More huge news! I’ve begun writing and hosting a brand new PBS series about etymology called “Bongo Bongo" (the linguistics term for an imaginary language). Each week we explore the history and cultural significance of a different word — like Sesame Street for grown-ups ….Except I’m Big Bird and Cookie Monster.
Check out this week’s episode, in which we tackle the word “jam,” below!
HUGE NEWS: I’m officially a writer for Food & Wine's FWx. I couldn’t be more thrilled to write for such a kickass publication! Check out my new beer column, “The Beer Olympics,” by clicking the mag below.
When you’re done reading, please tweet @foodandwine the beer style you’d like to see compete next using “#FWx”!
Man, oh MAN, am I planning some crazy stuff this month…
Yep, I’m still writing for MTV’s Guy Code blog, and keeping up with my weekly advice column at Gurl.com, but I’m working on a brand new venture that’ll be unveiled in March…AND I AM SUPER STOKED ABOUT IT.
In the meantime, follow me on Twitter to stay up to date on the latest news. I’ve been tweeting much more often lately, and it’s been fun fun FUN.
No longer must a man struggle through life, love, and awkward conversations with his dad about “self-stimulation” — my new weekly advice show, Dude, Seriously? is up and running! Watch the first five episodes at youtube.com/askdudesrsly, and submit your own questions for me and co-host Joel ”The Daily Guru" Freimark to answer in future installments.
Check out the newest ep — in which we tackle employment and hair loss, among other things — right here!
-AND, I recently hosted a show on BBox Radio with my buddy The Daily Guru, during which we attempted to cram as many songs from as many genres as we could into 2 hours! You can now listen to the archived recording HERE.
On March 17th, 2013, I’ll be running (and hopefully not dying in) the NYC Half Marathon! I’m participating to raise money for Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization.
Autism Speaks is dedicated to: -funding research for the causes, prevention, and treatment of autism -increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders -and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families
Please visit my fundraising page by clicking HERE and donate whatever you can to support the cause. Even $1 helps!
I’m the newest beer correspondent for Serious Eats! While on tour for our Dave and Ethan shows, I’ll be tasting a beer in every US state and writing about each one. Check out the first post below and share with all your alcoholic friends!
“I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been one to turn down a free drink. Fortunately (or if you ask my liver, unfortunately), my gig as a touring comedian means that I’ve managed to score one in almost every US state. Admittedly, I’ve occasionally sipped some not-so-tasty suds, such as the Ybor Gold Light I had in Melbourne, Florida, which tasted more like wet cornflake runoff than beer, or the thin, pale yellow liquid in Minot, North Dakota that may or may not have been squirrel urine. But of all the breweries, bars, pubs, and basements of creepy old men I’ve frequented for a pint of the good stuff, I found one of my all-time favorites in Grand Rapids, Michigan…”
Read more “On the Beer Trail” HERE at SeriousEats.com, with a new post each week!
Pirates is my improvisational hardcore band — the only one of its kind. We are also the only band ever to have been indicted for auditory homicide.
Every riff, drum fill, and lyric on our 14-song debut album was written, recorded, and mixed on the spot. Join us on Facebook, and come to our LIVE SHOW at the People’s Improv Theater in NYC on December 15th:
(Originally appeared on YourTango.comas “Why Moving In With My Girlfriend Scares The Pants Off Of Me,” Sep 2012)
My girlfriend and I are moving in together, and I think I might throw up. Not because I don’t want to live with her, or because I was bullied, tricked, or pressured into signing a lease (my deepest sympathies to the guy on Maury who was threatened at gunpoint by his future mother-in-law). But let’s just say that sometimes I can be a bit…“skittish” when facing transitions.
Take the first wintery day of 2nd grade, for example, on which I refused to surrender my shorts.
“But it’s cold outside, Ethan,” my mother tried to reason. “Today is a Pants Day.”
Defying her logic, I attended school in a pair of beloved cut-offs, and would regret it by 1PM. Not solely out of embarrassment, mind you, for being the only kid in class to bear my bottom half to the elements — but also because I nearly froze my ass off at recess.
This wasn’t the only time I would stubbornly refuse an abrupt wardrobe change. The next year, I insisted on wearing a specific colorful safari cap to school every day. My mom had to literally pry it off my head once it became too filthy and tattered to wear, just in time to stave off Child Services from taking me on an involuntary vacation.
To uninformed outsiders, this behavior might be interpreted as the symptom of a highly limited fashion sense. Such was the popular, though misinformed assesment of my 7th grade classmates over the orange sweatpants I would famously wear three times a week. The truth is, a pre-approved outfit on the odd days we’d have gym class would resolve the dread I felt over changing clothes. No, I was not the 13-year old male Gaga — deep down my “eccentric” sartorial choices were a product of my inability to relinquish control.
Debbie and I have been dating for over two years now, and we both want to spend even more of each day together – clearly, our decision to share an apartment was both logically and emotionally sound. But give me a few hours to mull it over and pick at the holes in our plan, and suddenly I’m transported to second grade, frozen with rigidity.
Apparenty I still suffer from anxiety over changing on command.
Of course, historically, whenever I’ve had trepidation over a change, I’ve adjusted within days, if not minutes. We humans are adaptive creatures, and I am no exception. But even the seemingly reassuring fact that I voluntarily chose to move in with Deb is of no consolation, as it’s the transition which paralyzes me most. The simple thought of the impending disruption to my normal daily order looms over me like creeping death.
Furthermore, what makes these stakes so much higher than those of a seasonal wardrobe shift is that this time it’s not just the change itself that I’m fearing – it’s the fact that by sharing my living space with another person, I’m forfeiting some of my everyday control permanently. A stream of selfish questions steadily surface: When will I have alone time? How will our sleeping patterns mesh? Can she keep the bathroom clean enough? Will I have to give up porn?
I know that in order to experience the many exciting and wonderful benefits of cohabitation, I will need to make some sacrifices. Living with my girlfriend means that I won’t be able to blast Cannibal Corpse or Pig Destroyer at any hour of the day. Midnight Frosted Mini Wheat dinners and 11AM breakfasts of leftover Linguini ai Frutti de Mare will be replaced by time-appropriate meals shared at more reasonable hours. I will no longer be able to poop with the door open.
On top of all the freedoms I’ll concede, there are the adjustments I’ll need to make to her living style. The bed might not got made right away; the sink might get dirty. I’ll likely lose autonomy over temperature control, and I’ll definitely lose closet space. My living room might fill with lady-friends, cheap wine, and snuggies on a Friday night, while the DVR fills with all things Bachelorette (the episodes, the recaps, the reunions, and the fantasy league).
Thankfully, my girlfriend is a reasonable woman. More than reasonable, even. So for all the sacrifices I’ll be making, I know I can keep the habits and rituals that matter: She’s okay with my midnight vacuuming sessions. She’ll turn a blind eye to at-home happy hours set to episodes of Intervention. She thinks its funny when I talk to myself in different voices, and can tolerate the occasional fart (key word: occasional).Without judgment, she allows me to be me.
Of course, there are also the awesome things I’ll gain from a live-in girlfriend. While the financial boons are great (half-priced cable!), I’m mostly excited about the potential experiences. I’ll have a guinea pig for some of my more daring culinary experiments, and the joy of playing one for her on nights when I’m irresponsibly working through dinner. Massages and compliments will become commodities more regularly traded. Trivial fun facts and deeper idiosyncrasies of both parties will be uncovered. And potentially best of all, I’ll get the benefit of waking up next to the most attractive woman I know.
Life will be different when we move in together next month. But I know that ultimately, I’ll benefit from being forced to finally leave some rigidity behind. Sharing a living space with a partner can evolve one’s very core, helping to form a more selfless attitude. I want to learn how to be a better compromiser. Fortunately, Debbie is patient enough to know that when it comes to compromise, I can be a slow learner. I want to be more spontaneous, more accomodating. And with my love for her already making that possible in our relationship, I know sharing a home is just the next step.
In a recent moment of panic after being selected for jury duty (more specifically, a grand jury requiring a total of 30 days of service), I turned to a classic tome a friend of mine once recommended in times of distress: the Tao Te Ching, the text fundamental to Taoism. Huffing and puffing in frustration, I opened to a random passage and read the first line of translated Chinese:
“The flexible are preserved unbroken.”
Typically I dismiss any religious or spiritual writing as mere mumbo jumbo, but these words struck a chord. Perhaps I was simply desperate for some confirmation that serving on a grand jury is not, in fact, a death sentence (I later discovered that it’s not so bad), but I instantly found great solace in the ancient philosophical maxim. Finding flexibility is not always simple task — but doing so makes survival possible, and teaches us something new in the process.
We yearn for control and predictability because it’s so easy to feel helpless in such a mysterious, expanding universe. Helplessness lies at the root anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. But helplessness can also drive us to become artists, thinkers, inventors – it can give us a reason to strive for greatness, to find meaning for our existence. Perhaps most importantly, when harnessed for good, helplessness makes true love all the more beautiful and important. If you can share the struggle with another person, you might just make it out alright.
Hopefully I remember all of this the next time my girlfriend tells me it’s too cold outside for shorts.
Dave and Ethan: Using a Hype Man to Pick Up Ladies
In the latest Dave and Ethan installment, we acted as each other’s “hype men” in order to pick up women. If you haven’t seen the videos yet on our YouTube channel, you can check out parts 1 and 2 right here!
(Originally appeared in Draft Magazine as “Rolling Ahead,” July/Aug 2012)
Back in winter, we asked our readers who most influenced the way they drink, and to write about it for our annual essay contest. Our winner is Ethan Fixell, whose story below tells how a sip of his grandpa’s Rolling Rock set him on the road to beer consciousness.
Grandpa Lee was the first person I had ever seen drink beer. To watch him swig from a bottle of Rolling Rock while grilling outside on a hot summer day was a tradition I not only took comfort in witnessing, but soon longed to participate in as well. His theatrical “ahhh” punctuating each gulp only reinforced the refreshing qualities of the forbidden beverage.
“Why can’t I try?” I would ask, once too old to continue believing that the liquid in question was “just soda.”
“Because he’s too young,” my mother would always interject before Grandpa could respond.
That is, until one day, at the age of 13, I was finally, secretly offered a sip. “Don’t get too used to this,” Grandpa said with a playful poke.
Suppressing a wince, I would unknowingly announce my first official review of hundreds to come: “Tastes like bread-flavored seltzer.” But there was something indescribably romantic about the experience, too – just as I knew I would one day grow chest hair, I also somehow knew I would grow to appreciate beer.
When I asked my grandpa why he drank Rolling Rock over all the other more well-known brands endorsed by cool canine mascots and sexy beach-party-goers on television, he explained that it was an honest, dependable brew which he had first tried with coworkers in Pennsylvania shortly before I was born. Commuting between Wilkes-Barre, PA, and Rockville Centre, NY, he would bring home a case of the otherwise unavailable lager each month. Thankfully, Rolling Rock had finally gained distribution in New York, saving him a three hour drive each time his supply ran out.
Throughout college and my first years on my own, Rolling Rock was my beer of choice. If it bore the seal of approval from a drinking veteran with over 50 years of experience, I reasoned that it was good enough for me. I also admit that each bottle conjured a good bit of nostalgia – drinking one always made me feel closer to my grandpa while hundreds of miles away.
By the time I was 24, I noticed one evening that the usual stacks of Rolling Rock cases in my grandparents’ basement had been replaced by a few stray six packs of various labels. I asked my Grandpa about the change, and he explained that Rolling Rock – having just been bought by Anheuser-Busch – wasn’t being made in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, anymore. The beer now “lacked consistency,” so he had given it up altogether.
Taking my cues from a man who always had high standards for quality, I, too, felt betrayed by the disappointing news. I suddenly realized that I needed to pay closer attention to that which I imbibe, and resolved that some experimentation was in order. After some cursory internet research, I discovered the existence of some small but mighty players such as Dogfish Head Brewery and Harpoon, and made a pledge to seek out and try as many craft beers as possible.
At first, the onslaught of new, delicious flavors I encountered at beer festivals and in barroom flights was entirely overwhelming. Most of the time I could barely remember what I had tasted; the rest of the time, I could barely make out my illegible notes, written like a sugar-addicted 6-year-old set loose in a candy store (there were plenty of “10!!!”s doled out in those days). But soon I would begin to develop a much more sensitive palate, becoming familiar with an array of styles, and slowly realizing what I actually liked or disliked about each IPA or porter. After years of downing corny, watered-down swill, I finally came to understand how beer was actually supposed to taste.
A few months into my craft beer journey, my grandpa and I went out to our favorite seafood restaurant in my neighborhood to dine on raw clams, our mutual favorite food. While he got ready to settle in with a Pabst (the only beer he recognized there), I quickly scanned the beer list for something new he might appreciate. A smooth and tasty Lighthouse Ale by local brewer Fire Island Beer Company seemed like it could offer the perfect transition into craft beer. It turned out I was right, and he let me guide his mealtime beer choice ever since.
Only a few days after I sat down to begin writing this piece, my grandpa at last succumbed to a long battle with cancer. The illness made it impossible for him to drink almost anything – much less beer – for the last few weeks of his life. But even in his physically depleted state, he would still take pleasure in hearing about my own beer experiences as a touring comedian who now makes a point of visiting at least one brewery in every U.S. state I perform in. Of course, I took immense pride in being able to share my newfound knowledge with the man who taught me to love beer in the first place. My only regret is that I never took the time to tell Grandpa Lee about how each new beer I sample always takes me back to the experience of sharing my very first Rolling Rock with him.
The Daily Guru is the only guy I know who knows more about music than I do. Check out my recent appearances on his YouTube channel, in which we play musical word association, and share some of our favorite songs and albums of the month!
(Originally appeared on YourTango.com as “The Threat Of Loss Is The Only Thing That Makes Love Worthwhile,” May 2012)
Try this,” I said, passing her a brimming rocks glass.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Maybe the best bourbon you’ll ever taste in your life.” Sometimes I fancy myself the Willy Wonka of adult beverages.
Her nose wrinkled as she raised a hand to stop me. “No thanks, I’m okay.”
“You don’t like whiskey?”
“I don’t like the burn!” she laughed.
Whatever benefits this rare malt had to offer, my date was not alone in being unable to look past the smart of the first sip — “the burn” is what commonly keeps the uninitiated from whiskey. But connoisseurs know that no matter how intoxicating the bouquet or rich the flavor, whiskey’s not worth drinking without the burn.
