Thursday, February 1, 2007


Originally uploaded by lorenzodom

Disclaimer: Oh, boy…apparently a lot of my female friends, especially those who fall within the infamous 24-42 Rule now have a big bone to pick with me…

Hello! This is sarcasm and it is supposed to be brutally honest, it is about a moment when men are being men when they free to be so; it is old hat for some and insight for others. It is not meant to be the final word on anything nor does it necessarily reflect my true opinion nor those of the friends involved. It does represent a genuine moment of male bonding though, and sometimes empathy, the glue that bonds, is evoked at the ribald expense of the innocent.

So, don’t continue reading if you are easily offended…

A Little Love and Affection (Is All We Need)

January 26, 2007, New York City:

I’m drinking a lot of water this morning.

I had a great time last night, or as Claudio might say “I had SUCH a great time, Lorenzo.”

I will miss Claudio. He is returning to Switzerland next Wednesday. He has been such great flatmate to have over the last three months. I have been very fortunate to have had such a fine fellow, a gentleman and a scholar, a general all-around good guy, to share my apartment with, to play soccer with, and to have great times with, as we did last night. My kids quickly grew to love him. And even my mother, who met him when she was here a few weeks ago, often asks me to say hello to him for her.

Despite what others might think, I’m not afraid of gushing. Because my sentiment here is based on genuine amity and an appreciation for our newfound friendship. Besides, one should be able to acknowledge and express the most positive things in our lives without having to think twice.

Nonetheless and allthemore, Claudio, Robert and I met up at the apartment last night and we began the evening with a toast of champagne and a little smoke. As often happens, we eventually ended up laughing over a not-so-deep discussion about the great differences between the people of Venus and those on Mars; the twain rarely seeing eye to eye, because our desires and aspirations so often clash or cross or run off track, a track that we try so desperately, so futilely, to run on together.

The 24-42 Rule
At one point, we began discussing dating. I conveyed that a friend, a lifelong bachelor, had once told me that he learned, somewhere along the path too-often-taken that it was important to abide by The 24-42 Rule – “I only date girls that are 24 or younger, or 42 and older. Everyone else is only interested in one thing—getting married and having babies. And, I ain’t getting married or having babies.

I relayed that he added, “Ultimately, it proves to be the primary reason that women in this stage of their lives insist upon an ‘LTR,’ the dreaded “long-term relationship.” It’s the old tender trap. They convince you that “commitment” and a “relationship” are in your best interests, and then before you know it, you’re setting a date. And then, alas, you’re trapped! Very few escape.”

After I poured another round of champagne, I added, “Alas, although it seems like a sound rule to abide by, there are some holes in this logic and practice and paradigm that one should be aware of.”

“First of all, albeit the young (those under 24) are inherently pliant and nubile and exuberant, and thus fairly exciting (at times) to be with, they also can prove to be rather stubborn idealists.” This is when old fogies like us have to sit back, listen and patiently cast long sighs.

“Moreover, many are exhaustingly inexperienced. They are not familiar with the lessons you learn along the way, rather simple things that we eventually take for granted with our experienced peers. Things like—brush your teeth (often). Because after a while you learn that there is nothing worse than a lover with bad breath—for the kiss is the most intimate part of love-making, and most of us know that a repulsive kiss can kill the mood—immediately.”

“And than, if they are over 42, a lot of them tend to be angry, too cynical or just plain crazy—and they all own and are in love with mangy cats (and then you have to pretend you like their pussycat too, and you have to play with it, and stroke it long enough, so that they feel that you are probably a half-decent guy) Not to mention (sigh), that many are lacking the sprite pliancy of a 24 year old.”

We could say all these fatuously-inane, ludicrously-vain, wholly-crude things because we weren’t in mixed company, rather we were free to be simple brutes being men, bonding over our differences.

At the tail end of this ribald conversation we downed the last of the bottle and then decided to go out and try a relatively new Cuban restaurant, which was located up the street at Broadway and 113th.

We walked through an invigoratingly cold night, the night before what was being touted as “the coldest day of the year,” forecast to get as low as 10 below zero.

