Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Dating Manifesto - Part 1

Dating in New York City is a bit of an endangered species these days. The days of meeting someone, asking for their number, and then eventually engaging in courtship are mere memories. While I think the rest of the country is gradually saying goodbye to dating, the geography and lifestyle of New York City is sending dating as we know it to an accelerated death.

For anyone who has ever looked at a map of New York City it would seem that everyone who lives in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, or the Bronx (we don’t include Staten Island) would be within a short drive of dating each other. But in a city where over 50 percent of the people take public transportation and almost nobody owns a car, nobody is a short drive from anybody.

People in the city tend not to date anybody who lives more than 2 trains away. In other words, if you have to transfer trains more than once to see somebody, odds are you are not going to date that person.
And for people like me who live in Queens, I am considered G.U. Geographically Undesirable. It’s like Manhattanites think I was outcast to Queens because I’m a polygamist or I have the Mutaba virus. In a city of 8 million people you can understand why traveling more than 15 minutes to see somebody might seem unnecessary. 

Sometimes when I tell people I live in Queens I feel like I’m telling them I live in Kazakhstan. The facial expressions alone are priceless. Usually people jerk their head back a little bit and say something like, “Oh… How do you like it?” They say this because they don’t want to say “HOLY CRAP WHERE IS THAT?!”
And I’m fine with that, because I love my place. I don’t have a roommate, and I can walk around with no pants on whenever I so choose.

My place is awesome. It looks like a man lives there and I TOTALLY want to be a man one day. But I do live in Queens, and while I have been told owning an apartment makes me a “catch” it’s kind of hard to drop that into a conversation with someone the first time you meet them. Certainly you can’t just slide it in without seeming like a complete a-hole.

Girl: Hey I’m Carly
 Me: That reminds me of this time I was paying my mortgage.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Just meeting people is really the hardest part. Those outside the New York City area might not understand. They might think since there are so many people, you must meet people everyday. And you do, but those are one-off interactions. You are not making friends every time you bump into somebody on the street.

The social set-up is such that you can’t really hang out with anybody without spending money. Friends typically don’t just hang out at each other’s apartments. Probably because everybody lives in a different corner of the city, or they have 3 roommates they can’t stand or because their living room is the size of a Bran Muffin. Most hanging out takes place at a pub after work or at a bar on the weekend. And that gets expensive.

Sometimes a friend will say to me “Hey Rich do you want to go get a drink after work?” But because drinks are so expensive in Manhattan, what they are really saying to me is “Hey Rich do you hate money?”
My answer is almost always yes. It is a necessary evil of New York City, and I have come to accept that because I love my friends more than I love being fiscally sound.

If you take into account the fact that most hanging out is taking place at bars and add the common opinion that you don’t meet quality people at bars, then meeting quality people becomes a fundamental problem.
While the people you meet in bars seem normal enough and may even be attractive, there is always one question that triggers the nuclear bomb of crazy to get dropped. You might ask them what they do for a living and you find out they run a rescue shelter out of their van for gay cats. Ohhhh, ok, no thank you.
So where are the attractive quasi-normal people?

There are so many beautiful women in the city, but I rarely see them out in the places I enjoy hanging out. I see them walking past me on the street, at the lunch spot, or on the subway. They just never end up at the same place as me during free time. No, I only go to places where you can find school buses full of obnoxious troll women.

It just doesn’t make sense because Manhattan has beautiful women in droves. Actresses and models prance through this city like its their playground. How come I can’t find out where they are hanging out?
Sometimes when I pass the beautiful women on the street I want to stop them and ask them where they are going. Not because I want to follow them in some creepy way (I kind of do) but I just want to know where their people go out. Like that meatpacking plant full of models on Seinfeld.

And though I may see a beautiful woman on a bench, or on the subway, the only people who talk to strangers in this city are either homeless or clinically insane. I on the other hand try to conceal my crazy.
So what can we do? What options do we average folk have? If we are not trolls and not models, is there some last resort for meeting humans in a city of anonymity?

Surely there must be.

