While living in the Washington, DC, area for a brief stint, I went on a handful—from a seemingly endless stream—of pointless first dates, one being with a guy I’ll call “James” (you’ll discover why soon enough).
As with most of my miserable dating experiences, I met James online and we chatted back and forth a bit and he mentioned that he was going to see Marc Maron perform live the following weekend. Being a fan of Maron’s “WTF” podcast, I was also interested in attending his show (and a little bit disappointed in myself for not already knowing he was coming to town, but that’s what I get for often fast-forwarding through his often long-winded intros where he’ll rattle off any performance dates). James sent me the link to purchase tickets, saying that it was open admission, so if there were still tickets available we could meet up and attend the show together. I bought my ticket and we agreed to meet up for dinner beforehand somewhere near the venue. I specifically mentioned that I hadn’t been living there long and didn’t really know the area, so I would be useless in choosing a restaurant. James insisted, “Don’t worry, I got it.”
The day before our date, I checked out James’ online profile again to refresh my memory of what he looked like so I could pick him out in a crowd. So of course that meant he only had one photo posted, and it was a long distance shot of him on a mountain that revealed no characteristics that would make him recognizable to a stranger. I pinged him and asked if he had any close-up photos to share, or did he know what he would be wearing. He replied, “I’ll probably be in a blue sweater. And I look like a young James Spader.” (See? Told you all would be revealed.)
Now, while I would never classify James Spader as a classically handsome man, his younger self (I’m envisioning the Pretty in Pink era) was moderately attractive and had a distinct look, so I figured it would be pretty easy to find his doppelganger out in public.
On date night I’m waiting for James in front of a Vapiano, a restaurant he chose, which I assumed meant he’d been there before, but would soon learn he had never been and just looked up Maron’s venue on Google Maps, saw an Italian place nearby, and figured that would do. If you’re unfamiliar with Vapiano, as I was at the time, it’s a chain that offers mediocre (at best) Italian fare served up cafeteria-style where you take your tray over to whatever line you want to order from (pasta, pizza, etc.) and they whip it up for you right there while you wait. Then you pay at the cashier and pray you can find an empty seat in their clusterfuck of a dining room. In short, it’s probably a fine place to grab a quick lunch in the middle of a work day, but it’s probably not the best choice for a first date (or really any date, if you like the person you’re dating).
After a few minutes a guy comes up to me asking, “Are you Wolfie?” I confirm that I am. “Hi, I’m James.”
Now, I don’t know what era of “young James Spader” he thought he was comparing himself to, because I don’t think James Spader was ever a short, pudgy man with a permanent depressing expression on his face who wore lumpy, shapeless sweaters that he apparently inherited from his dead grandfather. This guy looked like James Spader if James Spader was a candle that melted and drooped a bit after being stored in an area that was too hot. So, OK, he’s no Adonis (who is in real life, anyway?) but way to misrepresent yourself online because you think that’s what the ladies want, buddy.
We head into Vapiano and his first comment upon seeing the various bustling lines of people with trays in hand is a nasal, “What the hell is this?!” (This is where it is revealed to me that he’s never been here before and picked it at random.)
An employee sees our confused expression and explains the various line options, pointing out the stack of trays where we can get started. “Oh, so it’s cafeteria-style,” I reply. “Ugh, this SUCKS!” James declares.
The ordering process at Vapiano involves some sort of card system where the food preparers add whatever you’re getting to a card that you then give to the cashier who has a machine that will digitally tally everything on your card, thus giving you your grand total. It’s needlessly complicated, but most people just roll with it. James insists on knowing why he has to use a card when he’s only getting one thing, so shouldn’t you just know what that one thing costs, and why can’t he just pay the guy who made his food in the first place, and also, this place is stupid.
After we get our food there’s no two seats available at any table (it’s dinner time on a Friday and the place is packed), so we wind up sitting side by side at the bar. The bartender comes by to ask if we want anything to drink, and having already purchased a soft drink with my bowl of lukewarm, gummy pasta, I decline. James announces that there’s no way he’s paying whatever their alcohol prices are after what he was charged for a meal he had to serve himself. It’s around this time that I realize we have an entire show to sit through together after this meal and I start to wonder how badly I really want to see Marc Maron perform.
After a dinner paired with conversation topics like me trying to talk about anything other than the lackluster restaurant he chose and him reciting the litany of faults with the place, we head outside to walk the few blocks to Maron’s show. And it has begun to snow.
“Ugh! I can’t believe it’s snowing! This is going to make getting home a nightmare!”
“Well, it is February…and didn’t you just take the train here?”
“Well I’m going to have to walk through all this shit in order to get to the train!”
I’m really having a wonderful time.
When we get to what I thought was going to be a theater, we discover that it’s actually a synagogue that moonlights as a performance space. So the seats are actually pews, and there are rows of them both on the floor and up in a balcony. Since the event is general admission, there are no assigned seats, and by the time we get there, there’s only seating left in the balcony. And I inevitably know where this is going…
“Ugh, we have to sit in the balcony?! Then I shouldn’t have to pay as much as the people who get to sit on the floor.”
I excuse myself to go find the ladies room in the basement, which I don’t really need to use, but just need a few minutes away from Moaning Myrtle and the swirling vortex of negativity. I’m not even a particularly sunny person myself, but this guy made me feel like Pollyanna.
As I head up to the balcony I’m not seeing James anywhere, and I wonder if he got so frustrated at having to sit up there that he actually left, and while this would technically mean that I’d be suffering the humiliation of having been ditched mid-date, I decide that would be better than the alternative of having to spend more time with him. But he eventually shows up right before the show begins. I ask where he wandered off to, not actually caring in the slightest.
“I went to the bathroom, and then ran into Marc Maron on my way out and we chatted for a bit. He was pretty cool. I guess I could have texted you so you could have met him, too.”
Yeah, I guess you could have.
Maron takes the stage (or pulpit? or whatever the Jewish equivalent of a pulpit is? sorry, I’m not a religious person) and James is blessedly silent throughout the performance, making it the best part of the night. As we exit out onto the street afterward he whines a few times about how crowded the stairwell is and how there’s too many people there. Thankfully, when we get outside it has stopped snowing and the roads are relatively clear.
I figure there’s no way he can think this evening has gone well, but just to be safe and preemptively strike any “go grab a drink somewhere” suggestion, I comment on how I have to get up early the next morning to drive out to my mother’s house (not true), so I need to call it a night. James just shrugs and says that’s fine, as he didn’t want to take the late train home anyway. *Swoon*
He starts walking toward his train, and I realize it leaves from the same station as my subway ride home. Physically unable to take anymore awkwardness (which is saying a lot because I exist with my own abundance of it on a daily basis) I stop and say I have to head in the opposite direction for a different subway line. James mumbles something that could have either been “Nice to have met you” or “A sack of laundry is better company than me,” and continues on his way. I turn and proceed to take a very leisurely walk all around the block until I’m sure he must be underground on his train’s platform and it’s safe for me to head to mine.
If I were James Spader, I would sue that guy for besmirching my identity. And Marc Maron owes me big time.