Central Park Date

—Sunday, May 13, 2012—

Though I knew quite well of the large park that sat in the middle of Manhattan, I had been there no more than a couple times since moving to New York almost two years earlier. It was sad to think that I had ignored such a big part of NYC culture for so long, but I was really great at being a piece of shit.

I first met Stella at Walz-Astoria, where my Open Mic Date had taken place, because our mutual friend Cecilia (My Winery / Wine Tasting Date) was playing show there. I had just left my Tourist For A Day Date behind in Manhattan and I was happy to be back amongst friends in Astoria for the evening.

Amongst a group of associated Cecilia lovers, Stella had caught my eye from the next table over. We chatted on and off both before and after Cecilia’s show and I was very interested in asking her out, but she was Cecilia’s friend and I didn’t want to cross that line. As I was leaving that night, Cecilia stopped me and told me to ask for Stella’s number. “Really?” I questioned. “Yeah,” Cecilia said, “She asked about you and I told her how great you were and about the project. You should ask for her number.” I felt a little awkward, asking for Stella’s number so directly, but Cecilia practically made me do it. I had to trust that she was cool with it.

Before leaving, I pulled Stella away from a conversation and asked for her number. She was very receptive and cute about it, giving me her number and a kind smile. I texted her on my way home and we had been exchanging fun and flirty texts ever since.

Eventually, I asked her if she might be free on Mother’s Day, expecting a negative, but she said she was, which meant she was likely not from near NYC, or like me, her mom was super dead. Either way, I was sure we’d get along and I was glad to be spending this particular Sunday with a beautiful woman because really, that was what I’d have been doing on Mother’s Day if my mom was still around. Stella seemed wonderful and she was very pretty, so everything about this date looked like it would be awesome.

As I got ready that day, however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was underprepared. I wasn’t sure how prepared one could be for a date in a park, but it felt like I hadn’t done enough. For instance, I didn’t know what she’d want to do at the park besides sit around and talk. Maybe I should bring playing cards? I couldn’t find them. How about a frisbee? That sounded dumb coming out of my brain. Can I borrow someone else’s dog? I was really stretching it. In the end, I settled on snacks, bottled waters and a blanket. I figured we could make due with that much.

At least I was wearing a tank top under my short sleeve button-down shirt. In case of emergency.

IMG_2004Since Stella also lived in Astoria, on the N/Q train line, we decided to meet up my doing the hop off, hop on method. This wasn’t the first time I’d employed such a technique, but this time around, I didn’t know if I was going to be jumping off the train and waiting for her, or if she’d already be there, waiting to jump onto the train with me. I would find out very shortly.

Arriving at Stella’s stop, I hopped off of the train and began walking down the platform. Just then, I saw a blonde woman hurrying towards me and she waved. Ah yes, Stella! With sunglasses on, it was hard for me to identify her perfectly, but the wave let me know it was definitely her. Oh! She wanted to jump back on the train before it left. We both ducked into a car right as the doors closed behind us. Phew. After a deep breath or two, I said hello to her. It was nice to see her again.

On our way into the city, we talked about what to do in the park. She suggested a couple things and I told her I would be up for anything. She also warned me, “I want to grab a water before we go in.” Internally, I was all like, WELL CHECK THIS OUT, but externally I simply said, “I have two.” Stella smiled, commended me for being well prepared and asked what else was in my bag. Snacks and a blanket. The essentials. Good job, me.

Man, those eyes. I’m not sure how well I had noticed them in the dark cafe when we first met, but Stella had ridiculously beautiful eyes. I think they were blue, with a tinge of green, or maybe just blue? I didn’t want to stare long enough to figure it out but it was also hard not to.

I asked Stella where she was from and she told me Omaha, Nebraska. I’d heard cool things. My uncle Ed lived in Lincoln, actually. He worked at UNL. Well, that was where Stella had gone to school. Oh, yeah? My uncle was the head of the fine arts department there. His name was Ed Forde. Though she didn’t know who he was immediately, she said that she’d likely met him and that his name sounded familiar, probably because she had served on a number of different boards while going to school there.

Crazy. What a small world. I clarified that my uncle mostly lived in New Mexico though, only spending time in Lincoln when he had to teach and administrate. As if the UNL connection wasn’t already enough, Stella told me that she had also lived temporarily in New Mexico. Wow. This woman. What gives?

We exited the train talking about New Mexico and quickly found a place to enter the park. Stella said that she had been working in Santa Fe at a theater company for a little while. “Oh yeah, that’s what you do here, right?” I recalled from our conversation weeks earlier. Yes, she reminded me, she made wigs for theater productions. “Oh, right! That’s so interesting,” I replied, having never met a wigmaker before.

