It was our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple and I was obligated to force upon my husband an enchanted evening of romantic extortion.

I know, I know. Valentine’s Day belongs to pagans and 3rd graders who use grammatically incorrect phrases like “crazy 4 u” or “ur 2 cute” as a means of seduction. But I’m not a pagan and as a former English instructor and sugar connoisseur, I frown upon poor syntax etched into chalky candy.

As for my husband, he vehemently renounces Valentine’s Day as a scam and the only candy heart conversations he’d even be interested in are, “Where’s my New Yorker?” and “I’m going to Home Depot.” Sentiments that hardly solicit romantic intrigue.

I met Abbie Grotke a few years ago when my company Zepheira started work for the U.S. Library of Congress to produce the web application that has become Viewshare. I was immediately struck by her sideline, collecting classic advice books and writing articles which apply material from those books for modern enquirers, and also by the phenomenon that’s emerged from that sideline, which will become clear in this interview.

First Contact

By Rob Williams

Essay

Her name was Nedelia. She was a skinny, shy Hispanic girl, with enormous glasses (just like me) and a faint mustache whispering across her upper lip (very much unlike me—but more about that in a second). In my memory, she is always wearing a light blue skirt, knee-high white socks and a white blouse. She looks lovely, although I never would have said that about her at the time.

While the origins of San Diego’s name remain murky for some, The Nervous Breakdown is staying as classy as ever by celebrating it’s 5th birthday with TNB’s Literary Experience in San Diego, CA on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 7 p.m.

This event, like the tasty waves rolling up to its bikini-speckled beaches, will be epic.

To commemorate this auspicious occasion, TNB is unleashing a seismic event full of outrageous readings, delicious birthday cake and a special musical guest.

WHEN: Thursday August 25, 2011. 7 p.m.

WHERE:  The Historic Ideal Hotel and Tea Room
540 3rd Ave.
San Diego, CA

 

 

This month quite possibly marks the third birthday of my cat, Berry. Amy and I adopted her in December 2008 and we were told by a(n admittedly incompetent) vet that she was around seven months old.

We don’t know what happened to her in those seven months and we rarely speculate. She was found on the streets of Seoul by an insane American woman not long before we adopted her, and as she was healthy and fairly amicable towards people, we assume she wasn’t on the street for long. The first thing we ever knew about her was that she was playful; incredibly boundlessly energetically playful. We think she probably had a home but was thrown out on the street once she became too old to be considered cute.

To begin I have absolutely no place peddling love advice to anyone. In college I had my fair share of trysts, long distance relationships, one-night-stands but that was less romance and more “young horny people doing it.” There’s no trick to that, other than confining yourself in a small town with an unlimited supply of alcohol and surrounding yourself with people between 18 and 22 who don’t live with their parents.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been lucky in love, but I have been lucky once, lucky enough to realize I had a good thing and mature enough not to fuck it up. I’ve been married for ten years, but I’m not cocky  enough to call that success. Should longevity be the only standard? What about variety? Would I be more successful if like the late Liz Taylor I had seven marriages? Longevity in a marriage can mean many things aside from success in love, such as inertia, you’re too lazy to divorce, or busy enough with careers and kids to bother thinking about it. Wow, that was harsh. Minor reactor leak. We’re fine. We’re all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?

To quote from those masters of the persuasive arts, the infomercial writers, I know my Star Wars advice is effective because it works.  I have seen it. And more importantly the inverse fails every time.

This astonishing advice pertains specifically to men. Though ladies, if you want to jump on the band wagon and woo a mate by dressing like Slave Princess Leia, I will not stop you. But first a caveat. I have been to ComicCon. There are precious few body types that work with Slave Princess Leia: elven maids, dryads and anyone with the special effects support of Industrial Light and Magic. And Kristen Bell. It’s very easy to be either too fat or too thin to successfully occupy the outfit. The outfit looks a little better if you have a few extra pounds; if you’re too thin people will suspect you are actually one of Jabba’s slaves in real life. And they will worry.

My advice is for guys who have realized that they are too nice. You know who you are. You’ve all of a sudden been run roughshod in a string of relationships, your heart has been pulled violently from your chest on too many occasions, women think of you as a friend, that really safe friend with feathered dirty blond hair, a love of khaki and two quirky robot sidekicks.

The Star Wars advice for you Sensitive New Age Guys, those who actually like Ani DeFranco instead of just pretending to like her to get laid (and come on, who hasn’t?), is this:

Turn down the Luke. Turn Up the Han.

Learn it. Embrace it. Become it. (Yes, t-shirts are available).

Most guys who see Star Wars for the first time at a young age originally identify with Luke. He was the ultimate good guy, the farmer turned ninja/priest who could move stuff with his mind. The naive teenager who eventually brings his successful and powerful father back from his really busy corporate job so they can finally play ball together. The last Jedi, who blew up the Death Star not once but twice because come on, George Lucas doesn’t have time to think up new stuff.

When I played Star Wars with my friends during kindergarten recess everyone wanted to be Luke. But as we got older though we no longer whined to go Toshi Station*. We wanted to be the cool space cowboy who shoots Greedo at point blank range. Mal Reynolds, the Sergeant who called himself Captain in Joss Whedon’s Firefly is a clear homage to the cult of Han. The series was not at all harmed by a lack of Luke, and believe me: if Joss Whedon doesn’t need Luke, neither does your girlfriend. Even George Lucas realized the dangerous sex fountain he’d unleashed with Han Solo and tried to take it back, digitally editing Star Wars to make it look like Greedo shot first, and Han shot back in self-defense.

