Sometimes, just for fun, I look at the singles ads. I play a game of wondering which one I would respond to. The answer is a resounding zero. That’s because they all sound too perfect, which makes me think they’re lying.
When a man describes himself as “Looking for someone who can indulge their longing for fine dining, travel and theater,” I suspect the reality is more like warm beer, dirty underwear and reality TV.
I have a friend who answered one of these “too-good-to-be-true” ads. They met for brunch and she knew right away it wasn’t going to work out because he glanced at the menu and then said, “So, do you want to split an order of toast?”
She said, “Why don’t you have the whole order, and I’ll just split?”
I can’t say I blame her, although in general I think single people have totally unrealistic expectations of perfection in a mate. I fixed up two friends of mine, and they seemed to be getting along fine. Then the woman told me that she didn’t think the relationship was going to go any further, because he didn’t own any classical CDs, just jazz. I told her she should be looking for a partner, not a clone. And there’s nothing wrong with jazz: It’s not like he had a collection of polka music! She could go to the opera with her girlfriends. Fortunately, she listened to me, and they are living happily ever after.
I don’t envy anyone who’s playing the dating game: It can be nerve-wracking and heart-breaking. As for me, I was never very good at the quality men admire most in women, which is keeping your mouth shut. If I disagree, I voice my opinion. I just happen to believe the world would be a better place if everyone would just do what I tell them. Plus, I only laugh at jokes I think are funny. So I guess I don’t fit the standard profile of someone who wants to please men.
So there I was on a blind date one February, meeting a man who needed his Green Card, which is why we got married in April.
My friends thought I was taking a big chance, that he might disappear as soon as he got his papers. That was more than 40 years ago, and we’re still going strong. Truth be told, sometimes we’re going weak — but at least we’re still going. In this game of singles, you just never know.
My husband, Benni, seems to like me just the way I am — even though we argue constantly.
If I say it’s too cold in the house, he says “Oh please, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
If he says no one’s dressing up for the party, I say, “Oh please, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It’s become a knee-jerk reaction — even when it makes no sense. Once, I was telling some friends what a wonderful father Benni is, and he interrupts me, “Oh please, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The Danish philosopher S?ren Kierkegaard said, “Marry or do not marry, you will regret it either way.”
But the Larry David of existentialism was wrong. I do not regret it — even though we have our differences. In my performances, I want to make people laugh, but here’s a more serious song I sing for couples like my husband and me. We’re like most married people I know — including the jazz vs. classical friends I fixed up.
We seldom have heart to hearts,
We rarely see eye to eye,
But when we’re hand in hand,
It’s grand that he’s my guy.
I like Broadway, he likes jazz,
He wants simple, I need pizzazz.
There’s only one thing on which we agree,
I like him, and he likes me.
He likes home, I like out,
He’s kinda soft-spoken while I tend to shout,
The future looks grim, our chances are slim,
But he likes me and I like him.
He washes the cars, he opens jars,
He keeps the books and feeds the cat,
He doesn’t bring flowers or valentines,
But I’ve learned to read between the lines.
He keeps me safe, he keeps me sound,
I’m not myself when he’s not around,
We’re as different as two could be,
Still I love him and he loves me.
We’re day and night; we’re black and white,
Still I love him and he loves me.
The good news? When it comes to finding the love of your life, all you need is one.
Annie Korzen’s latest show is “Straight From the Mouth,” at the Acme Theatre every Thursday through March 16. 135 N. La Brea, Los Angeles. $25. For information, call (323) 525-0202 or visit
Unhappy New Year!
OK, I’ll be absolutely honest — I spent this past New Year’s Eve alone. Sure, I could have salvaged the situation with a round of frantic last-minute calling, but I never got around to it because I had to go and get into a fight. Fortunately, I was the only one who got hurt. You see, I picked a fight with myself. And on New Year’s Eve day, no less. Almost out of nowhere and with virtually no warning, I started in on myself.
So, who’s your lucky date for New Year’s Eve?
Please. You know darn well I don’t have any date tonight.
What? The Duke of Dating flying solo on New Year’s? I’m stunned. How can it be?
I don’t want to talk about it. It just worked out that way.
It doesn’t “just work out that way.” You worked it out that way. How many coffee dates have you had this past year?
Too painfully many to remember.
And not one of them was available for New Year’s Eve?
You don’t just ask someone out on a date for New Year’s Eve. It’s a very meaningful night. A very expensive night. It’s not for “a” date; it’s for “the” date.”
So with all those coffee dates, how come none of them worked out into “the” date?
You want a reason for each? She wasn’t attracted to me. I wasn’t attracted to her. She wanted someone who made more money. I wanted someone who talked about something other than herself. She wanted to have more kids. I wasn’t communicative enough for her. She didn’t have a sense of humor. I didn’t have a passion for four cats. Shall I continue?
You know what you’re doing, don’t you?
What am I doing?
It’s so obvious. For every woman you meet, you’re finding some reason, any reason, to keep you from starting a relationship.
Is it? You mean to tell me you meet a woman who’s perfect in every way, except she has four cats, and that’s the deal-breaker?
Look, I never said she was perfect otherwise. And besides, if I didn’t want a relationship, what am I doing spending all this time and energy meeting women?
You really want to know?
I asked, didn’t I?
You’re addicted to dating.
Get out of here.
Exactly. That’s the message you’re giving these poor women: “Get out of here.” For you, it’s all about the thrill of the chase. Ms. Right’s just around the corner. The next one’s going to be flawless. Well, get this, oh Sultan of Singles: There is no Ms. Right; there is no flawless, and there is no satisfaction for you if you keep on this way. One day you’re going to wake up to find yourself 78 years old and on your way to your next coffee date. That what you want, Pops?
Of course not. But none of the ones I’ve met this year feel right. I’ve had coffee dates where everything just clicks, we start dating, and before long, we’re in a relationship.
Sounds lovely. And where are those “everything-clicks” women now?
They didn’t work out.
They didn’t work out? Or you subconsciously torpedoed the relationship so you could get back to your addiction?
You know, I’ve about had it with you. You disgust me. Get out of my sight.
I can’t. I’m you and you’re me.
What did I do to deserve this?
Well, come on, don’t give up on me. What do you suggest?
I don’t know. Since I am you, I’m somewhat limited in my perceptions and insights.
You don’t have to insult me.
I’m sorry. OK, look, let’s try something different this year. One word: “Stop.” Stop the coffee dates. Stop the singles Web sites. Stop the matchmaking services. Stop the personals ads. Stop the singles parties and dances. Just stop.
Are you heading for a celibacy thing? Because that’s not what…
I’m trying to keep you from a celibacy thing. Just live your life. Do your work. Be with your friends and family. Volunteer for something. Be out in the real world. She’s out there, but you’re trying too hard. Stop trying. Start living.
I don’t know. I’ll think about it.
That’s all I ask. Now let’s get some Thai food, and for the love of God, no “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”
I was in no mood to fight with myself any more. I picked up some Thai food. I called a few loved ones. I watched a Marx Brothers movie. And I gave some serious thought to what I’d said to myself. It wasn’t so bad. Yes, I was alone, but not lonely, really. And maybe next New Year’s Eve, I’ll have a date. She can even bring her cats.
Mark Miller, a comedy writer and performer, can be reached at
11:59 and No Plan
Our Date With Drew’s Date
There are plenty of guys with crushes on Drew Barrymore, the actress who began as a child ingénue at age 6 in “E.T.” and who captivates as an adult in sexier roles like her turn as one of “Charlie’s Angels.”
There are also plenty of guys who are trying to make it in Hollywood, living hand-to-mouth, scrambling just to pay rent, taking any job in the industry just to get by until stardom hits.
But there are few guys indeed who can combine their passion for Drew and their showbiz struggle into one neat package. Actually, there’s only one guy like that — Brian Herzlinger, an aspiring filmmaker who documented his attempts to get a date with America’s sweetheart in “My Date with Drew.”
The film’s trailer explains the mission impossible: “30 days. $1,100. For an ordinary guy to get a date with Drew Barrymore.”
Herzlinger is no ordinary Hollywood everyman. He’s a Jewish 29-year-old from New Jersey, who did many of the usual Jewish things: attended JCC summer camps, went to Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah. Eventually, he ended up in Los Angeles and signing up for JDate (he’s no longer an active member). While dark and ethnically handsome, he’s of average height, not in the best of shape, as he likes to point out, and quite hairy (he ponders a chest wax during the film).
