129 Ways To Get a Life
129 Ways To Get a Life (The Podcast!)
9. "Sit on a Park Bench and Feed Pigeons."

9. "Sit on a Park Bench and Feed Pigeons."

On birds, soup, and Words with Friends (with special guests Harry and Randa!)

A few years ago, I was forwarded an email from something called Hot Singles. It was a Substack which promised to “make dating fun” through old-school classifieds highlighting hot and single New Yorkers. I was intrigued by the premise. It felt different, like an indication that I wasn’t the only one craving unique and unconventional ways to meet new people.

The ethos of Hot Singles remained nestled in my brain until November 2023, when I launched 129 Ways to Get a Life. As readers of 129 Ways know, the longer I do this project, the more it evolves. It’s become an outlet to explore how both I and others experience the world: through personal histories, real-life experimentation, and occasional interviews.

In January, I was staring down #9. “Sit On a Park Bench and Feed Pigeons,” desperately trying to figure out how to make the item work, when I got an email.

It read: “Hot Singles is BACK.” Hot Singles, which wound down last year, was returning in a new form — this time as Good Hang, a joint project between collaborators Randa (Hot Singles) and Harry. As I read the blurb introducing it, my wheels started turning.

Who better to discuss the merits of pigeon meet-cutes than Substack’s best hanger-outers? So I emailed Harry and Randa to ask if they’d be willing to talk.

They said yes.

We started with something simple: tell me more about Good Hang.

Randa: So we call it a newsletter about hanging out and chilling. Every Friday we send out a conversation that we have about some topic related to hanging out. We've talked to different people recently about what it is… I talked to somebody yesterday who was like, I feel it's like sociology or like philosophy. 

Basically everything has to do with hanging out in some form. So going to parties, dating, interacting with the world as a young adult trying to socialize. 

Harry: So there's this book Sheila Liming wrote —

Randa: I think it's called Hanging Out.  

Harry: And it takes the approach of treating hanging out like a scientific thing worth studying and analyzing and all that stuff. And we, I think do that. We are in part inspired by that earnestly. But it inspired, “what if it's kind of ironic to really in earnest take on sitting around talking or drinking, the stupid stuff we do all day?” It's been it's been super fun, a very, extremely, fulfilling creative project. 

Randa: We both wanted a project and we liked working with each other on Hot Singles. Something that struck me when Harry was just talking is, I asked a lot of people for feedback on Hot Singles stuff, and Harry became the person who was actually the most helpful, responded the most, and seemed earnestly interested in it, whereas some of my other friends were like, please stop asking me for for my feedback on this. 

I think it just naturally evolved from there. 

Emily: The sociology thing is interesting too, because that's how I describe 129 Ways to people: almost an anthropological study of humans. And it started with this broad but also narrow focus of doing all these things, not to find a person, but also to see through that lens. And as I keep doing it, it's like there's too much you can learn about a person and study. But the ways that these weird niche topics show you about just what it's like to be a person, what it's like to hang out. It's really interesting. 

Harry: The other thing is that we were both single for the most part throughout this time. And we were banging our heads against the wall through these forced sociological experiences anyway, so it was like, might as well put it somewhere. We’re gonna go through it either way.

Emily: I don't know about you two, but making this other project that takes me out of my own little world where all I'm doing is seeing my phone and swiping and thinking… it made it [dating] so much more fun, because then suddenly it was a challenge and it wasn't the only thing that mattered. And I was like, okay, if anything happens, it can just be a story that goes into this, which is also cool. 

Harry: Totally. I sometimes feel like a psychopath when I think like that, but I also do think like that.

Emily: I am a psychopath, so…  

Randa: I feel like writers think like that anyway. My friends here are like, anytime we have some, funny social thing happen, they're like, Good Hang? Is that for the newsletter?

Emily: Everything is for the content. And that's a good segue…

So something like, #9. “Sit on a Park Bench and Feed Pigeons.” I did tell my friends I was going to do this, and they were all like, please don't. Please do not go sit in the park and feed a pigeon. And I am going to. But the thing I find interesting about it, and because so much of this [article] was written in 1958 when dating looked very different, is that the writers of this article thought that was a genuine way to meet a person. It was somewhat satirical, but it was mostly like, this is real.

In your experiences as single people and dating people, if you saw someone in a park and they're feeding a pigeon alone, would you ever think to ask them out? 

