inchoate

Things are happening fast. And I'm torn between wanting to share, and wanting to protect and respect what has quickly become precious.

Upstairs is no longer a novelty. Not that he ever was. Not in the dismissive, patronizing sense that one thinks of, when one hears a lover referred to as such. But he has certainly been a muse to me, and the writing I've done about him, up until this point, has been done from a place of (ever decreasing) detachment. Wonder. Fascination, at the connection we've made, and the moments we've shared - the ways he's amazed me.

But that shrinking space of detachment is gone now. Gone, gone, gone. I am attached. We are attached. And I feel a sudden, fierce possessiveness towards the memories we're forming.

And I wonder if maybe it isn't time to draw the curtain on that part of my life.

Maybe not the blackouts, but at least the sheers. Would you forgive me, if I did? Would you understand and respect that, or resent the fact that I've suddenly going mute, after sucking you into the narrative?

A few more glimpses, before I close the blinds, if indeed I do. I don't yet know.

A dark, crowded bar. A kiss. Your lips taste like Fernet. I don't know what Fernet is, or what it tastes like. He gets a sample from the bartender. It's overpowering, and I can't finish it myself.

A Saturday night. High heels, nerves, excitement - but also comfort, familiarity, and easy laughter. His hand on the small of my back as we step across the street. At dinner, he has me draw a grid on a piece of paper. In the first column, write your favorite animal, and give three words to describe it. In the second, your next favorite, and three words to describe that. In the last, your next favorite, etc. It's an exercise to show me how I view myself. A gimmick, of course, but it almost makes me cry, for how spot on it is.

His apartment. Music, wine. I turn my back to him and unbutton my shirt. Jeans, a soft, loose-knit scarf - nothing else. He grabs his camera. The softness in his voice as he tells me to step left, to wait, to look at him. Stay there for just a moment while I check the light. That's great, now let me see that beautiful smile. I ache with jealousy to know he's been paid to do this before. The gentle professionalism in his voice, guiding and kind and solicitous and low. Confident and sexy. I want no one else to hear it.

Music. So much music. We play song after song for one another. It means as much to him, resonates as deeply as it does with me. He gets it. I learn about him through music. Understand him - and what he needs to show me about himself.

Bringing food up to his apartment, and being greeted by his dog in the hallway, a note tucked under his collar. Thankz Ellie.

Intimacy. Words exchanged. Sliding down together, and giving in happily, readily. Vulnerability, and the letting go of fears. Love. Girlfriend. Boyfriend. A whisper in my ear: I'm so crazy about you.

Hi. He gazes at me, and I'm locked in, helpless. You know, when I say hi sometimes, it's because I feel like I'm seeing you for the first time. Some side of you I didn't see before. My heart falls away from me, too heavy to hold because it's gotten so full. I can't reply. How can I reply? Nothing would compare, so I just drink it in and smile, and we press our foreheads to one another.

An embarrassment of riches, in the love he shows. The compliments and consideration, the affection and playfulness. Did you think all this was in here, in me? No, I did not. I had no idea.

Forgive your blogmistress her absence this past week. Forgive her this gushing, incoherent and esoteric string of thoughts, of images. Forgive her for closing one door, because she promises to open up others, wider, in exchange. Forgive her, because she's stupidly, wickedly, truthfully, luckily in love.

3.27.12

Chaucer at the dog park today, triumphant with two (2) tennis balls:



Songs I'm into lately:

1. Toro Y Moi - Blessa
2. Washed Out - Soft
3. Good Old War - Can't Go Home
4. Yelle - Ce Jeu
5. The Magnetic Fields - God Wants Us To Wait
6. Bright Eyes - Falling Out of Love At This Volume
7. Naked and Famous - All of This
8. Mike Del Rio & Charlotte Sometimes - My Baby, My Favorite
9. The Joy Formidable - Whirring
10. Naked and Famous - Girls Like You

why I'm an atheist

I'm an atheist. Some people like to call me a "militant" atheist, because they think that demonizes me. But I think it's awesome. I picture myself all badassed-out like Lara Croft, armed with weapons that shoot laser beams of rationality and common sense. I will take you and your magical thinking down, muthafucka.

Being an atheist doesn't mean I beat up homeless people or eat babies (though they are delicious). It just means I don't believe in the existence of supernatural deities, including Yahweh, Allah, Mbombo, Rod, Pangu, Brahma, Thor, Zeus, Hera, or Atum, to name just a few.

I'm an atheist because I see no reason to believe the Judeo-Christian creation story over any other creation mythology. Because I don't believe in talking snakes, consciousness-raising apples, global floods, virgin births, zombies, alchemy, peep stones, angels, ghosts, devils, magical Jesus-flesh crackers, or babies springing from heads. Because I believe that calling these fairy tales "metaphors" is a convenient, modern-day way of distancing oneself from the fact that, for millennia, they were considered anything but. Because I believe it is hypocritical to cherry-pick biblical verses for literalism or symbolism, depending on the stakes.

I'm an atheist because I know the gods people believe in at any given point in history are a result of the wholly arbitrary circumstance of their birth. Because I know that had I been born in 18th century India, I'd have been raised to believe in Vishnu. If I'd been born in ancient Greece, I'd have worshipped Aphrodite. If I'd been born in Afghanistan, I'd believe in Mohammed and Allah. As Mark Twain says, "The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also."

I'm an atheist because I see no reason to take the bible any more seriously than any other religious text history has passed down, and passed over. Most holy books have more or less the same content anyway. There is very little that's original in the Christian bible. Proscriptions against certain crimes ("sins") have been in place since the development of civilizations. The Golden Rule is a necessary precept for any society to survive. Aesop has more to teach us about wrong and right than the Christian bible, which is a hate-filled tome of questionable authenticity and authority. It contradicts everything modern man has learned about cosmology, geology, physics, physiology, and medicine. It's stuffed to the gills with genocide, murder, incest, slavery, misogyny, and misanthropy. The Judeo-Christian god of the bible is a sadistic, vengeful, and jealous tyrant who punishes thought crimes with eternal physical torment.

I'm an atheist because I don't need an archaic set of rules written by goat-sacrificing tribesmen thousands of years ago to give me a moral framework. Because I believe that determining right from wrong is a matter of personal common sense and collective, societal self-interest. Because the concepts of "sin" and "damnation" are a leash and chokehold created and maintained by tyrants and their lackeys in order to manipulate and dominate others through fear. Because I was born in the 20th century, not the first, and I know that eating shellfish isn't a moral crime, any more than wearing mixed fiber clothing, or walking my dog on Sunday, or having oral sex with my boyfriend.

I'm an atheist because I believe that anyone who tries to tell me an omniscient, omnipotent being would equip some humans with a biological predisposition towards same-sex attraction, and then judge and punish them for acting on it, should stop spending so much time worrying about the personal lives of others and go offer Yahweh a fatted calf. While they're at it, they should sell their smartphones, cars, and homes, give the proceeds to the poor, and go live the Christ-like life they so sanctimoniously cluck about.

I'm an atheist because every part of my body belongs to me and me alone. What I do with it and to it is my business, and not subject to the concerns or jurisdictions of others who want to impose their supernatural beliefs on me.

I'm an atheist because I rely on my faculties of reason to make conclusions about the natural world and to determine what is ethical and moral - not the proclamations of old men claiming to have a direct line to god. Because I have and practice intellectual autonomy. Because I won't accept That's just the way it is, and we believe it because it was written in this serious-sounding book as an answer to life's biggest questions. Because I know anyone who claims to represent or speak for a god is a charlatan, a crook, and a liar. There are no prophets, anymore than there are soothsayers, witches, wizards, or tooth fairies.

I'm an atheist because I'm not afraid of death. Because letting go of the need for an afterlife frees me up to fully appreciate the one I've got right now, here today. Because the beauty and wonder of the natural world is sufficient on its own; I don't need it to be filled with invisible forces of good and evil, in order to make sense of things that happen.

I'm an atheist because one life is enough.

If you're a voting atheist who values reproductive freedom, who wants children to be taught science instead of lies, who believes in equal rights, and who recognizes the necessity of secularism in government, why not step forward and say so, too? You're not nearly as alone as you might think.

jump

favorite

I'm in the salon on Friday, getting some desperately needed maintenance done on my hair, when Upstairs walks by with his dog. The salon is on a busy corner, a block away from my building. Its walls are glass, so passerby and salon clientele alike are treated to a mutual show all day, every day. When he sees me through the window, with disastrously disarrayed wet hair, he breaks into a grin and whips out his phone. He pretends (I hope) to take a few quick photos of me as he's walking backwards in the crosswalk. I'm mortified but laughing. My stylist, who recognizes both him and his dog from their daily walks by her workstation, plays along and tries to shield me from view.

