Thursday, March 30, 2006
I know discretion is important but I’m going to go out on a limb here and fess up that all of the women in my immediate family have had some form of plastic surgery. Leslie had her nose fixed in high school, I had fat sucked out of me after college and my mom has, well, she’s been refreshed a little here and there. None of us are overly vain but when the opportunity arose to go under the knife and fix some flaws, we each jumped.
My dad, on the other hand, hasn’t been the subject of nipping and tucking. His nose is large with a bump but he wears it well with glasses. Sure, he has love handles but you’re talking about a man who uses a walker to move between point A and point B. People are too focused on the metal contraption he leans on to notice his love handles.
The most superficial thing my dad does is go to a dermatologist. A common phenomenon with Multiple Sclerosis is that you start to develop ancillary health problems. Something about your immune system being weakened and thereby inviting other illnesses to contribute to the medical mayhem. Apparently it isn’t bad enough to struggle with walking and talking like a normal person. Let’s tack on some other health complications like a gluten allergy and this fascinating occurrence of facial pores randomly inverting. To the average person, you’d never really notice a few inside out pores. Sort of the same way you can't always tell if a sock is right side in. But the average person doesn’t wake up every morning, stand in front of the mirror and have my dad’s face staring back at them. He just didn’t want to live with it any more so he started seeing a dermatologist.
Today, my dad is getting Botox injections. Not because he’s bothered by unsightly smile lines or a wrinkled brow. Recent studies have found that injecting Botox directly into the muscles of MS patients can help improve their walking efforts. A side effect of this messy disease dominated by muffled messages between the brain and the muscles is extreme stiffness. When first trying to get a diagnosis, my dad walked like he’d just gotten off a horse. Very John Wayne but also very awkward seeing we don’t live in a shit-kicker type of town. His knees just wouldn’t bend properly. Now they don’t bend at all unless two hands are being used to force them into a flex position. You try it. Tense your quad and calf and then try walking.
A physiatrist a cousin knows thought Botox would be worth trying. After reviewing useless data from my dad's charts at his neurologist's office, one conclusion was drawn. If his muscles could just relax, he’d walk better. He might even be able to walk without a walker. This sounds so praise-the-lord-I’m-healed. But when the prognosis is a teensy bit favorable, you put Jerry Falwell judgment aside and sign up for the procedure.
I heard the back door at the office open and could tell from the amount of time it took for it to click closed, my dad was back from his injections. I turned in my chair and for the briefest moment hoped a miracle had happened. Maybe I'd see him walking upright and at the pace of an able bodied person. He was instead struggling to get the walker around while clutching the worn handle of a canvas bag.
“So, how do you feel?” I asked as I strolled over to relieve him of the beat up tote in his right hand.
“Feel??? How do I look???” he replied, lifting his head so the fluorescent light could cascade down upon his face. I noticed an inverted pore on his forehead.
“Refreshed! Like you just got back from a vacation. How long will it take until you can resume your lifelong dream of throwing a javelin at the next Olympics?”
“They said I should be able to rollerblade by week's end. Actually, I might be able to see a difference in a few days. If it works. It’ll take a little longer, however, for the unsightly crow’s feet around my eyes to disappear."
I carried his bag to his cluttered desk and rested it against a filing cabinet next to his chair. When I returned to the hall, my dad was a mere three feet from where I'd left him a moment earlier. He was shuffling toward his office. As I passed by his stilted and sluggish frame, I quietly sent up a prayer to the God I’m not even sure exists and asked for this to work. For the love of fucking God, cut this crippled, gluten-intolerant man with inverted-pores a goddamn break already.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Queue the orchestra and put on your party shoes because it’s my birthday. Thirty-three years ago today, I pushed my way into the world. It was a joyous occasion for both of my parents, though my dad admittedly was slightly disappointed. After having my sister, he was desperately hoping for a son. He wanted a little boy to teach how to hit a cross court slice and how to make a flawless lay-up. So when the doctor said, "Congratulations, it's a girl," my dad asked him if he was sure.
Even though I’m technically a female, there are some guy traits I’ve managed to develop over the years. For instance, my dad passes all car magazines my way. In college, he even went so far as to have his secretary mail them north so I could keep current. And I read them. I swear. I can’t tell you what torque is but I can tell you the horsepower on most cars I want to drive or eventually own. To me, automobiles are moving sculptures. With elegant lines and powerful engines, some of them seriously belong in a museum.
I also have a guy’s approach to home living. The first thing I bought for my residence was a television. The stand to put it on was absent for three months. It took my mother, horrified by my squatter's lifestyle, to drag me out to buy one. My second home purchase was a stereo, subwoofer and all. I used paper plates and plastic utensils for months but ate my dinner to the background of some crisp and clear sounds. My residence has come a long way but mostly due to my mother's influence. I’m more comfortable in a Best Buy than a Bad Bath and Beyond and color palates give me a headache. I can walk into Pierre Deux and appreciate the showroom but I'd rather sit down on one of the plush sofas and play on my Palm Pilot until it's time to go.
According to Leslie, I’m also a guy when it comes to sex. Personally, I think I’m just comfortably open about my sexuality. We’re all technically animals in my book so when the lioness within rears her head, I go out hunting for some prey. I have safe sex options in DC and Boston. They’re safe because there’s no exchange of fluids. Phone sex is a girl’s best friend when hormones start to rumble out of control. You don't have to shave or brush your teeth or find a way to mask an unsightly zit. Plus, you can be a total slut without increasing the number of men you’ve slept with. Thanks to phone sex, I’ve had a threesome without having to actually have a threesome. It allows me to be adventurous while still maintaining a certain level of decorum. Just shoot an email and voila, plans are made. When I have a real man on my plate, I indefinitely shelve my men in DC and Boston. I don’t want to date any of these guys. Ever. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to date me either. Sometimes sex has nothing to do with relationships and everything to do with an orgasm.
