—Saturday, May 26, 2012—
A few dates made the list because they perfectly combined weirdness and curiosity. I had never LARPed before, but I knew that I wanted to try it at some point. I also knew that it would be a very unique date, at least for anyone who wasn’t already a part of that world. Both of these things presented obstacles though because I had to learn about LARP and find someone willing to tag along.
For those of you not in the know, LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing and more generally refers to live-action role playing games, which are role playing games (RPGs) in which the players physically act out or embody their character’s actions. (You may be familiar with table top RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, or video game RPGs like Final Fantasy. It’s like those, but in real life.) There is generally a fictional reality in which the game is played and the goals of a particular game are decided upon by game designers, game masters and players over time. Many games and worlds are well defined, with literature and precedent involved, and the possibilities are literally as endless as people’s imaginations.
There’s much more to LARPing, but I don’t have the time it would take to explain everything and quite frankly, I’d be talking out of my ass because I really don’t know that much about it.
The LARP that I had found in NYC was a vampire LARP called Kings of New York, which was a One World by Night Sabbat vampire LARP. It had been around for over ten years and belonged to a shared universe with all other One World games, which used White Wolf’s Mind’s Eye Theater system. This is a lot of seemingly useless information to most folks, but to those in the know, it explains quite a bit. I tried my best to understand the context of it all before dragging someone else into it, but it was daunting.
Originally, my LARP date was going to be someone I knew from doing theater in college, as I figured she would be game for such an odd theatrical experience. Unfortunately, between the time that we first started planning for this date and when it actually rolled around, she’d started dated someone and so I had to call it off. My plans with Kings of New York were already made though, so I needed to find a replacement.
My thoughts went immediately to the improv community, since that was a group of people who routinely played characters and acted outside of themselves sans script. In fact, an improviser seemed like the perfect fit. I had run into Lisa outside of the Magnet Theater about a week before my scheduled LARP and realized that she would be an awesome person to go out with. In fact, I had considered asking her out many times throughout the project, but had never done so for one reason or another.
When I reached out to her, she was immediately receptive and even had the desired night free, so it was a total score. I had been in communication with a guy named Vinny at Kings of New York about logistics and being integrated into the LARP as new players, and I passed on all this information to Lisa as well. I’d actually purchased two ebooks on the game in an effort to acquaint myself with the world and its rules. Both of them were over 200 pages and, on top of that, there were supplemental materials that pertained only to the specific game that we’d be playing.
It was all pretty intense. I had skimmed the books, tried to get what I could out of them, but ultimately, I could’t devote all the time necessary to get through them. I knew that our venture would probably be a one-time affair anyway.
We were getting together on a Saturday, so we had plenty of time to ready ourselves for the LARP that night. Lisa and I met up outside of Gothic Renaissance, which was an alternative fashion boutique catering to the exact crowd you would expect. I wanted to look for fangs and perhaps some other costume additions. I was already wearing all black, which fit the vampire motif. I looked a little punk, but nothing crazy. As a human, I could pull off the look, but I had rarely worn black since college, so it felt odd on me. Lisa showed up looking pretty normal but she had bags with her, so I assumed she had more vampire-looking clothes in there. She gave me a big hug hello and we said hi and stuff.
Though she wasn’t dressed up yet, Lisa did confirm that she’d brought some options with her and told me about one idea she had for being a vampire disguised as a Girl Scout, which was pretty funny. I brought up the fact that we may not need fangs at all, which had seemed like an obvious requirement at first, but in looking at pictures of players in the books, it didn’t seem like everyone went to such lengths. How very disappointing.
Entering into Gothic Renaissance, Lisa and I walked around and checked the place out. It was a fantasy store, in addition to gothic clothing, so it had a variety of interesting stuff for sale. No fangs though. There was overtly gothic clothing, some steampunk stuff, a couple matador jackets and those giant boots that the kids-I-never-really-talked-to-in-high-school used to wear. Lisa didn’t really know much about any of this counter-culture stuff, although she was somewhat familiar with afro-punk culture. I didn’t know much about it all either, except that I attempted to explain steampunk by describing the film “Wild Wild West” and the book “Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel,” which I had heard about during a panel discussion while on Comic Con Date.
Most of the things in Gothic Renaissance were expensive and beyond what we needed, so we went next door to Halloween Adventure, which might have been the better bet all along. We talked a lot about the world of vampires from the books we’d browsed through and who we thought our characters were going to be. After a bit of searching, we found a collection of vampire fangs behind a counter. There were a couple different flavors to choose from, and though I was still feeling pretty skeptical about whether or not we needed them, I figured that I should go all out. After all, this was likely the only time I’d ever vampire LARP.