When Upstairs gets across the street, he turns, flips up the hood of his sweatshirt, and trots off with his dog in the direction of the park. I haven't slept, look and feel like death warmed over, but his smile and playfulness have instantly made my afternoon.

A bit later, he texts asking if he can bring a present by the salon. When he comes in, he kisses my cheek and introduces himself to my stylist, joking around with her about the dirty looks they've exchanged through the window. He hands me a plastic bag. In it are my favorite tennis shoes - white suede Golas that I left at his apartment a few nights prior. He's just picked them up from the shoe repair place a few doors down from the salon, where's he's had them cleaned for me.

We text for a bit, trying to out-emoticon one another in an increasingly ridiculous series of hieroglyphic exchanges. When I finally get home, I crash until 10 pm.

Some out-of-town friends are visiting, so I embrace irresponsibility and blow off work to go out with them. On the roof at the Standard, I take a picture of our building, which is right down the street and in full view, and send it to Upstairs. Peekaboo, I see you.

Surprised I'm not at work, he asks if I want to meet up and grab a drink. But I'm busy pulling wingwoman duty for my friends, which is no easy feat tonight. There's an incredibly creepy dude glomming onto the women my friends are eyeing, and I take it upon myself to act as bait and lure him away. The girls are grateful, my friends are grateful, but I'm left fending this weirdo off for the next two hours.

In spite of the douche canoe, we have a great time. I meet some new people (friends of my still-new friends), drink salty dogs, and enjoy the people watching. Plus, I get to hear some great stories I've never heard about some mutual friends of ours - including one particularly spectacular one about the bachelor party to end all bachelor parties. But the whole time, I'm thinking about Upstairs, and how soon I can politely peel myself away from my friends to go see him. I text him: WINGWOMAN OF THE FUCKING YEAR. Hooking up mah friends like cray cray.

He doesn't respond to this and instead says, I thought you looked beautiful today. :) That was silly, but I did think that.

It's nearly last call, and I really want to spend some time with him, so I make my excuses to my friends and leave. I feel guilty about doing so, because they've officially dubbed me their LA ambassador, but I can't help myself. In my mind, I'm already stepping into Upstairs's arms and kissing him hello. In fact, when I leave the Standard, I run the four blocks to Seven Grand, where he's at. I'm wearing a mini dress and my tights threaten to shimmy down to my knees as I sprint past clusters of bargoers, but I don't care.

There's a line outside of the bar when I get there, but I don't have to wait in it. This is Upstairs's turf, and he's tight with the staff. A word from him to the bouncer when he pops downstairs to meet me, and I'm in. I promise myself never to take for granted the way his face lights up when we see one another.

In the bar, he introduces me to the girlfriend of a friend of his. She tells me she's heard a lot about me, and I take this in with a thank you to her, but no comment to Upstairs. We don't stay long. Once outside, I make a request for tacos from the food truck across the street. He puts his arms around me from behind and we lumber, a four-legged, slightly tipsy PDA monster plodding down restaurant row.

Back at his place, we get high. I don't put my lips on the pipe; instead, he inhales deeply then carefully blows the smoke into my mouth. I pull it into my lungs, feeling it burn momentarily before exhaling slowly. I'm a helplessly giggling mess within minutes. I clutch at his shirt, doubling over with laughter. As before, he marvels at my giddiness, jealous, he says, of how much ridiculous fun I get out of pot. "You're my favorite person," he tells me, which inexplicably sends me spiraling into another fit of giggles. He's said this before to me. I've not said it back to him, though, but not because it would be a lie.

We play music and dance in his living room. When he puts on my favorite oldies song ever, I push him gently away from me, making him watch while I sing and sway in front of him. I lose myself completely in the music, the moment, and his smile. Oh yeah. I'm falling.

suddenly so zen

I'm not sure when or why it happened, but I'm suddenly aware of a zen-like peace in my life.

I don't know how this change in me came about. I think it had something to do with the reconstruction I had to do at the end of last year, when I got out of a really, really bad relationship. I've said before that when that ended, I was so shattered - and so bewildered by how shattered I was - that it forced me to look at my "shards" very carefully, as I picked each of them back up. Another metaphor: that relationship was a sort of crucible. I was forged, at exceptionally high, nearly destructive temperatures, into something new and different and hard and strong.

At any rate, here I am, in this strange new land of zen. I don't know how long I'll be here, but for now, I'm looking around and taking notes, in case I get lost and want to find my way back. And here's what I've figured out I've done differently lately - what I think is making it possible for me to feel this new sense of calm.

1. I try not to internalize the emotions of other people.

This was my specialty, for most of my adult life. I perfected the art of carrying other people's emotions. I let my own mood, my own state of mind, be dictated by their sadness, or their anger. I did this with my parents, as a child. I did this with my boyfriends, and my husband. I did this with my friends. Maybe on some level, I felt guilty for feeling happiness or joy when someone I loved felt the opposite. Maybe I didn't love myself enough to think I deserved those good feelings, when my loved one didn't share them. I don't know. But it was an exhausting way to live my life.

This is not to say I don't feel empathy, because I believe that I do. It's just a matter of drawing a boundary around my heart, and saying, I feel that you're in pain. I can only feel so much of it with you, though, and for so long.

I try to do the opposite, when someone feels joyous emotion. Then I give myself permission to be a sponge, and soak up a bit of their good energy. Or, maybe a better analogy: a solar panel to their sunshine. I feel no shame in reflecting and pulling energy from the happiness of others; just gratitude for the lift up. For the charge. But I make sure to recognize I don't need their sunshine to recharge my own batteries. Nor can I become dependent on it. It's a secondary or tertiary source, not a primary one.

2. I regularly say "no".

I'm a born people pleaser, so this was an important lesson for me to learn. For one thing, I hate feeling like I'm missing out on anything - on a chance to bond with someone by sharing some experience with them. For another, when I felt that I had to let someone down by saying no, I beat myself over it. I considered myself a bad friend/daughter/spouse/employee. I felt like I'd failed. I imagined and projected onto them all sorts of negative emotions: disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness (even if I had no cause to think they'd feel these things). Then I shamed myself for causing those bad feelings.

But there's no faster path to self-depletion than saying "yes" to everything. And I realized I wasn't doing my loved ones any favors by stretching myself paper-thin, just to be present and accounted for. In fact, I was doing the opposite. I was damaging these relationships, by allowing myself to slowly become passive-aggressively embittered towards them. I'd never even articulate the thoughts to myself, but the makings of them were there in the back of my head, swirling in the dark: How could she ask this of me?... He should know I don't want to do this...He should know I'm too tired/not into this...She doesn't know me/love me well enough, to expect this of me.

Saying "no" every so often makes saying "yes" more fun. "No" empowers the "yes" to be more valuable and valued. Saying "no" to someone is saying I value and respect you enough to know that if I say "yes", you won't be getting the best version of me. And that's not good enough for either of us. "No" is a way to recognize and honor my personal boundaries. "No" allows me to just get shit done. And when my shit is done - when my chores and work are complete - I feel zen.

3. I try to appreciate the bloom.

Everything has its moment of bloom. Here's a great piece about this concept; which explains it better than I could.

When I recognize that everything has its time of bloom, it reminds me to live in the present, to appreciate and value what I've got at this moment. It also braces me for the inevitable pain of decay. With the knowledge that any given beautiful thing must die comes acceptance. The acceptance softens the blow. And it keeps me level. Zen.

4. I try to treat feelings like clouds.

I'm not sure where I first came across the idea of just objectively recognizing my feelings as they pass (I know it's nothing new), but it's helped me to become a happier, more peaceful person. The idea is that when some overwhelming emotion swells up, instead of letting it override me and carry me off, I just step back and calmly, quietly try to see it. I visualize it as a cloud, slowly drifting through my horizon. I take my time to examine and understand it, I but don't climb into it: it's cold and wet inside of clouds.

This really helps me when short-term, negative emotions threaten to ruin my day. When I'm annoyed or sad or hurt that someone hasn't returned my call, for instance, or I feel discouraged about some mistake I've made. I try not to let the feeling consume my day. Instead I just look it over, consider what caused it, then allow it to float away again, before it grows any bigger (or worse, latches on to another cloud). I don't attach value or judgment to it. I just let it be what it is.

5. I try to forgive myself.

I forgive myself my mistakes, big and small. I forgive myself my failures. I used to turn self-critical thoughts over in my head, fingering every last nook and cranny of them until they were worn smooth like worry stones. I became very, very familiar with my shortcomings.