With all of these non-girl behaviors, I’m still female through and through. Not just because of my genitalia. I melt when a man I like sends me flowers or winks at me from across the room. I think shopping is a form of aerobic exercise and an enjoyable way to kill a Saturday. The idea of spending an hour getting a pedicure and another hour getting a facial makes me smile. A bowl of ice cream makes my happy but curling up naked against a man and resting my cheek on his bare chest makes me happier. In a perfect world, I’d have unlimited funds to buy half of the shoes in the most recent Sak’s catalog and that strand of South Sea pearls I’ve been eyeing since the age of twenty. Then again, I’d easily add a Porsche 911 and Bang & Olufsen sound system to my dream list of superficial possessions.
Before heading out tonight for a big hoorah with friends, I’ll slip into my killer Prada boots, touch up my make-up, spray on some perfume, and knot one of my Italian scarves around my kneck. I’ll swing into the city, stopping off at Anthropologie to pick up two skirts on hold and then run over to Blue Mercury for some Laura Mercier powder I'm running low on. I’ll valet the car at Buddakan, because that’s what dressed up girls do. After indulging in good food paired with some version of a girly pink drink, I’ll kiss everyone goodnight and retrieve my car. With the roadway ahead clear, I'll press the sole of my heeled boot against the pedal, slamming it all the way down and forcing the turbo to kick all the way up. I’ll zoom out from the curb with my right thumb pressing the volume button of the steering wheel up. Way up. If I'm going to be heading into a new year, might as well do it in style.
P.S. You know how you can spend hours making a mix tape and before you print the titles out on a piece of paper, you start to move the song order around so it sounds better? That's my short story. Trying to rework things before posting for all the world, or at least all four of you, to read. Hope to have some if not all of it in an edited but still work-in-progress format by next week. From the bottom of my heart - thank you for being so sincerely interested in a few words a single gal in Philly has spliced together.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Last week, I submitted my short story for critique. I sat down on the Sunday night prior and remained on my sofa, laptop teetering on my crossed legs, pecking away until I had something written. A few days before it was due, I enlisted Allison for an is-this-coherent read through. Prior to sending it off, I gave her a quick summary.
“I want to note that I’m concerned this is a little dark. I think I have a nice sense of humor and can relay it well in an essay format but once I step into the world of fiction, I get very serious.”
“Okay….. What’s it about?”
“A girl going home for her dad’s funeral.”
“That’s not necessarily dark.”
“And her mom’s been institutionalized.”
“Strike that. It’s dark. Like pitch black dark.”
Whether fiction or non-fiction, the success of a story rests on the presence of believable conflict. Yes, character development and the ability to interestingly weave words together are also important. If all you write is a description of something without a blip of excitement, you’ve got nothing. The still water of a lake is pretty but the white capped waves of the ocean crashing upon a never ending shore? That’s a mesmerizing vision you can’t turn away from.
When it comes to writing, I’ve always struggled to pair conflict with humor. It’s rather ironic seeing I’ve lived with a sick father for almost 25 years and my family spends more time laughing about my dad’s handicap than we spend sulking about it. He’ll do figure eights with his motorized vehicle, pretending it has a short circuit. We refer to the MS support group he leads as the Crips. And we jokingly rate cars on a cane rating, best of four, according to how handicap friendly they are. Fabric interior, more consistent with Velcro, automatically knocks any vehicle down to 2 canes. I know it all sounds offensive but when the option is to laugh or cry, you do everything in your power to keep the laughter coming.
Allison read my story and shot it back with some suggestions. All in all, she thought it was great. That’s a direct quote. I would have been ecstatic about a “good” review but “great” set me dancing on the sofa. I clicked send and forwarded my story off to the rest of the students.
When I got to class on Thursday evening, I settled in and braced myself. Quick math meant I was about to embark on sixty minutes of non-stop commentary. Breathe, Paige. You can do this. Shit, you survived an overly critical mother all these years. What’s one hour and ten strangers?
“Let’s start with Paige,” the instructor said. Oh fuck. I'm first?
Every critique is introduced with the teacher’s comments. This time around, he had so much to say. My pen swirled across the pad jotting notes. Gretchen, the step-mother, needed to be developed more so the reader could either agree or disagree with the primary character’s hate. The scene at the institution worked but did it work to further the story? Why did Aunt Peggy willingly assume the role of substitute mother? It was a marathon of constructive criticism and I was only one critic in.
I felt a little shell shocked throughout the process. After thirty minutes, listening to the discussion about my characters, my mind wandered. I started to question what my classmates really thought of me. Are Paige’s parents divorced? Is her mom a lunatic too? Did her dad die recently? They say you should write what you know and I don’t know anything about those life experiences. My parents are married, my mom is crazy but no more than the average Jewish mother and my dad’s alive and kicking albeit with a walker.
I wrapped up my momentary mental escape wondering if I was depressed. I mean, would a happy person really pick death and madness as the premise for a short story? Then again, would a mentally balanced person write about killing aliens in the shower or going to the other side the way some of my classmates have?
“Paige, now it’s your turn to ask questions,” the instructor said, yanking me back to Room 216 of Williams Hall.
