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Archive for January, 2010

Ravari

24 Jan

The Ravari Room sat at the border between north campus and Clintonville. A number of other bars clotted the neighborhood, including the damp and yeasty O’Reilly’s along with Dirty Dungarees, an establishment made indispensable by its other role as a laundromat. Ravari shared a red brick building with Hounddog’s Pizza and was separated from the latter by an archway with a roll-down metal shutter of the sort used to prevent the vandalism of storefronts. The two venues existed in the kind of harmonious symbiosis that only pizza and beer can achieve. Delicately tattooed punk-rock waitresses brought pizza to the bar or beer to the pizzeria, swishing through the archway in polka dot skirts or Dickies and wife-beaters. Watching them made my chest ache. I had no idea why I decided to come here.

Actually, that isn’t true. I knew why I decided to come here. The walk from here to my house was only five blocks, and the Ravari Room sells draft Pabst Blue Ribbon for a dollar each until eight o’clock. My wallet has seventeen dollars in it. That’s all of my cash. Recent circumstances have forced me to accept that no one cares about me, or my degrees, or where I’ve been, or what I can do. At least, no one cares in the “here’s a job” sense of the word. I have an application in at a call center where, word has it, they will hire anyone. In the meantime, the money-sock at the back of my drawer held seventeen dollars.

The bartenders are punk-rock and tattooed, but not delicately. One of them put a PBR in front of me and went back to the other corner of the bar to watch a soccer game on TV. If it had been three hours later, he’d have made a show of carding me, but it was happy hour. I glanced at my cell phone. No calls, and I’d been waiting here for twenty-two minutes.  My date’s name was Andrea and she was late.

There is a learning curve to internet dating. Eventually you pick up survival strategies. The word “survival” is appropriate, because the absence of these practices will either lead to a heart attack brought on by hypertensive frustration, or to a lifetime of celibacy, which is almost as bad. One of the first things you learn is not to wait around if your date is more than fifteen minutes late. Also you learn to bring a book to help you kill those fifteen minutes that she will invariably be late. A naïve observer might ask why you wouldn’t just arrange to be fifteen minutes late yourself, but this is a bad strategy. You risk offending the rare date who actually arrives on time, and the book itself can be useful as a topic if the conversation stalls. Regardless of how excruciating the encounter is, both parties typically feel obligated to endure for at least half an hour under the pretenses of “getting to know each other.”

I sipped the now-flat beer I’d been nursing since I arrived. A wide-eyed woman in a business suit walked through the archway, clutching her purse with both hands like a castaway clinging to driftwood. She scanned the bar. We made eye contact and I waved. This also was a mistake; common courtesy suggests that you allow the other party the opportunity to escape. She moved toward me almost involuntarily, wearing the sort of expression that I imagine of people whose parachutes have failed to open but who have not yet hit the ground. Gingerly, she mounted the stool next to me and smiled her best meeting-the-dentist smile.

Next: Conversation!

 
 

the descent

17 Jan

The website you pick says something about you.

Like people, date sites are not created equal. Each one has its own particular idiom, ruled by whatever metaphor the editors have chosen for the masthead. Match.com, for example, exists in tense and diametric opposition to its sister site Chemistry, its soothing and cerebral blues contrasting sharply with Chemistry’s gonadal, raging reds. A Match account says you’re someone who knows what he wants. Your future is clear and immutable, requiring only a suitable fleshy complement. You’re dialing into the dating machine and ordering your checklisted Stepford spouse. A Chemistry account says you’re ruled by your passions, and you’ve made the urgent, endocrine decision to let math find someone for you. Plentyoffish says you’re taking a claw machine approach. Okcupid means you’re using a shotgun. eHarmony indicates the most artificial of vanilla flavors. Craigslist is for people who like high-stakes roulette.

Knowing these things is imperative before attempting to date online. I did not know them.

I’d spent most of 2006 living in Japan, where I’d moved in order to do a hard reset on my life. My flight back to the States in early 2007 coincided with the beginning of a recession that no one yet knew was happening as well as the implosion of my old company, an event that incinerated any bridges I’d had back east. Five hundred thousand English-teaching gaijin suddenly found themselves stranded with no jobs, no sponsorship, and no prospect of renewing their work visas. A British couple I knew made their local paper for having to sell their clothes to buy a ticket home. There was no way for me to go back even if I’d wanted to.

