Fame Junkies

Had dinner with Michelle Friday night, went back to my place, and she left on Sunday. Awesome weekend.

I’m

reading a book called “Fame Junkies” which was recommended by the similar Drew Pinsky book I recently read about narcissism. It’s a super-depressing account of people who are obsessed with celebrities and/or becoming celebrities (Low point: kids who pay $10,000 to go to conventions to meet talent agents). I got to chapter 5, “The Desire to Belong,” and I had a light bulb moment. Two recurring themes suddenly came together in a way for me that is so obvious now but I didn’t make the connection till I read this book.

My first running theme is that I hate celebrity culture. I really despite reality TV (except shows based on true talent) because it’s just a bunch of narcissists trying to get undeserved attention. The desire to be famous without accomplishing anything fame-worthy is one of the worst ills in society today.

My second theme is the basis for this entire blog, my desire to connect with people. To make real friends, real relationships, and to stop being so isolated and lonely. Perhaps it’s obvious where these themes intersect, but “Fame Junkies” really made it quite clear.

The author, Jake Halpern, describes the psychological concept of a “para-social” relationship where television gives viewers “the illusion of a face-to-face relationship with the performer.” Because of the explosion of celebrity culture, Twitter, Us Weekly, etc., people have developed far more of these relationships than they used to. But the key here is that the relationships are illusions. You don’t really know Paris Hilton.

This increase in pretend relationships paralleled another change in American society. People are lonelier than ever. The number of people who describe themselves as lonely quadrupled in the last few decades. People remain unmarried longer these days and most significantly, the number of people who live alone has gone from 9.3% in 1950 to 26.4% in 2004.

The collision happened when psychologists asked subjects who felt lonely questions about celebrities. The lonelier the subject, the more obsessed he or she was with celebrities. I guess if you’re lonely, your innate desire to belong makes you pursue the only type of relationship you can, a fake one with a celebrity. And I don’t think it’s much of a leap that some of these lonely people see becoming a celebrity themselves as the cure to their problems. Thus, what they’re really hoping to do is to trade one fake relationship with others.

I never got into the celebrity culture because to me it just seemed so obviously fake and unfulfilling. I don’t know them and they don’t know me. But, and here’s the rub, I was still lonely, isolated, and depressed, like a lot of people my age, living alone in a big city without a support network of friends and family. So I did the only thing I could think of… I came up with a plan to talk to strangers. Some connections were brief, others have been lasting. But they’re all real.

My usual caveat: I’m not genius, I don’t have it all figured out, I have a lot of work to do, I wish I had more friends, etc., but the point is, I’m trying. I’m out there in the real world talking to real people. If everyone stopped watching Jersey Shore and knocked on their neighbor’s door instead… well, think about it.

Flat Tire Fixer

Michelle slit my throat while I was sleeping last night and now I am blogging from the afterlife.

Actually, things are going fine. We had lunch every day this week and we’re going out Friday.

But on to more important news: Despite my seeming closure on my quest to win over Elevator Girl, I continue to talk to strangers. In fact, I had a nice talk with the guy who pulled a nail out of my flat tire yesterday.

It’s actually pretty cool how they pull the nail out and put some kind of black tar stick in there instead. Then, he spits on it to see if there’s any air escaping.

I asked him, “Where’d you learn how to do that?”

He said, “Spit?”

I laughed and he said his father taught him how to fix cars when he was just a boy in Mexico. He moved to L.A. thirty years ago, is a U.S. citizen, has two boys in college, and works two jobs to pay for it.

Just in case you thought you worked hard.

Elevator Girl

I slept with Michelle.

After a week of ignoring my calls, she emailed me on Friday saying she couldn’t face me after what happened.

I told her we needed to talk about it. She reluctantly agreed but said she couldn’t meet me that night because she’s going out with Dan. She said she’d come by Saturday night instead. “Just to talk,” I reminded her.

She was supposed to come over my apartment at 8:00. She didn’t show and I was starting to get worried. I mean, who knows with her? Maybe Sports Agent Dan found out where she was going and took an axe to her. I texted her and she finally responded at like 9:30 with just “b there soon.”