To Be Continued.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Wedding

Now I could easily write about how a destination wedding on the coast of California was like a vacation from responsibility and all things remotely adult-like. I could write the ridiculous specifics about how nobody went to bed until after 1 am for four nights in a row, or how we as a group probably set records for alcohol sales in the state of California.

That would be fine and good, and I could probably make you laugh in the process. And before I left for this wedding, I was pretty sure that would be the story I would be writing now.

But I started noticing things over the course of the weekend. And those things were hard to ignore. Sure the wedding was a raging romp full of laughter and hilarity, but sitting in the airport waiting for my flight home I was noticing some thoughts I hadn’t really processed before.

Upon closer inspection of my particular experience in California, I realized that weddings are more than just alcohol fueled dance parties. Weddings are more like lenses. They are mirrors that reflect the aspects of our lives that might be harder to see had we not gathered all of our loved ones in the same place at the same time.
You see the childhood best friend, the parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents who were there for the formative years of the happy couple, and the people they choose to surround themselves with currently. All of it is a reflection of where they’ve been, and where they are going.

It need not be said that you don’t get to choose your families, but you do get to choose your friends. And just as children say a lot about the kind of people their parents are, the friends you choose aren’t just the people you enjoy, but also representations of the characteristics and traits that you yourself value.

I quickly realized that these people from Washington, Arizona, Indiana, and beyond were more than just guests. They were the actual fabric of the wedding. They were what I was most interested in. All those details that get so much attention before the wedding happens, well they are fine and dandy but they are just the icing on the wedding cake.

I’ll admit that having a wedding in one of the most magnificent parts of the country sets you up for an incredible affair. However, location can only add so much to your wedding. People are always looking at what they think are the important things at weddings. How is the food? Is the bar stocked with choice booze? Is this ceremony going to last longer than an episode of Seinfeld?

Those details that the bride and groom spend hours agonizing over end up being more about how the wedding looks, but they can’t change how the wedding feels. No, the feeling and the emotions of the wedding, those come from the people. And no prime rib, open bar, or seaside view can compensate for that.

Weddings help us view the parts of our lives that we love the most and those that we don’t understand. And destination weddings, those rare events where people come from all across the country, or around the world, are truly unique occurrences. It may sound corny to say, but rarely, if ever, will the bride and groom see all of those people at the same time again.

So every moment you spend with your guests takes on so much more significance. You try to squeeze every possible second out of your time with everyone. You realize that those stereotypical weddings with the electric slide and the drunken toast given by the best man are more theater than celebration.

It is far more moving to watch the brother of the groom struggle through his speech because he’s never had the opportunity to verbalize what his brother means to him. It’s far more emotional to hear a little sister discuss how she can finally pass on her title of “protector” because her big sister is in the hands of a man who will do the job for her.
Watching that emotion push its way out of us is so strangely cathartic.
Regardless of whether or not you cry at weddings, there is something so significant about hearing people crystallize their feelings for each other. Our lives are filled with nods of approval and half-assed hugs. And these feelings of affection live deep beneath the depths of our souls, often growing and swelling without ever having the opportunity to surface.

So when it comes time to look your loved ones in the eye and tell them there is no one like them, that the love you feel for them is something unequaled for any person on the planet, well, it’s no wonder people cry at weddings.

You can fake a lot of things in this life. You can talk all you want about who you think you are and things you are going to be. We can fake strangers into thinking we are doctors, lawyers, or the next American Idol. But it is wonderfully refreshing to see people just being themselves because they know they couldn’t hide it if they tried.

And that’s what weddings should be, a chance for you and the love of your life to invite those that mean most to you on the planet to come together if for only once, to share in an event that is both reunion and rebirth.
Throughout my time in college whenever I would talk to my grandfather he would tell me to study hard and make good marks. Then on the day I graduated college when there was no more studying to be done, and every time I’ve seen him since, he has said “Choose your friends wisely.”

As I barrel through my 20s, it is this advice that I hold closest to my heart. As more of my friends continue theirs paths into adulthood, getting engaged and then married, I’m sure there will be more weddings I will have the opportunity to attend. I’m sure all of them will be beautifully different in one way or another.

