My dearest Stephanie,

Maybe it’s because I’m petite. Maybe it’s the big, dark, wide-set eyes. Maybe it’s that I’m basically friendly and outgoing by nature. Whatever combination of factors is involved, men seem to mis/under-estimate me.

As evidence, I submit the events of Sunday and Monday nights.

Sunday night:

Right around 9 o’clock, two men come to the bar, both over 60. One was a regular who always drinks Absolut with a splash of tonic, the other a man with a limp whom I’d never seen before.

I was surprised to see Absolut with tonic so late in the evening since he usually comes much earlier. He has always been “appropriate” with me in the past though on this night, he remarks more than once about how nice I looked on Friday, when he’d seen me in my civilian “going out” clothes rather than my usual black work ensemble. And he keeps reaching for my hand.

Ahem

But I Act As If it’s business as usual. Because I still have not learned my lesson that I cannot control the material world with my thoughts. What’s up with that?

Limp gives me a bad feeling from the get-go. I can’t say why exactly. Maybe it’s the crazed look in his eye. He complains about the loud party of 16 seated behind him…until he overhears (or so he says) a woman say, “ blah blah do me blah.” He turns to me and says eagerly, “She said ‘do me!’ I like that!”

How many times do I have to say this?

Strangers + Public Space + Sexual Innuendo = All Wrong!!!

So I purse my lips, narrow my eyes disapprovingly, and say, “Classy.”

All I want is to get this guy out of the bar, so I double check his food order with the kitchen to make sure it’s ready, lickety split. What happens? They fuck it up anyway. After 30 minutes of studiously ignoring this idiot, I finally go back to check on his food, and the kitchen claims they didn’t get the order. Even though I had double-checked that they’d received the order, and they confirmed that they did. But that’s fine. No, really.

“I apologize,” I tell him. “There was a miscommunication in the kitchen, but your order should be out shortly.”

“What kind of miscommunication? Like between a husband and wife?” Then he goes on and on—at least three more sentences in which he elaborates on what husbands and wives miscommunicate about. It was so awkward that I’ve buried the contents of his utterance deep into my subconscious. You’d have to open up my brain to find them.

But anyway, I just look at him, stony faced, and say, “No, it was just about the food.”

Meanwhile, there’s Absolut with Tonic sitting to his left, watching every moment of our exchange.

Finally, Limp’s food comes out. He takes too long to eat it, but eventually, mercifully, it’s time for the check. As I’m running his credit card through the machine, he limps to the end of bar, and he’s all up in my grill talking about his medical problems.

Cuz chit-chatting with the much younger bartender, to whom you’ve made inappropriate sexual comments, about your medical issues is super sex-ay.

“Awww,” I say emotionlessly. “I hope you feel better.”

“Really?!” he responds, and the degree of hope in his voice is almost poignant.

I turn away, so he won’t intuit my thoughts: No, not really, asswipe. I see that you’re filling out the tip line, so I’m trying to be polite.

Just to clarify, I don’t wish him ill or anything. I’m just relieved to finally have this guy out of my personal space, and all I want is to finish my side work and get home, where I can make myself a nice, strong drink. But then Absolut with Tonic asks for another, and he has the distinct look of a man in it for the long haul.

Did I mention it’s 10:30? Did I mention that the restaurant is empty because the kitchen closes at 10:00?

“Stella,” he tells me, “you’re a very nice lady. I’m sorry you had to deal with that clown.”

“Oh, haha,” I say breezily. A cardinal rule: Never diss one customer to another customer.

“No, no, really,” he continues. “Now don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe one day you and I could go out for a drink.”

A)   What’s the right way to take this?

B)   Um, dude, seriously?

It’s not like I couldn’t see this coming, but clearly, this is a man with no sense of timing. He’s a nice man, really and truly, but it bears repeating: on so many levels, seriously?

I let him down easy—“awww, that’s so nice of you to ask. I’m so flattered, but…”—and he says, “Well at least you’re flattered.”

Blah nonsensical blah awkward moment blah

Then he puts down $40 on a $12 tab.

“No, no, no,” I say, pushing the money across the bar toward him. “That’s just excessive. Please.”

But he won’t take it back.

