The most influential person in the world, surefire questions for your next encounter at a cocktail party, and the rudest of the rude…all bubbling up in my cerebral cortex this week.
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I saw this guy I know with a woman who isn’t his wife and it was clearly a test of my decency. I flunked.
Minding my own business at lunch, I see a car pull up outside the window and an old friend got out. I had to look twice, because he lives so far away and the restaurant wasn’t exactly the kind of place he raves about on social media. Hah, what are the odds of a chance encounter like this?
Then he goes to the passenger door and opens it and this younger woman gets out of the car. Not his wife, not his daughter, maybe a business associate or a potential customer or a cousin or an in-law or…something else.
Because, let’s face it, I’m human and I watch TV and movies and I know what’s what in this world of ours. I jumped immediately to hanky, or panky, or both, because it couldn’t be that he was in a far-off location with a younger woman and it was completely innocent. I kept checking them out, from a distance, as they shared a meal. No hand holding, but there were no tablets and notepads on the table, either. Could be innocent, could be guilty, and I concluded that it 127% had to be the latter.
Which says more about me than him, really, since I have lunch with women who are not my wife and there’s nothing going on when I’m doing it. Of course, I secretly want people to suspect something, because it might mean I’ve got game, but the truth is always much less interesting. Apparently, I’m not exciting enough to be a suspect of any sort.
Actually, that’s not 100% accurate. Last year, my wife took a spill and hit her head. No major damage, luckily, but she ended up with a black eye for a couple of weeks. And every time we went to a restaurant, I could spot people checking out our table and thinking exactly what I would have thought—frequently have thought—when I’ve seen a purple bruise on the woman at a table for two. I’d have taken offense at their presumptions about me, except for that whole pot-and-kettle thing.
So I watched the couple at their table for a while, if they were a couple at all, and decided not to stop by and say hello. Maybe I was being discreet and maybe I was being rude. I’ll probably never know, which is fine. It’s none of my business really and I’m fine with not knowing the things I don’t have reason to know, even if I’m pretty sure I really know all of it.
Still, by the time I left the restaurant, I was feeling just a little bit less comfortable with myself. When did I make the leap from trusting to cynical? When did I conclude that I’m the only guy who can be trusted in this world? Whenever I crossed that line, I’m not completely sure I like the new me.
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Okay, that’s it. I need a purse. Not a man pouch or a murse or a fanny pack…an actual, bonafide, any-woman-would-use-it purse.
Because it’s time I face reality. There aren’t enough pockets for all the crap I have to carry around these days.
I can’t leave the apartment without my phone, of course, and my wallet is bulging with must-have entry cards, transit cards, store loyalty cards, credit cards and a few scraps of legal tender in case the system crashes at Dunkin’ Donuts. (Sorry, they just call it Dunkin’ now, because it would be branding heresy to actually mention the product.)
With all the member/loyalty/credit/debit/gift cards loaded in, my wallet is now four inches thick, even after I’ve tossed out the condoms I hid so hopefully in high school.
Then there’s the sunglasses, the comb and the handkerchief, because the mark of a true man is that he carries a hankie, plus the reading glasses I need now to see the text on my phone. And I’m a writer, so I always need to have a pen and some note cards handy, along with a little binder for the note cards and an extra pen, just in case. I live in a Blue State, so I need to carry a mask when I’m out of my apartment, and then there are the keys for the car, the apartment, the storage locker, the list goes on.
When I stuff it all into my pants and shirt pockets, I look like a prickly pear in bloom, or a really bad shoplifter. And it goes without saying that I’m bulging in all the wrong places.
For a while, office dress codes were my salvation. I had to wear a suit, and suits have a ton of extra pockets, so I found a way to spread the lumps so that I looked no more than 40 pounds overweight. On the plus side, I looked less rotund than people expected when I took off my jacket and I was getting great cardio carrying my supplies around all day.
But the days of suits are gone and I’m running out of tricks to get everything into place. Absolutely, I need a purse. Not just any purse, though. I need a manly purse, a leather bag with a bicycle chain for a strap, steel buckles and a clasp that looks like a deadbolt. I need a purse that’s too threatening to get through airport security, the kind that says, “I’m here, I’m cisgender, get used to it.”
