Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Wasting time in haste

Well, dahlings, no new reader questions this week, so it’s grocery shopping with Anna! Not that I planned on this errand any time soon; yesterday my bank balance was at $38 — all I had to get by on the rest of the month. Which seemed like pretty tight going until a timely check from Sis yesterday. Whew! Thanks to my new influx of cash, I could afford to head back to Trader Joe’s to restock my pantry. Well, that and splurge on a latte from that coffee shop I once used to frequent more often.

By the time I reach Manhattan, it’s after 5. But I’m a writer who can work till 4 a.m., if need be, so who really cares? I’m strolling along 14th Street, all stoked to buy a new bag of those wonderful unsulphured apricots, pass Trader Joe’s new wine store (which still isn’t open), get about 20 feet from the door ... and realize there are a lot of people on the sidewalk. In what appears to be a line. Oh my God, I think, It’s 5:30 on a weeknight, and I’m going grocery shopping. At the new Trader Joe’s.

Yup, sure enough: a line to get in the store. Several folks in line were shaking their heads and complaining about it, as if — like honking — this could make things move or otherwise reduce the shame of, gasp, waiting. The line wasn’t that bad, and overseen by workers so cheerful they must all have been flown to California for TJ’s crash course in West Coast laid-backness. Sadly all this was lost to onlookers. People walking by were exclaiming in loud horror, as if we’d all volunteered to bear children for Osama bin Laden or something (well, maybe that’s not quite the right metaphor, but still, they were appalled): “Standing in line for a grocery store?!!”

East Coasters don’t really get it. As one woman at the coffee shop put it, “I’ve heard their cheese section isn’t all that” — so why the fuss? I guess it’s partly a regional thing — like the sort of mellow coffee shops one rarely finds east of the Rockies, if not Nevada. I’ll confess: when friends in Arizona first raved about TJs, long before I’d had their apricots, I didn’t get it either. And some of the foods I tried from there were frankly not that great (the waffles I ate this morning: C+ at best — but when they’re $.24 apiece, and your budget looks like mine, who really cares?) At bottom, I think it’s the combination of often-decent quality and fairly reasonable prices. Pellegrino costs $1.19/bottle, a bag of flattened banana slices is only $.99.

Well ... cost-for-quality and the lovely way that, when the sun shines right and I’m deep inside the store, I can almost forget I’m in Manhattan instead of Seattle or El Cerrito or Emeryville. Last night I drank a whole liter of their $1.79 lemon Italian soda at the sheer happiness. Because something about the sunshine or the daylight or the lack of a winter chill out West induces a blissful laziness. Or if not that, an ease at least. Sure, West Coast peeps can be uptight about some things, but it’s not the same as here.

Here, folks want to get where they’re going as soon as possible, and the next train couldn’t possibly suffice, so I’m going to jam my arm in and hold the train the extra 15 seconds for me to board (I confess, I’ve been guilty of this too). But worse than that, I’ve seen people sacrifice all the well-being a calmer and lovelier walk to the train (only 2-5 minutes longer) might afford for the sake of rushing along through crowds of sidewalk smokers and car exhaust and honking just because it’s the “fastest” way to the train. As Fiona sings in my new favorite song:
If you don’t have a date
Go out and sit on the lawn
And do nothing
’Cause it’s just what you must do
Nobody does it anymore

No I don’t believe in the wasting of time,
But I don’t believe that I’m wasting mine
At the end of my leisurely sojourn at Trader Joe’s, I wandered out to the growing dusk, past the even-longer line outside. At least some people don’t mind that wait! Perhaps the man with the rasta cap jingling change in a plastic cup should have worked his way closer to the grocer than the subway. I passed him, then remembered I had bananas in my bag. They were fairly green, but he took the ripest one and told me happily that it would be good to eat in a day. Not like the plantains from his homeland, but still ...