So how does this “ordinary” Jewish guy — a combination of the endearing Steve Guttenberg and the can’t-hold-in-a smirk Jerry Seinfeld, with a dollop of Woody Allen self deprecation — go about getting a date with the ultimate Hollywood shiksa goddess?
After winning $1,100 in a game show, he and friends buy a video camera at Circuit City, planning to return it for a refund within 30 days. (Is that ethical, rabbi?) They try to get to the actress using the six degrees of separation. (In the Jewish world, it’s supposed to be only four degrees — so too bad he wasn’t going for Barbra.)
It’s not easy for Herzlinger, who had been in Hollywood for five years after film school, working various entertainment biz jobs, such as a PA on some TV shows, and making his own short films. Using his friends in low places, Herzlinger and his three co-filmmakers (“The Drew Crew”) manage to interview, among others, Drew’s facialist; her ex-boyfriend, child celebrity Corey Feldman; a psychic who, for $75, predicts the endeavor will be a success but not within the time frame; and Herzlinger’s parents in New Jersey.
By the way, his mother thinks Drew is too “slutty” for her son. And hers wasn’t the only earful Herzlinger got: “During this process, I’ve never had so many Jewish grandmothers come up to me and say, ‘Tateleh, you should go out and meet my granddaughter…'”
The film took four months to shoot and edit — they had to whittle down 85 hours of footage — and another two years to sell after doing the film-fest circuit.
“I was worried that people out here would be so jaded that they wouldn’t get the ‘lifelong quest’ aspect,” Herzlinger said. “But the response across the board has been that people say they’ve been inspired to follow their own dreams.”
Now the four friends who did “My Date with Drew” are going to work on a reality TV show with a similar premise — following people who try to fulfill lifelong dreams in 30 days.
So does Herzlingerever get his date with the beautiful Barrymore?
He doesn’t want to give away the ending (and neither do I).
“I had the highest highs and the lowest lows,” he said. “This was the biggest roller coaster of my life.” For more information, visit www.mydatewithdrew.com.
To Simcha, With Love
Thanks, but No Thanks
As far as I know, there are no such things as federal laws pertaining to dating. Oh, sure, there was that book “The Rules,” a few years back, but those weren’t federal laws; those were simply man-made, or rather, woman-made rules or suggestions. As to why there are no federal laws governing dating — that’s a no-brainer.
Men, for the most part, make the laws. And men, no doubt, realized that if there were actual laws governing dating behavior, no way would there be even one-eighth the necessary jail cells available to hold all the men who regularly violate said dating laws. Hence, no dating laws.
Of course, every now and then one encounters a dating law violator of the female persuasion. Which brings me to my recent date with “Alison.”
Admittedly, I would never have pegged Alison as the date lawbreaking type. Attractive, intelligent, sensitive, good sense of humor and, most importantly, seemed to really like me. Our meeting on an online singles site led to very encouraging e-mail, followed by phoning and, finally, the all-important first meeting — lunch, my treat, good chemistry; ending with her suggesting that I call her to set up date No. 2. So far, so good.
Of course, that was back in the good old days, before Alison and my relationship took several sudden and (at least on my part) unexpected turns toward The Dark Side. The afternoon following our lunch, I called Alison, reached her voice mail, and left a message thanking her for a lovely lunch, saying how much I enjoyed meeting her and that I was very much looking forward to our next date, which we could arrange when she called me back.
I’m big on courtesy and appreciation, both giving it and receiving it, and was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t already gotten a “thanks for the lunch/nice meeting you” e-mail from Alison. But I realize not everyone thinks like I do, otherwise the world would be even scarier. I’ll probably get that thank you when she calls me back, I reasoned.
As it turned out, it’s a good thing I’m not a wait-by-the-phone-for-a-return-call kind of guy. Because she did not return my call that afternoon, evening, the following day or even the day after that. Unless, God forbid, something terrible happened to her, thereby immobilizing her, it slowly dawned on me that People magazine would most likely not be reserving photo space for us in their Lovers of the Year issue.
Any reasonable man in this situation would have simply gotten the silent message loud and clear, written Alison off and moved on to greener, more appreciative pastures. But this is me we’re talking about. I felt the need to let her know that although I got the message (or lack thereof) that she was not interested in meeting again, I felt it was discourteous on her part to a) not e-mail a “thank you for lunch, it was nice meeting you but I didn’t feel the magic, good luck” kind of acknowledgment, and b) to have ignored my call after she invited me to call.
This, finally, motivated Alison to respond, and I quote: “While it is obvious you know nothing about me, your missive revealed so much about you. You are a pompous, pathetic man. Grow up.”
OK, that did it. I immediately crossed Alison’s name off my Chanukah card list. But in truth, I was baffled. Perhaps I delude myself in thinking that most people, and especially women, have a certain degree of humanity, sensitivity and consideration. And perhaps this is payback, with Alison having reversed the traditional male-female roles, with her taking on the male role of the love ’em and leave ’em cad, and me becoming the female who needs to communicate feelings. I’d rather, though, think of it this way — most people I meet are sensitive, appreciative and caring. So when I encounter one who does not have those mensch-like qualities, it only serves to make me appreciate the others all the more. Of course, when I become King of the Universe, dating laws will require thank-yous and immediate, considerate responses. Too bad, Alison. You could have been my queen.
Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian, and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at email@example.com
A Numbers Game
A few months ago, I scribbled out a Web site, bought a camera, hired a director, raised $42,000 and embarked on a journey across
the United States.
“I’m looking for true love,” I told my father, “even if she’s husking corn in Iowa.”
In three weeks on the road, I dated a radio station DJ in New Hampshire, a beauty queen in Maine, seven feminists in Rhode Island, a yeshiva attendee in New York, a 42-year-old mother in Washington, D.C., and some eccentric others. I was often asked by the critics and by the media (who were never that critical) to justify the camera’s intrusion on dates.
“Won’t it get in the way of true love?” they’d ask.
“Well maybe,” I’d reply. “But” — like all great artists who excuse their art by calling it a social critique — “this is a social critique.”
“But how?” they’d ask.
“Well, everyone knows reality shows are a misnomer. They don’t accurately portray reality. In the real world, I think, most women aren’t as superficial or slutty as the ones on television. They actually care about stuff like honesty, sense of humor, and sensitivity in a man. To show this, I’m asking any and all of them to give me a try.”
The idea was that I am not a typical bachelor type or anything close. I am short, silly, sensitive, love-struck, yada yada yada. And, if a nice, sensitive, albeit not-so-all-American guy like me can find true love and be a figurehead for not-so-perfect men around the world, then I’d be doing a service to myself and millions of others.
Of course, things didn’t exactly go as planned. I was producing a mainstream film without film experience, without enough money, without trustworthy contacts and without much of a brain. As a result, I returned home penniless and humbled after just 12 dates.
“You’ve got to deal with the facts,” my father said. “You’re $35,000 in debt, you don’t have a job, you have a huge inventory of ‘Sensitive Guy’ T-shirts that nobody wants and you can’t seem to get serious about anything.”
I swallowed hard.
“But I was on the front cover of the Style Section in The Washington Post,” I said. “They called me a Beau on the Go.”
“You were wearing a propeller hat,” he said. “That’s nothing to be proud of.”
“Well,” I said. “There are still 5,274 women who asked me out on dates.”
His jaw dropped: “5,274?”
“There’s more every day,” I said. “They’ve seen me in the newspapers or on television, or they’ve heard about me from their grandmothers, and they just ask for dates.”
He repeated the number as if it held some sort of significance: “5,274. That’s a lot.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It gets better — 263 mothers asked me out for their daughters. All but three of the mothers were Jewish.”
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “I mean, I’m not surprised the mothers were Jewish.” He scratched his head. “Have you dated any of them, you know, since you failed with this whole endeavor?”
“I haven’t been able to,” I said. “There are too many. I wouldn’t know where to start. Sixty-two called me a ‘soul mate’ and 14 called me their ‘partner in crime.’ That’s a lot of pressure. They don’t even know me!”
“That might be a good thing,” my father said. “No offense, but you weren’t doing too hot with girls that actually did know you.”
“You’re missing it,” I said. “If I date any of these women, it’ll be under false pretenses. They asked a different guy out, an imaginary one. They saw me on a 90-second telecast, or read about me in an 850-word article, or browsed a few silly childhood stories on my Web site, and they think they know me well enough to assert that I was the missing piece of their puzzle.”
“So?” my father said.
“It’s scary,” I said.
“I think you should start with a Jewish one,” he said.
“Which?” I asked, showing him the thousands of e-mails. “That’s my biggest demographic. I’ve got 2,768 Jewish women to choose from.”