And I still am. It's important to be.

The difference now is that when they get the better of me, I try to take a look at what happened, figure out what'll be different next time, and then just let go. And it has been amazing, truly, how much of my mental energy and time were freed up once I learned to forgive myself.

a night in the life, part two

(continued from here)

10:30 pm

I walk through the dressing room door and out onto the club floor. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the low light; when they do, I step over to the DJ booth to say hello. I glance at his roster to see who's working, and engage in a minute's worth of small talk. It's worth my time to be friendly to him. He can grant favors, bend rules - in other words, help me make more money. For instance, he can bump me up in the stage rotation, if it suits my purposes - or take me out of it completely. Or, when he tallies the number of lap dances I've done (it's his job to keep track), he can knock one or two or more off, thus requiring me to give the house less of my earnings. He can also go out of his way to buy/download music he knows I'll like, which ultimately helps us both (because he gets a percentage of my tips, too). It's never been a chore to be friendly with the DJs I've worked with, though. They tend to be easy to get along with and very down to earth - probably a result of years of patience cultivated in the face of neverending dancer drama.

I take a moment to get the lay of the land. I'm assessing how busy it is, looking over the patrons, and deciding what tables are my best bet. I profile. I strategize. Finally, I do a lap, walking through the club at a calculated pace and with a deliberate course. I don't saunter. I move with purpose, giving the illusion that I'm busy - that someone is waiting for me. I weave in and out of tables, making a point to walk in front of certain ones and avoiding others. I take care to be seen by the two middle-aged men in suits - the ones drinking what looks like Scotch, and watching the stage. I don't bother with the 20-somethings in Lakers apparel. Their table is strewn with beer bottles, and those that aren't talking loudly amongst themselves have their eyes glued to the TV on the wall.

A girl with whom I'm friendly is sitting with some customers and two other dancers. She calls out my stage name as I walk by, inviting me to come join the group. She's the ideal partner for working customers: shrewd, clever, a great conversationalist, and very pretty. She wouldn't beckon me to the table if it wasn't worth my time, so I take an empty seat next to a man not otherwise engaged.

And so begins the hardest part of dancing, for me: the first awkward moments of trying to make a complete stranger feel like I'm interested in him, not his money. The truth is, there's actually a very good chance that if I can draw him out a little bit, get him talking about himself, I probably will find him interesting. I'm just like that; I like to hear people's stories, hear about their lives and interests. But making a man in a strip club genuinely believe that - particularly when one or both of you is stone-cold sober - well, that, as they say, is part of why we make the big bucks. It's hard.

I didn't used to have to play this game. Where I worked in Arizona, dances were so stupidly cheap that we could simply offer them straight-out, and either give one or move on to the next customer accordingly. But for $20 a pop, some chatting-up is required. It's been the most challenging aspect of dancing in LA: the hard sell. The schmoozing. The sales. And it's all sales. I'm selling my company, my conversation, and, ultimately, if I can convince him to leave his friends and accompany me to the lap dancing area, a taste of my sexuality. And I'll only get paid for the last of these. I can waste an hour or more, sitting and talking with someone, only to be told "Later" or "No thanks." I can spend an entire evening with someone who's strongly insinuated and/or verbally promised me monetary compensation for my time, only to walk away empty handed.

And there's nothing I can do.

And it happens to girls all the time.

That's part of my job, though: to gauge the payoff. And the faster I can do so, the more money I can make. If within minutes of sitting with someone, I get the sense that he's not a spender, the faster I cut my losses and move on, the faster I'll get to someone who is a spender. But there's often no telling. It's a gamble that a dancer must take, sometimes several times a night. And there's nothing to say that the same man who won't get dances after half an hour won't decide to get them after all, after a full hour. Drinks certainly help. But there are no guarantees.

Sometimes I come on strongly, being aggressively flirtatious and suggestive: holding eye contact and occasionally touching his knee. Sometimes I'm chill, putting on the air that it's just a relaxed night at the bar for me: that I love hanging out and drinking with customers (for drink we can), and any money I make is incidental and bonus. Sometimes I wax intellectual, pulling my chair close to his and listening intently to him talk about his profession or his hobbies, and doing my best to hold my own on the subject. It's my job to determine what version of me will most flatter, impress, and seduce him. It's my job to figure out who he wants.

At some point, though, turkey will have to be talked. At some point, I'm going to have to remind him, either directly or obliquely, that I'm there to make money, not conversation. At some point, he's going to either have to pony up, or I'm going to have to move on.

(to be continued)

no other way

away team

Upstairs texts from Mas Malo, wanting to know if I'd like him to bring me back some chocolate flan. I tell him no thanks, that I'm not a fan of the flan. Neither is he. I'm a creme brulee guy, he says. Then, I adore you. I respond: Just don't dessert me.

A few minutes later, he sends me a picture: a worm floating in a glass of amber liquid. Good idea or bad idea? he asks. I tell him I hear they flourish in the small intestines of nice Jewish boys. Flourish and multiply, I add. You're just afraid that I'll get drunk and harass you, he says. Which I will. Then in a bit: Can I come over for a minute? I have a tequila worm and we're gonna do this together. Once here, he tries to convince me to split the worm with him. I refuse. Instead, we cut it and offer half to Chaucer, who wants nothing to do with it.


We mess around for a couple of hours, talking and listening to a band I've lately gotten into on Spotify: Washed Out. I slip my bare feet into his sheepskin slippers, clomping around and doing an exaggerated impression of him. I threaten to march over and knock on my neighbor's down the hall, and when I step halfway out my door, he pushes me the rest of the way out and locks it behind me. I'm wearing nothing but underwear and men's slippers. I rap on my door quietly, frantically whispering a demand for admittance. He cracks it slightly, then whistles loudly into the hallway to draw the attention of my neighbors.

When I announce that I'm hungry, he says, "That's my favorite thing to hear you say." I raise an eyebrow; I'm pretty sure there are things he prefers more. He laughs and explains, "No really. I'm terrible at taking care of myself, but I really love taking care of other people. I love feeding you." But I demur. He's spent a small fortune on food, drinks, and entertainment for me; until I can even the score a little bit, I'm determined to provide my own victuals.

He has some work to do, and wants me to come upstairs and keep him company while he does it. But there are some things I want to do around home, plus I'm feeling extremely worn out already: we stayed up until four am the night before, talking and showing one another our favorite YouTube videos. He attempts bribery: he'll order food for me; he'll put on Rear Window; I can bring my laptop and work alongside him. At this last, I look at him. "Really? You wouldn't mind if I was just working on my computer while you painted?" "I'd love it," he says.

But I pass, lying to myself that I'm still going to vacuum and mop. That I'm going to organize my iPhoto events, which have gotten out of hand. That I'm going to go for a run.

He offers to come back down after he's done with his work, to sleep at my place and be "the away team". He knows I have difficulty sleeping outside of my own bed. "That way you can kick me out whenever, if you still can't sleep. You won't have to get up and leave."

But I regretfully decline this offer, too. I'm just too exhausted, and facing down four consecutive nights of work starting tomorrow. He leaves, but returns a few minutes later with food for me: two varieties of Udon soup from his pantry, and a bottled iced tea from his fridge. I shake my head in wonder, but he shrugs it off. He sits on the arm of my couch, and I stand between his legs. We're lingering, procrastinating the work we both need to be doing. He wraps his arms around me and makes up a silly, nonsensical story about the two of us and a bowl of Udon soup.

When he leaves, I try and fail at writing anything of substance. I'm just unable to connect any creative dots. I'm feeling low and down on myself; job hunting is going poorly. Plus, I'm not feeling remotely ready to go back to work tomorrow, and dread the next four days.

doxie side eye

This is Duncan (first seen here). He met Chaucer the other day for the first time, at a three-dog play date at W.'s. Tiny, fragile Dachshund puppy + bumbling, clumsy 145lb Mastiff = Duncan saying, "Uh, I'll just watch from here, thanks."



In fact, they hit it off quite well (full-contact butt sniffing and lip kisses). Duncan is actually cowering in fear of me in these pics. He's a super shy little guy around humans he doesn't know. Good instincts, Dunc, because I'd be lying if I said I didn't have designs on you. I want to stuff you under my shirt and steal you like a dirty magazine from 7-Eleven.

it would be you

Somewhere around five am on Sunday, my indulgences of late catch up with me. My body cries foul. Specifically, it says Jesus Christ, Ellie. Enough with the partying, with the drugging and drinking. Get some fucking sleep. And would it kill you to eat something green once in a while? I try apologizing to it, promising I'll start an immediate detox, but it doesn't care. It's pitiless. It says, You can put your money where your mouth is tomorrow. For now, you're going to have to put your mouth where your toilet is.

