Friday, December 30, 2005

Romance - just when I'd stopped looking

I used to focus a LOT on trying to meet someone. I believed I was a loser for not having a boyfriend and spent years and a lot of money on dating services like Match.com. My search for a partner built slowly during my 30’s, becoming more desperate as I felt myself getting older. Things reached a fever pitch when I was 36. I felt like a complete failure for not having a boyfriend and I focused all my energy on finding one. During the first eight months of 2003 I went on 31 first dates. I met a lot of men, had a lot of disappointment and did a lot of crying.

During my eighth month of relentless dating, I had a very cathartic experience. Aided by a therapist, I made my way to the core of the anger and bitterness I’d been carrying around. It suddenly became clear that I’d been consumed by a very old disappointment. As soon as I had this moment of clarity, I felt the anger and resentment lift. The rage over my loneliness finally dissipated and after that I began to feel better about myself and my life. When I returned to my daily routine, I cut out the frantic dating. Why was I working so hard to find a boyfriend when I was fine just as I was? I called off the manhunt.

People had been telling me for years that I’d find the relationship I wanted when I stopped trying so hard. Sure enough, that fall I noticed someone in a writing group I belonged to. He’d been there all along, but I had never seen him as someone to date. We started spending time together and he gave me the kind of attention I’d been craving. It was great. I thought, could it be this easy? Was it true that all I had to do was stop looking? No, apparently not. He was actually separated-but-married and when his wife found out he was seeing me, she kicked up merry hell about it. He went back to her. So much for that romance. [I know, I know, I no longer waste my time on married men.]

I didn’t focus on dating again until the summer of 2004. Certain that I was now ready to fall in love, I went back to the singles websites and once again dating became my main activity. I spent months going on many more first dates, but they only led to more feelings of failure. Why was I unable to find someone I really liked? I was still afraid of being a loser for not having a man, but I finally got tired of wasting so much time and money on dating activities. I recommitted to other parts of my life. I had friends, music, writing, and working on the 2004 election. As I shifted my attention to these things, finding a boyfriend stopped being a number one priority. I let go of the search.

People continued to tell me I’d find love just when I least expected it, just when I wasn’t trying. Sure enough, I’d given up on dating completely last winter when I noticed some energy between me and a co-worker at my new job. We flirted for a while and then began dating. This time I made sure he wasn’t married. It seemed too good to believe: a nice, decent, cute guy who was truly single and available and interested in me. We had a great time and I thought, could it be this easy? Was it true that all I had to do was stop looking?

No, apparently not. After a while, I began to notice that he and I never talked. We had little in common and I felt the absence of the deeper connection I needed. We stopped dating last summer. I waited for my old pattern to drive me back to more first dates, but for some reason my focus on men didn’t come back this time. I felt fine. My life felt full. Even more startling, my crippling belief that I was a loser for not having a man seemed to have disappeared. For the first time in years, having a boyfriend didn’t seem important and not just in comparison to other priorities in my life. Having a boyfriend was simply no longer critical.

When I shared this stunning new feeling with others, some of them reminded me that I’ll find the relationship I want just when I least expect it, just when I’m not looking. And finally it really did feel like I’d stopped looking. Who cared about guys? I had a great new job and was making new progress with my music. I enjoyed giving dinner parties and working on writing. I was finally focused on me and what makes me happy.

And sure enough this past summer and fall, while not trying to meet men at all, I met several men who were interested in dating me. I returned their interest and then, incredibly, guess what? Nope, still nothing turned into anything resembling a romance.

The good news is that I’m making it through this holiday season without feeling bad because I don’t have a partner with whom to spend a cozy Christmas or a romantic New Year’s Eve. In fact, I’m startlingly fine about it. And not only has it been months since my last online date, I suspect my online dating career is over. My interest in finding a relationship continues, but it's greatly downgraded from the red alert status it’s had in the past. These days finding a boyfriend takes a back seat to finding a(nother) new job, time with friends and working on my music.

People still like to tell me I’ll find the relationship I want just when I least expect it, when I'm not even trying. And sure enough...I just don't believe them.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Our Third Non-Date

Okay, there's this girl you're very attracted to and you want to see what might happen, so you ask her out. She says yes and you decide to meet in her neighborhood for lunch. She tells you which train to take and which exit, but on the day of your date, you forget to take her phone number with you. You're pretty sure you remember the info, so you get on the train with about 45 minutes to get there.

After you've been on the train for about 30 minutes, you realize you're going in the direction opposite the one you wanted. You now have about 10 minutes to make the date, but it's not going to happen. You get off and get back on the correct train, but now the train starts having problems and is barely moving and you have no way to call her. The date's a wash.