I got a pair of fancy fangs that essentially glued on as caps to my current canines. Lisa went for an interesting retractable pair that was supposed to mold to one’s molars and then, using your tongue, you could make the fangs pop down from where they hid behind your upper lip. They seemed complicated, but she decided to try them out. We bought our fangs and then returned to the streets.
There was a coffeeshop across the street that I knew of, or if she was hungry, we could get food. She said that she would like to eat and asked if I was hungry, so I explained, as I did so often, that I didn’t really get hungry, but was totally willing to grub. We wandered back up towards Union Square and then a block or two west.
Standing on a street corner, debating our options, Lisa suggested an Italian place that she’d been to before. It was called Vapiano and it was right across the street from us. On the way in, I asked her what her favorite cuisine was and she said that she really liked Mexican food. Killer choice.
Once inside, the host gave us each temporary credit cards and told us to pay as we went with that card. At the end of it all, our card would be run and we’d pay all at once. I looked around and realized that the food was served in a cafeteria style, with many different stations to approach. It was a really nice cafeteria though. Lisa knew this already and more thoroughly explained it to me.
We milled around briefly, checking out the space, before it became apparent that pizza would be the way to go from amongst the various options. I asked Lisa what she liked on her pizza and we decided on a salsiccia pizza. I ordered for us and tapped my card on the kiosk. Easy as pie.
Then we went one station over and ordered a salad, deciding upon a baby spinach, strawberry and berry vinaigrette one. Goat cheese was served on the side because I was not going to touch that noise.
In the upstairs seating area, we staked out a place to sit and, after putting our things down, returned to the bar downstairs to get drinks. I asked Lisa what she’d like to drink and she asked me what kind of drink I was thinking of. I was cool with something hard or soft, but probably an alcoholic one, I told her. I figured it would be good to have a drink before the whole LARP thing as I imagined that people were going to be pretty intense and we’d be somewhat intimidated. Lisa agreed, but still wanted to know what I was thinking of having.
“Would you judge me if I got white wine?” I asked.
“No, why would I? That’s probably what I’ll get,” she said after a bit of a chuckle.
“Well, it’s not too manly,” I joked, “but I don’t think I’m really tricking you in that regard anyway.”
Lisa gave another little laugh and told me that she thought I might be a little tough. She had seen a SCORESBY improv show once that had been pretty physical and said that it looked like I could maybe “wrassle” or grapple, at the very least. I told her that her assessment was correct and that I’d been the captain of my wrestling team in high school. “See! I knew it,” she said. I also mentioned that SCORESBY was a physical team and I explained that Tony and I had known each other for a long time, so we liked doing that kind of stuff and did it often.
So with that, we both ordered glasses of white wine.
Back on the other side of the room, we picked up our salad and as we were grabbing it, my butt started to vibrate with the pizza buzzer. Over to the next counter, our pizza was also ready. Picking it up, it looked to be a pepperoni pizza, but that wasn’t too far off from salsiccia, so we didn’t say anything.
We brought everything upstairs and I made another run down for small plates and napkins. Finally, back in our seats, I asked Lisa about where she was from and how she ended up in NYC. “You’re from Ohio, right? Dayton?” I recalled. Lisa told me that she had known that she wanted to get into comedy by the time high school was ending, so it was NYC or Chicago, and she ended up getting into a school in NYC, so that was where she landed. It was a cool and very apt way to find oneself in NYC, especially considering that she’d gone into improv.
She told me that she knew she wanted to do comedy because she saw a 25th anniversary special of Saturday Night Live and said, “I want to do that.” She’d heard about Second City in Chicago, and had done a one week course there, but Chicago was not to be her final destination. When she got to NYC, she knew of UCB, but it was expensive. Finally, someone told her about the Magnet, which was a bit cheaper, and so she found her comedic home.
Wanting to know how I had come to find the Magnet, I told Lisa about how I knew all the Lead McEnroe guys from college and that, because of the number of college friends I already had in the community, the Magnet was my natural home base as soon as I showed up in NYC. We talked about the Magnet a bunch, discussing the challenges it faced from the other theaters and how it could keep up. Well-known instructor Armando Diaz had recently stopped teaching improv at the theater and it seemed like it could be a blow to its excellent teaching reputation. We were also both frustrated with some of the booking decisions being made at the time. Lisa had been trying to get her solo show back up there for a while but to no avail.
