—Saturday, June 2, 2012—
Foreign women — whoa baby. There were a number of female qualities that could draw me in and make me weak in the knees, but being from another country was probably A-number-1. I had been steadily reaching out to foreign women throughout the project, but none of those interactions had borne fruit. Those rejections must have happened for a reason though, because I finally lucked out with a tall, beautiful Australian who made me all kinds of weak.
I got this date last minute, that is to say, EB was actually filling in for a cancelled date. I was originally supposed to be knocking Beach Date off of the list, but Foreigner Date would be a suitable replacement.
EB and I had made plans to go out the following Sunday, but when my date for this particular Saturday cancelled on me, I found myself asking a bunch of people out that Friday night, without any luck. I had given up on planning a Beach Date when EB texted me late on that Friday night, as I lay in my bed, ready to go to sleep. She was texting to confirm our upcoming date, but I asked her if she was free the following night, and to my surprise, she was!
We’d had a lot of trouble scheduling something initially and then, just like that, she was available to go out the very next night. It felt kind of magical, especially since I was kicking off the last month of the project and any delays or cancellations could have spelled disaster.
I asked if she wanted to start with dinner and her response made me laugh:
“At risk of sounding like an alcoholic can we skip dinner? Unless you know somewhere to get the finest gluten, lactose & fructose free fare, though I’d hate to impose that on anyone else.”
Starting with drinks would be fine, I told her, and when I woke up the next day, I took to Yelp! to find a bar where we could meet up. We agreed to rendezvous at Fig. 19 at 9:00 p.m. that night and I began counting down the minutes.
It was funny to think — 11 months into the project and I was still actively excited to be going on a first date. It was encouraging to know that it could still happen. Not only was I excited for it, but I was also somewhat nervous.
If I was to believe her OkCupid profile, EB was, well, incredibly beautiful — totally out of my league. She was also Australian — a people known to be far more fun-loving and laid back than anything I was capable of. And, she was taller than me — by about an inch, which wasn’t crazy, but still, I felt insecure about it. I worried that I would have to make up for all of that with a shitload of charm and a well chosen date location, and I wasn’t sure I could provide any of that.
Again, I’d never been to Fig. 19 before, so I didn’t know if that would live up to expectations either. This was the trouble with finding dates and date locations online — I was always rolling the dice a bit. I guess I was Team Dice though, because I secretly enjoyed the thrill.
As I walked from the train, I checked out some more details about Fig. 19 on my phone. Apparently, they had prosecco on tap, which seemed decently cool, and it was a speakeasy. That worried me — I hoped I wouldn’t need to know any special information to gain access.
I arrived a few minutes early and saw a bouncer standing outside of an unmarked door, which I assumed was the speakeasy. I went to sit on a set of stairs one door down, but he came over to tell me that I couldn’t wait there. Weird, I thought, I guess that was too close? I might give it away? I walked a little further down the street and waited there for EB. She texted to say she would be a few minutes late but that was no problem at all.
While I waited, I learned that the bouncer was intentionally standing in front of the wrong door the whole time and that the door I’d been sitting in front of was actually the entrance to Fig. 19. That was why I couldn’t sit there — I had been giving away its location.
I saw EB approaching from the north and I walked up to greet her in front of the entrance. She was even more gorgeous than her profile had let on, definitely Australian and roughly an inch taller than me. She’d lived up to all of my expectations thus far, so I only had the bar left to worry about. Before attempting the door, I told her that I didn’t know what to expect and I apologized in advance if I couldn’t get us inside.
A couple of people had just entered, so the bouncer was in front of the proper door when we approached him.
“Hi,” I said, as I pulled out my driver’s license.
“You’re here for the birthday party, right?” he asked us.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said defeatedly.
“Are you sure you’re not here for the birthday party?” the intimidating man questioned again, this time looking me knowingly in the eyes.
Oh shit! Is this how it works?? I thought to myself. This is so cool. We’re like secret agents.
“Yeah…I guess we are here for the birthday party,” I squeaked out, finally.
