Thursday, December 31, 2009

Confession: Hiding in Plain Sight

One of my best friends and most objective critics--Ariel, clearly--looked at me last night and asked where my blog was.

I told her I've been busy. With, you know, like, work, which slowly drains my words away over the course of a 10-hour stretch in a fluorescent-lit cube. And those oh-so-busy bustling holidays. And, um, my pro-antidisestablishmentarianism activism work in that commune in Johannesburg. Or somesuch. Ahem.

She called shenanigans on all excuses. (For the record, the draining death-cube part is true, but it's never stopped me from writing before, so...yeah. Erroneous.)

"You're afraid to tell the truth." Bitch. Acting like she knows me... 

...she does know me. I can't not write the truth. But I don't want to write it, because then it's documented, so it's real. So it must be dealt with. Dammit.

The partial truth is I get home at night, at whatever time, drained or undrained, and lift the screen. I put my spritely little hands on the keys, stare at an empty page--and immediately begin to panic.

Not because I've got nothing to write. I've go so much to write my life is bingeing and purging Post-It notes. I could sleep under them, like a bag lady under newspaper. I found one stuck to the back of my cell phone the other day. All it said was: "awkward hyena laugh." There could have been an interesting post in that phrase, but I've forgotten what I meant when I wrote it. There's also the two different totable notebooks filled with scrawl, handwriting spilling into the margins, frantic little arrows pointing to connecting thoughts disjointed by separate pages. "LOOK! More! There's more!" Plus two new moleskines received as gifts recently, already front-heavy with notes and dog-eared pages and----I know, I'm sorry----poetry. Lots of it. Point is, I've got stuff to write.

The partial truth is I've morphed into an anxiety-ridden, talentless bullshit artist being dry-humped to death by her own pathetic existential funk. Excuse me, Mr. Sartre? Could you get off please, I'm starting to chaff...

...and it's all rooted right back where this blog started.

The whole truth is that around the time of The 2nd First Date, Alex and I not-so-secretly went on a 2nd Second Date. And then a 2nd Third Date. And then a fourth, and so on, until we were not-so-secretly seconding right back into an intimate, albeit unlabeled, something that was obvious to everyone but us. And it was wonderful. I slept in his nook again. He looked at me with eyes that know every single thing about me. We walked our dog, together. We even not-so-secretly celebrated our six-year anniversary, as if we'd never split in the first place (even though the term "boyfriend/girlfriend" was blacked out of the syllabus entirely), and dropped the "m" word (m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e) again.

And then, lightning-fast, the brakes. Me, slamming on them. Again. Alex getting whiplash. Again. Me resting my head on the dashboard in shame and frustration. All the people who'd been predicting our inevitable marriage since we were 20 and wringing their hands gleefully over our romantic re-coupling watching the hubcaps rolls down the street.

The prediction most people made when I posted on this blog about he and I testing a reunion was that we'd get back together and the same problems  would still be there. What actually happened was that the old problems were essentially gone, but an entirely new garden of ragweed was springing up in its place, with one gigantic, choking vine in the middle, namely that--through listing, through life, through god-knows-what--I've become someone very different than the girl who grew up with her hand in his. He is still very much the same wonderful man. I do not know if he and this foreigner fit together.

It's been a revelation shocking to no one but me.

I'm trying to think of something to liken it to. This is one of the only things in my limited range of experience that fits:

When I was 17, the punk band I'd been playing in for two years blew up. A meandering impersonation of something we all aspired to be hit a streak of luck and local acclaim, climbed to modest (pre-iTunes/pre-MySpace) and centralized esteem, and set out on a half-cocked tour of the East Coast. Five guys, one girl, a U-Haul of equipment and a van. Eight exhilarating, sweaty, wild, debauched days in, we were cruising down the interstate at the Florida border at about 90 miles-per-hour, all six of us stomping out our own (assuredly heinous) double-bass beat to a Poison the Well cassette jammed in the tapedeck. It was glorious. And at THAT exact, blind, blissful moment, the hood of the van popped up, caught in the wind and slammed against the windshield, starring out the glass in a spiderweb of cracks and blocking the road entirely from view, causing the entire band to let out a sustained unison scream than would have shamed Macaulay Culkin. We swerved off the road and into a small ditch.

