For the first few years I was in high school, my dad and I had a very difficult relationship. When we finally came around my senior year, we would try to find activities we could do together that would give us some common ground. We did things like listen to Led Zeppelin, eat Chinese food, play football, see plays and have friendly competitions to who could “pick up” more members of the opposite sex.
Now, my dad and I are very similar in a lot of ways, and as this game progressed, we both discovered that we were really really good at picking up members of our own sex. My dad actually beat me in both categories, but at least when it came to picking up women, I was in the running. (As opposed to the big, whopping ‘zero’ guys I was able to pick up on a daily basis.)
Of course, this was years ago, before he got married and I got debilitatingly bitter. For a while now, I’ve been so busy feeling sorry for myself, holding back tears, talking about yoga and threatening to jump off a building that I haven’t thought about picking up anybody, male or female. But in the past week or so, I’ve been trying to focus on not focusing on how miserable and despairing I am. I’ve been trying to think painful thoughts such as, “Things will work out,” “I’ll be happy one day” and “I’m a decent person!”
The result? The chicks are flocking to me. Last week, I picked up a swanky Brit at Nobu. Two days ago, I escorted a Southern Belle safely to her Howard Johnson hotel. I thought it couldn’t get any better, and then I met Fadha.
I was riding the subway (again) and for the first time in a while, instead of crying or chewing my lip, I was smiling uncontrollably. Something about the music on my iPod just made me think, “wow, life is so so gorgeous.” I was almost laughing. (Can you believe they won’t give me a bipolar diagnosis??) Then, my moment was cut short because a seat opened up. It was time for me to sit down, turn off the iPod, and read my book like all the other pseudo-intellectual Brooklynites I was longing to impress.
But when I tried to sit down, I noticed a Duane Reade bag on my seat. The women next to the bag apologetically picked it up, her lovely olive skin scrunched with anxiety, her wavy chestnut hair hanging persistently in her face. She frantically examining a pink paper gift bag, opening and closing it, looking inside, folding it up, and starting over. I felt immediately for her flustered distress, as that tends to be my resting state. She seemed to notice, and opened her mouth to say something, then thought better of it.
As soon as I sat down, she started sighing, in staccato, emotion-filled puffs. I was peaking over at her out of the corner of my eye, and she noticed. She held the gift bag up at me, so subtly that if I hadn’t been paying attention, she could have played it off as an accident. But I acknowledged it. Again, she made a noise as if to speak, but trailed off.
“Did you lose something?” I asked finally.
“No!” She showed me a tear at the bottom of the pink gift bag. “I’m trying to put a gift in here, but the bag is ripped!” She handed it to me.
“Umm…” I stalled, examining the bag. “Are you trying to return it.”
“No.” She eyed me through her hair before leaning in confidentially, “I think I did it. When I opened it up, and I ripped it, because I am very abrupt!”
“Can you tape it?” I suggested. The brief thought washed over me that I must be extremely lonely or extremely confused to be casually conversing with this woman as though I’d known her for years.
“No…No. But I have back up.” She pulled another bag out of her purse, as well as a plastic box. She was starting to put the box in the new bag but suddenly grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear, “These are really expensive emerald earrings and they’re going overseas for my mother’s birthday. Do you think I should double wrap?” She handed me the expensive earrings, too, and I understood that my job was to somehow wrap them up in the pink bag.
“Where’s home?” I asked, as I began my maneuvering. I’m actually inept at wrapping; my 16-year-old tutee had to wrap my step-mother’s birthday present for me, while I insisted that at least I knew how to write a topic sentence.
“Well, I’ve been here for 16 years, but I’m Lebanese, and French.”
“So these are going to Lebanon?” I finally wedged the box in the bag so it could be folded to cover up the rip. She handed me the second bag and I snuggled in the pink package.
She didn’t even look as I handed it back to her, but murmured, “is it ok?”
Her whole demeanor changed; she sighed again, but this time with delicate relief and leaned back in her seat. “Thank you so much. I’m totally hyperactive. That’s why I ripped the bag, but thank you for dealing with me. My boyfriend would think I was nuts.”
“Oh, it’s ok! Sometimes boyfriends don’t understand,” I told her sagely, as though I could even remember what it was like to have a boyfriend and had some idea of what I was talking about. “Sometimes, you just need a girlfriend.”
“Yes!” She was invested again, sitting forward. “My girlfriend was complaining that her boyfriend’s mom emailed her, and I said, at least she likes you! Then my boyfriend heard me say it on the phone and he freaked out. You know why? Because tonight he’s taking his mother out to dinner at the Four Seasons and I’m not invited. I’m never invited.”
“Oh no!” Oh no…I thought.
She went on. “So he heard me say, ‘at least she likes you’ and he started yelling, ‘how could you say that on the very night when I’m taking my mother out. What are you trying to say?’ I said, ‘I’m not saying anything, I’m just talking to my friend!'” Her face lit up with mix of satisfaction and angst. “It’s his own issue right? I mean, it’s obviously his issue?”
“Yes,” I agreed, getting into the swing of things. “Totally narcissistic. But…does he ever take with you with his mother?”
“How long have you been together?”
“Four years.” I must have reacted and I saw that while she was happy to supply information, she was getting uncomfortable, not with me, but with the truth.
“So,” she peered over my hands, scanning my rings. “Are you married?”
“No…definitely not, no.” I spared her my routine of explaining that not only was I not married, I was completely undatable.
“Are you a student?” I wished that marriage or grad school weren’t always the options, but shook my head. I said softly, hating the words as I spit them out, “I’m a writer…well…I guess I’m a yoga student. A yoga teacher!”
“A yoga teacher! I’m trying to quit smoking!” She started rummaging through her bag and pulled out another box. “Should I have put the earrings in this?”
“No. Everything is fine just the way it is.” The greatest lie ever told, and it works every time.
She went on. “I try to quit smoking..I go for a month… I say I’m going to smoke just one..it all goes down hill.” She looked at me expectantly, as though I should be able to fix this just as I’d wrapped the package and aptly categorized her boyfriend as an asshole.
I stared back, before getting very serious. “The first month is the hardest, but I know you can do it.”
“Ok.” She pulled out a matchbook and a golf pencil. “So, you’re a yoga teacher? Let me get your email.”
I guess it seemed strange be doling out my contact info, but times are tough, and being that so far, I’m only a yoga teacher in theory, not in practice, it seemed like it couldn’t hurt to take a leap.
She glanced at the matchbook and promptly produced a pen, asking me to re-write it. She told me her name, assured me that she was on Facebook, but “only to make fun of other people.”
“Ah,” I thought to myself, “We are kindred spirits.” We arrived at our stop.
“Ok, RB! I’ll email you.” She squeezed my arm.
“Great! See you soon! Good luck!” I shot out the door on the opposite side of the train.
Only when I realized that a few other people on the train were staring at me did I finally snap out of my surreal acceptance. In hindsight, I should probably should have snagged the earrings or at least offered to hold her pack of Marlboro lights in a safe place. Then, I could have smoked them with my dad while I bragged about my conquests.