Apartment Hunting in Park Slope: Characters

In about three hours, Tom and I will meet in Park Slope, Brooklyn - the third weekend in a row we've "traveled" there, as Manhattanites say - to look at apartments. As prescribed, our expectations are managed. Our first visit there was productive, as in, two out of the three brokers we were supposed to meet with showed up.

The first was a woman who was extremely pregnant.

"Oh I guess he's due next week!" she said in a thick French accent, when I asked.

I expressed concerns that perhaps at nine months pregnant she should be doing something more suitable to her state - like answering emails, or getting ready for birth. "I work with a partner," she waved down the road, "He's parked over there."

But unlike her partner, she lived on the Slope and was keen, I suppose, to have her children stay in the area's expensive schools and daycares. Her work partner was a more local fellow; he had grown up in Park Slope but more than two decades ago had moved out to more affordable parts - Sheepshead Bay. He spoke with the thickest New York accent I have ever heard apart from TV characters and drove an old champagne colored sedan - filled with broken, deflated children's toys - in which he shuttled the pregnant lady and their clients around from unit to unit. They worked seamlessly as a team - she was bubblier, more upbeat and handled the units that didn't have stairs. He did the rest, though I'm not certain their partnership would persist after she gave birth. After a while though, his accent seemed less grating and the "take it or leave it" manner affected by other brokers seemed to hang more authentically on his face.

At one point before driving us to see the last unit on his list - a massive two bedroom on 2nd St. - he and the pregnant lady asked if we'd be alright to stop by the after school program around the corner to pick up her son.

"Sure," we said, and waited as the man parked before what looked like a church. She eased herself out of the car and disappeared behind two heavy wooden doors through which children and parents swarmed out.

"I can't believe how much this place has changed," the man said, shaking his head and looking down the block, "I grew up right around the corner. For the longest time this place was a dump. We knew not to walk around by ourselves after a certain hour, you know?"

"Now it's like nine dollar coffee shops and fancy cheese stores. It's ridiculous."

Then remembering his company, glanced at Tom, in shotgun, "I mean, if you like that sort of thing, great. But it just wasn't for me."

We laughed, it wasn't our thing either. But we hadn't yet moved to the neighborhood.

The woman took longer than expected and we watched the kids file out, some talking excitedly to black nannies or weary looking parents, all of whom seemed older than the average parents of young children I saw in my suburban hometown. I wondered what theses parents did for work. They seemed, for the most part, dressed in a more relaxed manner than the parents I saw on the upper west side. Less suits and yoga pants. More plaid shirts and Patagonia fleeces. Reading our minds, the man said, "How much that must cost..." He shook his head, "I don't wanna know." He had two kids, nine and six, and from the way he looked at the parents and kids streaming out of the Park Slope school, I felt there was more dividing his family and theirs than the car window.

At last the blonde pregnant lady emerged with a cherubic boy with floppy blond curls and a striped sweater. She let him get in first and he slid next to me with zero apprehension. I don't think he even registered that I was there. He immediately took a deck of YuGiYo cards out and started to go through them.

"Cherie, cherie, did you say hello to the lady?"

"Hello," he sang, not looking up.

The woman zeroed in on the deck of cards in his hands.

"Oh no! Cherie! Oh no! Where is the box? Mummy told you to keep the cards in the box! These cards were very expensive! Very expensive! Where is the box?"

Without looking up Cherie informed his mother that he had thrown it away.

His mother covered her face with one hand, placed the other on her belly.

"Cherie, you must learn to take care of your things...Mummy works very hard to buy your toys. Mummy wants you to take care of them."

She took the cards and tucked them into a netted side pocket of his backpack, telling him not to touch them until he got home, where they could more easily be found if he lost them. But Cherie was not used to having nothing in his hands, especially for car rides however long or short. He began to kick.

"Stop kicking," she said, "stop kicking."

I leaned to my right, hoping to catch a glimpse of Tom's face in the sideview mirror. The two buildings we'd seen earlier on Prospect Park West were filled with kids and strollers. Even when you couldn't see them, you could hear them. As we exited each building, a kid would come bounding through the lobby doors like an impish ghoul returning from play, parents nowhere to be seen. Out on the street we found the neighborhood quiet. Almost too quiet. The only sounds came from the occasional stroller rolling by, the distant shrieks of kids getting out of school early. But in the passenger seat Tom looked out the window, wondering, I guess, how the last apartment would be.