“ID’s?” he commanded, and after looking them over, pointed behind him saying, “Through the door and all the way in the back to the left. Enjoy.”
EB and I turned to each other with looks of that was cool and entered into a white, art gallery space and sure enough, there was an unmarked door in the back left corner. Opening the flat white door, which sat against a flat white wall in a flat white room, was like unlocking a secret portal to another dimension because on the other side was a seriously cool, dimly lit, Victorian-with-a-modern-twist speakeasy waiting for us.
This was the Narnia of date locations and it had taken me 11 months to find it. Wardrobe? Art Gallery? Same thing, right?
There were only about six other patrons in the place, as it was early by Saturday night LES standards, so were able to take our pick when it came to seating. EB, seemingly impressed, asked me how I had found out about the place. When I told her it had popped up on Yelp!, she told me that they didn’t have Yelp! yet in Australia. Well, they needed to get on that. Clearly. Also, we both appreciated the irony of a speakeasy being readily exposed thanks to the internet.
EB also asked me if it was hard to come up with new date ideas all the time and she warned that she had a million other questions for me too. I laughed and told her that was fine. When I got stuck for new ideas, I told her, I used Yelp! and asked my friends for recommendations. Sometimes I would use them both in tandem. For instance, I might look up bars or restaurants in a given area, get a few options and then ask friends if they knew any of them, ultimately going with something that had been vouched for. Other times though, like tonight, I just had to roll the dice. And though I tried not to repeat date locations, that was difficult to avoid sometimes.
She also suggested, as other woman occasionally did, that I was a “dating pro” but I refuted that claim, saying that I still felt nervous sometimes. This date was one of those times. No amount of dating experience could truly make me a “pro” when there were a thousand other factors that could potentially throw me off my game. Some factors in play tonight: beautiful eyes, winning smile, Melbourne accent.
I grabbed a drink menu from the bar and brought it back to the table where EB and I had taken up residence. The perimeter of the room had a long wraparound padded bench following the wall and we’d chosen a corner of it. We had full view of the open room, and because it was so sparsely populated, we were very much on our own in the corner.
Even from my first brief interaction with the two bartenders working there, asking for menus and being told that they could make anything we might want, I could tell they were very friendly. It was too bad they were both dudes — I still really needed a Bartender Date.
Looking over the menu, EB asked me what I liked to drink and I said that I liked a lot of different things, but not browns: whiskey, scotch and the like. Oh good, she seemed to say. She didn’t like those spirits either and felt as though it was impossible to meet anyone else who similarly hated them. There certainly didn’t seem to be too many guys who would say they didn’t like whiskey, even if they were lying, and more women than ever seemed to drink it too. This reminded me of my Laundry Date, but the total opposite.
Point being, EB was glad that she didn’t have to worry about that point of conflict with me. We’d be able to sample each other’s drinks without concern. In particular, she said that she liked tequila, which was actually the main ingredient in the drink I was eyeing.
EB decided that she had to try the on tap prosecco and I went for a blackberry margarita from the menu. I left EB temporarily to go put in our drink order at the bar. The bartender was attentive and friendly while listening to my order and enthusiastically got to preparing our drinks.
While I waited, I checked my phone and saw that I had a voicemail from my dad. It was not a great sign. See, my grandmother had gone into the hospital that Wednesday for something I didn’t even totally understand. She was getting older (90) and while she was still pretty healthy, things like this were scarier and scarier. I’d have to find out what was up.
The bartender was quick, focused and thorough, straw-tasting the margarita to make sure it was up to snuff. I liked this place more and more with every passing minute.
Back to the lush, corner booth I went with our drinks. We toasted to a night out and sampled our beverages. My marg was seriously good. I savored the moment for a moment and then apologized to EB for being rude, but I had to call my father. EB understood, obviously, and she added that if there was bad news, that we could cancel and reschedule. I thanked her, but I was caught up in our date and truly didn’t want to reschedule.
