Seeing Other People

It’s not you, it’s me. I’m sorry, but I’ve been cheating on you, personal blog. I met someone else, and her name is That Fecund Feeling. Take a look…ain’t she purty?

Fecund

 

http://www.ThatFecundFeeling.com

Yes, this is where I’ll be writing from here on out. Please, please, don’t cry. I’ll still see you in my dreams. Forever and ever amen.

 

Goodbye.

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Spoiler Alert: Teenagers Get Sad

When I was 19, I would put band-aids on my wrists. Three or four on each. I’d stack them up, giving the illusion that something expansive and horrific was lurking underneath. But there were no cuts, no bloody wounds. I was fine. With my sleeves rolled up ever-so-subtly, I’d go out with my friends, waiting for the moment for someone to go, “Oh my god, what happened?” Only for me to respond, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” This was the most obvious cry for help in the history of woe-is-me behavior. I could have worn a shirt emblazoned with “I’M SAD, PLEASE TALK TO ME ABOUT MY SADNESS,” and spared myself the cost of boxes of padded latex.

What’s perhaps more pitiful is that nobody ever asked about them. I received one sarcastic, “…and Leathers over here is cutting himself,” and that was the end of it. No one was going to take the bait, so I stopped, having convinced myself that I was just being whiny. Given that I had already earned the nickname “Whinyberg,” this was an easy conclusion to reach. But looking back on it, that was most definitely a mistake. This was fucked up behavior. I don’t believe I would have seriously hurt myself – mostly because I’m an enormous coward – but the ideas had a way of seeping into my head.

That’s all they were, though: ideas. Thoughts a lonely person has. Thoughts that lead to things like spending your birthday crying in an Applebee’s bathroom, upset over your friends’ lack of decorum in the finest of dining establishments.

Things like driving around neighborhoods late at night, jumping train tracks at unsafe speeds. Stopping to slash a tire on a random car, for no reason other than it felt completely justified. These people, in their two-story model homes, had found success. They had earned their luxury cars. And then there was me. A quasi-privileged white guy who had freshly earned the standing of academic suspension, being unceremoniously kicked out of college. They needed to feel loss — it was only healthy for their emotional growth. Obviously.

This was the tipping point for what kind of man I would become. I could talk to somebody, begin to understand why I was unhappy, why I was acting like a complete dipshit; or, I could submit to the idea that I was forever insufferable and live a life of unrealized potential.

I chose the latter.

At the time, I was unaware there was a choice, or that one had been made. In fact, I was under the impression that life would cure itself. Getting back into school was a thing that would magically happen; the girl I was dating would be there no matter how poorly I treated her; and my parents would support me until I qualified for social security (roughly, 2045). This was an inoperable case of naivety.

I spent the next several years floating through my days. Life was what you could call, “asi asi,” which is the only thing I remember from 6 years of spanish classes, further proving how little effort I ever put forth. I was, however, no longer putting on a vaudevillian show of sadsackery. No more bandages, no more crying in public. I suppose it was enough to be in school (community college) and have a handful of friends who seemed to appreciate my presence. Besides, I had that safety net made of loving girlfriends and moneybag parents that would never disappear.

My twenties, on the other hand, dissipated before I had a chance to say, “Hey, where do you think you’re going? Oh, into the history books at the Bag of Shit Hall of Fame? Sounds about right.”  To give myself some credit, and not just polish my plaque at that mythical hall of infame,  I did eventually finish college, even earning a graduate degree in the process. Aaaaand to immediately snatch away that credit, by the time my flawless academic career was over, I found myself at 29, making minimum wage behind a cash register. Unrealized potential, indeed.

Here’s where this story, that has no doubt made you want to take a nap, begins to serve a purpose. My point is not to publish my diary for all to read (actually, my LiveJournal from 2003 is already there, if anybody feels like killing me). I don’t want you to feel sorry for my past, because I certainly don’t. Everything I went through – the nights alone, the feelings of isolation – happened to lead me to this point, to how I’m feeling right now. And how am I feeling, you probably said out loud just now? Well, again, I’ve found myself crying. But this time, I’ve never felt more loved, more worthwhile, more proud to be who I am.

I’m 32-years old. 13 years removed from that December night where I mocked the genuinely suicidal.  13 years removed from a time when accomplishing anything besides watching a Jim Carrey movie 25 times felt like an impossibility. I’m 32-years old, and for possibly the first time, I feel like I’m someone to be admired.

This past weekend, I ran a half-marathon. 13.1 miles. “Big deal,” says every athlete ever. To that I would respond, “Yes, you have lovely abs and admirable buttocks, but please let me have this one thing.” This one thing, this two hours on a Saturday in Baltimore, feels like a do-over on that tipping point in 1999.

