I Fall in Love Too Fast

That’s my problem, he thought to himself as he turned off the music to his headphones. He had been listening to Chet Baker and in a moment his state of mind had turned from mellow moodiness to irritation. The romantic background that the sounds had provided on his morning walk to work now struck him as . . . inappropriate. He needed to get his mind in a frame to be alert, even anxious, not placid and pacific. He dealt with money, and no one wanted a complacent, dreamy-eyed romantic making investment decisions.

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But it was true, he thought. He fell in love too easily. Until he learned to do otherwise, he would lack the focus he’d need to close the deal with someone really nice, someone he’d want to settle down with.

Take his first week at work. He’d been smitten with a brown-haired go-getter who walked the same diagonal he did over to Winter Street, then down Summer Street to the financial district. She came out of her apartment building a few minutes behind him; he’d see her down the block. She carried an insulated mug with ducks on it, and by the time they’d crossed over Beacon Street she would already be steaming ahead of him. He had tried to slow down at first to see if she’d break stride to his gait, but she wouldn’t. She was obviously into her career and didn’t have time for a dalliance, not even one that would be so convenient. They lived on the same block and worked in the same building.

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Maybe there was some sort of taboo about dating someone you’d run into too much if you broke up, he’d thought by way of way of trying to understand the folkways of the bluestocking tribe. When he decided to give up on her he found it was quite easy because he happened to strike up—or almost strike up—a conversation with another woman.

Brown hair pulled back with a head band, pretty, a few inches shorter than the first one, but tall enough so that he wouldn’t have to worry about a son being too short. His sister had dated a real cool, good-looking guy in college who had an air of sadness about him when there was a lull in the action, all because he was so short. He didn’t think of himself was shallow—it wasn’t like he was buying a horse for breeding purposes—but it was something you had to consider before you got involved with somebody.

It had been a Wednesday, both the papers had a food section that day—restaurant reviews, recipes, that sort of thing. The gap-toothed news hawker who stood at the mouth of Winter Street would yell out “Foozection! Foozection!” as you passed by him that morning each week.

He’d been walking alongside the second woman and when the man shouted out his garbled cry she broke out laughing. He turned to look at her and she said “Did that man just say booze and sex?”

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He had laughed too—the woman had quite an imagination, or sense of humor if she’d deliberately contorted the words into something funny.

“No, he said ‘Food section.’ It’s Wednesday, the newspapers have food sections on Wednesday.”

“Ohh,” she’d said. “I get it.” He had turned his head back down Winter towards the water, where rays of sun were pouring up the street from the Atlantic. By the time he’d turned his head back to smile at her she was already two steps ahead of him. He didn’t know if she was unhappy that he hadn’t tried harder to carry on a conversation, but he hadn’t anything in mind to say to her. It was too late now, he thought; she’d think he was weird if he accelerated to catch up with her—wouldn’t she?

From that day on he tried to time his walk to arrive when she had come up out of the Park Street station, especially on Wednesday. Maybe they would recreate the first encounter and they’d look at each other in recognition and laugh. Then it would be easy to think of something say—“Say, I’ve heard that one before” or “Isn’t this where we came in?” if he was going to try and pull off something really witty. But she never showed up again and, rather than staking out the intersection from the coffee shop with the window that looked out on the brick pavement, he’d fallen in love—again—too fast.

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This time it was a sales clerk at the women’s clothing store where he was buying his sister a birthday present. It was a sweater, it wasn’t really her style, but the store was just around the corner from his office so it was convenient, even if it wasn’t right. He was like a drunk who looks for his car keys under the street light, he was thinking to himself when another clerk came up from behind him singing a song she’d obviously made up for the occasion. “It’s a great big beautiful world,” she began, “full of great, big beautiful girls.”

“Why are you singing that?” the first woman asked, losing her commercial composure.

“I don’t know,” the singer said. “Just popped into my mind when a six 6 tried to squeeze into a size 2.”

They kept their voices low, like two school girls passing notes in the back of a classroom. He was in love with them both, but especially the one who’d come up with the sarcastic sales jingle. Now there was a woman you’d want to spend the rest of your life with, he thought. Someone so witty, there’d never be a dull moment.

