Black spires and cityscapes hung on the wall to my left. Yellow lighting and insides sung for chicken curry, tender-like-your mother kebabs, and chai. It was just another humpy-dumpy Wednesday. At the Shad. Mecca for the cheap and the broke. India-Pakistani food at its best. My local tea-joint. My one-stop refuge when I ran out of ideas for places to meet in Jersey City.
It was just before 12:00. 11:45 AM precisely. The pre-lunch hustle had not gotten raucous YET.
From my perch at the window I watched devotees of chicken curry and multiple masalas lining up. To my right, an old man watching videos on YouTube, without headphones. Thank you Grandpa.
I was inhaling the Samosa Chaat-- a funky-dunky-mixture of fried dough, potatoes and all kinds of caloric goodness. Silently, steadily as if the world were about to come to a shrilling halt. 15 minutes before he arrived. Blindr Date no: 2, that is.
In the radical spirit of experimentation, I was testing a variety of times and climes to find the efficiency frontier of the human ritual that online dating is. The modern day meat market of swiping left and right. Where social code meets heart, where the random walk of algorithms collide with the terribly vulnerable business of being human.
Optimal spaces for optimal faces, optimal times where lunch could be had on a dime. I was after the perfectly sustainable blind-date.
I was getting into the meat of my vegetarian samosa, the heart of the matter of the oh-so-flaky doughy, mashed potato chunks, when I heard the door open.
A third instinct told me that it was him. I could see him pause through the double-doors. Puzzled by the choice of place, debating possibly a hasty turn-back and retreat.
He had picked the shift and I the place.
Hesitation. A Pause. A quick glance around, a brief survey of the species that milled.
I chewed ingesting his side profile. He caught me mid-chew, spying on him. I looked away but not quickly enough. He caught me. A tight smile, a fleeting sense of relief.
He had spotted the reason why he was here. DRAT.
Quick, clicking footsteps. Punctuation marks. Precise and terminal.
I stared down at my half-finished bowl of chaat. Annoyance. Disruption. Interruption. A complex emotional range. All triggered by an overzealous early arrival.
I responded with a tight nod back. Windshield-wiping my teeth for offending potato and pea bits, All the while staring at his chest, taking in the complete picture.
Stiff-starchy whites. A green bow-tie with green buttons.
This was a first for me and definitively for the Shad.
Hello Oddity on multiple counts.
Note to self. Toggle off bow-ties on that loopy app.
Hello. Pleased to meet you.
Hungry, I see….
Just a late breakfast. Was not planning on you being here 15 minutes early.
He sat right across and stared straight into me, holding gaze for 10 seconds. Not to be cowed, I stared right back although my eyes were starting to salt. Inside my persistence wavered. Buffering, I smiled the no-smile.
He reached over- “I am Ernst. A pleasure to meet you. Thank you for making the time."
He sounded like an office memo. Rats.
The pleasure is mine, Ernst. Nee-Roopa. Nee as in neat not nice.
I meant the e in my name. I can be nice.
My finger sticky with chutney, I took his hand. His grip unflinching and to the point. A portfolio of all around precision.
Why thank you, Nee-Roopa, as in neat.
Idiosyncrasy, a mild turn-on….I smiled.
Are you Ernst or were your parents bad at spelling?
I am Ernst of the one vowel. My mother knows english. She uses it as it suits her, however.
A linguist in the midst. Ooh la la.
It means serious in German. It can be the last name equivalent of Earnest as well.
That is a lot to live up to isn’t it? Ernst of the One Vowel.
I grinned. He responded unsmilingly.
My name is everything Nee Roopa.
Interesting, how exactly Ernst?
Well, for one, I do take things very seriously. I take myself very seriously.
OH NO. Here we gooooooo…shuckles. Panic in this disco……
I take every moment, every instant of time very seriously.
My internal clock suddenly seemed out of time. I had not planned on spending a hump-day afternoon spiraling down a time vortex with a character with one vowel in his name, who took himself too seriously.
Yet I played along.
So give me an idea of what goes on in your very serious day?
I am around a lot of straight lines.
Hmm. What do you mean by around a lot of straight lines, Ernst?
I draw them, play with them. I measure them.
Images of straight lines zig-zagged inside. Pins and needles of the brain.
Then I build structures.
How big are these structures?
Where they sit.
Interesting. And where do they sit?
They can be inside or outside. But I am a specialist of inside structures.
And why straight lines exactly?
Because I am linear.
Silence. The silence of stones.