(And I hope with that unpleasantly graphic image I have done my part to de-glamorize any unintentional glamorizing I may have done, of bad behaviors chronicled in recent posts. Everything in moderation, kids. But your blogmistress has been quite immoderate, and is now paying the price.)

I pass several hours in misery before gratefully passing into a deep sleep.

Later, Upstairs texts to ask if I'd like to join him to meet some friends. I put my hand to my still-churning stomach and cautiously ask where. When he confirms my suspicions (a bar), I decline, and spend the evening blogging, cleaning, taking the dogs to the park with W., and trying to make peace with my dehydrated and chemically battered body. Upstairs texts again after a while: Would you like to have dinner tomorrow? When I say that I have aspirations to eat dinner every day, as well as breakfast and lunch, he ignores my snark and says he'll have his assistant make some plans for us. A proper date, he adds. A moment later, I get this: Joan, last thing today. Please pencil in a dinner for me tomorrow night. Somewhere casual, maybe with the slightest bit of swank.

I shoot back: Of course, Mr. ___, but this is Hazel. You fired Joan after she accidentally CCed your mother on a letter to your mistress.

---

On Monday, I awaken to this: Italian, American, Asian, or Martian? I tell him Martian, of course, then realize he truly wants direction. I changed my mind. American.

Too late, he says. Already booked the space shuttle. I love it. Window seat plz, I say. I'll have to have my spacesuit fitted, he replies. Let's say 8:15. He insists on meeting me outside the front door of our building, as if picking me up for a formal date.

After a hug and a peck on my cheek, he asks if I feel like walking or driving. He's made reservations at restaurants both downtown and in Hollywood, leaving it up to me to decide how far I want to venture forth. I opt for walking and staying local. We're both pretty dressed up, but something about staying close to home feels cozy and right tonight. He offers me his arm, but doesn't say where we're headed. During the fifteen minute walk to Little Tokyo (ending at the Lazy Ox Canteen), we chat and joke. He challenges me to skip when we cross streets, and when I do, he joins me.

I feel relaxed and happy. We're already having a great time, without even having put a morsel of food or drop of alcohol in our bodies. "I know I've come on really strong lately, even dropping some L-bombs or whatever," he says. "But I just want you to know, before we start drinking and I get silly again - I'm really glad to be spending tonight with you, to be doing this."

At dinner, he's solicitous and gentlemanly. He sits beside me rather than across, occasionally feeding me forkfuls of food - both things that normally bug me but for some reason feel comfortable and fun with him. We order several small plates to share: short ribs, brussel sprouts with bacon, yellowtail, roasted chilis, boca bits (fried chicken skin), and some kind of amazing egg/polenta dish. We split a bottle of red wine and he asks me several first date-y type questions about subjects we've only touched on before: personal, familial, and academic history. As we're finishing up, lingering over our last glasses of Cote Du Rhone, he kisses me deeply. The restaurant isn't full, but it isn't empty, and there's a table of men seated directly besides us. One of them steals several glances at the modest show we're putting on.

On the walk home, he stops momentarily on the sidewalk. He looks at me and tells me I'm a great date. He says how much he admires my self-confidence, and how attractive he finds it. I don't tell him he's the first and only man to ever comment on this quality in me, because it's pretty much brand new. I don't tell him how much a compliment I consider even his very attraction to me, coming as it does from an emotionally sound, happy, and well-adjusted man. I don't tell him that the men that have been historically drawn to me are broken and angry, or sad - and have been drawn to something equally damaged which they saw in me. I don't tell him that I consider his feelings toward me a reflection of how far I've come in the past few months, in terms of self-love. And I don't tell him that when, a few weeks back, he commented on finding Kristen Wiig and Tina Fey sexy for their independence and creativity - for being, as he called them, "strong women" - I realized he must see some similar combination of those qualities in me, and my self-esteem shot skyward like a rocket.

We stroll lazily homeward, stopping for more wine at Spring Street, where we chat up a playwright friend of his whom I mentally bookmark as a potential set up for W. He gets a text invitation to meet some friends at a restaurant in Koreatown, and asks if I'm up for it. I definitely am, and we hop in his car. He drives fast and plays music loud; he puts on a song he knows I love, and turns it up even louder when I dance in my seat, twisting my hips and shaking my hair.

The restaurant is nondescript and hard to find. We park and walk into the wrong place at first (a karaoke bar), but a friendly Korean host directs us in broken English to the correct restaurant across the road. We grab hands and run, tipsy and giggling, to the other side of the street. The first door we try is locked, and I press my face against the windows, goofing around to make him laugh. "Oh my god," he says. "If I were going to love someone, which I'm not, because I'm a big mess of a boy, it would be you." I ignore the L-bomb as we locate the main entrance and step into a softly lit restaurant, decorated with rice paper hangings and huge ceramic vases.

His friends are a funny, engaging, warm, and totally down-to-earth couple with whom he worked years prior. They're clearly very fond of him, and scold him for being unavailable of late. They regale me with tales of their friendship with Upstairs, and I'm touched by the affection the three of them show one another. They're lovely people, easy to click with, and inclusive. When they ask about my profession, Upstairs saves me from having to decide what version of the truth to give by chiming in quickly, "She's a writer," and adding some hyperbolic but heartwarming embellishments of my skills. I squeeze his knee under the table, and he kisses my cheek. He's read very, very little of my writing, but it's not the first time he's been so over-the-top complimentary of it. The four of us share fried chicken wings and kimchi, and drink shot after shot of Shochu.

After a while, we make our goodbyes and drive back home. We park in the garage across from our building, which we don't leave for nearly twenty minutes, messing around in, then against, and finally on, his car.

---

Later, we shower together before climbing under the covers. I don't stay the night. The wine and Shochu - the last thing my already-abused body needed - keep me awake, and I don't want my tossing and turning to ruin his night, too.

I've still yet to pass an entire night in his company; I've still yet to see him in the light of morning. But now, I've officially been on a date with him. And here's a blurry cell phone pic of what I looked like when I did it (included for the benefit of my future self):

st. patrick's day

I can't sleep Friday night/Saturday morning, so I decide to make Upstairs a St. Patrick's Day card. I cut and color a shamrock and tape it to a piece of folded paper inscribed with a limerick. I sign it XO, a lucky girl, and leave it outside his door.

Chaucer and I go for a walk in the rain. He chases a ball on the lawn near City Hall, lumbering and sliding around on the wet grass like a puppy. On the way back, he stops short to nose at something on the sidewalk - a tiny snail. When we get home, I finally feel sleepy, so I set my alarm for 1pm and crash for a quick nap. Upstairs texts while I sleep: Not going to Casey's. I'm gonna be looking around town for a mysterious cardgiver.

W. comes over, armed with mixers for the bottle of Ketel in my freezer and a tiny plastic baggie printed with the Batman logo. Inside it are some small pink tablets: more of the ecstasy we'd taken a few days earlier. We stop by a neighbor's apartment, where Chaucer is treated to a few sips of beer and his usual overdose of attention. We have drinks and socialize while I play text-tag with Upstairs, who's already gone down to the street party. Live music pours in through the open windows, and I'm anxious to go watch it.

The sidewalk is packed with revelers. W. and I enter the cordoned-off area through a separate entrance for VIPs and residents of my building - a concession to the inconvenience of our block being ground zero. We listen to music, mingle, and drink some more. By the time we run into Upstairs, maybe half an hour later, the drugs and alcohol in my system have kicked in. I catch his eye above the crowd; he's seen us first and is already grinning.

The three of us spend the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening together, with breaks to hang out with other friends, walk our dogs, run up to my apartment for refills, and hit the bathroom in Casey's. When the U2 tribute band comes on, we wedge our way close to the stage to dance and sing along. Upstairs leaves to find his cousin, and W. looks at me. "He's competing with me." I don't understand. "Because he knows I'm here," he explains, pointing at my chest. "And he wants to be there."

Upstairs comes back, and wraps his arms around my waist while all three of us bellow out the words to Sunday Bloody Sunday. He smiles and laughs every time I spin around to face him. He's rolling with us. I throw my arms around his neck, and he speaks low and soft in my ear: "You're my best friend." I can hear the words perfectly, in spite of the music, and I draw back to look at his face. His eyes are serious but shining. He pulls me back to him, and presses his face close to mine. "You really are."

