Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bling & Gratitude

When I moved to NYC, I vowed that The City wasn't going to change me.  There was no way that I was going to turn into one of those hard, jaded locals I remembered from growing up in Jersey.


It happened on a day when I was walking down Flatbush Avenue to pick up some Thai food.  It was a rare treat for a budget that was a held together by the kindness of friends who hadn't quit their jobs to be stand up comedians and a delicate balance of semi-fresh vegetables and ramen noodles at the local Key Food supermarket. 

A kid came up to me and told me a story about how he just got a job and couldn't afford to get back and forth to work until he got paid.  He was too proud to tell his boss; he didn't want the boss to worry that he'd be unreliable. 

I handed him my metro card with ten dollars on it, apologized that it wasn't more, and smiled to myself.  I was proud to finally be in a place to help someone else, even if it meant my walking a little further than a sane person would normally choose to walk.  As he disappeared into the crowd, I happily pictured his face and his leather baseball hat and his...diamond earrings???

I was pissed.

Even fake, this guy had more bling in his ears than I probably had in my bank account that day.  Why was I giving to him?!?  And then I got pissed at myself for the fact that I was getting so angry, I wasn't going to even get to enjoy the good energy and karma from feeling good about giving and helping someone in need.

I know, ridiculous, right?

And then it hit me, I’m not proud to admit that it was about a month later:  I was giving with the hope of getting something in return.  Even that good feeling, the appreciation, the gratitude, whatever it is, is an expectation.  I was trying to connect because I wanted, even needed, something from this person to feel connected.

Next time I’ll try to just give. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

In His Kiss

When I hear my mom talk about dating, I get irritated with my generation.  The 1950s invoke romantic notions of sock hops and dates to hamburger joints with no pink slime on the menu.  They also make dating sound easier.  There were dances and drive-ins and pins or jackets to wear to know where you stand.  I know I’m oversimplifying and I definitely wouldn’t go back to a time where people are not offered the possibility of alternative life-styles.  Our gains outreach or setbacks, but, in today’s world, it can be hard to know when you are on a date. 

I went out a few nights ago with a guy I met in a bar.  We met after a wedding and a little over three years ago.  We became friends on Facebook and haven’t seen each other since.  Every so often we comment on the other’s posts and we’ve exchanged less than a handful of e-mails over the years.  We weren’t really friends in the beginning, so, when making a plan, “catching up” is a euphemism for checking each other out.

I suggested a wander along the Highline as he suggested a walk along the promenade.  We’re on the same wavelength; it must be a date, it seems almost meant to be.  I got excited as I told my friends about this evening of potential, knowing that my standards are way too low when I get excited about finding a guy who likes to walk…in New York City.

Our walk leads to dinner and he insists on picking up the check.  Now that we’re grown ups, I’m okay with the guy getting the check, but it does add another element to the game of Clue we play while dating.  If he’s buying dinner, is there a chance he’s thinking this could lead to Professor Plum in the bedroom with a bottle of wine?  And, more importantly, as I’ll learn, am I interested in playing Miss Scarlet?

He hip-checks me out of the way as I type the information for our movie tickets into the kiosk, making sure he’s first to get that check as well.  As I go flying across the theater lobby, I start to wonder if this clue isn’t so much about me as it is about his desire to feel like the man.  He approaches paying for the activity like a competitive sport; my attraction diminishes as my investigation continues.

During the movie, the couple next to me talks and texts from previews to credits.  It’s a full theater, so I lean into my potential date.  He doesn’t move closer or further away.  No information to be deduced from that.

At the end of the night, 2 a.m., after the midnight show, we say goodbye.  We stand in Union Square as I thank him for the Anakin Skywalker action figure he brought me as a gift.  I’d mentioned having a crush on Darth Vader in one of our text exchanges before the possible date, so it was both a verification of his listening skills and a reason for him to be 20 minutes late to our original meeting place.  It was a cute idea, but, if I had to choose, I’d prefer no cute but random gift and not standing alone on the Highline watching the sunset by myself.

He was taking the 4/5/6 trains home and I needed the 2/3.  He stopped in front of his station.  I leaned in to give him a hug and he planted a kiss.  Trying to stay open to the quirky-ness of the situation, I kissed him back.  After close to six and a half seconds he pulled away, said, “Let’s do this again, are you free on Wednesday?” and sprinted to his subway before I could completely answer.

