Credit Where It’s Due

Well, that was close. I received a text today telling me that my package couldn’t be delivered because something was wrong with the address, and I needed to go to follow the link to correct it and get sent on. So I did, and I clicked the “Forward” link, and they told me it would cost $3.00 to send and gave me some spaces to fill in my credit card information. The only package I’m waiting on is some meds for Newcastle, so I needed those to be delivered. I would have entered my credit card information, but I was working outside, and my wallet was inside, and I figured I’d get back to it later.

At dinner, I was telling Nicole about it, and I realized with crystal clarity that I almost got scammed. The site looked like the Post Office site, and charging $3.00 to redeliver a package sounds exactly like something they’d do, but there were enough red flags that I should have caught it right away, but I didn’t.

The moral of this story is, if I had been any less lazy, I would have spent all of today on the phone with the bank, cancelling my credit card and disputing charges.

This is a victory for sloth.

Stepping into the Same River Twice

I’m doing something a little presumptuous. I’m writing my memoirs. I’m doing it in an unusual format, which is I picked twenty people who influenced my life, from high school friends to more recent individuals, to my ex-wife, and I’m writing a chapter about each of them. Sometimes, I’ll take a page or so of someone else’s chapter and remember another important figure who I don’t have enough to write a full chapter on.

There was this young woman in college who I very consciously set out to befriend. It was a success. However, it was approaching the end of the school year, so we became pen-pals. Every other week, I received a letter from her, long and a little stream-of-consciousness, and just all kinds of wonderful. When asked by her therapist about journaling, she said, “I do journal. I write Jeremiah.” She had lost her father recently to cancer, so she pleaded with me to quit smoking, which I didn’t do. We cared for each other, we supported each other, we loved each other, and we didn’t have sex, so I called her my wife. Corresponding, we had no one else in our lives, but in person, not so much. When we reunited that fall, we didn’t click, and we drifted apart.

At some point, I think she started a cult. It was some kind of internal spirituality thing, and it sounded like a cult. Later, after she found me on Facebook, I discovered that she was a pre-COVID anti-vaxxer, and after she posted some really objectionable science, I hid her posts. The last thing she said to me was a comment on a post I made debunking the Mandela Effect, saying that I was wrong, there’s more to the Mandela Effect than just faulty memory. If you know anything about the Mandela Effect, you know she means alternate universes and apocalypses. That’s when I muted her feed.

While writing this chapter, I realized that I still had all of her letters. I dug them out and reread all of them, which took some time because each of those letters was a tome. What I found was a young woman desperately trying to find her identity and make sense of this world. She struggled to get over her last boyfriend, she tried dating back in her small, South Dakota town to disappointing results. She signed her letters with “Love” but would sometimes cross that out and write “Always” instead. She read a story I wrote inspired by her hostile first meeting with me, starring a thinly veiled me and a thinly veiled her, and she informed me that these two characters would make great friends but there would be no romance (I recognized the subtext, even at the time).

Reading pages and pages of her careening trains of thought reminded me of how it felt to open up my mail and get one of these oversized envelopes. I wrote about three double-spaced pages about our relationship, and I wondered if maybe she would like a nostalgia bump, so I searched her out on my friend list, but she wasn’t there anymore. I searched her out anyway and discovered that her feed is public.

She isn’t just a little anti-vax now. She has gone full-throttle. She’s posting news stories about people dying from the vaccine, and about people applying for jobs at concentration camps that they’re going to create for the unvaccinated so they can force them to take a shot. She is not coming from a Republican place with this, this is all conspiracy from the Left. It was in college that she started down the New Age rabbit hole and got stuck.

How I feel about this is the same as when you have to sneeze, but can’t. I’m seeing this lovely, confused, hopeful young woman on paper, but in reality, she’s kind of insane. I go through nostalgia kicks and can’t or won’t contact the person I’m feeling it for, but I’ve never run across so many red flags screaming “Don’t!” What am I supposed to do with this warm, lovely feeling reading her letters has given me when this person isn’t the same person I remember (all the while being unquestionably the same person)? This is so frustrating to me because the two things I got from this experience that I want to hold onto forever is this woman as I remembered her and the feeling of writing actual, physical letters to someone and getting one back. I can’t have either anymore.

I miss her. I had no idea how much.

