Friday, November 30, 2007

Marshmallow Fluff Girl Seeks Imaginary Man

I spent yesterday bashing Washington men for being totally boring and predictable. But fair is fair, so I decided to have some fun with the woman-for-man ads on Craigslist. Namely, I ran searches of personal ad clichés and totaled them up.

The winner? An astounding 24 Craigslist babes are seeking a “real man.” As opposed to an imaginary one? And 24 declare that they are a “real woman,” again, as opposed to an imaginary one. The clichés roll on. Nine women are “well-traveled,” fourteen are “spontaneous” and three appreciate “good wine and food.” Craigslist offers only four women “of substance,” so I presume the others are all constructed of marshmallow fluff and Popsicle sticks. And only four of these women have “standards,” which makes me very concerned for the rest. Perhaps the ladies with no standards should all date the guy who posts every day looking for BBWs he can erotically massage. And only three women are “emotionally secure,” so I suppose the rest spend their days sobbing about how Daddy did them wrong.

And then we’ve got the women whose posts are a litany of complaints. One is “in search of a white knight,” six are sick of “players,” and a whopping 14 don’t “play games.” I’m not sure what sort of man these women are hoping to attract, I just know what they DON'T want. I think maybe the endless negativity is their way of not meeting any men at all. Then it’s easy to say that all men are players who play games, unless they’re the white knight on the chessboard. Better to curse the darkness than take the risk of getting hurt.

So, guys, I’m sorry. No wonder you’re all the same and bore me to tears. We’ve created a situation where the dullest common denominator gets the girl.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

My Love Life Has a Driver's License

My first date was over 16 years ago. Yes, my romantic life is now old enough to drive.

Dating used to be challenging and intimidating. Does he like me? Do I like him? What’s going to happen next? How do I get through the next two hours without turning into a babbling freak or a mute bundle of nerves? In high school, I never stuck with the same guy long enough to contemplate a serious relationship. In college, I never stuck with the same guy long enough to contemplate a future. Then I was married and the future was indeed contemplated – and, in fact, mapped out year by year for the next 50 years. That didn’t work out, so I’m back at the beginning.

And I’m bored out of my mind. Seriously, it’s all the same. If I meet a guy at a bar, he’s successful and thinks I’m cool because I prefer beer to pink froofy girl drinks. If I meet a guy through friends, he’s a nice guy with a great personality. If I meet a guy online, well, that’s the most cliché-ridden, soul-deadening experience of all. He’s funny, well-traveled, a good conversationalist, and appreciative of good wine and food. It’s enough to make me want to meet a guy who has no sense of humor, has never left his basement, delivers long-winded monologues about TV shows I’ve never seen and eats nothing but Doritos and Mountain Dew. Because at least that would be different.

I guess the point is this: cynicism has set in and dating gets drearier every year. It’s a grind.

Come on, men of Washington, impress me. You can even impress me in a bad way if you want. You aren’t even creepy or self-aggrandizing anymore. You’re just playful and secure and looking to start out as friends and see where it goes. Also, you like puppies and America and rainy days, and you’re equally comfortable in jeans or a tuxedo. You never have any drama or baggage, which makes me wonder if you’ve really spent the last 20 years in a fallout shelter (if you don’t have baggage, you haven’t really lived).

And please, don’t be playful. That just makes me feel like a pedophile.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Chick-O-Meter and Home Organization

Last night, I conducted an inadvertent social experiment.

But, let’s begin at the beginning. Saturday, I decided to open up the boxes labeled “Stuff” that I’d been dragging all around the world for the last five years. I think we all have a “stuff” box, what makes me special is that I have three. I found old high school diaries, elementary school report cards, maintenance records for a car that died seven years ago, a hilarious series of photos of my sister in a softball uniform, birthday cards dating back 15 years, slides, four Weebles, and, uh, both of my birth certificates (dual citizenship means double the documentation and double the fun).

So I spent the rest of the evening dividing things in categories, throwing out what I didn’t want to keep, and cringing and laughing at the various glimpses of my old self. Once I had everything sorted, I left it all in piles on the floor and went to bed. Those piles stayed in place until last night.

