Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I'll Have a Bitch Latte'

I'm a sucker for those slick, completely lacking in nutritional value entertainment magazines you find in the supermarket. I don't mean the obvious tabloids, even though their cover pictures crack me up, like the faked photos of Osama bin Laden and Sadam Hussein dressed respectively as a groom and blushing bride. Man that cover was priceless. But I refuse to waste my money on them, knowing that they are all lies and facts taken completely out of context and twisted like a Twizzler into a new and completely fake form, and supplimented with touched-up photos or the telltale grainy-look photos taken with a Peeping Tom long lens. No, I'd rather read the likes of "In Touch", "Us" and "People". Although they are also largely fake and superficial, I'd rather believe that the photo-fakery and out-and-out fabrications are less in number than in, say, "The Inquirer".

These silly gossip and entertainment magazines are my guilty pleasure after a long day of work, terrible weather, and battles of wills with the other New Jersey drivers - an oasis of frivolous egos and conspicuous consumption where I can turn off my mind, relax and float downstream (as the man sang). However, as much as I enjoy looking at the clothes and baubles and giant Chiclet smiles as an escape, there has been a growing sense within that I am wasting time, and more importantly, my brain, on such magazines. For those reasons, I have been making a concerted effort towards finding ways to combine entertainment in short spurts, but with more meaningful content. These fun magazines are all the froth at the top of a cappuccino, without the steamed milk and espresso at the bottom. I needed a latte'.

For one thing, I don't feel in any way connected to the people in those magazines. They are so far from reality as I know it, that they might as well be from another planet. Okay, "People" does attempt to tug at the heartstrings by interspersing human interest stories about the brave, tragic or plucky, but it is all done in such a superficial manner that even the most heart-rending stories are distilled down to the most flavorless bite-sized nugget. In one page, sporting a picture of the subject with their family, pet, or in a tub, you learn just enough about them to make you connect ever-so-slightly with the protagonist, yet not too much, so you have no risk of learning anything about them that might make your suburban middle-class American values quake with fear.

On the other hand, there's the newspaper, and it does come in handy short articles and in a conveniently re-usable (paper mache' anyone?) or recycleable format, but very little of it is entertainment. Not to say that I'm not interested in the news, but what I'm talking about is wanting something to read that is fun to read, not just endless assaults on my hope that human kind is ultimately good. Man's inhumanity to man, column after column of it, is not the first thing I want to settle down to after dealing with the "real world" all day. I found myself hoping for real, funny, entertaining, and yet thought-provoking reading material, preferably in a short format. To get down to brass tacks here, something short enough to read in a visit to the bathroom would do nicely.

Although I love reading blogs, and they do pretty much fit the requirements of the reading material I was hoping for, I'm not about to drag my monitor into the bathroom (for what I hope would be obvious reasons). Such would also be the drawback to any reading material online, including the wonderful Onion. What I needed was a magazine with substance, yet colorfully written.

At first, I went back to an old love, Psychology Today. To my profound disappointment, the entertaining yet scholarly approach that I remember from years ago seems to have taken a much more mainstream (might I even suggest lowbrow) approach to its subject matter. I kept getting the feeling that it had dumbed itself down, and I had a nagging feeling that I was resenting being dumbed-down for. But what really took the cake was the fact that there were all kinds of charlatans and psychics and losers advertising in the back of the magazine. What self-respecting psychologist would want their article printed mere pages away from "Stella, Your Psychic Guide", or other such drivel? How disappointing. The search continued.

I decided to go another route completely, and subscribed to Cosmopolitan , especially because I had always really liked reading the Agony column, and more recently they used to have a dating diary that was pretty entertaining. I can't seem to find either of those columns in the most recent issue, so my enjoyment quotient has plummeted precipitously. But much worse than that, I've discovered what many of you probably already knew - women's magazines like Cosmo and Glamour, etc. are nearly exclusively written to amp up any insecurities already held deep within the (preferably) ample bosoms of their readership.

[Note: I may have already blogged about this next paragraph's topic, but I'm too lazy to go back and look. Forgive any redundancy, please.]