When I pull away to take some pictures and video. I hear snippets of conversation behind me, about me. "...anyone I ever dated would have to get her, so..."

The drugs, the booze, the music, and the joy of being with them both are almost too much: I'm euphoric. I grab W.'s scarf and look at him intently. "You taught me to love myself again. Do you know that?" He smiles and shakes his head. "It's true," I insist. I'm choked up, trying not to get overwhelmed by my emotions. "Well that just makes me sad, in a way," he says, "because you should never have stopped."

Later, we all go to a party on the top floor of my building. W. and I grab a bag of Doritos from the kitchen and explore the penthouse while Upstairs socializes. The host downloads a Dandy Warhols song I want to hear, and we talk about concerts we've seen. I tell Upstairs I want to show W. his apartment and paintings, and he hands me his keys. The two of us walk over alone, and W. looks at Upstairs's work for the first time. I have a curious, warm feeling while he does so: pride.

W. wants to go out, but though Upstairs and I try to rally, we're both too tired. We say goodnight to W., who picks up his pup from the play date he's been having at my place with Chaucer. Upstairs and I go back to his apartment to cuddle and watch a movie. I sit in his lap while we scroll through the titles on his computer. "Let's watch something sappy," I say, nuzzling against him. We settle on Wall-E, which we watch on his couch, spooning until our eyes grow heavy.

Eventually, he carries me to his bed and I doze off with my head on his arm.

as simple as choosing

On Friday, I get an email from Upstairs, telling me he'd like to go for a walk today, to settle things mano a mano. Before I have a chance to reply, I run into him in the elevator. We both have our dogs, so we take them down to the street together.

We walk in silence for a minute before he speaks. He tells me he understands everything I've been saying for the past eight days. That he hates the idea of making me uncomfortable with his overtures. He stops on the sidewalk and looks at me, and I catch my breath, to see how pained and sincere and open and vulnerable his expression is. "But in spite of everything, I'd still date you if--"

"Then let's do it," I hear myself saying. The air around us seems to freezes for a split second, while I brace myself for his reaction. It feels like hours.

He stares at me, incredulous. If I'd been a third party, I would have looked at me the same way. I feel incredulous. Before replying with actual words, he makes a noise that seems to be equal parts disbelief, annoyance, amusement, and delight. I try to compose myself; I feel like crying. I suddenly want him, and badly so. I feel like I've just jumped off a bridge, tethered only by a rope around my ankle - the other end of which is tied around his waist. Everything he's been telling me since last week has led me to believe that I'll be safe if I take this leap - but I still feel terrified, for both of us. I am in no way sure he knows how fast and heavily I can fall. I am in no way sure he'll be able to keep us both alive. But I've gone and made the call to test us both. I've said the words, and there's no going back. The waffling is over.

I know what makes me say it, and I know what doesn't.

I say it because in that moment, I realize how incredible - how miraculous - it is, that after all the hot-cold hoops I've put him through, here he is, still ready to take a chance with me. He's fearless, I realize. Fucking fearless.

In that moment, there on the sidewalk, I realize what an incredibly beautiful thing his fearlessness is. How rare and precious it is. It kind of makes me fall instantly in love with him a little bit. Just the littlest bit. It kind of makes me see him in a way I never have before. I realize, suddenly, that I can choose to love him, if I want to. Or at least choose to see if I will. I've nearly rationalized this person out of my life because I've been afraid of what loving him could do to me down the line. But it's as simple as choosing to see it differently: to see the things that are already there (the friendship, fun, laughter), and the things that can be there.

I don't say it because this hasn't worked out. I know how much it might seem like that, to someone reading this story in serial installments. But it isn't about that. That's the furthest thing from my mind. It's 100% about Upstairs himself, and about seeing, finally, how much he's brought to my life - about recognizing that those things could be just the tip of the iceberg. That I'd be a fucking fool to at least not give it a shot. Never regret the things you do in life. Only the things you don't do.

I know I don't need him in my life. I can be perfectly OK on my own. I know that without question. I was prepared to be single, for all intents and purposes, for a good long time, until some of the bigger puzzle pieces in my life fall into place. But Upstairs brings something really special to my life. He isn't a need, nor am I for him. But we give one another joy. Why wouldn't we want more of it?

The next twenty minutes, walking around the block, are a blur. He seems surprised, skeptical, wary, excited, hopeful, happy. He tells me I'm crazy. He tells me he doesn't know what to think, or what to believe. I tell him I completely understood, and don't blame him one bit. But that if his offer still stands, all I'm asking for is one date - one official date, finally. He can't stop smiling, or looking at me. We're giggling. He takes my hand. He puts his arm around me. He tells me we'll have to take things slow, that we'll have to go on one date and see what happens. He says he's scared. I say I am, too.

---

That night, we text up a frenzy. Earlier, on the walk Chaucer had snapped at his dog, so I send this. In reply, I get this, with the caption I guess the emotional trauma was too much for him.

I tell him he's going to need some Bounty. At least two rolls. And a large grill, he writes back. I request mine medium rare, and say that Chaucer would like his rare. He's having seconds, he says. He can get his after us.

We make plans to hang out at the St. Patrick's Day block party the next day, held directly in front of our building. We text-banter nonstop in the hours before I leave for work. Please please please just stay my friend, he says. I don't wanna lose this. No one else gets my jokes.

I write back: Friends first and above all. Pinky swear.

Ellie, I'm in, he says, and my heart soars a little bit.

We have a poetry slam, while I'm on the train to work:

(me)

Riding the blue line
Someone sits too close; I move
Green beer tomorrow


(him)

He receives a text
The phone lights up; so does he
Sydney scoffs and turns.


(me)

A guantlet is thrown
Fuck, what rhymes with [his real name]?
Dirty limericks rule.


(him)

Challenge accepted:
We pronounce words differently.
I say limerick


---

We speak again briefly, after I get home from work. Plans to meet up the next day, while we both are out with our friends. I'm excited about seeing Hollywood U2 again, about watching the concert with him. I tell him he'll find me by looking for the girl wearing yellow + blue instead of green. He tells me to Google "snowclone", a cool word he's just learned.

We say goodnight, and the thoughts I have of him as I go to sleep are different than others I've ever had. It's as if he's completely new to me. I can't wait to see him the next day.

plot twist

When I get home from work on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I am emotionally trashed. The texting I've done with Upstairs that night - and in fact, having spent the day with him - has me completely twisted. One minute, I look at all the amazing qualities he has as a person and that we have, together, and I feel like I'd be crazy not to date him. The next, I feel weirdly like I'm trying to talk myself into it. I'm scared of how bad it will hurt to lose him, when he's inevitably ready to move on from me.

I know that getting involved with Dimples has an expiration date, too, but it seems like something I can engage in short term, and survive without getting too emotionally attached. He's just too different, coming from/going to so different a place, that I can keep him at arm's length. Meanwhile, Upstairs is too lovable, and our paths parallel in so many ways, that I know I can get really, really attached to him if I let myself. And I don't know what it is - maybe the emotional distance I feel I can maintain with him - but I feel more physically drawn to Dimples. It's probably because for so long, sex and love have been mutually exclusive concepts for me. And I know that if I start regularly sleeping with Upstairs while dating him, I'll fall in love with him. That's unquestionable. Then I'll really be fucked when it ends.

I write Upstairs an email. It's short and short-tempered, probably because I'm so angry at myself. Angry at my inability (fear?) to feel everything for him. I'm angry at what feels like some kind of deficiency in me. I'm angry that I find myself more drawn to someone who is completely wrong for me (wrong lifestyle, wrong interests, wrong personality). I send him an email that says, basically, "Friends. That's my final answer. That's what I want: your friendship. Platonic. Please give it to me, because I don't want to lose you."

I can't sleep after I write it. I feel sick and unsure. I second guess myself.

He writes back in the early morning. There's anger. Disappointment. He calls me out, fairly, on my many mixed signals. There is also kindness and generosity and understanding and respect. And a promise that I'll always have his friendship, but that maybe it's time we had a little space from one another.

I am relieved, saddened, disappointed, and angry at myself - all sorts of messy, confusing emotions.

Then, the plot twist comes.

Dimples texts. He says he's having second thoughts about seeing me again, and about getting further involved (I haven't seen or spoken with him in a week). He says he's scared of getting hurt, and that he isn't sure I'm the right thing for him. In a nutshell, he dumps me.

I'm surprised and disappointed, and my ego develops a big, ugly blue bruise. But then I realize how utterly ridiculous I am for feeling surprise. I should have seen this coming, one, and two, I fully deserve it, for having just cold put him on hold while I waffled. After the drama he was a party to, who'd blame him? I sit in the bathtub, stunned not at the fact that I've been dropped, but at the fact of how stupidly chaotic and drama-filled my life has become, in the course of a week. I'm thirty-six years old, I think. What the fuck.

