Monday, June 3, 2013

Second-Rate First Date

First dates fall under their own special category of people-watching. Regular, run-of-the-mill people watching -- for me, at least -- involves sitting in a public place most likely procrastinating whatever task I am supposed to be accomplishing in that public place. I justify it as exercising my all-pro peripheral vision. Or as necessary physical therapy to stem the tinnitus tide brought on by years of sitting behind a drum set. Or as necessary observational foraging to gather vivid details to illuminate future writing.

In other words, I bullshit myself regularly. That trio of rationalizations -- while technically true and, I'm sure, useful in those ways -- are pure, vile, well-warmed cow manure. I people-watch because people fascinate me.

On Saturday, I sat in a public place and had the misfortune of observing an awkward first date between a man and a woman who were both around 55-years-old. One could not write a worse ad for online dating without including a crime as the night cap. Although I do think that some juries might convict this woman for the 35 minutes of subtle psychological abuse with which she assaulted this poor guy.

The couple chose chairs extremely close to me so I could hear every word of their abbreviated first encounter. Immediately -- as I was frantically searching for a way to procrastinate from my real writing -- I noticed that this man bore some form of vocal impairment. You could comprehend his words, but his tone was thick, almost like his tongue took up too much room in his mouth. I glanced over and discovered that his lower jaw thrust slightly forward and his mouth's movement seemed restricted as a result. That malformation probably explained the unusual voice.

Other than those two minor irregularities, the man seemed to be very pleasant. He sat, smiling, holding a hot coffee. Friendly. Open. The woman sat perpendicular to him without a drink. Arms folded. Closed. He tried. The poor man tried. He brought up every subject imaginable. He asked her questions about herself. She responded with cold, abrupt and disinterested phrases.

"You don't want a coffee?" he asked.

"I don't like Starbucks."

This is probably a good place to mention that they were sitting IN a Starbucks. Assuming he hadn't kidnapped her, at some point she had agreed to meet him at a Starbucks.

"What kind of coffee do you like?" This man rolled with every miserable response she gave him!

"Honey Dew," she said then shifted deliberately in her chair by tucking her chin and pushing her torso away from him. "Starbucks is too strong."

[Dating tip: When someone asks "Hey, do you want to meet for coffee at Starbucks?" and you dislike Starbucks, it is perfectly acceptable to counter with "Do you mind if we go to Honey Dew instead?"]

Next up was her divorce (still friends with her ex). Her kids (no kids). Her job (some kind of customer service job). She brought up Dunkin' Donuts just to complain that they get her order wrong so she doesn't go there anymore. She mentioned that she was born in Boston. So he asked her questions about Boston. She shut that topic down quickly: "I don't go into Boston."

He courageously followed up on her job: "Do you get a lot of rude phone calls? People complaining?"

"I know how to handle it."

What an engaging story-teller!

[Dating tip: When someone expresses interest in your job, feel free to tell a funny or interesting anecdote about that job.]

She never asked a single question about him.

[Dating tip: Among humans, when someone asks about your job, it is acceptable to then ask them about their own job. In fact, it's the most effortless way to have a conversation with another human. Simply parrot whatever they ask you.]

This went on for about a half-hour. Enthusiastic question. Grumpy, negative response. Toward the end I even took a longer look just to be ABSOLUTELY certain that she wasn't Bill Belichick in disguise.

"Have you eaten lunch?" he asked hopefully. God bless this man. How low does his self-esteem have to be that he wanted this cruel and unusual punishment to continue through an actual meal?

"I ate at home," she said, walking the thin line of condescension. One wrong step and she might smack him with her royal scepter.

By the way, their date started at noon. Let's add this to the scoresheet: she agreed to a date with this man at Starbucks at lunchtime but ate first and doesn't like Starbucks.

"Actually, I have to get going," she said then stood up. "I have errands." With that, she flipped her maroon velvet cape and strode out the door.

(In reality, she wasn't wearing a cape. However, I would bet a pretty five-dollar bill that she owns at least three.)

I wanted to give the guy some sort of "buck up, champ" punch on the shoulder. But I didn't. I hope he can bounce back and gather the strength to go on a date with someone else. And maybe he will.

I was left thinking about what it must have taken for him to put himself out there. I imagine that maybe he has extra difficulties meeting women because of his speech impediment and slight underbite. So he took a different route and tried online dating. There -- he probably hoped -- he could meet someone on even ground. A woman would get to know his personality first before superficiality could kick in. After a few emails, they finally agreed to meet in person. Then it all fell to pieces. Again.

She sucks as a person. Fine. A lot of people suck. The part I don't understand is: why agree to meet him at all? Why even join an online dating site? The very act of joining suggests that she WANTS to meet someone. She certainly didn't act that way. She acted put out. She acted like someone was infringing on her freedoms. She acted like the founder of the ACLU being dropped into a nationally televised TSA cavity search.

Even if she were so superficial that two minor flaws in a 55-year-old man were insuperable, at least be nice and have normal human interactions. Don't act offended. You agreed to this date! I haven't checked the dating rule book in quite some time, but if memory serves, you aren't obligated to have sex with a guy just because you were nice to him. Make the most of the 35 minutes. It's small talk. There is no imposition in a voluntary situation.

Her bizarre entitlement and/or core unpleasantness spoke volumes about her. This is why you're single, lady. You think you're better than other people. Not everyone is compatible but that doesn't make you BETTER than the other person.

I should have told this guy that he deserved better. Or at least tripped the miserable lady who had probably ruined his beautiful Saturday.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Coffee Talk

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, most often Starbucks but I don't believe in exclusivity so I make sure to spread the love to other, smaller, establishments as well. Before meeting my girlfriend four years ago, I rarely drank coffee  -- and had never drank a drop of iced coffee. Her obsession with coffee runs deep. Very deep. Think Bubs from "The Wire" and you'll be in the right neighborhood. I enjoyed spending time with her so, in the beginning, I became sort of like that kid, Johnny Weeks, who followed Bubs around and helped him collect copper wire.

(To be clear, no copper wire has been stolen to pay the Seattle cartel for their product.)

Tools of the Trade: an Iced Trenta
compared to a horizontal iPad.
I now fear that, much like Johnny before me, I'm more of an addict than my mentor. For example, in the last three hours at Starbucks I have consumed a Trenta iced coffee (31 ounces) and a Venti iced coffee (24 ounces) and she is still only three-quarters of the way through her first Venti. You could say that I am running laps around her. Seriously, you could literally say that. After 55 ounces of black gold, I sprint everywhere, both physically and mentally. I'm not sure what the average hummingbird's heart rate is, but I may have that average hummingbird beat right now. In fact, it feels like I have a flock of hummingbird's happily flitting through my veins.

So, yeah, I may have a problem. Before the calorie police invade my house, shouting through their ubiquitous bullhorns "DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY CALORIES ARE IN 55 OUNCES OF STARBUCKS COFFEE?" allow me a preemptive strike: my coffee is black and almost completely free of any sweeteners. That's right, I drink my coffee straight like a damn cowboy on a week-long cattle drive. If cowboys sit in franchised drug dens, typing on bluetooth iPad keyboards, while the accompanying soft jazz blandly attempts to soothe a plague of overactive hummingbirds.

While we are on the topic of the Trenta, please indulge a tangent. I think the Trenta is the greatest invention in the history of the human species. You can keep the wheel because Trenta makes me levitate. You can keep electricity because that is a discovery not an invention, and, besides, the Trenta lights me up very efficiently all on its own. Keep it all. I'm on a Trenta-fueled vision quest and you won't convince me otherwise. (Even if you could, I wouldn't notice because my mind is wandering and adventuring like Lewis and Clark with rockets strapped to their backs.) Despite its amazing contribution to our species (assuming only humans are reading this), it does bother my obsessive psychology that Starbucks named it "Trenta" because that is the Italian word for "thirty." To be fair: the word fits in well enough with their existing Grande and Venti names. Many companies use foreign words to sound hipper and more exotic. But for God's sake, use the words correctly! As I mentioned previously, a Trenta is 31 ounces not 30. Yes, Trenta sounds better than "Trentuno" but why not make it a 30-ounce cup? Was there a sale on 31-ounce plastic cups the day the Starbucks' Size Squad came up with this idea?

On second thought, never mind! If you work for Starbucks corporate, please stop reading. Ideally, forget what you just read! I don't want to sacrifice even a single ounce. Trenta is a fine name. I swear! I'll just choose to see it like an Italian woman who just turned 31 but still tells everyone she's 30 because that somehow sounds better. (I guess, in reality, that vain birthday girl would probably be using the word "ventinove" -- or 29 -- and not "Trenta" but there's no reason to further complicate my indoctrination.)

However, now that I think about it, they didn't correctly translate the 24-ounce Venti (Italian for 20) either. In an increasingly unpredictable world, at least they're consistent. Let's chalk it up to Starbucks not being an Italian company and move on. I'm here for the coffee not the linguistics lesson anyway.

Looking back, I suppose I should just admit that I took you on more of a bumpy detour than a quick tangent and merge back into the topic at hand: being high at Starbucks while my girlfriend knits yoga leg-warmers across from me and thinks I'm working on my novel.

I started on my road to addiction as an embracing of something a pretty girl enjoyed. Shamefully, we were Dunkin' Donuts people then. I had never really liked hot coffee except late night at a greasy spoon diner while drunkenly plowing through chipped plates of runny eggs, undercooked bacon, and toast that wore slabs of butter like Paula Dean's most erotic dream. That sludge, enhanced with a ton of sugar and creamer, became my baseline for coffee. I make no apologies for it. We all make bad decisions when drunk.

Soon a light shone from the Heavens in the form of Iced Coffee (revered proper noun). Double brewed and strong! Unlike my experiences with hot coffee which seemed to have a six-second window when it was neither too hot nor too cold to drink, this Iced Coffee had every window and door wide open. All the time! I dove through that open window with acrobatic exuberance and my baseline quickly shifted toward bold attempts to mainline my new discovery.

(This idea of "too cold" hot coffee is one of the great ironies in a society that also passionately consumes iced coffee. Is there anyone who would refuse to eat cooked fish after it has gotten cold but later happily and greedily eat chunks of fish intentionally served cold? Wait. Shit. I just described sushi.)

From Dunkin' Donuts, we gradually evolved to Starbucks. Settle down everyone who runs on Dunkin', I used "evolved" to bait you. I didn't intend it to be an insult. I meant it in the way that suggests you still have a tail and I don't. Tails are cute, not grotesque. I promise.

From Starbucks, there was -- and still is -- no turning back. Even if it were possible to turn back, I wouldn't want to. Like I tweeted one day, I now think Dunkin' Donuts is to methadone as Starbucks is to heroin. Would Bubs and Johnny scavenge copper wire for methadone if they could score some heroin? I think not.

Eventually and inevitably, I turned various Starbucks locations into my office. Since the beginning of November 2012, I have been attempting to write my first novel. I have written every word in either a Starbucks or some mom-and-pop coffee shop. I average around 750 words per hour which quite conveniently coincides to one Trenta. See? Karma. I have also written every single word on an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard. This has been an interesting experiment, one that just three short years ago would not have been technologically possible. I know that when I sit down at Starbucks with my iPad, then it's officially time to work.

I imagine that this is exactly what life coaches mean when they advise people to find what they love and then figure out how to make that their life's work. For me, Coffee, Starbucks, and the Trenta started as excuses to spend time with a girl then moved on to a delightful chemical addiction. Now I have a familiar and comfortable environment that helps me overcome my previous mental block and procrastination over what can be a very daunting writing goal.

If I ever finish the book, I hope every reader enjoys it while curled up with a cup of their favorite variety of coffee. Or, at least, uses it as a coaster beneath their favorite variety of coffee.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dental Damning

This afternoon I was rejected from donating blood because I had a simple, basic dental cleaning this morning. The guy with smoker's cough and yellow teeth, who was filling out his form across from me, was accepted.

This makes me wonder which of us the future blood recipient would choose? Assuming a hypothetical scenario in which that patient has access to either a menu of potential donors with their picture and vital statistics or, at the very least, a buffet where we all line up like dishes of tantalizing Chinese food during the lunch rush.

Maybe I'm crazy or simply not an educated part of the health care elite, but, after perusing all the options at that buffet, I would choose the person who looks the healthiest. The person who appears to take care of himself and, by extension, his blood (which will soon be hanging out with my blood). I would not choose the person who just coughed up a half-ounce of tobacco residue all over the crab rangoon like he was the worst Iron Chef contestant ever.

