Monday, September 21, 2009

A Date Story

After every break-up, my single life starts with a bang(sometimes literally). That first week is a whirlwind of single-life pleasures, lifting my ego to altitudes so high the thin air robs enough oxygen from my brain that I actually start to think I am the most attractive man on earth, why the hell have I not been single this entire time? Finding women is so fucking easy! They're all over me! I'm going to love being single! I'm going to be single FOREVER!!! Then the week ends with a burning re-entry into reality, and I continue living my single life with much more modest expectations.

A year or so ago, while I was in the midst of that delusional first week, I was out by myself at Rudy's, a Hell's Kitchen bar. The sign outside clearly reads Rudy's Bar & Grill, so I sauntered up to the bar and asked to see a menu. The bartender flatly informed me they didn't have a kitchen, but they did have free hot dogs. Hot dogs, that I noticed, weren't even cooked on a grill. Still, they were free, so I ordered a Guinness(even though it was only available in bottle-form, because I have no taste), got a hot dog, and sat down to read Angela's Ashes.

Now I know that sounds horribly wallflowery, but it was three on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn't straining to read about a poor Irish upbringing while the place was packed and the lights were low; I was straining to read about a poor Irish upbringing while the afternoon regulars waited for the NBA playoffs to start. I had broken up with my girlfriend Wednesday, so this was my first single Saturday in three years. Why not start it with a good book and a pint?

Coming straight from the gym, I had my backpack with me, cradling it between my feet and the bottom of the bar. Next to me, a bald tattooed man in a wife-beater did shots with his equally tough looking wife/girlfriend. The vested-bartender was quick to feed them whiskey and dogs as they debated how hard a mutual acquaintance worked(the man referred the fellow as the "laziest sonabitch I know" while the woman wasn't ready to anoint the guy just yet). The rest of the regulars were a mix of middle-aged blue-collar and older professionals, as befitting a dive bar at that time of day. Sports fans, serious drinkers, and me. Reading about Frank McGourt's alcoholic father.


A couple hours and beers later, a group of three young girls and two guys came in. They bee-lined it for Rudy's backyard garden, and as they passed me one of the girls grabbed my shoulder and said "Are you really depressed?!? You can't read that! You'll hurt yourself!"

I laughed. "No no, I'm fine. I'll be sure to let you know, though, if I'm feeling down."

"You do that!"

And with that, she rejoined her group. She was cute. Curly brown hair, dark-blue eyes, and a curvy figure. Her friends were also pretty easy on the eye, I couldn't help but notice. One had a sexy-librarian look, dark rimmed glasses to go with long black hair and very, very red lips. I brushed it off as a nice encounter, and got back to my book.

After about forty-five minutes the group, fresh off tequila shots, was getting ready to leave. The girl who considered Ashes a prelude to suicide came up to me again, and introduced herself.

"It's my friend's birthday," she motioned to the librarian, "and we are going to a karaoke bar. You're welcome to join."

"Yeah, come to my party!" the librarian squealed, her hand shooting up into the air.

I glanced over the group. They seemed friendly and harmless enough. A few years younger than me, but they probably couldn't tell. What could it hurt?


Outside, the group took a picture with the gigantic pig statue that sits outside Rudy's. They insisted I join, and now they have a picture of all of them, and some guy, celebrating the librarian's birthday. Memories.

We grabbed a cab, one of those mini-van models so we could all fit.

"So Kris, do you usually get picked up by strangers like this? Do you think we are all weird?" asked one of the guys.

"Ha, no not usually. You guys are my first."

"YES!" he drunkenly screamed. I was pretty buzzed at that point as well, and we exchanged high fives.

During the cab ride I was a little worried it was going to be bar karaoke. I didn't think I had the courage to sing in front of a crowd of strangers(and by think I mean I knew I didn't). Luckily, we were headed towards Koreatown, which meant it was most likely a full-on karaoke bar. Sure enough, we pulled up to a place that looked like an office building from the outside, but had Korean BBQ on the third floor, a pool hall on the 12th floor, and a karaoke bar on the fifth1. They had a room reserved, and we settled in with Bud Lights as the birthday girl lit into the first song of the night.