There was so much just thrown my way that I had little to ask. I wasn’t devastated but instead overwhelmed. The piece was apparently worth improving and I had no idea where to start. These people, my audience provided me with some amazing suggestions and good reason to integrate them. I really valued what they had to say. Well, except for the nut who wanted to know exactly at what point the father divorced the institutionalized mother. I kid you not, she went on to ask how a crazy person could be competent and coherent enough to sign divorce papers. Even the teacher rolled his eyes at that one.
The last comment of my critique came from the instructor who said he’d really love to help me one on one as I work on my edits. He never once before extended himself to a student beyond the confines of class time. Either he believes I have a talent or he wants to get into my pants. I’m seriously hoping it’s talent he sees and not my cleavage because I plan on accepting the offer. When an aspiring writer is offered help from a published writer, you take it. So if you see me skipping down the sunny side of the street on a balmy spring day and I'm sporting a turtleneck, it's fair to conclude I'm heading to a meeting with my writing teacher.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
When I broke up with Ex, it took everything in my power to refrain from calling him. When you date someone for almost two years, you develop some specific couple-y habits. In my case, we spoke every night before going to bed and Friday evenings were spent running for the train station either to visit Ex or to retrieve him. When things ended, minutes on the clock just felt awkward. I’d get to quitting time on Friday and twiddle my thumbs. It was confusing not having someplace to be.
I equate breaking up to going on a diet. One day you're eating grilled cheese for lunch and the next you're nibbling on a head of lettuce, hold the dressing. You're forced to give up some of the things you love even though you don't want to. Sure, you know that eating a greasy mess of processed white bread and artery clogging cheese isn't the best idea. And adding a slice of tomato doesn't make the buttery sandwich any healthier. But it's damn hard to change your habits. Not reaching for the phone to call Ex felt as crummy as bypassing the Ben and Jerry's for some fat-free popsicles that identify flavor not according to actual taste but according instead to the color.
Getting to the end with Ex played out like the painfully long, three hour, season finale to The Bachelor. I guess you could say I had a heads up. Nonetheless, I struggled with the transition. When a relationship ends abruptly or unexpectedly, the adjustments are even harder. It's like being in a play and halfway through the production, having your role change.
“Attention audience, the intermission is almost over and the role of Girlfriend will no longer be played by Paige Jennifer. She's now starring in a one-woman show at a theatre across town. Details are in the lobby.”
I took a day-by-day approach to my role change. On more than one occasion, I tried to get my lead back in the couple cast. I’d send an email or make a phone call, but it never worked out the way I wanted it to. Instead, it just left me more confused. That was when Allison stepped in. She instructed me to direct all Ex efforts to her. If I needed to pick up the phone or send an email, I was to call her first. It sounds so AA but I officially had a break-up sponsor. And you know what? It worked.
Now I find myself wearing the break-up sponsor hat. My friend Carrie was smitten with a guy and they dated blissfully for two months. Then, he randomly rang her and said it wasn’t working. He just couldn’t manage the distance between Philadelphia and New York City. Yes, this guy determined that one hour of transit time on Amtrak was a mountain he just wasn't willing to climb. If Carrie called me at 3am and said she needed me, I'd get in my car and drive up to Manhattan. No questions asked. And unlike her former beau, I'm not even getting laid when I arrive.
Let me tell you something. I can honestly say that I only befriend women who are total catches. I've whittled down my inner circle solely because life is too short to waste time with lackluster people. All of my galpals are utterly brilliant, genuinely thoughtful, generous and beautiful whether in jeans or a gown. So when I see a man acting retarded toward any of them, it's nothing less than frustrating.
During the day, I’ll randomly IM Carrie and remind her that her ex-boyfriend is a dorkus maximus. That any man who can’t see she is worth making an effort for is an imbecile and doesn’t deserve to date her anyway. In fact, she should thank him for showing his true, lazy, selfish colors after only two months. Most men hold out until month six.
I know she’ll hit a turning point soon enough and will get back on track with dating and men. Her head and her heart will unite and the desire to contact her former flame will disappear. Until that time, I’m ranked number one on Carrie's speed dial. Actually, my phone rang last night at eleven o’clock. After peeking at the caller ID, I quickly wrapped up my chat with Allison, claiming Code Red on the Sponsor Hotline and switched over to Carrie. I didn’t answer with “Hello” but with an emphatic, “Do NOT call him!” She laughed.
For me, it wasn't until three months after the official break that my head and heart finally aligned. I was chatting with Allison about her upcoming relocation from Nashville to Washington, DC. We were pondering what Maryland suburb would be the best place for her to plant some roots.
“Ex once lived in Rockville and liked it. Sort of reminds me of New Jersey, though. Strip malls flanking one major, ten lane highway. I like Chevy Chase or Bethesda better. More charm. I’ve never been to Silver Springs. Housing is definitely more reasonable out there but Ex wasn’t a huge fan.”
“Enough. I don’t give a shit what Ex thinks. He has terrible taste, as evidenced by the fact that he willingly let you go.”
That was it. That was all she needed to say. The angels sang, the heaven’s opened and I even saw a pig fly by my window. At long last, it clicked. She'd said similar thing all along but for whatever reason, this time around it made sense. I not only heard the words but I could finally agree with them. It was on that night that I deleted Ex’s numbers from my cell phone. Taking it day by day is important but having a good friend to be your break-up sponsor and to remind you of the obvious? That's priceless.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
I don’t know which is worse – that some executive at Viacom green lighted Flavor of Love or that I sat through the 90 minute season finale. I just needed to know if that clock sporting rapper was going to be sucked into the fallacy of Ms. New York or if he’d see the light and pick Ms. Hoops. With a bowl of freshly microwaved popcorn, I settled in and awaited the answer.