Lisa’s solo show was actually one of the reasons why this date might have seemed a little mismatched on the surface. We were an odd pair in that I was someone who blogged about going on a high number of dates and Lisa was someone who had written an entire show about her adult virginity complex. She’d even run a campaign recently just to find one date for the month of April, something which she barely accomplished. In the same time, I had gone on about ten dates and slept with a handful of different women. What I’m saying is that we were at opposite ends of the spectrum, sexually speaking. Other than that, we seemed like a pretty good match.
As we ate our pepperoni pizza and salad, we discussed dating a bit. She asked me if women I went out with inquired about the project, the other dates or any specific stories. I told her that yeah, sometimes they did, but also, there were many times when no one mentioned anything regarding OHD. It really depended.
So, we talked about the project a bit and she told me a little of her history with dating. It actually sounded like she had been in a relationship somewhat recently. She really kind of opened up about her dating past and I wondered very much if she was still a virgin, because that was something that was hard not to fixate on. I wondered this too because her show had been created many months earlier and I had no idea what had happened since.
It was pouring rain outside as we ate, but I hoped that if we bade our time, it might clear up.
We talked about our families and I learned that Lisa had two brothers: one older, one younger. She was closer with her younger brother though. We talked about our dads and they sounded very similar in certain regards. Her parents were divorced though. Her father was a difficult man — a military man — but she was closer with him now than ever before, telling me that he had lightened up as he’d gotten older. It was encouraging to hear that lifelong relationships could continue to evolve. I had experienced this myself, but having someone else remind me of it was nice.
Our entire conversation over dinner was really engaging and I found that I enjoyed talking with Lisa very much. She was someone who came off as fairly shy around the theater, but between asking her out via Facebook (So sue me) the week prior and hanging out with her while we ate, I could see that she was actually quite forthright and open about a variety matters. Though, given her one-woman show, I probably should have guessed that she was open about a lot of things. Admittedly, I was a bit surprised and all together impressed. I had originally thought that maybe this date would run a risk of being a bit awkward, but that hadn’t been the case at all.
The rain died down, we finished up our meal and we got going, making sure to pay our credit card bill on the way out.
We headed out from Vapiano and it was just barely raining, maybe only drifting off the tall buildings by that time. We made a stop into a Duane Reade to get some Fixodent, so I could affix my vampire caps, and talked about our proms on the way there, which was kind of funny. I told her how mine had been in a huge tent on our football field. Kinda cool, right?
With our errand complete, we decided to take the train uptown so that Lisa could avoid having to change out of her TOMS, since the rain had picked up again and walking through such a deluge was undesirable. Down on the train platform, we were soon picked up by an N train and hurried uptown.
Once at 28th Street, we walked over to 7th Avenue and found a coffeeshop to stop into. We needed hot water to mold Lisa’s fangs and I needed a bathroom in which to put mine on. I got an iced coffee and Lisa got a Smartwater. Also, we asked for a cup of hot water. Sitting down, Lisa set to work on her fangs. I got up and also asked for a glass of ice water, which would help harden Lisa’s molds once they were shaped. The lady working behind the counter seemed to think I was pretty weird. First I had asked for a cup of hot water, then a cup of ice water. But I wasn’t the weirdo, she was. She screwed up an order of ice water by filling a cup with ice and then pouring hot water into it. How do you mess up ice water???
I dropped off the cup of cool water to Lisa and then retreated to the bathroom to figure out my own fangs. The Fixodent was pink and you could kind of see it through the fangs, which didn’t make for the most realistic look. Also, it was mushy and kind of got everywhere. They didn’t feel like they were going to stay put, but I gave it a few minutes and the Fixodent solidified a bit. There was a lot of pink stuff around the edges though.
Giggling to myself, I came back out into the coffeeshop with two new fangs. I couldn’t smile or talk with them in right away — they felt like they’d fall out. Also, Lisa confirmed that they looked pink. Her retractable fangs only kind of worked and she couldn’t really talk with them in, so she decided against using them. Before we left, I went back into the bathroom and cleaned up around my fangs and made sure they were on there good. The pink color had faded a bit and they were staying in place, so things were looking up.
As soon as we left the coffeeshop, Lisa looked at me and I smiled like a kid with a dirty secret. I immediately covered my mouth with my hand, aware of the fact that I looked like a freak. I didn’t want the public to see me like this! Also, it was hard to talk at first. “We’ll just walk in silence,” Lisa offered. This made me laugh, which generously displayed my new teeth.
