Saturday, March 31, 2007

closer to home

Went out with Podcast Penny last night. First visit to Cozy Bar in nearly three weeks and the bar was surprisingly subdued for a Friday.

"Are you sure about this? I don't want it to set you back," Penny said, as we were getting ready.

"Do you mean Ben? Oh God, that's not going to be an issue. I mean, I did think about him a little while I was away, but it was more a matter of coming to my senses. I don't know how I got so carried away."

"I was getting a little worried about you, but I didn't know what to say."

"Believe me, I wanted to change the record, too. I was tired of talking about him so much. It was like being cursed. I know I'm smart, but it's like I fell into some kind of trap. It feels so good to be over it."

Of course, I wouldn't know I was truly over it until I saw him again.

I admit, I was rather frosty to him. Greeted one of the regulars, but didn't really say hello to Ben, just waited until he was free to serve us and ordered a drink.

Podcast Penny and I started up a conversation with a very cool man who teaches swing dancing (let's call him Swinger Sam). A little later, his equally cool girlfriend showed up and we chatted with her as well. She's a milliner and was wearing one of her creations (naturally, I have to call her Hattie). I have seen Sam and Hattie at the bar before--they are very striking and stylish--so it was nice to discover how lovely they are to talk to.

It turns out they are friends of Ben's, and have known him for what must be close to a decade, or more. Sam mentioned that Ben used to be a club promoter for a place in the Village that shut down years ago. He named the club and my eyes lit up.

"I remember Village Club! I went there a couple of times. I loved that place!"

Sam smiled and called over, "Hey, Ben, Dolly remembers Village Club."

Ben turned around and gestured to Penny and me, "Those are cool chicks."

How nice of him to give us his seal of approval. We continued our conversation and Hattie told us this unusual story about a woman and her collection of feathers. Penny and I were riveted, and I said I should write a story about it. Ben was within earshot and came over.

"Dolly is a great writer," he said pointedly, stroking my bare arm. "I read one of her stories." He and Sam exchanged a look, which made me wonder if Ben told him about my story.

It's funny because a month ago that small gesture would have made my night. I would have thought about how he rubbed my arm just a little too long and wondered what it meant, if that meant he liked me. Now it no longer concerns me. It's just part of his routine. Penny said that at one point he was at a table behind me and had a girl sitting on his lap. Once upon a time, that would have devastated me, but when she told me that, I just shrugged.

Penny thinks Ben and I have turned a corner, but that things aren't over between us yet ("they've only just begun," she sang in a cheesy-on-purpose way). She said it was odd for him to qualify us like that to his friends. I couldn't care less. As far as I'm concerned, he's just the bartender.

I barely looked at or talked to Ben the rest of the time we were, there except to order drinks or water refills. He didn't even have the decency to ask about my trip, even though he heard me talk about it, which I found a little annoying. Then again, I wasn't being entirely friendly, either. Whatever. We didn't stay long, not more than a couple of hours, when I typically close out the bar on a weekend. Instead, we took the subway back to my neighborhood, to check out one of my locals.

It was a bit of a walk from the station, so I suggested we stop in a bar along the way. Random Bar was crowded with Bridge and Tunnel folk and the DJ was playing bad R&B, which has a way of making me instantly cranky.

"We should probably go after this drink," I said. Except that I was feeling a bit tipsy, and knew I would have to nurse my cocktail to make sure I didn't overdo it.

Penny and I made our way to the front of the bar, which was clearing out pretty quickly. Then the music suddenly improved (I smiled and breathed a sigh of relief when I heard a Depeche Mode song).

I looked at the two bartenders working, happy that they were friendly, regular guys and not all egotistical and Mr. Movie Star-ish.

One of them came over and started talking to Penny and me. He was tall and cute, down to earth, with a goofy streak. I don't remember the details of the conversation, but I do recall that we discovered we both used to listen to the same very specific genre of music and attended the same club back in the day. I named some super-obscure bands and he knew them all, which really sparked my interest in him.

"My iPod would make you cream your pants," he bragged.

"Oh please," I rolled my eyes and held out my hand. "Let's see it."

He brought it over. "I'm BT," he introduced himself. I told him my name, shook his hand.

I looked through the artists he had in his MP3 player and was reasonably impressed.

Meanwhile, Barman BT was outside, having a cigarette and talking to Podcast Penny. He mentioned something about music and clubbing.

"That's not me, that's my friend in there," Penny said.

"Oh, you mean the girl I'm going to marry?"

Penny came back inside. "I love him," she said, and told me about their exchange.

I looked at BT down at the other end of the bar, surprised. Then I got a tiny nervous feeling and smiled. He came over to retrieve his iPod and we talked music for another minute.

