I recently plunged back into the world of online dating. "Plunged" is a good word, because you become immediately immersed, struggle to find your footing, begin to panic and gasp for air, and, if you are lucky, slowly rise to the surface again, relieved to be back where you started: merely floating as a single but happy person. Then it's back to lolling by the pool for another two years.
Bars are tailor-made for the date before any real "first date," the sub-date where you figure out if you even want to go on a first date. The problem with bars, however, is that they have booze in them, and therefore foolish decisions can be made in a matter of seconds. Conversely, nerves are often doused with gin, and things are said or done that can blow a potential spark completely out. This time I decided to meet my quarry by doing the pedestrian "go for coffee" thing. This is something I thought I would never, ever do, because the folks who seem to go this route are the same ones who do things like meditate or go to climbing gyms on their lunch hours. But there is indeed wisdom in the coffee option — it can be over in a matter of minutes if you need to skedaddle, and there is no waiting for the tab.
We had decided to meet in front of the Gap near Powell Street BART. He was late, so my nerves began to intensify. I can psych myself up for about 10 minutes, then anxieties usually take over, and I must meditate or go to a climbing gym. Neither was an option, so I struck up a conversation with a homeless guy who was selling things he had found on the street. "Two for one!" he said, smiling broadly. He had carved wooden boxes, a Discman, deodorant, a pile of books, some burned CDs from some poor schmuck's now-missing collection (an odd mix of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the White Stripes ... and Milli Vanilli?), and some knit gloves. There was something very Dickensian about the setup, and his enthusiasm to hawk the crap made me feel melancholy. He seemed baffled that I wasn't interested in any of it. "Wait!" he said, pulling out a bag from a bag and pausing to poke his index finger into the air triumphantly. "Wait till you see this!" He opened the bag and revealed several thin white packets. Maxipads? He pulled one out and I read the label: Female Condom. Huh.
"Well?" he asked, expecting me to purchase the entire caseload. Just then my date walked up. I said hi and introduced the two of them. The man hit him up for change, and I interjected and gave him five bucks, declining to take any of his products in exchange. "Y'all have a good date!" he said.
We headed toward the mall for some tea at Peet's. This was technically our second date; we had already met once and it went really well. In fact, I had spent the whole week looking forward to this event. He was smart and well-traveled, had good taste in music, and told me I had pretty hair and nice skin. A girl likes to hear such things.
We walked into the Westfield mall, which is several stories of retail hell I usually end up in at least once a week. Never again, I tell myself as I leave, only to come crawling back for a dose of Hello Kitty or gelato.
We went to the Peet's inside the massive, byzantine food court, which is always jam-packed with people eating a huge variety of things, like burritos and sushi. Anyone who thinks mall culture is dead need only hit the basement level of the Westfield. The Peet's there is relatively placid, along a back wall.
I have mixed feelings about Peet's. For one thing, I cannot drink the coffee, because it is way too strong. Secondly, when I first moved out here I interviewed at the original flagship location in Berkeley, and it did not go well. I probably should not have told them that I don't like coffee. Thirdly, the sweets selection is always really lame. However, it does have a goodly selection of tea, and that is what I prefer to drink anyway. I selected English Breakfast, and my date pulled out a teabag he had brought along. Really?
"I like my own blend," he said, asking the barista for a cup of hot water, if it was free. "Wow," he said, looking me up and down while she fetched it. "You are tall."
Since he was 6-foot-4, I figured being 5-foot-9 would be an okay thing.
"Tall women make me feel less masculine," he said.
I think if I pump my legs enough, I will begin to reach the surface of the water again.
We sat down. I was hoping to continue the political discussions we had on our first jaunt out. Or maybe we'd talk about books, or trips he had taken. "Man, there are so many Asians here," he said, looking around. He turned the conversation to sex, which he had done before, but I had wishfully chalked up to him being a red-blooded male. He brought up Kink.com, and I said that I had tried to get a job there in the returns department. "I can see you with a strap-on," he said nonchalantly. My lungs began to pound. Air! I need air!
My tea was almost done; I had reached the cold, sugary bottom. I could feel my face breaking the water's surface. All the potential that had seemed to be here was gone, and I needed to go back to the way I have always been: a bachelorette waiting to exhale. Two other people were ordering their Peet's coffee. They were being superpolite and jokey with one another. They were dressed in their downtown work clothes. This was a date. She was short; he was tall. He put his hand right above the small of her back and let her order first.