Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dateless in Toledo

Can I just eat a worm again? Or maybe get another Brazilian wax?

Because either might be preferable to entering the world of

I've not been immersed in the dating scene for a while. I haven't had a million men knocking down my door, but I've also had little interest in looking for a guy, either. I enjoy my independence and my solitude. It's a comfortable place for me, especially as a writer.

But the 52/52 Project is about venturing outside my comfort zone. And as far as unappealing, intimidating, and frightening ideas go, online dating may top the list.

I nearly backed out just while filling out the application.

Question number four: "What's your body type?" I labored over this for nearly a half-hour, took a long drive to clear my head, and finally came back to it. Probably, "slender" and "trim and athletic" should be ruled out. Other options included "big and beautiful," "curvy," "full-figured," "heavy-set," and "stocky." Huh. Um, are these not pretty much the same thing? Or, wait, is "full-figured" a tad smaller than "big and beautiful"? And maybe it's the PR executive in me, but why would I label myself "stocky" when I could be called "curvy"? Curvy it is.

Question number five: "What's your sign?" Thank God. A question I knew how to answer. And apparently one so important that it must be addressed on page one, four pages before any questions about political, religious, or social views.

Question number 5,674: "What are some of your favorite local hot spots?" *sigh* Somehow, I doubt Barnes & Noble counts.

Writing my 200-word profile took nearly two hours. I've struggled less with writing an entire chapter of a novel. Which, presumably, I cared a bit more about.  

I grumbled through the profile, trying to find just the right words. At the moment, "cheery," "optimistic," and "open-minded" were probably out of the question. I considered including "decisive." But I wasn't quite sure. 

I finally settled on this:

"More Humor, Less Drama: Humor writer looking for someone to make me laugh. Must love books and animals, since I have a houseful of both. Will watch baseball and basketball with you, if you'll watch Downton Abbey and Doctor Who with me. Happy to cook if you're willing to clean up. Looking for intelligence, kindness, and sincerity. Perfection not expected, but surely not discouraged."

Thank God I proofread it one last time before clicking "finish." I had mistyped "kindness" as "kinkness." Could have had some titillating results, that one.

Since I am able to update it at anytime, I am following up on someone's terrific suggestion that I let my readers write my profile. So, please go at it!

Meanwhile, I've been scrolling through the tabs from the guys who've "winked," "liked," "favorited," or "shown interest" in me. I'm still trying to comprehend the meaning of the jargon. Standing at the bar and having a guy ask, "Can I buy you a drink" is sounding way better by the minute.

Two days after enrolling, I finally found one that sounded intriguing. Cute, well-spoken, and probably not a serial killer. (I figured that's a bonus.) And then--boom. I see he lives in New Jersey. About nine hours away.

Hmm. I considered this. A long-distance romance might be perfect for me. A movie or dinner a couple times a year, tops. And no need to worry about the frightening potential significance of that bridal bouquet I accidentally caught last month when I crashed a wedding reception.

I "winked" back at him. 

And then I went into panic mode, searching the site for an "undo" button.

Oh, Lord. What have I gotten myself into? 

It's quite likely I'll be deleting my account tomorrow. 

But if there's a lengthy form necessary to disenroll, it looks like I may be in this for good.

Have you ever done online dating? Can I back out now, without being called a quitter? Am I likely to have a surprise visit by a New Jersey serial killer?



Saturday, August 17, 2013

Out on the Street

I spy Linda as I pull into the suburban shopping center. She stands in the median, wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants. A stuffed backpack is hitched across her shoulders. She holds a cardboard sign reading, “Homeless and Hungry.” And, in smaller letters, “Anything helps! Thank you!”

Biting my bottom lip, I glance back at the line of cars trailing me, and pause. I offer to buy her lunch.

She hesitates, briefly, before nodding. “That would be great. Thanks.”

We meet at Boston Market, just across the parking lot. We order and sit down. Linda sits across from me, awkwardly. She gradually opens up.

She is a local girl. She tells me she was homeschooled, until her parents could no longer afford the curriculum. She’d gone on to get her G.E.D., testing above the average. In her early twenties, she scrounged up the funding for classes at a nearby business college, where she got a degree in entrepreneurial business.

“My dream is to open my own pizza place,” she says. “I’d like to have a sit-down restaurant, with 24-hour delivery. I’m really passionate about the pizza industry.”

