Thanksgiving, final entry

I am so fucked. I am back in L.A. without Michelle because Michelle broke up with me. This whole thing is such a big complicated fucking mess, I don’t even know where to begin. But I’ll try to explain what happened.

Everything was going great. I was getting in good with her parents. We went out Wednesday night and I hit it off with her old friends. We even fooled around in the car before we went back to her parents’ house.

The next day was Thanksgiving. Greg and Quinn showed up around noon. I was helping Michelle’s mom get the food ready. When I met Quinn she seemed normal and nice. But when Greg showed up, he gave me a dirty look and was basically a dick to me from the minute he met me. (Greg is Michelle’s youngest sibling–he’s 22.)

I thought he was acting so weird that I asked Michelle what his deal was and she just said he’s moody. Fine, okay. Not everyone has to like me.

We sat down for dinner at four. The family was catching up with each other. Then the conversation turned to me and I told Quinn and Greg a little about myself. Then in the middle of the dinner, Greg says, “I feel like I already know you.”

I said, “Why’s that?”

He said, “Because I’ve been reading your blog.”

I turned white.

Michelle said, “What blog?”

Look. It’s not like I’ve been keeping it a secret from Michelle. I told her about the project. How I’ve been trying to better myself by talking to strangers. She’s seen me do it a million times. I just never mentioned that I write about it in this blog.

Greg pounced, “You’ve never read his blog? It’s all about you.”

Michelle looked at me with this awful look of betrayal.

Her Dad asked, “What’s this blog about?”

I tried to explain that it wasn’t about Michelle. It was about talking to strangers. But she’s a big part of my life and naturally she’s in it sometimes.

Her mom said to Michelle, “You didn’t know about this?”

At this point Michelle excused herself and went upstairs. I excused myself, too. Then we got into a fight. She said I should have told her. She asked what kinds of things I wrote about her. I said it was nothing bad. That yes, I should have mentioned it but it was no big deal. She said she feels like an idiot in front of her family showing off her new boyfriend only to find out she doesn’t even know he’s writing a secret blog about her behind her back. I said I was sorry. She said she needed to be alone for a while.

I was stuck. No way I was going back downstairs to hang out with the family. So I told them I was going to go for a walk and that I’d be back in a little while.

I walked around the neighborhood for an hour, feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach. During that time, I found out when I got back, Michelle read the blog. The entire thing.

When I got back, she said she needed some time to think about this. I said that I would go back to L.A. She said fine. I said, “We can get past this, can’t we?”

She said, “I don’t know.”

I felt like there was a ray of hope.

Then she said, “I don’t know if I can trust you again. I think we should spend some time apart.”

I said okay. I packed my stuff, said goodbye to her family, and went back home.

Thanksgiving (Meet the Parents part 3)

What a relief. I am up here in Michelle’s parents house in Nob Hill writing this blog entry on my laptop while Michelle helps her mom do some last minute food shopping.

Meeting her parents went great. Michelle’s Dad is in finance, so I was able to talk to him about banking for a while and that was a great ice breaker. I definitely gave him the impression that I’m not an idiot.

Michelle’s mom teaches art history at SF State so we didn’t have as much to talk about right off the bat (I am ignorant of all things related to art). But we did find some common ground talking about food. I asked what we were having tomorrow and I told her what my mom usually makes. We talked about food and families. She was surprised that my parents are still married. I guess it’s unusual for a couple like me and Michelle to have both sets of parents never divorced. I could tell she felt that I came from “a good family” because of that fact.

Tonight, Michelle and I are going out with some of her old friends from high school. Then tomorrow her brother and sister show up and it’s turkey and stuffing. I feel much better now knowing that the pressure is off!

Meet the Parents, continued

I’m off tomorrow to San Francisco to meet Michelle’s family. Thanksgiving dinner will include her mom and dad, younger sister Quinn, and younger brother Greg.

I have to say I am more than a little nervous. I mean, yes, I have acquired mad skills talking to strangers for the last 18 months. But these people aren’t strangers. Plus, I need this to go well. Talking to strangers is a success whether I make a new friend or some douche in an Audi tells me to fuck off. I can’t lead with, “So how do you know Michelle?”!