“Get a short one,” he said. “And make her smart and funny, too.”
“But I’d have nowhere to take her,” I said. “I don’t have money or a future.”
“That’s true,” he said. “But this is the new millennium. Ask her to pay. She’ll probably like you better for it. And that reminds me; make sure she’s rich, too.”
“That’s a lot to ask,” I said.
“Well, 5,274 is a big number,” he said. “Use it!”
From the Mouths of Babes
How Do You Decide Whom to Marry?
•You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming. — Alan, age 10
•No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with. — Kirsten, age 10
What Do You Think Your Mom and Dad Have in Common?
•Both don’t want any more kids. — Lori, age 8
What Is the Right Age to Get Married?
•Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person forever by then. — Camille, age 10
•No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married. — Freddie, age 6
How Can a Stranger Tell if Two People Are Married?
•You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids. — Derrick,
What Do Most People Do on a Date?
•Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough. — Lynnette,
•On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date. — Martin, age 10
What Would You Do on a First Date That Was Turning Sour?
• I’d run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns. — Craig, age 9
When Is It OK to Kiss Someone?
•When they’re rich. — Pam,
•The law says you have to be 18, so I wouldn’t want to mess with that. — Curt, age 7
•The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It’s the right thing to do. — Howard, age 8
Is It Better to Be Single or Married?
•It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them. — Anita, age 9
How Would You Make a Marriage Work?
•Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck. — Ricky, age 10
Set, Spike, Kiss
I’ll never play the violin in high heels again.
OK, I’ll be back in sticks in six weeks, and I never played the fiddle. But I did play an important game of volleyball.
Every Sunday, my peeps and I play co-ed pickup volleyball on Venice Beach. New catch Austin is always up for a little bumping and setting, so I invited him to come out and play. It seemed like the perfect chance to make a make a big impression. I’d win the point, I’d win the game, I’d win his heart.
Wearing nothing but my red polka-dot bikini, I was dressed to impress. But my play? It wasn’t pretty. Remember the last kid picked for gym class? Yeah, that wasn’t me. I was never even picked. I spent P.E. class helping Ms. Toppee keep score. So, Misty May I’m not, and Austin’s presence only heightened the pressure.
Then I saw it, in slow motion, the volleyball teetering above the net. This was it! One of those “douse me with Gatorade, throw me on a Wheaties box, one shining moment” kind of plays. The kind of play we’d recount over victory drinks. The kind of play I’d never attempt, but one that would make Austin fall for me — hard. Unfortunately, I’m the one who fell.
In all my 5-foot-2 glory, I jumped for the spike. But my towering 5-foot-3 opponent, Wendy, went for the block. We collided midair and crashed to the ground in a Cirque de Soleil contortion of bikinis and sand. I heard my teammate Randy say, “That’s hot.”
Austin helped me hobble off the court and drove me to his couch. My foot — swollen. My ego — bruised. I wanted the afternoon to be perfect. I wanted Austin to think I was perfect. I wanted to start things off on the right foot, and now all I’ve got is a Hobbit foot. Who wants to date an uncoordinated girl who lives in a Shire?
This wasn’t the first time I klutzed my way through a courtship. I’m the Tasmanian devil of the singles scene, the Lucy of JDate. I hit my golf ball into the moat at Sherman Oaks Castle Park. I released an air hockey paddle into Brad’s head, I spilled cold beer on Andrew’s pants, and I knocked over a candle during dinner with Dave. Those guys each canceled our relationship faster than a bad fall sitcom. I’m nervous Austin will follow their lead — another date bites the dust.
The next day I met Doc K. He looked at my chart, did a George Clooney head tilt, and said “Carin Davis … wait, do you write for The Jewish Journal?”
“Yes. I — “
“That’s what I thought. You write that singles column. My wife and I read it. You talk about a different guy every time. Pretty funny stuff. But as a happily married man, let me give you some dating advice.”
“What about some medical adv–?”
“Quit looking for the perfect guy and find your perfect match. From what I’ve read, you’re not perfect, so why would he be?”
“I’m sorry, I’m here about my–”
“The key is to find someone who likes you despite your faults … wow, I can’t wait to tell my wife I met you. Well, let’s look at that foot.”
Leaving the office with my broken toe taped and orders to stay out of stilettos, I realized the podiatrist formerly known as Dr. Phil, made a correct diagnosis. Not only was I looking for the perfect guy, but I was desperate to appear perfect to him. No whammies. All my ducks in a row. Not that I own any ducks, geese or Empire chickens — or would bring anything that quacks on a date. I would, however, make myself meshuggeneh trying to look graceful and flawless. But why work so hard to get some guy’s hechsher?
Sure men get excited about that perfectly polished, put-together, supermodel type, but they also get excited about cold pizza. They’re not so hard to please. Sometimes we’re so focused on impressing the person we’re dating, we fail to notice how impressive that person really is.
Austin could have called The National Enquirer, told them he’d located Big Foot. But instead, he was a knight in shining T-shirt. With my athlete’s foot elevated and my head in his lap, we spent hours talking, exchanging stories and playing beach blanket bingo. Guess I was the one who was swept off my feet. Well, at least one of them.
Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year’s Yiddishkayt L.A. hopes to spark some memories of a forgotten era.
License to Date
When I went to the JDate Web site to sign up, I discovered that they had my profile from four years ago. For my preferences, I had checked single (never married), separated, divorced and widowed. But I’m older (48) and wiser now and "unchecked" single and separated. Such men do not carry a "license to date." Although our mothers wanted us to "marry Jewish," they had the wisdom to warn us that any Jewish man over 40 who has never been married is not "marriage material."
Phillip was 49 and never married, but told me, "There were women who wanted to marry me, who I didn’t want to marry, and there were women I wanted to marry, who didn’t want to marry me."
It sounded good, but as time went on, I realized that all he wanted was "companionship" (dinner and sex).
Then there are those who are separated, with no divorce date in sight. There’s a good reason (at least they think so) why they remain separated and do not get divorced. Even if they "get a get," they’re still married, at least in the eyes of the law. Michael was 51 and told me that he had just entered into an "amicable divorce phase." In actuality, he had recently separated from his wife and needed to maintain his legal rights to "spousal immunity."
Still, the Phillips and Michaels of the world are quite engaging. They speak the same Yiddish words that you grew up with, making you feel like you’ve always known them; same for their mishegoss. They’ve also cultivated certain charms. Phillip always planned great dates, called me every Tuesday like clockwork and cooked for me. Michael was handsome, had a "Statue of David" body, was affectionate and wrote me romantic poems. I got so caught up in the present that I forgot (or chose to forget) that there was no future. Even worse, I labored under a common misconception: "If he spends enough time with me, he will recognize how wonderful I am, and he’ll create a future for us."
And pigs will fly.
So, I ruled out the single and the separated. However, I was unprepared for the recently widowed.
Alan found me through JDate. I like Jewish men who are intelligent and artsy, and the picture of him wearing a T-shirt with Albert Einstein and the Mona Lisa said it all. He is 55, has a doctorate (as do I) and was looking for a warm, intelligent and attractive woman. That sounds like me! However, his profile contained an interesting juxtaposition of intentions: "friend" and "long-term relationship."
When we sat down to dinner, he told me about the JDates he had been on and that he had signed for five years of Great Expectations. He had been widowed for seven months and dating for six. He expressed concern about hurting a woman, as well as a great deal of guilt — more than just your "garden variety Jewish guilt." He was still reeling from his 31-year marriage.
We went out the following Saturday and, despite some "static" my antennae picked up, I enjoyed him. He opened himself up to me (and I to him), and I loved his quirkiness. He downloads schematic drawings of amplifiers from the Internet, studies them in the bathtub and builds the equipment from scratch. He’s also an excellent photographer. The combination of his hobbies and his Ph.D. in molecular biology is indicative of his ambidextrous brain.
But his brain is ambidextrous in another way.
We had been seeing each other for two weeks. On Monday night, his right brain called me, and we had a great conversation. But near the end, his left brain told me that he needed "more alone time." I figured that the left side would shut down the right side for a while, and I was prepared to ride it out. However, Tuesday night, his right brain called and wanted to see me on Saturday.
On Wednesday, I again got right-brain Alan, although left-brain Alan told me that he’s "dealing with a lot right now," particularly his "preconceptions" about relationships. However, by the end of the conversation on Thursday, the right side had taken over and wanted to see me Friday and Saturday.
We had a great time on Friday. Dinner, a movie and "dessert." On Saturday, we had breakfast at an outdoor cafe. I had just put a spoonful of granola in my mouth when his left brain said to me, "How would you feel if things didn’t work out between us?"
