East Village Dan Perino left his apartment recently wearing a sneaker on one foot and a blue-suede dress shoe on the other. He was recognized before he got to the corner.
“I know you’re looking for a date,” said a woman who happened to be passing by, “but you should rethink that outfit.”
A week earlier nobody knew his name, let alone cared how he dressed. Now, half of Manhattan knows his face thanks to his flyers that are seemingly posted on every traffic pole between Tribeca and Central Park.
“This is not a joke,” say the ads, which also feature a headshot. “Just tired of the singles scene and hoping to meet the right person. I am a professional artist and creative person. You know who you are. To me each and every person is beautiful. Open to the possibility of the relationship morphing into something more profound.”
His mission began on July 25 and isn’t a publicity stunt or viral marketing campaign, as some initially thought. So far he’s papered the Lower East Side, East and West Village, Chelsea, Tribeca, and Greenwich Village. He’s also hit midtown and as far up as 57th Street on the west side.
“I couldn’t answer my phone the first few days,” said Perino of the initial call volume. In the first five days, he said he received about 650 calls. Of those, most were either curious but romantically uninterested, gay men who misunderstood the “all people are beautiful” portion of the ad, prank calls, timid women who hung up, or women he wasn’t interested in.
“Women will call and they’re very shy over the phone, they’ll almost hang up on you because they’re so shy,” said Perino. “Not all of them. There’s about 10 percent of them that will stop me on the street and say, ‘I recognize your face, would you like to go out for a drink?’”
He said he winds up turning them down. “Nothing to do with looks,” he said, “more of the process of having the relationship.”
Perino said he’s looking for a more traditional kind of relationship with a “down-to-earth girl,” that catchall phrase for someone who’s normal, but genuine and funny and smart and easy to be with. In other words, perfect. His ideal form of dating would be more akin to courtship.
Of his process when an actual prospect calls, Perino said, “they usually interview me before I interview them.” Based on the questions they ask, and a few of his own, he can tell if they’re what he’s looking for. He’s gotten about five responses from these down-to-earth types, he said, and has three dates already lined up.
The flyers also double as a social experiment, though when pressed he has a hard time defining what exactly he’s looking to learn.
“The goal is to compare relationships,” said Perino. “The way women are today and the way they were a hundred years ago. And I wanted to learn something for myself. It was a book idea at first, me jotting down everything that was said from every single person.”
Though just how old-fashioned he’d like to get is open to interpretation. One of his rules is “no sex until 30 days after we know each other,” he said.
These kind of contradictions run through much of his thinking about the experiment. For instance, he rejects the notion that down-to-earth types aren’t especially inclined to respond to girlfriend-wanted ads on traffic poles. And the fact that he doesn’t really know how women were a hundred years ago doesn’t seem to bother him either.
Yet he’s earnest in his quest, and seems convinced that posting flyers looking for love in Manhattan is, at his age, the best way to go about finding a partner.
“One woman I spoke with for two hours on the phone after texting for about an hour,” said Perino. “We had a date set up for yesterday but she just never got back to me. I actually had a great time with her just talking over the phone.”
Despite its amorphous goal, the experiment side of this adventure is equally important, if not more so, then finding his soulmate. He’s turned down several dates he said because he doesn’t want to find someone too soon.
“I have to find the right girl, I don’t want to just get laid, which I could have so many times,” he said. “It takes a lot of balls to put up these flyers.”
Perino posts a flyer like a pickpocket lifts a wallet; blink and you’ll miss it. Walking recently in the Bowery, he identified an easy mark on the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 5th Street. In the crosswalk he loaded his fingers with strips of masking tape and approached from the north. He then paused momentarily to swipe the traffic pole with a flyer, reinforcing the three taped points with a deft pass of his hand, before moving onto the next unsuspecting target. The bottom is left un-taped so passers-by can tear off his number if they get the urge.
Despite his recent sartorial mishap, which he said has never happened before, he dresses well: a white button down, blue and white tie, black jeans and blue suede shoes, which are now matching.
He’s never tried online dating and said he never will. “I’m not going to sit in my house for 12 hours looking for a date on the internet,” he said. “It’s unhealthy.”
He’s also through with picking up women at bars, which usually leads to superficial encounters and he’s looking for something a bit more meaningful, he said.
“That’s good and all when you’re in your 20s, but there’s no relationship ” said Perino.
In a former life, he was a married real estate agent. He made a lot of money very quickly, he said, and then lost most of it in a subsequent divorce. The marriage lasted two years and produced a daughter, who’s 17 now and lives with her mother in South Jersey. There’s an ongoing custody battle and skirmishes over alimony. He keeps in touch with his daughter and last talked to her about a week ago, he said.
At present he makes his money painting murals for people in their apartments. And yes, he has flyers for that too, and his acting services. As for why the marriage didn’t last, Perino said he thinks his ex-wife was mostly interested in financial security.
“My ex-wife is Korean, and I think the main reason she was with me was because of the money I was making at the time,” said Perino. “I think that that’s quite common. I think there’s a lot of women like that who are interested in the security aspect. Once the power comes in, they just totally destroy you.”
But he’s not bitter, he said. He also may want kids in the future, which is the only reason he’d be interested in a woman who’s younger than he is.
“The girl I’m talking to now, she’s 45,” said Perino, who is 50. “She’s beautiful and I’m sure it would be a great relationship, but she wouldn’t be able to have children.”
When asked what he would do if this didn’t work, he has a hard time understanding the question at first. “Like which one would I choose?” he said, referring to the women who respond to his ads.
No, like if you don’t find your down-to-earth and old-fashioned girlfriend.
“I would put up different flyers,” he said. “If that doesn’t work, the experiment was a failure. But I’d have combined a lot of information.”