Even if my grandmother had died, which would have been truly awful, I had no family in NYC and it was too late to be traveling home to Boston. If something was truly wrong, I didn’t think I had a better option than to get drunk with a gorgeous woman. In retrospect, I would have had a bunch of phone calls to make and probably would have been no fun at all, so my mind had clearly been warped by the Australian beauty in my midst.
I went out to the art gallery and listened to my dad’s voicemail. Fortunately, he had only called to tell me that Gram had undergone a small procedure and that she was doing well. There was nothing bad to report. I let out a sigh of relief and went back inside, ignoring the fashionable couple taking pictures by an installation piece in the opposite corner of the gallery.
Sitting back down at the table, I told EB that everything was fine and that there was no need to worry. I was just a little stressed because my Gram was the only grandparent I’d ever really had. Losing her would be a big blow. She was sympathetic and kind about it all. It was good to know that even when raised across the globe, people still cared about their relatives.
I asked EB how she ended up in good ole’ US of A and, almost surprisingly, she said that she had simply wanted to move here to try living someplace else. She was going to go to London but learned that there was a better visa opportunity to come to the US and changed plans last minute. She picked up and moved here not knowing what her new country had in store for her. It seemed pretty crazy, but then again, Australians were known for being adventurous. It was so envious of that.
In turn, EB asked how I got to NYC and I told her a much less interesting story about living at home, working in Boston and being transferred a mere four hours away.
I wanted to get back to her story though, and so I asked her how it was that she was allowed to stay in the US without a school or employer sponsoring her. She informed me that the US had a special agreement with Australia that would allow her to essentially renew her visa indefinitely, so long as she left the country every one in a while, and that Americans could do the same in Australia. For the second time that night, I felt like I was being let in on some amazing secret and wondered why it had taken me so long to find it out.
The visa that EB currently held, which was good for one year, was likely the same one that my friends who had travelled throughout Australia the year prior had obtained. I told her about my friends, Ben and Marielle, and that they had travelled all around Australia recently. She said that too many Americans saw more of the her country than she did. I felt the same way about The States — so many tourists had seen more of the country than I had.
We moved on to do that whole “let’s talk about NYC and what you love and hate about it” thing. I’d had that conversation dozens of times before, but it was more interesting talking to EB about it since she hailed from so far away. New York City smelled pretty terrible — we could both agree on that. And also, that winter in the city was miserable.
I asked her what she did for work and she told me about the restaurant group that she was currently working for as a hostess and sometime front of house manager. She was supposed to be an event planner but as one of the new restaurants attempted to get off the ground, she found herself doing all sorts of things for them that was not event planning. It was a little frustrating at the moment, but she thought it would work out all right.
Fig. 19 began to fill up a bit more as our drinks began to empty out. There was a birthday party building momentum near the center of the room and some other patrons scattered around. The music in the bar was on point with some Beatles tracks thrown in amongst other throwbacks from their era. EB and I talked about how the music of the 1960’s was probably the best. That decade was her favorite, at least, and I found it hard to disagree with her. She reasoned that her love of such music likely stemmed from her parents being baby boomers, and asked if that phrase made sense to me. Yes, it did! Apparently both Americans and Australians called the post-World War II generation baby boomers.
This reminded me about my friends’ band, The Images, who were at the time a cover band in the style of The Beatles’ early Liverpool and Hamburg days, playing lots of R&B songs from America. The Images were really great, I explained, and they practiced in my dad’s basement. That may have seemed like an odd thing, but I went on to tell her that they were all guys that I had played music with over the years and that my dad actually enjoyed having them around, playing in his basement.
Naturally, EB wanted to know what instruments I played. Drums, guitar and bass, although I was pretty mediocre at them all. She could play piano, which was cool. I wished I could play piano and had even tried to teach myself briefly, but only got so far. We talked about other types of music, largely electronic and rock, and we traded recommendations, often noting that Britain seemed to be an interesting hub or medium between Australia and the US. EB tried to remember an older Robyn song that had been huge in Australia, but I couldn’t think of any stateside hits between “Show Me Love“ and her “Body Talk“ album, so I wasn’t able to help her out.