Now, I have donated blood many times in the past and have never before seen a question about recent dental care on the form. If you haven't ever donated blood, I can assure you that it's very easy to figure out the purposes of all the other questions on the donor history form. Because of that, I assumed when I checked "yes" that the technician would ask me what kind of dental care I received. I would answer "basic, routine cleaning." She would then ask if they administered Novocaine or any other injection. I would answer "no" and we would gleefully high-five at the prospect that soon a healthy pint of my blood would be milked out of me and on its way to a sick kid.

I'll call this sick kid, Ralph. I don't actually know the name of the kid who would have received my blood because of patient confidentiality or some such thing, but you don't see the name Ralph around much any more and I'd like to kick-start a naming movement. Aside from being sick, Ralph is a normal kid. His mother probably even has to beg, plead and bribe to get him to brush his teeth each night. In a few years, if he survives his transfusion of nicotine-enhanced blood, Ralph will stumble across the word "irony" and the circle will be complete.

However, that is not the way the scenario played out. Instead, she paused at the checked "yes" and asked what dental care I had received and when it had been. I confidently answered "basic, routine cleaning this morning at 8:00." She responded quickly: "You aren't eligible to donate blood today. You can't donate until Thursday morning." What? No high-five? Just an abrupt kick to the curb.

Since I had never heard of this policy before, I asked why. Her explanation was that a dental cleaning can create small openings along the gums that then have increased susceptibility to bacteria and infection. I wanted to point out that a splinter in my finger would create the same risk and there was no question (and therefore no concern) about recent splinter wounds. I wanted to laugh and ask if my mouth would be at less of a risk if I had munched on a small morsel of cow manure and not cleaned my teeth. But I didn't say anything. The implication was clear: a human mouth is dirtiest immediately after being professionally cleaned. I was simply thankfully that the same wasn't true of a restaurant's cutlery or a surgeon's hands.

One would think that dental hygiene would be viewed as a positive. In fact, I seem to remember at least one cartoon toothbrush and his companion talking toothpaste telling me that it was one of the best things I could do for myself. "Healthy teeth, healthy me" or some similar bullshit propaganda clearly distributed by the powerful anti-blood-donation and anti-sick-kid coalitions.

(While on the topic of a cartoon tube of toothpaste squirting the contents of himself on the bristled head of his toothbrush pal, one has to wonder if anyone has researched the lasting psychological effects the anthropomorphizing of everything is having on the kids who watch these things. I, for one, would not hang out with someone or something who winks at me casually before intentionally spilling the contents of his body all over me. I certainly wouldn't wink back and then, with a big smile, leap into a monstrous mouth and go all Gangnam Style on the teeth inside.)

Everything we have been told about dental care, by humans and cartoon health and beauty aids alike, has been a massive lie. Tooth and gum care is a dangerous, condemned activity. In the world of trying to do something nice for sick or injured people who need a blood transfusion to stay alive, my lack of plaque falls somewhere between sharing a needle with a Taiwanese sex slave and maximum security incarceration in a nudist prison colony.

This is, of course, followed by noticeably exiting without donating. They might as well have attached a scarlet "Y" to my shirt just to further drive home the point that I had checked "Yes" to one of the questions. Among a list of questions asking about AIDS, drug-use, prison-time, prostitution, STDs, shared needles, unprotected/careless sexual activities, and experimental medications, I dared to answer "yes" to the question "Under the past 24 hours have you been under the care of a dentist." For shame, Flosser! Damn you, Brusher!

I'm just thankful that it was a "confidential" form. God forbid that anyone had found out that I went to the dentist as opposed to any of the other possibilities. I would be shunned from normal society for years and forced to live in an isolated freak colony with others of my kind. A habitat whispered about in the dark to the young as a warning. A place devoid of halitosis and cavities. A shameful place.

Walking off a mobile blood lab after everyone knows you have been rejected for something is a special kind of humiliation. You walk on, sit down, fill out a form, go into a closet to be interviewed, then walk past all of the donation couches and exit the lab. Everyone present knows what those forms ask and what is confirmed in the interview. And not a single one of them was thinking "must be his clean teeth" when negatively judging me during my walk of shame.