I knew how that was. A Trader Joe’s in Manhattan isn’t quite like the stores of home, but the $4 subway round-trip is cheap compared to the cost of a flight to Cali. Then again, if I move out west, I’ll have to drive my groceries home myself, with no train driver to take me over the Manhattan Bridge past the twilight glimmer of lights in downtown New York. Gratitude, methinks, is 90 percent of contentment with one’s present — single or otherwise. Well, gratitude and resourcefulness. ;)

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

In search of a greater adventure

Frasier says I’ve lost my sense of adventure, and VJ thinks I need to meet strangers to find a husband (though interestingly, my temporary roommate said that the older you get, the more likely you’ll marry someone you’ve already met). Have I? Do I?

Most of my life I’ve had this fear of missing out. I’m not sure when it started exactly. Maybe in my childhood, when our bedtime came before dark in the summers. It was bad enough for a night owl to be sent to be at eight, but the indignity of lying in bed with the glow of dusk still at the window seemed too much sorrow for a tender youth. As I listened to the sounds of other children playing outside, their laughter seemed to confirm that being a Christian meant you were doomed to a lifetime of boredom.

This carried through to my freshman year of college, when I often struggled to find things to do on Friday night. When I transferred to ASU, I finally formed the requisite friend base to have fun weekends, but the secret fear quietly lingered. To safeguard against which I left most parties and weddings as close to the end as I could manage. But still … what of the places where I hadn’t gone? There were always people somewhere, at another bar or party, who stayed out later, had more fun, heard better music. The unknown always pretends to be far better than the known, though making its case on little more than bold assertion.

When I came to New York, you can imagine the torment it was, initially, to live here broke and jobless. The city infects your normal, latent restlessness and stirs it up into a full-bore, raging fever. And in your early twenties, it’s easy — and fun — to go along for the dizzying ride. No wonder I said yes to Ad Weasel three weeks into the move; a date meant dinner out, no need to worry what I could afford.

And no wonder I scorned good guys. Should one ever pursue and woo — then, God forbid, marry me — I feared he’d be guilty of making me bored, condemning me to endless evenings in before the night had begun. Better to fend off the frisky suitors whose children I’d never want to bear; at least they kept me too busy for such restlessness.

Except, finally, they didn’t. The heart can only be so long denied before it insists on having its way — and mine would only stand for so many fruitless dalliances before it was too much. Mine’s had all the short-term adventure it really needs in a lifetime, at least as a single woman. And seeing as how none of those one-night thrills ever led to anything permanent, I’m not sure what I miss out on, other than losing sleep and coping with my querulous heart when finally I stumble home.

As Paul McCartney sings on his new album:
There is a fine line
Between recklessness and courage
It’s about time
You understood which road to take
It’s a fine line
And your decision makes a difference
Get it wrong and you’ll be making a big mistake
Just because I’m shunning the sort of adventure I sought out in my first life quarter doesn’t mean I’ve settled for boredom. My real fear in all the restlessness was someday getting stuck, getting to a place where all grew stagnant. The urban adventure of nightlife might seem like it’s always new, but the mini rituals of gussying up, going out, getting drunk or hit on or hurt are all so repetitious in the end. What seems to be keeping you fresh or open to chance is really the very thing that ties you down, holds you back, mires you in, and keeps you from learning and growing to be who you could become.

When I began listening in earnest to the Rolling Stones’ song “Monkey Man” last fall, it seemed like an anthem for starting life in the post-bar stage: the perfect theme for climbing on a motorbike, kick-starting the engine and riding off to a frighteningly bare horizon as the wind slowly cleared my head.

I did — at least in the figurative sense. And in the months since then, while I have shed many tears, baked cookies I shouldn’t have mailed to some boy’s roommate (but did), and flashed my belly ring in a desperate attempt to incite jealousy, I’ve also grown more than in the previous three years in New York. It might not be the sort of adventure that leaves you sick and hungover, that gives you the sort of stories I started writing this blog with, but I think it’s unfolding a bigger, grander story than one blog could never contain.

