The bar was now heaving and further conversation was impossible. I hadn’t eaten and was woozy. N took command. While I wove and wobbled down the street she searched for food. We passed a pizza joint that was closing up for the night. We passed a tacqueria. She whipped out her iPhone from her handbag and steered us towards an upscale vegetarian restaurant that served only raw food. Although it was late, they were open and we sat down.
The waiter informed us that the kitchen was closed but they were still serving appetizers. I ordered a plate of crostinis with crimini mushrooms and a caper béarnaise sauce. In my semi-drunken state the béarnaise sauce reminded me of eggs benedict, which reminded me of the hangover I was bound to have the next morning. Somehow, by ordering this dish, I reasoned that I could forestall the pain I was going to feel the next morning. Delusional thinking of course, but not, as it turned out, as delusional as my hopes for N.
The dish arrived. The serving was miniscule. There was just enough béarnaise sauce for a few bacteria to have a bath. The crostini were the size of nickels. I ate the whole thing in one slobbery gulp.
For some reason I found myself telling a story from my early twenties when I had spent six months working on what had I hoped was an idyllic farm in Denmark. The story did not end well (it involved illicit sexual desires, the mysterious killing of a cat, a possible love child, and with me fleeing on a boat bound for Liverpool, England). N laughed at my story but, I fear, was left with the impression that I was a screwed up kook. A female friend later made the astute observation that the conversation should have been more about N.
We left the restaurant and, to my astonishment, I was able to assertively flag down a taxi, plant a gentlemanly kiss on her cheek (neither too aggressive nor too meek), wait for her to settle comfortably into her seat and close the door with aplomb.
On the way back to the subway I passed another pizza joint and wolfed down two slippery slices and felt immediately ill.
On our first date N had told me that as child she had taken the Staten Island ferry with her father and that the trip had made a big impression on her. I immediately knew what our second date would be. I had romantic images of sea breezes, the statue of Liberty, tugs pulling in and out of New York harbor and, of course, the skyline at dusk.
I planned a light summer evening’s picnic of goat cheese, hummus, pita bread and whitefish salad. I emailed her directions to a mysterious rendezvous spot near the river. Just before we were to meet I bought a half bottle of chilled champagne and hid in my bag. It was a very warm summer evening. She arrived at the appointed location (walking serenely, as is her way) and lit up when I revealed the surprise plan to her.
I had unfortunately overlooked the fact that the ferry is basically a bus with a bow. Exhausted workers sat slumped on wooden seats, lit by harsh florescent lights, grumpily waiting to disembark at Staten Island. European tourists, snapping photographs, crowded all the viewing areas. It was impossible to spread the food out and eat. The champagne seemed inappropriate amongst the commuters who were slurping cans of Red Bull, soda and Budweiser.
We made the trip both ways without eating. We disembarked and walked over to the edge of a nearby park. We found a bench and sat down. Cars were whizzing by twenty feet behind us. We were both starving and tore into the food. The goat cheese was smushed into a blob but N gamely scooped at with a shard of pita (I had forgotten cutlery). I had brought a linen napkin, which I tried to spread across our laps but it felt weird, like huddling under a blanket. The whitefish salad was by that time a fizzy disaster and N stayed away from it.
I decided that I had nothing else to lose and brought out the champagne. Of course it was warm by now and the cork, instead of popping festively (and hopefully) merely sighed with a soft puff of air like an old man settling into a chair.