Appropriate, Inappropriate, Re:appropriate

Incandescent light beaming from a forty-six inch flat screen flickered inside the first of nine penny-sized candle base stations on an empty menorah. Ever so faintly, a whine screeched from an ancient vcr. Within the forty-six inch rectangular window, a family gathered, all members either reclining in bright orange upholstered sofas and chairs, or standing, feet planted to swirled, multi-shaded mocha carpeting. Two toddlers were being passed back and forth between the women. Mountains of curls and bangs distracted the diaper duo from the expressions of adoration gleaming behind softball-circumferenced glasses. Gifts populated the center of the room, which lay invisible to the infants. The obscenely large, skillfully wrapped boxes were, however, the only thing that existed for two small children, ages three and five, who agonizingly waited at the edge of the family circle, leashed only by parental rule.

—–

Beneath the heading Re: (whatever I wrote in the first message) read a call request. Scratching my head, I wondered to myself how I could feel such discomfort doing this. Through all of the dates I’d been on using the website, I had never gone beyond messaging or texting. A first world dilemma. A year 2011 dilemma.

Eventually accepting that only good could come from it, and especially considering it was an upgrade from the previous date who would not give me the day and time, I decided to brave up and dial. We set a call time for late in the evening, after I got off work. Ring back tones unexpectedly led a path to voicemail, where I left a neurotic, yet articulately charming message, I thought. The following morning I found an apology text and a call back guarantee. Skeptically, I went about my day, only half expecting a call in the late afternoon.

——-

Hands blinding my eyes, I shielded myself from the embarrassment I knew my three-year-old self was sure to wreak. Haphazardly ripping open presents, he inquired, “Is there more?” An uncomfortable laugh grew in my belly, lifted up, and regurgitated out. Suddenly a blizzard of static snow flashed over the window.

Laughter emanated from the black leather sectional couch facing the television. My cousin, one of the toddlers in the video, now twenty two, smiled as our shared grandmother quipped and jibed about his diaper change. Observing the empty menorah below the flat screen, I realized we had not even lit the Hannukah candles this year. The importance of the gathering did not depend on religious tradition anymore.

I gazed down to the coffee table, at the gifts I’d received this year. A single envelope could contain everything. I was satisfied with that and grateful for its contents. Next to that piece of stationary comfortably sat a bound presentation booklet with a protective cover. Behind the glossed front page were designs for new innovations my cousin was developing in school. A modernized walker graced the first few pages. Our grandmother had never warmed up to the idea of using a cane, let alone four of them attached to two wheels and two punctured tennis balls. With her in mind, my cousin had designed something that even she could be proud to brandish.

Slipping my hand into my slim, crowded jean pocket, I extracted my Android. As my thumb pressed the home key, the screen flamed on. After noting the time frame to get back to the city from Oakland, I flipped my attention to gmail. Displayed on the first page of emails, the response message from my dating website surfaced the nerves attached to another approaching coffee date.

——

Reva’s feet shifted and glided to the beat of the music. Her chin rested atop her date’s shoulder. Across the dance floor she spotted her best friend, the one who had set her up. Making eye contact with her, Reva subsequently pulled up her arm, allowing her hand to reach her face. Pinching her nose, she put on a “pew” expression. Her date Gordon was a gentleman, a nice Jewish boy, and clearly adored her, but Reva remained unimpressed. All she could think about was the measure of his snout.

——

Vibration filled my pocket. Rotating my head, I made eye contact with my friend in the passenger’s seat. “Shit. They’re calling. I don’t want to deal with this now,” I nervously chirped “Answer it. It’ll be fine,” my friend reassured. I took a deep breath, gripped the grey leather wheel, warmed by my palms, and turned it clockwise to come to a complete stop at Noriega and 27th. I pulled out my phone and answered.