I’ve been a reality television fan since the very first episode of The Real World. Watching Kevin and Julie have it out on the sidewalk in front of the residence was better than any fiction a television writer could have penned. People emotionally attach better to circumstances and situations based in reality. Just look at the success of A Million Little Pieces, a book inaccurately distributed as non-fiction and then viciously attacked as if to dismiss it altogether when the truth came out. Many readers attributed the success of the writing solely to the belief that the story was true, not that the writing was potentially stellar.
From Extreme Makeover Home Edition with the eccentric Ty to Celebrity Fit Club with the hard as nails Harvey, I’m captured through the entire episode. Don’t get me wrong. I have no idea when these shows actually air. Not that it matters. Just flip through the channels and you’ll easily stumble across Danny Banaduce car wrecking his life just one more time or Tammy Faye Messner living it up with Vanilla Ice. I’m clearly not alone in my fondness for reality shows because more and more TV execs are replacing script writers with splicers and dicers assigned to simply edit together pieces of real life.
The one and only reality show that I am glued to is Project Runway. Maybe it’s because I’m a fashionista. Or maybe it’s because I love the drama between creative minds. Either way, I’m addicted. I cleared the entire Wednesday evening that Bravo aired the season finale. I was routing for Daniel V. from the onset. He had such a way with the needle, twisting simple fabric into elegant clothing. His youth set him apart from the other contestants, but in a good way. Daniel never once spoke back to the judges a la Santino and he never once designed a catastrophe a la Zulema. He represented a great talent with even greater character.
When the final winner was announced, I was crushed. Chloe? How could they pick her? The collection she showed at Fashion Week lacked diversity in design, fabric and purpose. Sure, she can sew a nice dress but the items prancing down the catwalk weren’t appropriate for an entire collection. My Daniel being robbed was worsened by Michael Kors’s creepy winky comment that if Daniel wanted a job he should give him a call. It reeked of meet-me-at-the-bath-house-in-the-village.
I suppose the one thing that draws me to reality television is the intimacy. In a way, you are invited into someone’s life, or at least the producer’s edited version of someone’s life. It is totally one sided. You get to know a person’s personality, how they eat their food, what they do for fun and they know absolutely nothing about you. In fact, they don’t even know you exist. The camera is just like the mirror used in psychological studies. The world can see in but the person being observed can’t see out.
This blog got started with the high hopes of using it as my spring board toward a writing career. It was to act as practice, forcing me to sit down and put words to paper no less than twice a week. Writing teachers always stress you should write what you know and that is exactly what I've done. I was suddenly the editor of my reality, sometimes using facts and other times twisting fact with not quite fact. I then invited people into my spliced and diced world for feedback. Over time, my audience has grown beyond those who actually know me. My ego thrives on the comments made and the escalating ticker tracking my visitors. That a complete stranger thinks enough of my ramblings to link my blog to his or her blog baffles me. I wanted it but I didn’t know if I deserved it.
In the throws of spewing about my life and others around me, I’ve suddenly realized that my position has changed. I’m no longer sitting on the outside of the mirror looking in but I’m ignorantly standing in front of the mirror puckering my lips and fixing my hair, unaware that there are many faces staring back.
Will someone hate me the way I detested Omarosa because I am overly self-absorbed or self-righteous? Or will someone adore me just the way I adored Daniel V. for being forthright, sincere and for just giving it a good shot. In the end, I guess it isn’t about how I am interpreted or even by whom. What matters is that I’m doing what I love and by the sheer fact that I’ve slowly amassed a little audience of familiar faces and not so familiar faces, I must be doing something right.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
I have a part-time gig in retail. Picked up the habit a little over ten years ago and I’ve been there ever since. Other than taxes, Banana Republic is the one constant in my life. And to the creepy Match guy who asked if my retail job was at Victoria’s Secret and then put one of those winky punctuation things, the answer is no. First of all, Victoria’s Secret is cheap crap. Second of all, ew. I am so not going out with you now.
I’m retail bound no more than one night a week. I’ve quit at least ten times but my manager knows it’s just me venting about annoying customers. She continues to put me on the schedule and I continue to clock in at the assigned time. I’ve built a lovely little wardrobe at a deep discount and made some great friends along the way. Four hours a week is a small price to pay for those two, hard to find things.
Because I’m not there that often, I only really know a handful of the employees. As of late, three of us have been landing the same schedule. There’s me, Oliver, a guy from Senegal who is charming and kind, Linda, a mother of 5 boys who uses retail as an escape from home, and Kate, one of the three managers. We each fall into our typical tasks. Oliver handles the registers, Linda acts as a personal shopper and I tidy up the messy trail left behind in a piggy customer’s wake. Kate flawlessly oversees it all like a maestro in front of the orchestra.
I’ve taken to Linda in recent months. She’s funny, thoughtful and sincere in her inquiries about my dates, my job, my dad’s health and my life overall. I tell her about the crazy men I meet and she tells me about her gorgeous single brother, a one-time professional tennis player. "If only he hadn’t moved west to coach Lindsay Davenport," she says. Oh, if only.
Linda married her college sweetheart and the two of them lived happily ever after. I’ve seen Christmas pictures of the family and let me tell you, those boys of hers are utterly adorable. I’ve heard stories about her sweet gay brother who heads a hotel in Aspen, rubbing elbows nonstop with A-listers. I know she refuses to exit the bedroom naked any other way than with backward steps so her husband can’t see her size four tush. She’s invited me into her life, open arms and all.
As we straightened things in preparation for the final closing of the doors, Linda asked me a hushed question.
“When you were with your ex, did you ever just not feel in the mood for, well, you know, sex?”
