Archive for July, 2011

Jessie, part 2

31 Jul

For our date, Jessie had worn a black, long-sleeved top beneath a short yellow knit sweater. It was knitted from some type of soft yarn. I know it was soft, because she invited me to touch it. I realized that my gaze had settled on her chest, where it always, always settles. Trying to recover, I leaned forward and took the fabric of her short sleeve between my fingers and rubbed it.

She told me that she made it herself. “Um,” I said. “That’s nice.” As far as I know, it was nice. I mean, it was soft. I began to notice the design of the sweater. It was plain, unadorned yellow, and it seemed like it was slowly constricting, drawing itself up her arms and belly as it shrank. I couldn’t decide whether or not it was really happening or whether that was in fact something that sweaters did, but it kept drawing my attention. I should mention that I don’t know anything about sweaters.

Something about her face continued to weird me out.

It’s impolite to stare. I can’t help it. It’s a tic that dominates my entire dating life. It’s like Tourette’s for my eyeballs. On dates, I persistently, unconsciously and involuntarily look at people’s salient features. Often, as I’ve mentioned, that means boobs. Inconveniently, they don’t even have to be the boobs of the person I’m with. Occasionally, however, I will also focus on other things of physical significance, like a prosthetic hand or an unusual birthmark. Or, say, a superfluity of lips dominating an otherwise normal face.

Sometimes this behavior leads to interpersonal discomfort.

My eyes jerked from her chest (her sweater) to her lips and back. I fished ineffectively for something to talk about. I could only proceed with caution; slowly, I began to realize that she had the political sensitivity of a particularly earnest freshman. Although she taught literature, she and I liked none of the same books. Although she called herself a film critic, she and I watched none of the same movies. Feeling the flushed pink edges of conversational panic, backed into the only topic of mutual interest, I asked about her job. She told me a story about her mentor, who had recently embarrassed her by throwing a weepy tantrum during a department meeting. I asked her about department meetings, and we fell further into the fractal geometry of dull conversation. It felt like a job interview, except there was no job, and I was boring the shit out of both of us.

Finally, the waiter arrived with the check. “So,” I asked her. “Can I buy you dinner?”

Of course this is not a neutral question; it is fraught with subtext. Fraught. Unfortunately, there is no cultural universal as to what this subtext signifies. Generally, I consider the gesture to mean that I like the other person, regardless of any lumpy discourse we might have engaged in over our meal, and I’d like our association to continue at least one date further. Others, however, use it as a declaration of intent to colonize their dates’ genitals, planting the check between them like a flag. For these latter, volunteering to pay is making a risky investment in sex futures. This is how Jessie read the situation. Her eyes narrowed and her face drew in on itself, closing off the conversation. But she didn’t say, “No thank you.” Neither did she say, “I’d rather we split this time, thanks.”

She said “No,” following the compact, leaden word up with nothing, letting it sink between us and pulling the rest of the conversation along with it. A moment passed.

“Oh.” My face felt hot. “Well, um, how do you want to split it? All I have is plastic.”


Jessie, part 1

26 Jul

Regardless of the fidelity of internet pictures, you can still be surprised by the people who belong to them. It’s true that cameras do not lie. Often, however, they tell the same version of the truth told by mothers and lawyers. This is one of the great cruelties of the internet.

I waited for Jessie near the entryway to Dewey’s Pizza, sitting on a cushioned bench next to the wall with a beer wedged between my knees. I’d settled on Dewey’s as part of my ever-refining dating algorithm. It was expensive enough not to seem proletarian while still cheap enough not to seem desperate. Also as part of my method, I arrived ten minutes early so I could put in our names and avoid ten minutes of standing small talk with her. Her user name had referenced punctuality; if I played it right, she would be showing up more or less synchronously with the next available table. I considered this to be crucial; I wanted to have slices available to stifle any conversational gaps as early as possible.

Dewey’s is the sort of place that tries to elevate pizza by offering, say, five kinds of mushrooms on the same pie and then tacking on four dollars. It’s in the gaslight district, just down the street from Cincinnati’s only theater with pretensions to art-house status, and it’s one street away from that neighborhood’s main drag. For the suburban weekenders in the atrium, this passed for uptown fancy. My new, awful job had allowed me to afford this place. I could feel my soul beginning to corrode, but seemed like a fair trade. I tasted my beer, still impressed with the novelty of drinking something better than Hudy Delight. That felt like an accomplishment. With any luck, I thought, I’d move on to something better in a year or two. Back to grad school? Maybe I could ask Jessie about it.