And so it went for the remainder of the weekend. It became increasingly clear that Alan needed to take both sides of his brain to a therapist and come to an agreement about what he wanted.
On Tuesday morning, he called me. The left side of his brain had taken over. I felt really bad.
Before I go out with another Jewish man, he will have to present me with more than a get. He will need a "Certificate of Readiness to Pursue a Relationship" from a board-certified psychologist. In other words, a license to date.
Sharon Lynn Bear is a researcher, writer and editor living in Irvine. She can be contacted at BearWrite@AOL.com.
When I accepted a job to transfer from New York City to Los Angeles, I figured October would be the ideal month to move. Just as bone-chilling winds began sweeping the East Coast, I’d be basking in year-round sunshine on the other side of the country.
But the timing couldn’t have seemed worse when I arrived here to find wildfires ravaging the region, labor strikes disrupting the city’s transit system and grocery stores and a new governor whose qualifications included "Kindergarten Cop." Snow was starting to become a fond memory as I came to grips with feeling as if I’d moved to biblical Egypt during the Ten Plagues.
Still, there’s no turning back now. Turning 30 had left me with a creeping sense of stagnation about my life, which I’d lived entirely in New York. I hoped a different state would help me find a new state of mind.
And then there was the sneaking suspicion I had dated every Jewish single girl available in New York. That notion finally fully dawned on me when a friend-of-a-friend recommended a woman who he deemed compatible. Upon further inquiry, I discovered we had more than just interests in common: we shared DNA. I politely declined the opportunity to date my cousin.
Then again, incest might seem more advisable than coming to Los Angeles in hopes of meeting single, stable Jewish women. I had been duly warned that everyone here is superficial and insincere. These sentiments, of course, came from that hotbed of depth and sincerity known as Manhattan, so I paid them no mind.
Dating in Manhattan isn’t quite what you’ve seen on "Sex and the City." What irks me most about that show is how it glamorizes every aspect of city living, as if horrific weather and sluggish subways don’t interfere with single, attractive people. If Carrie Bradshaw were a real person, she wouldn’t last five minutes in her Manolo Blahniks, much less afford them on a writer’s salary.
But I must admit my own fantasies of Los Angeles living were fueled by another HBO show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm." How I yearned to be Larry David, roaming carefree around this eternally sunny city, bumping into one quirky character after another even more neurotic than he is. Even as it satirized the loopy conventions of suburban life, "Curb" made Los Angeles seem like a place I’d come to love.
Perhaps it might partly explain how eerily calm I was being about making such a huge change in my life as I made the extensive preparations to move. No 2 a.m. cigarettes, jagged fingernails or circling psychotherapists names in the Yellow Pages. It was an unfamiliar feeling, and newfound maturity seemed an unlikely explanation. It got to the point where I started to get anxious about not being anxious.
But soon enough I realized what brought on inner peace: For the first time in who knows how long, due to my complete preoccupation with moving, I was not engaged whatsoever in the customary histrionics associated with meeting/dating/loving/arguing/breaking up with any woman. I hadn’t made a conscious decision to avoid the opposite sex; I simply didn’t have the time.
I’m no historian on Buddhism, but I’d hazard a guess the Dalai Lama was not dating anybody when he first achieved that whole nirvana thing. With all the energies I usually devote to wrecking relationships channeled entirely into the equally messy business of relocation, friends and family marveled at my Zen-like demeanor. I presumed all the pent-up emotion would cause me to breakdown at my goodbye party like a beauty pageant winner, but I sailed through it as if I were going to see everyone again the next day.
Now that I am in Los Angeles, I know I can only repress my romantic life for so long. As consumed as I have been by the challenges associated with obtaining an apartment and a car, celibacy won’t fly once I’ve settled in and have no distractions.
I’ve been here only a month now, and the more time I spend here, the more sobering my new reality becomes. Topping wildfires, earthquakes and other Egypt-esque plagues common to Los Angeles are more mundane concerns like traffic, car insurance payments and, yes, finding Jewish women.
Adjusting to my new surroundings can be stressful sometimes. But it all seemed worth it one fine evening not long after I got here, when I strolled out to the beach in Venice during sunset. In New York, you actually forget there is a sky over your head because so many buildings block your view.
But standing in front of the ocean’s vast expanse, my head swimming with all of the possibilities that lay before me in Los Angeles, I was able to forget about my ash-sullied car and Pharaoh Schwarzenegger.
But if the Pacific Ocean turns red, I am so outta here.
Andrew Wallenstein writes for
the Hollywood Reporter. His work was included in the recently published “Best
Jewish Writing 2003” (Jossey-Bass). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Don’t Hate Me ‘Cuz I’m Happy
Don’t Hate Me ‘Cuz I’m Happy
If you’re anything like me — and for the love of God, I hope you’re not –you’ve found dating in Los Angeles to be nonstop inferno of disappointment, frustration, anguish, horror, tedium and depression.
And those are the dates that work out fairly well. It’s not hard to understand why some battle-scarred veterans of the singles scene have completely sworn off dating, substituting other, nondating activities in life, whatever those could possibly be. I understand jogging may be one of them.
And then there are the gluttons for dating punishment, such as, say, oh … myself, who trudge on through the singles scene, doing it all, experiencing it all, meeting them all, confident that Ms. Right is just around the corner. Apparently, I’ve been turning the wrong corners. Had I applied the time, energy and effort I’ve put into dating to any other career, I’d now be CEO of a major corporation and wouldn’t have time for a relationship. I understand that Bill Gates’ wife sees him just two and a half times a year. I’m guessing his being a billionaire eases some of her loneliness.
But sometimes you can win. Sometimes it all pays off. The cherries line up across the slot machine windows. The ship comes in. The race car crosses the finish line. There is a God. Ms. Right is, in fact, just around the corner. How else do I explain Lauri, whom I met at the Broadway Deli in Santa Monica, just over three months ago, via an online singles site? How do I even describe her without gushing? How do I talk about how perfect we are for each other without making you jealous, nauseated and anxious to kill me? Hey, get a hold of yourself — you really have issues.
The thing is, guys know within the first few minutes of meeting a date that there’s no future here. And then the rest of the evening is just treading water until you climb out of the pool, spitting chlorinated dating water from your mouth. But it can work the other way around, too, when you know that the person has all the right stuff. In the first half hour of meeting Lauri, I mentally checked off the categories: intelligence, looks, personality, sense of humor, energy, enthusiasm, optimism, creativity, love of intimacy and, the all-important one, interest in and attraction to me. Thumbs up on all counts. I was stunned, because this doesn’t happen often. This doesn’t happen at all. This clearly was the Halley’s Comet of coffee dates and I hope it lasts, otherwise my next good prospect isn’t due for another 76 years.
And because this kind of relationship is so rare, Lauri and I are both taking full advantage. We simply don’t care how many frustrated singles we’re nauseating with our mushy phone calls, e-mails, flowers, gifts and public displays of affection. We just can’t help it. The sun is shining brighter, foods are tasting better and the lyrics to love songs make perfect sense. Romeo and Juliet? Amateurs!
So please don’t hate me because I’m deliriously happy. After all, just because I’m walking on air each day doesn’t mean that this new relationship doesn’t bring with it another whole host of potential mine fields: How long will it last? Will I be able to not disappoint her? Will there be growth? Will our equal passion for one another remain equal? Will we stay healthy? Will we stay true to one another?
When the “honeymoon period” ends, will we still be able to give one another what the other needs and desires? Will we keep things fresh? Dear Lord, this relationship thing just never ends! I’m going jogging.
Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has written for TV, movies and many
celebrities, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate,
contributed to numerous national publications and produced a weekly comedic
relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Guy Clock
Okay, full disclosure about … full disclosure: I write emotionally revealing memoirs, but won’t wear see-through blouses. Which is to say, I’m not the type of person who posts naked pictures of herself on the Web. But when a women’s magazine asked me to write about joining an “erotic amateur photo site,” I was intrigued. Let me repeat: they asked me, a petite Jewish woman who bears no resemblance to the cast of “Friends,” to publicly display my body.
Now I don’t know about blondes or porn stars, but I’ve never heard anyone utter the phrase, “Nice Jewish Girls have more fun.” It’s not emblazoned on bumper stickers because, when it comes to sexuality, we Nice Jewish Girls are reputed to be boring. And when it comes to beauty, well, let’s just say that “she’s really Jewish-looking” isn’t a ringing endorsement in the dating world.