This is not to say that “you should start out like Han and end up like Luke,” because every girl is secretly attracted to The Bad Boy but wants to marry the Good Boy. Nobody ends up with Luke. Because seriously, even though Luke Skywalker is the chosen one and has enough midi-chlorians to fill an Olympic swimming pool, he lacks the kung-fu to realize immediately that Princess Leia is his sister? That dude is not on the lady wavelength and I don’t care if it was a long time ago in a galaxy far away: you do not bang your sister, Jedi.

To the Lukes out there, I feel your pain because I used to be one of you. You’re the guys who fall in love too quickly and too deeply, who pine away then can’t believe that anyone would deign to sleep with you much less go shopping with you for power converters. You are prone to jealousy, your wounded deer over-sensitivity eventually drives them off and you don’t know why you’re constantly nursing a broken heart. When women are with you they say “you’re so nice.” Behind your back they say you’re too nice.

It took me nineteen years to transition out of the Luke costume. I was in a stalled relationship, living with a girl with whom I held a mutual dislike. At a Berkeley Halloween party at twenty-five I dressed as Han Solo, and one night in his big leather space boots made all the difference. I noticed a new girl. We started flirting. There was risk, sure, and it led to more than a little heartbreak. The new girl was who I married ten years ago.

It’s not that you shouldn’t be a gentleman. But if you turn up the Han you’re an honorable scoundrel and a gentleman, you’re self-assured enough drive a shitty car without worrying what other people think. Turn down the Luke, turn up the Han and don’t be afraid to shoot first.

[Nerd Flame Bait: yes I recognize that there are two spellings, Toshi and Tosche, to describe the Anchorhead general store Luke whines about in Episode IV. If you don’t like what I’m selling buy your power converters elsewhere. But don’t give into hate.]

The only real point to life is for it not to turn out the way you expect. Think about it. If, at an early age, you mapped out a life for yourself, and it played out exactly the way you wanted, you would be fantastically bored. In fact, if nothing or no one placed obstacles along the preordained path of your life, you would probably introduce those obstacles just to experience a little variety. I think you can make an argument that those of us prone to self sabotage are not necessarily fighting some deep interior hatred of ourselves but simply bored.

We humans also feel a deep-seated need for order in the world that stands in contrast with our desire for conflict. This is probably why we create gods who are all powerful and ostensibly running the show, but presume those gods afford us free will. There is a plan, but we are permitted to fuck it up. Or we look to distant and irrelevant celestial bodies to help us understand who we are, but the interpretation of these stars and planets are left to infallible humans.

This is why I believe most good stories follow a certain template. A character’s life is pushed out of balance and he spends the rest of the story attempting to restore order. Each time he succeeds, new and greater complications arise, creating a back and forth effect, an increasing push and pull effort until no greater threat can be imagined, at which point the character either overcomes his obstacles or is overcome by them. Or some ironic blend of the two.

Of course a novel or a film or any medium may incorporate one of these stories or scores of them, depending on its scope. The threats might be real or imagined. They might be contained within a family or cover the entire planet (or galaxy). But this template functions because it appeals to our inner struggle between order and conflict. Play all you want with a certain medium, introduce new variations on form and structure and language, but do not argue with me about the underlying way a basic story functions. That template is what joins the story with our biology.

Our lives are stories. We are rarely in balance, and even when we are, we seek ways to temporarily push ourselves out of balance. Perhaps the wise among us, as they grow older, realize this and try to reverse field. But I would wager that even our most comfortable and intelligent seniors still look for daily reasons to complain about something.

If life is a story, perhaps its most impressive climax is romantic love. In my opinion, there is nothing in the world more miraculous. Billions of parents around the world might disagree, but intellectually I find romantic love more interesting because of the relative rarity compared to its familial counterpart. Perhaps the love a mother feels for her child is more powerful, but the truth is there is a functional purpose for that version of love, a very real biological source.

You might argue how lust and temporary romantic partnerships are also driven by our genes, that all life is a machine, but my definition of romantic love stands outside that model. Finding a suitable biological partner might amount to nothing more than hip-to-waist ratios in females, or height and breadth combinations among men, and the general health and beauty of both. But coupling those physical attributes with our complex, brilliant, chemical brains is something I’m not sure evolution has grasped yet. Or something we humans can really understand. In the first blush of a crush, it’s hard to separate the physical urges from the intellectual. You can’t really know if the attraction you feel is a biological imperative or the far more complex joining of two individual minds. Most often, the attraction is weighted on one side more than the other, and this is why the most fulfilling relationships are so scarce.

Complicating matters even further is how often it happens that one person experiences the complete picture of romantic love and the other does not. Due to social norms and biological pressures, relationships like this might last a lifetime, but this happens far less often than it once did, at least in Western culture. Today there are too many options available to us, and countless love stories have taught us to accept nothing less than a magical union. Functional relationships burdened with these fanciful expectations often experience structural failure, and millions of people wander aimlessly wondering why they can’t find someone perfect with whom to share their lives.

It’s no secret why love stories are usually written about the chase but rarely about what comes after. The excitement of courting or being courted is the engine that drives the story. The obstacles one experiences while driving toward the climax of admitted and recognized love is the story. The sense of balance one experiences by beginning the relationship is not a story. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s the end of the story other people might find interesting. You don’t write that part in a book or film because the chemistry between those two people is so unique that it likely wouldn’t be entertaining to a wide audience. Who wants to listen to their friend prattle on about how awesome their partner is? Wouldn’t you rather hear her admit how she believed she was important to him, only to find out he’d been using her as a toy all this time?

Maybe it’s depressing to recognize these things about ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, understanding humanity is a way to make sense of our lives and set expectations. Extended happiness and true romantic love does exist in the world. There are many examples of it. But recognizing the scarcity of these things may prevent you from being disappointed when you don’t find them, or at the very least help you accept something less in your life. After all, the earth will continue to rotate no matter how you feel about it, and your acceptance that every day won’t bring roses will help you make the most of those many sunrises and sunsets.

