Wednesday, February 14, 2007

a heart full of love. and butter.

Happy Lonely Consumer Victimization Day! The media outlets are abuzz with romantic tips, tricks and recipes to help you rope and wrangle the object of your desire. For its part, The Washington Post Food section offers a recipe for Man-Catcher Brownies (as tested, tasted and lovingly refined by staff writer Leigh Lambert).

It's a pretty basic concoction that produces twenty-four 2-inch blocks of fudgy goodness. Delicious, I'm sure -- if only I could get past the first ingredient: 12 ounces (3 sticks) of unsalted butter.

I e-mailed the page link to a girlfriend along with my commentary: "I fail to see how a recipe that calls for three sticks of butter could possibly help one catch a man."

"Um, I beg to differ," she wrote back. "Men LOVE LOVE LOVE butter."

"Sure -- in baked goods, not women. Unless you count bare breasts slathered with brownie batter. (What, you think they'd rather lick the bowl?) I guess Man-Catcher Brownies are meant to be given, not shared."

When I watch the Barefoot Contessa dump pounds of butter into her pots and mixing bowls it makes me wretch a little. I'm not sure who's been brainwashed -- she or me. Probably me... though I wouldn't be shocked to find Ina's Amazing Arteries in the cookbook aisle at Borders. Keep it up, Ina, and you might expire before your next batch of scones. (Man, I'll bet her shiva would be catered to the nines...)

But in the sage words of the prophet Woody, "The heart wants what it wants." Ina's heart wants fresh butter. Mine wants a little fresh air, so I've declared a moratorium on romance today. Dating is fun but for now, still basking in that just-out-of-prison glow, I need to keep things light. (My motto of late: "I ain't goin' back inside -- not for you, not for anybody!")

And now, since my office is closed and my neighborhood has finally been plowed, I'm going to express my abiding love for cashmere at the Bloomingdale's V-Day sale.

Ardor, chocolate, sweaters, sex... May you find and savor the thing that most floats your boat.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Didja see me? Didja see me?

Wheeee, that was fun! The neurotic campaign of harassment I waged against one very patient photographer was worth it (to me) in the end: I was not ugly in The Washington Post, and everything worked out fine. Except...

See, just before the new year I succumbed to a seven-year itch and installed cable in my apartment for the first time since Y2K. As part of my Comcast "deal" ("you pay us on time; we serve you when we're not busy scratching our butts"), I had to replace my home phone and DSL with digital cable service. Which meant a new home phone number. That I forgot to un-list.

At about 9:00 Sunday morning my phone rang. I don't use the phone a lot so when my line does light up I feel obligated to answer. I think it's a guilt issue; voicemail feels like such a cold shoulder.

The nameless number on my caller ID was not familiar. Neither was the voice that asked for me by name. He introduced himself politely and told me he'd read my little piece in the paper. "And I wanted to tell you," he said, "not to worry about the wrinkles. It gets better with age."

The man asked me to join him for brunch that day. I politely declined and said I already had plans. He asked if we could do it another time. Then I did the thing I don't like to do: I lied.

"Actually, I'm involved with someone." My face flushed as soon as I said it. I really, really, really hate to lie.

He declared my boyfriend a lucky man. He also said something about wanting to be a racecar driver... I'm not sure how that fit into the conversation, but there it was. I wished him luck with that, and bid him goodbye. He was a nice man. Calling a stranger takes cojones.

I knew my Mom would get a kick out of this.

"What did you say when he asked you to brunch?" she asked. I could hear her not breathing while she waited for my response. She never wants to miss a beat.

"I told him I had a boyfriend."

"Why did you do that!? Give him a chance! He might have been someone fascinating!"

I could already see this escalating into an argument so I played the one card guaranteed to nip it in the bud:

"Ma, his name was Christopher."

She paused. "Oh, well okay. We can let Christopher go. But if Joshua or Moishe calls, for God's sake pick up the phone!"

(For the record, I do not discriminate between Christophers and Moishes; I'm not that kind of Jew. I was merely trying to dodge a pointless fight.)

At that moment my call waiting beeped and again I answered blindly, like a fool. Christopher said that while he totally respects my (fictitious) relationship, he was wondering if we could have a coffee -- just as friends. I told him I'm very busy at work and barely have time even to see my... (God, forgive me for lying) boyfriend. And actually that part is true if you replace "see my boyfriend" with "read last month's Glamour and soak in the tub." Christopher asked if he could call me again a little while down the road. Since I'm as good at saying "No" as I am at ignoring a ringing phone, I answered, "Alright..." in a tone that implied, "Really, don't," and though I'm truly flattered I hope that was the last of that.