As short as four months ago, it seemed insane that I could find the dedication to finish a race of that distance. Running for more than five minutes at a time was comparable to seeing your great aunt Lucy naked. I, personally, don’t have a great aunt Lucy, but I bet all the great aunts Lucy in this world are ghastly sans clothes. Whether it was lightly jogging for 300 seconds, or walking in on an octogenarian in the tub, I was going to end up puking.

I set a goal that appeared insurmountable, and in the end, I made it seem downright easy. Instead of saying, “That’s out of my reach,” I actually moved forward until I was choking that goal until it tapped out. What I’m trying to say is I’m basically an MMA fighter. Basically.

All those years ago, I refused to understand why I was unhappy. It was just par for the course; whatever will be, will continue to be. Today, I understand that a part of me will always be cynical, easy to give up if given the chance. Once you recognize that part of your personality, you understand how to shove it down back into the hole. It’s my zombie self: it’ll never die, but I can bash it in the face with a shovel until it stops moving for a bit.

And I think that is my awkward advice for all the glum chums out there: just keep swinging away with that shovel. Take your shots and get to running. Get some distance between you and that rotting corpse. And, perhaps more importantly, you don’t have to do it alone. You never have to do it alone. Without the amazing support system that rah-rah’d me from training through the finish line, I could have quit months ago. These are people I did not want to let down. They believed in me, even when I didn’t. Find your support group. Whether it’s a running team or a licensed therapist, just find it. I had to silently suffer for years until I felt some form of victory. Today, I find myself living in New York City. I have an amazing job. I’m surrounded by people that understand my faults and care for me anyway. And I just ran 13.1 miles. 19-year old me is smiling.

And if I hear that any of you spent your birthday crying greasy tears at a Fudruckers, dabbing your eyes with a potato skin-soaked napkin, I’m going to be furious. Don’t make me hit you in the head with a shovel.

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Flight Attending My Own Funeral

When you’re unemployed for a lengthy chunk of time – let’s say, over six months – your brain starts to wander as far as your “career goals” are concerned. No longer are you waiting on that perfect writing job – instead, you’ve started to look into the eyes of the bodega cashier with a jealous intensity. How’d they get that cushy gig? Who’s their father? Nepotism has taken over the Fifth Avenue Stop n’ Shop.

During the heart of the recession in 2009, I was one of those people, resorting to calling the Better Business Bureau on places that wouldn’t take my resume. I wasn’t completely desperate, as I never took a job that required a hair net, but I was applying for gigs that wouldn’t have crossed my mind a few months before. Five a day, that was my rule. I had to apply to at least five jobs or the day was wasted. Security guard, mailroom clerk, dental dam tester, puppet dry-cleaner, human yoga mat: done, call it a day.

But my favorite job posting that eventually rejected me, out of what had to be hundreds, was for a flight attendant position at Southwest Airlines. I will always remember applying to this, because I audibly said, “This is how my life will end,” without a drip of irony. Not that I could never see myself flying the not-so-friendly skies, handing out double scotches to business-types, but working for a company that herds customers like alpacas with head injuries? No, thanks.

Shockingly, I never heard back from the always-reliable folks at Southwest. This was actually manna from heaven, because I would have taken that job and slowly turned into a self-loathing lesbian in a vest and high-rise chinos. I mean no offense to all you nice Vesties out there, but it just wasn’t my destiny.

But what this story presupposes is, maybe it was (h/t, Eli Cash). What if I was supposed to become that high-flier with a bleached updo? My life’s course was headed down its intended path, but something went awry. Maybe a recruiter with a severe nut allergy got caught in the crossfire of an impromptu bag o’ peanuts fight at the office, which we know happens almost daily at all major airline headquarters. My resume was at the top of her pile, only to be discarded when she never recovered (R.I.P. Lady I Just Made Up).

Let’s just say, for the sake of this flimsy premise, that she called in sick that day, or hadn’t run out of EpiPens. How would I have blended into that world? Would it have been an easy transition? Would I have lasted more than a month? What’s that? We can find out right now with a poorly thought-out scene? How lucky!

DEATH OF A STEWARD
A ONE-ACT PLAY BY MATTHEW LEATHERS

INT. BOEING 737 – DAY

We’re on a cross-country flight to Las Vegas. The cabin is completely full, bursting with people ready for a weekend of fun, sun, and buns (i.e., butts). Matthew the Steward is preparing the drink cart when a passenger calls out.

DRUNK GUY:
Hey, stewardess!

Matthew hears, but ignores.

DRUNK GUY:
Stewwwwwwwwardess!

Ignores further, growing annoyed.

DRUNK GUY:
I seeee you, Stewardess. Bring those tight slacks over here.