Little Sticks of Death

I remember how and why I started smoking. It was the first time Kate and I got together, and she’d left a note in my mailbox that said we had to talk. No time has that phrase meant anything good, so I was stressed. I thought about what all the peers I looked up to did when they were stressed, which inspired me to locate a cigarette from a man whose name is lost to history, and the first time I smoked a cigarette, it was horrible. It was physically gross, and it made me dizzy. Why would people money for that? How was this calming me down? The next day, I wanted to do it again. Gradually, I grew to enjoy the high, even as I craved it the whole time.

One day, you realize that you’re not even getting the high anymore. All you know is that your brain doesn’t work right, and you get the tremors when you’re not smoking. This isn’t like heroin, where not getting high off of it was a process that took months, even years. With cigarettes, you take a quick hop to dependency. You can go through a lot of cigarettes in a day, especially if you’re sitting a bar from before 2003, when smoking was kicked out of the indoors, because it’s so easy to put one to your lips and light them. Besides, if you do it right, lighting a cigarette can look insanely cool, just ask John Constantine.

Think about a time when everyone’s desk at work came with an ashtray. I used to think it was fascist to kick smokers out of all buildings, but I’ve reconsidered because smoking is really fucking bad for you, and it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re the one with the cigarette. Smoking contributes nothing to society except for death, and I’m willing to overlook my stance on banning things when it comes to that.

After I got addicted, I quit smoking about three times. The first time, I kept one or two around, just in case, to prove to myself that I could resist temptation. I couldn’t. The second time I quit smoking, I removed all cigarettes from my apartment, so I just went out and bought a pack. At the same time, Kate was supposed to be quitting, but she was also sneaking cigarettes behind my back. We gave up on giving up.

Finally, our doctor put me on Chantix, which was later pulled off the shelves because some users tried to kill themselves and then put back on the shelves because I don’t know. Maybe less users tried to kill themselves. Before the whole suicidal ideation thing, I went on the drug. It made me constipated. But the thing that it did best was block me from getting off on the nicotine. And without the nicotine rush and relief, a cigarette is just a burnt, soggy, rolled-up piece of paper. And I let this control my life for thirteen years? I very quickly settled in on the side effects of quitting because Chantix didn’t take away the side effects. Somehow my quitting smoking turned everyone around me into a fucking asshole, and once I was away from it for a while, I came to appreciate just how horribly I smelled.

And so, while I craved cigarettes, I didn’t want to go anywhere near them because a) they were disgusting, and b) I didn’t want to be their slave again. However, I did have two cigarettes since then.

The first was on the day when my beloved friend Jenni got married. I bummed a smoke as a way of starting a conversation with her maid of honor’s boyfriend, which was how we used to do things in college and at parties. I remember how awful everything about it was. It was like my first time all over again, only this time, I wasn’t tempted back.

The second was at my sister’s apartment in Ventura, California. Watching her smoke cigarettes made me feel nostalgic, so I bummed one and kind of hated it. I thought how casually I used to smoke, the cigarette dangling from my first two fingers, leaning rakishly up against the closest wall or streetlight. All I wanted to do that time was sit down until the dizziness passed.

Since then, I occasionally dream about smoking again, but when I realize I didn’t fall off the wagon, I am so relieved. Once a very important part of my life, I’ve completely forgotten about smoking, so that people who used to be badass smokers in my novels and short stories just don’t smoke anymore. I gave no explanation. If I wanted to have fun, I could write a short story about any of them quitting.

I smoked my last cigarette as an addict on May 15, 2007, so I have been an ex-smoker two years longer than I’ve been a smoker. I don’t regret smoking for thirteen years, but I don’t miss it at all. After all this time, though, I still don’t recall what Kate wanted to talk to me about.

Saving the Date

You know who’s not thinking about this day? Kate. I can’t read her mind, and I haven’t any contact with her in over a year when she wanted me to disconnect the cable in the condo because it was in my name. (Plot twist! They disconnected the cable when she initially called two days earlier, so I had to wait on hold and tell my story to three different people over the course of an afternoon for no reason.) I like to think that being married to her for almost fourteen years means that I have some clue how she thinks. However, if I really had a clue how she thinks, I wouldn’t have been sucker-punched by the divorce papers. She didn’t think much of me at the end, and she probably thinks less of me now. She told people our anniversary was April 31.

