Monday, March 30, 2009

Single at 30: Time to Switch Teams?

Recently I experienced a Saturday that I can safely say was very much out of the ordinary. I spent my afternoon at a dodgeball tournament, and my evening at a gay bar.

I haven’t been involved with dodgeball since I was in sixth grade, save for the many times I’ve watched the movie about the beloved elementary school sport starring Ben Stiller. Based on that, I was expecting to see squads of muscular men hurling wrenches at one another to prepare for the event, but in actuality many of them opted to simply drink beer from a can while placing brightly colored sweatbands on their heads and wrists. Most teams were comprised of the kinds of guys that probably do something “officially athletic” (re: someone’s keeping the score) only a couple times per year, and looked as though they were wearing the first T-shirt and pair of mesh shorts they could find. There were a few serious contenders on the scene though, and one guy with a buzz cut that seemed particularly threatening and probably started most of his sentences with the word, “Son.”

The tournament was held in a school gym, which made it feel somehow wrong to be drinking beer atop the bleachers amid random posters made from construction paper promoting the school’s “anti-bullying” policy, but then I’d drank beer many times beneath the bleachers in my own high school, so I warmed up to the idea. The format of the tournament was that each team got to play until it lost three games, and then the two teams that wound up on top got to play for the championship. I was there to support a team of my co-workers who almost immediately lost two games, but then managed to pull out a win so to prolong their inevitable loss in the tournament.

Carrying our team was a random substitute player the referee scrounged up at the last minute to round out the six guys the team needed to play. My friend Mariel and I cheered loudly and obnoxiously for him, as only women drinking Budweiser from the bleachers can, screaming “Go Ed!” to the substitute. We learned later his actual name was Ben.

If you’ve ever wanted to see a grown man freak out at full capacity, you should get yourself to a dodgeball tournament. One of the rules is that your foot cannot cross the center line on the court of play when you throw the ball at the opponents. If you hit someone with the ball and your foot was even an inch over the line, it doesn’t count. Being that this wasn’t exactly an ESPN-sponsored event and most participants were drinking beer all afternoon, the referees didn’t catch everything that was happening – but the spectators sure did. The “sweatbands” team happened to catch an over-the-liner while watching two other teams play, and proceeded to call the ref out on his negligence with the kind of anger usually reserved for things like “blackouts on TV during the Super Bowl.”

Last year’s defending champions ended up winning the tournament again, and a buffet of pizza and wings was unfurled in the gym to conclude the event.

I didn’t think I would feel like going out that night having spent my afternoon drinking crappy beer, but my friend Mariel convinced me to meet her downtown to watch an artist she wanted to see performing. I agreed, with the caveat that we had to end up at the gay bar to go dancing.

A month or so ago, it was Mariel’s birthday and a bunch of people were out celebrating. After many martinis, a group of us decided we felt like dancing and ended up at the “college bar” on a Saturday night dancing in a sea of sweaty, rude students to songs I did not know the words to, and beats that did not make sense to my body (I should mention that few moves outside of the power fist and running man make sense to my body when I’m dancing, but I digress).

The experience left me feeling happily too old to partake in the college go-out scene, but with an insatiable need to dance. Recalling an episode of Sex in the City where Charlotte goes to the gay bar to dance herself crazy, I decided that I too needed to go where I knew the music would be good and the people would be fun.

I knew the moment I arrived at the club later that night that I had found my happy place. “Disco Inferno” was playing, mirror balls were whirling, and many people were power-fisting to the music (that was not a pun).

I made my way back to the main dance area and for a half an hour straight, I danced to songs I knew the words to and felt the kind of calm that only a Britney remix paired with Cosmopolitans can make one feel. And how freeing it was to be able to move about without having to peel layers of inebriated men off of my Seven jeans -- because I should not be able to tell what scent of AXE Effect someone has on without consenting to it. This time nobody was crossing the line into my personal space, and it was refreshing.

But wait…is that girl giving me “the eyes?”

That’s when things started to get weird. I’m no stranger to being hit on, since all it usually takes at 12:00AM in a place where the music is too loud to talk is eye contact lasting for longer than three seconds, but I found myself momentarily confused by this girl that was quite obviously taking an interest in me. I’m also not a stranger to communicating my explicit non-interest in guys that cross the line with me on the bar scene, but this girl was tripping me up. She was respecting my space, despite her optometric solicitations for further interaction. She had me hiding behind my long hair, taking a peek between my bangs just long enough to see if she was still staring at me. It felt like I was a child peering through the door of my blanket fort to make sure my mom wasn't going to come into the living room and give me hell for dismantling the sofa again (those cushions made the best blanket-fort walls!).

