Thursday, March 27, 2008

The first and last supper

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I’m moving in a couple of weeks, and I’m getting a little sad about leaving my neighborhood. So I decided to plan a dinner with friends at one of my favorite neighborhood spots before I leave, but I had a hard time choosing the place—not necessarily because there are so many great places—but because a lot of my favorite restaurants have been spoiled by the memories of awkward and worthless dates.

As my list of possible venues dwindled, I started to wonder why dinner is such a popular first date activity. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. First, there’s choosing where to go. I am so tired of guys wanting to go out for sushi. I don’t know if they’re trying to show how hip and adventurous they are, but I think it’s safe to say sushi is officially mainstream these days. And with the likelihood of someone having subpar chopstick skills (okay, that’s always me) and trouble gracefully shoving a giant tuna roll into their mouth (me again…), I’d rather avoid that minefield.

And then there’s interacting with the waitress. I was a waitress in high school and college, so I’m hyperaware of any awkwardness—on either end. One guy I went to dinner with told me while we were looking at the menu that all he wanted was “a big bowl of fruit.” Excuse me? Why then, are we eating dinner at this great international fusion/South American restaurant—that you picked? Perhaps he was in the mood for international fruit? I thought it was a weird enough comment to make to me, but then he actually told the waitress that’s what he wanted, and obviously it wasn’t on the menu. She was visibly confused—and annoyed. And I hate being the annoying table. I literally feel the server’s pain. Another guy I went out with a few times was inexplicably disliked by every waitress we had. It was very odd. On the one hand, their rudeness gave us something to talk about, but that didn’t make up for the discomfort—especially when one purposely failed to help the poor guy out when he was obviously mistaking Pinot Grigio for a red. Of course I didn’t say anything either because—shocker—I felt too awkward. Then again, he ended up being an ass, so I suppose our servers just knew something it took me a little longer to figure out.

And then there’s the eating. There was an episode of My So-Called Life in which Angela sat at the dinner table with her family, horrified by the sight of all of them eating, and her voice-over said, “I cannot bring myself to eat a well-balanced meal in front of my mother. It just means too much to her. I mean, if you stop to think about, like, chewing—what it really is?—how people just do it, like, in public.” I think about that episode a lot. The act of consuming food is pretty disgusting. If doing it in front of your family is questionable, why would anyone ever think it would be a fun thing to do on a first date? (Ah, My So-Called Life…now I’m thinking how much I’d rather stay home and watch a marathon of Angela Chase’s awkwardness than get off of the couch and live out my own.) Anyway, spinach stuck in your teeth, red wine splashed on your favorite shirt, chewing with your mouth open, talking with your mouth full—the potential offenses are endless.

Why, why then is this what everyone wants to do on a first date? And it’s hard to say no because I really like going out to dinner…or at least the idea of going out to dinner. I guess maybe I’ll just have to keep moving to new neighborhoods to flee the memories of bad dates past. Although a major problem remains: I can keep switching restaurants or even activities, but my awkwardness seems to follow me regardless.

Monday, March 24, 2008

WTF? Part 2

So I've come to the conclusion that "buying" girls water must have been in some Maxim article or something. It happened again Friday night! After two extremely drunk guys incoherently chatted up my friend and me—and bought us actual drinks—another set offered to buy us ice water with lemon. (I have to admit this is a step up from the room-temperature tap water, however.) I asked one of them what the deal was, and he said we looked like we could use something tart after talking to the other guys... or something like that... I couldn't understand much of what he was saying, beyond that he was in town for some kind of military convention, and he's originally from Idaho. Does the military have conventions? Are all people from Idaho hard to understand? WTF?

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Sometimes I feel like a bad feminist. I practice the half-hearted wallet reach, not really expecting to pay for dates; I bugged not one, but two ex-boyfriends with questions while I was doing my taxes; and I’ve watched Girlicious three weeks in a row. Perhaps most shameful, I sometimes find myself contributing to the destructive girl vs. girl mentality that tends to rear its ugly head on the bar scene. For whatever ridiculous reason (competition for male attention, the coveted barstool, an open bathroom stall at McFaddens on St. Patrick’s Day, etc.), there are times when I forget that we’ll never get anywhere if we waste all of our energy cutting down each other.