I blogged two years ago that I feel like this was a holiday that people were forgetting. As is the case with September 11, I want the world to stop on this day. I want people to remember the date. But it’s a Saturday, and it’s a lovely spring day in Washington D.C., and who’s got the time? It’s not my marriage that trips me up this day every year, it’s that this was once one of the most significant days of my life, and to everyone else, it’s time to go to the farmers’ market and pick up some produce.

I’m the only one who remembers this day, and I wish I wouldn’t. Maybe I’ll do something nice for myself.

Do you remember the Princess I told you about in that little fable I shared mid-February? It’s her birthday tomorrow. I want to go back to celebrating that, like I did before I found myself saying “I do.” Tauruses for life, amiright?

The Butterflies Effect

The last few years of my marriage, I became insular. I would accompany my ex to gatherings, and I’d sit there, unable to think of a thing to say and unable to meet new people. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to people, or even that I lacked the will to do so, but because I had no idea how to start a conversation. When I got a job at The Container Store in Reston, I didn’t particularly bond with my colleagues, and it took me three years to be comfortable enough to be myself around them. This came up during one of my employee evaluations, so it was noticeable. When I started work at the DC Container Store, I was there for a year before I quit, and I had not, by that point, made friends. There was a guy I talked to regularly, and there was my crush, who I followed around like a lovesick kitten, and that was it. Once quarantine happened, I lost any progress I had made in that front. Since I’ve been half-assed dating over the past six months, I’ve had success chatting with the women because they led, and I just caught up.

I’m very comfortable in silence, and I can ride an elevator all the way to the top (which in DC is only ten stories) with someone and not have to share a word. Since we’ve returned to the office, though, a situation that makes me extremely uncomfortable, as in middle-schooler-at-a-dance uncomfortable, and that’s when I’m in the break area with my new crush.

I’ve gone over this before, but I love having crushes, and I never look at them as anything more than just butterflies fluttering around my ribcage. In the case of my last crush, she was in her early twenties, fresh out of school, and I had no doubt that everything I found charming about her would absolutely irritate the shit out of me if I experienced it for longer than an hour at a time. In the case of my new crush, I know nothing about her, except that she’s cute, and that’s no basis for a relationship. She looks like she’s in her mid-twenties, but she has her own office, and my boss doesn’t have her own office, so that has got to put her squarely in her thirties (that’s two things I know).

Every day she walks by my cubicle on her way to the water station/break area (so I guess I know three things about her—the third is that she’s hydrated), but she looks really irritated every time she walks by, so the excuse I have made not to talk to her is that I didn’t want to be messing around in that. However, I stepped into the break area to find paper towels my second day in the office, and she was there. I braced myself for what was bound to be an uncomfortable (for me anyway) silence, but when I did discover the paper towels, I announced my relief, adding, “I knew they were here because I saw them in the trash.” She said, “As long as you don’t take the ones from the trash,” and she laughed uproariously. So she has a sense of humor (four things I know about her), and she’s got a husky voice like Katherine Hepburn (five things).

The next time I interacted with her, it was the next day, and I made a point of going to the break area when she walked by. Somehow I started a conversation with her and made her laugh some more. I can’t begin to express what a big deal this is to me, for all the reasons I outlined above, and because my inability to have conversations doubles when attractive strangers are involved. But I made a joke about pinching on St. Patrick’s Day, and she laughed, the kind of laugh you throw your whole body into. But the following week, I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her.

While talking to my Wellness Coach, I made it clear I wasn’t proposing marriage. All I was doing was having a thirty-second conversation. If that failed, my life will not have changed in any way whatsoever. My homework assignment was to compliment something she was wearing, and how hard could that be? On Tuesday, I did it. Today, I had a brief conversation with her about Turkish coffee. So not so hard at all. The tendency of humans is to lose excitement for things that are no longer novel, but every time I talk to her, I want to tell everybody. This is a huge accomplishment for me.

I am reminded of my roommate in Jersey City, and how, every time I expressed an interest in someone or talked about my crush at the time, she always said, in an almost scolding voice, “You never know!” And so I leave you with that. Will I continue to chat with this woman? Will the skills I’ve picked up in my thirty-second conversations translate over to the rest of the world? You never know.

