Art Gallery Date

—Tuesday, June 19, 2012—

It was easy for people to dismiss OHD as not being genuine, or real, for one reason or another, but really, it was all subjective. The same had been said about pieces of art, time and time again, by countless college freshmen. Not matter how you sliced it, art and dating both found their value in the eye of the beholder and as far as I was concerned, I was going on my antepenultimate real date of this project.

To me, a big part of what helped make a date real was sharing the experience with another real human being. As soon as Scarlett had first messaged me on OkCupid, two months before our actual date, I knew that I was dealing with someone genuine. Not only did she offer to go on a date with me while avoiding all “polite first message” cliches, but she also followed her message up with a straightforward and helpful post-script.

What the hell… I’d do community service or dance class date (free salsa on the pier should be coming up soonish).

The thought of reading my own post-game is both intriguing and horrifying…

– – – –

P.S. Not to be a creeper but thought I’d give you my suggestion for the bartender date: The goth chick that works at Shade in the West Village. She’s super friendly, randomly brought over free whiskey shots that she took with my friends and I, and seems like a general badass. If you date her I will be impressed and more than a little jealous.

In our first few exchanges, Scarlett suggested a number of different dates from the list, but everything she mentioned had been lined up or completed already. Before we left the channels of OkC, she said: “OK well if Central Park doesn’t work I’m going to stop guessing and just have you pick one…. with the caveat that I am U.S. born, childless, unmarried, and have not previously dated you. Also I am miserable at sports.” I agreed not to make her play any sports.

From those first exchanges alone, Scarlett seemed funny and outgoing. By early May, I finally got around to planning something and we agreed to attend the Jazz Age Lawn Party together for Ferry Ride Date. However, in the month that passed between making our plans and the actual date of the event, something had come up at Scarlett’s place of work and she wasn’t going to be available for the full day of the date.

In trying to sort out our options for working around the conflict, I got pretty frustrated and ultimately had to write her an apologetic email saying that we should forget about the Ferry Ride and simply do a different date at a different time. Scarlett did everything she could to make it all work, but I was totally at ends with all my own scheduling bullshit and if expressing that to a date wasn’t real, I don’t know what was. I told her that I’d found a replacement date for the Lawn Party — who also eventually had to cancel, leaving me to find a second last-minute replacement in Dorothy — and fortunately, Scarlett totally understood and agreed to change plans.

In addition to all of our back and forth, we also managed to meet up once before our actual date. Two weeks before our romantic rendezvous, Scarlett had actually acted as my wingwoman during an evening out as I tried to find a Bartender Date. I was in Greenwich Village and had just left Shade, where I had attempted to pick up the goth bartender Scarlett had previously told me about, and I texted her regarding my failed effort (The bartender was married). She replied quickly and asked if I was still in the neighborhood. By the time I saw her text, I was flying solo at Vol de Nuit, trying to chat up a bartender at the Belgian beer lounge.

In addition to working, Scarlett was also a law student in Manhattan and happened to be only two blocks away and in need of a study break. She arrived soon thereafter and we hung out for one round and one failed attempt at chatting up a bartender who unfortunately had a boyfriend. It was nice getting to talk with Scarlett though and it further cemented the notion that she was a down-to-earth, genuine human, helping a guy in need and hanging out with him as he tried to pick up another woman. She totally understood that it was all in pursuit of the project and I appreciated it greatly.

Plus, it was a little bit of that OHD magic at play that she happened to be right there right then when I had texted her and that was willing to wing me. This project constantly surprised me, right up until the very end.

On the day of our eventual date, we decided to check out a gallery opening at 443 PAS in Kips Bay for a collection entitled “Vibrant Intersections.” It was a group show, meaning that multiple artists would have their work presented, and it was curated by Damon Johnson and Andrea LaBouff. In addition to the curators, other artists to be featured were Malado Baldwin, Seamus Liam O’Brien and Justin Terry. All this information is good to mention here, because I don’t remember most of the pieces in the actual show nor whom they belonged to.

Scarlett was waiting outside the building, reading a book, as I approached her. I felt bad interrupting her focus, so I walked up slowly, making sure not to startle her. Same as me, she had clearly just come from work but also, she had on a cool summery dress. It reminded me of one I had bought for She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named while in Guatemala a couple years earlier.

After a moment of hesitation, I made myself known and Scarlett greeted me with a friendly, after-work hello. It wasn’t overly affectionate nor was it filled with anticipation like so many first date greetings often were. It was a little more like, “We’re here to do this thing, so let’s do it.” That was probably the project’s fault though, and mine, for being a bit of a pain about this date, moving it from Sunday to today. I was glad I had done that though, because my Sunday with Dorothy had been a blast. Scarlett was just being real about the whole thing — we were there with a mission and anything else on top of that would be bonus. She wasn’t going to sugarcoat it.