Those who know me well know that this isn’t a question I’d duck. But what killed me was that it was coming from a woman fifteen years my senior. I pulled words from my head to provide an age appropriate answer. Before I knew it, we were adjusting hangers and discussing the value of porn (not working), vibrators (too powerful) and other bedroom paraphernalia (Barry White).
“I just think it’s the estrogen,” she said.
And then I remembered. With a history of breast cancer in her family, Linda had both breasts removed a few years earlier. Because of the cancer issue, estrogen replacement therapy was off limits. The porn, the toy and everything in between was falling short and she was pretty certain there wasn’t anything she could do to solve the problem. It was about what was going on inside and nothing on the outside was going to make a difference.
I found a rack of pants to tidy and headed in another direction. Part of me wanted to go back and tell her that sometimes I am the same way and I still have my boobs and estrogen. It isn’t a lie. There were plenty of times with Ex where I just preferred to be calm and close instead of riled up and writhing. He’d try to push the usual buttons but I just wanted to bop him on the head. Stop fiddling my tits and for the love of God, just leave me be.
I wanted to make Linda believe it was fixable, even if it really wasn’t. I suddenly found myself solo in a far off corner patting down a perfectly folded pile. It didn’t need touching up but it scared me to go back to Linda without a silver lining. I’m not a parent and I’m not sure if I ever will be. But standing there with a woman who has become a friend, and not being able to make it all better, well, it made me feel so helpless.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
When my parents married, my dad was a limitedly practicing Jew and my mother was a non-practicing Catholic. She spent her high school and college years under the watchful eyes of knuckle rapping nuns but when she fled to Philadelphia for her Masters, she pretty much left Jesus behind.
After I was born, my mother decided to convert to Judaism. My dad’s family was local and unlike my mom’s parents and siblings, they were relatively sane. Changing religions would provide unity in both my mom's immediate family and the larger, extended one she'd married into. In a buy-one-get-two-free deal, my sister then 5 and I, a diaper clad peanut, were included in the religious transition. Who would have ever thought you could negotiate a bargain on the conversion process?
I was raised Conservative and have attended every High Holiday celebration except for one. This past year, I was sick during the onset of Yom Kippur. For the first time in my history as an adult, I missed Kol Nidre services. Horizontal on my sofa with aloe tissues in one hand and the remote in the other, I flipped through channels on the television. Every so often, my eyes would glance up and look at the spine of my prayer book. I rested all night so I could make it to services the following day.
I’m not exactly sure why, but I’ve spent my dating career in search of a Jewish man. It was never a major issue for my parents. Heck, Leslie married a Catholic. Admittedly, this was a teensy bit sticky for my mother who to this day identifies December presents to her grandchildren as Chanukah gifts. Come hell or high water, Meema will never give a Christmas gift. I’m always amused that between my two parents, it is my mother the convert who is most troubled by her child’s willingness to marry outside of the faith. Perhaps my mom feels slighted, taking it personally because she made such an effort to provide a uniform religious experience in our youth.
Being Jewish and a solid education were really the only two absolutes in my dating book of rules. Ex, a bright guy, claimed a Jewish identity and was even in the process of taking Hebrew classes when we met. I quickly learned that he only signed up for the class with the hopes of meeting girls. Unfortunately for him, the only female in attendance was the 83 year old teacher. Once the class ended, so did any affiliation he had with Judaism. Ex turned out to be less Jewish than my Catholic brother in-law. At least Steve knows when the Jewish holidays actually fall.
After Ex, I went back on JDate. I dabbled with various men of the tribe in search of the one. No matter what, I struggled to locate a Jewish man worth dating. Jewish mothers are known for coddling their sons but the last batch did a complete disservice to my generation of Jewish women. The first time I asked Ex to help me with some dishes after I made him breakfast, without even looking up from his laptop, he said, "No." Then he laughed and told me he liked to be pampered. That it made him feel good when I did the dishes. It took all the might in me to refrain from tucking the eggy pan into his side of the bed.
When Jews comprise 4% of the overall population, finding a single, straight man, in my age range, who lives in Philadelphia and is click-with-able, well, I might have an easier time finding the solution to peace in the Middle East. With one stroke of the mouse I left JDate and with another I joined Match. Suddenly, the dating pool went from 40 eligible men to 400. I was a kid in a candy store. I relayed my first foray into non-Jew territory to a friend.
“I have a date tonight!”
“Oh yeah? Who is he?”
“This really interesting Asian guy.”
“Asian or Asian-Asian.”
“He doesn’t look anything like that ‘She-bang, She-bang’ guy from American Idol, if that is what Asian-Asian means.”
“Paige, you really took my step-out-of-your-box suggestion seriously. Like, super striver seriously. Have fun!”
Three outfits later, I hopped in my car and headed out for my date. In a far corner of the bar, there he sat. It took me a few minutes to settle in and order a drink. The conversation flowed easily and I was enjoying myself. Then he said he had to confess something. He paused just long enough for my face to go pale and for me to start rambling off crazy things like “you’re married” or “you have ten kids.” He looked up and with a straight face told me he wasn’t Jewish.
“Wow. You aren't? This might be a problem,” I said with a little laugh. “Since we’re in confession mode, I have something to admit too.”
I stopped laughing, picked up my Kir and took a sip, letting the glass linger at my lips for a little longer than usual. When just enough time had passed, I shared my confession.
“I’m not Asian.”
He fell back in his chair, laughing the whole way. Maybe having an open mind will be a good thing. At least I'm having fun.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Tomorrow night marks the midpoint for my writing class. Manuscripts for discussion trickled through the wires yesterday with the last one arriving in my inbox just before Tuesday turned into Wednesday. It was a good 36 hours late but this isn’t a class for credit. There isn’t a midterm, an attendance list or a single consequence for rule breaking. I printed them all out and made a tidy pile of literary wonders I needed to read.