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“Would you like me to gift wrap this for you?” the first woman asked, and before he had a chance to answer her, the second woman had returned to the sales floor to re-shelve two pairs of now-stretched pants, humming her little song.

“Uh, yeah, it’s for my sister,” he said nervously, as if he needed an excuse.

“Well, you’re a good brother,” the woman said. She was heavier than her friend the spontaneous songstress, who had just stepped out of his life, probably forever.

I Feel Bad About Your Neck

One of my first literary crushes was the late Nora Ephron, who back in the 70s wrote for Esquire magazine.  She was funny, and from the looks of her little caricature icon drawn by David Levine, she was cute.  To me, at least.

And so it was with some dismay that I read her collection of essays: “I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.”

If only, I thought, she had known me back when I was putting together my Thirty-Year Plan for Long-Term Neck Maintenance, she wouldn’t have felt bad about her neck.


Do this 3,000 times a day and you’ll be fired from your job and your wife will leave you.

 

That’s right.  I was thinking about how my neck would look in the 21st century back when you were watching Grizzly Adams and The Brady Bunch.  If you were even alive.


Grizzly Adams, right, Some Other Guy, left

 

My long-term perspective on neck upkeep was prompted by Jabba the Hutt, the Star Wars character who bore more than a passing resemblance to Richard J. Daley, the long-time Mayor of Chicago whose neck melded into his pot belly shortly after the 1968 Democratic Convention.


Jabba the Hutt, Richard J. Daley:  Separated at birth?

 

Jabba was my nightmare–what I would look like if I didn’t take care of my neck; a double or even triple-chinned blob of a man, cast aside while hard-charging up-and-comers half my age blew by me on the Dan Ryan Expressway of life.  I wasn’t going to end up a flabby mound of blubber, dammit!  Like William Faulkner, I would not only endure, I would prevail!


William Faulkner: Note nice neck.

 

And so it is that I end up, approaching the sixth decade of my life, without a double chin (or “chin scrotum,” as fitness freaks like to call them).  From some angles.  If the light is right.  With the wind at my back.  Unlike the guys I read about in The Wall Street Journal who are paying $6,231 for face lifts (proper name, rhytidectomies), money they could be spending on cheap red wine if only they’d taken care of themselves.

How can you achieve the same semi-tough neck–with the approximate firmness of a trout’s belly–at my advanced age?  Simple–follow this E-Z Home Neck of Steel program, and you’ll never feel bad about your neck.

Go Out for High School Football.  High school football is a great way to build neck muscles so that you end up at +60 years with very little flab on your neck.  Or sometimes no neck at all.  Consider Tommy Nobis, my role model when I was a budding young middle linebacker.  Tommy built up his neck to a robust 19.5″ circumference by daily neck exercises of the sort our coaches made us do; we would drop down on the ground in push-up position, but support the upper half of our bodies with our heads instead of our arms.


Tommy Nobis:  Doesn’t feel bad about his neck, he doesn’t have one.

With this type of conditioning, we could use our heads as human battering rams, which led to some neck injuries, but that was a small price to pay for a neck that looked like an Ionic column.  Hint:  start work early on this part of the program, preferably three decades before you wish to avoid anxiety about a flabby neck.

Whiplash:  Whiplash is a great conditioning tool for the neck.  The best way to acquire it is to drive a car in the left-hand lane of a state highway while three girls drive behind you, talking and laughing so that they don’t notice you have stopped for oncoming traffic.  When they finally see you, it will be too late and they will slam into your rear-end (I mean your car’s rear-end), causing your head to snap back, then bounce off the head rest.


“I am so sorry!”

When your car finally comes to a stop, the girls will surround you and apologize profusely, enveloping you in the scent of perfume while their long hair gently brushes your face and–I had a point back there, before the crash.

Oh yeah.  Whiplash results in pain that can be alleviated by yoga, especially the cobra position, which also tones your neck muscles.  Again, remember to start early–give yourself plenty of time, like, say three decades.

Buy Executive Health Briefs.  In the late 70s ads began to appear in leading business publications for an expensive newsletter called “Executive Health Briefs.”  For an exorbitant annual subscription price, you would receive a weekly collection of health tips that would keep you trim so that when you discarded your first wife in an expensive divorce you could acquire an aerobics instructor who shortened her name to a diminutive with the letter “i” in it just so she could dot it with a smiley face.