By the time we decided to get another drink, it was really starting to get crowded. EB went up to the bar to order and I told her to get me something with gin. That would be a safe bet. I used the bathroom, waiting in line behind a few gay guys (Which is to say, the line was more entertaining than usual) and I decided that I had to clear the air when I got back to the table with EB. There was something she needed to know.
As I passed by her, still standing at the bar, she was just getting our drinks from the bartender. She tried to give the bartender my name, so that he could add the drinks to my tab, but he either couldn’t hear her or couldn’t understand her accent, so he looked at me and I yelled “BARDEN.” He smiled, nodded and sent us on our way.
We sat back down and I thanked her for getting the drinks before I told her what I’d thought of while in the bathroom line. “Okay,” I began, “so I just need to get this out of the way because it’s going to hang over me all night: You are hands down one of the most beautiful women I’ve met in recent memory.”
Phew. It was out there in the open. I don’t know why, but I felt an intense pressure to express that to her. Admittedly, it was a big compliment. I mean, I thought a lot of women were beautiful and gorgeous, and I’d met a ton of them in recent memory, but I really, truly thought that EB was some next level radiance.
I couldn’t tell if she blushed or not because it was dark in there, but she took the compliment very nicely. She didn’t seem freaked out in the least, nor did she really deflect it, as I probably would have. She went on to say that she’d found men in America to be far more complimentary than in Australia but then again, maybe it was because she was Australian and was merely complimented more often, being on another continent and all.
We talked about this cultural divide briefly and she concluded by saying that, even with Americans’ higher propensity to compliment, she didn’t really get hit on very much. She and her friends were man repellent, she claimed.
This statement seemed insane to me. Man repellent? If anything, men weren’t hitting on her because she more closely resembled a fluorescent bug zapper. I’ll explain.
I conceded to her that, despite being clearly attractive, she could be intimidating. I was intimidated, for sure. She was gorgeous and tall and that could scare guys away. Even if they were drawn to her, like a bug to a glowing lamp, they likely hesitated in actually taking the bait because they assumed they’d end up hurt. After all, I thought she was way out of my league, and if I hadn’t had the courage provided to me by the internet, OHD and the context of knowing that she was single and ready to mingle, I probably wouldn’t have hit on her. At a bar, I wouldn’t have had the confidence.
EB took the compliment (That’s what that was, right?) in stride but mostly offered more examples of how being tall and good looking (My words, not hers) still didn’t seem to work for her. We talked more about the world of dating and why people behaved the way they did while navigating it. Hilariously, she also told me that she always managed to attract the shortest man in any bar. This made no sense at first and totally debunked my theory of men being intimidated by a taller woman. We tried to reason it out, figuring that maybe they thought that if they could get her, they can get anyone? Especially if they were in a scenario where all or most of the women were taller than them, why not shoot for the top? I’ll have to ask a short dude some time.
By this time in the night, we had scooted closer together as the rest of the bench had filled with other patrons. It was loud and crowded, but as far as that description went, it was actually still pretty great. We decided to get one more round before letting the party-going crowd completely take over.
I approached the bar to put in the order but had to wait a little while, as it was packed with people queued up, drinking and talking. Still, when the barkeep finally got to me, he was attentive and patient, as I wasn’t sure about what I wanted. I asked him about something from the menu which combined fresh ginger and whiskey, but mentioned that I didn’t like whiskey. I was more of a gin and citrus guy, I explained. He asked if I liked ginger, and when I said yes, he told me he’d take care of me. He set to work making our drinks and crafting something new for me.
He was just as focused and intent on crafting a quality drink, even with a loud bar of needy patrons, as he had been when I’d ordered our first round earlier that night. I also asked him to close out my tab. He handed me the drinks and returned a few seconds later with the bill. “Those last two are on me! Take care!” he shouted over the crowd. Wow. What a fucking great bartender. This place was crazy busy and still, he totally hooked us up. It wasn’t like we’d spent a fortune that night — only two rounds of drinks paid for — so there was no need for him to be so kind. He was just an incredible bartender.