Soon, more birthday guests arrived. I grew to enjoy the initial little shock these newcomers displayed when I explained I had just met the birthday girl a couple hours prior. Made me feel a little...dangerous, reckless. Or at least a guy with nothing else to do on a Saturday night.

One guest really caught my eye. She was about five-six, slender with a short Meg Ryan-esque haircut, amazingly big dark eyes and great legs. A looker.

It was hard to hear each other over the screeching of the librarian stumbling through Madonna, but I learned that the looker was a friend of a friend and really didn't know anyone either. Her name was Laura. She worked at the New York Times(a couple of blocks from my office) in online advertising(I work for a digital ad agency). I was looking to move to Brooklyn, and she knew someone who was about to leave her apartment there. We had no shortage of things to talk about.

As the night of karaoke came to a close, I gave Laura my number. Smiling up at me, she asked if I was up for staying out.


"Great, some friends of mine from work are at a bar not too far from here."

By then I was drunk, but still in the good phase of being drunk. Happy, not pathetic;smiling, not vacantly staring. We met up with her friends, drank some more, talked, flirted, and then she had to leave. Outside on the corner, she kissed me on the cheek and ducked into her friend's car.

Moments later, laid out in the backseat of a cab grinning like an idiot, I got a text:

"Sorry I had to run so soon, wish I could have stayed later :) Let's get together sometime - L"

L. Laura. Sweet, sweet Laura. I would definitely be calling her.


Tuesday, we met for dinner. In blatant disregard for New York Guy Protocol, I had texted her the day after we met to ask her out. So there I was, at the Zipper Factory a couple of blocks from my office, waiting for Laura. I was a little nervous - this was my first date in three years and I was less than week removed from a break-up. She was running a little late and I was sitting alone, nursing a beer.

Finally, my phone lit up. Incoming Call, Laura. She was a little lost, but I got her to the restaurant with no problems.

She was even prettier then I remembered, sharply dressed in a blouse and skirt that showed plenty(but not too much) of those beautiful legs. The conversation came smoothly, sailing from the usual work, family, and friends. We laughed about how both of us didn't really know anyone at the birthday party.

"Yeah, I only knew my friend - you know, Laura."

"Ah, so your friend's name--", I stopped.

Her friend's name. Laura. Her friend's name is Laura. Hazy memories of the night we met came back. She was talking and...

This is Laura, I'm L...

I strained to push my memory farther back.

This is Laura, I'm Laurshhhhhh-a-something.

Oh. Fuck.

I smiled at the beautiful, charming woman across the table whose name I did not know.

I asked how she and Laura(Laura, fucking Laura) knew each other while I thought about how I was going to get out of this. OK, her name start's with an L, she signed her text with it. How many girls names starts with an L? I can Google girls names on my phone while she's in the bathroom and narrow it down and...I'm fucked. This is exactly like that Seinfeld episode except I don't even know if her name rhymes with a female body part, and even if I did how could I guess? It's too late to ask now I'll just look like a major asshole. Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck! How could you not know your date's na--

"Isn't it weird that we both spell our names in an unusual way?"

My eyebrows arched.

"Yes, yes it is - so how do you spell your name?"

"L O R I, most people spell it L A U R I E or L O R E E."

"Well, Lori, that's one of the many things that makes you unique." I smiled. She smiled.

Rescued and recovered, the rest of the date went wonderfully. I walked her to her subway stop. We madeout. She tasted of lip-gloss and cigarettes(which I actually like, even though I don't smoke). The exhilaration of almost getting caught made the kissing that much more exciting for me - I dont' know if Lori felt it, but she was all smiles as she descended down to her F train.

