Mr. Baker Man

I’m at a party. Damn, this makes me so uncomfortable, why did I come to this? I should have stayed home. Right now I could be setting down a nice plate of hot food next to my computer and starting a lovely evening of computer games and then maybe later moving to the couch and reading a book. But no, I had to come to this fucking party and stand here with this stupid grin plastered on my face so people don’t think I’m socially handicapped. Try to look open so maybe someone will come over and start a conversation, but then it will be unbearable banal small talk. I don’t want to be here I don’t want to be here. I could leave. What’s the standard minimum time I have to stay before it’s weird that I left? 15 minutes? No, that’s too short. Half hour? That’s probably the barest of bare minimums. You went to all the trouble to make brownies to bring to this thing, at least stick around to see if anyone is eating them. But I don’t have to stay an hour, no, that’s giving up way too much. 45 minutes should be perfectly acceptable. OK, get a drink and then a plate of food, but then you are absolutely obligated to try to make conversation. You have to at least try. You do. You are being graded on your performance. You don’t have to disguise the effort the obligatory small talk requires, but you do have to MAKE the effort. Ugh. OK, here goes.

Continue reading Mr. Baker Man

A Slice of Tart

I am on the sidewalk outside the café wondering how I should play this. I ask myself, “What do I want?” That’s an easy one. I want her to fall madly in love with me. I want her to look at me with those eyes that were flashing with anger on the subway platform, no less impassioned, but with desire instead of rage. “Stop!” I tell myself. “You sound like an idiot. Just listen. Give her a chance to vent all the anger out. And then be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. That’s it. That’s all you need to do.”

Continue reading A Slice of Tart

What was I thinking?

(I’m continuing this story that seems to be writing itself, so I gave it a name and a tag: Fool on the Hill. If you want to read all of it, click on that tag and start from the bottom.)

What was I thinking? Why did I say yes to that guy? It’s like he picked at the scab, and poured salt in. I bet he’s one of those work hard, play hard idiots. Driven, have to step up, have to, what was his expression? Make something happen. I don’t want to step up. I don’t want to “make something happen.” Who is he to criticize me? Jerk.

Everybody wants me to mature, to step up. Well screw them, all of them. Mom especially. Amy found a husband, and does her life look so awful? Would it be so bad if you did the same? She’s so happy with the twins. And here you are, living all by yourself, is that any kind of a life for a young, attractive woman? You know they say people who live alone and don’t get married aren’t as healthy and don’t live as long. Doesn’t she know how painful it is to have to explain over and over that after the way it ended with Justin I just don’t want to do it again, maybe ever. I can think of fates a thousand times worse than being single and living alone.

Everybody has their big, dramatic, grand tragedy. I mean, Mom when Dad left her. What a spectacle. And why doesn’t she have a husband now? Huh? Next time she comes after me, I’m going to say all the things I usually hold back. I’m going to hurt her. Well I don’t have a grand tragedy, but the thought of living through what happened with Justin is grand enough for my purposes. That slow, silent death of excitement, of love, of sex. Watching the disappointment in his eyes when I said I was going to get a “real” job instead of pursuing my painting. Of the way we stopped having sex and then he stopped being affectionate. And then I didn’t want to touch him, didn’t want to sleep next to him, didn’t even miss it. The way we were still friends and would laugh and gossip and tell each other how our days were, but there was no fire left. It would have been better if he beat me, if he cheated, if he spit on me. All because I didn’t want to face those canvases any longer. Because I ripped myself up and turned myself inside out and threw my blood and guts all over those panels and no one cared, no one saw it, all I ever got was, “What are you trying to do here? I’m not sure I understand why your palette is so muted.” Don’t you understand, that’s where the beauty is, in a palette that shifts subtly, not some lurid puke of all the colors of the rainbow that’s like pouring bleach into your eyes. No. No one got it. Certainly not Justin.

