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Archive for May, 2010

What would you do if you found a wallet loaded with credit cards and cash?  

This classic “what if” scenario hit me a few weeks ago when I was walking down a desolate street and found a wallet near a bus stop.  Inside, there were five credit cards, a crisp fifty dollar bill and an ID with a picture of an old Chinese man.   

I’d been having one of those rotten days where you’re questioning your life path, doubting your identity and asking ‘why God why aren’t things coming together.’  Career and relationships were issues.  And of course, moolah.

Then I saw the wallet on the ground.  Maybe I was supposed to stumble upon it.  Maybe God wanted me to have fifty dollars. 

Or maybe I was just supposed to continue being a Good Samaritan.  In the last year, I’ve smiled to every stranger who crosses my path, said hello to my cranky bus driver each morning and lent a hand whenever I saw someone in need.  Occasionally, I get things out of it, like the time Mr. Bus Driver waited a full twenty seconds for me to catch up after having just missed his bus.  But mostly, it just feels good to be kind.

Anyway, I go home and Google the old Chinese dude to get a phone number.  He doesn’t answer my first couple calls.  When he finally picks up, he yells at me because his English is lousy and he thinks I’m harassing him.  So very slowly I say, “Your wallet…I have…I bring…your house.” 

The guy doesn’t live too far away, though getting there is a bit of a hassle.  When I arrive, the old man walks toward me as if I’ve just descended from Heaven.  He reaches out to take my hand, holds it and won’t let go.  Tears are in his eyes.  He says, “I can’t believe there are people like you in this world.  Who can believe this?”  He tells me he’s been living in the US for decades and had pretty much given up on the idea any of us had principles anymore.  Then here I am returning his wallet fully stocked.  He keeps squeezing my hand, staring at me as if I’m some creature from the Planet of Nice.

The guy gives me twenty bucks, despite my refusals, and says, “I want be your friend.  I can no believe you are real.”  He asks me to write down my phone number then offers to buy me dinner.  He wants to introduce me to his family.  I’m standing there for ten long minutes, gently refusing recompense, as this stranger is acting like I’m the second coming of Christ.

And I’m thinking, “What the hell happened that giving back someone’s wallet puts you on par with Mother Theresa?”  Shouldn’t it be normal to return things that don’t belong to you?  Shouldn’t we always try to do the right thing? 

Then I got to thinking about my own life.  Maybe God didn’t want me to have fifty bucks.  Maybe s/he wanted to send a message to let me know my hard work and commitment to being a decent person, despite the chaos of the world around me, mean something.  Maybe my career isn’t where I want it, my relationships aren’t perfect, and money is tighter than a Tokyo subway.  But what truly matters are the moments of connection shared between people. 

I went home walking on a cloud and looking forward to my dinner date with my new Chinese friend.  My body was flooded with goodness and a sense of purpose.  Through barely an effort on my part, I saved someone a major headache and restored his faith in humanity.  I smiled considering how ironic life could be; my day started with a sense of futility, but ended with a reminder to always go out of your way to give and return kindness.

Y’know what’s even more ironic?  I never heard jack squat from the old dude again.

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So, my teacher friend Corey meets this woman named Michelle in a bar.  After a brief chat, the two exchange numbers and email addresses, then meet for drinks a week later.  Fireworks aren’t going off, though Corey finds Michelle attractive and worth a second date, which he lets her know as they part ways at evening’s end.

A couple days later, Corey gets an email from Michelle; she had a great time, he’s a fun guy, all that jazz.  Attached to the email is a photograph of Michelle looking wistfully out her bedroom window…

…naked.

According to Corey, the picture was tasteful, more soft core than Triple-X.  Still, he was baffled by this new development and couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t jumping at the chance to join Michelle at her bedroom window.  Though she may not have elicited the response she sought, Michelle was successful in dominating Corey and my conversations for the next week, thus becoming ‘The Naked Girl.’

“Did you respond to the Naked Girl yet?”  I asked him over drinks.

“I would if I knew what to say.”

Observing Corey navigate the realms of premature nudity was an education in the workings of the male mind.  His first instinct was to ask the gal if she’d seen that week’s episode of Lost without making any reference whatsoever to the photo; a glaring example of how men too often believe completely ignoring the big, naked elephant in the room is better than meeting it head on.  Corey’s avoidance was an attempt to be kind.  What a relief to discover evasion isn’t always a sign a man is a putz.  Made me feel lots better about the times I’ve sent “I love you” or “we really need to talk” texts and gotten messages like, “what did you have for lunch?” in return.

There seemed only two places from which Michelle’s sexy message could have come: either she was a ravenous sex machine who only wanted booty, thus sending the photo was simply cutting to the chase.  Otherwise, she was a psychological mess who, for whatever reason, thought the nude approach was the best way to endear herself to a potential mate.