Monday night:

A regular who drinks Blueberry Stoli comes in around 6:30. He’s going to watch the Mets game, he tells me. “I’m gonna start with an entrée for my appetizer, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”

Yeah, okay, whatevs.

It’s a busy night, and he’s a needy customer, sending me back to the kitchen numerous times with special requests that include, but are not limited to, the following:

1)    Does anyone in the bar have a razor cell phone with a charger? Because he needs to charge his phone, and he forgot his charger. So if no one on the premises has a charger, then he’s going to have to go home to charge his phone. (I actually de not make this request for him. And yet he does not leave to charge his phone but instead stays for an additional three hours.)

2)    What sorbet flavors do we have tonight? And also, can he buy the remaining tub of sorbet because he wants to take it home to his mother, with whom he, a 40-something male, lives. (Red alert! Red alert! Can you hear the sirens?)

3)    Can he have hot and sweet red peppers with his shrimp dish?

4)    Can he have more sauce…again?

Four plus hours and five drinks later, he’s still sitting at the bar. Once again I feel the need to note that the kitchen closes at 10, and, as a regular, he’s well aware of this. Now that the bar is finally empty, he attempts to engage me in conversation though I attempt to look too busy with my sidework to talk.

His conversational entrée? He asks me if I know his name, and no, I do not.

“If you’re gonna be in this business, you need to remember everyone’s name,” he says.

I don’t intend to be a bitch, but it’s beginning to get easier. Yeah, thanks for the tip, fuckface. Hows about you and me do a little IQ face-off cuz I’m pretty sure I got a solid 30 points on you.

When, in lieu of responding, I instead begin windexing in his vicinity, he continues, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for a long time.”

“Oh, have you? So I guess you know what it takes.” Once again: It’s the end of the night. The bill has already been printed out. Tipping time approaches imminently.

“No, I can’t tell you how to be. The best thing is just to be yourself.”

Um, what? Apparently, he was having his own private conversation with me in his head.

“Mmm, actually,” I feel the need to clarify, “I said ‘I guess you know what it takes.’”

“Oh yeah. Yeah I do.”

“Mmm hmmm,” I say as I put his check in front of him.

So he finally pays and leaves, right?

That would be premature. He pays, yes, and I close my register. To be precise: He watches me count the drawer, enter the credit card slips, and remove the register key.

Then he asks for a 7-Up.

At 10:45.

After giving him his 7-Up, from which he took exactly three sips, I keep myself busy with sidework that involves me with my back to the bar. Since there’s still one couple finishing their dinner, in a leisurely fashion, the server, runner, and both managers are still on the premises.

At some point, I glance at the bar and see that it’s empty.

“I thought he was going to follow you out of the bar,” says my manager, who is always the last to leave. “I’m gonna walk you to your car anyway.”

I’ve been told I’m a “welcoming” person. I need to ruminate deeply and at length about how I’m projecting this “welcoming” quality and cut it the fuckity fuck out.

Love,

Stella

Dear Stella,

I’m hooked on Lost. In a bad, bad way. I spend too many wee hours sucking back episode after episode, sometimes well until daylight.

I tell you this so you can see what shapes my world of late, both as a way of apology, and as a chance to obsessively talk about the show. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick recap: plane crashes, passengers get stranded on an island, mysteries and mayhem ensue.

Everything looks different through Lost-colored glasses.

For example, at the latest open-call for a bartending gig at The All American, I stand in line with about 300 people for well over 3 hours.

I look at the peeps in my immediate vicinity, the little part of the line I grow to call “home,” and wonder who we would each be on the island.

Who would be the first to go? Who would be the first snatched by the giant, tropical polar bear, freakishly quick for its size?

My vote is the woman behind me. Died blond hair, dry and frizzy. Rumpled black capris. Razzle-dazzle silky shirt, too large for her large frame, making her torso appear to “float.” Bright white sneakers, white tube socks. Voice raspy and warbled with the black bile of her long-term love affair with smoking.

She’s the one who talks a lot to no one in particular. We look away uncomfortably, so as to not catch her eye.

