break fast, break hard

I ran through all the things I might say to Shelly that could either account for or contribute to the reason I left Los Angeles. I speak of LA the way a man might speak of a beautiful woman he loved once in his past. It is that tenderness and longing that cut through any attempts I make to mask the fact that I am a fish out of water.

I looked down and noticed I was unconsciously playing with my glass, spinning it slowly with my fingers. My gaze brought Shelly’s down to the glass as well and then she looked up at me again with her explosively mischievous smile.

“Oh my god! You’re really uncomfortable discussing how you got here! Now I am really intrigued.”

Fantastic. I have managed to pique her curiosity on a topic I wasn’t even yet comfortable discussing with myself. How do I talk to an extremely sexy stranger about the misgivings, the wildness, the desperation and the Caligula style overindulgences that drove me away from my home? I obviously didn’t fully have my own head around it.

I took a deep breath and laughed to myself. “Look, leaving LA was really hard to do but I was drowning under a sea of shit of my own making. I had surrounded myself with drama and gotten involved with a bunch of people and a bunch of things that really mired me in a gray world of blah. I sometimes choose my friends poorly and…”

I was about to expound upon the idea of choosing poorly when a different server, not Heidi, came over to refill our water glasses. Out of a habit bred from my tendency to have salacious and surreptitious conversations, I often pause when wait staff approaches the table. I looked up this time to see the girl I had been talking to last night when I decided to bail and leave her and her friend with Ike. She smiled at Shelly as she refilled her glass and then looked at me. I had my eyes on lockdown, hoping she wouldn’t recognize me. Hope is a shitty thing.

“Holy fuckers, it’s you – Mr. Houdini! Where did you go last night?”

I had to look up now. “I went home. I just hit that wall.”

“Well, good for you. I hope your friend Ike hits a wall too, hard. Tell him to go fuck himself for me, ok? Do you guys need anything else.”

It was actually slightly bone chilling to hear the vitriol brewing inside her when she talked about Ike and then have it tabled completely when she asked if we needed anything else.

“I will, uh, I’ll let him know.”

I locked my eyes back on my glass but could feel both Shelly’s gaze and her smile burning into my forehead. We were locked into a mortal game of chicken, each waiting for the other to flinch or give. I decided to own up.

“Yeah, so that was weird and awkward. I left her at the bar last night with my buddy Ike. I tried to leave Ike in LA but he’s sort of like herpes and tends to pop up all the time.”

“Are you telling me you have herpes, Jackson?”

I looked up and she was on the verge of convulsing with laughter.

“No, but I do have a disease called Ike that I cannot seem to cure.”

Right as I said that my phone, which was in my front shirt pocket, began to vibrate. I had received a flurry of text messages. I pulled out my phone and looked at the screen. It was Alex. He had been laid off from his job and had four months of severance. He had already packed his car and was heading my way to crash for a while.

Two of the reasons for which I left LA in search of respite were now going to be living with me. I put my phone down, face down, on the table and breathed a giant sigh, slouching back in my seat and closing my eyes. I could hear the worry in Shelly’s voice the moment she opened her lips.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything has come complete fucking full circle. That was another friend. He is on his way to my place from LA right now. I have baggage – big baggage.”

Shelly’s eyes twinkled at me slightly. “I have a thing for guys with baggage. You could be trouble, Mister.”

“Shelly, how do you feel about getting completely shit-faced during the day with a strange man you just met?”

“As long as you promise not to be too strange, I think it is a great fucking idea.”

I raised a hand in the air to get Heidi’s attention and made the circle motion that often translates into another round. I then picked up my whiskey, gave Shelly a quick clink on her glass and tipped the bottom of my glass to the sky, letting it all slide down my gullet.

“Whatever twisted thing is wrong with you, Jackson Panic, I think I like it. However, if we’re getting drunk then I’m not doing it on wine. I’ll be right back.”

With that, she walked over to Heidi who was already at the bar register, ringing us in another round. They had a quick exchange and Shelly began to walk back to me. I studied the elegant grace with which she carried herself and then marveled at the fact that I always tend to drown my troubles in women. Ironic then that most of my troubles start with women. It’s my own vicious cycle.

Shelly sat down and took another sip of her wine. “What will we be drinking to today?”

I thought about it for a nanosecond and then replied, “Today we drink to forgetting yesterday.”

Heidi then arrived with our drinks and we toasted to forgetting and then began day drinking, like a couple of professionals.

rockets and mohawks

Male bonding at times borders on the idiotic. If a bonding session occurs over pitchers of beer and sporting events then things have at least a 50% chance of getting ridiculous. If you add one or two other key ingredients then there’s also a possibility that someone will go home with a mohawk.

image from Adam McMahon

I hadn’t seen Ike in a few weeks. He would often go on what he termed sabbatical, which was hysterical coming from a guy who hadn’t worked in years. His absences were generally spawned by some article he read, some festival he heard of or some fantastic story of depraved adventure someone shared with him. I have been sucked into multiple forays into the absurd, most recently for  Goat Fest in Tennessee to see a fainting goat and listen to ‘real’ country music. While away he might meet some people and set up residence for a few weeks. The kid was a nomad.

So, upon the return of the prodigal son, the group made plans to get together and watch game 7 of the Houston Rockets versus the LA Lakers playoff series. I didn’t have a dog in this fight as I never adopted the basketball team of my adopted home. As for the Rockets, unless you were from Houston or China, you were probably indifferent to them, with the exception being our friend Cliff.

Cliff was a tightly wound guy from Wyoming who was funny in the way he complained about everything. Cliff had a very dry sense of humor and a well refined sense of irony. He might wear the facade of the grouse but underneath he was extremely sincere and a good soul. He had a mop of unruly black hair on top of his head hanging over wild blue eyes. Best of all, if you were ever in a jam, Cliff was the guy you called. He was a rock.

Eddie, Ike, Cliff and a few of our other friends had met up earlier in the day at a local sports bar and were well lubed by the time I joined them. They justified going to a bar at 3pm by the need to secure a table close to the television. Sports bars do fill up early for Laker games but the only reason those boys went to a bar in the middle of the day was so they could drink.