Sitting in the side of a drainage shoulder in Florida, broken down and broke and drenched in sweat, our bass player calling his mom for help on a brick-sized cell-phone, reality burned itself into our skin: we were not rock stars. We were kids. And we had no idea what we were doing.

That's what this is like--the sort of utterly unexpected, blink of an eye disaster that stops everything in its tracks...and was, in many ways, totally foreseeable to any of the more mature people around you.

Until very recently I felt like there was a direction. Forward. To Alex? To something. If not to the happy ending, then to a major footnote with illustrations and a bookmark. Now, no direction. I'm an awkward, domesticated house-cat, released back into the wild...again...and confused as fuck about where the Fancy Feast is.

The first time I left, and Hitch Listed, and settled all smug down in Brooklyn to write my gimmicky blog about rediscovering independence, I did it with one hand still holding on to some piece of my old life across the Hudson River. It was being held back in return. I checked items off the list and started to mutate into whatever I am now with the confidence that comes from knowing that, even if you fail miserably, someone loves you and will take you back if you show up on their doorstep and say, "I'm a mess. Please love me anyway." I confess the one hand is still partially there---however, the fingers are being severed. Have been? Are being. There's still an index finger and a thumb wrapped around the doorknob.

Now, I'm settled, not-at-all smug, in Brooklyn, wondering if my gimmicky blog is even read and what the point of it is if I can't write it with some modicum of knowing authority, some end-point in sight. I know the blogs I like best are honest, well-written and exciting because there is no end-point...everyone's along for the ride. But I always need to like the narrator.  And I know that I, personally, don't really like the floundering, confused, frightened me---or at least not her rambling monologue relentlessly being broadcast inside my skull.

So I've been hiding.

There's one question I keep getting from friends and family about slamming on the brakes again. "Why?" Okay, fine:

I want too much. He doesn't seem to want enough. And there we both somehow went.

That's the whole truth.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Wingman Chronicles, Part V: Messy Midnight Oysters

Okay, I'm sorry. I know. I went MIA. But, wait baby, don't go--I'm back. And, even after that inexcusable absence, The Wingman Chronicles is back with me, returning for its final installment (for now). Reliable future posting, and an explanation of my disappearance, to follow.

Thus far The Wingman Chronicles have delivered us blues-singer sex, Ivy Leaguers on balconies, a free strip club romp and a shameful home invasion perpetrated against an award-winning actor. There's only one way to trump all that for this, the final part of the chronicles: 

Bivalve Mollusks.  

The Night of the Midnight Oysters crossed over into new territory, requiring one maneuver I'd never tried in flight school. I'd heard legend of the controversial move, a socially dangerous combination of laziness and perfectly calibrated match-making, but never dared try it: A Double Wingmanning? Mythic, beyond me, like the Five-Point Exploding Heart Technique or a public health care option. 

Ariel was, of course, the ideal partner for the last piece of my official reintroduction to the wild, a "low key" night she declared would be run, casually, on her terms.  (RED FLAG: Ariel metabolizes gin the way normal people do Vitamin C. So unless you're Keith Richards or Liza Minnelli, "low key" may be misleading...)

Due to a random work commitment, Ariel, two gay pals and myself were forced to begin our evening in what is the New York social equivalent of Dante's hell: an 80s prom re-creation/dance party set in the upper level of a bridge-and-tunnel cesspool on the LES. Bitter but motivated, we (the only attendees not dressed in stretch fabrics) did what any dedicated band of Saturday night revelers (who make under $40K annually) can do in such situations--roll in with flasks and an hour's tolerance for drunk bachelorettes dueting Bon Jovi covers with actors crammed in a fake varsity jackets. 