“When you die, can I have all your money–please?”

 

As a come-on, the publisher offered a free copy of “How to Avoid a Double-Chin and Pot Belly” to new subscribers.  In a risky arbitrage move, I signed up for Executive Health Briefs, then as soon as I’d received the Double-Chin/Pot Belly teaser, I canceled my subscription.  After all, I couldn’t afford to spend what little beer money I had on a magazine whose price point was set for six-figure CEOs!

But three decades later, I still refer to that handy collection of exercises, which cost me $3 (adjusted for inflation through the Carter administration, $1.2 billion).  I am now willing, nay happy, to share key double-chin fighting exercises with you–free, because that’s the Way of the Internet!

1.  Interlace fingers across forehead.  Bow your head forward until your chin touches your navel.  Dig down, remove belly button lint, resurface.  Repeat six times.

2.  Turn your head towards and then over your left shoulder.  Place chin on left shoulder blade, scratch patch of dry skin that you have been unable to reach using your right arm.  Return to original position, and repeat over right shoulder.  If neck becomes stuck behind shoulder, call Fire Department.

3.  Place palms against side of head.  Press until lymph nodes in head pop, sending colorless liquid streaming out ears.  Repeat until neck is drained of fluid.  Adjourn to singles bar to receive admiring compliments from people two decades younger than you who would like to inherit your estate.

To the Veterans of Boston Disco

          The Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Tribute Party drew a far more diverse crowd than just veterans of the disco era.

                                                                              The Boston Globe

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I doffed my disco hat as the national anthem of disco, “Love to Love You, Baby,” slowly swelled over the crowd gathered in Boston’s City Hall Plaza, voted America’s Ugliest Public Space for 46 years running!

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Boston City Hall: “Uh, I think you got it upside down.”

 

Yes, we have a lot to be proud of here in Beantown.  We occupy a crucial place in American history.  It was here that Donna Summer (nee LaDonna Adrian Gaines) was born in 1948In 1975, just one year before the Bicentennial of America, she started a royalist revolution in music with Love to Love You that would restore a monarchy to this nation, which had succumbed to the bland temptations of rock democracy, when she was crowned “Queen of Disco.”

I looked to my right and saw my old buddy Salvatore Di La Saltimboccacino de Nunzio.  We had been among the early disco rebels, meeting secretly in the men’s rooms of the 70′s clubs where doped-out rock fans would smoke some dope and then go out and sit like dopes down front of some white punks on dope playing dopey music.  Sal–he ultimately shortened his name because it was too wide to get in the doors of some of the basement clubs–helped me plot the revolution that would spread like wildfire in the wake of The Trammps “Disco Inferno.”  We wanted to get up–or down, as the case may be–and boogie!

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I noticed Sal still had his disco hat on.  “Hey,” I said.  “What’s with the no-doffing-your-disco-hat?  They’re playing . . .”

“I know,” Sal said disconsolately.  “I guess I’m just . . . discouraged.”

I hadn’t seen Sal this down since the infamous “Death to Disco” night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1979.  After that rout, it had been all downhill.  The Anti-Disco Forces had won.  They had us on the run, and we went into exile.

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“Whatsa matta you?” I said, doing my best imitation of Sal’s pidgin Italo-American dialect, trying to bond with him a bit.

He took off his hat and gave me a look of resignation.  “You and me–we’re like disabled soldiers of some despised and forgotten war.”

“Like Vietnam?” I said.

“What’s that?”  Sal had been too busy dancing during the 70′s to keep up with relatively current events.

“You don’t need to know,” I said, throwing my arm around his shoulders.   “You gotta look on the bright side, pal.”

“What bright side?”

“Look all around youse,” I said.  “Yes we been lurking in the shadows for what–35 years?  But finally, at long last, this great country of ours is beginning to recognize disco’s contribution to truth, justice–and the American Way.”

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“I thought that was Superman,” he snorted.  Then a mirthless little laugh came out of his mouth.  “Ha,” he said.

“Why you say ‘Ha’ like that?”