But fortunately when you see her again she's nice about it and she understands. You make a new date about a week later. This time you decide on a restaurant and tell her you'll meet her there. You're familiar with this place and there's no problem getting there. But where is she? You wait and wait and wait. It's colder than a New Year's Eve breakup and your face feels like it's going to freeze off, but she's gotta be here any minute and you WILL be here this time. You endure the cold for about 45 minutes, but finally give up, completely puzzled. Did she blow you off?

When you see her again she says she was there, inside the restaurant, waiting. You're sure you also looked inside the restaurant, but you also thought the two of you had agreed to meet outside. The two of you figure out that you were both at the right restaurant (all the landmarks and streets match) and you were both there for the same period of time (between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m.), but how is it possible you didn't see each other? You're starting to have your doubts that she showed up at all, but she swears she was there (and, the fact is, she was). What the hell?

But you really like this woman and you're certain the two of you would have a great time if you could just get this date thing together. She jokes that maybe you're not fated to have a date, but you know that's crap. Another week later, you tell her you'll meet her at her job and go out after she's done with work. This plan can't miss. When you arrive and see her, she tells you she's not quite ready to go yet, so you go back downstairs and stand in the lobby with your coat on, waiting. Then you notice a branch of your bank is right there, so you stop in for a quick transaction. You know you'll be back in time. The quick transaction gets held up by a problem with your checking account and takes longer than you expected, but you hurry back to the lobby as soon as you can. You wait a few minutes, but she doesn't show. A security guard tells you a woman matching her description was waiting there, but she gave up and left. No way! How is it possible that the two of you have failed once again to hook up? Unbelievable.

The next time you talk to her, she's still nice about it, but tells you she'll only make another date with you if you get a cell phone. Get a cell phone? Does she have a cell phone? It turns out she does, but you didn't know it. You figure having a cell phone probably would solve the problem of missing each other, but a cell phone just isn't in your budget. It's not going to happen.

What do you do next?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Invite Someone Over

A British guy, Mark McGowan, is planning to crawl on his hands and knees for 55 miles with a sign on his back saying, "Could You Love Me?"

The 37-year-old performance artist, who said he is also hoping to raise awareness of people left lonely and isolated during the festive period, is hoping to complete the back-breaking task within 30 days.

"I can remember one Christmas I wasn't in a relationship and didn't want to spend it with my family. I ended up cooking two fish fingers. I'm sure a lot of people have had that experience," he said during a well-earned break en-route.

"Some people can spend Christmas in utter desperation and misery and find it difficult to cope with. I hope this encourages people to maybe invite someone over."

- Yahoo News, "British man on his hands and knees for love"

I don't like the stunt, but I do appreciate the intentions. I wish people with plans for Christmas, Memorial Day, New Year's Day etc. would remember people like me and invite us over. People hardly ever invite me over for such holidays and I spend too much time feeling lonely. Why are single people without family in the area so easy to forget?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas, Dammit

It's admirable that people want to include the entire planet in their holiday greeting without leaving anyone out, but the phrase "Happy Holidays" is starting to sound euphemistic to me. It almost sounds to me like a fearful phrase, said to appease the anger of those who would demand inclusion if the speaker were to dare narrow their salutation to those who celebrate Christmas. Maybe I'm wrong but I'm going back to saying "Merry Christmas." When I say "Merry Christmas" I'm talking specifically about December 25th when I want everyone to have a good day. Each time I say "Merry Christmas" I'm also invoking all the imagery and warmth I associate with Christmas: the traditional goodwill-toward-men stuff, gleaming wrapped presents, carols and hot chocolate, Andy Williams (and Donny and Marie) specials, and kids suffering through puffed up church services while they wait for their family to get back to the toys and food. That's what I'm recalling when I say "Merry Christmas" and if anyone feels offended by it, they're welcome to bite their tongue and focus their rage later at a true source of religious oppression because I am not it.

Just as no individual can possibly take the blame for the environmental damage done by big business and no individual can begin to correct that damage by recycling her Diet Coke cans, neither can any individual be blamed for the full scope of religious violence done over the ages and no individual can begin to correct for that violence by replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." I also doubt that using the greeting "Merry Christmas" really offends anyone except those Coke-can-recylce-ers who are certain that no holiday salutation should leave anyone out. We have to relax about this because everything leaves someone out and that's okay. It's okay for different cultures to have different holidays and difference foci and different traditions. The problem is when I start demanding that all those religions conform in some way to MY expectations of how people should act, say, by demanding that we all bleach out our religious greetings into one bland phrase like "Happy Holidays."

