November 30, 2009
We’ve had so much fun with the 50 Things Writers Shouldn’t Do post (currently up to roughly a gazillion things writer’s shouldn’t do), that we decided to turn the tables, and solicit your help in creating a list of things publishers shouldn’t do.
November 30, 2009
Like a grown-up version of musical chairs, speed dating was all the rage during the post-9/11 urge to merge. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center left some couples clinging to each other as if their very survival depended on it. Other relationships snapped under the pressure. Young singles who were previously perfectly happy on their own suddenly felt compelled to pair off.
As with everything in those frightening months, time was of the essence. Activities that separated the wheat from the chaff were in high demand. We wanted to spend quality time with our loved ones, write our wills, donate to patriotic causes, and contemplate the meaning of life. All of this while being slightly suspicious of everyone around us.
Speed dating was just what the doctor ordered: a single location for multiple, time-limited dates in one evening without the bother of having to offer or receive awkward rejections.
Several months after the traumatic break-up of my almost three-year relationship, my friend Karen asked me to accompany her to a speed dating event. While I knew that we were both feeling the urge to merge ourselves, I was stunned that she’d consider such a thing. Of course I told her no way, but she reminded me that I hadn’t had a single date since my break-up. I honestly don’t know what possessed me, but I agreed.
The plan was that we would meet in the restaurant’s bar where the event was being held. That way, we could walk into the special event room together. The bar was filled with couples holding hands while they waited for their tables. The tables were filled with couples who ate from each other’s plates and finished each other’s sentences. The acoustics created by the high ceiling in the cavernous space made for a carnival-like experience. I waited and waited. Finally, my phone rang. I started for the exit as soon as I saw Karen’s number on the caller ID. Of course she wasn’t coming. Stuck at work. Of course I wasn’t staying.
Then she reminded me that I had already paid for the event so I may as well attend. I should “be open to possibilities.” She wanted a full report later, and she offered that perhaps the evening would make a funny story one day.
Um, yeah right…
I walked through the dining room filled with happy couples toward the event room. Dead woman walking. Perhaps I should have paused for my last meal. The Pasta Bolognese smelled amazing.
For some reason, I feared I would be the lone geek in a room full of poised and accomplished young professionals. I envisioned well-dressed lawyers and doctors sipping sophisticated cocktails and partaking in witty conversations about their stock portfolios, foreign policy, or literature. With quivering knees, I entered the room to find men segregated on one side and women on the other. Good Lord, it was eighth grade with pink girlie drinks for the women and beer for the men!
The men were clumped into small groups pretending to be in deep conversation, while sneaking quick glances to size up each woman as she entered.
The women seemed oblivious to the men. They were all gathered around one woman at the bar who was rather loud and who sucked down drinks in single gulps. The woman was statuesque, a redhead, and the sister of a friend I’d dated briefly. She turned to welcome the newcomer into the tribe and immediately recognized me. She proceeded to introduce me as her brother’s ex-girlfriend, which was definitely not how I would have described myself. Looks of pity followed from the peanut gallery.
Hey, I went out with him for a few months in the course of a ten-year friendship. And we’re all single here. Why else would we put ourselves through this torture? Keep your pity to your damn selves! I thought.
The organizer, Patrick, was obviously a cheerleader back in high school. He rang an obnoxious bell and called everyone to the middle of the room. Women were in a semicircle to his right, and the men mirrored us on his left. A peppy spiel about being open to everyone, balanced with warnings about inappropriate behavior, ensued. He provided extensive directions about the proper way to fill out the scorecard. He didn’t actually call it a scorecard, but we all knew what it was.
There were several tables with numbers on them. Each woman was directed to pick one and have a seat. The men were told to approach a table one at a time for our seven minute “dates.” We were not allowed to talk before Patrick rang the begin-date bell nor were we allowed to speak after he rang the end-date bell. At the close of each date, the men were required to switch tables. They were not allowed to return to a table they’d already visited.
The first gent to approach me looked very much like Bill Gates. Not rich, just incredibly and stereotypically nerdy. Now New Orleans is not known for its beautiful people, but you generally think of people this geeky living near Silicon Valley, MIT, or Microsoft headquarters. I took a deep breath and prepared to be “open to possibilities.” He’d moved to, as he called it, The Big Easy (cringe) from the Midwest. I wasn’t surprised. I was being open. Nothing inherently evil about the Midwest. I have friends from the Midwest.
I asked him what his favorite things were about living in New Orleans. His answer: the food. Great, we had something in common. I could work with that for the next five minutes. I asked about his favorite restaurants. Chili’s and Applebee’s. Um, dude, you could have stayed in the cornfields and eaten at chain restaurants. Good grief.
