“Do you know what you’re doing here?” I ask, as I waved my hand over his shopping cart filled with a dozen bottles of wine.
“Not at all – what are you looking for?”
I am standing in the Italy section of Trader Joe’s wine shop in Union Square, picking something up for dinner with my friend Amanda at a BYOB restaurant in the East Village. For the past thirty seconds I’ve been staring at the rows of reds while the tall, handsome man behind me carefully reads each label before putting it in his cart.
“Well, I usually enjoy Malbec, but I’m going to an Italian restaurant so I thought I would go Italian for the occasion.”
After pointing out which wines he likes, and his brother likes, I still decide to go with Malbec. A creature of habit, I cling to my familiar vices. As I get in the long line to pay, I wonder if that guy had wanted to ask me out. Then I wonder why I didn’t ask him out. I’ve been known to do so, with varying levels of success, so I make up my mind to ask him for a drink after I pay for my wine.
The line creeps forward slowly as my heart accelerates. I’m pretty good at snap-second decisions, but dwelling on them gives me too much time to talk myself out of it. I spend less than $10 on my bottle of wine, collect my receipt, and turn to get his attention at the register next to mine. I freeze, arm extended, my hand inches from his shoulder – he’s not that cute, is he? He’s with his friend, will it be embarrassing? In that split second I let better wisdom prevail, and turn to leave.
But I pause again – regret. Early one Sunday morning a few weeks ago I saw a truly stunning man at the grocery store and I spent the better part of my shopping trip casually passing him as he browsed each aisle. I even managed to get right behind him in line, hoping an opportunity would arise where we could debate the merits of salted and unsalted butter. He, of course, remained decidedly unaware of my presence, and despite my best attempts to find him again at the same store at the same time each Sunday morning, I’ve never seen him again.
I turn back around, and tap the man on the shoulder.
“I have another question for you – would you like to get a drink sometime?” I manage to blurt out.
“Yes!” And then his expression changed. “But I leave the country in a week, so it probably isn’t a great idea.”
I’m not known for hiding my emotions well, and I’m sure he could see in an instant my mix of disappointment and embarrassment. I mumble something, smile, and walk out the door with as much confidence as I could muster.
The restaurant I’m headed to is ten blocks south; a small family-owned hole-in-the-wall with, according to Yelp, four tables. After making it out of the immediate radius of the wine shop, I begin to think about how I’ll tell the story to my friend at dinner – it’s a good start for a girls’ night out.
An alert interrupts the music in my headphones; it’s a text from Amanda. Running late – is it ok if Anne comes? She was supposed to have a date but he canceled.
Wearing new boots, I strut down Second Avenue, past the circus that is St. Mark’s Place, past outdoor patios full of diners soaking up the last few weeks of warm weather. Just a few doors east of Second, on Fourth Street, I find Piccola Strada. The Yelpers weren’t exaggerating – inside I see two two-tops and a long table set for at least a dozen.
Just got here, I text Amanda.
Walked the wrong way on Houston – be there soon, she replies.
I stand outside looking west in anticipation. Silhouetted, I see a tall man approaching carrying two large bags. As he gets closer, I recognize him as the man from the wine shop. Hoping to avoid any awkwardness, I pull my phone out – the great excuse of my generation.
“Hello, hello, glad to see you!” he says as he hugs the small woman smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk; I immediately realize she owns the restaurant and he is having dinner here as well. Of course.
He notices me, and we exchange small pleasantries about what a small world it is. ”Come in and have a drink with us until your friend gets here!” he says. “Sean, nice to meet you.”
I follow him and his friend in where they take their seats at the long party table – a birthday/going away party, I am told. I take my seat at one of the small tables, and we continue to have a conversation. He’s very friendly, and I quickly feel much more comfortable. We continue in this way for another five to ten minutes, until more of his friends begin to trickle in. I can tell he is torn between including me in the introductions and completely ignoring me. I wish he would observe the latter, but he opts for the former.
Once the party has grown to eight guests, I assure him he can leave me and just enjoy his party; I’ll be fine until my friend arrives. In the interim I text her feverishly. Tried unsuccessfully to pick up a guy at the wine shop – now he’s eating at our restaurant. Hurry!
When Amanda walks in, the table – most of whom were introduced to the pity party in the corner – breaks into applause. The girl knows how to make an entrance. As she’s putting her bag down on her chair, she motions toward Sean with her head and widens her eyes. I nod back – yep, that’s him. She steals a glance, and then pauses.
“Hey – you look really familiar to me,” she says to Sean. After a minute or two of discussion, during which I sit mortified, he finally convinces Amanda they’ve never actually met before. When she sits down, it hits her.
“I know him from Facebook!” she hisses through her teeth. “He used to date Anne!”
Anne who is meeting us for dinner.
I try to tell Amanda the full version of what happened at the wine shop, which proves to be difficult as Sean is sitting four feet away. When Anne arrives, she spots him immediately. I watch him for the reaction – not as drastic as expected, but he did whiplash between Anne, our table, and back to Anne. Things must have ended amicably, because she put her bag down at our table and went to talk to him for a few minutes. When she returns, I rush through the story, mouthing choice words so no one else hears.
“I’m proud of you for being bold! And don’t worry, you dodged a bullet – he isn’t a good kisser!” confesses Anne.
We spend the rest of the dinner talking about everything else under the sun. I occasionally exchange glances with Sean, but that happens less and less as the time passes. The waiter was nice enough to suggest we order our three meals before their thirteen, so we finished long ahead of the other table.
The three of us filed out of the small restaurant past the other table. “Goodbye, goodbye!” exclaimed Amanda to the entire room. “Have a great trip!” Anne said to Sean, as they high-fived across the table. I bring up the caboose and frantically try to come up with something to say. Tactful as ever, I just shrug and just say “Sorry, I didn’t know…”