“This is bullshit! Bullshit, I tell you.” We all think it, but she says it. We are embarrassed by her eruptions, perhaps because we don’t want to see human frailty right now (and what says “human frailty” more than white sneakers, white tube socks, and black capris on a job interview), when we are trying embody confidence, professionalism—anything but desperation and desire.

Yes, she’s the one they’d kill off right away. We will be horrified when the monster takes her, but also relieved. It wouldn’t dare come after us. Surely, we are safe.

The monster wouldn’t dare take Callie, who, like the sneakered blond, reeks of human fragility, but it’s the likeable kind.

Callie is exuberant and fantastically nervous. In the first hour and a half, she is OPTIMISM EXEMPLIFIED! “The line continues up another set of stairs? That just means the restaurant is big and there’s more room for all of us!”

But two hours and three staircases later with no end in sight, Callie starts to lose it. I watch her slip her crumpled résumé out of its giant leather case.

“Do you think they’ll notice that the dates are off?” Her hands shakes.

“It’s a simple mistake. Look at me,” I say, voice strong, insistent, “Own that shit, you hear me? You own it.”

“You’re right, you’re absolutely right,” she says, nodding. “I can do this.”

And boy, can she. Even though every time she is called up (for the first, then second, then third interview), she drops her résumé, once in a puddle of water on the floor—no matter—she gathers herself and moves like a tropical storm through the room, high-fiving her interviewers on the way. They eat that shit up; they love her, and even bump her up from server to bartender. She owned that shit—her nervousness, the made-up résumé dates, the whole shebang.

The monster would leave that guy over there too, the one in the sloppy tee-shirt, pony-tail, jeans, a swagger. “How’d it go?” he asks a woman on her way down the stairs (We are all desperate for some word—What awaits us at the top of the stairs? Applicants seem to disappear and never come back once they reach the top). “Good,” she says, eyes down as she eases her way through the hungry, desperate crowd. When she is just out of earshot, he adds, “Can I have your numba?” And we erupt in nervous laughter.

He’s the class clown of the island, the one who everyone pegs for a douchébag. But at the important moments—a bleeding arm requires a tourniquet, a mother can’t find her child, the dog drags a human hand clutching car keys from the jungle and we all freak out—he’s there. True, he jokes the entire time, and not even a dead body can stop him from flirting shamelessly with the mother who has just lost her child, but the tourniquet is on, the search party gathered, the car keys snatched from the decayed hand.

“Let’s ask her, I’ll bet she knows what’s going on.” Suddenly, the sneakered blond’s raspy voice is directed at me. She elbows me, and nods toward the hostess. I smile politely but don’t take the bait. It doesn’t matter, of course. She has picked me out of the crowd to share in her mission not because I’m standing in front of her, but because she’s rightly sniffed me out as the one who will listen, who can’t say no.

She looks at my high-heeled black boots accusingly, then at her white sneakers. “Should I put my heels on?”

“Yes,” I say, “Put your heels on.”

She swears at me, then disappears. After fifteen minutes she emerges, wobbling on pumps three times too small for her feet, fat billowing over the sides of her shoes. “I hate heels,” she croaks, “Hate em!”

I understand that by saying “Yes,” something has happened between us. A transference of responsibility. It is my fault that her fat feet hurt in her heels. And it being my fault helps her make it through this. It gives her something to focus on, something through which to channel her energy. Nervousness is too much to take, so she will feel blame instead. She is not a frenetic high-fiver, like Callie, nor a pathological flirt, like the pony-tail dude. So she will complain to me all the way until the tippy-top of the line, when, finally, I am next, and then her.

“That’s it, I’m taking them off!” she threatens. I turn, take her by the shoulders.

“You are not taking those heels off. I don’t care how much they hurt. You are keeping them on until this thing is over. You hear me?” She shuts up, caught in my stare-down, then nods silently. I let go.

“Well I’m taking them off just as soon as this is over. I mean it, as soon as they say ‘You’re hired’ my sneakers go on right then and there, I don’t care who sees me.”

“Okay,” I say. It seems we’ve struck a fair deal.

That’s me, the one who gathers my panicked island-compatriots, gives a heartfelt speech about how we can do this, how everything’s going to be okay. “Let’s keep it together, people,” I say, “We’ve come this far.”