Upon entering the restaurant, the hostess smiled and asked “How many?” “Three please,” I answered, immediately noticing that she was fairly attractive. She seated us in the back room and handed us the menus. Looking her straight in the eye I said, “Thank you,” punctuating my gratitude with a smile. She smiled back.

Robert mentioned that Havana Central had recently replaced The West End, and that there had been a pretty big stink about it from the locals in the neighborhood. Apparently, the West End Bar and Grill had been around for ages, had ushered in the jazz age, played homebase for a lot of beatniks like Jack (Kerouac), and had been good to the general student and faculty population of Columbia University, which was across the street. When I was attending Columbia as a graduate student 15 years ago I occasionally came to the West End, but was not at all aware of its rich history at the time.

Robert showed us the blurb in the menu that spoke about the restaurant’s history and how the new owners were aiming to “carry on the tradition” with “Havana Central at The West End.” We chuckled, impressed by the fatuous spin on the facts.

Somehow, this got spun into the ice-breaker for conversation with the hostess when she came around again. I conversed in Spanish with “Alli” who told me that her father was from Cuba and that her mother was from some other magical far-far away place; or at least, that is what I imagined, as I quickly became bewitched by and lost in her willingness to talk with me, if only for a moment.

Alas, she knew exactly what she was doing because a few minutes later she was being just as friendly with another group of fellas that she had seated across the aisle from us. Alas, I knew it was her job to be the “hostess” after all.

Regardless, after she left their table I asked her for a recommendation on the menu. “Pernil, roast pork. It’s great! I eat it here all the time.” I loved pernil too and often eat it whenever they serve it downstairs at work. So, I folded up the menu and declared, “Okay, that’s what I’m going to have than. Muchas gracias Alli,” sticking out my tongue slightly so as to soften the “s” and put a light touch on the “eee” at the end of her name.

A minute later, Rebecca, our waitress, came around to take our drink orders. She did not seem as cheerful and willing to entertain our imposing male egos, as much as Alli did though. We all ordered draft beer, Dos Equis Amber. I asked for a glass with my beer, so that I could put lime and salt around the rim, a Mexican tradition that I liberally apply to all light beers like Heineken, Stella Artois and Tecate.

After she came back with our drinks and took our dinner order, I soon realized that I must have confused her when I asked for another glass for the beer, because I had ordered draft , duh, after all.

So, the next time I saw her I called her over. She crouched down at the side of the table, so that we could converse eye-to-eye, and I said, “Sorry if I confused you dear, with the whole glass thing,” letting out a little chuckle. I continued, “I was wondering why you looked so confused, and seemed to think I was crazy or something, because I just realized that, draftbeer comes in a glass—‘Hello!’—and not in a bottle…” She smiled and laughed a little too and suddenly seemed to loosen up a bit, relax and forget, if only for a moment, that men try to pick up on her all day long here at work.

The boys and I began with the appetizer sampler platter which included chorizo, a Cuban empanada with ham, pork and cheese; maduros (fried sweet plantains) with Cuban cole slaw, tostones (fried dry plantains), and salsa with ajo (garlic) y yerba buena. They were all absolutely delicious and cooked to perfection, I was now quite ready and eager to try the perrnil.

Fifteen minutes later when our meals arrived, we each received mile high platters of savory food. Robert and Claudio had both ordered Paella. We all had yellow rice and black beans as well.

Over dinner, Robert regaled a time when he was living in Germany as a fullbright scholar and a girlfriend had come to visit him. The night of a full moon she suddenly got her period, and so, Robert had to go out to the local grocery store to purchase some feminine products.

Apparently, asking for tampons is phonetically similar to the words for masturbation, so that he ended up errantly asking the guy behind the counter to please him instead - "Bitte, koennen Sie mir einen runterholen?" Claudio couldn’t stop laughing and promised Robert he would become a legend the likes of William Tell once he got back to Switzerland.

About half way through the meal I was pretty satisfied and full. Alas, my senses overpowered any common sense or sense of discipline, and so I continued eating until all but a few scrapes were left on the plate. Claudio, to my surprise, did much the same; Robert, as expected, picked at his like a bird.