In any case, since it’s true life rarely turns out the way you expect, it’s also possible the most amazing event of your life will happen tomorrow.

That you can’t ever know for sure is what makes life so beautiful in the first place.

This is generic advice, aimed at no one in particular (except a few older men I work with who won’t ever have the opportunity to read it). I’ve been mostly single my whole dating career – a few three to four month interludes throughout the years – and I’ve only recently come to terms with it. Throughout those years, though, some things are constant.

1. Always (always, always, always) think before you open your mouth. This is especially true when conversing with a single woman nearing 30. So, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re not quite sure if what you’re about to say is going to offend me, take a few seconds to consider just how awful your own foot might taste when it’s stuffed into your mouth.

2. Don’t worry that there’s something wrong with me because I’m approaching 30 and haven’t yet had a stable, long-term relationship. It’s like Deborah Kerr said – “Personally, I think if a woman hasn’t met the right man by the time she’s 24, she may be lucky.”

3. Stop telling Cat Lady jokes. Seriously, just stop.

4. Just because I’m happy without a romantic relationship in my life, doesn’t mean I’m prepared to walk into a room full of couples by myself. Bravery is one thing, but stupidity is a whole other. Cosmo Magazine would never tell you, but that’s why gazelles travel in groups – because it makes it harder for the lions to pick one out for dinner.

5. 99.9% of the people who are in loving, wonderful relationships are the EXCEPTION. I think it’s wonderful that you met your husband or wife by chance while choosing melons at the local market, but stop telling me that I need to shop for melons on a daily basis so I can meet the love of my life. I don’t even like melons.

6. Please stop telling me that it will happen when I’m no longer looking. The reasoning here is twofold: first, because I’ve stopped looking and it’s still not happening and second, because if this statement applies to dating then shouldn’t it apply to most other things? For instance, if I’m constantly looking for a bus and it doesn’t appear, then the minute I stop looking for a bus one will show up…and most likely run me over. This seems unpleasant.

7. Hollywood: STOP MAKING ROMANTIC COMEDIES. They’re not funny, they cause damage to one’s self-esteem, and they create unachievable goals in a world already filled to the brim with broken hearts. See here.

8. Not everyone gets a “happy” ending. Some people get the ending that makes them happy.

9. Do not (I repeat: DO NOT) suggest online dating to me when I complain about how difficult it is to meet men in this day and age. I won’t even say anything. I’ll just throw something at you (most likely something soft…maybe). Just let me bitch and moan and then tell me to suck it up and eat a cupcake.

10. Don’t worry so much. Life happens at a pace it sets for itself. You’ll be the first to know when I’m head-over-heels in love. Until then, let me be. I have a wonderful group of friends and for now, they keep me sane.

The 6 month sabbatical was supposed to end this month. I don’t think it will, at least not officially. I’m not saying that if some approximation of my better half pops up in front of me and asks me to dinner I’m going to say no. I’m just saying I need some more time to figure it out…whatever the hell “it” is.

How precious and rare
to be born in a human body
even angels lust.

Pain is a flower
most folks pull from their garden
thinking it common

Miracles do not blossom
in the intense heat
of skepticism.

Some pain is torture.
Some, pleasure.  The difference?
How I ask for it.

A rose with no thorns
is a teacher with no truth
a bowl with no food.

Inside every rock
a silent Buddha waiting
for the stone carver.

On the Canyon’s rim
feeling a strange urge to leap,
wife holding my hand.

If you smell ozone
and your hair stands on end
move away from the edge.

We’ve gone far enough
when the loudest sound is
a horsefly buzzing.

Resting in backseat
dirty clothes for my pillow
million-dollar view.

One bottle of beer.
Cold macaroni and cheese.
I miss my girlfriend.

No time to shower?
Relax.  Just take your clothes off.
I will lick you clean.

An empty stomach
knows no love. Hold your dreams close.
A hope sandwich. Eat.

Don’t feel sorry for me.
Yeah, I could have been something.
Became someone instead.

Do you have the time?
I don’t.  Give me some of yours.
I’ll pay you back later.

If airplanes used leaves
instead of two silver wings
then Fall would be Flight.

Wake up. Brush my teeth.
Go to work. Fight. Collect my pay.
Come home. Eat. Sleep. Dream.

Eyes brimming with joy.
Promises in your arms. Heart
like a credit card.

Delicious Pearls

Selections from a new collection of romantic haiku.

Deep in the moist earth
all the bright flowers of spring
already exist.

Silky winter air.
Invisible cloud. Perfume.
Never know her name.

The fruit fears falling
because it does not listen
to the seed inside.

Black pen?  Or blue?  Both.
Today I recall great pain
and bruise these pages.

You gossip and say
nothing.  You remain silent
and say everything.

Now we drink champagne.
Soon, we will drink each other
and stay drunk for years.

A delicious pearl
rests in cradle between thighs.
The ocean is deep.


POET’S NOTE: Technically, most of these poems are Senriyu, not Haiku.  A Senriyu is any poem of 17 syllables.  A traditional Haiku is not only short, but also includes a reference to Nature, the season, and some hint of time passing.  In Japanese, Haiku are often much shorter than 17 syllables, as they use rhythm rather than syllables as their measure. –CEE

When two staggering drunk ladies are mad because you’re not as drunk as them and they ask you to catch up, so you drink more…..that probably means you were already too drunk. (Things they don’t teach you in elementary school, lesson #1.)

So I drink from my flask and the staggering Jasmine intrigues me. I’m her honorable man, the man of chivalry, walking the drunken girl home. She drops her purse and wallet. I pick them up and give them back to her, while salivating junkies stare at the wallet on the sidewalk and wonder if I’m a fast runner. We are in the Tenderloin. It’s my duty to protect this girl, this flower, this woman of intrigue.