——

I swept my Android up from its perch. I’d left it in the abandoned nook where landlines in San Francisco apartments were formerly located. While arranging my studio four months ago I reappropriated the space as the spiritual center of my apartment, decorating the indented ledge with aura polaroids, the crystal my mother gave me when she moved out of the only childhood home I’ve ever known, folded papers containing scribbled aspirations, and a hanging jade green Buddhist scroll. Out the door I rushed, swiftly moving south down Divisidero to a holiday screening at the Casto Theater.

Jack Torrance pounded away at the keys on his type writer. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” He typed this over and over and over again. His marriage to Wendy had hit the rocks. It was all work and no play. In the dim flicker of the theater, I wondered how Jack and Wendy had first met and how they had first fallen in love. They were an ugly couple now, but had there been truly satisfying times during their romance? Did they fit together only because she desperately needed a reassuring presence and he needed a feeble, weak minded mate to order around? Or were there times where they transcended their codependency?

The phone call from a day prior was on my mind. A place and time was set for a date, and my friend from the navigator’s seat confidently observed our conversation as positively nervous, adorable, and normal. If Wendy had met Jack on a dating website, could she have seen the warning signs more clearly? On one of my dates a conversation came up about the viability of dating websites. Questions about personality and values, they argued, can reveal dealbreakers that in everyday dating and relationships could go unnoticed until after making a monogamous commitment. My date the following afternoon turned out not to be the trifecta I continue to search for. Yet, the website’s match tools proved to be useful in the real world. As the website hinted, they had me on the two most crucial friendship points of the love triangle, heart and mind. Stories told by multiple close friends and family serve as proof that sometimes physical attraction can follow suit when the latter two factors in love are potent. This draws me reluctant to fold in the current situation.

Reapportion comes expectedly at times of work and unexpectedly at times of play. It comes in love, religious traditions, long standing family traditions, societal behaviors, and everyday technological devices. Sometimes the change is bravely welcomed, while in others it faces nervous rejection. Ease is absent from alien embracement. Reapportion, whether stumbled upon or sought out, deserves a chance. Critical evolutions, curving toward infinite bliss, could be right around change’s bend.

——

A week later, Gordon walked over to the indented space inside his San Francisco apartment that housed his phone. He picked it up and turned the wheel until all of Reva’s numbers were keyed in. A second date lead to a third, a fourth, a fifth date. Eventually the relationship became physical. Once his digits pressed the right buttons, my grandmother was, for better or worse, eternally sold.

The Art of Almost

Green flags flapped in the wind, attached at my sides, clipped to both hips. I slanted across the field, eyes constantly pivoting to an angle that kept the short, bald, stocky man with sunglasses wielding the pigskin in my view. The man’s appearance was not far from that of actor Michael Chiklis. Our glances met and he rifled the ball through the middle of the field, through the heart of the defense.

The ball shot at me, and arrived in milliseconds. Instinctually my arms drew upward and my hands grew wide. As soon as I felt the leather coat on the ball sharply connect against my fingertips, I released the stiffness in my hands ever so slightly to let the football glide into my palms. Once in my grasp, I pulled the ball close to my chest, rotated my head upfield, and wheeled toward the gap that lead to the end zone.

Defenders chasing on either side swiped at the green snakes that violently clapped against my shorts. Ignoring them, I pushed endlessly, eyes and feet determinately transfixed on the grass that lay between four cones. Distance gathered between me and my pursuers. A moving image of a score flashed in my mind. Suddenly, in my peripheral vision, the chaotic movement of pursuit subsided. My flag had been pulled. I lowered my sprint to a slow jog, and finally to a complete halt. Adrenaline still pumping, I disappointingly, but not fully dejectedly, trotted yards back to where my flag rested. It was a triumph, but not a touchdown.

In an attempt to shake clean the crowded etchings of love’s complications from my head, I hesitantly decided to join in at an organized flag football exhibition. It was only the second time I’d played with this group, the first being in September. Determined to improve my mere satisfactory play, I analyzed mistakes I made during my freshman game. Most notably, I’d been terrible at snatching ball handlers’ flags. Careful thought and visualization brought me an answer: when a receiver caught the ball I did not shift my focus to the flag, I left it on the ball. My instincts, from a technical standpoint, were sound, yet I needed to tinker my response to succeed.