Add to these negative stereotypes the explosion of young men — including Menschy Jewish Boychicks reading this very column — who casually click on Internet porn sites several times a week. As the Nice Jewish Girl Naomi Wolf wrote recently in New York Magazine, this onslaught of even the so-called enlightened guys making cyberporn a part of their daily lives has resulted in “young women worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, [male] attention.”
If that’s how women with naturally straight hair and no hips are feeling, we Nice Jewish Girls have it worse. Sadly, while Jewish women have been spared religious guilt over sexuality — the punitive attitudes, the talk of sin, the whole burning-in-hell thing — our would-be Jewish suitors are trolling the Web for airbrushed photos of naked shiksas when they could have — ahem — us. What’s up with that?
The Naughty Jewish Feminist in me wanted to find out.
And here was a perfect opportunity: an amateur porn site. Instead of competing with a gaggle of Heidi Klum clones, I figured these “real” women would have cellulite, lopsided breasts and dimpled skin. In a twisted way, it seemed like going porno in the farm leagues might help me feel more comfortable with my body. And besides, it was all being done under the guise of “journalistic research.” But could I really post a buck-naked version of myself on the Internet?
The stickler, for me, was my breasts — or lack thereof. But just as it’s easier to tell strangers your intimate secrets, it seemed easier to flash my A cups at a bunch of anonymous eyeballs. So instead of going with an innocent photo and the handle “Left to the Imagination,” I decided to take the plunge (albeit hiding my face) with “All Thongs Considered.” The name was nerdy NPR, but the picture was pure porn star. So what if I needed a bikini wax? I felt giddy!
But the next morning, I woke up with a sense of dread. What if I didn’t — so to speak — measure up? I raced to the computer and checked my “feedback section.” Bracing for a dis, I clicked to find 50 praiseworthy comments — ranging from the wholesome “super sexy belly button” to those utterly unprintable in a family publication. It was like my own personal version of “Are You Hot?” minus Lorenzo Lamas and the public humiliation. I checked the site as often as I checked my Amazon ranking when my memoir, “Stick Figure” — also, incidentally, about body image — was published. By week’s end, instead of looking away when men eyed me at Whole Foods, I stared right back, bolstered by my thrilling secret: “You, sir, can see me naked!” Soon the positive feedback (“lovely Lolita!” “bodacious booty!”) went to my head. I posted two more photos, and even considered revealing my face. I mean, if my body was getting rave reviews, shouldn’t I get some credit?
Then it happened. One guy called me “scrawny” and a cyberfight broke out on my feedback page. Dozens of men came to my defense, but suddenly I stopped caring. I realized I was as pathetic as contestants on “Jerry Springer” baring themselves for public approval. Why did I need strangers telling me my body was okay?
“You go, girl!” one guy wrote, and so I did. I took my pictures off the site.
Weeks later, I spoke to a young rabbi friend about the contradiction between Judaism’s liberal “Kosher Sex”-style celebration of sexuality and its denigration of Jewish women as the butt — no pun intended — of jokes about lack of sex appeal. I told him that growing up, I heard that Jewish women were zaftig, unadventurous lovers. Then there was the perennial joke repeated in mixed company at Chanukah dinners, the punch line having something to with Jewish women who lie there motionless, asking “Are you done yet?” Jewish women were the ones you were supposed to marry, not fantasize about.
“Wait, let me get this straight,” my rabbi friend said. “You have naked pictures on the Web? Like, anyone can click on a site and see you naked?”
“Could,” I replied. “I took the photos down.”
“Oh.” I heard the rabbi sigh through the phone line. “So, what makes you think we don’t fantasize about Jewish women?”
I hung up glad that I’d gone porno for a week. Because while I don’t expect to see WomenOfTheShtetl.com cropping up any time soon, in my mind, “Jewish-looking sexpot” no longer seems so … counterintuitive. Now if only I could get myself to wear a see-through blouse.
Lori Gottlieb is author of the memoir “Stick Figure: A
Diary of My Former Self” (Simon and Schuster, 2000) and “Inside the Cult of
Kibu: And Other Tales of the Millennial Gold Rush” (Perseus Books, 2002). Her
Web site is at www.lorigottlieb.com
Red Flag From Cupid
Oh, sure, it started promisingly enough. Rhonda and I had each seen the other’s photo and profile on a singles Web site, granted one another profile approval and were now talking on the phone for the first time.
Things were going pleasantly until Rhonda suggested that I choose a place for us to meet. I suggested a coffeehouse with outdoor tables at The Grove. She reacted unimpressed. I then mentioned a charming little place on Melrose Avenue with a Japanese tea garden in the back. She yawned. Finally, I offered a second Melrose locale — a quaint French cafe with outdoor porch seating and fabulous homemade desserts. The silence was deafening.
“Problem?” I inquired.
“Those places just aren’t very romantic,” she informed me.
Not very romantic? I was stunned. Did I miss something here? Is it our anniversary? It’s our first meeting, for crying out loud! We don’t even know if we have any in-person chemistry. I told Rhonda that, to me, any “romance” occurs as a function of the chemistry between the two people. And that chemistry happens (or doesn’t) whether the people are meeting at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Ritz in Paris, or at Taco Bell in Pacoima. She mumbled an unconvinced, “I guess so,” told me she was on her cell phone in the car, about to park in her garage and would call me back as soon as she got in the house. I never heard back from her.
I briefly envisioned how I might have salvaged this particular relationship. A romantic gondola ride in the Venice canals, with me feeding her grapes while comparing the texture of her skin to velvet? But if it turned out there was no or very little chemistry, as is often the case, we’d merely be two people in a romantic setting, eager for the date to end. I just didn’t get it. What was she thinking?
And then it occurred to me that this whole episode with Rhonda had been a gift to me from Cupid. You see, sometimes Cupid allows weeks, months, even years to go by before your romantic partner reveals his or her dark side. The longer it takes for the reveal, the harder and more painful its effects on you when it all comes crashing down.
Other times, as with Rhonda, Cupid is kinder and allows the red flags to reveal themselves right from the start. So you’re privy to your partner’s deepest dysfunctions early on, in the harsh morning light of her true self. Her high-maintenance, humorless, judgmental, controlling, quick-tempered, dull, deceitful, insecure aspects rear their ugly heads. And at that point, you can decide if all her other wonderful qualities make up for this — or if you would be far better off heading for the hills.
What fascinates me about all this is that these red flags are revealed despite their owner’s intentions of putting a best foot forward during those first few all-important, making-a-good-impression encounters. Sometimes, thankfully, their true colors can’t help but slip through as merciful little advance relationship warnings (“The Crazies are coming! The Crazies are coming!”) thereby saving you all that time, money, effort and emotional involvement (and subsequent hurt) for however long you might have become involved with them before the bad stuff surfaced.
Therefore, I thank you, Rhonda. You did me a favor, and I wish you nothing but the best. I sincerely hope you meet that guy who will be able to suggest a first-date locale sufficiently romantic for your deepest needs and desires. All I ask is that once you’re seated with him at that charming seaside bistro on the French Riviera, with doves circling gently overhead and a strolling violinist playing “La Vie en Rose,” you’ll think of me kindly and wish me luck in my attempt to drum up a modicum of romance in some desolate Starbucks in Culver City.
Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has written for TV, movies and many celebrities, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, contributed to numerous national publications and produced a weekly comedic relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Nose Knows
The Set Up
I just received e-mail today from a former Akiba Hebrew
Academy classmate letting me know that she tried to set me up with an
“attractive, Jewish writer” from our hometown, but she
unfortunately just moved back to New York.
The Zoloft must have finally kicked in, otherwise I would
probably be sitting on the shower stall floor, head down and broken like
Elisabeth Shue in “Leaving Las Vegas,” staying in there until the hot water ran
Still, I am pleased that someone other than my parents tried
to hook me up with anyone. They last attempted to pair me up with my own
“A second cousin,” my father yelled at me on the way back
from their seder. “They’re complete strangers. We don’t even know them.” (He
later e-mailed me an article on how it was recently discovered that second
cousins can procreate with zero worry of genetic abnormalities.)
So I was somewhat hopeful when my buddy’s gorgeous, blond
ex-girlfriend told me she was “on the market” looking for nice single guys;
apparently, that didn’t include me. She called all her friends, who immediately
lined up guys for her to date every night for the next two weeks. I was less
jealous of those guys than the fact that she had this little network of
romantic possibilities to tap into.
For some reason, it’s rare that anyone sets me up. You would
think being a thin, employed, Jewish heterosexual with a full head of hair,
long eyelashes and a great sense of humor would be a gimmie.