Are whiskey drinkers just enthusiastic masochists? Perhaps to some extent, all humans are. Consider love, a fundamental force of nature that tricks us into fulfilling our procreative destinies. Love draws us together and gives us meaning, but not without a harrowing price: whether emotionally or physically, we gain someone whom we stand to lose.
Yet we seem to thrive on the drama. All the anxiety and stress we experience from the chase, from the arguments, from the uncertainty of it all, is not only worth it for the payoff, it’s part of what keeps us coming back for more. This addictive paradox invigorates us by reaffirming our mortality just as the sting of alcohol does. As with alcohol, the key is moderation – balancing the painful elements with the finer, more delicate elements of a meaningful relationship. No one wants pure burn, or we’d drink gasoline. Easier said than done, of course, as we all swig too deeply sometimes….
Two months after the whiskey offering, my excitement about Debbie had grown exponentially. I began to fantasize about our future together like a rom-com serial bridesmaid who’s finally met her groom (I’m played by Jennifer Aniston in my film). We spoke more and more frequently, and I pushed for more and more dates. My not-yet-girlfriend enthusiastically complied, and soon we could both read the print on the signs above each fork of the road ahead: “Exclusivetown” and “Dumpsville.”
Historically, I had always categorized women into “lifelong partners” or “doomed incompatibles.” Inevitably every sweetheart – even those running a strong race for six months, or even a year – would eventually land in the latter grouping. I suppose I felt safe and secure in doomed relationships because I could envision their finite boundaries and escape at any time. It’s impossible to know for sure if this pattern perpetually resurfaced because I valued freedom above love or I simply hadn’t yet met anyone worth dating for a lifetime. Nevertheless, this was my M.O.
And so, as we approached our impending crossroad, and I began to sense, from her sudden reticence, that Debbie was starting to get nervous—I remembered to get nervous. Staring down the barrel of what could quickly and easily become my most serious relationship to date, I became petrified by the prospect of supreme commitment, no matter how far away such a fate may have actually been, if at all. Our relationship had legitimate potential, and it was scaring the crap out of both of us. (Sorry, Grandma, but apparently “nice Jewish girls” are as susceptible to anxiety as we nice Jewish boys are.)
The unspoken tensions came to a head when, after sitting silently through an entire movie at her apartment, I asked her what she was thinking about. Following a long, awkward pause, she explained that she needed space. Overwhelmed, she felt we would benefit from spending fewer days together each week. I told her I agreed, but was secretly panicking inside.
The next morning, I saw my therapist. (Hey, I may not have been equipped to fix my own intimacy issues, but at least I had the sense to not push the eject button before consulting a professional first.) I told him about the girl I had come to like so much, and about how invested we had become in one another. I told him about her pulling away, unnerved and frightened, and how it had triggered my own apprehensions. I told him about how uncomfortable it felt to have no roadmap while paradoxically dreading long-term commitment at the same time. And I told him about my plan for swiftly ending the relationship, defusing the ticking timebomb before it could blow up in my face.
“Did you ask her if she wants to break up?” asked the doctor.
“Yes,” I responded.
He sat back in his chaise lounge and placed his hands behind his head, weaving his fingers through wild, white, Einsteinian locks. “And what did she say?”
He stared at me and smiled knowingly. “Then listen to what she wants. Don’t be afraid of a little discomfort in the process.”
Of course, he was talking about the burn. Why fear the burn? Because opening yourself up to it — allowing yourself to be vulnerable to pain — is downright frightening. What if it scorches my throat, we think, what if I can’t get the bitter taste out of my mouth? What if I drown?
What I had failed to remember in the midst of panic is that love is only made better by the growing pains. Intimacy without fear of loss is just sex; in those precious early stages of a blossoming relationship, sometimes we need to feel like we could lose control at any moment, punch drunk and coughing ad infinitum. That little taste of trouble makes us feel alive and keeps love vibrant and new. Instead of fighting it, I needed to relinquish control over the outcome of this adventure, and accept the possibility of a beautiful failure. Don’t run from the burn, I intoned to myself, live in it.
Debbie and I didn’t speak at all that day. We didn’t speak the next day either.I gave her the space she needed, realizing she was a step ahead of me this whole time. While I had become too available, too accessible in the delicate opening moments of the romance, she was needing to long for me. She was never scared of the burn – she was yearning for it.
After two days of radio silence, Debbie sent me a text message asking what I was up to. Excited to hear from her, but resolved to embrace the ambiguity of our situation, I reported back positively and self-assuredly, without any subtext. Slowly, over the course of a week, we began communicating naturally once again. It seemed that by welcoming the uncertainty of it all, I had somehow conveyed a mysterious confidence which made me more attractive than ever before. Soon we were spending more time together than we had previously, and were at ease expressing our mutual desire to do so.
While our anticipation continued to melt into a productive fuel that nourished the relationship, we found that there are additional bittersweet checkpoints beyond the three-month mark. When I finally mustered the courage to express greater feelings for her (gulp: love), we endured a similar period of turbulence. Throughout the two weeks it took her to gather the nerve to reciprocate, I felt as if I were skydiving without a parachute, uncertain if my fall would be broken by a fluffy, comfy cloud, or a ditch by the side of the road.
By the time we celebrated our first anniversary – an unspoken point of reflection to consider dating for another year or more – we were both better prepared to take a bit more enjoyment from the terrifying act of freefalling together. And our most recent plunge was the decision to move in together, which brought with it a whole new array of anxieties to keep us up at night (e.g., “What if we get sick of each other?” “Are we compatible roommates?” “Whose blender do we keep???”) The difference now, however, from previous incarnations of the burn, is that we are able to talk openly about wanting to continue cultivating the relationship. Knowing your partner isn’t interested in leaving makes it easier to take joy from the ache of adjusting to each new phase of the relationship.
Not that we’re immune to daily conflict. While accustomed drinkers will find that the burn can become more familiar and easier to tolerate as a whiskey matures, thankfully love has its own way of maintaining a healthy burn volume: An energizing disagreement over plans for the weekend, an insensitive joke, or even control of the TV remote can fire things up and cleanse the buildup of arising tensions.
Nearly a year after turning down her first prospective dive into single barrel whiskey, my girlfriend finally accepted a second offer of the Wild Turkey “Kentucky Spirit” I had once presented to her before. Debbie drinks bourbon now – loves the stuff, in fact. For the sake of full disclosure, she often takes her whiskey in a Manhattan. But I have nothing but love and respect for that noble cocktail – beneath the sweet vermouth and dashes of aromatic bitters, one can always still detect that sharp, delicious burn.
"Dear Ethan: Why are guys so sensitive about stuff?! My boyfriend always jokes around with me about and I’m always a good sport about it… I know he’s just kidding. But if I make one little joke about his appearance, stuff we do in bed or his down there situation, he gets totally upset and miserable. Also, he lets me know when he thinks other girls are cute – but if I say a guy is cute or talk too much about my favorite male celebrity, he gets insulted. Why can guys dish it out but not take it?”
While many of us guys can certainly afford to be more sensitive to the needs and emotions of the fairer sex, I think it’s safe to say that women are just as sensitive about physical shortcomings as we are. Sure, I hate the fact that my arms and pectoral muscles look like those of a six-year-old girl, but I know plenty of ladies who are just as self-conscious about their own bodies. Whether due to weight, height, or a squeaky laugh that sounds like a dolphin mating call, we all have insecurities. Guys and girls may have different ways of expressing such embarrassment, but no one is immune – so try to follow the Golden Rule and not poke fun at that which your boyfriend is touchiest about.
Now, I’m not entirely sure what his “down there situation” is, but hopefully he’s not missing any pieces. Otherwise, I’ll assume you’re referring to his performance in the bedroom, which can certainly be a sore spot (no pun intended) for guys. Our goods “down there” are the source of our masculinity and virility, so a malfunction due to such factors as nerves or alcohol can be a huge blow to our egos – especially for younger men with less sexual experience and, therefore, less confidence. If your relationship is fairly new, you might want to avoid the sex jokes until your guy is comfortable enough to take them (or learns to grow a bigger penis).
Joke! (Wait a few months before using that one.)
However, I do agree with you that the double standard he’s set when it comes to talking about other girls is totally unfair. A guy who comments on other ladies needs to have enough confidence to stomach your assessments of other dudes. Point this hypocritical habit out to him, and let him know he can’t have it both ways. If he can’t handle the discussion or is unable to see the contradiction, then he’ll have to agree to a joint moratorium on pointing out other attractive people altogether. And if there’s simply no way to reason with him, you might need to find a more mature guy who’s capable of dishing it out and taking it – though you might have to crush a few souls to find him!
"What do guys think about periods? Do they find them totally gross? Are they a huge turnoff? Will a guy still want to have sex with a girl if she has her period? Or will he not even want to make out with her?"
Sure, immature guys may think periods are gross, but these are usually the same dudes who deny the fact that girls “go Number 2.” The vast majority of men understand that your period is just a natural part of womanhood. Any guy who’s turned off by the fact that you menstruate simply isn’t ready for sex in general.
With that said, there’s no need to flaunt your period and talk too graphically about it with someone you’ve just begun dating (or have dated for a long time, if your boyfriend is the uneasy type who gets queasy on roller coasters and at horror movies). Just as you could probably do without your boyfriend vividly describing the size and smell of his latest bathroom creation, your boyfriend doesn’t necessarily need to hear every detail about your time of the month.
But when it comes to hooking up during your period, male perspectives can be subjective and circumstantial. For example, if you’re comfortable with it, many guys I know have no problem putting their hand “down there” as long as you give them a heads up. On the other hand, though it’s theoretically safe to do so, most guys I know would rather not perform oral sex during menstruation. And vaginal sex seems to split both guys and girls down the middle, as some seem to prefer to wait the period out while others have no problem with it whatsoever. Of course, all of these scenarios also depend on how heavy the flow is.
Speaking of which, I should make a quick public service announcement and mention that regardless of personal preferences, there is a higher risk of STD infection during menstruation. The more blood and bodily fluids (i.e. saliva or natural lubrication) involved, the more easily a virus can be transmitted to either partner. So make sure you’re both protected if you choose to engage in any type of sex — but especially during your period.
Oh, and if a guy refuses to make out with you while you have your period, then he’s either an ultra-Orthodox Jew or an ignorant jerk –- so unless you’re already studying the Torah, he’s definitely not for you!
I’ve been on my fair share of double dates — certainly more than anyone I know; perhaps more than anyone in this country. Thanks to a video posted on YouTube and some corresponding ads on Craiglist, my friend Dave and I have been on close to 200 of them in the course of just a few years, documenting our romantic/terrifying journey in the process (http://youtube.com/daveandethan). And from these numerous trysts – many of which were utterly disastrous – I’ve come to understand the unspoken “rules” of double dating. The following guidelines will assure the conversion of any double date into a night of true love.
….Or, at least, a night of lovemaking.
1. Don’t choose a wingperson who is better looking than you.
Not long before embarking on my journey with Dave, I winged a double date with an Abercrombie and Fitch model. Despite my charming personality and his struggle with the English language, I failed to garner any attention from the ladies, and he received two lap dances. (And neither of the girls were strippers by trade.)
For best results, partner up with someone in your “league.”
2.Screen your dates thoroughly.
While I find the comfortable informality of double dating generally preferable to the traditional form, I admit that it can promote deception and ulterior motives. During one particular misadventure with Dave, it became clear quite quickly that only one of our dates was interested in only one of us. While the girl flirted openly with me, her unenthused wingwoman – apparently doing her friend a “favor,” as we later learned – stoically texted every contact in her address book as Dave serenaded her with an arsenal of John Legend songs.
On a more disturbing rendezvous, we treated one pair of suspiciously youthful ladies to cocktail after cocktail, only to discover – upon their producing workers permits when finally carded – that they were underage girls merely looking to experience “wastedness” for the first time together.
However, by obtaining multiple photos and engaging in brief, but comprehensive phone conversations, you and your wingperson may avoid disappointment…or a night in jail.
3. Never call dibs.
Dave and I have more than once made the awful mistake of marking territory sight unseen. Not only have there been instances in which we were required to “trade” our original picks midway through the evening, but there were also disputes far less resolvable. A clash over one notably attractive female even resulted in fisticuffs, and nearly in the termination of our entire project.
Rather than laying claim to dates before actually meeting them, I strongly suggest keeping an open mind and allowing the night to take its course. If no clear lines have been drawn by the close of the evening, fight your friend to the death for the hotter one.
4. Pick a venue suitable for a foursome.
In an attempt to impress a semi-pro figure skater, Dave convinced me that an ice skating rink would be the perfect site for a double date. He was proven wrong when my date – who had never skated before – ended up smashing her face into the boards.
Consider the interests of all four daters when planning a group activity. For example, avoid bars that seat linearly, which will exclude those sitting on either end. Tables are a must; round tables, even better; blankets and laps: ideal.
5. Pre-determine plans for payment.
Gentlemen: before the date begins, work out which of you will be paying for each part of the night and how (e.g. cash, credit, etc.). This will prevent a host of potentially awkward moments later. (“I’ll get this one, dude.” “No, it’s fine, I got it.” “Please, allow me.” “Are you sure?” “Why, you want to split it?” “Maybe that’s easier?” “I’m not sure.” “Okay, who had the lychee martini?”)
Ladies: practice your feigned protests long before the date to ensure an air of “authentic” gratitude when the bill comes.
6. Establish a “safeword.”
Should the date head south, it’s important to have an unusual word or phrase which can be uttered at any point, thus triggering your wingperson to come to your rescue. Perhaps best employed to diffuse unwanted sexual tension (as when Dave, upon hearing the code, intercepted an unattractive woman’s third attempt to kiss me with a mood-killing nonsequitur about “the art of the ‘mangina’”), this backpocket ace is one of the greatest benefits of double dating. You can even establish a second word as an emergency ripcord for ending the date entirely (as would have been useful for the girls who panicked upon hearing Dave’s offer to demonstrate said “mangina”).
Make sure the “safeword” is something you wouldn’t normally interject into conversation to avoid false alarms. In the past, Dave and I have used “mani-pedi,” “Beyonce,”and “Dancing With The Stars.”