I’m hoping though that a recent act of putting sisterhood first (and just being a decent person in general) will make up for some of my bad behavior. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m trying to rent out my apartment a month before my lease ends. I’ve gotten a lot of calls and e-mails, but also a lot of no-show appointments. Annoying. But anyway, one girl is really interested and actually contacted my landlord, but has some reservations about the building’s security. She e-mailed me to ask for my thoughts on how safe I think my place is, and I had to be honest and tell her that one of the reasons I’m moving out of my ground-floor apartment into a high rise is because I want better security—and although my current location set back off of the street is a plus, it also makes it darker coming home alone at night.

I told her my advice was to go with her gut, that although anything can happen anywhere, ground-floor access is a concern for women living alone, and feeling safe is perhaps just as important as being safe. And I ended my e-mail with a smiley :) to mitigate any guilt she might feel by not taking the apartment, as I’m sure she suspects she’ll be saving me from paying double rent. (And I’m still feeling guilty for leading on a woman who had to break her lease on a Logan Square apartment, deciding not to take it after two showings). I couldn’t in good feminist conscience mislead a potential renter into taking an apartment she won’t feel safe in alone, even if that means I may have to dissipate my savings to move into my new place.

And I’m hoping I’ve created a little karma that might spare me from being harassed by yet another over-served patron who didn’t allot enough time for the ladies’ bathroom line … but I’m not counting on it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Living while female

I posted an ad for my apartment on craigslist today. I’m moving before my lease is up, but if I find someone to rent my apartment sooner, I can avoid paying double rent next month. When my landlord offered up this arrangement, I thought of craigslist right away – and was pleasantly surprised by the calls I started getting almost immediately. But then one guy called who just sounded a little … off. After I made an appointment to show him the apartment, I couldn’t stop thinking about him – and the story about the 24-year-old nanny who was killed after answering a fake craiglist ad.

I have a pretty regular routine during the week after work – read mail, change, work out, make dinner ... not much time for anything else. Plus I was thinking about doing laundry too. But instead of doing any of those things when I got home, I sat on my bed, overwhelmed by a feeling of dread, mentally running through various scenarios of how this showing could go horribly wrong – both embarrassed and angry by feelings I couldn’t get under control.

It’s an emotion I’ve had before – not just fear, but the experience of rolling along, happily feeling in control of my life, and then bam – all of the sudden I’m not because of one ridiculous, infuriating reason: I’m female.

I like running at night. I’ve somehow convinced myself that pointing my key out between my fingers as some sort of potential weapon provides sufficient safety. I know that probably makes no sense, but I don’t care. Not only is the time, and often weather, more convenient than during the day, but there’s something empowering about it – I refuse to be afraid to leave my apartment after dark. So I was enjoying one of these runs last Halloween, listening to my mp3 player, when I sensed someone running next to me. I turned and found myself three inches from a grotesque face – a monster mask, I realized after a moment of visceral terror – some teenage boy trying to be funny in front of his friends. Of course he was harmless, but my heart didn’t calm down until I was back inside my apartment. Shutting and locking the door behind me, I didn’t feel empowered anymore. I felt scared. And mad.

Last summer I took a cab to go meet friends at a bar, and the cab driver was especially chatty. He wanted to know why a nice girl like me was going out all by herself, and warned me to be careful of men who were up to no good. Not a big fan of small talk with strangers, I normally would have been annoyed, but I was looking forward to a fun Saturday night, and I found the driver’s old-school concern sort of endearing – he didn’t know I go out alone all the time – that this nice girl has her very own job, rents her very own apartment and pays for her very own cocktails. But when we got to my destination, instead of telling me how much the fare was, the driver stretched his arm over the passenger’s seat, turned his head around to look me up and down, and kept talking. All of the sudden I didn’t find him so endearing. My eyes darted over to the locks. What if he wouldn’t let me out? I grabbed the door handle and planted one foot outside as I fumbled with my money. When I got to the bar my Saturday night cheer was replaced with anxiety over my looming cab ride home.

Am I paranoid? Probably. I know women are less likely to experience a random act of violence than an assault by someone they know, but that doesn’t change the feeling in my stomach when I hear an extra step echo behind me on a dark and empty street. How do you remedy that? Should you ignore the gory front-page story because you know umpteen frat party date rapes probably went unreported that same night? Do you carry mace? But can’t that be used against you? Do you blame the victim because she wasn't watching her drink, or because she was wearing a short skirt, or because she was at a bar in the first place?