When the busboy came around to take our plates, Robert asked him to wrap up his meal. Claudio, as expected, immediately noted, “Back home we would never do that,” (for I’ve found that all Europeans are seemingly compelled to mention how repulsed they are by this uncouth American tradition). Like a true scholar, for he is now writing his history doctoral dissertation at Columbia, Robert responded somewhat defensively by going on and on about the history of “Doggie bags, American gluttony and modern-day waste.” I just listened, finished off the dregs of my beer with a last squeeze of lime, and sighed, satisfied that I didn’t have to worry about taking anything home.

When the check came Claudio insisted on treating us. And despite our aggressive offense, Claudio put up a better fight. I acquiesced as long as he conceded to me buying a few drinks at the bar.

It was at this juncture that Robert bowed out, claiming he had to run and “be somewhere.” I laughed, padding him on the back, smirking, “Okay…Tell her I said ‘Hello.’” He laughed nervously, as well as huffed and snorted in reply.

As we were headed for the bar, I sped up ahead of the boys to talk, for a moment, with Alli, who sat alone at her podium.

The live band had just begun to play two steps away from her, so I asked her if she ever came to dance here when she wasn’t working. She smiled and said she liked to dance on some circuit of salsa parties in New York City. She also added, “…I have a boyfriend.”

I looked at her for a moment, slightly confused, and said, “Okay.” For really I just wanted to know if she liked dancing, because I love dancing and I was eager to dance this evening.

And admittedly and not-so-secretly, since there weren’t many people around, and Alli was certainly an attractive woman, and most likely knew how to dance (if only because she’s a latina), I did hope that I could somehow get her to step away from her duties to dance with me, if only for a song. Alas, after the “boyfriend” comment I knew that it wasn’t going to happen tonight. So, I spun around, and after shaking hands with Robert who was waiting, eager to exit, at the door, I joined Claudio at the bar.

I immediately ordered two shots of tequila and we took them like men, and continued our conversation about women—how we love them, even if they are nothing but trouble. We also discussed how difficult it is to imagine getting married (again).

Suddenly, I was feeling a little too sober again, and so I ordered a couple of Cuban Mojitos (a bitter sweet blend of rum, seltzer, sugar, mint and lime; HC puts a little red plastic monkey stirrer and a strip of sugar cane in theirs) to toast the fine time we’d had together this evening so far, as well as the pleasant time we’d had over the last three months as flatmates. I promised that I was going to make an effort to visit him in Switzerland next year in January or February, and that I was going to work hard this year to make a little extra money by selling some pictures and books in order to do so.

At this point, Claudio smiles and suddenly mentions her. After Claudio took a long sip of his Mojito he said that he could tell that she was special to me, because I always “lit up,” whenever I spoke of her. He added, with an intonation that seemed as if he was truly trying to convince me, that I literally had some “magical light in my eyes.”

I smiled, knowing, feeling, understanding, exactly what he was saying, for I did often feel a glow inside, even when I simply thought of her.

To console myself I took a big swig of my drink. At that moment I had a sudden epiphany and immediately conveyed it to Claudio with a smirk, “I’ve just realized that there is one important exception to The 24-42 Rule—married women. For, many, if not most, eventually end up pretty unhappy. Moreover, married women don’t want to get married and have babies with you, rather all they really want is just a little love and affection. That’s all. Nothing less and nothing more, because their husbands, who were all once fawning boyfriends, almost immediately—stop giving it to them—L&A that is…”

For a quiet moment I thought to myself, “It is not surprising though, for marriage generally generates a lot of unhappy people, many of which, after truly making a sincere effort to miraculously make things work, finally give up and simply seek a catharsis, decide to look for a little love and affection now and then, here and now, despite the taboos and the guilt and all the rules that are not supposed to be broken. For many, long-term affairs and one-night flings are the things that bring solace and help people emotionally and spiritually survive until they have to face the inevitable—the pain and the suffering, the fears and the tears, the hassle and the hustle that are separation and divorce.”

