A couple of years ago I received two friend requests on Facebook from Houstonians, neither of whom I recognized. I was surprised because I lived in Houston for only three years in the early ’90s, and I was so angry and arrogant then that I didn’t get close to many people. (Then I moved to New York, where I fit right in.)
One of the requests was from an artist, the other one from a civilian (let’s call the latter Larry). I had recently unfriended someone whose name I didn’t recognize only to find out that she had been named one of the curators for the Whitney Biennial, so I was afraid to make a similar mistake. I emailed my best friend Jeff to find out if he knew them, and he remembered Larry immediately. “Don’t you remember that painting you gave him for his birthday? You bought a landscape at a thrift store and you cut a toy car in half and stuck it on to look as if it were driving through.” I remembered the painting, but I still had no memory of Larry. Jeff also pointed out neither of us knew the other guy. I friended both just in case.
Larry became a semi-regular presence on my Facebook feed, posting industrial music videos (a very Houston thing to do for people our age) and way too many “write down where we met and repost this status”-type posts. Needless to say, I never joined in. Then about six months ago I got a message from him: “I’m coming to New York, let’s meet up!”
I’m terribly uncomfortable with strangers, but not wanting to be rude I suggested we meet for lunch at a restaurant a block away from my job and included the website for the place. Larry agreed to meet me there and added that he was “one of those people who still don’t have a cell phone.” Since I’m “one of those people who still don’t have a smart phone,” I appreciated the rare opportunity to feel superior.
I showed up at the restaurant five minutes late but didn’t see Larry. I sat down and waited. It’s really awkward to wait at a restaurant by yourself, particularly when you don’t have a smart phone to look at. I spent a lot of time trying to not make eye contact with anyone. And I waited. And waited. And waited. After 45 minutes I ordered lunch. I ate a burger staring at nothing and went back to the office.
It turned out the restaurant I had suggested had two locations, and Larry had gone to the one downtown. He was leaving that night so I figured that I’d never hear from him again. But last week, I did.
Larry was back in New York with a friend (let’s call her Laura) and wanted to try again. I suggested the same restaurant. I again arrived five minutes late. Larry showed up shortly after looking exactly as he does on Facebook with a woman I had never seen, on Facebook or anywhere else.
“Nice to meet you, Laura!” I said.
“Nice to meet you again, Giovanni,” she replied. For a moment I felt like I was in the Bourne identity and I was tempted to tip the table over, knock a few people out of the way, and jump through the window. But I was really hungry so I decided to wait.
Laura was quiet, but Larry turned out to be a pleasant conversationalist. We caught up on mutual friends and the changes in Houston after I left. He spoke of his job, which he said was a surprising change from what he had been doing previously. Not having any idea what he had been doing, I had to take his word for it. He then confessed that he accidentally destroyed the painting I gave him for his birthday, exhausting pretty much all conversation about the period when we were supposed to have known each other. Then we started talking about our cats, and that got us through lunch.
I had such a good time that I insisted they call me again next time they come to New York. And I’m considering sending Laura a friend request on Facebook.