She was just a hot Italian actress standing outside the Apple store on Prince Street. Of course, before this she had just been a hot Italian actress standing over a computer in the Apple store, the one I leaned over to stare at her screen, before I knew she was Italian or an actress. But I could tell she was hot. That part was easy to discern. They say beauty presents itself in different dresses to different eyes. And that’s true, although what I’m talking about here has as much to do with physical beauty as with presence. She just held her self a certain way. It caught my attention.
When I leaned over her screen she turned to look at me and smiled.
“Nope,” I said to the hetero lifemate (who was over my shoulder) “it’s just her e-mail on the screen. No personal details to be had.” She smiled at me and I back and then walked away.
Bob was there to get headphones for the Magnificent Geebs. We were standing in line. I was staring at the merchandise. The Apple store on Prince is one of the few places that makes me wish I was rich. Filthy, stinking, loaded, rich. Because I’d just buy everything. It’s so damn cool. I didn’t grock the merchandise as I usually do; I kept looking over at her.
“Every time I look back there she’s staring at you,” Bob said.
“Yeah. You should go talk to her. Ask her out.”
“We’re all going to dinner tonight.”
“Ask her to join us all.”
“Are you kidding? We’re not the safest group in the world. We can be pretty damn intimidating.”
“Yeah, but we’re a damn good time, too.”
“Do people actually do that? Ask someone to eat dinner with their friends when they don’t know them?”
“Since when were we ever people? Fuck what people do. Do you want to ask her?”
“I don’t know. I’ll meet you outside.”
I stood outside, talking on the phone. She came outside and stood against the wall, lighting a cigarette. She leaned against the brick.
“Can I bum one of those?” I asked as I walked up on her.
“You’re the one who was standing over my shoulder.” She handed me a butt. I stood there.
“You got a lighter?”
“Yeah,” she said, smiling as she dug through her bag.
“What are you doing down here?”
“Oh, I check my e-mail down here. The connection at my apartment isn’t working.”
“What’s your accent?”
She cocked her head to the side. “What is my accent?” she repeated. “I don’t understand.”
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, I’m Italian.”
“Really? But you have a little English lilt to your accent.”
“I know. I learned English in England, so I think I speak a bit as they do.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t quite place it. What are you doing here?”
“Checking my e-mail.”
“No, in New York.”
“Oh. I’m an actress.”
“I’m a writer!” Now, I don’t know what these two professions—acting and writing—have in common (aside from crap pay and a brutal lifestyle), but I said it as if they shared everything in common, as if these two professions synchronized us in some way. It was a bit overeager of me, but thankfully she didn’t seem to hold it against me.
“What do you write?”
And I told her, before asking her about her acting. She had been in the theater and films in Italy, but found the community there stifling, small. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “the Italian art community is very daring, it’s just that they don’t combine art and commerce in the same way as they do out west. It’s very hard to make a living, and very easy to repeat yourself. So after I made my way there, I wanted to try America.”
She looked at her watch. “I’m sorry. I have to meet someone at 5:30, and I really have to go. It was nice talking to you though.”
“And it was nice talking to you. What are you doing tonight?”
“I have no plans.”
“My friends and I are meeting for dinner at a restaurant nearby. Care to join?”
She cocked her head again and grinned. “You and your friends? Is this going to be, like, 8 guys and me?”
“No, no, nononono. There will be women there. You won’t be outnumbered.”
“I wouldn’t have minded. I can take care of myself.” And she paused. And I let her pause, drawing out the silence, letting her decide for herself. She was leaning towards saying yes, and I didn’t want to say something that would take her into saying no. “I’m in.”
“Good. I’ll meet you on the corner of Broadway and Prince at 8:20.”
“That’s a very precise time.”
“I would lie and say it’s to make a grand entrance, but it’s just the time that popped into my head.”
“See you then.”
I won’t bore you by detailing the dinner. We ate well. We drank a ton. I will say this. There is a proximity to grace you can have with your friends. They can either speak volumes for you, without you ever having to say a word about yourself, or they can throw salt all over your personality, wilt you in a matter of minutes. I have brilliant friends. I’ve always looked forward to bringing women into my little group, because the reflected glow always bodes well for me. We are smart. We are funny. We are engaging. We tell jokes and stories and rip the hell out of each other. And we are inclusive to the new women who come along, and can be rather cold to the new men. It’s a fair exchange. I’ve never worried when it’s time to bring someone I’ve been dating into my fold, because my friends are something unexpected. Although, I had never brought a first date around my group, not once. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever brought a 9th date around my friends, not when I was seriously dating them.