They all nod, breathe deeply, pat each other on the back.

Yes, I’m the one who is emboldened in the face of others’ fear, the one who rises to the occasion, who brings a message of hope.

Then later, I return to my beach-side tent, or my cover of professional clothes and high-heeled boots, and my own fear consumes me. I quake at the thought of the giant white beast somewhere out there, and wonder how we will ever make it in this mad, mad world.

Oh no she didn’t!

June 25, 2009

Dear Stephanie,

I’ve become kind of spoiled at my bartending job. It’s at an upscale restaurant in an upscale town, so I get to indulge in conversations about culture, art, and ideas with my often well-educated and professional clientele, who also tend to tip generously. In my best moments, I can pretend to myself that I am presiding over a salon of sorts. This left me somewhat unprepared for the train wreck I encountered late on Sunday evening. I’m going to tell you the story for, as Jack Kerouac would say, “companionship.” Just don’t expect it to lead to a satori.

So, this amazon stumbles into the bar. She’s pushing six feet, and all signs indicate that she has had significant “work” done—nose job, botox, lip injections. She drops into the stool directly in front of my work area and announces, “I want you to make me the most girly, frou frou drink you can think of. Do you have a Blue Hawaiian? Never mind. I’ll take a Cosmo.”

Now in response to the challenge posed in Scenario 6, I attempt to compensate for my incompetence by harnessing every ounce of charm I possess and working my cuteness and sweetness to the point of exhaustion. So I’m super perky when I tell the amazon, “Oh no, we have a Blue Hawaiian. It’s very girly and frou frou. You should see the garnishes! Let me make that for you.” Then I smile with my eyes.

“Faaabulous,” she says, leaning towards me as she slaps her hand down on the bar.

It occurs to me at this point that our proprietary version of the Blue Hawaiian has a lot of alcohol in it, and I’m not so sure this woman should be consuming alcohol. She speaks in a slurry kind of way. As I’m combining the four different liquors we use into my shaker (and adding liberal portions of the juices), I attempt to discern whether she’s trying to sound sultry (but in fact falling far short), or if she just smoked some crack. I conclude that it’s likely just the botox, seeping into her brain.

“We just went on a five-mile walk, and I am exhaaauuusted!” she says, as she flips her hair back. I realize, at that moment, that I am downwind of her, and yes, I can smell the truth of her disclosure.

Just as I’m shaking the drink concoction, the little machine that prints out table drink orders begins chirping. I abide by only the highest standards of quality when it comes to my dealings with the servers, so much so that I have even won over Cranky, who informed me that I’m his favorite bartender and has nicknamed me “muffin” or “muffy” for short. I have created this basic algorithm to help you understand my reasoning:

A + B + C = D

Where

A = The servers make better tips when things go smoothly

B = I can help make things go smoothly by preparing table drink orders in a timely manner

C = The servers tip me out

Therefore

D = Devoting my attention to the servers’ drink orders equals more cash for me.

So I grab a couple of wine glasses to get this order out of the way, lickety split. Table 33 needs two glasses of Chardonnay!

The amazon does not approve. She shoots me what I suspect may be a dirty look. It’s a little difficult to be certain given that her face doesn’t really move. To be on the safe side, I pull a signature move, perfected from teaching: Be as innocent and adorable as a kitten. What kind of sicko hates on a kitten?!

“Let’s let it chill for a second,” I tell her “I want to devote my full attention to garnishing your drink to perfection!” Big smile, lots of teeth!

This confirmation that she’s still the center of my attention seems to relax her.

“You are so sweeeet,” she slurs.

As I’m garnishing her drink, which is a toxic colored green owing to the combination of blue curacao and orange passion fruit juice, her date sits down next to her and wants to know: “If it’s a Blue Hawaiian, why is it green?” The date is quite fixated on this conundrum.

“Weeeell,” she says, then trails off.

But he just won’t let it go. “That doesn’t make sense. I mean, it’s called a Blue Hawaiian, but it’s green. Why is it green?