In addition to being an actress in her own right, her “back up” gig was being a professional wigmaker. I soon found out she did some model work as well. She truly had it all. I asked her how she got into wig making and apparently it just sort of happened. She had wanted to take a class on it at school, bit it was no longer offered, and when a local operatic wig maker contacted UNL seeking student assistance, her name was provided to her. Stella learned from this woman and the wig business was what had brought her to NYC eventually. It was a really cool story.

Being mother’s day and all, Stella related to me the trouble she’d been having with the flowers she had ordered for her mother. They were originally supposed to arrive Friday, then when they didn’t, she was told Saturday, but then that didn’t happen and so far today, nothing. What a bummer. The florist had clearly messed up and it was understandably bothering her.

We walked around The Pond and on past more people as Stella told me about coming to NYC from the Midwest and about how Central Park had been her refuge when she first moved here. She was homesick all the time and she would come to the park to collect herself. In fact, Central Park was her favorite place in the city. This was great because, duh, I’d picked an awesome date spot for us. Though Stella was a Central Park regular, I told her I’d rarely been there. It was nice to be changing that.

There seemed to be something new for me at every turn. For instance, I didn’t realize there was a chess and checkers area in the park until we passed by it.

Once up and over the first little hill, we saw signs celebrating Japan Day and it looked like we had chosen a wonderful Sunday to be in the park. Walking through The Mall, which surprised me with its number of rolllerbladers, I told Stella about the Disney princesses I had met the last time I was in Tokyo and how she’d be perfect for such a role, but she already knew that. She’d actually considered it before, and while she wanted to visit Japan, she was not sure that she wanted to live there. I also told her about my family who lived there and then attempted to describe how unique it was as a country. It was a very proud place, I told her, as we descended across Terrace Drive to the Bethesda Fountain.

Goddamnit. This place was so picturesque. There was the Loeb Boathouse across the way. People rowing boats on The Lake stretched out in front of us. Happy people taking pictures. And our course, the fountain, pleasantly splashing water up into the air. It was all very nice.

Continuing our way north, we followed a small path up Cherry Hill and crossed Bow Bridge over a narrow part of The Lake. As we approached a fork in the road, I asked Stella if she’d like to find some place to sit for a spell. We found a bench a little further up the road and took a seat, looking out over the water.

We sat for a long while there on the bench and discussed acting and comedy. What did I want from improv? I wasn’t sure. Anything really. I just wanted to be a funny person, maybe like Jimmy Fallon. Stella wanted to try improv, but thought maybe sketch was more appropriate since she was already an actor. I told her she could simply be a comedic actor. There was no need to go into improv unless you wanted to, though I knew it was on everyone’s radar those days.

Watching people pass by, we saw a woman with a turtle which prompted Stella to tell me how she used to have a tortoise but had left it with her aunt and uncle one time when she moved. A lot of dogs went by us too — a lot of shaggy dogs that day. When two long-haired dachshunds passed by, Stella became visibly excited. Admittedly, they were amazingly cute and amongst my favorite kind of dog, so I was about as excited as I could have been about random dogs. She then told me that this was the same kind of dog she used to have. That was sweet.

It seemed that Stella was easily excited by cute things, which meant that she was right in my wheelhouse. All of my previous girlfriends were of a similar temperament.

We lingered there for some time before we decided to carry on walking. It was a very nice reprieve.

Not far up the path, across the 79th Street Transverse, was Belvedere Castle, which sat high above Turtle Pond and looked out over the Great Lawn. This was the only area of the park that I had any level of familiarity with, thanks to a birthday picnic I once attended and because I went to see Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater the summer prior with Alana, my Ex-Girlfriend Date.

The view from the castle was really nice and as we looked out, Stella wondered aloud how remarkable it was that this existed there. In the middle of such a massive city, there was a castle. She also informed me that Shakespeare In The Park would be starting tech rehearsals soon. I asked her if she was making wigs for them and indeed, she was. Well, well, well. Someone’s impressive.

Up to the second floor we went and looked out for an even better view. Then we scaled the narrow spiral staircase to the top level of the castle for what I assumed was the best view possible in all of Central Park. It was truly beautiful up there. Like, really. It was such a gorgeously perfect day and, with the overcast weather we’d been having, I felt like we had totally lucked out with Central Park Date. We took in the view for a bit and then made way for other visitors. Back down the narrow spiral staircase and out of Belvedere Castle we went.

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Walking down to the area between the Frog Pond and the Great Lawn, the people became more diverse and plentiful. We passed by the lawns surrounding the pond and turned right, walking up the west side of the Great Lawn. We spotted a man carrying his pug and laughed because it was clearly too hot for that dog to be doing anything resembling physical activity, walking included. Stella told me that weeping willows were her favorite trees as we passed by a number of them and, indeed, they looked quite whimsical. She also mentioned that the New York Botanical Garden was going to reshape a portion of its grounds to reflect the gardens commonly seen in Claude Monet’s paintings. It sounded really cool.