Matthew turns around.

DRUNK GUY:
Stewie, stewie, steweeeehoolly shit! She’s a dude!

DRUNK GUY’S FRIEND:
Still want to hit that, bro?

Drunk Guy pauses, notices Matthew’s dainty physique, pauses again.

DRUNK GUY:
..Hell, no, bro! I like tits. LADY tits.

DRUNK GUY’S FRIEND:
I also love tits!

They high-five, letting their fingertips linger for a second.

DRUNK GUY:
Com’ere, stewardess bro.

Matthew walks over, teeth clinched in a dead smile.

MATTHEW:
How can I help you, sir?

DRUNK GUY:

I see you working the booze cart there. Not that I was checkin’ you out or nothin’, because I love tits – LADY tits – but could you do us a solid real quick?

MATTHEW:
(hesitant)
What would you like, sir?

DRUNK GUY:
You see those two broads at the front? The ones with the bangin’ backends?

MATTHEW:
You’ll have to be more specific.

DRUNK GUY:
Jesus, bro! You blind? The ones with the asses that satisfy the masses!
(turns to his friend)
This guy’s balls ain’t dropped.

The friend shakes his head sadly, staring at Matthew’s crotch, as if to say, “et tu, brute?”

MATTHEW:
Oh, THOSE two women. The ones with the butts you like.

DRUNK GUY:
Yeah, go give them a shot of Jäger, tell ’em it’s from the Poon Patrol back in row 18.

MATTHEW:
Sorry, but we don’t have any Jägermeister. Anything else? Glass of wine, maybe?

DRUNK GUY:

NO JÄGER?!? You hearin’ this, bro? This shitbox airline ain’t got no Jäger!

DRUNK GUY’S FRIEND:
(shaking head)
It’s Obama’s America. We’re just livin’ in it.

(30 seconds of silence)

DRUNK GUY:
(sighing under his breath)
Obama’s America.

Matthew turns to leave, thinking the conversation is over.

DRUNK GUY:
Whooa, buddy, these gals still need to get filled up with panty dropper juice. You gotta any Jäger Bombs?

MATTHEW:
Sir, there’s still no Jägermeister on board this aircraft.

DRUNK GUY:
I heard ya, buddy. I asked for a Jäger BOMB. Your brain on the fritz? That’s a whole different drink   from the Red Bull Corporational Institute.

MATTHEW:
Sir, please don’t yell “bomb” while on the aircraft, and we still don’t have any products of any kind with “Jäger” in the title.

DRUNK GUY:
(grows angry)
Hey, watch yer mouth, Peggy Pantsuit. What do I look like to you….a turban-eating terrorist?

MATTHEW:
No, no, I meant nothing of the sort, although I don’t think terrorists eat turbans. I apologize. Let me get some Pinot for the ladies at the front.

Matthew goes back to the front to pour the drinks. He turns around to find the man standing in front of him.

DRUNK GUY:
Gimme them drinks, Sally Strap-On. I don’t trust you to get the party started. I bet you never even been to Cabo Wabo and partied with Sammy Hagar. While I HAVE, and it was AWESOME. The Red Rocker even said hello to me, said, “You’re standing on my foot.” It. Was. Epic. You look more like half-a-gal that couldn’t crush a shot of ‘quila without yakking in yer purse.

MATTHEW:
You’re probably right, sir. Have fun serving five-to-ten for sexual assault.

DRUNK GUY:
Dang right, I’m right. I’m always rig….what’d you say?!

MATTHEW:
I said, “Have fun in Vegas, I hope you win five-to-ten grand.”

DRUNK GUY:
Ahhh, yeah man, dang right I’ll break the bank. I saw that documentary “Rain Man” last night. Dude could count cards like nobody’s business! I’m just as smart as that bro, for sure.

MATTHEW:
I could tell right away, sir. Have a good trip.

The plane lands. Matthew goes to his hotel and jumps off the balcony, screaming “DEAR GOD, MAKE ME A BIRD, SO I COULD FLY FAR, FAR AWAY FROM HERE.” He dies.

Fin.

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The Music of 2011 Made For Whiny White Guys

10. Release the Sunbird – Come Back to Us

Release the Sunbird is a new project from Rogue Wave frontman Zach Rogue. It was kind of strange to hear he was putting out a “solo record” when Rogue Wave is pretty much just him and a bunch of hired musicians. He perhaps felt a change of pace was needed after the last two Rogue Wave albums faltered (Asleep at Heaven’s Gate, Permalight) in my, and pretty much the world’s, opinion. He diverted from the lo-fi folk of Out of the Shadows and Descended Like Vultures by oddly attempting to gain mainstream attention with arena anthems and dance tracks. Nothing seemed natural, every sound was forced and out of place. So, is Release the Sunbird a return to “form?” From the first listen, I’ve enjoyed every sunny note and harmony. Come Back to Us is a summer record that keeps you warm all year round. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but I love it when my favorite musicians remind me why I followed their careers in the first place.


