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I stopped breathing the day I read this:

In a perfect world, you could fuck people without giving them a piece of your heart. And every glittering kiss and every touch of flesh is another shard of heart you’ll never see again.

— from ‘Bitter Grounds’ / Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman.

Damn. I still can’t breathe when I think about that.

My generation (‘X’), the daughters of Modern Feminism, were told that casual sex and the ability to make love ‘like a man’ was possible.

Can we really touch each other without consequence?

I can’t.

In the spirit of sisterly solidarity, I gave it the old college try but I could never truly muster the ability to separate physical love from emotional.

Every touch means something to me. 

A moment. A connection.  A possibility.

Even something as seemingly insignificant as a handshake holds the potential to change my life.

Orthodox Jews and devout Muslims will not touch a woman other than their wife because the sharing of flesh is such a holy act.

I find myself deeply bound to the people I touch; even more so to the people who touch me.

A touch starts with a spark of contact; a white-hot tingle, a chilling flush. If it’s momentary, it can be a sudden quake that hatches a thousand chrysalises and if it lingers, a flood of giggles mix with a warm cup of the most delicious chocolate and I am suddenly safe, content, home.

Volumes are spoken in the silence of shared pressure, duration and intensity.

Someone’s touch transcends corporeal contact and cuts me deeper than I can comprehend.

When a touch is relinquished, I am left scarred by indelible fingerprints.

Sometimes, I’m afraid to touch people, in anticipation of the inevitable tattoo. I shy away, hesitant to take on a new mark.

I wonder if I’m running out of room.

And in turn, I wonder how much more I’m willing to give away. How many shards do I have left? If our heart is the strongest muscle in the body, how is it that it is so easily shattered?

Then again… from broken things, beauty is possible.

From time to time, I have been known to work as a temp in Investment Banks when my financial situation lingers in the 25-watts-or-less range.

It’s mind-numbing work. Answering phones, scheduling (and rescheduling) meetings and defending a coked-up frat boy’s right to expense his SoHo House membership, succulent dinners at The Gramercy Tavern and executive limos to his Murray Hill penthouse, a mere ten blocks north of the office.

But the pay is great, there’s little-to-no responsibility involved and if you can find humor in the daily patronizing condescension that is heartily served by the aforementioned punk-ass bankers (usually several years your junior) then it’s a decent short-term gig.

Several times a day I would get e-mails that start like this:

To: ML-IBD-Worldwide-All
Fr: Candice Compliance
Re: Relationship Inquiry

The e-mails go on to give a brief bio of the people and their company history and then a contact number to call,

if you have had or currently have a relationship with Randolph Smarmyton or James Picklebum or one of the other senior partners at Super WASP-y Venture Capitalist Group, Inc.

Now being the kind of person I am, it would take everything in my power not to hit the “Reply All” button and begin a long-winded description something akin to:

Candice,

Oh. My. God. I DID have a relationship with James Picklebum and I have to tell you, girl… total nightmare.

At first, he was really sweet. Paid for everything, held open doors, sent flowers; my faith in chivalrous behavior was restored! We made plans for weekend ski trips, compared notes about reasonable numbers of offspring and started looking through the New York Times Real Estate section over our Sunday morning bagels and schmear; I loved Park Slope, he was keen on Brooklyn Heights. It was the kind of argument you dream about!

And then, without warning, it all changed! Turned out, he was a “Future-Talker.” After only our first open house, he vaporized. Suddenly he was working late every night. He had these all these ‘Client meetings’ and ‘restructuring sessions’ and since we were saving for the new house, couldn’t I just chip in just once in a while – what was he, made of money??? Four-time-a-week overnights turned into weekly phone calls turned into emails turned into text messages.

When he dumped me, he didn’t even give me the courtesy of a fucking phone call! Just ‘ping’-ed me from his Blackberry during the company Christmas party:

“No sparx left. U wr fun tho. Gd lck. xo –j”

Me! A “text-ex”!

So thanks for asking, Candice. If I can save just one woman out there from the horrors of pursuing a relationship with James Picklebum, then I’ll know that the agony I endured was worth it!

I would crack myself up thinking about how the Compliance Department would respond to something like that.

* * * * *

All joking aside, there are some seriously vitriolic websites out there devoted to this kind of thing. There’s rateyourboyfriend.com where you can actually assign a numerical value to your boytoy. You can vent your frustrations at HeDidWhat.com or join the message boards at stupidboyfriend.com. You can play Relationship Revenge, or consult the folks at Make Him Pay for fresh ideas to spew your venom.  All designed to make you feel better about not giving out the Rejection Hotline disguised as your real number to the ungrateful schmuck in the first place.