So in some regards, this wedding was epic. We laughed so hard we fell out of chairs, and we talked so much we were hoarse for days. But even more than that, seeing up close what it is like when a wedding trades in its spectacle and drama for laughter and love makes me hopeful that one day my friends and family will feel the way I did at Marissa and Josh’s wedding. Indeed, I believe it is all any of us can hope for.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Going to the Crappel

I was starting to hate weddings.

Granted I haven’t been to one since I had a My Little Pony sleeping bag (don’t judge me) and I’ll probably get Osteoporosis before I myself get engaged. But having coworkers who are almost exclusively women for the last 3 years, it seemed like every single woman on the planet was either getting hitched or heavily involved in somebody else’s process.

They would talk about it every possible moment. From shoes, to venues, to vows, to unwanted family, there was no topic that didn’t bring up some manner of wedding talk.
I couldn’t handle it anymore. And it wasn’t that I didn’t care about wedding planning… wait no, that’s exactly it. I just don’t really care about wedding planning.

And this isn’t some rant from a guy who is afraid of marriage. I am not opposed to marriage; I think it’s beautiful thing. I want to get married one day. And if I ever meet a woman who I can trick into thinking I am kind of a man and not just a fairly competent English speaking chimpanzee, I too will marry.

This is actually more about what the wedding planning process in and of itself has become. Like driving a car downhill towards a cliff, it seems things only get more terrifying the further you go. Everything that is supposed to be fun about the planning process seems to become awful. Weddings have turned into these elaborate circuses filled with 3 tiered tiramisu flambé meringue cakes and 40 piece Mexican Mariachi Frank Sinatra cover bands.

I think I speak for most guys when I say that the whole wedding planning process is a turn off. When it comes to my wedding (again, pending I meet a woman with a pulse and an IQ over 65 who can stand me) I’m envisioning something simple, inexpensive, and classy.

It would take place on a beach somewhere (free location) music would be provided by an iPod connected to somebody’s suped up Honda Civic. As for dinner I would get that free sample guy from the mall food court who always hands out delicious little pieces of chicken on toothpicks. I mean that’s all you really need right?
And if you really want to show up to my wedding go ahead. There are no invitations. Since my wedding is free it doesn’t matter how many people show up. But if you show up you still have to bring a gift. No cheapskates.

OK now that I’ve written that I realize I’m probably going to be single for the rest of my life. So it’s probably a good idea then that I am NOT in charge of weddings. I think it’s also fair to say that if my future bride ever reads this, the only wedding detail I will get to be in charge of will be what time the DJ plays “Shout” (which will be 9:47 pm on the dot by the way).

Anyway, weddings were all turning me off; I was completely disgusted just hearing the word wedding. In fact, even if you said bedding I might freak out momentarily before I realized you were talking about something I loved.

But all my frustration and disinterest changed when a dear friend of mine got engaged last summer. For once it was someone I actually cared about. My friend was getting married. I was invited to a destination wedding in California! I was overwhelmed with excitement, but I also noticed a very bizarre change.

Suddenly I was interested in the wedding planning process. I was curious about the food. What would be served? Did they know what kind of music they would play? How did they compile a guest list (I mean did they seriously think it was a good idea to have me attend an event full of strangers from the Midwest whom I would most certainly shock and appall)?

I had this weird feeling of… excitement? I think I was sounding more excited than my friend. But I was skeptical. She was wayyy to cool. I honestly kept waiting for her to breakdown. She was a woman wasn’t she? Isn’t that the rule in our society? That if you are a woman getting married you need to turn into what Socrates once described as a “Bridezilla.”

I wanted tears. I wanted rants. I wanted vulgarity. I wanted fire and brimstone. Hell hath no fury like a woman engaged. I kept calling her up and asking her questions expecting her to flip out. I imagined a conversation going something like this:

“Hey how’s it going?”
“Oh… wow… Having trouble picking a vegetarian dish?”

But it never happened. She kept her cool, so much so that I began to wonder if she’d forgotten some crucial detail. Like the wedding would start and they would realize they left the flower girl at the airport. (Thankfully for everyone, the flower girl was way too precocious to be forgotten.)