Admittedly, there have been a handful of female friends of
mine who have expressed an interest in fixing me up with their single
girlfriends, and although well intended, they have never come through. A good
friend, very active in synagogue events, knows a ton of Jewish women, but as a
self-employed actress and the mother of a 6-year-old, she is usually too swept
up by the dramas of her own life to work as my matchmaker. Her recent messy
separation put my love life further down her to-do list. Talk about priorities.
Apparently, married people are only allowed to fraternize
with other married people, severely limiting their use to me as matchmaker or
interesting dinner guest. But yet they do have contact with separated couples —
broken halves still recovering from the break. “I’d introduce you, but she’s not
ready yet,” they tell me. Inevitably, when I soon after bring up that possible
set-up, that 48-hour window has already closed.
Why don’t people set me up? Are they worried about
Sure, you could lose a friend by making a bad match,
actually bringing the entire friendship into question. (“She thinks I’d be good
with this loser? Maybe I shouldn’t be friends with her.”)
Case in point: My neighbor didn’t talk to her friend for
months for setting her up with someone missing an arm, because she forgot to
mention the severed limb beforehand.
Or maybe people don’t set me up because they’re worried it
will go well at first, but later things might sour and they’ll get caught in —
to borrow a military term –Â relationship crossfire. Like a divorce, but less
immature, breakup parties often turn on the matchmakers: “He cheated on me and
it’s all your fault!” In the nasty aftermath the matchmakers will have to
decide which side to take (i.e., who gets whom in the friend-custody battle).
My ex-girlfriend still cannot attend a party thrown by her
good friend “Marsha,” the woman who fixed my ex up with the ex-boyfriend, who
caused her post-breakup breakdown a few years back. It’s as complicated as it
And my male friends? They’ve never expressed the slightest
interest in setting me up. I have a theory that men never want you to date
someone they might want to go out with sometime in their lifetime. And, trust
me, there’s nothing more emasculating than asking your buddies if they know any
women you’d hit it off with. The few times I’ve done this, I’ve gotten a look
as if a wild animal asked another, “Know where I can find any food?”
Alphas eat. Betas go hungry. Fend for yourself. We’re all
hungry, the look says.
Maybe in the old days you had some loving and concerned
families and friends watching your romantic back. But these days it seems like
everyone is watching their own. I guess I’m on my own.
So I called my father to check on that second cousin of
mine. Turns out I missed my window — she’s now engaged to a doctor. Â
Dave Kessler is a writer,
director and stand-up comic. To find out when he is performing or to set him up
on a date, e-mail him at DavidKKessler@aol.com
Good Jew, Bad Jew
He was the kind of guy you would take home to your mother.
He was Harvard educated, well-mannered, spent time with the elderly and
held an executive position at a major network. He had
traveled the world, written a few books and was shopping for a home. And
naturally, he was Jewish. This was the pitch I got from the mutual friend that
was going to set the two of us up on my first blind date ever.
Recently single, I was ready to jump back into the dating
pool, or at least dangle my feet in. These last months were relatively
self-indulgent and selfish — which is typical for the romantically frustrated:
I decided to give it a shot. Anyhow, I figured it would be “good practice” just
in case this dating thing was more difficult than I remembered.
David was pleasant on the phone, and I was pleased when he
offered to take me to dinner, as opposed to that wimpy “coffee date” narishkeit
(foolishness) that was sweeping the city (like you need a jolt of caffeine on
top of first-date jitters). So I dusted off my first-date dress and gulped down
a glass of wine before he rang the bell.
Over a leisurely dinner we talked about our insane
relatives, traveling to Vegas and the recent Jewish holidays. He told me how
surprised and honored he was when he was called to carry the Torah during Yom
Kippur services. I was duly impressed — and kind of embarrassed when he asked,
“Where did you attend services?”
“Um, well last year I went to the Beverly Hilton.”
“What did you do this year?”
I flashed back to that day. I’d skipped services and sat
around on the couch doing a television marathon. My Jewish friends were all off
atoning, and the non-Jews were at work, and it seemed like especially bad form
to ask them for a lunch date. I was stuck in limbo, alone. If that was not
pathetic enough, throughout the day I would find myself suddenly in front of
the cupboard munching on a handful of Cheerios, not even knowing how I got
“I didn’t quite get my act together this year,” I muttered,
My date looked at me with sudden understanding. He realized
at that moment; he was out with a “Bad Jew.”
There are certain levels of “Jewishness” — and I am not
talking about Reform vs. Orthodox. Among all of us, there are millions of ways
that Judaism can influence and affect our lifestyles. And when you are a young
Jew dating another young Jew, you really never know what you are going to get.
Clearly, this guy was a real mensch — I had never heard of anyone so young
asked to carry the Torah. And I was the shmuck. He had probably never heard of
anyone snacking on the day of atonement. I quickly looked at down at my plate
to make sure I wasn’t eating veal parmesan.
I wanted to explain that I hadn’t always been a “Bad Jew,”
and for a while there, I was really much better. But it was hard to tell
someone all of this on a first date, so I just let it go. But the truth of the
matter is, that during my previous relationship, I was more involved in Judaism
than I had been in my entire life. And when the relationship ended, so did the
services, the Shabbat dinners and the other religious traditions we had
participated in together. All of that went adrift along with so many other
things lost in what I referred to as “the divorce.” I lost family, I lost
friends and, although I did not lose any religious faith, I certainly lost
practicing the traditions.
The book of Genesis states, “Lo tov heyot adam levado” —
it’s not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and maybe it was referring to
the practice of Judaism. Making Shabbat dinner, going to synagogue, celebrating
the holidays — they’re not impossible to do alone, but they’re much, much
easier to do when you have a partner in crime. And after you lose that partner?
It’s easier to do marathon television.
As for my date with the mensch — there were a million ways
this guy and I could have been incompatible — for all I know he could be a
vegan, dog-allergic, right-winger that snores heavily. Or he could have been
dreamy. I never found out because we did not see each other again.
Months later, I am still left wondering how “good” of a
Jewish girlfriend I could make someday. Do we really judge each other on as
“good” or “bad” Jews when we are dating? What if I continue to neglect the
seriousness of my religious heritage — as I have been doing most of my young
dating life? Or, what if I sign myself up for more classes, did some studying,
joined a group?
Certainly, we date to find our match. We date to find love.
We date to find companionship. But we also date to find the one we will spend
the rest of our days with. Someone who we could share a life with, build a
family with and carry on to keep our family traditions alive.
And perhaps the question we should ask is not how good a Jew
one is, but how good would they like to be?
Lilla Zuckerman is the author of “Tangle in Tijuana” (Fireside, May 2003), the first book in the “Miss Adventures” series. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good Jew, Bad Jew
Date of Atonement
At this Sept. 11 anniversary, we as a community are forced to remember where we were one year ago, when the world as we knew it turned upside down, and stayed that way.
Where was I the day the Twin Towers crumbled? I’m a little embarrassed to say, but the truth is, I was on a JDate — the online Jewish singles network where nice, little, single Jewish boys find nice, little, single Jewish girls to play with. Only instead of a friendly game of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” it’s usually a delicate dance of, “I’ll do my best to hide mine, if you do your best to hide yours.”
I had been schmoozing online with a nice guy named “Josh” and we had made a plan weeks prior to meet for lunch at his favorite hamburger joint, Apple Pan, for an informal get-to-know-you burger. But when the news came on that morning, the greasy spoon’s cheese-covered apple pie was the last thing on my — or anybody’s — mind.
Around a half an hour before we were supposed to meet, Josh called me and we made a mutual decision to keep our plans. Whether it was a case of “maybe it was meant to be,” a respect for beshert or the comfort of perfectly cooked french fries, we’ll never know — but for some reason, we both felt “the date must go on!” as if it were opening night of a Broadway show.
So there we were, two strangers meeting for the first time on the most solemn of occasions. I felt guilty for going on with life as usual. I deeply felt that everything should stop. But how could it? We were in a stage of active paralysis. Going through the motions of life, but not sure what they even meant anymore. The news, playing louder than usual, provided an audio backdrop for our conversation. Small talk such as, “Were you in a sorority at Penn?” or “Do you play sports?” seemed irrelevant in the foreground of burning buildings and total urban evacuation 3,000 miles away.
But when all was said and done — we met, we ate and we actually made a connection during a time of complete confusion. Was our bond authentic or just a case of “safety in numbers?” There was no way to tell.
After lunch, Josh walked me to my car and we decided to go out again. Only problem was how would we match the drama and weight of a Sept. 11 first date? The only answer was to have our second date two weeks later on Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year. A virtual self-denial-a-thon.
