Monday, October 15, 2012

And now, for your further amusement...

 Let me say, in all honesty, that I would feel a twinge of regret if my dear friend Spen ever knew that I wrote about her asking me to tell about my dating failures for the amusement of others in anything less than a jaunty tone. But, as with most of my tales, there is a darker side, a chiaroscuro that makes the light points that much more noticeable and visceral.


And actually, there's some therapy in the telling of my own sad tales. I truly hope someone laughs at them more than I am able to.

I will allow Spen's words from last night introduce tonight's account. We were circled around ice cream cones (topical, you will come to find) by a bench in Coolidge Corner, visiting with Wellesley girls I don't know so well but whose company I enjoy. I tell Spen that I had another mediocre date just across the street at the Regal Beagle. She begs for details, gets them, then opens the field a bit wider:

"Tell them about the stinky guy!"

'Twas the dog days of summer, when a girl hesitates to make a date on a school night because it's a wee bit hot on the subway and she doesn't want to look as disheveled and not-so-fresh as she feels. She makes the date anyway. Besides, the soon-to-be-christened Revere Beach date has been kind and patient and very persistent. Might as well meet the guy.

So off I go to Revere Beach, wondering where in hell we're supposed to meet. This is a recurring nightmare in online dating. Do you meet in the station? On the platform? Outside the turnstyles? Near a landmark? At the destination for coffee/drinks/etc? Leaning against a grecian urn with the last, rosy rays of waning sunlight glinting in your hair?

For lack of grecian urns, and for the sake of being as close to the beach for as long as possible, I chose the boardwalk; in particular, a sweet little bench by some rose bushes. I waited.

Text from dude: I'm almost there! (Bizarre posed picture of self in subway attached)
Text from JoBiv: Cool. I'm by the beach.


The phone rings. I hate the phone. I answer it because normal people answer phones and one should protect one's image of normalcy for as long as possible when one is meeting new people.

He's at Wonderland. He thought Wonderland and Revere Beach were the same thing. An odd thought, given that there's a T stop called Revere Beach, which... I don't even have to go into this, do I?

He gets on a train, travels one stop. Meanwhile, I look over the water and watch the full moon, wonder why I can never take a decent picture of it, how it never looks as big as it feels in my eye.

The man arrives, suddenly, from around the bandstand. The man looks mostly as pictured, and smiles as he evaluates me in a similar manner with a dissimilar conclusion. The man wants to exchange hugs. The breeze whips up and delivers a scent to my nose which results in a quick handshake and How-do-you-do.

The scent, I decide while in the ice cream shop, enclosed with it and forced to order ice cream as though having an appetite, is that of a hobo who not only urinates on himself, but over time comes to dry out his pants just to soak them a second, third and perhaps a fourth time. I find some distraction in the man's breath, which reminds me of a grease trap I once met at the bottom of the sanitizer at Starbucks. (Let us simply say, things could not possibly emerge sanitized with whatever was living in that trap.) I stop myself from warning the girl at the cash register. I stop myself from paying to curtail the horrible search for crumpled dollar bills from his various pockets and crevices. I stop myself, again, from interfering on behalf of the poor teenager who must handle the money. (I scold myself in silent anguish for weeks afterward, regretting my lack of action.)

I am enthusiastic about ice cream if only to distract myself from the scent of this man. I also think, maybe his slushie will wash out the sewage in his mouth. I think, perhaps this guy has some medical issue that affects his nostrils and he simply doesn't know that he smells. Maybe he did the Smell Test, and having been smacked on the head by an anvil at a tender age, did not register the foulness that emanate from his clothes. How sad. For me.

There was some air of martyrdom about me, I believe, as I sat and made small talk with this sweating, heaving, reeking man. I thought, "he's probably a good guy who doesn't get out much. He's intelligent enough, just socially awkward."

Then he said, "I think this is going really well. How do you think it's going? Do you like me?"

Hint to all mankind, for free from me to you: never ask these questions on a date, unless... nope. NEVER ASK THESE QUESTIONS ON A DATE.

And if you get this answer, "Oh, I kind of take my time to decide these things..." do not attempt to parse out the exact meaning of the response. MOVE ON. Or, wiser still, end the date.

All of the above admitted for evidence, you should know that Stinky Dude was sort of loveable in an orphaned kind of way. If I had met him with a plate of glass between us, I would have entertained his comments a while longer.