After work, I stopped by the Chinatown Bed Bath and Beyond to buy a three-drawer plastic chest organizer thing with wheels. I figured I had three categories, so I’d just toss everything in and be done with the project once and for all. I used one of those self-replenishing BB&B 20% off coupons (have you ever noticed that the same day you use one, a new one arrives in the mail?).

Once I got outside, though, I was faced with a problem. Or rather, a series of problems, all related to the fact that I didn’t know how to get the stupid thing home. The first problem was that I don’t have a car, so I couldn’t drive. The second was that I didn’t have cash on me, so I couldn’t get a cab. The third was that I didn’t want to drag this thing onto the Metro in rush hour. The fourth problem was that I’m a big enough dork that I decided to just walk home and wheel the thing along myself. So I popped the wheels in place and set out on my way.

This proved fun. Really. I alternated between wheeling and carrying the thing, depending on how choppy the sidewalk was.

And this is where the social experiment began. See, I’m one of Washington’s smallest brunettes. And I was carrying a large, bulky object that looked far heavier than it actually was. I got a lot of startled looks, a few offers of assistance, and a couple of snooty guffaws. What was telling was that while absolutely everybody stared at me, mostly young men in business clothes and homeless guys would offer to help, and suburbanite families would laugh.

So youth and homelessness were the sources of chivalry and compassion, which brings up all sorts of questions. Why did families find me so funny? Is it because they’ve got their own nuclear, insular world, so they’re safe enough to mock single girls that don’t have cars with which to haul their furniture? And why were young men offering to help? And why were they so courtly with me, when most of the pregnant women I’ve known have had a bear of a time getting young guys to give up their seats on the Metro? Is it because young guys figure a pregnant woman is off the market, so their Chick-o-Meter doesn’t activate?

(Definition: The Chick-O-Meter isolates and zeroes in on potentially single women at the exclusion of all others. Example: I once asked a friend about a female friend of mine he’d met at my wedding, who was sitting about five feet away from him at the same table for a period of several hours. He did not recall her at all, but, once I clarified that she was there with her husband, he shrugged and said, “Oh. That’s why. She was already tagged.”)

I wheeled the thing down Seventh, across the Mall, and finally home. The entire trip took about 30 minutes.

And here’s what we learned:
1. I am the sort of person who keeps elementary school report cards.
2. I am the sort of person who cleans out her closet on a Saturday night.
3. I am the sort of person that parades down Seventh Street with furniture, looking people dead in the eye to see what they’ll do about it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

How Technology Spawns Rudeness

I'm a notorious planner. I like to know what's happening and when, and I don't think that's so terrible. Generally, I call when I say I'll call and I show up where I'm supposed to be. I even enjoy helping people move because it lets me plot things out and solve problems. I try to account for the personality quirks of others and be compassionate, but the truth is I can't stand flakiness. There's a control freak side of me that I try to use for good and not evil.

I'm also a complete technophobe. I don't like to talk on the phone, I don't own a computer, I don't watch television, I can't work an iPod and I think the Bluetooth is completely creepy (like you're trying to become one with your cellphone).

Mix these two things together, and we have the point: I think technology has spawned crappy manners. Why respond Yes or No when Evite hands you the option of Maybe? Why return calls promptly when you know your friends are accessible by cellphone 24 hours a day? Why send a handwritten thank you note when you can point and click an Ecard in 20 seconds? Why go to the mall and select a gift when you can email a giftcard in 30 seconds?

I've been guilty of all of these things. Sure, a cocktail party sounds fun, but will I feel the same way three days from now when the party starts? And I lost my address book ages ago, so maybe I'll just send an email thank you. I don't like that restaurant, so I'll check in later and see what's up for coffee. I don't like to talk on the phone, so I'll just send an email in the morning.

The purpose of etiquette isn't to make life more complicated. Things like multiple forks and fish knives completely flummox me, and I can't set a formal table to save my life. I don't enjoy dressing up and every maitre 'd in the world has the capacity to intimidate me. Even the ones that look like organ grinder monkeys.