Two things occur to me: 1) Were they smoking the crack together, maybe on their walk? And 2) Is he going to be paying for the meal? Because if so, then he’s probably going to be the one tipping me, so I feel the need to address this glaring discrepancy between the color of the drink and the name of the drink. I mean, the man does have a point! Why do we call it a Blue Hawaiian when it is clearly green?!

As I’m attempting to explain (be the kitten! be the kitten!)—“Well the passion fruit juice is orange, and when you mix orange and blue, you get green! It’s, like, a primary colors thing, even though orange isn’t a primary color—heehee—but it’s the red that’s in the orange, see?”—the amazon provides her own explanation:

“Maybe it’s green to make me horny.”

Then she rubs up against him.

I am dead fucking serious.

“Do you think she was a prostitute?” one of the servers asked me later.

I feel her immobile face on me as she makes her grand pronouncement, but I am concentrating on arranging the orange wedges and the maraschino cherry just so. Somewhere in the recesses of the dining room, a server has sent in an order for a Diet Coke and a Ginger Ale, like a message from God Himself. All right, I think, cocktails would have been more time consuming, but I’ll take it. In fact, I’ll take it real slooooow (sorry, Table 14).

Once again, the amazon does not approve. Clearly, I did not learn my lesson that this woman, who as I’ve mentioned is sitting directly in front of the service bar and from whom there is therefore no escaping, demands my full attention! Now she’s going to make me pay for turning my back on her to get those soda glasses!

“Horny! Horny!”

She says it again—twice, with increased emphasis—for reasons that I still do not understand. Was she trying to reassure her date? Then why was she looking at me when she said it?

I fear that she’s just going to repeat it over and over again if I don’t do something. I imagine me doing my side work at the end of the night—wrapping up the garnishes, refilling the juice containers, restocking the beer and wine, wiping everything down—and her still sitting at the bar, barking out this one word over and over again.

So I look her directly in the eye and say, “haha” and smile wanly.

As you know, I like to think of myself as a lady, and as you’ve pointed out in the past, I would fit into the 19th Century beautifully. So enduring this woman’s discussion of her potential state of sexual arousal is really not my thing. As a final note, I’m not a fan of the word “horny.” It’s…kind of tacky. Too explicit while at the same time nonsensical and artless? Yes, that’s it exactly.

Her date seems to think so too. He has come to the conclusion that it’s not necessary for him to speak, so he spends the rest of the evening resting his chin on the palm of his hand and, whenever the opportunity presents itself (and it does…often), looking at me and rolling his eyes. On the upside, he tips me at a robust 20+%.

I wouldn’t exactly call it a satori, but I have learned a number of things from this experience:

  1. Bearing witness to the 50-something dating scene can sometimes (but not always) be kind of depressing. I realize this is ageist of me, but there you have it.
  1. Just because you’re bartending at an upscale restaurant in an upscale town doesn’t mean you won’t see things you wish you’d never seen.
  1. There is a segment of the population who finds in innocence and adorableness an opportunity for entertainment. I’m thinking, also, of this keg party I went to in college when a guy came up to me, pulled out his keychain, on which there was a rubber chicken, put his fingers around the chicken’s neck, and asked, “What am I doing?” And I replied, “Um, asphyxiating the chicken?” Oh boy, did he get a kick out of that one.

Love,

Stella

Faking It

June 24, 2009

Dear Stella,

“No one is going to ‘find you out,’” Dawn says to reassure me. “It won’t be like the time with Quark.”

She’s referring to the time I put Quark Express on my temping résumé and got called on it. “No problem,” I said when Boss Woman instructed me to go Quark something together. I sat in front of the computer screen and silently panicked (unlike you, Stella, my panic doesn’t look like meditation, more like I’m laying a dinosaur egg).

C’mon, you can do this. It can’t be that hard, right? I clicked and clicked. More frequent now, more frantic. Clearly in trouble, I closed my eyes and clicked my heels together three times, wishing for home, but when I opened my eyes, there was Quark staring menacingly at me, laughing. I mumbled under my breath, “Quark you.”

She was there, of course—Boss Woman—spying on me. “You don’t know Quark, do you.” It was not a question.

In the movies, the character confesses and, in the end, is rewarded for his or her honesty.