We headed inside and Scarlett asked me if I’d found a Bartender Date yet. Indeed I had, and we’d gone out that past weekend. She was glad to hear it.

I’d never been to a gallery opening before, but Scarlett had. Some high-profile photographer had done a series of candid photos a few years earlier and one of them was essentially a portrait of someone in her family. They didn’t know anything about it until people began calling them, saying that they were in a well-publicized photo. When they were invited to the opening, to which the whole family went, they’d worn the exact same outfit as in the picture, thinking that everyone would love it but no one really noticed. That was very disappointing to hear, because the impulse to do it sounded incredibly endearing and good humored. Anyway, Scarlett had been to that opening.

Scarlett held the elevator door for a woman who got on and introduced herself as Tatiana. She asked if we knew the artist — one of them, at least — and we said that we didn’t. We were relatively clueless as to what the show was and had merely found out about it online. Tatiana told us that we’d be able to recognize the guy because he was tall, but his family was also tall, so perhaps it wouldn’t be easy to pick him out, assuming that his family was there. Scarlett commented that she also had tall friends, as if that might bond her to Tatiana. I thought Scarlett’s quip was great. You really had to be there. The whole thing was an odd interaction, but funny.

Up on the sixth floor, we entered the gallery and took a look around. I mentioned to Scarlett that I’d been wondering what kind of people came to these things — snobby art folks or normal humans? It looked to be mostly normal humans. She told me that there probably wasn’t anyone there to buy art that night, which kept the snobs away. These pieces would likely be dealt privately, she added.

Her guess sounded about right. I’d never really heard of people going to gallery openings to buy art anyway. I mostly knew them as good events for drinking free wine. As such, we went to get ourselves a couple glasses.

I poured Scarlett a glass of Pinot Grigio, and as I opened a new bottle, she discovered that her plastic cup had a crack in it and was leaking. I handed her another cup to remedy the problem. Once we both had glasses poured, I turned back to the gallery and a woman immediately bumped into me, sending wine all over the nearby office furniture. A touchtone phone and the adjacent filing cabinet both needed a good wipe down with about 50 cocktail napkins. The woman apologized, but I told her it was no big deal. I poured myself another glass of wine and Scarlett and I looked at each other knowingly — we were not off to a great start.

The first piece we came upon was something we had both seen on the website and it reminded me of early 1990s comic book art [Johnson’s “Things Fall Apart”]. Then there was a portrait of a rubber ducky with a flourish of blue hair [O’Brien], which seemed pleasantly silly. Scarlett mentioned that she was more familiar with photography than painting, but I was not familiar either, so she had it over me.

Scarlett then jokingly asked me how the rubber ducky made me feel and I answered her earnestly that it was fun and I felt as though it sought to make us feel like kids again by reminding us of such silliness.

Asking about her pre-law school/professional employee days, Scarlett told me that she had spent most of her life in NYC, though she had defected to Chicago for her undergraduate studies and to Washington DC for a couple years. She was very much a big city person and she said that her parents were walking stereotypes of liberal NYC Jews, living on the Upper West Side and everything.

Back on the topic of art, I talked about how I had played music when I was younger, but then got into improv. I told her that it had happened fairly naturally, having done both in college until my band dissolved and I just never got another one. She was surprised to hear that I had been in a band. It seemed like everyone was always surprised that I had once been in a band. I must not have looked very badass anymore. (Not that I ever did.)

We continued around the gallery and Scarlett told me that her first love had been in the theater.  She had been pursuing the technical side of theater rather intently but eventually gave it up when she left a big show she’d been working on. The show was all about American excess and the wasting of natural resources. During one part of the production, it had to rain on stage and the people running the show chose to never recycle the water being used. As such, every time that they had to run the scene, thousands of gallons of wasted water were used and then disposed of. It was a show about how wasteful Americans were and they were wasting water with each production. Scarlett couldn’t deal with the hypocrisy and eventually left the show.

There was a reference to the Brooklyn Bridge in one of the paintings and we spent a few minutes trying to figure out what it meant. Passing by another painting, Scarlett informed me that the didn’t like the heavy painterly style of it [LaBouff]. There were some more paintings in another corner but they didn’t even seem worth commenting on. I hung up my blazer on the coatrack in the hallway, because it was hot in there, and returned to the gallery.

