Trigger Warning

This post has a pretty big trigger warning on it, for reasons that will become apparent very quickly in the next paragraph.

This past Thursday, during my commute home, so about four o’clock, I was sexually assaulted on the DC Metro. I won’t tell you exactly what happened because I’ve been reliving it pretty steadily for the past week, and I don’t feel like immortalizing it. I can tell you what happened after. I was in a crowded train, and I screamed at the guy, and nobody saw or heard a thing. They didn’t mind looking at me until I looked back, then it was the floor or the person next to me. I was sexually assaulted in front of dozens of people, and no one saw anything. 

My attacker sat down in the closest available seat and stared at me, who was standing by the door. When a couple got between us, he changed seats, moving through the crowd like he wasn’t even there, his eyes always following me. I knew right then that this guy was going to follow me home. Sure, I picked this place because it was right by the stairs to the mezzanine at my stop, but there was only one exit, a long escalator ride, and no Metro personnel in the station at all. This guy could assault me again or worse, and no one was coming to help me. When we reached my station, I waited until the door was closing, then I slipped out and went home.

I still spent most of the evening with the blinds closed, hoping that he didn’t backtrack to my stop to find me. When I woke up the next day, I wondered if he wouldn’t be waiting at my station for me when I would have to go back to work on Tuesday. Maybe he remembered which train I was on and which car I’d chosen, and he’ll be waiting for me when I get out of work. 

I feel like I should underscore how utterly alone I felt when I got home Thursday. I was the only other person in a crowded train car, and when I thought about who to talk to about this, I was reminded that I had no one to talk to. I have texting friends, and I reached out to a few of them, and they got back to me after an hour or so. Nicole was in bed in Romania. I called my mom, which I’d rather have avoided, but I had to speak to someone with a voice. One of my friends did call me several hours later, and she was a godsend, but for the first hour or so after the incident, I was on my own, and I wasn’t sure that was a bad thing. 

With the exception of the few of the friends I’d reached out to on Thursday, as well as an HR rep I spoke to on Friday, I hadn’t told anyone about this. I’m not ashamed—violated, but not ashamed. This wasn’t my fault. The reason I’m avoiding it is because I hate how everybody looks at me. I hate the catch in their voice when they process it. They’re not doing anything wrong—it’s a natural reaction to hearing something awful like this. But I still hate it. 

I felt alone on the Metro. I felt alone at home. And I felt alone because I’m a man. This is not someone who believes that men have it worse than women, but they don’t warn a guy this could happen, do they? No, they don’t. In fact, unless it happens to you, the only thing you are likely to hear about male sexual assault is how goddamned funny it is. From “Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison” in Office Space to Ving Rhames getting hilariously raped in Pulp Fiction, to little kids make dropping-the-soap jokes, male sexual assault is fun for the whole family.

Victims are made to be overly feminine, like the “bitch” trope in prison (Ben Kingsley had a bitch in a Marvel short that can be seen on Disney+)    . The reason why is that a real man would never let that happen to them. Fuck that, I don’t want to be a real man. Real men are assholes. Besides, what was I going to do? Was I going to punch or kick the guy into unconsciousness? Wrestle him down and present him to the non-existent Metro cops? What if he had a knife? What if he kicked my ass back even harder? I couldn’t count on concerned citizens coming to the rescue, that’s for sure. 

I’ve chosen not to go to the police with this. It will accomplish nothing. I left him on a Maryland-bound train. I don’t have any details on the train itself that would lead them to the guy. The suspect was wearing a Covid mask, a hat, and a black parka. In this city, he’s invisible. They will never catch him, there will be no justice, and he’ll do it again. But I will not spend hours in the station telling and retelling my story to be the thing they joke about in the break room. My HR rep is kind of angry with me for this decision, and she spent most of Friday trying to talk me out of it.

I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what I did wrong because I didn’t do anything wrong. He came from blind corner behind me. He didn’t make a sound. There was nothing I could have done to prevent it, which is both a relief and a reason to be terrified. (On Friday morning, when I was still paranoid, I asked myself aloud, “Is this what it feels like to be a woman every day?”) I’m an overweight, forty-six-year-old, pale dude. This could happen to anybody.