9. An Horse – Walls

An Horse is an unabashedly twee pop rock duo from Australia. Sometimes you just need power chords and “bummer, dude” lyrics. Kate Cooper’s longing comes through with needed charm and earnestness, escaping any sense of maudlin immaturity. Her apparent speech impediment is also borderline adorable/grating. Basically, this may not be everyone’s bag, but it hooks me immediately, mostly because I’m a 12-year old girl in a Pixies t-shirt.


8. Original Soundtrack – Drive

I don’t believe a soundtrack has ever made my prestigious* year-end list, but this needed to be included, based solely on the fact that it turns me into a psychopath when I listen to it. Wait, hear me out, that sounds weird. When that first song hits (“Nightcall”) and the synths kick in, you’re immediately reminded of the feel of the film — that 1980’s Skinemax look of neon colors and sexy bass. It’s not campy, though, it’s honest-to-god art at a high level. You enter the world of mute getaway drivers who fall in love with sad ingenues and crush skulls with their boots. You know, that world. The world of a psychopath. You understand that I’m not crazy now? Hope so, you guys.

*not true


7. Lisa Hannigan – Passenger

Passenger is Lisa Hannigan’s second album and it builds on the oh-so-delightful Sea Sew. I first discovered her (just like every other person alive) when she sang supportive vocals with Damien Rice. There was always this feeling that she was a hidden talent in plain sight, but I couldn’t have guessed she would surpass Rice in talent and relevance. Passenger is a complete work full of soaring melodies, quirky folk, and lovelorn ballads. She’s also the cutest human person alive, as seen in the below video. That helps a tad.


6. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

I made last year’s list about a week before I discovered Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I still regret this, a year later, because it would have been my number one choice, guaranteed. No offense, The National, but that record is amazing. Hell, it should be at the top this year by default, because it’s had the most cumulative listens by a wide margin. So it was an easy transition to switch over to Watch the Throne. It felt like a clean continuation, since Jay-Z guested on several tracks on Fantasy. It’s not as much of a game changer, but it’s grandiose and full of hooks that won’t leave your head for days. Plus, it boasts the track of the year:


5. The Elected – Bury Me In My Rings

This album caught me by surprise — not because of how great it is, but because there was talk that The Elected were no longer making music. Blake Sennett, formerly of Rilo Kiley, had started the band as a way to showcase the songwriting that had become increasingly rare on every new RK album. Jenny Lewis was dominating every track, despite the fact that Blake was showing himself to be a strong writer. Then she put out two great solo albums (and a real shitty one with her boyfriend) and Sennett had been cast into obscurity. Luckily, someone convinced him to keep writing and now we have Bury Me In My Rings, a fantastic work full of obvious allusions to past friends and lovers. From “Go For the Throat:”

“Now you’re doing all right, and you just left the rest behind.”

Sennett, as shown in the two previous Elected albums, is incredible at crafting sunny, California pop with dark undertones. I literally jumped out of my seat when I saw this album was coming out, and it did not let me down. Here’s to more incredible music.


4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

This album never had a fair shake. My love for For Emma, Forever Ago is irrational. It’s embarrassing, actually, how much I want to make that album my lovely wife. I need congress to pass legislation that allows idiot guys to marry sounds. Let’s work on that, Boehner. So, this sophomore effort, no matter how great, was always starting behind the 8-ball. On its own merit, it’s quite the accomplishment. Justin Vernon expanded on For Emma by adding new instruments while somehow maintaining the lo-fi, hushed sound. If this were his first effort, it might have been number one based solely on “Beth/Rest,” the song Steve Winwood dreamt about writing during old man naps. Too late, a-hole.


3. Wild Beasts – Smother

Wild Beasts are a difficult band to recommend, because it’s definitely an acquired taste. They’re sometimes bombastic, other times overtly sexual, and lead singer Hayden Thorpe’s voice is part-falsetto and part-growl. It’s theatrical and at moments ridiculous. But the melodies, the layers of guitars and sounds, are undeniable. After multiple listens, you reach a level of intimacy not found before. There’s a moment on “Loop the Loop,” when the sounds build up and crash together, that never fails to give me goosebumps. I can’t promise you’ll have the same sensation, but that’s why I enjoy Wild Beasts as much as I do; it feels like a personal relationship, something not everyone can experience. I guess I’m just a selfish dickhead. The aforementioned moment can be found at 2:14 below (sorry, couldn’t find a link to embed).