And that's what offends me about that phrase. It feels euphemistic, as if to invoke Christianity is to align myself with the fundamentalist and right-wing idiots who believe they are better than the Muslims and Hindus and Jews who could care less about whether or not Jesus really existed. Hell, I don't care whether or not Jesus really existed and I was raised Catholic.

So I step out from the conservative, religious white mountain even as I realize I roughly agree with them on this "happy holidays" thing, and as one atheist to another, I wish you a merry Christmas.

Damn....

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The end

Restaurants are so dramatic. Today as we servers scuttled about preparing to open the restaurant, I saw the head chef making an announcement to the kitchen staff and bussers. I couldn't make out what he was saying (Spanish), but I found out he was saying that tomorrow, Thursday, the 22nd, would be the last day Nick and Tony's would be open.

Could it be true? I didn't want to believe it, but it turns out listening to the ground-rumors is better than waiting for the management to tell us anything. The assistant manager then announced to us English-dominants that the owners have decided not to keep the restaurant open between Christmas and New Year's. Our last day will be Friday, or maybe Thursday, we're not sure, but let's count on being open Friday until we get further word. Yeah, right.

I'm not scheduled to work again until lunch on Friday, so I worked all day wondering, is this my last day working at NT's? Or will Friday be? By the beginning of the dinner shift, the rumors were too powerful to ignore: NT's will be permanently closed as of 10 p.m. Thursday night. I stopped waiting for the "official word" and started saying my good-byes. As I left, I felt very sad.

The end. Will Restaurants America come through with jobs for us? Who knows. The servers are all still waiting to hear what our new "assignments" will be. With the closing date moved, they've got to tell us soon, no? Who knows. I've stopped expecting much. I know I can always go back to an office job or at least temp until I find another restaurant job I really like.

As I dropped the check on my last table of the night, I thanked them for being my final table since Nick and Tony's is closing tomorrow. They were very sympathetic and wished me well. Later when I picked up their tip, I saw that they'd left me a $40 tip on a $69 check and a business card note, saying "Good luck!" So people are still good.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cold and Silence

Friday the stereo system at Nick and Tony's stopped working. I can't say I was always glad to hear the repetitious "Italian" standards, but I liked the Christmas music we had switched to. Now it's just quiet and it feels WRONG for a restaurant to be beautifully decorated but have no music playing. It's just silent and even more depressing.

The heat has also gone out. Monday I made the excuse to customers that the restaurant is always slow to heat up on Monday mornings, but today I couldn't keep lying. When people asked about the c-cold room I just apologized and said we've been having problems with the heat. Some people ate and left quickly, glad to put their heavy winter wrappings back on. Some people walked right back out because it really was ridiculously cold in there. For my double shift today I wore a thick pair of tights under my pants. I also wore a t-shirt under my long-sleeved work shirt and underneath the t-shirt, a tank top. Still my hands were like ice and I had to go stand near the ovens frequently. Drag. But why fix these things when we'll be closed in a week and a half? It makes business sense, but it sure makes this ending even more of an ordeal (the daytime temperatures in Chicago for the past two days have been in the teens and 20's).

But the sadness is still worse than the cold and silence. Tomorrow is the general manager's last day. Bob Martin has been one of the best managers I've ever had, and that's quite a statement coming from me with my long job history. I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate that I won't be working for him anymore. Suck. Tomorrow I'll wear my many layers again for my double shift and Bob's last day.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ow

I feel down today. My restaurant closes next week and I'm starting to feel sad. Those who work in the deli at Nick and Tony's aren't going to be placed at other jobs and today they were pissed, sad and upset and so was I, in sympathy. The general manager was also having a bad morning (probably because he hated breaking that news to them) so I felt bad for him, too. I sat down and cried in the bathroom at one point just because I felt like I was carrying all this anger and sadness. Then I was supposed to have a date with this guy, but somehow we lost each other (he doesn't have a cell phone) and I finally rode the train home alone, just feeling depressed.

Depressed. Tomorrow and the day after I work double shifts and I simultaneously want to be there for that long and don't.

Now I've bought and eaten a big piece of cheesecake and I feel sick. I'm hurting myself with overeating. My stomach hurts. What a suckrat day.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Nick and Tony's - The Final Days

For anyone who wants to eat at the popular Chicago Italian restaurant before it closes, here is my schedule. Ask for me. I'll be working at Nick and Tony's:

Sat 12/17 4:00p - 11:00p
Mon 12/19, 11:30a - 2:30p
Tue 12/20, 11:30a - 2:30p & 4:00p - maybe 9:00p?
Wed 12/21, 11:30a - 2:30p & 4:00p - 9:00p?
Fri 12/23, 11:30a - 2:30p
CLOSED for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

We're supposed to close on Dec. 30, but there's no telling.