For starters, she looked more or less exactly like me. Long blonde hair, average build, same height. Add to that the fact that she was stealing almost all of my moves AND my dance pout, and I couldn’t feign one more second of indifference.

She was working the dance floor from every angle. Breaking it down to J-Lo near the pool table, then flitting over to the stage area for Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You.” When Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” came on, I was coquettishly dancing in place (for fear that any movement in her general direction would give her the green light to totally get in my space and challenge everything I believe to know about my sexuality), but I was not able to stay there long.

You see, the girl continued walking past me shrugging her shoulders and giving me the “I invite you to a dance-off” face, which is apparently a turn-on for me from any sex. I can’t stay still when someone is inviting me to “bring it” and I know that I can. Not only that I can, but also because it is more like a sense of urgency – like I MUST bring it. I become far too excited to remain calm. To me, a good Duran Duran song inspires the kind of enthusiasm that third-graders get when they hear there’s a snow day.

By the time “Poker Face” ended, a remix of the Tings Tings’ “That’s Not My Name” came on (did I mention I love the gay bar?) and the square foot of space I was occupying was no longer big enough to contain me. Like microwaving spaghetti sauce, I was about to bust all over that place in a fury of splattering movements.

I got on stage and started throwing out elbows as if I were alone. Split fingers were gliding smoothly over my eyes, then dissolving into jazz hands somewhere near my hips. Enter the triple hair toss somewhere thereafter, and it was on.

It didn’t take long for my female admirer to join me and we danced together for one song (ironically it was the “Hot and Cold” song by Katy Perry) She took my hand and twirled me around, then laughed and said, “this is where it’s at, girlfriend!” While I did not “taste her cherry chap-stick,” as the aforementioned artist would have suggested, I did smile at her lots and was having the best time out that I’ve had in a while.

By the time I got home, it was nearly 3:00AM. For someone that seldom stays up past 11:00PM even on the weekends, this was extraordinarily out of the norm for me. It’s not that I don’t like to be out having a good time, it’s more that I’ve gotten tired of the bar scene over the years and have learned to invest my time in other things that fulfill me – like training for triathlon, which requires early nights to bed and early mornings in the pool, on the bike or out in the running shoes. These are the things that have come to make me feel good about myself, and the things that I can invest in knowing full well I’ll get something out of them.

It has been a long time since I’ve gotten anything out of a $50 bar tab and a hung-over Sunday morning. To be honest, the best thing about that investment always seemed to be the “these calories don’t count” mentality I engaged in the next morning while mowing through greasy breakfast platters with my friends at the local diner.

What I took away from this random Saturday was that it doesn’t matter what team you’re on – whether it’s in dodgeball or dating, it’s all about having a good time, and not crossing the line!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Barbie at 50 – Iconic and Ironic

There has been much in the media about Barbie’s 50th birthday, as our favorite 11 and a half-inch style icon hits a milestone. I’ve read some interesting articles about Barbie pertaining to “spinsterhood” with regard to the fact that Barbie has managed to remain single even as she reaches the half-century line. (I suspect that many girls will contest that Barbie did in fact marry, and many times. I myself spent countless afternoons dragging her perfectly stiletto-ed toes along a makeshift aisle on my carpet at the end of which was a Ken propped up awaiting her arrival. Then I would choreograph their perfectly vertical bodies through a ceremony deeming them “man and wife”).

As many young girls likely concluded, it would only be natural for Barbie to marry Ken. After all, he was sold alongside the Barbie Dream House and Barbie Corvette, as items that Barbie needed to have in order to maintain her perpetually smiling face.

I played Barbies in quite a few circles when I was younger, and it always ended up the same way. You could count on two things: The first is that your best friend would immediately call “shot gun” on hairdresser for her Barbie’s job (a coveted position because it meant you basically got to be in charge of your friend’s Barbie’s hair), and the second is that the afternoon of Barbie-play would always lead to a wedding.

Mattel’s “doll du jour” did more than make me recall the ins and outs of playing Barbies and the time I spent marching her around my bedroom amid the accoutrements of a perfect life. It made me think about how my own success story was forming when I was only nine years old.

At that age, I think playing Barbies with each other is a way for girls to manifest their feelings on what life ought to be like as they grow up. They’re just beginning to identify themselves as “women” and as women among women, “peers.” The landscape of their Barbies’ lives emulates what they know about their own lives and ultimately where they think they should be going. Based on this, I think most young girls conclude that they’re supposed to get married.