The purpose of etiquette is to make life a little simpler. It gives society a bit of structure and encourages kind and thoughtful behavior. The little pleasantries, like always responding to invitations, allow other people to plan. It's comforting to others to know what they can expect. Especially for anything which requires reservations, tickets, or the purchasing of food (like dinner parties).

So, I vote we make technology a non-factor in our manners. Next time you get an Evite, respond as if it's an engraved invitation delivered by a liveried footman. Especially if it's an Evite from me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

With Bush in Office, EVERY Day is a Turkey Day

The expression "Turkey Day" sets my teeth on edge. It's almost as bad as the people who use the abbreviation "Xmas." ("Xmas" sounds like porno to me.) I understand it's hard to come up with synonyms for "Thanksgiving", because there aren't any. But "Turkey Day" is so cutesy and pat and dorky that it makes me want to hurt people.

So let's come up with some new synonyms for Thanksgiving. How about:
  • Feel Happy About Your Inadequacies and Failures Day
  • Colonial Imperialistic Celebration Day
  • Any Excuse for a Four-Day Weekend Day
  • 5,000 Calories in a Single Sitting Day
  • Reinforcement of Gender Roles Day
  • Traffic Mayhem Day

Now, all of those are longer than "Turkey Day." But you have to admit they're more colorful and way less annoying.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving and General Holiday Malaise

If I had the option of fast-forwarding through the holidays this year, I'd take it. It's not that I hate holidays or that I'm a hopeless embittered Scrooge, it's that I just don't care. I don't want the pressure, the effort, the expense, or the false good cheer. (I'm very cheerful by nature, so I would be downright nauseating if I tried to augment that for the holidays.) I'm just not into it this year, so please hold the Santa Hats and light-up neckties until December 2008.

Thanksgiving is eminently skippable. My mom is from Australia, and my dad grew up on an Indian reservation. Neither one had much to say about the Pilgrims, so we usually just had a roast chicken because it was close enough. Thanksgiving meant a four-day weekend and little else. So on Thursday, Imperial Me and I will be couch-slouching and drinking beer, while enjoying a festive goulash. (I prefer to use my Crock-Pot so I don't have to try to cook after consuming drinks.) Grand Theft Auto may be involved, family dysfunction will most certainly be not.

In years past, my sister and I would couch-slouch and watch Buffy marathons, or I'd go to an Orphan Thanksgiving. As the years have gone by, many of my friends have married and the number of orphans has dwindled. Folks that used to have zero plans on the holidays now scurry up and down the East Coast trying to spend time with every little corner of both families. (Having done the holiday season in the married-endless-road-trip style, I can say it's even more stressful than it sounds.)

May you all have the Thanksgivings you want, whether you spend it with parents, someone else's parents, a restaurant, or hunkered down on the couch. And for those who know me, feel free to stop by for a beer after you've endured your family Thanksgivings. I'll even keep some goulash for ya, and you can each take a turn devastating Vice City.

Monday, November 19, 2007

CVS: The Hidden Hell of Washington

The average Washington CVS looks like the refugee camp from The Day After. First off, there’s that grayish flickery fluorescent lighting. Talking is muted, and even groups of teenagers fall into an uneasy hush. Every aisle is a mess, and nothing is where it should be. The floors are covered in peculiar stains and last year’s candy. There’s a “seasonal” aisle with depressingly generic decorations and the gifts only your least favorite maiden aunt would ever purchase. The patrons shuffle forward, with dead eyes and hopeless expressions. The employees take out their anger and frustration with prison guard flourish. I don’t think I’d ever seen someone count pennies with petulance before. Going to CVS is a deadening experience.

From there, we have the things I hate about each individual CVS. The Dupont Circle CVS expects you to fight your way through aggressive panhandlers. The FEMA CVS has an invisible register behind the Cheetos (which is usually also the only open register). The Eastern Market CVS has the longest lines, the Connecticut Avenue CVS has the strangest smells, and the Penn Quarter CVS looks like it was laid out by a bitterly divorced dyslexic with ADD and mother issues.

But the main thing that depresses me is the locked-up merchandise. For a drugstore, which by definition sells little of value, they are fanatical in their crusade against shoplifting. The discomfort of buying home pregnancy tests, lubricants or enemas is compounded by having to beg assistance from a surly 17-year-old in a smock. Many CVS’s keep condoms under lock and key (considering DC’s STD and teen pregnancy rates, this always struck me as unforgivably stupid.)