I met Jasmine at last call and I scooted to the stool next to her and we talked. She ordered three drinks for her friends, but her friends were already outside. Don’t drink those, I said as she picked up the first one. It was like a junkie telling another junkie they need to cut down on their smack use.

She told me that she got her masters degree in history.

History and philosophy degrees are my favorite degrees. They turn me on. Breasts work as well, but tell me you’re in human resources or business management, and my penis shrinks back into my scrotum. History degree? Can you rub that degree on my ass while we kiss?

Jasmine needs pizza and her friend walks with us. I’m just dropping you off and going home, I say. I like this drunken lady, she’s going to law school. She’s smart and sexy and I want to spend time with her. When we’re both sober. I will come for you and tomorrow you’ll remember me: the gentleman, and the author who kissed your hand at your apartment door. I give my mustache a twist and wonder to myself about the chance of the relationship progressing to the point where I might acknowledge her in my next novel.

Her friend Camille walks with us and seems like a decent lady….I don’t mind that she’s with us because I could seem a bit menacing. I’m okay with it. Girls have to help girls and they don’t know that I’m the last person on earth who is threatening or will take advantage.

I’m still trying to figure it out. This single stuff. The dating stuff. There are some girls I date and there’s no romantic connection and I feel guilty about it. Like I have to break up an engagement.

That’s baggage from my religious past and I’m finding out that it’s okay to hang out and be friends if the dating doesn’t work. I suck at this stuff, but I plunge into the deep end and feel the rush of the ice-cold waters without regard for rejection. Getting phone numbers. Having fun.

It’s like I hit a homerun out of the ballpark. Yet I can only run to second base, and then drift into centerfield somewhere. I lay down on the lawn and dream of meeting a girl who will stick around for a while. Someone where the chemistry just clicks and I know exactly how much milk to put in her coffee. Then, she tells me where I left my pin stripe pants.

Camille is with us and I know that in order to woo Jasmine I should make an effort to be friends with her friends.

Jasmine and Camille tell me to drink more. And I pull out my flask and drink more and they are satisfied. I always bring a flask when I go out. It’s a great way to save a little money while walking to another bar, or an after party….pull out the flask and take a big swig. [Look out for police, they don’t like that.]

I drank and try to catch up with the honorable Jasmine and her drunkenness. My Dulcinea. Later I realize I was already caught up and drunk, I just had a better handle on it. We stumble and I love her hair. And her glasses. And I love our potential.

We get to her apartment.

I start to drop to one knee and go to kiss her delicate hand good night but she pushes me through the door.

I tell Jasmine and Camille that I host a radio show. (Drinks with Tony). Camille asks me to interview her. She insists. And Jasmine plops down on my lap. She has runs in her leggings and all of a sudden Camille’s continued pleading for an interview does not irritate me when Jasmine puts her arms around my neck.

How would you interview me? Camille insists.

Jasmine sits on my lap and it’s like going to first base. I make it to first and the ball continues to sail out of the ballpark, so I appease Camille’s need to be interviewed.

What are you into? What am I interviewing you for? I ask.

Camille responds by asking me to ask her to take her shirt off.

Ask me to take my shirt off….Camille gets adamant, she insists and I’m role playing my real radio show so I tell her, well, I’m more of a Craig Ferguson than a Howard Stern on the radio.

What was I thinking? I love breasts.

It continues and Jasmine rubs my inner thigh, then grabs my crotch and we kiss and kiss while my fake radio show guest waits for me to ask her to take her shirt off.

Camille finally gives up and stumbles onto one of the loft beds in the apartment. Jasmine’s tongue finds my tongue and my hand finds her nipple. The other nipple makes its way out of her shirt and my hand rubs up her thigh until I put light pressure on her vagina, under her skirt and over her underwear. She moans and I pull down her shirt. In a moment of modesty I ask if we can retreat to the bathroom where Camille won’t see us.

We kiss and kiss and clothes come off. She has a bush of hair between her legs. Another reason to really get to know Jasmine. She doesn’t trim the lawn, and I love the running my fingers through the grass.

After about an hour of exploring each others’ areas that don’t see too much of the sun, I give her my information….everything, phone number, email, Facebook, shit, I would have given her my social security number if she asked for it.

I want a tomorrow with you. I want an outdoor kiss across a table at a cafe with you.

Are you staying, she asks. But there’s only one room in her studio apartment and Camille who only wants an excuse to undress for me was on the bed. I decide to go home.

Jasmine walks me to the door. Naked. Her milky white skin in all of its glory.

What was great was she wasn’t planning to get lucky that night. Her legs were stubbled. That made me more excited. Sometimes women are out to get laid and all they have to do is point.

You.

If the man she points to says no, then…

You.

If she has to point to more than three men, the earth will tilt off its axis and we’ll all float to Mars.

It’s been more than a week and she still hasn’t called me. Maybe she blacks out when she drinks and woke up wondering why she smelled like sex. Maybe she found the paper with my information on it and went, oh, his name was Tony, and tossed it in the trash.

I slutted up. My Don Quioxite turned into Eros. Into a Johnny Drama situation from Entourage.

I still want to meet her again. Fully clothed and we can talk.

Bask in the humor and the embarrassment and fun of our drunken oopsie.

I’m just trying out this sex thing like the animals we are.

My post apocalyptic religious cult belief system is finally squashed. A messy divorce after 13 years of marriage, forgiven. And still, I look for the one.

A one.

When two staggering drunk ladies are mad because you’re not as drunk as them and they ask you to catch up, so you drink more…..that probably means you were already too drunk. (Things they don’t teach you in elementary school, lesson #1.)