Claudio half-smiled in response and conveyed, “There is a German proverb that goes ‘Marriage Kills Love.’”

I sighed and turned toward the bar and for a moment we sat there in silence. As I listened to the music and din of the surrounding revelers, I began to think about how a couple of days earlier I was at home in Jersey in the den, and my estranged wife came in.

For no real reason, she just stood there closer to me than to the door. For a moment she twisted her hair, seemingly waiting, wanting, for me to acknowledge her presence. I suddenly knew exactly what she wanted and so I stood up and asked her if she wanted a hug, she smiled and shyly said, “Yes.”

While embracing her I commented that pretty soon she would disappear if she got in any better shape. She replied, “Do you think I look good?” Hesitant to answer, because I felt a wee bit awkward, I curled my lip and said “Well, yeah, of course I do.” She continued, “Would you date me if you didn’t know what a pain in the ass I was?” I laughed out loud, and retorted, “You know, it goes both ways, for if I knew what a pain in the ass all women are, I wouldn’t date any of them.” She laughed too, because it was true. If men and women didn’t continue believing that there were exceptions to the rule (out there, somewhere, over a rainbow), the pursuit of the holy grail of love would have died out a long time ago.

After I left the study, I got in the shower and reminisced a bit about her and this little habit of hers.

Over the years we could be in our house, one with more than a dozen separate spaces to be in and she would just show up with no purpose other than to seek a little love and affection—that’s all, nothing more, nothing less. I’ll confess that toward the end our relationship this little quirk of hers would annoy the shit out of me, because I just wanted to be apart, I had lost all desire for her and I just wanted her to be stronger, rather than so goddamned needy.

Maybe that’s because I was really the weak one (maybe not), because it is not so hard to give a woman just a little love and affection, that’s really all they want (its actually what we all want, regardless of our gender). It is only when men begin to hold back and not provide this basic need that women begin to bleed us for other things like babies and rings and the finer things that make a gracious home; for these are all just substitutes for that little love and affection that we all started out believing in.

Alas, ironically, it is the pursuit of all these other things that often kills love itself, that makes men (and women) stay at work or out late with their “friends,” because no matter if we are men or women, we all just want a little love and affection. So that when we’re not getting a little L&A we look to fame and money and looking good and going out and acting out as individuals to get us the attention that will eventually grant us the little love and affection that we really need, because often it really doesn’t matter from who we get it from.

So, as I turned off the faucet and let the excess water drip to the tile, I felt a certain warmth run through me as I suddenly appreciated my estranged wife’s little love quirk. Now that I’ve been away for awhile, now that we live apart again, I realized that space affords us clarity. Yes, now, even though the desire is gone, even though I know she is a pain in the ass sometimes, I can stop what I’m doing to give her a hug and just a little love and affection. Funny how things work out.

Turning back to Claudio I conveyed that I had recently seen a beacon of hope in the distance though, for I had read an article indicating that “staying single” was on a significant upward trend. In other words, many more people aged 25-41 were consciously choosing not to get married. Even more importantly, was the recent report I had heard on the radio that concluded that there were 185,000 more single women in New York City than there were single men. So, apparently, there is a God, and she is merciful to men.

Claudio got the next round of Mojitos. By this time, I was now feeling the rum course through me. And thus, I was incapable of escaping what and who I really wanted to talk about. So, I began to blather a little.

“Claudio, you know, you’re right. And the funny thing is that it also doesn’t matter that I'm seeing and talking with her every night, and e-mailing and writing to her every day, and that I have lunch with her on occasion and drinks with her often—it doesn't even matter that she will sleep with her husband (again) tonight.”

I thought to myself as I took another swig, “It doesn't even matter that she had some sort of warm happy reunion of sorts the other morning, when he went into work late, and she had to mention it, because she tells me everything, because she trusts me and wants to share and has shared some of the most intimate and important moments of her life with me, recently.”

Looking down for moment, I thought, “Really, it really doesn’t matter.”

