Among the fetishists, Hell’s Kitchen.
As soon as the elevator doors open in the mid-rise apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen, the host is there, in the doorway directly across from me, clipboard in hand. He is round, probably in his early forties, in a gray tank top, with close-cropped, thinning, graying hair and goatee; long, coarse hairs sprout from his shoulders and flabby upper arms as well. I follow him inside, past a dark sheet draped straight across the entryway and into a tiny, dirty kitchen to the left. He asks my name. I say, “Dan.” Immediately I say, “Shit.”
As has become a norm and especially in these situations, we’d made our acquaintance first virtually; I’d found his “party” via a Google search, which precipitated a brief e-mail exchange. Over the span of three Saturday nights, I’ve been sent out across New York in pursuit of some of the ways its 8.5 million inhabitants pursue each other. Of course, I cannot tell him this.
“James,” I say. “My name’s James.”
He looks at me. He smiles. “So which is it, Danjames?”
I tell him the truth. I give him my $20. He scratches out James on the clipboard, writes Dan. He asks whether it is my first time. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. We’re a very welcoming group.” He asks if I want a drink, pours Diet Coke into a paper cup, and leads me into the small, dimly lit living room. About eight men of varying ages and races are seated on two couches. There are, as well, chairs positioned next to an upright piano. I make my way toward one of them, careful to avoid stepping on a man inhaling furtively, lying on his back in front of one of the couches, a set of feet resting atop his completely obscured face, his erect penis in his hand.
Soon, two others will kneel on the floor in front of me. Each will take a foot, looking up to ask—mostly with their eyes—for permission to proceed. Despite desperately not wanting them to, I will feel I cannot say no, I will nod yes, and they will begin untying, with extraordinary care and delicateness, the laces of my shoes.
Ok, Cupid, How About We Match Plenty of Fishes in eHarmony?
Online dating moves offline in several Brooklyn bars.
Scott, a 27-year-old digital analyst, moved to Carroll Gardens two years ago, and despite being attractive and outgoing—he cycles and runs and plays dodgeball with a club he joined—and being “in love with New York,” he’s found meeting girls here tough. After his best friend met her future husband on Match.com, he figured he’d give online dating a try. A stint on OkCupid had not gone particularly well, leaving him questioning the site’s use of algorithms to filter matches—he likened it to Cars.com—and realizing that “in a catalogue of music and movies, I’m an average guy, I won’t shine.” What he thinks he is good at, though, is actual dating. Exploiting a discount code he found online, he’d joined How About We, a site that operates under the icebreaking conceit of users’ offering ideas for first dates. His suggestion: “How ’bout we play a board game at a bar?”
And so after two drinks, he and his date—we’ll call her Amy—who’ve just met for the first time in three dimensions, press on to Zombie Hut, which he’s chosen specifically for that possibility. It is, however, packed. So they instead share a fishbowl full of punch with two straws. Scott had pegged Amy as a “finance-y girl,” but “not high-maintenance,” and meeting her in person, he’s not disappointed. Her dirty-blonde hair is pulled into a ponytail, and she’s wearing a long blue dress and denim jacket, which Scott likes and thinks affirms the plaid shirt and boots he’s chosen to convey, he hopes, “I can go out and have fun, but I’m also responsible, I have a job that pays bills.” The conversation flows easily: He grew up in New Jersey; in fact, he has a tattoo of the state on his chest, which she thinks is funny. She’s from New England; both are big fans of Mad Men. They both seem to be having fun, so they head to the Clover Club, and as they’re walking, their hands find each other’s. Scott pays for the drinks they order. Indeed, he pays for everything—he’d asked her out; it’s a notion instilled in him by his father, an “older gentlemen,” Scott says, who passed away last year. Alas, it’s loud here, too, so they proceed to Camp, one of Scott’s haunts. Sitting at the bar, he leans clandestinely to whisper to the bartender. A little while later, the bartender brings out the s’mores platter, something Scott almost always would have reserved for a second date. They share it, they’re smiling, they’re talking, they’re sitting close.