I spent the first part of the cross-town ride enjoying the legs of the pretty girl in the denim skirt down at the far end of the car. I’m a leg man and they were a fabulous pair, nicely toned and tanned. A guy could rest his hand on one those legs and feel everything was right with the world.

She was completely engrossed in a book and didn’t notice me at all. I figured her for a student, twenty-two or twenty-three, tops, which meant if I was going to strike up a conversation with her, I had to do so before we rolled into the SDSU station and she disembarked.

The truth is, though, that while my body might have been into making a move, my heart and mind weren’t. I was freshly single after a relationship that had chewed up and spat out most of my twenties, and still in that phase of rebound where I fall madly in love for ten minutes with any attractive female who crosses my path. This is an emotional bear trap, one I’ve gotten snared in before, and I knew by now to avoid it.

Still, I probably should have gone to talk to her. Having been out of the singles game for so long my flirtation skills had likely atrophied sharply, and a little practice wouldn’t have hurt. But it was enough to see that something like that existed in the world, and to be able to enjoy it from a distance.

A rush hour crowd waited at the next stop, the glut of bodies filling the car obscuring my view of the girl and her nice legs. With a bit of reluctance I turned back to my own book.

After a few minutes I began to notice the woman who’d taken the seat opposite the aisle from me. There was nothing particularly remarkable about her, just your average American housewife type, but somehow she reminded me of a terrified woodland animal desperately trying to avoid being noticed. Where other passengers flipped the pages in their books or poked at their electronic gizmos she sat as still as possible, her gaze lowered to the floor. When she raised her face enough to give me a good look at it, I saw why.

Her face was a quilt of multi-colored bruises, the worst of them concentrated around the left side. The white of her right eye was stained red in places where the blood vessels had ruptured, and her lips were too unevenly swollen to close completely; through the space between them I glimpsed the surgical wiring holding her jaw together.

I’ve been a student of violence long enough to recognize the effects when I see them, and what I could see was that someone had given her one horrific beating, and very recently. Someone—a husband, maybe, or a boyfriend—who’d felt enough hate towards her to take away her ability to speak.

Her eyes flicked up for a second and met mine, a thin meniscus of tears coating them. I wish I knew what she saw—or thought she saw–in my face in the few seconds before she looked away again. Did she feel self-conscious or ashamed, knowing I’d recognized her injuries for what they were?

I tried to allow her what measure of privacy I could, but it was difficult not to look. I couldn’t escape the fact that everyone else in our immediate vicinity seemed to be concentrating as hard on not noticing her as she was on not being seen.  A minor injustice compared to what she had been through, but nevertheless one she shouldn’t have to bear.

I wanted to reach across the aisle, squeeze her hand, and say something nice, to offer some response other than the surrounding apathy, but the words died stillborn on my tongue. Finally I just offered her the handkerchief I keep for cleaning my glasses, feeling like a half-assed caricature of chivalry as I did so. She glanced at it as though I were trying to hand her a live rattlesnake, and shuffled sideways in her seat, away from me.

“It’s clean,” I said. For a moment it looked as though she might take it, but then the train rumbled in to the SDSU stop and she was out the doors before they’d even finished opening. Gone like she’d never even been there.

The train rolled on towards the last few stops before the end of the line, and as it did I felt unsettled by what I’d seen and done. She hadn’t asked for me to draw public attention to whatever private pain she endured; I’d created a narrative around a stranger’s life and written myself in as a character, and in doing so failed to help at all. I might’ve even made it worse.

I tried to read a few pages in my book but quit when I realized I had no idea what they said. I looked towards the far end of the car, hoping the girl with the nice legs might still be there. I wanted the sight of some pretty young skin to distract me from my own sense of futility. To my surprise, she still was.

There was a boy with her now, a skinny kid with a sandy blonde buzz cut who must’ve gotten on at the university stop. They held each other with absolute joy, like those couples you see at airports who’ve been apart for months, even though it’d probably only been hours since they’d walked the campus hand-in-hand. They shared kisses and whispered to each other, unconcerned with any eyes that might be watching.

By herself, she’d been pretty; together they were radiant. It was a celebration to see them. And really, what else could one do but admire them from afar, and hope the tiny sphere of their love kept the bad things of the world at bay, if just for a little while?

 

My friend Ruthie knows about shoes.

I have really wide feet. I yearn for a pair of indisputably genuine high heels to wear out to dinner looking all lady-like. I don’t even hope to find any that fit comfortably. I don’t expect to walk in them much. If I walk slowly, I can get a good block or two looking like I walk on heels all the time. It’s a lot like acting.

Ruthie is visiting us and she finds a store right here in Miami!  Ruthie has super powers. She is a gourmet chef and makes beautiful jewelry. Her quilts have won awards. Give Ruthie a problem and she goes at it like a pit bull until she figures it out. By rights, Ruthie should be an intimidating person, but she’s just the opposite. Everybody loves Ruthie.

This store Ruthie finds has weird shoe sizes but only, say, one or two in any given size. Clearance from somewhere where there is a larger concentration of women with big feet. I’d say the Amazon, because of the myths, but I’ve been there and all the Amazonian women in real life have tiny little feet, and they don’t even wear shoes, most of the time. Waste of perfectly good shoe feet, in my opinion. Personally, I am all aflutter because I find a pair of polka-dot three-inch heels that pretty much almost fit me!


So, I go to check out and the guy sees my last name. He asks me if I’d ever been to Zion National Park. I say that I haven’t. Naturally, Ruthie has been there, though, that’s how things are with Ruthie. She’d been all over the world with her husband, Simeon, before it even occurred to me that stepping out of Brooklyn was an option. So, anyway, the shoe store guy runs to the other side of the counter and gets his laptop. Lickety-split, we’re looking at beautiful pictures of the park.