On the brighter side of this mossy-tinged copper penny, there is a heart-warming, only mildly-frightening site: greatboyfriends.com where you can herald your best-friend (or ex) and recommend them to other people on the prowl.  One of those “he is perfect… just not for me” kinds of things, which personally, I think is noble, but lame.  If he’s not good enough for you, why on earth would he be good enough for me??

Nowadays, I defy any single woman to bypass the pre-requisite internet search as part of the ‘Do-I-Want-To-Date-Him?’ contemplation ceremony.

Better safe than sorry, right?

Meh.

* * * * *

In May of 2001, I got a call from a friend of mine to help him out. Would I be interested in stage managing two operas in rep on a tour to Taiwan? It was a tiny production company and the fee was crap, but the airplane tickets, hotel and food would be paid for and the rehearsals would be in New York, minutes away from my apartment.

It took me about three seconds to bleat out “YES!”

When we got back to the States three weeks later; exhausted, drained and vowing NEVER to go through an ordeal as horrible as the one we had just endured; with possibly the most inexperienced and ridiculously incompetent producer on the scene, another friend asked:

“Did you ‘Google’ her before you accepted the job?”

“Google?” (remember, this was early 2001) “What the hell is that?”

She dashed for my computer and flipped open the screen.

In 4.83 seconds, page after page reported an embarrassing number of cases in appellate court from the New York chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 802, after countless offences had been made by said producer against said union members.

We could have saved ourselves weeks of torment, despair and sleepless nights if we had just performed a simple 4.83-second “Relationship Inquiry.”

If I had done that though, I would never have seen the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Theatre, met a brilliant artistic collaborator, eaten a 100-year old egg (disgusting, btw) or gotten a tattoo of the first phrase I mastered in Chinese: “Children to the stage, please”.

* * * * *

You know, if we performed due diligence before we did every little thing, think about how much fun we would miss out on.

I am not cool.

I am, in fact, the antithesis of cool, which some would counter makes me cool on the flip side, but I’m not even anti-cool enough to make it there.

Externally, I might be perceived as cool.I live in a cool neighborhood and I have a cool job and some of my clothes are cool some of the time, but by and large, I’m a product of an extremely white, sheltered, middle-class upbringing so my default cool setting tends to remain at 78-degrees Fahrenheit: comfortable and efficient, but hardly refreshing.

I’ve lived without a television for just over two months now.

At first I panicked.

I come from a family who firmly believes that Katie Couric and Alex Trebek are immediate family members and should be laid places akin to Elijah’s at the family dining table.

When I still lived at home, my parents’ Christmas card list should have included Bob Newhart (with Larry, his cousin Darryl and his other cousin Darryl), Sgt. Frank Furrillo, the Seavers, the Huxtables, the Carringtons, the Ewings, and the entire staff of St. Eligius Hospital for the amount of time we spent with each other.

For some, talk about television shows is considered merely a ‘water cooler conversation’ at best. For us, it was like my entire house had one giant Britta filter on it. We rarely talked about the world or our place in it. Literature was homework (unless you include Danielle Steele, which my mother absolutely did), Politics was verboten, as Momma was a Democrat and Daddy was a staunch Republican and Religion was reduced to the Walter Cronkite defense: “Because ‘that’s the way it is’.”

We didn’t do much else as a family otherwise. Oh, I mean sure, there was church and the thrice-annual trips to Walt Disney World, but mostly, when we convened, it was around the T.V.

So as a rebellious teen, when I left home for college, I eschewed all of it to try and find my own way. I started reading Proust (in French, no less). I gave up Catholicism for Lent, I embraced radical liberal politics and I devoted myself to the theatre (pronounced á là Danny Kaye in White Christmas: “The thee-uh-tre! The thee-uh-tre! What’s happened to the thee-uh-tre?”)

Most of all though, I pronounced my disdain for the absolutely pedestrian habit of watching television loudly and to the masses.

Those were the years that 90210 and Melrose Place hit big. Seinfeld and Friends were making T.V. a “must see” and Twin Peaks made my good friend, Laura Palmer (no, the real one) a household name. But I would have none of it. I was all about Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, Shepard – the usual suspects. Bochco, Griffin, Wolf, Lynch – morons, all.

But no matter how much I have publicly poo-pooed it, I have always had one. I’ve never had the cojones to get rid of it. Something about having that little glowing box in my house turns me right into Carol Ann the minute it beckons.

It’s comfort. It’s family. It’s home.

And sometimes, it’s all I need to make me feel a part of something bigger than myself, since Religion escapes me, Politics usually bore me and Swann’s Way, from what I can understand, (in English, since it was fucking IMPOSSIBLE to read en Français), is just one long pretentious, narcissistic, misanthropic, dump.

Which brings me to yesterday.

* * * * *

I moved into my new apartment less than a week before I started shooting a new film. I had absolutely no time to unpack anything, save the suitcases I had been living out of while I was between apartments.