Carrying a purse won’t be the toughest part of this adjustment to reality, though. Worse, I’m going to have to apologize to all the women I’ve mocked for carrying ridiculously large, overstuffed purses with enough supplies for a three-hour tour.
All in good fun, ladies, just kidding around, really laughing with you and not at you, you know. Now that I’m joining the sisterhood of traveling apothecaries, all is forgiven, right?
Hmm…maybe I should just buy some cargo shorts and a safari vest. Who knows? I might start a fashion trend.
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The first thing to understand is that, in the receiving line at my wedding, my wife needed to introduce me to some of my relatives. In my defense, my aunt Frieda looked a lot like Henry Kissinger and, well, I just wanted to be sure.
It’s not that I have a faulty memory. I have no problem remembering the jingles for carpet cleaning companies and car dealers from 50 years ago, and I know the names and occupations of everyone on that three-hour tour. I remember that Joe Friday’s badge number was 714 and that Contadina put eight great tomatoes in that itty-bitty can. I know to call 761-3489 if I need a ride home…in 1960.
Still, there’s something about faces that I simply cannot master. A stranger once started up a conversation with me in the hardware store and, yeah, he looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite remember where I had met him. Then he said, “Well, see you on Monday,” and I realized it was my boss.
In my defense, he was wearing a hat.
At weddings and funerals, old people will come up to me and ask, “You don’t remember me, do you?” And they’re right. I don’t. Of course, these are people I never see except at weddings and funerals, so our connection isn’t very deep, is it?
It’s getting to the point that I need to bring a puppet to social events, just so I can ask any unrecognized person, “Oh, have you met Mr. Wiggles?” Not only will that trick people into re-introducing themselves, but I suspect I’ll have fewer social interactions of any kind after a while. Win and win.
Well, it’s not completely a win, because I’m also challenged on the other end of the spectrum. Somehow, as I age, I keep thinking I recognize people I have never met before. There are only so many shapes and sizes of faces and colors for hair, so everyone starts to look familiar after you’ve been around the block a few times. For me, though, people start looking exactly like someone I know or, more likely, knew.
“Look, there’s the guy we knew from the parents’ group at camp.”
“No. He died.”
“No, he didn’t. There he is.”
“That isn’t him. He died.”
“No, he didn’t. I don’t recognize people and I recognize him, so he didn’t die.”
“You’re wrong. He died.”
“Yeah, right. If he died, what’s he doing here?”
Yes, it sounds really stupid when you put it in writing, but I guess you had to be there.
Then there are the times I introduce myself to someone who looks exactly like one of the girls my daughter went to school with…20 years ago.
“Jane, how are you?”
“I’m not Jane. You have me confused with someone else.”
“No, don’t you remember me? From when I knew you in high school?”
“You’re thinking of somebody else.”
“No, don’t you remember me watching you in the assembly hall?”
It’s amazing how quickly people can get a restraining order.
Clearly, I need an update to my facial recognition software. In the meantime, if you happen to run into me and I recognize you, it’s only because we’ve never met before. And if I don’t recognize you, that’s only because we are very, very close.
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There’s this woman on Wells Street, yelling at some guy that she doesn’t love him anymore, and I’m not wondering if anyone is going to record and post her tirade. I’m wondering how many people will join in the fun.
Life holds few guarantees for any of us, but we all can count on this one: Our worst moments absolutely will be recorded for the amusement of strangers who have nothing better to do than salivate over someone else’s misfortunes.
Lose your temper, drive into a lake, fall in the mud…whatever fate throws at us will carry the extra sting of sharing on anti-social media. Send an ill-conceived text, fail in your attempt at humor, forget to disconnect from Zoom…this is how you will be remembered forever.
“Yeah, Ed cured cancer and saved forty-million lives, but remember that time he got up at the end of the meeting and his pants were unzipped? Man, that was priceless.”
“So sad that Audrey died after saving all those children from a burning building. I wonder if the funeral home will show the video of her falling into that vat of peanut butter. That was one of my favorites.”
“It’s so great that all the foster kids are putting together a 50th anniversary party for Jane and Elmer. Hey, remember when they were on Wells Street and she yelled at him that she didn’t love him anymore?”