But what makes me really sad is that I don’t really put a lot of thought into my appearance anymore, but on Thursday, I put in the effort. I wore a dress shirt that matched my beloved sweater vest and my business casual shoes, and I braved the frigid air walking from the train to my office because I knew that, when work was over, it was going to be the perfect weather for my corduroy blazer, and I looked good and I felt good, and I never want to wear those clothes again. There’s the part of me that notes it was the one thing I did differently that day. No, I don’t think the person who attacked me was attracted to me. This kind of thing isn’t about sex. It was about scaring me, and well done, sir. 

It’s not the physical act of what he did that has kept me trapped in my apartment for the past week, it’s the helplessness. The things I thought I could count on to stay safe—bright lights, public spaces, crowds, back to the wall, all failed me. And the recent break-in showed us that you can lock the house all you want, but if the locking mechanism fails in one of your windows, they’re coming in.

I’m grounding myself by writing a novel about the oldest characters I’ve created and reteaching myself how to ink and preparing for my inevitable comic book, but this weekend, I couldn’t. A lot of the initial horror of what happened has faded, and I was able to go out and buy a latte (I was concerned that the barista was my attacker because he was the same size and skin tone to my attacker) Mostly what I have is mild agoraphobia, and I don’t know if I could do that again. 

I’ll be fine. I’ll work from home this week and see if I can use the Metro again soon. There was a bit of a tug of war between my supervisor and HR about this, including the question, “Can you Uber into work?”; which stunned me in its tone-deafness, but HR won. My supervisor was demanding more information, and I think she was looking forward to having something to gossip about. I’ve discovered that I’m less willing to let things in my apartment slide. If my socks don’t both make it into my laundry basket, I now pick up the stray immediately, as opposed to letting it enjoy its freedom for a couple of days. There’s been little housekeeping projects I’ve been putting off that are now getting done.

Don’t worry, I’ll leave the apartment again. I’ll ride the Metro again. I won’t be watching out over my shoulder anymore. It might take a while, but I’ll be fine again. I got two cats counting on me.

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B and E in DC

There’s really no way to build up to this (he said, building up to it), but my apartment was burgled yesterday. I first noticed something was amiss when I approached my building and saw my blinds were drawn. Next, I noted that the food closet was open, and the cats were happily eating the spilled kibble.

My room is right by the door, and a quick glance revealed that someone or someones had emptied out all of my drawers onto the floor. They opened my comic book boxes and threw my Lego boxes around, thankfully not opening any of them. They did not move any of my action figures. Also, they had emptied out the drawer where I keep my medications, and they did not touch the Adderall. They did not touch the bottle of Adderall on my desk so I don’t forget to take my ten o’clock pill (I forget, like, every other day). They didn’t take either of my laptops, they didn’t take my iPad, they didn’t take any of the obsolete iPhones in my room. The only thing missing is a $260 suit from Men’s Wearhouse.

That was my room. They left every other room in the apartment untouched except for Nicole’s room, which they spared most of the destruction of mine. All of her drawers were open and rummaged through, and they tripped over a stack of books when they were breaking in through her window. She has all of her jewelry with her in Romania except for some costume pieces, so those are going to be some very disappointed burglars.

They did do one thing, though, that’s left me baffled. I stared at it for a long time and got a real close look to see if I saw what I thought I was seeing (I was). Our thief removed the large plastic container of cat treats from the refrigerator, spilled half of it into our laundry machine, AND PUT IT BACK IN THE REFRIGERATOR. This is the very thing that the acronym WTF was invented for.

What had me concerned when I first got in and discovered the mess, it was that I was responsible. Maybe I left the door unlocked. See my post a few days ago about ADHD. And if it was my fault, Nicole would be justified in throwing me out, though that might be awkward with her in Romania for the next nine months. Thankfully, my neighbor discovered that Nicole’s blinds had been opened, and her screen was on the ground, and the window looked jostled.

It didn’t even occur to me to call the police for two hours. Instead, I had gone upstairs and knocked on my neighbor’s door. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about Cleo, but I adore her. She’s a flamboyant bombshell in the apartment above me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen casual Cleo, even when she’s in our backyard, working in her kimono, she’s got on a full face of makeup and fully blown-out hair. She’s intelligent, funny, empathetic, boisterous, and she laughs at everything. I rarely bump into her when she’s hanging out outside, but when I do, our conversations are such a delight. I didn’t have anyone local to call, and even though we’re just acquaintances, she’s the closest thing I have to a friend nearby.