But when I saw shampoo being kept in locked cabinets, I just about lost my mind. It’s shampoo, and it’s locked up like the crown jewels. There’s just something incredibly mean-spirited about that. And I’ve never seen anyone request that a cabinet be opened, so I assume CVS would rather sell no toiletries at all than lose a bottle or two to sticky-fingered teenagers. It's the retail strategy of "I'll take my toys and go home!"

Saturday, it took almost twenty minutes to buy a bottle of Gatorade. There were French-speaking line jumpers, one open register, teenagers taking up heartfelt collections from friends to purchase candy bars and maxi pads, and one very bleary-eyed me trying to not smack any of them. It occurred to me that I don’t really need to go to CVS. I don’t take any prescriptions. I can buy candy from the grocery store and my toiletries from Bed Bath and Beyond. I go to CVS because it’s convenient, but the shoddy service and long lines make it more convenient to just do without. I would have saved 19 minutes on Saturday by purchasing Gatorade from a street vendor. So I think I’ll minimize my trips from now on.

PS – No, I am not in the habit of purchasing enemas, home pregnancy kits or lubricants. At least not all at once. But the last time I was in CVS I took a look around to see what was locked up.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Quirky Breakup Rituals

So, back to me and my fascinating problems. Today I focused on the high-tech end of the Breakup Process. I changed his name in my cellphone (To "Don't Drink and Dial"), switched back to being single/divorced in Friendster and MySpace-land, and put a bunch of zzzzz's before his email folder name so it would drop to the bottom of the list.

Is that weird? How weird? And does anyone else have a ritual they'd like to share?

Why, Yes, I AM High Maintenance

I tend to go on random self-improvement kicks. My latest project is to stop using the expression "high maintenance." There are a few reasons for this.

The first, and most obvious, is that I'm sick to death of hearing it. It's overplayed, overused, and annoying.

The second reason is a little more complex. "High maintenance" is an anti-woman broadside. In its earliest (and most accurate) incarnations, it was used to describe women who spent hours on their hair or expected men to dote on their every little problem. It came from a place of neediness and insecurity.

Nowadays, I think it's used to dismiss women who assert themselves. I've heard women described as high maintenance for expecting men to call when they say they'll call. That's basic courtesy and a reasonable expectation, not some petty demand from a pretty princess.

And I think this is a very sad thing. I've known too many women who confuse having needs with being needy, so they never speak up for themselves. They're more worried about the perception of being high maintenance than their own emotional well-being. And I've known far too many men who use the phrase "high maintenance" to weasel out of the most basic of courtesies.

I've been accused of being high maintenance myself. But I don't really mind. I deserve to be maintained.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fourteen Hours and Counting

I have now been single for a little over 14 hours. It's for the best and I feel OK. Or this is that deceptive feeling of post-breakup goodwill, which will crash sometime over the weekend and leave me a self-pitying mess.

Either way, it's been making me think about how I deal with breakups in general. There are two main schools of thought. The first are the wallowers. They turn inward, and mark each breakup with ice cream, red wine, DVDs and sleeping in. Then there are the people who get busy, pack their calendars, and move on in a Brave Little Toaster sort of way.

I'm a "get busy" kind of girl. Every breakup has pushed me forward in some way. Most of the time, they lead me to study harder, work harder, be a better person, or even just reorganize the closets. I pack my calendar with discount martini nights, dinner parties and karaoke. I'm grateful for the jerks I dated in high school, because I would have never gotten into Carolina without them. And I'm grateful for the breakups that pushed me to change my hair or take up a new hobby. And I'm grateful I'm divorced, because I go into relationships with the idea that the worst has already happened and that the risks aren't such a big deal. I figure a failed relationship isn't a failure if I learned something.

Unfortunately, one thing is blocking me from packing my calendar: I'm sick. I've had a miserable cold for the last six days. So I can't really go out, and I've had to experiment with wallowing. So far I've watched three episodes of My So-Called Life back-to-back and eaten frosting right out of the container. Tonight I might send myself flowers and order pizza.

