Within minutes of meeting Dan Perino, he casually tells me about the size of his penis. “It’s like a Coke can,” he says with pride. “I’m hung like a horse, but that can be a blessing and a curse.” During my week spent shadowing Perino – the man known around Manhattan neighborhoods as the “Looking for a Girlfriend” guy – this is just the first of many braggadocious claims to come.
If you’ve spent time wandering the streets of Lower Manhattan in recent weeks, then you’ve likely seen Perino’s flyers plastered on a light post, newspaper stand, or storefront. “Looking for a girlfriend,” it reads, with a mugshot-esque photo of Perino, along with tear-off tabs featuring his phone number and a caveat: “serious inquiries only.” But while Perino’s flyers show a 40-something-year-old man ostensibly looking for love, it quickly becomes apparent that he’s more concerned with casual sex, which, according to him, he’s having a lot of.
One of his photos on Instagram (@lookingforagirlfriendguy) shows Perino in all denim, arms draped around the shoulders of three models. He’s half-a-head shorter than the vixens, like he’s their younger brother jumping in for a photo before prom – although likely, he’s old enough to be their father. One of the women wears a bikini and a black leather jacket. Another has smoky eyeliner eyes and a ripped Dead Kennedys t-shirt. The caption of the photo reads #ladiesman. During our first meeting, Perino shows me the photo and boasts, “I did all of these women at the same time after a party. The one on the left was amazing.”
Later, when Perino and I strike out trying to talk to girls at a Lower East Side bar, I suggest he calls up the three models. But he says: “They’re out of town. They’re all from Europe.” And when I ask for their information for an interview about that raucous foursome, he says he forgot their names and phone numbers. How convenient.
Perino is a born and bred New Yorker. He grew up in the West Village on Sullivan Street. He claims to have never known his real father since his mother slept around quite a bit.
“She was a lousy mother,” Perino says. “She finally admitted it to me. She used to do acid, speed, drinking, smoking pot and other stuff. When she wasn’t too stoned, she would bring me to acting and modeling jobs as a kid.”
But when she was stoned, there was trouble. Perino and her would fight and then she’d kick him out. As a young teen on the streets of New York City, Perino would seek refuge in Central Park and one specific nook of the city-side nature preserve in particular. One afternoon, Perino takes me to the hilltop gazebo on the southeastern side of the park where he and other displaced drifters would curl up on the bench and spend countless nights, retreating from the city’s harsh weather and even harsher streets. He searches for his initials that he carved into the left handrail, which was his side of the bench. They’ve since been sanded off.
Later in life, Perino made most of his money from writing a book about how to get an apartment in New York without paying a broker fee. I searched the web but couldn’t find it anywhere. He tells me it’s no longer in print since this information is now easily found online. Perino’s also a painter. He’s been commissioned to paint murals at private residences and businesses across the city. His work, which he broadcasts on his Instagram, often involves multiracial characters holding hands in a natural setting—something you might find blasted on the playground walls of an elementary school.
It seems that Perino’s search for love has been a trying quest for many years, not just the past flyer-posting three months. He was once married but he says that he never loved her. At least, he stopped loving her soon after the ring was on. He and his ex, a Korean woman named Linda, have a 17-year-old daughter together. Tabitha lives with her mother in southern New Jersey and has little contact with her father.
I ask Perino what his daughter thought about his public search for a girlfriend and mini-stardom as an alleged Lothario.
“She doesn’t like it,” says Perino. “She told me to stop doing it. She doesn’t want anything to do with me. But this whole thing is leading me to a career in the film industry.”
“Do you think that’s more important than having a strong relationship with your daughter?” I asked.
“Yeah I do. I think I should wait for her to come around.”
“Do you hope that happens one day?”
“I do. She said to me that I wasn’t there for her and that I’m not really a part of the family. She said she doesn’t miss me and this and that. She does that every time I call her so I decided to stop bothering her.”
So far, Perino’s career as an actor hasn’t necessarily skyrocketed. His single IMDB credit comes from a minor role as a crooked cop, which he played last summer, in an online series called “Red Dot.” But Perino hopes to make it big in television and film. He’s working on a monologue for casting calls, which comes from playwright Heidi Decker’s “Tongues.”
“It’s about this guy with schizophrenia,” says Perino. “He’s talking to somebody that isn’t there, to one of his people. He comes to realize that all the people in his head have left him. So now he’s considered normal. Then he realizes how boring it is being normal and he wants to go back to being schizophrenic, which he does.”
Like the schizophrenic, but in a converse way, Perino has become disillusioned with the new characters that have entered his world. According to Perino, a lot of the encounters he’s had since coating the East Village with his name and number have resulted in meaningless sex. The superficial lust, the media and people constantly stopping him on the street have made him so accustomed to attention that when it’s not there, he feels empty.
“I get lonely at night,” Perino told me. “Now I know why actors kill themselves.”
To see Perino in action, I suggest that he and I go to a bar and try to pick up women. He chooses the place: a hookah bar in the East Village. He likes it because you can smoke cigarettes inside.
After two Budweiser’s and four cigarettes, Perino spots two ladies sitting at the bar, sipping Long Island Iced Teas. We approach. Their names are Michelle and Lisa; they’re both African American, live in Brooklyn and work at a Sheraton hotel. During the course of our 20-minute conversation, Perino only asks the ladies one question about where they live. The rest of the time—all 19 minutes and 56 seconds—it’s the Dan Perino show.
Perino’s opening line: “I’m the famous guy that does all the flyers.”
Michelle and Lisa haven’t heard of him. Perino explains, “I get stopped on the street 20 times a day. I can’t go anywhere. I’ve been on the news 500 times all around the world. I’m very famous in Turkey.”
The girls continue to nod politely as Perino shows them photos on his Instagram—pictures of his art, one of $20 bills scattered across his bed and, of course, the one with the three models. Eventually Perino finishes his laundry list of self-praise and Michelle and Lisa abandon their feigned interest. Before we leave to find another bar, Perino takes a photo with the girls, captioning it #sexinthecity and #lesbians.
At the next spot, a cozy East Village cocktail bar with couches, I spark up a conversation with three girls while Perino schmoozes the Marilyn Monroe lookalike bartendress. The girls, Brittany, Emily and Alisa, are event planners in their late twenties. They recognize Perino. He eventually gives up on the aloof Marilyn and comes over. Immediately, it’s the same thing:
“Where are you from?” and then straight into a monologue about his massive success. This time, however, he adds:
“I was offered to do porn after the Vice article. They were going to give me $200,000 a movie but I said no. I don’t want to ruin my reputation as an actor. I’m a really kickass actor.”
Later on, when Perino steps out for a smoke, I find out what the girls really think.
“I don’t think he’s a ladies man,” says Emily. “I just think he’s a good salesman. We probably would’ve been weirded out talking to him if you didn’t come up and talk to us first.”
“We would’ve been really turned off,” added Alisa. “He’s too old and creepy.”
Not long after 8 pm, it’s time to head home. The Catholic Worker St. Joseph House on 2nd Avenue and 1st Street – where Perino has been living for the past 15 months, paying no rent and sharing a room – has a strict curfew. But before we go, he takes photos with Emily, Brittany, Alisa and the bartendress. On Instagram, he captions it: #thedream. And then Perino says goodnight. I walk him to the St. Joseph House, where he makes it inside just before curfew.
“Awesome night,” he tells me. “Too bad those girls were so prude.” And then he walks inside alone.