“Loop the Loop”


2. Wye Oak – Civilian

Another girl/boy rock duo on par with An Horse, but no offense intended toward the Australians, Wye Oak is the far superior group. With Jenn Wasner’s husky and soothing vocals, her sudden distorted bursts of expert guitar work, and Andy Stack’s drums and synths, Civilian is an ethereal work that sounds like an epic crafted by a dozen people. It makes me feel feelings, in between breaking and uplifting my heart. See the titled track:

“I still keep my baby teeth in the bedside table with my jewelry. You still sleep in the bed with me, my jewelry, and my baby teeth…..I wanted to love you like my mother’s mother’s mother did.”


1. The Antlers – Burst Apart

Speaking of feeling feelings that make you feel. This album, oh, this album. Non-stop heartbreak. Moments of loss, desperation, and insecurity abound in forty-one minutes of sonic catharsis. From the moment “I Don’t Want Love” begins and “Putting the Dog to Sleep” ends, you find yourself at a loss, not sure if this epic bummer is healthy or soul-crushing. It’s the entire reason I listen to music: to stir up emotions that were previously stagnant.

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A Letter to the 7 Eleven Employee Who Gave Me Extra Potato Wedges

Dear Night Manager Greg,

I understand that you felt that you were doing me a favor when you “gave me a few extra” potato wedges with my order. You certainly didn’t have to be considerate. If I were in the employ of a convenience store, I would go the extra mile to not create smiles on the faces of strangers. You are the bigger man. And here therein lies the problem: you’re trying to make me your bigger man apprentice. Literally and figuratively.

I had already shamed my family — generations of pale, thin-framed Anglos — by deciding to get dinner from your store. I live in Brooklyn, where one could literally find anything to eat if they were willing to put in the effort. You want Ethiopian? No problem. Vegan tacos? Definitely. Freshly maimed alpaca? Yessiryoubetcha. It’s all around, the world is your oyster, a freshly shucked bucket of them. So it takes a certain type of asshole to walk into a 7 Eleven and get genuinely excited to see fried foodstuffs mildly toasting under a red lamp.

“2 for $2? Is it my birthday? I’ll take twelve, good sir!” I squealed with delight.

I suppose you could sense my enthusiasm, not that it wasn’t bursting at the seams, like so much pants. You proceeded to pluck the finest of Corn Dog Rollers© with the delicacy of an obstetrician extracting a newborn from a mother’s netherest of regions.

You selected the MVP of Buffalo Chicken Go-Go Taquitos©, giving a quick wink in my direction, which I gladly accepted and etched onto the tablet of my heart.

Then came the potato wedges. Oh, the potato wedges. They were the Arc de Triomphe of my order, the Starry Starry Night of my appetite, there to satisfy in ways only God Himself could understand. There’s a reason why you’re in charge of this corner store, obviously, because when you saw me light up like a hot-air balloon when you reached for the potato tongs, a knowing smile graced your lips.

You thought to yourself, “This guy works hard, with his pressed slacks and slouched shoulders. He deserves your kindness, Greg. Pay it forward.”

I watched eagerly, like a puppy peering at a bowl being filled on a countertop, as you continued to pile wedges into a tiny box.

“Is that one going to fit? Oh, I hope it does,” I thought, knowing full well you’d make the room.

One-by-one you placed those bountiful spuds upon their brethren, going on for what felt like hours. And as you closed the lid, I felt an odd sense of relief, like there was just too much beauty surrounding this infinite world for one man to handle.

You clicked it shut, looked deep within my shaken eyes, and said, “I gave you a few extra,” like I wasn’t already keenly aware of your good grace.

It was at this moment that I felt loss, a deep sense of longing that had never before entered my soul. What else had I been missing all this time? Why did it take 31 years for me to witness an act of authentic compassion? Did I deserve what was just given to me? So many times have I passed those on the street that very blatantly needed my help: homeless families, lost dogs, ladies with brand-new haircuts yet to be complimented, babies in need of cheek pinchings, etc.

With these questions buzzing around my feeble mind, I could not enjoy my expertly prepared meal. Every bite felt greedy, full of the tears of the less-thans. Not to mention the grease that was burning the roof of my mouth. That didn’t help.

I spent an hour trying to choke down the last of those wedges, dabbing the moisture from my eyes, and the oily substance congealing on the corner of my mouth. It was a humbling experience. The kind that leads men to madness or monasteries. If I wasn’t a sex addict, the latter would have found me.

So explains the reason for this correspondence. You need to know that your actions have consequences, good intentions or no. I don’t want this information to lay heavy in your mind; this was not my goal. Simply, the next time a simple-minded sort walks into your store, maybe skimp them a little. They’ll be subdued by these actions, maybe even respect you for them. Also, you’ll delay their heart attack/diabetes by a few days. Their children will thank you.