If you want to feel totally inadequate in every way, please, feel free to take over my subscription to Cosmo. Nearly every article is about sex, but not just about sex, but about how to drive your mega-studly boyfriend WILD that very evening with the most incredible oral sex EVER. Better than anyone's ever done it before, you should trust them on this. (Um, isn't getting your woman to perform oral sex already the best ever?? Does it have to be Olympian, too?) And you will do all that, after a spectacularly successful day at your smashing job, wearing designer clothing that is both suitable for your position and totally cutting edge fashion at the same time, all while ignoring the jeers and sneers of all of your co-workers (they are just jealous, darling!) and earning a reputation for getting aHEAD at your job, BLOWING past all the competition with your HARD work and THRUSTING yourself into the most difficult assignments...

Alrighty, I need a glass of water here.

Anyway, the point was that the expectations of what a true Cosmo girl's life should be, and what my life is actually like, were light years apart from one another, and I felt like I was eternally reading a bodice ripper, even when the article was supposedly about workplace ethics or some such. I won't lie and say that I never found anything worth taking away from Cosmo, because I did learn quite a few things from them, after separating the breathless froth to find the kernel of substance within. But it's just too much damn work shoring up one's ego before diving into yet another article framed by photos of models much less than half my age and half my weight as well. "Oh, look at that outfit, I can't afford/fit into/hold my breath all day to bear wearing it. I must be some loser!" And then, "Listen to these fantastic careers these women must have, where did I go wrong? There isn't even a boardroom here for me to "Wow!" anybody in." Until finally, I'm mentally counting out the sleeping pills with one hand and holding the razor blade in the other, all while flipping through the last pages of photos showing miles of taut, lineless skin and perfectly styled shiny hair. "I'm nothing but a Cosmo poser! I'll never be a Fun Fabulous Female!" [Insert disconsolate wailing here.]

On a mission to find a book for a friend's birthday, I browsed the magazine rack in the Barnes & Noble , and I believe I found an answer to my silently screamed prayer. Bitch, a Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is the first thing I've found in a while that strikes the many chords I was hoping for. The articles are entertaining, as they are mainly centered around pop culture, true to their claim, and some are fun, some are more like the papers you would write in college if your courses were all about cool subjects, and most of all, I know that none of these articles will bother suggesting the many ways I can turn on my man when he gets home. The entire universe of Bitch is not focused around molding the reader towards a particular lifestyle or thinly disguised cosmetics advertising, but instead is around the more critical enjoyment of the very same pop culture items that the other magazines seem to simply fawn over and act as public relations vehicles for.

What is so refreshing about it was that finally, there were authors (men as well as women, by the way) who were not afraid to, for example, loathe Julia Roberts instead of kissing her ass. In article after article, there was evidence of great intelligence, mixed with witty commentary and unique perspective. It is Fluff, with Substance! Hoorah! I can once again indulge my need to read short, frothy prose while winding down at the end of the day, but without it being a "guilty" pleasure anymore. Imagine that, I can actually use my brain and still manage to make my boyfriend happy. It's okay not to be a Cosmo girl? Hell, it's more than okay. It's far better to be a Bitch.

Friday, January 23, 2004

The Holy Evangelical Church of the Calorie Counters

After this past holiday season, I'm past the point of being uncomfortable - I'm well over into the Oh My DEAR GOD, what have I DONE? end of the scale, and it's time to do something about it. But I'm not going to talk about it here.

For my money, there's nothing more mind-numbingly boring and selfish than someone who drones on and on about their diet and exercise regime. "Skinless chicken cutlets, blah blah blah, limiting carbs, blah blah blah, just a shake for lunch, blah blah blah..." in an endless monotone. "Oh Dear God, how do I make her STOP?" is the tape loop running through my brain whenever confronted with another friend inducted into the cult of My New Diet Plan.

Sometimes, you'll notice the new cult members even have that shiny, wide-eyed cult stare that the Moonies or Hari Krishnas had. (Boy, am I ever dating myself with those references, but there ya go.) For some of the newly indoctrinated, the huge, Japanese anime eyes might be a by-product of their strange diets, like when Oprah Winfrey was on some liquid diet years ago, and you could just see how unhealthy she was by that wet eye look she had at the time. But for others, it's simply the zeal with which they attach themselves to their new diet that causes that eye wetness. They seek salvation through the Church of the Zone, or of Jenny Craig, or whatever, and they want to save your plump soul along with theirs. That's really considerate of you, but please, leave me alone to burn in the carb-loaded fires of hell, would you?