The problem with this is that nobody ever counters the idea of a wedding with any thoughts on how it might not be right for Barbie. Young girls don’t say, “You know, my Barbie is kind of sick of dating and she’d really like to spend her time traveling and writing and not worry about her biological clock. And also, she’s tired of doing your Barbie’s hair. She’s going to go work at an advertising agency in business development. Peace out.”

Young girls have also never snatched their Barbie out of a wedding after all of the set-up was complete gasping, “My Barbie’s gut instinct says this isn’t right and she can’t go through with it!”

Much work had to be done for the Barbie wedding, and it would have been pretty upsetting if the event had been hampered in any way. Seating was already arranged (Kleenex boxes were gathered from all corners of the house and lined up as “pews” for whatever random dolls had to be called in as extras for the festivities). Your friend, the hairdresser in Barbie-ville, had already spent hours brushing your Barbie’s hair into the perfect ponytail for her nuptials. Barbie’s best clothes and accessories were taken out of the very special case you kept your most sacred toys in, and festooned upon her as she prepared to walk the aisle to a tuxedo-ed Ken whose lines were already written for him…(Ken’s vows were always some combination of what we wish boys in fifth grade would have said to us, and our interpretation of tidbits we’d catch from the soap operas our mothers watched).

The point is that to disrupt what we as young girls had already accepted as “normal” in our afternoon microcosms, was to challenge what we would later perceive as acceptable behavior from our peers growing up.

Young girls romanticizing what their lives should be like via Barbie dolls and other “fairytale” networks is nothing new, but I never thought about how ironic it is that the very doll that has done so much to inspire young girls to believe that they should accomplish certain things in their lives to become successful, is the same doll that I’ve been reading about as the “ultimate spinster” on her 50th birthday.

I wonder what would have happened if one afternoon my mother knocked on the door during a Barbie wedding ceremony and dropped the bomb on us that Barbie actually didn’t want it that way? That she would go on to be the same stylish and successful icon she’s always been WITHOUT a Ken by her side and a “Mrs” before her name. Would we have still been drawn toward the fuchsia aisle in the toy store if our perception of Barbie went from “beautiful bride with a dream house” to “independent woman who listens to her gut instincts?” It’s an interesting thought.

Of course Barbie isn’t the only thing out there giving young girls the notion that they should grow up to be “have-it-all housewives.” The Easy Bake Oven has been hawking the home-making dream for decades now, and Cabbage Patch kids have young girls excited about baby clothes about 10 minutes after they stop wearing Onesies. Throw in the whole “self-esteem” problem where girls start looking for “favorable male reactions” to validate their entire existence, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster that even a Stepford Wife couldn’t fix with an arsenal of secret ingredients.

I’m inspired by the idea that Barbie is in fact a spinster. I’m inspired because I have fond memories of those afternoons playing Barbies with my friends – afternoons where I dumped all of Barbie’s belongings onto my floor, uprooting her life and sorting through her things haphazardly to prepare her for a date with Ken – and that despite the mess that was sometimes made, she came out alright. And so did I.

*Image courtesy of Getty Images

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Etiquette – Not Just For the Dinner Table

In the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing a lack of manners in a variety of situations. In no particular order, I wanted to share my observations with the hope that some of this rude behavior might be corrected. Most people can pull together a basic set of manners when they’re in a formal dining situation, but I think it’s important to recognize that etiquette goes beyond the salad fork and the bread plate.

The Bathroom

I know there are men out there who believe the women’s bathroom is a place of powdered noses and eyelash curlers, but I’m sorry to say that it’s not. Lately I’ve been opening the stall door and asking myself if I’ve mistakenly walked into the men’s room because there seems to be a trend with women urinating on the toilet seat.

I understand that us women have to get creative when we’re using public bathrooms that seem to be negligent in their hygienic maintenance – rather than place our bare skin on any questionable surfaces, we opt for a quick thigh workout and perform a balancing act over the toilet bowl that could pass for an audition to be in Cirque du Soleil. Be that as it may, there is no excuse for finishing your business and then leaving it behind for the next person to discover. If you tinkle on the seat, wipe it with a sheet (Let’s all commit this to memory by way of the cute rhyme).

The Theater

While recently attending a play, I found myself momentarily removed from the world on stage after noticing a small stream of sound coming from behind me to the left. It was as if the playwright had penned in parenthesis after one of the leading character’s most dramatic lines:

Insert crinkling M&Ms wrapper here.
Cue annoying blonde chick to start talking about Facebook stalking again.

