—Thursday, April 26, 2012—
Craigslist: The Wild West of internet dating. There were no real rules on Craigslist, a site where people placed ads seeking and offering any and all kinds of intimate encounters, even prostitution was offered up there. By 2012, was a taboo place to seek out a date and that was exactly why I knew I had to try it.
By the time April had rolled around, I had been posting on Craigslist for months with only a couple bites. One date had cancelled on me the day of our date. Another emailed me once but I never heard back from them again. And then there was Lata, who emailed me rather enthusiastically and managed to actually follow through. Third time’s a charm.
I had been surprised by the lack of interest received on Craigslist. I figured that, as a relatively normal and marginally attractive guy on CL, I wouldn’t have any trouble getting a date. After all, I got many dates from OkCupid, and there were probably more decent men to choose from on there.
When I got Lata’s lighthearted email offering a “solution” to my “problem,” I was very happy to take her up on the offer. She sounded fun and her pictures didn’t make her look like a killer. If anything, she maybe looked a bit young, but I figured the age difference couldn’t be anything too drastic.
We made plans to meet at an Italian restaurant in LIC, since I lived in Astoria and she lived in Flushing, which meant that anything off of the 7 train was convenient for both of us. I texted her from my train to tell her that it was running a little bit late and she said that hers was doing the same thing. By the time I’d updated her on my transfer to the 7 train at Queensboro Plaza, she said she was on the same train as me, but we were in different cars.
Getting off at Vernon Blvd – Jackson Ave, I looked up and down the platform for Lata. She was definitely not to my left, so I walked to the right. As people moved out of the way, opening up the crowd, I spotted her. On the shorter side, and Indian, as she had told me, Lata was easy to spot. She waved. I waved. She greeted me with a friendly smile and a hug.
Lata was immediately more normal than anyone I had expected to meet through Craiglist. [Look at me, being judgmental of where people got their dates — the guy who had used Twitter, emails, friends, improv classes, dating sites and business cards to find people to go out with.]
After saying hello, we began to walk down the platform, and she asked me to remind her of my name. “My name? Evan,” I said somewhat surprised. I definitely expected her to remember my name, but I guess she really was up for anything, going out with someone whose name she wasn’t even sure of. I was not offended, just surprised. It was pretty funny actually, and she wasn’t embarrassed, so the moment passed quickly.
She followed up, “So tell me, how was your day?”
I talked about my day and then asked her about hers, but the discussion was interrupted by our arrival in front of Manetta’s Fine Foods, which was only a few doors up from where we exited the subway.
Checking in with the host, we were seated right away inside the large, sparsely populated restaurant, and Lata continued to tell me about her day off. She had spent it running around Queens, doing errands with a friend, so it had been a long day. We were asked if we wanted anything to drink and we told the waiter we’d stick with water for the time being.
When the waiter, who was very odd and had an indiscernible accent, left us to look over the menu, I asked Lata if she possibly wanted anything besides water to drink, like perhaps some wine.
“Actually, I am not old enough to drink in this country,” she told me.
What a creative way to let me know that she was not yet 21 years old!
Okayyy. This was interesting. She was young. In fact, Lata was definitely the youngest person I had been on a date with for the project. I told her that I really wouldn’t have guessed that she was so young. My first impression of her, 15 minutes earlier, was that she looked older than the photos she’s sent me. She was confident and carried herself extremely well.
Lata then told me that she had graduated high school early, so she had always been young amongst her peers and people often told her that she was very mature for her age. She made sure to mention that she was not jailbait, which eased my concerns a bit. Phew. She was over 18, but under 21. It was a stretch from my 26 years, but one that I could live with.
Our waiter, who was kind of pushy and resembled an assassin, took our orders and I was glad to know that we wouldn’t be dealing with him very much for the rest of the night.
In addition to her age, I found out that Lata was a student at City College and was majoring in biomedical engineering, which was quite impressive. Given her advanced academic standing and her chosen field, I unfairly assumed she was one of those Indian children pushed very hard by her parents. This was what I assumed because I was an ignorant white kid who had once seen the movie Spellbound.