My friend Bev was always a good one for this. She was a girl with a petite frame who was terrified to grow into the gigantic hips and buns package that her mother became. So, bless her heart, she was constantly on the vigil against that possible middle-aged spppprrrreeeaaaaddd her mom was unfortunately sporting. I sympathized with her, I understood her fight and even envied her determination. But if she told me ONE more time about the new vitamins, exercise regimen, low-carb plan, nothing but soup and juice for every meal or salad spree she was on, I was going to shove my old Weight Watcher's scale up her ass. For such an intelligent and artistically creative girl to spend the precious few moments we had together ranting about this crap, when we saw so very little of each other due to busy lives, was enough to make me cry tears of frustration. Snap out of it, Bev, please. Tell me about your job, your family, your relationship, what you think about current events, your trip to the museum, your new painting, what the dogs did yesterday, ANYTHING BUT WHAT YOU ATE AND WHY.

I could see if they had made a bargain with the cosmos, and the more people they spread the word of the All Bell Pepper Diet to, the more pounds they would loose, and therefore the closer to Godliness and All Things Good and Thin they would get. Or even if I had said one tiny word along the lines of, "Please tell me what you are eating these days, in minute detail." But I promise you, neither of these things have to happen to provoke the Sermon on the Pounds.

All of the members of the Cult of the New Diet love to expound on the subject of their ex-pounds, and their evangelical zeal is nothing short of the worst social selfishness you can imagine. I want to beg them to talk about politics and religion, tell off-color jokes in front of nuns, pick their noses - anything but torture me with the number of grams of carbs they had for breakfast. Unless we are up in the Andes sharing rations until the search team finds us under the avalanche, I couldn't give a fuck what anyone else eats.

There is no way to change the topic, either, as the diet cults nearly always expect their devoted to memorize a long list of the can and can't-haves of their diet, and the new members are more than eager to share this wealth of knowledge. It's maddening, and when I have been captive to such a conversation on several occasions with the same friend, I find myself avoiding them, particularly if they start to look a bit gaunt and glossy-eyed. I know what's coming next, and I'd really rather they stand on a street corner and preach to strangers, with a sandwich board over their shoulders and a stalk of celery in each hand. Oh but wait, what kind of sandwich was that? And I hope that was gluten bread you were talking about...

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Kindred Spirits After All

Ever since I learned the principle of the Johari Window in a college psych class, I have found it both useful and highly entertaining to think of people, including myself, in terms of those four panes in a window. Over the years following my first learning about this model, I have thought about it from time to time, and wondered, for example, which window does person X's habit of doing Y fit into? " It has to be one of the ones where others know about it, because I have noticed it, so it couldn't be considered the "hidden" or "unknown" panes. Hmm, is it in the "open" pane, the one where they know about it too? No, it can't be, because then she would've stopped doing it, because she claims to hate it when other people do the same thing. Hmm, it's got to either be in the "open" pane, and she's pretending not to be aware that she does Y, or she really doesn't realize she does that, and it fits in the "blind" plane. Oh God, should I tell her then?" This is what passes as a hobby for me, so do insert feeling of pity here.

But, having given a mini lecture on chapter one of college psych 101 (I want tenure and a parking space now, dammit), the point of all this exposition was to explain how I came to understand that I have great sympathy for people who are "blind" to things about themselves that are so obvious to others. Of all the panes in the Johari Window, that one seems to be the most fraught with opportunities for misunderstandings and humiliation, arguably greater than the "hidden" window pane stuff. I say that because at least with the "hidden" stuff, the person has the opportunity to decide what is to remain hidden and what isn't. (Should I unload all of my skeletons within the first week of going out with this guy? Hell no! Just sneak them out, one bone at a time over the course of the relationship, until the whole skeleton gang is sitting on the couch watching tv with us one night.) But with the "blind" stuff, the poor person doesn't know that there is something, be it a "Kick Me" sign on the back, a noxious body odor, or a complete lack of understanding that their crush simply does not like them THAT way, that might be holding them back from their goals and dreams. This empathy for those poor souls, with such baggage, has grown in no small part because I have at times been one of those blind people.