My friend Jason lived with a couple of other friends, Cory and Molly, and four cats in the left side of a duplex in Columbus. They had an empty room available. Rent was cheap. I moved in.

“Room” is generous. It was a closet with a closet. Previously it had been the home of their friend Tony, who I know only through what he left behind. His futon represented the pinnacle of early aughts fashion. It was a comfortable and austere gray and black affair that folded up into a couch. This feature was something of a necessity, as when it was folded out to its bed size, the floorspace left barely allowed movement. You could take two steps, provided you were creative about where you put your legs. He left a Sgt. Pepper themed afghan which I’ve claimed for my own. Also, he left an unmarked lockbox with a three-digit combination.

Tony had moved out, suddenly and still owing rent, in order to move in with his boyfriend in Marietta. I felt no guilt spending the increasingly worrying and long evenings of my new unemployment brute-forcing the combination on the box. It was crammed full of DVDs. They represented a single genre: sweaty, naked man-on-man. Cory came over to inspect them, which is how I discovered that some of them starred Tony.

“Huh,” I said.

Clearly this portended something, but as with all omens, it was impossible to know what until after the fact. The box was open, there was gay porn inside, and I was still restless, unemployed and single. My bank account still showed my assets to be in the low four figures, so I bought an account on Match.com.

Next: The first date

 
 

Go ahead. Get online.

09 Jan

Internet dating works like this:

You’re single. Or maybe you’re not. Whichever way you are, you’ve decided you don’t want to be that way anymore, and in order to fix that, you need someone to fuck. Someone special.

Whatever you did to find a relationship last time (falling in intense, aching infatuation with the quiet blonde theater nerd who sat at the back of your high school bus; fellating an approximately handsome near-stranger at a New Year’s party, bonding when, contrary to your expectations, he stays to clean up the red wine you’re gently vomiting onto the carpet; reluctantly accepting the starry-eyed attentions of a girl who you’re too lonely to refuse) isn’t working this time. Probably it didn’t work as well as you thought last time either.

What no one mentioned to you is that if you’ve left college, or high school, or wherever . . . once you’ve gotten a job somewhere, you’re fucked. School exists at least in part to steep you in a highly concentrated, lonely and hormonal peer stew. Your job while you’re there is to find someone, if not the one, then at least a one, someone with whom you can mutually put up at least until the minimum age of respectable divorce. That is the last, best boat, and once you’ve missed it, there will be no others.

Probably you’ve tried going to bars. It’s logical: they’re dim, there’s booze, and there are people there that are at least theoretically horny. The difficulty here is that typically you end up drunk, frustrated and unable to see straight. Occasionally there will be a success, such as success is defined at bars, and you’ll take someone home or allow yourself to be taken, where you will make some pickled, fumbling gesture towards physical congress. In the morning you’ll mumble something bleary to each other, vaguely wondering why you didn’t work an escape into the previous night’s plans. Phone numbers will be exchanged and sealed into purses and wallets, which is not the same as throwing them away, but it could be. Someone will call a taxi.

There are three places to go from here: pay sites, free sites and Craigslist.

Think of pay sites like a place with a cover charge. They imagine themselves to be posh and ritzy in the way that suburban nightclubs do. You know, the sorts of places where the girls drink appletinis and the guys wear pink polos with popped collars. The advantage to these places is that you know the clientele can afford to waste money on this sort of thing. The disadvantage is that, nearly universally, the clientele is white, boring, and thoroughly interchangeable.

Free sites are different but not better. More people are there. Of course, it’s axiomatic that with greater concentrations of people come greater concentrations of terrible people. Even so, the bell curve is wider, and the outliers lie further out. And yes, they do lie. Your brand new email stalker might terrify you, but it’s hard to be bored and terrified at the same time.

Craigslist is Craigslist. I’ll get to that.

My name’s Dan, and this is about the people I’ve been dating for the last three years. Hi.