The theater space where the LARP was taking place was not far away and when we got there, I buzzed the proper unit. Someone said something into the intercom and I was like, “What?” but then the door unlocked and we went inside. As soon as we entered the lobby on the third floor, a guy approached us and asked, “Evan?” Yeah! This was Vinny, the guy that I’d been emailing with. He was very friendly and I apologized for having fangs in, as it made it difficult to communicate and also, no one was really dressed up yet. People were eating and getting their shit together, but no one was really ready to play just yet. He brought us into the main space and said that he would help us get started.
We sat at a table while others gathered and lingered about. Vinny explained character sheets to us and gave us some initial guidance. When he had to go help with something else, another guy named Rob came to assist us. We worked through our Nature, Demeanor, Clan and Abilities sections and I also gave my character a name: Vinny Marzulli. I thought of him as an auto-mechanic in Queens in his past life. The fictional setting of the day’s LARP was Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria, so this character seemed to make sense.
The people running the thing had to make a big announcement to kick it all off, so we paused our character development to listen. They called out certain rules and reminded players of things that had previously caused trouble, asking that they not occur again. They also introduced the ST (story teller) and the ASTs (assistant story tellers) for the evening, two of which were Vinny and Rob. A bunch of smart ass dudes asked a number of silly and self-important questions during this time and it was pretty stupid. It reminded me of being in middle school when kids would ask dumb questions primarily to get attention.
We were also told that when in the main room, everyone was IC (in character) and in the hallway, you were out of character (OOC). Once all that had been discussed, everyone was off to the LARP. Well, everyone except for us.
Lisa and I retreated into the hall because we still needed to finish our character sheets. Rob and Vinny helped us complete the process and while it took us a little while, we were eventually good to go. Those two guys were incredibly patient with us throughout, but they were also helping to run the game, so by the time we finished, they were inside the main room again.
We wanted to wait for one of them to come back out so that they could usher us into the playing space and while we waited, Lisa went and changed into something more vampire-like. Emerging from the bathroom, she was decked out in a lot of black and also, some mesh. Why did all vampires look like they were from the 1990’s? Mesh seemed very popular in the vampire world and I wanted to know where that trend had come from.
Once Lisa had changed, Vinny appeared again and we went over the last few logistical things that we needed to know before he walked us inside. From this point on, we had to remain in character.
Lisa and I stepped into the middle of the room and tried to stay in character while talking to each other. It was not too hard of a reality to commit to as Vinny had told us we’d been sent there by our sires without really knowing anything other than that we were Sabbat (A sect of Cainites, which was a kind of vampire) and that we belonged there. So, if we didn’t know what was going on as players, that was fine for our characters, as they were clueless too.
It took a few minutes before anyone talked to us, but when they did, they didn’t seem to stay very much in character — they just spoke like themselves. Not too long in, someone gained control of the room, making a proclamation and branding a couple guys for stepping out of line. The characters were both werewolves, I think. It was hard to tell, honestly. Then he gave a call to arms and announced that we were going to attack North Brother Island for one reason or another. Following this, we more or less just waited around for a long time.
During this waiting period, Lisa and I were approached by a couple people who talked to us, asking where we were from and what clans we belonged to. We introduced ourselves (IC) and then we were asked if we were part of a pack. We didn’t think so. “Is that like a gang?” I had to ask. One of them made the OOC symbol, which temporarily allowed people to speak OOC, and explained packs to us, before going back into character. He then gave us each a rubber knife and a card that told us what each knife did, since they both had certain properties attributed to them. Some game play continued, but for the most part, we found ourselves waiting to board the boats and make a strike on the island.
When all the island stuff eventually went down, one of the ASTs simply had us sit in a big circle and talked us through the action. The whole thing was so informal and non-theatrical. I felt like no one was committing at all to their characters. One of the guys in the circle offered help to both Lisa and I in the event that we were called upon to take action and that was actually quite nice of him.
The AST described the scene and moved things forward as people challenged each other to fights and used their various abilities. However, there were so many side conversations going on and so much side commentary from the peanut gallery, that I couldn’t understand how any of them took it seriously. I guess they didn’t. Maybe it was just more of a social thing for them. That was what it seemed like at least. I don’t know.
After we scoured the island and killed a bunch of beings, they finally got Lisa and I involved, explaining how we had attempted attacks on the “monsters” of the island. We played through these attacks, using our gifted knives, but neither of us won our challenges. Oh well. We weren’t very saddened by this outcome.