No, it wasn't a Kick Me sign, or noxious body odor that plagued me. I wish it had been something as easily removed. It was one in an endless stream of embarrassing mistakes in signal reading with the opposite sex.

See, there was this guy at college that I had a huge crush on. I'm not sure what exactly made me first notice him, besides that we took a class together, but once I talked to him for a little while, I was hooked. He was on the high end of medium height, rather thin, brown hair, brown eyes, glasses, face badly pitted with what must've been an acne nightmare in high school. George was shy and smart, and we shared a similar sense of humor. When he smiled, his eyes shone and his laugh was warm and deep, a pleasant surprise after his equally pleasant tenor speaking voice.

He drove an old car, and not knowing terribly much about cars all I can tell you is that it was beige and had smallish fins on the back, with perfectly circular tail lights that for some reason reminded me of the Batmobile. I don't remember what kind of car it was, but it was one of a kind amongst the others in the school parking lot, and it was one of kind in the sense that few other cars have ever made my heart leap into my throat in quite that way.

Whenever I saw George on campus, I would make what I hoped to be a subtle beeline in his direction, and think of any excuse to chat him up. He always seemed glad to see me, and we had lots in common, mostly school topics, but also the same taste in music. (Thank God for music. What did people use to start conversations with the opposite sex before rock 'n' roll?) I was hoping that after a suitable amount of time, this shy guy would get past the music conversation and make his way around to, say, finding out what I like to do on Saturday nights. In old beige cars. With a shy bookish writer with a nice laugh. I mean, just for example. Just throwing out a possible topic, I didn't necessarily mean to imply anything untoward. (Oh yes I did.)

Now, at the same time that I was mooning over George, mostly from afar, there was another fellow slobbering over *me*, mostly from disconcertingly up close. Tom is going to have to be the topic of another, much longer post, because you would need several meals and bathroom breaks to get through all of the Tom stories. In this episode, the most important information is concentrated down to these pertinent facts: We met when my friend and I took guitar lessons at the same place he did, we all hung out together for about a year, he developed an unrequited crush on me, it got awkward and ugly, we settled on the "let's be friends" thing, and about a year after I moved away from home and started college, he came to study at the same school, only to pop up at all the wrong moments, and tell people various outrageous lies about the state of our "relationship". Nowadays, they may have called it stalking.

Tom was a force of nature. He was omnipresent. If I happened to be talking to someone, and most specifically talking to a guy, Tom would quite literally LEAP out of the shrubbery and hurl himself in my general direction, put his arm around me and say to the startled guy I was talking to, "Hi, I'm Tom, and I see you've met my fiance." He didn't seem dangerous, just mad as a hatter, and not entirely occupying the same reality as the rest of us. That, combined with his, uh, interesting sartorial sense and his habit of stuttering and occasionally drooling (I'm not exaggerating), made for quite an interesting show, and was cramping my style with the fellas, as you may imagine. It's funny now, and it would've been funny then, had I not been already fairly creeped out that he had made his college choice mostly based on the fact that I was enrolled there, and that this sort of thing happened with increasing regularity.

My meeting up with George around campus was beginning to happen with increasing regularity too, especially since I had figured out a few of his regular hangouts and had noticed when he would be at them. There was the study hall on the third floor of the same building that I did my work-study financial aid indentured servitude, and I would find excuses to sneak down and "bump" into him there as often as I dared. I guess I dared a little too often, because sometimes he very politely made excuses to get back to his studying, but only after I had chewed his ear off for a while. Oh, and there were the campus offices where all the student organizations had space, and I knew which one he might be likely to be hanging around in, and just happened to be around when their group's meeting let out.

