Not too long ago, I was reading a friend’s blog on which she reviews her Tinder dates. I have never done the online dating thing, but I do occasionally score myself a night out with a girl the old-fashioned way, and I got to thinking: What if I had to read a review of myself after one of my first dates? At first, the notion seemed horrifying, but then I thought about how most of those stories would actually be pretty amusing, thanks to my unique combination of drunken ineptitude and sweethearted charm. So I took a stab at imagining what a dating columnist—and I admit, regretfully, that I actually have gone out with one of those—would write about a typically “Justin” first date. For a laugh (and, likely, a Louie-esque cringe) at my expense, read on.
Justin wanted to meet at a bar/restaurant that I’d never been to, in a supposedly trendy neighborhood that seemed to be populated mostly with people drinking from paper bag–covered bottles in front of shuttered warehouses. I had wanted to go for coffee, but he said he didn’t drink coffee and that coffee dates suck. I studied abroad in Italy, so the no-coffee thing was a black mark against him, but I have to admit he’s right: Coffee dates do kinda suck.
I got to the bar right after we’d planned to meet, at 7:30, but didn’t see him. There was a crowd right inside the door, so I decided to wait outside. It had been raining earlier in the afternoon, but the clouds had broken, and the evening air was pleasantly crisp—or would have been, if it hadn’t been for all the 22-year-olds smoking in front of the bar.
Justin showed up about 10 minutes after I did. He apologized for being late and said “I used to be really good about being punctual, but…” and then just shrugged his shoulders. Then he said, “I never know how to do this—do we shake hands or hug or just stare at each other awkwardly?” I told him to do what he felt, and he gave me a quick hug. I thought I smelled cigarettes on him, even though he’d said on his profile he didn’t smoke—but maybe it was from the aforementioned kids. Justin wasn’t very tall and he had a shaved head, which you could tell he shaved because he’d gone bald early, and he had these big colorful floral tattoos on his arms. Ink isn’t my thing, but I had to admit they were pretty. At least they weren’t fratboy tribal tattoos.
His sense of style was a little odd. He wore a pearl button Western shirt with flowers embroidered above the pockets and a pair of vintage cowboy boots. He definitely had a whiff of hipster about him, but the jeans weren’t quite skinny enough. I’m still not sure what the deal was with the cowboy look—he said he was from San Francisco, not Texas. Overall, I wouldn’t say he was exactly my type, but he was cute in an awkward, needs to get a little more Vitamin D sort of way.
There weren’t any tables available, but we got a couple of seats at the bar. He said he liked sitting at the bar better anyway, and that he thought having to stare at someone across a table for an entire night was weird. Umm, okay. He shook hands with the bartender—they obviously knew each other—and ordered a Sazerac. I asked what that was, and he said it was a whiskey and absinthe cocktail from New Orleans. I actually don’t drink all that much, but I didn’t want to seem lame, so I got a white wine. He asked if I’d ever been to New Orleans, and I said no. I’d realized by then that the bar had a Big Easy theme—latticed walls, oysters, horns on the stereo. I asked if he’d been there, and he told me about how it was his favorite city and how he’d been there for Mardi Gras one year and gotten in a fight with a bouncer and broken his hand in the process. He told the story with a lot of energy and laughing enthusiasm—especially when he described blindly walking down Bourbon Street clutching a broken hand—but I wasn’t sure what to say. I mean, was I supposed to be impressed? He could tell I was nonplussed, because he said, “Hmmm … probably I’m not supposed to tell that story on the first date.”
The bartender brought our drinks, and Justin offered me a sip of his. It was really strong, and he laughed at the face I made when I took a sip. He took his drink back and asked me how my day had been. I told him I was having a hard time coming up with a column for this week, and he smiled and said he’d try to give me some good material. “Just don’t fight the bouncer,” I said, and he laughed and took a drink and said, “no promises.”
I asked him about his day, and he said he’d interviewed an actor who had been on The Wire. I admitted I hadn’t seen the show, even though a bunch of friends have told me I should watch it, and he spent like ten minutes talking about how it was the greatest thing ever and quoting a bunch of lines from it, even though obviously I wasn’t going to get the references because I haven’t seen the show. I started to wonder if he’d already been drinking.
The bartender came back and asked if we wanted to order food. Justin asked if I was hungry, and I said not really and asked if he was. He said he could go either way depending on what I wanted to do. “Whatever you want,” I said, and he sat there looking at the bartender indecisively for a minute until he finally said, “Give us a few minutes. But can I get another Sazerac?” He asked if I wanted another drink, but my wine was still mostly full.
After the bartender left, Justin asked how I got started writing about dating, and I gave my usual noncommittal answer about having just fallen into it. He asked if I’d ever done any other kind of writing, and I admitted that I studied poetry in college. Most guys just change the subject when I tell them that, but it seemed to catch his interest, and he started asking me if I wrote and which poets I liked—honestly, the way he fired questions at me, I started to feel like I was getting interviewed. I could tell he hadn’t read, or even heard of, a lot of the woman poets I mentioned, but he did seem to genuinely care what I had to say. It turned out he had an MFA, and he was definitely well read, though mostly typical guy stuff—Hemingway, Carver, Kerouac.