When we started the critique last week, the professor had a hard time finding someone to follow his initial commentary of praise and criticism. I’m the first to admit it’s tough to hear people, especially complete strangers, pick apart your creativity. As the writer, you can go down one of two paths. The first one is defensiveness. You pull a shell around you and either aloud to the group or silently to yourself defend the words chosen, the direction of the plot and the characteristics of the narrator. You blame the reader for being too dense as opposed to blaming yourself for being too unclear. The second response is appreciation. You welcome the commentary because there’s a point being made. A point that you couldn’t see because you were too invested in the piece and some person who had nothing to personally gain from it all took the time to help you see it.
Mr. Metro’s story, the one with the aliens, was well received by the class. I incredulously thumbed through my print out to make sure we were all talking about the same manuscript. There were suggestions of clarity, verb tense and point of view consistency. I’ll admit that some good dialogue was buried deep in the story but there were so many confusing things about the piece, including the minor issue of an absent plot. Not wanting to challenge the general consensus, I quietly questioned if it was even worth salvaging. It’s like a sinking boat. At a certain point, you have to decide whether the buckets tossing water over the side are working. If you’re taking on more water than you’re getting rid of, well, good chance you should just swim for shore. Once you dry off, you can grab a catalog and buy a new boat.
At the end of his critique, Mr. Metro thanked the group for being honest. He said his wife hated the piece and questioned why he would ever want to submit it for the class. I think his wife and I would get along great. Regardless of her opinion, he just loved the story and wanted to develop it further. Maybe from where he’s standing, there’s less water to bail. More power to him.
The second manuscript for critique was submitted by the retired flutist with that weird hole on her face. All you need to know is that the story had a queen and some people traveling to “the other side.” I’m pretty sure the writer owns a cape. She might even wear it when she plays Dungeons & Dragons.
As much as I disliked the fantasy premise of the story, I had to give Ms. D&D some credit for beautiful prose. She had a way of blending words together so that they flowed like music. I’m not sure if it had something to do with her flute talents but there was truly a rhythm to her writing. The problem was that the rhythm flat lined. It reminded me of that tedious house music where the same five bars are repeated over and over and over for twenty minutes. The story lacked conflict, there was inconsistency with the characters and some immediate confusion when “the other side” entered the story. The professor thought perhaps it was a character tripping because mushrooms were mentioned, shedding more light on the teacher's habits than the actual story being discussed.
Flaws and all, I still saw potential for the fantasy fiction. Unlike Mr. Metro’s piece, I immediately thought Ms. D&D had a shot at keeping her boat afloat. She might even be able to patch it entirely. After all, she was innately a better writer.
Any hope was dashed when she opened her mouth. “I don’t understand what you’re saying” and “you just need to read the next few chapters to fully comprehend” were the two lines she recycled in response to some solidly constructive criticism. What Ms. D&D doesn’t understand is that if you can’t hold the reader’s interest in the first 20 pages, no one is reading the later chapters. No one. My test for whether I want to buy an unknown book is to read the first few paragraphs. If it isn’t grabbing me one way or another, it goes back on the shelf and I wander down the aisle in search of something that will grab me. A book or short story is just like a blind date; you have only a short period of time to make a first impression. Wear the wrong skirt or say the wrong thing and there’s a chance date number two is off the table.
I feel badly for Ms. D&D. She clearly has a stronger linguistic talent than Mr. Metro. In the end, it may not matter. The best way to get from good to great, no matter what it is you’re looking to improve, is to be able to digest and apply the suggestions made by your audience, your peers. I have a strong feeling Ms. D&D will be a writer who pens a lengthy manuscript for an audience of one, herself. At least she’ll have her cape to keep her warm.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
For almost every season it aired, I hosted a Sex and the City dinner party. It started off as a little get together of casually familiar girls and culminated into an evening of close friends. I originally called the start time for 7:30 but eventually it crept earlier and earlier on the clock. During the last season, one friend rang me in the late afternoon and asked if she could come over in the next half hour. She just didn’t want to wait any longer for the evening to begin.
My entire Sunday would be spent prepping for the dinner party. I’d stop off at Trader Joe’s for chips and dip, learning early on that I could buy no less than two jars of their Peach Salsa if I wanted to keep the masses happy. From there, I was off to Wholefoods for the main course. I’d mix it up as best as possible, making fajitas one week and turkey with grilled veggies the next. My last stop was Acme for processed products like frozen yogurt for make-you-own-sundaes, toppings for the yogurt, soda and paper napkins. Two hours and ten bags later, I struggled through my apartment door and got started on the preparation.
Cooking became my version of meditation. With some music playing on the stereo, I’d settle in at my counter. Eggplant, zucchini, onions and yellow squash was thinly sliced and tossed in a bowl with balsamic vinaigrette to marinate. Strawberries, peanut butter cups, hot fudge sauce and mini Oreos all made their way from original packaging to small serving bowls. It was calming and exciting all at the same time.
Early on, my friends were culinary guinea pigs. I wore my chef’s hat but was fumbling behind the scenes. Chicken needed to be cut into to ensure it was cooked all the way through. Same thing went for meat. I prefer steak medium rare but on more than one occasion, even I couldn’t stomach the undercooked texture of the London Broil. There were so many slices running through the meat, you had to wonder whether a paper shredder or Freddy Kruger somehow attacked it.