7. Coordinate, but don’t imitate.
Before Dave and I became full-time comedians, we held day jobs with dress codes. But because Dave’s occupation required him to work weekends, he was once forced to show up to a Saturday night date in a suit and tie, while I donned my casual weekend wear, jeans and a t-shirt. Together, we looked like lawyer and client en route to a parole hearing. Always consult with your wingperson about wardrobe before meeting for the date.
Although you don’t want to resemble Law & Order characters from opposite sides of the track, you also don’t want to look like creepy clones. A pair of twins once showed up to a date in the same exact sundress. It was like Dave and I had walked onto the set of The Shining.
8. Avoid inside jokes.
One especially insufferable duo alienated us with their many inside jokes. They squealed whenever Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” was played, chattered incessantly about their mutual love for the color pink, and repeated the same outdated tween catch phrase (“That’s so Raven!”) at least four hundred times. While it’s great to have a wingperson you’re super close with, remember that a double date is first and foremost about meeting new people, not bonding with your best friend.
9. Promote your wingperson.
Double dating not only offers twice the chances of finding a match – it also provides you with a partner who can offer protection or help build you up. If your wingperson is at a loss for words or, worse, makes a faux pas, lay down some cover! Shamefully, there was an occasion in which I inappropriately verbalized my chronic fear of STDs (“You girls are clean, right?”), but thankfully, Dave was there to smooth things over (“My buddy, Ethan — such a neatfreak!”). Dave has also frequently supported me with highly subtle compliments: “Some say Ethan looks like Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. But his ‘moves like Jagger’ aren’t on the dance floor.”
Work as a team to obtain the best chance that you’ll both score.
10. Loyalty above all!
Although the objective of a double date is to meet new people, always stay faithful to your wingperson. For example, if your wingman excuses himself to the bathroom, don’t propose a threesome. Like Dave did. Instead, remind yourself that he or she was there for you before the date began, and that friendships often last longer than romances ever do.
And if the three-way is a sure thing, and the girls are super hot, and even your friend totally understands that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — please, don’t start the action while that friend is still in the room. ….You know, like Dave did?
Seven Lessons Learned in Serial (SUPER Serial) Internet Dating
(Originally appeared on AskMen.com as “Blind Date Advice,” Jan 2012)
While working for a cable TV network four years ago, I somehow landed two free tickets to a stand-up show at New York’s Gotham Comedy, and decided to invite my childhood friend and fellow comedian, Dave. At the event, we were rushed to the head of the line and seated in the front row with complimentary cocktails as VIPs. I could sense the audience puzzling over the identity of the young gay power couple that had just entered the room.
Later, over a few more drinks (or six) at his place, Dave revealed what had been stumping him all night: “Dude, thanks for the show – but why would you invite me when you could have impressed the hell out of a chick?”
He was right, but it was too late to take his ticket back. We did conclude, at least, that we should both be better employing our assets to impress girls. In fact, we reasoned, as two funny former improv troupe teammates, we could probably kill it if we joined forces.
So that night, Dave and I uploaded a YouTube video in which we described our interests (e.g. making money, walking) and requirements (e.g. STD-free, legally sane). Twenty minutes and six views later (thank you, “refresh” button), we learned our first of many lessons in internet dating:
1) Market yourself.
Without advertising, how else were women supposed to find our video? I suggested that we post an ad on New York City’s Craigslist highlighting some of the many positive qualities our Grandmothers had always admired us for (e.g. handsomeness, height, the ability to lift extremely heavy things) and some they had not (e.g. modesty).
Within hours of publishing the ad, we had already learned a second lesson:
2) Expect a challenge.
Messages began to pour into our new joint email account – most of which were from seemingly imbalanced women who type in all caps. Plenty weren’t from women at all, such as the gentleman who proposed that we “both bend [him] over and take turns slamming [his] butt.” All of our friends told us we were nuts – some, because they were secretly jealous; most, because they thought we were nuts. For obvious reasons, we refrained from telling our sweet, Jewish mothers about the mayhem overflowing from our inbox.
Merely one week into the project we’d amassed hundreds of potential love matches, but had yet to capitalize on our bounty. So we sat down and wrote back to a cute Brooklyn pair who seemed least likely to murder us. Once they had approved our proposed plan, Dave and I laid out a few ground rules for the evening (i.e. he wouldn’t liken me to a “poor man’s Tom Hanks,” and I wouldn’t talk about him shaving his feet in high school) and met the ladies at a laid back Williamsburg pub.
With introductions barely underway, I noticed the waitress creeping up on our table, gesturing to politely interrupt. “I’m sorry – but are you Dave and Ethan?” she finally interjected between our awkward sips of water. I repressed a spit-take and saved our equally shocked dates from a dousing, water now dribbling unsexily down my chin.
“We are,” Dave responded, barely suppressing his pride for our entirely undeserved celebrity.
The waitress smiled as our dates stared at us, slack-jawed. “I thought so. My friends and I have seen your video.” She walked back into the kitchen.
“Do you get that often?” one of our companions asked.
3) Never take a gift for granted.
“Oh, you know…sometimes,” I lied terribly.
That first date continued to go fairly well until, due to nerves or a lack of interest, we bailed on what was about to become a dual make out session (alright — we totally panicked).
4) Again, never take a gift for granted.
Perhaps out of spite, one of the girls “pranked” Dave the next day by accusing him of impregnating her (our first immaculate conception) as her friend cackled in the background. Did I mention these girls were young?
5) Screen, screen, SCREEN your dates.
Not as young, however, as the girls who posed as 21-year-olds, only to reveal their true age (*cough* 16) when producing workers’ permits as ID at our first bar stop of the night. Nor were either of them as crazy as the meth-addicted ex-soft-core-porn-star who attemped to force her way into my apartment despite repeated denials. Nor as drunk as the vodka-swilling, filthy-mouthed military chick who stole my watch and a bottle of whiskey before running off for a threesome with Dave and her friend, leaving me passed out alone on the couch in my underwear.
6) Pace Yourself.
After dozens of New York engagements, Dave and I decided to expand to other cities. Soon, thousands of emails had arrived from Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles…even London and Sydney. We would eventually entertain over 200 dates, and our experiences were translated into a live comedy show at the People’s Improv Theater. The “educational” show became popular with college students and gave way to a national tour, allowing us to perform at hundreds of schools across the country over the last three years.
In our quest for romance, we’ve learned plenty. But perhaps no lesson is as important as this:
7)Look out for your wingman.
Because in the end, friendship almost always outlasts love.*
On a whim a few years ago, my friend Dave and I posted a YouTube video in which we invited women to double date us. In the months to follow, we would embark on over 200 double dates together, many of which would provide us with horror stories for a live comedy show. However, none were a bigger disappointment than one I experienced on my own.
As usual, it started with an email:
from: tres bien ****@gmail.com to: firstname.lastname@example.org date: Sun, Apr 6, 2008 at 8:56 AM subject: two can have a party
all of my girlfriends are taken. but ethan, you are adorable.
Finding the email quite sweet (but still scarred by the “naughty 21-year-old college beauty” who turned out to be a 16-year-old high schooler with a worker’s permit for ID), I cautiously wrote back:
why, thank you. feel free to send a photo, and if we find another single “dave fan” we can have ourselves a party. (dave and i promised each other we’re only doing doubles until we both find love.)
She sent a photo within hours: a strangely expressionless but attractive close-up, her face illuminated as clear as day.
Quickly changing policy (but still scarred by the “fiery 22-year-old Latina” who turned out to be a 45-year-old Puerto Rican transvestite), I secured her number and called the next day. Following a long, casual conversation about mutually adored music, books, and movies, I wrote the following playful email:
ok. here’s what needs to happen:
you’re going to move to ny. preferably this week. then i will completely bail on my plan with dave and single date you myself. screw him—honestly, how many friends do i really need? then, after dating for a few weeks (days?), we can elope.
i propose this all based mostly on the fact that you are incredibly cute.
does this all work for you?
Here is where I made my first mistake, and learned an important dating lesson: Never joke too aggressively with a blind date. Little did I know, I was inviting disaster into my home…. But I’ll get to that.
Over the following week, we engaged in written correspondences filled with flirtation and sexual tension. The excitement came to a peak when she revealed her prior “occupation” over the phone one night:
Ethan: Well, a desk job isn’t inherently bad. Why don’t you like it? Tres Bien: It’s just so boring. Way more boring than my last job. Ethan: Which was… Tres Bien: Are you familiar with Suicide Girls? Ethan: (long, astonished pause) YOU’RE… A SUICI – Yes. Yes, I believe I’m familiar.
For those who aren’t familiar, SuicideGirls.com is a softcore porn website that features goth, punk, and indie-rock women – often heavily tattooed and photographed in the style of 1950s pin-ups. In other words, dating a Suicide Girl is a former Magic-card-playing, Fugazi-loving emo-teen’s dream come true. I needed to meet her.
Which illuminates the lesson learned from my second mistake: Never fixate romantically on one aspect of your date. Becoming infatuated with a person because of one idealized element of their personality will spark nothing more than inevitable disappointment. However, when a man is gifted with sexy nude shots, lapses in judgment are not uncommon.
So I invited her to take the train from Philadelphia to New York City for a date I’d plan. With that established, I learned more about her via Gchat throughout the week:
Tres Bien: I used to do drugs when I was a teenager me: Drugs? Like crack? Tres Bien: Haha no me: Meth? Tres Bien: Um…let’s talk about this later ok? me: Ha, OK. But can I call you Methy McGee? Tres Bien: No. It’s kind of a touchy subject for me me: Oh. OK. Sorry Tres Bien: It’s okay… that’s why I wanted to talk about it in person.
And there was yet another interaction I failed to assign a red flag to:
Tres Bien: so.. if i cant find somewhere to sleep .. theres no way i could sleep on your couch or something? if thats totally weird just say so me: ha, i mean, honestly, if i had ever met you even just once before, i wouldnt feel weird about it at all. but, i feel like its a lot all at onec, you know? Tres Bien: yeah thats fine. i understand
But like all the others, I swept this warning sign under the rug. And soon I was waiting patiently on the steps of New York’s midtown Post Office for my future-lover to arrive at Penn Station. Amtrak running late as usual, I waited, and waited, until my phone rang at last. She was here!
“I’m here…” she said quietly, apprehensively – almost a question.
I made my way through the winding station, weaving through corridors and commuters to retrieve her, a precious gem to be plucked from a coal mine. Finally, I arrived at the track, but found no sign of my girl. A few random stragglers peppered the platform: a homeless man, a large woman in a giant overcoat, a young child and his mother, an elderly janitor…none of which resembled my amour. I stood there scanning the room again and again for a full minute until I heard a tiny voice:
I turned to see the large woman in the giant overcoat. I had no recognition of the stranger in front of me, someone who had likely mistaken me for —
Oh my God. It was she.
I couldn’t have taken more than two seconds to reciprocate her greeting, but a lifetime of emotions cycled through my brain in this instant. Confusion quickly gave way to shock, then disappointment, resentment, and finally, self-pity.
This girl looked nothing like her pictures.
That she was 30 pounds overweight wasn’t the issue – it was the fact that she had deceived me with outdated photos which rattled me. I’d been blindsided: hoodwinked into an evening with a different person than expected.
“Sorry I’m late,” she apologized, and I quickly realized that the reason for her closed mouth in every photo had nothing to do with the “gothy” image I had assumed she wished to uphold: from her front gums protruded what can only be described as The Greatest Snaggletooth in the History of the World. My eight-year-old cousin has a straighter smile – and he only has half of his adult teeth. Trust me, it was bad. She made Steve Buscemi’s mouth pretty.
Thus was a third lesson learned: Never. Trust. Photos.
“I…I’m sorry I didn’t see you at first. I was distracted…about…something else,” I stammered as I led her towards the train station exit.
But she had already begun walking ahead of me. Quickly. I called after her to slow down. She paused and slightly turned her head only long enough to coldly state the obvious:
“I walk quickly.”
While awkwardly dispensing directions to this out-of-towner who refused to be lead, I made the decision that I’d overlook this disturbing introduction by making a fresh start at dinner. So what if she looks a little different than expected, I reasoned. We’d already shared some great conversation – why couldn’t we share a great night together?
My question was answered at the restaurant, as inquiry after inquiry received tersely mumbled responses and eye contact was a feat rarely achieved. Despite being able to hold down perfectly normal interactions for weeks online and over the phone, she was now more inaccessible than an unwed Mormon’s privates.
I tried every approach to lighten the mood: cracking jokes, broaching ultra-casual topics, speaking more, speaking less, even impressions. (Yes, impressions. I’m sorry, Jay Leno.) But nothing seemed to dent her icy wall. Eventually, I went for broke:
“So…why so ‘touchy’ about the whole…you know, meth thing?” I asked.
At last she looked up at me, though slightly horrified it seemed – either that I would inquire again, or perhaps because she was now mentally reliving her meth den days.
“It’s none of your business,” she finally hissed.
The evasion was now too much to bear. Could it be that this whole “meth thing” wasn’t a “thing” as much as an “addiction?” And if so, could drugs somehow be responsible for her stark change in appearance and demeanor? Whatever the answers were, I would eventually learn yet another valuable lesson: When your date refuses to answer questions about prolonged use of mind-melting psychostimulants, it’s time to walk away.
After dinner we saw a comedy show at one of my favorite improv theaters, but the entire performance was a blur. I was too preoccupied with my date’s refusal to reveal a single fact about her personal life. Who was sitting next to me? She could have murdered a thousand babies for all I knew. My eyes fixed on the show, I forced myself to laugh (too loudly) while she stared deep into the abyss, her soul seemingly lost to the darkness.
By the end of the performance, all I could think about was how to get her back as quickly as possible to Philadelphia. Panic set in when we discovered that the last train had departed only minutes ago.
“So we’ll head back to your place?” she asked with a confidence that was, at this point, entirely out of character.
“Oh, it’s late, I think I’m ready for bed,” I euphemized.
“That’s fine,” she responded. “But I’ll stay with you.”
I paused, pondering the most delicate way to deliver rejection. “I thought we…kinda…discussed that already?” I smiled lamely and half-shrugged, my inner Woody Allen bubbling to the surface.
“I’m not gonna try to fuck you.”
“Well, I’m not. I won’t even come into your room, if you want. I can sleep on your couch.”