I'd been planning to go to work that night, to fully immerse myself in profitable distraction until the whole mess was a few days behind me, but when W. texts, wanting to go out, I jump at that plan instead.

An hour later I'm dressed to maim and on the train; we go to Akbar in Silverlake. He has some ecstasy he hasn't tried yet, so we take that: pressed tabs that I don't expect to be nearly as good as the pure MDMA I'd done in the past. But it's an incredible roll - slow-starting, but lovely. (For those of you who've never done ecstasy (I'm planning to write more about it soon), one of its effects is a pervading sense of well-being and empathy. You pretty much feel benevolent and loving towards everyone. At the risk of encouraging illegal behavior, it's an unbelievably pleasant feeling. Euphoric, truly. Which, uh, would be one of the reasons it's called ecstasy.)

We dance to 80s deep cuts. We have an amazing, randomness-filled talk about life. We shut the bar down, catch a taxi home, and have food delivered: a huge serving of chili cheese fries. They come with a side of potato chips, and I actually use the chips to scoop up the fries.

My name is Ellie, and I get by with a little help from my friends, their drugs, good music, and carbohydrates.

3.14.12

When I wake up, I read a text from Upstairs. It's a copy of the picture he took at the lake on the previous Friday, the one of me feeding ducks into which he'd photoshopped an eagle. I love this, he's sent with it. I reply: That picture is awful. He writes back: I like it. It proves that you're not a vampire.

It proves that I'm not pretty, is what it proves, I answer. I tell him that I did well at work the night before, and am going to go pay off my bike. Want a lift? he asks. I explain that the bike shop is just a few blocks away on Broadway. Want a cohort? he amends.

I accept the offer, and a few minutes later, he knocks on my door. On the walk over, we rehash where things stand with us. I am strongly leaning towards not wanting to get further involved with him. In fact, I am nearly sure of it. I've agonized over the decision to tell him as much, because I can't seem to get my ass off the fence. And he knows it. He acknowledges my reticence, all the while gently reaffirming his own undiminished interest.

I tell him that I've grown to adore him so much, to treasure his company and companionship and all of our fun times so dearly, that I'm terrified of what dating would do to our already great relationship. I know he's substantially younger (9 years), and that pretty much guarantees us an expiration date. I know at some point, he'll want someone closer to his age. Someone younger. And I have a feeling if (when!) it ends after getting truly romantically involved, it will end terribly. There'll just be too much pain. We'll have gotten too close, and our friendship won't survive. At this point, I tell him, I value our friendship way, way too much to risk losing it.

I don't tell him that I am also distracted by thoughts of someone else - the person he'd met, and who had sent him into a 12 hour tailspin the week before. I keep that variable out of the equation. And I don't say that this person, during the two dates I'd had with him, has drawn a strong reaction from me, physically. One that's been on my mind, and interfering with my ability to see things clearly.

He argues that we're nearly perfect for one another. That he doesn't care about my age, or that I dance. That everything lines up for us, that we get along like peas in a pod, that we're attracted to one another, get one another's senses of humor, that we have mutual interests. That he thinks we can retain a friendship if it doesn't work out. He wants to try, anyway.

When we get to the bike shop, I realize I don't have quite enough to pay the layaway balance, unless I want to nearly clean out my checking account. I tell the guy helping me that I'll be back with the final $90 tomorrow. Upstairs steps forward. "If she pays the balance now, can she take it home today?" The shopkeeper and I speak at the same time, him saying "yes" and me saying "no." I know where Upstairs is going with this, and shake my head firmly. Ignoring me, he takes out his debit card and hands it to the cashier. "Don't accept that," I say sharply. "Seriously."

Upstairs smiles at me. "Come on, you were so excited to get your bike. Just pay me back tomorrow." We go a few rounds of me refusing and him insisting before I acquiesce, on the condition that he lets me pay him back (he doesn't, justifying the gift by explaining that he's made an unexpected repeat sale of one of his paintings).

Upstairs asks whether I have a helmet, and I laugh. "No way," I say. "I can ride a bike just fine." I look to the shopkeeper for support. "If you're over eighteen, you don't legally have to. But if you're going to be riding at night or in heavy traffic, I definitely recommend it." Upstairs looks at me pointedly. He knows I'd be doing both. "Uh uh." I shake my head. "I'll be fine."

While we wait for them to customize my bike (I've had them add brakes to the front handlebars), we goof around in the shop. He takes a video, making me pose on a tiny kid's bike while he mock-interviews me about my big purchase. He teases me about how excited I am, but he's obviously getting a good deal of vicarious joy out of the experience. He's playful and affectionate, and pulls me to him to kiss my forehead and dance with me. His attention feels good. It always does: like wrapping myself up in a warm, familiar sweater.

At one point, he brings me into his arms and playfully sways with me. It's the middle of the day, and we're standing in the middle of a bike shop, in the middle of downtown LA. He tells me if I don't let him take me on a date, a real date, that he's going to have to move away to escape me. "Don't you dare," I whisper up at him. He leans close to my ear and sings: "I'm leaving, on a jet plane...don't know when I'll be back again..."

"Stop it," I say, punching his arm. He doesn't let go of me.

We've been waiting for some time, and Upstairs has a dinner date with his mom in a couple of hours. I tell him to go ahead, that I'll wait alone. He refuses. Another half hour passes. At this point, he's almost certainly going to be late to pick up his mother, but he won't leave. He tells me to wait at the front of the shop, and he'll go check on things in back, to see if he can't speed up the process. "You're going to have to come back for repairs and stuff, so I'll be the bad guy," he says. As he steps away, he turns and says conspiratorially, "I'll get you something free. Like a helmet." He walks back to the service area, and I watch him conferring with the mechanic and shop manager. A few moments later, he waves me over.

The shop manager gestures to a table nearby, piled with various helmets. "Let's get you a helmet," he says. "What's your favorite color?" I look at Upstairs, who's smiling, clearly pleased with himself. I won't find out until a couple days later that he's actually had to pay for the helmet.

The bike is ready a few minutes later, and we walk it home together. When we stop at Pershing Square to let the dog pee, he takes photos of me wheeling around on the pavement. My favorite part of the bike is the contrasting white tape I've had them put on the handlebars. I've mentioned it repeatedly to him, and now he teases me by making a point to comment on how cool it looks. I feel twelve and giddy, and he tells me how nice it is that I'm so excited and grateful.

Later, he texts me a picture of himself just before he leaves for dinner. He's standing in the mirror, wearing a crisp white dress shirt and looking absurdly handsome - with his middle finger raised to the camera. What's with you and putting birds in all your pictures? I ask. 2 pts for you, he says, In the game of Ellie v. Upstairs.

At work that night, I receive a text asking me if I want to come cuddle after I'm off. Something about it makes me feel panicky. I start to feel extremely anxious about where things are with him. I'm afraid they're spiraling out of my control, and I'm going to end up losing his friendship, if we don't set some boundaries once and for all. I text back, saying as much. I'm offering you my friendship, I say. I hope more than anything you'll accept it.

He doesn't give up. We smile, laugh, and generally adore each other to bits. We're excessively attracted to one another and somewhat mutually in love. The second I stop being all over you, you're gonna come and tell me you've been thinking about me and you might've been wrong again, he wrote. Tragically flawed we are.

What would dating change? I ask, not sure what point I'm trying to make.

I'd wear your jacket, he says.

I need to think, I tell him. I need to drink, he says back.

night walks

Sometimes, the best part of my day is taking Chaucer for a long walk after I get home from work. Around 2am, the streets are pretty empty, and we can hog the sidewalk. I let his leash out completely, and he stops and sniffs every tree, hydrant, and light pole that he wishes. The park is eight blocks away, so it's a nice little jaunt for us both. I never have to worry about anyone bothering us, even in the wee hours when some of the sketchier elements of downtown are about. Chaucer is excellent protection, just visually. And if anyone comes near that makes me nervous, he visibly stiffens and glares at them. My dog is nothing if not tuned in to me.



I can get pretty sentimental on these walks: we pass a dozen landmarks that hold memories of the past three years - good and bad. It's something I love about living downtown: the bulk of my social and romantic history surrounds me, for better or for worse. I can walk to the restaurants, bars, parks, apartments, cafes, and galleries where I've started to build a whole new life: my life. There's at least one association tied to nearly every block, every building. And at night, in the quiet and stillness, I can soak it all in.

