Last night, I went on a very promising date with a woman who is a forensic artist for the New York City Police Department. We met on a dating website the previous week and had delightful late night phone conversations all week. She had a great vocabulary and said her drawings had helped catch over 15,000 rapists, murderers, home invaders, and others who had broken seat belt and bicycle helmet laws. (She said the last part as a joke). Since my Dad tried to support our family by making road kill sculptures from the time of my birth to the age of nine and we had a room in our house that was filled with skulls and animal pelts, I felt we had enough in common to meet.
We met at a store a few blocks from my house called Obscura Antiques. The shop was made famous in 2010 for the reality show called Oddities which airs on the Discovery channel and follows the day-to-day operations of the store that sells things like: mummified cats, three-headed calves, giraffe skulls, art from nail clippings, and antique prosthetics legs.
I usually visit the store when I’m missing home as it feels just like home and so bringing a date there feels sort of like bringing a girl over to meet my parents, which could be considered putting the cart before the horse (but only metaphorically speaking). As a scientist-like person, my date thought it was the perfect place to meet.
The date went well and while she admired the realistic artificial eyeball collection and the mummified hand, it gave me plenty of time to admire her. She was very cute and was as fascinated by everything as I was. As I watched her watch, I wondered what it must be like to be such an expert in a field and also spend so much time alone in a room drawing the deviants of our society.
Unfortunately, the rest of the date didn’t go so well. I chose a place to get dinner that felt like an extremely upscale Applebee’s and we both soon felt like we were on a prom date. Towards the end of our meal she brought up drinking and I told her I was happy to meet someone that didn’t drink either (somewhere along the line I developed an allergy to alcohol) but then I pulled out of her that she was in Alcoholics Anonymous (the “other” type of non-drinker) which didn't bother me, but then she was silent for the remainder of dinner, and left her body, going to a far away place in her mind, a familiar travel destination that I recognized all too well. The date ended with a hug though I knew we’d never see one another again because my visa to that place where she often visited had been revoked.
Walking home I began to think about what it must be like to be an expert in her field and it got me thinking about what I actually might be an expert on since it seemed the only thing I’d been good at recently was blogging about my ex girlfriend. Then, when I put my hand in my pocket to retrieve my winter gloves, I remembered that I still had my ring box in my pocket that held my engagement rings and I remembered what the next day held in store for me.
I decided on my walk home I must be an expert on breaking up. By the time I got home, I decided it was indisputable. I was the light heavy weight champion of the break up world and it made me feel good to be an expert at something just before I dozed off to sleep.
At 4:30 am the next morning, in the cold NYC half dawn, I awoke to the sound of one of India’s most prominent astrologers on the end of my iPhone telling me that my dreams of having children were over. After waiting for over a year for this coveted conversation where I might finally learn about my future relationship fate, I was already sinking fast and I'd only been on the phone for five minutes.
“These are not appropriate dreams for a man your age,” he said. “You tink a woman will wantto have a child with youuu? At fortee four my friend, you’re as ghot as a lump of koal.”
I’d always wanted to have a large family with lots of kids, but for some reason life always seemed to have different plans for me.
As he proceeded to calculate the math, I soon began to feel like I was in the circus, strapped onto the Wheel of Death in a mankini. He was the knife thrower. “Your child will be 5 and you will be 50....Thwack! Your child will be 10 and you will be 55...Thwack!” With each multiple of five years, another knife whizzed past me.
I tried to think of the positive side of spending nearly two hundred dollars for such an unpleasant wake up call from India. The idea of paying for an expensive, medicinal leech came to mind.
When our conversation turned toward my most recent break up, he lectured me on how wrong I had been to propose marriage and then immediately leave the relationship. “Listen up my friend, how can you say ‘I love yooo, spend the rest of your life with meee’ and indee berry nex breath say ‘Gooooodbye?’” At this point, one of his knives did finally cut me.
The only good thing that came out of the conversation was finding out that my Venus is in permanent retrograde which is kind of like finding out you’re being cast as Bradley Cooper in the movie Silver Linings Playbook every day for the rest of your life. I asked him if there was some kind of spell I could do to fix this. He told me I should fast every Sunday for the rest of my life and give all the money I would spend on food to my favorite sexual health charity. He called this a "Thunder Blast."
I spent the rest of the morning staring at a painting of Monet's water lily. It hangs over my bed. I remembered how one art critic described his work, in later life, as so intensely physical that the light could almost be touched.