I jammed myself into a corner, trying not to touch other people and looking expectantly at the door. Any of the women who came in could have been Jessie; it was hard to tell. Unlike most viable internet daters, her profile included no picture. Still, she had spelled and punctuated it correctly, so I thought I’d give her a shot. In our correspondence, she told me that she’d decided not to put her picture up on OkCupid in case one of her students came across the profile. I supposed it was reasonable, but it struck me as the sort of thing that people do when they’re afraid of the internet. Students notwithstanding, my photos remained the same as they’d always been, mostly upper body shots that suggested the true nature of my thickening middle without confronting the viewer with harsh, photographic reality. I thought they seemed suitable. In return, she sent me two pictures, playful images of herself having fun in the company of other cute woman (none cuter than herself, naturally). She wore fashionable glasses and a wide, toothy smile. On the strength of this evidence, we scheduled the date.

As the time grew closer to seven, the foot traffic in Dewey’s became heavier. Each time the bell rang to announce someone’s entrance, I glanced at the door with a Pavlovian twitch. A few maybes walked to the service counter and transacted business, but no one looked like they were expecting me. My beer disappeared by nervous inches. At three minutes to seven, I let the next waiting couple have the table with my name on it. At seven exactly, Jessie walked in the door. Then came the moment of mutual assessment.

There are people whose smiles transform their faces. Jessie was one. Her face relaxed from greeting into neutrality, and as it did, it sagged beneath itself. I tried to adjust to this new, other face and decide whether or not it was disappointing. As polite human beings, we gave each other the polite smiles of mutual disappointment and made inconvenient small talk for ten more minutes while we waited for a new table.



Another Interlude

12 Jul

In January of 2009, I finally found a job as a teacher.

As much of a success as new employment seems, from one point of view, it was an abject failure. You see, my one and entire career goal during my tenure as a basement dweller had been to avoid teaching. Possibly you wonder why I did not want to return to that particular career, particularly considering that I was qualified. That is because you have never been a teacher.

I taught to support myself during graduate school. Here is a secret about teaching: It is fucking terrible. Not only do you see the effects of your own failures, but you see the cumulative damage inflicted by every failed teacher before you. Sometimes it comes in the form of an incompletely quadriplegic student, desperately in love with you and harboring dreams of being an English teacher, but who, through no fault of her own, has never before learned how to write a sentence. Sometimes it comes in the form of a campus cop who has decided to take your class in order to further his career, but who also thinks it’s okay if he packs heat on test day.

That was the school I liked.

This time, I was hired into a for-profit college. It’s the sort of place you see advertised on late-night TV, usually airing ads between the cash-for-gold commercials and the ones for natural male enhancement. There aren’t a whole lot of stories I tell about that time because telling them tires me out. The story Cory likes to retell about my job there is the one where my student menstruated onto a chair during my class. There isn’t much of a punchline to that one, except that the administrative assistant wanted me to clean it up. Instead, I taped a sign saying “don’t sit here” to the chair back and left it near the whiteboard.

However, unemployment is not sexy. The extent to which unemployment is not sexy is the extent to which I was willing to tolerate these things. After Holly, I ricocheted into smattering of unremarkable dates, including one with a VA psychologist named Lisa. Lisa worked with returning vets who showed symptoms of PTSD. I thought she’d be perfect for me. She wore her curly red hair very short, and her smile came easily. Unusually smitten, I pressed her for a second date, but she let me down easy, telling me that, as it turned out, she was only into older men. Given that she knew my age before we went out, I took that sentence to mean what it undoubtedly meant. That is, she was only into men who had their shit together.

I wanted to have my shit together.

As I worked, I developed the illusion that I was working toward something. It was similar to the illusion that I maintained about dating. While my immediate experiences weren’t necessarily ideal, they were necessary steps in an evolutionary progress. Unfortunately, that only proves true in a context where a given subject learns from his mistakes. I began to make plans to try to go back to graduate school, not least because I thought that girls thought that grad students were hot.

Around this time—serendipitously, I thought—a professor at a local college made a date with me. Although, as I’ve mentioned, dating and job-hunting have marked similarities, in fact they are not the same.

It’s worth remembering.