She showed up at 11:15. She wasn’t drunk, so I was relieved about that. But the first thing she said to me was, “Do you have any wine?” It was clear it was to soothe nerves from earlier in the evening, not to prepare for later that night, so I gave her some wine.

She took a big drink and said, “I called off the engagement.”

Hearing those words suddenly flipped a switch in my head. My moral constraints had been keeping her advances at bay because she was with him. But as soon as she said those words, it was like when that bad guy got fired from OCP and Robocop was then free to kill him. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best analogy given the circumstances but that’s what popped into my head.

We talked for a while about what Dan did wrong. How they fought all the time. How she broke it off on Friday night but then he tried to change her mind earlier in the evening Saturday. (That’s why she was late.)

Then we talked for a while about The Talk to Strangers Project. I basically explained the whole thing to her. How that, a year ago, I was lonely and isolated. I told her how I’ve met all these incredible people and gotten confidence to take control of my life.

She said it sounded like an amazing idea.

Then I looked at her and said, “I did it all to meet you.”

We kissed. Then… well, you know.

We spent the whole day together yesterday. We didn’t really talk about what it all means or where it’s going. I think neither of us wanted to define it or analyze things. I know I for one was afraid it might just go away. So we kind of avoided the subject.

I dropped her off and we kissed again.

I think this is the beginning of something huge, but I’m too afraid to think that thought, because I might jinx it.

Cheese Guy

No word from Michelle. I honestly think she needs to get some professional help. She is certifiably crazy.

But I digress. I went to Whole Foods last night to pick up some dinner and I walked by the cheese department. I always find it fascinating but a little intimidating. I probably know the names of a dozen cheeses like everybody else, but here there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of varieties.

I reminded myself that one of the best ways to meet strangers is to ask questions, especially about things I actually want to learn. So I asked the cheese counter guy, “What do you recommend?”

He asked what I was looking for. I admitted that I didn’t know the first thing about cheese. I don’t like soft stuff like Brie. I like Swiss Cheese. I like Provolone. That’s about it. So Cheese Guy spent the next twenty minutes giving me an education in cheese. The basic varieties. What goes with what. What to look for in each variety.

As I was listening, people started to gather around. It seems a lot of people wanted to learn about cheese and were just afraid to ask. I ended up getting an Emmentaler and it was pretty good. I don’t think I’ll ever be a cheese connoisseur, but it’s fun to learn about new stuff and interesting to watch someone talk so passionately about cheese.

The Help

Friday night was really… interesting. First of all, Michelle picked “The Help” to go see. They should have handed out Ziploc bags to the six men in the theater to store their balls.

There is no way any guy in the world would ever see that movie without the promise or hope of sex from their female companion. I was the exception, as I expected nothing from Michelle except maybe a little pre-wedding jitters and boring girl-talk about her fiance.

That’s not what happened. We saw the movie. It wasn’t that bad. I asked, “So should I drop you off?” She said, “Let’s get a drink.” I thought, “Oh, no, here it comes.”

We went to The Tavern in Brentwood for $15 drinks and Michelle finally explained why she wanted to see me.

“Dan and I are having troubles.”

I stopped her right there. I’d been preparing for this conversation all that day and so I knew what I was going to say. “Look, I’m not your girlfriend. I think it’s really shitty for you to dump this crap on me. I like you and I want to be your friend, but I’m not going to help you patch things up with some other guy.”

She seemed kind of shocked. She took a drink. Then she said, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

After that, things got a lot better. We agreed not to talk about relationships and we just talked. About normal stuff. About the movie. It was almost like it was back when I first met her. When she’s not acting all weird or drunk, Michelle is really great. She has a great sense of humor and she’s smart, too.

I took her back to her apartment complex and pulled over to the curb waiting for her to get out. I said, “Good night. This was fun.”

Then she kissed me.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know this isn’t the first time she’s done that. But I was still surprised. I didn’t fight it (duh) but after a good thirty seconds, I said, “Michelle, what are you doing?”

She said, “I don’t know.” She started crying. She said, “Things are really messed up right now.”

I said, “Go home. Go to sleep. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.” And she left.

I called her on Saturday and on Sunday but she didn’t return my calls.

How do I get into these situations?