I walked the two Avenue blocks to my train, alone, thinking about the scale from providing to protecting.  In general, I’d rather have a guy walk me to my subway than fight for the check.  His kiss was the final clue, and probably meant it was a date in his mind.  But once I figured that out it didn’t take me long with the follow up question. 

Even though we don’t give out pins or jackets anymore, picking the right guy is still more important to the quality of the evening than picking the right label for the activity.  Perhaps in the future I need to answer the question, “do I like him?” before I even bother asking myself, “is this a date?”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Independence Day

It’s been about two years since I posted on my blog, this blog.  The one I started to keep myself sane while working in the restaurant industry in Aspen, Colorado (A-Town).  It started semi-anonymously, though nobody who knows me, or the players, would argue that I was really trying to hide anything.  The cover up was really just a way to keep my job and not get in too much trouble for telling tales about the chaos in which I lived.

Yesterday was Independence Day.  July 4th, 2012.  That may seem like a non sequitur, but give me a few lines to connect the two; I’m hoping it might come together.  In honor of the holiday, and in the spirit of independence, I am spending the month in New York City. 

A couple years ago, while I was writing about my bar experiences (up to a couple days ago, while I was slinging bait on my last few shifts), I had this romantic notion of how my life would be perfect, if only I could spend my days writing.  All day, every day, in a bustling city like New York, which is both 12 miles and a million lifetimes from where I grew up.

I’ve run screaming from this city more than once before, but still I felt/feel like it holds the key.  It’s time for me to dive back into the belly of the beast…and some of those stories might even weave their way into this tale.

So, I’m back online, declaring my independence and recommitting myself to actually working on, rather than just dreaming about, being a writer.  Okay, that sounded like something spewed from Dr. Phil on OWN.  I promise that this blog will maintain my voice and not devolve into some cheerleading, Stuart Smalley-esque, self help-y ridiculousness.  And, while all blogs have an element of self-absorption, I expect that if you are reading this, and you think I am veering too far into the area of me writing about me, what I think about me, and what I think you should think about me writing about me, I expect you to comment below.  Call me out.  I can take it.

I’m getting closer to where it all comes together…I hope.

I’ve left my job at the restaurant (temporarily?), but I still have lots of stories about my experiences that shouldn’t go to waste.  And I’m pretty sure that traveling around the country (and to Canada) to perform in Fringe Festivals will provide stories of its own (more on that soon).  So, this blog is still me, talking about me, and what happens to me…but now it will also be about my struggle to gain independence from the restaurant industry, my adventures in the world of the fringe and whatever else happens to catch my focus.  And I have a sort of date tomorrow night, so there’s that, too.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Heart Tourists

Editor's Note: this post was originally written on 11/13/09

Why is it that tourists are always better looking than locals? Not in an empirical way. On a scale of Welder’s Weekly to GQ, we have many men in our community that can compete with the models in both form and function. I’m referring to the continuum in my head. The one that tends to fall deeper in love once I know you’ve bought your ticket home.

I met a temporary resident a few weeks ago at Z-Tavern. It was the thick of off-season, so, when he and his friends came into my bar, it was dead. After one Jack & Coke, his buddy made them leave to chase the party. Off to the Meet Market, I’m sure. My departing line, a mixture of cocky and sass, was, “you’ll be back, I’m the most fun you’ll have in this town.” It worked like a bungee cord, pulling them back to my bar after a quick circle around A-Town, and fastening them there until 2 a.m. when the law and my desire for sleep forced me to gently push them out the door.

From where did this surge of confidence come? The fact that they are tourists meant that, if they didn’t come back, I’d never have to face them. There’s no pride lost with a stranger whom you never have to see again.

A new flirting style. A sexy combination of Cuban and Columbian heritage. A guy who’s never slept with (or even met) any of my friends. I’m not sure which piece pushed me over the edge, but I flirted back with agenda and agreed to drinks on Friday night.

“He’s not my type,” my mind tried to back out as I cleaned up the bar. The logician in my brain fought back, “if my dbeb*, the one I dated for almost two years, is my type, well, maybe it’s time to try dating against type.”

*dbeb – douche bag ex boyfriend (more on him later).

It should be stated here, for the record: I almost never agree to go out with drunk guys. My standard response is that I will never say yes while we have different blood alcohol levels, but that they are more than welcome to come back and make a plan sober. Finding me when I’m drunk might work, too, the most important part to me is that our alcohol levels are the same. The tourist tried to leave his card and I told him I wouldn’t use it. It’s a simple policy: you’re drunk, I’m sober, you come find me if you still want to go out when you wake up.