"What does BT stand for, anyway?" I readied myself not to get a straight answer, used to Ben's way of talking around a question, revealing as little as possible.

BT brought over his passport, which threw me off. How direct and forthcoming of him.

"Can we stay for another round?" I asked Penny. The bar was lacking prospects as far as the male customers went, but now I was curious about Barman BT.

"Of course. He's great. And he likes you."

We ordered more drinks, which BT didn't charge us for.

He spent a lot of time taking care of other customers, but came over often for brief chats. I learned that he's also a writer and that we both lived in the same foreign country. There was definitely a playful, charged energy between us, but it was easy and natural. I looked at him and could imagine him being my boyfriend, just like that.

He brought over a slip of paper. "In case I get busy with work, here's my number."

I took out my little notepad, to write my contact info for him. I messed up my email address, so I had to turn to a new page. As I was jotting down my phone number, BT came over and mischievously swatted my right hand, sending a line of ink across the page.

"Oh, sorry, were you writing something?" he asked.

I looked up at him with mock outrage. Finally, the third time around, I was able to write out my name, number, and email with no mishaps. I tore out the sheet of paper and was folding it up as he returned to my end of the bar. He took it without saying a word.

Podcast Penny continued to rave about how much she adored BT (for me; she wasn't interested in him romantically) and how much she wanted to be friends with him.

Eventually, we had some unsavory guys start to chat us up and it was time to get going. Besides, I didn't want BT to get the wrong idea.

I called him over to say goodbye and he leaned across the bar to give me a kiss on the cheek.

"Let's hang out soon, okay?" he said.

"Definitely. Give me a call."

Penny continued to sing his praises on our way back to my place.

"He was pretty cool," I admitted. "And the perfect boy height, which I told him he was. Plus, we had this effortless rapport. We'll see if he calls."

"Oh, you're going to hear from him again."

"I just hope he doesn't do the three day waiting thing. I hate that."

"No way, that's not his style. You'll probably get a text message from him when he gets off work." Penny was adamant, despite my skepticism.

At 4:38am, I received the following text from BT:

I want to go out with you. Is that ok?


Friday, March 30, 2007

back to life, back to reality

That's right boys and girls. If I'm going to have the cheesy Soul II Soul song stuck in my head, the least I can do is get it stuck in yours, too.

This has been such an internally tumultuous week for me. I don't think I've ever had such a difficult time adjusting from a vacation before. It reminded me more of when I moved back to NYC after living abroad and had to cope with reverse culture shock.

I may be waving around my geek flag here, but I have been thinking about a storyline on this one TV show where the main character dies, but is missed so much by her loved ones that they cast a spell to bring her back. Her friends think they are rescuing her from a hell dimension, but when she returns to them, they learn that she was actually in heaven, and they brought her back into a dark, difficult and dangerous world, a kind of hell on earth. That's how I have spent much of the week feeling: like I was cast out of heaven, out of an idyllic place where I was happy and content. Now I'm stuck in a place that is noisy, crowded, and dirty, full of anger and anxiety. Not quite hell, but far from heaven.

I decided I needed to get out of here. Since I don't know what the hell to do career-wise, I might as well see more of the world, right? I found two options with potential: getting certified to teach English as a second language in Prague, or getting a year-long visa to work in New Zealand. I decided that if I don't have a major breakthrough by the end of the year, I'd start saving up, pack up, and leave the country for an extended--hopefully indefinite--amount of time.

Then something happened. Work became more tolerable and I found a couple of interesting new jobs to apply for. I discovered how much I enjoyed some of my routines, like the exercise class I take three times a week (which I genuinely missed while away) and making plans with my friends for the weekend to go to some of our favorite places (Bar K, Cozy Bar). Then the weather brightened up, and the spring air cheered me up despite myself. Yesterday, I walked downtown, passing the Empire State Building and the Flatiron Building, weaving around patches of tourists, trying to see the city through their cameras. I realized I love this damn place. I could no longer envision myself moving to New Zealand (I love sheep, but not that much). I don't know if it was the pretty day or what, but I relaxed and suddenly believed that everything would work out, would be okay.

Sometimes I'm not so great at this adulthood thing, the responsibilities and inevitable fact that life isn't always fun or fair. Last year, when I came back from my trip to Europe, I was in the beginning stages of a relationship, so I felt like I had something to come back to. This time around, returning to New York emphasized all the things lacking in my life and made me feel lonely. When I was away, I didn't feel lonely. I wouldn't have felt lonely even if that last night never happened, because I had such a wonderful time with the travel group.