We meandered up the path until there was a split where we chose to go further west into the Arthur Ross Pinetum. This place is called a pinetum, huh — not a forest? It looked like a forest. A pine forest, sure, but pinetum sounded like the most pretentious name available for a grouping of pine trees. Walking through the pinetum (ugh) Stella told me that she had found out where Bette Midler lived, on the Upper East Side, and how she wanted to check it out that day – with or without me. She was a huge Bette Midler fan, apparently. I was on board to help make it happen and then noted that we were walking in the opposite direction of Bette Midler’s house.

By the time we decided to correct our trajectory, we were approaching the southwest corner of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and talking about keeping in touch with extended families. Stella said that Skype was a lifesaver for her since all of her family was still around Omaha and she was all the way out in NYC. We stood at the reservoir fence for a while, looking out across the large body of water. I wondered what the narrow structure that bisected the reservoir was (A footpath?) and I told her that kids in my hometown used to go swimming in our reservoir. It was the only place to take a dip for those of us not fortunate enough to belong to the Country Club, Swim & Tennis Club or Boat Club.

Walking back south around the reservoir, Stella asked me if I had a large family. Kind of, but not really, I offered. There were a decent number of family members out there, but I didn’t really know most of them. She had a large family — something like 80 people — and she knew them all. They were a very close group and every conversation was a long one. Yeah, my family wasn’t like that at all. It sounded nice though.

We were walking on a path which also catered to runners and cyclists, so Stella told me about the time she was run over by a bike. I couldn’t imagine being run over by a bike, but she assured me that was what happened. I imagined those to be such messy collisions, not just a matter of a bike passing over top of a person. Assuming that they were going the same speed, I think I’d rather be hit by a car than a bike. Well anyway, she said she had a tire mark up her back and the biker had kept going. Sounds impossible, right? Well, it happened. She was only a kid.

I told her a story about how I was once in Tokyo and saw a cyclist collide with a taxi and no one flipped out [Told more fully in A Broad Abroad Date]. We both agreed that such an event would have caused a meltdown in NYC.

As we neared the Met, back on the eastern edge of the park, Stella told me that it was her favorite museum. Again, as with the park we were walking through, I had hardly been there. In fact, I’d only been once: on a school trip in seventh grade. Shameful, I know. It was Stella’s preferred museum largely because she felt more of a connection to its classical art rather than the modern and contemporary pieces found at the MoMA, Whitney or Guggenheim.

I could understand that. we all just connected to different things in different ways. I recalled the story of first seeing Vermeer’s painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” at the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hauge. It was at the end of my summer spent in Italy and upon seeing the painting, so different from all of the Renaissance art I’d become used to, something struck me quite profoundly. I just connected with it. As it turned out, Stella had actually studied art history while in school, so she knew exactly what I was talking about.

We made our way back around the eastern side of the Great Lawn to the Frog Pond again and I needed something more to drink, having already consumed the waters we’d brought. Standing in line for the organic food cart (Obviously), we laughed at all the characters around us. There was a man with a small dog, which was wearing a dress. He was with a woman who had another dog fully dressed and in a stroller. These people were insufferable. Dogs in strollers?! Come on! We got an iced tea and a juice and then looked to find a place to put our blanket out.

Soon enough, we found ourselves a little patch of grass and laid out the blanket. I removed the chocolate covered raisins, trail mix and licorice twists from my backpack and spread them out in front of us, telling Stella to help herself. She said that they were good choices.

Sitting out on the blanket, I finally took off my button-down shirt and allowed the people of central park to bathe in the glory of my Jack Skeleton body in a tank top. It was funny because Stella and I were now wearing similarly striped shirts. TWINZOS.

There on the lawn, we talked even more about our families and how we told them practically nothing about our dating lives. Even in Stella’s family, which was very close knit and talkative, it was the one thing that wasn’t discussed much. We also discussED our brothers, both named Colin, and how we wished they would open up more to us. It was difficult to bridge such a long-established gap in communication, and ultimately, we were okay with it being what it was. It was interesting how many women I went out with who seemed to have similar sibling dynamics. In addition to her two younger brothers, Stella also had two older step-brothers. Her parents had divorced when she was young, I think around seven years old. 

Not to far from where we sat, there was a curious woman doing yoga. It seemed to me that she was mostly doing this for some kind of validating attention because for one, she was in a crowded area of the park; two, she was not very focused on the task at hand; and three, she was wearing blue jeans while doing yoga. It was like shouting, “Check it out everyone! I’m doing yoga! Pretty awesome of me, right?” Or, perhaps even worse, she could have been thinking, “Oh, you know. I just couldn’t help myself.  I was walking through the park in my boot cut blue jeans and the desire to yoga just overtook me. I simply had to do a bunch of shitty poses amongst the picnickers”  What a load of crap.