Call me paranoid or heartless, but there was no way I was entertaining the possibility of a potentially mentally ill former nude model / drug addict robbing me or, worse, hacking me to pieces while I slept. In a panic, I explained that my roommate was uptight (an exaggeration) and uncomfortable with strange guests staying over (an outright lie) mainly because he was an Orthodox Jew (if there’s a Hell, I’m going). Then I made her call every New York contact she had in her phone. Eventually she reached some male friend, ex-, or pimp, who said it would be cool for her to come by, and I walked her underground to wait for the first uptown C train to arrive.
“So. Second date?” she asked, flashing her snaggletooth.
“We’ll see,” I lied as the C train came to a stop. I gave her a pitiful hug and gently nudged her onto the subway car.
I think she waved as the train left the station, but I’m not sure – I was already running as fast as I could.
In 2005, I briefly worked as a real estate agent in New York City, renting downtown luxury apartments to European pioneers, entitled college grads from Long Island, and investment bankers with trophy wives. The job – which I took merely as a means to support myself while pursuing more “noble” efforts as a rock musician – was truly fucking miserable. I was charging extra fees for products already available to anyone willing to spend two hours moseying through the Wall Street area on his or her own. My soul atrophying from the lack of creativity, I felt more useless than a condom at a nursing home.
However, I ultimately learned a lot that year — not only about the real estate industry, but about the psychology of investing as well. I discovered what comforts human beings, encouraging them to commit, and what frightens or discourages people, causing them to jump ship.
Six years later, in the midst of my longest romantic relationship to date, flashes of my real estate past began periodically flooding my overwhelmed mind. Familiar emotions such as fear, desire, anxiety, and consolation were reminiscent of those I had read on the faces of so many potential clients years earlier. And that’s when I came to realize that falling in love is, in many ways, just like investing in real estate. In essence, both processes are held together by checkpoints which can be as stressful as they are gratifying:
Pre-Checkpoint: Playing the Field
The first stage of dating is more casually referred to as “hooking up.” (Or, if you’re looser with the goods, “banging.”) If you were shopping for an apartment, this would be akin to couch surfing – staying with various acquaintances as you explore potential future neighborhoods and search for a place of your own. With zero responsibility attached, many find playing Musical Chairs: Sleepover Edition the most fun part of the entire journey, and, perhaps for good reason, never grow out of it. However, the majority of us eventually desire a deeper level of connection, and a more permanent “residence”…
Checkpoint 1: Going Exclusive
Assuming you haven’t yet decided to return to the open market within the first two or three months of dating (though some stunted commitment-phobes may take as long as six months, often to the chagrin of their blue-in-the-face partner), you might decide to go “exclusive.” Just like subletting an apartment, this is commitment in its most riskless form: you’re dipping the tip in the waters of permanent residency just to see what it feels like. With your own books and furniture still in storage, you can walk out any month you feel like it, without worry of losing a security deposit or (if your partner is particularly vengeful) your balls.
Checkpoint 2: Pledging Devotion
Somewhere between four to seven months in, you pledge devotion to your partner by uttering those three most equally feared and revered words in the English language: “I love you.” And with that single declaration, you, my friend, have signed your first short-term lease. Perhaps you’ve signed for six months, maybe for a year — but by expressing your true feelings so honestly you’ve now made it clear that you aren’t going anywhere…not for awhile, at least. One brutal caveat to this seemingly lovely Checkpoint: once you make the decision to bare your soul, anticipating your partner’s response can be as torturous as waiting for a sweaty old Slovakian landlord from Craigslist to approve you for a killer East Village apartment.
Checkpoint 3: Long-Term Commitment
No matter what your relationship is like, everyone experiences the same Checkpoint 3. If you’ve both made it to One Year without shuddering at the thought of continuing to fondle the same genitals in perpetuity, you are now facing the precipice of a long-term relationship. By celebrating your first anniversary, you are, in essence, celebrating the future of your relationship. And while exciting, this can be an especially frightening checkpoint. The decision to renew your annual lease for another year can feel like doubling down simply because, well, it is. And while a lease can always be broken, the undertaking is anything but easy…
Checkpoint 4: The Co-Op
Whether it’s two, three, four, or ten years after you’ve started dating, eventually you will likely get engaged. Hey, you can only rent for so long, and it’s a buyer’s market. Just as the purchasing of shares in a co-op apartment building forges a contractually permanent housing partnership, a marriage engagement promises a contractually permanent cooperative of love. (Try using this phrasing on your fiancée – she’ll want to elope on the spot.) By the time the contract is signed, the accompanying fear and anxiety of each preceding Checkpoint should be missing from this one. That is, of course, unless you’ve purchased the wrong home. In which case, be afraid. Be very afraid.
I should point out that these days, there is also an exciting moment when real estate and romance intersect quite literally: between Checkpoints 3 and 4 often lies a Checkpoint 3.5, in which a pre-engaged couple decides to move in together. The mingling of personal belongings signifies both parties’ willingness to further intertwine their lives, making separation that much more difficult. Yet, although cohabitation creates complication, it also allows for some pretty sweet rent pro-ration. (Is that a Kanye lyric?)
In reality, timing may vary – these checkpoints are purely emotional, and emerge at their own rate according to the pace of each individual relationship. And of course, I recognize that the blueprint I’ve laid out here reflects a fairly primitive “male” perspective, as it implies eventual “ownership” of the other person. But relationship checkpoints exist for both men and women, and it’s important for couples to acknowledge and discuss them as they come up. If there’s one thing real estate taught me, it’s that open communication with your broker is the only way to ensure your needs as a homeowner are met.
Now go out there and find a nice guy who’s down to get deep into your walk-in closet.
LADIES! If you’ve got a burning dating question that can only be answered by a dude, I’ve just started writing for gURL.com as their resident male dating expert in a column called “Ask A Guy.” I’m like a Dr. Phil for the Millennial Generation. With more hair. And less dickishness.
Check out my first entry, in which I explain how to tell if your male friend likes you:
In therapy once (you didn’t think I figured all this shit out on my own, did you?), I told my doctor about an incident which brought me great anxiety: I had accidentally left the house that morning without the banana I had intended to eat for breakfast. And although I faced three potentially sluggish hours at work until lunch, I had no plans of purchasing a replacement at the conveniently located fruit stand in front of my office building. Having just invested in a whole bushel of bananas at the grocery store, how could I justify buying yet another when it was my fault for forgetting one of the many I’d already purchased?
My shrink pointed out that I have a tendency to punish myself for even the smallest, most honest mistakes, and need to be less hard on myself. Refusing to buy a new banana doesn’t prove anything; it only hinders your energy level—and therefore, productivity—even further. Spending a quarter on a new banana is actually the most rational course of action one could possibly take.
I thought this analysis was brilliant, and proudly declared that upon leaving the session, I would acquire a new banana. Anxiety, I realized, could be swiftly dispelled simply by defying my obsessive instincts — by forcing myself to do that which makes me so irrationally uncomfortable. I chuckled at how obvious the solution was: “Just buy the banana!” A new man, I practically skipped my way to the fruit stand with a smile from ear to ear. Triumphant movie music played in my head, as if I were the hero of a John Hughes movie, crowned Prom King at last despite a crippling stutter and lack of fashion sense. I had prevailed.
At the fruit stand, I picked up the largest, freshest banana I could find, and raised it like a trophy. “One banana, please,” I proclaimed defiantly to the man at the cart. Here I was, daring to step outside my comfort zone; discovering things about myself which I had previously refused to believe. What progress I had made!
Mechanically, the fruit vendor extended his hand, palm-up. “Fifty cents.”
I stood there, paralyzed. Motionless. Struggling to gather the words that were failing me at the moment, but nothing was coming.
“What?” I eventually managed to stammer.
“Fifty cents,” he repeated emphatically.
I stared at him blankly, silently. At last, I leaked an incredulous laugh.
“You want 50 cents…for one banana?! Fuck that.”
And I hauled my cheap ass up to the office to drink free coffee instead.
On CBS Sunday Morning a few months ago, financial guru and shoulder pad model Suze Orman gave one of her classic lectures to the desperate American public:
“Many of us are gonna spend more years in retirement than we ever did working. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re gonna retire when you are 59, 62…Chances are, you are not. Perfect retirement age is 67. If you can postpone til 70, that’s even better. If you can wait and take social security to those ages as well, that’s great .”
She loaded her pointer fingers and fired with emphatic pauses:
“Don’t. retire. before. your time.”
Sure, her advice was sound. But what I want to know is: who are these people who want to retire at the age of 59? It blows my mind that anyone would stick with a career they dread so much that they actually look forwardto the day they can afford to quit. What’s the point of living to retirement age if you’re absolutely miserable for a third of your waking hours until then?
I’ll be the first to admit I’m supremely lucky. I came from a great family, got a great education, and had enough financial and emotional support in order to follow my dreams. And I recognize that with a widening socioeconomic gap and a rapidly disappearing middle class, the average American can’t focus on becoming the first white reggaeton artist when he’s having a hard enough time just trying to feed himself. But simultaneously, an epidemic of laziness is plaguing a new caste of “discontented non-destitute,” and it needs to be addressed.
Perhaps class priorities were best summarized by comedians Marc Maron and Demetri Martin in a recent episode of Maron’s stellar podcast, WTF (I’m paraphrasing here):
Laborers want their children to be merchants. Merchants want their kids to be professionals. Professionals, academics. Academics, artists. Artists don’t care what their kids become. And rich people just don’t want their kids to kill themselves.
So yes, I’m addressing the rich kids – but more accurately, I’m addressing anyone who has the opportunity to choose his or her own career.
Work is work – it will never be all roses. There will be days when you’d rather curl up in the bathtub with a bottle of merlot and bathe in your own tears than clock in. But work should be fulfilling in its own right, with even the most challenging of days eventually providing a sense of accomplishment, a boost of confidence, or a bit of newfound wisdom. Whether you’re passionate about achieving specific goals, or have no idea what you want to do with your life, anyone with the financial wiggle-room to take risks or experiment has the responsibility to do so. Not only do you owe it to yourself to reach for fulfillment, but to abstain is an insult to those who don’t have the same freedom.
Furthermore, if you are someone still unsure about your intended path in life; if you’ve bounced from career to career but have yet to find that dream job; if you’ve finally settled into a boring, uninspiring position which pays well enough, but elicits a level of enthusiasm ranging from “very little” to “Darfurian” – why wouldn’t you spend every spare moment searching for an alternative to the mind-numbing sadness that is your day job?
And let’s not forget that average lifespan in the U.S. is now 79 years. If you retire at 59, what the hell are you doing for the next twenty? TV, golf, and freestyle farting all get old, my friends. My Dad turned 59 this year, and he wouldn’t dream of retiring from financial consulting yet. I’d probably prefer coal mining over following in his footsteps, but I assure you that he looks forward to returning to work every Sunday night. My Grandfather was also a financial consultant (sorry to break tradition guys, but at least we know low-hanging testicles will be in the family for years to come), and only retired this year at the age of 86. Like my father, he loved his job.
Some say they can’t be defined by work, and that they live for family or leisure. Obviously I can’t contest what makes someone happy, but if a person maintaining that point of view is also employed, they should at least find their work pleasant. Being ready for retirement when the time comes isn’t the same as starting the countdown at age 40 with a gun under the mattress as insurance.
I also realize that I’ve been flippantly generalizing about the lives of millions of unique individuals with complex, exclusive situations. This isn’t a PhD dissertation or a call for revolution: I’m just asking people to give a fuck. If not about the world, then at least about yourself. For those of you stable enough, agile enough, brave enough to push yourselves…do it! Because if you’re not happy at work, I won’t be happy when your miserable, bitter ass cuts me in line at Pinkberry.
After drifting apart for some time, a friend of mine and his longtime girlfriend recently decided to “take a break.” When he wistfully broke the news to me, my instinct was to describe my vicarious fantasy of the thousand-slut orgy this newly single stud would now have the opportunity to partake in. My second instinct (the one I actually voiced) was to reassure him that every relationship has obstacles – the key to a healthy and successful alliance, however, is to know how and when to take appropriate action. Despite the vast multitude of issues which may disrupt pre-marital bliss, I explained, they can all be categorized as one of three basic types:
1) That Which We Must Forget
Fueled by your own judgmental biases or mental hangups, these are generally superficial issues you may have with your partner (e.g. “Her legs are as thick as tree trunks”; “He sounds mentally retarded when he laughs”; “Her sleep farts smell like a horse farm”) which are best simply ignored. Look, we’ve all got flaws. And no matter what anyone says, she finds your receding hairline about as attractive as you find her droopy vagina. So don’t fixate on your partner’s surface flaws.
2) That Which We Must Accept
Beyond shallow aesthetic defects are the mental or emotional conflicts your partner has dealt with his or her whole life. Your partner isn’t necessarily proud of these traits or habits (e.g. clinical depression; a foot fetish; dreams of becoming a circus clown), but there isn’t much he or she can do about them at this point. You’ve got to learn to accept these things as part of the package, or accept that this person is not for you.
3) That Which We Must Address
The most important relationship issues are the shortcomings of the relationship as a whole. Whether you’re jealous of your girlfriend’s frequent nights out alone, or fed up with your boyfriend’s passive aggressive comments (“It’s cool, you go out with your friends – I’ll just stay here and braid the cat”), both parties are equally responsible for communication. The only way a relationship can continue to blossom is by each party acknowledging all offending issues and reaching a compromise together.
Perhaps the most quoted relationship analogy in the history of cinema comes from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (perhaps deserving of just one more citation): “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies.” Annie and Alvy may have had a dead shark on their hands, but you can try to keep yours alive through the simple act of communication. Articulate your thoughts frequently, calmly, and clearly, but remember that communication is never a one-way street – it’s about the reception of information as much as it is about the delivery. You can be as eloquent or rational as you want, but if your partner isn’t getting it, neitherof you have gotten anywhere. Find a different route, or find a different partner.
I’m not denying the possibility of the “perfect match,” but there’s no such thing as an inherently perfect relationship. All relationships require work and dedication, which not only leads to paired growth, but personal growth as well. And if growth doesn’t excite you, well, you might just want to skip the whole “relationship” thing and check Craigslist for the nearest thousand-slut orgy.
A former Hell’s Kitchen nightclub on the western edge of Manhattan, Terminal 5 has more in common aesthetically with a Nine Inch Nails music video set or a serial killer’s “workshop” than it does with a concert venue. In fact, I can remember trekking there for the first time late one night to see some indie-rock-band-of-the-moment four years ago, clutching my female companion tightly while silently praying “Please don’t rape us… Please don’t rape us…” as we passed each menacing stranger. Though my unfounded anxiety surrounding the neighborhood has since subsided, trekking to Terminal 5 last week to see Dinosaur Jr. perform led to an evening as pleasantly disorienting as my first exhilarating concert experience inside this cold, industrial warehouse three years ago.