Cleo was amazing. She talked me through it. She acquitted me of having left the place vulnerable. She helped me clean up my room. (It still hadn’t occurred to me to call the police.) She canvassed the building, which was only one more apartment. She talked me out of panicking. I don’t know what I would have done without her.

When Cleo left, I thought about filing my renter’s insurance claim, and I realized I’d need a police report. They sent over an officer with blue gloves, and he chatted with me about everything. He didn’t scold me for half-cleaning my room. He called his sergeant, who showed up, asked the officer all the questions he asked me, asked me a few more questions, and called the CSU. Guys, the CSU was in my bedroom! How cool is that!

CSU TECH: The perp left no fingerprints. He’s a ghost, Lieutenant.

LIEUTENANT: A professional. He must have stolen something incredibly valuable.

CSU TECH: (removes glasses) He stole a Men’s Wearhouse suit.

LIEUTENANT (thousand-yard stare) My God.

DAVID CARUSO: Looks like this case … (puts on sunglasses) … is clothes.

SOUNDTRACK: BWAAAAAAAAAA!

He dusted for fingerprints, and he couldn’t find any, not even on the jewelry box I had picked up from the floor when I got home in shock. They really have nothing to go on, but they’re assigning me a detective anyway, and I’ll get to meet them after Nicole and I figure out a way to find what’s missing. I’m hoping they slam their hands on the table and shout, “Answer the question!”

I’m fine. The cats are fine—the burglar(s) were kind enough to close the window and door behind them, and after that stunt with the food, they want me to invite them over again. Nicole took it well when we FaceTimed today. I think she was relieved that it wasn’t my fault. I can’t fill out my claim until Nicole and I assess the damages together, then the officer will pass his report to the detective, who will talk to me and make their own report. I took the day off from work to deal with everything. My room was two-thirds clean by the time Cleo left, though, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my time today.

One of my girlfriends a little over twenty years ago had her apartment robbed. I had picked her up from the airport after she’d been in Ireland for a month (we’d only started dating two weeks before she left). I wore my best suit for her. We were holding hands and looking each other’s eyes and giggling on the cab ride home, and then we found out her apartment had been burgled, some heirloom jewelry stolen. She felt violated, and I spent the rest of the night comforting her.

I don’t really feel violated because I don’t have any secrets except for my thoughts. I think I learned this being married to someone who worked for the CIA—there was no privacy. On the other hand, I have a stack of long-distance love letters from a very precious time in my life, and I can’t find them. I don’t think for a minute they were stolen, so they must be someplace in my apartment. Still, their loss, however temporary, is a hole in my heart. The entirety of our relationship is contained in those letters, except for the part in the beginning when we met in person, of course.

My home was violated. They turned my bedroom, my sanctum sanctorum, into a landfill. My cat treats are in the washing machine. I had three police officers rifling through my home, leaving the doors open so I have to catch the cats. There’s fingerprint dust everywhere. When Cleo put my clothes away, she didn’t know where anything went, so now I can’t find anything. They closed the door and window, so my cats were safe at home. They didn’t steal any of my electronics. They didn’t steal my vital prescription that has a great street value. They didn’t break my action figures. They didn’t really steal anything. Honestly, if I’m going to get burgled, this is the way to do it.

And in case I’m not clear, I’m fine. Mostly, I’m put out by how inconvenient this is.

Walking Against the Wind

I feel like celebrating, but most people I know will hear about my accomplishment and not see what the big deal is. However, my friends with ADHD or are ADHD-adjacent will give me high-fives and pour Gatorade all over me. What did I do? I remembered to turn my roommate’s plant lights on when I wake up in the morning and turn them off before I go to bed for seven days in a row.

Odds are, you’re reading this and wondering why this is the highlight of my week. How hard is it to remember to do that? And you certainly don’t understand why I have to leave myself notes and se alarms on my phone to pull this feat off. It’s because I have to work myself to exhaustion just to function normally, and I still screw up. Note that my roommate has been gone for three weeks, and I’ve only done seven days in a row.

I come into work early because I like the quiet, and I can get through some of the ten inboxes I monitor without people throwing in more email. Today, I saw an email about licensing that I should have been CCed on, so I forwarded it to my primary account. Less than a second passed before I received a notification that I had a new email, with my name on it, and my first thought was, “Who could that possibly be this early in the morning?” This is normal for me.