Cherie would not stop kicking. Exasperated, the woman reached into her bag and pulled out an iPad - the tool modern parents hate to love when it comes to getting their kids to shut up. Like magic, Cherie calmed down once the iPad was in his lap and he began to swipe greedily towards some children's app.

"You can use the iPad for now, Cherie," she said, "But only because Mummy has to work and I'm sorry you have to come with me."

We pulled up in front of an old building (though at this point all the buildings we'd seen were old), and we said goodbye to the woman and her Cherie, who didn't seem to notice we had left at all.

"It was so nice meeting you," she said, leaning over to shake my hand. She let it drop quickly and returned it to the mess of curls on her son's head.

We followed the man into the building and saw the two bedrooms - completely renovated but with a strange layout. There was one bedroom with a deep closet in which there were stairs that led to nowhere - probably a converted staircase. The bathrooms were nice, but small, as though they'd been an afterthought. "Oh the tenants might like to shower, don't you think?" The kitchen was eat-in but dim, with one window that overlooked the dumpsters parked right beneath. It had recently been updated with new appliances and cabinetry, which were a strange laminate made to look like petrified wood. Tom and I walked from room to room, nodding and imagining - at least I did - where we would put certain things. Would my desk fit here? Probably.

"This unit's a great deal," the broker said, and given the tiny units we'd seen before in Manhattan, we nodded - this two bedroom with two bathrooms was two hundred dollars cheaper than the tiny divided closet masquerading as a one bedroom we'd seen on Morton St.

"But it's hard to rent out to families."

"Why?"

He nodded towards the barred windows, "Because it's on the first floor. The parents here are a little over protective if you ask me," he shrugged, "But I guess they're afraid of kiddie-nappers."

I snorted.

"They could put their pet snakes right under the window," Tom suggested, "That'll deter any kidnappers." 
The man laughed, shrugged. It was clear we were not going to take this apartment, roomy as it was. "Take it or leave it," his shoulders said.

It was getting late on a Friday afternoon and he probably wanted to head back home too, to his kids. He offered us a ride to the subway, but we said thanks, we would walk it. We made our way to Prospect Heights, where the third and last broker of the day would stand us up.

Such a shame too, because we found ourselves on a more lively part of town, the streets of which were beginning fill with people like us, young and childless and ready to spend on nine dollar coffees and even more expensive craft beers and cocktails.

Musings: On Rejection, (Wavering) Confidence and "It'll Work Out"

Thank God I managed my expectations, because I didn't get the job.

At least the bubbly blonde girl didn't wait a whole week to get back to me. But still - I knew the COO from a previous job and he even asked to speak to me at the end of the interview, and we chatted like old friends. You would think knowing the COO of a company, however small it is, would count for something. But it didn't. Thanks for nothing, COO!

Okay rant over.

I am trying not to take it personally, even though it's hard. The girl had met with me, read a lot of my writing because the application itself required essays, and then I was asked to do a two hour project after my interview, which required more writing and strategic thinking. The position revolved around something I feel quite confident about: relationship building - though now I think about it what does that even mean? But in the end they wanted someone with more direct sales experience. I should have told them about all the Timex watches I've sold just by wearing one.

I wonder sometimes if my sense of self is distorted - do I think I present better than I actually do? Do I come off as less confident than I actually feel? Is my resume actually a giant, misspelled mess? Is my blush actually garish?

"Who knows," says Tom, "But it'll work out."

"Fuck those fuckers," said a friend, "It'll work out."

"Sorry I know that is annoying," another friend wrote, "But I do think it will work out."

"It's not annoying," I wrote back, "I say it all the time too to other people. Because it's true."

I've mentioned this before, but a little over a year ago, I told my cousin to look on the bright side of things. She was house-hunting and online dating at the same time and had said, while driving us through Downtown LA, that to attempt both at the same time was to subject oneself to unnecessary demoralization.

At the time I was sandwiched between - cradled, really - by two years of grad school and a two-year lease. I was worried about very little except where to eat that night. But I needn't even have worried too much about that, as my cousin knew the surrounding restaurants like the back of her hand. She clutched the steering wheel, stepped on the gas, and, despite being without a house or a boyfriend, was generally more in control of her life than I had ever been of mine. But that night I was all:

"It'll all work out. Don't take it personally."