Millennials might find this hard to fathom, but there was once a time when we could screw up, recognize our mistakes, and move on with our lives. Yes, it’s true!! I could walk into a light pole without anyone knowing about it, telling the world what an idiot I am, or replaying it in slow motion for eternity.
Once, I wore a black shoe and a brown shoe to work and, hard to believe, nobody took a photo of it and sent it to all our clients. Of course, they would have needed to buy a camera and get the film developed and then find a FAX MACHINE to share it all, but what a hoot that would have been. Amiright?
I keep wondering how this will end, if it ever does end. How long will it be and how many shares does everyone need before we all get bored with the whole thing? When does the day come when we all just lose interest?
“Naked guy sliding on ice while holding a python? Nah, seen that already.”
“Three piano movers falling into a pothole? Lame. What else you got?”
“Some rando walking into a light pole? BFD.”
So far, I have been both impressed and depressed by the attention spans of our friends on anti-social media. I would have expected this stuff to be yesterday’s news by now, but somehow these videos keep popping up.
Our only hope is the people who own all those cloud servers. One day, like people who get tired of paying for “temporary” space in storage facilities, the companies hosting our online lives will decide to clean house. We’ll finally come to the point at which so much crap is being stored on the internet that they decide to clear the server farms.
We’ll all get a chance to keep our old posts, of course, but the people who own our data will insist that we pay for the storage. Then, and only then, we’ll all decide we don’t really need to save that clip with the woman screaming on Wells Street.
We’ll all still have embarrassing moments, of course, but it might actually come to pass that those moments won’t redefine our lives.
BTW, I'm not actually admitting here that I ever walked into a light pole. If I did, though, and If I decided to fess up about it, you'll be among the first to hear about it if you click here.
“Do you have homes like this this in America?” Menguez asked. Our guide was showing us his town, including the base of the cinder block home he was building for his family. Inside, it would be smaller than my room at the hotel, but it would fulfill a life dream for Menguez. Unlike most people in his village, he would soon be a homeowner.
Of course, I said yes, we have many homes like this in America, although I didn’t mention that the American homes usually have electricity and running water that his home might lack at first. He wasn’t looking for examples of the chasm between my life and his, though. He lived in that gap every day as a guide for traveling Westerners. Rather, he wanted someone to share his pride as he moved up in his world.
I’ve been thinking about Menguez lately as I work on a family genealogy project, retracing my grandparents’ first foothold in this country and the momentum they created for their children and, ultimately, me. They were tougher than I am, survivors, willing and able to live on nothing until they could put a few bucks together to rent an apartment within a mile of the immigrants’ market on Maxwell Street in Chicago. According to the ship manifest, each of them presented the legendary $5 at immigration when they got off the boat and they found a way to get from Ellis Island to the West Side of Chicago.
Our family history in the United States is nothing special, really. Morris and Anna had children who grew up and got married and had their own children who grew up and continued the line. We’ve all accomplished a few things, failed at others, and we’ve woven our stories into the national fabric. Being “nothing special” is very special in this country, though. In the day-to-day, it’s easy to forget how far ahead we begin this race.
Easy to forget, but then you spot a photo of Menguez and his future home, and it all comes back. Our lives are graded on a curve, but the curves are not the same in every country, in every time. Each of us tries to ride up our own curve unless, like my grandparents, they get desperate enough to make the leap to a new world and a new curve. Yes, they were looking for better opportunities beyond the golden door, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t giving up something in the bargain.
How desperate do you have to be to release your grip on everything you know, almost every person you know, for a new start? How rough does life need to be before the dice are worth rolling? For my grandparents, it seems, the tradeoff made sense. For Menguez, maybe not. He was on an upward arc at home, building for his future. His ambition might lead him to come here—maybe he has already made that leap—but his hard work was paying well for him without crossing an ocean.
That wasn’t the case for my grandparents, although their exit from Tsarist Russia might have been driven more by politics than economics. Whatever the reason, they were desperate enough to jettison the only lives they knew and set the foundation for all of us who followed.
Sometimes, it turns out, desperation is a good thing.
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.