Wait, I had done that. The plate of glass was my monitor. Hmm.

So, no more making of excuses, I realized as another powerful waft of peepee made it's way into my lungs. I had to end the date.

JoBiv: Yeeeeeaawwwn. I'm so tired... Time to get myself back to my home.
Stinky Dude: I must be boring you to death.
JoBiv: ...
Stinky Dude: Okay, well let's get ourselves to the train. Do you know how to get there?
JoBiv: You... came from there... didn't you?
Stinky Dude: Yeah, kinda.
JoBiv: Whuh?? Okay, whatever, it's this way.
Stinky Dude: Oh, I guess we're both going Inbound.
JoBiv: (Internally: MOTHEREFFER) We are?
Stinky Dude: Looks like you'll have to put up with me for a little while longer...
JoBiv: (Nervous laughter) Looks like it.

We board the train, which comes a little late just to taunt me, but then again there's more free air movement on the platform and I'm not relishing the idea of being stuck inside a closed space with this man. Once we do board the train, it does, in fact, remind me of working as a camp counselor and having to help a kid who lost his watch in the port-o-potty during the sleepover night. Less of the earthy scent of nature, though, and there was far better lighting on the train. I would have taken the flashlight and the latrine over the subway car, all things considered.

Stinky Dude: (Patting the seat beside him) Why dontcha take a seat?
JoBiv: (Looking for Ashton Kusher and his army of cameramen) Um... I'd rather stand.
Stinky Dude: Naw, you're wearing a leg brace, for christ's sake.
JoBiv: I'm much more stable with the brace on, actually.
Stinky Dude: C'mon, sit next to me.
JoBiv: Not gonna do it.
Stinky Dude: Why not?
JoBiv: Because... I'm stubborn... and don't like being told what to do.

Let it be said that I did not lie to this man, but did I do him a disservice by protecting him from the truth? How do you tell a guy, "You're only marginally attractive, and the aroma of an adult diaper isn't helping your game." A leaky diaper. A leaky diaper that someone else peed in before the current wearer pulled it on. A leaky diaper cured in a brine of... Okay, I'll stop.

The end of this story is swift and neat. I got off the train. I never had the guts to tell the dude he smelled. There were simply too many things to point out besides the smell, I told myself, that listing them would be cruel. Let his close friends (assuming he had some) give him the straight talk. I am not in the business of making over divorcees in leaky diapers, and there's only so far that whole Pygmalion thing will take you, really.

I told a shorter version of this tale, along with snippets of others. There are others, of course, and many of them are nearly as pathetic. I think Stinky Dude takes the effing cake, however. But, after the general murmur and laughter died down, one of the Wellesley girls looked at me thoughtfully.

Blonde R: Oh, it just occurred to me that since you're going on dates, you're not dating Sir Knight anymore...
JoBiv: (On the spot in front of strangers, hooray) Yeah, I gave him a list of the ways he didn't love me and he kinda agreed and that was that.
Blonde R: Oh. I'm sorry JoBiv.
JoBiv: Thanks, Blonde R. I think it's mostly a good thing. And after all, he was kind of a whiny bitch.
Blonde R: I thought maybe he just wasn't comfortable around your friends.
JoBiv: Maybe that too, but really... he was a whiny-ass bitch.
Blonde R: Well good riddance, then? You're better off without him, right?
Spen: You're more JoBivvy without him, that's for sure.
JoBiv: Thanks...?
Spen: It's a compliment.
JoBiv: I had hoped so.

Perhaps I am more JoBivvy this way, on my own and making people laugh at the daily incidents that churn my stomach and bring tears of frustration. It's far more JoBivvy to switch trains and find a corner seat where I can hide and hold myself and try not to cry, missing some life I keep trying to have. It's very JoBivvy to walk the few blocks home... I'm sorry, limp the few blocks home... full of self-pity and bubbling with tears and gazing at a huge moon that I can never capture in a photograph. This is the shading around all things that brings the glint of light into greater focus.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Self-imposed grounding and other meaningless gestures

I could easily force a causality between my mental health and the bedraggled state of my bedroom. There is some truth to that, realistically, but the topic exhausts itself rather quickly.