Technical Difficulties

09 Jul

As you might have noticed, for some reason my most recent post disappeared for a couple of days, as did a few of the most recent comments. I don’t know anything about it other than that I didn’t do it, but the post is back up. (I found it in Google’s cache because I am clever).  The next one should be up Monday. Sorry about that.



Holly Epilogue

09 Jul

We conducted the rest of our relationship by telephone.

Mostly, anyway. It felt anachronistic, a throwback to the times in my late teens when it felt reasonable to “date” a sexually confused girl who lived in Baltimore. Every six weeks or so I’d arrange for an eight-hour drive from Athens, Ohio to Maryland, at the end of which she and I would kiss passionately and yet sexlessly while trying to figure out what it was that we had in common. I’d just discovered the internet that year. Her reread chat logs would lull me to sleep at night. After three months or so, she let me know that she “couldn’t do this anymore” and began to identify as lesbian. Afterward, my life continued largely unchanged.

Holly and I were never able to recapture the familiar symbiosis we had experienced on our first date. Maybe it was that her well of shareable medical details had run dry. Maybe it was that I had thoroughly creeped her out with all my condom-throwing and cuddle-asking. As people who had difficulty finding reasons to leave the house, we often ran into each other on the internet. Sooner rather than later, we’d talk ourselves down dark alleys to conversational dead ends. Instead of turning around and walking out toward some more viable topic, and despite my gentle nudging, Holly would stand motionless, staring at the wall.

Sometimes, we’d talk with voices.

The call timer of cell phones is one of life’s modern cruelties; it allows you to quantify your failure to communicate. During the first week, our talks lasted forty minutes or more. By mid-December, they had dwindled to perfunctory exchanges of ten or fifteen minutes, sometimes punctuated by requests to “hold on a minute.” Patiently, I held on. My phone leaked disembodied sounds generated by Holly’s bustle to make tea, tidy a coffee table, or perform some other solitary and postponable task.

Once or twice we went on a date. At the end of each, Holly treated me to the same fleeting, sterile kiss she left with me after our first date. And then I’d go home.

Wet met for breakfast the second day after Christmas. It had been two weeks since we’d been out together. Her given reason had been her need for family time. Meanwhile, our talks had atrophied. One thing we retained in common was punctuality; she and I arrived at Frisch’s Big Boy within seconds of each other.

As we took our places at the end of the buffet line, we went through our requisite renegotiation of space. Hollystood close to me, but not too close, carefully maintaining a four-inch buffer on all sides, holding her purse intimately close to her body. We smiled at one another. She made brief eye contact and looked away with what, six weeks earlier, I would have considered charming shyness. We sat at a booth on the quiet side of the restaurant.

Rather than pockets per se, my peacoat has pocket-like spaces. The pouches inside had torn out earlier that winter, leaving only pocketish openings leading directly into the coat’s lining and causing the coattails to regularly fill with inconvenient change. I reached into this void and pulled out a small square package wrapped in silver paper and tied with white lace.

Holly laughed with familiar embarrassment. “Oh, thank you,” she said. “I didn’t get you anything; I wasn’t sure whether we were getting each other gifts.”

“Oh, it’s no problem.” I gestured vaguely at the gift. “It’s something I made; it wasn’t much.” Holly tore the paper to discover that what I’d said was true.

Realistically, I couldn’t afford much. Inside the expensive-looking paper was a mix CD, meticulously assembled from carefully infringed music. I’d wrapped it with what I had because these were the precise materials my mom had available in her scraps box. Rather than allow our association to die a slow, whimpering death, I’d decided to advertise my intentions through music and see what happened. The first lyrics of the first song advised her, “your body goes to waste every minute you don’t give it to me.” Such was my opinion.

We left the restaurant as we’d arrived; at the same time and in separate cars. Her house was some twenty miles closer than mine, but she didn’t invite me over. Instead, she kissed me the same way she always had, and we went home.

We next spoke on New Year’s Eve, the same night of Amanda’s story. While I cradled the phone to my ear and listened incredulously to Amanda’s account of countdown dumping, Holly and I spoke online of our quiet nights in. I asked her what she planned for the evening. She intended to watch a movie.

“So hey,” I typed. “I’m not doing much either. Would you like to watch that movie together?” Some movie, any movie.

“No, I don’t think so,” she replied. She did not elaborate.

After that, there wasn’t much to say. I didn’t call her again. After a few weeks, her name stopped showing up online in my contacts.