You’re great at your job, Greg. Possibly the best to ever do the work. I’ll speak of you to future generations, making you immortal.

With respect and heartburn,
Matthew

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The Green and Gold Show – A Green Bay Packers Podcast

My friends started a podcast in response to their everlasting dedication to the Green Bay Packers. It was not their original intent to have me as a regular contributor, as I am not a fan of the team (or of any team, for that matter), but I was sitting on the couch when they were recording it, so they didn’t have much of a choice. This podcast is predominately about the Packer games, so don’t come in expecting an hour of me doing my spot-on Angela Lansbury impersonation (I’ll sneak it in occasionally). Mostly just listen if you like us and want to hear our lovely baritones from hundreds of miles away.

The Green and Gold Show

So far we’re two episodes in, so there’s two free hours of not doing work at your shitty accounting job! And, yes, the URL is misspelled. Public high school educations, that’s all we can say.

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Ok, Cupid, I’ll Hear You Out

My first dalliance with internet dating took place in Cincinnati – it was a spur of the moment thing, incited by a recent break-up and completely reasonable realization that I was going to die in a empty room, surrounded by half-eaten nachos and ferret corpses. We met at a coffee shop, shared a sandwich and a few laughs, and parted ways after a brief hug. She was perfectly pleasant, just not my type. You know, the type that laughs like they’re having an asthma attack and has a dead tooth. That type. Still, it was a cordial affair – no murders took place – and it certainly didn’t turn me off to the idea of future online adventures.

To me this was a sign of growing maturity. My social anxiety has always been a meddlesome thing. It’s by no means crippling;  it’s more like that smoking habit you just can’t break, a nuisance that prevents you from a healthy lifestyle. You know it’ll hurt in the long run, but it’s oh-so-easy to let it continue. Sure, I could go out and enjoy the world, but maybe I’ll just stay in and watch Sportscenter for five hours. What could I possibly miss? Oh, I don’t know, maybe meeting the love of your life? No big deal.

This lingering “What if?” feeling never really went away, because I routinely refused to do anything about it. But now, after this one afternoon with a stranger, I had discovered a possible way to become visible to the world, albeit through the internet world, which still counts for those keeping a figurative scorecard in the game of life.

It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I made a concerted effort to meet people online. It made sense, given that I was relatively friendless and a little (extremely) intimated by the millions of people meandering about within the five boroughs. A friend recommended a site (a free one, the most important kind) where he had found varied success in meeting like-minded folks. After signing up I quickly discovered that the stigma against online dating doesn’t really exist in NYC. You know the stereotype – that only the hopelessly unappealing and horribly disfigured (read: fan fiction authors) open dating profiles. Now, granted, I’ve written my share of Paul Blart novellas (Paul Blart: Supercuts Stylist is a personal favorite. Will he save the day from the dastardly aftershave thief? Such suspense!), but I’d like to think I’m modestly appealing – a solid 6.25/10. I’m no Thomas Selleck, but that’s setting the bar unrealistically high.

But there’s no need to worry about appearing like a monstrosity in New York – it’s a different breed, a place filled with nomadic people searching for other itinerants that love to wax poetically about how wonderful the city can be. Everyone needs everyone, and it doesn’t matter how you come across each other. Plus, there are so many weirdos wearing bandanas as underwear on the subway that you’ll look downright Quigley Down Under-like in comparison. This calmed down the nerd within me, no longer in fear of being exposed (as a rabid Selleck fan? Also true.).

I didn’t contact anybody at first – I mostly just looked around, i.e., window shopped for humans, to place it in a more John Wayne Gacy, Jr.-ish light. I needed to understand the process before I jumped in completely, screaming, “Hey, you, let’s get together and talk about our album collections and possibly touch mouths!” Immediately it became clear that most people are looking for the same things: they like to have a good time; they really hate it when people confuse your/you’re and their/there/they’re; and they’re really into witty conversation. Who knew, right? This whole time I thought people lusted after illiterate dullards. I’ve been going about it all wrong.

I received a few messages here and there, but nothing from somebody that made me immediately think, “This gal is not only super cute, but she appears to be a real person and not a Russian prostitute.” It wasn’t until a picture of a pale young women covered in platinum blond bangs popped up to say “Hey”  that I felt like taking a step forward. Nothing in her profile seemed off-putting, no warning signs went off. She was like me – a recent Southern transplant looking for someone to join her on big city explorations. I responded with some simple questions and bad jokes, as I am wont to do, and expected to hear back in a few days. Then a window opened up on my computer screen. It was the site’s chat program, something I normally disabled due to its ability to make me go, “OH GOD NO GO AWAY GO AWAY,” but this time I had forgotten to click “sign off.” It had been only a few minutes since I sent the message, so this girl was really gung-ho about becoming my friend. This should have been clue number one that something wasn’t quite right.

