Sucker Punch

Chloe dumped me.

I called her last week to make up about the whole Monopoly fight and she said we were cool.

Then she came over on Sunday to tell me in person that she was breaking up with me.

After the initial shock I said it was a little bit of a dick move to say everything was fine only to break up with me a few days later, but she said she wanted to do it in person, not on the phone.

She said it had nothing to do with the fight. She said it just seemed obvious that we weren’t going anywhere in our relationship and that I didn’t love her, and so what was the point. I didn’t argue. How could I? She was pretty much right.

She kissed me goodbye, said goodbye to Tad, then took off.

Obviously, I was very upset by the whole thing. I mean, nobody likes getting dumped. But it wasn’t fair to keep things going when I had already decided in my head that she wasn’t a candidate for the long haul. I mean, we could have kept seeing each other casually, but Chloe’s not that type of girl, so I didn’t want to keep leading her on.

All in all, it was a pretty classy dumping. I did wonder, however, if the real reason she wanted to come over in person was to say goodbye to my dog.

Poker Douche

I played poker Thursday night with Paul and some of his friends. I used to like playing poker growing up. I played 5 draw as a kid, of course, but in college we used to play 7 stud, Omaha, and yes, some Texas Hold ‘Em.

But now the only thing anyone plays is Texas Hold ‘Em and everyone is such a know-it-all expert, it’s no fun to play anymore. But I’m a people person, so when Paul said they needed another played, I said fine.

The game was a Hold ‘Em tournament-style game with a $40 buy-in. (I know, lame.) There were ten players, including two married couples, and one guy who I later named Poker Douche. This guy was about 45, he was single (no surprise), and when he wasn’t hanging out at Commerce Casino, he worked as an IT guy at some company.

Poker Douche’s main goal in life, apparently, is to educate lesser players in the fine art of poker odds and strategy. The lessons are especially strident when you make a “wrong” play and win through “sheer luck.” But Poker Douche also likes to tell you when you should have made a “value bet,” shouldn’t have risked your whole stack “on a coin flip,” or should have made a “feeler bet.”

All of these annoying poker-speak terms are straight out of the many poker shows on TV so it’s not like any of the other players appreciated his comments. It made me wonder if he was trying to piss everyone off so they’d play badly. That seems super-douchey for a $40 game.

I don’t know why but my reaction to these type of people is always the same: I fuel their douchery with innocent-seeming questions to draw them out. For example, I said, “How do you remember all the odds?” That garnered a ten-minute answer about counting outs that any idiot already knows.

I’d also say things that didn’t make sense mathematically, like, “People say aces is the best starting hand, but I like 6, 7 suited. I think it wins more often.” He really went off on that one. And, my favorite, “Sometimes you just have to play a hunch.” I said that when I won a hand from him and he nearly punched me.

Anyway, Poker Douche made it to the final two (I busted in 6th place). But the woman who won it all beat him on a “questionable call” with nothing but a pair of two’s. Poker Douche was bluffing but the woman “should have folded” when he pushed all-in because the pot odds “weren’t in her favor.” But as she scooped the winning pot, I was pleased when she said, “Just playing a hunch.”

Reality Star

I called Chloe yesterday and we made up. More on that later.

So yesterday I ate lunch at the food court and a random woman came up to me and asked if I wanted to be on a reality show.

I guess she was a booker or a promoter or something like that and she was handing out flyers for an audition next week. Well, she picked the wrong guy.

I asked her a bit about the show. Seemed like some sort of bullshit about living in a house, competing for money, doing humiliating things– basically the same as every other reality show. Now coincidentally, I am currently reading a great book, “The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America.” It’s written by Dr. Drew Pinsky, so I was a little suspicious at first, but I have to tell you, this book is a must-read for anyone living in L.A.

So I proceeded to tell the woman that narcissism is a mental illness and that this fame-seeking through outrageous behavior is caused by severe childhood trauma like physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. The woman actually seemed pretty intelligent and debated the issue with me for a while. But I told her that reality TV normalizes the kind of unacceptable behavior that we should be condemning. That you know children are getting the wrong message when 51% of all kids list “becoming famous” as their #1 or #2 most important goal in life.

Anyway, we parted ways on not very good terms but the whole thing really riled me up. I have repeated railed against people whose sole mission in life is to get attention without any laudable accomplishment to back it up.

And p.s., that is why I choose to remain anonymous. I have never printed my last name because I value my privacy. I write this blog to share my experiences. At first, it was because I wanted “someone” to talk to. But then when it started working, I realized that I wanted to share my success as a wake-up call to other people who were lonely and isolated like I was. But the idea of being a celebrity is nauseating to me.

Chloegeddon

So as you all know now, Carmageddon was the Y2K of 2011. But that didn’t stop us from moving forward with Chloegeddon.

Chloe came over around 2:00 on Friday. Things started off a bit shakey when I saw how much shit she brought. I mean, she’s slept over before, so I thought three nights would equal roughly three times as much shit. But she literally brought moving boxes. I was so freaked out I blurted out, “It’s just the weekend, it’s not permanent.”