The whole ordeal had my friend coming up against his own conscience.  Good Corey thought it wrong to take advantage of a woman in whom he had minimal romantic interest.  But Bad Corey wondered if her blatant overture permitted him to “’bleep’ her like the tramp she is.”

Really, the poor fella was at a loss.  If she was a nice but messy lady, he wanted to save her any embarrassment.  If she was hot to trot, he wouldn’t mind keeping the option open.  But if there was any chance of love blooming, he didn’t want this act to be the seed.

“Tell her the truth,” I suggested.

“I don’t know what the truth is,” he said.  “All I know is I’m uncomfortable and don’t know what this means.”

“Say that,” I told him.

Corey learned a lesson that day.  Rather than dodging or joking or disappearing all together, he expressed his true feelings.  What happened was a dialogue opened.  Maybe the whole relationship ends there, but at least they can walk away with their dignity in tact and without questions remaining unanswered.

I learned a lesson, too.  We ladies feel entitled to express in full everything we feel, both love and lust, our anger and overwhelming need.  But when you see it from a man’s perspective, you realize how coming on too strong brings nothing but forced obligation and loads of discomfort.

So maybe men could be a bit more direct and women could take a step back.  Or at least save the nudie pics for the second date.

Want to know what happened to Corey and the Naked Girl?  Check out Naked Girl II (or) Finding Your Soulmate.

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The other night, I had a wonderfully romantic dream about my high school crush.  Though I haven’t thought of the boy in years, he’s always been the one infatuation I’ve regretted not having a chance to explore.  Back then, he was popular, studly, too cute for my ugly duckling high school self.  For two long, rather ridiculous years, he was the light of my life, the fire of my loins, the name scribbled on the inside of my locker.

In the dream, we were at a reunion, where Crush lamented not having had his act together enough to see how special I was back in school and thus, become mine forever.  I woke up in one of those dizzyingly rapturous post-dream spells where, despite everything good awaiting you in real life, you only want to go back to sleep.  Already, I’d been having dreams of ex-boyfriends and now here I was dreaming about my very first gut-wrenching love.  Obviously, my subconscious had something to tell me.

The next morning, I eagerly fired up Facebook to do a search, and wouldn’t you know, up came Crush’s name.  As the page loaded, I was as nervous as I’d been when the two of us were partnered up in an English class reading of Hamlet.  What if our destinies were about to become enmeshed?

At first I didn’t recognize the somewhat handsome, though mostly chubby, grey-haired papa bear in the profile pic.  Where was the serpentine smirk that used to make me go gaga, the lustful twinkle in the eye that made all the girls go gooey?  Maybe this old guy was my Crush’s uncle.

But alas, ‘twas he, the Jake Ryan of my Sixteen Candles-esque high school fantasies.  How odd to see a person jump in your imagination from seventeen to near middle age.  What a disconcerting way to be reminded of the passage of time.

Equally odd was the life my crush had built for himself.  He was an accountant.  He and his family were living in some weird town in Texas.  He was a raging Conservative.

Strange ‘cause this was a guy who dated foreign exchange students and girls from the other side of the racial divide, he was one of the first kids in our school to dig hip hop, he was popular because he was gorgeous but also because he was ahead of all kinds of cultural curves.

Crush looked happy and I hope he is, yet I still kinda wondered what happened.  Mostly, I regretted ever feeling so lousy for not having made it fully onto his radar.

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in touch with many of my exes and though I admire their lives, I’m glad I’m not in them.  I would never want to live in a weird town in Texas and attend Tea Party rallies, just as I’m glad things never worked out with my ex in the clink now for shady ties to the mob.  Boy, was that a close one.

Knowing I’ve dodged a bullet would make the whole mourning process easier.  Not because my exes lives are terrible, quite the contrary; but because knowing we were on different paths makes the breakup a good and right outcome.  I know full well my exes probably check out Facebook and thank their lucky stars they didn’t end up with that goofy writer who spent her twenties gallivanting around Europe rather than paying a mortgage.

So I hereby make the following request to, let’s say, Google: would you guys mind making some kind of application in which one could project ten or twenty years into the future to see what kind of person a current, prospective or ex partner becomes?  That way, the poor girl who goes unnoticed by the jock in study hall, the husband who gets dumped by his wife, the crazy-in-love gal whose man suddenly asks for an open relationship, can stop agonizing.

People say ‘everything happens for a reason’ when a relationship goes sour, but we all know that’s a load.  Imagine how much better you’d feel if in the midst of a breakup, a quick Google search could assure you, ‘no worries.  In ten years, he’ll be living in a trailer park in Kansas.’

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Don’t be surprised if you hear I’ve been arrested for kidnapping.