Our group was a hodgepodge of misfits except for Clifford. He was the exemplary nine to five kind of guy. Cliff’s legal name was Cliff but I enjoyed calling him Clifford. He wasn’t too keen on it at first and once threatened to punch me in the face if I called him that again, but apparently me and my pet name grew on him. None of us really understood why he rooted for the Rockets. He had no discernible connection to the team or the city and when we inquired about it he told us to ‘mind your own fucking business.’ But for a guy who was not from Houston, he lived and died with that team.

One other thing that was puzzling about Clifford was his choice in women. Clifford was a decent looking guy but a little rough around the edges. The women he chose were often rougher and his girlfriend, Sarah, was simply unpleasant. She wasn’t fun to be around and her angry exterior lacked the amusing charm of Clifford’s. The fact that she was continually left out of our plans probably exacerbated the situation but none of us outside of Clifford enjoyed being around her. In fact, I’m not completely convinced he enjoyed her company.

The rest of our crew were Laker fans. Eddie was a native Angeleno and showed up in a Kobe Bryant jersey. Ike was the kind of guy who rooted for whichever team everyone else was rooting for and since we were in an LA bar, he was cheering on the purple and gold. He had even worn a purple Lakers t-shirt for the game. Ike received a few scathing remarks about his hopping on the bandwagon from Clifford, who was already edgy about the game. He continued to heckle Ike until halftime when the tension and shit-talking hit a crescendo and Ike threw down the gauntlet.

“Ok Cliff, if I am just a bandwagon guy then how about this – whoever loses tonight has to shave their head.”

Clifford didn’t hesitate for a moment before snarling back ‘You’re on.”

Many pitchers of beer were ordered over four quarters and we ate anything that could be fried. The Lakers also pulled away from the Rockets and Ike started telling Clifford how easy life was going to be without hair. The Lakers ended up shellacking the Rockets and over the final five minutes of the game, Clifford sank further and further into his beer mug, drowning his disappointment.

At the final buzzer, the bar erupted into cheers except for Clifford who stood up and said he was going home. I grabbed him by the arm just as he was about to walk off.

“Clifford, stick around and have a few drinks with us. You shouldn’t leave just because the Rockets lost.”

Ike stood up and gave Clifford an unwelcome hug and asked him to sit back down. Clifford did sit but was not appearing to enjoy our company in the least. After a few minutes he stood back up.

“I’m going to walk home and shave my head.”

This elicited a few howls of laughter from our table. Ike mercifully let him know he didn’t have to go through with it but Clifford was serious about the head shaving.

“Gentlemen, a bet is a bet. I’m as good as my word so I am going to go home and shave my head.”

Ike began to plead with Clifford, “Brother, be cool. You don’t have to do it. I wasn’t going to shave my head if we lost.”

This made Clifford indignant.

“If we lost? If WE lost? You’re not even a Laker fan! Besides, just because you’re not good enough to see a bet through doesn’t mean I am the same way.”

What was intended as an insult only made Ike break into laughter, which only pissed Clifford off more. There was a second in which I thought Clifford might be contemplating taking a swing at Ike, all of us had considered it at one point, but he collected himself and seemed to calm somewhat. I decided to jump in and add some levity to the situation.

“Clifford, if you’re going to the trouble of shaving your head, I think you should first give yourself a mohawk. You could sport that look for a few days and then shave the rest later. I mean, lots of guys have shaved heads but not too many can rock the hawk.”

Ike’s eyes began to sparkle like the Vegas strip. This idea clearly excited him and he jumped behind it full force.

“Oh yeah Cliff! If you’re really going to do it, then give it some style!”

I saw a grin stretch across Clifford’s face as the thought marinated below his black shaggy hair for a few moments.

“I’m gonna do it! I will go give myself a mohawk and then meet you boys back here.”

I added that to the list of things I didn’t hear very often and congratulated him on his wise decision. He left the bar like a royal knight being sent out on a quest. The group did a round of shots in his honor and then each of us gave him words of encouragement and a pat on the back. As he left I had no idea whether he would do it but I was happy he seemed to be less depressed.

A few minutes after he left, Clifford’s girlfriend Sarah came striding in looking for him. She gave the group a terse hello and scanned the bar for Clifford.

“Where did Cliff go?”

I didn’t want to tell her that he might be at home giving himself a mohawk. Some of her rage had spilled out onto me in the past in a guilt by association way and I was hoping to avoid it this time. I tried to play laconically cool with the entire exchange, hoping her interrogation would end quickly.

“He left right after the game.”

Clifford wasn’t the type to be the first to go home and everyone of us knew this, including Sarah. She eyed me very suspiciously.

“If he left, why isn’t he answering his phone?”

I was envisioning Clifford standing in front of the mirror with clippers, shaving stripes of baldness into his black hair while letting her call go to voicemail, but thought it best that Sarah discover something like that for herself.

“Maybe he went to bed.”

Ike set his beer down and gave Sarah his doe-eyed look, “Maybe he is in the bathroom.”

A small chuckle began to ripple through our group. Eddie then chimed in.

“Maybe he’s washing his hair.”

Ike had to stifle a laugh.

Sarah clearly wasn’t amused and stood there slightly bug-eyed, looking at us incredulously. She did not like us. I could see her anger building. She continued to scrutinize me, perhaps wanting to see if I would squirm under her glare but I played it cool.

She clearly wasn’t satisfied but she turned and left. She didn’t say goodbye but quite frankly I was surprised we got a hello.

Ike dropped his head onto the table and let out a big exhale, “How is he still with that woman?”

A moment later my phone buzzed and there was a text message from Clifford saying he was on his way back. Clifford lived just a couple of blocks from the sports bar. How he managed to get back to the bar without crossing paths with Sarah was a mystery but right after I received his text message, in walked the man with a new mohawk! His scalp was a sickly shade of white, with a few nicks from the razor, but overall he had done a good job. The mohawk looked pretty cool but you couldn’t really say it worked for Clifford. Nevertheless, the guy was in good spirits, especially when Ike bought a round of drinks for the table. I think it’s probably good luck to buy a beer for a man with a mohawk.

We were in the middle of much merriment when Sarah came storming back in. I literally thought I saw steam coming from her nostrils right before she started yelling. She was doing the kind of yelling you might do if you were somewhere your neighbors couldn’t hear you but definitely not the kind you would do in a bar.

“Cliff! Where the hell have you been and what in god’s name did you do to yourself?”

Clifford’s smile disappeared.

“Hi baby.”

“Really?!? Hi baby? That’s all you have to say for yourself?”

