The men in NYC are like rats. They are everywhere. I’m here to go to museums, offbeat movies, the theater, get lost on subways, eat pizza, and write.
But in a city of one million single men vs. the four single men where I live, I should explore my options.
My online dating profile sums up my life in Three Rivers. It reads,
“I know four single men. One’s an alcoholic. The other’s a drug addict. The other two aren’t interested in me. Of those two, one’s a womanizer and the other belongs to the Future Wife Beaters of America Club. I’d like to say I haven’t dated them, but I’ve dated them all.”
I get a lot of responses, including a hot, young firefighter who says, “That’s the best profile I’ve read.” “Thanks,” I say, but he doesn’t write again.
One guy says in his profile: “I’m from Wall Street. I cuss a lot. If you don’t fucking like it, don’t fucking text me.”
“That’s funny,” I write to him.
“What’ so fucking funny?” he asks.
I apologize, frightened he might reach through the computer and strangle me.
I agree to meet a guy named William for dinner two blocks from my NYC Airbnb. He’s my age and Jewish, the child of two Holocaust survivors. I think we’ll have something to talk about.
He’s dressed in a gray blazer, jeans and sneakers. He’s about an inch shorter than me and a bit nebbishy looking. But he has a nice smile.
“What are you in the mood for?” he asks.
“I don’t know. Anything, really,” I say.
We look at menus at three or four places. Each time I say, “This looks good,” he says, “Let’s keep looking.”
We zig zag up the street. I spot a young couple with a Great Dane and Golden Retriever puppy. I lower myself to the ground and gush over the dogs, letting them kiss my face and nibble my toes. I’m more relaxed now, maybe even optimistic. The air, after a light summer rain earlier, feels crisp and clean and cool.
William smiles and asks, “Shall we eat here?”
I study the menu in the restaurant and glance up. William is staring at me. I blink and look away. I look up again and he’s still staring, but he’s removed his glasses, his dark–almost black eyes boring into me.
I’ve been on a lot of dates, and I know this isn’t normal. It isn’t the look a man gives a woman he thinks is pretty. It’s the level gaze of a python staring at a rat dropped into its cage he’s about to devour.
I shift in my seat uncomfortably. Of course, I’m not a rat in a cage. I can get up anytime I want and leave. If this were a man on the streets staring at me, I could shriek, “Fuck off! Stop looking at me like that!”
But I entered this restaurant of my own free will. Now I’m not sure what to do. It feels impolite to make a scene.
I clear my throat and say, “This menu looks interesting.”
But William is looking at me, not the menu.
“How ya doing?” he asks in an ultra-thick New York accent, for added emphasis.
“Um, ok,” I say, laughing nervously. I look away again and finger my sunglasses. Maybe I should put them on.
William is probing me without permission—this sustained eye contact. People don’t look at each other like this unless they’re about to kiss or fight.
Finally, the waitress comes over to tell us the specials.
I point at a random item on the menu and say, “I’ll take this.” I want this date over with quickly. But William isn’t in a hurry. He orders two sets of appetizers for each of us—steamed spinach, Brussel sprouts and tempura fried cauliflower.
“So what do you do for work?” he asks.
“I’m a writer,” I say.
I realize he hasn’t really read my profile where I talk about my writing.
The appetizers come and I struggle to make conversation—anything to avoid those dark eyes again. He tells me about his 15-year-old daughter who isn’t speaking to him.
“It’s Father’s Day and she hasn’t even texted,” he says.
My heart softens. “Girls this age are assholes. Trust me. I was an asshole to my dad at 15. She’ll talk to you again.”
“She thinks everything’s funny now, but we’ll see who’s fucking laughing when she gets into the real world and how hard life really is.”
He sounds bitter, really bitter, like he’s wishing harm to his own flesh and blood. He doesn’t ask about my family, work, or interests. He only wants to know what gym I joined and when I work out. I’m evasive in my answers. I never want to see him again after this.
I struggle to make conversation, trying to avoid those dark eyes again.
I ask how his parents survived the Holocaust. “Were they in hiding or in the camps?” I ask.
He squirms in his seats, like he’s ashamed. “They hid in the latrines. But I don’t want to get into that.”
His parents lived with rats in the latrines. William with his dark, dark eyes seems a bit rat-like to me. These are not nice thoughts.
I’m picking at my food. The steamed spinach is the first bad meal I’ve had in New York. “Do you want my spinach?” I ask.
“Actually,” he laughs, “I’d like your cauliflower.”
The cauliflower is delicious and I’m still picking at it. But I slide it over to him. The waitress tells us the dessert options.
“Say it again, but in English,” William says, making fun of her Russian accent.
When he goes to the restroom, I tell the waitress we’re ready for the check. When William comes back and sees the check, he says, “I guess it’s getting late.”
I plunk my Amex card down, and he lights up. “You’re getting this?” he asks.
A wave of revulsion washes over me—the idea that not only did I have to endure this awful date, but that he thinks I’ll pay for it is almost too much to bear.
“No,” I say firmly. “We’ll split it.”
He laughs a little and puts his card on the table next to mine. “I miss the old days with those Amex commercials on TV.”
I stare at him blankly and don’t bother to ask what he means.
I’m tempted to look at his receipt to see how much he’s tipped the waitress. But it feels like cheating, like looking at someone else’s discarded cards at the poker table once the hand is over.
We walk out into the night, which has grown hot and humid again. William, thankfully, doesn’t offer to walk me home, but instead asks where the subway is. I point in the direction opposite of where I’m going. He scuttles off into the night, and I—somewhat less afraid of rats on the street—walk myself home.