Going Out with Elevator Girl?

Michelle just sent me an email inviting me to a movie. This is totally weird. I asked her if I should bring a date. Was Dan going to be there? She said, no, just the two of us.

Well, I’m fine with seeing a movie

but I can tell you right now, there’s one thing I’m not going to do, is listen to her cry on my shoulder about her fiance. I mean, I have no idea if she actually is having problems with him or not. But why else does she want to see me without him? I’m willing to be friends with her, but I’m not going to be some poor sap who listens to a girl he likes complain about some other guy she’s sleeping with.

Work Tool Is Gone

In the shortest tenure in the history of my office, J.T. has been fired!

Yes, he’s only been with us for less that a week. No, it wasn’t because he kept talking about how awesome Texas was, even to the managing directors. And no, it wasn’t because he was too homesick for Texas. Nope, J.T. got fired because he’s an idiot.

Turns out, J.T. is really bad at his job. I don’t want to get into the details, but one of the key concepts in corporate debt offerings is what order the debt gets paid back in. That’s the priority or seniority of the debt. Long story short, J.T. subordinated certain senior debentures and fucked up a $200 million deal.

I really hate to laugh at other people’s misfortunes. I don’t want to be that guy. But man, this guy had it coming. He would complain about everything. How every place he ate at had to “ruin the food” by making it too healthy. But “that’s the left coast for you.” Plus, I swear this guy did not bathe. He smelled like cigarettes all the time. He was fat, had scaly skin that flaked off everywhere, and smelled. It’s almost like the rest of us willed him to fuck up the deal so he’s be fired.

How-To Guide

Reposting this…

The blog has seen a huge increase in traffic in the last month.

No idea why, but here’s my advice for the best way to figure out what the hell I’m talking about. First, read the manifesto. There’s a link in the right column. Second, sort the posts chronologically, using the pull-down menu above the manifesto link and choosing “Sort by Date ASC.” And if the mood strikes you, leave a comment. Nobody else seems to, so there are a lot of opportunities to claim “first.”

Dog Groomer

I’m still learning about how to take care of a dog. Polly has been very helpful and she gave me the number of a dog groomer.

I would give Tad a bath myself, and I have, but he’s been scratching a lot lately and Polly said he just needs to get a real bath by a professional.

So I called this guy and he shows up with a big mobile grooming van. Tad went up on a table and got groomed for an hour. I went to check on him and I saw the guy drying Tad’s hair and kind of mussing it in front of his eyes like a hairdresser would do to a model. He didn’t see me watching him but it was pretty funny.

After I paid the guy, I asked, “Just out of curiosity, how does one get into pet grooming? Do you go to school for that?”

He said he was a people hairdresser but he found that he loves animals more than people. He was kidding but maybe only a little. Apparently, you can go to school to learn how to properly groom a pet. He said some breeds of dogs require very specific techniques. He’s groomed Puli’s before and you have to separate the ropes of their hair with razor blades. Anyway, this guy really knew his shit.

I asked him, “So, do you still cut people’s hair on special occasions?”

He looked at me and said, “Sorry, I’m not going to cut your hair.”

I laughed and he said to call him in three months for Tad’s next appointment.

Work Tool

We closed our Houston office earlier this year and those bankers got distributed to our other offices. For some reason, this took six months and today some tool named “J.T.” showed up in our office.

Obviously, given the nature of this Project, I’m very willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. But some people just do not want to get the lay of the land before opening their big mouths. J.T. dove in head-first.

“I guess I’m gonna have to teach y’all how we do things in the Lone Star State.” I was like, “Seriously?” He seemed like a cartoon character. Surely nobody is really like that. But J.T. was “born and bred” in Galveston and liked to go “huntin’ and drinkin'” in his spare time.

He relayed all of these colorful details in the break room and I went into my usual routine. “Wow, Texas sounds really great.”

He said it was “like a whole ‘nother country.”

I said, “You must have been so heartbroken when they shut down your office.”

He said he went where the job took him, “no regrets.”

I said, “Well, I’m sure you have some regrets. Like you must regret that the Houston office lost two billion dollars last year. I bet your clients regretted that.”

We all laughed at that and for the first time all day J.T. shut up.