Day 34: Going on a Silent Date at the Cloisters is BTS

When it comes down to it, silent dates are a love-it-or-hate-it affair; there can be no middle ground.

If my date and I hit it off, it will be the meet-cute of meet-cutes – Two gay guys in New York City! The Cloisters! Blind date! No talking or touching at all!– easily beating runaway heiress Claudette Colbert and world-weary ex-reporter Clark Gable fighting over the last seat on a bus in “It Happened One Night” or bookshop owner Hugh Grant spilling orange juice all over megastar Julia Roberts’ white crop top in “Notting Hill”. And 38 years and 3 grandchildren later, this: “Grandpa, tell us again the story of how you and Popo [the nickname I’ve picked for my future husband, whoever he will be] first met!” Besides, the story of how the silent date got set up in the first place is destined to be a Craigslist-era classic in itself. (You can read it all over again here.)

If it flops…well, it will just be one long awkward subway ride downtown with someone I’ll probably hate to my last breath. 

Having said that, I’m sure that you, dear reader, would know by now that, as far as I’m concerned, the second outcome is not a possibility, not even remotely. True, it takes a lot of imagination for two gay men meeting for the first time without talking and NOT for a hookup to actually have a good time. But, with my sleeves rolled up and my radiant, pearly-white smile on autopilot, I’m determined to charm the pants off S.D. – in a manner of speaking – without uttering a single word.

The Train Rides They Are A-Changing

Back in the Big Apple after a grand time in New England with A.T., I was up at 7:30 AM for the silent date at 10:30. I’ve never been to the Cloisters, the Met branch located way uptown that was devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. While my mental Hopstop told me that in a perfect MTA world – but who are we kidding, especially since it’s the weekend – I could make it to the 190th St. stop of the A train (which runs express) in 45 minutes, I padded my estimate by half an hour more.  When I got to the subway station, I found out that “due to repairs on the tracks, the A Train will be running local for the weekend.” But of course! I resorted to Plan B: Take the express D train to the 145 st. station and transfer to the A line from there. However, I wasn’t prepared for the Twilight Zone episode that followed. On my three subway transfers, the right train would arrive less than a minute after I’d get to the platform, which meant that I was making very good time. Creepy. It was too good to be true and, like the few times I came close to thinking that I’ve found Mr. Right, I decided to wait for the other shoe to drop with this MTA-of-your-dreams business. Minutes later, it did, to the sheer delight of my schadenfreude: passengers were told that they would have to get off at 168 St. and take the shuttle to 190 St. With that, I breathed a sigh of relief and concluded that everything –its seductive fiction of the perfect man and the perfect train ride included – was all right with New York City.

The Meet-Mute

After a pleasant 10-minute walk through Fort Tryon Park, overlooking the Hudson River and New Jersey, I made it to the upper driveway to the Cloisters a few minutes after 10:30 AM. I wasn’t surprised that S.D. wasn’t there yet since I pretty much lucked out with three-quarters of my subway trip. S.D. finally got there at 10:50 AM, walking up the driveway and all smiles. He didn’t look much different than he did in the photo he-emailed, better-groomed in fact, which is good, though he was a bit shorter than I imagined he would be (not any fault of his). With his build, he looked like a cousin of Robert Downey, Jr. in the sequel to “Gladiator”. He was wearing a purple T-shirt, military shorts and rubber shoes and carrying a pretty big backpack. I flashed him my best “where-are-we-going-camping-and-did-you-bring-the-frisbee” smile before gesturing as if zipping my lips shut. He returned the gesture which, as touching wasn’t allowed, had to do as a handshake.

When we got inside and S.D. started gesturing to the girl at the ticket counter, I looked away, barely able to stifle a smile. I almost wanted to tap him, though, “We didn’t have a rule about not talking to other people, did we?” There were less than a dozen visitors at the entrance hall and, two short turns later, we were in the first of the museum’s five reconstructed cloisters, the Cuxa. A cloister, for those who don’t know, is the heart of a monastery, a covered walkway surrounding a large open courtyard, with access to all other monastic buildings. The Cuxa was partly reconstructed from a monastery in the French Pyrenees in the mid-12th century.

S.D. and I moved around the cloister separately, surveying the different pieces like the column capitals, doorways and a 12th-century French chapter house (or meeting hall for monks) on our own. We would look up every minute or so to see if the date was still around and ackowledge him with a nod or smile. Unbeknownst to S.D., I would snap pictures of him literally behind his back whenever he was close enough. S.D. then walked into the courtyard garden, abloom with flowers, and started smelling three or four different kinds. With a tonsure and a monk’s robe, S.D. could pass off as a Medieval-age saint in the wilderness, a friend of the animals but one who had a secret life where he knew about the birds and the bees a little too well. (Further proof that my lack of sex can induce bizarre, WTF fantasies.) 

Baby, Talk is Cheap

It was becoming increasingly clear to me that the Cloisters was the best possible place to have a silent date at – and also the worst. There’s a solemn, soothing vibe to the whole place; it feels like being on a spiritual retreat. But if you’re into medieval art – and the Cloisters has five thousand works of art from from architectural sculptures and stained glass to metalwork, illustrated manuscripts and tapestries – I doubt that you’d want to keep your orgasmic ecstasy to yourself. More than a few times, S.D. and I would signal to each other to come over and check out a sculpture or a painting. We have somehow coded a spectrum of facial expessions with enthusiastic approval at the extreme left and violent objection at the opposite end.

That was the silent-date dynamic we’ve pretty much established. We would enter a hall together, check out the pieces on display separately (and I’d snap pictures of the pieces I liked), look up to make sure that the other person was still in sight (otherwise, wait for him to get back for a minute or so) and nod off to each other when we feel like moving to the next hall.

When I first checked the time on my cellphone, we were about 50 minutes into the silent date, and we’ve seen a little more than half of the museum. We went downstairs where the Gothic Chapel, Glass Gallery and Treasury were, apart from two other cloisters. For the first time during our tour, there was a painting S.D. seemed totally excited about showing me. It was a portion of “The Mass of St. Gregory” (pictured below) which, I have to say, was about as distracting as the conspiratorial grin on S.D.’s face. Now we all know about the devil working with idle hands, but who knew he could work the same magic with a naughty silent date and an otherwise innocuous religious article?

About twenty minutes later, there was an announcement about a gallery talk starting shortly and that interested visitors should assemble at the entrance hall. I looked expectantly at S.D. and gave him the widest smile I could manage: “Let’s go check that out!”. He smiled back and jokingly threw his arms up in the air: “No, not me please.” I rolled my eyes at him.

When we got to the café (which had its own lovely courtyard), I realized that, in the realm of human communication, if people had to pick two things that they really needed to tell each other, they would have to be:

1)    I’m thirsty – done by patting one’s throat a few times and craning one’s neck and and gesturing as if drinking from a glass (me)

2)   I need to pee – done by pretending to unzip one’s fly (S.D.)

There was a bigger garden adjacent to the café and the flowers were beautiful. More flower-sniffing by S.D. ensued, reinforcing my “birds and the bees” theory about him. He told me to go over to the lavender bed and smell it. Then he asked me to take his picture a certain way. He was gesturing like crazy but I didn’t get what he was trying to say; the other museum visitors were probably wondering why two guys would want to play charades in the Cloisters garden of all places. Then I finally got it. He wanted me to take a picture of him with his hands covering his mouth: “Look, Ma, I’m on a silent date!” Voila!

Word!

At 12:30, we went to the museum shop and I noticed he hung out at one section for 10 minutes. It was the children’s section and S.D. was checking out stained glass coloring book and colored markers. (I remember him emailing about a family get-together the next day so I presume it’s for a niece of nephew.) We left the Cloisters shortly after that; I was actually hurrying to catch a show at Times Square at 2pm. At the bus stop across the entrance to Fort Tryon Park, there was a gay couple waiting with us. They didn’t know I was with S.D. since we weren’t speaking to each other though we were seated together. When S.D. and I started gesturing to each other and showing each other the books we were reading – mine was on Edward Hopper and his were the screenplay of Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation” and the new David Sedaris – I looked up and saw the gay couple give me a knowing, ingratiating smile: “Awww, a mute gay couple on a date! How cute!” There we were, the apparent epitome of unconditional love in our (faux) voiceless splendor. 