“I have a mohawk.”

I think we had all intended to remain as quiet as the dead once we saw Sarah, but Clifford’s pointing out the obvious was enough to crack each and every one of us up. I had tears welling in my eyes when I noticed Sarah’s beady stare honing in on me.

“I suppose you put him up to this didn’t you?”

I knew when this whole thing started I wasn’t getting out of it unscathed. I professed my innocence.

“Do you actually think I told Clifford to give himself a mohawk?”

Sarah winced a little at my pet name for Cliff and my retort might have worked had not Ike decided to throw me under the bus.

“Actually, that’s exactly what you did.”

Everyone at the table except for me was in stitches. I turned to Ike in disbelief. Did he really just rat me out like that? In my head I was already planning revenge on that blond moron but I had to deal with Sarah first. I was contemplating how I would handle this when Clifford stepped back in.

“Sarah, this was my call. I am a grown man and if I want a mohawk I can give myself one.”

All of this was true but still unconvincing. Sarah sensed his weakness and went in for the kill.

“So let me get this straight. You didn’t answer my call, you’re drunk and you have a mohawk?”

I looked at Clifford and had to admit that Sarah was right. Clifford was drunk. There was also no denying he had a mohawk. As for whether he didn’t answer her call, I assumed she was right on that one as well. If there was going to be a winner in this conflict, it didn’t look like it was going to be Clifford unless he had a surprise move no one could anticipate.

Clifford registered her complaints before he replied, “That sounds about right.”

Sarah was fuming. “Cliff, go home right now. We can talk about this there.”

Clifford raised his head and looked at Sarah. Now the entire bar was waiting for him to say something.

“Sarah, I’m going to stay out with my friends.” And with that he took his seat, with his back to her.

I thought Sarah was going to split in half right there in the middle of the bar. Then her rage swung back to me.

“Jackson, I hope you’re proud of yourself. You have officially broken up the happy couple.”

Without looking back at her, Clifford piped up, “We weren’t ever that happy.”

This may very well have been the first time Sarah wasn’t able to bulldoze Clifford into doing whatever it was she wanted him to do and it didn’t sit well with her. She grabbed a beer mug off the bar and threw it at our table. Luckily no one was hit but the glass shattered when it hit the floor and beer spilled out across the bar. There were a few gasps and one guy in the back of the bar even booed. The bouncer quickly ran over to Sarah and told her she needed to leave. She turned to him and slapped his face and then stomped out of the bar. As she was leaving, the other bar patrons began clapping and cheering. It reminded me of when the Munchkins started celebrating after the house dropped on the witch in The Wizard of Oz, except instead of Munchkins we had drunk people and no one was killed.

Clifford turned serious for a moment there in the midst of the frivolity.

“Did I just make a big mistake?”

“With the haircut or the girl?”

Clifford laughed, “Both, I guess.”

“That would be a no on both counts brother.”

Then the bar toasted to Clifford’s freedom and his new do.

And that’s the story of how Clifford got his mohawk.

the last days of free love

The day after the video tape incident was Friday and Heather left me a voice mail saying she had plans for the evening but that I should give her a call tomorrow. That left me with a Friday night free and I so I decided to meet up with a friend from Hollywood I hadn’t seen in a while.

Harley was a pint-sized gal from Alabama with shiny blond hair, who cursed like a sailor and drank like one too. She had a scathingly sardonic sense of humor and a sartorial sense full of interesting vintage combinations. We made plans to meet at Jones Hollywood in West Hollywood, a favorite watering hole of hers.

Jones is a cool spot, sort of grand old world with a touch of seedy. There is a lot of red in the bar and it’s the kind of place where you wish the walls could talk. Harley was at the bar when I arrived, sipping a vodka soda. She gave me a hug before she began chewing my ass about never calling her. Harley was convinced I was a west side snob who was afraid to venture too far east into LA. Harley was right but this night we met closer to her hood so my scolding wasn’t as severe as it would have been had we met up in Venice.

Harley was in the middle of telling me one of the funniest stories I had ever heard about her uncle and a Mexican tapeworm, when I looked across the bar and see Heather. She was all dolled up and was with a tall, dark-haired guy who dressed like a Banana Republic mannequin. I was listening to Harley’s story about how her uncle didn’t realize he had a tapeworm until he got back to the States and had the misfortune of making the discovery while dressed in a very nice suit, during a business meeting – and it’s a much funnier story than I am giving it credit for here, but at the time I was locked on Heather. Judging by her body language, she didn’t’t know the guy very well but she was being playful and flirty like the day I first met her in Whole Foods.

I felt a flush of jealousy fill my face.

Harley stopped telling her story. “Did someone fucking fart? You look like you just smelled a fart.”

I was staring intently at Heather but came around when Harley said the word ‘fart.’

“No, I mean maybe. Who knows. There are a lot of people in here. I just thought I saw someone I knew.”

“So you make a fart face when you recognize someone? Okay dude, that’s not weird at all.”

“No – not exactly. Look, see that girl over there in the black and white dress.”

“Oh, the little hottie who is flirting like mad with the tall guy who looks like a model?”

“What? He doesn’t look like a model. Whatever, that’s not my point. I have been having sex with that girl for a few weeks now.”

“Well pal, it doesn’t look like you’ll be boning her tonight. She has her eyes set on Mr. Handsome.”

“He’s not handsome. He looks like a mannequin.”

“A very fuckable mannequin.”

I am now annoyed with Harley and she was enjoying the situation far more than I would have liked.

“Look dude – go over there and talk to her. Stake out your territory.”

I considered Harley’s proposal for a moment but then described to her in detail the nature of the agreement Heather and I had in place. Her eyes widened a few times during the telling and a Cheshire Cat grin was plastered to her little mug. Once it all soaked in, Harley let loose an evil little cackle.

“You can’t be jealous of your fuckbuddy dude. You just can’t. That’s against the rules.”

She was right. I knew she was right but I still couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable about seeing Heather with another guy. I made the completely psycho decision to walk across the bar and ‘casually’ bump into Heather and her mannequin. Harley protested a bit but I ignored her. I wanted to see what would happen.

Harley and I had been standing near the door when you first enter the room. Heather and her dummy were across the room to our left. Heather was on a barstool but the mannequin was standing.I walked toward them, making a very obvious cross through her field of vision. I passed her and leaned into an opening next to her and ordered a Stoli Greyhound from the barkeep. In doing so, I brushed against Heather’s bare leg. I was officially in stalking territory.