Randa: Just to start, I don't see that many people doing this these days. I actually think that if I saw someone doing it — here's the thing. Just in general, when it comes to approaching strangers and strangers approaching you and whatever, we're taking in all this information about them. At some point I was having a conversation with someone about, “Oh if a guy just came up to you in the park, would you be creeped out or would you be into it?”

And the answer is always, it depends. Is he hot? What does he look like? What is he wearing? Whatever. So I think if you saw an otherwise attractive person that you would be interested in sitting in the park feeding pigeons, I think it actually might serve as a conversation starter because that's weird. It's a thing that you could easily go up and ask about.

Whereas… I was with a friend and he saw a girl on her laptop in the Elizabeth Street Garden in New York. This was over the summer, and he was like, that girl is cute. I want to go talk to her. And he went and he tried and it didn't go well. But basically, I think this is a long way of saying I think it actually would work because it is different. 

Harry: I'm going 1000% no, I would never talk to somebody who was feeding pigeons. But I do think the spirit of what Randa is saying is true. First of all, and this is something we have all we can all intuit, because of various global climate crises, pigeons have gotten more fucked up since the 1950s. Most pigeons are so fucked up now, especially. Like they're missing — if you stare too much at a pigeon, it starts to dissolve into a Dali painting because they're, like, missing an eye or their whole body is discolored or whatever. Pigeons are doing really bad and are very ugly. And I would never approach somebody who was was doing that.

That being said, it does make me think of a meme I see sometimes going around: “Deleting my dating profile, just going to go look confused in a bookstore.”

Bookish boyfriend like out of an Emily Henry novel : r/bookscirclejerk
And he’s reading ACOTAR? Props to this fellow.

I always find those to be a little bit cynical, but if you were to update the 1953 version of this, I do think it would be something closer to “look around in a bookstore,” or “walk up and down Vanderbilt,” or whatever. I don’t know. The idea of sitting alone and letting people come up to you? Big picture, I don't hate.

Emily: It's interesting you say that because one of my strengths and also flaws is I rabbit hole deeply, like when I find a topic I want to research, I research that.

I did a lot of pigeon research. And there's a pretty niche corner of the internet that is fighting for pigeons. Vehemently believes they've been wronged.

Harry: Pigeon’s rights?

Emily: Yes! There's a woman named Mother Pigeon in New York who has been protesting that pigeons should get the respect they deserve. And that took me down the rabbit hole of the general public perception of pigeons, which actually changed after 1962, when the first disease was connected to them. Before that… these poor birds.

The thing about pigeons is we domesticated them. They used to be wild animals, and then humans domesticated them. They became carrier pigeons and food and then we decided they weren't useful, and we threw them away. Then they became diseased. You're right. Pigeons have gone downhill. And when this was written [1958], it was four years before the public perception was like, “hell no!” on pigeons. And so at that point, they might have been —

Harry: Beautiful.

Emily: Beautiful, yeah. You might have been like, I'm going to send you a love note with my pigeon.

Randa: Yeah. Carrier pigeons.

Emily: They went the way of the fax machine.

Randa: I'm curious what the the demographic is of this group that cares because also, I feel like groups of people passionate about the same thing are a good place to make friends, meet people, whatever.  

Harry: Yes, again, not to be the Grinch of this whole thing, but the “pigeons have been mistreated” conspiracy corner of people… I'm not sure if there's a winner in there. It's like you go to Equinox to meet a very in-shape… but the pigeon convention?  

Randa: Well, maybe we won't, but I don't know somebody —

Harry: Somebody conceivably could. 

Emily: So, Harry, if you were a couple months into seeing someone and they said their passion is feeding pigeons, would that be it for you? 

Harry: That's a really good question. That would not be a deal breaker. But I certainly wouldn't recommend it as like a courtship process. And I'm not sure it's even cracking my short list of 129 Ways. Like if I'm if I'm remaking the list, I might toss pigeons off.

Emily: I might be with you. I've been thinking about it because I'm a mix of both opinions. I thought about if I saw someone at the Turtle Pond in Central Park feeding turtles, I would be like, what? Where? Take me now! That's the most endearing thing I've ever seen. 

Randa: Wait, what?

Harry: I completely agree. 

Randa: Why is that so different? 

Emily: And that's the question. I don’t know. Something about turtles is adorable.