In real life, confessing landed me a good hard “talking to” and an afternoon in a dusty closet where I “put in order” ten-year old files (for the briefest moment I thought she would let me go home—if she kicked me out now, I could be home in my comfy clothes in under 45 minutes, maybe I could catch the last 20 minutes of Oprah?).

“No,” I say to Dawn, “You’re right. I’m being silly.”

Incidentally, I said the same thing to myself before my dissertation defense when I was afraid someone would test me, and we all know how that turned out.

Today is the day of my second round of interviews at T.G.I. Friday’s in the Bronx. “4:00 pm sharp,” the manger had told me, “We are time Nazis here. There is nothing I hate more than someone who is late.”

With the help of his gratuitous and disproportionate Holocaust comparison, I understood that I shouldn’t be late.

The plan: Open call for Water Taxi Beach at 2:00 pm, then Dawn drives me to the Bronx for 4:00 pm. No problemo. Plenty of time.

At the open call, we huddled masses—some in jeans and tee-shirts, a few in business attire, and myself, clad in leather skirt and infamous knee-high boots—fill out fifteen-page applications and wait in line for a 7-second interview.

I smile at the cute red-headed boy in tee-shirt and ski cap who is to interview me.

“Do you have high-volume experience?” he asks.

“Yes—I worked the happy hour shifts at V. Lounge.” I say it nice and easy, just as I’m supposed to.

“What did you ring in?” He looks down at my résumé, pen hovering, ready to write my answer.

Of course, I don’t even know what “ringing in” means. “Go Quark yourself, bozo,” almost slips from my mouth, but I thankfully reign it in.

I can either guess at a number and be so totally off that my lie is confirmed, or I can play dumb and leave a 1 percent chance that I’m just stupid.

I’m not sure why I choose stupidity as the better virtue over lying. Perhaps it’s just the irrational human fear of being caught, humiliation the most motivating fear.

“Gosh,” I say, big smile. “I can’t remember. It was so long ago.”

He looks at me and squints his eyes, just for a second. He knows, I think. My heart races. I smile back, then ask him questions about the cocktail menu to distract him for the last 3 seconds of our interview.

I walk to meet Dawn, trying to calm myself down. Just enough time to shake it off and make it to the Bronx.

Then it clicks. His brief narrowing of eyes. He knows me.

Let me say this loudly so you can feel the full effect.

HE USED TO BE MY STUDENT.

I used to be his teacher. I schooled him in lofty things like essay writing and the bad bad things that happen if you plagiarize or lie.

I’m freaking out. But I have an interview to get to. Just get it together, I tell myself. It’s going to be okay.

But Dawn isn’t at the meeting place. She’s stuck in traffic. I stand on the street corner, pacing, replaying those 7 seconds again and again.

I don’t have anyone’s number at the TGI Friday’s. It is 3:40 pm.

Dawn pulls up. We take off on the FDR. “We can do it. Just drive fast,” I say in my best Bruce Willis voice.

We fly around corners, bobbing and weaving among yellow cabs, until…. traffic.

We crawl toward the Triboro Bridge. 3:50 pm.

I have a brief image of the TGIF Gestapo, dressed in their picnic-basket red, white, and blacks. Boss Woman from years-gone-by is there, too, pointing a crooked finger at me.

“It’s done,” I say, “It’s over. Bring her on home.”

If we turn around now, we might just make the last 20 minutes of Oprah.

Dearest Stephanie,

As a reader, I tend to go through phases. I went through a British Literature phase, where I read everything by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, all the Brontes. Then I realized I don’t really enjoy British Literature, which led to my Russian Literature phase, where I read everything by Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak, Bulgakov. There was the Japanese phase—Murakami (LOVE Murakami!), Mishima, Yoshimoto (is there a better collection of novellas than Asleep?!).

At some point, I got bored with novels, so I moved on to memoirs, which were still geographically based. So I went through my Middle East memoir phase, my New York phase, my Paris phase.

I don’t know why I get fixated on what academics would call “place” like that. I suppose maybe I’m trying to see the points of intersection between self and other. I’m trying to understand how we all connect despite the surface differences that can distract us from what we have in common.