New York can be maddening in its emphasis on materialism and ambition; it can turn a magnifying lens on all the holes in your life. I'm trying not to let that happen. Yes, it's beautiful out, a perfect backdrop to daydream, huddle over small tables in outdoor cafes, and fall in love. Seeing that I no longer have the warm and fuzzies for Barman Ben, and the guy I met on my trip is going to be far away for a long time, I'll make do with letting the city work its charms on me. There's a sense of possibility in the air, the promise of surprise around the corner. I'm keeping an open mind and an open heart. I'm ready for a homegrown adventure.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

a happy place

I'm nearly finished updating my paper journal with tales of the trip. I have written over 100 pages now. My digital camera broke the first day I was away, and while many of the people in the group I met took tons of photos, and while I bought a couple of disposable cameras, I was relieved not to be burdened with having to create a visual chronicle of my journey. I'm better with words anyway, and when I reread those pages I wrote in tents, cafes, airports, hotel rooms, I get an instant mental image, am immediately transported back.

When I took this vacation, I did so in the hopes that it would be some kind of spiritual journey, a vision quest even. I hoped to find some kind of clarity, some direction as to what my next step in life should be. Instead, I had the time of my life. I was always in the moment, absorbing all the new sights and experiences, bonding with my fellow travellers, laughing at anything and everything. I was too busy being happy to force some kind of meaning onto it.

It's tough to come back to New York, feeling so changed, but not sensing the change in my external environment. My craving for adventure hasn't abated, but certain responsibilities currently demand my attention (like trying not to panic about how financially tapped out I now am, knowing I need improve my monetary situation pronto). I'm also trying to hold on to that happiness I felt when I was away; many people have commented that I have a new glow. I certainly feel it; I hope this radiance isn't fleeting.

I've been trying to figure out exactly what kind of personal evolution I have undergone. There were aspects of the trip that were physically demanding, and having no travel companion certainly made the first day or two a bit challenging. But it's more than that. I was fully in the present tense, I was laid back and carefree, I was my best self.

Roommate Rachel pointed out that we are generally our best selves, and that even if we don't think so, our friends and loved ones tend to see the best in us. I guess it was different being around strangers, forging new connections, gradually revealing different layers of our personalities. It was like starting over.

Returning to New York has made me rather tempted to pack up and run away again to some far-flung corner of the world. But I already did that right after graduating college, and while I created a good life for myself, I had to return eventually. This city always pulls me back, in one way or another. Besides, if I look closely, I know I have a wonderful life here. I just need to find a way to channel all this wanderlust and energy more locally.

There's also this guy. I met him on the first day of my trip, but nothing happened between us until our last (I kind of promised that I would keep the details off the record; sorry). Not only does he live in a foreign country, but he's going to be travelling for the next couple of months, so chances are, I won't see him again. But to me, he represents the giddy delirium of those twelve days. Travel fling or no, I will always think fondly of him. That last day/night of the vacation was one of the best in my life. The group as a whole was so cheery and free-spirited, and then when I finally got together with the guy, it was like something out of a John Hughes movie. It's my happy place.

And now I'm here, in a different place, unable to go back, facing forward and trying not to put too much pressure on myself to figure it all out. The only consistency in life is that it continually changes, and even though the good things seem ever so fleeting, I feel very lucky to have felt so much joy, to still feel traces of it in me.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

the return

I have been in transit since 5:00am and got home less than an hour ago. Still wearing last night's make-up and still probably a bit hungover from last night's big farewell outing. It was quite a send-off. Haven't had more than an hour of sleep since Wednesday night. Couldn't sleep much on the plane because of crying children, but it gave me time to write nearly 30 pages in the paper journal I got specifically for this trip.

There were plenty of adventures, surprises, breathtaking natural and man-made sights, new friendships formed, endless laughter, and even kisses. It was probably the best vacation of my life.

Still processing everything and wondering how much to share. Might need to keep this one to myself.

My pillow beckons, but I wanted to drop by and say hello...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

into the unknown

I'm anxious about this trip. Part of my thinks I must have been insane to undertake such a journey. I'm not the "roughing it" type. I've never taken a vacation without a wheelie suitcase. I hardly know anything about the history or culture of country I'm visiting, and didn't even know what its currency was until a few days ago. I've never taken a journey that required me to bring toilet paper, and didn't own a pair of hiking boots until a few weeks ago.

By this time tomorrow, I will be flying into unfamiliar lands. I moved to a foreign country by myself, so I like to think I can handle this solo adventure, too. I don't know if this trip will change me, but I want to make me stronger, give me a new clarity. I'm hoping it will be a vision quest of sorts.

