Friday, January 28, 2005

kiss me : I'm misanthropic

From the fine people at sixosix magazine chicago:

It's our favorite time of year. It's been cold long enough that we've all had ample time this season to witness the way couples walk down the street when the temperature drops: her hand in his back pocket, his arm draped around her like a curtain, their feet coordinated to take every step at the same time, so they sway down the sidewalk like some three-legged monstrosity scaring away the pigeons and the squirrels. And you happen to like the squirrels. Lately, they are the only ones you'll make eye contact with when you walk. They're the only ones polite enough to step to one side of the sidewalk when you pass, instead of hogging the whole thing like these mutant couples do, who think that every inch of sidewalk is red carpet laid down to celebrate their coupledom.

Just when you decide to stay off the street for the rest of the winter and eat chocolate and watch television, it starts. The chocolate: it's all shaped like hearts, when you go to put it in your mouth sick little inscriptions appear; you can trace the letters with your tongue (KISS ME! U R CUTE!) The television: all the characters on cable TV are falling in love, even your favorite grumpy self-deprecating ones. Happy Valentine's Day! This is a hard themed-month to blow off. When it's National Poetry Month, if you don't want to participate, you can always pull out the “I-don't-get-poetry” card. Or you can boycott it because Billy Collins has a feature in every newspaper and you happen to think his stuff trivializes what it means to create anything, retired national poet laureate or not. When it's Take-Your-Kid-To-Work day, if you don't have a kid or if you don't have a job, you're off the hook. You don't have to celebrate employment or family. But this month is relentless.

The last time I was with someone on Valentine's Day, I drank a lot of wine to get into the spirit of the holiday. The boy and I decided to go out to dinner to this Chinese restaurant, which happens to be the first place we had ever eaten in public together, a big deal, what with the swallowing, using all the utensils, and maintaining a dialogue. The first public meal is the first big test of whether you can actually get along with someone. We passed, so we were going back to the site to celebrate enjoying each other's company and eating habits for over a year. We had only been to the restaurant once, and we kept driving up and down this bank of strip malls looking for the place without seeing a sign for it. When we pulled over at a gas station, we came to find that the restaurant, our special restaurant, had burned down a few months ago. “Burned to a crisp,” said the gas station attendant, “Pilot light. Fire codes.” The boy, who had a predisposition for melodrama, said that perhaps this was “symbolic of our relationship.” We fought. This is one way to celebrate the day.

Another year, I attended an Anti-Valentine's Day cocktail party. If you've never been to one of these, it's where you and all your single friends get dressed up in your most revealing clothing and drink too many vodka gimlets and complain to potential sex partners about commercialism. They're a blast. This one was particularly fun, because there were little hearts hanging from the ceiling with a skull and crossbones drawn over them as party favors, and in the line for the bathroom there was a little sign on the wall that read “Don't get a V.D. on V-Day.” There's nothing like mention of venereal disease to get everyone mingling. So, I find the one boy at the party from whom I wouldn't mind contracting a V.D., and start a conversation. Naturally, what with our revealing clothing and talk of commercialism, it starts to get awfully hot in there. So this boy I found happens to try to open the window behind the couch we were sitting on by pushing on the glass with his fist, which is not the best way to open a window. The glass breaks. Blood starts running down the arm of his pinstriped suit. Minutes later he's in the emergency room getting his hand sewn back together. I spent the rest of the night on his porch, chain-smoking.

Last year I spent Valentine's Day working in a Starbucks trying to help every couple that approached my register decide which one of them was going to pay for the other's Mocha Frappuccino, an experience which has heightened my resolve that I can never sleep with anyone that drinks blended coffee beverages or that uses the word “venti.” This sort of distinction immediately discounts at least half of your demographic in any major city.

This year I'm thinking ahead. I'm reading a book of theory on love. I'm recommending it to anyone with what can be generally construed by his or her friends as having a “bad attitude,” is accused of being “too picky” or has heard that “everyone wants to sleep with you; you're just to goddamn aloof, stuffed up in some coffee shop reading theory to notice.” Laura Kipnis' Against Love: A Polemic deconstructs a contemporary notion of love and relationships, tracing our sensibilities about modern coupledom to the rise of the novel as a medium in the eighteenth century (a.k.a. fiction). She locates our notions of “working at a relationship” to a culture so invested in pop-psychology and self-improvement that we fail to recognize that we are a nation of workaholics, bringing our work ethics to our sexual encounters. It's an essay that presents the argument that we've all secretly suspected to be true but haven't had the balls to come out and say it, namely: if you're not having sex on a regular basis with one person, maybe it's because you think too much. Kipnis argues, “Too much rationality or thinking risks killing the romance – and of course risks defying prevailing conceptions of the normal human: reptilian analogies like “cold-blooded” tend to be deployed against anyone displaying too much cognition where moodiness should prevail … clearly the only thing to do is to think as little as possible and hope for the best.” You can really get off on thinking about what a great thinker you are this Valentine's Day.

It's like in Annie Hall when Woody Allen stops the happy couple on the street and asks them about their relationship:

Woody Allen: Here, you look like a very happy couple, um, are you?

Female street stranger: Yeah.

Woody Allen: Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?

Female street stranger: Uh, I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.

Male street stranger: And I'm exactly the same way.

Woody Allen: I see! Wow! That's very interesting. So you've managed to work out something?

Clearly there is a long tradition of neuroses on the topic. You're not the only one with issues.

So you think too much. Everything makes perfect sense now. Of course now you understand why you were trying to make eye contact with all those squirrels. You are a saint, a fucking intellectual; you are a contemporary St. Francis of Assisi . You might as well start writing your confessions and wait to be canonized. Who needs sex? You and the squirrels can go live in a cave somewhere removed from human contact and the human condition.

Or if you aren't ready to resign yourself to an existence of communing with the local wildlife this year, you have fourteen days to make yourself lovable. These things take work. Just don't tell the boys you meet that you read theory on sex. Boys hate this. Or worse, they read theory too, and then you're both doomed from the start. All the signifiers of the season are going to haunt you either way, so someone may as well fall in love with you. If the 9-to-5 hasn't worn you down yet this winter, then, darling, pull your self up by your steel-toe boot strap , powder your nose and hit the street. You just found yourself a part-time job. There must be a whole city full of boys out there who would like to work with you. In a few weeks, when the boy breaks it off because you are too high-maintenance or too low-maintenance or because the two of you don't know how to accessorize to a compatible degree, try not to think too hard about which one it is. If you make it through the holiday even marginally distracted from your sidewalk space measurements, you win.


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