Not to be defeated so easily, I plowed on. But only after reaching deep within. Through seabed where original thought slumbered….
More like b comes after a, c comes after b, so on so forth………. We start at point A. Follow a series of steps that come to an end at a point. A fixed point.
Interesting. Like a sequence.
OR, more like a=b, b=c, and a=c.
Like transitive. Or is it transpose?
Depends on the context but you can say transitive.
Not. It sounded appealing like sawdust could be.
So if you had to draw your life right now, your universe, what would it look like?
A series of straight lines.
Heavens. Didacticism, the widow-maker of dates. But I persist.
You mean like a walk on flat land stretching out millions of miles into nowhere one straight line leading to a never ending succession of other straight lines.
Not necessarily. It can also look like a step function.
Like a set of stairs?
Yes, except you won’t feel winded.
That is a bonus.
We sat in stillness. A resigned kind of stillness with an undercurrent of contentment.
I looked at Ernst of the One Vowel. He was staring up in front of him. Oblivious to Youtube Videos and masala chicken.
Nee, may I?
A cliff jump to familiarity for one so stiff with precision.
Roo please. I prefer Roo.
Roo, so tell me. What would your universe look like? If you had to draw it that is….
Gosh. How proby of you……..
I smiled, knowing full well that my sarcasm was likely lost on the master of linearity.
Only if I could reciprocate. You asked, so I thought I could as well.
Is that okay?
I was just joshing you, Ernst. Of the One Vowel.
I only know Josh to be a name. But I believe I get your context.
I paused. This was a mind-ducky kind of date.
Since you asked….. I think I will first draw a circle. And then I will make a lot of scratchings in the left corner. And some orange in the right.
And then I will add a lot of scribble in a zig-zag fashion.
And I will make them all talk to each other. Until it sounds like nonstop buzzing.
Like a soundzoo.
Ernst was an impeccable listener. He did not look alarmed, not the least bit.
A mild warmth spread inside. By all standards, blind date number 2 was sprouting teeny green shoots.
So you are the exact opposite of me.
He sounded confident. Almost to the point of being offensive.
Please explain, Ernst.
I am linear. You are non-linear.
Hmm. Not sure how I feel about being simplified to a script like that……
Or where I come from, we call that putting in a box.
I refrained and spared him existential ranting.
I get your drift, Ernst.
If I may, I think your analysis is in the direction. But I am not sure that I buy it.
Pause. More listening.
For one, I can draw straight lines. Except, they might not be steps. They could be teepees. Or mountains. Or a library of books.
I was waiting for him to fidget, to feel uncomfortable, to feel an affront on being corrected so.
He just sat there, with masala smells buzzing around his face. Uncomplaining.
So I continued.
I just think that it hard to put us all in one neat box. Even with a bow tie on top. Nice bowtie btw.
Thank you Roo.
I did not mean to put you in a box. The simplicity of it was so elegant. I could not resist. It is an occupational hazard. Forgive me.
Silence. We were both chewing. A conversation packed with disparate logic like sardines. Fiber for the soul.
So what do you do exactly, Ernst…….day-to-day to occupy time if you will, to earn your bread or yams or $$ or bits?
I build models.
What kind of models?
Mental models……..I catalogue mental models.
The inside outside bits were starting to fall in place. What a dork.
I had a terrible weakness for dorks. I kept as deadpan as I could. Because I was sensing the onslaught of a mild infatuation.
What a rad job description.
I know. It is a gift to be so employed. It suits me.
I see that.
Is that why you have alphabets for buttons?
And is there a reason for that slant?
He looked sheepish.
It was a gift. Mother stitched this special series for me.
She specializes in slants and askews. The non-straights if you will. She has a fondness for buttons. Her peeve is also that I use too many commas.
She likes that I wear this shirt every first Friday of the month, to remember. Her and how not everything in life is a straight line.
………….Or as I like to say, a linear occurrence.
I like your mom, Ernst.
Mother. She goes by Mother.
Your mother, Ernst sounds delightful.
Perhaps I could meet her one of the first Fridays of an upcoming month?
That could be arranged.
Her name is Gertrude.
This is part of a series of posts that tracks a self-styled study of creatives within and without. The characters of our micro and macro-cosms.
It was only after I finished my last post, that I realized that there exists a dating app called Blinder. Without really having used it but to deferentially preserve creative license for the sake of story, I decided to modify the name just a little bit. Allow me the indulgence.
Until the next persona presents....
CEO of Small Things Unlimited
Insatiable Dater of the Imaginary