I'll be back in a couple of weeks. Don't miss me too much!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

anger is an energy

Between the ridiculously stressful week at work, the last dregs of this cough/cold (I am never smoking pot ever again), and the 10,000 things I have needed to plan for my trip before I leave on Monday, I have had little time to think about Ben. I was more focused on the dozens of tasks I needed to complete at the office before my two-week absence. I was more preoccupied with thinking about everything I needed to pack for my journey, while calming my fears of travelling alone to a new continent, to a country where I don't speak the language to go backpacking and camping for the first time in my life. In fact, I should be packing instead of writing this, but I need to vent.

I've had quite a lot going on. Yet there were still moments where my mind would circle back to Ben. On Wednesday morning, when Polly came into work, I went into her office and cried and cried. A little while later, I went down to Coworker Chris's office and lather-rinse-repeated. I cried bitter, humiliated tears at being rejected in such a cruel way. The morning's sadness faded away as the day went on, hardening into something sharper, brighter, colder: anger.

I have spent these last few days in a controlled rage. I don't care if he was upset about being back at the bar instead of waving his dick around onstage, or if he was coming down from a coke binge, or if he was just plain bored and cranky. The way he treated Roommate Rachel and me is inexcusable. He was disrespectful to both of us, invading her personal space with his questions and physical contact, and alternately being rude to and ignoring me.

In a way, he did me a favor. Whatever spell I was under, it's been lifted. Whatever fog I was lost in has cleared. Any affection I felt for Ben has been replaced with a black hatred.

I can't believe I got so carried away all these months. I can't believe I read so much into our minute interactions, believed there was something there. I can't believe I put him up on such a pedestal, gave him credit for being this great person even as I was receiving information to the contrary.

They say living well is the best revenge and I will have my vengeance. Starting tonight. I will not let Ben keep me from my favorite bar, but I will let him see what a great time I have there, with my friends and with other men. I will be impervious to his dark gazes and cloying caresses. I will not be one of the many who still become hypnotized by his dubious charm; instead I will exhibit nothing towards him but icy indifference.

I know being so angry isn't healthy, but it's providing a good catalyst for getting on with things, for shifting my focus away from the unworthy and insignificant. The rage will subside and I will bask in my new emotional freedom, breathing easy, no longer haunted by that handsome, smug son of a bitch.

What a perfect time to leave the country.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

"My Post" by Roommate Rachel

After reading my account of Tuesday night as well as the comments, Roommate Rachel had a lot to say. I suggested that rather than leave a comment, she write her own account of the evening. Here is her perspective on what happened:

Unlike my lovely flatmate, Dolly, I am not a person who shares their feelings in a public forum. Dolly is quite right about me, I am more than a little self conscious and don't feel comfortable with people I don't know.

But I simply couldn't not write about this incident, not only because I was an integral part of it, but also because it affected me so strongly. I actually couldn't sleep last night and was quite distracted at work because, and there is no other way to put this, Ben is a fucking asshole. (And I never swear). And indeed, the whole evening was a surreal nightmare.

The “attention” that Ben paid me, well, Dolly might call it "flirting" but I would probably use a term more akin to "hostile interrogation." It was so discomfiting that I felt nauseous in my stomach for a good part of the night. Ben, who doesn't know me, or know anything about me, told Dolly right in front of me that I was "going to meet a man who was going to sweep me off my feet and be the opposite of all my expectations, who was going to tear me down and build me back up." He also said something about how he"could see that I had some sex appeal" but that, while my parents may have been revolutionaries, I am basically snobby and spoiled. Yes, dear readers, all these insightful comments spewing from his mouth in a darkened bar. He even called my education “overly expensive!” And one more thing. Dolly is right. I don't feel comfortable being touched by random strangers (probably somewhat infantile, but there it is) and she said as much to Ben. So why did he keep touching me? I don't care if he was trying to make her jealous or whatever, it was so uncomfortable.

Oh, and while I’m venting, I might as well add that he said that I have "bird nest hair.” Okay, yes, I had had a VERY long day at work, didn't have time to go home and was perhaps somewhat dishevelled and had forgotten, having had very little sleep the night before, to put in any hair product, but still it was entirely uncalled for. Plus, it was just mean.

Now, I may be naïve and unlearned, but I cannot help but feel that fundamentally there is something very wrong here. Ben is a bartender. He is in the service industry and I was a customer. I don't care if other girls think his behavior is flirtatious, I just wanted to get drunk after a long, very stressful day at work. So to me his behavior was offensive. I didn’t find him attractive. I didn’t want him to hug me.

Also, and here I lay out the gravest charge against him, I could see how hurt Dolly was. Which made it even worse for me. I wish I were a different person, I wish I would have just told him off more emphatically than I tried to do. But Dolly is right. I am not good at relationships. And I am easily flustered. Ben called me a "child." And perhaps he is right.