Work has become tense. People gather in small groups to trade the question, "What are you going to do?" One of my co-workers disgustedly declares he's giving up on trying to give good service. Another co-worker asks me if I have any shifts I want to get rid of. Everyone wants to make as much money as possible in these last days since we don't know what will come next.

But it's actually much better than my Arthur Andersen experience. At Andersen, people who'd worked there for years and years had a very painful time accepting that the 89-year-old business could really fail. Andersen went from being the accounting industry gold standard to being an abandoned (by its clients) ghost ship in a period of two weeks. It was very scary to feel the earth shift underneath us like that. All many could do was deny it was happening even while they panicked.

It seems restaurant people are more resilient: they know restaurants blink into existence and blip back out all the time. They don't become as attached and they don't expect a restaurant to last forever. You really can't depend on a restaurant to be stable, although they can be for a surprisingly long time (like Carson's Ribs, the place I left, but which seems destined to live forever, oh well). Restaurant work also doesn't provide health benefits, family insurance coverage, a pension, any retirement or severance packages. A restaurant isn't going to take care of you in your old age.

And maybe restaurants earn less loyalty because "business as usual" can sometimes include the practice of shutting the place down without telling the employees. A couple of co-workers have told me about times they showed up for work, only to find the doors locked and the place out of business (one person said the restaurant still owed people wages). If a restaurant doesn't lock its doors abruptly like that, it still tends to wait as long as possible to tell employees that it's going out of business. If it doesn't, everyone will find other jobs and leave the management trying to run an establishment with no workers. It's management versus workers and everyone looks out for themselves.

There's a very high employee turnover rate in the restaurant industry. Bussers, servers and kitchen staff move from one job to another as they need to. We'll find other jobs although in Chicago, January is the worst time to be looking.

So come on down to Nick and Tony's one last time (1 E. Wacker, at the corner of State and Wacker, right on the river). And Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pink Christmas

Nick and Tony's Italian restaurant has been my antidote to the frustrating, not-enough-earnings-to-live-on experience I had at Carson's Ribs. I spent ten months getting my basic training as a server at Carson's and I'm grateful for that, but I really hit my stride at Nick and Tony's. They have great clientele, great management, excellent tips and people I really, really enjoy working with. It's also a very succesful business and one of the biggest money-makers for the company that owns it, Restaurants-America.

And that's why they sold it. Restaurants-America will use the money they made selling Nick and Tony's to seed several other restaurants and projects across the country and we can't blame them. It's just business and, I trust, good business.

But Nick and Tony's is closing in two weeks! Damn it. This has been the best job I've had in a a long time. The last time I enjoyed a job this much and felt content to settle in for a good few years was three years ago. I loved working at Arthur Andersen and actually looked forward to Monday mornings, if you can believe it (and even if you can't). Arthur Andersen was a wonderful place for me to be a secretary and I wanted to stay there for decades. But after I had spent just 14 months there, it went out of business in an ugly way.

At least Nick and Tony's hasn't been indicted by the federal government for obstruction of justice, and there are no news cameras to wade through when we go to work there. That's the good news. The bad news is that I will no longer be working with some of my favorite co-workers at an ideal commuting location doing work I enjoy and earning exactly what I want. Damn it.

I have no doubt at all in my mind that I'll find another job. I'm a very desireable employee with great experience and excellent references. In fact, incredibly, Restaurants-America is promising to find all of us jobs in their other locations, so I'm not worried about employment. I'm just feeling a bit cursed that my very favorite jobs, the ones I love more than any of the others (and I've had a LOT of jobs) disappear on me like this. Will the jobs I love the most always do this? The places I've worked and hated are still there. The places I've LONGED to see go out of business live on and on and on. Why? Why do my favorites disappear?

I want to work at a job I love, not one that's "okay," not one that I really don't like but don't feel like a have a choice. I've worked countless jobs in five different industries (academia, corporate, childcare, music, restaurant) but the number of jobs I've truly loved I can count on one hand. This is so sad and it pisses me off. It's going to be a pink (slip) Christmas for us at Nick and Tony's. If any of you wanted to eat there, you've got until December 30th.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Gunther Murphy's Open Mic

I'll be at the Gunther Murphy open mic this Wednesday night (1638 W. Belmont Ave). Each performer gets two songs and I'll do my favorite Christmas song, "Percy the Puny Poinsettia" (a cover by Elmo & Patsy). The signed-up performers like me start playing around 10 p.m. and I like to go first. Come on down.