Seriously, who wants to be the girl calling up the guy who was so drunk he doesn’t remember hitting on her or giving out his number? I’m a female bartender in a mountain town, I’ve got to have some standards. And I’m not really that hard to track down, I’m in the same place you met me for at least four shifts a week.

I don’t feel like I’m being unfair. I make it clear that, if they do come back, I will say yes. Though, if one of them did actually come back and ask sober, I’d probably pass out from complete shock. I’ve responded ‘yes’ to at least seven local men in Smurf Village. Of the seven, zero have actually followed through on creating a sober plan. Zero.

When my tourist showed up for lunch on Friday afternoon, I was surprised. His follow through was disorienting, but he’s in a strange town where he doesn’t know anyone, he also has nothing to lose. His confidence was as sexy to me as mine earlier had been to him, so I stopped making up excuses in my head and resigned myself to the drink later that night.

Our first date was magical. He dorked out in all of the most fun and amazing ways. I told him I needed to make t-shirts and he pulled up art work on his phone and offered to do the drawing part. Okay, that was enough to win me over. I took him home and we drank wine, drew pictures and ironed them onto the shirts. It was the night before Halloween, so we also made him a T-shirt costume.

The next morning I woke up with a huge mark on my neck. A visual reminder of the kissing that followed the T-shirt project. Really? Thirty-seven years old and I’m still getting hickeys? Knowing he was finite, it didn’t irritate me the way it otherwise might have. I sent him a flirty text about the bruise and he showed up for our next date dressed as Dracula. An appropriately adorable Halloween costume, all things considered.

This crazy frenetic energy in the beginning of a relationship, where I’m so in-to him that I’m willing to overlook just about anything, only seems to work when I don’t know the guy, or anything about him. Quite the challenge in a bar where, on the average shift, I can tell you the name and vocation of eighty-five percent of my customers. And, as much as I love the optimism and fairy tale of the mysterious stranger, it’s a romantic notion that only lasts for as long as I get to fill in the blanks about who he is and what he’s like. Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t usually live up to the dream.

Not surprisingly, Dracula and I blew out quickly. Stella might have gotten her groove back with a local while she was on vacation, but it’s not a great way to start a relationship. If he’d left after the first two dates, it might have stayed the perfect memory, but who wants to long for a past that was all just possibility?

Every time I flirt with a tourist, I have to remind myself that just because we can all be perfect in the beginning, when there’s no pressure and nothing’s being taken too seriously, doesn’t mean that it’s the perfect relationship. And maybe, if I can muster up that sassy confidence with a guy I think I know, there will be a romantic stranger hiding underneath the surface of a friend. A friend whose real flaws I already understand and love.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Friend Ed

My friend Ed killed himself today, or, at least he was found today. I’m sitting in my apartment, alone, staring into space and trying to make sense of it.

It doesn’t make sense.

The last time I saw him he had a smile on his face. When I picture him he always had a smile on his face, but is that just my memory playing tricks on me? I knew he was sad. I knew things weren’t going well for him. I didn’t know he would ever be capable of killing himself.

It makes me wish I’d given him a big hug when he left the party where I last saw him. It makes me wish I’d hugged him until he felt it in his bones, almost testing the pressure of his ribs. It makes me want to hug everyone who is important to me like that, every time I see them, just so they know how much I care about them.

I found out at work, behind the bar, and, while the tears didn’t come, the bile did. I felt myself start to throw up and hid in the office. I swallowed, hiding my emotion, and my body went into automatic pilot.

I locked myself in the liquor room and called one of his best friends. A guy I really care about, and the first person who came to mind when I heard the news. “I’m so sorry,” I said in my voicemail message, and it was a loaded apology.

I’m sorry that I didn’t see it. I’m sorry that I didn’t react stronger to the things I did see. I’m sorry that my other friend has to go through the pain of one more person in his life dying on him. I’m sorry for the parents of my friend who died. I’m sorry for all of us left behind wondering how we missed the signs and for all of the people who are trying to show signs that none of us are picking up because we are too busy with the minutiae of our lives.

I asked a customer three times what he wanted to drink. He was nice about it, but as he patiently said “Crown and Coke” for the third time he must have wondered if I was part of the Wal-Mart greeters program at Z-Tavern. I tried to make drinks and would put each bottle down before pouring and forget where I left it.

The friend whom I’d called came into the bar and gave me a hug. I followed him outside and the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m fine.” I just looked at him. “I’m fine, really, I’m fine.”