I walked through the doors to the Dino Jr. event to find the place packed primarily with the predictable: white guys in their late 20s to early 40s, plenty of ripped jeans, and more than one Hüsker Dü t-shirt. It would appear that most of the attendees were there for some essential (yet arguably mediocre) alt rock from a few old legends way past their prime. But when opening band Fucked Up took the stage, it became clear that this wasn’t Dinosaur Jr.’s show.
If you’ve never heard of Fucked Up before, it’s an experimental Canadian hardcore band. If you’ve never heard their music, it’s a scream-drenched blend of frenetic post-hardcore and hardcore punk, intermittently punctuated by sugary sweet melodies sung with disillusionment. And, if you’ve never seen them live, it’s a meteor shower of lollipops and kicks to the face.
The spectacle that is Fucked Up is difficult and easy to categorize at the same time: what they’re offering is something entirely novel, yet the amalgamation of all things familiar. Visually, the band resembles a tween power-pop quintet fronted by a giant, hairy, half-naked bulldog. With the help of one stone-faced security guard (author’s interpretive thought bubble: “What the fuck is wrong with these white kids?”), singer Damian Abraham (aka “Pink Eyes”) thread his microphone cable through the raised arms of fans and performed the entire show from the moshpit-turned-hugpit in the center of the venue. Frantic teens literally clawed their way through others just to touch their (in any other context, repulsive) idol: a shirtless, sweaty bear-of-a-man, continually barreling through charged up kids and jaded veteran grunge fans alike. He returned his followers’ gratitude wholeheartedly, handing the mic over to anyone gesturing for a chance to scream along to the music.
At the end of the performance, Abraham got back on stage and called to a roadie for the t-shirt he abandoned only seconds before shouting his first lyrics of the night. He then threw it into the now-rabid front row, and young men and women actually fought for it (which, I can only assume, must have smelled at best like homelessness and cheese). The band walked off, and Abraham delved back into the crowd to take photos and administer hugs for another 15 minutes as Dinosaur Jr.’s team set up.
I had been interested in Fucked Up ever since the release of their Polaris Prize-winning second album, The Chemistry of Common Life — but after seeing them live, I was now less sure than ever that they’re not warping the traditional hardcore genre for irony’s sake, bastardizing a purer form of music for consumption by the pop masses. Or worse, I thought, what if they’ve been manufactured – the shoegazing majority of the band carefully manicured to contrast the image of their heavily tattooed and fearless singer to sell more concert tickets? And should we take their moniker at face value, the use of expletive rebelliously serving as a slap in the face to mainstream culture – or can there be any truth to the fantasy of this cynical old bastard, that their name was manipulatively created by corporate music industry-types with exactly that thought in mind: “Let’s name them something ‘counter-culture’ to make it seem cooler. That’ll sell records to those kids.”?? Is this some giant fucking conspiracy being fed to us by 21st century tastemakers like Pitchfork.com and the A.V. Club,?!? AM I BEING USED LIKE A PAWN???
Probably not. I do believe that Fucked Up is an organic amalgamation of real people, creating music out of honest passion for multiple genres and aesthetics. And witnessing them perform on a bill hosted by Henry Rollins, the man who helped pave the way for post-hardcore headliner Dinosaur Jr., suggests that they could be the next true wave of hardcore for the Internet Generation.
Purists may long for a still-active hardcore band to connect gener
ations the way the Rolling Stones or Paul Simon do, but the fact of the matter is that senior citizens can’t keep up with angry music. Most hardcore vets either turn the volume of their music down, and/or turn to alternative forms of expression such as production, writing, or public speaking (e.g. Rollins, Jello Biafra, etc.); the others, such as Keith Morris (Black Flag founding father and member of OFF!, third band on the Dino Jr. bill), simply can’t physically deliver what a hardcore show requires. At Terminal 5, Morris often seemed tired and uninspired, failing to connect with the crowd over topics such as “people who use cell phones while driving” — a rant which seemed better suited for 2002. Morris’ early work is undeniably important, and even his new music is vital, but his live show simply won’t convert any new believers to the Church of Hardcore. We need fresh blood.
Fucked Up’s dichotomous vision of “Heaven onstage, Hell in the pit” is incredibly unique. Label them commercial opportunists or hardcore revolutionaries, but don’t ever label them unoriginal. They have undeniably created something refreshingly new and terrifyingly exciting, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you like their music or not – you need to see Fucked Up live simply because you’ve never seen anything like them before.
….And thanks for stopping by. In addition to acting as a link hub to all my comedy work including Dave and Ethan and Actual Conversation, the primary purpose of this Tumblr-powered website will be to house all of my writing going forward.
I’ve already posted a few of my previously published pieces from Death + Taxesand Primer magazines (just scroll down and hit the arrow at the bottom of the page to browse), but I hope to feature a new piece every two weeks (or as quickly as I can get them up while on tour).
Some elements of the website are still being worked on, and I plan on launching an opt-in mailing list very shortly. But in the meantime, please follow me here on Tumblr and here on Twitter to stay in the loop!
Through the closed door of a marketing director’s small, windowless office seeps the muted but unmistakable bassline of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” The vocals build, the strings swell, and as that Grammy-award winning chorus kicks in, a curious yelping – not unlike that of a wounded chimp – rises above the recording: it is the marketing director, sing-shouting along in glorious disharmony with the music.
Meanwhile, a brooding co-worker dressed in all black stalks slowly down the hallway, fists clenched and eyes narrowed. He stops just in front of the office door in apparent disbelief. As the famous refrain comes to a close, and that creepy spoken-word bridge echoes like stalker karaoke, the man in black turns and announces decisively: “R&B needs to be completely removed from the face of the Earth.”
I happen to know that, conversely, Bryan the marketing director is unable to fathom the aesthetic appeal of the “non-stop screaming shit” that Keith, his co-worker in black, adores. While Keith “can’t understand why every male wouldn’t listen to metal and nothing else,” Bryan finds anything reeking of testosterone to be grating to the point of unbearability. Keith believes wholeheartedly that “Justin Timberlake is a pampered piece of shit who needs to know suffering,” and Bryan confuses death metal with alt metal, metalcore with grindcore, even Papa Roach with Cannibal Corpse, despising it all. Keith makes no claims to listen to anything but metal, and Brian responds to inquiries of musical preference with “Everything!” — only to amend the reply with a laundry list of exceptions: “I mean, except for like, country, annoying emo, anything with screaming in it…”
Bryan, Keith, and my Grandpa may all disagree, but I, for one, feel that there’s a time and place for every musical genre. A tour of the Kentucky bourbon trail, for example, warrants a bluegrass soundtrack. Studying might require the assistance of classical music or jazz. And sometimes you just want to dance: whether to hip-hop, trance, or pop, each style of music provides for a different experience (grindy, sweaty, or Senior Prom-y, respectively). But taste is subjective, and whatever type of music you choose to accompany an activity matters much less than how you came to the decision. In my opinion, there are only two valid ways to do so: through direct research, or by recommendation from a trusted source.
- Do It Yourself -
As a comedian who got his start by serial dating hundreds of women via the internet, I learned (aside from how to properly “triple bag it”) that gaining exposure to extremes is a crucial step towards manhood. Yes, the road was rough, and sometimes downright messy, but by dating girls from wildly different backgrounds, I encountered a wide range of values, dispositions, and severity of meth addictions – all of which ultimately taught me more about myself.
But before you run out to Costco and buy Trojan’s “Wilt Chamberlain” Economy Pack, let me assert that serial dating isn’t about consciously dividing people into categories in order to filter future partners through a checklist of “pros” and “cons” – it’s about learning to balance logic with emotion. For example, let’s say you only want to date “smart chicks,” so you continuously dismiss women based solely on their level of education. However, after exclusively dating Ivy League grads, you begin to realize that they also happen to be prissy and over-analytical. Let go of the arbitrary rules, start dating outside of your comfort zone, and you could just meet someone with a fresh set of traits which are, in actuality, much more important than those you focused on exclusively before. (That said, if, against your better judgment, you go out with a person who is clearly emotionally disturbed and end up with a fork in your thigh at dinner—well…now you know to avoid the ones with tattoos of bleeding clowns.)
Unfortunately, just as a few cursory listens to an album doesn’t give a man the right to dismiss an entire genre, spending two to three hours on a first date is not enough to completely understand another human being. Relationships allow for a much deeper understanding of others, as well as the opportunity to better understand yourself. If a woman beats the living shit out of you for six months, and it brings you nothing but misery and pain, then it’s safe to say she doeshate her father, and sadomasochism isn’t your thing. Similarly, musical taste should be based on multiple extended experiences and the emotions actuallyelicited, rather than preconceived assumptions or snap judgments. You can’t dismiss black metal or R&B until you truly understand the genres – and true understanding often requires repeat listening, historical research, and a whole lot of patience.
- Phone A Friend -
Of course, no one has the time to Wikipedia every band in the world, and no one wants to get his ass kicked for six months just to confirm that his girlfriend sucks. Which is why someone else’s recommendation can often be enough to predict personal compatibility. If you trust the source (e.g. a best friend, a family member, Anthony Bourdain), their approval or disapproval should influence you to pursue or ignore a person or a thing. For example, much like the negative Pitchfork.com review of the latest Get Up Kids album saved me from shelling out $10 for it, having two friends date the same mentally ill stripper was enough confirmation for me to stay away. It’s like reading a relationship restaurant review: if you learn that “the dirty, greasy food is great, but your body will never forgive you,” do you really still want to dine there? Well, maybe, if you just can’t get enough of tear-soaked hamburgers garnished with STDs – but you know you’re not going to have a very pleasant morning after.
- The Art of Moderation -
Now, obviously someone might want to marry that stripper, just as someone will want to listen to nothing but black metal all day. If you want to commit to an extreme, that’s cool — as long as you’ve honestly familiarized yourself with the alternatives. Did you listen to that Darkthrone album, or did you tune out as soon as the shrieking kicked in? Have you (or a reliable source) dined with a stripper, or did you turn the date down because of your fear of Pole Rot? (Note: Author cannot confirm or deny the existence of said disease.)
In the end, most of us will only want to entertain extremes on occasion, sticking with more “digestible” options on average. And while I’m fine with that, Keith certainly isn’t. He prefers the clarity of black and white to shades of gray: “Idiots should be executed so that their genes can’t be passed on,” he once told me. Such an extreme sentiment echoes the uncompromising mentality of black metal, which, having risen as a reaction to heavy metal going “mainstream” in the 1980s, aims to destroy corrupted modern Western culture to restore more primitive individualistic values. In a microcosm for extreme Conservatism and Progressivism, black metal contrasts sharply with pop music, which tends to promote hedonistic consumption without regard for any values. I happen to believe, however, that if we tilt too far towards either of these philosophical extremes, we approach a dangerous realm of unproductive paralysis.
Identifying as a paradoxically “black metal-loving liberal,” I believe in moderation as it applies to most arenas, including music and dating. We should explore extremes with commitment and passion, sampling them all and trying to actually understand as many as we can. When primary experience isn’t an option, listen to the opinion of a trusted friend. And if, after all options are weighed, you want to permanently commit exclusively to any extreme, then go right ahead. As for me, I’ll continue to believe that a man can, and should, be able to enjoy the deathly howls of Gorgoroth and still get down to Lady Gaga now and then.
In March of 2008, my friend Dave and I posted a video on YouTube in which we asked women to double date us. Ultimately, our cry for love resulted in close to two hundred double dates – many of which became fodder for a live comedy show we eventually took on the road. Over the last three years, we’ve received our fair share of interesting proposals (all-male foursome, anyone?). But it was one of the most innocuous emails to grace our inbox which led to what was perhaps the most unbearable of interactions:
To Ethan and Dave-
Don’t know how much I’m into the love part, but I am interested in picking your brain (Brains plural, I guess?) about comedy—-I’m about a year into the stand-up scene myself—-Let me know if you might be around for some coffee….Oh, P.S. I do have a comedy page on myspace with a little 5 min reel and photo to prove that I’m not a creeper….Hope to hear from you soon!
While the message didn’t include a photo, a cursory Facebook search revealed a fairly attractive girl. But quickly chiding such shallow instincts (that is, after scrolling through various albums for at least ten minutes), I reminded myself that this girl had contacted us for professional purposes. Her looks should be irrelevant.
So we play phone tag back and forth for close to two weeks until we finally lock in plans. She tells me she’ll be in my neighborhood on Friday night, and I should meet her at a bar by my apartment when I get back from a show around 11PM. Sure, she had upped the ante from coffee to alcohol, but a late night drink to discuss the comedy scene sounded harmless to me.
Which brings me to my first lesson learned: There is no such thing as an 11PM business meeting.And there is certainly no such thing as an 11PM business meeting with a single female, on a Friday night, at a bar, steps from your apartment, when you’re a comedian…specifically known for serial dating women.
When she arrives, she’s already noticeably drunk. With slurred words, she tells me that she just came from the pub she used to work at where they still serve her for free. Five minutes later, she’s giving me sex eyes. As if the story I’m telling about the first time I puked in New York City is the most romantic tale a man has told. Staring intensely as I finish, she can only respond silently with a desperate gaze that, I have learned by now, means, “As long as you don’t reveal that you are a serial killer, I will blow you in the bathroom.”
No, this was certainly no business meeting. But hey, if anyone can handle an impromptu date with a drunk chick, I can. Especially when that drunk chick is a cute drunk chick…
Lesson number two: Never trust the Internet.
Fuck you, Facebook. Fuck your enabling of lying and deception. If the photos on Bunny’s profile came even closeto representing how she looked in real life, I might as well replace mine with portraits of Ryan Reynolds. Her main pic was, I now realize, a heavily Photoshopped acting headshot. In real life, she looked like the spawn of Joe Camel and a pre-Proactiv Jessica Simpson.
And so, once she realizes that her crush is unrequited, her true nature begins to surface. She starts by tearing me apart: my hair, my clothes, my tattoos. She can’t stop talking about how she doesn’t want a tattoo, and “never has, never will.” She “can’t understand the appeal.” They’re “trashy” and “common.” Yet, she’s apparently fascinated by what mine could possibly mean. Thankfully, experience had already taught me lesson number three: Passive aggressive attacks are not an acceptable form of flirtation.