"Easier said than done," she said and deftly parked the car in front of Lemonade, where we'd have a healthy dose of grains and grasses before sharing a decadent homemade Snicker's bar at The Tavern.

If I could go back in time with my hindsight in hand, I'd say now, "Oh God you're absolutely right. It probably is demoralizing. But you know what's even more demoralizing? Looking for a job that'll pay slightly more than Costco did and an apartment that's just slightly bigger than a coffin and trying to finish up your ninety-page thesis."

And my cousin might have agreed with me. But she got her house and decided to put dating on hold for when the time felt more right. In essence, for that time in her life what she needed to work out worked out.

It took me a zillion years to figure out that the easiest and hardest way for me to graduate college was to be an English major. This sounds dumb to most people, but it was kind of a revelation for me. Why had I struggled so long when it had been obvious to everyone else and even, in a way, to myself? I was sad about school for a really long time, feeling directionless, and ended up spending most of my waking hours in bookstores and libraries. Writing long letters and blog posts.

How this relates to my present situation is debatable, but perhaps my having continuous trouble describing what it is I want to the recruiters asking, "So, tell me what you're looking for," means something similar is at work. The rejection sucks but it doesn't sting, at least not in a lasting way. And what I feel most is the odd, almost mysterious sensation of knowing - and bear with me, I'm still on my rocker - that in addition to the things I can control (like tastefully applied blush and showing up on time) there are at work things I can't or don't know how to yet. Or maybe it's under my nose and I am being dumb and not looking again.

Thoughts After an Interview in DUMBO

Yes, that's a cupcake. 
Greetings from DUMBO, where I just had my second interview at a startup and will now spend the weekend wondering, "Did I get the job?" 

It went well, perhaps better than well. Perhaps other people in my position might say, "It went fantastic!" But I've had interviews I thought went fantastic only to learn a week later, after following up and following up that while the interview itself was fantastic, my fit for the company was not. 

Tom and I have a good laugh this time last year, when I came back from a handful of in-person interviews, glowing as though I had the offer letter in my pocket. The mouse was trapped. The west was won. The job was mine. 

"They loved me," I would say, and launch into a starry-eyed delusion about with whom I'd get along best and would be taking my coffee breaks with (as though I were applying to jobs at Wal-Mart). 

Tom would raise an eyebrow and say, "Well, that's great, but let's not get ahead of ourselves." 

And then a week or so later my indignation at them not having called me back and offered the position on a silver platter would have turned into an ill-tasting recalibration of my expectations. I took it personally, thinking they didn't like my personality - because none of the positions I applied for required hard technicals skills (of which, I have written ad nauseum that I have few) - but as time went on and things like this happened again or not at all, I learned to let it roll off my back. 

People have been telling me from the day I started striving for anything to manage my expectations. In applying for college and graduate school, in hunting for jobs, in searching for apartments, in dating, in marrying! Manage those expectations. 

So when the girl who interviewed me today asked me what, from all my past experiences, I felt I could bring to the position, which is part account management, part sales, part being scrappy and fast and results-driven and smart, I wondered what on my resume couldn't answer this question. She explained the job to me as she experienced it so far: people in this position were expected to be better than excellent communicators. They were liaisons who wanted the two key groups of people they worked with to get what they wanted out of the service the company provided. What could I bring? 

She was a bright-eyed petite blonde with side swept hair, a sweet smile and an adorably scratchy voice. She who wore a chambray shirt as did, coincidentally, the rest of the company. 

"It's Chambray Friday," she had joked. 

"It's also Brooklyn," I thought. 

She was proud and happy to be working there, and I could actually see myself sitting next to her, pushing the mission forward. Liaising, connecting, upstarting. But for starters, I had to get the job first, and she was asking me what I was good at. 

Everyone knows in interviews, you embellish. Within reason. When you put "Conversational French" on your resume what you really mean is you took French for two years in High School and went to Paris a few times in between then and now. 

But I am even more reasonable. I have learned better than most these past two years the skill of managing one's expectations and I told her so. 

"That's important," the girl said. 

"It is, it is." 

Three hours later she thanked me for my time and I thanked her for hers. And I left to manage my expectations. 

Apartment Hunting in New York City

"Where will we live?" 
For the past two weeks Tom and I have been looking for a one bedroom apartment. We are not in a rush, thank God, because if we were and had to move by say, May 1st, I would be crying everyday, a lot.