We live in an area with one of the highest suicide rates in the country, when someone kills themselves we all look around and wonder: who’s next? You’d think life would be easier in A-Town and Smurf Village; we wear shirts that read “My Life is Better Than Your Vacation”.

Really, what could be wrong in our world? Perhaps it’s the pressure to be having fun always. Perhaps we attract adrenaline junkies and that’s the new rush they look for when they get depressed. Perhaps we self-medicate in ways that lead to poor judgment.

Edward Dow 1976-2010

Definitely, we self-medicate.

I see it during every shift and I do it when I’m down. People say it as they walk into my bar, “I just had a really crappy day, boy do I need a drink... or twelve.”

It’s a week later and I definitely drank too much a few nights ago; the night of Ed’s memorial. It didn’t make me miss him any less, but it did make me say and do things I wish I could take back. Things I can take back, or at least make an attempt to apologize for. That’s the thing about suicide, you can’t take it back. There’s no waking up in the morning and thinking “Oh my, what have I done?”

There are people who have a crazy-switch that flips after a certain amount of alcohol. I’ve watched it happen time and again where, in as little as one sip, a patron goes from happy and buzzed to the crazy place. We have one guy who even has a different name when he hits the crazy limit. His drunk name is “Duane” and his real name, like his kind and sober personality, is buried in there somewhere.

Ed had a switch that flipped. Sober, he was one of the nicest guys in the world. Drunk, it was hit or miss. Anyone close to him heard him say to someone whose buttons he was pushing, “Suicide is an option.” Was that a cry for help we all ignored? I always thought he meant an option for the other guy, though once I did send a police officer after him to make sure he was okay after he stumbled out of the bar, leaving a wake of angry customers. It makes me wonder if he was drunk when it happened.

I’m angry and I’m sad, but I’m accepting that it’s impossible to look at this in any way that makes sense to me. I can make up theories to explain it, but I can’t look into his brain. All I can do is hope that it was the right choice for him. And that he didn’t wake up somewhere else and wish he could take it back. They say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I hope they’re wrong. I hope that wherever Ed is now, he’s more at peace than he was here with us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Drunk Coworkers

Everybody has crazy co-workers, but, in a bar, fueled by alcohol, the insanity tends to burn like a powder keg. When you’re the only one working, an internal war wages about how to treat a drunk out of control patron, and the winning solution usually lies somewhere between a smile while politely asking them to leave (“I’ll buy you a beer the next time you come in, but now you’ve got to go.”) and a phone call to the cops. When that patron is also one of your co-workers, the balance is even more delicate.

I actually really like all of my co-workers, which hasn’t always been the case. I used to work with a guy whose entire existence revolved around getting me fired. I still work there and he doesn’t, so his efforts weren’t successful, but they did make for an extremely unpleasant working environment.

As is generally the case when someone fixates on another person, I think it had more to do with him and his hatred of women than it did with anything I ever did to him. He liked to claim I called him fat, and, even if it were true, I’d still think he was a pussy for whining about it two years later.

What I did say, after asking him to move out of the only entrance to the bar more than once so I could deliver drinks on a busy shift, was, “you’re not as skinny as you think you are.” I would have said it to Kate Moss. It’s a narrow corridor and with a bunch of drinks in your hand, two people don’t fit. He complained about it to our boss, who, instead of getting mad at me, started calling him “Tubby.”

A few nights later, he got really drunk and came into the bar with some friends while I was working. He went behind the bar and got his friend’s drinks and then tried, in his drunken state, to put his money into my register. One of the perks of Z-Tavern is that staff drinks for free, but, if it’s busy, the catch is that you should be the first person to get up and help. I have no problem with anyone getting their own drinks, but going into my register is another issue. Especially if you’re someone who has made no secret of trying to get me fired.

I told him to give me the money and tell me what he wanted me to ring in. He turned around and started screaming at me, repeatedly calling me a cunt. I didn’t call the cops, he was a co-worker and I hoped it would work itself out. Eventually he left and a week later he quit working at the bar when the owner told him that he wouldn’t fire me.

Had anyone else behaved that way and refused to leave, I would have called the police immediately, but how do you work together after you’ve had a police officer physically take someone away? What do you say? “Thanks for taking out the trash, how was the night in jail? ... I hear they have great food.”

A year ago, when he came in again and pulled the same drunken act, I had no problem dialing the non-emergency line and giving them his name and description. I even filed a report. I can be understanding about his motives, but I’d like the police to know where to start the search if anything ever happens to me.