My drink was spicy and super gingery but I adjusted to its strength and enjoyed it. EB’s drink was good, though far sweeter, and she tried mine as well. As we talked more, the crowd surprisingly thinned out a bit. I guess maybe they needed to hit up a real club or something. We discussed travel and I mentioned my cousin in Mexico and my family in Vermont. They were both places that EB wanted to go, so I told her that she’d have to come along that summer, if I was visiting either. She said it sounded like a good deal and she actually seemed sincere, which made me immediately want to plan a getaway.
At one point, we were joined by two twin sisters who are having a joint birthday party. We came to find out that they were 34, though they legitimately looked 26. They asked us to guess their age and we flattered them with our guesses, which were nearly a decade off the mark. Joining in with the crowd had actually provided a bit of fun for us.
As our latest round of cocktails disappeared, we were clearly growing more comfortable with each other. I thought maybe that I’d actually done a pretty good job of compensating for all of those things I’d worried about at the start of the date and I decided to roll the dice again. I waited for an opportunity to present itself and turned to EB and kissed her. It was a good one. It was a great one. It was a kiss I’d remember.
I don’t know that she thought so highly of that one kiss, but considering how under-confident I was coming into this date, I felt like I’d just scored the jackpot.
We finished our drinks and headed out from Fig. 19. It wasn’t very late, so EB and I decided that we should hit up another venue. I already had Rockwood Music Hall in mind, since it was nearby and always offered a good vibe. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t brought a date there yet — it was one of my go-to spots in that part of town. [Thinking on it now, I realize that I had started a date there once, but it wasn’t something that I had planned.]
On the way to Rockwood, EB asked some questions about OHD again before realizing that she didn’t even know which of the hundred dates she was on.
“What theme date are we on?” she asked.
“Like? Which date are you?” I answered back.
“I’m not really very foreign.”
“You’re from half way across the globe. You’re pretty foreign.”
I thought it was pretty funny that she hadn’t realized she was Foreigner Date. I was sure that I had mentioned it at some point, but I guess I hadn’t.
Arriving in front of Rockwood’s multiple venues, we checked out the scene and determined that the back bar, where there was no live band, was the best place for us to settle, so that we could continue talking. At the bar, EB ordered a “gin and t,” which I had never heard before. That is, I’d never heard someone abbreviate tonic as “t,” but my world of drinking was still pretty small and she was cooler than me.
After a bit of talk, EB asked me about my tattoo and so I explained it to her. She was very receptive and easy to talk to about it. Some people would get awkward when I recounted my mom’s death, or they’d baby me too much, or simply be sad. EB seemed to have the proper blend of curiosity mixed with sympathy that made me feel at ease. I forgot sometimes that a car crash sounded really horrific to most people. To me, it was just another way to die. A preferable one at that – instantaneous release. None of that long drawn out bullshit. That was what worried me about my grandmother’s state of health at the time.
We went down this road for a while and I won’t lie, the conversation that ensued about my mom and my family was a bit of a whine fest, but I did think it brought us closer. I felt like we could have spent all night together, talking and sharing each others’ company.
And boy, did I want to spend the night together. However, it was nearly 3:00 a.m. and drunkenness was going to set in soon.
As we finished our drinks, we discussed transportation options home. I was likely going to take a cab and she mentioned that she might walk across the bridge to Brooklyn. I offered to accompany her on the walk but she said that while it was a fine gesture, but she didn’t want to get my hopes up. It was actually really great that she laid it out like that, being clear and direct. I was glad I hadn’t asked her back to Astoria like I had thought to, because that would have been a disappointment.
In the end, EB and I both decided to take the train home and fortunately, we were both walking to the same stop. Once underground, before we had to split to our separate uptown and downtown platforms, we said our goodnights.
We thanked each other and kissed again for a minute. I could have kissed her all night though.
To think — after all that time and all those dates — I was still being swept away. What a sap.
Then again, she was from another country, and I knew ahead of time how dangerous that would be. I had to roll the dice though, and I’m still so happy that I did. Team Dice for life.