Cranberry Angora

I got really excited when it seemed like she actually wanted to hear about motorcycle racing. I don’t think she really cared, but it occurred to me she enjoyed seeing how worked up I got. Regardless, it was with great enthusiasm I demonstrated how I was holding the handlebars as I went into a turn and swept across the table right into her cranberry vodka and managed to launch it cleanly to the next table. Well, not to the table exactly, but square into the chest of the woman seated at the table. The woman wearing a snow white angora sweater.

I turned the color of a ripe tomato in the split second it took for the woman to scream and jump up. I was so embarrassed I think I almost started crying. “Oh my God, I am so sorry. Oh my God.” Jennie, my date, was stifling a laugh. Angora sweater woman was definitely not laughing. Mercifully, a waiter came running over with a pile of napkins and started mopping the table as he made apologetic noises. I stood there stupidly, as there was nothing I could do. “I am so sorry. Can I …” But I couldn’t finish the sentence, because there was nothing I could do.

“Forget it. Just stop.” Angora woman was not feeling conciliatory. She grabbed her purse and stomped off in the direction of the ladies’.

When she was safely out of earshot, Jennie burst out with a full-throated laugh. “That was brilliant,” she said, and not kindly. The date had been going well enough I suppose up to that point, but I could tell I had condemned myself to being thought an idiot, and not unjustifiably either.

“Not my best moment. I can be a bit clumsy at times,” was all I could muster in response. Thankfully, we had already finished our entrees, so I signaled for the check and ended the evening as quickly as possible. Bitter disappointment was my companion as I walked home. Jennie had been the most promising woman I had been out with in forever, although she had been hard to read through the early part of the evening. It was clear as we parted there wouldn’t be a second date.

Following the Jennie dinner debacle, as I had come to think of it in my head, I had decided it was time for a break from dating. Two months later I was sitting in the window of my favorite neighborhood place finishing my dinner when the waitress came over with a cranberry juice and a check. I hadn’t asked for either the check or the juice so I looked up at her confused. “I didn’t order this.”

“No, the ladies at the table over there ordered it for you and said you would pay their check.” She indicated with a nod towards a table across the dining room. It was close to closing time and the room was almost empty, so I had no trouble seeing. It was angora woman and a companion. She looked straight at me with a defiant look, as if to say, “You wouldn’t dare refuse.” The waitress, who recognized me as almost a regular, looked like she didn’t know what to expect. “So, um, is that OK?”

“Yeah, I suppose it is. How much is it?” I gasped as I saw that they had dined well and had drunk a nice bottle of wine. “It’s fine, I’ll take care of it. Might as well bring me my check and I’ll settle everything.”

After paying, I sat sipping my cranberry juice and fuming a little. It had been an accident after all. I suppose I owed her for the sweater, which I’m sure was absurdly expensive, and making me buy her dinner was clever, but the brashness with which she had handled it got under my skin a little. I decided I need to get something for my money.

“Hi. Is this seat taken?”

Angora woman looked up at me and then turned to her friend. “Watch out Clarissa, you might want to move back from the table. There’s no telling who will get hit with a drink next.”

“Ha. Ha. I suppose I deserve that. But if I’m going to buy you dinner, you could at least spend 10 minutes with me and introduce yourself and your friend.”

“Oh, so I guess you didn’t get a second date then?” She was mocking me, and not nicely. “I suppose you can sit for a few minutes, but please try not to douse anyone.”

The woman who appeared to be Clarissa said, “Oh come on, be nice to the poor boy. The way you described it, it did sound like an accident.”

A Risk

It was an unremarkable day in November, with the exception that it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. From then until Christmas, New York would be in its annual frenzy of holiday retail. They build a holiday market every year at Columbus Circle with temporary stalls set up for vendors of all sort. They start building the stalls the day after Thanksgiving when the grandstands for the big holiday parade have been cleared away. By Sunday the stalls were built, but not yet occupied, with tarps covering the open sides to keep out the weather and riffraff.

Mila and I had become friends earlier that year, and although we flirted more heavily than prudent for a bachelor and a married woman, we had never crossed a line that would constitute infidelity. We met in a café that afternoon, seeking refuge from the cold and grey. There was just a hint of mist in the air, and even by mid-afternoon the sun already seemed to be failing, giving a sense of intimacy to being tucked inside the warm café.