“They were a frat prank,” I deadpan.
“What!?” she replies incredulously, mouth agape.
“Yeah, to be honest, I’m not sure what these tattoos mean. In college, I woke up one morning after a long night of drinking, and there they were.”
“Are you serious?”
“OK, so what do they really mean?”
“Why do you want to know if you hate them so much?”
“I want to understand what would drive someone to do…that.”
“I’m part Native American. They’re tribal.”
“No they’re not!”
“No, they’re not.”
“Ugh, just tell me the truth!”
“The truth is, you’re starting to annoy me.”
And then, she starts to cry.
Actually, she’s babbling incoherently at length about her frustrated dating history before the tears begin to flow. First she’s talking about some other guy with tattoos, and then the generally brutal nature of dating in New York City, until she’s off and running, convulsing with choked sobs as she rambles on about how she knows she’s not the prettiest girl, but has a lot to offer, and wants someone to love her for her intellect, not just for her looks, or more specifically, her fantastic breasts…
Lesson number four: Never bait a drunk girl.
Making matters worse, the bartender at this joint happens to know her as well, so as she’s weeping into her dwindling rocks glass, he’s continuously pouring complimentary refills of straight Jameson. The girl is slugging back Irish whiskey and tears like a transsexual sailor in the middle of a menopausal meltdown. (I believe the official name for the cocktail is an “Irish Funeral.”)
Of course part of me felt bad for her. She was clearly down and out, and probably just in need of a little attention. But put yourself in my shoes for a minute, and remember I was hijacked into this…date. Yes, I should have seen the switcheroo coming. And yes, I might have been more inclined to let her “pick my brain” because I had initially thought she was cute…. But I’m a guy, dammit, and THIS IS HOW WE WORK, okay? We fall for this shit. It’s just what we do. And when you’re dealing with an emotionally unstable woman whom you are not only unattracted to, but didn’t know you were going out with in the first place, your tolerance starts to wear thin by the two hour mark.
So four beers deep, I can take no more. I ask her where she needs to go to get home, and she tells me the F train. Always the gentleman, I offer to walk her there, but she dismisses my proposal. Instead, she demands to see my apartment, which she knows is around the corner. Apparently, the “F train” she plans on taking isn’t the one that runs underground.
“You know,” I reason, “it’s been a long day. I think I just want to go to sleep.”
“Oh, come onnnnnnnnnnnn,” she whines. “You can sleep tomorrow.”
“No, I’m really exhausted.”
“Just for a little bit!”
“Maybe another time…”
“Don’t be such a fag!”
A few more volleys like these, and I’m forced to switch tactics, abandoning all niceties. “Bunny, I don’t think you understand,” I break it down for her, as if talking to a kindergartner in Reading Group D. “I’m done. I do not want to hangany further.”
“Wow. I cannot believe you’re not going to bring an attractive girl up to your apartment,” she persists, shockingly. “Let’s go, I want a tour.”
And this is the moment in which I lose what little sympathy I still had for her. She has now taken a depressing, annoying situation into aggressive, intrusive territory. My thoughts and opinions have been written off as meaningless footnotes in her evening, which was planned out long before I ever had any say. Ignoring my clear expressions of disinterest, and denying my requests for release again and again, she has finally succeeded at stripping me of my manhood. This has gone too far, Bunny. Too far, indeed. And to preserve the honor of my fellow men across the world, I must take action. I must take a stand. For they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!
Leading her upstairs like a whipped mule, I sheepishly mumble that she has five minutes.
As soon as she’s inside, Bunny takes off her coat and shoes.
“Cool, make yourself at home,” I say dryly, nodding.
Of course, it didn’t matter — she was already on autopilot. At this point I could have told her, “You can sit on my couch, but it seconds as my toilet,” and she still would have taken a seat.
“I’m telling you this because I have to go to the bathroom right now,” I’d explain.
“That’s fine, don’t worry about it,” she would affirm.
“I had Mexican for lunch.”
“I love refried beans!”
After a cursory “tour” of my apartment (which she criticizes with a stream of quips such as “What’s with the kitchen?” and “Nice perv mirror in your bedroom,” and “Your cat is gay.”) — I tell her it is absolutely time to leave. (She did, incidentally, compliment one thing: my 6 foot glass liquor cabinet, stocked with plenty of whiskey.) However, instead of exiting the apartment, she decides this is the perfect time to lie across the foot of my bed.
“Or, you can just lie on my bed,” I say, taking another hopeless jab.
“Yeah, but I feel like you said before that you have to go to sleep…which sucks.”
No, what sucks is that you are completely unable to interpret the words and actions of other human beings, I think to myself. But somehow I manage to hold it in, and after five more minutes of haggling and cajoling, I come to realize the ultimate lesson of the evening: Dating is not charity.
Eyes fixed with an icy cold stare, I point at the door and sternly deliver one final direct order: “Get. Out.”
At last, she dresses and departs.
Relieved, I collapse into the couch with a loud sigh, simultaneously reaching for the remote control and a nearby bottle of scotch.
An hour later, I receive a text:
“Nice meeting you! Your cat hearts me, P.S. that means you like me.”
What planet was this message written on? What planet is this supposedly 20-something WOMAN on? How has she not yet comprehended the fact that I am in no way, shape, or form, interested in her? Is she acting out of desperation or delusion?
The next morning, as I logged into Facebook, I couldn’t help but notice her new status, which showed up on my news feed:
“Bunny is starting to think there is something wrong with her. ”
I’m proud of you, Bunny. It looks like we’ve both learned a thing or two.
One especially uneventful day at my boring day job a couple of years ago, I decided to make a list of the girls I had slept with thus far. Not a moment after chalking up Number Two, a female co-worker traipsed over to my desk, flashed a rock the size of a baby’s head, and excitedly declared her engagement. At the time, both of us were 25.
I offered her congratulations, but I have to admit, I laughed first. How could two identically aged adults possess such vastly different mindsets? I mean, here I am, literally tallying the number of booties I’ve plundered – a quantifiable evaluation of the success of any straight male – when in walks my female co-worker, thrilled to brag to the world that she has actually tamed one of these pirate-beasts for her own exclusive use.
When it comes to love and romance, men mature more slowly than women simply because they can afford to. All humans are programmed by nature to effect the reproduction of their own genetic material. But while men are able to recharge in minutes, allowing them to spread their seed like a John Deere planter, women have a fixed window during which they can give birth only once every nine months. Unlike men, women must prioritize protection over sheer replication, making them biologically predisposed to retain partners as long as possible.
Now, I don’t mean to reduce us all to semen-pumping brutes and needy repositories. But our sexual and romantic wants and needs do have deep roots that probably stem back as far as prehistoric times. I can see it now: Bork imploring Ug to enjoy a nice wooly mammoth leg at home with her and Ug Jr., while Ug’s got only one thing on his mind: hunting for cave-vagina.
Yet, while remnants of this social conflict between genders have survived for centuries, something has changed drastically within the last 30 years: the ages at which this tug-of-war is finally reconciled. Whereas our parents might have married by the age of 25 and had children by 30, the path to adulthood looks much different for the current generation of twenty-somethings. Over the last few decades, the timeline has lengthened dramatically: according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the estimated median ages at first marriage for men and women in 1980 were 24.7 and 22 years old, respectively. By 2010, these numbers had increased to 28.2 for men, and 26.1 for women, signifying that our generation is marrying an average of about 16% later in life than our parents did.
This trend could be due to a multitude of reasons, including a widening average life expectancy, greater opportunities for women to lead economically independent lives, or even an increased number of young adults pursuing professional fields. As any lawyer, doctor, or professor will attest, intensive graduate and training programs make it much more difficult to settle down before competitive schooling is complete and dues have been paid. Whereas most of our parents had locked down careers by the age of 23, many of us won’t settle into careers until our mid- to late-twenties.
Whatever the cause of this delay, only a handful of men today will be stable enough to match their female counterparts in maturity by the age of 25. And most of us dudes who think we’re ready for commitment or marriage (as I did shortly after the “co-worker engagement incident”) don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about. Thus, the majority of us fall into a peculiar holding pattern of dating, either consciously or subconsciously avoiding anything too serious until our very late twenties or early thirties.
And so, here are the five main ways you, the average 25-year-old male, will likely experience relationships until you settle down for good:
1) Chasing the Physically Unavailable
The most obvious way in which men self-sabotage relationships is to go after a girl who literally lives elsewhere, and cannot partake in a relationship due to geography. At one point or another, we’ve all convinced ourselves we had a future with the beautiful out-of-towner or the exotic foreign exchange student. But then you visit her in Miami, or Denmark, or a mud hut in Ghana, and you realize, “This has nothing to do with the life I want.” And it shouldn’t: the very fact that the relationship can’t get serious is what draws us to the physically unavailable girl in the first place. In fact, it’s not a relationship – it’s a vacation.
2) Chasing the Emotionally Unavailable
In what is easily the most brutal path to take, you attempt to court a girl who, due to scarring from previous relationships, childhood trauma, or a sheer lack of interest, can’t or won’t let you in. If she’s not in touch with her “issues” (read: in need of therapy), she won’t allow her walls down to trust you with her feelings, or with other women. And if, on the other hand, she’s “just not that into you,” she’ll simply avoid committing to an exclusive relationship, potentially dragging the hook-ups along for months before you realize things are going nowhere. Get too attached to either of these types, and you are in for a world of pain, gentlemen. A world of pain.
Ironically, men are most familiar with this pattern because we selfishly drag women through it all the time. But even some of the most experienced men I know have taken this train to Patheticville (myself included, if you couldn’t tell). All it takes is a crack in your confidence during an especially low point in your career or romantic streak, when a girl (often a bit younger and a lot hotter than you) suddenly shows a glimmer of interest in you as the flavor of the day. Don’t be fooled by her fleeting flirtations: this woman will take…you…down.
3) Chasing the Mentally Unavailable
T-Pain immortalized this one in his timeless “I’m N Luv (Wit A Stripper)”. Who hasn’t fallen for the girl whose breasts weigh more than the contents of her head? If you choose to follow this path, you’ll be dealing with someone who is either not intelligent enough to keep up with you intellectually, or mature enough to make the compromises necessary for a successful relationship. Hugh Hefner – I praise you for your ability to maintain a stable of Barbie-hot post-teens (and the ability to ejaculate in your eighties), but I don’t know how you do it. (And by “do it,” I mean “put up with those imbeciles,” not “do sex with them.” Although I obviously don’t know how you do that, either.)
This is not to say you won’t find yourself involved in a scenario that falls into more than one of these categories. Those of you masochists out there like me will even seek out the more complicated “overlappers.” And once in a rare while, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon that rare breed which encompasses all three. Mmmm, yeah…take a good whiff of that baggage: that’s some vintage 1987 Chateau Psychotic right there.
And yet, what if you’ve actually found an attractive, intelligent, sane woman who lives in your town and wants to make things work? Well, the truth is, if you’re like most males in their mid-twenties, you’ll find a way to fuck it up:
4) Not Chasing At All
You know the score: you meet a girl through a mutual friend who has passed every preliminary personality and background check a guy can conjure up. But by the end of your first date, she’s already giving you permission to fart in her presence, and you feel like you’ve been cheated out of a chase. If you’re in your thirties, looking to settle down and make babies ASAP, you may even value such straight-shooting. But for a 25-year-old guy, not having to work for a prize destroys its desirability. A girl who’s too into you from the get-go (i.e. “It’s so nice to have a boyfriend again!”) might as well be wearing your mother’s used panties over her face.
Even when the progression is a bit slower (i.e. normal), an overtly doting female could still be too much for some dudes to handle. These relationships might make it past a few months, but will fizzle out quickly once one or both partners begin to fixate on deal-breaking incompatibilities.
5) Avoiding the Inevitable
Sometimes a relationship will venture into longer-term territory, languishing for many months or years before meeting its inevitable doom. In this case, the male pushes off marriage with a loved and loving partner, only to eventually cite differences in life goals, religion, or family values as the basis for a harrowing, dramatic breakup. Why go through this horrific process when we know about these issues within the first few months of dating? Because we’re undermining the potential for marriage – that’s why.
Of course, there are also plenty of women who partake in some or all of these practices. But when it comes to pregnancy – one of the main biological goals of heterosexual relationships – women simply have more at stake genetically than men. Which brings us to my original point: While all twenty-somethings are delaying marriage longer than ever before, it takes men even longer to get to that “marriable” place.
If you are, in fact, one of the lucky few who has truly found his soulmate, but might not be able to tie the knot just yet because of financial, educational, or even physical obstacles – stand tall. Hold your ground and don’t succumb to pressure from anyone else. It’s alright to wait.
And if you’re still playing the field? Relax! There is light at the end of the tunnel. Ultimately, everything settles in time, so don’t try to force anything. It’s more than okay to be in unsuccessful relationships – it’s actually healthy. Such failures teach you invaluable things about yourself, which will make for a stronger relationship when you really are ready to find love. So go ahead and embrace the most fleeting of romances. Spend a steamy evening with your Grandmother’s hot best friend. Date the single mother of three who lives in Madagascar. Court that underaged go-go dancer with a drinking problem. Your future wife will thank you.
“Before reading the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”
And just like Aureliano Babilonia studying the writings of Melquíades the gypsy, I too, upon reading the final line ofOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, had a revelatory moment that would change my perspective of foreign literature forever.
I chucked that goddamn book against the living room wall as hard as I could.
Somewhere around the four-hundredth page of translated prose, I had begun daydreaming about beating Márquez with Fernanda del Carpio’s golden chamber pot. The language was boring me to the point of bitter resentment—I’d read pamphlets on genital herpes that engaged me more than that novel. (Never mind why I was reading these pamphlets, but regardless, this is literally true.)
Although I can recognize the thematic value of the work which the National Observer hailed as “required reading for the entire human race,” the dry English version of this book has led me to call for a ban on all literary translations. My new policy: If you don’t speak the language, don’t read the book.
Let’s be clear: I’m no xenophobe arguing this point out of fear that swarthy foreigners, with their romantic tongues and larger penises, will steal our jobs and women. Whether you’re American, Ukranian, or Botswanan, if you can read One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish and appreciate it for its poetic beauty, by all means, read it! But just as any cinephile will admit that the American-dubbed version of Australia’s Mad Max sounds like it was looped by mentally retarded anime actors, books should also be enjoyed in their native dialect.