Scarlett and I then took up residence in a corner of the gallery close to a window. We talked about art museums and I said that I hadn’t been to The Met since seventh grade and that I hadn’t been to any NYC museums save The Cloisters and the Museum of Sex. Scarlett rightfully questioned why this was the case and I told her that I was typically too busy for museums and that I usually needed someone around to suggest cultural things like that, or else I wouldn’t think of them. When left to my own devices, I wrote, played music, wasted time online or lounged about.

The project had definitely made me more proactive though, which was cool, and I hoped that it would carry over once it ended. But yeah, Cloisters and MoS were the only museums I’d been to and they were both on OHD dates. She wanted to know why I had chosen MoS for Museum Date, but there was no good reason beyond the fact that I’d found discounted vouchers for entry and it had seemed like fun. It was an unimpressive answer, but understandable, I hoped.

Ever so directly, Scarlett said that she had one question regarding the project that she’d been wondering about for some time. Sure. Hit me. If the goal of OHD was self-reflection and figuring my shit out, then why had I chosen to go on dates rather than spend a year alone?

It was an interesting question, but honestly, I had never even thought of that second option. I understood where her logic was coming from, but that idea wouldn’t have occurred to me. It was a very binary choice: I could either be single by dating or by being a hermit. The latter option didn’t sound like any fun at all. Both paths were valid and had their own advantages, but I simply wouldn’t have wanted to spend my year alone.

Moreover, the story of how the project had come about never made it seem like I had options. I didn’t have a goal of self-reflection and then had built a project around that. No, it was more organic than that and the goal had presented itself along the way. I had combined the desire to grow as a human with a desire to date, which had come about only because I’d recently been on a few dates, and it was all framed by the construct of another blog, 100 Interviews. So, without all of those influences, I never would have done this project. It all made a bit more sense to her after I explained it. 

Scarlett asked about the Museum of Sex again and so I told her about the exhibits. I had really enjoyed the exhibit on the animal kingdom because it served as a reflection of ourselves. We got into a discussion about female dominated societies like bonobos and how so much of their power dynamic had to do with the fact that the females didn’t rely on males for sex, so the males were desperate and let the females run shit. I mentioned, somewhat offhandedly, how I thought that such a dynamic could work to some degree in our human society. Men would likely lose some of their political, economic and domestic power if women didn’t need them for sex and could refuse them easily. I also said that some of the power dynamics probably had something to do with which sex (In a given species of animal) was larger than the other. It was like, “Who’s really fucking who?”

Unsurprisingly, Scarlett wasn’t exactly on board with the theories I had set forth, though I’d meant them more as observations and things I’d found to be interesting rather than as my own firm beliefs. She maintained that humans were not so crude and that viewing sex as an inherent part of power dynamics was a very cynical way of looking at us. Well yeah, it was cynical, but I also thought that it was naïve to go through life thinking that we were somehow not animals. By all lines of thinking — outside of those found in religious texts — we were fucking animals.

Jeeze. This was not the best discussion to cap the first 45 minutes of our date, but it wasn’t exactly bad either. Neither Scarlett nor I were the type to back down on issues we felt strongly about and so we had entered a bit of a tug of war. We both managed to reel in our argumentative sides enough to not attack each other and no one (I don’t think) walked away from the conversation mad.

I changed the subject to something else about the Museum of Sex and we carried on in a positive direction.

We got some more wine because we still had time to kill before our dinner reservation and we talked about work a bit. She worked at Planned Parenthood, helping to make happen all such things that you would expect to happen at PP. It sounded pretty cool. I told her about what I did, which was less cool. We passed the time, and the wine, fairly quickly and then left the gallery in pursuit of Indian food.

The walk over to the restaurant was short, only a couple blocks away. The vegetarian Indian establishment, Vatan, was quite curious looking on the inside. We were told by the host to wait a few minutes and we checked out a faux water well in the waiting area, which actually seemed kind of real since it passed through the floor to the level below. It was odd.

The restaurant was fairly spacious and all of its tables were sort of sectioned off within their own structures. There were fake trees in the dining room and everything about the place was distinctly its own vibe. It was kind of funny. Eventually, they told us our table was ready and we were led downstairs, where we were seated at one end of a very large picnic table. It was a little chilly down there and, though I had a long-sleeved shirt on, I worried that Scarlett might be cold.

While waiting for our server to arrive, Scarlett apologized for pushing Indian food on me after I had initially suggested a French place, but the change of cuisine was totally fine. Scarlett was vegetarian, so the switch from French to Indian made perfect sense and I expected to enjoy it.