Randa: To me, it's actually like, the turtles feel like they're supposed to be eating something else. I don't know, I would feel like I'm like fucking with the turtle’s gut microbiome. 

Whereas, pigeons are already too far gone. Like pigeons have been eating our crumbs for decades, and turtles are like, I don't know, you're going to make turtles go the way of pigeons if you start feeding them now. 

Harry: God that is interesting because, I mean, turtles are literally— especially the New York turtles are covered in moss or whatever. Yeah. But the thing about the pigeons being wrongfully maligned — this actually gets at a larger thing, which is you do (I do, and I think most normal people dating do) you do want certain signals that your prospective partner lives in the same society as you. And somebody who is, “I'm living in the society where one of the more fucked up things that's going on is pigeon malingment?” Okay, we're doing it differently. We're in different New Yorks.

Emily: Very good point — we're in different New Yorks. And that's a big part of why I love this list and projects like this is because what you're doing is making your pool smaller. Yeah, if I was doing this list and pigeons were my thing, this would be the perfect way to meet someone. But realistically, I'm not marrying the person I meet with a 20 pound bag of pigeon feed in Central Park.

I'm not going to ask you if you think pigeons are romantic because we don't.

Harry: Randa does.

Emily: Is there any bird that feels romantic to you if you saw someone with it? We've all seen that guy with a parrot on the subway. Is that the same thing?

This guy takes his parrot on the subway : r/mildlyinteresting

Randa: There is this couple that walks around with a duck. Do you guys know what I'm talking about? There's a couple with this duck in New York that I saw near my apartment one time, and then I looked it up, and it's totally a thing.

But the fact that… this is one of those things — have you guys seen that video where there's a guy, dancing crazy by himself and he looks like a fool? And then a bunch of other people join him, and now it's cool that he's doing it?

I feel like this is an example of something where it's like if there was like a guy walking around with a duck, I'm like, that's weird. But now that it's — since it's a couple walking around with the duck, that's weird. But it's also funny. Slash cute slash okay, interesting.

Emily: If we could make pigeon feeding hot, it would maybe take off.

Randa: I think you could totally do that. You would have to make the case — I don't know what the ethics are of it, but especially if you made the case that you're curing their disease somehow by feeding them something that is going to fix pigeons, which I don't know if that's the whole like thing with the group that you found, but I think we are in a cultural moment where that could take hold.

Harry: Maybe I'm fighting my biases here, but there's something to me here that feels like essentially ugly about about a pigeon and especially, I don't like how many show up when you feed them stuff.

There is a somewhat vibrant community of owl watchers in New York. There's that owl that escaped from Central Park… I fuck with him. I think that is a fun and even romantic hobby. If I met somebody who was like, “I really love following the goings on of the the owl who escaped,” I would totally understand that. 

Beloved Owl Flaco Inspires Movement for Permanent Central Park Statue
Flaco, the iconic Central Park Owl.

Emily: Say… and Randa, you could keep #9. “Sit on a Park Bench and Feed Pigeons.” But if you had to do this item, if you were like, I've committed to doing every item on this list in some way, shape or form, what would you do? Would you keep it, or would you do an alt version of it? And if so, what would that be? 

Randa: What is the 2024 analogy to chillin at the park by yourself? 

Also, I just did a quick Google search and it's bad to feed pigeons. So. They can't find food by themselves if they come to rely on the crumbs that we throw at them.

Maybe birdwatching. I'm sitting on a park bench with a pair of binoculars, looking at… which I guess then people might think I'm looking at other stuff, but I'm trying to think of something that would be like interacting with the outside world in some way. Maybe even picking up trash? Or doing something that is additive to the environment?

Harry: Gardening… remember we were thinking about joining a garden. Gardening could be spiritually a cousin to to this —

Randa: I'm trying to think of something you could just wake up and do. 

Harry: Right. 

Randa: You could just start gardening without them. Just start pulling weeds at the park. I'm just trying to help!


Emily: Have you done anything in your life like a wild, out-of-the-box thing
(like feeding a pigeon) with the hopes of meeting someone? And I know with Hot Singles, all you do is talk to people about connecting in a way that's not an app. But what's like, the most wild thing you've done in your own personal life? To meet someone?

Harry: I thought you were saying, which is true, is Randa made Hot Singles. She became a girlboss. 

Randa: I've met people in person many times. I have a few stories, but they often involve an online component because I get nervous. I'm also thinking, Harry, I'm thinking about the chess story, which I don't know…

Harry: Oh my God, that’s so good. But that is not offline.