I had a discussion about face blindness with a friend before work, and neither of us has object permeance when it comes to characters in TV or movies. I’ll be watching something with someone, and the actor will make a triumphant entrance, and I’ll be all, “Who the hell is that?” And my companion would be all, “That’s the main character’s brother. He’s been in every episode.”

Some people think that having ADHD is just an excuse for being a flake. My supervisor hasn’t said as much, but it’s pretty clear she believes this. She doesn’t seem to take my disability seriously. She chews me out if I forget something, which doesn’t happen an excessive amount, but it happens enough. How am I supposed to function in an office where everything feels uphill, and no one wants to give me a hand, and on top of it, I’m getting scolded every couple of days. (Note: I’m going through official channels to deal with this because I can’t deal with this.)

To be clear, I’m not one of those people who uses his disability as a crutch, and I don’t blame everything on it. It took me three years to tell anyone at work about it, and that was only after someone backed me into a corner. Also to be clear, despite this person, this place is not a hellhole. The benefits are amazing, the people are nice, and with the exception of my supervisor, nobody has scolded me for one of my innumerable errors.  

I get why people don’t really believe having ADHD is no big deal. I’m sure there’s not one among you who wouldn’t forget to turn on or off the lamp once. People who are trying to be help have told me this—everybody forgets stuff. But there’s a difference between “I lost my keys, I’m so ADHD!” and the fact that I have to set an alarm on my phone to remember to shower. I need assistance to perform basic hygiene, that’s how bad I am. I have alarms for feeding the cats, turning the lights on and off, taking my Adderall, cleaning the litterbox, taking my medication, and watering the plants. I have so many Post-Its everywhere, I look like that Charlie Day conspiracy meme. I take two medications for it, and I’m still a mess, and it gets worse the older I get. I’ve been told by people I consider family that I’m just not trying hard enough. Reminds me of people who tell you not to be sad when you have depression.

I don’t talk about it much, mostly because the skepticism is a personal insult to how hard I work. Also, I have it under control, so I don’t need accommodation. However, if you’re going back to the seventh paragraph to remind yourself that I don’t take showers without prompting or anything else in this essay and ask, “That’s under control?” That is under control for me. It could be whole lot worse, which is why I try not to miss a dose, but even with the alarm and the threat to my mental health, I miss an average of one-to-two doses a week.

I am tired. Part of the reason I don’t like to socialize anymore is that it’s too complicated. I could go to meetups or schedule coffee with a friend in the district, but I’ve been working and dealing with the escalating scolding from my supervisor. About the only things I can concentrate on are writing and work (and the drawing, it turns out).

In conclusion, I needed to get that off of my chest. It’s been a tough week.

Totally Sketch

When I was 22, I decided to learn how to draw. I started with stick figures, then I started fleshing them out. I learned to ink, and eventually I even learned to color, first with markers, then with watercolors (with pastels when I was feeling it. It took years for me to draw a decent person, but at the time, I was so excited with every breakthrough I made. I illustrated two comics of my own and two comics for a pair of untalented writers. I gave up on drawing comics, but I illustrated 56 pages of Three Stories in One.

But in 2015, a few months after we got back from Doha, after all the excitement of finally being home after so long, I crashed, and I stopped writing and drawing. When I got my mojo back, I tried drawing again, and I got frustrated. I went through looking at the stick blobs I would get so excited about to every imperfection completely ruining the art.

The joy I found in the act of drawing and painting was gone. I created for the destination, not the journey. I also ran into the problem of what I want to draw. I had no inspiration. I still did my yearly self-portrait, and maybe for about a week or so, I’d get a wild hair and make some stuff. It’s been 2 years since I’ve drawn for fun.

I just treated it as a thing I don’t do anymore,’like drinking too much or watching rock concerts at crowded bars. I’ve been encouraged to pick it up again—my parents ask after the art nearly every time we chat.

Slowly, over the course of weeks, I thought about what I could do to jumpstart that again. I found references, I bought a sketchbook that I could live with if the paper was being torn by an eraser.

I thought, if I learned how to draw with a pencil and eraser, then by God, that’s what I was going to use. I had sacrificed precision for speed, and I was going to use that. If I wanted to skip to the completed drawing, then I was going to take my time, erase some things.