Both of us committed to fasting, but being ransplants from the East Coast, we hadn’t found a synagogue we felt at home in. So we decided to spend the day together reflecting.
Our Date of Atonement started in nature. We took a 100-plus-degree hike in the dry Malibu canyons, making resolutions and personal goals as we huffed and puffed up a dusty, shrub-lined trail. Together we shared a sweaty ablution of past sins, and brought to the surface potential new ones in an attempt to avoid them by exposing them in advance.
After our hike, we were stumped. What to do now? The usual date devices were not an option. Grab a coffee? No. Catch a movie? Uh-uh. After exhausting our possibilities, we agreed on taking a nap. And I’m talking a nap-nap, not a nap. Actual zzzs were involved.
When we awoke, having had not even an Altoid the entire day, we were ready to chow down, but the stubborn sun was not ready to set. After a while self-reflection can get a little monotonous. I felt like Narcissus on a starvation diet.
That day, I realized how much we singles hide behind date conventions. Movies, coffee, meals, music — dates revolve around activities for a reason. To provide a commonality, a place to start, something to focus on. But not on this day — it was just me and Josh. So by the time the sun went down and it was time to eat, we were tired and grouchy with that famous halitosis only a day of fasting could provide. There were no way it was going to work.
We survived the Day of Atonement together. But was struggling with temptation too much pressure for the second date? We got to know each other — maybe a little too well — and found out that hypoglycemia and dead air aren’t a recipe for romance, but possibly the start of a beautiful friendship. At the end of the day — the long day without food or activity — we realized that we were not “meant to be.” It would be our first and last fast together. But when I think back on our Yom Kippur kibitzing, I believe it’s better to have spent two emotionally gut-wrenching days — Sept. 11 and Yom Kippur — bonding with a complete stranger, than never to have bonded at all. Who knows? Maybe we will go out again. Maybe we’ll just have to wait for another disaster to strike for date No. 3.
Finding the ‘It’ Shul
When “Inside Schwartz” creator Stephen Engel was in college, dating was relatively easy. He’d meet a girl in class, hang out — and presto! — he had a girlfriend.
But when Engel’s college flame dumped him when he was 25, the Jewish writer entered alien territory: the singles scene. “I didn’t have a lot of experience formally calling women and asking them out,” he says. “I’d never been ‘fixed up.’ I’d never been on a blind date. I had some horrific experiences.”
At the time, Engel, a self-professed “sports nut,” wished he could bring in sports analysts for advice. “I wished we could do instant replays to examine the body language,” he says. “It would be like, ‘She’s sitting on the couch, her arms are crossed, so does she or doesn’t she want me to make a pass?'”
The now happily married Engel, has turned his past wishful thinking into an NBC sitcom, “Inside Schwartz,” about a recently dumped sports nut with a parrot named Larry Bird and lots of bad dates. Like Engel at 25, Adam Schwartz (played by Breckin Meyer of “Rat Race” and “Road Trip”) imagines sports figures analyzing his love life. When a blind date announces she has four kids, an umpire blows a whistle and shouts, “Too many players on the field!” When Schwartz pines for his ex, Hall of Famer Dick Butkus pops up and advises, “Trust me, Adam, it’s over.” When Schwartz’s Jewish best friend, Julie Hermann (played by Jewish actress Miriam Shor) gazes into his eyes, Butkus razzes him to kiss her (he doesn’t listen).
While the 20-something Engel was a lawyer and wannabe writer, Schwartz is a wannabe sportscaster stuck working for his dad. He doesn’t get much help from his agent, William Morris (Dondre Whitfield), an African American who uses Yiddishisms like bubbaleh, “because that’s how he thinks agents talk,” Engel says.
Engel is not the first Jewish writer to make a gag of his life; but unlike “Seinfeld” and “Mad About You” characters, who were Jewish by innuendo, Schwartz makes his heritage clear in the first couple of minutes of the pilot. And while most TV shows pair Jewish characters with gentile love interests — ostensibly for dramatic conflict — “Schwartz” may be the first sitcom in which two appealing young Jews generate romantic tension.
For Engel, the reason is simple. “I’m Jewish, and the character is basically an exaggerated version of me,” he says.
Growing up Reform in New Rochelle, N.Y., the now 40-year-old Engel was as sports-obsessed as Schwartz. He shot hoops daily, fantasizing that he was a Knicks star and that sports announcer Marv Albert broadcast his every move. Every time a car drove past the hoop in his driveway, he assumed it was a Knicks scout. “If I missed the basket, I was, like, devastated,” says Engel, who at 5′ 9″ was too short to play on his high school team.
At Tufts, the budding comedy writer made the Hillel team and taught a comedy writing course, but decided to attend NYU law school to please his parents. “I spent most of my 20s trying to convince my dad that I didn’t want to be an attorney,” says Engel, who wrote screenplays on weekends and got his first break penning a comedy for producer Joel Silver.
By 1991, he’d snagged a full-time writing job on HBO’s “Dream On,” though he was too terrified to imagine Albert announcing his ditching of law with a trademark “Yessssss!”
Nevertheless, Engel went on to co-executive produce “Dream On,” serve as a consultant for “Mad About You” and create the short-lived CBS series “Work With Me,” about married attorneys who are forced into the same practice.
“Inside Schwartz” came about when Engel decided to experiment with the sitcom format and thought it would be funny to merge the grandiose field of sports with a person’s private life. “Sports coverage is so pompous,” he says, with a laugh. “It’s like they’re talking about gladiators going into battle.”
“Schwartz” also allows Engel to poke fun at his dates from hell — and the talent agency that refused to sign him. Schwartz’s hack agent, named after the William Morris agency, “carries himself like Mark Ovitz but has the client list of Broadway Danny Rose,” Engel says.
To satisfy NBC attorneys, the character must always introduce himself as “William Morris, not affiliated with the William Morris Agency, the largest talent agency in the world.”
Engel’s talent agency is Creative Artists Agency. “I could have named the character that, but it wouldn’t have been as funny,” he says.
“Inside Schwartz” debuts Thursday, Sept. 20 at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.
To all the people who’ve invited me to events with those two fateful words, “And Guest,” I apologize.
I’m sorry you have to look through your wedding or shower or Bar Mitzvah photos and say, “Who’s that?” when looking at my date.
“What was his name?” said my aunt, squinting at the uncomfortable-looking guy standing next to me in a wedding photo.
It’s a familiar question for me. In my defense, I’d like to say that at the time, it always seems that Mr. And Guest is The One, soon to be a permanent fixture in my life and in my family. Is it my fault I’m either exceedingly optimistic or hopelessly misguided?
It’s not like I’ve intended to burden the world with my endless stream of McBoyfriends. I didn’t mean to squeeze that extra platter of mass-produced salmon out of you. I never wanted to give you another mouth to feed, one you don’t know or care to know.
It’s just that it’s no fun going solo. Case in point: a recent wedding in Catalina. Sure, there were a couple possibilities in the And Guest pool, but none seemed close enough to bring. I couldn’t handle the guilt, the photo review session, the “Who was that guy?”
I spent the weekend alone, a lone star in a galaxy of couples. All that beauty — the postcard blue ocean, the sailboats — seemed to mock me all weekend long.
“Look at me,” said the sunset. “I’m beautiful, you’re not. Otherwise, you’d have an And Guest, you loser. Goodbye.”
I woke up one morning that weekend with an early-morning inner vortex of need, that stomach-twisting, I-need-my-mother-or-a-good-cup-of-coffee feeling. I went and sat on the sidewalk with my cell phone and called home.
“Just bring a date next time,” my mom said. Right. How obvious.
But those magic words “And Guest” have begun to disappear from my invitations. Throwing a big party is expensive, and who wants to foot the bill for someone’s disposable guest? I totally understand. According to Internet-based etiquette specialists The Wedding Women, unless you’re married, engaged or living with a boyfriend, it’s not wrong or rude to make you go it alone.
“Sure, everyone has a better time when they’re invited with a date, but many couples limit the number of guests by inviting cohabitating partners only,” they advise.
Let’s face it, budgetary constraints aside, those wild card “And Guests” can add color to any affair. Sometimes they’re weird computer programmers, scantily clad new girlfriends or other gossip-worthy types that give everyone something to talk about. And Guests can really break up the monotony of socializing with the usual suspects, even if they are only begrudgingly welcome.
I have to be clear about one thing; it’s not so bad to be single. I embrace it. I choose it. I’m not complaining. For now, that’s just the way it is for many of us 20-somethings who are taking our time before cohabitating or marrying.