We had pastries, and, as usual, our banter became lightly flirtatious. When the treats were gone, Mila said, “Let’s walk!” and off we went towards the park. We crossed the avenue and made our way through the unoccupied stalls.

“Hey look, this tarp isn’t tied closed. We could totally sneak in here,” I pointed out. Mila stopped and pulled the tarp back. Without hesitation, she stepped in and pulled my hand. “Whoa, wait, do you think this is a good idea?” I looked around to see if anyone was paying attention. There were numerous people around, but no one was paying us any mind. She tugged again on my arm and I went inside with her.

We pulled the tarp shut, and had the strange sensation of being completely alone in the midst of a crowd. There were people walking by and we could hear snippets of their conversations as they passed. Our eyes adjusted to the dim half-light and we grinned at each other. I whispered, “This is pretty funny. It’s like a secret hide-out.”

She looked into my eyes and then without warning pulled me to her and kissed me. I was shocked. We had never crossed this line before and I had intended we never would. She was a good kisser, and not reticent. After a delicious moment of enjoying her warm lips, her tongue started to explore my mouth, beckoning my tongue to play with hers.

The electricity of this unexpected delight was coursing through me. I was acutely aware of the people walking by on the other side of the tarp, but I could tell no one had any idea we were in there. I relaxed my vigilance and let myself sink in to the kiss. Mila’s urgency increased and we stepped into each other. Her hips started to grind against mine slightly and I could feel myself stiffening with the thrill of contact.

Her hands were wrapped around my back, but one crept around to the front of my jeans and cupped me, now fully excited and ready. Involuntarily I pushed against her hand and she grabbed the outline. A low groan I wasn’t aware of rumbled deep in my throat. She stopped kissing for a second and pulled back to look at me with a devilish gleam in her eye. “What’s this I’ve found?” she teased. I found myself too drunk with unexpected excitement to respond coherently. “Oh Mila,” was the best I could come up with. I leaned in to kiss her again.

She pushed me back slightly and looked at me with that gleam again. “James. I have wanted this for months. We are not going to waste this opportunity.” She pulled down the zipper of my jeans and I gasped as her chill fingers found their way inside my boxers and wrapped around me. I twitched back away from her and she stopped. “OK? Are my hands too cold?” she asked.

“No, you’re good,” I moaned more than said.

She pulled me out into the cool evening air and sank down to her knees. I was startled. “Whoa, wait, what are you doing?”

“What do you think I’m doing, Silly?”

“Mila, no. I mean yes, but you don’t have to, I mean… Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“I have wanted to do this for months. I love this. Just relax.”

“But wait, there are people walking by… What if someone stops and hears us?”

“So be quiet then. And who cares? Let them find us.” She looked up at me with her hand wrapped around me.

“Oh Mila. Oh. Oh, yes please.” I leaned back slightly and shut my eyes.

“I’m really good at this. I want to make you feel amazing.”

And with that she stopped talking and took me into her mouth. She was good at it. Amazing in fact. I slid my fingers into her silky hair and rubbed her scalp as I got lost in the sensation of mouth, her tongue on me.

It seemed like within seconds, I was already close. “Mila, Mila, wait, stop.” I pulled back slightly.

She stopped and looked up at me. “Are you OK?”

“Yes, yes, better than OK. But I’m going to come.”

“Yes, that’s what I want. I want you to come in my mouth.” And she took me in again. Within seconds, I could feel all my muscles tense and my breath practically stopped. She gave me a final swirl with her tongue and I went over the edge.

“Mmmm,” she groaned as well. She looked up at me. “Did you like that Baby?”

I was struggling to stay standing. My legs felt weak. “Yes. Yes, I did,” I said with my eyes closed. I swayed back and forth slightly. She stood up and I put myself back together and zipped up. “Kiss me,” I said. She leaned in to kiss me, and I found her tongue with mine. I could taste a hint of saltiness. When I opened my eyes, she was looking at me, still with the same gleam. “That was amazing.”