She also told me that her friends thought she was crazy for going out with a guy from Craigslist but she thought that I was trustworthy. I assured her that I was and confirmed my promise with, “I swear.” “Pinky wear?” she asked me. We then shook on it with our pinky fingers and solidified an unbreakable promise.
For some reason, I found myself acting somewhat uptight during the first part of our date, and I really couldn’t figure out why. Lata made a lot of eye contact, which may have contributed to my reserved nature, but also, it might have simply been the fact that I was worried about being a good date. I trying very hard not to say or do anything stupid, which was something I hadn’t expected.
Because of the Craigslist nature of this date, I honestly figured I would be going to out with someone unimpressive and, as such, wouldn’t be so concerned with making it a big success. I had assumed that she wouldn’t be very engaging and that by the time we were this far into the date, I’d probably be looking at it mostly as one to cross off the list, which was something I tried never to do. I guess I was just thrown off by how different the stakes really were, since Lata was clearly a very interesting person. All of a sudden, I was the one worried about being the weirdo from Craiglist and I really didn’t want to fulfill that stereotype.
Over an appetizer of stuffed mushrooms, we talked about where we had each grown up and also discussed our families a bit. Lata had a younger brother who was 12, which made for an eight year difference, she said. Ah ha! I had cracked the case. Lata was 20 years old, which was still quite young, but at least she was in her twenties. She was a twenty-nothing.
Since we were on the topic of family, I asked Lata if both of her parents were from India and she said no, they were not. Her father was from a southern Indian state, Tamil Naudi (I believe), and her mother was Native American, from a Seneca Iroquois reservation up near Buffalo, NY. This was such a fun, cultural surprise — Lata was doubly Indian. In fact, she told me that her friends used to call her Indian Squared.
Being half Native American made Lata the most Native American person I’d ever known, which was somewhat pathetic in retrospect. Everyone else I’d ever known was one-eighth Native American, or something similarly minor. She also told me that the Seneca Iroquois were a matrilineal society, which meant that Lata would be considered Native American while her brother would not. Also, her grandkids wouldn’t be considered Native American in the eyes of the government, because they would be less than one-quarter Seneca Iroquois. It was all very interesting and kind of sad.
Our homemade pastas arrived and we talked all about food, which led us to discuss the various cultural enclaves of Queens and Brooklyn. Growing up in Queens, Lata knew far more about this stuff than I did. She was raised both in Flushing and Richmond Hill. Her mom was actually in Ridgewood, Brooklyn at the time of our date, so she knew that neighborhood as well. She’d lived in a number of places that I knew very little about, and she’d just moved back to Richmond Hill actually, from someplace else I was not too familiar with. Perhaps it was Flushing, which was what she’d told me when we first emailed with each other.
In addition to being a student, Lata also worked two jobs, one as a tutor and another at a dentist’s office. She said she was considering dental school if she decided not to pursue biomedical engineering, which was largely a life spent in laboratories. She wasn’t so sure she would want that kind of work environment.
We also discussed our interests outside of work, which meant that I told Lata about improv and music. She was a big reader, loving fantasy and science fiction above all else. This was a nice lead-in to comic books, which we discussed for a while, as well as comic book movies. She told me that I had to read The Sandman series, to which I said, “I know, I know. Everyone tells me this.” I promised that I would read it at some point, but knew it would take me forever to do so.
Almost randomly, Lata advised me to change the pictures I had used in my Craiglist ad, saying that they were not a proper representation of me. I wasn’t sure exactly, but I think she meant this as a compliment. For the record, I thought they were fine. Plus, she was the only person I’d be asking out from Craigslist, so it didn’t really matter. Okay, okay. One of them was my old headshot, SO SUE ME — she was right that they could have been better.
We somehow got onto the topic of coincidences and talked about how there are oh so many strange and magical occurrences throughout life and that everything happened for a reason. It was a conversation well suited for a Hallmark card.