The night thankfully took a turn for the better at midnight (after we escaped the club, stealing a bounty of Ring Pops in the process), when Ariel decided New York City had but one jewel worth seeking, one orgasmic drug to be ingested: raw seafood.

"Oysters?" I half-protested as she grabbed my wrist, leading us down a side street. Her chin was tilted slightly upwards, a gesture midway between militant defiance and a hungry pit bull sniffing the air. This was followed by an even more skeptical "the Meatpacking District??" when she Pied Pipered me (the gays dropped out at the first suggestion of oysters, heading off in search of a very different kind of briny valve...) onto Gansevoort Street. "We're going to spend our night in the fucking Meatpacking District?"

"No," Ariel called calmly, ignoring my distain as I stumbled (literally...WHY are the streets cobblestone in a stretch of city that heavily trafficked by stilettos??) behind her. "We are going to spend our 'fucking' night with really good oysters."

Just then, my phone rang. James was on the line.

James is a blue-eyed, dark-haired professional modern dancer who happens to be my sister's ex-boyfriend. Having amicably parted from sis several years ago (actually she broke up with him in a not so savvy way--I told her she was crazy, then made it clear I was still hanging out with him whether she liked it or not), and having carefully sculpted himself a body ready for the pages of Why Wear Clothes At All? magazine, this laid-back Adonis was recently snatched up by a high-profile celebrity trainer. He now travels the globe shaping the bodies of blockbuster action heroes and willowy indie-ingenues, occasionally landing in NYC (though not nearly enough).

[Fun Fact: James drinks a gallon of whole milk every 1-3 days. He needs an extra-large refridgerator to support his crippling dairy addiction, which I find hilarious since his clients usually end up on strict "no sugar, no dairy" diets. Meanwhile, their Personal Jane Fonda's secretly got a cow's udder running teat-juice intravenously into his heart-stoppingly chiseled biceps. I digress...]

James got into NYC that night just in time to inform me that A) he was looking for a good time, B) it was his BIRTHDAY and C) he was hoping I was free, because his birthdays "always suck" and he needed a wingman. After emphasizing to Ariel his epic existential sulk about a shit string of birthdays, she agreed to make our duo a trio. 

"He's pretty," she also commented, off-handedly, when he met us shortly thereafter.
"And a giver, according to my sister."
"I didn't mean it like that," Ariel, ever-stoic and emotionless, said. "Too young. Too pretty." A pregnant pause. "Oysters."

Not to get all Proustian and shit...but Proust wrote, upon tasting his first madeline: ..."a shudder rain through me, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that had happened to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my sense, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin."

That's what that first oyster was like.

Before Ariel paraded us into that French brasserie, I'd never had an oyster. Despite growing up on the shore, and maybe because of the year I once spent shucking be-shelled tongue-surfers for a clientele of frat boys and local businessmen at a local Hooters, I'd managed to go 26 years without tasting one. I know...not a big deal.

But for some reason--be it the company, the three carafes of red wine consumed, the gentle reminder I've seen and experienced so little that even nights begun at a faux-80s prom can be righted--when that first salty, squirming nubbin of satin protein swam down my throat in a flourish of brine and lemon, an unjaded piece of me stirred. It was like The Awakening (only instead of walking into the ocean like a suicidal bitch at the end I sucked down bougie shellfish...but you get the point).

The combination of oysters and wine slammed into my brain like a bag of Columbian narcotics.

"Dancing!" I declared. "We must dance! We must drink! We must drink from the cup of life!"

"You must stop talking like that," Ariel said, wearily, from across a mound of empty shells. 

"No, she's right. We should dance," James chimed in, eyeing Ariel. "It's my birthday." 