We waited until it sounded quiet before pulling back the tarp to make our exit. When we stepped out, we almost bumped in to an older woman who was walking quietly past. She looked surprised, and then assessing us, displeased. She looked us up and down with a scowl, made a sound of disapproval, and moved on. Mila looked at me and we laughed. “She’s jealous. I bet she hasn’t blown anyone in 40 years.”

Subway Platform

(Without planning to, I seem to be writing a story in installments – this post is a continuation of the previous narrative. If it continues I suppose I will have to come up with a name for it and start tagging the pieces.)

A woman I hadn’t noticed earlier is getting off the train in front of me, and she looks kind of familiar. She’s crazy pretty, but in an unexpected, not-obvious way. In an instant it connects, yes, this summer, the hill at the meditation center. The picture-perfect day, the offhand comment about her book, her storming off. Before I had completely recalled all the pieces of the story, I had touched her lightly on the arm. Did I really just do that? The pit in my stomach was already telling me it was a mistake. “Hi, do you remember me from this summer? The field at the meditation center?” Oh shit, I’m in it now. Her eyes flash. She doesn’t hesitate. “Yes, I remember you. You’re an asshole. What do you want?”

“Um, I …” I don’t know what to say. I know what I want to say. What I want to say is “Look, what I said obviously provoked a really strong reaction, and the strength of your response intrigued me, so I couldn’t resist saying hello and seeing if you wanted to explain it. I wanted to see if you even understand it yourself.” That’s what I want to say, but obviously that would be a colossal mistake. I try for a more conciliatory approach, “I feel terrible I wrecked your peaceful afternoon. Would you consider letting me buy you a cup of coffee and explain what I missed in the book?”

“Why would I waste one more minute of my life with you? So you can ruin another day for me?”

“No, not that. Because I will listen to what you have to say and maybe I can understand the story differently if I hear it from your perspective. You could consider it a service to the author.”

I’ve never done anything like this and my heart is pounding. Usually I run from any sort of confrontation. She starts to say something and stops. We’re on a crowded platform and there are people pushing past us, but she stops and turns so she’s facing me fully. She looks intently at my face as if she’s deciding whether to tell me to drop dead. Again, she starts to say something and stops. Then she says, “OK, I will have one cup of coffee with you and explain the story that you’re too thick to understand. But that’s it.”

The Afternoon Continues

(this is a continuation of the previously-started story)

“Wow,” I thought as I watched her storm off. There was a knot of fear in the pit of my stomach, like I get when someone is really angry at me. It felt the way I used to feel when I was in trouble as a child. My first reaction was to run after her and apologize, but apologize for … what? For saying what I thought about the stupid book she was reading? For upsetting her? I wasn’t sure what I would even say. The buzzing of a far-off locust framed the stillness of the hillside. Although I was definitely ruffled by what had just happened, the perfection of the sunny afternoon drew my attention away from the explosion that had just passed over.

As I sat, the fear held me, but I noticed another feeling underneath. I was amused at the intensity of her response, and I was pleased with myself for provoking her. I laughed quietly to myself. “That was really something. I would hate to be the person who has to hang out with her tonight.” Although it felt like a transgression, I realized I was proud of myself. I hadn’t backed off and I hadn’t apologized. I hadn’t said anything I needed to apologize for and I hadn’t. That was new for me. In the past, I would have done anything to deflect that kind of heat. The feeling of amusement turned curiously into affection towards her. There was a kind of intimacy in what she had just exposed to me.

I sat in a mix of different sensations: the sun on my face, the fear of her wrath, and the warmth of my attraction to the rage she had shown. It was a perfect combination of pleasant, afraid, and exhilarated, and I didn’t want it to dissipate. My evening was clear and the only thing waiting for me when I left was an empty apartment, so I stayed sitting until the shadows started to lengthen and the light started to turn the color of honey. As I walked back towards the parking lot, I realized my feeling of affection towards the woman with the book had grown and swept away the fear. The closer I got to the moment I would drive away, the more I wanted to see her again. When I reached the parking lot, I hesitated. I looked up the hill towards the meditation center, wondering if she were there. If there were a retreat in progress, I couldn’t just barge in.