But to see the pain in Dolly's face, not even to see it, to know it, it tore at my heart. I know that girls compete with each other for boys, but Dolly is my friend. She has pulled me through some hard times this autumn and gives me good advice. All of you readers know her as a witty, wise and honest writer. I know her as flesh and blood. As someone who made me soup. Who always invites me to her parties. Who drags me out when I am feeling antisocial. Who lends me her books and offers to help me apply the makeup I never end up applying. Who makes me laugh. Dolly is one of my dearest friends, and she always will be.

I could write more, but this much I think is enough for now. I cannot believe that Ben was sincere in his attentions for isn’t flirting supposed to be kind? I can only conclude that he wants to exact some sort of revenge on Dolly. Which is disgusting. And really there is nothing more to say.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

low down

It's an all-Tom-Waits-all-the-time kind of day. I just want to put my head down and weep. I came this close to losing it on the subway (my favorite) and it's going to be all I can do to keep it together at the office.

This is all so is pathetic. I know it is and I can't stand it. I wish it were otherwise.

I've been thinking a lot about the movie Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind. Thinking about how much I wish I could erase the memory of Barman Ben from my consciousness. Not his entire existence, just my emotions tied to him. Whatever it would take for Ben to no longer be my kryptonite.

Last night, Roommate Rachel and I went to Cozy Bar. It was a quiet night, so he came over to talk often. Except it wasn't to talk to me.

The first thing I noticed is that he complimented Rachel's shirt, several times. Then he kept coming over, asking her questions, paying lots of attention to her. He seemed indifferent to anything I had to say and utterly captivated by her.

Roommate Rachel is adorable, and has a sweetness and innocence that men find very appealing. She is also conservative as far as sex and relationships go, on the prudish side even, which is something we talked about last night. Ben was fascinated by it all. He hung on her every word, touched her arm repeatedly (even after she told him how much she didn't like being touched by strangers), and found a myriad of subtle ways to break my heart as the night wore on.

The ironic thing is, Rachel doesn't think he's at all good-looking, and was actually offended by his invasive comments, questions, and physical contact. But since she poses such a challenge, it probably makes her that much more appealing to him. I'm not as much of a challenge, which might make me less appealing.

"You play it very cool with him, though," Rachel observed later. "You talk to him the way you would a friend at the bar."

"Because I don't want to be one of those fawning girls. I see those girls at the bar, who turn their faces up at Ben, waiting to be showered with his attention, and I don't want to be like that. I'd rather be a little aloof."

"That's probably better."

The thing is, I am one of those girls, I just hide it. I do feel a warm glow when he looks at me or touches me. When we talk, though, he's sometimes a little bit of a jerk to me. For example, early in the night, he asked:

"Why do you think Brad Pitt would pose shirtless on the cover of a magazine after all these years?"

"I know why," I answered. "Because he needs to stay in the public eye, stay popular, to command a big salary for movies, which he then uses to fund his charity work. Angelina does it, too."

"I think you're full of shit," Ben answered. "How much money does that guy need?"

"A lot, because he is giving a big percentage of it away."

He shook his head dismissively.

Also, when Rachel and I mentioned to Ben that we both had problems we were dealing with, he was completely focused on hearing her situation (which has to do with her romantic repression) and had so much to say about it. When it was my turn to talk about my problems, I told him about trying to figure out what to do with my life and he said,

"But you're a writer."

"That's what everybody keeps telling me." I mentioned needing to think about switching gears career-wise, and taking a big trip next week with the hope that it would clear my head.

"We'll talk about this when you get back from your trip," Ben said.

End of conversation. Glad to hear my crisis can wait.

Rachel and I both ended up getting into conversations with other men in the bar, but Ben would still come over and chat with her. He and I talked a bit, too, but he didn't seem as engaged as he was with my roommate.

We did get to talking about film, and Ben mentioned an old Bertolucci film I absolutely had to see. I mentioned that I liked The Dreamers.

He smirked. "Oh please, I'm talking about old, classic Bertolucci. You saw The Dreamers and you think you know Bertolucci?"

I looked at him, semi-pissed, "I just mentioned one of his movies that I enjoyed, but thanks for judging my entire knowledge of a filmmaker on that single comment."

He smiled. "I'm just giving you a hard time."

He says that to me a lot.

We still had a few typical flirty moments. We made eye contact several times, smiled at each other. I wonder if we do better with non-verbal communication.

I started to get a bit serious and contemplative as the night wore on and felt Ben looking at me, though I wouldn't always meet his gaze. When I did look up once, he gave me a reassuring glance and said,

"It's going to be alright."

At another point, he looked at me and said, "You know I love you, right?"