Okay, next subject. I asked what he thought about Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and our general party culture. He proudly informed me that after living in New Orleans for five years, he thought that this year would be the one when he “would go to the Bourbon Street to see the Fat Tuesday.”
For the uninitiated, the syntax of this sentence was utterly bizarre. It’s akin to someone in New York going to “the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue to view the celebration associated with the annual advancement of the Gregorian calendar.”
In retrospect, Bachelor Number Two turned out to be the most promising of the lot. He had lived in New York making a living as a writer but had returned to New Orleans to run the family plumbing business after his brother suddenly died.
I’m sorry, did you say plumbing? As in pipes and poop? Okay, I had a big ick reaction but rallied on. After all, this guy was creative and responsible. What were the odds? I was opening to the possibilities more by the moment. We talked about his writing, which was heavily influenced by Charles Bukowski. Uh oh.
Now, here I must digress. Many people have types. Some men like women with blond hair. Some women like men who are really tall. My type was incredibly specific. For years, I dated men who played chess, juggled, ran cross-country in high school, and yes, were Bukowski acolytes. What can I say? Apparently, I liked them smart, agile, and highly dysfunctional. It wasn’t like I looked for them. I attracted them. It was an odd gift.
I never found out whether the plumber fit my other unconscious criteria. Once Bukowski was out of the bag, I was done. After all, I was there to break patterns, not repeat them. I somewhat sadly said goodbye when the bell rang.
Bachelor Number Three’s appearance immediately set me back in my chair. He was wearing false eyelashes. Seriously. Not, I have a dermatological condition and have lost my eyelashes so I wear these so I don’t look weird false eyelashes, but Mary Tyler Moore from the Dick Van Dyke Show false eyelashes. It was stunning.
Somehow, I got over my mute shock and started a conversation. As it turned out, we were both Jewish and originally from New Orleans. I knew we did not belong to the same congregation because I’d surely have remembered this guy and his lashes. I asked him if he was affiliated. Yes, he did belong to a congregation, but he wasn’t too crazy about it. I asked if he’d attended services there all his life, and he said no. Apparently, his parents paid for his membership. They’d belonged to a number of congregations over the years because his mother tended to fight with people. Uh, how many Jewish stereotypes can you fit into a seven-minute date?
Ding! Thank G-d.
Now, I feel really guilty about describing Bachelor Number Four. He was very nice and seemed like a heck of a lot of fun. But he was remarkably short, maybe five feet tall in shoes, and a rodeo clown. Yes, you read that right. A rodeo clown. I was born in New Orleans, and I had no idea that there was enough rodeo work in the area to make it a full-time job. And maybe I’m being snobby here, but it seemed to me the speed dating people used a mighty liberal definition of the term “professional.”
I tried to maintain a conversation, but my mind drifted to the image of the little fellow emerging from a tiny car with 20 of his friends. Or maybe only circus clowns do that. Anyway, I feared I was going to hell for thinking these thoughts, but the night was so surreal. I felt like I was dating on acid: distortions of space and size, warping time, ringing bells.
When Bachelor Number Five approached my table, I exhaled. He appeared perfectly normal, handsome even. He was dressed neatly but informally. He did hold his head at an unusual angle, but I thought he was just being flirtatious. I had no idea what the next seven minutes held.
As soon as he sat down, we agreed that it seemed like we’d met before. We didn’t live in the same neighborhood or hang out in the same places. Was it work? I told him what I did. He told me that he had his own business related to the casino industry. Definitely not work.
Okay, was he Jewish? New Orleans has a small enough Jewish community that sometimes you just know people because you’re Jewish. He responded by asking me if I was Jewish, and I said yes. He said he was not, but that I’d have known that if I had looked in his wallet. No money. Dude, I’d just told you I was Jewish and your reply was an anti-Semitic comment?
By then, I was kind of checking out, so he filled in the conversation with talk of his work. Apparently, the name of his business, 1-ey*d Jack, had special meaning but not for the reason people assumed. He said that he’d had the recent experience of presenting his business card to a “n***** woman” who worked in a casino on the Mississippi Coast. After she saw the name of his business, she indicated that she knew why it was named 1-ey*d Jack—by pointing to his crotch. At this moment in the story, he gestured to his groin. Dear Lord, was this some sort of Neo-Nazi screw with the racially-sensitive Jewish feminist Candid Camera?
No, he was getting to his point. It seemed his business was actually named 1-ey*d Jack because, although his name was not Jack, he had only one eye. The other eye was glass. He tapped it with his fingernail to prove it. I nearly vomited on the table.
