Singles – Painted Clowns


As part of our stroll down memory lane, it seemed fitting to reprint a column by one of our most popular writers. Teresa Strasser, now a regular on prime-time television and morning radio, generated stacks of reader mail with pieces such as this one.

I’m drinking at a bar called the Dirty Horse on Hollywood Boulevard. Well, that’s not the real name, but I never got a look at the sign and that name seemed right.

It fits the place, with its plastic pitchers of beer, painted clowns on black velvet, bowls of peanuts and the fast-talking, baseball-hat-wearing guy at the end of the bar who clutches a clipboard and swears he can hook you up with tickets to a taping of “Yes, Dear.”

That’s the nature of the place, a bar — where as you can probably imagine — a half-pretty girl in a three-quarters-dark room gets served a pretty stiff drink. I’m drinking martinis for the simple reason that they work fast and I’m on a bit of a schedule. I’ve been on the road working for all but four days of the past six weeks and I’m wound up tight. I keep thinking about my perpetually overheating Taurus, the way the mechanic’s gloved hand slowly loosens the radiator cap and lets the steam out.

At some point, the line between Mickey Rourke and me blurs. I slur. I buy drinks for strangers. I spill the contents of my purse onto the floor. By the end of the night, I have no cash, none.

In the interest of making sure the clich√© train doesn’t miss a single stop, I make out with my ex-boyfriend, who is my designated driver and seated on the stool next to mine. It is later reported to me that without warning, I burst into tears and had an impassioned discussion about not much in said ex’s ear.

Hold that thought.

Several months before the Dirty Horse, I was out with a guy my girlfriend dubbed Sexy Pete. Pete’s in the music industry, dresses well, appears to take his workout regime very seriously and would never let you pay for dinner. Sexy Pete has been around. Normally, I’d never go out with a guy who exudes more sex appeal than mensch appeal, but my friend talked me into it.

“Now that you’re 30, things are different. In your 30s, you don’t worry so much. You just have fun,” she explained.

Not to shock you, but it turns out Sexy Pete just “wasn’t into a relationship right now.” Still, we went out a couple times before that last date, which ended up with me back at his place, very late at night. We talked on his couch. It got late, then early. He fell asleep and I was stuck there, not knowing whether to extricate myself from Sexy Pete’s sleepy grip or stay.

I thought to myself, “I’m in the apartment of a guy who couldn’t care less about me. He barely speaks. He has no interest in a relationship, a sentiment I finally understand has no hidden meaning for men. This is about to get really sad if I don’t leave now.”

Out I went. Pete, with all the enthusiasm of a catatonic patient at a hospital square dance, muttered, “Don’t leave.”

The door was already half shut, and it closed. I was out on an unfamiliar street in last night’s boots and skirt. I spotted my car in the harsh light of early morning and the old Taurus had a brand new ticket.

This is what I call a Karma Ticket, the kind you get when you are where you shouldn’t be. It never fails. You may also be familiar with the Nobility Ticket, the kind you get when you couldn’t move your car because you were working and didn’t want to lose your flow, listening to a friend discuss her divorce or otherwise doing good in the world. You feel good when you pay these and almost want to write in the memo line of your check, “Fee for being such a good person.”

Because I’m 30, I don’t cram the Karma Ticket in the glove compartment and forget about it until it doubles. I pay it.

Now back to painted clowns.

I wake up after my evening at the Dark Horse. In my 20s, I would have had a series of concerns, sort of a self-administered shame questionnaire: Why did I do that? Should I still be dating that ex? What does it all mean? Why do I have to be such a jackass?

But now, it’s about slack. Just like my friend predicted, I don’t worry so much. I’m old enough to know what it costs to get wrapped up with a guy like Sexy Pete, which doesn’t mean I don’t get close, but it’s three dates and out. I don’t need to interpret what’s wrong with him or with me. I just move on with the mollifying impact of slack easing the way. I call the ex and we go over the highlights of the Dark Horse. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

Here’s the thing, if you spend the night where you shouldn’t or get crazy on martinis once a year, there’s no need to judge yourself. When it comes down to it, a few painted clowns do not make your life a circus.

 

Nothing But the Truth


 

Let’s go live to my blind date at a West Hollywood Restaurant. The merlot is great, the gnocchi is inspired and the waiter taught me to say fork in Italian. The guy? Not for me. Marc is a rare blond Jew, but there was no click between us, no fireworks, no cell phone call from the bathroom stall to tell my girls I’d met my husband. Not that I’ve ever made that call or am looking for a husband. I don’t even know how to spell husband. Or say it in Italian.

Having already located my nearest emergency exit, I had one high heel out the door when Marc blurts out, “So what’d ya think? How’d I do? Where do I stand?”

I laugh. Then realize he’s serious.

“Are you into me?”

Could he ask more questions?

“Are we going out again?”

Guess he can.

This is a “clean up on aisle four” disaster. After a typical dating mismatch, I dial the next day, say thanks, then let things fade. I don’t do direct feedback, customer comment cards or post-date wrap-ups. I’m not comfortable with it, especially when I’m sitting less than a foot away. Yet, inquiring Marc wants to know. He’s desperate for a touchy-feely date-end review. I blame daytime television.