Still, think of us when you’re debating whether or not to invite with guest. Picture us driving to Calabasas, Ventura or some other hinterland all alone. Imagine us clutching a hard little dinner roll and scanning the room with a look of calm and confidence artificially etched on our faces. Picture us dancing with your 6-year-old nephew, because it’s that or trade “how do you know the groom” stories with an accountant and his wife from Ohio.
Ultimately, it’s just as rude to thrust some unwanted guest on a party-giver as it is to dispense with the feelings of us single guests. Trust us, I say. Give us the option of And Guest or And Escort and let us use our discretion to decide what would be appropriate. Sometimes, we’ll mess up. Trust me, we’ll feel guilty about it. Mostly, though, we’ll be able to enjoy your celebration more with someone in our corner.
Again, my apologies to anyone I’ve imposed upon. But the more I think about it, the less bad I feel. I think my favorite etiquette advice was from an article in Town & Country magazine. “While changing times have raised new questions about propriety, the very questions that will help you answer them — thoughtful-ness, sensitivity, maturity — are the same ones upon which strong marriages are built.” The article continues: “In the end, good old-fashioned manners, and kind hearts, can be the most reliable compass for navigating all questions of etiquette.”
Isn’t that well put? I thought so.
I never thought I’d find myself in any place called “The Winner’sRoom,” mingling with soap opera stars and clutching a huge gold statue.
But there I was. Well, that’s where my body was, though some other partof me was hovering above the Century Plaza Hotel, just watching myself theway you watch an awards show on TV.
After I heard the first syllable of “Win Ben Stein’s Money” — the showfor which I was nominated for an Emmy as a writer — I went into some kind ofshock. It wasn’t bad shock, like “cover her with a blanket she’s losingblood.” It was a whole new kind of stunned, a blast of morphine-like euphoriathat shot from my stomach out through my limbs.
A wide spotlight landed on the Ben Stein writing team and my numb feet,teetering in brand new $29.99 pumps, had to take me to the podium. As ourelected speaker, Gary, struggled to thank the requisite producers, I stoodbehind him and gripped the prop Emmy, hoping my bra strap wasn’t showing.When he finished, I leaned into the microphone and said stupidly, “Thankseverybody.”
We were ushered down a hallway, where Gary was so shaken he had to takea knee.
“You okay?” I asked, helping him up.
“I just can’t believe it,” he responded, his eyes big and his legsshaking. I called my mom on someone’s cell phone, I hugged everyone in sight,and next thing I knew, I was in the Winner’s Room, picking up my very ownEmmy, posing for pictures with the weighty golden lady.
“Wings out,” people kept saying. “Those golden wings are sharp.”
Someone far more spiritually advanced may have gleaned a deeper meaningfrom that message, but I just adjusted the statue in my arms, dutifully.
I’m not trying to be self-effacing when I tell you that I have never,ever, been a winner at anything.
When I got the call last month that we were nominated, I felt prettydarn good for a couple days. But life has a way of turning on you, doesn’tit? My car died. I didn’t get a job I wanted. I had to charge my rent. Mydate, an ex-boyfriend, suddenly remembered he had a prior commitment to gohiking with his brother in Hawaii the weekend of the Emmy’s.
Great, I thought. I’ll be sitting next to an empty chair in a dress fromthe mall I’ll just have to return the next day because I’m the loneliest,brokest Emmy nominee in town.
“You’ll have a good time by yourself,” the ex said, shrugging it off.What I heard was, “It’s just the technical awards. It’s just the DaytimeEmmys. It’s not even televised.”
My good feelings faded. I told the ex-boyfriend to take another kind ofhike. I cried at the thought of myself sitting there alone, no one to comfortme if I lost or squeeze my hand if I won. I cried that deep kind of cry thathits you when you first wake up, that cry that sops up all the old painfulexperiences from your past and wrings them into your present. I got in myemotional time machine and felt sad for every time in life I ever feltabandoned. I got out of hand.
“Snap out of it,” said my therapist. Well, he didn’t put it like thatbut I’m translating from therapease.
So I did. I hauled myself to the used car lot and bought a car. Justafter I put a down payment on an old Taurus, I got a call for a new job,starting immediately. I splurged on my dream dress, a black, jerseywrap-around from Lura Starr that won’t be going back. An old friend fromcollege offered to accompany me and I was all set.
At the reception following the show, I walked around with my award anda glass of champagne, drawing stares. I wished I could mill around that hotellobby forever, experiencing the unfamiliar end of the envy equation.
My date was perfect company in his rented tux and freshly washed car,telling me when my lipstick was smeared, refilling my drink, making easyconversation with my co-workers. The thing about platonic dates, however, isthat like rented tuxes, they aren’t really yours.
He dropped me off at the end of the night and I clomped up the stairs tomy house and propped the Emmy up on the coffee table. I sat in thesemi-darkness, smoking and staring at her pointy golden wings, the arch ofher back.
I poured myself a mood cocktail, equal parts gratitude, pride andloneliness.
“Wings out,” I said to myself, for no reason at all, and Emmy and Isettled in to watch Saturday Night Live together.
Teresa Strasser is an Emmy-winning twentysomething writer for the Journal.
Send in the Clowns
Girl meets clown.
Girl is fascinated by clown, who is a bona fide graduate of clown college and can walk on stilts. Girl also can’t help but notice clown is tall and handsome and can stick a long nail all the way up his nose. Girl makes it obvious that she wouldn’t be adverse to the idea of a little “clowning around.” Clown rejects girl. Clown just gets on his emotional unicycle and rides away.
If this sounds like the setup for a joke, it isn’t. It’s my life. Yes, I was rejected by an actual circus clown, and that can really bruise a girl’s ego. And I think I blame the clown for my latest bout of “dialing down memory lane.”
If you don’t know what I’m talking about — and probably all but the most well-adjusted of you have done it — I mean getting home at 3 a.m. and taking out the little black book and calling every one of your ex-boyfriends who doesn’t totally hate you.
Maybe it wasn’t entirely the clown’s fault that I was drinking and dialing. Maybe it’s February. What a miserable, cloudy, useless Seasonal Affective Disorder-causing month this is. February is like one long month full of Sundays, and I hate Sundays, especially Sundays that coincide with a certain romantic holiday designed to underscore the loneliness of us single folks.
So, maybe the clown, who I barely knew, was really just the catalyst. Still, everyone I woke up from a deep sleep this weekend, you can blame him. Or perhaps just chalk it up to human nature.
Why do we do it? What are we looking for when we dial into in the past? I don’t really know. I have only a couple of half-baked theories.
The first guy I called I haven’t spoken to since we broke up four months ago. It was a terrible relationship. We hated each other so much by the end that we were just like two ships passive aggressive in the night. But at that moment, phone in hand, all I could think about was the candy he scattered across my floor last Valentine’s Day, the little notes he would leave under my door, the fact that he learned to love televised figure skating.
Nostalgia is like the mind’s own photo retoucher, blurring the wrinkles and blemishes and leaving a picture of the past that’s as inaccurate as Kathie Lee Gifford’s face on the cover of Good Housekeeping.
Luckily for me, he didn’t answer the phone. His answering machine picked up, and, as I listened to him jovially refer to himself using his own cheesy, self-styled nickname, I remembered in an instant why I didn’t miss him that much after all.
So I went long distance. I called an ex from San Francisco. No luck, just another machine.
I called a third guy, who I stopped talking to when I realized he had cracked the code to my answering machine and was checking my messages to erase the ones he didn’t like. Yes, you could call that “stalking,” but, when dialing down memory lane, you don’t think so much about the felonious nature of such actions; you just want to talk to someone who, at one time, cared about you.
When he answered, his voice sounded angry and scary. I hung up, but he called me back, barking, “What is so important that you have to call me at this hour?”
“Sorry, wrong number.”
I put down the little black book and decided that it might be better to fall asleep watching a Taibo infomercial.
What made me do it? Why do we go backward, sometimes only dialing, but often rekindling an old relationship in person for a night or a week or month?
There is something so compelling about revisiting a person, even an old friend, who at one time knew us, really knew us. Even if only momentarily, something that is broken is whole again, and that creates a feeling of safety and comfort. It didn’t work out, and, for all those same reasons, it still won’t, but the fantasy of connection, of reunification, is powerful.
That little black book is filled with people who loved us, laughed at our jokes, watched us cry. The past is magical in that anything that could go wrong already has.
The present? That’s rife with uncertainties. And the future? Well, it’s not unlike how I felt about the circus as a little girl: The toys are too expensive, the experience a little overwhelming, and there’s always too many clowns. n
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.
An Advertising Tale