But the weeks marched on and before I knew it, it was time for the wedding. I couldn’t wait to attend a wedding for someone I loved and not grown to resent in the tiniest bit.

I was stoked with excitement. My anticipation for this event was otherworldly. It was sure to be epic.
But then I got to the wedding.

To be continued….

Monday, September 8, 2008

Signs of the Times

As a New Yorker, I have grown quite accustomed to signs throughout the city telling me what to do and how to live my life. Some of them are very important (Trains do not stop at this track) some of them are just plain confusing (No Standing) but they all carry some bit of value.
I realize it is important to read these signs. I read all of the signs that I see. It is because of this that I know that subway litter causes track fires. I always mind the gap, and I typically wait for the little white man to appear before I cross the street. I believe if someone took the effort to craft a sign to educate me about something, it is my duty to abide by it.
That is, until I went to visit my mother in South Carolina.
I was looking forward to a couple of days down south, a little golf, a little southern cooking, and a whole lot of relaxation. I fully expected to be seduced by the slower pace of life, and the southern drawl that infuses every word. And I was, but what I did NOT expect, was to be completely baffled by the signage. I guess when life moves that slow you can both dwell on insignificant details, and completely miss the important ones.
There are actually 2 signs in particular that can pretty much sum up my entire time in the swamps of South Carolina.
My first encounter was at a gated community of my parents’ friends. There is a small fenced-in pool for residents and their guests to use. It was a nice little facility that was quite empty when my mother and I rolled up for a swim. I am always curious how late things are open so I walked over to the pool rules to see what the last swim time was. Imagine my surprise when I saw rule number 6:
Persons with diarrheal illness or nausea should not enter the pool.
For me, if I have either of those things I typically don’t stray far from my favorite toilet. But I could understand their worries about small children leaving deposits in the pool. I guess nothing should be taken for granted. However rule 7 kicked it up a notch:
Persons with skin, eye, ear, or nasal infections should not enter the pool.
Isn’t this common sense? I know how painful it is when you get chlorine in your eyes, or water stuck in your ear. I can only imagine how it would feel if you had an infection. But the one that took the cake was rule number 8:
Persons with open lesions or wounds should not enter the pool.
Open lesions or wounds? OPEN LESIONS OR WOUNDS? Is this a housing development or a leper colony? Who the hell is walking around with an open lesion thinking to themselves, “Hmm, you know what would feel good right now is the incredible burning sensation of some pool chlorine in my exposed flesh.”
Come on. I am not sure if the pool manager once managed a pool for an amputee hospital or an STD clinic, but I did not feel some of his rules were needed.
I fully expected rule number 9 to say:
Persons with gout, scarlet fever, or the Black Death should also not enter the pool.
But it didn’t.
The other sign that had me wondering was a lot more cut and dry. It was on a local highway from Savannah back to Hilton Head, on a road that had more than a few creepy broken down trailers along its side. And then I saw it. On a big piece of white wood maybe 4 feet in width, written in black spray paint:
Really? That is your sign? Your entire business is comprised of people seeing your sign and then driving down a dirt road to your apparent “Shimp” stand. Don’t you think you would have taken at least a second glance at it? To be honest, at that point, it really doesn’t matter how amazing your product is, you could have “Magical Talking Shimp” if you cannot even spell the name of your product, it is going to put a serious dent in your drive by customer traffic.
It is not even the spelling mistake that gets me, because we have all stopped something in the middle, walked away from it, and then come back to finish it while forgetting a letter or a word. That is fine. But this did not appear to be a new sign. This sign had been hanging for a while. Literally thousands of people had seen it. The owner had to have seen it every single day.
He must have thought, “Well gosh, I spent 3 minutes spray painting it, and another 2 minutes nailing it to that tree… I couldn’t possibly spend 9 seconds drawing an R into there. No, I will just leave it and hope for the best.”
Hey, if it works for him it works for me. Just don’t expect me to stop my car to support the local economy. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to check myself for open wounds and lesions.