Saturday, I said, “It’s time.” I sat with my sketchbook for an hour, learning to draw faces and figures from the ground up. I repeated it on Sunday, same thing with the eraser.

I feel like the old prizefighter training to get back into the ring.

Blackjack Anniversary

My neighbors are all women in their late twenties, and they have the priorities people their age have, like dating and FWBs. We have a picnic table in our backyard, and they like to hang out there when the weather is good, sometimes with the company of gentlemen callers. A handful of times, when I’m taking out the trash, they will invite me to sit with them. A handful of those times, I’ve taken them up on it. I never say anything, I just listen.

On one occasion, the subject of September 11 came up. They weren’t kind. They treated it as an overrated, overhyped spectacle that people needed to get over. If I really wanted to make them awkward, I could have told them where I was that day, but I’d probably no longer get invites to enjoy their show. Plus they’re kids. When I was twenty-seven, I wasn’t a kid, but twenty-seven-year-olds now are kids. Prior to September 11, 2001, I was pretty flippant about Vietnam and the people affected by it.  

I wasn’t offended, and that’s because I’ve been writing a novel where two twenty-six-year-old women fall in love. They’re in Battery Park, New York City, and the subject of the 9/11 Memorial comes up, and it occurred to me as I was writing that the Twin Towers on fire looked just like a movie. If you were a kid, say five years old, when this happened, how would you be able to tell the difference? Maybe I should ask a Baby Millennial/Geriatric Zoomer.

My main character: “September 11 is Generation X’s defining moment, like Vietnam was for Boomers.”

Love Interest: “What’s the Millennials’ defining moment?”

Main Character. “Look around. Take your pick.”

If disaster and disaster came my way just as I’m becoming an adult or trying to settle down with my young family, and if the people in power don’t represent your viewpoint anymore and are legislating hard against people like you, somehow two buildings falling down doesn’t seem like that big a deal.

September 11 is old enough to drink or, in select states, purchase cannabis. What’s happened is that it, like every memory, grew hazy with time. September 11 was bad, but twice as many Americans died in Iraq fighting a war that was proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be manufactured by people who profited immensely from it and were never punished. Almost that amount died in New Orleans when a hurricane they should have been prepared for ravaged a US state, and many more died because relief efforts were so poorly planned. And so on, to this decade, when a virus spread through the country, killing almost a million people, which could have been contained if leadership wasn’t incompetent. Now we have mega-billionaires bending the country to their will and a reactionary minority preparing to take rights away from all of us.

All that in mind, what does 9/11 mean to me? It’s not the worst thing to happen to this country in the past thirty years. Why do I feel something heavy in the pit of my stomach every time I see the date on a calendar? Is it because I was there? Because everybody’s memory of September 11 is one tower burning while a plane crashes into the second, while mine is from a different angle, on the ground, looking up buildings so tall, you couldn’t see the top, now covered in flames and smoke.

My experience with COVID was disappointing, to say the least. I was hoping to be bedridden for a few days, but all I got was a headache. But twenty-one years ago, for about four hours in the morning, the world was on fire. Strangers would grab you and yell in your face that they destroyed the Pentagon! They’re taking out the bridges! And the guilt. I actually believed I could run in there and help people. I didn’t care how or what I did, I thought I could help. Instead, I ran. I’ve made a lot of decisions in my life, but that was probably the smartest.

This essay doesn’t have a clear thesis. Like September 11, there’s no lesson to be learned here. It reveals nothing about our humanity. My generation likes to think they’re jaded, latchkey kids who’ve seen it all. But we were spoiled. America won the Cold War and was riding high when we were young. We were the punching bags of the Boomers until Millennials came along with their avocado toast, and that’s really as bad as it got for us collectively. (Individually, I know a lot of Gen-Xers who’ve suffered unfairly in life, but as a whole, we’ve done pretty well.) Our innocence died on September 11, and as a result, the subsequent generations never really had any. Maybe that’s why I go back to that day, again and again, starting in August every year. It was the morning that changed everything, even for the Millennials and Zoomers who don’t realize it.It was the morning America got so scared that it went completely mad and hasn’t recovered since.

Imagine growing up in that.