Having blown a week's worth of responsibly budgeted cash on bivalves and wine, we had to do continue the night on the cheap...which meant hiking across the city to the one bar where we could dance, and drink, for free because Ariel knows the bartender. A schizophrenic half lounge/half sports bar boozehole in Murray Hill isn't really our scene, but if you want to shake your hips with a strong drink in hand for free at 2:30am, anyplace will do.

Especially if you roll in with a gorgeous professional dancer on your arm, one who commandingly twirled, spun, lifted, arched and salsa-ed (alternately and, more impressively, simultaneously) with Ariel and I while pounding back birthday beverages. 

Until three large, bejeweled, slightly terrifying hoodrats interrupted us. 

"Hey, yo, my man," the leader, a 6' thug with a flat-brimmed BROOKLYN cap and a Puerto Rican flag jersey on, said to James. He was rubbing one hand suggestively around his chest, that creepy motion which signals heartburn more than sexual prowess if you're anyone but LL Cool J circa "Doin' It." "You bein' greedy, my man. You can't keep both these beautiful girls to yourself. Bro's gotta share."  His wingmen nodded in agreement.

"Well, bro, it actually looks like I can?" James answered without hesitation, drawing both Ariel and myself into his hips. "Because you're the guys with no one to dance with."

I fell mildly in love with him at that moment.  

But I also saw the exit strategy, the move that left me capably in my element--manipulating social retards--while Wingman One and Wingman Two, intoxicated and by now flirting shamelessly despite Ariel's "too young, too pretty" mantra, were left as a pair. You're takin' one for the team, so your friend can live the dre-ee-eam....

"Papi," I said to Alpha Male Interloper, extending my elbow and leading him away from the pack. "I like your hat. See, I need a little Brooklyn help? I just moved into the 'hood and am pretty sure my white ass is going to get shot..."

Half an hour later, my new friend "JoJo" had called his dogs off James and Ariel, bought me a drink, taught me how to properly haggle with empanada vendors in Bushwick (3 for $5 is standard) and given me the number of his weed dealer. (Uh, thanks Jojo.) More importantly, my wingmen had been dancing.  With their hips very close. Without Ariel coming over once to tap out. I eventually thanked Jojo, gave him a kiss on the cheek, took his number (deleted it the next day) and headed to the dance floor to approach my duo.

"Guys, I'm sooooooo drunk," I (half) lied. "We have to get out of here."

"'kay, you'll shtay with me, right?" Ariel slurred, subtly, to me.

"Only if you help me convince Birthday Boy to come back with us."

Her eyes narrowed.

"I know what yerrr doing," Ariel hissed in my ear as we started staggering out of the bar, James a few steps behind.

"Doing? What do you mean?"

"He's too young. And pretty. I don't do young and pretty," she protested. 

Right. Cuz chiseled virile reciprocating oral-sexers are such a bad idea. 

"I know." I hailed a cab.

"No, but for really. Heeees sleeping on the futon with you," Ariel declared.

"Sure. Hey, Birthday Boy! Get your ass in this cab..."

It took precisely seven minutes for both of them to disappear into her bedroom when we arrived in Queens. It doesn't matter who shut the door.

I myself pulled out the futon, my Queensian home away from home, poured myself a trough of water and turned on the television, peeling off my tights and dress while Planet Earth annointed the Midngith Oysters with a vibrant array of sea creatures (including an octopus that could run on two of its eight legs, which is fucking awesome). All the while I was smugly thinking: I wingmanned my wingman my wingman. Mission, even if done so lazily, accomplished.

The next day, back in Brooklyn, vowing to lay off the expensive socializing until I jump into the next tax bracket, I mused on The Chronicles. What, exactly, had been the point? Originally it had been to re-socialize myself after five years of sequestered nesting in suburbia, but...honestly, on some level I knew it was all shallow, booze-soaked behavior that meant nothing in the scope of the universe. 

Then, later that day, two texts came in: 

JAMES: Best. Birthday. Ever. Missed you. Miss you.

ARIEL: Well played, Wingman. Welcome back.

Ah, there it was.

The point.

Good to be back.