A far deeper topic of conversation, which we went into, revolved around being privileged Americans and quarter-life crises. Lata said that her last boyfriend, who was 25, was definitely going through one of these crises at the time. We had so many more choices than our parents had been presented with and we were raised to pursue nearly all of them. Being in America only exacerbated that dilemma. Even in India, Lata mentioned, which was a country with ever-growing opportunities, young people were only given options that would lead to very concrete jobs. This was more akin to how she was raised.
The thing was, we could also now apply this abundance of choice to relationships too. Considering the number of people available online and in person, thanks to increased movement of peoples and the breaking down of cultural barriers, there were too many options. How could you be expected to pick just one person to be with forever? Love was a tricky thing, for sure.
Dessert was a far less life-altering choice though and we decided to try Manetta’s flour-less chocolate cake with fruitti di bosco sorbet, which I really enjoyed. It was just after 10 p.m. by the time we finished and paid, and I considered what we might do next. I had taken note of a comedy show that was going on nearby, but it had already started, so that was no longer an option.
I used the bathroom before leaving and saw that I had a voicemail from my dad. Though I couldn’t call him back that night, I texted my brother to check in. It was my mom’s birthday that day and I hadn’t called either of them, which was a break from tradition. I felt lousy about it.
Additionally, I had a text from a woman I’d previously gone out with, asking if I’d been tested for STI’s recently. I hadn’t been, and I was fully willing to admit that, but I didn’t want to have that conversation right then, so I didn’t reply. I’d do it later, or the next day, I decided. I knew it wouldn’t go over too well, but she’d asked me only the night before if I’d been sleeping with other people. Yes, I told her, I had been. She handled it perfectly fine, so maybe she would be somewhat okay with this less-than-pleasant news as well. Either way, it hit home. I knew I needed to take better care of my sexual health.
Once out of the bathroom, Lata suggested that we walk down to the LIC waterfront. I thought it was a great idea as I had never been down there, and we were close by.
We walked the short distance to Gantry Plaza State Park and she told me more about her ex-boyfriend. They had broken up only a couple months earlier and it was still very fresh for her. That was why she had recently moved, actually, since she had been living with him. Wow. I hadn’t realized the magnitude of it when she originally mentioned him. He was her first serious boyfriend and she felt a bit distraught after losing him. I could relate. I remembered when my high school girlfriend and I broke up after five years together. It was difficult to know what to do or how to operate.
That whole situation was actually how she found herself on Craigslist, looking for romance. They had agreed to see other people and she went online so that she wouldn’t start a relationship within their group of friends. I asked if she was on other traditional dating sites but she wasn’t because she feared that people she knew would find her on there. She wanted the experience to be low-risk and to cast only a temporary net.
She intended to go on some dates, but probably nothing more than that, so she didn’t need the soulmate matching qualities that other dating websites offered. She was also nice enough to say that I was the best of her Craigslist dates thus far. She’d only been on four, but it was worth something. I told her that she was a better date than many that I’d found through more conventional means, but it didn’t sound like as much of a compliment as I had meant it to be. She was a great date — that’s all I’d meant.
Asking her more about the Craiglist dating experience, Lata said that she did in fact get loads of messages, many of them terrible and x-rated. However, one of her friends said very plainly that maybe the best way to get over a man was to get under another one. I admitted that there was truth to that statement. A big part of dealing with break ups, for me, was distracting myself and sex was definitely one way of doing it.
The piers themselves were chained off at night, but Lata didn’t seem to care at all, and the presence of other people out of the end of them was encouraging. We hopped the chain and walked out to the end of the pier. It was misty, a little bit foggy out there, but the Manhattan skyline across the river was beautiful. We could see where the lights from Bryant Park gave off their glow. The temperature was borderline cool, but still warm — right on the cusp — and it was refreshing.