Not that I plan to stop writing this any time, but I guess I’ve become the sort of woman it took to write my book — and that’s not the foolish girl who first threw up this blog. So. I could tell you, briefly, about my guerilla grocery shopping to track a half-cup of bean sprouts, or I could answer more of your questions on love, sex and dating. Anyone need my best stab at advice?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Perking away ...

Today’s blog post. First off: checking out Manhattan’s brand-new Trader Joe’s. WOOHOO! (For inspiration, of course.) Back this afternoon ... Or maybe this evening. Still hunting a suitable adventure, since my refusal to call a 40-something firefighter who probably smokes and has no qualms about following strange (but “kind”) women into bookstores sat so poorly with ya’ll (sniff). I tell ya. The things I do for my readers ... ;)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Paste-up girl

Impatient for Friday’s blog? Then check out my Little Willies concert review for Paste magazine.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Schizophrenic Friday

Monday night I met a fireman. I was walking to my local B&N for a book on dreams, when I passed a man begging by the RiteAid. I wanted to look for my book and had none of the fruit or muffins I often try to carry for the homeless so after a scan for nearby delis where I could buy him a cup of tea, I kept moving. But Barnes & Noble had a Starbucks. Well, I was in no rush.

When I got to him, I asked if he wanted something to eat. No response. I squatted down and briefly patted his arm. No response. He leaned forward to lift a faintly religious-looking necklace off his bowl and counted the bills or something then put the necklace back. I asked him again. No response. Assuming I might be interrupting his meditation or something, I got up and walked away again.

That’s when a tall, graying man asked if he was all right.

“I think so.”

“Was he disoriented?”

“No, just not responsive.”

“Thank you.”

If I thought it was a strange response, I soon forgot it as thoughts of my errand returned. Into the bookstore, down the narrow escalator, pausing to read the flap from Goldie Hawn’s memoir, skim the jacket of a short-term stripper’s memoir, finally back to the “Christian” section.

It was as I started scanning for the last name of my dream book’s author that someone interrupted me.

“Ma’am?” It was the man from the street again, looking faintly sheepish.

“I’m a New York City fireman, I was wondering if you’d like to go out sometime — if you’re not married, that is.”

He sputtered something about kind people and handed me his number, scratched on what proved to be the corner flap of a cigarette box.

“Actually, I’m not really dating,” I said, then watched him go, wishing I’d had the sense to tell him why I really help beggars like the man on the street.

Now I wonder if I should call him for other reasons: I might soon be a felon. Or owe the state a grand beside the taxes I don’t plan on paying till they bill me (let’s just say 1099s weren’t exactly my friend this year). How this happened is that I sorta missed my jury duty summons Monday. It came a couple weeks ago: “telephone standby juror.” In this age of round-the-clock web stats and the grand inefficiency of the local unemployment office (judging from the day I had to report there), that sorta baffled me. What, you listen to the trial by phone?

No, apparently you call some number the night before to see if you have to report. This so they can potentially make not just one but two demands on your time. If you call and you have to report, that is. Which would be at 8:45 a.m. Yes, really. Before 9. Anyone versant with my sleep habits (these days I rotate between something like PCT or whatever they have in Hawaii) knows there’s no way I could be up that early, much less “dress[ed] in a manner that shows respect for these important proceedings” and out the door in time to reach some downtown Brooklyn court room. Before 9.

Since my summons was for a Monday, I’d have to call Sunday. Which I take as a sabbath (lately I’ve even tried resting from all email and internet; this really makes for a break, if almost from one’s adult umbilical cord). And I had a coffee date Sunday (not with a guy), plans to walk 4.2 miles north up Broadway from an errand (which I did), and church that night. Besides it made me angry, their intrusion on my sabbath. So ... I forgot. Not intentionally, accidentally.

I’m probably a felon.