That night, while my friend Dave was sleuthing out the origin of Christopher's mysterious phone number (it was a Baptist church in Silver Spring -- I figured he'd called after services; pessimist Dave said he was probably homeless), my phone rang again. This number also came up without a name, but it was a D.C. exchange. Of course by now I knew better but curiosity tipped my hand.

"Is this Danielle?"

"Yes..." I sort of growled.

"My name is Kenneth Lang. I'm writing a book about women with really unique, interesting types of looks, and how their appearances have made their lives interesting..."

I didn't have anything better to do at the moment so I played along. "And what type of look do I have, then?"

Go ahead and say 'Jewish,' buddy. I fucking dare you to go there.

"Well, you just look... different. Unique."

I paused a second longer than necessary. This guy was so not writing a book, but I was dying to see how far he'd draw out the charade. "Alright, I'll bite. What do you want to know?"

My unexpected willingness unnerved him.

"Well... um... would you say your life has been... um... interesting?"

"That's kind of a vague question, Kenneth," I replied without a lick of humor. "Could you be a little more specific?"

"Well I can tell by your voice you're kind of... what's the word..."

"Apprehensive? Suspicious?"

"Yeah. That's it. So maybe this isn't..."

"I guess I'm a tough interview, huh Kenneth?"

He blew a frustrated sigh. "I guess you are." I'm not sure what else he was expecting, phoning a stranger with some cock-and-bull story about a book he'd never think to read, let alone write. I figure he had imagined the scenario playing out more like this:

Kenneth: "So, would you say your life has been interesting?"

Danielle: "Why yes, yes it has! I meet all sorts of interesting people every day. I eat interesting food, wear interesting panties and even sleep in an interesting four-poster king-size bed at 5824 Beach Street, apartment 204! Also, for your reference, my Social Security number is 123-45-6789, I bank at Wachovia, and I am worth 50 million dollars. Say, Kenneth, how would you like to come over right now and have sex on a pile of money?"

Unfortunately for Kenneth I wasn't feeling generous -- not with my time, not with my booty, and not with my 50 million bucks.

So Sunday is over. And while I would like to milk my 15 minutes the same way I celebrate my birthday for a full seven days, duty calls and I must get back to earning a living. That four-poster bed won't pay for itself.

Friday, February 09, 2007

a ninth-grade photo and a root canal, all rolled into one

See my avatar? (It sees you!) That little eye inspired this post a year ago last fall. After much procrastination and quite a bit of forgetting I whittled that baby down to 100 words and e-mailed it last month to the The Washington Post, for consideration as a Sunday Style Life is Short.

They replied immediately! With a form letter. It thanked me for my submission and said if I hadn't heard any good news in three weeks I should resume breathing. I sighed and let it go.

But then! Two days later! A phone call! "Congratulations, we'd like to publish your essay," said Mary-from-The-Washington-Post. In my mind's eye she was smartly bespectacled, with a warm smile and a pencil through her bun.

"We'll be sending one of our photographers out to take your picture next week."

Mary sprouted horns and blew a raspberry with her forked tongue.

I don't like greenbeans. I don't like suburbs. And I definitely don't like cameras.

Oh, I've got my reasons. Shyness, mixed with vestigial insecurity about my goofy adolescent face. Mostly it's about control -- I must be the first pair of eyes on any portrayal of my being, and wield veto power as I see fit. It's like the laser that shoots misshapen potato chips off the factory line: I will decide what's fit for public consumption -- and what is not.

Rebecca the Photographer phoned me the next day. I was fully prepared to tell her thanks, but I'm going to have my father take the picture because, well, I'm a little neurotic, and maybe kinda vain, and while I'm sure you're more than capable, at least if I keep this awkward exercise in the family I'll have some say over the outcome...

She was disarmingly kind.

"But I'm a designer; I'll probably try to art-direct you," I warned.

She said, "It's okay, I'm an artist too."

"I might cry."

Rebecca laughed and told me not to worry. We decided she would meet me Saturday afternoon at Cafe Deluxe, where I'd be lunching with friends.

Somehow I made it through the rest of the week without sprouting a zit. I drank two cups of diuretic tea Friday night to stave off any bloating. Saturday I spent 30 minutes applying too much makeup and another 45 wriggling in and out of every sweater I own, only to yank on my faithful black tee before launching myself out the door, shamefully late for lunch. My mirrored powder compact sat open on the table: First I fished out a rogue sweater fiber that threatened to redden my eye. Then I checked my teeth. And my lipgloss. And my pores, one by one. My friends were very understanding.

You probably expect me to say that all the apprehension was for naught; that once the clicking began I rose to the occasion and posed with the candid grace of a National Geographic gazelle. Yes, I could say that. But it would be a big fat overpowdered lie.

If you have never been on the business end of a professional camera, by all means give it a try. Not only are you painfully aware that each of your cells is being cataloged for posterity, the lens is so wide and shiny you can actually watch yourself shifting, squirming and wearing too much eyeliner -- from a distance of eight little inches. (Rebecca was going for detail.) It was like being pressed onto a microscope slide. I felt like a virus.