Remember how we learned in grade school that Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, or that the Japanese refer to a fifth basic taste called umami which has no equivalent English translation? It’s impossible to fully grasp the true intentions of foreign speakers when limited by the linguistic boundaries of our own cultures.
Additionally, most prose—like poetry—relies on patterns and rhythms to establish tone. Disrupting the musical flow of these words by forcing them into another language contaminates the author’s work and the reader’s experience. For a non-Spanish speaking American to cite Márquez as a favorite author would be like claiming devotion to The Who upon hearing Limp Bizkit’s cover of “Behind Blue Eyes.”
To stick with the musical metaphor for a moment, I can admit that an interpretation can also be a fantastic improvement—take Jeff Buckley’s brilliant cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” for instance. But at least in music the interpreter is given equal billing to the original artist. Can you name me your favorite translator of Russian literature? Name me even one without Googling and I’ll buy you a Limp Bizkit CD. Just think about it.
Sure, I’ve enjoyed a few translated books. Kafka’s The Metamorphosis or Camus’s The Stranger can work well in other languages because they rely so heavily on symbolism and allegory. But even these have been sources of major debate. The word “Ungeziefer” in the opening line of the The Metamorphosis , for example, has been translated to everything from “bug,” to “insect,” to “vermin,” to “unclean animal not suitable for sacrifice”—all of which convey varying levels of disgust. Meanwhile, the very title of Camus’s L’Etranger has been officially translated to The Outsider and The Foreigner in addition to its most common form. I mean, come on—even Kindergarteners know the names of the books they read. We can’t ignore the fact that the specific qualities of the words we choose contribute greatly to the overall meaning of a story.
Coincidentally, one of the themes in One Hundred Years is that the interpretations of readings can have weighty consequences. While I’m not necessarily worried about precipitating the destruction of my own town as Aureliano does, it’s safe to say I won’t be picking up any Dostoyevsky, Proust, or Fuentes anytime soon. From now on, if I can’t unlock the full potential of a book, I’m not interested. I’ll wait until I’ve saved enough money for the Rosetta Stone variety pack.
In an attempt to save money amidst a career change at the age of 24, I decided to move back in with my parents for a year.
At first I denied the reality of the situation: Following the example of the stunted Nick Swardson character who sleeps in a Corvette bed in Grandma’s Boy, I casually referred to Mom and Dad as “my roommates.” But my parents, being the loving, concerned, shamelessly overbearing providers that they are, were all too accommodating. And I do mean too accommodating. It wasn’t long before the mysterious scents of “fresh rain” and “ocean breeze” emanating from my clothes began to irk me. I felt I had lost my sense of independence.
My creative drive was next to go, as the environment was anathema to introspective thought. Try to find artistic inspiration in the home-office-doubling-as-guest-room of your parents’ cramped New York City apartment—I dare you. Go ahead, light some candles or some incense—no amount of Feng Shui is going to negate the fact that you’re sleeping on the same foldout you gave up to Uncle Dougie last week.
And of course, with all potentially legitimate relationships buckling under the pressure of hanging only at one place (hers), and random late night hook-ups proving too awkward for all parties involved, the Live-At-Home-24-Year-Old has only one other “manual” option for a source of affection. That is, when it’s possible to drown out the sound of your mother chatting on the phone with your grandma about curtain fabric or the difficulties of menopause.
Yes, I had reached an all-time personal low.
One especially enthralling Saturday night, I was in the guest room surfing the web for some hardcore amateur porn on my parents’ Stone Age iMac. Just as this prehistoric relic finally began to cough up a single pixilated graphic which resembled the beginnings of a tittie, in walks my Mom with a magazine and her latest cheese and cracker sampler. Hands up, pants down, and dignity nowhere to be found, I quickly struggled to close the browser window featuring the half-tit as my mother launched into the latest in a long line of self-betterment schemes she’d cooked up for me.
It was in this desperate state that I chose to accept her mission: to ask out one of the hot single bachelorettes in the first annual “Date Our Friends” Valentine’s Day issue of Time Out New York. Apparently, the writers and editors at the publication had decided to whore off their friends and expose them (via photo and a short bio) to the entire population of drooling, sex-crazed deviants in Manhattan.
So on a particularly pathetic Sunday, less than 72 hours before Valentine’s Day, one of those deviants emailed “Cheri,” as we’ll call her, at her special TONY man-eater address:
From: Ethan Fixell Date: Sunday, February 11, 2007 3:25 PM To: Cheri TimeOut Subject: Stuff.
So I mean, im sure by this point you’ve received like, 300 thousand bajillion of these emails…
But here’s one more.
My mom goes, “Ethan, I have a girl for you. She’s perfect. She’s your age, she’s beautiful, she’s creative, and she’s from Brooklyn.”
I broke up with my last girlfriend 3 months ago and apparently now my mom thinks she’s Yente the Matchmaker. I’m like, “Ma, you’re not setting me up with another one of Dad’s secretaries.”
She goes, “No, this one is from a magazine.”
"Awesome," I’m thinking. "My mother bought me an Asian mail-order bride."
But then she goes on to explain the whole deal, and after opening to the spread in TONY, i couldn’t really argue with her any longer. Because let’s face it, you’re cute.
And if that weren’t enough incentive to drop you a line, my mom offered to pay my next month’s cell phone bill if you write me back.
So at the very least, if you could help me out with that….
Whatever, I’d done it. Sent. I had nothing to lose. If she did happen to write back, my phone bill would be paid for and I’d go out on a sweet date. If not, I’d be relieved for the simple fact that I would have to pay the bill—a twisted manipulation I had cleverly created to avoid failure altogether. By imagining that last bastion of adult responsibility—the only remaining utility bill in my own name—snuffed out by the asphyxiating love of my mother, not hearing back from Cheri didn’t seem so bad after all.
But hear back from her, I did.
“Well, shit,” I said, out loud, when I first saw the response in my inbox. The phone bill was on mom next month, and I was okay with that.
Soon we were emailing, we were MySpacing, we were even IMing. And apparently, out of dozens of applicants, I was the only one to get such access:
Cheri (1:46:51 PM): i told you that you were the most charming email i had gotten from the time out thing Cheri (1:46:57 PM): but really you were the only email Ethan (1:47:08 PM): wow Ethan (1:47:09 PM): that sucks Ethan (1:47:25 PM): proof that im the only person who thinks youre cute Cheri (1:47:29 PM): seriously. Cheri (1:47:39 PM): thank god for your mom. Ethan (1:47:42 PM): seriously. Ethan (1:47:50 PM): welp. here’s to settling. Cheri (1:48:27 PM): here, here.
Cute, smart, and funny, too? I had hit the mother lode. We decided to set up a date.
But for whatever reason, coordinating with this girl proved to be more difficult than catching the Chupacabra taking a dump. I’d call and leave a message on her greeting-less voicemail. She’d call me back two days later, just missing me by minutes. I’d email to find out she had gone away for the weekend. She’d IM me when I’d happen to be away from my desk. (Eventually she revealed that she doesn’t “believe in checking voicemails.” I let this slide, while scoring a negative tally on my Potential Girlfriend Checklist.)
But when we did finally meet up, I was happy to see that she looked just as she did in her photos: Long, dark hair, and a killer pair of boobies. That’s all I need. And though it was not my usual thing, it didn’t hurt that she was quite exotic. “Half Lebanese,” she explained.
From the first chardonnay (her) and Bass Ale (me) I knew this would be an enjoyable night. I felt comfortable with Cheri. She was sweet and witty, and very sociable. Secure, but not without weakness. You could tell this girl was either super hot and popular in high school—or discovered she could be super hot and popular after high school. But I detected a dash of flakiness and a pinch of high maintenance. There was never a question as to who was buying the drinks that night.
We hung out for an hour or two, and everything went smoothly. Great, even. And I held nothing back. Embracing a schlubbiness I had found could work in my favor – I joked about living at home, about my terribly paying job, and about my recent cold streak with the ladies. She laughed the entire night.
However, while jiving over humor is crucial, it’s not everything. In the end, we never truly clicked. I yearned for butterflies in the pit of my stomach; for an effortless listing of the same favorites and interests; for the clumsy small-talk which acknowledges that impending first kiss. But these things never came. We were missing something: that “za-za-zu,” as an ex-girlfriend of mine calls it.
Of course, we went on with the charade, missing calls, writing hasty emails, making half-hearted plans that never quite came to fruition for various bullshit reasons…. “I’m so sorry, my best friend came into town unexpectedly.” “I got so wasted, I wasn’t able to leave Brooklyn.” Back and forth it would go. Eventually, I even used “I totally forgot we had a date.” Hey, I certainly didn’t feel any guilt—may I remind you that my cat and I are the only two living beings on Earth who have ever heard the voicemails I left for this girl?
So, after weeks of this uninspired crap, we gradually gave up on each other altogether. I never saw Cheri again.
“Maybe this ‘George Costanza Theory’ has some holes in it after all,” I began to concede. Having hit rock bottom, openly embracing my lowly situation with an endearing shamefulness, I thought I was onto something. I believed that I had figured out how to make feeling like a loser work with chicks. But now, back at square one, without a single prospect or potential date, I just missed my confident, independent former self. You know, the self whose social life didn’t revolve around the nights Mom would be making Stove Top stuffing.
Months of misery passed, and I floated lethargically through each day like a Quaalude addict in an after school special. Any attempts made by my well-intentioned parents to pull me out of the murky depths of my own self-pity only created further feelings of dependence, and subsequently, depression. I struggled to find purpose in even the most mundane activities (“today I’m going to buy my OWN toilet paper!”) as my renewed reliance on mom and dad rendered my fight for success and survival even more meaningless.
Thankfully, after a full year of living at home, my buddy suggested I move out of my parents’ place into a sweet new bachelor pad he was eyeing. I had certainly saved enough money to do so, and as luck would have it, I would even happen to receive a significant raise at work in the following weeks.
Living in my own apartment, I began to feel the effects of the change of environment almost immediately. Sure, my new “rugged” neighborhood was a far cry from the tree-lined, gentrified, baby-boomer oasis I was coming from, but it wasmine. I found relief in shopping for vegetables, in buying bread at the bakery next door, in chatting it up with Imadul, owner of the local bodega that only sold batteries and Skittles. My newfound self-reliance gave me the will to go out more and meet plenty of new people. I got back into writing, started exercising, and found myself in a much better mood overall.
A mere four months later, I had landed a new job at a TV network I’d dreamt about working for since high school—a crowning achievement which reaffirmed that things had finally completely turned around. It was clear that the only thing to follow me from my parents’ apartment to my new address was my subscription to Time Out New York.
And yet, despite an astounding recent dating streak, my track record was now a sloppy mess. If you were to examine a lineup of the chicks I dated in this period, it would look like a cross between the cast of Rock of Love 3 and the most recent outpatient roster of your local mental hospital: I went out with a cute ex-gymnast who gave me the keys to her apartment a week-and-a-half after I met her on the internet; an ex-con who served a year in federal prison for attempting to sell a pound of cocaine; a woman who, on our first date, informed me of the fact that her last boyfriend ran away to Washington D.C., never to speak to her again because of her “psychopathic tendencies” (her words). And my longest affair was a painfully vague two-month-stint with a coworker at a previous job who once got mad at me for trying to hold an umbrella over her in the pouring rain because she said it would make her feel “indebted.”
I mean, What. The Fuck.
But to be fair, not all of them were nuts. Some were just slightly less engaging than a lobotomized Paris Hilton. One girl, a Jewish Ivy league graduate with an amazing job and huge bombs, couldn’t carry a conversation. I’ve made better small talk with paper. I like to refer to this one as “The Red Chair in a Red Room.”
Needless to say, I was still not satisfied in my hunt for a viable girlfriend. While everything else had improved since The Great Depression of 2007 had concluded half a year earlier, my love life was still struggling to recover. So obviously, upon arriving home from an evening cut short by a prissy blind date exclaiming “Oh, no….We don’t do‘cheers,’” in response to my friendly attempt to clink glasses, the 2008 Valentine’s Day edition of TONY was a welcomed surprise in my mailbox.
When I first examined the magazine, scouring the “Date Our Friends” section for hot, sane babes in my age range, I somehow skipped right over Amanda’s page. It wasn’t until a week later, casually flipping through the latest issue while on the crapper (the only place I ever read Time Out New York, of course) that I came across her profile:
Amanda, 24 Manhattan, television production and programming Says Amanda: “The sensitive at heart should be wary of what’s been called my off-color sense of humor. Nerdiness doesn’t shame me (I’ve been known to watch Discovery Channel marathons). I also have a penchant for dining out.” Says Craig, music assistant: “Amanda’s babe factor and mondo brain can be intimidating, but she’s a sucker for laughter, offending squares and staying out late.” email@example.com
Not only was she far and away the most attractive female of the bunch, but her description screamed “You’ve met your match!” I could hear angels singing: They were calling for the Don Juan of E-Courting to suit up and take action once again. Only this time, I was armed with a new lease on life, and a huge pair of balls to go with it.
From: Ethan Fixell Date: Sunday, February 10, 2008 4:21 PM To: tonysingles amanda Subject:
The funny thing is that I first flipped through the new TONY issue about a week ago. And I remember seeing the whole “date-us” section and being like, “Of COURSE everyone is busted…”
Which I guess is why I was so surprised when I realized, a week later, that I missed a page with a cute chick on it. But before reading the caption below, I was totally thinking, “well, she probably hates all my favorite channels, or listens to Christian rock, or…eats puppies or something.”
Which I guess is why I was so surprised when I read your description. (TV production? Same here.)
Anyway, if you haven’t OD’d yet on the deluge of emails you’ve probably already received by now:
Oh, and can we just talk for a second about my man on page 89? Have you seen him? Holding up a sign that says “Top or Bottom - You Decide?” I mean, if you’re gonna drop a totally creepy line in a magazine read by hundreds of thousands of people, at least don’t fuck up the grammar. Jesus Christ. I almost want to call him and be like, “Dude. Really?”
She totally loved the email. (Hey, I’ve already revealed enough embarrassing shit to earn a little extra boasting at this point.) Merely a day later, she responded and suggested that we meet up for a drink sometime, to which I happily agreed.