He draws out a diagram of the park on a piece of paper. He shows us where he was standing when he proposed to his wife. Ruthie helps him draw the diagram to make it more accurate. The name of the promontory is “Angel’s Landing.” It is the highest point in the park, from which there is the most expansive, gorgeous view. To get to the actual arduous climb up to it, you have to brave a long narrow land bridge with sheer drops on either side that look like forever to me. This is not somewhere that I would ever have a need to go.

He shows us the view from the very spot where this tender moment took place. It was a stunning place, a breathtaking view.

“That is just the loveliest story,” I croon.

“Yeah, I know,” he says, “I planned it forever so that we would always remember the moment I proposed. I got down on my knee and held out this little blue box with the ring in it and asked her to be my wife with all nature’s beauty displayed before her.”

“What a wonderful, romantic person you are!” I say.

“But you know what happened next?” he asks me.

“She threw her arms around you and cried and said yes, she would marry you,” I respond confidently.

“Nope. She opened the box and took out the ring. Then she took a diamond tester out of her backpack and tested it,” he says.

“She had a diamond tester?

On the top of the mountain?

In her backpack?” I ask.

“Yup. She must’ve been carrying that thing around with her everywhere,” he says.

“Kinda puts a crimp in the ‘romantic’ part, doesn’t it?” I say.

“Should’ve known right then that it wouldn’t always be smooth sailing,” he says.

“Huh,” I say.

“Thanks for the shoes,” I say.

A megastar movie based on a New York Times best-selling book based on a Sex & The City episode drops February 6th. Fashioning an acerbic advice book into a screenplay is a feat only writers like Charlie Kaufman can safely ignore.

He’s Just Not That Into You was published in 2004 and struck a significant chord. It seems only fair if not mildly treasonous to return the favor to men.

My baseline position is that men usually know when a woman is just not that into them (unlike women, who are masters of self-delusion, false optimism and denial). You men, you don’t care. You get off on a certain level of pursuit. Experience has taught you the power of persistence. Sun Tzu’s Art of War, etc.

Fine.

But for those men who are tired of treading water, sick of being a chump and especially for those poor souls who have clearly lost their way, let the following be your guide.

1. She’s Just Not That Into You if she doesn’t offer to pay for shit.

Women will keep men in their lives they have no feelings for simply because these men whip out their wallets on cue. Practical necessity? OK sometimes. Learn to spot the far more common garden variety greediness. It’s not something we’re wracked with guilt over either (hello, we still make seventy five cents to your dollar for the exact same job. If you want to try to make that up to us, we sure as hell will let you). Unless we’re really into you. A girl who’s into you will at minimum offer to pay. It’s the gesture of offering that tells a man how a woman feels and, additionally, if she’s up to the task of true partnership. Even a woman earning diddly squat will pick up the tab for cheap things like coffee or breakfast. And she’ll give you stuff: books, burned CDs, baby cactuses, bus passes. Tokens of her affection. If your girl don’t pay for shit and don’t give you tiny little presents, she is using you for your money.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you bank. You don’t even mind paying for every single bar tab, restaurant bill, movie ticket, airfare, trip to the mall. It makes you feel generous and important and manly to be able to provide such things for the girl in your life. Especially if said girl is hot, and she’s in school getting her degree and can’t afford those sexy Nine West stiletto boots…

Dude, you are being used. If you’re ok with that, you have self esteem issues. You need counseling. A month surfing solo in Costa Rica. Something. How can you not know how many badass women are out there? Women who have their shit together financially and everything-else-ily?

Getting used for money is so 1998. Grow a fucking pair. You can rent someone’s heart or you can experience the bliss of love. Do either with open eyes.

2. She’s Just Not That Into You if she claims she’s “not over” her ex.

Both genders use this tired excuse – it’s the easiest way to turn someone down. Soften the blow. Even get some sympathy. Do not be fooled or moved! Do not try to help her through it! Do not stick around! Be smart and disappear. The only appropriate response to a girl making this claim is, “I sincerely wish you best of luck getting over so and so. I really hope you can work though it and feel better. Give me a call next July.” And she might. But the point is, the truth is, most people will suck it up and throw some duct tape over their busted heart if a new person they consider attractive, smart and nice comes sniffing around. Plus the only surefire way to get over an ex is to date someone else so it’s pretty counterintuitive to play the “oh it’s too soon” card. Go ahead and call bullshit. TIP: a good vetting device? Date people close to your level of singlehood. Single for seven months? Nice to meet you. Broke up last weekend? Excuse me gotta go.

3. She’s Just Not That Into You if you’re doing her.

Hooking up leads to love as often as LinkedIn leads to a dream job. Why do we pretend it can work? Because it’s a convenient belief. Because we’re horny. Women are dying to get off too you know and sometimes biological urges override our emotional braking system. Still, we’re all apprised of the odds. Chances are if she’s really into you, she’s terrified of messing things up between you two by adding horizontal gymnastics into the mix. She’s probably dying to get naked but resisting the impulse with varying levels of success. Conventional wisdom holds that good relationships sprout from causal friendships, which progress at normal speed into romances.  Love rarely blooms after a night of hard drinking at Lucky Lounge.  It’s also wise not to underestimate the effect of squawking norms from yesteryear which told women they were “sluts” if they “put out” too soon. Many women still equate sex with leverage somehow. So if you and your girl are having doggy style Thursdays it’s not love. It’s not even in the neighborhood of love. It’s sport. Cool? Cool. Just don’t go around pretending you’re her boyfriend. You’re not. Which isn’t to say you won’t ever be. C’est posible. People win the lottery every day. The odds never change, but it does happen.