I nonchalantly looked her way. She was seated on a bar stool looking out toward the mannequin with her back to the bar. There was no way she couldn’t have seen me when I walked right behind the stiff! She must have felt me against her leg. She was not looking at me but was transfixed on the mannequin, smiling that lethal smile of hers at his every word. I decided to move from stalking to harassing.

I poked her in the arm with my finger, “Oh hey! I didn’t see you there.”

She turned quickly to me and her smile transformed into a look of confusion, “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”

Her words echoed off the walls in my cranium, drowning out the ambient noise in the bar. Her eyes bore into mine with nothing resembling malice but with the informal apathy you give to a complete stranger. There wasn’t even a hint in her expression that would lead someone to believe we knew one another. I had perhaps seen more of her body than anyone since the doctor who plucked her from the birth canal, but at that moment she projected a complete unfamiliarity with me.

That was how it was to be. I apologized for my mistake, saying I thought she was someone else, and paid for my drink. Her mannequin smiled politely at me as I made my exit and walked back to Harley, who had gleefully witnessed my personal Hindenburg flame out.

“Wow dude, crash and burn! How did that feel?”

“She acted like she didn’t know me.”

“Of course she did, dude. She is on a date and you are just her fuckbuddy. Christ! Guys are so stupid! You meet a woman who wants to use you for sex and now you’re over here sulking.”

“I’m not sulking. It was just a little weird – that’s all. I didn’t realize all the rules.”

When I was first learning to surf, I spent a lot of time at Venice Beach, paddling out at the point near the jetty. I would pick bad days when fewer people would be out so I could work on the mechanics and learn to catch the wave and surf it. One day I was out there drowning myself with a handful of other people in the water. I was mostly catching the deformed remnants of waves that never really became waves. There was a Latino guy near me, all tatted up with images and Venice gang symbols. After he witnessed one of my failed drop-in’s he paddled over to me.

“Hey man – you are not very good.”

Great, now not only was I half-drowned, I was also being heckled.

“You know what you need to do man? You need to keep your chest up more. Move back on your board and keep you’re chest up. If not, you’re going to kill somebody with that big-ass board.”

The guy actually had me get out of the water and we went to the sand and he gave me some pointers. It was ten minutes at the most but he did more for my surfing than anyone else. At the end of the lesson, we were both standing on the beach and he wished me good luck but he had to give me a warning first.

“Look man, on good days, paddle out further south. This place is for locals and if you mess up our ride someone will try to kick your ass. If that happens, and it probably will, look at the guy and tell him to follow you up to the beach. Don’t take shit from people out here in the water. If you escalate the situation – then people will most likely back down.”

I thanked him for all the advice and then introduced myself. He shook my hand but he made it clear we were not friends.

“Look man, I helped you because you needed it but we are not friends. If you see me around here or run into me in Venice, don’t say hi and don’t act like you know me because I will act like I have never seen you before. You understand me? If you see me, just keep walking because we have never fucking met.”

With that, he was gone.

I wished Heather had given me the same explicit set of instructions. I didn’t realize that outside the confines of her boudoir, I was dead to her.

Harley and I ordered another round of drinks and I continued to look at Heather to see if she would tip her hand at all. Even when the mannequin went to the bathroom, she didn’t look my way. Harley suggested leaving but I decided we’d make our stand there. I wasn’t going to run from the shame of trying to acknowledge my fuckbuddy.

Harley went into a story about injuring her eye in the second grade and having to wear a patch. All the other kids were making fun of her. I had just taken a sip of my drink when Harley said, “Those cruel little fuckers would come up to me when I was wearing my patch and talk like pirates saying ‘Harley want a cracker?”

I laughed so hard I spit my drink right into her face. This caused a little stir in the tightly packed area around us as well as elicited a ‘What the fuck?’ from Harley, followed by a ‘nice money shot dude.’

I laughed so hard I almost did it again. Harley and I were in hysterics when Heather and her mannequin walked by us on their way out. They had to walk by us to leave. The guy actually gave me a nod and a slight smile but I got nothing from Heather. This time I understood.

The next day Heather called me. She didn’t even open with a hello.

“Jackson, what were you doing last night?”

I was tempted to be difficult at this point and go into a lengthy description of my night but decided to make nice.

“I saw you and thought I would say hello. I didn’t realize all the rules until it happened.”

“I thought you understood what we had and what I wanted.”

“I get it now but you could have been explicit on things.”

“You didn’t seem like a guy who needed things made explicit.”

The conversation sort of ambled on into nowhere. She said she eventually would want to return to her former life in Utah. Her time in Los Angeles was just an extended holiday. She made the gesture of asking whether I would consider converting but she already knew the answer. It was merely a courtesy.

I decided to go ahead and end things, as if we needed such a formality. She was a little surprised but didn’t sound disappointed. It was fun but was also weird. That makes no sense, right? It seemed like a very simple arrangement but then again it felt very contrived and I knew it had run its course.

She hit me up once, a year or so after our fling. She let me know she married the mannequin and moved back to Utah. I was not only her last hoorah but was also present for their first date that night at Jones. By some form of reasoning, I might be considered a match maker.

A few days after the Heather ‘break up’ I bumped into the surfer Latino guy on the boardwalk. It was early morning and I had grabbed a cup of coffee and was thinking of paddling out later. He came walking by with a white pitbull mix on a leash. I was just going to keep walking but he nodded to me and spoke.

“Hey man, you still surfing?”

“Every chance I get.”

“Cool.” He smiled and then walked on.

why you will never get married

It’s amazing to me how stubborn an idea can be. In a world in which we’ve created supercomputers that can crunch massive amounts of data as well as understand enough of the subtle nuances and puns of our spoken language to be viable competitors on the game show Jeopardy, we cling to vestiges of superstition, hearsay and antiquated customs and allow them to continue shaping our modern world. Isn’t it time to sever the anachronistic cords tying us to bygone eras and demand to be emancipated? Let’s start with balls and chains.

Before I go any further, I promise this is the most serious thing I will write in 2011. Moving on.

