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SIDEKICK | HANGING WITH

It's like last call as the former New Kid on the Block spends an evening in the North End

I'm hugging Jordan Knight, a former member of New Kids on the Block, in front of Strega in the North End. It's a little after 9 p.m., and I'm pretty sure he's had way too much to drink (about eight double vodkas and beers, according to our bill).

He looks at the cab that's pulled over to take him home, and he whispers in my ear, ''Want to come?"

I don't know if he's kidding, but for a moment, it feels like it's 1989 all over again. My stomach is churning, and I'm living the dream I know I must have had when I was 11, that someday Jordan Knight would want to whisk me away in a taxi.

But let's rewind.

I get to Strega at about 6 p.m., where I'm supposed to meet Jordan Knight, his wife, and their friends for dinner. The assignment is to hang out with them on their double date, shadowing a typical night in the life of a former boy-band star from Dorchester who, at 35, is trying for a comeback with a new solo album, ''The Fix."

But when I get to the restaurant, Jordan's alone at the bar. The wives didn't come, he says. It's going to be just the three of us -- Jordan, his promoter/pal Michael Patt, and I. (And a photographer to capture the night.)

It starts off as expected. When Michael arrives, he and Jordan talk about music and their kids. Jordan's new single, ''Where Is Your Heart Tonight," is a ballad, and Mike is trying to market the song to easy-listening stations.

Mike asks what Jordan is drinking. He's already told me. ''It's something sweet, like a watered-down vanilla Bacardi thing," he says.

We talk about Jordan's son, Dante, a first-grader who likes his dad's Play Station Portable. Jordan and I talk about backup dancers and about how we think they're limiting.

Jordan has now downed a few of those vanilla Bacardi things, which I later find out are double vodkas, and he's mixing them with beer. I tell him to eat, but he's not interested.

''I ate a big meal at, like, 4," he says.

Then he begins to make serious faces, stands up, and leans against a wall. When I look confused, he tells me he's posing for the photographer I brought with me.

I tell Jordan to sit down, that the pictures from the evening are supposed to be candid.

''I'm just trying to get my man a good shot," he says, referring to the photographer and adjusting his scarf, which I assure him looks good.

Soon, Jordan runs out of the restaurant onto Hanover Street, where he poses under a tree. The photographer reluctantly follows.

When Jordan comes back to the table, I ask him to list the artists he'd most like to perform with, living or dead.

''James Brown. Beatles. Michael Jackson. Luther Vandross."

We talk more about music, and then he excuses himself. He yells from the bathroom, ''Heeeeeey. Heeeey," loud enough for other patrons to hear, and I get up to help. Turns out he wants the photographer to take pictures of him by the bathroom.

I say to Mike, ''He keeps posing."

''He's a poser," Mike says, smiling.

When Jordan returns, I tell him I like a song he released in 1999 called ''Give It To You." He tells me he came up with a dance for the track before he had even recorded it.

''I said, 'Let me come up with dance steps. . .' " he says. ''If I ever sing it, I'll have some hot [expletive]."

Jordan is soon recognized by a man at the restaurant who says, ''Jordan. Hello. I know you." The man starts to explain how they know each other but gives up when he sees Jordan's blank stare.

Moving on, Mike and I decide to talk about love, about Jordan's wife, whom Jordan met when he was about 12.

''I went to her family's house for meals," Jordan says. ''They loved me."

I tell him that marriage scares me, and Jordan, sipping another beer, looks like he's just noticed me for the first time. He puts his hand to my face and tries to push the hair out of my eyes, but his aim is off and he's hitting me in the eyebrow. I ask him how he knew he wanted to marry his wife and what makes a good partner.

He says, very slowly, ''OK. What's the question?"

I remind him.

He answers, ''You . . . want a wife . . . who is not . . . cheat-ful. . ." Then he makes a face at the camera.

Mike goes outside to flag a cab for Jordan. We follow him out and say our goodbyes, and Jordan whispers the aforementioned quick invite in my ear.

I squeal ''Jordan!" in a falsetto I forgot I had, pretending like it's not 2006, like he's not 35, and like we don't know better.

Meredith Goldstein can be reached at mgoldstein@globe.com

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