She never found a job in which she could use her education or skills, she says. She worked a number of jobs, and now, at the age of 29, has found herself out of work again. She shrugs.

“My last job was cleaning rooms at a motel. I kept bringing home bed bugs, which wasn’t fair to the people I was staying with, so I had to quit.”

She applied for federal assistance, but it takes time, she explains. And there was a glitch with her paperwork. So, she waits. She’s applied for work through a local temp agency and is hopeful she will get work that way. 

“Meanwhile, I keep looking,” she says. “I’ve applied at all these places,” she says, waving a hand at the window at the line of fast-food restaurants along the busy roadway. “Right before you came along, a guy stopped to tell me IHOP was hiring, so I’ll head over there next.”

Linda has two sons: ages three and four. The boys’ father stopped paying any support seven months ago, although he is working. He doesn’t visit. Occasionally, he calls to ask how they are doing.

She relies on a couple of close friends to keep the boys when things get really tough and she is forced to stay in places she doesn’t feel are safe for them.

“All that’s important is that my kids are safe. I do what I need to, but I try to not let it affect them. Your children come first. That’s the way I was raised. The children always come first.”

Do you have parents? Could they help?

She shakes her head. “My mom has mental health issues. She worries a lot. If she knew what I was going through, well, it wouldn’t be good for her. I try not to tell her much.”

I study her. I know mental health is a family issue, affecting children either through heredity or through environment. A half-hour spent with someone is not nearly enough to know what’s at play.
I gaze at her wide-set, clear eyes, set-off by her pale skin. Mental issues? Just a lifetime of hard knocks? Or drugs? No, I don’t think that's the case, and I am fairly savvy to that.

She reads my mind.

“I haven’t given up on finding a job, and I’ve tried to find other assistance, for me and my kids,” she says. “But most seem to be shelters that focus on homeless people with addiction problems. They want to get people like that off the streets, so they can get clean. I understand that. But I think sometimes people like us get left behind.”

I know organizations exist to help people like Linda. They must. But, as I sit across from her, sipping my soup, I can’t conjure up the name of a single one. If I—a well-off woman with internet abilities and society connections—can’t think of one, how is someone like Linda supposed to find the help she needs?

“I just try to remain positive,” she says. “I pray a lot. I know God wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle. I’m sure things will get better. They always get better, you know?”

I force a nod. I’d like to agree. I want to believe. Yet, I’m not so sure.

Linda says begging on the street doesn’t come easy.

“I don’t like to be out there, asking for help. But I do, because I feel like I have few options right now. And every little bit helps.  And if I get a free meal, like this, any money I get can go toward my boys,” she says. “I just accept what I get, gladly, and then I leave. I try not to be greedy. Other people need help, too.”

Most people driving by don’t want to help though. The majority of passersby simply ignore her, and she often hears shouts of, “Get a job!”

“I’d like to tell them I’m trying,” she says. “But, I seldom get that chance.”

Some people go beyond shouting out their disdain. She once had a man stop, hand her a package, and say, “You’d better eat this, or I’ll be all over you!”

She says she uncovered the paper plate to discover a pile of regurgitated food.

“I don’t know how he could do that.” She lowers her head and then glances back up.  “How could he look me in the eye, and hand that to me?”

As we finish our lunch, Linda looks down at her plate. Half her barbecue chicken remains. “I think I’ll take this home, if it’s OK with you,” she says. “I have some bread. This could make a nice sandwich for one of the boys. Maybe I can get two sandwiches out of it.”

We head outside. I reach into my purse and hand her five dollars. “Sorry,” I say. “I never carry cash. I always use my debit card.”

First-world problems. At least for some of us in the United States.

Linda smiles. “Every little bit helps. And really, you’ve already helped a lot.”

We shake hands, and I climb into my minivan. I watch her cross the parking lot. We wave at each other as I drive away. I pull onto the highway, headed back to my new condo.

Linda gave me a lifetime of things to consider. All I offered her was a cheap meal.

As trades go, it hardly seems fair.

But, sometimes, life isn’t.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

Bugs and a chaser: Not just for breakfast anymore.
A new reader asked me what experiences I've already checked off my list of  this year's 52 new challenges.