I’m not saying that I am only capable of superficial conversations. But meeting strangers by its very nature starts out at a superficial level. As you progress, you dig deeper. Most of the time, I don’t get that far. It’s a lot of ice breakers and cocktail conversations. Few of my encounters have turned into lasting relationships.

On the other hand, some of them have. I guess I just want to make a good impression because I know Michelle is close with her family and values their opinion. It could be an insurmountable obstacle if I screw this up. And I can’t let that happen because I can’t imagine losing her.

Mindset

I’m reading a book called “Mindset” by psychologist Carol Dweck. Normally I’m not much for books even remotely considered “self-help” but this one is really causing one of those “aha” moments where you suddenly realize how you are sabotaging yourself.

Basically, the premise is that there are two “mindsets” to dealing with success and failure. The “fixed” mindset person believes that he is born with certain abilities and intelligence and they pretty never change. The “growth” mindset person believes that abilities and intelligence grow if you challenge yourself. Most people are fixed but you should really want to change to growth.

Here’s why: The fixed mindset person is always trying to prove himself and views any failure as an attack on who he is. It threatens his self-esteem because failure means he’s not smart enough. Consequently, he stops trying. This person views effort as a shortcoming because trying hard means you’re not smart.

The growth person doesn’t label himself but his actions as inadequate and actions can change. Failure is an opportunity to learn and grow so this person loves challenges and never gives up. Effort isn’t a failing; it’s the very definition of intelligence because making an effort is the only way to get smarter. The first person thinks, “I’m a failure, I should stop trying.” The second person thinks, “I made a mistake, how can I learn to do it better?”

Now this all sounds well and good, like it’s some easy thing to just change mindsets. Trust me, it’s not. I’ve always been on the smart side of the scale and I totally felt like the book was speaking to me. “A fixed mindset person would rather do an easy puzzle over and over again while a growth mindset person always seeks new challenges.” I remember in college, sometimes to pass the time, I’d play Risk against the computer on the easiest setting. I could win the game in maybe 30-40 seconds but it was still satisfying. I’d play over and over again to see how fast I could win. But now I realize that I was just trying to validate myself instead of challenge myself. A fixed mindset person defines intelligence as being able to accomplish goals without any effort. But the point of the book is that effort is the only thing that makes you smarter.

Next week back to talking to strangers and my trip to San Francisco to meet Michelle’s family!

How Do You Know Paul?

I went to Paul’s birthday party at the Bodega Wine Bar on Sunset last night. It was one of those kinds of birthday parties I hate: the birthday boy (in this case Paul) sends out an evite to come to his birthday party at a bar.

The place isn’t rented out or anything. The bar doesn’t know they are the location for the party. Drinks are not on Paul’s tab. Essentially the “party” consists of telling everyone to go to some random bar at the same time and buy their own drinks.

In my view, that’s called “hanging out” or “meeting up” not a “party.” I get that not everyone can afford to throw a lavish party, rent out a room, or buy everyone’s drinks, but if that’s the case, I’d rather go to your apartment and play Pictionary. There are a lot of cheap/free parties that are a fun with a little thought. I guess that’s just my big complaint. It just seems lazy.

Anyway, I didn’t know anyone except Paul. Michelle had to work late and so there was that initial panic when I walked in and saw a room full of people I didn’t know. It is weird how you irrationally think people are looking at you. In reality, no one notices the new guy walking in.

I took a deep breath and tried to remember all my best opening lines. I walked up to a guy who was not talking to anyone and I said, “Hey. I’m Fletcher. How do you know Paul?”

Luis said they worked together and that led to 20 minutes of conversation. I was getting bored of this guy so I said, “Excuse me, I’ve got to go say hi to Paul.” And I left. (That’s the best way out of a conversation. Excuse me. Any reason will do. Leave.)

I didn’t go up to Paul and the thought did occur to me that Luis would watch to see if I was lying, but again, no one does this. You leave and they move on. No one follows you to check on your story.