There was a little bit of a stir yesterday around what constitutes marriage material. Maybe there were those editors out there who believed the chocolate hangovers of the unmarried would make us susceptible to suggestions of our own inadequacy? I read piece on the Huffington Post by Tracy McMillan entitled Why You’re Not Married. Sure, it was aimed at the ladies but it was brought to my attention. Tracy boiled it down to a few key points: You’re a bitch, You’re shallow, You’re a slut, You’re a liar and You’re not good enough. If all that’s true, then yeah – you’re probably not married.

The HuffPo piece made me ill at ease with the world. Replace some of the saucy language and obfuscate some of the references to sex and you might as well have been reading a Good Housekeeping article from 1956. It brought to mind a quote about Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, I once found in A People and a Nation, crediting her with the following:

“Friedan, instead of blaming individual women for failing to adapt to women’s proper role, blamed the role itself and the society that created it.”

Friedan’s seminal work was published in 1963. I’ll help you out with the math and say that’s 48 years ago. That is obviously enough time for a generation of women to be born and grow up, exposed to new thoughts and ideas on what it means to be a woman and what that role entails. But just when you thought you were out, there’s a Tracy McMillan waiting to pull you back in. She’s telling you that you’re unmarried because you are flawed and need to change. You’re a bitch. You’re a slut. You are a smelly pirate hooker. (ok, that was Ron Burgundy) Regardless, we’ve obviously come a long way, baby.

Now, despite being a male, I still run into the marriage metric myself.

Let’s circle back to the concept of stubborn ideas. Not to borrow too much from the recent film Inception, but an idea is “resilient…and highly contagious.” It doesn’t matter how unfounded that idea is – the fact that it exists can give it validity. We come across silly ideas all the time but people often accept them: sharks don’t get cancer, swallowed chewing gum takes years to digest, evolution is a ‘theory,’ the Great Wall of China is visible from the moon, unopened mussels aren’t fully cooked, marriage indicates you are mature and stable.

Stop the press! Are you kidding me? Sharks get cancer? Yes, yes they do. More interesting though is how we view marriage. As a young lad in his 30’s, I receive the critical eye at times from others who are already betrothed until they die. Some will even put my emotional maturity into terms directly related to marriage. ‘When will he finally be ready to settle down and become a man?‘ How is this any indication of my emotional maturity? Weren’t Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson married? Employers will even view it as a sign of stability, despite the fact that statistics indicate a large percentage of marriages aren’t that stable.

Why is being married viewed so favorably? Let’s reverse the question and put it in these terms: Why is being single so undesirable? One might view it from a Big Brother perspective and say that a population with established roots and a vested equity in domestic life is more predictable and easier to control than a nation of free agents. That idea has merit but is a tad too conspiratorial for my taste. One might go the religious route and say that the mandate to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ helps ensure that generations of faithful acolytes take the religious doctrine forward into perpetuity. One might wax philosophical and state that coupling off leads to procreation, which is a means for the self to achieve life past one’s own death.

I would say that there is a modicum of truth in each of these ideas but I think the issue at hand is in fact, far greater. Marriage has transcended all the various perceived virtues that constitute it and become a virtue in itself. It has simply become something to be obtained, like platinum status or Hertz Gold. I’ll share with you a personal anecdote that helps support such a premise.

A female friend of mine, happily married herself, told me a story about one of her friends, also a female. It seems this gal went on a date with a successful, unmarried man who was in his 40’s. Both the woman and the man were attractive, ambitious and healthy so, at a glance, it was at least a favorable pairing. They had a nice evening and the woman looked forward to seeing the man again.

The next day, the woman receives an email from the man saying he had a wonderful time the night before but he was afraid they were in the market for different things. He realized that he was really only looking for someone to party with and have sex and he didn’t think that she would be happy with just that. If she were, he left the door open to meet up again but he didn’t want to mislead her in any way.

This story was passed around the social media outlets, specifically Facebook, and gathered a pretty intense response from other women reading about it. There was immediate vitriol, widespread criticism and disgust in the comments following the post. Most dealt with the man being a loser and not worth her time. Many were making fun of him for his lack of maturity and some of those commenting were in disbelief that a man in his 40’s could want such a lifestyle.

With no intention of being contrarian and reaping a share of venom myself, I didn’t comment. However, what I saw was a man who gave at least some level of reflection as to what he was looking for and came to a fairly concise conclusion. He was honest about it and communicated this as clearly as he could to the woman. He didn’t want to see her again under any false pretenses but if what he suggested appealed to her, then he would like to see her again. He seemed like an okay guy and a hell of a lot more honest than most men. The women commenting on the Facebook post did not see it that way.

So what’s wrong with this guy? Don’t most of us remember a time growing up when a sagacious authority figure told us to go through life doing what makes us happy? There are limitations of course and your happiness should not impose upon or preclude that of others, but for the most part you should be allowed to pursue the things that make you happy. This gentleman wanted to party and have sex. Some people might think that’s fine for a college student or someone in their 20’s but are opposed to that as a way of life for a 40-year old man. Should his age matter? Shouldn’t he be allowed to do it if it makes him happy, especially considering he was being as honest about it as he was?

The reason some people object is simply virtue. Forget the fact that the man in question is a productive member of society. There is virtue in a life filled with a spouse and commitment but there is an abject lack of virtue in a life filled with wine, women and song. It is a woman’s role to prepare herself for marriage by casting aside her bitchy, shallow, slutty self and it is a man’s role to accept as virtuous that which he is told is virtuous and thereby demonstrate his maturity by marrying a woman, preferably not a slut.

When did we decide to put a statute of limitations upon living life to its fullest? Horace, the famous Roman poet born in 65 BC, wrote: Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, meaning ‘Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future.’ Life can be short and by the time we start to realize it, the sands of our glass are already falling away but our wine glasses can be refilled to the brim time and time again.

Sure, I’ll be the first to tell you this is not how I once envisioned my thirties. I didn’t see the nights that went on without end and I didn’t see all this ridiculous adventure coming, but how could I? All I knew of grown-ups was what I saw with my parents and that was pretty sedate, even by parental standards. Should I feel incomplete?

Looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I am doing pretty well, all the way through to the self-actualization bit. How can I be self-actualized and a bit of a rakehell? My morality might be more flexible or catholic than yours but that should be perfectly acceptable. Moreover, ideas of understanding one’s place in the world are highly subjective to the self. I can be responsible but on my own terms. Isn’t that an American ideal?

