Friday, March 3, 2006

I Go On A First Date... Except Minus the "Date" Part. And the "First" Part.

Inside my small circle of friends, I'm usually put in charge of where we go and what we do to hang out. For the most part, I like my de facto role as New York tour guide — I'm a huge culture snob, and my friends... well, let's just say they tolerate ubiquitous mediocrity better than I do, and I admire them for that. I wasn't in the city for very long before I became as notorious as I'll ever be for keeping a list of NYC recreation — food, drink, and happenings — that's inexpensive but still good for impressing the peers. My friends at Columbia rarely left the campus, so I became a sort of lame urban Marco Polo, with stories of the art gallery filled with dirt or the rice pudding restaurant, and they tell me I ought to publish my urban expeditions. The people at the New York Magazine summer college internship program and also those at the Time Out New York editorial internships thought differently, which is why I'm perpetually bitter.

The downside to playing plan-maker is that there's a bit of pressure when it comes to being responsible for someone else's fun. I've learned some lessons, and now my recommendations come with explicit repudiations of any guarantees, implied or otherwise, as to my their quality, appropriateness, or existence. Still, I like having an excuse to show people a good time, and I was psyched when Erica came down from Boston yesterday and let me pick a place to hang out. I started off searching with the obvious — bars — but I was actually kind of inspired by that scene in Wonderfalls where Eric takes Jaye to the zoo for their first date (how totally fucking cute!), and I decided I wanted to do something with Erica a little less pedestrian than drinking and trying to talk over house music. Problem is: I don't really get out that much, especially not with other people, so I only had one somewhat inspired idea, and I'm not enough of a sadist to bring someone else to the Bronx Zoo on a cold, windy day.

This is where the whole "first date" thing comes in. You see, if you Google "things to do nyc", you get this collection of banal tourist attractions. But, if you Google "first date ideas", you get suggestions for things a properly socialized human being might actually want to spend their time doing. From my eight minutes of research, it appears that people enjoy billiards, bowling, movies, mini-golf, and flea markets. Women are suckers for palm readers. Men like go-karting. And then there's, for those poor souls who are destined to be abstinent and not by choice. It's pretty much a compendium of the worst date ideas ever, stuff that makes that sanitized 1950's cootie-catching mental hygeine crap seem romantic by comparison. Like, let's say you're too cheap to pay for a real date but you still want to show your woman a good time. has some suggestions for you, such as, and I'm not making this up:

Go window shopping. Discuss what you would buy if you had lots of money.

Catch frogs. Then have a frog-jumping contest. Award prizes for the largest frog and the longest jump. Then bring your girlfriend/cousin back home to her father/brother.

Take your date to visit the police station. Look at their gun or criminal collections. Act out a conjugal visit fantasy. Do it like the governor's not gonna grant you clemency.

And the number one ridiculous date idea is... Baby-sit for a young couple so they can have a night out alone. Seriously, there's some couple out there who's making a sexless, jejune date out of letting another couple get laid.
Oh my God, one of their ideas is, seriously, "Tour a mortuary." I have a feeling there's a lot of comedy gold, and even more romance plutonium, hidden in the bowels of

In the end, pretty much all of the first date ideas were dumb and Erica and I went to this tea lounge in Soho called Casablanca Tea Room. It's a small lounge and tapas bar, Marrakech by way of Project Runway, with what would be the dickiest mission statement in the history of mission statements — "This Casablanca is akin to Rick's Cafe of the movie, only a modern version located in Soho and catering to the wealthy, the famous, and the infamous." — except this is downtown New York and every restaurant, bar, and gallery in the neighborhood puts out ridiculous haughty press releases. Maybe they all share the same blowhard publicist. Ignoring the effusive marketing and the waiter who made me wonder if he was totally snooty or if I just wasn't used to being treated well, I have to say that the place was pretty nice. I don't think God can create the ambience that makes paying seven dollars for tea and six-fifty for three tiny unpronouncable goat cheese pastries seem like a good bargain, but I'm a sucker for mood lighting and stylish bathrooms with the faucets screwed into the walls, so I can't complain. Also, the tea was pretty good. Sweet, hot, and infused.