It should be simple enough to say that my bedroom is a mess, but why not indulge in detail? There are more books and sheet music than there are shelves to store them. I have three different laundry hampers (for three kinds of laundry: bedding, towels and clothes) and they are all full, and I have a collection of boxes full of mail I'm afraid to open alongside wedding gifts and baby gifts and Just-thinking-of-you gifts that I may never send. Filling in the cracks, there are sewing boxes, CD's, an old laptop that holds an archive of writing that may or may not be inaccessible, and somewhere in the morass a broken thumb drive that acted as the back-up for that archive.  As long as we're in the catalog of things I cannot throw away but should, there is also one Pooh Bear, one stuffed monkey, a small, red, generic stuffed monster, a collection of single earrings, various failed hairstyling products, and a very beat up 10 CD boom box that usually functions, but does not read burned discs. It's that old.

If my building were to catch on fire and I were forced to choose what to save, I would probably grab my bras (hey, they're expensive), my wallet, and not much else.

Knowing this, I thought it would be simple to clean my room. I told myself, "you were too busy before, spending all your time with Sir Knight, and couldn't keep up with the normal flow of things." And then it went something like, "You were too heartbroken over Sir Knight to move, so clearly the effort of cleaning was beyond you." And then, "It's beautiful outside. How could you waste this day in your bedroom?" And also, "You keep the shared spaces very clean, so it's okay if you live in a pool of your own cess."

Mostly I look around the room and think, "none of this is important. Or maybe all of it is important. In this state of mind, I should not be allowed to make decisions."

Then the first relief of a fall breeze whipped through the room. I was reminded of the ol' back to school hustle, when I would clean my room after the summer vacation, or unpack my dorm room, or move to yet another apartment. I've been here for at least six years, although I'm honestly fuzzy about the dates. That's six Augusts of not packing, not gleaning, not moving. True, my mother cleaned and rearranged my room when I had back surgery, but that hardly counts.

So this weekend I had enough of my brattiness and grounded myself to my room until I cleaned it, young lady!

I report that any visitor who might happen by my room would at least feel there was a floor to walk on, and that I could access my bed without hurting myself or others. The space is filled with clean laundry and thus the scent has improved. Art stuff has been stowed in the closet shelves and there are whole square inches of uncluttered territory on the top of my dresser.

I'm a little bit pleased. Another part of me wants to haul everything out and burn it, leave nothing but a mattress and a lamp and a suitcase of clothes. What is the point of things? Why have fancy dresses and high heels and make-up? For what party? Why save books I enjoyed but will never read again? Why keep books I will never read in the first place? Why have three black sweaters of varying shape and warmth? Why have winter socks? Why save the photo album of friends who are either dead or estranged? Why have nail polish? Why can I not throw away old calendars, paychecks, christmas cards, birthday gifts that never suited me? Why why why surround myself in battlements of mediocrity and past lives. Why force myself to feel heartbreak over and over as I come across another letter, a snip of ribbon, a half-empty journal, a mix tape, a broken watch...

Forget it. Put in some Sam Cooke and fold laundry and don't you dare think. Don't think.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

At least ten years and many moons ago...

We were coming in from Waltham, which I tried to pronounce with savvy and Britishness as “Wallthum” and was immediately corrected. There is a Ham in Waltham.*

Why was I in Walth Ham?  My best friend from Victor Senior High School was getting her business degree (and hangin’ with pote smockers and joining a performing arts frat) at Bentley College. They had a bus that ran into Harvard Square so the young’ns could get a taste of city life. We were on that bus and I was feeling intrepid.

Now, to be told you’re going to a big city and to be left on a curb outside an Applebee's would be disorienting to most explorers. Luckily, my anticipation was not at all dampened since I come from a town small and safe enough that I never had to learn how to use a house key until I moved to college. Did you even know there’s a learning curve for turning a house key? I was on the embarrassing end of it. I hope this helps you imagine the utter culture shock of spending time in places that had a dense enough population to necessitate mass transportation. In my narrow world, only really seedy people or kids going to community college who refused to live with their parents rented apartments. It may be true, and I hope it isn't, that you can own a trailer park in Victor for the price of renting a studio in Cambridge, Mass. Renting was horribly shameful in my town, as far as I knew. It wasn't done. Likewise, every family I knew had 1:1 car to licensed-driver ratio. Sometimes the youngest licensed driver got the '84 Hatchback from Hell, of course, because who could trust a 16 year old with a sweet ride like a '97 Ford Taurus?