It is somewhat a question of being versus becoming. Why must I become something that other people want? I can agree with ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus about change being our only constant and at the same time make the case that although change is constant, the self is in a state of becoming relative only to itself. I am whole and actualized in this very moment and though change exists, it is not necessary for me to assimilate cultural mores for me to continue developing. Wouldn’t a truly liberated man embrace both the more reptilian parts of his brain as well as those thoughts refined in the frontal lobe? On the most primal level, the first components of critical discernment are: Can I eat it? Can I mate with it?

I am a sexual being. I like wine, women and song and yet some will frown upon that. It wasn’t all that long ago that Aldous Huxley wrote Antic Hay, a book dealing with social conventions, elitist ennui and sexuality in which a protagonist, Theodore Gumbril, dons a beard to be what he terms a ‘complete man.’ This complete man is one who feels comfortable in his sexuality and in approaching and dealing with women, but Gumbril feels compelled to hide behind a disguise in order to experience this invigorating part of his life. Yes, it’s a comedy and satirical but it was still banned and burned in countries around the globe and there are vestigial remnants of this kind of parochial thinking still dictating what is proper.

Why should I marry if not for love? Not to get mushy on you this late in the game, but I will marry if and when I find a woman I do not want to live without. Love will be all that compels me to marry. That is a much better post-Valentine’s day message.

So ladies and gentlemen, be slutty, be bitchy, be shallow, be perverse, be sexy and be full of life but most of all be true to yourself. There will always be those who frown upon us and so let them. They can keep their conventions and I can keep my distance. Here’s to a life full of all the things I love!

Back to our regularly scheduled thoughtless tales of scandal tomorrow!

speed dating

The dawn of internet dating has led to more people wishing a first date would end quickly than had previously occurred in the entire history of human courtship. I dabbled in online dating myself, always careful to avoid women using head shots as their photo and always wary of words like ‘vegan’ and ‘cat’ in their profile. However, despite these precautionary measures I still got taken on one of cupid’s little joyrides because no one actually puts the words ‘speed freak’ in their description.

It was a grey December that year in Los Angeles and like many previous holiday seasons I found myself mateless. The difference was this year it bothered me. Perhaps it was the life in transition moment that had really protracted into an ongoing theme or maybe it was that the 30 year milestone was poking its head up from my next birthday. Regardless, I felt a distinctly intense feeling of loneliness. I was meeting women from time to time – boozy surf girls or bohemian cheese lovers or even gals who knew nothing about South Africa, but there wasn’t anyone I felt like sharing a cup of eggnog with or who inspired me to stand outside her window holding a radio above my head that played Christmas carols.

Obviously, I had been leaving my romantic life in the hands of chance and circumstance and it was time to take it into my own. Online dating gives you a snapshot of a person before you ever talk to them and I liked that idea. Who do they say they are? How do they express themselves? What are their interests? Is there anything annoying that pops out immediately?

There are all kinds of things that can happen once you actually meet someone face to face and I had a couple of meetings in which the girl wasn’t remotely like her profile or had used a picture from a few years before she discovered she had a profound love of deep friend Twinkies. However, from time to time you meet someone who looks exactly like the pretty girl in the photo and is ever bit the saucy and witty woman with whom you exchanged emails. She may also be a recreational amphetamine user who got a little nervous before the date and so she dosed and is amped out of her mind by the time she meets you at the bar, but those kinds of little peccadilloes are never included anywhere under a person’s Interests or Hobbies.

Julie and I met online. She picked the Bar Marmont, at the Chateau in Hollywood, as the place we would first meet face to face. She said it would be a good backdrop for her sinister sense of humor. The hotel may very well be one of the most famous in the world as it has been frequented by legends of the LA scene ranging from the Doors, Rock Hudson, Sam Shepard and Johnny Depp to Hollywood’s latest pantyless trollop du jour. It will mostly though, be a bar full of people trying to pretend they are too cool for the scene and thus utterly unaffected. I have no desire to go there. She does. I lose.

Julie was pin-up girl pretty with generous curves and, with her straight black hair, porcelain skin and flair for slightly dramatic make-up, just a touch of goth. She was a few years out of Cal Berkeley and working for an agency, reading through scripts and fetching agents the things they wanted fetched. She would come home from work and plow through four or five scripts a night. She was a machine.

I saw her waiting for me at the bar when I arrived. She popped out of her seat and bounded my way, wrapping me in tight hug. I got a small peck on the lips as well and she said ‘Thank god you’re cute.’

I reciprocated with something similar and was going to make a quip about truth in advertising but I never got the chance. She was shot out of a canon and had a lot to say. I wondered whether she had recently completed an oath of silence as I actively struggled to keep up. By the way, which was ‘btw’ to her, Julie was Jewels to her friends – that was her spelling not mine since she believed she was a treasure. I would have gone with Jules, as in Jules Verne, since she already was making me wonder whether I might prefer drowning under 20,000 leagues to finishing the date.

She talked fast and she often spoke as if she were a teenage girl texting me. Everything was abbreviated and ‘btw’ was just the beginning. She had a terse, Hemingway-esque delivery but sputtered on with the endless flow of thought reminiscent of Kerouac. During her diatribes, she was also constantly swiveling her head around and checking out the scene. She didn’t want to miss a thing happening around her but she wouldn’t let that interrupt her flow.

The bar wasn’t all that busy but the mingling was gaining speed. She asked me if I thought we might see anyone famous but before I had the chance to say ‘probably not’ she was telling me about the time she met Jon Favreau at a bagel place in Santa Monica and said he was just like he was in his movies, which I can only assume meant a little rotund with a diminishing hairline since conversation with Jewels didn’t contain many details.

She was drinking vodka sodas and I was nursing a Jameson neat. I tried to make eye contact with her and nodded along with her stories but keeping pace was exhausting. I didn’t know I could be fatigued from listening until that night with Jewels. I would have thought that not being expected to respond might be an easy task but it was more like being on the hood of someone’s car while they tore through Lombard Street in San Francisco and trying not be flung to my death.

She was in the middle of a soliloquy about her growing up in New York City when there was a gasp, followed by a noticeable pause. In any other conversation it would be a fleeting second but in Jewels speak it was a pause worthy of Laurence Olivier. This was followed by a staccato of rapid succession “OMG! OMG! OMG!” and her bouncing her hand up and down on my thigh.