Throughout these seven-minute increments of hell, my friend’s sister was having a jolly good time. She whooped it up with one and all. I kept thinking she was so much better than I was at embracing the moment and being open to possibilities. Yeah, she is generally a much more go-with-the-flow kind of person than I am, but there were also the cocktails. I wished I’d followed her lead on that.
After 1-ey*d Jack, I was done, so the final bachelor was a dream. He spent the entire seven minutes on his cell phone. Oh, he’d occasionally glance in my direction and nod, but other than that, nada. I didn’t even get his name. As I stared off into space, the rodeo clown winked at me from across the room.
Now, I have to admit, there were a few other fellows there who were decidedly less remarkable than those I’ve described. At the time, they seemed only slightly less wrong. Maybe, between the nerd, the plumber, the eyelashes, the clown, and the penis, I missed a gem. I guess I’ll never know.
But Karen was right. It did make a damn good story.
D.R. Haney reads from his novel Banned for Life at TNB’s Literary Experience in Hollywood, California on 20 September 2009.
November 29, 2009
TNB Hall of Fame
In a piece entitled “I Was a Child Porn Model”, author D.R. Haney remembers a creepy two-week stint at an Elks Lodge summer camp during childhood. He writes: “The camp, for boys only, was located somewhere in the Appalachians and administered by the Elks Lodge. Boys from all over the state of Virginia were attending, and it must have been a big deal, since, the morning I left, a photographer from my hometown paper materialized to snap a picture of me and twelve or so others awaiting deportation in the Elks Lodge parking lot. One kid cried. I frankly felt like joining him, never having been separated from my family for more than a couple of days, but I choked back my tears, afraid of appearing as pathetic as the crybaby. Besides, I didn’t want to give my parents the satisfaction.” Haney is the author of the blistering novel Banned for Life, now available in paperback.
Beneath the water, beneath time, beneath yesterday, is the salt.
The paper says that another body has washed up on the north shore of the Salton Sea, its age the provenance of anthropologists. “Washed up” is a misnomer, of course, because nothing is flowing out of the Salton Sea, this winter of interminable heat: it’s January 10th and the temperature hovers near one hundred degrees. The Salton Sea is receding back into memory, revealing with each inch another year, another foundation, another hand that pulls from the sand and grasps at the dead air. Maybe the bodies are from the old Indian cemetery first swallowed by the sea in 1971, or perhaps they are from Tom Sanderson’s family plot, or maybe it is my sweet Katherine, delivered back to me in rusted bone.
Do you fear me cause I wear
a purple friendship bracelet?
Do you fear having me as a friend?
Are you afraid to introduce me
to your grandparents?
The only perfect thing about me
is my perfect lack of confidence.
Does that freak you out?
How does that sit with you?
I wear political pins.
Does that bother you?
I’m a bookworm.
Does that depress you?
Are you terrified
cause I’ve been bas mitzvahed?
Are you scared
cause I think spiders are sacred?
I’m left handed. ooooooooooooo No comment.
Do you worry about me cause I’m a virgin
Cause I’m loud and sometimes embarrassing,
are you wary of spending time with me?
I know where the feminist bookstores are
in a whole bunch of states.
Does that make you tremble?
People think I’m younger
and older than I am.
Does that reflect badly on you somehow?
I don’t always comb my hair.
Can you hear it coming?
Is it my ugliness or beauty that
frightens you the most?
Are you afraid of me cause I’m human?
When Tim announced he wanted to “chuck it all” and travel around the country in a converted bus for a year, I gave this profound and potentially life-altering notion all the thoughtful consideration it deserved.
“Why can’t you be like a normal husband with a midlife crisis and have an affair or buy a Corvette?” I demanded, adding, “I will never, ever, EVER, not in a million years, live on a bus.”
We’re both psychiatrists, but he’s obviously the better shrink, for we soon set forth with our two querulous cats, sixty-pound dog—and no agenda—in a 340-square-foot bus.
The trip was truly life-changing in many ways: We learned how not to put off our dreams, and the importance of living our best lives now. We also learned to pare down our lifestyle, so that we could spend more time with the people we love – instead of the things we love. Finally, I hadn’t realized how comfortable—too comfortable—my life had become. That’s why I didn’t want to take the trip in the first place. I had become content, but “the bus thing” taught me that content was not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. I hadn’t understood how important it is to continue to challenge and stretch myself.