Of course, there was always the best time of all, the major prize of all crushdom - the possibility of walking him out to his car in the parking lot. On Thursdays, our classes ended at the same time, and I nearly always bumped into him walking out to his car. So I walked a little faster than usual to get from my building far from the parking lot, and maybe it was fast enough that some people might even call it running. I was always sure that the panting had stopped by the time I happened to bump into him (only to find that my panting start all over again when I caught sight of him). He usually seemed happy to see me, and he kept up his end of the conversation all the way out to his car. I just couldn't figure out why, on Thursday, the traditional party night, I could never get past the conversation part to the, "Hey, wanna grab a burger?" part with him.

Luckily, and extraordinarily, Tom didn't pop up when I was talking to George, until quite near the end of the semester. I saw George outside the library, and didn't even have to run to catch up with him. He was obviously making his way out to the parking lot, which would mean a relatively long time to walk together, rather than the usually short, "Uh, sorry, I've got to get to class" kind of meetings. It was unimportant to me that I was actually heading into the library to do some desperately overdue research, because my crush was walking by, and the research could wait a teeny bit longer.

George seemed preoccupied with something when I first greeted him outside the library, and mumbled something about having to get home. I didn't even have time to reply, because seconds later, Tom appeared next to me, draped his arm around my neck and said, "Darling, aren't you going to introduce me?" Since nothing subtle seemed to get through to Tom, I didn't even attempt to be overly polite when extricating myself from his hold, I brusquely introduced them, and then said, "Sorry Tom, we have to go," and walked off with George.

You might have had to see Tom in action to truly appreciate the moment, with his Prince hairdo and his psychedelic psycho clothes, but George was sufficiently intrigued to seem to enjoy asking me all about this Tom person all the way out to his car. I happily obliged, excited to note that George seemed more interested than he had during our last several meetings.

We made it out to the parking lot, and I continued the Tom story. As George stood there listening, with the car door open between us , I kept yapping about how weird Tom was, and how I felt sorry for him, since he obviously wasn't getting the hint that I didn't want to be with him. And I went on to say that it was awkward, since basically he was a good person and I didn't really want to hurt his feelings, but I didn't know how to get him to understand that I wasn't interested.

I summed up my tale of how pathetic and blind Tom was acting by saying to George, "It's really kind of sad that he can't see that I'm just not interested in him that way, you know?"

Oh, dear reader, you already know what's coming next.

After a whopper of a pregnant pause, George, with the most sad and sympathetic expression on his face that a kind man ever mustered, gently said, "Yes..... I know."

And then in a split second that seemed to last twenty excruciating years, I knew, too.

I don't even remember what I said to him just then, right before beating a hasty retreat from the parking lot with tears of shame running down my face. Tom and I, kindred spirits after all.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Broke Out The Candy Cigarettes

Um, er, about that last post...



Sunday, January 11, 2004

Blue (Not In The) Mood

I've always been private about sexual matters. Hell, I've always been private about even crushing on someone. What if I confided in someone that I liked a boy, and then he didn't like me back? It felt like there it would be, my unrequited crush hanging there like a stained sheet on the laundry line, for all to see. Oh no, can't have any of that. My shame and humiliation battle constantly with self-esteem and happiness all day, every day, and usually the former two have the edge. No need for me to give them any ammunition.

Well, I told you all that as a prelude toward discussing something decidedly private and embarrassing. (Stop rubbing your hands together like that, or at least do so discreetly. I've being vulnerable here.) If you are feeling queasy right about now, and fear that I may just venture into the realm of "too much information", you should probably go look at a site likethis fluffy kitties page, a friendly, this porridge is just right! website right about now, because this is the last warning you get here.

Okay, now that Sister Mary Francis is gone, the rest of us can talk. See, things have not been, shall I euphemistically say, "looking up" as far as when J and I have embarked on post-operation bedroom experiments. Before the operation, barring illness, exhaustion or certain indelicate female conditions (aHEM), we never seemed to have any problems whatsoever, both being enthusiastically willing and able, and pretty damned compatible in this area. And the doctors and WebMD and every pamphlet we read all mentioned that a certain period of , er, "downtime" is to be expected after removal of the prostate, even after the most successful nerve-sparing procedure by one of the best doctors in the country, on a relatively healthy young man. It wasn't like we were worrying about it, as this was all normal under the circumstances. We were just being patient and working around it, resourceful little rabbits that we are.