Learned Part 6 

It occurred to me while I was listening to my neighbors, both beautiful women in their late twenties, and they’re talking about dating apps and their conquests or lack of conquests, that I interrupted them and said, “This is why I miss my twenties.” Not for the untreated, at-times-crippling mental illness, but for the fact that I wasn’t concerned about IRAs. This stuff was life or death to them, as it was for me when I was that age. There’s an innocence to it that is impossible to replicate, and if there were some way I could give my neighbors more time to enjoy it, I would.  

One of my neighbors, I’m going to call her Ethel, talks to me like she knows me. We’ve had a couple of one-on-one conversations, and we share the same pot dealer, but that’s really it. But she’ll say something that would probably impress me if I knew what she was talking about, and I’ll stand there, and she’ll cock her head like she’s expecting me to weigh in. She gave me a recently published, critically acclaimed book to read which is currently draped in a thin layer of dust.  

I don’t really read because I have yet to find the book that scratches my itch. I spent a year or so burning through Urban Fantasy novels, looking for the one thing and not finding it. Finally, I decided that I’d have to write it myself, and I currently have over two-dozen novels written. And maybe the reason Ethel talks to me like she does is because she sees me writing constantly, and she thinks I’m unraveling the secrets of the human condition when I’m actually writing a murder mystery starring New York nineties club kids.  

Ethel thinks I’m an intellectual, and she is way off. 

I’m not anti-intellectual. Ever since I was a little bitty asshole, I could soak up information like a sponge, but what I couldn’t do was process it. I would learn everything I possibly could about a subject and that’s what I want to be when I grow up, and a new subject would come along, and no, this is what I want to be when I grow up. It was exhausting, and I didn’t score high marks in grade school. 

They flagged me as gifted in the seventh grade and entered me into the gifted program where all the smart kids got together and went to concerts and played the stock market game and listened to guest speakers, but mostly it was a chance for us to miss class and hang out with our nerd friends. My first kiss was in the back of a Gifted and Talented Education van (high-five!). Looking at the GATE kids now, about half of us are a serious letdown. The reason I was in this program was because I took an IQ test well, and those things are not reliable. One of the girls I used to hang with in middle school repeatedly tried and failed to test into the gifted program, and she was smarter and more hardworking than me any day.  

It wasn’t because of GATE that I felt like an intellectual when I was a teenager. It was because of my Best Man. He was an artist from a Seattle-adjacent town in Washington, and in the time since he’d dropped out of high school and moved to Gallup, he taught himself culture. I would sit in his studio apartment for hours, learning from him. 

When I was in college, I set out to be an intellectual, but I didn’t have the discipline. I bullshat my way through the English Department. (If the English Department ever reads this, their response will be to impatiently reply, “Yes, we know!”) I stopped dressing like a grunge fan had sex with a goth and I was the product of their union, and I started dressing more like a smart person, with tucked-in shirts with banded collars. I almost failed out of college. 

The intellectual mindset followed me to New York where I was going to become a writer of a novel that was going to make critics cry. I drank whisky with a high school English teacher. I wore hound’s-tooth sports jackets. What I didn’t do was write. I got into art, and all my friends thought that was fabulous, but I couldn’t make them understand is I wanted to learn how to draw pictures of one person punching another person really hard, not canvases that contained the secrets to the universe. I wasn’t planning to write literature, just something fun with hopefully some heart, when I got around to it. 

I began my career as an editor within a year of leaving New York, and that made me feel like an intellectual, but I was editing self-published books, and a substantial portion of those were people talking about their lawsuits. A number of them were political diatribes. I read a lot of thrillers written by middle-aged white men about middle-aged white men who got shit done, unlike all this pencil-pushers in the CIA. I read a truly baffling book about a dented can of Juicy Juice that made people dance if you listened to it (but whatever you do, don’t drink it). There was no scholarly literature in the pile, but I kept up the pretense for ten years until I was fired for turning in substandard work.  

That takes me to now. When I’m not working, or when I’m working from home, I wear T-shirts and jeans. I hardly talk to anyone, but I don’t try to give the pretext of being smarter than I am. I watch Marvel movies (though I am rapidly becoming disillusioned with them) and collect Doctor Who action figures. I have a framed print of a cat in a TARDIS surrounded by framed postcards of varying sizes of John Singer Sargent paintings along with a small black-and-white drawing of Wonder Woman drinking a latte. I have one shelf of my bookshelf of actual books and seven bookshelves of graphic novels. I have Lego models. There is nothing in here that says intellectual (except for Ethel’s dust-covered novel), but the myth persists. 