“Because.  Yeah, it’s great that they drew a far more diverse crowd than just veterans of the disco era to the first annual Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Tribute Party, but have you tried to get an appointment at the Chateau de Ville Disco Veteran’s Memorial Hospital lately?”

In fact I hadn’t, but then I had emerged from disco era battles relatively unscathed.  Yeah, my knee pops every now and then, and I get neck spasms whenever I hear The Bee Gees hit the high note in “You Should Be Dancin’,” but at least I can still keep up with the kids on the Dance Dance Revolution machine when I go to the mall.

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“Is it . . . bad?” I asked haltingly.  You could see me halting back there, couldn’t you?

“It’s a national disgrace,” Sal said.  “There are waiting lists to get on the waiting lists.  The docs are underpaid–according to them.  The nurses have big tits but . . .”

I could tell Sal was turning maudlin, so I cut him off.  “Look, youse,” I said.  “We got the rest of our miserable lives ahead of us.  Let’s you and me . . .”

“You mean ‘you and I’–don’t you?”  Everybody’s a freakin’ grammarian these days.

“Check page 456 of the 1937 edition of The American Language by H.L. Mencken,” I said hurriedly.  “It’s fine.”

“Oh, okay–if you’re being descriptive instead of prescriptive.”

“You got that right.  Anyway, let’s dedicate ourselves to preserving the legacy of disco.”

“How we gonna do that?”

“Well, we could start in Kenmore Square.”

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Emergency snow crews race against time to clear a path to Lucifer during the Blizzard of ’78.

 

His eyes grew misty, and when he spoke, there was a clutch in his voice.  “Yeah–Lucifer, Narcissus.  Them was the days all right.”

“Remember the Blizzard of ’78?” I asked.

“Boy, do I!  We tramped through snow and ice and sleet to get down and get funky back then.  People died in that storm!”

“Absolutely.  So we could create the Tomb of the Unknown Dancer there.”

“Yeah, like that guy from Revere who did the splits without stretchin’ out first.”

The Baddest Cat on the Team

          A star high school quarterback was persuaded to play football at Rice University by a handwritten letter its offensive coordinator wrote to his cat.

Sports Illustrated

 

Rocco
“With these feet, I’m gonna need high-tops, like Johnny Unitas.”

 

Ho-hum.  Another day, another Division I offensive coordinator prostrating himself before me.  “Dear Rocco,” Clyde van Pelt of Nebraska writes.  “Can’t you see yourself in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska on Thanksgiving Day, with 87,000 screaming fans urging you–and of course your human–on to victory with a national title on the line?”

Uh, no, actually I can’t.  “Beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska”?  Are there two of them?  Is the beautiful one located out-of-state?

To cop a line from Fred Allen, Nebraska’s a great place to live–if you’re a stalk of winter wheat.  Into the round file from waaay downtown–for three!

Okay, who’s next?  Penn State.  Sorry, when I go into the kitty box, I want privacy.  Ix-nay on the ittany-nay ions-lay.

Okie
“How about me?  I’m a Nittany Cat.”

 

Whadda we got here.  Harvard?  Are they serious?  Well, an Ivy League education is worth something–in some benighted minds.  Let’s see what kinda package they’re offering.  Canvas tote bag, no-show job at the Widener Library, free use of a Volvo station wagon.  For what?  To pick up Environmental Studies majors in Harvard Square?  That ain’t the way the Big Cat rolls.

Let’s see–Miami.  Too hot.  Wisconsin–too cold.  Missouri–they don’t pay enough.

Stanford–now we’re getting some place.  Top-notch academics, competitive program, all those venture capital alums to give me a job in case I go undrafted.

And the pussy!  I mean really sharp looking cats, brainy too!

Gotta get this one in front of the bi-ped, see what he thinks.

Funny kitten
“I want everybody down in a 4-point stance!”

 

Hey–wake up, Cheetos-breath.  C’mon, don’t force me to make happy paws all over that stupid sweater of yours.

Yeah, you, numbnuts.  Have you signed your national letter of intent yet?  Well, don’t, okay?  I want you to look at Stanford, then maybe Northwestern, or Virginia, before you commit to four years in some God-forsaken hell-hole where the only entertainment is football and beer.  I don’t want to waste the best years of my life in some place that Gertrude Stein would rank lower than Oakland; not only no there there, no where where.