We wanted to walk down to another pier, so we left the one we were on. I could tell that we were both more comfortable with each other by this point and even brief pauses in conversation no longer felt awkward. I had shaken my nerves from the early part of dinner and was relieved. We wandered down to another pier and realized for the first time that this was where the “LONG ISLAND” signs I’d seen many times before were located. They were cool to see up close.
Lata pointed across the river to FDR Drive on Manhattan’s eastern shore and told me that it was a beautiful drive to take. I pointed out that, as someone who never drove in the city, I had never experienced it. Unless I specifically walked to the water while in Manhattan, it was actually pretty easy to forget that it was an island.
There was a pause between us as we stood at the end of the pier and we looked at each other. Lata’s eye contact was confusing because she had made it all night, but in this new context, I felt like there was something provocative behind it. We lingered there and she just laughed, saying that we should move on. Well, even if she wasn’t interested, at least she was entertained. Another couple chains ducked, and we were walking north towards the Pepsi-Cola sign. The other people around the park were becoming more scarce.
There was a circular platform in the middle of a footbridge that I had pointed out and Lata walked out onto to it. I followed close behind and caught up to her. Standing on the platform, she said that she felt like she should make a speech. “An important announcement,” I added for no good reason.
Instead, we found ourselves in another long pause, looking at each other. Ah, fuck it, I thought and moved in for a kiss.
“I was hoping for something like that,” Lata said as we pulled apart.
“Me too,” I admitted.
She grabbed a hold of my hand and we continued to walk the boardwalk north. We eventually came up against a fence, blocking us from the Pepsi sign and the unfinished portion of the boardwalk. She wondered about jumping the fence, but that seemed like a pain in the ass. Instead, we found that the gate simply hadn’t been locked and we walked right in. By this time, the only other person to be seen was a lone middle-aged gentleman who was also looking to get into that section of the park. A minute or so later, as we stood beneath the glowing Pepsi sign, he followed us in.
All of the buildings to our right were still under construction, as was the section of the park we were now walking through. Even amidst a fairly well-developed part of Hunter’s Point, this was no man’s land. We came upon a Canada goose with its foot tangled in some kind of string or fishing wire and it hobbled away from us before eventually flying off. “Poor guy,” I said. Lata says that she’d seen things like that in India, expect with peacocks instead. That seemed crazy, to have peacocks be that common, and I thought of my recent Zoo Date with Holly, where we’d seen a number of them.
There was an unfinished feature of some sort which at the time was simply a big hole in the pier, open to the river below. It was illuminated by a ring of blue lights and looked quite creepy without its final cover completed. It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie where if I dove in, I would pass through to another world. Lata asked if I was a good swimmer and I told her yeah, I wasn’t bad. I couldn’t be sure that I’d survive going through the pier portal though. There was no ladder or anything to get out and I might have to hold my breath to swim under the rest of the pier, just hoping to make it to the river. I didn’t want any part of that. My guess was that they’d probably put a big piece glass over the hole. “Probably,” Lata agreed.
A feeling of unease had been building inside of me since we entered the restricted portion of the park, and as we walked further, worry began to creep in. Where was that guy who had followed us in here? I wondered. What if there were thugs up around the next turn? The place was well lit, but there was no one around to possibly help us if we got into trouble.
Very quickly, I began to feel like one of those naive suburban kids who waltzed into a dangerous situation like an idiot. The area ahead of us looked less refined than before. After crossing through another gate, I grew more concerned. We were only further penning ourselves in. I knew I could make a run for it, but I didn’t know about Lata, and I didn’t want to be responsible for any harm which might come upon her. If I had been a praying man, I would have taken to it then.
Finally, we reached the very end of the boardwalk and were faced with a locked fence. We debated doubling back, but Lata preferred the excitement of a challenge, so we scaled the boardwalk railing to skirt around the fence. Once on the other side, at the end of a somewhat industrial-looking street, I pulled out my phone to orient us. I could tell that we were a ways from Court Square because I could see the Citigroup Building, and I feared that we might not be near much of anything.