After dinner, drunk and filled with food and good conversation, we walked up Broadway, towards Houston. She hooked her arm around my elbow. “You know,” she said, “I have never, ever, gone out with someone on the first day that I’ve met them. Not ever.”
“I’ve never asked someone to join me and my friends for dinner on the first day I’ve met them.”
“No! Who the hell does that?”
“I don’t know. It was new to me, too. But things were going so well for you I thought this might be your thing.”
“Yeah, like how you rope women in. Get them drunk and around good people. That’s a powerful tonic.”
“Well, yeah, I guess, but no this is by no means my thing. This is as new to me as it is to you.”
We walked up past Houston and kept north, crossing Bleeker and ended up at a picnic table in Washington Square Park. We kept talking, and she grew more and more animated, more and more passionate, more and more distinctly Italian. I leaned in, and she pulled away slightly, but she smiled, a smile that told me to stay there, stay right there, leaning in and unembarrassed. She bit her lip and smiled again, then leaned in and kissed me.
We left the bench and walked a bit before we stopped. It was just passed 2AM.
“Look,” I said, “I live in Brooklyn. You live on the Upper West Side. So as I see it we have 3 options. You can come home with me to Brooklyn. I can go home with you to your place. Or we can go our separate ways.”
She stood there. Thinking. “There’s something very un-American about you, you know that? I mean that as a complement.”
We stood there staring at each other. She wound her hands around my waist. “Look,” all of a sudden she was very serious. “If all you want to do is sleep with me you should just say so. I’m not saying I’ll say yes, but I’m not saying I’ll say no either. Some nights just lead you somewhere, and it’s okay to go with it and not be, what’s the word, apologetic about it. But I don’t want to sit here thinking you are a good guy when there’s a chance you might not be. And you look like there’s a chance you might not be, even though you seem like a really nice guy.”
There’s something that struck me about European women when I lived briefly lived there, working and traveling my way country to country by train. They seem to own their sexuality, in a way that American women just don’t. They understand their body. They shake and shimmy and flurry and strut, and they just handle themselves. It’s different than the women here, who, even when they pop their breasts out and not so subtly hint at what’s behind the fabric, they can seem almost unsure of themselves. Like the act of wearing revealing clothes is for the sake of acknowledgement, not for the simple joy of strutting their stuff in revealing clothes. I told her as much.
“I have to be honest, I’m a bit confused by American women’s discomfort with their bodies. All these eating disorders and empty flashes. I don’t get it. When I walk into a room, I know what men are looking at, but whether they can get beyond that is their responsibility, not mine. And I’m not going to help in any way. They have to figure it out. But that doesn’t answer my question.”
I don’t want to be one of those serial daters. One of those guys who subsist on some form of charisma with no commitment. I’ve never really dated. I’ve either been in a relationship, or out of one. But I acknowledge the fact that right now is a different time, and here is a different place. I’m not desperate to find someone. My standards are overshot for that. I want the fucking lightening bolt or nothing. I know, however, that the lightening bolt is a hindsight thing. Looking back we always say things like, “I knew the moment I met her because…” but we knew that because we can look back from where we are and, with the knowledge that everything worked out, can put the bundle of life we’ve experienced and place it all in that first, initial meeting. That makes dating something like high stakes poker for me, a zero sum game, shouldn’t it be that way? What the hell is settling, anyway?
“I don’t really have an answer your question. I’ve been as equal an asshole as I’ve been a good guy. I’ve taken advantage before, but I don’t think I could take advantage of you if I tried. I promise I’m not taking anything for granted, though. It just seems like the night’s not over. That’s all.”
“Good answer,” she said. “Okay. Then you pick the destination. But we’re not having sex.”
And I smiled at her. Laughed at what she had said. We walked three blocks before finding a lighted cab, and I hailed it. She pulled my wool winter cap out of my back pocket and put in on her head, giving me a look that said she might not be giving it back.
“Brooklyn Heights,” I told the driver. “Cross the Brooklyn Bridge.” And we drove off.