Considering the fact that he said, "I love her" five minutes after meeting Roommate Rachel, I hardly put any stock into his words. I rolled my eyes and said, "Sure you do."

In fact, it made me somewhat angry that he would use the word love so flippantly, throwing it into his flirting vocabulary like it was nothing.

If he only knew. If he only knew that he is one of the causes of my not being alright. If he knew how much it hurt me to see him so enraptured with Rachel, he wouldn't have been so overt. I know he flirts with half the women there, but my roommate? Talk about too close to home.

Ben is bad for me and I need to give this up. I am also doing the opposite of what I need to be doing with him, going against the very wisdom I've been preaching to others. My interactions are about wanting something from him-- his affection, his approval, his advice--when they should be about what I can bring to the equation.

Roommate Rachel doesn't think Ben is interested in her and that he was just being curious, or just flirting with her the way he does any other woman at the bar. The best quote I've heard about Ben, from one of the male patrons, was, "Ben is great... though sometimes you have to wait 15 minutes for your beer while he's making one of the female customers feel good about herself." That's the thing, Ben is good at raising other peoples' social value.

But not mine, not after last night. I think I saw through the tricks and the fog a bit. I also have to face the cold reality that he is just not very curious about me, which means he is probably not interested. After seeing the contrast between the way he treated me and my roommate, it's undeniable.

And probably for the best, because my jealous streak speaks to the fact that I could never handle being with someone like Ben, anyway. I'm better off knowing that sooner than later, right?

Of course, that doesn't stop me from feeling completely and utterly heartbroken. All I want to do is go home and cry my foolish little heart out.

Monday, March 05, 2007

the highest high

First of all, I should mention that I am paying for my indulgent weekend by dealing with a nasty cough/cold/achiness. I'm hoping the medicine does its job, but apologize in advance if I ramble or come off as a bit spacey.

Guess I should start with Friday. I knew it was going to be a great night. I didn't have any big expectations, I just felt that slight tingle under my skin, that electric anticipation that there was fun on the horizon.

Before meeting Willow for one of our regular Bar K outings, I stopped into a deli for a quick bite. Sitting at the next table was a man in his thirties, dressed in black, eating a sandwich. Another man came in who turned out to be his friend; the man in black said he was about to go to work and the friend mentioned he just moved to my neighborhood. I was in a talking-to-strangers kind of mood, so I mentioned to the friend how much I loved the neighborhood, how great it was, etc. We talked for a minute and the friend left. The man in black stayed to finish his meal.

"Excuse me," my gut told me to go ahead and ask him. "Are you a bartender?"

"I am."

Here we go. "I have a question. Is it common for bartenders to date customers?"

He nodded. "It happens a lot."

"Because there's this bartender I'm interested in and I'm wondering how can a bar patron go from being that to...something more?"

"Good question." He thought about it. "Well, you want to show your face regularly, get to know each other...have you tried staying until the bar closes?"

"I did that once, because I was talking to people, but I didn't want to linger. That could look bad."

"Good thinking. Do you think this bartender knows you're interested?"

"I think he has a pretty good idea."

"Well, then...I don't know what to tell you. It does happen a lot, though. Keep going, keep talking to him. Good luck."

"Thank you."

Something about that interaction felt like a good omen.

At Bar K, Willow and I talked to some of the regulars one of which, Ad Sales Andy, remembered that I wrote about dating online and had a knack for helping men be more successful with women. He and his friend asked for some of my basic thoughts and ideas. I said the two most important things I learned in the last year was to have a full, interesting life and go out with a view to having a great time, not to specifically meeting someone, and also that interactions with people in general (in a romantic context and otherwise) should ideally be about what you have to offer and raising the other person's social value, instead of taking or needing something from them.

Ad Sales Andy was hanging on my every word, but I think it was also because he fancied me.

During a cigarette break a little later, his friend offered me a drag off a joint, which I accepted. Then Andy kissed me. I was tipsy and wanted kisses, so I went along with it, even though I wasn't really interested in him (damn me and my alcohol-related kiss cravings!).

Back inside Bar K, I realized I was missing Cozy Bar and wanted to stop by there. Willow was tired and decided to give it a miss, so I went by myself, figuring I was bound to run into people I knew, or talk to new folks.

Once I arrived, I saw plenty of familiar faces, including Edward Furlong-y and my favorite regular of them all, Magazine Mitch. He introduced me to the two women he was with and said,

"We tried to see Ben's play tonight, but it was sold out. We did see him afterwards, though."

"You should have gotten advanced tickets, silly," I answered.

Before long, Mitch and I were in the bathroom, smoking and smooching.

"I'm really fucked off that I didn't get to see the play," he said.

"Well, tomorrow's the last show and it's probably sold out."

"No, the box office said there are twenty tickets left."

I felt a spark of hope in my chest. "Let's go order tickets. Right now."

For all the coercing Mitch had tried to do in the past to get me to come over, I was the one who insisted we go to his place then and there.

The two women he was with had left at that point (not sure if they saw us disappear to the bathroom together or what) and I told him we'd be quick and return to the bar shortly.

Mitch lives around the corner from Cozy Bar, in a third floor walk-up. It's quite possibly the nicest boy apartment I have ever seen. Beautifully decorated in deep reds and sage greens, overstuffed couches, velvet curtains, embroidered bedspread, cherry wood dining table, and tasteful accents throughout.

"It's not too metrosexual?" he asked.

"No! It's tidy and pretty, but still has a masculine and comfortable feel to it. You have a really lovely place."

He gave me the full tour, from his private office to the kitchen cabinets, one of which held nothing but various pill bottles, filled with holistic and illicit substances.

Mitch put on a David Bowie concert DVD and prepared a bowl. Normally, smoking pot after drinking makes me nauseous, but I had a few hits and felt perfectly mellow. I sank back into the marshmallow-like sofa cushions and watched Bowie do his thing.

"I am so fucked up," Mitch said.

"Yeah. Let's get those tickets."

We went into his office, I got the site up, Mitch read out his credit card info, and I printed the confirmation.

"We're really going aren't we?" I asked, not fully believing it.

"We're going."

"Thank you so much," I gave him a big hug.

Funny enough, Mitch didn't try anything when he had me in his apartment, and was a perfect gentleman. It couldn't have been the alcohol/drugs, because I'm pretty sure we made out more later that night. Actually the rest of the night is pretty much a blur, so I'll fast forward to the play.

"We probably won't get to talk to him much afterwards," Mitch warned. "He's Mr. Movie Star and I could barely get to him the other night, he had so many people surrounding him."

"Oh, that's fine. I figure it's going to be even more insane with it being the last performance. I just want to say hello and tell him he did a good job." I also wanted him seeing me look smokin' hot, and generally bask in Ben's dreaminess, but I left that part out.

The play was still entertaining the second time around, and even though Mitch knew to expect nudity, he was somewhat thrown by it.

"I can't believe I saw Ben's cock," he said in the bar afterwards, while we waited for the cast. "That's just too much," he shook his head. "Did you see how big his cock was?"

"Do we have to talk about this?" I looked around nervously, not wanting Ben to show up as we were discussing his anatomy.

"He's got a bigger cock than I do," Mitch continued.

We finally changed the subject. I kept looking around in a subtle way, but Mitch spotted him first.

"There's your guy."

As expected, he had plenty of well-wishers surrounding him, so we stayed where we were, figuring he'd make his way over to us. Eventually, he was a few feet away, the people in front of us cleared out, and we called him over.

"Did you get in this time?" Ben asked Mitch, who nodded.

"Hey, gorgeous," He started to give me a hug, then pulled away, doing a double take. I kept my hand on his back. He looked me up and down in a very surprised and appreciative way. "You look good." Ben gave me hug, then murmured in my ear, "You smell good, too."

Mitch and I told him he did a good job on the play.

Ben turned to me, "I know it's not as good as your stuff, and I'd rather do a drama with you, but it's still good for me to do these kinds of things." Mind you, the playwright in question is a published writer and respected in the theater world. As he talked, he continued to look me up and down.

"Doesn't she look good?" Ben asked Mitch, then looked at me again, not waiting for an answer, "Your hair, your..." He looked like he was ready to eat me up with a spoon.

Ben continued his rounds; after he left, I took a big sip of my drink to steady myself, unable to speak for a few seconds.

"I just need a moment," I said to Mitch, feeling all kinds of shaky and incoherent.

Mitch and I had a few more drinks, and kept talking and talking. He is actually great company and we had a lot of fun at the bar together. I did keep an eye on Ben, though (it looks like he spent a big portion of the night talking to some guy at the bar). At one point, he standing talking to a group of people and we were perfectly in each other's line of vision. I smiled at him and he mouthed something back to me, though I couldn't make out what it was.

A couple of hours later, Ben looked ready to leave. I stood, wanting to catch him on his way out. He came by again and held my hand as he talked to us.

"So are you going to go home and get laid?" Mitch asked.

I laughed.

"No, man, I'm gonna go home and jerk off," Ben replied.

The two of them talked about I don't know what, because I was too focused on Ben's hand in mine. Then it was time for him to go.

"When are you back?" I asked.

"Tuesday. I'll see you on Tuesday." He leaned in and gave me a peck on the lips.

After he left, I turned to Mitch. "Did you see that? He kissed me on the lips."