Here's a quick listing of my ventures since I started this project in May, along with a snapshot summary of what I learned from each:

(1)   Taking Belly Dancing Lessons: Proved that I'm a lady, not a hussy, even though I will go to the grave unsexy and uncoordinated.

(2)   Entering a Pizza-Eating Competition: Discovered Caper's Pizza is delicious, until you've stuffed down your sixth piece in ten minutes.

(3)   Visiting an Adult Bookstore: Learned that bunnies, butterflies, elephants, beavers, and hummingbirds are NOT just characters in a Disney cartoon.

(4)   Experiencing a Series of Diverse Churches and Temples: Realized that we are all different, yet we are all the same.

(5)   Giving up Caffeine for a Week: Confirmed that caffeine is the only thing standing between an amiable me and the me that could go postal at the office.

(6)   Auditioning for the TV Show "Survivor": Learned that, apparently, it takes TV producers an inordinate amount of time to decide their perfect contestant is a middle-aged, square-shaped woman. Still waiting, and waiting...

(7)   Eating Insects: Discovered worms are not chewy, like their gummy candy counterparts, but crunchy, liked the dried-up ones on your driveway a couple days after it's rained.

(8)   Enduring a Professional Photo Shoot: Proved any photo is vastly improved by a dog--the real kind.

(9)   Being Hypnotized for Past-Life Regression: Determined that either this life is not my first, or I am a damn good fiction writer.

(10) Getting a Full-Leg and Brazilian Wax: Learned that if someone tells you that sitting up naked on all fours, while a salon technician studies your nether regions, is not the most humiliating thing you could ever experience--they are wrong.

(11) Tent-Camping Alone: Concluded that a Bic lighter and a marshmallow fork are not useful tools of defense when your only campground neighbors are the family from "Deliverance."

(12) Getting an Extreme Haircut: Confirmed that sometimes taking a slight yet still frightening step toward change can make you feel good about yourself.

(13) Crashing a Wedding Reception: Discovered that if one wants to stay inconspicuous and anonymous, it's probably best not to catch the bride's bouquet--or to be Facebook friends with the owner of the reception hall.

Do these make me brave or stupid? Which of these are you most--and least--tempted to try? What new challenges are on your not-so-much a bucket list?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Stranger of the Bride

Here's a little hint about remaining inconspicuous when crashing a wedding reception: It's probably best not to catch the bride's bouquet.

The bouquet toss was the furthest thing from my mind when I strolled into a local party hall on a Friday night. I was simply looking for a great time: a nice meal, a few drinks, and the opportunity to celebrate the wedded bliss of a wonderful couple. Sure, I'd never met either of them. A minor detail.

I wandered in and made a beeline to the bar: an obvious move.

First appearances mean so much. My beer was served in a real glass. No plastic cups for my fabulous, newly wedded BFFs. This was a classy kind of gig. I was pretty certain I would fit right in, if I weren't just some freeloading stranger walking in off the street.

Yet, I wasn't a true freeloader, since I had brought a congratulatory card with a gift card enclosed. I dropped it ceremoniously on the gift table and slowly swiveled my head around, hoping people might notice this, in validation of my presence.

Sadly, as I saw the line forming for the dessert table, I realized I missed dinner. If only I had actually been invited, I might have known what time the event started. But, I wasn't too late for libations--and a chance to mingle and dance with a hundred or so total strangers.

I joined a group of guests on the outdoor patio, and found myself fitting in more easily than expected. No one once questioned me or my relationship to the bride and groom. It was almost disappointing that I didn't have to conjure up any of the prefabricated stories I'd prepared on the drive there. (My name: Shelly. My relationship: Girlfriend of Jim Miller. He used to work with the groom. Where: Hmm. I can't remember. It was a few years ago. Hey, the bride's dress is gorgeous, don't you think?)

Mid-conversation with a cute guy just slightly younger than me, the bride approached, seemingly eager to join our discussion. I backed away, avoiding eye contact, and headed back to the bar.

When the DJ made the last-call for all single women to join in the bouquet toss, I realized it could be a great photo op: a shot of the unidentifiable backs of a group of women, lunging for the spray of flowers. So, I hurried over, stationing myself a few yards behind the line of waiting women. I pulled out my iPhone just as I heard the DJ begin his countdown.

As he finished, before I managed to find my phone's camera setting, I looked up to see the group of single women in front of me--and every wedding guest in the room--staring at me.