—–

Quiet murmurs and filtered footsteps filled the wooded basement wing of the Legion of Honor. It currently hosted a short run exhibit on impressionist and pointillist painter Camille Pissaro. Weeks ago, a passing 38 Muni bus flaunted an advertisement of “Pissaro’s People” featuring one of the artist’s pieces. Instantly I associated the image plastered against the side of the public transport to that of Cameron’s hopelessly emotionless glare at a Seurat painting in the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. I marked my internal calendar for the first Tuesday in December to see the exhibit on a free museum day.

Staring at one of Pissaro’s paintings, the needle effortlessly dropped in my head and the longingly melancholic back melody of The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” reverberated. At the time, I was caught up simply, or maybe unnecessarily complexly, in what could be and not what actually was. My date two days prior I thought had gone exceptionally well. Tortuously analytical, I continuously played out successful, muddled, and losing scenarios in my head. Racking my focus closer into the picture revealed minute checkered dabs of what seemed like an infinite palate of textured colors. The painting depicting Pissaro’s version of an utopian farm life looked much different when attending my eyes to a narrower plain.

As the week passed, I gained more distance from the situation, and with it came more perspective. I realized what seemed originally to be encouraging texts, despite being far and between, were in all likelihood only intended to keep me open as one of their dating options, as opposed to someone of prioritized interest. Powerful attractions aside, I did not want to be unequaled in investment.

There is an art to sport. There is sport in creating and understanding art. Love can be a game. And there is an art to love. Similar to sports and art alike, to be fully successful in love you must accept, acknowledge, and master all of the angles, not merely the convenient ones. By almost falling in love, I unearthed an essential perspective: mutual attraction is useless without mutual investment.

How Will I Know If It’s Working?

The plastic tree stump underneath which I perched barely elevated me high enough to reach the concrete counter attached to the storefront window. Peering out at the bustling crowd, scurrying up and down the Sunday street, I eagerly waited for the arrival of my next date. I glared down and discovered a little black ball. Peculiarly it was able to lay still atop Brown Owl Coffee’s lookout surface. Curious, I palmed the tennis-ball-sized object and flipped it over. Secrets revealed. Its bottom was flat, with a thin layer of translucent plastic exposing a hollow core filled with dark blue liquid. A magic 8 ball. The three sisters of fate were tempting me. Despite having the unavoidable urge to use the fortune telling device, I resisted.

Returning the tool of superstition to its original resting place, I pondered about the triangle inside and its many faces. Yes. No. Maybe. As the triangle rotated on its axis, within the hazy sphere, each of these answers were represented, each communicated differently. A straight “Yes.” A simple “Perhaps.” The dreaded “Ask again”.  And the even more dreaded “Percentages are dismal.” And each of these fortunes were equally possible to receive because the triangle balanced the odds. I think of love like this triforce. The three requirements for perfect balance are mind, heart, and (insert sexual organ here). Social, emotional, and physical attraction, mutually experienced. Since moving to San Francisco, I’d only met one that grasped even two points of the triforce. They were an important step in my schooling on love. They proved my philosophy to be sound. I could not see myself enjoying extended time with them, despite having an intellectual and physical connection.

Another temptation lay to the right of the mini magic 8 ball: a book titled “The Art of Dating”. I could almost hear the three sisters of fate cackling at me, breaking from brewing whatever insidious potion they were boiling. Published in the 1930s, I knew this light, bathroom reading, pamphlet sized how-to was far from harmful. I picked it up and began flipping through the pages, expecting the ironic humor to lessen the stress of waiting.

