with me into the exhibition and I said I was not. I figured we could finish them by the time we entered, especially if we checked out the pier first. For whatever reason, it felt like a weird question.
Walking down Fulton Street towards the water, I was reminded very much of Boston’s Faneuil Hall and realized that this was the only place I’d been in NYC that felt like Boston. It was nice and quaint, but you know, also touristy and sort of crappy. We decided to go check out the pier before tackling Bodies.
It was really nice out there on the pier and I could understand why tourists and regular people alike would want to venture down to the waterfront on a sunny afternoon. I took some pictures of the ships, the nearby bridges and the Pier 17 building. Elaine encouraged me to have some pictures of myself taken, so we exchanged cameras and took photos of each other.
For the first time that day, I felt like we were building some momentum. I was enjoying myself more and I felt like we were getting along while still honoring the date, doing touristy stuff surrounded by tourists. It was cool. We walked around a bit more and I thought to myself that maybe we should have dinner at one of the overpriced seafood restaurants on Pier 17. That seemed touristy and all.
After we’d had our fill of the waterfront, we retreated inland and got into the line for Bodies. We waited for a while and made small talk along the way. At some point, I found out that Elaine was an only child, which seemed worth remembering, for whatever reason. When we reached the front of the line, I approached the box office and asked for two tickets. Elaine seemed very hesitant about who was paying for which tickets, which made me feel awkward, so I simply handed the woman at the register my credit card and took care of it. If figuring out payment was going to be awkward, I wanted to avoid the confrontation at all costs.
We got inside and it was unimpressive almost immediately. It wasn’t the particular exhibit items (the bodies) necessarily, but the set dressing and production value of the whole place. It was underwhelming, but honestly, I had prepared myself for that reality. I figured that Bodies had reached its height several years earlier, but I’d still wanted to check it out. I had always heard it described as amazing, but by 2012 it was a multi-location, sometimes touring exhibition and it had lost its sparkle. It wasn’t bad, just not what I had dreamed of. Despite its mediocrity, I found myself enjoying it.
By the time we were in the second or third room, we both had that sense of feeling underwhelmed and Elaine commented in an apologetic manner. I sensed that maybe she felt like she had dragged me there, because it was her suggestion, but that was truly not the case. It had long been on my list of things to do in NYC, so I would have felt this disappointment eventually, with or without her input. She hadn’t made me go to Bodies, and anyway, I was happy to finally see it, even if I was not impressed by it. I hoped I had communicated that to her, because I didn’t want her to feel bad for suggesting it.
After getting through Bodies, which turned out being pretty cool (there were boobs and vaginas at the end), Elaine explicitly apologized for the suggestion, but I told her she didn’t need to do so and that I had enjoyed myself.
As we exited the building, I asked her if she might like to get something to eat. It was around 6/6:30 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten since that morning, so the timing seemed right. Plus, it would be a good opportunity to close out our date, which I didn’t think either of us felt was going super well. I wasn’t necessarily hungry, but another meal would provide us with a nice bookend to our day together.
Well, Elaine was not hungry and didn’t want to eat. Okay, I thought, then I am out of ideas. I asked her, “Well, do you want to get going then?” I meant this in a “Would you like to end our date?” kind of way, but she took it as, “Okay. No food, so then what do you want to do next?”
Seizing the opportunity, as she should have if she thought I was asking for ideas, Elaine suggested that we walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, which was fairly close by.
Sure. Yeah. Let’s do that. I’d never walked the Brooklyn Bridge and that seemed like as good an idea as any. After 7.5 hours, I was tired of stringing this date along, but the prospect of the Brooklyn Bridge seemed like a good one.
As we walked back towards the train, to loop around toward the bridge entrance, I looked at the map on my phone and suggested checking out Zuccotti Park and Trinity Church since they were close to us. The new World Trade Center tower loomed over us as we made our way toward NYC’s most recently adopted tourism destination: Zuccotti Park, home of the Occupy Wall Street movement which had begun seven months earlier. Despite living in NYC throughout the entire Occupy Wall Street fiasco, I had yet to visit Zuccotti Park and it was cool to finally see it, though it was little more than a small corporate-looking plaza with dozens of police patrolling it.
A couple blocks south, we came upon Trinity Church and I pointed out where my aunt and uncle had once lived, in a building which stood next to it. This would be an awesome place to live, I thought to myself. Whenever I had visited them, before I ever lived in NYC myself, I had totally taken their apartment for granted. They had a killer view of the church and on a day like this one, it would have been much appreciated. The church’s grounds looked beautiful and its flowers, specifically, brought life and color to the concrete surroundings of Downtown Manhattan.
We walked back towards and through City Hall Park, talking about television shows that we liked growing up. Elaine had loved Gilmore Girls, she told me, and I’d actually seen a decent amount of it too. My high school girlfriend and I had a weekly tradition of watching Gilmore Girls (Her show) and Smallville (My show) back to back. Elaine also mentioned how Gilmore Girls had a lot of great music in it, but I didn’t remember that aspect of it. Maybe I wasn’t aware of how great the music was at the time.