After calming my heartbeat down to Terror Alert Level Yellow, I decided to respond. Nothing out of the ordinary – it was friendly chatter about the city, the awkwardness of the online world, etc. Eventually she cut right to the chase, “We both live in Astoria, would you like to have a drink?” This was on a weeknight around 9pm, AKA, clue number two. But I was in the city and actively looking for adventures, so it didn’t occur to me that a last second blind date on a Tuesday night wasn’t something sensible people do. I was overcoming my irrational fears by behaving irrationally. Made total sense at the time.

I agreed that it was a grand idea, but had to admit that my knowledge of decent nightspots was still non-existent. She immediately came back with, “I have a bottle of wine at my apartment – do you want to just to come here?”

Clue. Number. Three.

But when presented with any sort of opportunity to not exist in a public place, my mind goes, “Yes, please, and thank you.” Not only was I avoiding flop sweat in a crowded bar, but the wine was already accounted for. Dry palms and a full wallet? Yes and yes. Thankfully, she didn’t care that I was so blatantly lazy and cheap. That should be a good sign for me, yes? I was so over-the-moon about my luck that I didn’t fully understand the next question:

“Are you green-friendly?”

Do I care about the environment? Do I recycle? Is my carbon footprint under control? I mean, I suppose so. I don’t own a car and my apartment building has mandatory recycling. This 21st century progressive woman was just making sure I wasn’t an Earth destroyer. No big deal, other than clue #4 open-hand slapping me in the face.

With my own personal brand of naivety, I had believed this would be a genuine “first date,” only at a more private location. We’d exchange pleasantries, order in a dinner of some kind, share a drink and (hopefully) decent conversation, and I’d be on my way at a gentlemanly hour. This is something I’ve come to realize about New York: the upper case, by-the-book “First Date” doesn’t live in Pleasantville anymore. No one wants to share a phosphate and a licorice whip, Lady and the Tramp-style. They want to get to business – not, like “I’m going to rub my body against yours,” but a more to-the-point, “let’s not do anything fucking boring, you fucking boring fuck.” My Tobey Maguire-looking ass was going about it all wrong.

I showed up at the address, bottle of Riesling in-hand (I had a sudden guilty feeling about not contributing), and called to be let into the building. No answer. I dialed again. Nothing. Was I being pre-rejected? Did she suddenly realize that this was an insane thing for a woman to do? Part of me was relieved. I’m all over the easy way out when things get strange, so I turned 180° and prepped for a solo night of way-too-sweet wine drinking.

In a case of not-s0-perfect timing, my phone rang at the exact moment I entered my apartment, post 20-minute walk.

“Where are you?” she said in a slightly indignant tone.

“I was at your building, but you didn’t answer my call.”

“WHAT? So are you coming back?”

She sounded a little shaky, like she was moments away from tears.

“I mean, I can, but do you really want me to come?”

I was hesitant not because she sounded unstable, but because I’m lazy and was not about to walk another mile for no reason.

“Yes! I’ll wait for you downstairs,” she exclaimed, like it was Christmas morning.

I took this in a complimentary way. She really wanted to meet me. My dating profile was obviously off-the-charts amazing. I was in demand. Worth the effort. Obviously.

A brisk trek later, there she was sitting on the stoop: a petite, nothing of a lady, with the skin tone of someone with a severe sun allergy (that’s a compliment, I think). She was cute, a crooked smile similar to mine rose to greet me. I was relieved, because she was a real person who was attractive, and not a Nigerian prince with a ponzi scheme. I could tell that she was relieved as well, but it was more of a, “finally, dickhead,” kind of solace.

She interacted with me like we were lifelong friends; no hesitations, no awkward hellos, just a, “Come in! Say hi to my cat! Let’s have a drink!” So, with that, we went inside, I gave the cat a rub, and opened up the bottle. Her apartment was a good size for a one-bedroom in Queens, so she had to have a decent job, or was a living Dickens protagonist with an unnamed benefactor paying her way. Even with its size it was a little cramped: tons of books, LPs and potted plants lined the floors. There were empty wine bottles across the coffee table, and, most importantly, the entire place smelled like B-Real’s recording studio. Was this lady also insane in the membrane? I was for sure out of my mind. “Are you green-friendly?” How did I not know what that meant? In my pitiful defense, it’s just not part of my culture. I had only smoked two times in my entire life, and even then I didn’t really enjoy myself. I was more curious than anything.

