Archive for Relationships

I’m sticking with you

She was a poet and a painter and liked to say she had a posthumous crush on Buster Keaton.We met at the whiskey bar where I hang out when I have nothing better to do, which is most every night. I call it “my bar,” partly because other than work and possibly my apartment it’s the place I spend most of my time, but also because I literally claimed it in my divorce. I plopped down on a bar stool and ordered a glass of Four Roses Small Batch. She was sipping Pappy Van Winkle’s 20-year-old bourbon neat. She had a T.S. Eliot tattoo on her back. She was taller than me and wore the same glasses. She gave me the once-over twice. I gave her my hand.

It turned out we had friends in common. Dozens, in fact.

It also turned out that she lived in my building. Just down the hall.

Another round, bartender.

From there things unfolded slowly and inevitably but not without collateral damage. She’d been attached but unhappy and so she ended it, perhaps a bit hastily. It was messy.

And then, at least briefly, it wasn’t. We’d come home from work most nights and watch old movies, smoke cigarettes and drink wine. She’d throw together an extemporaneous charcuterie plate or make borscht for dinner, and we’d debate the merits of Luis Buñuel’s “Exterminating Angel” or laugh hysterically while reciting our favorite “Kids in the Hall” skits. Some nights we’d say to hell with sleep and pile into her green mid-’70s Dodge Challenger, roll over to our favorite seedy, late-night downtown bar and share a few cheap, stiff drinks with her husband.

Oh, right. She was married. But not married married. He was gay. He was also Ukrainian. He needed citizenship to be with the man he loved. Ever the iconoclast, always an outlaw, she was happy to help.

She often sang to me, mostly at night as we dozed off to sleep. She didn’t have a particularly good singing voice, but she didn’t care. More often than not, the song she chose was “I’m Sticking With You” by the Velvet Undergound. Moe Tucker didn’t have a particularly good singing voice either, so it worked.

I’m sticking with you
‘cos I’m made out of glue
Anything that you might do
I’m gonna do, too

She sang it to me, affectionately, like she meant it.

But she didn’t. Mean it, I mean. And deep down we both knew it. From the very beginning it was apparent our relationship had a shelf-life. Ultimately she wanted things I didn’t want. Like to be married married.

And then about six weeks after it began, it ended. Her ex came back. He vowed to change. He got down on one knee and offered her a ring. A week later she moved out and, as far as I know, they’re living happily ever after.

But I don’t really know for sure. They don’t stop by the whiskey bar much anymore, and neither do their friends. From our old group of “regulars,” I’m the last man standing. I suppose nothing lasts forever.

Just ask the Ukrainian.

Vagueness and vital organs

I can’t help but laugh every time I hear someone explain a break-up, divorce or  triple-homicide by saying, “Well, apparently Mr. So-And-So had a wandering eye.”

It’s usually older people who were brought up with a heightened sense of propriety, but I’ve heard my younger friends say it, too. “Did you hear they’re splitting up? Yeah, apparently he had a wandering eye.” And then, inevitably, the person they’re talking to cringes a little, because … well, because “wandering eye” implies so much while actually saying so little. Supplied with almost no real information, you’re left with only your imagination to fill in the blanks.

Who did he bang? I’ll bet it was his secretary, the brunette with the pale skin and the legs up to here. I’ll bet they did it on his desk. No, on her desk. Right out there in the lobby between the water cooler and the copy machine. At night, probably, after closing. They probably left the door unlocked just to make it more exciting. Yep, I’ll bet the janitor caught them. Or the security cameras! I’ll bet there’s video of it. It’s probably on the Internet. That’s how she found out. No doubt about it. Hell, I never trusted that guy.

That’s what I imagine other people think about, anyway.

Me? When I hear “wandering eye,” the first thing that invariably pops into my head is an Onion headline from two years ago, which read, “Stuart Scott’s left eye moves to Fox.”

With an amblyopia joke as my launching pad, I’m just a hop, skip and a jump from a fantastic Nikolai Gogol-esque tale about a sentient eyeball who tires of being merely one constituent of a dull, monogamous face, so he dons a dashing overcoat or perhaps a distinguished monocle and embarks on a series of romantic misadventures, gallivanting from club to club with his harlot du jour and cultivating a notorious reputation as a rakish eyeball-about-town.

So when someone says, “Did you hear? They’re splitting up,” I reflexively think, “He just couldn’t keep his eyeball in its socket, could he?” And I snort.

