I met SidePart in Tribeca on a freebie night in January 2012. I call it a freebie night because I wasn’t scheduled to be in New York, so if anything better than nothing happened, it would be a win. My best friend Riley and I were supposed to be in Chicago for the weekend, but on Friday a deluge of snow shut down the airports. Delta rescheduled us for outbound Saturday flights, with return Sunday flights, which seemed silly at best and unfeasible at worst. Unsure if we were going to accept their offer, we needed to discuss.
Coincidentally, Cece invited us for a drink, which we gladly accepted for a number of reasons 1) Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a theory that the most fun day of the year is the first snow. So even though the city had drawn the shades, we had to put on our boots and brave the slush. 2) I always show up. With bells on. When I read Yes Man, I couldn’t even kinda empathize with the main character who struggles to say YES to life’s invitations and opportunities. 3) Freebie night!
We parked ourselves at the bar of a Tribeca restaurant right near Cece’s new apartment. The place was deserted, except for a group of fellows a couple seats down from us. They sat on the opposite side of an invisible barrier constructed solely out of decorum. We girls discussed the pending Chicago trip, which naturally led to a glory days re-cap of time spent there in undergrad and grad school.
Accidentally eavesdropping on this conversation gave the boys enough amo to break down the divide. SidePart was the first to broach the subject of common schools. After playing the name game, we’d exchanged enough credentials and personal references to eliminate the buffer and converse as one group. SidePart was charming, affable, and now in possession of my phone number for a future date.
THE FIRST DATE
After a whirlwind trip to Chicago (yes, we flew out the next morning and returned the following afternoon), SidePart and I arranged the logistics of our first date. He suggested that we play table tennis at Fat Cat, which is a bar / game room in the West Village. It looks like just a single door at street level, but down the stairs are miles of ping pong, foos ball, billiards, and air hockey tables plus booths filled with every board game you’d find in your grandmother’s basement. I’ve only ever been here on first dates, which makes me very suspicious that this place was written up somewhere under the headline, “Cheap Dates” or “5 Fun First Dates” or “Quirky Nights Out” or “10 Underground NYC Bars.”
I wasn’t thrilled with the spot, but considered the locale a means to an end. It was a place where we could safely work through the first date questionnaire while we evaluated if we wanted to advance this into dinner date territory. As such, I dressed for a first date interview, rather than an athletic event (alert alert foreshadowing alert!). I wore suede kitten heels, dark jeans, and a silky thin shawl wrap cardigan. While we waited for our table to free up, SidePart and I covered Section I of the first date questionnaire: Where were you born? Where are your parents from? What high school / prep school did you go to? Where did you go to undergrad? What do you do for work?
I find this type of interview-esque conversation embarrassing. I might as well have a copy of his Facebook profile printed in front of me like a resume to make notes in the margin. “Can you highlight a time during, let’s see, how about during the album Sag Harbor 2008: Black and White Party when you encountered a difficult situation and how you were able to resolve that?” “Super, let’s jump ahead in your timeline to Fam Reunion 2010. I see you’re holding a baby here, how would you rate your proficiency in this area?”
Luckily, in short order our number was called. SidePart and I moved to a netted cage with all the accoutrements needed for a friendly game of table tennis. Standing behind the table, my muscles twitched with memory. I had logged hundreds of hours in my adolescence at a table much like this. In sticky humid midwestern summers, my sister and I passed many evenings in the cool basement squealing over close games, hit nets, and stealth aces.
I drew the paddle up to my nose and as I slowly inhaled the smell of dust and rubber, I whispered, “Oh hello, old friend.” SidePart asked, “What did you just say?” “Nothing!” I chirped. [Ok, that part didn’t happen in real life. Just in my mind.]
SidePart served up a friendly volley and Section II of the first date questionnaire: Do you have any siblings? Younger or older? What do they do? This conversation is lame enough when you’re face to face, and the lameness only gets magnified with volume. Since we were separated by a full scale ping pong table, we were shouting. “YOU HAVE A BROTHER? WHAT’S HIS NAME?” “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” “WHAT’S HIS NAME?” “OH, IT’S JOHN.” “COOL.”
And that’s when the tide shifted. Apparently he had also logged a number of hours training for this match and was a formidable opponent. Volleys turned into slammers and we got extremely aggressive. We were both falling over ourselves to reach impossible lengths across the table; We spun vicious back cuts to make the other lurch toward the net, but inevitably miss; We lined up service from a good meter behind the table. The weird part was we weren’t even keeping score.
Now we were in full scale athletic competition, but simultaneously trying to cover first date questionnaire Section III. “What do you have planned for this SUM-mer?” Vicious forehand. “Oh, some FRIENDS and I are thinking of getting share.” Ferocious backhand. “Nice. Do you have any va-CA-tions coming up?” Lob, wait for it, wait for it. “No, just a couple of TRIPS for work.” Slammer.
Both of our foreheads were soggy with perspiration, so we called off the session even before the reserved clock on the table expired. It was probably just in time too. I could see SidePart was getting the John McEnroe crazy eyes. And I was contemplating if I could have really killed it had I packed some flat shoes and a hair tie. There’s a Phil Collins song that goes with this, “…but I see your True Colors shining through…”
Outside in the cold air is when I should have said: thanks for taking me out, I had a really great time tonight. But what I actually said was, “Good game.”