Her eyes widened and her mouth opened slightly and she then attempted a subtle point in the direction of a man walking by. It was Skeet Ulrich. Jewels gasped slightly and her pupils dilated a tad more than one might have liked to see. A schoolgirl smile spread across her face and I fully expected her to say “Isn’t he dreamy” at any given moment. She unabashedly followed him with her gaze as he made his way past us.

Things I started to realize about Jewels: potentially stunted maturity, questionable taste in celebrities, possible speed user, definite starfucker.

Jewels was a little flustered by her near encounter with the B-list actor and turned to the barkeep and asked for a shot of Patron tequila. I was content to continue nursing my Jameson but hoped that a shot of tequila might slow her pacing down a bit. Be very careful what it is you wish for.

She did one shot and immediately ordered another. She smiled at me and told me how excited she was. As I had quickly become accustomed to not responding I merely smiled. She again told me I was cute and leaned over, kissing me in a way that made me speculate she was projecting her Skeet Ulrich crush onto me. Despite my embarrassment with making out in bars, it occurred to me that the more I kissed her the less I would have to listen to her talk. It then occurred to me that a blowjob would be an even better solution but I quickly determined that I draw the line at making out when I’m in a bar.

Her next shot arrived and she threw it down with zest and placed the glass back on top of the bar with an alarming amount of vigor. She smacked her lips and then looked my way and batted her eyelashes, giving me her best coquettish visage. She was very pretty and if only she were incapable of talking we might have had a future. She stood quickly, grabbed my face in her hands, gave me another kiss intended for Skeet Ulrich and then went to the restroom.

I was a little confused as to what to do. There was a red light going off in my brain telling me to pay the tab and make a quick exit, but there was also a vestigial amount of my southern manners left in me that told me a French leave was inappropriate on a first date. Internally I groused about the unpredictability of my conscience but I ordered another whiskey, deciding to weather the storm.

She returned and a cycle developed. A shot was ordered and slammed, lips were smacked, I received another one of Skeet’s kisses and she made a bathroom break. She didn’t excuse herself after every shot, it might have been every other, but the rest of the cycle was pretty consistent. Her kisses started lingering a little longer and were soon accompanied by giggles. She kept telling me I was cute and then batted her lashes, an act that looked increasingly more appropriate for a dust storm than the bar.

Normally I would have pointed out that she might want to ease up on the shots but as her speed-talking was nearing more tolerable levels, I selfishly remained the silent benefactor of her Skeet crush.

During one of her forays into the ladies room, I was exchanging text messages with my new friend Ike and making plans for the rest of the evening when the bartender, a young woman with reddish brown hair and pink highlights and extremely perfect olive skin, poured me another whiskey, which I had not ordered, and said to me in what can only be called an admonishing tone, “Please tell me this is a blind date and you won’t be seeing her again.”

I looked up with a slight surprise, “Yes, blind and rapidly getting blinder.”

“You should pay the tab, pay for her cab and then come back in for another drink.”

It was like providence was stepping in. The barkeep, the sole voice of reason in a bar, was advocating raising the white flag. Coincidentally, I received a text message from Ike saying he knew of a great Christmas party in Beverly Hills we should crash. I looked at the message and back to the bartender who was cleaning up a spilled beer a few seats down. I flagged her down.

“Ok, here’s what I’m thinking. Oh, what’s your name, by the way?”

“Summer.”

Yes, there in the winter of my discontent I met Summer.

“Ok, Summer. Here’s my card. Let’s close the tab. I am going to leave some money for her cab with you, if that’s ok. Maybe you can give it to her and let her know I had to split. Also, I would like to buy a drink for Skeet Ulrich and tell him it’s from her. She likes him a lot and who knows where it could lead.”

I expected Summer to at least be surprised but she took it in stride and told me she would make sure my blind date was taken care of, one way or another. She asked me if I was coming back and I told her most definitely, just not tonight. She said she worked Thursday and Saturday nights and it was understood I would be returning.

Summer wrapped things up quickly and I saw her taking a drink over to Skeet as I was making my way out of the bar. I felt a little slimy but a little liberated as well. As I walked into the cool LA night, the accompanying silence was a welcome friend.

There was a taxi parked on the street and as I walked over to it I received a new text message from Ike:

Let’s ride a mechanical bull before we head to the party.

I felt as if I had just gotten off one but wasn’t opposed to trying it out.

cutting the cheese on a first date

Considering the number of things that can go wrong on a first date, it’s amazing any of us great apes couple up at all. Then again, romance kicks in like adrenaline with all her rosy colored glory and we are willing to ignore glaring faults and red flags, at first. However, could a single act sink the Love Boat before it ever leaves the metaphorical harbor? Cut to the cheese.

Let me begin the story by ruining your climax. If you are hoping for fart jokes then you’re not really going to dig this post because I’m in a bit more of  literal mood today. It started one day in a now defunct sushi joint near my place called Creative Sushi.

The most creative part of Creative Sushi was the decor that looked to have been assembled by a dental hygienist hopped up on a bit too much nitrous oxide. It had the same wallpaper I remember from the dentist’s office as a child. It was a mountain scene, with trees and a lake. The wallpaper wrapped around the entire eating area. In the dentist’s office this was meant to be a calming effect while you sat in his little sadistically designed chair and waited for him to tell you how many cavities you had. In the sushi place I can only assume it was meant to create some sort of exotic feel, seeing as how most of your local eateries only have painted walls.

The designers of Creative Sushi went one step further though. They found fake bamboo fencing and placed it around the walls, creating the feel of a fake bamboo fence attached to wall paper with mountains on it. They added some real bamboo to the actual sushi bar and created what would normally be called a Tiki bar. They then added some very plastic looking ferns that fell from the roof and draped over the Tiki lounge / sushi bar. It was an aesthetic experience but they weren’t quite done.

The chef, a charismatic Japanese man named Mark, was a huge fan of reggae music. Apparently he had one CD, a mix of Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley and UB40. It was on an endless loop and took roughly an hour to cycle through. Thus, if you were there for any amount of time over an hour, you would get to hear from UB40 at least four times.

He was also a huge fan of both kickboxing and the LA Lakers. There were two tv’s in the restaurant that were positioned mostly so Mark could watch both of them while cooking and serving. If the Lakers weren’t playing that night, then both sets were turned to violent matches of blood sport.