The girls, nibbling on chips and catching up on recent events, either never caught on or were polite enough to refrain from commenting. They kept coming so I kept cooking. Then the random compliments during the meal suddenly became pre-dinner calls to confirm the menu or even submit requests. Elyssa loved my grilled veggies. Hope loved my fajitas. Jenn was a big fan of my make-you-own-sundaes. She now blames me for introducing her to the magical pairing of frozen vanilla yogurt with peanut butter microwaved for 20 seconds, just long enough to soften the texture and warm the temperature.
When Sex and the City came to an end, so did the dinner parties. Elyssa moved to Ann Arbor to pursue a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology. I settled into a long distance relationship to the point that weekends were fully committed to either hosting here or going there. And Jenn and Hope both switched jobs. It just got too hard to find free time in common. I gave a Sex and the City reunion a shot but it ultimately fell through.
I’ve continued to cook here and there but when there is only one mouth to feed and no one to provide praise, it just isn’t the same. In recent months, I’ve turned to frozen meals for sustenance. It upsets me too much to pull out my double burner grill pan and use only one side. There just isn’t enough food to cook to justify using both. My All Clad officially went into early retirement.
Noticing my blueness about absent hostess duties, Hope suggested the Oscars as a reason for entertaining. She also gave a not so subliminal fajita hint. Within 24 hours, I was sending out an email inviting some friends. They all eagerly accepted the invitation. Even Elyssa, Philadelphia bound for a five day class, was going to attend.
Three of us did a whirlwind brunch and theater trip to NYC earlier on Oscar Sunday. Coming through my apartment door at 5:30pm, I set out some chips and salsa and excused myself to the kitchen. Other guests arrived and by 7:00pm, everyone who had been invited was crammed into my living room. One second, I’m standing solo at the stove, sipping my homemade sangria and grilling up some marinated chicken and skirt steak. The next, Joe is standing next to me relaying the latest drama about his mom’s fluctuating health. After a few minutes, he returned to the living room only to be replaced by Elyssa, eager to show me pictures of her new puppy. When she left to put the pictures away, Hope or Jenn or Lisa would pop in to ask if they could help.
It was just like old times. I made too much food, drank too much sangria and spent most of the night in the kitchen cooking up or cleaning up. I snuck out when someone signaled that a noteworthy category was pending. Then I’d retreat back to my kitchen. With dishes washed and the best picture winner announced, I bid adieu to my guests, half of them toting leftovers. They all thanked me for having them and disappeared into the night. What they don’t know is that it was me who should have provided the thanks. A thanks for letting me pretend I’m Julia Childs, chopping and dicing away. A thanks for coming into my one bedroom condo and for four hours making it feel like the warm and cozy home I always want it to be. A thanks for being in my life and letting me in theirs. Good food and great friends, they pair together almost as well as peanut butter and vanilla frozen yogurt. Almost, but not quite.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Sometimes dating rules aren’t grounded in fact. Perhaps you had a horrible time with some guy and you identify the problem as bad teeth when it was altogether bad head, or heads depending on how sexually liberated you are. Anyway, there’s room for error. Even when the rule is accurately identified, it doesn’t always apply. There, I admitted it. I can be wrong. Sometimes.
Per my therapist’s strict instructions, I put aside my rules and headed into town. Cats or no cats, maybe this guy would be my perfect mate. Her point was that I’d never know if I didn’t go. I hate when my therapist is right.
More importantly, I’d spent months, literally months, getting from the initial email to a date. It took him 8 weeks to ask for my number and then another 9 days to do something with the digits provided. Three weeks and two conversations later, he asked me out. His first invitation came on a Thursday evening for the following night. I had plans, not that I would have accepted if I didn’t. I don’t play games but I’m not going on a first date with anyone when a polite amount of notice is absent. We settled on another day in the future.
Date, a doctah in training, and I approached the eatery at the same exact time. Though the online photo had him decked out in diving gear, I was able to identify him sans fins and snorkel. Plus, it was an Indian restaurant and he was the only non-Indian guy in the entryway. Deductive reasoning. Finally, I can point to a skill learned during my law school tenure. That was well worth the $60,000 fee.
From start to finish, the evening was a nice time. He picked up the tab, shooing away my tentative wallet reach. I might have gone to Smith College and assumed some feminist traits but I still believe in certain male to female gestures. He also opened the door when we left and he walked me to my car, though this last task was sort of a given seeing his residence was in the same direction. Nonetheless, Dr. Date was racking up points faster than Ex ever accumulated in the two year tenure of togetherness.
I drove him the last few blocks that lay between my car on the street and his house on the curb. Before my finger could even release the hazard light button, Dr. Date had his seatbelt off and the door slightly open. He tossed a “this was fun” in my lap and departed. No kiss, no air kiss, not even a handshake. Nada. I lingered on the corner for a few moments and he didn’t even turn around for one last glance before disappearing in his doorway. I pulled away from the curb befuddled, hazard lights still blinking.
This morning I got into work, wet ponytail and all, ready to start my day so I’d be that much closer to ending my week. As my email pulled down from the server, I heated up some oatmeal in the microwave and went about the myriad of first-thing tasks that fill my morning: reading Page Six online, checking voicemail and other pressing matters. There in my inbox, right above a coupon for Office Depot and right below a dental quote for a client sat an email from Dr. Date.
We bounced short emails back and forth all day. They were the perfect interruption. Being a bold woman, I suggested possibly hitting the museum after work. On Friday nights, they stay open later and provide live music with light refreshments. Dr. Date expressed interest but wasn’t sure if he’d be too fried from the week to fully commit. He’d let me know by 4 o’clock if he was up for a 6 o’clock outing. Dr. Date finished his email with, “If it sounds shitty, I totally respect that.” You’ve gotta love a guy who acts like an ass and beats you to the punch of calling him on it.