But now I had been invited to get drunk and high with a pretty stranger. There was no escape now – I had to save face and entertain this person. Not that I couldn’t have crept out while she was in the bathroom, but my stingy manners wouldn’t allow me to do so. It was nearly eleven o’clock, so dinner was an afterthought – we were immediately taking the ferry to Lose Our Inhibitions Island.

At first I stuck to strictly wine, as I wasn’t going to get high with a random person. Not for moral or safety reasons, but because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. The previous two times I dabbled? I feel asleep within 20 minutes after rubbing my body up against a couch. So, no thanks, beautiful, I’ll stick to the substance that just makes me smile a bunch.

Our chit-chat was relatively normal – what do you do, how long have you been here, what are your hopes and aspirations, blah blah de blah. Then the “truth” started to drip out. Genuine personalities took shape.

“I could have been a singer, you know. I’m, like, really good. Listen…”

She began to serenade me in between drags of a cigarette.

“Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock, and sweet you roll. Lost for you, I’m so lost for you. You come crash into me…”

Internally, I’m screaming, “Is that the goddamned Dave Matthews Band?” Externally, I’m grinning ear-to-ear. I can’t believe how odd this night has suddenly become. I don’t want to leave. I just want to drink and get high. A Dave Matthews Band fan? I’m shallow enough to not care what this person thinks, based solely on her shitty taste. You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.

The first bottle of wine was gone, the first joints were complete, and I was currently five seconds behind real life.

“Yeah, I was married for a little while,” she said, after no lead-in question.

A few beats passed. I said nothing.

“Just didn’t work out. He went crazy. He’s homeless now, living on the streets of Austin. Probably shouldn’t have gone off his meds.”

My eyelids were so heavy that I considered falling asleep instead of having to actually respond to that statement. Instead, I blurted out, “Yeah, probably a bad choice on his part.”

She inched closer to me. I was slouched at a nearly horizontal level on the sofa, catatonic for several minutes. Moving was not an easy task; my body was made of concrete. She was not to be dissuaded.

“If you’re into it, I have some pills we can take. I found a doctor who’s totally cool. He’ll give you anything you need.”

Even in a state of fierce inebriation, that was an eye-opener, a truly terrifying thing to hear.

“No, thanks. You can if you’d like, I’m in a good place at the moment,” I replied, hoping beyond hope that she wouldn’t actually indulge. The last thing I wanted to do was take a ride in an ambulance and have a conversation with a cop, obviously.

This was really happening, right? Was I spooning with a pill addict I met on the internet?  The devil on my shoulder, who rarely gets a time to shine, screamed out, “This is really happening and I’ve got a boner!” I gave him a tiny high five, and proceeded to make out with this person on her cat hair-covered couch.

This lasted, at most, five minutes before I passed out. What she did after that, I haven’t the foggiest idea. She could have pranced me down Astoria Boulevard, Weekend at Bernie’s style, for all I know. My hope is she fell asleep, but someone of her experience probably just stayed up and stared at my body, whispering, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, cause we’re tripping billies.”

Next thing I know, light is shining through the windows and I have a person on top of me. My head is made of pudding and the angel on my shoulder is shaking its head, saying, “A high-five? Really.” I looked away in shame, and just tried to go back asleep. But sleep wouldn’t come. I was too unnerved. I poked at her face. Nothing. I rolled her a little bit. Nothing. One full-blown shove later and I was free. She was dead weight. Being the considerate soul that I am, I checked to make sure she was breathing. Yup, still alive. Bullet? You’ve been dodged.

I collected my things and did my best to remove any trace that I was ever there. Maybe she would come to think that I was a mirage. She was probably prone to hallucinations, the odds were on my side. The walk home was truly humbling. Not that any passersby would know of my secret shame. It was twenty minutes of pure, unadulterated self-loathing.

“This is why you don’t meet people online! What if she had stuck you with a needle? You could have the bug, son!” I irrationally thought to myself.

I told nobody of this experience; just that I had been on a date and it had not gone well. A few days passed before she contacted me.

“Hey, we never finished what we started,” read her text. I didn’t respond. A few more were left unanswered before she sent, “I blew it, didn’t I?” This was mildly heartbreaking. I sent back nothing more than, “Yes.” And that was that.

It is my sincere wish that this woman eventually found somebody that wanted to get lifted with her on the reg. Someone that can fully appreciate a “cool doctor” and his/her usefulness. Mostly, I just hope that she isn’t dead. If you’re reading this, then you’re not dead. Good to know.

You would think, as a reasonable person, that this was the end of my online adventures in the city. Well, you would be wrong, as I am a romantic idiot, and no drug-addled disaster will sway me from that namesake. Several more dates were to come, because there was no chance they could go any worse than this first one. Or so I thought.

*check back in six months for the next story, as it took me several months to finish this one*

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