Age Ain’t Nothing But Encumber

No one prepares you for dating in your late twenties. No warning shots are fired. Like how episiotomies are silently associated with “the miracle of childbirth,” you simply discover the depths of gruesomeness when it’s already too late. Because my birthday is fast approaching, and I can’t actually prevent it, I’ve taken to doing the next best thing when it comes to going on the prowl: lying.

After reading up on some online dating trends and discovering that two-thirds of men are looking for women aged twenty-five or younger, I thought about shaving off a few years. You know, just to remain competitive. Besides, a woman reaches her sexual peak in her early thirties, men in their late teens. Legally, never the twain shall meet. When it comes to getting action in your twenties, nature wants you to lie.

So I turned twenty-four. Again.

And, indeed, I noticed a difference nearly immediately. There was a sudden influx of “musicians,” and guys with a lot more hair and fewer chins. There was also an increase in how many guys contacted me, many of them using iterations of “hey wassup” in their missive’s opening line. But hey, they were young, dumb, and full of…well, you know. I still had it! Birthday be damned!

It only took a week or so of being twenty-four again before I agreed to meet up with a guy. Online, he appeared to have all of his teeth, seemed to understand my Def Leppard reference, and wore glasses. Like me, he was from New York. Like me, he was twenty-four. We agreed to meet at a local coffee shop and chat. You know, like kids do.

For a judgmental prick like me, who bases the worthiness of 99.9% of all interactions on the physical desirability of a person, and who has standards that are higher than the Photoshop staff at most women’s magazines, the worst part about Internet dating is the arrival. I know out of the gate whether or not I’ve hit Bingo. So, when I get there, I often just hope to sweet baby Jesus that my date doesn’t spot me, the tattooed midget in the crowd, first.

Unfortunately this guy recognized me, smiled, and waved, so I was visually hogtied to the disaster-in-progress. I have no problem with men whose shoes are fancier than mine, or who have soft, tiny hands, I just don’t want to run through them with my pussy ban-saw.

Separate from the physical turn-offs, the date was a wreck for a few, likely predictable reasons. The first being that I’m a bad liar, and dishonesty is hard fucking work. Since I was out of college, I’ve lived in four cities, had a bunch of jobs, started sleeping with men, and went sober. Suddenly I had to somehow or another gloss over, avoid, or otherwise minimize all of these facts.

I found myself asking questions like, “What is your ultimate goal?” as though he were on a job interview. (For the record, the answer was to land an assistant managerial position at a retail store. Not even a particular retail store, any retail store.) He was living at home with his folks for the summer before he returned to school, which I didn’t think was a problem. What I did take issue with was the slow realization that he was going back to school to complete his undergraduate degree. Because he was that young. Young enough to still be in college.

I should state that, other than the dainty hands and shiny shoes, none of his life-related details were deal breakers. What really put the kibosh on any future dates was the fact that I had been forced to stare into the abyss of maturity, and I didn’t like what I saw. I was no longer so idealistic to believe the world was just mine for the taking, I couldn’t even pretend that my degree was more than an exorbitantly expensive piece of paper. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that a lot of what I learned in college is worthless, excluding anything having to do with beer, vagina, or triphop. I know I have to work if I want to be able to afford cable, and that sleeping on a futon isn’t really comfortable. I can’t make believe that I can stay out until closing time on a weeknight either.

I also spent a good deal of that date wondering if I had any wrinkles that were visible in the coffee shop’s light. It was stressful. It made me feel old. In fact, lying about my age may have aged me. But it was nice to get a text from the kid at 11:30PM that following Tuesday, even if it was just an invitation to go to a bar and “get crunk!” I didn’t respond.

But maybe it was just this particular twenty-four year old! my brain hollered. The last guy I’d had in my bed was twenty-five, and he hadn’t made me feel like a pedophile! (He was a preacher’s son though, so he made me feel a whole bunch of other things.) It was just this one youn’un, I figured. Uncomfortable with the fact that that my sex life was starting to closely resemble Garfield Minus Garfield, I continued to misrepresent myself as twenty-four, still wet-behind-the-ears and maybe in other places.

Besides, Internet dating introduces you to the petri dish of society, I figured. There are much worse encounters than one awkward coffee date with a male shoe fiend.

Other than a complete lack of nookie, an approaching mortality marker, and a smelly New York City summer, another thing I’ve been dealing with recently is my new puppy. Because she’s so young, she has to get a lot of shots and check-ups just to make sure she’s not actually a Mogwai. And I go to the animal hospital a lot just to say hi, since it’s down the block and I suddenly find myself plagued with “questions” about dog ownership.

