I stopped into a bodega on my way to meet a gentleman for a first date. It was 9:30 at night on a Saturday and my throat was scratchy. I needed some hot tea and lozenges, a little pick-me-up.
"Do you have tea?" I said.
"Yes Boss," said the Pakistani man behind the counter. He stood about 5'7", maybe 5'8," around 55 years old. He had a roundish belly and a kind face. "What would you like Boss?"
I smiled. "Can I have the Lemon Zinger, with just a little honey please?"
"Yes Boss. Anything else you'd like?"
"Can I have some napkins and a straw?"
"You may have whatever you like," he said.
"I like you," I said. And I like being called 'Boss'."
"I like you too," he said.
I turned to notice a young couple behind me, mid-twenties, smiling and enjoying the interaction between myself and the Pakistani man.
'We like each other," I said. They laughed.
"Women are the bosses," said the Pakistani man. "They should be treated with love and respect. Just be honest, give them attention and affection. Women are the smart ones. Any man who does not know these things is stupid."
"There are a lot of stupid men in Manhattan," I said.
"You have good energy," he said. "You put out the good energy and good will come back to you."
Our warm interaction stayed with me as I walked out the door and down the street.
Three hours later the lyrics of Toto's Africa played through my headset. The summer humidity had finally broke, for the day at least.
I walked north on Second Avenue, heading home from a good night. It was after 1am but plenty of people still occupied the street. They city's energy felt invigorating and calming at the same time.
"You are beautiful!"
Something startled me out of my peaceful trance.
I turned to my left to see a light-skinned gentleman calling out to me from the rolled down window of a black SUV.
I smiled. "Thank you," I said as I kept walking.
A minute later someone sprinted up behind me and halted to a stop. I jumped, turning to see the guy from the black SUV standing there.
"You are beautiful," he said.
He was tall and thin and wore a grey flat cap, a nice short-sleeved silvery gray shirt and black jeans. His metallic silver high-top sneakers demanded my attention.
"Thank you," I said. "You scared me."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I'm Mike. I'm a wide receiver for the NFL and I just came home for the day to have some fun. I'm free til my flight at 5:00 a.m. Let's go have some fun."
He extended his hand to shake mine.
"I'm Amy," I said.
"Where are you coming from?" he said.
"Downtown. I was having dinner and now I'm heading home," I said. "You're a football player?"
"Yep, wide receiver."
"So you catch the ball?"
"I catch the ball and run for my life," he laughed. "You are cute. Can we have a drink or dinner?" he said.
"I'm tired," I said smiling. "It's 1:30 a.m. and I already had dinner."
"Well can we have a coffee or a water? Where's a Starbuck's?" he said laughing. "I just want to have a conversation, get to know you."
I hesitated. "Okay ... maybe one drink."
He walked toward his car.
"I can't get in your car! I don't know you."
"Here's my card," he said.
He took out his NFL identification card. There was his face and title, Wide Receiver, for a team we will keep confidential.
"Where do you want to go? The Four Seasons? Lavo? I'm going to take you to The Four Seasons. Let's see if they're still open."
"Give me something," I said. "Give me your ID to hold onto. I'll give it back once we get there."
Like that would help if he decided to try anything. He handed it over.
He opened my door. "In the south we open doors," he said. (So it's a team in the south. I'll let that clue slide).
"Thank you," I said.
I got in.
"Let me show you my family," he said.
He took out his phone to pull up a group picture of 7 or 8 white people.
"I'm Dominican, Italian and Black," he said. "There's my mom and my dad and my sister and my brother and these are my cousins. But I look like this because my mom's dad looks like this."
He patted the black interior of the dashboard.
"Every year I tell them to pick a place and I take them all on vacation."
"That's nice," I said.
"You're in good hands," he said, pulling out onto Second Avenue.
"You can't turn here, it's a one-way," I said. I laughed at myself. "I'm sorry, I'm a backseat driver."
"I see that," he said. "The turn signal's not even on Amy! The next light, I'm turning.
"So, past relationships? " he said. "Obviously you're not in a relationship, you're out here walking around by yourself."
"I have a history of choosing the wrong men," I said. "But I think I've finally figured it out. I'm making better decisions now. I was just coming home from a first date, actually," I said.
"How'd that go?"
"Good. He was very kind, cute, we seem to have a lot in common. We got connected on this dating app, Bumble. Have you heard of this?"
"I'm not on any of that or any social media. We're not allowed being in the NFL."
"It's like Tinder but not creepy."
"Did he like you?"
"Yeah. He wants to see each other again."
"You know a guy can say anything to you on a first date. Do you want kids?" he said.
"I don't know. I've always wanted to adopt," I said.
"You can't have 'em anymore?" he said.
"I don't know. I'm 37, but I'm not in any rush. We'll see what happens."
"How old are you?" I said.
"I'll tell you after we're intimate because then you won't care."
"What?!" I said.
"I've had bad experiences with telling women how old I am."
"Just tell me."
"Okay, you wanna know so bad ... I'm 28. But I'm mature. I want to get married ... if the woman wants to, when it's right."
He seemed older. I guess you carry yourself well when you play pro football.
"A guy can tell you anything on a first date," I said.
The Four Seasons and Lavo were closed. He turned the car around. It was 2:43am.
"I should probably go home. Not because you're 28 but because it's late."
"Well at least you got to ride around New York City for a bit. Most people don't have cars here."
"It was fun," I said. And it was.
He pulled to a stop on my block.
"When am I going to see you again Amy? I can fly to New York anytime you want, as long as it's after practice. What are you doing tomorrow?"
"I have comedy stuff. I'll be at this place downtown hosting a mic."
"You don't want to come to that. It's comedians practicing their material."
"Well are people eating and drinking?"
"Well okay. I wanna laugh too. I'll be there."
He leaned over to kiss the corner of my mouth.