Sadly, before we could go out on a second date, Lori took a trip to Israel and came back convinced she had to marry a Jewish man. Her trip had inspired her to take her heritage much more seriously - and more power to her. I was surprised how little her news upset me. No bitterness or hard feelings at all. We both went to the same gym around the same time, so that made for a few awkward encounters, but the awkwardness dwindled as the months passed2.

In the end, though, I was satisfied to come out of it with a funny story.

1A little over a year later I ended up at that same karaoke bar for an engagement party and met a beautiful girl from Australia(in fact, one of three girls hailing from down under at that party). But that's another story.

2Especially as she got fatter. OK, so maybe I'm a little bitter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Won't Do That

Part of the Turning 30 series.

"Look at all the tiny people!" exclaimed a puffy-faced girl who became, as soon her pimple-rimmed lips finished 'tiny', someone I would hate for the rest of my life(I never saw her again).

The 'tiny people' were filling the hallways after their first class of their first day at Laurel High School, and I - a pasty bug-eyed ghost of a kid - was among them. I scurried from class to class, my middle-school honed nerd-survival techniques urging me to lay low and keep quiet. Scan the classroom, look for signs of possible allies: Metallica sticker on a notebook, comic doodling(the Marvel kind, not the newspaper kind), a copy of Dungeons and Dragons hanging out of backpack; any marker that might lead me to another teenage misfit.

Eventually, I found a set of friends - two, actually. Set one were three friends from my neighborhood who were all a year ahead of me. Theoretically, having three established sophomores as friends should have been an advantage, but they were all geeks like me(well, to be fair Joel wasn't really that geeky, just all of his friends were - which is basically the same thing). It was like knowing the prison bitches before you get off the county van; it only helps in as much you know how badly you are going to get fucked.

My other set of friends were a couple of guys that I'll refer to as SuperFresh. One half of SuperFresh was like me(all nerd), but the other was an anomaly. He was in incredible shape from karate, wrestling, and gymnastics. He earned straight As, he was a member of TV Production, and was generally well liked by everyone. Yet, he doesn't remember being popular. I'm convinced this is because he was best friends with me and the other half of SuperFresh. Our geek-worldview rubbed off on him. If it wasn't for us, he'd probably have dated cheerleaders and scored at Prom(sorry dude).

Unlike Superfresh, my other set of friends were a little sinister. Hanging out with them, I'd have my first taste of alcohol, porn, satanic metal, drugs and LARPing1(the worst of all). I'll call them the Axis of Evil.

The Axis of Evil had Joel, Larry and Robert. Joel I've already discussed.

Larry was a chubby devil's child. He was smart - too smart for high school. His parents were Wiccans. His older brother was banging the cashier at the local record store. We would have amazingly deep conversations about life, science, and philosophy on the bus ride home(at least I remember them being very deep, but my teenage perspective might have warped what I considered 'deep').

Robert was tall. Really tall. He was an only child, and routinely tried to break into his friend's houses, just for practice(I think he thought of himself as a fantasy-like thief).

Together, we would spend our high-school years playing video games, D&D, looking at porn-mags, watching Headbanger's Ball and Beavis & Butthead. A typical mid-nineties, white teenage existence. Often we'd do this in someones' basement(shit, I didn't realize how much of this was so fucking cliched), but almost never mine. My parent's were still pretty strict then, and would make us go to bed eventually. At certain friend's houses, this policy was very relaxed(eventually my house became the spot for friends to congregate thanks to 'chill' parents, but that wasn't until it was my younger brothers and their friends doing the chilling2).

Even with friends, though, high school was rough. Dating was out of the question. I tried to fit in by being a kind of class clown, channeling my beloved George Carlin albums. This worked with some people, but blatantly ripping Carlin off never gained me wide-spread acceptance. Despite being a nerd, my grades were never that great, at least during freshman and sophomore years. Depressed, I didn't see the point in some of the work. Not being one of the beautiful people can hurt.