Look at this course catalog–lots of interesting classes.  History and Philosophy of History and Philosophy.  Can’t top that for circular academic thinking.  The Courtly Tradition in Fiction from Le Morte d’Arthur to Raymond Chandler.  Cats in Cartoons: From Felix to Top Cat.

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“PLEASE–promise me you’re not considering Ohio State!”

What?  Oh you want to spend the next four years in a drunken stupor–is that it?  Well, include me out, Buster.  This cat’s got a brain, okay?  Even if we make it to the NFL–and that’s a big if–we’ll spend the first three years holding a clipboard. Making millions of dollars, granted, but do you know how many jobs there are out there for clipboard-holders?  Not too freakin’ many, pal, and they don’t pay diddly squat.  You know why?  Low barrier to entry.  Anybody can be a clipboard holder, it takes very little training, no professional certification or state-mandated test, no . . .

catfood

Hey, what’s this?  Somebody actually took the time to write us a nice handwritten note–in big cursive letters, too!  This is straight outta Martha Stewart!

Lemme see where it’s from, gimme gimme gimme.  Rice U?  Wha?  You mean like Eukanuba Adult Dry Cat Food Lamb and Rice Formula?

Yuk.

Isn’t there a University of Friskies Party Mix?

Bats at Twilight

The bats are out tonight,
I said. She looked up and there
they were, silhouetted against the dying light
to the west. Over our shoulders
to the east it was dark, but from where

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we sat, we had an intimate view of the two,
engaged in some sort of courtship ritual
I surmised after a while; the urge to do
as lovers everywhere do. They dipped
and soared; I assumed it was very traditional.

“If we had more bats we’d have fewer bugs,”
I said. She shrank back into her sweater,
and gave me a look, then a shrug.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I don’t like bats.”
I knew, no matter how I tried, I’d never get her

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to agree to let me put up bat houses.
It was a little thing, nothing I cared about much,
just at the corners of our lot. One’s spouse holds
the veto vote on such matters, over
all the earth and every creeping thing and such.

Abide by this rule, or find her colder
once under the covers you have slipped:
As to animals other than dogs and cats,
forswear them all, and love her.

The Men on the Moon

It was the summer of ’69, and men were preparing
to land on the moon, at the same time that
an event of far greater consequence was
about to occur; a declaration of troth
between two star-crossed lovers here on earth.

The girl was unknown, disreputable; the boy,
from a family that mattered, trying to catch
up with her. His parents had asked where
he would watch the historic event, and he had
replied, to their consternation, that he had a date.

It was a gesture on their part, an act with meaning;
they didn’t care about country or science; their love
was their art, their art was their love. They cared no
more about the men on the moon and all it meant
than—they laughed—the man in the moon.

They walked out in nature; it was summer-hot, and it
wasn’t clear where they were going, but they knew why.
The field was buggy, though, and so after a while
they went back to the car to consummate the
collision of their worlds in air-conditioned comfort.

He had chosen words he’d heard, he wasn’t sure where,
“When you cry, I will taste salt.” That’s how close he
promised to be to her as she straddled his lap in the front
seat. She laughed, thinking he was striking a pose. He wasn’t
hurt; these misunderstandings would happen, no big deal.

He took her home, after pizza and a Coke; he wasn’t
old enough to buy beer, and didn’t have any pot to smoke.
Her mom wasn’t even home; he could have spent the
night except that his parents would have raised holy hell;
he was going to college two months later, in the fall.

He never went back to that little town, but years later,
looking out the window of a women’s apartment onto
a parking lot below, he listened to Louis Armstrong sing
“I could cry salty tears,” and thought back to that solemn
promise that was misconstrued, and laughed at his innocence.

Post-Mortem/Petites Morts

I have things that I should do
but I will lie abed with you
in homage to our deaths last night

from which we woke long after light

had first shone underneath the shade
to ‘luminate the mess we made.

Like Lazarus, we are reborn,
this later hour, this holy morn.
I’ll walk today among the living,
say a prayer of mute thanksgiving
and make a little sound I’ll fear
to voice too loud lest others hear

and think that I’m occult, possessed,
when all it is, is just the tide
that crested when I last caressed
the woman who I made my bride.

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