If you ask us how we met, my boyfriend of three years will say online. He’s being deliberately provocative, because he knows I think he’s wrong. All the furtive staring and weird lurking and wordless, inexplicable hanging out — the activities that would eventually yield our love — did not take place online. How could they? They took place at St. Mark’s Bookshop, because that is where we met.
That the Internet got involved, in the form of a Craigslist Missed Connection, happened later.
It was sometime after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. I had recently quit my job. I was feeling, in a general way, very jazzed. I didn’t have anything to do or anyone to see, but I wasn’t ready to stop being in the world, so I went into St. Mark’s Bookshop, which was open late. I looked at fiction. A blond guy was doing the same.
At what point did we exit the realm of ordinary urban sizing-up (Lapham’s Quarterly tote, nice glasses, blue eyes) and begin behaving strangely? Hard to say. But there are only so many ways to browse the first half of the alphabet (pick up some Ann Beattie, hold it in front of your face, strain your peripheral vision) before you are indisputably up to something. We did not speak. This is important — approached directly, I become squeamish and eager for escape. If he had spoken to me, we probably never would have spoken again. Obviously, I would not say anything to him, because what could I say? Your hair is nice, I like the way your face moves, I wonder how you smell? Attempting to discuss books did not occur to me. I wanted physical proximity uncomplicated by saying stuff. I wanted to wait indefinitely. How long were we there? I think an hour, but I’m not sure.
When he started for the register, I followed, overshot him, and lit a cigarette in front of the store. I felt like a spy. I had, I would later tell him, an agenda but no plan. He’d bought Anne Carson, he would later tell me, because he hoped I’d be impressed. I would stop smoking, at his behest, a couple months later; for now, though, the cigarette was crucial. I looked at my phone as he walked out the door, and when he started up Third Avenue, I followed. I watched his back from a quarter block behind, all the way to 14th Street, where we descended and boarded an arriving L train, same car. I sat; he stood across from me. At Lorimer Street, when I got off, I looked back through the window twice, hard.
Which brings me to the vexed question of the Missed Connection. “Meeting online” suggests some over-determined set of premises — even Tinder requires choosing to play the game. You have to know, or at least think you know, what you’re after. But New York is for figuring that kind of thing out: for having jobs and quitting them and feeling a little giddy, for looking at strangers and realizing you don’t want to stop.
Anyway, the next night, I found this:
Girl with a Granta bag - m4w (East Village)
Yesterday at almost ten we were in the bookstore, each carrying a bag from a literary magazine. Then we rode the L train together. We made a lot of eye contact, which was nice. Craigslist remains weird; who are you?
“Hi!” I wrote. “I’m Molly. Who are you?”