We are looking for an apartment in either Manhattan (Chelsea...please?) or Brooklyn (Park Slope....if possible?) and have seen seventeen units in the past two weeks, most of which made us laugh. On Friday, we will see a few more. Hopefully less funny ones.

The units that didn't make us laugh made me wish I had a job or that the F for 'Fine' in my degree was instead a B for 'Business' or 'Ballin'. Either way, we try not to think about those units as our budget is between (if you're actually poor, it might be best to look away) modest and a bit more than modest though this is relative, I know and despite my parents unspoken promise to never let me end up in the streets, it's also all very much thanks to Tom considering I do not have a job and we are trying this thing in which I pretend I am an adult and can more or less bring home some vegan bacon.

Supposedly spring is a great time to look as you're beating out all the people who will inevitably graduate and/or relocate to the city over the summer who will flood the market and drive skywards already astronomical rent prices, but Tom, the more seasoned apartment hunter of us (a post on how I found my current apartment to come), has prepared me for the worst and warned from the very beginning to manage my expectations.

And I had shooed away his warnings because I was the cheerful, optimistic one. I'm the one who thinks, "Oh something will turn out that is simply perfect..."

Until we started looking. Five units in, my jaw had dropped so many times from incredulity - That's a bedroom? I had thought it was a cabinet! That's the kitchen? But where is the stove? Where will I stand? Where is the closet? No closets? That's "ample natural light?!?" Are you sure it's not the neighbor's kerosene lamp?) that I lost motivation to pick it up.

Twice too, brokers have stood us up, both on chilly days, once in the rain. These people shall remain unnamed but there is a special place in hell for them that looks a lot like the shittiest, smallest, dankest apartments we've seen.

But we let it go, we let it go. We have time on our side. My current lease runs until June 30th. Tom also has some flexibility. We both have air mattresses. And friends. Like dating and job hunting, rushing into the first "decent" or in our case, 300 sq. ft. 15% brokers fee apartment that comes along will only hurt us in the long run. So I take a breath and think, "Yes yes, time is on our side."

My First Date Ever: No Second Date Ever

In case you didn't know this is called an "Asian Dad Meme." P.S. My dad looks nothing like this.
This is Part 3 of 3. Here are Part 1 and Part 2. 

"So you can get the next one?" my father sputtered later, after I'd gone home and told him how the date had gone.

"Did you tell him that this one wasn't even enough to cover the gas it took to get out there?"

I didn't, unfortunately. I never got the chance because after he paid my brain went behind a window and started watching my body go through the motions necessary to finish the date.

We walked out of the restaurant and stood on the curb before he repeated, "So, you want to walk around inside the market?"

"Sure," my mouth said, but inside my brain was both squirming and grinning, knowing that this was far from a dream first date but also recognizing it as much better than a run-of-the-mill bad date experience. Like a creepy reporter I thought, "This is going to be a good story."

So I went with it. It was, after all, my first date. For this I had set aside the time. I was not yet on my fiftieth first date (though I would never get there), where hopefully I'd be able to tell right away from a few lines of conversation that we would waste each other's time and that I'd much rather spend the evening eating takeout and watching "House of Cards" - no, I was still in an exploratory mode. Still a wide-eyed freshman at orientation week for the University of Dating and Relationships.

It wasn't a bad date. It was an interesting date. Interesting because of how strangely dull it was. In the company of a different girl with different tastes and standards (though low to me), Steve might have been seen as a great guy. Maybe he was a great guy. Maybe his first date game just sucked over-boiled taro balls. It wasn't even as if he had anything up his sleeve remotely resembling game. He had simply woken up, rolled out of his childhood bed and showed up at a date he had agreed to go on.

We walked through the sliding glass doors of 99 Ranch Market and....I wish I remember the conversation, however inane it was. But it was overshadowed by a strange thought I had: that this first date was perhaps like the meat of a lot of people's actual relationships. The plateau that's reached after they'd been dating for a while. Instead of dates, you run errands together. You go to Target and Costco and 99 Ranch to pick up fruit before visiting your parents. There was something both strange and familiar about walking side by side with a Chinese guy around my age, through the aisles of this Chinese market. Except neither of us had to buy any groceries.

We came to the snacks aisle where he pointed out, very confidently, all of his favorite snacks. Rice crackers, Pocky, and dry, roasted squid.