3.13.12

Work was awesome. Had the perfect customer. Clean cut artist/photographer/filmmaker who just moved downtown from Hollywood. Friendly, easy, wealthy, and ready to spend money. Which means, hot damn, I get to pay off my bike tomorrow! So excited.

And yes, I know I still owe The Internets another lurid episode of A Night In The Life. Working on it, I swear.

After work was walking Chaucer, and ran into my bestie out with his own pooch (conveniently, our dogs are BFFs too). The other night he and I had been messing around on his iPad looking at all the apps that are aimed at young/tween/teenage girls. We were beside ourselves reading the descriptions, rules, rewards, etc. for things like Top Girl, Social Girl, and It Girl. These apps are insane. You get points for "hotness", which you cash in for clothes, which you wear on dates intended to keep your boyfriend happy. There are also requirements for how often that boyfriend needs to be a) kissed and b) spoken to, in order to keep him "lovestruck". There are popularity contests, cat fights, and cliques - of which you need to be a member in order to be cool enough to flirt with certain guys (which one game has ranked by "manliness"). In one app, a girl's career choices include model, hand model, or model stand-in (I think - something like that, anyway - I'm probably mixing up some of the details), while the boys in the game have jobs ranging from rock star to senator to fireman to businessman. Volumes could be written.

My friend is a big analytical geek like me - and a feminist - so we can gab for hours about stuff like this. We decided, that night, that we'd both pick up the app and compete to see who could be Top Girl (the layers of irony here, being that he's a gay man - and a switch - are truly spectacular). But he totally cheated and got a jump on me; he's been playing Top, Social, and It Girl for the past day and a half. What a bitch, right? Anyway, I went back to his place and he walked me through the games for a while. Mind-blowing. He's taken a zillion screenshots already, and he's planning to do a full explication/close reading on his blog, so I may have to share that here.

Five Types of Men That Make My Vibrator Look Good

I don't actually own a vibrator. Not that there's anything wrong with them, or with owning one. Not at all. They're called sex toys for a reason, and that reason is hella fun. But I've never gone out and gotten one on my own. I've only ever had them bought for me or with me. I don't know why I feel the need to stand up and clarify this. Maybe I have some issue. THE POINT IS, no judgment on the vibe-owning ladies. Ladies, vibe away.

One of the perks, I have decided, that comes with being on the wrong side of thirty-five is I get to write Oh honey, let me tell you a thing or two about men type posts. Please note that I said "tell" not "teach", because taking relationship advice from me would be about as hilarious as asking me for style tips (my two modes of dress are "slob" and "whore", depending on the hour). I may not always know what I do want, but I've collected enough evidence in my three+ decades to at least know a few things I do not want.*

1. Narcissists

"Narcissist" is a term that gets thrown around pretty loosely. Many a vain, egotistical douche has gotten the label slapped on them. But true narcissists are nothing to be laughed at. They're dangerous, manipulative, controlling, and soul-sucking emotional vampires who use people to get what psychologists call Narcissistic Supply. In other words: attention, good or bad. A Narcissist will suck you in with his charm, his intensity, his promises, and his great looks. You won't see the mask slip for weeks or even months, but when it does, you'll be left bewildered and badly damaged. I have had one (1) encounter with such a beast, and it was a truly devastating experience. In case you ever have the misfortune of being involved with one, this site is a godsend.

2. Misanthropes

It wasn't until years later, when I got involved with another one, that I recognized the first misanthrope I'd dated. At the time, I was extremely young, and I naively thought his Ugh, everyone in the world sucks attitude was cool. That it made him edgy, or emo. That it meant he was sensitive and thoughtful, and sexily jaded/cynical, or that it gave him some kind of intellectual leg up on others. But I've since come to realize it just made him a miserable fucking bastard to be around. Everyone he came into contact with, from work associates to clients to people on the street, was stupid. Everyone was lazy. Everyone was undereducated/greedy/fat/loathesome. Everyone was _____ (whatever criticism he seized upon).

It is exhausting to hear a misanthrope hold forth on how awful people are, or make incessant, nasty, critical, throwaway comments. It's depressing, and I never want to be around it again. Personally, I believe people are inherently good. Or at least, there's good in everyone. Sometimes you just have to take it on faith that it's there, or work a little harder to draw it out. I find men who generally hold their fellow human beings in esteem, not contempt, much more attractive.

3. Self Help/Improvement Gurus

I've never actually been involved with one of these, because they make my skin crawl way too much to get that close. There's something really weird going on with these men, that they feel the need to publicly self-identify as Pursuers of Personal Success (because, no shit Sherlock, aren't we all??). I don't know what it is. A need for validation? Deep-seated insecurity? Both? I just don't trust anyone who takes themselves too seriously, and these people tend to take themselves deathly seriously, and about ridiculous things like sweat lodges, The Secret, and other woo-woo. They're the ultimate social rat-racers, and tend to have eight billion Facebook friends. They use the word "crowdsource" without irony. God, my vagina had to leave the room just so I could type that word.

4. Boys Club Members

Boys Club members, also known simply as "sexists", are a curious holdover in this day and age. They hold deeply treasured, largely outdated ideas about gender roles, even if they're cagey about revealing them. They display a sort of carefully curated machismo and a bros before hos mentality that kicks women a notch or two (or ten) down in the pecking order. They're misogynist and often homophobic. I didn't realize just how often I'd encountered shades of this personality until I had the fortune to get involved with a male feminist. Now that was a sexy motherfucker, seriously. Highly informed about women's issues, extremely sensitive to questions of sexual equality, and just really empathetic to the women in his life, in general. Hot.

5. Name Droppers

It doesn't have be famous person or a celebrity, for it to be a "name" that's "dropped". Name dropping goes on in the most backwoods of towns. It's about puffing one's self up, about self-importance and the need to project an image of power. To me, it represents the polar opposite of the single-most attractive quality a man (hell, a person) can have: humility. And experience has shown me that there's a failsafe algorithm where name dropping is concerned: the more a person emphasizes his big-league connections/contacts, the less influence he actually has. Name droppers have a social (or a professional) Napoleon complex, and it can be cringe inducing to witness.

* Insert disclaimer to the effect of, haha, isn't it rich that Ellie can wax judgmental about the personality flaws of others, because don'tcha know she's just so perfect. Yes, yes. I had to hide my irony meter in the closet to get this post finished. Thing was going off like a train whistle the whole time.

romantic waters

Rather than write another three or four mega posts detailing every conversation and exchange of the past four days, I'll give a condensed version, with a bottom line: I've been back and forth, both in my mind and in prolonged discussions with Upstairs, about what I want. Because I just don't know.

I've all but pushed Dimples aside completely, in the meantime. I haven't seen him since Friday morning, and we've only texted briefly. He's been patient, continuing to express interest but not be pushy. But I sense his wariness. And I don't blame him. I'm a mess. I've let him know that I'm going through something, that I'm working something out, that I'm sorry to seem weird and unavailable, but that he's definitely on my mind. All of that is true. And short of laying down an explicit and surely unwelcome play-by-play of my last four days, that's the best I can do by him right now, until I get my head on straight. He's not an idiot. I'm sure he has some idea this is related to Upstairs, after the drama he witnessed.

Upstairs and I have gone on long talk-walks. On Saturday, we rode Angel's Flight, got mint lemonade down below MOCA, and horsed around in the drained pool next to the John Ferraro building. We took photos of one another peering through a jagged sculpture of textured metal, and I got some shots of the skyline and Walt Disney concert hall, from an angle I'd never seen.



We've sat in my apartment and his, talking. Listening to music. Crying (me, not him). We've had coffee. We've had arguments. I've been all over the map, and he's called me out on it. But even tonight, he wanted me to come out with him.

Neither of us knows where we stand, even still. We're actually laughing about it. But it's a lolsob, not a LMAO. I can hear critics thinking, Well hell, you should only get involved with someone if you're 100% sure you're into them, you dumb cow. Yeah, ok, except two things. 1) When you're a 36 year-old divorcee, you're allowed to be incredibly fearful about what romantic waters you step into, and 2) I'm human, ok? I want to be loved, I want and deserve affection and intimacy. I'm just not sure which waters are safer for me. Plus, no matter what I do, someone is going to be hurt. Doesn't exactly motivate me to move quickly.

There's something that I both pride myself on and hate about myself: my ability to love massively different kinds of men. I don't have a "type." There has been no common denominator that I can put my finger on. I think this says that I'm open minded, and open hearted. I think this says that I'm flexible and dynamic and curious about people in general. But it also means that I can easily get myself into WTFery like this.