Two years later, I’m still hearing about it. I used to take the high road and refuse to comment about the guy, but then I heard he was walking around telling people he’d punch me in the face if I were a guy. Pretty classy, eh? Especially since he never has to prove it.

I’m done with people saying they like both of us and don’t want to get involved. When he screamed at me a year ago, there were two men in the bar that I would have considered friends before the incident. They are both in the service industry and one of them was working behind the bar with me that night. They both stood there and did nothing while this man screamed obscenities at me. I honestly believe, and I hold myself to this same standard, that if your friend is out of control in a bar and you do nothing to help, you are just as much at fault.

When you work in a bar, you have to be careful how wild and crazy you and your friends behave when you’re there as a customer. We might not put on suits and ties when we go to work, but it’s still our place of business and there is a standard of behavior to which we should all adhere, especially when it comes to how we treat our coworkers, even if they aren’t also our friends.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Male Friends

I just spent the week working with one of my best male friends and I think it put elements of my dating life in perspective. Nothing like a great guy who loves you, but isn’t trying to get in your pants, to make you reexamine your criteria for a relationship.

We spent the week in Ventura, California, and the surrounding areas, working on a bike ride to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Our week was intense. We spent four full days together in a van that would make any soccer mom proud and two days moving signs around a parking lot. We also shared a room because we were working freelance and it’s cheaper. Two beds, nothing saucy, but there is definitely an intimacy that evolves when spending that much time together.

By the end of the week, we had our own language and theories on the world. Anyone whom we didn’t like was an “Oxnard,” no offense intended to the inhabitants of the town. “Shine-grabbers” take unjustified credit for someone else’s work, though it might be an interesting way to identify yourself on a business card. And any self respecting gay puppet should know better than to sport a mono-brow.

We covered the big stuff, too. His big concern for the week was whether it was lame to send his girlfriend flowers again. He’d been on two previous business trips and sent flowers to her office on each one. I met his girlfriend once over dinner and drinks when I was in Boulder (where they live), and I think she is awesome. I hoped I was giving the correct advice when I said “yes, it is always cool to get flowers at work.”

He made the call and felt momentarily guilty at how easy it was. He wondered aloud, “why don’t all guys do this?” Hmmm, interesting question.

My concern was my co-worker at Z-Tavern. I have a pretty big crush on him, but, in a line he stole straight off of a chapter heading in the book “He’s Just Not That Into You”, he’s “scared to ruin our friendship”.

Okay, I believed him. We were really good friends before the whole mess started, and getting involved is definitely driving us apart, but still I’m confused. Aren’t you supposed to be best friends with the person you date? Friendship is the foundation of a good relationship, so how can it also be an excuse not to move forward?

Sex is easy. It’s a basic biological act. Sure it takes some skill to do it well, and there are attraction and compatibility elements, but even fruit flies can figure out the sex part, it’s having dinner together after that’s tricky. Especially here in A-Town where anyone can walk into any bar and find someone with whom to have sex. You just need the right attitude, which definitely involves low standards and no expectations about where it’s going to lead.

I looked to my friend; the guy whom I’d bumped into close to fifty times as we walked through doors. I kept expecting him to keep going and instead he’d back up to hold the door open for me. He was raised well. I’ve read the book, I’ve seen the movie, but still I needed to hear it from the male friend whose opinion I trust more than most.

It sounds like Z-Tavern guy isn’t getting his act together, you need to move on.

Words I’ve repeatedly spoken to friends with boy problems, why couldn’t I see it myself? I know that you can’t change someone or fast track them to be ready for a relationship when they’re not, why was I making so many excuses for my Z-Tavern co-worker? We’ve got the physical part down, we were really good friends, if we can’t make the next step work, the reason why doesn’t matter. My head knows it’s true, but it’s just taking my heart a little while to catch up.

My friend held doors for me, made u-turns on busy streets so I didn’t have to run across traffic and cared enough to talk it out when the long hours, strenuous work and extended time together took its toll on our interactions. He sent his girlfriend flowers and he set an example for me. I’m not saying there weren’t moments when he drove me crazy, or vice versa, but we genuinely care about each other and our friendship, even when it’s not fun or convenient.

I live in a community where there are somewhere between three and seven men to every woman, it depends on which town and what season, but still we chant the mantra “the odds are good but the goods are odd.” Even with a random and incestuous pool of possible dates, I still think friendship is the cornerstone of a good relationship. I guess I needed to spend a week with an amazing friend to remind me that I need to raise my standards; for people I date and for people I consider friends.