Later That Afternoon

(please read the previous post below before reading this)

I think walking away from the rest of the group was what I needed to do. All morning I felt restless and fidgety, and I was starting to ache for some stimulation. The first day of the meditation retreat had been fantastic, and I was in a cloud of bliss when I went to sleep last night, but today was different. The weather was perfect and my mind kept drifting to the thought I would be better off on the beach. The silence was exactly what I had come for, but it felt like too much, like it was strangling my thoughts instead of releasing them like clouds drifting across the sky, as the instructor had said so smarmily. I felt even more agitated during the first session after lunch, and I craved a change. Although it felt forbidden, I grabbed my novel and went roaming around the grounds. In a an open field on a hill, I found a bench the monks had put under a tree in a perfect spot.

I dove into my novel and was instantly a million miles away. It was a trashy story about a woman with an endless string of liaisons, but it titillated me in exactly the right way and as I devoured page after page, I could feel the bliss returning, even though novel reading wasn’t exactly the plan. A while had passed when I started to think I should get back before the evening meal, but when I looked to see what time it was, I was annoyed to discover my Fitbit was gone from my wrist. In an instant my contentedness evaporated and I could feel the frustration and irritation I had come here to soothe rising up like bile in my throat.

I stood up and looked on the ground around the bench, but it wasn’t to be found. I looked up the hill towards the path and saw this guy emerge into the field. I didn’t recognize him as being part of our group, and he clearly wasn’t a monk. I waved and called hello and he walked towards me.

As he sat and tied his shoes, I saw his eyes drift to the cover of my novel. “Do you like it?” he asked.

“This?” I said. “Yeah, I’m really enjoying it, although it’s admittedly not high literature.”

He laughed dismissively. “No, definitely not high literature. But it is fun.”

“Oh, have you read it? I thought only chicks read stuff like this.”

“Yeah, I read it, and liked most of it, but I got frustrated towards the end. But I don’t want to say too much and ruin anything.”

“I’m very close to the end now so I don’t think there’s too much you can ruin. What frustrated you? I really like what she did with the story.”

“Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed most of the book. I just got frustrated at the end at the way she didn’t like take control of anything, of her life, and make something happen. It was like she was just passive when the moment came for her to step up. I mean, I get that that’s what the author was trying to do, was trying to show us, that she wasn’t really capable of stepping up, and that’s why all those things she did ended the way they did, but it still left me frustrated. Not really a big deal.”

The way he said “make something happen” and “stepping up” caught me and I could feel my irritation rising. “Well not everybody can just take control, you know, of their lives. It’s hard for some people. Why does every fucking story have to be about ‘stepping up?’” I was taken aback at how hot the sentences came out. And did I really just say “fucking” to a stranger talking about the book I was reading? That was not like me.

“I mean, of course not every story has to be a redemption story. But that’s sort of my point, in a way,” he says. I can tell he wants to back off, that he’s not looking to get into it. “I want to read a book about someone who’s not just the usual everyday loser.”

It’s when he says “loser” that I lose my cool. I started yelling, “What the fuck are you saying? Are you saying that people who can’t get out of their own way and have issues that can’t be resolved in 250 pages are losers? Is that what you’re implying? What if she had a mother who was always on her about not getting married and not having kids, what if that same shitty divorced mother was always criticizing her for not reaching for the things that she couldn’t make herself want? What if? Huh, what if? And what the fuck makes you so high and mighty that you can judge her for not reaching some standard that you set?”

He watches me as I rant with a slight smirk; it looks like he is holding back from saying something. “OK, I see your point,” he says, but it’s clear he’s saying it just to placate me.

“You’re an ass,” I spit at him. “And you totally wrecked my quiet afternoon.” I feel the rage boiling in my veins. I grab my book and storm off with hot tears running down my cheeks. He watches me walk away, and does not say a word.