After some encouraging signs of life, we were feeling pleased with his recovery. And the doctor seemed pleased with the stories of J's progress too, but also felt that some pharmaceutical incentive for J's friend was in order, to speed things along towards normalcy. J was presented with a prescription for the well-known, excruciatingly oft-spammed about little blue pill. I don't need to name it here, as you all know the one. And if you don't, just read one or two of those emails you've been getting slammed with, with subject lines such as these: "Pleez ur girrlfrend." "Enlaarj ur sausage." "Get biggr N bettr!"

The anticipation was great on both our sides when he called and told me that he had filled the prescription. We giggled on the phone like conspirators, and cleared out schedules for that evening, hoping for the best possible results.

Well, maybe we should all have read that spam and bought some of this stuff, because DAMN, those pills really do work. After a little encouragement, there was little to indicate that there had ever been an interval of trouble. Things sure looked back to normal.

Uh, for him anyways. Maybe I needed to have taken one, too.

What the hell was wrong with me? I had so looked forward to that evening, as I secretly hoped that this would help him with his self-esteem, as much as anything else. And I looked forward to having things be back to normal for us, because let's just say that there were certain things I missed and leave it at that. But as much as he was up to the challenge in a major way, I was finding that I was not responding in the usual way, not even a little. I was so nervous about how things were going to go, that I could not get in the mood, no matter how he tried, or how I wished it so. Jesus, after all this, and now I'm broken. (Deep sigh).

We chalked up the evening as a qualified success, now at least knowing that the promised effects are just as they claim, and the rest will hopefully fall into place. Now that I know that things are looking up, and I don't have to worry about how he'll feel if it isn't successful, maybe I can relax enough to get back to being myself again, too. I'm hoping, because it would be so nice to just be back to normal. I'm not looking for porno-ish Tommy and Pamela escapades, just normal, fercryinoutloud!

Friday, January 09, 2004

We May Be Alcoholics and Wackos, But Dammit, We're No Axe Murderers!

Drunks and crazy people. That pretty much sums up a ridiculously high percentage of my close and extended family members. And if they aren't drunk or crazy themselves, then they marry someone who is. It's pathetic and funny all rolled up into one big sweet and sour tasting treat.

For example, my uncle was a lovely man, but he fell into both of the above categories. When his first marriage busted up, apparently he went off the proverbial deep end, and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for a little rest. After that, he spent years hiding out from his ex-wife and dodging his child support, which is ignoble behavior in my book, and was wholly uncharacteristic from what I knew of him later in life. Nevertheless, for his own reasons, that is how he spent part of his youth, and during that period of time he remarried one of the most inbred, hillbilly pieces of trash you'd ever want to know.

Hillbilly Wife was so incredibly ignorant, that when my uncle and she came to visit in the '70's, and my father took them into New York for a tour, she asked of the subways, "How do they keep alluh them people from suffocating down there?" and she remarked, all wide-eyed and in full voice at an intersection in a convertable car with the top down, "Oh my GAWD, will ya lookit alluh them (insert N-word slur for African Americans here)!" It's a darned good thing that convertable was fast, that's all I heard about the ending to that interlude.

Anyway, it wasn't enough that my uncle had seemingly recovered from his mental problems only to hook up with the intelligence and grace-challenged Miss Hillbilly, but she was also a golddigger. This particularly charming personality trait showed itself occasionally, as in the time they came to visit while I was in my late teens, and Aunt Hillbilly made several comments about how she and I should go out looking for some rich guys together. Naive me, at the time, I thought surely she was joking!

A few years later, my uncle was enjoying a beer and watching tv in his robe, when the doorbell rang. When he went to the door, several officers with guns drawn greeted him. They claimed that they had a phone call complaining that a man was trying to kill a woman with an axe in the house. He was looking at them all like they were speaking another language, trying to figure out what the nature of the mix-up was, just as Aunt Hillbilly popped out from another room, yelling and carrying on about how she needed to be saved right then and there, and couldn't they see that he was trying to kill her?