Walking through City Hall Park, past City Hall and the Manhattan Municipal Building, was really cool. I had definitely never been in that area before and it had a lot more character than most of lower Manhattan.
As we began over the Brooklyn Bridge, it was very crowded, but I was excited to take a lot of pictures. The shapes and lines that the bridge’s cables created were dynamic and perfect for experimentation with a camera. Plus, it was beautiful out. This seemed to be the highlight of the day. Elaine and I spent much of the walk taking photos and enjoying the views, rather than forcing small talk, which had not been our strong suit that day. The walk over the bridge was really cool and I very happy that Elaine had suggested it.
Arriving on the other side of the bridge in Brooklyn, Elaine mentioned the possibility of grabbing dinner at Grimaldi’s. I’d eaten at their Chelsea location on Shopping Date, but I’d never been to the arguably-more-authentic Brooklyn location, so I was up for checking it out. The walk across the bridge had rejuvenated me.
Grimaldi’s was practically tucked under the Brooklyn Bridge, on the corner of Old Fulton Street and Front Street, and as we approached it, my mindset went from on Let’s do this thing! to Oh my God, that line is at least an hour long.
This frustrated me greatly because I was looking forward to a somewhat quick pizza meal and a swift end to our evening, but whatever, there was no going back now. Elaine and I got in line and it quickly grew nearly twice as long, so our timing was actually fortuitous.
During our wait, there were more noticeable moments of silence than during the rest of our day, but that was to be expected after so many hours together. People naturally ran out of things to say.
We mostly talked about those around us. There were dudes yelling down at the line from the top floor of the adjacent building because there was a club or party space up there. It seemed strange, whatever it was. After quite a wait, we skipped the very front of the line since they had a two top open and all of the parties in front of us were too large for them to seat. We breezed by maybe 15 people waiting and were brought inside.
Our host attempted to seat us, but there was a man playing accordion songs to the table next to ours and we had to wait several minutes for him to notice that we were standing there, waiting for him to leave. Finally, he got out of the way and allowed Elaine to sit down. Shitty service so far!
Once we were seated, the accordion man played one more song, which sort of prevented us from talking, but luckily, it was a song that I liked, so I wasn’t that pissed. Nevertheless, the table seated next to us was too loud and fun-loving for me to like them. After such a long day, I was fairly curmudgeonly, which was a shame because I knew that I wasn’t helping to make our date a success.
We ordered a pepperoni, mozzarella and fresh basil pizza for dinner, which was one of the easiest decisions we’d made all day. While we waited for our pizza, we talked about favorite beers (with vastly differing opinions) and favorite pizzas. We got into a debate about the Italian beers Peroni (Rosso) and Nastro Azzurro, with me claiming that Peroni was the superior brew. I attempted to frame my argument by saying that Peroni was like Budweiser, which was baseline acceptable, and Nastro Azzurro was like Heineken, which everyone knew was terrible. Elaine thought I was insane, telling me that Heineken was a premium beer.
My inner monologue was enraged. Oh my God, no! Only clueless sheep think Heineken is a good beer. It’s all marketing and “drinkability.” I’m not sure how much of this I let slip through, but I know I had trouble keeping it in. The irony of this argument was that all of the beers discussed were relatively terrible.
Fortunately, we had very similar opinions on pizza. Elaine was familiar with my favorite NYC pizza place New York Pizza Suprema, near Penn Station, and liked it as much as I did, so I went back to thinking she was sane. We talked about pizza in Italy as well, before moving on to other topics.
The pizza we ordered was quite delicious, but again, Elaine aggravated the same pet peeve she had triggered that morning. As we ate and talked, she continuously tore her pizza up into small pieces and smushed it down into more condensed bites before eating it. It was one thing to do this with toast, but with pizza, it was truly grossing me out. Her hands were so greasy and this did not prevent her from touching her face or her hair.
I was so over trying to find the good. Elaine played with her food, she barely smiled and she never sat up straight. It was like she were constantly trying to impress me with the things she said but didn’t attempt to present herself well at all. Out of 76 dates, this was the person I had the least amount of interest in. I had come closer to kissing my Gay Date, for crying out loud (Okay, he was super cute).
When the pizza was gone, we paid and left, walking towards the subway.
“Well, that was good,” I said, trying to be positive.
“The day or the pizza?” Elaine asked.
“Well, both, but I was talking about the pizza,” I clarified, knowing full well that I was withholding my true thoughts.
“So, did anything surprise you today?” she asked.
I didn’t know if she was referring to herself or the things we’d done that day, so I paused and she specified, “About the sights?” Oh, yeah. I told her how pleasant I’d found the South Street Seaport to be that that I’d been surprised at just how condensed Downtown Manhattan was. That portion of the day was really cool, I reiterated. Elaine agreed.
We boarded the train and took off towards Manhattan, but my transfer was only one stop away. I hugged Elaine goodbye, thanked her for spending the day with me and disappeared through the doors of the subway. I was more than relieved to become a citizen again and to leave the tourism for someone else.