Do you keep running at night? Is that empowerment, or is that endangerment? And who is doing the endangering?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Orleans drinklog

I just got back from a long weekend in New Orleans, and I have to say that above the food, music and history, I was most impressed with the outstanding bar service. I was looking forward to the freedom to legally drink on the street, but I was not aware of the extent to which the people of New Orleans embrace and encourage their visitors to drink up.

I went for my cousin’s wedding, and her ceremony and reception were at a gorgeous restaurant in Jackson Square. When the party was ending and people were being shuffled outside, I had a glass of wine in my hand. I was contemplating how inappropriate it would be to chug it in front of my extended family when a friendly waiter asked me if I wanted a to-go cup. A to-go cup! I’ve been asking bartenders and servers for to-go cups since college – and always receive negative responses. And this gentleman actually offered one up! Fantastic.

The next day, I traded my wine glass in for the plastic grenade yard, perhaps not as classy, but even more transportable. The melon-flavored drinks are tastier than hurricanes, and you can refill them at a number of bars and receive a $1 discount – for the economically AND environmentally responsible drinker. I purchased my third refill after a short break for a shower and nap at my hotel, so what was left in the yard resembled a Hi-C Ecto Cooler. Nevertheless, my friendly bartender poured the tepid liquid into a small plastic cup and set it on the bar with my fresh grenade. I didn’t drink it, but wow. Chicago bartenders have an annoying habit of prematurely snatching my drink away. The new drink order is not a replacement – it’s thinking ahead to ensure uninterrupted fun. New Orleans bartenders understand this concept.

And as if I didn't have enough fun drinking grenades, I got to hang out with one too. Similar to how you can meet and take pictures with Mickey and Minnie in Disneyland, in New Orleans you can make friends with a life-sized grenade. He lives outside of the Tropical Isle, which was our favorite filling station.

My liver and I are happy to be back home, but New Orleans will always hold a special place in my heart. I know I’ll be missing that to-go cup this weekend when I’m celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The big game

College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Coeds, Then and Now, by Lynn Peril, is full of amusing excerpts from old-school prescriptive literature and magazine columns telling girls how to behave—mostly to succeed in the spheres of popularity and husband hunting. Sort of a pop culture history of women’s education in America, it also says a lot about how dating has changed through the years.

I just read a section entitled “‘More Rules Than a Prison’—Football for the Disinterested,” and found it particularly entertaining:

"For disinterested parties, sitting through a game could certainly seem as long as several life sentences. Articles in magazines like Co-ed and Mademoiselle explained the game of football ... to casual spectators who didn’t want to look like fools in front of dates. While spontaneous enjoyment might occur with knowledge of the rules, learning them was usually presented as a mere expedient to keeping one’s date happy.”

Peril’s references in this section are from the 196os, but it took me back a little less far, to my last relationship. In addition to being thankful that girls no longer have to do football homework to prepare for dates, I was thinking how thankful I am that I no longer have to spend Sundays pretending to watch Packer games and apologizing for being more interested in reading a book than discussing how long we will have to wait for Brett Favre to run for President.

But then I kept reading:

“If the game didn’t end the way a boy wanted it to, it was important for a girl to adjust her mood to his—he wouldn’t ‘appreciate [her] high spirits’ while he suffered the agony of defeat. In such situations, it was important to remember that football wasn’t just a game. To think otherwise might mean going dateless until after the play-offs.”

And that took me back even less far, to when Packer fans had high Super Bowl hopes this past season. I watched their last game with one of my best friends at a bar in Madison, Wis. I went for the beer and cheese curds—and because she had had a rough week and made me promise I wouldn’t give her a hard time about wanting to watch the game. Plus I thought it would be fun to bandwagon on the revelry if the Packers won, and I believe they were supposed to…

But as the game wore on and the Packers played worse and worse, it became apparent that they were going to lose, and I started praying that they would somehow pull it off, not because I like the Packers, but because my friend’s mood started to scare me and because I wanted the party to keep going after the game. But of course they lost. My friend popped out of her chair, threw her arms up, yelled “Where’s the waitress?? We need the check!!!!” and started putting on her jacket. I still had a third of a beer left.

I tried to be understanding of her feelings (even though I seriously just don’t get sports fanaticism), but at the same time tried to lift her spirits and somehow managed to convince her to stay out and go to our favorite bar with me. Because here in the 21st century, that’s what good friendships are all about: compromise. And never going to the bar angry.

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