In retrospect, this was the wrong thing to say, I admit. I might as well have said, “Don’t get your hopes up, kid.” Anyway, she got over it, and after an afternoon at the dog park, we walked down to San Vicente to have dinner.

Friday night was actually pretty fun. We did watch a movie (The Lincoln Lawyer–not bad but not exactly romantic or particularly memorable). And we did actually make s’mores on the stove.

The trouble happened on Saturday when we realized Carmageddon was a bust and that the freeways were empty. Chloe had been… how can I put this without sounding like a douche?… touching my stuff. Not to be confused with touching my junk, Chloe was just moving a lot of shit around. Making suggestions on how to arrange things differently. Opening drawers I didn’t want her to open. It seems super small now, but at the time it was really bugging me.

We played Monopoly and I got the yellow properties. She landed on Marvin Gardens and I had a hotel there. She didn’t have enough cash so she said, “Oh, well, you win.”

I said, “No, you have to mortgage your properties.”

She said, “What’s the point? You win.”

I said, “That’s not how you play. You have to mortgage your properties and then you can buy them back later if you get enough money.”

We argued about this for a while. Then she said I was acting like a typical investment banker and that “there’s more important things in the world than money.”

I had no idea she had this deep-seated resentment of what I do for a living. She’s never complained before when my banking job bought her dinner.

I said, “If you don’t like the way the game is played, then why don’t you just quit.”

I don’t know if she thought that had some deep subtext, but I really just meant Monopoly. But she started packing up her stuff.

I said I was sorry. I said to stay. I said the freeway is still closed.

She said there’s no cars on any roads and she’d make it home just fine.

Then she left.

Can someone please tell me what just happened here? And why did I think it was a good idea inviting her to move in for the weekend?

Night Shift

I had to work late last night, long enough to see the cleaning crew. Maria is the cleaning lady I met once before, but it was almost a year ago and I forgot some of the details of her life. Still, I did remember that she had a son in the army and when I asked her about him, she really lit up, like it was the nicest thing in the world to have remembered that.

She said he was still in Afghanistan.

“You have another kid, right?”

“Two more boys, the twins.”

“And they’re still in high school?”

“No more. They graduated. They’re in the army now, too.”

Her twins graduated high school last month and now they’re in basic training. She said they’ll probably go to Afghanistan, too, and even though Maria will worry about them there, she said she’s glad all her boys will be together.

I was thinking it sounded just like Saving Private Ryan, but before I said that to her, I remembered that three out of the four brothers died in the movie, so I decided not to say anything.

Carmageddon

As everyone within 100 miles of Los Angeles knows, this weekend is Carmageddon, i.e., the shutdown of the 405 freeway.

The spillover onto the surface streets means it’s going to be gridlock everywhere. Most people are staying in the whole weekend, which is actually kind of nice. I don’t have anywhere I need to be this weekend, except there’s one problem: Chloe lives in Sherman Oaks.

To get from Sherman Oaks to Brentwood (or vice versa) may in fact be impossible this weekend. That’s why I have proposed to Chloe a novel idea: we are going to have a sleepover. That’s right, Chloe is moving in. At least until Monday.

We have a lot of activities planned. Movie marathon, dog park, game of Monopoly. Maybe we’ll even make S’mores on the stove. She has to go to the adopt-a-pet thing on Sunday but I’m wondering if walking around exclusively without any driving will enhance my opportunities to talk to strangers. Stay tuned…

Hitting the Books

I went back to the public library. I went there once before with Gunther with good results so when Paul asked what I was up to yesterday, I said, “Let’s go to the library.”

After showing Paul the massive DVD collection (all free!)

we read magazines for an hour. People do the same thing in book stores, but I always felt guilty reading the magazines that you’re supposed to buy. No one else seems to have a problem with this because the magazine rack at B&N seems to have 99% browsers and 1% buyers. But I’m the guy constantly looking over my shoulder for the store manager to call the cops on me because I’ve been wrinkling the pages of Outlaw Biker Magazine. In the library, though, you can read all the magazines you want, all day long. And take as many DVD’s and watch them for free.

Anyway, one thing I love about the Santa Monica library is the screen saver they have on all the computers. It shows old pictures of Santa Monica from the 1930’s or the 1890’s. There will be some kid in a straw hat sitting on a hill eating a watermelon and the caption is “Children eating watermelon in front of Palisades Park, 1910.” And you think, “Wow, this area was the frontier back then.” I especially love the pictures of people at the beach in the 1920’s wearing twenty pounds of clothes, or women going swimming with long dresses on.

I was staring at the screen saver for like ten minutes when a guy interrupted me, “I love those pictures, too.” Turns out, Mitch works at the library. We got to talking and he found a book of old Los Angeles photos for me. I took the book home with me and have really enjoyed looking through it.

It’s cool to find something new you like and didn’t even realize it.

The Talk to Strangers Project, One Year Later

I started this project exactly one year ago. To say it’s changed my life would be as obvious as the preceding sentence, given the title of the post. On a quantitative level:

  • I have talked to maybe 200-300 strangers;
  • I have had three girlfriends (Chloe, Jennifer, and Marny);
  • I have gone on dates with at least three other women;
  • I have gone to several parties (more than five, less than ten);
  • I have been beaten up one time;
  • I have been rejected by dozens of people who didn’t want to talk to me (and not all of them were waitresses);
  • I have one dog.