"Yeah, he kissed me on the lips, too. I think he's bisexual."

"Don't ruin my moment, Mitch."

"Let's get out of here and go to Cozy Bar."

We took a taxi over there. To my surprise, I found myself opening up to Mitch. I told him about my depression last year and other personal details. Mitch may be a bit messed up, but is very smart and easy to talk to.

"We have fun, don't we?" he asked.

"We do."

As the taxi was nearing the bar, we kissed, but this time it felt different. It was more of an "I like you" kind of kiss. Maybe it felt more emotional for me, because I had just shared some very private things with Mitch, or because we were starting to connect as people instead of tipsy bar patrons. Then again, we were hardly sober in the taxi, either.

Cozy Bar was fun as always, and despite feeling like crap on a cracker yesterday and today, it was worth the good times.

Much as I don't like to admit it, I think I'm starting to like Mitch a bit. It's a very bad idea for several reasons (beginning and ending with the fact that our hookups have all been alcohol-fueled). I don't think our personality types would work together, I think we both have lots of issues to work through, but there's something seemingly minor that bothers me above all else. He never makes sure I am safely in a taxi before walking home after the bar closes, he just leaves me outside in the middle of the night. It's small, but the kind of thing that makes me know deep down I couldn't be with him.

Also, I still can't get my mind off Ben. Tomorrow night, I'll get to mark his return to Cozy Bar. I don't have unrealistically high hopes, I have decided it will be enough if I just get to kiss Ben, just once (a real kiss, not a peck). At this point, thinking back to the way he looked at me on Saturday, the way he has looked at me before, too, I think maybe it's not such an impossible thing to hope for.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

another teaser

I would love to write a proper recap of my alcohol-, drug-, and kiss-filled weekend, but with meeting my parents shortly, there is simply no time.

I will mention, however, that last night I saw Ben's play again. This time, I actually got to talk to him afterwards, for the first time since January. Oh boy...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

fitter, happier

I recently read something written about me in another blog, to the extent that all these good things happen to me and I am blasé and unenthused about it all. My first instinct was to roll my eyes dismissively, because people have gotten the wrong idea about me before and besides, I get excited about little things all the time. I am all kinds of animated and passionate. Then I thought about it some more, because I would hate to come across as a jaded and aloof New Yorker--or worse, someone who is ungrateful for the positive facets of their life.

To clarify, I am really loving life these days. I love my routines and independence, and the balance I have between the regimented (diet, exercise, work) and the free-form (social activity, solo time). I recognize that I am enormously lucky to have a nice apartment with a lovely roommate, a job that doesn't make me want to slit my wrists every Monday morning, a loving family, more friends than I can do a decent job of keeping in touch with, good health (namely a sturdy liver), a strong line of credit, and a certain amount of intelligence and attractiveness (the exact quantity I leave to be determined by others).

The odd thing is, most of the above was true four months ago, too, yet there were days, weeks, when life was painful, dark, pointless.

I chronicled my autumn depression here to an extent, but I never wrote about how bad it got. It got pretty bad; I don't even want to go into detail, because it saddens and frightens me to remember it. Suffice it to say, there were moments where I conclusively knew I had never been more miserable in my life and didn't know how I'd make it from one day to the next. The scariest times weren't when it hurt, but when it didn't, when I felt a profound indifference to the world around me. It was the lowest I had ever been.

It's difficult to say how much of the depression was circumstantial and how much of it might have been chemical; I do know that when I started taking better care of my body, my mental state improved (thank you, endorphins!). My mood improved even more when I started writing creatively again, when I rediscovered the ability to be inspired. Some of it was merely a concerted effort to dig myself out of the hole, to like life more and like myself more.

What I'm getting at is that I am enormously relieved and grateful to be where I am today, to not feel like that anymore, to appreciate life again.

While the focus of this blog tends to be dating- and relationship-oriented, it has been a much smaller focus of my life for the last several months. To put it in perspective, if I did a pie chart of my thoughts, I'd say 5-10% would have to do with dating, crushes, etc. I wanted to mention that since there seems to be some misconception about how carried away I'm getting with my emotions. Quite the contrary.

I'm doing a lot of rebuilding these days, and I know this new happiness may be fragile and fleeting, so I am doing everything I can to protect and sustain it. Right now, that means keeping a bit of distance between me and other people. Eventually, it might mean allowing for more closeness and vulnerability. I don't see that happening for some time, though. Which doesn't speak to a lack of joy or passion on my part, but a sense of growing awareness and caution.

It's comforting to have this emotional scaffolding around me; I need it while I continue the repairs. I like to believe that when I'm stronger, better, I'll be capable of even greater love and happiness. It won't be long.