Now, as I’ve implied (perhaps not so subtly), I’ve been on my fair share of dates before. And I can honestly say that in all my years, I have never been on a first date—much less a blind date—that went as well as that night with Amanda did. We connected on every level. We shared the same sense of humor, the same beliefs and values, the same penchant for awful TV. We laughed and agreed with one another as if we had known each other for years. And I could have sworn I could actually see the physical attraction between us in the form of fiery bolts of electricity traveling from my eyes to hers. She eventually even admitted that out of the hundred-plus bachelors to reply to her ad, I was the only one she chose to meet up with.
….Well, except for some random douchebag ex-coworker of hers who, realizing the grave mistake he made in never asking such a rad chick out, decided to reconnect after seeing the magazine….But fuck him—he doesn’t count.
I was the only total stranger to pull off the impossible, creating a date with a super cool babe out of thin air. I was the champion. I had mini-Vince Vaughn on my shoulder, crowing “Who’s the big winner here tonight at the casino? Huh? Ethan, that’s who. Ethan’s the big winner. Ethan wins!” I was on the best date of my life, and finally, nothing could stop me.
But, although it may be the veritable video-Bible of male self-confidence, even Swingers can lead a man astray. Because as amazingly as Vince and I had thought the evening had gone, when Amanda finally replied, three days later, to my email enquiring about a second date, she let me know that she had started to see someone else. You guessed it: the very douchebag ex-coworker who needed a magazine to tell him my dream girl was worth dating.
And the worst part was that she was so graceful about it. She wrote gentle, beautifully written phrases such as “I would feel disingenuous if I said yes to dinner.” She made charming apologies to cover her embarrassment over not calling: “Sorry….but if I were to try to say this over the phone, I would fuck it all up and start bumbling like Hugh Grant at the pivotal moment of a romantic comedy.” And she even closed with one our many inside jokes, invoking the name of a bizarre children’s show we both loved, signing, “Sincerely, Yo Gabba Gabba.”
Goddammit, Amanda, at least let me take satisfaction in hating you for dumping me.
Alas, even with all the proper ingredients—a new job, a new apartment, and a renewed sense of confidence among other things—I had failed again in securing a magazine-order girlfriend. Yet ironically, it wasn’t by my choice this time. How the hell did Ethan The Stud end up with an even crappier ending than Ethan the Dud? At least now I knew that even when everything else is aces, rejection is still as much of a bitch as ever.
I did learn another thing, too: that attempting to snag a date through a massively distributed publication will turn out the way you’d expect it to. No matter what your social status, responding to such a widespread personal ad will inevitably end in failure. If not right away, and if not for the incredibly obvious reasons, then eventually.
But you know what? I sure did come pretty close to breaking the laws of the universe. Twice. And that’s enough to keep my spirits up until the next Valentine’s Day edition of Time Out New York.
I know you’re punk, but chances are you’ve glanced at a magazine tabloid, gossip blog, or virtually anything on E!, and are well aware that now, more than ever, our interest in celebrities has nothing to do with their art. Sometimes they don’t even have to do anything to get press. You hear that new Jessica Simpson single? Ah, right, she doesn’t make music anymore. Thank God.
These days, instead of deifying celebs for their larger-than-life abilities on screen, we do so for their actions and words over the weekend—when they’re not getting paid to smile for the camera.
With so much riding on the details of their personal lives, celebrities are perhaps greater puppets for capitalism than their consumer counterparts, as PR reps, movie studios and agents attempt to override their true thoughts and personas in interviews and press releases. But sometimes, these bucking broncos get loose. And when they do fuck up…. Oh boy, do we love it.
The celebrity gossip of yesterday concerned itself with wedding details; it broke news of baby births; it exposed quiet relationships…. Booooooring. Why bother with the happy, mushy shit when there’s so much tragedy and embarrassment?
This recent fervor over tragic celebrity news can be traced back to the simple fact that human nature will never change. We are still fascinated by the destruction of the individual, much as we were in the days of the Gladiator.
The big difference between now and the days of the Roman Empire, of course, is that we’ve finally discovered how to murder prime victims, ripe for the picking, without fear of guilt or blame. Anonymously, we satisfy our thirst for carnage by feasting our eyes and ears upon the media that feature stories and photos of flailing celebs. It’s the perfect crime. The craziest part: Tabloids don’t even break news, they just let us know things we knew were going to happen did.
And not only do we feel free of all responsibility, but the process by which each victim is claimed is Natural Selection at it’s finest: We clearly hound only the dumbest and most self-absorbed personalities—those least beneficial to the betterment of society—until they implode. Now we can weed these weaklings out using only cameras and the internet? Awesome!
Sure, we claim to “love” these “lost souls.” We “empathize” with their troubles. But come on—we’re animals, and this is evolution. Remember the ol’ cliché? “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” We’re jealous of the good fortune of the exceptionally dimwitted, and resentful of their inflated success.
Ever notice how celebs like Tobey Mcguire and Reese Witherspoon never fall apart at the seams? Hmmm, maybe it’s because they’re…smart? Okay, so maybe they’re not winning Nobel Peace Prizes anytime soon, but at least they have some sense of judgment, of self-respect. The Scarlets and the Joaquins and Angelinas are mature enough to realize how retarded the Hollywood “scene” is, and, if they aren’t, they’re smart enough to fake it. They know we don’t really want to see passionate, positive people fail.
But let’s not start blaming Hollywood for luring in these impressionable young household names. Arguing that Brit and La Lohan were unfairly corrupted by fame at a vulnerable young age is a total cop out. Drew Barrymore was sucking down eightballs back when she was still using crayons, and she made it out alive. Because she’s not actually retarded. Perhaps a little slow…but hey, a little slow is okay. It’s really pretty simple: If you can just stay modest, the mob will let you live. (Though, not without coverage of the color of your wedding gown or the size of your chateau in Switzerland.)
As hangmen marching to the gallows, consumers and media alike seek to destroy the next felon guilty of stupidity and extravagance. Forget tabloid culture—this is paparazzi culture. In other words, these are stories created by the very act of photographers and journalists harassing their subjects to death.
Let’s enjoy it while there are still stupid famous people left to ruin.
With the final clock-pendant nestled snugly in the Most Elegant Gutter-Tramp’s bosom, the last remnants of poop and champagne mopped from the floor—we can officially say that VH1’s Flavor of Love 2 was the most brilliant television show of 2006.
(I know, I’m sure I’ve already lost half of you.)
Not only is the FOL series unquestionably financially profitable, but the show’s second season managed to intellectually stimulate viewers while serving up revolutionary socio-psychological commentary.
(And now I’ve lost all of the show’s semi-retarded target audience.)
For anyone unfamiliar with the show, the premise is fairly simple: Take Flavor Flav, the clownish foil from politically charged rap group Public Enemy, and deposit him on the set of The Bachelor. Replace all the classy ladies vying for our leading man’s love with the trashiest, skankiest aspiring actress/singer/fame-whores in America, and poof: Flavor of Love.
At the very least, no one can deny that the show is exciting. I mean, come on—this shit is entertainment. Violence? Sex? Drama? Suspense? FOL has it all. And of course it should, as its cunning producers and writers are the same which have created some of the most popular shows around. The best “trash” is always made by those who are savvy enough to know what it takes to make a successful show. And these VH1 masterminds have even coined a term for this new brand of reality TV: “Celebreality.” It’s not quite “reality,” nor is it entirely “fake,” but it’s always centered around celebrity.
Not only do FOL’s scrupulous producers and writers know how to capitalize on outrageous content and a dazzling marketing scheme, but they are even able to use the show’s very flaws to their advantage. Because no self-respecting chick would ever sign up in hopes of actually kindling a loving relationship with Flav on a TV show, the plot becomes less about who is the best match for Flav, and more about who could possibly be there for him in the first place. (Flav refers to those girls not driven solely by hopes of fame as “real.” The rest of us call them “not repulsed.”)
While the seemingly naïve Flav may not realize that his love-life is doomed (his “executive producer” title is about as significant as Sir Elton John’s knighting), the other producers embrace the fact that none of the girls are there for love, utilizing their shameless personal websites and MySpace pages as publicity for the show. In a parasitic relationship, the girls get web hits from horny viewers wanting to see some crusty, pockmarked, ghetto nip, and VH1 enjoys a boost in the show’s notoriety and popularity.
VH1 has even taken it a step further, organizing a Flavor of Love “Meet and Greet” tour, where fans can get autographs and dances with the girls from the first season at sold-out nightspots across the country. And then there are the hundreds of blogs and message boards discussing the show and the stories behind its female stars. In this glorious little circle that feeds itself on controversy, growing larger and larger as each episode airs, everyone involved seems to be getting what they want. But at some point down the road, while VH1 execs are chowing on filet mignon on the beach, Flav will be lamenting over his past days of “fame and love,” and at least one of these girls will wake up on the floor of some sleazy club in a slushy mixture of vodka, cocaine and vomit, a $500 paycheck stuffed in her back pocket for a party event “appearance” at which she was coerced into offering “extra-curricular activities.”
But I digress.
The fact that most—if not all—of the girls are “fake” brings the experience outside of TV. The show crosses media boundaries, as the true “game” is played on MySpace and in forums in which viewers can discuss who and where these girls really are. Take one look at any of these websites or blogs, and you’ll see that viewers are really thinking about the type of person it takes to join a show like this. Average people are critically examining “The Industry” and the untalented disasters who only expose themselves further as they try to climb its highest peaks.
And this isn’t the only way in which shows like this are making people use their noggins. Sociologist Steven Johnson points out in his groundbreaking book, Everything Bad is Good For You, that even our “worst junk” today is better for us than the very “best junk” of 15, 20, or 100 years ago. People are using more of their brains to interact with television.
Take a simplistic, fluffy show like Ozzie and Harriet, the epitome of “wholesome” TV in the 50s: Sure, we can argue that the series had positive messages to deliver, but ultimately the show reflected life issues just as unrealistically as FOL does, albeit in the total opposite direction. More importantly, as Johnson points out, the viewer’s role today is much more active. While a monkey could follow the simplistic plot and one-dimensional characters of O & H, today’s reality TV forces viewers to follow multiple storyline threads and keep up with dozens more characters—all of which, at the very least, are real, richly complex human beings “playing” themselves. Regardless of the quality of its content, Flavor of Love makes us think harder than The Love Boat did.
Much of the “junk” stigma attached to reality TV seems to stem from the argument that these manipulative shows “pretend” to be real. Well, so what if it isn’t? This country almost had a fucking conniption over who killed Dallas’ J.R. only 25 years ago. And many women aged 18-30 have only recently conceded that Sarah Jessica Parker is not actually Carrie Bradshaw. I think we’ve come a long way with representation of reality on TV, even within the past two years.
Viewers are more emotionally invested in FOL than many shows before it simply because of the blurred lines of reality. The folks behind the show have gotten us to actually feel something for Flav and his love-hunt using whatever elements of reality that do exist. They’ve chosen the perfect main character, who remains likeable and genuine no matter how over-the-top the drama around him is.
Obviously, the show is further dramatized through editing, off-scene interviews, and occasional fed lines. The girls, either egged on by producers or on a quest for more attention, tend to exaggerate their “characters.” But there are moments of unbridled, raw emotion, such as the brutal catfight that took place in the very first episode, when two soon-to-be-exiled contestants fought savagely over claim to a specific bed.
If the fight was encouraged, the combat itself seemed authentic. And the result of the fight was definitely “real”—the aggressor was sent home against her will. Even if these women were planted actresses; even if the entire episode was staged, the entire series fixed—because the show features humans, there will always be moments of real emotion, no matter how small these glimmers may be. Inevitably, the “performances” on even the most scripted reality TV will reveal shades of truth in the personalities of the “actors.”
A similar example of this may be seen when the penultimate Caucasian survivor, Buckwild, announces her resignation. Panicking at the threat of New York’s presence (the “evil” season-one finalist returns to the show halfway through FOL2), Buckwild loses her trademark ghetto accent as she breaks down to Flav.
Taken at face value as social commentary, we see just how far someone will take their quest for national fame. In this case, Becky “Buckwild” Johnston, actually an Ebonics-schticking comedian looking to further her career, felt physically threatened by New York, who is notoriously known for her violent, aggressive antics. So we learn that an attention-whore will take anything for fame but a potential punch in the face.
On the other hand, if we assume that everything is scripted—that Buckwild knew all along she would be leaving when New York arrived—it makes the show even more complex and interesting. We are forced to look much harder for the glimmers of truth in a show that is marketed and positioned as unscripted and “real.” This only makes the educated viewer work harder, as he must decipher which elements of the presentation are real or fake.
More importantly, because of the mere possibility that some or all of the events are actually happening, the viewer is much more invested in interpreting the actions of the show’s characters, evaluating what is fair, who is right or wrong. The shades of gray are vaster on FOL than they will ever be on Law and Order. When viewing something as warped and genre-bending as FOL, we are forced to solidify our own perspectives and values regarding the virtuous, the depraved, and all those in between.
Because it is so warped, FOL is often perceived as trashier than anything before it. But how can we hold the show up to past standards of conservatism when our world is slowly becoming increasingly more liberal? Of course there were never any bleeped-out words or catfights on The Brady Bunch; nor, looking even further back, did Moby Dick have anything to do with a whale’s cock. But we also now permit gay marriage in some states, and we no longer keep slaves. So why should we hold our media to historical standards? Thirty years from now, people will probably look back on the days when TV was “classy” with shows like NYPD Blue, or Will and Grace—both considered edgy in their respective times.
Ultimately, the key is to understand what FOL and other shows like it represent for our culture. Though there is nothing wrong with enjoying something for its visceral drama, we are cheating ourselves if we think we merely watch FOL for its “shock value.” Sure, it’s fun to mock the seedy side of humanity; to voyeuristically witness animalistic interactions. But I believe that most of us are subconsciously looking beyond that surface drama, deeply examining the contestants and their interactions with the jocular host in order to chart the intentions and successes (or failures) of these actors and wannabes in Hollywood.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not arguing that the people behind Flavor of Love set out to make beautiful art. They care about one thing: ratings. But in trying to create a television show that brings home the most bacon, the program needs to speak to the most people possible (i.e. America’s lowest common denominator and the College Grad alike). In crafting such a show, the producers and writers have made something extremely complex.
Too bad the only way to succeed in such a competitive marketplace is to cover an unspeakable intelligence with a whole lotta layers of dumb.