"I love that stuff," he said, and I remember nodding, thinking, "I love it too."

And suddenly I felt endeared to this guy who had no idea what he was doing or how he was coming off. I felt not sorry for my present self for agreeing to this comfortably strange first date, but for my old self, who had held off and perhaps missed out on dating earlier because of my expectations of what I thought dating was supposed to be and how people would react to my own limited experience. I realized that no one would have cared, and if they did, so what? What even were my expectations? What were Steve's? What was experience and what was it worth? What the hell was a relationship made of anyway?

Some people might be more "experienced" and have gone on more dates and might have even had girlfriends and wives and other variations of long-term committed relationships - but that no one really, ever, knew what they were doing, not even while they were doing it.

That little jaunt with Steve around 99 Ranch Market in Rowland Heights gave me immeasurable confidence. I was finally ready to start dating in earnest. I didn't want to just test the waters, I wanted to jump in and swim.

Just not with Steve.

We exited the market and I looked at my watch. The date had reached two hours and I knew for sure, as endeared as I was, that the date was over. I would never see Steve again.

"Well that was pretty fun," he said.

"Yup," I said, thinking, It'll be more fun to tell people about this.

"I'd ask you to hang out again this weekend, but I'm going to Burning Man," he said.

What the hell was Burning Man? I had never heard of it.

"Oh," he said, "It's this huge event where you go and look at art in the desert."

"You like art?"

"Yeah, sure," he said, as we started towards my car, "but there's other stuff to do there."

Years later I would find out Burning Man was much more than that, and that Steve's droopy-eyes and generally slow demeanor were signs of him having more interest in drugs than in art. And that the searching look he gave me was to see if I really didn't know what else happened at Burning Man besides the art. But I didn't know anything about anything then. I didn't even drink on dates.

"That sounds cool," I said.

"Yeah, it's fun," he said, "I'll call you when I come back and we can hang out again."

"Yeah, that'd be great."

We reached my Prius and he leaned in for a hug. I patted him lightly on the back with my right arm, not knowing what else to do with it. And then he smiled, turned and walked away. I got in my car and turned it on. My first date ever was over.

The Sunday Seven: Online Dating

Do I look familiar? It's because I use the same photo on LinkedIn. 
In light of my two recent blog posts on my first date ever (part 3 coming next week), I revisited my old OkCupid profile, screenshot above. I thought I would cringe at my self summary, but the only thing I found cringe-worthy was my profile name: TimexMe? So lame. But lame name aside, I'd probably still describe myself this way." If Tom is cringing, it's a good thing we didn't meet online.

The above was Steve's and hundreds of other guys' first glimpse of me before they either chose to message me or passed. Now with Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, et al., the scene has changed quite a bit, But I wonder where I'd be without OkCupid, the one I found most comfortable to start with.

So, this Sunday's Seven:

1. For an in depth look at the now big three online dating sites, read Nick Paumgarten's "Looking for Someone," in which he profiles the origins of OkCupid, Match, and EHarmony, for The New Yorker.

2. So you're already online: but are the people on Okcupid too flakey for you? Tinder kinda gross? EHarmony too serious and you don't want to pay for Match? Try Hinge.  Kinda like Tinder except it uses your Facebook network to introduce you to people two degrees removed, so you're essentially "meeting" through friends, if indeed your Facebook friends are actually friends.

A few of my friends are on it and have been saying great things (e.g. "The quality of guys are so much better." Meaning, if you're college educated and have a good job, Hinge is likely to show you more people like you rather than AJ the guy with tattoo sleeves who works at the local bar and paints in the mornings.) I've been going around telling my other single friends about it so that Tom's been calling me a Hinge sales(wo)man. I also applied for a job there but have yet to hear back. It's okay, I'll promote them anyway.

3-4. Online thing is not for everyone even though I still pressure my single friends who live in the suburbs to give it a try, but then I read accounts like this one about why dating without social media (dating apps included) is so much easier and consider Esther Perel's thoughts on why "Fragile Millenials" seek rejection-free sex and get really anxious about where modern romance is headed and realize that I should probably just let my single friends be.

5. Okay so now you have a date (on a Sunday!) It was only until I went on a few  dull dinner dates that I realized I could have suggested some other fun things to do when the ball was in my court. You might not have chemistry with the guy/girl but at least you'll have done something interesting. Check out some great first date ideas here and here, all specific to New York but that can  apply to any city.