Last year, a friend and I were chilling in a neighborhood park when we saw the most adorable child on the face of the planet.  The boy was tiny and brown with plump cheeks and alert, almond-shaped eyes so dazzling you’d think God was peeking through them.  He wore an adult’s Red Sox T-shirt that hung down past his knees and had one of those sing-song giggles that send delightful tickles up and down your spine.

My friend and I laughed as we watched the little guy run around the playground, tripping over his shirt, spouting cute, nonsensical toddler talk at grownups and trying to shoot hoops with the big kids.

My friend said, “I want one of those.”

“Me, too,” I told him.  And for the first time in my life, meant it.

I’ve always thought I’d become a mom one day, but thus far, have spent most of life focused on other ambitions.  However, in the last couple years an unfamiliar sensation has slowly emerged.  Doesn’t sound like a biological clock ticking, nor does it feel like the brute force of societal pressure.  The sensation is gentle and sweet, a graceful vibe as if my body and soul is whispering to me, ‘this is something we’d like to do.’

I live in a neighborhood of mothers.  The harried, impatient, Type A brand of moms who work on their Blackberries rather than join their kids on the swings.  Nannies and state-of-the-art strollers abound, and I often overhear parents competing over the educational institutions their kids attend, or lamenting packed schedules of language lessons, soccer games and music recitals.  I know these moms love their kids, but I wonder if they also see them as evidence of their own worldly accomplishments, or if concern for their offspring’s success trumps organic development.  These kids are like molded globs of clay who might end up as upstanding but colorless citizens with a bad case of ADD.

Maybe I say this because my mom was a big ol’ hippie.  I didn’t have punishments, I had discussions.  When I was bored, she told me to use my imagination to pass the time.  I went to every type of church, synagogue and religious service so I could “decide” my faith.  When I wanted to be a rock star, I got piano lessons; when I wanted to quit softball, she never put up a fight.  Whatever I needed to unearth my nascent personality, Mom did her best to supply.  The only thing I couldn’t be in my mother’s house was lazy.  Or a Republican.

And so, when I imagine having a child, I’m most thrilled by the prospect of meeting a new person.  I’d want to see how all the marvelously unique elements inside me and the kid’s father blend into one new soul.  I’d want to find out what he likes, what her talents are.  I’d like him or her to show me who they are and let me find ways to be nurturing.  Being there as the world inspires, shapes and even scares this little kid would undoubtedly be one of the greatest adventures of my life.

No matter whether they treat kids like flowers to cultivate or clay to sculpt, I still think all moms are rad.  So I want to wish the hardest working women on the planet a Happy Mother’s Day; to my friends who are mothers, to the power moms in my ‘hood and to the greatest mom of all.

My own.

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Trips to New York and Los Angeles in the same week.  A horrid cold from the weird pollen in LA, making me cough like I’ve spent the last twenty years downing whiskey shots with hits from a cigar.  In bed for days, then back to work where I was bombarded with everything I’d missed during my travels and hack fest. 

Then over the weekend, a writer’s conference I barely got through without collapsing.  All this to say, I didn’t get a chance to write this week’s blog. 

What I will share with you is Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and Choke.  If you’ve never read any of his books, get your backside to a bookstore or library.  And if you’re ever in need of inspiration, go hear the man speak.  Funny, considering his most successful book is about psychotic freaks beating the molasses out of each other.  But Chuck, the keynote speaker at this weekend’s conference, got a standing ovation at the end of his speech.  There were tears in the eyes of all the women seated at my table. 

“Everybody figures out a way to get people to like them,” said the surprisingly wholesome writer (though I’m paraphrasing here).  “It starts from childhood; ‘I’ll be the smart kid,’ you decide, ‘the funny kid.’  But then you get to the second act of your life and the act starts to break down or it doesn’t work for you anymore.  The stories I write are about the moment when the character abandons the inauthenticity and chooses the way they’re going to be.  Chooses their authentic self.” 

I can’t get into it now.  My head is full of pollen and throat is crackling with allergy.  But I can tell you I’ve been walking a long, hard road toward authenticity in the last few years.  Certainly, I went to Europe to find my unencumbered, truest self.  Since my return, I’ve struggled to find a home, literally and figuratively, for this new me.  

I’m not alone.  Lots of folks I know right now are asking themselves whether the person they’ve been up to now is real.  They’re chucking jobs, relationships, goals, moving to other cities, to live with more authenticity.  The topsy turvy, volcanic ash and earthquake-ridden, economic disaster of a planet we’re living on makes this journey even more vital.  It’s as fantastic as it is terrifying.  

Maybe this is why an entire audience stood and women wept when the Fight Club mastermind reminded us life isn’t only about struggle, “it’s a conspiracy to make you enjoy every moment of happiness.”  For this, we were all grateful. 

Wow, I guess I did write a blog.  Thanks again, Chuck.

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