Which, as it turns out, isn’t generally well received as an appropriate response to heartbreak.

Go figure.

Rubbing some dirt on it

The sound of my own voice reverberates in my head as I catch my balance, startled as I am by the desperation of the primal bark that just involuntarily escaped through my lips from somewhere deep inside. I pause for a moment to collect myself, then lean slowly down to rub the spot on my shin where tomorrow I’ll sport a nasty bruise. I press gently but firmly with my thumbs and wince as the pain shoots through my leg, and I can tell right away it’s going to be a bad one. It feels awful, but then it feels good to feel anything at all.

I’m playing soccer on a crisp January afternoon, while a sinking sun reflects off the glass skyscrapers looming just across the river as if it’s checking itself in the mirror before calling it a day. I’ve just been relieved of the ball while trying to make a move I’ve made a thousand times before, one that used to work every time but has seen a dwindling success rate in recent months. I shake my head and start slowly back in the opposite direction.

It’s not that I’m slower, I think. It’s that I’m less quick. Somehow, at this moment, at least in my mind, there is a difference.

There is also a metaphor.

I am a grown man, playing against kids in a kids’ game. The only other player my age, who’s lagging behind the action along with me, glances over and catches the grimace on my face. He nods, knowingly. “It’s tough,” he says, and I muster a small laugh of acknowledgment.

“At our age, you get going in one direction and it’s hard to change.”

He’s right, of course. He’s talking about soccer, but I’m thinking about life.

Either way, though. He’s right.


I’m leaning on a bar sipping a Jack ‘n’ Coke, taking long, deliberate drags from a Marlboro Light and staring intently at the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.

She’s a new hire at the office, and somehow, inexplicably, she’s agreed to meet me for a drink — in the middle of the night, no less — at a dive halfway between our apartments that any sane person would be afraid to enter.

“It only gets faster,” I tell her. I’m talking about time, of course, because she has mentioned that the previous year seemed to fly by for her.

She’s seven years my junior, and I can tell by the look on her face when I talk — or shout, rather, over the blaring redneck music and bleeping electronic dart boards — that she’s only ever dated boys, not men.

“It seems like it’s building up momentum, but really it’s all about perception,” I say, and it becomes immediately clear that she’s intrigued — if not by me, at least by the idea of being on a date with someone who discusses things like perception and the concept of time.

“Think about it,” I continue. “When you’re three years old, one year is a third of your entire life experience. In relative terms, it seems huge.”

“But when you’re 30 … a year is nothing,” I go on. “It’s merely one-thirtieth of everything you know. Barely over three percent of your lifetime.”

She smiles and looks deeply into my eyes and I know with as much certainty as I’ve ever known anything that the hook has been set.

Eight years, three apartments, one house, three cats, two jobs, a dozen trips, a million laughs, a hundred thousand tears and a blink of an eye later, I hand her a check for $20,000 and she drives away.


How I wonder what you are

It’s spring, 1992. I’m lying on the grass in front of Norman Hall on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville, where I am a junior studying behavior modification. (Yes, I’m old — thanks for pointing that out.)

It is probably around 10 p.m., and I’m not alone. I’m lying next to a girl; we’ll call her Sharyn. She’s a classmate from second-year French, a very attractive classmate, who I’ve finally gotten up the nerve to take out to dinner.

Dinner turns out to be fancy grilled cheese sandwiches at a local health food cafe, as we are idealistic young vegetarians, naturally.

And that’s fantastic, because as the night wears on I’m starting to worry that maybe we don’t have a whole lot in common. But I’m also (still) not very experienced with girls, so I figure I could be wrong.

As we lie in the grass and gaze up at the stars, we simultaneously fix our eyes on a big one that’s giving off a deep, red glow.

She points at it.

Her: Look at that one!

Me: Yeah.

Her: Is that … Mars?

Me: Haha. No, it’s just a red shift.

Her: A what?

Me: A red shift. It’s the Doppler Effect.

Her: Seriously?

Me: Yeah, it’s like … you know how the siren sounds faster when an ambulance is approaching you and then gets slower after it passes by?

Her: I guess so.

Me: Yeah, so the same thing happens with light waves. That star is moving away from us, or we’re moving away from it, quickly enough that we perceive the light waves as being longer than they actually are. So they look red.


Me: If it was moving toward us, it would look blue.


Me: It’s kind of cool, huh?

Her: You’re so …

Me: … yes?

Her: You’re so full of shit. That’s fucking Mars!