Although we had our share of disasters on the trip (fire, flood, armed robbery and my developing a bus phobia, just to name a few), the adventures and misadventures helped us grow, shake things up and add back a certain “spark” that we didn’t even realize was missing. Perhaps nothing taught us the importance of getting outside our comfort zones more than our visit to the nudist RV park, Olive Dell Ranch, in Colton California.
Although as a psychiatrist Tim is very much in tune with unconscious drives, hidden meanings, and deep-seated motivations, he is also a typical guy. And typical guys want to go to nudist resorts. Not being any type of a guy myself, I had always informed him I would never, ever, EVER, not in a million . . . Oh, what’s the use? By now I had clearly lost any semblance of free will. I was, after all, living in a bus for a year. I didn’t stand a chance. Not that I was nonchalant about this, mind you; I’d started Atkins in anticipation—just in case—months before. I need not have bothered, for as I discovered, nudists are incredibly low-key. Unless, that is, you’re trying to get into one of their parks. Then they can be just as big a pain in the ass as any prudes.
As we neared California, I checked around on the Internet. One place seemed particularly promising, so I called and asked if they were, indeed, clothing optional.
“No,” the lady unequivocally answered.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I must have the wrong information,” I apologized, hoping she didn’t think me some weirdo. But something in her voice made me query further.
“So . . . people don’t walk around naked?” I tried to confirm.
“Oh, yes, they do,” she answered. Is this place English optional, or what?
“Okay . . . but you’re not clothing optional.” I offered slowly, with impeccable pronunciation.
“No, we’re nudist,” she snapped. Well, excuuuuse, me.
“I’m not sure I know the difference,” I conceded. She explained that when inside the park, one is required to be naked. Now I got it. It was the optional, not the clothing, that was the problem with the whole clothing optional thing. Who knew? I proceeded with what I thought was a perfectly reasonable follow-up question.
“Can I wear shoes?” She guffawed, muzzled the phone, and called out to some other nuditity-requiring linguiphile, “She wants to know if she can wear shoes!” For those as clueless as I, the answer is yes. I decided she could keep her shod-optional accommodations and found a different park.
When we pulled into Olive Dell Ranch Nudist Resort near San Bernadino, I faced yet another dilemma: Usually, I headed to the office to check in while Tim stayed with the bus. Should I take my clothes off now? What if, in a variation on the universal nightmare, this was some God-awful joke and everyone was clothed but me? I was wearing earrings. Do I take them off, too? A valid question, methinks, even after the shoe debacle. I could have called on my cell phone and asked, but it seemed a mite like the shoes question and I didn’t feel like being laughed at again just yet, especially as I was anticipating that reaction as soon as I stepped off the bus, anyway.
I kept my clothes on. The woman in her home office had not. (Note to self: This could very well be my dream job, for not only can one work at home, but not even have to get dressed.) She told us where to park and that the owner would come by to show us around.
The campground itself is at the end of a long, winding road set on 140 acres up against a tree-studded hill with views of the surrounding countryside and valley. There are about two hundred members, half of whom are permanent residents, the rest weekenders with about another fifty to a hundred visitors like us, just passing through at various points in the summer to stay in the handful of cabins and RV spaces. After we parked, we saw the owner approach. He was in his forties and nude, but wore an open work shirt against the sun (and sneakers, I was pleased to note). We quickly donned (or rather, undonned) similar gear and met him outside.
I soon discovered that none of my concerns mattered. In a nudist park, everything is stripped down, so to speak. As Tim observed, there’s no macho, no pretense, no posturing. Your balls (and whether or not you have any) are out there for everyone to see. (Especially, as we would later discover, when partaking of naked karaoke.)
Our first night, Tim started closing all the curtains in the bus. I wondered why – we’d been nude all day, anyway. He explained that he was about to start cooking and for his own safety needed to put on clothes and didn’t want to offend anybody.
Throughout the bus thing, we met so many diverse, interesting people, and the nudist RV park had plenty of its own. But our favorite there had to be the maintenance guy who walks around naked – except for his tool belt. An interesting effect, for every time he turned around, I nearly exclaimed, “Hey! You dropped your . . .” Oops.
Since we’ve returned from our year-long trip, our lives have dramatically changed. It seems Tim got not only a converted bus, but a converted wife as well: I was the one who suggested that instead of selling the bus, we sell our house, to live on the bus full time. And, that’s what we’re in the process of doing.
What other adventures are in store for us? Unfortunately, I’ve caught Tim on the internet surfing for sailboat sites. Neither of us knows anything about boats.
Why can’t I have a normal husband who just surfs for porn?
If you’d like to see my video of the nudist RV park (now, I have your attention), please visit my website, www.QueenOfTheRoadTheBook.com and click on the travelogue link.