With my map finally loaded, I breathed a sigh of relief and saw that we really hadn’t wandered very far. The residential part of LIC was nearly within sight. We walked south down 5th Street, back towards the center of Hunter’s Point, and quickly eased my worries. Soon enough, we had turned onto 50th Avenue, walked past a police station and found ourselves right back in the civilization, near the 7 train entrance. We were steps away from Domaine Wine Bar, where I had cozied up with Ariana in a dark corner so many months earlier. Ah, memories.
With bars and cafes around us, we waffled for a moment, considering what to do next. Since Lata was not 21, our options were actually quite limited. We could trying sneaking into a nearby bar, which would probably work, or we could sit and chat in a nearby diner, but neither of us was hungry. There was also what looked like a hookah lounge, but I wasn’t thrilled about that prospect either. Lata looked at me blankly, as though I was not giving her enough options.
So, I mentioned the only other thing I could think of, which was to invite her back to my apartment in Astoria. There was no pressure, I told her, just saying that it was on the table. She laughed. Not wanting to be pushy, I asked Lata what she wanted to do, if she had her choice. She responded by telling me that we could do whatever I wanted, so it looked like I was calling the shots. I didn’t want to call the shots though!
At this point, I was having a very difficult time reading Lata. I got the sense that she in fact wanted to go to my place, but was nowhere near saying it. I asked if she wanted to get a drink and said that we could take it from there.
Considering my offer, Lata asked about bars in Astoria, because she had rarely hung out there. The bars I knew of were near my apartment, I told her, and she asked if I would be a familiar face at any of them. “Like would I be ashamed bringing a date in, or would I be able to get you drinks without being questioned?” I followed up. The latter, she clarified. For sure, if we went to Mosaic, there would be almost no chance that she or I would be carded, because I was in there a good amount. “Then let’s go there,” she said, finally cementing our decision.
Whoa boy. I was about to be an enabler of underaged drinking. The resident assistant of my past would kill me. (Not really, he’d have been 22 at the oldest and wouldn’t have thought it was so bad.)
We took the trains up to Astoria, enjoying an easy transfer at Queensboro Plaza, where we discussed the merits of visiting strip clubs, which was of course prompted by the ever-present visual of Scandals just across the road. Lata said she’d like to go to one some time, and I advised her to take in a flashy one in Vegas, Midtown or any place other than Queens.
When we got off the train at Astoria Boulevard, Lata asked if Nepture Diner was right there and I told her that it certainly was. I had just been there that past weekend for Breakfast Date. “And a Burger King?” she added. I confirmed that she was right and she told me that she knew right where we were.
As we entered Mosaic, I scanned the room to see if either of the bartenders I knew well were working. There was no such luck, but I figured we would be okay. Lata used the bathroom while I took a seat at a table. A moment later, one of the bartenders I knew walked in from outside. Perfect, I thought, This will be smooth sailing.
When Lata returned, we ordered a couple drinks and she requested a straw for her beer. If anything was going to make her look underage, it was the fact that she didn’t know how to drink a beer. Actually, she informed me, it was better for one’s teeth to use a straw and she did so with almost any beverage. Such was the takeaway from working in a dental office. Still, I thought it was a bit weird, but not off-putting.
Considering the neighborhood again, Lata told me that she used to go to church around here and to a cafe near the park. She remembered it having two levels and I asked her if it might be Waltz-Astoria. Indeed it was and I told her that I’d been there. If fact, I’d even played an open mic there for one of my dates. We both knew the place pretty well it turned out.
We talked more and eventually, because I’d made mention of visiting my mom’s family in California, Lata asked if my parents were separated. I clarified that while they were not separated, my mom had passed, and told her that it was actually my mother’s birthday that day. So, happy birthday, Mom. I honored your birth by sneaking a 20 year old into a bar.
