I have never high-fived someone so often on a date.
I knew right away that Jon and I would be fast friends. He had driven all the way from Boston just to be part of this project, waking up before 7am to get here by 10.
He was just as he described himself: a big white guy standing at a grand 6'5", with a giant black afro. He's a gentle giant with a soft, tenor voice that contradicts his overwhelming presence.
I immediately declared that he belonged in Portland, Oregon. I had lived there for several years, declaring it one of the best cities in the nation... and hopefully future home of Jon.
He was wearing a retro salmon jacket that he had proudly snagged at the Salvation Army. He loved it so much he had to have it, detouring from his usual outfit of pajama bottoms and a trenchcoat.
Jon isn't scary. He's just quirky. Artsy. And he has a devilish, fun nature about him. He's a good mix of a mad scientist with the paradoxical personality of Santa Claus and the Cheshire Cat.
I assessed rather quickly, "You're twisted!"
He laughed, taking it as a compliment.
We headed down to our first destination: the carousel in Central Park, where you can have a fast, fun ride for just a couple bucks. We pretended we were riding real horses, that we were flying, and that we were on a scary roller coaster ride.
This was Jon's first time in Central Park and he was loving it.
I was too!
We headed to his destination of choice: F.A.O. Scwhwartz.
This man belongs in a big toy store.
We were welcomed by Hector, who was standing behind a table with a bunch of Rubik's Cubes. He offered, "You mix it! I twist it!"
Jon quickly challenged back, "YOU mix it, I twist it!"
I was impressed!
Jon mentioned he was out of practice, but it wasn't obvious. Hector had mixed the cube up pretty well and Jon squared it back to perfection in a miraculous one minute, 50 seconds!
Then it was Hector's turn. He fiddled with the toy while explaining that there are really four main techniques, one of which he uses most often; the one that helped him win the competition, completing the task in just one minute.
I could not believe my eyes.
We then walked around, finding some more toys to play with. They even had their own Make-Your-Own-Muppet studio, where Jon found himself chatting with a puppet. We headed upstairs and colored pictures of each other. Jon spotted the giant piano made famous by the Tom Hanks movie, "Big" and he tapped out his best version of the Sesame Street theme song.
There is much more to Jon than just silliness though. For work, he helps children with autism, which has been an important issue to him for most of his life. When he was 10, his youngest brother was diagnosed with the disease, forever changing his family and his own character. Jon respected his brother's discomfort with loud noises, so he learned to do activities out of the house, became more confident, and grew a strong sense of compassion for people.
He's a filmmaker who strives to capture irony on camera. And he loves to figure people out, understanding their intentions.
He's a deep thinker who makes quick assessments of society one minute and the next, makes obscure comic book references. He has a loving heart -- a romantic who still remembers the sad moment when he caught his high school girlfriend kissing a Bass on the choir field trip.
He believes in love.
We bounced around the store, discovering childhood favorites. I oohed and ahhed at the Strawberry Shortcake dolls. He loved the Legos. And we both were magnetized by the lure of some small creatures that meant the world to us: the Smurfs. Our favorites: Jon liked the smurf dressed as the Grim Reaper, and I liked Smurfette in a wedding gown.
That makes sense.
In only a few hours, we had gone from strangers to lifelong friends. I kept reminding him of other friends he needed to meet, plays to read, and videos to watch. We were building a foundation among a unique shared experience that only a first date without strings attached can offer.
As we headed back to the park, I thought about my freedom in friendships when I was a child. Boys could be friends with girls and it wasn't complicated. And that's how I looked at it with Jon: a simple friendship among two seemingly complex people.