Also, look I'm featured on the CTA Tattler website!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Santa Train


Chicago Santa Train, originally uploaded by regrodriguez.

In Chicago at Christmastime, we have the Santa Train (click on the title of this post for the link). The Santa Train is a fully decorated Chicago Transit Authority el train with a flatbed in the middle that carries a sleigh and an actual live Santa Claus. The CTA officially calls it the "Holiday Train," but I like "Santa Train" better.

I love the Santa Train. I first encountered it at the end of November in 2002, a bad holiday season during which I battled depression and did a lot of crying. I had left a friend’s holiday party early on a Saturday night and was standing on the frozen platform waiting for the el. As usual I was wiping tears away when it arrived -- only this train was glowing with lights from end to end and had a guy booming “Merry Christmas!” from a gleaming flatbed! I was surprised out of my gloom and readily accepted this early Christmas fun. It felt like a gift and it felt great.

Each year I go online to find out when the Santa Train will run and at what station I can catch it. The following year I was very disappointed because its schedule and mine hadn’t synched up. I sadly gave up on it, but running errands after work one night, I ended up at an el stop I don’t usually use. I stood there bogged down with groceries, when what to my eyes should appear but the Santa Train! I hadn’t missed Christmas after all. I was so excited. I waved enthusiastically at Santa Claus as the train came to a stop.

As usual the entire train was stunningly lit and the flatbed was decorated with the brightest of outdoor lights. I wondered again how the man in the Santa suit could stand it: he sat there on the glittering sleigh in the open air, withstanding not only the Chicago cold, but the wind chill of travelling at typical el train speeds. The dedication amazed me.

As I stepped inside, I grinned at the pretend Christmas conductor and elf who stood just inside the car, handing out candy canes. The train was full of families out just to ride the train, and caught-off-guard commuters who were trying to look like it was normal for the el car to glow with red and green lights and blare Christmas tunes.

I was happily grasping a candy-striped handrail pole and beaming at all who would make eye contact when the music cut out. What happened to the music? I made my way to the “conductor” and said, “Hey, the music stopped. What happened?”

“Oh, sometimes the system doesn’t work. It should come back on eventually,” he reassured me.

“Should we switch to manual?” I joked and he chuckled. But as the train remained music-less, the switching-to-manual idea stayed with me. I made my way to the middle of the car and wondered if I should try it. I hesitated for a minute and then called out, “Hey, everybody! The music stopped so let’s all sing! Jingle bells! Jingle bells!

They surprised me with such enthusiastic cooperation that by the second “Jingle bells!” my voice was drowned out. When we finished that one, I launched us into another, but by the third song a couple of boys were ready with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and my job as leader was happily over. At my stop a few minutes later, I yelled, “I gotta go, but keep singing!”

I think of the medical professions as the most useful. If there’s an emergency, whose presence is more appreciated than a nurse or doctor who happens to be in the vicinity? Those are useful things to be. I sometimes wonder, what’s the good of a musician? How do we make a difference? What kind of emergency would it have to be for someone to think, “If only there were a singer in the house!”

Now I know. It would be an emergency like that: the Santa Train needed music and thank God I was there to step in! Days later a woman with small children approached me on the street in my neighborhood. She said, “Hi, you were on the Santa Train the other night, weren’t you? We were in the same car and we were singing with you.” She told me that after I got off the train that night, the car had continued singing all the way to the end of the line. My work there was done.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Need

I want to melt through the orange pill chastity belt of chemical calm.
I want to heat down the synthetic walls and take back the wheel of my sex drive.
I want unshaven scoundrel grin flirting,
fingers brushed against cheek.
I want wet wet wet wet wet wet wet.

I’ve had the perfect kiss:
immobilized to stillness,
light brush of lips turned into pressure of desire, hungry.
I breathe him in, I want every bit of this,
accepting, yielding
Yes, please.
My body feels half water.
Then regret as the pressure lets up,
it’s almost over, he’ll pull away now, oh well.
Then wistfulness soars into delight as he presses back, more urgently.
Need meets need and it’s water water water water water water water water
We breathe each other
Open as sunrise.

And then finally

finally

finally

the parting.

I made it as far as the wrought iron gate before needing to lean,
pant,
solidify.

O men!
Inhale me like fire and peppermint.
I want to be touched like Braille,
trickled like honey.
Come and play me...again.