4. She’s Just Not Into You if she speaks flippantly about excretory or menstrual functions.

These are topics of excrutiating shame in the romantic realm, at least initially. And at least initially a woman will usually avoiding pooping in a five mile radius of a guy she’s really into. It’s not healthy or easy but it’s what we do. If a girl is reporting her bowel movements or flow density in an offhand manner/in graphic detail, you have been relegated to Friend status. It could take years before she realizes you’re boyfriend material. Don’t you think you deserve a woman who isn’t voluntarily blind? Who can plainly see how awesome you are? Get this girl a Costco bulk pack of Always with Wings and tell her you can’t wait forever.

5. She’s Just Not That Into You if she takes her sweet ass time returning your calls.

If a woman never calls you, you cannot tell anything from this. Through various channels of public mockery women have been made aware of our tendency to call men too much. We sorta for the most part get it. You don’t like being stalked. Roger that, loud and clear. But not returning your calls is something else entirely. If she doesn’t call, email or text you back within a day or two sorry she is just not that into you. Keep on moving.

6. She’s Just Not That Into You if some guy is slapping her ass at the bar.

If she is openly giving other guys attention right in front of your face (see also: getting hit on and loving it), she is an attention whore. Let her be one. Peacefully walk away. Far away. As my friend Lisa*, avid collector of men she’s not really into puts it, “A girl who’s really into you doesn’t create a space for that to happen.” If you two are at the bar and some guy’s patting her butt while she giggles and meekly swats his paw away, you’re choopped liver. See the exit sign over there? Follow it. Go to the next bar. Meet the kickass woman who’s waiting over there for someone great like you.

7. She’s Just Not That Into You if you get the side hug.

How does she hug you? It’s important. It says a lot. The side hug, the one arm, or worse, the Oprah hug (greets with all body contact blocked, interlacing fingers of both hands with yours) speak volumes. The hug of a girl who’s really into should include both arms. Some breast contact. Pelvis touching or nearly touching. Slow to part. Hugging her should be warm and slightly dizzying. It should feel good.

This concludes my post.

All the TNB ladies, all the TNB ladies

All the TNB ladies, all the TNB ladies

If you take umbrage with any of the above points, do feel free to explain or contribute your own ideas.

Men, you are welcome.

Hello, my name is Zoë Brock and I am a hopelessly hopeful romantic.

Love and I have a long and sordid relationship. We’re stuck to each other with that cheap, tacky glue that never dries properly and gets hairs and other bits of icky dirt and effluvia stuck in it and ends up looking like a coughed up owl pellet, minus the skeletal bits. It’s horrible, trust me.

Sometimes I feel as if I live my life adhered to the cheap pulpy paper bound between the flowery covers of a Harlequin romance novel.

Sometimes I wonder if some sticky-fingered house-wife isn’t pouring over the sordid details of my love-life, swooning, moaning and gasping at the more elaborately descriptive paragraphs as she takes a break between episodes of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ and ‘Days of Our Lives’.

Sometimes I feel like I’m getting paper cuts on my fingers as I try to escape from my papery jail.

It’s useless trying to escape, of course. There is no way out of yourself. I am what I am.

And I just love the Love.

For example- The other day, while standing at a downtown street corner waiting for the lights to change, I started fantasizing about the moment when I will see My Person again after a long absence. I think about this scenario a lot. We’ve been apart a few months, and still have several weeks to go before we can look at each other and assess the changes and evolutions we have both gone through on our own. My mind wanders to that moment and I drift off into completely fantastical scenes, replete with soaring movie music and zoom shots into locked lips before wide pans up into blue sky.

I gross myself out a lot.

Sometimes these thoughts involve hurried needful sex or desperate kisses. Sometimes they involve me fainting, weak knees giving way, eyes rolling back in head, tall girl dissolving into a pile of floppy limbs and crumpled emotions.

No one has ever accused me of having no sense of melodrama.

Anyway, back to that corner- I’m standing there, weak kneed and gooey, envisioning him as he walks across the street/room/playa- tanned, athletic, half naked, like some stud from a bad Arabian Nights illustration (vomit, I know) and I realize the lights have changed and that I’ve missed my chance to cross. More than this I realize they have changed several times and that I have been standing on the corner of Market and Geary with a stupid look on my face long enough to attract the attention of the nearby flower vendor. He inquires about my well being and I nod, flush, and scurry away in a pink cloud of girlie embarrassment.

Ugh.

Yesterday, while walking home from an adventure at the gay hardware store (a whole other story) I was stupid enough to fall victim to my romantic impulses again. This time my mind was co-erced into dangerous idiocy by the melodic strains of KD Lang singing ‘Hallelujah’ on my iPod.

Oh dear.

Did I listen to it once? Did I listen to it twice? Or did I listen to it three times and send myself into a spasm of mind-fucking that involved such details as sordid spontaneous sex, declarations of eternal love and devotion and, most shamefully, full-blown confetti-strewn matrimony? You guess.

Yep.

And I almost got run over as a consequence.

I should have my own sitcom. We could call it Zoe loves Chachi.

(Did you know that Cha-Chi is the Mongolian term for penis? [Actually I made that up {but it’s funny, right?}])

Of course not all of my romantic moments are light and fluffy. Some of them are downright dark and brooding, morose and gloomy. More of a “Jane Eyre” than a “When Harry Shtupped Sally”. More “Donnie Darko” than “The Notebook”.


Sometimes my romantic reality is heavy and smothering and desperate and tragic. My need for someone can be overwhelming to them and to myself.

(Excuse me, a cat needs some attention).

I’m back. Where was I? Romance. Dreams. Vomitous imaginings wrapped in pink lace and scented tissue.