Eventually, we returned from the island and were back at Socrates Sculpture Garden, which was pretty funny because it was not far from where I actually lived in Astoria and I thought about going to hang out at my apartment. A couple other people talked to Lisa and I, but mostly we just observed the game around us.
One girl spoke to us for a bit and was OOC almost the entire time. “Oh, sorry. I’m bad at LARP. I just like meeting people,” she clarified. These dorks were not even succeeding at the dorky thing they were there to do because they were too dorky. It was odd. Eventually, we noticed that people were starting to filter out, so I asked Lisa if she wanted to go. “I was waiting for you to say something,” she confirmed. Cool. Let’s boogie.
I went to the bathroom and popped off my fangs, washing the Fixodent out of my mouth out as best I could. Lisa changed back into normal clothes, save her pair of high, multi-colored soccer socks, which she apologized for. I didn’t care. They were from the Girl Scout costume and I thought they were kind of funky. Why not rock them?
We thanked the organizers — Vinny especially, who had been so great all night — and then took off to rejoin the real world. The One World by Night was officially behind us and now it was just New York City at night — I’m not sure which was weirder.
As we walked down the street, I asked Lisa if she wanted to get a drink. “Sure!” she said and I suggested that we stray away from all the nearby improv bars that we so often spent time in. We walked south and came upon an F train, so I asked her if she wanted to check out the LES, where there would be more options for us. That sounded good to Lisa, so we jumped on the train downtown.
On the train, Lisa told me a story about being dressed up for a Michael Jackson themed party and we got onto the subject of music. Among a number of other artists, we talked a lot about Michael and Boyz II Men, whom we both loved.
We got down to 2nd Avenue and walked south until we ran into Marshall Stack, a low-key establishment which seemed like a pretty great place, so we grabbed a couple seats at the end of the bar.
Lisa and I ordered beers and soft pretzels and quite literally talked for hours. We talked more about improv. We talked about dating — the trials, tribulations and successes therein. We talked more about music. At one point she said, “I love your taste in music.” I brushed it off though, telling her that I liked everything. She probably wouldn’t love that I loved country music. She laughed and admitted that, no, she didn’t like that, but she was a fan of Jonny Cash so there was hope for us yet.
We also talked about being black in improv, which was something I knew nothing about, but was very interested to learn about. This brought up one of her all time crushes, and a significant man-crush of my own, Donald Glover. Before I knew it, it was 2:41 AM and I was sitting, facing towards Lisa with my legs interwoven with hers.
I hadn’t expect this level of comfort and flirtation, but man was it cool. Lisa was sexier than I had previously thought. She was confident and fun to be around for hours on end. Honestly, I was pretty blown away by her.
Eventually, we were the last ones in the bar and it was last call. Holy crap. I couldn’t remember the last time I had closed a bar and neither could Lisa. But there we were, shutting the place down.
We left Marshall Stack and I asked how she was getting home. She was taking the train, so I walked her to the nearest stop. Along the way, Lisa talked more about dating and how it was frustrating to not have things advance. She often found herself going on a good date or two and then nothing more would come of it. I asked her if she’d gotten more questions from people about dating and sex because of her show. I mean, it was a very vulnerable thing to do, to put her sexual life on stage for people to see. She said that she did get asked more things, but it was nothing crazy.
Though I’d put it out of my mind for much of the night, I was once again wondering if she was still a virgin. I wanted to ask, but I didn’t want to make it a thing. It honestly didn’t matter — it was just a curiosity at this point.
We got to the train and Lisa said, “This is me.” She told me that she’d had a good time and thanked me, both of which I reciprocated, and then she went for a hug. I sensed that we both wanted to kiss, so even though she shied away at first, I went right for it. Lisa returned my kiss with enthusiasm and we stood there kissing for several minutes. She was a good kisser and I thought to myself that she didn’t kiss like a 27 year old virgin who couldn’t get a date.
As we continued to make out, I even began to think that it might progress further. Eventually though, she said, “I don’t want to keep you.” But I told her I wasn’t going anywhere. Then after another minute, she said, “Why don’t we save this for date number two?” Yeah, we could totally do that. That sounded good.
We uncoupled, said goodnight and Lisa went down to her train. I put my hand out for a cab like a lazy piece of shit and found myself whisked away to Queens.
Goodnight, Vampire world. Real world. Whatever world OHD existed in. Goodnight.