After the drinks were gone and the snacks had satiated us, we got going again. Stella had already mentioned that she had to meet up with her cousin tonight because he was moving out of town, so I knew that the date wasn’t going to get any kind of grand extension. She also had to make a couple phone calls in an effort to get her friend backstage at Newsies that night. All reasonable things. We packed up the backpack and headed southeast, out of the park.

Back on 5th Avenue, I wondered which way we should go in order to get to a train. I asked for Stella’s input and she reminded me that she was going to walk north, to Bette Midler’s house, obviously. Oh, right! I’d forgotten that I was totally on board for this adventure.

As we walked uptown toward our destination, Stella told me about how she’d always liked Bette Midler and that her friends all knew this fact.

“It’s the gay man inside of me,” she quipped.

“I think we all have a little gay man inside of us,” I said somewhat plainly.

“I’m really glad you say that. I think it’s true. My friends sometimes tell me that I’m a gay man trapped in woman’s body,” Stella replied.

“I don’t want to get too deep, but are you?” I questioned.

It took us a minute to work through what I had meant by that last question, but after referencing Laura Jane Grace’s recent tale of coming out as transgendered, we dove into a ten block discussion on sexuality and gender. Stella told me that she sometimes had to make sure to mention to her mother that she was actively dating men so that she wouldn’t think she was gay. I bet my dad had shook his head a few times when I was a kid as I sewed, cooked and watched Golden Girls with my mom, but I had turned out pretty straight.

I proposed the comical possibility of my (Somewhat) heteronormative brother being gay, which my then girlfriend had asked about in college. Anything was possible, I had told her, but it was more likely that he simply refused to ever commit to a girlfriend. We also discussed the acceptance of gays in the Midwest versus the East Coast. Stella said that it was still very different, and of course, quite generational, as it was in New York. Coming out to friends wouldn’t be so bad, but parents would be impossible, she told me.

Arriving in front of Bette Midler’s penthouse building, we saw that a motor vehicle accident had taken place moments earlier. A man stepped out of the passenger’s side of the car, pointing to the damage and yelling at the driver of the other vehicle — which was an ambulance. We soon realized that the ambulance had a patient inside of it and we couldn’t reason why it had even stopped. There had to be some kind of standard procedure to deal with this kind of thing, such that a patient wouldn’t be delayed in getting to the hospital. This exemplified what was wrong with Americans, or maybe just New Yorkers, that this guy was more concerned about the minor damage to his car than the fact that he’d hit an ambulance with a person in it. It was like, Dude! There are more pressing matters at hand!

Allowing the drama of the fender bender to leave our minds, Stella snapped a picture of Bette’s building and we moved on. She told that she’d like to live in this area one day, if only she had a bunch of money and then she talked about “making it,” which was exactly the type of aspirational conversation that I loved.

We decided to get something to drink, or whatever we could find, depending on what struck our fancy. When we reached the intersection of Lexington and 86th Street, we saw a Shake Shack down the block and decided to get some shakes. We both wanted chocolate, because it was the best and I got a voucher for a free shake because I donated a dollar to No Kid Hungry. I wasn’t really feeling all that generous, but I did want the free shake and to look good in front of Stella. I told her this when we sat down, which got a chuckle.

There at Shake Shack, we finally talked about the project and talked about dating. Stella didn’t think she was particularly successful at dating, but I insisted that success was dependent upon what you wanted out of it. The awesome thing about New York was that you could probably get whatever you wanted so long as you really went after it. The problem, as I saw it, was that people weren’t really honest with themselves and with others about what they wanted.

Stella agreed with this point and so I asked her what she wanted out of dating. She didn’t think she wanted anyone too serious, but definitely someone to be there. A companion, it sounded like. We talked about this stuff for a while and she articulated herself well. I already figured that Stella had to be pretty open minded to be going out with me, but she was even more so than I had originally presumed. The shakes were good and the company was excellent.

Waiting for the train at 86th Street, Stella asked about the significance of my tattoo, guessing that the letters were my initials. It was funny that this topic took all day to be brought up, given that it was Mother’s Day, and we had discussed our families in depth and because I was prone to bringing up my mother all the time regardless. All that aside, I told her the significance of it and also mentioned that while my mother and I were both EFB, my brother and father were both CAB.

As we boarded the train, Stella was telling me that she didn’t like her initials, but I thought they were fine. I liked any initials that could be pronounced as a word. For instance, I offered, my mother’s maiden initials had been ELF, which was a cool word to have your initials spell. I then recounted the whole EFB as Elphaba story to her [Which I have already detailed at the end of Breakfast Date]. She thought the coincidence was cool, which was all I could ask for.

We chatted the rest of the train ride back to Astoria and as we arrived at Stella’s stop, I stood up and gave her a hug, thanking her for an awesome day in Central Park.