Remember the High School parking lot? All that unbridled horsepower...
Back to the big, bad city... Having vaulted ourselves off the Bentley Bus and into Harvard Square, I felt I had reached out with shaky hands to part the fronds which would reveal the very heart of the urban jungle. And what did I see?

Well.. a copy shop called Copy Cop. (No, I have no self-restraint and I will not apologize.)

Also, trees, red brick sidewalks, windy streets that seemed to start and end and turn into one-ways as they pleased, steeples, gables, trolley lines, hotels, falafel stands, cafes, and people, lovely  self-involved people everywhere. I took a deep breath and said to myself (and perhaps others), “Ah, it even smells like Harvard,” which, I suppose, means Harvard smells like a Greek restaurant, an oily subway air vent, autumn leaves and cigarette butts, and if you’re really lucky, a whiff of that homeless dude who has peed himself so often in each one of the four pairs of pants he now wears simultaneously that you need not have him in your sight to know he is standing in an intersection four blocks upwind of you. Well, that’s how it smelled in the fall of 1999, anyway.

And newsprint. I almost forgot how the newspapers fluttered around corners as the buses whipped past, how they accumulated in sticky sheaves between the slats of park benches, how they skated over the cobbled sidewalks like untidy ghosts with pressing agendas.

All of this is to say that these sense memories comprise the core of what I believe fall should be in New England, even now. Even as I’ve seen the bookstores close, the cafes give way to froyo bars, the face of each passerby private and closed with mundane intentions, now staring into his or her own tiny computer, plugged in and shut out.

This is my tenth anniversary of my move to Massachusetts. For the first time I cannot answer automatically when people ask whether I’ll ever move back home to Victor. It has been so easy to say, “HELL no, NEVER (and don’t tell my mom I said that, she’ll cry.)" But these days I can't remember why I came, besides this nagging thought that I was running from something that seemed gargantuan and has shrunk considerably over the not-unfriendly damage of passing years.

Why be here? Because my entire adult life has been invested here, yes. Because I love the ability to jump on a train to get to the ocean. Because all** of my books are here and it would be a bitch to move them. Because... although my original dreams and resolutions of becoming Something Important never quite blossomed into reality, something else has stuck with me. I made a major and brave decision to be myself outside of the tiny fishbowl that raised me, knowing I could drown in the crowds and never be missed. I live here, and the dude at the Post Office knows I send presents to my nieces and nephew for their birthdays. My neighbor with the motorized wheelchair and aging terrier nods to me when I say hello. The T driver says "Have a good day," after I say, "thank you." I have fallen in love here, been trampled and forgiven and slandered and resurrected here. I have broken here, and grown up around the pieces. Why be here?

*This is potentially silly if you happen to know that Brandeis University is also situated in Waltham and you know that Brandeis is primarily populated by Jewish students and faculty and offers Glatt Kosher items in its main dining room. That is to say, there’s at least one place where ham is made to feel unwelcome.

**Okay, most

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The cheese stands alone. Again.

Still? Here's what getting dumped means:

I know I didn't invent loneliness, but this feels quite private and permanent.

How am I different from that girl who first came to Boston to expand herself and stuff lovely things into her brain? Well, no one could have guessed... that's not true, my mother guessed and guessed correctly... that I'd succumb over and over again to sadness. I am, at my very core, diseased with a sadness. My bones are steeped in it and they ache with the extra weight, they hide with the shame of the tint of it.

So I leave this room... I see people... I try to keep my ears open. I try to keep my eyes open. I try to notice birds and leaves and all the tiny living things that want to be on this planet that spins so fiercely without us feeling it.

It was only a matter of time before he figured it out, how doggedly I haunt myself with my own ghosts. How at first it seems like I come from a different planet, I'm a brain you've never encountered and full of strange and quirky beauties, and then eventually he sees that each of my gestures are limited by a kind of lack of vocabulary. I repeat and repeat and fold in and knead and good lord it all ends again.

I imagine how light he must feel, although I know there's sorrow, too. I think of it as the feeling of finally allowing yourself to throw away that broken pot that someone gave you. You should keep it; it was a gift. But you never really loved it especially. The guilt of having to explain why it couldn't sit in its usual spot anymore... it seemed like nothing could reverse that... until one day, you simply decide, and the pot is a pile of shards in the dumpster. Relief, to not have to look at it and feel guilty for hating it. Not even hating! To feel guilty for having no feelings for it, and yet not being able to give it up.  And now, to not think of it again, to even think, "I should have done that a long time ago."