In case you weren’t a musical theater geek in high school like I was, with a chorus teacher who preached etiquette to us as often as she ran scales, let me be the one to tell you that making extraneous noise in the theater while a show is going on is super rude. If you must fuss with wrappers and other noisy items, you should wait until a louder scene is being performed – preferably something where a cannon might go off, or several people break out in song during a large musical number that will dilute your fidgeting into irrelevance. Otherwise you should sit still and enjoy the show like everyone else manages to do. Or leave.

The Parking Lot

The other day I pulled into the parking lot at the store and was gathering my things to get out of the car. Just as I was about to open the door, a truck rounded the corner to park in the space right beside me. This wasn’t an issue until I realized he’d left me only five inches to open my door and slide myself out of the front seat. What made it worse, was the driver looked across the passenger seat of his truck and directly into my eyes, before he decided there was no problem. He got out and walked away from his vehicle with no concern for the fact that I was desperately trying to shove myself through the small crevice between my car and the door. Since my body has a girth that is larger than a sheet of paper, it would have been nice for him to see the panic in my eyes as my non-verbal communication begged for more space. I probably could have made it through the opening, but would have definitely had to slide my body down the side of the car for a good two feet before I could clear the door.

If you know anything about upstate New York in March, you would know that you do whatever it takes not to make contact with the outside of your car lest you want to be covered in a special kind of dust made from the salt, dirt, and powdered debris that stays faithfully stuck to your vehicle for the entire winter season.

The parking lot is a fairly easy concept, people. There are two yellow lines, and you pull the car in between them. The yellow lines are wider than the outlines they put in coloring books for a one-year old. The margin of error is two feet! This shouldn’t be a challenging task, so let’s park between the lines, not on top of them.

The Gym

Ah, the gym. It’s almost as if donning Lycra and sweating in public gives you carte blanche on all things polite. Stand at the water fountain for long enough, and behold the parade of ball-scratching, wedgy-picking, nose-wiping individuals who will amble past you to place their salty, sticky bodies onto the surfaces of all of your favorite machines (and then walk away without wiping them down). It’s not the hygiene factor that irritates me the most though – it’s the sense of entitlement I notice from the benches of the locker-room to the lane lines in the pool.

The other day I was changing after my swim, and was taking up about two feet on the bench. My bag was placed beside me and I was routing through it for various articles of clothing. A woman approached the bench, set her things down, and proceeded to pick up my bag and place it on the floor so she could place her items in the same spot. Confused by this, I apologized for apparently taking up so much space on the bench, despite the fact that she was now occupying three-quarters of its total surface area. She said nothing back to me. The same woman would later use the blow-driers provided in the gym to dry her feet, but that’s a story for a different blog.

Other times in the locker room I will find myself leaving and nearly running into someone in the hallway because they are barreling down the middle of the walkway without any concern for “oncoming traffic.” While I’m flattening myself and my many satchels of gear to the wall to avoid being knocked over, this person continues to walk by as if I was inconveniencing her by using the same hallway in and out of the locker-room.

Basic etiquette resides in two simple words: “Pardon me.” A simple “Pardon me” as the woman moved past me would have immediately changed my attitude to this situation. It would imply that she is somewhat accountable for her reckless walking. That’s all I’m looking for, a little accountability for one’s actions.

The Door

I have a theory that you can tell if a person is a jerk by the way they deal with the door. Most everyone knows to hold a door open if you are approaching it with someone. If it’s a woman and a man, old-fashioned tradition says that the man will open the door for the woman. Or if someone is carrying many items, the other person will open the door. However it plays out, one person opens the door while the other enters.

But that isn’t what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the gray area where two people approach a door, and the first person will likely make it in the door just as the second person arrives to it.

The problem with the “gray area” is that the person is at an awkward distance away from you. If you stand and hold the door open, you’ll be there for a minute and could come off like some kind of weird stalker-type as you stare at the person advancing toward the door. In that scenario, you could look away while you’re holding the door open, but then you risk looking like you have one million things that are better to do that taking a couple minutes out of your day to be polite. The other option is to go in the door and let it close. Then you have to deal with the awkwardness once the person makes it inside with you and they give you the look.

The “Really? You’re so busy that you couldn’t hold the door open an extra second?” look.