You Can Tell by the Way I Use my Walk

Anybody who’s ever met me in person knows I have a very distinctive walk. I don’t just go from Point A to Point B, I go from Point A to Point B in style. It’s a weird kind of strut/stride/shuffle, as if I’m listening to the opening chords of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees on a permanent loop. I walk more like a normal person now, but whenever I’m ready to have an adventure, even if that adventure is going to Safeway to buy more pancake mix, my walk is confident, with zero fucks to give.

Meanwhile, somebody might have noticed that there are no recent pictures of me. I am violently opposed to being photographed, and I really try to avoid mirrors. Even as I was doing it, I wondered exactly what it was about my image that bothered me so much. I can look at old pictures just fine. I’m comfortable in my own skin, for once, and pretty laid back about my appearance. I’m not hideous.

Finally, I figured out why. It’s because I don’t recognize the Jeremiah I see. As a novelist, I see myself as the main character in a story, and the character looks like me in my late-twenties or late-thirties (except with gray hair). Since then, I’ve put on about fifty pounds (I lost a lot of weight last summer, but I gained a lot of it back in the winter). I wear the weight relatively well, i.e. I am not obese like President Trump, I just appear to have the advanced stages of a dad bod. Again, I’m not hideous.

However, when I imagine myself in the world, like I’m on a date, I picture myself rakish and stylish. You know, the hero. But when I picture myself as I really look on that same date, I see someone bumbling and oafish because the hero is NEVER fat. When I think of myself the way I really look, I’m awkward and self-conscious, but when I picture me as the hero, I am badass and ready to take on the challenges of the world.

I think it would help if I could see other people who looked like me, but they’re not in TV or the movies unless they’re farting. What counts as morbidly obese in Hollywood is a little chubby to the rest of us in this country. When Thor put on weight in Avengers Endgame, it was treated as one hilarious fat joke after another—even his mom had to take a swing at him. I can’t look to entertainment for role models. As for the people around me, most who live in my neighborhood are extraordinarily fit. So I got nothing. I feel lonely here with my belly (which my cat loves, by the way).

Now that I’ve identified the source of my hang-up, what can I do with it? I’m fine with things the way they are, but I can’t avoid mirrors forever. Even if I manage to lose all of this weight again, that is a slow process, and I’ll be living in this body until I get to that point. Eventually, I’m going to have to come to terms with how I look.

Going out with a Whimper

I’ve been half-assed online dating for a while, and I’m just not feeling it. I’ve been on a dozen dates with women, and they have all blown me off afterward. It doesn’t really bother me because I’m not actually attracted to them—I think they were cool, and I loved hanging out with them that one time, but I just didn’t feel it. I pictured very clearly being with one of these women, but it wasn’t because I was really into her, she just seemed to be my type, and she seemed to be attracted to me. That is not the basis for a relationship.

I’m finding that happens a lot with the pre-date contact too. I am happily chatting with a woman, and for some reason that isn’t clear, they stop responding. It doesn’t really affect me in any way, and I don’t have anything invested in a relationship with them, so I just don’t care. When I cruise through the available women and find someone I actually am attracted, it’s like I send my hello message into a black hole, never to be seen again.

What did sting was in December, when I found out one of my coworkers is into a lot of the same pop culture as I, she leans politically the same way I did, she’s weird and whimsical, she made me laugh a lot, she thinks I’m funny, and she’s a writer. We spent a conference together, working at an information booth for thirteen-hour shifts with nothing to do but talk to each other (we had created a system that made it easy for attendees to find the information on their own, so they didn’t need to talk to us). We attended several receptions together, hanging around almost exclusively with one another and taking cabs back to the hotel together. We had in-jokes. We waited for our plane together. We made a great team. I found out at the last minute that she was asexual too, which took away some of the pressure building as I contemplated what a relationship would be like with her. And, as soon as we returned to DC, she ghosted me. Whatever spark I felt wasn’t shared. The good news, which I never forget, is that I got to spend several uninterrupted days with someone awesome. The bad news is that it didn’t go any further.

All of this has got me asking, what am I looking for, and what are these women looking for? I’m not looking for sex, and at least one told me explicitly that she was. I’m not really looking for companionship—I have that kind of relationship with my roommate—and it’s clear that a lot of women my age are divorcees looking for a second or third husband to retire with (there’s a monetary aspect to my rejections too). I found what I was looking for with my coworker, and that was just being in the right place at the right time, not about pouring through hundreds of profiles and right/left swiping.