Rebecca was kind enough to show me her digital shots as we went along. I was inconsolable. "My face is too round! Why am I doing that with my lip? God, are my teeth really that big? Maybe I should have brought my laptop so we could see this on the screen. Do you want to come to my house so we can look at them there? No? I only live a few blocks away. Please don't let me be ugly in The Washington Post."

Rebecca seemed like a nice person, certainly a talented person, but not the sort of person who has a long fuse for high-strung persons like me. She was nearing the end of her rope so I decided to go for broke:

"Look, I just went through one of the nastiest breakups in the history of the civilized world. And let's be honest -- " I effected my best just-between-us-girls face -- "I'm all for living well, but looking hot in public is really the best revenge."

I don't know a woman alive who'd disagree with that. Rebecca promised to e-mail her top picks to me before she sent them to the paper, though after the way I'd exasperated her I half expected a shot of her middle finger instead.

Whatever the source of my discomfort in all this -- looking at my own face, or my face looking back at me -- the outcome is more or less irrelevant since I am not the intended beholder. My personal Peanut Gallery confirmed that of the three final shots, two were fit to print and one didn't look a thing like me. Which one will be published is anyone's guess.

'Til then, since Rebecca's had enough of me, I'll be bargaining with God. (Please don't let me be ugly in The Washington Post...)

Monday, February 05, 2007

search party

I held out for a while, but you knew at least one "Now that I'm dating again..." post was headed your way:

One month into my social reawakening I've met a few nice boys with the help of my dot-com daters' clearinghouse of choice. It's a capricious little exercise; a flurry of e-flirtations from one man, a resumé delivered line by line from another. Neither the flashes in the pan nor the long, slow fizzles have ignited any sort of flame -- perhaps because I'm not ready to risk another burn.

R appeared in my inbox early last month. Each time I'd answer one of his vaguely interested queries he would wait a few days and volley back a brief, almost laconic response. Just as the fly fishing was getting stale he finally asked me to dinner. I had a fine time. The conversation was better than the pizza. At one point R asked, “What did you think of me while I was e-mailing you, before we actually met?”

“To tell you the truth,” I said, “I felt like you were sizing me up. Y'know, to determine if I’d be worth your time.”

He nodded thoughtfully, like a professor impressed by an astute protégé. “And what did you think about that?” Benign condescension amuses me so I continued to play.

“Well I figured it was one of two things: Either you were a stuck-up asshole who couldn’t be bothered to flesh out a paragraph, or you were a busy man who knows himself and what he wants. The latter I could respect, plus I thought you were kinda cute, so I followed you down the rabbit hole.”

At this he chuckled, a little surprised by my moxie I guess, and we nodded in silent understanding that this was the start of nothing more than a beautiful friendship.

Conversation danced around dating for the next while; R and I talked about those criteria by which we all screen potential mates, and the exhaustive checklist -- ranging from height to multilingualism (Tagalog and Urdu? Go figure.) to a melange of religious minutiae -- put forth by the website that linked us.

"What about you?" R asked. "Deal-breakers? Must-haves?" In a heartbeat I cited honesty as a non-negotiable -- a point on which I'd suspected, since our perfectly level eye-to-eye greeting, he might fall a little bit… short. (Sure, he's 5'8" like I'm a natural redhead.) R then submitted, somewhat sourly, that many women place great emphasis on a man’s net worth. The honest angel on my right shoulder couldn't disagree, though the feisty feminist on my left almost advised him that writing "highly successful business" and "exotic vacations" in his dating profile would not help shake the gold diggers out of his sheets.

Anyway, I enjoyed the evening, and R and I will probably never see each other again, which is fine with me. He left me with some satisfying food for thought: Romantic search procedures, and how they evolve throughout our lives.

In grade school a Y chromosome was enough to precipitate a crush. By the time puberty was frothing our milk we'd refined the search to non-nerds, but experience had yet to impart any useful wisdom. (Smarter girls learned to discern before all the good dorks were taken.) Now, as adults, we approach with trepidation... and if enough aesthetic checkpoints pass muster, the silent questions fire:

Are you smart?
Are you kind?
Can you make me laugh?
Can you make me come?
Are you a Democrat?
Are you gay? (Are you sure?)

The point of all this... I'm not really sure. As a wise and sensitive person recently pointed out, I am "spending time alone and getting to know myself by bouncing off a variety of different people." Writing it out helps me process the new personalities popping and flowing and stomping in and out of my life. It's terribly exciting. And maybe that's the point -- to cease the searching and let it come. And let it go. And watch what happens, instead of looking for something to arrive. Not that I'd approach it any other way.