Anyway, it was when I was researching Paris memoirs that I stumbled upon Jack Kerouac’s Satori in Paris, an account of ten days he spent in Paris and Brittany. Like probably a lot of people, I read (or skimmed) On the Road when I was in High School. It was okay. It struck me as a latter day James Joyce, whose Ulysses I found unreadable—stream-of-consciousness can get old pretty quick. I mean, can you please just finish a sentence, for God’s sake?!

But his first sentence sucked me in:

“Somewhere during my ten days in Paris (and Brittany) I received an illumination of some kind that seems to’ve changed me again, towards what I suppose’ll be my pattern for another seven years or more: in effect, a satori: the Japanese word for ‘sudden illumination,’ ‘sudden awakening’ or simply ‘kick in the eye.’”

Because I love love love the idea that you can just be walking around, minding your own business, doing your thing, and all this shit is happening around you, and you don’t realize that it’s taking you somewhere! And you had no idea it was coming! You were totally unsuspecting!

And it’s B.I.G.

I like how Kerouac just accepts this. He values it, but he’s not trying to be all “Type-A” about it. It brings to mind a question I was asked recently:

“Why do you always need to know what everything means? Can’t someone just say something because it feels right and not know what it means?”

I thought this was a pretty good point, actually. Downright profound! You could even say it provided a “kick in the eye.” Did I then have a “sudden illumination” or a “sudden awakening”?

Gee, I’m not sure.

Kerouac knows he had one, though he says, “I don’t know how I got that satori.” But he sure is curious about where it came from, which is why, according to him, he bothers to write his story.

Kinda makes me wonder…

Love,

Stella

Dearest Stella,

You are so right about the numbers thing.

My social security number, a requirement on many a job application I’ve encountered, will not tell anyone who I am. Sure, they could, say, take my number off the application, pass it on to friends of friends in trench coats and long mustaches, who then sell it to some sucker for a high price who “steals my identity.” But that person will be in for quite a ride.

Even my John Hancock on the forms that allow The Man to criminally investigate and/or run a credit check on me will only reveal, unless there’s something I don’t know, that I am no criminal, and that surprise! I have bad credit. Duh. That’s why I need a job.

But such information will not, for example, tell you what I know, what I love, what I’m like, and if, on occasion, I lie.

Neither will the personality test I took at my T.G.I. Friday’s exam (oops, I mean interview).

What am I saying? It was merely a questionnaire, not a test, the T.G.I. Friday’s manager insisted (though after I handed it in he asked the woman at the front desk, “Did you grade it yet?”).

I had no idea at the time I took said questionnaire that I was lucky to get only 50 questions. Later that night, the online application for the Hyatt presented me with another questionnaire, but with 89 questions, and with additional yes/no questions like:

“There are 50 hours in a day.”

Or:

“I speak English well enough to answer these questions.”

The instructions for T.G.I. Friday’s questionnaire told me to answer the yes/no questions from left to right, and also that the purpose of the questionnaire was to determine if I “would enjoy working at T.G.I. Friday’s.”

Maybe it’s because I have been watching a Lost season two marathon, where everyone’s got something to hide—one minute you’re sharing a canteen of water and the next you get a rifle butt in the head and you’re thrown into a hatch—but I was a tad suspicious of this statement.

Nevertheless, answer from left to right I did.

Do you sometimes feel you are “bubbling over” with energy, and other times you feel quite sluggish?

What? Me? Absurd!!! I’m all do, do, do!

Sluggish

Would you like to “stick it” to “certain people?”

No way. I love people. Even you, Mr. Friday.

As a kid, I hated it when my parents told me what to do.
Nope. And also I loved being grounded, putting away all my toys, and donating my stuffed animals to the less fortunate.

Society places too much restraint on the individual.

Dudes, excuse me, but “society” is “individuals.”

In conversations, I am a listener rather than a talker.

What’s that you said?

Sometimes the future looks very dark.

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Dark World 1

It wasn’t because I am sometimes bubbling over with energy and other times quite sluggish that I did not get the T.G.I. Friday’s gig in the Bronx.

Nor was it because I would like to “stick it” to certain people or because I laughed out loud when I read this question and obviously this is a Very Serious Matter. It wasn’t because, yes, sometimes the future does indeed appear dark. Nor was it because I didn’t interview well (the manager said I did) or because when the manager asked me what I would bring to his establishment that would make it a fun! rockin’! place!, I told him I do some wicked animal impressions.