But take these women away, all of them, even my coworker, and I’m not missing anything. I live a pretty idyllic single life, and I’m not sure I’d appreciate someone barreling in and rearranging that. I have someone who will miss me if I don’t come home, who I can talk about my day with. I think I would like to cuddle with someone, is that something to base a relationship on?

I’m not sure what conclusions I am supposed to come to with this. My whole attitude about dating feels like depression, i.e. doing something when all you want to do is nothing, but I’m not depressed. The fact is, I’m just not into it, and it shows (one of the dates I went on later told me I looked bored), which I’m sure is the main reason I keep running into these dead ends.

All Tangoed Up

I tried to dance the Argentinian Tango, and it did not go well.

I made a new friend through one of the dating apps, and she is obsessed with dancing. And fishing. If this was a Venn diagram, there would be a circle for fishing and another for tango, and they would barely touch, and in that little sliver would be my new friend. She’s energetic, cheerful, and enthusiastic, and she does this thing where I remember her talking all the time, but we’re always talking about me.

She reached out to me on a dating app, and I talked to her about learning to dance. I’ve been talking about learning to dance for years, and I’ve never followed through on it. Well, she did, and after a false start, we found a place that taught the tango. We went to the class, listened to the lecture, lined up with our partners, and I had a panic attack.

Part of it was because I was overwhelmed. Part of it is because touching makes me uncomfortable, and I couldn’t power through it like I thought I would be able to. To be fair, this was an advanced class, so we were learning a few steps ahead of what I could handle, but still, I was a mess.

The instructor, who was amazing, and who loved dance, saw that I was floundering, and he stepped in to show me the basic tango moves: step, pivot, step, pivot, and so on. I figured out the stepping part, and if we had stopped there, it would have been a successful learning experience. But the pivoting, which I had to guide with my chest, baffled me. The instructor could be heard saying, “Guide me. No, the other way. The other way. Okay, you don’t need to move your feet to pivot. Step, now pivot. You need to stop moving your feet when you pivot. Step, pivot. Try to keep your feet together when you pivot. Step, pivot. You did it! You did it!” I’m pretty sure he was thinking, “Finally!”

My new friend took me out on a break, during which I told her about my touch aversion, which she felt I should have told her about sooner. But in the room where we were hiding, we tried the basic steps. Eventually, I got it, though I will need a lot more practice until I feel comfortable with it. We called it quits there, after a half-hour, so I could get home and recover from the trauma.

I’m excited to go again, and as I suspected, the more I danced, the less the touch thing bothered me, so it should go a lot more smoothly. My dance partner is practically a professional. She’s been dancing since the nineties, so she’s pretty advanced. I worry that she won’t be able to dance at her own level while I’m around, but that doesn’t seem to worry her at all. Probably because, when you’re taking the class and not losing your shit, you have to switch partners, and she would inevitably be paired off with someone with a lot more experience (but not as much as her).

For the past several months, I’ve been writing, or I’ve been editing. I wake up, I write, I clock in at work, I clock out, I write, I make dinner, I watch some TV, and I go to sleep. All weekend, I type what I’ve written and write some more. I sometimes go to the grocery store. If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that writing is my life, and this seems like it would be ideal, but I really need to get out. My new friend gets all the points for getting me out.

The Princess and the Pauper

Once Upon a Time, there was a pauper who lived in the Magical Kingdom of New York, by way of the Fiefdom of Jersey City. This Pauper was deeply in debt, and had to work two jobs to keep the creditors off of him. Working so hard made him tired.

Once Upon a Time, there was a Princess in a distant kingdom. She had troubles of her own and was also very tired.

The Princess and the Pauper knew each other, but only barely. And yet, one fateful day, she sent a message to the Pauper that she had some frequent-flyer miles, and she wanted to see the Magical Kingdom of New York, over President’s Day, and would he be her guide?