The obvious, rational, and healthy thing is to cut everything off and spend a good fat chunk of time being alone and thinking. But it's nearly impossible, with Upstairs being around, being enthusiastic, wanting to see me. And when the hell did I ever claim to be rational or healthy? And let's not even get into the shit I'm getting from my friends telling me I don't need any guy in my life right now, because I have way more important stuff to focus on. God, but wouldn't this blog be so much more boring if I listened to sane people like that?

On Sunday night, I took GHB with a friend, hoping the euphoria would give me some kind of mental clarity, in the same way that ecstasy has in the past. It didn't. It just made me loopy and want to watch anime. And eat Domino's meatZZa. Which we did. Until four am. The high was lovely while it lasted - more visceral, less ethereal than ecstasy - but it was short-lived. And it afforded no revelatory moments re: men.

Anyway, that's where your blogmistress stands with the menfolk in her life, kids. I've no doubt this post makes me seem like a supreme asshole, and that's because, yes, right now I'm definitely being one. This has all happened pretty quickly and been rather overwhelming, but I have no excuse to be riding the fence where anyone's heart is concerned. And I fully admit that I've been stalling for time the past few days while I try to figure out what I want.

Believe me, that I'm not going to let things stand in this absurd limbo state of melodrama, or let two very kind and considerate men hang on tenterhooks while my idiot self dithers about.

I'm a ridiculous, frivolous, self-absorbed monkey of a girl, but I'm not an evil bitch.

halfway in love

Friday morning, Dimples and I wake up together. We've had a really nice night. I'm extremely attracted to him, and this is huge for me, personally, considering the damage my sense of sexuality suffered last year. And I also just really enjoy his company. His energy is positive, calming, confident. There is something very sure - and reassuring - about this man, and I like it a lot.

I've nothing breakfast-worthy in my fridge, so we walk across the street for a coffee. We briefly discuss the drama of the night before. I'm still surprised by Upstairs's behavior, and still unsure how to address it. We're sitting there talking amicably, still getting to know one another, when I glance toward my building.

Upstairs is walking out the front door, his notebook in hand. It's obvious where he's headed: the very cafe where we're sitting. Holy fucking shit, I think. Are you kidding me?? I'm about to have my third unexpected encounter with him in twelve hours; Dimples, his second. I don't know whether to warn Dimples, to brace him for impact or not. But I don't have to, because it's mere seconds before Upstairs is upon us. The awkwardness is palpable in the hot morning air. Nobody knows what to say, or how to act. Upstairs gives a perfunctory nod, then disappears inside. I cannot believe the bad luck.

Dimples and I laugh nervously and sip our drinks. I'm trying to seem neutral, unaffected, but the truth is, I'm feeling for Upstairs. I know he's probably seething at the fact that my date stayed the night, a privilege he was never allowed, and a sore spot between us. A minute later, he reemerges from Starbucks, and walks straight to our table. He puts his hand out to Dimples. He looks him squarely in the eye, and apologizes. "Hey man," he says. "I just want to apologize for my behavior last night. I know I was a little rough. No excuses, I wasn't a gentleman, and I'm sorry."

There's a brief exchange of testosterone and ego, the depths of which I can only guess at. It's expressed in the nuances of handshake, of eye contact - the man-to-man communique I can witness but will never fully understand. Upstairs directs his energy to my date, barely acknowledging me. Then he's gone as quickly as he's come. I have no idea what to think about any of this.

Dimples leaves soon after. I walk him to his car a street away. Back on my block, I come upon Upstairs, who's loading his car in front of our building. At this point, it's comical how many times we've run into another in the past half day.

But he doesn't laugh. He slams his car door, walking up to me quickly, and then immediately stepping back, agitated and incredulous. He runs his hands through his hair and shakes his head. He looks at me wildly. "Why is it that I never run into you except the one day you're the last person I want to see?" I'm quiet, standing helplessly on the sidewalk. I know we need to talk, but I'm not sure where to start. What's to be said? And why is he this upset?

"You let him stay the night?" He looks at me, wounded. "We've been hanging out for months, and you never let me sleep over."

I say his name, pleadingly. "We didn't want anything serious, remember? We talked about it. You didn't want anything. Neither did I. Where is this coming from?"

"Will you go for a drive with me?" he asks. "Please? I really want to talk to you." He's pacing. I've never seen him wound up like this. "I haven't slept all night." I take stock of myself: I have no makeup on. I haven't brushed my hair. I'm not even wearing a bra. "Of course," I say.

We get in the car and head west on Wilshire. He's driving fast, glancing over at me every few seconds. "I didn't sleep," he says. "I woke up every hour to check my phone, to see if you'd texted back. Did you get my email?" I tell him I haven't looked at my phone yet today.

He looks directly at me. Again, I ask him to explain where this is coming from. A little bit of jealousy, ok, sure, that I can understand, but... "Look, Ellie," he says. "I'm halfway in love with you..." He's still talking, but my brain has tripped on these words. He's completely sober. He's had the night to cool off, to gain some perspective on all of this. He can't be serious, but he is.

He goes on to say that seeing me with another man was intolerable to him. That it made him realize what I mean to him. That all along he's known it, but maybe it's about time he showed me. That the thought of losing me kept him up all night. He tells me to read his email, which I do. It's an apology for "attempting to chase off" my "beau", but only because he "sometimes thinks I'm the Ellie for him". It ends with him begging me to call ASAP. It's signed, XO, Valentine.

I'm stunned. I did not expect this. At all.

The next few hours are a blur. We stop at a camera supply store. He takes me to lunch, a delicatessen where we split a corned beef sandwich. When the food arrives, he moves to sit beside me in the booth. He spreads mustard on my half without my asking. We talk and talk and talk. He's intensely, insistently affectionate, putting his arm around me, kissing my cheek and forehead, gazing deeply at me. I allow all of this to happen, in spite of the fact that I've just sent my date home mere hours ago. I am too bewildered and busy processing to protest. My brain is on overtime; I've pulled out the file marked Upstairs, the one I'd handily filed away, knowing exactly what was in it and where it went - and now I've got it spread open before me. I have to reexamine its contents completely. I have no idea where it goes anymore.

I have no idea where I want it to go.

After we eat, we pay at the cashier stand. I make an offhand comment about wishing we'd saved some bread, to feed the ducks we'd been watching through the window, at the lake across the street.

"Could I maybe get a couple pieces of bread, to go?" he asks the cashier. I object, telling him not to be silly. He ignores me. The cashier tells him it will be two dollars for the bread. He asks her whether he can't just add a little extra to the tip line, to call it a day, rather than run his debit card again. She says something about that money going to the server. Unfazed, he says, "Ok, no problem. Just charge it then." He hands his card back to her.

"We have a five dollar minimum on debit cards, sir."

He doesn't even blink. "Wonderful. Can I please get five dollars worth of bread?" He smiles brightly at her, while I'm dying behind him. We leave with a small bag containing five slices of bread and a cookie.

We feed ducks, ducking and dodging the sea gulls who swarm us from above. He takes a picture of me, into which he'll later photoshop an eagle, mixed in with the various other birds hovering around us. As we're walking out of the park, he puts out his hand, silently gesturing for me to pass back to him the wrapped cookie he'd given me moments earlier. He trots a few yards over to a homeless person laying on the grass. I can't hear the words exchanged, but she lights up and happily accepts the cookie he hands to her.

Back at our building, he asks me to come up and listen to records (actual records) while he works. I oblige, though he doesn't do any work. He just plays music, and sits close to me on an overstuffed chair. At some point, he takes his guitar off the wall, and plays for me. He kisses me, and I allow it, hating myself for playing the lava game at warp fucking speed, but feeling powerless to stop. I know that I need to get some air, some time alone to digest all of this. That I'm going to have to cut ALL of this off - Dimples and Upstairs - until I figure out what the fuck I want. That this is borderline disgusting behavior on my part, and it needs to stop, immediately.

In my defense, I'm reeling with mixed, confusing emotions. I'm flattered. I'm intrigued. I'm excited. I'm unsure. I'm scared. I question what's going on, both silently and aloud: he's honest and vulnerable, in response. He doesn't have all the answers. He isn't sure about where he wants it to go, or how far. He just knows he wants to give it a shot, a real shot. My mind is split into two warring factions, one side urging me to go for it, because he truly is an amazing person. The other half is holding back, hung up on two major concerns: 1) Dimples - whom I really like. Really. And 2) the question of, how much could I really want this, anyway, if how casual it's been has never bothered me before?

Eventually, I tear myself away from this confusing, overwhelming space. It's Friday night, and I have to get ready for work.