I continued conveying that it didn’t matter if I had to wait or feel great pangs or make an effort of no expectations. I had many relationships in my time, a number of which were quite special. A few had come and gone, but many, if not most, I was still good friends with. So, I wasn’t too preoccupied by this one, I would let myself get obsessed as long as it was healthy to do so, as much as it would allow me to demonstrate my passion for her and to make her feel loved and wanted and desired, as only I knew how.

Consoled, I held up my glass and offered a toast, “Claudio, Here’s to ‘a little love and affection’!”

After we toasted, I looked away to ponder what I had just said, but before I could process what I had been talking about, I noticed two women bouncing lithely across the bar. Needless to say, I was immediately distracted. The band had been playing salsa, merengue and mambo, and so, apparently, much like me, the girls were feeling it.

I didn’t hesitate and gestured to Claudio with a silent neigh of my head and a raise of my eyebrows. I took another long sip, crunched some ice and firmly put the glass down, so that I could stride around the bar and ask the dirty-blond to dance.

Thankfully, Adriana accepted. Thankfully, she was a great dancer too.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that good dancing partners are never easy to find. Alas, I had found one in my wife, but she doesn’t want to dance with me anymore.

It seems that many American women find it hard to accept one of the most important rules of ballroom, latin, and swing dancing—the man leads, the woman follows. It is not a commentary on the historical imbalance of gender power, it is not unfair or unjust or an otherwise unpleasant rule to abide by. In fact, when it comes to dancing, it is actually quite pleasant when you are in sync with your partner, and you both feel the natural ebb and flow of the rhythm and the beat.

I was immediately intoxicated by Adrianna’s perfume, and asked her what it was called. “Burberry,” she said, smiling over her shoulder, as she took my hand and led me to the wide-open space on the black and white checkered tiles laid out directly in front of the band.

Her enthusiasm further inebriated me, and as we began to spin and twirl and jump about the dance floor the rum swirled quickly through my bloodstream. Once I realized that there indeed was a basic kinesthetic compatibility I let myself be taken by this spontaneous moment of serendipity and revelry and synchronicity.

Gradually, and then quickly, our dancing styles meshed. The glee grew exponentially, as we became more comfortable with one another, and we began combining traditional sashays and steps with more contemporary spurts of excitement. She had this mean little hop that I immediately adapted and expanded upon. Her pep was so genuine, that I took it as a sign that she was truly enjoying herself. This made me happy.

After our first spin, we returned to our friends at opposing ends of the bar. Smiling, Claudio and I picked up from where we left off in our conversation.

A few songs later I danced with Adriana once more. Not wanting to wear out my welcome, I later asked her friend, Jodi, to dance. She was a pretty good dancer too.

And, eventually, Claudio danced too. However, at first, he put up a good fight, but I was more determined, and set on winning this time.

He argued that it was “genetically impossible” for him to dance. He made the analogy that just as I would never become the great skier he is, he would never become the great dancer I am. I countered, “Claudio, my friend, perhaps this is true. But, you know what? That doesn’t really matter. For nether of us are ever going to be the world’s best at either of those things. And so what is really-truly important is that we accept this and enjoy life to its fullest. Even though I suck at skiing, fuck! I’m going to ski anyway, because regardless, I still want to have fun. Thus, you should do the same, because dancing is fun. You must dance, no matter how much the Swiss naturally suck at it.”

I went on to say that it is akin to chapter 16 of 25 Lessons—“You need to set your own standards Claudio. In the end, it doesn’t matter who we compare ourselves to, what matters is that we strive to participate and engage life at our own rate, challenging ourselves to exceed our own limits, but not those set by others. If you have to compare, compare yourself to yourself.”

Ultimately, I had to pry him away from the bar with the wile of a woman, after I enjoined Jodi to help me out by getting him to dance with her. He did, and he later told me that he was happy that he had done so.

In the end, the evening left me in high spirits. And although I am feeling it slightly this morning, thinking and moving a little slower, in a hung over sort of way, I am still feeing quite exuberant about life, and love even.

I'm going to miss Claudio.

Dedicated to my good friend Claudio, who returned back to Switzerland yesterday, January 31, 2007.

No comments: