Stagger Lee: A Berlin Bar

Google search image... My first Tinder date kind of looked like him.
Google search image… My first Tinder date kind of looked like him.

April 27, 2014

The first thing he said to me on Tinder was that he really liked my photographs, at least my Instagram photos. He wrote, “I just wanted to say….” I wondered whether that was all he wanted to say. Yes, those nonsensical thoughts occur in my mind. I asked him a question in return.

I later found out he almost swiped the other way for me, as I only had one photo. He was perplexed and exasperated, who puts up only one photo! Apparently someone like me. He had turned Tinder into Glimpse. From the beginning, he identified me as a photographer. I didn’t persuade him otherwise. He thought in principle, Tinder was superficial since at least at parties you could talk to someone for 30 seconds before you made a decision. But would talking to someone for 30 seconds make them otherwise attractive? Maybe my problem was that at parties it took me 30 seconds to respond to a meaningless, “What’s up?”

I kept it to myself that he also wasn’t a resounding and immediate right swipe for me either. He had traveled to countries I had little interest in and was a closet musician. Having dated a closet pianist/ opera lover, I knew there would always be a lack of understanding between me and musicians but he had a boyish face and described himself as a world traveler, so I swiped right for him. He had several meaningful photos of himself and in various countries and environments, showing the mundane and adventurous in places like Egypt and China. He had wanted to show his love of Indian desserts, his latest, most amazing travel adventure, and a close-up of his face. His bathroom selfie reminded me of a portrait used for an old cover of Stendhal’s The Red and the Black. How close I was to the truth of his history just from this resemblance.

When he arrived 30 minutes late to our designated bar, he immediately apologized and said the drinks were on him.

I told him it wasn’t a problem and immediately blurted out as we took a seat, “ You’re the first person I’m meeting from Tinder.”

“You’re also my first person.”

The first question he asked me was uninspired and obvious, “How was your weekend?”

Even with a full Manhattan in me, it momentarily caught me off guard, those generic questions are an introspective person’s worst nightmare because we think deeply about them and no one, especially new acquaintances, ever understands why it causes such a stumbling block in the conversational flow. They just end up thinking you’re slow or awkward.

After a few seconds I answered, “Good, I went to Görlitz yesterday, the city where Wes Anderson filmed The Grand Budepest Hotel. Have you seen it?”

“No, you mean the guy who directed the film with the kids?”

“Kids, no I don’t think so… (after some silence and the appearance of my thinking face) you mean Moonrise Kingdom?”

“Yeah that one, I didn’t really like it. It didn’t seem to be about anything, it had no … (he scrunched his face) depth.”

“You didn’t like it !!,” I said stunned but still smiling, although my tone was leaning toward disbelief.

He immediately tried to recover his comment. “I was going through a really bad time in my life, maybe that’s why I didn’t like it. Perhaps it would be different now. (pause) My ex slapped me…” He looked forlorn, his head hanging down. I was already sipping my second Manhattan so I remained optimistic and understanding from my buzz but open to the real possibility he was not over his ex. I felt empathy for him but I also didn’t know what to say and he still had his head down.

He shook his head to snap out of it and asked, “Tell me about your photography.”

“There’s not much to it, no depth.” I wasn’t just making a play on words, my photography is mainly intuitive and I rarely have to think about it. I have to see it, to create the shot, not the other way around.

“So it’s gonna be like that,” he replied jokingly.

“Tell me about your work in China.”

A few minutes later I told him, “German guys never flirt. They’re kind of effeminate, they don’t hit on girls. Most of them are just too cool to hit on you, at least that’s my experience.”

“I don’t date girls in China, they’re usually not that well-traveled and they all just want to get married. And they can be real aggressive about it too.”

I wondered if this was my cue to realize, he wasn’t looking for anything serious. “Yeah, I heard in Japan, girls not married by 25 are like after Christmas …”

He interrupts me. I was 33. He was 26. “They say worse in China. In China, I know so many guys who think if they only made more money, they could get the girl. Before they’re married, the girls treat them like crap, and then after they’re married, the guys treat them like crap.”

“Really? That’s a cool insight.” I laugh.

We must have talked for another hour until the bar closed. I remember colleges being shared. He dismissed his getting into an Ivy league due to his low income high school. We bonded over coming from lower financial backgrounds as opposed to the universities we went to. I also told him I liked rum based drinks. Information he used at the next bar we went to. I could sense him storing away information about me, just like I did with my crushes. I do however remember him making this one additional comment.

“Most of my friends are girls. Its because I like to talk about my feelings.”

Although he was so late arriving to the bar, no part of me was angry. I was enjoying ichating with my friend.

She wrote “A date at 1am is a booty call : )”

“No booty is seeing the light of day and the bar closes in an hour.”

In the s-bahn going to the bar, I saw my eyebrows looked kind of crazy reflected in the window of the train. I chatted my friend, “I didn’t have much time for makeup, I feel it’s a bit clownish.”

“Don’t overdo it with makeup!”

“This is only my second date with an American.”

“That’s kind of funny. Have fun!”

“Oh my god, my eyebrows are crazy.”

“Hehe, you pencil your eyebrows?” I’m actually the victim of eyebrow hair loss. Striking eyebrows are the ultimate beauty mark, second only to a nice nose.

“Yes but it’s too late. Hopefully I can drown a cocktail before he comes. Somehow my glasses are dirty.”

I arrive at the bar. “Don’t have too much alcohol.”

“I only have 20 euros and there are three Asians in the bar and one is sitting alone next to me…. might be confusing. She is at the bar. I am at a table.”

“Only you can get in these predicaments. It’s like a Woody Allen movie.”

I had tried to meet him the night before but my Tinder unknowingly crashed. The saddest part was my makeup had been perfect the night before. I had to wash it all off at 5:30am accepting he must be at Berghain by now. Before I knew the app had crashed I thought it was because I had asked him an asinine question as I couldn’t decide which bar to meet at. Or that he had gotten drunk and had simply forgotten about me. The possibilities were endless and I was too embarrassed to ask what had happened without a response. I had asked him what kind of bar he wanted to go to and he had replied, vibrant but quiet enough to talk and then laughed at himself for not narrowing down the options much further.

“Vibrant pretentious, artsy, hipster, convenient, laid back?” I asked.

After I asked this question, I never got a response. I reprimanded myself, thinking oh why did I ask that question, I should have just decided on a time and place. As I washed my face, I repeated to myself, “I have not lost faith in humanity.”

The next morning, I decided to respond to another guy on Tinder who had been asking me one question a week for the past month. The message would not go through. I deleted and downloaded the app again and that is when I saw his response.

“Is vibrant pretentious a word, don’t you need a comma?” Ten minutes later, “I say artsy then.”

I then proceeded to explain what happened, ending every sentence in an exclamation point and gave him the phone number to my WhatsApp. He didn’t message me till around 10:30pm that evening. He said he had just received my message. We lamented how sad and disappointing it was not to have met the other night. I thought he was already in Paris but he was still in Berlin. We planned to met at a bar halfway between us at 12:30am. He would be coming from a part of town where I only knew one cool bar, so the choice was easy and WhatsApp delivered my messages in real-time.

My date suggested we go to another bar and asked the bartender for a recommendation. He wrote down the name and address of another bar on a piece of paper and gave us a free shot with a knowing smile. We arrived at the second bar by taking a taxi around what seemed like a street corner. I was too drunk to think I could enter the address in my iPhone. We walked into one of those bare Berlin punk bars staffed by an old man that opened later than 2am on a Sunday evening. There was one other male patron and a wide open space. We sat at the bar. He ordered the drinks, a gin and tonic and a rum and coke. I didn’t protest. Although I did like rum, I didn’t like coke which made me always order a gin and tonic.

My inebriated memory remembers saying these key phrases. “I picked a class based on oh… (to emphasize how clueless I had been) this prof has a cool name, and others knew he was a Hegelian scholar.”

“Boston Consulting Group,” to which he silently corrected in a whisper BCG.

“McKinsey.” “No, I’m not still in love with him.”

I remember laughing while answering this question. His conclusion had been so off. Not only was I over him, forgiveness had come into being and I wished him well. I even enjoyed seeing his bad photographs on Facebook with his wife. He wasn’t even close to coming to that stage with either of his two former loves. One he still hated one and the other, perhaps was still in love with. Not since I was 20, was I more ready to fall in love with someone than I was right then at that bar. I was being a drunk, prestige name dropper by loose association. I obviously had no strategy or objective nor one that would eventually work for my own benefit or good character. I made a mental note to myself to never mention these career brands on any other future dates. Everything else spoken was lost.

The next day while chatting he kept telling me he already knew this or that piece of information, as I had told him the night before. To my chagrin, I had also said something offensive toward him about wealth which he hadn’t taken offensively. I couldn’t remember what it could be. He had however made a mental note. He admitted that I said I liked the boyish look, that I was quiet and awkward when sober, and that I was bohemian but liked nice things. My relationship toward money was paradoxical, I suffered from embarrassment because of a lack of it but I didn’t want to fear money and I looked upon professional misers with disdain and tended to respect spendthrifts more. The extraordinary lengths I saw others go to saving it was not the way I wanted to live my life. I remember paying 12 euros for both drinks, he went to the restroom before we left.

Outside the bar, I heard, “Can I kiss you?” I laughed and he kissed me.

I don’t know how long we were standing there but the old German bartender finally came out the door and stood like a giant over us, looking down disapprovingly. We ran across the street. He directed us toward what looked like a Brooklyn stoop in the middle of Berlin. On the steps, he suggested I take off my glasses which I imagine had been hitting him in the face as I moved my head around. At some point, I remember leaning in to kiss him again and his face wasn’t there, he was trying to direct me somewhere else. A water bottle also vaguely comes into memory. Somehow I had directed us to my bus stop at Nollendorfplatz and saw that I had missed my last bus at 4:35am. I mourned this and checked my wallet and saw I only had 8 euros. I verbalized all of this and so he gave me 10 euros against weak protest and put me in a cab. I don’t remember saying goodbye or seeing his face. Just the 10 euros and the backseat of the cab. I don’t remember paying, I don’t remember how I got home.

The next morning, I wasn’t sure if I would hear from him again. I also realized my shirt smelled like old sweat as I had been wearing it for the past few days, a dry clean sleeveless I tried to wear for as long as possible before it needed professional cleaning. Against my friend’s admonition, I had drank too much and I threw it all up as a colorless liquid in the toilet.

The first thing my mind thought back to was an image of a girl I had briefly seen on his phone as I was drunk on the street. It was of an tall, statuesque Indian girl, looking more Dynasty than postmodern, wearing a long fitting evening gown. Her hair was up and the girl looked like she could have towered over him and could have slapped him hard. She also had noticeable breasts. The next time I saw his phone, the picture was no longer there. He had changed his screensaver to his nephew.

She had treated him exactly how I had treated my last ex. When I didn’t love someone, everything they said and did just made me angry. I showed little patience or tolerance or lovableness just irritation and anger. I couldn’t help but think he, my Tinder date, had brought that same anger out in her, Ms. Dynasty and how much it must have hurt him and chipped away at his ego and sense of self-worth.

Much later, after everything was over, I went to his Facebook profile and saw photos of who must have been his best friend who happened to be a girl. From her deeply tanned skin and low cut revealing summer dress and her active and animated hands, she gave off an air of the bubbly and vivacious. One hint of vivacious and I wanted to plant a white flag and throw in the towel. Having lost any trace of vivacious at the age of three, it was an adjective I never tried to compete with. If you like vivacious, you wouldn’t like me. With the fleeting glimpse of the girl on his phone and the adjectives he had used to describe the kind of bar he was interested in, “vibrant but quiet enough to talk” my mind began to construct his ideal woman. A smart, practical girl, tall and dark-skinned who was vibrant and outgoing. Someone he could talk to. I wasn’t any of those things. I was well-read but not smart in the logical / lawyer sense, unpractical, the palest Asian of all my Asian friends and subdued in every aspect of my being. Vibrancy was my antonym. I was already starting to imagine myself fading aways, disappearing from his life.

An ex once concluded after hearing all my whack theories of who he was actually in love with, “I have never met anyone come to such wrongheaded conclusions from the skimpiest fact base.”Indeed, my ex never ended up marrying any of the girls I thought he was in love with. He ended up marrying a violist, an instrument he thought was retarded.

The morning after, I had not only lost parts of our conversation but I could only recollect his face from the beginning of the evening. I couldn’t precisely say if he had been clean shaven or scruffy, which he found amusing during our chat earlier that afternoon. He was killing time with me before he could check into his room. I continued to ramble inappropriate and random thoughts, letting my mind and the conversation drift from AIDS to Professors to my family background. I wanted to think it was a spontaneous outburst of self, a WhatsApp stream of consciousness but mainly I think I confused him and occasionally made him laugh. Perhaps even unconsciously associated myself to deadly sexual diseases, I didn’t even have. He had almost missed his flight that morning, hadn’t slept, and had stepped in dog shit to the smelly misfortune of the guy sitting next to him on the flight. I felt it was apt to tell him how I had once stepped in fresh dog poo while wearing flip flops. I was trying to be one with his dog shit experience but probably not the best image for him to have of my toes. The recounting of his misfortunes after meeting me sounded ominous. I was starting to feel like a bad luck charm. He signed off by telling me to enjoy my upcoming trip to Croatia and Bosnia. I again wondered if this was his last goodbye.

As the day went on I began to desire and fantasize about him asking me to come to Paris. He had casually mentioned it before as part of the game of possible future romance rhetoric but I couldn’t take it seriously until now. Around midnight that evening, my teenage heart girl fantasy came true, he wrote, “This is insane. I know. But if I bought your ticket, would you come to Paris?”

Within a second of reading his message, I chatted back, “I can buy my own ticket.” Novice response…

His response was not immediate. A simple, “Just an offer.”

My low probability answer had definitely freaked him out. That was the beginning of the end.


In Strawberry Meadows


I visited an Arcadian meadow where deeply rooted strawberries were growing on golden vines and symbolized love. I was drinking a Campari and apparently strawberries didn’t go with the drink. I was a tourist, the delights conjured from my imagination. I was told I could only be offered far-removed pickles, this wasn’t Spreewald. But the pickles were not ordinary pickles, once held in your hands, you were banished from Arcadia and told to leave. But before I left, I plucked a flower to remember the smell of the strawberry meadows.

What Difference Does It Make: The Two Literatures

Leaving Antje Öklesund one January evening during the most beautiful snowfall

On the dance floor of “What difference does it make!” I met someone whose take on common interests were so different from mine, it made all the difference.

How two people from the humanities can amazingly miss the connect:

Concerning Hegel:

Me: I took a class on his Phenomenology. 

Literature: I took a class on his Logic. 

(the phenomenology / logic divide)

Me: Did you know Hegel’s writing desk is in the main Humboldt university building?

Literature: You mean the building next to a sculpture of his bust?

Me: What sculpture?

(the desk / sculpture divide)

Concerning French Philosophy/ Literature

Literature: I started a Lacan reading group.

Me: I only vaguely remember Foucault. I’m into French literature.

(his literature was German and philosophy French, my literature was French and philosophy German)

Concerning Art

Literature: What do you like doing?

Me: I like going to galleries for contemporary art.

Literature: Did you see the Mondrian exhibit at the Martin-Gropius-Bau?

Me (thinking): shit I missed a Mondrian exhibition… there is a gap is my information flow

Literature: I guess Mondrian is modern and not contemporary

Me (still thinking): I can’t believe I missed that

(the modern/ contemporary art divide)

Concerning German Romanticism

Me: I like German Romanticism.

Literature: Brentano?

Me: Brentano is the one Romantic I haven’t read.

Literature: His style is similar to Tristram Shandy…

Me (thinking): I tried to read that once and couldn’t stand the writing…

(the Brentano/ all the other Romantics divide)

Concerning the Application of Trust

Literature: I translated an academic paper on “trust” today.

Me: I used to sell “trust” to e-commerce retailers.

Literature: How do you sell trust?

Me: with a feedback management system… customer and product reviews

(the translation/ selling of trust divide)

Concerning Quentin Tarantino

Literature: The only Tarantino film I thought was good was Reservoir Dogs.

Me (thinking): That is the one film I am not interested in seeing I haven’t seen that one.

(the Reservoir Dogs/ all other Tarantino films divide)

Concerning Politics

Me: Do you know Nate Silver?

Literature: Never heard of him.

Me: All my information on politics comes from Nate Silver.

(the political information divide)


Meaningful Litheness in Pink Hues


Lit in the hues of a dandy’s uterus, we have two male service workers regimented like androids. In their dance of maintenance and service, the missing parts of the female body are either man-made or artificial. What is real and in the flesh are the two male bodies. The sculptural piece in the shape of a vaginal opening and the long strands of a ponytail acting as both whip and ornament are present but not relevant.

Beyond the body, this beautifully futuristic piece by Adam Linder and Shahryar Nashatyou further dissects the components of eroticism and labor and then substitutes and categorizes the obvious parts for the underrepresented. Service work is elevated and the face often times dismissed as secondary to the sexual act is now the pornographic visual. At times contortionist in bodily movement, ‘hair care’ hits and brushes against the marble with gentle lovingness. The two choreographic service workers, Adam Linder and Andrew Hardwidge, lithely perform their maintenance labor with hair prosthetics attached to white gloves or leather head straps. As a reinterpretation of Ravel’s Boléro plays during the intermissions, one waits until the dancers come back and the video flashes sexually suggestive close-ups of functionally forgotten parts of the human face such as the tear ducts, earlobes or nostrils.