So I tried a group. “Sorry to interrupt, how do you guys know Paul?” It doesn’t make any sense, but no one skipped a beat. They just started answering my question and I was instantly included.

I was really rocking the “How do you know Paul” all night. I talked to easily a dozen strangers. One misstep though. I went up to a cute girl and with a big smile I said, “How do you know Paul?”

She said, “Paul’s my brother, Fletcher. You and I went to junior prom together, asshole.”

Paul’s younger sister Erin had flown out from Pennsylvania to visit him and we had in fact gone to the junior prom together. Oops.

The Guy with the Stupid Shoes

Michelle took me to a charity benefit for the Leukemia Society this weekend at some rich guy’s house.

When we got there, Michelle went to talk to her friend and I walked down onto the lawn where people were milling around drinking wine. Some middle-aged guy in an argyle sweater and stupid black loafers saw me and said, “Karma?”

I just looked at him.

He repeated, “Karma?”

I said, “I don’t know what that means.”

He said, “Are you from karma?”

I said, “Look. I don’t know what you’re talking about. If just shouting Karma is some kind of new greeting they only use in Bel Air, then ‘karma’ right back at you.”

He said, “Oh, sorry. I thought you were from the Karma Foundation.”

I said, “When did you figure out that I wasn’t? After the third time I said I didn’t know what you were talking about?”

He didn’t laugh. I offered a handshake and said, “I’m Fletcher. I’m here with Michelle.” He shook my hand but didn’t say his name. I think I was supposed to already know what his name was because I later found out it was his house.

I did speak to quite a few people. My repertoire of opening lines and small talk came in handy. A lot of “How do you know _____?” and “What brings you here today?” The latter is a good opening line because it’s so ambiguous that the person can answer pretty much however they want.

Translating Teenager

I had to meet with a client yesterday to discuss their debt restructuring.

This was a big clothing manufacturer and the meeting was in their offices downtown. Me and Kyle and our boss Bruce met them in their conference room and went over all the usual boring shit that I do all day long. But then during a break a cute high school chick came into the conference room. Turns out it was the owner’s daughter and she was interning after school.

He introduced her to everyone and I asked her where she went to school. She rolled her eyes and said, “Beverly.” (That’s Beverly Hills High School to those of you not in L.A.) I loved the eye roll because it said so much, like “Yeah, my Dad’s rich and I go to Beverly, what a cliché, but I’m not like that, it’s not like on the TV show, I’m real.”

I asked her where she wants to go to college and she said, “Dunno. I’m like a sophomore.” I love language and usage and I just loved that she added “like” before “sophomore.” Clearly it wasn’t meant to indicate imprecision. It said so much more. She was saying, “I’m only fifteen, dumb ass.” I smiled but quickly covered.

“Well, it’s never too early to start thinking about colleges. You want to work in the garment business one day?”

She said, “I don’t know. I mean, maybe like fashion merchandising or something but not retail and not lame old people’s clothes.” She had a point that this client did make mostly golf shirts and menswear. I thought I’d bond with her and said, “Yeah, your Dad’s stuff isn’t really the coolest stuff.”

She looked at me, confused. She said, “Uh, yeah.” But what she meant was, “You and my Dad are the same age in my eyes. You are wearing a suit. You are not cool. You are not connecting with me.”

I suddenly felt very self-conscious when it occurred to me that I was closer to her Dad’s age than hers. She could have been my daughter if a girl would have had sex with me in high school and I knocked her up (well almost). I realized that I was not part of her generation in any way and it was kind of sad.

I said to her, “Well, I’d better get back to work.” But what I meant was, “I don’t want your Dad to think I’m a pedophile.”

Meet the Parents

It’s November and that means Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Guess where I’m going this Turkey Day? That’s right, San Francisco to have Thanksgiving with Michelle’s family.

It’s a big step I think meeting the parents. There’s also going to be Michelle older brother and sister who are both lawyers so I’m sure that will be fun, too. My strategy is going to be to treat it like talking to any other stranger. I’m going to ask a lot of questions and let them do most of the talking. People love to talk about themselves so hopefully that will make me look like a good listener.