But wallowing is dangerous for me. It's already induced two fits of ohmyGodI'm31andsingleanddivorcedanddon'thavearealjobandtheholidaysarecreepinguponme. So, does anyone have any helpful survival tips? Combination cold/breakup remedies are especially welcome.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who's the Nuttiest of Them All?

For the last few years, I’ve been playing a little game in my head. Namely, who’s crazier, Jim Moran or Marion Barry? Both politicians have clung to relevance despite years of bizarre behavior and shameless grandstanding. Both bring heavy doses of crazy, sprinkled with egomaniacal foolishness.

Jim Moran:

Fears the Jews

Messy personal relationships, including the time both of his young chippie girlfriends showed up at his house on his birthday, and proceeded to have a catfight on the front lawn.

Assaulted an eight-year-old on the belief that said eight-year-old was attempting to steal his car.

Marion Barry:

The bitch set him up.

Busted for crack possession at two o’clock in the morning, with young woman in the car in a deserted area. Alibi: he was mentoring the young woman on her career. (Note: nobody has ever offered to mentor me at two in the morning.)

Self-serving blowhard, claims relevance on issues he has no influence over.

But this week’s news takes the cake, and settles the question once and for all:

According to the article, a Post music critic received an unsolicited Barry press release. In a private email to Barry's handler, he responded in the manner which many of us would like to respond: by calling Barry “half-witted” and accusing him of “political grandstanding.”

Barry, big fat baby that he is, went on the attack. The email was “lowlife activity”, he was hurt and offended, and blah blah so on. Hey, Barry…you’re a democratically elected official! That makes you a public figure! You need to take your lumps like a man, because, legally, as a public figure, you have them coming to you. There's this thing called the First Amendment that makes it permissible.

But here’s the part that makes me ill: According to the Post,

He (Barry) said the note amounted to "character assassination" at a time when "around the nation, it's almost open season on black people."

Can I be the first to say, “Huh?” Shameless and lingering on the edge of magical thinking. Barry, you didn’t get that email because you’re black. You got that email because you’re a worthless grandstanding blowhard that would rather thunder on about nothing than accept the tiniest shred of responsibility for your actions.

No, Marion Barry, the Post should not fire their Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic because he made you boo-hoo into your Cheerios. No, Marion Barry, the Post does not owe you a sloppy French kiss in the form of an apology editorial. You got a sincere apology, the critic is being disciplined by the Post, now accept it like a man and go back to doing your job.

Whatever that job is.

By the way, congratulations! Even in a crowded field such as this, you are the Washington Area’s Nuttiest Politician.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Maybe He Really DID Just Want to Chat About Pizza

I'm notoriously dense when it comes to flirtation. I'd say that 95 percent of the time when a guy hits on me, I don't even notice. The other five percent, I know I'm being hit on because my friends have clued me in.

Sample conversation from a few years back:
Me: That guy really liked my shoes. He spent 20 minutes asking me where to find Chuck Taylors with racing stripes.
Friend: Huh? Shannon, guys don't care about shoes.
Me: But he asked lots of questions! And then he bought me a drink because I had such cool shoes!
Friend: He was hitting on you. Guys have nothing intelligent to say about women's footwear.
Me (realization slowly dawning): Oh.

So take this natural obliviousness, and throw in the fact that I'm in a relationship. On the rare occasions that I do realize I'm being hit on, I have absolutely no idea how to react. When I was married, it was really easy. There was a Diamond-Encrusted Man Deflector on my left hand that I could flash as necessary.

Here's an example: Friday evening, I was walking to a birthday happy hour. There was a light drizzle, but nothing major. A well-dressed, seemingly nice guy offered to share his umbrella with me. I declined at first, then we walked on together for about a block and a half. We were headed to different bars, so he offered to send me a review of where he was going (Ella's Pizza). Being old and wise now, I realized he was hitting me up for my contact info. I politely declined and moved on.

Afterwards, this bothered me immensely. I hate being rude to perfectly nice guys who chivalrously share their umbrellas. That sort of behavior should be rewarded. (Now, if he'd been a hyperaggressive little troll, I would have put him in his place with much joy and merriment).