Are you picking up what I am putting down? Dental wallpaper, fake bamboo, plastic ferns, reggae music and kickboxing / Kobe Bryant. However, despite the decor, the sushi was more than edible and very affordable. Personally, I happened to dig the place and I really enjoyed seeing the faces of people who walked in for the first time. I would always find a seat facing the door so I could see the slight look of panic of each new person unfamiliar with the inner-beauty of Creative Sushi.

This night, I had dragged a book along with me. If I remember correctly it was something Steinbeck – probably Tortilla Flat, as that was the last Steinbeck book I remember reading. There is a young gal across the way from me, also reading a book. Not too many people frequented Creative Sushi. I was always curious how they remained in business for so long.

I notice the girl looking up from her book at me a few times. She has long, straight brown hair and a sort of chic, bohemian flair to her. Finally I notice her smiling at me and so I smile back. She picks up her sake glass and walks over to my table and asks to join me.

She’s wearing a flattering pair of designer jeans, a grey tshirt and one of those long sweater coats that were all the fashion a few years ago. Hers was black and you could find at least a dozen other women wearing them at any given moment around town. I wasn’t a big fan of this particular sartorial statement and for some reason blame Jennifer Aniston. In my mind, she established this trend. Perhaps I blame her for every annoying women’s fashion trend?

Regardless, she sits down and asks me what I am reading. Here’s something to consider – reading in public can be a great way to meet people as I have demonstrated before. It gives an instant ice breaker and something to serve as a catalyst during the usual perfunctory exchange of who is who and what they are doing.

We discuss Steinbeck for a moment but all she has read is Of Mice and Men. I am really surprised she didn’t have to read The Grapes of Wrath or The Pearl but somehow she made it through her high school english classes without those requirements. (Really – I didn’t know that was possible)

Steinbeck was a good segue into discussing Monterrey and Big Sur and we had a nice 15 minute discussion. She finished her sake and we agreed to meet up soon for dinner, a proper date perhaps.

A proper date is one in which I pick the girl up, have a plan and take her out. It’s not a booty call disguised as a let’s meet up for drinks event. It is something to which I have given a little thought. My thoughts for this occasion were Melisse, an upscale, Michelin rated, French restaurant in Santa Monica. I had been looking for a reason to try it for some time and since Viola said she was a ‘foodie’ I thought it would be a good place to start.

Yes, you read that correctly. Her name is Viola and she never thought to change it or pick up a nickname along the way. However, what is more troubling is the fact that she used the word ‘foodie.’ I loathe that word and all the prententious fucks who are prone to use it. Now that the Food Network is pervasive and celebrity chefs are the new porn stars, everyone out there who can braise a lamb shank, grill up prawns, fry an egg or roast a chicken wants to call themselves a foodie. We all have to eat and we all love food. The culinary arts are just that – culinary arts. So be a patron and not a groupie.

Melisse is one of the few places on the westside of LA where you feel compelled to put on a jacket and comb your hair. You go there as much for the service and the experience as you do the food and they make everyone feel special, regardless of the size of your check. By the way, throw out all conventional ideas of pricey when you dine there. A modest bill there will squash the more expensive ones you’ve rung up recently.

Viola looks lovely and we get a great table, probably because how lovely she looks. She’s wearing a smart black dress and I notice the nice shape of her legs and exquisite ankles. I am more enthused now than I was before the date.

We sit down and she uses the foodie word again. I fight the urge to give her the same rant I just gave you about how everyone is now a connoisseur of good food and leave it alone so people like Anthony Bourdain will have material for his next show.

The sommelier comes to our table and asks if we’ve had a moment to look over the menu. Viola pipes up saying that the cheese plate looks great and could we possibly start with that before anything else. He recommends a wine to go with our ‘bolder’ cheeses and disappears. Viola starts to go into detail regarding what she knows about cheese. She actually knows a good deal and I’m content to listen.

The cheese arrives and I realize immediately that ‘bold’ would have been a rather flaccid word in my opinion to describe the foot-stank aromas emanating from our cheese plate. Pungent seems a little soft as well. I am having visions of Adidas sweat pants, with the crotch coated in garlic cream cheese and then worn by an already unshowered man during a vigorous 45-minute workout and tossed unwashed into a mildewy pile of other sweaty garments, allowed to fester for three days and then picked up and placed to my nose. Holy. Shit.

I pick up the cheese knife and cut into what I hope is one of the less offensive varieties but am gravely mistaken. I give a slice to Viola and take one for myself. Simaltaneously we place the cheese into our mouths and simaltaneously watch the other’s face implode into a crumbling mass of putrid disgust.

The beautiful Viola of five minutes before now looks like a Muppet, soaked in water and punched in its withered nose. I am sure I look no better especially as I now have her disgusted face burned deep into my memory. It is all I can do not to wipe off my tongue with my cloth napkin but instead reach for the complementary white wine the sommelier suggested, thinking that perhaps kerosene might have been a better pairing.

To make matters worse, the stubble of my 5 o’clock shadow is smeared with the cheese funk grease of the nastiest dairy product ever to touch my lips. My eyes want to water and I blink to hold back the tears as I look at Viola’s mascara running down her cheeks and listen to the makings of her gag reflex kick in. She excuses herself momentarily and I immediately flag down the waiter and ask for two vodka martinis. I plan on gargling with the first one and drinking the second before Viola ever makes it back to the table.

Back to my initial question – could a single act or moment ruin a first date completely and make anything beyond that moment unsalvageable and unthinkable? Yes, yes it could.

The funk of the cheese was so profound it overwhelmed the rest of the date. Moreover, the convenient location of my olfactory nerve to my grey matter makes me revisit the smell of the cheese, and ultimately the taste, every time I think of Viola. The name Viola makes me want to gag and even typing her name right now makes me a little ill.

We finished the date as politely as possibly and I decided to punt on the rest of the evening and dropped her off right after dinner. We didn’t say much on the ride home. I walked her to her door and immediately drove over to O’Briens Pub to cleanse my palate once again, but this time with scotch. While there, somewhere between the first scotch and the second, I erased Viola’s name and number from my phone.

I haven’t seen her since but I do think of her from time to time, mostly when a plate of cheese wafts by or someone unleashes a gnarly fart. Ok, I lied – there’s your fart joke. Happy?

– RIP Creative Sushi –

Point BreakUp

When you don’t have the right words, just use quotes from Point Break.