Randa: But it was offline. It became offline.

Harry: Yeah. If you feel comfortable you should tell it. 

Randa: I actually have another one. I have a thing. I'll tell you this one instead. But it also has to do with online gaming.

So one time I went to a Sofar Sounds in San Francisco and this was like, when I first moved here, I was like 22, 23, and I went to a Sofar Sounds and it was at this cool house in Twin Peaks. I got separated from my friend and I somehow ended up in this room with a bunch of people smoking weed in a circle. And it was like maybe 10 or 15 people. And among those were the guys who were hosting, and I thought they were both cute. And I learned that one of their friends was working for some company. It was some startup, he was working for some startup. This detail becomes important later. Some architecture startup, I'll just call it that. And I found out that this guy who I was interested in worked for Oracle. 

I got too high and nervous and left the party. But then I went home and I found the two of these guys on LinkedIn and messaged one of them, or I messaged the one that I was interested in. 

And then… I proceeded to play Words with Friends with him on Facebook for six months. And he kept trying to hang out with me, and I was like, no, I'm good. I don't want to. And he would call me and whatever. And I just, for some reason, wanted to just own this guy at Words with Friends. I absolutely destroyed him at Words with Friends over and over again. And he kept trying to go on a date and eventually we went on a date and I just wasn't into it. 

The coda to the story is that this last year, I was in New York for a month. He liked me on Hinge. And then I was like, remember me? Do you want to play Words With Friends again? 

Needless to say, I did not meet up with him again. But I have a history of meeting guys partially in person and then playing board games with them online. 

Emily: I feel that on a spiritual level, I have a history of making people play board games before I decide if I want to date them. Like I'll get to date three and be like, you have to come over and play Bananagrams. And nothing's going to happen, you just have to do a puzzle or play a game and it tells you a lot. 

Randa: I think I got the ick because I was so much better than him at Words with Friends. I think it turned me off that my vocabulary was just above and beyond. 

Harry: Add it to the list of icks. It's like you can't… you gotta look cool in a car accident, you gotta know how to spell superfluous, look cool while you’re—

Randa: Feeding pigeons. You see the guy you’ve been on one hinge date with feeding pigeons at the park! 

Harry: That would be tough for me. If I'm leaving Doris and it's a second date and we pass a pigeon and the woman I'm with is like [bird feeding sounds]. I'm like, no way.

Emily: Would you do if someone suggested it as a date? 

Harry: Yeah. I think I'm also out unless she's really great in other ways.

Randa: I would do it. But like, I'm kind of just open to doing weird stuff in general. I think I would say, I don't know if I'm more open to weird stuff than you, Harry, but I feel like if it's not going to harm anyone, I'll try it once. I would think it was weird for sure, but it doesn't sound that risky to me.

Emily: Actually it is risky. If you feed the wrong pigeons and you get a swarm— 

Harry: Or disease.

Emily: Or disease. But I too would do it if someone was like, do you want to feed pigeons?

So you've done Hot Singles for a while and you're picking it back up. Presumably you talk to a lot of single people. I think about constantly now, what are the weird ways you can put yourself out in the world and what pays off? What do people want? Do they like being online? Do they like Hinge, or do they really want an in-person connection where you can do something weird and it feels organic?

Randa: People don't want to be on apps, and they also are afraid to put themselves out there in person. People want something cool to happen to them. They don't want to do the work. They don't want to be the ones to put themselves out there. That is largely what I have gathered from talking to people. I would say myself included. I get nervous just as much as anybody. It is just like universally kind of scary to go up to a stranger and put yourself out there. You're putting yourself out there for rejection. But in terms of what works…

If there's anything I've learned, it's that there aren't really any rules. You just have to, like, riff and try stuff and see what happens and fuck around and find out, for lack of a better phrase to describe it.

We actually did a piece for Hot Singles now a long time ago, and I remember my, my friend Eila — this was a friend from high school — wrote in and she was like, one time we were at a bar and we like, thought this guy was hot. So we ordered him soup. Which is so weird. Like instead of sending him a drink, which also, for what it's worth, I feel like I've never seen someone in my… actually no! It's happened to me once. Not to flex. But I feel like people aren't sending each other drinks. 

Emily: You're sending roses on Hinge. 