I’ve never been cross-examined by a date before; I don’t know how to respond. Should I be honest or polite? Go for truth or tact? Marc’s not topping my to-do list, but can I say that? Bad dates have feelings, too. I could lie, say I’m ga ga, and suggest we visit the Little Chuppah of Elvis. I could play coy, suggest he call, then give him the Ma Bell brush off. I could tell the truth, and send him home with Rice-A-Roni and a parting gift. Or I could take the Fifth. Yeah right, like I can remain silent.

So, tonight’s dating dilemma features heavyweight champion “honesty — best policy” vs. mother’s favorite “if you don’t have something nice to say….”

What does the Torah teach us about lying to a date? Nothing — who dated back then? But the Talmud does discuss telling little white social lies. Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai argued over how to describe an ugly bride. Should all brides — shayna punim or not — be danced before in the same way? Shammai said no — be honest, say the chick’s not hot, and be happy brides wear veils. Hillel said lie — she has a beautiful personality, you’re not in court and better everyone should get along. I say, why marry an ugly bride?

“Just tell me the truth. I don’t want to waste my time.”

Marc’s sentiments sound vaguely familiar. He sounds like, well, um, a girl. Women constantly complain that men can’t be honest about how they feel, where things are going, or why things are ending. Take Scott, who I dated for two months last fall. On New Year’s Day, he hit me with the ol’ “I’m going back to my ex-girlfriend” resolution. What could I do? Who was I to stand in the way of their true love?

True love my shankbone. A week later, Scott contacted my sorority sister through JDate. Not realizing she knew me, he said he liked her profile, liked her picture and would like to meet. Was he going to bring his ex-girlfriend on their date? Did his big plan to woo her back involve meeting other women on the Internet? There was no ex-girlfriend reunion; Scott just didn’t have the matzah balls to say he didn’t like me. His lack of respect hurt just as much as the breakup. All I wanted was a little honesty.

Guess Marc just wants the same. Gray is the new black, early is the new late and honesty is the new game. Daters don’t want Splenda-coated statements and false hopes. We want the truth, no artificial colors or feelings. We want to know where we stand, even if we stand alone.

Which is why I ripped the rejection Band-Aid off quickly. I told Marc he was a good guy, but not the right guy and suggested he tell his story walking. I also suggested he back off on the post-date interrogations. If the date had gone well, we’d be kissing by now. Then I bid him adios, shalom and, as our waiter taught me, ciao!

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

 

The Four Menches


The haggadah speaks of the Four Sons: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn’t know how to ask. And on a good night in Hollywood, you can pick up all four. The first Saturday in March is a girls’ night out (with the understanding we intend to pull men). Elizabeth, Sasha, Sarah and I throw on low-cut tops, low-rise pants and do the L.A. barhop thing.

The night kicks off with dinner at Jones. The Wise Son, Scott, sits at the booth next to ours. The waitress-in-training serves this bright young man my seared ahi salad and brings me his loaded pizza. A serendipitous mistake. After straightening out our leggo-my-Eggo sitch, Scott offers to buy me a beer. And we’re rolling.

A consultant, Scott spent four years in investment banking, grabbed an MBA and is now a three-piecer. He’s sharp, sexy and proves to not only be business savvy but flirt savvy. By the time we finish dinner, I know I’d have fun searching for his afikomen. The feeling is mutual, and Scott asks for my number.

He must have taken notes in his B-school communications class, because he phones me that Monday. The Wise Son understands that the rules of dating apply to him and that a timely phone call is key. We head out on a date that Thursday.

I meet the Wicked Son, Marc, at North. This player, armed with a Nokia cell and a helmet of gel, spends more time getting ready than I do. He says this signless Sunset bar is as yesterday as an apple martini, and he’s only here because he knows the hostess.

Despite his slick exterior, there’s something seductive about him. We continue to chat and swap things in common. We like the same films, read the same books and run the same Santa Monica stairs.

The conversation goes well, and next thing I know, I’ve been hit by a smooth criminal. I laugh when he calls the bartender “chief” and smile when he hands me a lemon drop. He invites my gang to an after-hours party, and I coyly accept directions and his cell phone code.

Everything about Marc shouts “buyer beware.” He’s a staple at the Hollywood Hills party circuit, someone who’s always looking for TNBT (the next big thing) and TNNG (the next new girl). And when he finds her, he’ll toss me like yesterday’s Variety. My girls vote no against Proposition After-Party, but I hold onto Marc’s number. This Wicked Son believes dating rules apply to other men, not him. But what can one date hurt?

We girls head west down the strip to Red Rock, where we meet the Simple Son, Josh. This cutie with the tousled hair teaches fifth grade, surfs before class and spends weekends at the beach. His surfer-boy charm and no-worries ‘tude make me want to ride his wave home.

But Josh is a little slow on the draw. I’m flirting my heart out, but nothing seems to penetrate that sea-salt head. Finally, I buy a round of tequila shots. He asks “What is this?” And Sasha explains that women have been freed from the chains of chivalry. An interested girl can now buy a guy a drink. And just when we think all flirting fell flat, Josh scribbles his number on a coaster. Seems Simple Simon just needs things spelled out.