Lata was understandably sympathetic and asked me a couple follow up questions before I had a chance to ask about her parents. From how frankly she had asked me if mine were separated, I assumed hers were no longer together. She confirmed that they were in the process of a divorce and had been separated for a while, although the whole thing was made difficult because they continued living in the same building, only a couple floors apart. It sounded like a very tough situation and I let her know that I was very sorry to hear it. The family drama was why her mom had recently moved to Ridgewood. The picture of Lata’s family life was coming into focus more and more.
She also told me about how her father had been with other women. She described how his patriarchal Indian background mixed toxically with her mother’s matrilineal culture. It was bad and had never been great, so she was somewhat relieved to know that they were separating. I related how I often saw my parents make each other unhappy and that sometimes it seemed like time apart would do them good.
We talked about marriage and whatnot for a while. Lata held out hope for “the one,” but I didn’t think such a thing existed. In my opinion, there were many “the ones.” She also thought that to love someone was largely a decision to do so and pointed to the arranged marriages of her cousins at examples. They had decided to love each other and years later, it had grown into something amazing. I was skeptical, but willing to believe that it could be as good as any other marriage.
This all led us back to discussing Lata’s ex-boyfriend and I found that she was clearly still very upset about the break up. I told her more about my breakup with my first girlfriend and how things had worked out well after a period of difficultly. She seemed to become a little more hopeful and thanked me for sharing. It helped her to hear that wounded relationships — romantic, familial or friendly — could be mended.
Though it was starting to get late, Lata urged me to get a second drink. This one went down much quicker than the first and in the time it took me to drink my second round, I found out just how much younger Lata really was. When she made that comment about being jailbait, it was because she really had been in the past. Lata graduated high school at 13 years old. I asked if she was a genius, and although she admitted to being smart, she said it was mostly due to entrance exams that she took when going between India and the US as a child. She basically kept placing higher every time she took an entrance exam.
This led to not having many friends in college, and some very awkward first year college experiences. She had to tell some kid that she couldn’t go out with him because she was 14 years old at the time. It was crazy. In fact, she had taken years off from college and was going at her own slow pace because she had started so far ahead. She was 20 years old and had been in college for six years already. It was amazing.
Playing off of her earlier comment, I told Lata that she should choose better pictures for her Craigslist emails. She was better looking than they had led me to believe. She thanked me for the compliment and commented on how nice I was.
Knees bumped. Fingers got frisky. Eyes were made. “Let’s get out of here,” I said.
I paid Billy and we stepped outside. It was roughly 2 a.m. and she lived far away. I was tired, but I was flying to New Orleans the next day and didn’t have to be up early, so I was throwing caution to the wind. Naturally, I wanted to sleep with her, but also, my genuine “Nice Guy Mode” wanted to make sure that she wasn’t going home too late, when it might be dangerous. I told her she would stay at my place and she said that she would come up to check it out and then she’d decide if she wanted to stay. It seemed kind of odd, but I figured she was probably just being coy.
We went upstairs to my place and entered my apartment. I had clothes strewn about everywhere because I had been in the process of packing for my trip. Lata offered to help me pack, which was unnecessary, but I read between the lines and understood that it was a ploy to be in my bedroom.
After pretending to pack for a few minutes, I stopped what I was doing and kissed her again. Lata stopped me and laughed a little bit. “You know,” she said, “I’m not looking for anything serious.” For real? She was kissing the One Hundred Dates guy and she was worried about giving me a disclaimer?! It cracked me up. Lata had been friendly and direct all night, but not overly flirtatious, and the whole ex-boyfriend thing made me think she wasn’t ready for anything. However, it seemed at the end of the night that she was even more ready than me.
It was 2:45 a.m by the time Lata decided to get going. I tried to insist that she stay over, but she said it would be awkward in the morning and gave me a knowing smile. I guessed she had never intended to stay. What an odd ball. She thanked me for a very pleasant and surprising evening as I walked her out of my apartment.
Opening my door, she began down the stairs and turned to say, “You should write a book or something one day. Think about it.”
I agreed and told her I was working on it. Craigslist might even get its own chapter.