Maybe I should have said, "Well, my boyfriend would think it was odd if I started getting pizza reviews from strange men." Then he'd know it was nothing personal. Or, "Get away from me, you foul incubus!" Just so I could assert myself. But I think my "thanks, but no thanks" reaction was probably for the best.

But give me SOME credit here. Five years ago, I would have thought this guy and I merely shared a common interest in pizza-centric happy hours.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Leaves of Grass: The Resume Creative Process

My resume is my own personal Leaves of Grass. I’m going to tweak and retweak that thing until the day I die. Now that I’m job hunting, the sprucing sessions have been near-constant.

My latest revisions involve emphasizing my skill set. You know, languages, computer programs, and so forth. Unfortunately, many of my most impressive skills didn’t make the final cut. I included palm reading on my resume, because my headhunter was really amused by that. So, as a Friday treat, here are the amazing things I can do that will never ever wind up on my resume.

1. I have perfect posture. I can walk in a straight line, in heels, arms out, with a book balanced on my head. Blindfolded. After two martinis.

2. I can put on a gas mask in under 30 seconds and administer nerve agent antidotes.

3. Thanks to having lived overseas, I can prepare virtually any American comfort food without any of the original ingredients.

4. I can repair a muffler with a Chicken McNugget.

5. I can recite the introduction to The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English.

6. I can pack for a two-week vacation in under twenty minutes.

7. I have a sixth sense for when J. Crew's website is offering an extra 20 percent off all sale items.

8. I can open beer bottles with a corkscrew, a car bumper, and a man’s size 10 dress shoe.

9. I can contort myself to fit inside virtually any cardboard box.

Now all I have to do is troll the Craigslist job postings until I find a company where I can open beer bottles while standing perfectly straight and reciting in Middle English. While wearing a gas mask and administering antidote shots to passersby. Suggestions?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

When Did Metro Become the Ford Pinto of Transit?

Seriously. I love Metro, but it has become such a royal pain over the last couple of years. And I can't figure out whether that's due to my getting older and crankier, or if they've fallen so far that even I can see it.

It's not just that Metro has significant delays and rude customers, it's that they've gotten downright surreal. This week, there was a deer wandering around the Red Line tracks for four hours, causing extensive delays. This brings many questions to mind:
  • How did the deer get down there in the first place? Paper farecard or SmarTrip?
  • How did the deer avoid electrocuting itself?
  • How come a deer has an easier time navigating the Metro's inadequate lighting, slippery tiles and punchy crowds than I do?
  • Why did it take so long to remove the deer? It's not like it could have hidden for long, it's a pretty big animal. Zap it with a tranquilizer, dump it in a wheelbarrow and haul it out.

And, let's consider the other insidious aspect of Metro: it's misogynistic. Seriously. New train cars have severely cut back on the number of floor-to-ceiling hold-on bars. Instead, we're supposed to move into the center of the car and use the overhead bars, which are useless for anyone under 5'6". As the average American woman is 5'4", I can only conclude that Metro has it in for women. Maybe they don't want us to get to our jobs, so then we won't have jobs. It's a plot!

With its cramped quarters and propensity to randomly burst into flame, Metro is virtually peerless. With one exception: The Ford Pinto. The Metro is the Pinto of Transit. You heard it here first.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Aging Before Your Very Eyes

Today is that day I love so much. My birthday. I'm 31. Technically, because I was born on the other side of the International Date Line, I really turned 31 yesterday. But as yesterday was devoted to DVDs and hangovers, I guess today will suffice.

Compared to turning 30, 31 has been kind of anticlimactic. Age 29, I got divorced, moved back to DC, and started my life over. Age 30 was a cakewalk by comparison. I expect 31 to be even easier.

But forces are conspiring to make me feel old. I tend to be mistaken for someone much younger. On a typical bar excursion, I am carded once at the door, and twice by the waitress. People ask me what college I go to. Nobody ever believes my real age. Well, until now.

Saturday, for the first time ever, I was not carded buying beer at Shopper's Food Warehouse. It's the end of life as I know it. I am no longer being carded! Next stop will be a dozen cats and a penchant for knitting.