On a qualitative level, I am more observant. I’m a better listener. I am more empathetic. I am far more confident. I am not afraid of talking to people in authority, people at parties, and people just standing there minding their own business. Maybe in the back of my head, the idea that it’s all part of “The Project” gives me the courage to break the societal taboos and initiate first contact. Whatever the reason, I am better able to shrug off missteps and focus on the connections.

I never knew how hard it would be to make friends after college. That being around so many people in a large city like Los Angeles could be so lonely. It makes me sad when I think about all the other people out there feeling the same way that I was, but doing nothing about it. Just sitting in their apartments, hoping someone is going to knock on their door to borrow some sugar. That only happens in 1950’s sitcoms. No one really knocks on anyone’s door. You have to knock on theirs.

Having a “family” of friends is so important. I mean, it’s not like I go cry on Gunther’s couch while we do each other’s nails. But just having someone who knows me makes me feel like I’m part of the world, not watching it from the outside.

Do I wish I had more friends? Sure. Do I wish they were as close as say my friends growing up? Of course. People in the 20’s and 30’s have shit going on and you can’t spend an hour every day in study hall going over the day’s events.

Relationships-wise, I can’t tell you how much it means to be dating again. For a while, my self-esteem was so low, I was starting to question how I had ever had a girlfriend in the past. It’s just hard meeting people. And like I said, inertia is your enemy. I could easily imagine ten years slipping by and being even more lonely and bitter.

It’s not like I’ve made a love connection. I mean, things are going well with Chloe, but she’s such a sweet girl, I wonder sometimes if there’s ever going to be something more… explosive about our relationship. Maybe it’s my pining away for Michelle that makes me unable to see Chloe as a keeper. She’s certainly a lot better than Marny and Jennifer. But even those limited relationships were invaluable in building up my self-esteem and making me feel like a legitimate contender for love.

Besides the connections I’ve made–personal, casual, romantic–I think the most important thing that’s happened over the last year is that I like who I’ve become. I knew this me was in there somewhere and I like that it’s taken over. I’m funnier now. I’m not afraid of saying the wrong thing because I don’t over-value people. I’m not saying I don’t value people, I just value them accurately. I feel like I used to be on eggshells all the time hoping I didn’t annoy or piss off a friend or a girlfriend and lose them forever. Ironically, I’m more likely to speak my mind to people now and I think they like me better for it.

Anyway, it’s not like I’ve achieved some sort of goal. There’s still a lot of work to go. But I am starting to think of my life in interview terms: where do I see myself in five years? In ten? Before, I was in survival mode: How do I cure my debilitating loneliness and get some goddamn people in my life? Now, I feel like I’m out of the woods and I can start to think about where I want to go.

Thanks to all the people who I’ve met over the last year. And thank you to all the wonderful people who’ve written to me, telling me their stories. I feel like I’ve met you, too.

Stay tuned, there’s still a lot of strangers left to talk to.

 

Grill Man

We’ve all met know-it-all’s before. But there’s a very special kind of know-it-all that you meet only at barbecues: the Grill Man.

So this past weekend, at Gunther’s Fourth of July barbecue, I had the privilege of meeting Chuck, Gunther’s Grill Man.

The first thing a Grill Man will tell you is that gas is for pussies. Grill Men only use charcoal, presumably because it’s a lot harder to ignite. That means Grill Men get to use a lot of lighter fluid. Not like in a Simpsons episode where you cut away to a super-wide shot and see a mushroom cloud, but still, it’s a lot of fire.

Upon meeting Chuck, I was presented with two choices, antagonize him, or play along. I chose not to argue with Chuck, because even though he might not know as much as he thinks, he still knows more than me. What I found is that a Grill Man likes nothing more than to educate you. So I played dumb.

“Wow, cool grill. Did you get this at Sears?”

The Grill Man looks at me contemptuously. “This is a Weber blah blah blah, the blah blah blah best grill ever made.” [I’m sorry if I don’t remember the details.]

“I heard gas grills are better.”

Ten minutes later when he’s done explaining why I’m wrong, I ask, “So let me ask you, Chuck. You seem to know a lot about grilling. What’s the best way to grill a steak?” His eyes lit up.

Ten minutes later, I asked, “Can you cook vegetables on a grill?”

At this point, Chloe caught on that I was just asking dumb questions so he could talk endlessly. And it’s not like I was making fun of him. I was just letting him do what he enjoyed doing, talking about stuff he knows.

Some of my other questions:

  • “I bet chicken is tricky, though. How do you keep it moist?”
  • “Do you use those cedar chip things?”
  • “Is this safe to use indoors?”
  • “What’s the best cut of beef?”
  • “How hot can this grill get anyway?”
  • “Do you have any opinions about the best knives?”

Chloe got bored early on and left to talk to some other people. But something about talking to the Grill Man was weird. After a while, I almost liked hearing the sound of his voice. Maybe it was the Stockholm Syndrome, but I was falling in love with the Grill Man.