It took the bus forever to arrive so, when it did, we hopped on it right away. A few blocks later, it occurred to me that it might not actually be the shuttle bus but a regular bus, which goes on a different route. S.D. walked over to the driver and talked to him.  I started panicking and felt bad about breaking the vow of silence but I had to – our date was technically over anyway – and asked S.D., “What did the driver say?” It turned out that S.D. has a sexy, masculine voice. He got off at the next stop since he was spending the weekend in Jersey with family (hence the backpack). The next day, I got an email from him: “I just wanted to say thanks for being my silent date at the Cloisters. I got to fulfill a fantasy of mine – and it didn’t even involve lube! What a treat!”

The Post-Mortem

The fundamental question at the heart of a silent date is really this: Can you possibly establish a connection with another person without using words? As much as I’ve sung the praises of witty repartee as key in creating that spark between two people, my silent date experience made me realize that chemistry does go beyond the trappings of language. When it’s there, it’s there, and the silent date setup magnifies that, a one-of-a-kind experience that only the two of you share. Like an inside joke, but the sensation is much more gratifying. If done with the right partner, a silent date is a fun icebreaker that ratchets up the sexual tension nicely. You can’t wait until the second “speaking” date to debrief and compare notes about the experience.

It takes a certain kind of pair to pull off a silent date, I also realized. Having the same temperament or disposition is key. I could tell that, just like me, S.D. was in touch with his inner kid and had the ideal combo of curiosity, mischief and love of fun to make it work. (The silent date was his idea, after all.) It’s all about attuning to the rhythm of the other person. The silent date could work just as well for two people who are both thoughtful, quiet types. 

Despite my initial misgivings, a silent date is not much different from a conventional date; only it’s done in reverse. The traditional date often starts with dinner or a meal where most of the conversation takes place and is followed by an activity involving the arts, entertainment or a recreational activity, and conversation takes a back seat. Just the same, the shared post-dinner experience is intended to indirectly allow both people to get into each other’s non-verbal rhytym as well as provide fodder for more stimulating conversation afterwards. The silent date creatively upends that sequence, gives it an unpredictable spin and just might be — for romantics with a taste for adventure, like myself — better than sex. 

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9 Responses to “Day 34: Going on a Silent Date at the Cloisters is BTS”

  1. Indeed a great story to tell about how I met your popo. Was there any hugs or kisses on the cheeks?

  2. “I got to fulfill a fantasy of mine – and it didn’t even involve lube! What a “treat!”– Wowza!!!

  3. what an adventure plus wafuu pa gyud imo fafa.. hehe..is there a second date?

  4. Caroline Says:

    Makes me want to go to the Cloisters…

  5. *the storyteller Says:

    popo??? i was expecting something more like “willford” or “friedrich” from you (you did name your dog “laszlo” after all). hahaha

    this is a really great entry! i’m glad you had the best time ever. now you make me want to try a silent date out :p

    ——–

    http://realbeautifulpeople.wordpress.com

  6. […] anything under the Manhattan sun. Some of the fun things that I’ve done so far include going on a silent date at the Cloisters; seeing Les Paul, the man who invented the electric guitar and is now 93, in concert; the chocolate […]

  7. Wonderful! I live in Lexington, KY, and there is a wonderful place here for such a date – it’s the Arboretum – sort of like Central Park but smaller. Or if I had a car (I’ve been carless since 1994) I’d go to Gethsemane (a monastery) here in Kentucky – you know, keep it with the Cloisters theme.

    Thank you for sharing. AND…is there a second date??

  8. I found this whole concept stunningly interesting. Seriously, who’s cool enough to actually do this?

    Amazing stuff, as always.

  9. […] than sex) until his vow of celibacy is up.  The best post so far (in my humble opinion) is where he talks about going on a silent date at the Cloisters.  Thinking about how everything that he has to say is actually and utterly independent of sexual […]

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