We already knew that everything would be served prix fixe, all we could eat, but our server made sure that we were aware of how it would work before the meal commenced. She informed us that they would serve everything on the menu in small portions and if we ever wanted more of something, we could simply ask for it. It sounded like a good deal and on top of our food, we each ordered a beer as well.

I think Scarlett had been nervous that she’d pushed Indian food on me because, as I came to find out, she liked Indian food quite a bit and it had been a favorite of hers for a while. I asked if she felt like she had a leg up sometimes, in college especially, because she had grown up in a big city. She had been exposed to so much throughout her entire life.

Take something as simple as Indian food, for example. She’d always loved Indian food whereas I had never even tried it until I was in college. Things like that. She was simply far more cultured that a lot of suburbanites and rural kids. She conceded that while there were certain cultural things she’d had considerable exposure to, there were other particular things she had almost no capacity for, such as driving. All things considered, it probably evened out.

We talked about travel a bit — where we’d been, where we hadn’t been, where we wanted to go. You know, standard travel stuff. Scarlett used the bathroom and when she returned, I informed her that the large party of men next to us were hackers. I’d overheard one guy being asked what he liked to do and he said that his only hobby was hacking. He’d recently had a son and he was stressed because he felt he had to learn sports (For the first time) so that he could teach them to his kid. He also said that way back when he and his wife had first met, he told her not to make him choose between her and the computer. This was one intense hacker.

Over dinner, we talked a lot about New York. I also told Scarlett about how my parents were from two different worlds and times while she related that her parents were far more similar to each other. Both of them worked in education related fields, which made her involvement in Planned Parenthood no longer seemed arbitrary and it was always interesting to hear about someone’s family from NYC. We talked about how the suburbs seemed silly and how the country had its place. I had opined about this a number of times while on dates but it felt like it had been a while.

We got onto the topic of dating and eventually came to discuss the role that gender played in the whole equation. At one point, we were debating who should hit on whom and I told Scarlett that it was not always easy to hit on girls. I usually needed to be approached first or at least met half-way. She said that she never got hit on at bars and wanted to know what she could do to make that happen more. It was hard to say. (She specifically didn’t need tips for hitting on men, but for making them hit on her.)

Honestly, I told her that she kind of needed to look like she was asking to be hit on. What did that look like? Probably nothing that was very flattering in the long run, I told her. Being kind of ditzy likely helped. Smiling at guys. Having open body language. It was not necessarily easy to broadcast that kind of thing while also retaining your dignity. It was easier, perhaps, to be friendly while maintaining a true sense of self, but to make it known that you wanted to be hit on was decidedly more conflicting. [Thinking on it now, I feel like the best bet is to simply act genuinely friendly and be okay with a lower rate of being hit on. I don’t know. It’s complicated.]

Though sex had been in the air all evening, it wasn’t until we neared the end of our meal that we really got into a conversation about it. I think we must have been discussing casual sex when Scarlett grew quiet and asked if she could tell me something very serious and somewhat embarrassing. It wasn’t something that she ever shared with anyone, unless absolutely necessary. Of course, I wanted to know what it was.

She explained to me that for a long time now, maybe five years at that point, it always hurt her to have sex. She had some kind of sensitivity that consistently caused her pain during intercourse and it made her life pretty damn hard. It was something that had really screwed with her relationships because she would internalize the problem rather than communicate fully about it with her partners. She needed help to get over it all and it sounded like quite the burden. Damn. I couldn’t imagine that.

When people question whether or not this project was filled with real dates, or if these women and men were being themselves when we went out, examples such as this were what might hopefully shut them up. Scarlett had sat there, after knowing me for only a few hours, and told me one of her deepest secrets. It was not an easy thing to do, but it was real. It was vulnerable and it was beautiful. I felt very fortunate that she had confided in me and that we’d shared in that discussion.

By the end of our talk, we were long done with dinner and there were no other patrons in the basement with us. In fact, the server was simply waiting for us to get a move on. The music had even been turned off. Okay, we get it. We paid the bill, used the bathroom one last time and headed out.

I knew that I could have caught a train nearby, but it was still relatively early and Scarlett was going to walk home to the West Village, so I offered to walk with her. I knew there was a train down near Washington Square Park that I could take and plus, it was a beautiful night for a long stroll through Manhattan.

As we got down near the 8th St – NYU N/R stop, we still hadn’t dropped the ball in regards to conversation and by that time, we were largely discussing matters of gender politics. At the train stop, Scarlett thanked me for engaging in the more serious topics of conversation and I thanked her for not shying away from them. I gave her a hug and caught my train home.

Subjectively, it had been a good date.