Monet once explained that as a young artist it took him hundreds of hours to paint a picture of a water lily. He might labor over the shape for hours upon hours. His brush strokes were inefficient and awkward, each stroke was meant to correct the previous one. Yet, as he got older and became a better painter, the same painting that might require 100 hours and 4,000 brush strokes might now only require 10 hours and 100 brush strokes. As he mastered his craft, his ability to create a truth much more efficiently improved.
I wondered how I might become more efficient in my area of expertise and decided that would require having entire relationships in less than a week which would require that I give up being a romantic. Maybe, instead of taking dates to Obscura I could just start meeting them in a cab and go for a short ride.
At noon I got bundled up for my ritual on the Williamsburg Bridge. I planned to throw my engagement rings off - which hadn’t been a plan less than a week ago.
In an effort to spruce up my subliminal space in my apartment the previous week I did some winter cleaning and was surprised to find (in my relationship corner) underneathe a beautiful opal vase with two, long, pink, roses, a box that held another box that held the ring box that held the 2 rings that I had bought for what ended up being my crash and burn circus engagement (You can read about that here). Finding the “little black box” explained so much.
It explained why, despite my valiant efforts to regain my traction since my break up, I’d often felt like I was still slipping down the mountain (despite my cathartic “cutting the cord ritual to end all rituals" last month when I strapped myself to my apartment balcony during hurricane Sandy). Another ritual was clearly called for.
As I was walked toward the middle of the Williamsburg bridge I kept thinking that in terms of the writing world if Jonathan Ames is considered the George Plimpton of the colon, then I might at least be considered the deli clerk who wraps the colons and other parts of the gastrointestinal relationship tract in wax paper for customers.Then, that got me thinking I could open up just such a deli where people could sell me perfectly good items that were tainted with "breakup and divorce" energy that no one else wanted anymore: wedding rings, the Vitamix that was on the wedding registry, a perfectly good pillowtop King size mattress.
Once on the bridge, I remembered similar rituals that haunted me. The break up in Knoxville, Tennessee that required carrying a horse skull deep into the woods and burying it. The break up in Madison, Wisconsin that required drawing stick figures on birch bark at Lake Monona and ripping them in half and watching them float away. The break up in Portland, Oregon that required burning all of my wedding photos and burying my wedding gifts.
When I reached the middle of the bridge, I could tell that the set up just wouldn’t allow me to make a good toss. There was a tall fence between me and the water and then 10 feet of road below. If I didn’t make the toss a good one, the box would end up on the road below, smashed by a garbage truck or maybe fly into someones cup of Starbucks coffee. I’d have to walk back and find another way to the water.
Along the way I couldn't help but think, with darkness closing in, what I would do if a gang caught me and took everything from me, including my clothes - everything except the rings. I began to feel a little sad in this homoerotic dusk-dream. Then, along the waterfront it looked like the place where they dump bodies in all the Law and Order episodes and I started to feel a little afraid. But, then I was thinking it might just be the same fear that I felt when I took out the ring box at the circus and nervously asked the girl that I loved to spend the rest of her life with me.
When I got to the water there was a fisherman there. I sat on a bench near him. He had five rods, each with a line cast out into the water and each with a bell on the end of it. Each time a fish pulled on a line, the bells jingled. I sat down and watched him fish and then he called me over. He pointed to a rod and I reeled in a fish. He took the fish off the hook and nodded. He didn't speak English.
I was still undecided as to how to proceed with my ritual, but I knew if I waited long enough it would come to me. I continued to listen to the jingles and began to think that maybe I should just toss the little black box out into the river and let it sink down to the bottom like the little black box on an airplane.
Perhaps, it would float to shore where a poor latino boy would open the soggy box and bring it home to his mother and the family would reclaim the rings in a beautiful ritual that involved novena candles. Maybe the boy could give the rings a better home than I was able to give them.
But then I envisioned the little black box sinking to the bottom to never be opened again and how the same sad energy that was connected to the rings would sit down in the bottom of the river forever until the box disintegrated. Perhaps, it would be like bubble gum in the gastrointestinal track that never actually disintegrates.
In the end I opted to separate everything. The big purple heart ring took the trip first. I flung it out and it gave a surprisingly large splash. The smaller opal ring went next and then I flung the box out. I took out my phone and took a picture of the box that bobbed along happily.
I sat down on the bench for a few minutes and thought about the rings and then I walked to Pok Pok and ordered some Pad Thai and some drinking vinegar.
As I squeezed my food off the banana leaf with my chopsticks I remembered all the other times when I had been in a similar place. A place between time. When my body seemed to finally unravel from the routine of a relationship, finally finding it’s own, unusual rhythm again - suddenly without my lover’s umbilical, thrown out of orbit.