These questions range from “How do I brush her teeth?” to “Is she old enough to have her nails be that long?” No, I’m not one of those creepy ladies who transfers her need for a relationship into a bond with a creature whose brain is the size of a thimble and who can’t use language to communicate. It’s just that my vet is insanely hot. Extremely, unfairly, other-worldly hot. He’s also considerably older than me, even when I’m not lying about my age. I wasn’t sure if he was in his early or middle forties, as he was about a foot and a half taller than me and, as he said with a twinkle behind his glasses, he’s actually much older than he looks.

I was sure it was just my complete self-obsession, coupled with sexual frustration, but I could swear that Dr. Domealittle was flirting with me at one point. I mean, it’s not every trip to the vet that you leave knowing that your doctor is divorced and lives alone in a different part of town, right? So I thought up some more questions – “Will she grow a longer tail?” – and went back making sure that I dressed like an adult. (No fishnets, no ripped Misfits tee-shirt, any possible wrinkles emphasized.) Although I envisioned myself as thirty-four instead of twenty-four, I vowed not to lie. Which was good, ‘cause it was during that visit that he asked me my age outright.

No, I’m not going to say what I told him, but I promise it was the truth.

“Aw. I remember that birthday,” he joked. “That was a good year. I was that age the same year James Dean died. Twenty-three years ago.”

“At least I know who James Dean is,” I retorted.

The last death that stuck in my head when I was growing up was Kurt Cobain’s. When I brought this up to the hot vet, it took him a few minutes to remember who Kurt Cobain even was. Then he brought up Brian Jones, and I had to go home and Google him.

It was from this conversation alone that I was able to figure out that the yawn of years between us was likely too big to overcome. I’m sure that a generation gap can’t complicate a simple bedroom tussle, especially in the age of Viagra, but when it comes to actually dating, I’m finding out that age is a helluva lot more than a number.

So, as of next Sunday, happy birthday to me, and here’s to years of spinsterhood. With Botox! And cats!

The Hardest Goodbye

This time of the year sucks. 

Two years ago, my mom died.

Last year, my relationship died.

This year, my dog died. Last Monday, to be precise.

What is it about July and August that seem to bring me more loss than Charles Barkley at a poker tournament? It’s unfair. Of course, if you believe in God, there’s a reason. But if you believe in having mothers, lovers, and pets, that reason really isn’t good enough.

The week after I got back from Vancouver, I knew something was up with my dog. Over the twelve years that I’d known her, Snack’s life consisted of three simple truths: the vacuum cleaner is evil, sleep is an art, and food is the only thing that matters…the only thing. These facts had been the case since she was a puppy.

There wasn’t much more to Snack than eating and being generally lethargic, which was totally fine with me since she was incredibly low-maintenance and, for the majority of her life, I wasn’t sober. She didn’t bite, rarely barked, and avoided chewing on anything that didn’t come in a package with a photograph of a less adorable dog on it. She never really played fetch, though she would chase something if you tossed it, then look back at you with an expression that said, “Seriously? A stuffed bear? Try tossing something you actually need, fucker.” Even though, if you compared her to Lassie, Snack was as dumb as bricks, she’d always had some common sense. Except when it came to the vacuum.

Every morning she ate her food with what I can only assume was orgiastic joy for a spayed dog. Regardless of how much you fed her, she would eat all of it, carrying mouthfuls to her bed and nibbling it one kibble at a time. It was a weird eating habit, but considering that she grew up under the care of a recovering anorexic with mild OCD issues, it was sort of to be expected. The Monday that I was back in the states she ate her food as usual and then threw it all back up. As with any dog (or human being), this is something that happens from time to time. To me, someone who once pounded a six pack of Coors Light followed by a bottle of Aste Spumanti in a Long Island parking lot, puke is not a big deal. I chalked it up to her otherwise undetectable excitement regarding my return. Sitting near her pool of undigested, regurgitated food, she shot me a glance that was filled with shame.

The next two weeks were difficult. After a few days of her not voraciously inhaling her food with gusto, I called the vet. They said to make sure she was drinking water and to just wait and see. So I did.

It became a bit like agony for the both of us. She’d eat a little each day, then refuse her food. I tried plain chicken, turkey, different brands, different treats, all to more or less the same result. She’d eat a few bites, then turn her head away. She was still, um, going through the regular process of digestion though, albeit it wasn’t, er…let’s just say that it wasn’t like it had been. Anyway, she didn’t seem to be getting any better and, most importantly, she didn’t seem to be losing any weight. I called the vet again. I’m not a particularly maternal person – I cringe at the sight of pregnant women and believe that the unrecognized purpose of children is for manual labor – but I knew something was wrong. My mommy sense told me.

Chillin' with some rubber gloves in happier times.