It was nice to talk to someone who seemed to really care about books, but things took a little bit of a bad turn when I asked him if he still worked on his own writing. He said he had a book that he’d written that he thought was really good, but that no one would publish it. “I used to think I was gonna be Hemingway,” he said. “Now I edit an airline magazine.” I told him he could always come back to it, but he just shrugged and said “maybe” and took a big drink.
He went on to tell me that he used most of his creative energy on music now. He plays guitar in a rock band, and he talked about this bluegrass thing he goes to once a week in Brooklyn, at this bar—I forget the name—that he claims is the greatest place in the world. And then he went off on this tangent about Ryan Adams, who’s apparently Jesus with a guitar or something, because when I said, “Oh yeah, that’s the guy with the Taylor Swift covers,” he looked at me like I had something growing out of my forehead.
Right about then the bartender came back. Justin asked if I like oysters, and I said they were okay, so he ordered a dozen, and we agreed to split a couple of appetizers. I asked what he wanted, and he said, “whatever,” and I suggested a couple of things, and he just said, “okay.” Outside of the oysters, he had to be the least decisive diner I’ve ever gone out with.
When the oysters came out, I scooped the first one out of the shell with a fork and he looked at me like I’d just used the fork to stab someone in the eye. “What the hell was that?” he said. “No fucking way. That’s not how you eat an oyster.” Then he made me slurp the second one straight from the shell—which I have to admit, did kinda work better.
I only had a couple of oysters—I’m actually not that big a fan—and he ate the rest. A cheese plate came out a couple of minutes later, and I noticed that he chewed his first bite with his mouth open. I don’t know if he noticed me noticing, but he admitted he had bad table manners and apologized, in a way. “My parents were hippies,” he said, “so I was basically raised by wolves.”
I took my phone out—at this point I was thinking about texting someone to bail me out of this—and he saw that I have a picture of my dog on my background. Then he took his phone out and showed me that he had a picture of his dog on his background. Then he showed me a video of his dog howling at a fire truck, and I started laughing, because you guys know that I have basically the same video on my phone, and I always end up showing it to guys at some point when I’m on dates. So, I guess you could say he passed that test.
When the bartender took our plate away, Justin ordered another drink. I didn’t really want another, but it was too early to just go home, so I got a vodka soda. I figured, tomorrow’s Friday, everyone else will be hungover at work, too.
When our drinks came back, I said I liked his tattoos, and I asked him what was up with the flowers. “Yeah, I’m a walking arboretum,” he joked. Then he told me about the meanings behind them, and it got pretty heavy. I won’t get into it too much, but Jesus, the guy’s had some tough times. Auschwitz and cystic fibrosis aren’t exactly first date material.
The weird thing is, he kind of won me over talking about that stuff, because he acknowledged that he probably shouldn’t talk about those tough times so early in the process of getting to know someone. But he told me that he never used to share his problems with anyone—not even his close friends—and that getting the tattoos and having people ask about them forced him to confront his issues and helped him work through them. He seemed really smart and mature about the whole thing. Or maybe the alcohol was getting to me. Or maybe I’m just the type to adopt rescue dogs.
Somehow, the vibe loosened up, and we ended up trading stories about bad Tinder dates—actually, I guess the Tinder stories were mine, although he had a funny story about a freelance writer he’d been going out with who dumped him right after he got one of her stories into his magazine. It was pretty horrible actually, but he laughed about it in a really infectious way the whole time he was telling it, and you guys, he seriously has one of the biggest smiles you’ll ever see. I should probably mention I was on drink number three by this point.
Eventually I told him I had to get up early for work, and we agreed to go. I went to the bathroom before we left, and by the time I came back he’d paid the tab. I tried to give him some money, but he wouldn’t take it.
We were going in the same direction, and he offered to split a cab. I said sure, and while we were standing outside waiting for one, he kissed me. He may have seemed awkward, but he was actually a pretty good kisser and, well, I ended up making out with him in the cab. Not my finest moment, you guys. No more first dates at bars.
The cab pulled up to my house and Justin got out to say goodnight, only he tripped getting out of the car and totally fell on his face! I ran around to see if he was okay, but I couldn’t help it, I started laughing. He cursed, and then he started laughing too, while he was sitting on the ground. Finally he got up and walked me to the door and he kissed me goodnight, even though it looked like he’d gotten some blood on his face (I don’t know if he’d hit his chin, or had a cut on his hand that he accidentally brushed against his face, or what). I thought I heard a crash after I closed the door, but I didn’t go back to look.
He was a sweet guy, if a little judgmental, funny and smart, but pretty awkward and definitely kind of a wreck. It was a fun night, but I don’t think I’ll be going out with him again.