I listened to a lot of Metallica. I didn't have a lot of money for CDs, so I taped songs off the radio. I preferred dark, brooding songs, so naturally I listened to the local alternative station, 99.1 WHFS3. Late at night, long after I was supposed to have gone to bed(just like I was supposed to have studied), I'd lie in bed with my headphones on and listen - it was a gateway to another world, though it only offered a fleeting glimpse of the rooms, basements and parking lots where the cool "alternative" kids listened to the same music. I was still too nerdy, even for them.

I remember one kid who sat in front of me in freshman English. He tormented me in middle school, and over the summer he had obviously become a huge fan of Grunge: flannel shirt, longer(and greasier) hair, and an anarchy symbol sketched in black marker on his backpack. This kid, the same kid who once tortured for me wearing high-watered pants one day(hey, it was fucking seventh grade for Christ's sake) and loved making fun of me on the bus ride home, this kid had written something else besides his pseudo-approval of an anarchist society on his backpack: 'Mean People Suck'.

Mean people suck? Well, kiss my nerdy-white ass.

When I wasn't listening to the radio, there was one album I was constantly listening to, and believe me I sometimes I wish it was something really cool like Let It Be by The Replacements(who I wouldn't discover for almost a decade), Jeff Buckley's Grace or even Stone Temple Pilot's Purple. No, instead I would stare bleary-eyed at the red digits of the alarm clock listening and re-listening to Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell by Meatloaf.

Just like you don't get to choose your family, sometimes you don't get to choose the music that ends up meaning something to you. An awkward teenager looking for something, anything, that helps you make sense of the world doesn't have the benefit of wondering if what they like will be "important" when they are exiting their twenties. And even though in some circles Bat II is considered a great rock-opera album, it's hard to find another Meatloaf fan when you play "I'll Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" on the bar jukebox. Especially if that bar is in Brooklyn.

But you fucking love that song, don't you? Don't deny it - it's "Bohemian Rhapsody" epic mixed with high-drama, gloriously long and overblown as only Jim Steinman can do it. Fierce electric guitars and beautiful piano licks crash , and not just Meatloaf wailing as only Meatloaf can, but after nine minutes we get another vocalist, the mysterious woman who is the object of Meatloaf's affection. It's a mini-movie4; Beauty and The Beast condensed into 12 minutes(six for the radio version).

To me, it was unrequited love; the only kind of love nerds get to know in high school. I'm a beast, I love you and I'll do anything for you - but none of it will matter. Plus, the beast is mysterious, gothic and reclusive, but in a cool way. When you're getting called a dork on a daily basis, you may have some aura of mystery about you, but it definitely isn't the cool kind of mystery. No, it's mysterious like a two-headed kitten or unidentified meat; you'd rather just not know.

I loved the angst of the album, and being so over-the-top in it's production and homage to rock-opera, it really stood out from my Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains records. I still listened to them plenty too, but Bat II will always have a special place in my heart.

Today, if I had to pick one song to perfectly sum up my high school experience, it would be this one(even if it was released almost a decade after I graduated).


1LARPing, or 'Live-Action Role Playing', is highly advanced geekery - not for the faint of heart, or anyone wishing to engage in regular sex.

2Lotta fucking good that did me(I'm not bitter).

3Sadly, WHFS no longer exists. It's format was abruptly changed to Tropical Latin music in 2005.

4Although I've listened to the song plenty, I hadn't watched the video for it in years until I wrote this post. Looking at it now, some things are just bizarre: It starts with Meatloaf/the Beast inadvertently killing a cop with his motorcycle. Why the cops are chasing the LoafBeast is never explained(but as in most music videos, it's heavily implied it's because cops are inherently evil), but they are bringing everything, cars, helicopters, to get him. The LoafBeast flees in the woods(away from his safe haven mansion?) and discovers a beautiful woman washing by a fountain, the way nobody does. She follows him back to his mansion, through the previously mentioned woods, where there is in an incredibly hot, almost softcore scene between her and what I guess are the LoafBeast's sexy muses. How could have I forgotten that?