At the animal hospital, I met Dr. Jim. Not only was he a veterinarian, but he was absurdly hot. When they cast my biopic, with the role of Ainsley played by Lauren Ambrose in a heavily-restrictive sports bra and a shit-ton of body makeup, they will cast a well-tanned, gray-haired Daniel Day Lewis as Dr. Jim. Unfortunately, his news wasn’t as appealing as his visage.

“I’m afraid that it doesn’t look very promising for Snack,” he said in a grim tone as he held a series of x-rays up to the lightbox.

He showed me how fluid was being retained around her abdomen, and then he produced a thick syringe filled with a sample. It was black: bile. Snack’s gallbladder had burst and, as Dr. Jim put it, I could try to beat the odds with surgery, followed by 24/7 intensive care, but it was likely that the most humane thing to do would be to put her to sleep. She wasn’t in any pain at the moment. Waiting would only make her more uncomfortable, and delay the inevitable. She was over eleven years old and had never had any surgery in her life. I couldn’t do that to her. Alone, at the vet’s office, I made the decision.

If there’d been a version of Love Story that involved a Pomeranian instead of Ali MacGraw, Snack and I played the roles of Jenny and Oliver with aplomb. First Dr. Jim gave her an initial shot, a sedative in order to relax her so that she’d be calm when they searched for a vein to mainline the lethal toxin.

“We’ll give you two some time alone,” Dr. Jim said as he disposed of the empty sedative syringe.

There aren’t many words for someone who’s about to die, and I think there’s even less to say to a dog that’s about to be euthanized. I repeated “good girl” so many times, I sounded like a scratched Rhianna CD.

I tried a different approach: lying. “There will be lots of cookies,” I said. “Just lay down and take a nap.”

Of course this only led to me becoming increasingly more histrionic. Snack kept sitting on the metal dog-sized hospital table, looking around the room to make sure there were no other needle-wielding bad men around.

While healthy she may have been too dumb to know the difference between the command to sit and a recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance, at that moment my dog  knew what was happening on some level. She’d been x-rayed by strangers and had something drained from her abdomen. The vet’s office wasn’t the doggie equivalent of a Beaches all-inclusive resort.

Of course, Snack was just like her mother, she had a high tolerance. Only fifteen pounds, she required an additional shot of sedation to make her intoxicated, or at least anything remotely resembling “relaxed.” By the end of it my dog had mainlined more drugs than Sid Vicious.

Dr. Jim and his staff were respectfully silent when I doubled-over, sobbing and screaming, “Why do I have to lose everything I love?!” (Yes. That’s verbatim.) They handled me with incredible sympathy and with a level of professionalism that was downright awe-inspiring. I mean, there was no eye-rolling, and nobody moved to inject me with a tranquilizer.

This past winter. Snack and I checking out more snow than Lindsay Lohan's nostrils.

Without being glib, and without disrespecting the dead, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. Yes, I do mean that it was harder than losing my own mom. At least with my mother she was human, she could communicate with me, and we could cry together knowing precisely what was going on. We had five months following her diagnosis to prepare, versus the hour and a half span of time that it took between me walking into the vet’s office with my dog and walking out with just a leash. Snack never fought with me, or chastised me, or told me that I would have been better off becoming a lawyer. She loved every person I brought home. Yes, she did set a curfew, but if I happened to break it, the shit I dealt with was literal. She never held a grudge.

I opted to have her privately cremated. The day after I put her down, I tried to exercise at the gym and found myself hastily scrolling through my collection of songs, stifling sobs; the lyrics to every track seemed to include the words burn, fire, or the demand that I dust something off. I ordered an urn from a company in Texas, even though a week ago I would have told you that the idea of somebody leaving their pet’s ashes out on display in their apartment was Marilyn Manson-level creepy.

Of course, everyone mourns in their own way. Some run from the pain, others drink or drug, many search desperately for some sort of rebound, and a few brave souls confront their sorrow head-on. My mother coped with the loss of her zebra finch, Anthony, by getting a series of identical replacement finches and giving them the same name, as though her bird had become immortal.

So, sticking with the genetic adherence of crazy, I got a puppy.

I now present to you, the Internet, little miss Bitey Spike Glenn Danzig Drew, otherwise known as Spike for short.

Ladies and gentlemen, the hardest dog to photograph: Spike.

She weighs 1.6 pounds which, for a few of the guys out there, is less than the amount of what’s in your pockets, or in your pants. I’ve found that, so far, the biggest obstacle with her ownership (other than the fact that it’s impossible to get down the street without receiving the heavy petting of strangers) is that people say, “Oh! She’s going to fit in your purse!”