Apparently the bride was a former softball pitcher with a hell of an arm. Her throw landed the bouquet far past its intended aim. I glanced down to see it lying right next to my feet.

My eyes darted around the room, which had fallen uncomfortably silent. All eyes were focused on me. I had no choice, really.

I bent down, picked up the bouquet, and clutched it. I smiled stupidly.

As cameras flashed, my heart rate quickened. I pondered: What now?

A little girl came to my rescue. She ran over, tugged on my blouse, and said, "Can I have it?"

I smiled down at my small savior and said, "Honey, it's all yours."

I thrust the bouquet in her hands and walked straight to the exit, stopping only to deposit my half-finished beer at the bar. 

"I just accidentally caught the bouquet," I told the bartender. "Probably a good time for me to leave."

As I headed to the parking lot, I envisioned the bride and groom watching a replay of the video. When they got to the bouquet toss, they would look at each other in squinted confusion. "Who is that woman? Wait, you mean you don't know her either?"

Besides my mysterious image captured in digital photographs and video, all I left behind that night was my wedding card. I'd chosen it very thoughtfully. The pre-printed text read: "A toast to good friends: To a great couple, to your love, your future, and your happiness... and to the friendship that will keep us close always."

I signed it: "Thanks for an evening none of us will ever forget."

Yeah. Isn't that the truth.

Ever crashed a wedding reception? Would you have waited around for more photos? Do you think there's a warrant out for my arrest?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Back in the Blog Saddle: The 52/52 Project

Here I am, back at my old Blogspot. I hope all my 52/52 Project Facebook readers will follow along here. I will continue to share small snippets and post links on the 52/52 Project's Facebook page to this site, where I'll share more full stories. You can also easily subscribe here to get the stories by email. Please do!

Somehow, I've managed to make it one-fourth of the way through my year of new experiences without dying of fear or mortification. I may not prove so lucky during the next forty ventures.

Several readers have asked to see the complete list. I am all about obliging.

So, following is the list of thought-provoking activities or atrocities, as it currently stands. I still have a few open weeks, and will continue to entertain ideas to fill those. 

Please be kind in your suggestions. One person can only take so much.

(1)   Belly Dancing 
(2)   Entering a Pizza-Eating Competition
(3)   Visiting an Adult Bookstore
(4)   Experiencing a Series of Diverse Churches and Temples
(5)   Giving up Caffeine for a Week 
(6)   Auditioning for "Survivor"
(7)   Eating Insects
(8)   Enduring a Professional Photo Shoot 
(9)   Being Hypnotized for Past-Life Regression
(10) Getting a Full-Leg and Brazilian Wax
(11) Tent-camping Alone 
(12) Getting an Extreme Haircut
(13) Being a Street Beggar
(14) Serving at a Soup Kitchen
(15) Performing Onstage with a Band
(16) Babysitting Twins or Triplets
(17) Working with a Beekeeper
(18) Working on a Farm
(19) Going Vegan
(20) Being a Mime
(21) Ziplining
(22) Helping with Habitat for Humanity
(23) Having a Colonoscopy
(24) Being Totally Unplugged
(25) Running in a 5K
(26) Patrolling with a Police Officer
(27) Hiring a Male Escort for a Social Event
(28) Speed-dating
(29) Visiting a Nude Beach or Colony
(30) Open
(31) Dining at a Dark or Blind Restaurant
(32) Ringing the bell for the Salvation Army
(33) Getting a Tattoo (still debatable)
(34) Being a College Mascot
(35) Spending the Day with Nuns
(36) Taking the Next Flight out from the Airport, with No Reservations or Plans
(37) Spending the Day with a Private Investigator
(38) Driving a Motorcycle
(39) Open
(40) Visiting Lonely Strangers in Hospice or a Nursing Home
(41) Court Case Hopping
(42) Hosting a Party with All Strangers
(43) Connecting with a Long-Ago Boyfriend
(44) Participating in an Archeological Dig
(45) Shooting at a Gun Range
(46) Taking a Bus Trip with Senior Citizens
(47) Helping with the Birth of a Baby
(48) Spending the Night in a Haunted House
(49) Crashing a Wedding Reception
(50) Attending a Rap Concert 
(51) Open
(52) Doing a Stand-up Routine at a Comedy Club

Whew. What a year it will be. Who wants to meet me for drinks?