——-

“Are you happy?” I glared at Anne, taken aback by her bluntness. She repeated, “Are you happy?” After more thought than was necessary, I responded. “I’m happier. I think it’s all relative. I’m happier than I was earlier this week, earlier this month even. I’m generally happy. But I’m not satisfied with where I am personally. Is that what you’re asking?” Anne laughed, and pulled up the polaroid in her hand. “Well this says you are!” She pointed at the red splash over my right shoulder. The red had fainted since my last reading. The anger had fainted. The methods I’d applied over the past couple months had succeeded. A proud, yet bashful, half smile spread reflexively across my face.

Anne glanced back at the polaroid, holding it up to the light. “You see the light red that’s almost pink above your head? That is a sign of self love.” She tilted the picture slightly. “And my guides are telling me you’re using your left brain too much. You’re being far too analytical. And there is some confusion over where you are personally, professionally, geographically. It’s not necessarily that you’re dissatisfied with any of these things, it’s that you are unsure if the steps you’ve taken, the decisions you’ve made are leading you toward the places you want to go, the places you’re meant to go. You need to trust yourself, your wisdom, your intuitions. You have made all of the right decisions, even if there’s nothing to prove that yet.”

—–

Across the street I noticed the one I’d messaged on the dating website I’d equipped myself with. Reality was confirmed. The online pictures and profile matched. “Oh fuck”, I thought, “I’m way out of my league.” I was stunned enough to get an online response, let alone actually arranging a successful meet-up. What was to be a trifecta approached the cafe.

—–

“You’ve all heard of 1001 Arabian nights I take it?” Scattered nods, yeahs, yeses, and uh huhs shot back at Ira Glass, who had come to the final point in his speaking engagement. The heat inside Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium was blasting. I shifted atop the bench seating uncomfortably. My feet dangled off the edge and it was nearly a sweat inducing task to avoid nudging the audience members in the preceding row. All day I’d been sitting, in cars, in restaurants, at my aura reading. It was not the best way to distract my mind from the pending coffee date, which was less than 24 hours away. And all day I’d been going from the freezing air of December to the pulsing swelter of air conditioning, whether indoors or in a vehicle. When in the numbing cold, all I wanted was some warmth. But once inside a toasty space, all I wanted was to cool down.

Glass grasped his ipad with one hand, then poked it with another. Familiar orchestral music used from his radio show buoyed across the auditorium. He retold the story of 1001 Arabian Nights in cliff notes form. A woman is taken by a murderous King. Her fate is a one night stand, with death before sunrise. Each night this woman tells the King a part of a very long story. Because she is so skilled at storytelling, using the method of action, action, reflection on that action, and because she stops each night at a climax, her life is spared by the King. The King cannot bring himself to kill her; he must hear the end of the story. 1001 nights pass, during which the King slowly develops a sense of empathy. The woman’s characters and their actions transform the King into a human who is humane. When the story is over, he cannot kill his lover, as he’d done to all that came before her. His conscious won’t allow it. “That empathy is what makes us sane. It’s what makes us human. That empathy is what rescues us.”

—–

I walked back to my car after my coffee date had taken a turn into a stroll through Stern Grove, all the while questioning what had just occurred. Could this be good? Could this work out? I felt all of my triangular desires were met. Yet, how would I know if the feelings were mutual? And how could it be possible for someone so far out of my league to be attracted to me for, well, me? The intellectual, emotional, and physical me? Have I always been cutting myself short? Am I a bigger catch than I realize? I mean, how would I know if I’ve never been in this position before? When is too soon to contact again? How long should I wait before not expecting a response back? What should the second date even be?

Days passed, and my mind wavered between questions and confidence. Actions lead to tortuous sojourning. A carefully thought out and timed text here, a delayed, cryptically encouraging response back. Meanwhile I found myself imagining what it would be like to finally share my life, the music, the stories, the friends, the body, the hobbies, the passions, in a more complete way with someone. It was intoxicating to recognize the vitality a partner could bring to my life. However, the question over whether the dreams would become reality left me hungover. Anne’s reading and Glass’s talk clashed in my head and melded. Love involves high levels of spiritual empathy. Had my story touched a nerve? And despite Anne’s insight on days of confusion, I could not help but repeatedly ask myself: How will I know if it’s working?