My feeling is that if you’re the kind of person that can take a couple of seconds out of your day to hold the door open for the person coming in the building after you, then you’re alright in my book. It’s simply polite to do this when the alternative is to basically let a door “gently slam” in the face of another person.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Wino at the Gyno

The female wellness appointment is perhaps one of my least favorite times of the year, second only to Valentine’s Day and Halloweens where my thighs are too large to wear sexy costumes. Somehow I was hoping that the appointment would be less miserable now that I’m 30, but it turns out even my gynecologist wanted to weigh in on my sordid lifestyle.

The whole appointment started with the usual stack of stupid forms to be filled out (even though they have a whole folder filled with my forms, filled out exactly the same for the past 10 years). I sat on a paisley couch next to a woman who chatted loudly on her cell phone as she worked with someone on the other end of the line to provide as much detail on her forms as she possibly could. I know this because I heard most of the details parroted back as she scribbled them down. Many of the words she was using suggested to me that the call should have been made in a more private place – but at the gynecologist I guess women just feel that “it’s all out on the table” anyway, so who cares about editing our symptoms whilst we speak about them in front of complete strangers.

Complimenting the blatant absence of etiquette in the waiting room is an interior design treatment that is screaming for a makeover. I’m not sure who signed off on the look and feel, but they clearly had a thing for large fruit, Elizabethan fashion and windmills. I can see how fruit might relate to a woman’s womb, and lacey corsets are feminine, but what does a windmill have to do with my reproductive system? To be honest, the first thing I think of when I see a windmill is Don Quixote. There is something disturbing when you are single, 30, and sitting in the gynecologist’s office with “The Impossible Dream” stuck in your head.

Back on the paisley couch, I have burned through three forms by dragging my pen through a series of boxes indicating my answer was “No” to all of the questions. I know from jiggering with these boxes in the past, that nobody even reads them because I’ve provided some information in these areas on things I felt were worthy of additional explanation and the doctor didn’t inquire about any of them.

The area that I always seem to be questioned about is my alcohol consumption. I always mark the same thing on my forms, which is the truth: I have two or three glasses of wine each day. My night sweats, irregular heart rhythms, anxiety disorders and psychic big toe yield zero follow-up questions – but the fact that I can drink a small bottle of wine on my own on a Wednesday evening seems to be a major concern.

Would you say that you are consuming a lot of alcohol?” the doctor asks me.

I would say that I’m consuming two to three glasses per day.” I repeat my answer from the form.

And is this fairly normal for you?” he probes.

Yes. It happens daily.” Redundant. Tick, tock, tick, tock. I am here on my lunch hour, you know.

This response usually isn’t enough and I feel the need to augment my answer with some background information. I can tell from the curious nature of the doctor’s voice that he expects to hear something about how I used to drink more than three glasses of wine per day until I tired of blacking out every night, so I scaled it back to just two. Instead I provide a very uninteresting rationale.

I usually have one while I’m preparing dinner. Since dicing up vegetables takes so long and I like to prep my own meals rather than microwave them, this can easily last through the first glass of wine. Glass number two is consumed with dinner. I usually make something very good that lends itself to a glass of wine. After dinner I continue my evening with an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, or perhaps some American Idol. Both of which merit the consumption of a third glass of wine. Then I go to bed and read, that is, if the words haven’t begun to blur on the page.”

The conversation ends there and moves on to more pressing issues like my relationship status.

This is a personal favorite of mine these days, and it’s especially fun to talk about with my doctor since I’ve gone from being single, to engaged, to spinster all while coming to the same guy for my annual visits.
I cringe when the nurse smiles at me and simply asks, “marital status?” Why does the status have to default to “marital”? What does being married or not have to do with the well-being of my female organs? I wish the doctor would just cut to the chase and ask me something like, “Are your ovaries smiling?“ Then I could respond with, “No, they are not smiling today. They are hoping for a suitable candidate to come along and provide them with the means to create a human inside so I can carry on with the business of becoming a PODS unit for a nuclear family.”

Drawing the conclusion that I will remain sexually active in my newly single state, I feel further degraded when the doctor goes into the same spiels about safe sex that I heard when I was 25. As if I’m trolling MySpace looking for a flavor of the week and need to be reminded of the consequences.

They say “all is well that ends well,” and my annual appointments usually do, save for the lectures I get about doing regular self-breast examinations. My visits always end with the gifting of “breast exam” chotchkies. Usually it’s a plastic card that hangs on a showerhead like a do-not-disturb sign, showing the correct way to move one’s fingers about the breast to find any abnormalities. I leave the office with good intentions to do these kinds of activities faithfully each month, but the card has yet to see the inside of my shower. Perhaps if this information could make it onto the label of a wine bottle I could work it into my schedule.