No. It was for reasons far more complicated (or perhaps far more simple) that I did not get the job, reasons which I will tell you all about on Wednesday.

For now, the hunt continues….

Dearest Stephanie,

Can you remember the last time someone used your name to call up information about you? I can’t. It’s always some number. For example, call the phone company/gas company/bank/school/airline, and in order to look up your information, they’ll invariably ask you for one of these:

Phone number

Social security number

Taxpayer id number

Employee number

School id number

Account number

Flight number

Confirmation number

Reservation number

Order number

What do all these numbers reveal about us? Well, for one thing, probably that a lot of people have the same name, so attempting to categorize based on those names creates a rather huge-normous margin of error. Chaos will inevitably ensue.

But also that our shit has become far too complicated, and in our efforts to manage these complications, we’re in danger of losing our ability to see each human as a world unto him or herself and all this entails.

Allow me to say at this time that I have constructed an elaborate philosophy of identity, and this philosophy informs my disinclination to be assigned a number, to be reduced to any one thing because it’s convenient and easy for others and their lazy, lazy ways or even because it feels safe and convenient for me and my lazy, lazy ways.

Here’s where my new job is helping me to articulate my philosophy: I’m getting to know the regulars and their preferences. A few brief examples:

The two psychologists who come in once or twice a week after work to talk about things like brain chemistry and “negative beliefs.” Psychologist #1 likes Bombay Sapphire up with a twist, but if he has a second Bombay Sapphire (and he always does), he takes that one on the rocks (again with a twist). Psychologist #2 takes a glass of the house Cabernet. They both order pork dumplings; #1 goes with the fried, but #2 prefers steamed.

The 40-something couple who come in late on Wednesday evenings and seem really hot for each other even though they’re married with children. Captain Morgan and Coke for her, Crown Royal and Coke for him. They order some type of sushi, Vietnamese spring rolls, and the vegetarian pad thai every time. They can’t keep their hands off each other, even when they’re on the phone with the babysitter checking on the little one’s fever.

The Turkish gentleman, who also comes in Wednesdays and orders sushi for take out, always has a Beefeater gin and tonic with lemon, a habit he picked up when he lived in London.

I love how I’ve come to associate a particular face with a particular drink. Like a designated number, it’s a convenient shorthand, but unlike a number, it’s not randomly assigned. These people have chosen their drinks, and those drinks communicate something of their essences. Take Psychologist #2 as an example: he drinks red wine and eats steamed dumplings. He’s also English and a little bit uptight and somber.

Even more than the rituals on display and what those rituals reveal or suggest, though, I love the incongruities and surprises—like when Psychologist #1 orders Glenlivit on the rocks or even Courvoisier, which he has been known to do on occasion. Or when my favorite regular shows up when I least expect it.

It reminds me that as much as we can find comfort in the expected and known, in tidiness and order, they don’t exactly set the heart racing.

You know what set my heart racing? Getting my belly button pierced. Talk about incongruous and unexpected! I was trying, as I think I’ve told you at the time, to teach myself to be less fearful. As an added bonus, it’s a sexy look and is sure to freak a few people out. But the first in line to be freaked out was definitely me.

Yup, I sure did freak myself out.

And I couldn’t sleep the whole night because my heart was racing. As you may recall, I sent you a text informing you of my irrational fear of staph infections and blood poisoning. The text communicated this sentiment: “I fear contracting a staph infection/sepsis. Was this really necessary? Oh well. Too late now.”

But you told me I’d be fine, and you were, as you so often are, on point.

It’s like this: who’d think peach schnapps and baileys would taste good together? Peach and Irish cream liqueurs? Um, ewww! But layer them together then add a few drops of grenadine, and they make a damn good shot. And it looks really cool too! See:

Brain Tumor drink recipe

The real excitement isn’t in order or chaos but in discovering that incongruous elements can be curiously in harmony. It’s in discovering that you can be dorky and sexy and cute, classy and decent and also a little bit naughty all at the same time.

Love,

Stella