That was all I needed. This guy was simply a cat masquerading as a Jewish doctor. This wasn’t about getting to know me. This was all about getting to know me when he was up for it. You can play with me when I say so. No ifs, ands or buts. Now leave me be while I return to your cashmere coat doubling as my pillow to lick my balls.
I clicked the reply button, penned a brief email and shot it off through the wires.
Yeah, it sounds shitty.
Have a great weekend!
I’m pretty sure I won’t be hearing from him again.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
While I haven’t been a queen bee on the dating market, I’ve had my fair share of dates and enough relationships to start developing some rules. No matter how much I admire Bill Gates, I just can’t overlook the absence of a college degree. While good manners run a pretty wide spectrum, I refuse to spend the rest of my life seated across the table from an open mouth providing a slide show of chewed up food. Pets are a wonderful thing, as long as they qualify as a dog. Cats who act like dogs don’t count. In fact, cat owners need not apply.
I have a date tonight with a guy I met online. We emailed back and forth for around a month and a half and eventually made it to the phone. In the midst of the conversation, I heard what sounded to be purring. I asked for an explanation and was told, “Oh, it’s just one of my cats.” Yes, one. Which means the residence is home to 1+ bitchy, PMS-ing, cranky ex-girlfriend-esque pets. I wanted to hang up. Feign illness. Pretend my signal was dropped. Anything to escape this man with felines. Then I started to feel mean. It didn’t seem fair to judge a man on his poor taste in pets. Ex had a cat, Simba. My interaction with the cat was always overseen by Ex who would walk me through it all. It was his failed attempt to convince me his cat was great.
"See Paige, he loves when you do that. He's purring. Wait, stop. Stop, he's going to pounce. Don't do that!"
Note I didn't change one thing about how I was petting this thing and in a single second my gesture went from being worthy of purring to worthy of scratching my eyes out. I'll admit that as long as he kept to himself, Simba was tolerable. Problems arose when he started regularly peeing on the bed and vomiting on the floor. Eventually the cat was donated back to a shelter because the gastro surgery to repair him was too expensive. I tried my darnedest to be sympathetic to Ex but on the inside, I was throwing a party. Finally, the creature that crapped in a box, walked out of the box and then traipsed its E. Coli paws all over the countertops was gone. Allow me to offer my sincere condolences.
To keep me straight in this confusing time, I’ve turned to friends. Not the ones who merely tell me what I want to hear but the ones who say it like it is. Here are some of the comments:
“No way. I can’t handle a man with cats. Mike had a cat. Remember what a nightmare he turned out to be? Then again, nothing a sudden dander allergy or poison can’t remedy.” - J
“It’s a character flaw when a man owns a cat. When he owns two, he needs to be institutionalized. Seriously, Paige, I think you should put in your online profile ‘I hate pussy’ to avoid these guys.” - L
“A man who can relate to cats can't relate to women. Cancel.” - D
“Fuck no. Seriously. A man with a kitty is a pussy. Getting laid is important but not that important.” - A
Either I surround myself with people who are eerily similar to me or women of the world are united in repulsion toward men with cats. I even stepped outside of my inner circle for guidance and trust me, those answers were no gentler than the few just shared.
The downfall to my inquiry is that my date is scheduled for later tonight. I can claim a stomach virus. No one ever challenges that because having to possibly hear the details about upchuck or mushy tushy are too unpleasant. Oh well. I’ll take one for the team. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a connection and the cats will become secondary. And if the felines fail to fall secondary, well, there is always….achoo!
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
I suppose this totally goes against the protocol of the classroom being a safe haven, a place where you should be free to share your thoughts and whatnot without the risk of humiliation. Fuck that. This isn’t group counseling people.
On the Monday before I have my class, students assigned to present are supposed to email their manuscripts to everyone. It gives the rest of us a few days to read, critique and prepare for the Thursday evening discussion. Mr. Metro, a fifty something year old with squared off glasses and expensive jeans, agreed to be one of the first guinea pigs. His email popped up in my inbox yesterday and I printed it out today.
There are no guidelines to the manuscript with the exception of one rule. You can submit no more than 7500 words. Less is fine and from where I’m sitting, less is preferred. No one in the room has been published so I’m thinking less words means less brain pain and less eye strain. I’m sticking to a less is more motto for this class.
Metro’s manuscript popped up in Word at 34 pages. Gulp. I haven’t gotten around to reading 10 pages in a book I adore and now I have to forfeit my time for 34 pages of something I am pretty sure I don’t even want to waste good paper on let alone my limited awake time. For the sake of curiosity, I did a word count. 7,505. Aha! That bastard! Oh wait. He has a name and date at the top. One, two, three, four, five. Shit.
Not wanting to deprive my loyal following, all three of you, of the literary talent I’m being exposed to, I’m going to treat you to the first paragraph of Mr. Metro’s piece:
Ira Kaplan’s in the shower, killing Martians. He’s been killing Martians ever since he first curled up like a wood louse in the Ardennes. It slowed his tremblings. It protected him from hurling guts. It hushed the Screaming Mimies. Somewhere in the Ardennes, killing Martians kept Ira Kaplan alive.
Yeah. I was speechless too.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling physically fragile, I’ll point to an obese person and ask a good friend if my hips are that big. In my heart of hearts, I know they aren’t. But I need a little boost so my distorted self image doesn’t get the best of me. I’m not feeling all that insecure about my writing these days but, seriously, my writing isn’t that bad…is it?