Luckily, I discovered that one of my neighbors had an unprotected wireless internet feed, so if I balanced my laptop on my left knee just-so while sitting on the Northeast corner of my bed, I had free wi-fi.  So I was covered. Hooking up the cable was the last thing on my mind.

And oddly, I liked it.

On my days off, I went out, I read, I went to yoga classes, and I slept soundly: many of the things that T.V. keeps you from doing.

But as time progressed and the empty screen became increasingly dark, I found that something was wrong. I was betraying my upbringing, disowning my family, wrecking my home.

Just like my family, television and I don’t have much in common and we don’t visit often, but I like knowing that it’s there.  And as much as I tried to ignore it, without it, there was a hole, a need, a void that just had to be filled.

* * * * *

The appointment was Thursday, between 12:00 – 4:00pm. I got no less than three precursory calls from Time Warner Cable to assure them that I would be home for the installation.

At 1:15, the buzzer rang and I sang gaily into the little box, “Be right down!”

I sailed down the two flights of steps, anxious to greet The Cable Guy.  I was wearing my little “it’s-my-day-off-and-I-don’t-give-a-shit” dress, which is short, blowzy, and doesn’t require too much understructure.

This is important, because he took one look at me in that dress and graciously let me lead him up the stairs.

Feeling his eyes burn on my ‘inter-diameter slope’, I immediately knew the kind of guy I was dealing with.

Ahem.

My suspicions were cemented when he said to me:

“So what do you do to stay in such good shape? You look fit, mami.”

Nevermind that I’ve just spent five weeks eating catered food from a film set – a whole different kind of Omnivore’s Dilemma. He made it apparent that he was willing to fill my ‘void’, and how.

Oy.

After assessing what he would need to get the cable and internet installed, TCG announced to me, “I gonna go get my things and then I gonna use your bathroom, ok, mami?”

“Sure.  Of course. Make yourself at home.” (Yes, I said it. I’m Southern. I can’t help it. It’s ingrained.)

He goes to his truck and I quickly tidied the bathroom. Hide the tampons, close the shower curtain, wipe down the sink. Just because he’s The Cable Guy, doesn’t mean he should think me a slob…

So the buzzer blares again – this time with a fat and sleazy bleat. The first time ‘round I told TCG that the buzzer didn’t work, hence my personal greeting at the bottom on the stairs. So naturally, he didn’t pin open the door and thus required me to go down a second time to let him in.

Figures.

So under the “second time, shame on me” theory of single-girl safety, I made him go up the stairs first. He did his installation thing and got everything taken care of pretty quickly.

Almost.

He says Nextel/Sprint has no reception in my apartment, so he needs to use my phone to connect with HQ and finalize the install. I offer him my iPhone and have to walk him thru how to use the touch screen.

“Ooh. You smell nice, mami.”

I hadn’t taken a shower in two days.

I question his lack of reception; both his phone’s and his own of my unbathed, unkempt, undressed and otherwise un-appearance.

He makes his call, completes the install and then says to me (again):

“Now I gonna need your bathroom.”

Right. Okay. I had said “Make yourself at home.” It would be rude not to oblige.

I show him the way and start checking my email at my desk for the first time in months.

After a three full minutes of silence, the door remained closed.

Fuck. He’s either masturbating or releasing his bowels in ways unfathomable.

Six minutes in and I’m suddenly really uncomfortable with some stranger in my house, locked in the bathroom doing God knows what. It’s at this point that I really begin to miss my dog; nevermind that she was a beagle-mix and would sooner kiss you than attack.

I look through my iTunes collection, searching for the most aggressive music I can find. Motörhead.  That oughta do it. The umlaut is very threatening.  I crank up the volume.

He finally emerges; the door to the bathroom conspicuously closed.

TCG exhales deeply while rubbing his paunch – a huge sigh of relief – and plops down on the couch.

“I gonna test the channels now. I can sit here, mami?”

Knee-jerk reaction. I say: “Make yourself at home.” (Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!)

He flips on the T.V. (mind you, the Motörhead is still playing in the background) and begins to surf. The channels work fine, but he’s clearly not going anywhere.

The remote stops on the Olympics.

He lays back and nestles himself into my chenille sleeper sofa.

It’s obvious to me that his task (of many) is now fully complete. “Well,” I say, “is there anything else you need?”

“A pillow.  And a beer?  I had such a long day.”

The time is 1:50pm.

I grab his clipboard and a pen and point to the bottom of the work order.

“I sign here, right? I’m sure you’ve got plenty more folks to visit today.”

He finally gets the picture (in-picture) and reluctantly lumbers off the couch. He takes his clipboard, gives me my receipt and with his Commerce Bank pen, he taps the patch on his shirt; his name, Peter, embroidered in bright blue.

“Axe for me direkt if you ever need anything, mami.”

He picks up his tool box, blows me a kiss and goes.

* * * * *

I blame my parents.