Like I’d ever carry a dog in my purse. Please. That’s where the condoms are.

For all of you who sent me emails, Facebook comments, Google + notes and the like about Snack’s passing: Thank you. Sincerely. It was unbelievable to feel such love and support from people, many of whom I’ve never even met in person. You’ve truly made me feel like technology is a lot like a vacuum cleaner: a little bit scary, but not inherently evil.

Nonetheless, fuck summer. I can’t wait until fall.

Life’s a…well, you know.

This week I’m heading to the beach. If you know me or have been introduced to my neuroses in real life, you know why this is funny. The idea of it alone should seem tantamount to taking Woody Allen to a South Beach strip club.

I’m not a “beachgoer.” I don’t tan. I don’t play volleyball. The only time I’ll accept wet Lycra against my skin is if I’m making out with an aerobics instructor.

When I look at sand, all I see is really aggressive dirt. I avoid it whenever possible. I get physically skeeved when I think about grains trapped under my big toenail, or when I envision crunching on some seaside sediment while enjoying a lovely sandwich. I would laugh at the irony of the word sandwich as I chomped away, if I wasn’t so fucking grossed out by wearing my teeth down from chewing on tiny shards of rocks. I would punch sand in the face if I could.

I also don’t like people.

It’s summer. There are sweaty, sand-tolerant herds of humans who flock to every beach. I will have to see them and try to act polite. Or at least try not to stare at their nearly-exposed naughty bits, camel toe, or hairy back. I will have to keep myself from cringing as they eat their lunch on the sand.

The sun and I aren’t exactly school-chums either.

I’m of the belief that my ancestors toiled in the bleak fields of Ireland and along the chilly Polish countryside without seeing nary a ray of sunlight. Their body temperature likely matched their demeanor: cold, possibly frigid. So if you put me in the sun for longer than it takes for me to find air conditioning (usually under two minutes) I turn a shade of burgundy that’s otherwise not found in nature, other than to warn predators that their prey, which is passed-out from heat stroke, is too hot to eat. I also sunburn if I read the word “August.”

Don’t get me started about the ocean.

The ocean always wins.

Like most things, it’s bigger than me. Unlike most things, it’s bigger than everybody. It has things in it. Like fish with hands, and sharks. And pee. And poop. And sharks’ pee and poop. There are waves, which are reminiscent of my high-school experience. They’re like a tall classmate holding my backpack above my head, only in place of a backpack it’s air. Also, the ocean is cold and makes me itch and, at the very bottom, there’s fucking sand.

My dad doesn’t have a problem with the beach, in fact he loves it. As a reckless, badass teenager somewhere in the middle of the last century (don’t worry, he doesn’t read this), he learned how to surf with his buddies. They’d find houses that had access to the beach and trespass, sneaking through yards with their boards just before the crack of dawn. At the collective age of sixteen, they became surfers.

As I was growing up and learning to be terrified of everything from my wholly neurotic, non-surfing mother, my father would go to the beach alone with his board strapped the the roof of the car. On the rare occasions that we joined him, I learned from my beach-blanket-bound mother in no uncertain terms that the ocean would destroy me, and a harrowing experience involving a boogie-board, my cousin, and a two-piece bathing suit only confirmed this fact. On the other hand, my dad would race into the water wearing a wetsuit any time there was “a swell.” A hypochondriacal child, I only associated the word “swell” with an adverse reaction of the body. A surfer baby I was not destined to be.

As my dad got older, he decided to create a little shangri-la that would allow him to surf at his heart’s content. Nestled a literal stone’s throw from the properties he used to traipse across as a wave-crazy teenager, he established his own little surf lodge. His friends – the very same ones that he started surfing with – are all out there during the summer. They congregate in a sort of commune with bonfires, barbecues, and a variety of outdoor activities that go well beyond just hangin’ ten. (Or whatever the term is for standing up on a surfboard and not instantly succumbing to gravity.) Their wives and kids have been added to the mix, so the group has grown from a handful of dudes to a flock of families. It winds up looking kind of like a commercial for Viagra or Crestor. It’s always pretty nuts. I love it, beach be damned.

Every year since he’s had his little spot I’ve visited, sometimes with significant others or friends, but usually alone. This week marks the first trip this summer, and I’m looking forward to it. In the past, I’ve spent the majority of my time on a hammock…or in the house on the computer, far from the satanic sand and homicidal ocean. But this year I’m determined to be different. I’m going to leave my laptop behind. I’m going to turn off my phone. And I’m going to go to the beach.

And, no. There is no air conditioning within a five mile radius. I’ve checked. More than once.

Stay tuned for the next post, which will be coming from inside the belly of a whale, where no one can hear me whine.