In the heart of the Flat Iron District, right across from the building itself is a lovely place called Eataly.
It’s carved right out of the streets of Venice, with bright colors and even richer smells peppered about the establishment that entices passerbys, tourists and New Yorkers to take a stroll. There are cappuccinos and gelato, fresh cheeses and a wide selection of wine, along with truffle oil priced at $20 for an ounce or so. It’s fancy and expensive, filled with items I’d never buy for my kitchen, but treats I easily indulge in while I’m in the area.
But this night, my interest was piqued somewhere else. I didn’t give into the temptation of the double-chocolate cannolis and I kindly nodded against the samples of freshly baked bread with pesto dipping sauce. I looked away from the aisles filled with cooking knick-knacks that I could imagine myself using while wearing a silky black dress and expensive heels to match my expensive taste. But in that fantasy, I’m also dark-haired, exotic and tanned — not an Irish descendant with brown hair, blue eyes and cheeks that freckle in the sun.
In reality, I was waiting here to meet someone with similar hair and eyes but a foot taller. I nervously waited his arrival, still rather unsettled on my impression, and eager to see why he picked this location for our third date. I wondered if I haphazardly mentioned my obsession with all-things Italian or if it showed in my hips that devilishly trick me into picking pasta over salad nine times out of ten. When his name lit up in my phone, I figured out that, yet again, we were in different places at the same time. On our first date – a Sunday brunch that didn’t end until 10:30 in the evening – we went to separate locations of the same restaurant (I to the original, he to the one most convenient to me — woops). And here we were again, standing at different entrances, probably curious as to why the other is late. Perhaps we were both right on time, but with opposing opinions of where to stand. Isn’t that the case with most encounters that end up mattering?
I found him on the other side and we walked until he picked the beer garden on top of Eataly – something I meant to do this summer, but failed to accomplish. In the winter, it sparkles with white lights, and proved to be surprisingly toasty via heat lamps. As we bantered our way through the menu, ordered a bottle of red wine based merely because it was on special, I listened intently. His stories are feathered at the edges — full of variations in his tone, subtle grins here-and-there and blushing with character. But as much as he moved his hands at dinner or carelessly made light of himself, I could tell he had his ear on me.
Maybe I was biased after he promised his memory was better than mine while walking by the Plaza our first date. Or the fact he actually remembered my preference for orange juice on our second date when we stopped by McDonald’s after my first improv show in the city. Nevertheless, watching his lips as I tried to pay attention to his thoughts as much as I battled my desire to kiss him – I knew that he was taking me in. And more so, he was paying attention.
And this knowledge made me nervous.
I am always the one making observations, it is after all, part of the job of a writer to note other people. The only way I’m able to pen what I do is because I’m continuously anxious to discover the story behind strangers or the loves I know best. But to have my stomach know better than my heart that this new guy was absorbing everything I said (and did) – was rather fascinating. Maybe I’m a little jaded from the revolving door of dudes who don’t live up to expectations, yet thrive on being disappointments – but I was surprised to find a man who actually listened.
And more astonishing, asked more questions than I did. Now, that’s a definite first.
As the check came and went, along with my level-head due to the velvet red wine I happily consumed, I looked across our cozy rod-iron table and thought: what in the world can come out of that mouth next?
I have a present for you, he said, sipping the last bit left in his glass. From Staples. I quizzed him in silence, wrapping my finger around the side of my water, trying to break eye contact, but finding it impossible. Out of his jacket pocket he pulled a notebook no bigger than my hand. You said you like to people watch, right? But you never have a notebook on you. Let’s people watch. Write down anything that comes to mind.
Speechless, I looked down at the notebook – black, with a pink side. Here’s a pen, he continued. Unable to stop smiling – with teeth, not a calculated grin – I met his eyes, only to find him pulling out another notebook. And this is for me to do the same. Or when I notice things about you.
And there, in one of my favorite places in this big city, we started writing: what we saw at the tables near us, the views we witnessed outside the cascading wall of windows, the questions that sat in the eyes of the soul sitting across from us. We wrote for five minutes (per his instructions), and then we bar hopped. Every once in a while, he’d bring out that notebook and he’d write something, and though he let me read a bit of it at the end of the night, I’m sorry to report my tipsy self was too buzzed to remember much.
Friday is our 7th date (though he says our 8th because the first was blissfully long), and I’ve been trying to think of a name for him since the day he gave me the notebook. He suggested up more than a few ideas, none of which were suitable to him, though he’d probably beg to differ. I thought about Mr. Something – because something is different about him, Mr. Sincerity – since that’s the best word I can use to describe him thus far, Mr. Grin – because that’s what he does the most, but none of them worked in the way my super-critical writing mind thinks, until last night.
When, out of the blue, for no merited reason at all, he sent me a quote that happens to be one of my all-time favorite quotes from my favorite author. He knew of my preferred author, but not of those words. But really that’s one of the things I like the most about him – his words. They are crafted with care, said at the right moment and sometimes strikingly similar to things that have mattered to me that he doesn’t know the reason why, yet. Perhaps he tries or maybe it comes naturally – but like me, he’s a wordsmith. One that doesn’t depend on trickery but on strings tied directly to the heart.
Especially since he knew after two dates that more than I need bandaids and lipstick, receipts from weeks ago and pennies I found on the street, I need a notebook with me, wherever I go. You know, when I notice things about strangers. Or about Mr. Smith.
PS: I was amazed with how many Valentine’s were sent last year from all over the world. Your touching words, your kind sentiments and the way you expressed all the things you hope for, as well as all the things that make you so beautiful – were incredible. I hope you will take a moment to write a Valentine about all the things you love about yourself, all the things in the future you can’t wait to experience and what self-love means to you. I’ll publish your words – along with a link to your blog, if you blog – on Valentine’s Day. Or if you’d rather be anonymous, that’s fine too.
Go here to submit your Valentine. You deserve it. Tell me how sweet it is to be loved by you.