If the adage “have dick, be dickhead” is true then surely the same must be said for women. “Have vagina, be a giant bloody pussy”. Sorry, Nana, I know you’re reading this.

But after much agonizing and mental self-flagellation I’ve come to the conclusion that being a romantic isn’t so bad after all. Sure, it’s a bit embarrassing. Sure, I cry in commercials and stupid fluffy movies. Sure, I’ve been known to stare at people kissing in the street with a big goofy grin on my head until they think I’m a pervert, but it also means I’m open to the whole damn thing, despite more than a few disappointments and broken-hearted escapades (see archives for further reading material), escapades that could have made me bitter and twisted and far too scared to indulge in this type of thinking.

And, this way, if I’m not getting romanced, cuddled and loved-up in reality, I can always escape to the Fabiolicious fantasies inside my own mind, right?

Cor! Look at him! If you knew where my finger was while that picture was being taken you’d be shaking my hand, children.

Or not.


*ALL PHOTOSHOPPING WITHIN THIS STORY WAS MAGIC PERFORMED BY JOSH ‘DR CHOP’ FLECHTNER. MANY THANKS FOR HIS WIZARDRY, MAY OUR COLLABORATIVE EFFORTS BE LONG-LIVED, COMPLETELY DERANGED AND INCREDIBLY SILLY.

He climbs my stairs like Tigger, full of bounce and light.

I’m waiting in the kitchen drinking wine, the ceramic tile smooth and cool under my bare feet, the anticipation of him hot and prickly.

He grabs me roughly and we kiss until our lips throb. He gets a hard on, steps back for assessment purposes.

Nice, I say sincerely.

Like that? he asks.

Of course, I reply. It’s so difficult to find a guy with a big cock and a big vocabulary.

He spits out a laugh. Is that right?

One or the other is easy, I explain, pulling him by the belt buckle toward me, but not both.

Not both? he echoes, suddenly kissing me too hard and pinning my spine too tightly against the kitchen counter. I push him off to breathe.

Don’t, I protest. We have reservations.

He sighs, retreats and cracks his knuckles. Where are we going by the way?

Aldo’s. Does it matter?

Absolutely not. You look incredible.

So do you.

I can’t wait to fuck you.

Can you not say that? It makes me feel pukey.

Who says pukey?

Plenty of people, I play along, stuffing an ID, debit card and lip gloss into a clutch.

Preteen people?

We jostle each other down the stairs.

At the end of creme brulée he confesses, I’m having feelings I’m uncomfortable with.

Everything you feel I feel, I breeze, pouring a last glass of wine.

I don’t know if you do, he says doubtfully, throwing his napkin on the table and settling back into the shellacked rattan chair.

I swirl cabernet and sigh. Yes you do know, because I’m telling you. And isn’t that the best part? How mutual this is?

Satisfied with this, he smiles at me. For me.

It is.

He beckons for the bill and pays. He always pays.

I’m having a traffic jam in my mouth, he says hoarsely. I have so many things to say and they’re all piling up in there.

I gnaw the insides of my cheeks.

You’ve taken over every inch of my heart. And you keep spreading.

Genuine or not, original or not, this kind of talk has a narcotic effect. I reply by ardently initiating the baptism of my new sofa.

When the tempo becomes unmanageable he rises from the sofa, stands in front of me and holds eye contact as he finishes himself off, cups it.

Through the sliding glass door comes the cheap tinkle of my next door neighbor’s windchimes, melodic for the first time.

I detangle knots from the shower while admiring the juxtaposition of his summer tan, his freeweight hardened body, against my multicolored butterfly sheets.

A dirty sort of pride fills my little black heart.

I turn back into the bathroom, catch myself smirking in the mirror.

Every day at least twice and usually more people ask about the scar.

His flat, white, ear to ear, not aesthetically displeasing scar –

The sandwich artist, the valet parking attendant, the bartender, they all want to know what happened, how you can be walking around with a scar that says you really shouldn’t even be walking around.

It’s rowdy, that scar, impossible to disguise with a hat or bandana. It invites inquiry, almost begs for it.

Not my scar and not my story, yet one side effect of being his sometimes companion is that I am constantly irritated at humanity.

How casually we risk hurting others with our reflexive curiosity.

We are not boyfriend and girlfriend.

So kissing him goodbye or not is a constant dilemma. One generous morning I am leaning down and he stirs, pulls me back into bed.

Call in sick, he pleads, yanking the covers over us despite my work clothes.

I never call in sick.

Exactly! All the more reason.

I can’t.

Why not? We can stay in bed all day and I’ll make you scream like you were screaming last night.

That’s not going to happen. I can’t drink this early in the morning.

He smiles, half-annoyed and half-amused, and yawns. Oh, so it was the booze?

Pretty much. I’m going now.

Sucks to be you.

Thanks. Have a great day too.

At first I am impressed: he never deflects, never shrinks from the curiosity. He tells the scar story with verve, with flair, with all the hideous details. He never gets tired of the territory, never grows bored of the repetition.

But I do.

I think you actually like the attention.

Like the attention? I went through five fucking years of surgeries. I’ve earned the right to talk about it. I’m not embarrassed.

I’m not saying you should be embarrassed. I just would not enjoy telling the story twenty fucking times a day.

You know, I’ve met some amazing people because of my scar. It’s the best conversation starter ever.

I see that. But how about, just once, saying ‘I’d rather not talk about it’?

Because I do want to talk about it. It’s part of who I am.

I would just get tired of the story.

Well. That’s you then.

Yeah. That’s me.

Like most informal relationships, our affair ended quickly, irrationally and with bad feelings on either side.

And so it goes.

The scar from our parting is much smaller than the one he has to wear forever, and in all likelihood it will fade until neither one of us remembers ever having it.