6. No matter how cool the date idea is though...sometimes the date is just bad. These 17 Awful First Date Stories, each much more succinct than mine (which you can start reading here), made me laugh.

7. And sometimes you think the date went well, but you never hear from the person again. That's called ghosting. You've done it. I've done it, and according to Aziz Anzari and my own feelings, it's not cool. Any date, good or bad, involves two people going out on a limb (some longer than others). It helps humanity overall when we're mindful of this and tread not just carefully but kindly.

So to all the guys I've ever ghosted on, I'm sorry. It was you. And it was me too. Happy Easter!

My First Date Ever: Reality

Disclaimer: there was no kiss.
This is Part 2 of 3. Read Part 1 here. 

I arrived early and found parking not too far away from Class 302, located in a strip mall that could appropriately be considered to "cater to Asians." More specifically, to Chinese people. A small corner joint, Class 302 sat between a 99 Ranch Market - the United States' leading Chinese grocer now dying a slow death at the hands of Korean grocer H Mart - and another small Chinese restaurant that specialized in Cantonese-style barbecue. In an hour or so, the parking lot would become a sea of black, grey and silver Camry's, Accords, Civics, and Odysseys. An Altima here, a Corolla there. My Prius here. At night the bad, ne'er do well rich kids would come out to smoke and karaoke in their Bimmers, Benzes and Lexuses.

As Steve and I had arranged for an earlier dinner, the café- I couldn't really bring myself to call it a restaurant - was quite empty and, it seemed to me, rather dim, as though the proprietor didn't think enough patrons were present to warrant turning on all the lights. I felt like I was making a quick food pit stop before getting groceries with my parents instead of going on my first date ever. My first thought was, Thank God I did not wear heels. That would have been dumb. My second thought was, I could be barefoot and I'd still be overdressed.

Befitting its name, Class 302 was done up to look like an old fashioned Taiwanese classroom, with a chalkboard menu, wooden tables and low chairs that together were meant to look like student desk sets. Two high school-aged girls wearing fake Taiwanese school uniforms chatted quietly behind the cash register. There was no hostess. One of them waved for me to sit wherever, so I took a seat, which I found rather low, next to the window so I could see when Steve was walking up.

My third thought was, "This fool is late." (So there was a time in my life when I bothered to show up five minutes early for dates. Thanks to OkCupid, I got over that real fast, unfortunately for Tom.)

I waited a few minutes more, wondering if I should order a drink first - there was no alcohol on the menu, which was fine since at the time I still didn't really drink on dates but everything else was too sugary.

I had just put in my order for water when a stocky Asian guy around my age walked past the window. He wore a neon multi-colored zip up hoodie that looked like he'd gotten it from Active, a shop that specialized in skater and surf clothes, and jeans that were ripped at the heels from being dragged. He wore blinding white Etnies,which made me suspect the hoodie was from Active and also, that he might think these were his "nice" shoes. But where in the world was there an Active - whose target clientele seemed to me the sun-kissed blonde boys of my hometown - in Rowland Heights which was 50 percent Chinese? I was lost deep in thought, trying to think of the surrounding malls which would carry an Active store when the guy came to the side of the window, faced the parking lot with a searching look, took out his phone and called....me.

"Hello?"

"Betty? It's Steve. Are you here?"

"I'm inside," I said, my voice deeper than I intended. I hadn't yet adjusted it. I tapped on the window and Asian Skater Dude/My First Date turned, gave me a dull look of recognition and headed inside.

Et voilà! Now, in the dim interior of Class 302 he stood before me in all his odd, colorful skater-dude, much beefier and with a slight muffin-top un-glory. My fifth thought materialized as though it were being written by an invisible, deadpan hand on one of the chalkboards behind him:

"Well, this is a disappointment."

While a handful of disappointing future dates awaited me, I already felt those future guys could thank Steve for setting the bar real low. Right away I saw that he was guilty of posting photos at least six months old and many beers ago and hot dogs ago. Now up close he seemed not so much "stocky" as puffy...as though he'd spent the week floating in the river. Well, perhaps that's a bit harsh. But the lanky fellow I had first glimpsed online was nowhere to be seen. 5'10 and lanky is very different from 5'10 and puffy. 5'10 and puffy as a guy means you look 5'8. Also, he now wore glasses, a mild surprise given that not one of the four or five photos he'd posted online showed he owned such. Which is not to say I discriminate against people who don't have perfect vision - but c'mon. At least comb your damn hair. Steve looked as though he'd just rolled out of bed.