I would've loved to have seen the look on my uncle's face when she popped out with that story! Even the cops looked at her like she was full of it, but my uncle had to leave the house for the night anyway.

Well it turned out that the reason for all of this was that Hillbilly finally found the Sugar Daddy of her nightmares, and wanted an excuse to divorce my uncle, so she could shack up with Sugar Daddy from the next block over, who she was already having an affair with. "Well, why didn't you just say so?" was my uncle's reaction when he learned the reason, since he had long before tired of the opossum stew and corncob pipe lifestyle with her. So wife number two was out of the picture, leaving my uncle more time to drink at the Amvets and meet wife number three.

Fun epilogue to the Hillbilly story: Sugar Daddy apparently was Poison Granddaddy, and a few months after their blissful union, was convicted of sexually molesting his own grandchildren. Sick fucker. They were a match made in hell, don't you think?

There's more to his story, but the point here was to give you a small sampling of the gene pool from whence I hail, and their terrific taste in mate material. His story was nothing compared to some of the other winners, but we'll get to them all in due time.

You know, just the other day my therapist said that she and I have to work on some of my self-esteem issues. Oh, you think? Where do you suppose they may have come from, hmmm?

Sunday, January 04, 2004

A Whiter Shade of Grey

I woke up and he wasn't in bed. I lay still for a moment and listened to hear if he was in the bathroom, or perhaps couldn't sleep and was surfing away on the computer, but I heard nothing but the normal hum of the heater and a birdsong from somewhere far off. It was a grey time of the morning, too early for him to be awake unless something was amiss, so I weighed my options. Roll over and go back to sleep? Go look for him? Maybe, but would he think I was snooping on him if I went to find him? After all, we had stayed at his place, and as comfortable as I was there, I always made sure not to overstep what I thought were reasonable expectations of privacy. It must be said that my ideas of what his expectations of privacy should be are almost always much greater in scope than what his requirements are, and he has sometimes looked at me quizzically and shaken his head when I explained that I hadn't done such-and-such so as to not invade his privacy. At any rate, I puzzled over whether to mind my business, or nose into his.

As I weighed and measured, a paranoid thought crept in: What if he's chatting online with that woman again? The one that found him through Classmates.com, and who had been one of his teenage girlfriends. Then it occurred to me for the first time since it first came up, that it bothered me that he was emailing and occasionally chatting with her online. Is it because they'd been chatting for a few weeks before he mentioned it? Is it because he went out with her so many years ago? God, I hope that's not what's bothering me, because that's just stupid. Is it because he said that she's a single mother with a handicapped child and is unhappy in her job and social life? Bingo.

That tidbit set off an inner alarm, an instinct that told me that although she lives a few hours away, here is a woman who is unhappy in her current life, and is digging back into the past to find people from a time where her life was simpler, and presumably happier. What could fit the bill better than a teenage J? Was she hoping that he would be the person he was, only all grown up now, and he'd come and sweep her off her feet and like those old Calgon bubble bath commercials, come and "take her away"? Much worse still, what was he getting out of these chats?

As all of this sudden anxiety swept over me, I was practically holding my breath as I strained to hear the tappity-tap of typing from the other room. I was letting my imagination get the better of me, and I was ashamed of myself.

To be fair, he wasn't hiding their correspondence from me, nor flaunting it or making a big deal about it in any way. It came up in a rather matter of fact way, one day as I woke from a nap on his couch. He was typing away, which he usually doesn't do, and he offhandedly mentioned, "Oh, I'm talking with this woman who I knew in high school. I got online to get email and look around, and she "I-Med" me>" He told me the rest of the story later. There was nothing in his manner that day or since that should have made me start oozing this sleepy paranoid fantasy. As a matter of fact, his family came over his place during the holidays, and he brought up some photos she'd sent him by email on the computer to show them. Many years ago, she'd been on a family vacation with them, and his family all loved seeing her snaps from their day on the beach. There was one of J that I loved, where his long, appropriate-for-the-times hair was being blown up and around his face like a great lion's mane, and he struggled with a beach umbrella, wearing nothing but jeans shorts. I noted to myself that he still had the same slim body as now, those familiar arms and long fingers, but, as he joked, he now has far less hair.