Do I explain to Ethel that I’m not actually that smart? That I’m not literary, not cultured? Do I really want to dispel this myth? And my answer is no. I hardly ever see her, and I talk to her alone even less than that. I’ve heard some of her guy friends talking, and they’re as bad as I used to be. What’s the harm in her thinking her neighbor is this cool intellectual who sometimes hangs out in the backyard? This, I’ve concluded, is the smart thing to do. 

Chats in my Belfry

If you’ve been paying attention, I have a workplace crush. The butterflies have really settled down around her to the point where I could note her heading for the break area and not really get possessed with the overwhelming desire to go talk to her anymore. Plus, I had COVID for the month of May, and by the time I got back to the office, she was on vacation or was working from home for three weeks. I got used to not having her around to swoon over, but she is still here. We’ll get back to her.

I have been a big fan of Dr. Nerdlove since 2010, when I read Kate a number of his columns on a road trip. He’s insightful, a bit tough, and fair, as well as being (I wish this word hadn’t been coopted by the bigots) Woke as hell. Probably his best column is the one where he urged nerd boys not to date nerd girls, which wasn’t an admonishment of nerdy girls, but of the image that nerd boys tend to get into their head when they think of nerd girls. His column, though, is primarily an advice column, so people write in, and he answers their questions with a combination of pop culture references, a little vulgarity, and a lot of heart. I’ve written Dr. Nerdlove four times, and I’ve been answered four times. I’m going to see if I can get a fifth.

When I started this job, I talked to nobody. I was shunted into the corner for the temp, and I just did my job. The people around me did socialize, and they can, at times, do it to excess, to the point where I sent HR a message about it. HR’s response was to have a big meeting with our department about how to be polite to each other at work, with none of the impolite people actually realizing they were the impolite ones. Prior to the pandemic, they had scheduled a move for me to a real desk, but after we returned to the office two years later, this had been forgotten, and I returned to the crappy temp desk. The obnoxious talking resumed, though not as bad as before.

I acquired a new boss during lockdown, and she will talk to anybody about anything, no matter how asinine, which means, where most of my seating area is probably convinced that I’m going to go on a shooting spree (it’s always the quiet ones) and barely acknowledge me, she engages me in dumb, light conversation. And what this has done is make me want to be more of a presence at work socially. But the problem is, how do I start? I can carry on a conversation once it’s begun, so with the dates I was going on last year, we were there to have a conversation, so we had one. But unless the other party approaches me, I have no idea what I’m supposed to say. So I fired off another letter to Dr. Nerdlove asking for tips on starting a conversation.

Tuesday, though, was a revelation. The Publications Department shares the fifth floor with at least two other departments, and we never interact. Management came up with the inspired idea to hold a lunchtime mixer for the floor, with the instructions being not to sit at a table with anyone you already know and to play some silly games. I sat at a table with my crush and the new girl in our department, and nobody else sat with us. Unfortunately, I think the new girl is super-shy, so she was hard to talk to. My crush, on the other hand, who confessed to being shy, was a lively conversation. We discussed my novels and rejection letters, what her department does, and how motherhood is kind of a “schizo-bipolar thing” where her four-and-a-half-year-old is simultaneously her reason for being and the most difficult thing she has to deal with. And it wasn’t just her. People dropped by the table, and I chatted with all of them. One of the games was that we were supposed to introduce ourselves to two people we didn’t know and tell them something only your best friend knows. My crush and I decided that we would be person number one for each other, but we still had to find someone else, which I did, quite aggressively.

And now, I’m suddenly doing pretty well here. I’m chatting with coworkers who are going through the mail, which gets dropped in the half-cubicle near mine. I’m inserting myself into conversations with the obnoxious coworkers, and I’m saying clever things to boot. (When they were talking—not googling or even using their computers—about freckles, and my neighbor’s browser showed him an article about freckles, I said, “Whenever I know they’re listening, I feel a lot of pressure to be entertaining.”) Does this mean I’m ready to get out there and start talking to people? Not quite. These are still conversations that I’m joining and not starting, but it’s something.

As for the crush, I fully intend to have more conversations with her. I just need to figure out a good opening.

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.

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.