The Pauper remembered being bedazzled by her smile and her attitude, so he opened his doors wide, where she came into his life like a tsunami. She was a princess, in every sense of the world, and demanded the Pauper’s full attention and allegiance. They zigged and zagged through Manhattan, until something caught the Princess’s eye, and everything came to a halt while they investigated. There was much to investigate. They went to the finest restaurants, the finest drinking establishments, the finest merchants, and befriended the finest puppies. Unfortunately the Princess chose the wrong boots for all the walking they were doing, but she persisted. She had to see all of Manhattan in three days, and they almost did.

Meanwhile, the paupers of New York gathered on random weekends at a pub called The International. The Princess’s sightseeing fell on the same weekend as one of these gatherings, and the Pauper had to confirm with the Lead Pauper that he could have a plus-one. This made the Lead Pauper suspicious, and when he and the Princess arrived, the Lead Pauper gave her a look that asked the question, “Who do you think you are?” The gathering of paupers was for paupers, not princesses. But then Lead Pauper and the Princess carried a conversation with their eyes for a split-second, and the Princess was welcome to their corner. The Princess charmed everyone, and was a welcome addition to the gathering.

When the Princess and the Pauper weren’t wearing themselves out in the Magical Kingdom of New York, they were resting. They took refuge from the chilly February air under the blankets and sheets, talking. They talked and talked and cried and laughed and talked some more, all while cuddling. And that’s where they kept it.

At the airport, when it all had to come to an end, she kissed him chastely but passionately, and when she pulled away, she nibbled on his lower lip. That was when he fell in love with her. This wasn’t the pining, focused, often possessive love of fairy tales but rather a sense of joy knowing that she was in the world, bedazzling others with a smile and a wink. He never fell out of love with her, even through several girlfriends and a long marriage, and when the Princess found her Prince and is now Queen of her own kingdom. They don’t talk often, but every President’s Day, they reach out and remind each other what that weekend felt like.

And they lived happily ever after in their own lives, knowing that, on the day when everyone in the US celebrated their presidents or, more likely, their day off, the Princess and the Pauper would always celebrate each other.

My Silly Valentine

Having been single for the first twenty years of my life, I grew to hate Valentine’s Day. Here was a card that, like Mother’s Day, was invented just to sell flowers and cards. I used to think that, if couples needed to wait until one specific day of the year to do something special for each other, then maybe their relationship wasn’t so special.

At the age of twenty-five, I was dumped on Valentine’s Day after we celebrated it together and I spent a lot of money on her. We won’t discuss whether I deserved to be dumped because I totally did.

At the age of twenty-two, I made a friend whose birthday was on the thirteenth, so I would celebrate that instead. (I lost touch with her for around fifteen years, but I always celebrated February 13 for her.)

While married, Valentine’s Day became just another day, as we focused our celebrations on the dates that mattered to us specifically, i.e. our anniversary, the anniversary of the day I left New York to be with her, and, as the years progressed, her religious holidays.

I did have a Valentine’s Day on an undisclosed year of my life that is one of my fondest memories. It started out playful and flirty and hit kind of an ugly point, but we brought it back together, and that night, while she slept, I think I fell in love with her (but I never told her—one of the greatest regrets of my life).

As I’ve gotten older, and I’m already looking at forty-five in my rearview mirror, I’ve come to realize what Valentine’s Day is really about. It’s about giving out those little cards to everyone in your class, even the ones you hated, the ones with the puns and your favorite superhero on them. It’s about those candy hearts that say, “Be Mine” and other phrases I can’t remember anymore, the ones you were supposed to give the apple of your eye, but you just ended up eating it yourself. It’s about pink streamers and cutting hearts out of construction paper, and the red sheets always running out before you can get to it. With the exception of my nearly perfect Valentine’s Day outlined above, this is the Valentine’s Day I want to celebrate—kids who have no idea what romance is being creative and funny to each other, passing each other pieces of paper that advertise a fast-food version of said romance.

When you’re with your beloved, and you’re irritated that none of the restaurants have any space for couples, and you forgot to make reservations. The ones that do have openings jack up their prices for the day. You just spent over a hundred dollars on flowers and chocolates, and you have no idea what to talk about on a date with someone you’ve been living with for years, just remember when that girl you definitely didn’t like, especially not like that, handed you a card that had Aquaman on it, and it said, “I ‘sea’ you, Valentine” and long for those days. I generally don’t think that things were better when I was a kid, but in the case of Valentine’s Day, it totally was.