So, what about this correspondence made me worry? Was it that I was jealous that she got to know the teenaged him, and I never could? After a certain age, it's absurd to expect that your boyfriend hasn't had other loves in his life before you came into the picture, and it's sillier still to be jealous of other people for having shared his life when you weren't even a glimmer on the horizon. So then what is this all about? Perhaps it's something that I feel deep down in my gut, an instinct about her borne from personal experience, having once been a lonely, unhappy woman. This woman didn't seek him out just to send him some old pictures and reminisce about old times. She's fishing for an escape from her misery, and is casting her net into the past instead of the present. Is this my paranoia speaking? Perhaps, but I'm trusting my gut on this one. J does not seem to be looking upon this as anything but a friendly correspondence, but my instincts say that this woman is up to no good. And maybe he even knows that, deep down, or wouldn't he have mentioned it before several weeks had gone by?

I was driving myself crazy, lying in his bed sleepless, so I got up to get some answers rather than lie there stewing and conjuring images of potential emotional infidelities. But before I was through the doorway, I could see that the computer was off and the chair in front of it empty. Then I saw him, curled up on the couch, with the blanket that I didn't even notice was missing from the bed. The way he was curled up was the way he does when he's cold, so I got another blanket and ever so slowly and gently placed it on top of him. Unfortunately, I wasn't gentle enough, because I woke him with a start.

"Jesus Christ!" he gasped, before realizing it was me standing over him. "Was I snoring again?" I asked, and he very sheepishly admitted that my stuffy nose noises were what had driven him to the couch. I apologized for being so noisy, embarrassed for snoring, and secretly embarrassed for so much more. He said, "Oh, it's okay," as he smiled and wrapped a big paw around my calf. He was so sweet, and I felt so silly for conjuring up all of these reasons for his absence. I bent down and kissed him on the forehead, and went back to his bed to sleep for hours more.

He poked his head into the bedroom just as I woke up, and told me that he'd made me some coffee. We spent the morning and a better part of the afternoon loafing in pajamas, listening to music, talking, fooling around and laughing. Finally, we decided that rather than going out to eat dinner, we'd go to my place, because I had a lot of leftovers in the fridge, and a good idea of how to make them into a quick, delicious feast. We watched the DVD he'd gotten me for Christmas, and snuggled on the couch, as the grey cat and the black cat took turns jumping onto the couch for petting and attention. J rested his hand on my leg while I rested my head on his shoulder, trading comments on the concert we were watching and the various musicians' performances.

As he helped me clear the dinner dishes, he made a particularly harsh comment about someone. When I asked, "Do you think they are really that bad off?" he said, "I was talking about me." I swung around to judge from his face whether he was making one of his usual self-deprecating jokes, but he looked unhappily serious. Without hesitation, I said something to the effect that he was being too harsh, and that it wasn't a fair observation, and listed three reasons why. He thought for a moment, then smiled warmly and said, "I have to admit that I like that, the way you become incensed whenever someone dares criticize your boyfriend...even if it is me doing it." Again, I flashed back to my early morning worries, and thought as I hugged him hard that I know what he's about. I know the man I'm with. Just because some woman miles away may have designs on him doesn't mean that he's going anywhere. We have a good thing going, and he knows it.

Later, he was finishing reading a magazine article in bed, and my back was hurting a little bit, so I turned over on my side, facing away from him, but with my butt pressed up against his side, so he knew I wasn't ignoring him, just getting comfortable. As I turned over, I realized that I was inadvertently tugging on the sheet under his arm in such a way that it was jostling his arm, and the magazine was bobbling back and forth, making it impossible to read. "Oops, sorry!" I giggled as I flipped over, and he asked, "For what?" I turned my head round to look at him as I explained, and he grinned and said, "Oh, for this?" and exaggeratedly flailed the magazine back and forth. Laughing even harder, I said, "Yeah, for that", and he laughed too, and teased, "Well, the joke's on you, because the longer it takes me to finish this article, the longer the light's staying on!" Then he affectionately hugged my foot with his grey socked feet, and I fell asleep, smiling to myself about our interlocked feet.

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