Randa: Yeah. Which doesn't work. So I think sending people something without the expectation of it working is a fun way of interacting.

But yeah, one time I was at I was at a bar in Oakland, I was going to a Vince Staples show now that I think about it. And the guy was late, and then this other guy sent me a drink from across the bar, and I was like, whoa, that's cool. I thought that only happened in movies. 

I feel like I should have talked to him, but I probably was not smart enough to understand that that's what you're supposed to do. And I was just like, thanks.

Harry: Randa and I have talked about this idea before, which is that for me, the process in which you will find a partner or somebody who you can connect with and want to date for a long time monogamously (whatever that looks like) is going to be so entirely out of your control that it's almost an exercise in futility to try to kind of engineer it.

And what you are actually doing when you are trying to make your dating life better and reading dating advice or whatever is you're trying to figure out how to have the most fulfilling and fun experience before you meet the person. Because the person, however you meet them, it's going to be random.

If it's Hinge, you're going to run into each other on Hinge, you're gonna have a great Hinge date. If it's a meet cute, it's going to be a great meet cute or whatever.

But the project that… bar none, what people would always say about Hot Singles was that it was fun to fill out, it was fun to read. It was fun. And I think that's what made it so successful and what makes good dating advice and a good dating mindset so successful: dating should be a conduit to living a rich and fun and exciting and random life. You have to be ready to do that even if a romantic interest isn't promised. Because it's not. It's all so random.

So that's my overarching perspective is and I think that is in part why Randa and I are inclined to say yes rather than say no to a random event. I know I just put the kibosh on pigeons, but there is a lot of random-ass first dates I would go on. And it's not because I think I will be rewarded by being open minded. It's because it's fun to be open minded. 

Emily: Love that, and I 100% agree. And what has been great about this project is it's creating this incredible picture of a life… it's like a paint by number, you know, and every single item fills in a different hole I didn't know was missing. And because, to go into any of these being like, “I have to meet someone walking a dog,” is so prescriptive that you're not going to. But then as a result, I get to walk three dogs in New York. For me, one of the best ones has been run club.

I went to a run club because it's obscenely hard to join a hiking club in New York unless you want to go for like ten hours in New Jersey. And so I went to run club instead in Williamsburg, and I go every single week now. And I don't actually want to meet anyone there, but I've made friends. It's a cool thing. And then it's this just extra layer to my life I didn't know I needed and wanted that opens me up to other things. 

Harry: The thing that I'm really, my wheels are turning now is that people don't buy people drinks. I gotta —

Randa: Have you ever done that?

Harry: Not like as an intro, that seems classic.

Randa: I think it's fun. And if they're not interested, whatever. You just you spent 15 bucks on a drink instead of 15 bucks on four roses on Hinge.

Harry: Let me completely crystal clear, that is not how I spend my money. 

Randa: But like, at least that money is going somewhere, the person's going to enjoy it.

Harry: Feeding the local economy.

Randa: Yeah. Buy local, support your local bars. I might be buying soup, personally. I'm going to see if I can send some guys some mixed nuts. 

In Memoriam

Tragically, Flaco the Central Park Owl unexpectedly passed after this interview was recorded. Fly on, Flaco.

A memorial for Flaco the owl in Central Park New York.
RIP to this majestic bird.

As for me, I made good on my word and attempted to feed a pigeon. I was in Midtown East at the little park which sits snugly between the Plaza Hotel, Central Park, and the Apple Store. I sat on a bench and unwrapped a shrimp tempura onigiri. As soon as I lifted the ricey triangle to my mouth… they arrived.

Pigeons swarmed my bench left and right, absolutely begging for a bite. Their beady eyes bulged and their dirty bodies wiggled as they waited at my feet like dogs desperate for a bone. With nothing to lose and valuable content to gain, I tore off a piece and threw it.

The onigiri did not get enough air and fell inches from my bench. Before I knew it, pigeons were attacking the ground beneath my feet. I pulled my legs up on the bench, swiveled around, and ran for my life. I watched the swarm from the comfort of the Plaza entrance, where the only birds were Florida-bound elders seeking a warm escape from New York City’s winter gloom.

So maybe feeding the birds is not it.

Sending someone soup at a bar, on the other hand? Worth a shot.

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129 Ways To Get a Life
129 Ways To Get a Life (The Podcast!)
A series in which a 20-something exclusively follows the advice of a dating column published in 1958 to explore modern love and life.