He gave me an awkward one-warmed hug, and, perhaps I could have done a better job hiding my disappointment said, "I'm late."

"Traffic?" I said, figuring coming from Alhambra was worse than coming from Orange County, since these northern freeways were older.

"No, I'm staying with my mom this week so I'm like right down the street." Oh god he did just roll right out of bed.

I raised an eyebrow. Okay...so you made me drive to you. I didn't have to have tons of dating experience to know that this was not a gentlemanly thing to do.

"Yeah," he said, as though I was nodding along in agreement, "My apartment is a lot further from my work so I just stay with my mom during the week. She cooks and stuff. I'm trying to find a new job anyway and interviewing around here. I hate my job."

He chuckled. I tuned out. I don't remember the meat of the conversation after that, just that I sat there with a bland, friendly smile and nodded. Asked the occasional question. But I remember my body language: legs and arms crossed, leaning away from him.

We ordered four things - a stinky tofu which wasn't quite stinky enough - and some stir fried spinach and maybe one of those minced pork things, but it wasn't a a ton of food. I didn't know what the protocol was. Should I just nod and say, "Anything's fine with me?" Or should I take charge and wave the pre-teen servers over with the same kind of authority my dad did in Chinese restaurants? "Okay fool, this is enough food for a mini-me. Can we double everything?" It didn't matter because I nodded "Yeah that sounds great," and he ordered and the dishes arrived with lightning speed as they do in what are essentially Chinese fast food restaurants. The whole time I thought, "This is like eating in the back alley of my house in Taipei. Except I'd much rather be eating in the back alley of my house in Taipei."

I took the "I don't eat much" route which afflicts millions of girls on first dates everywhere, and ate a bit of everything.

"You don't eat much," he said.

"You don't order much," I thought.

I must have looked like I was having an alright time though -mistake number two - because Steve didn't want the date to end.

"Well, that didn't take very long," he said, when the plates were empty.

I thought about my dad's warning and glanced down at my watch. We'd sat for exactly twenty minutes. Ate for about ten.

"You wanna walk around 99 Ranch after this?"

All the expressions of incredulity I had been practicing my whole life should have been used at that point, but instead I thought since it was my first date ever, might as well make a story out of it.

"Sure," I said, wondering if I needed to go home after this and practice not looking so warm and inviting and kind.

One of the "school girls" brought the check - cash only. Without even pausing to think whom she should place it in front, she set it firmly down on my side, at my arm, clear across the table from Steve. As though for emphasis, she gave me a gracious smile and said thank you.

"That's odd," I thought. I looked at it. I looked at Steve. Steve looked at me.

It dawned on me. That moment when you realize the young server thought I was Steve's older sister. Or aunt. Or [insert older more mature matriarchal figure here]. There was about as much chemistry in the air between as an English classroom. Also, I was dressed about twenty years older than Steve's middle-school Billabong outfit.

I moved my arm to pick up the tab. Very very very slowly, like a slug going backwards, Steve reached for it.

"I'll get it," he said.

"Um..." I wasn't sure what to do. Do I offer to split it? I didn't see the number but it couldn't have been very much since we ordered four small plates and no drinks, two of which cost $2.50. The thought of splitting a check that was less than $20 on a date seemed ludicrous to me. I wasn't high maintenance but I also wasn't no maintenance and I hoped to God Steve wasn't both slovenly and a cheap. But I wouldn't have been surprised. He was already a lazy, tardy dumb ass who didn't know how to make a good first impression.

I got that dates cost money and it all adds up, but the guy had already made me drive thirty minutes for a 20-minute takeout meal. He would have made a better impression if he brought it as takeout to a ghetto park and called it a picnic.

"Seriously let me get this one," he said, as my hand was still on the bill. As though in a trance, I handed it to him. He took out a velcro wallet - velcro! - and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill - the only Jackson in a billfold full of Lincolns and Washintons and putting it down on the tray, pushed it towards the edge of the table.

"I get this one," he said, smiling as though he'd paid off my student loans, "So you can get the next one."

To be continued...
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