The Fourth, Ryan, is a yummy actor with a cute shankbone. We meet him in the 2 a.m. line at Pink’s. As the girls and I chow cheese fries, the 22-year-old toddler tells us about his plans to make it big. Fresh off the plane, this L.A. newbie brims with wonder, dreams and an incredible smile.

Compared to the bitter herbs Sarah usually meets, Ryan is really refreshing. It’s clear he’s into his Mrs. Robinson, but is too nervous to ask for her number. So the girls and I unleash the wily ways of L.A. dating on this innocent Midwestern boy. We pass along our knowledge of the rules, the game and Sarah’s number to the wide-eyed boy.

Sometimes it seems you need a candle, a feather and a wooden spoon to search out an eligible L.A. man. But more often than not, bedikat-mensch only requires a fun ‘tude, an open mind and a little red tank. In this sprawling city, there’s a new guy around every bar stool, and each is as different as the place you found him.

Now, I’ll admit that not all nights are as successful as that Saturday. But they have the potential to be. And that’s the fun of being single in this city. You never know what an adventure holds. Why will this night be different than all other nights? On all other nights, you turn up as empty as Elijah’s cup, but on this night, you might meet a man. Or in our case — four.

A Jewish Guy


Frankly, I’mall for it.

But what about sports? Girls? Humvees andwashboard abs? This column’s supposed to parse the experience of aJewish Guy in the world. But some guys have called, confused. What’sall this about singing baby boys to sleep? About tender talks and thesalve of toddler hugs? It’s all very sweet, but, guy, hey guy, theyask, where’s the testosterone?

Funny. My wife’s been bugging me about the samething.

When I met Abby, I was 23, fresh off a few yearsof intensive karate training and backpacking adventures in WesternEurope. A Jerusalem girl, she liked to call me her “New York TaxiDriver.”

So a few years pass. The karate gives way toevening walks. The backpacking to lingering meals and washing uptogether. The modern dance classes, the bike trips — phoosh! — outthe window. I had the girl. Who needed the bait?

Then come the kids, and as the backpack molded inthe basement, the jagged horizons of world travel spun themselvesinto the downy world of the nursery. But not without some adjusting.”Could you be a little more gentle with the baby?” she says. “Do youhave to throw him so high in the air?” “I really don’t think a1-year-old needs to watch Godzilla vs. Rodan with you.”

And, so, slowly, washed bottle by washed bottle,powdered tushy cheek by cheek, gentle lullaby by lullaby, I, like thePleistocene dog and cow long before me, became domesticated.

After seven years, my wife’s most cherished wishhas come true. Nurturing comes naturally. I am the king ofKissathons, the Nabob of Neck-farts. Behold — Commander Cuddle. Theladies at the playground smile at me when I cradle my little ones.They coo over my unabashed affection. They marvel at the simple factthat I’m spending so much time with my children — and I’m not even ananny! (Of course, my wife, being an actual woman, sees no one on theplayground ever coo over her singing love and fierceembraces).

Now here’s the kicker. Now that I’m ready andtoned up for the Nagano of Nurturing, my wife tells me, “Genucht!”Would I mind putting down the book of children’s poetry and throw onmy carpenter’s belt. Go bang around the yard a little. Preferablyshirtless. Nail something. Haul the firewood across the lawn. Oh,and, sure, we can spare the money for a personal trainer — “but onlyif you want.”

A guy can’t catch a break.

This all may sound horrifying to some of you guys.I can hear you reaching for the Rogaine, perusing mag wheels for yourAcuras, gut-crunching right there on your carpets.

But this isn’t really an either-or game. It’s anongoing process of adjustments along the masculine-feminine line. I’mnot worried, even if my wife is leaving power tools around the house– a regular Johnny Appleseed of machismo.

And I find that, among my friends, theirmasculinity doesn’t worry them either. We each have our own private,often unspoken claims to manliness. This one swims everyday. This onebuilds lawn furniture in his garage. This one mountain-bikes, theother sea-kayaks. Most of us get in some skiing or snowboarding. And,of course, as married men, we all have in common sex, which studiesare rumored to suggest can be reassuring.

But the truth is, we mostly Jewish guys — and Ionly speak for my circle of friends — are quite comfortable to haveforsworn the consistent company of Men’s Journal masculinity formenschhood. Not that we achieve it consistently. Far from it. But itdoes mean that, at minimum, we spend time by our children’s sides.Often, and passionately.

Yeah, I’d like to raft the wild Yukon or diveamong blacktip sharks off the Bahamas (not the big ones though; justthe little ones). I’d love to bike through Vietnam or Alsace. And Iwill — either later with the kids, or without them when they’re incollege.

But for now, for these years, the guy thing isvery much the dad thing. The Rabbis challenge us, “Where there are nomen, who will be a man?”

Yo, guys: Where dads aren’t dads, there are nomen.

Adam Gilad lives and writes in Topanga. You canreach him at Aggprods@aol.com