Then again, judging from the thoroughness with which my work-search list was checked the one time I had to show how I was not just idly collecting unemployment, I probably don’t have all that much to worry about. If only the folks in the tax office* were a bit less perspicacious ... or do I mean assiduous? Well, never mind. I’m they fine jury felons like me so steeply half the vocab cells in your brain whither up at the shock. Maybe I should call that fireman after all ...

*There’s always my advance to pay them if need be, but that won’t come till August and I hoped to use it for other stuff. Sigh. Budgeting, budgeting ... wasn't that an elective once?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Why the priceless can’t be consumed

Last Friday night, a friend came over to crash on my couch, unexpectedly staying almost a week. In partial thanks for our kindness, she offered to let us burn what music we liked from her iTunes. I felt a little strange, compiling the first set to burn. It was like buying an illusion — the idea I could somehow acquire the richness and greatness of all those songs without sacrificing all the time to hear them. That would take a while (instead of burning the songs inside iTunes, I copied the mp3s, which lets you store far more on just one CD).

I’d never buy that many records from a shop; I rarely get more than one or two. It takes too much to absorb the newness, the sequence, the feel of it all; to learn how to anticipate the song that comes after this one. I had the same trouble with books once, back in my days as a reading fiend. I’d check out the most you could on a library card, then sort them by author last name. Reading in alphabetical order was the only way I knew to cope with the surfeit of adventure and escape. Now that it costs me both time and money to savor a record, I buy them fairly sparingly. iTunes makes it even better: I buy just one or two songs at most, until their emotional weight is well-worn by my soul.

I haven’t touched my downloads, that slim blue CD. I think I might toss it out unheard. It troubles me to treat experience as if I could download it all, short-circuit the cost of enjoying all that pleasure. The greediness of ripping so much feels at first like you could finally beat the system by which we all trade something — in time or pain or uncertainty — for what we choose to take in. But you can’t. We can’t escape the opportunity cost of choice.

And getting to know people isn’t any less costly either. Oh, we’d like to think it could be — just look at how we meet people online. Endless variations on clever profiles designed to help you download as much possible background data on the other — as if by doing so you could avoid the cost and time and pain and uncertainty of getting to know that person, of finding out if things could really work between you.

My last almost-relationship was like this; maybe that’s what fooled me into thinking we had “something.” He had a blog as well, you see, whose archives I read in two or three breathless days. It made me feel like I knew him some. And then we started chatting, learned how to banter and make the other type “lol” (as if that’s laughing, but who knows?).

The question, I guess, is what it means to know someone or something. Is it knowing the odd bit of trivia, the music that he likes? Or is it the way someone’s laugh varies, given the type of joke that’s been told; the way his brow crinkles over his nose (the way my brother’s does when he smiles)?

There’s a difference between the knowledge of someone’s stories and passions (things you don’t always know about your own family), and the kind of knowing that happens when you live together. The shape of a roommate’s fingers, and how she taps the tips when she talks; the look of a sibling’s stride, seen from a distance, or how my boss used to rustle in pockets for his endless packets of Nicorette.

I’ve barely known most of the men I’ve liked, much less been alone with them (while the men I dated were at least attractive I rarely, truly, deeply liked them). No one has really known me that well either. I’ve often hoped that if I ever marry, it will be someone from my past — someone who knows at least a bit about me. In a year, I suppose, I could hand a curious stranger my book and let him read it to cram for our first date. But what kind of knowledge is that? It’s slippery, partial, ephemeral. Deep knowing can’t be bought or crammed or rushed — any more than love can be forced from a friendship or fevered illusion.

No, I don’t think I’ll be downloading my friend’s songs, after all. If I’m meant to hear and own those records, I’ll wait till the time is right, until I hear a song that I have to have, or am standing in a record shop and decide to pursue a whim. And if I’m meant to marry someday, perhaps I’ll know it precisely because we don’t know either each other’s mannerisms or stories, we know both.