CHESS

On Satruday night, while I was out walking with Drew, we ran into David the Chess Guy.

David was a guy I met on the internet about six months ago, and we went out a few times. He’s a little taller than I am, but not much, which is to say he’s pretty short. David used to be a bodybuilder, though, and you can still kinda tell. He weighs at least fifty pounds more than I do, and that’s probably a pretty conservative estimate (I’m very bad at guessing how much people weigh). He’s in his mid-30s, and he has a shaved head. I think he’s one of those guys who started going bald a few years ago and then decided it was better to have no hair than most of his hair, so he unmasked his scalp and never looked back.

Largely due to his skinhead and his bulky frame, David looks a little scary when you first see him. He has an unnaturally deep voice, like Barry White, so it’s not surprising that he makes a living doing voice-overs. He was on a bunch of cartoons I’ve never heard of, plus he did some radio ads. He’s an attractive guy, but I’m sure he frightens children.

Before I had even met David in person, probably as a defensive measure, he told me about his eye problem. He was born with a lazy eye that he had corrected years ago. It looks fine now, but his vision is bad enough that he can’t drive a car. He walks everywhere he goes, or he takes cabs or the bus. When I last spoke to him, he was looking forward to the release of the Segway, because he figured his eye problem wouldn’t prevent him from owning one of those, and at last, he’d have a decent mode of transportation. I never told him that the drawback of the Segway is that it would make him look weird. For a 5’6″ 200-pound bald guy who can’t see straight, the point seemed moot.

On three times and in three different ways during our first date, David told me how attracted he was to me. Once it was “I’m really attracted to shorter guys.” Once it was “You’re so my type.” Once it was, “I’m really attracted to you.” Saying things like these seemed a little forward for a first date, and I wondered if it was a coincidence that the only time this had ever happened to me, it was from a guy who had vision problems.

There are three general responses I have to a first date. In Category 1 are the extremely rare cases where I know I want to see a guy again, in which case I say, “We should hang out again.” That’s bold for me, and that’s as far as I usually go on a first date. The only times I’ve done that, I’ve been pretty sure the other guy felt the same way, and I was usually right. In Category 2 are guys I know I don’t want to see again. This is a conclusion I usually reach about five minutes into the date, after which I spend the rest of my time trying to formulate the proper exit line. I fear that anything the slightest bit polite, such as “It was nice meeting you” could be seen as a sign of encouragement, so I usually end up with something more like, “Where are you parked?” or simply, “Well, bye.” But most guys fall into Category 3: guys I’m not sure about. In those cases, I’ll let them give the exit line, play along, then wait to see if they contact me again. If they do, I’ll give them another chance. If they don’t, I usually don’t even notice.

David fell into that third category, but there was no doubt about whether I would be hearing from him again. When I dropped him off, he said, “I’d like to kiss you now.” I shrugged and said, “Okay”, and so he did. Twice.

By the end of that day (we had met for lunch and ended the date immediately afterward), he had sent me three emails. I didn’t write back, so the next day, he left me a voicemail. And he sent another email. David, it seemed, was trying very hard to go from Category 3 to Category 2.

I told David I wanted to take things slowly, and he said he was fine with that. He probably thought I meant that I didn’t want to sleep with him right away, but I really meant that I didn’t want to get 4 emails from him within 24 hours. Thankfully, the communication slowed down anyway, to the point where I felt safe giving him another chance, so two weeks later, we met up to see the movie THE RING.

David didn’t like it. Neither did I, but even though I didn’t like it, I also didn’t like the way that David didn’t like it. He critiqued the director’s intentions and very angrily labeled the film pretentious. I just wanted to be scared more. Afterward, we had dinner. David really wanted to play chess over dinner, but the idea of playing chess in a restaurant made me uncomfortable. The date was okay, and both of us seemed a little less interested than last time, but it wasn’t bad enough that we didn’t want to see each other again.

That wouldn’t happen until the third date. The third date was when we actually did play chess. Something in between date #2 and date #3 convinced me that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. I had suggested the activities for our first two dates — lunch the first time, dinner and a movie the second — and both dates had been just a bit awkward. So I figured maybe if I did what he wanted to do, David would be more comfortable, more himself. Quite naively, I thought that would be a good thing.

Before we even met up, we fought over the setting. I thought it would be rude to show up at a restaurant on a busy Friday night with a chess board and then park yourself at a table for three hours while you played. David said he did it “all the time”, as if you couldn’t be rude “all the time”. I thought we should go to a coffee shop, which seemed a perfectly reasonable solution, but for some reason, this was a big problem for David and led to quite a long and heated disagreement. I’m not the kind of person who always has to win an argument — only when the other person is wrong.

We went to a coffee shop.

Playing chess well requires concentration, so it’s not the best time to have a conversation. This was another reason it seemed like a perfect third date. By that point in a relationship, there’s less to talk about and it helps to get used to silence. I knew David had problems with conversation, and I would soon discover he had problems with silence as well.

“How long has it been since you’ve played chess?” he asked me a few minutes into the game, after he had captured a couple of my pieces and while I was contemplating my next move.

“I don’t know. A while,” I said. “Maybe a couple years.”

“Oh,” he said, nodding his head. “You’re doing very well.”

Now, I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think you should tell someone they’re doing well when you’re beating them. In my mind, it seems patronizing, a gentle nudge of encouragement from the player who’s currently demonstrating his superiority. I think you should only tell someone they’re doing well when… well, when they’re doing well.

I am not a naturally competitive person. But there’s definitely a competitive drive buried somewhere in my subconscious. The way some people are passive-aggressive, I’m passive-competitive. If you want to see my competitive side, you have to coax it out of me. And that’s just what David had done by telling me I was “doing well”.

I would now accept now outcome except victory.

I started playing harder, attacking, dredging up really obnoxious moves I’d learned in my (yes, I’m embarrassed to admit) chess club in high school. And I started winning. I know that lots of straight guys feel obliged by the rules of chivalry to let their girlfriends win at certain activities. If you’re playing tennis against a woman, it’s not cool to slam an overhead shot past her at 100 miles an hour and shout “Boo-yaa!” But when you take the woman out of the equation, things change. When men play games with men, it can get ugly. Men go for blood. It was, as they say, on.

David played a very psychological game. He bopped his head to the lousy music the coffee shop was playing, pretending to be at ease. He hummed along, out of tune. He blurted out inane non sequiturs like, “Did you know there’s no tipping in Australia? They pay waitresses $20 an hour.” He asked questions intended to make him seem like a more novice player than he was (i.e., “So if I get my pawn to the other side of the board, what do I get? A rook? A queen?”). But at the same time he exhibited an incongruously detailed knowledge of rules that had the potential to make things harder on me (i.e., by not allowing me to change my mind on a move once I had touched a piece), and he was quite good at defending against stealthy textbook chess attacks I was attempting to set up. David spoke a lot, but only when it was my turn. When he was thinking, he was silent. Intense.

I eventually stopped paying attention to him altogether. If he asked me a question, I would grunt or shrug my shoulders. I would take ten minutes or more to make a move. I no longer had any interest in salvaging the date, only in victory.

Overall, it was one of the closest games of chess I’ve ever played. As we depleted each other’s arsenals and cleared the board of most of the pieces, I made a move that should’ve sealed David’s doom. I took his last rook. According to the official scoring, we were dead even, but David had mostly pawns remaining, whereas I had a few offensive pieces. Knowing that I don’t have an endgame, I offered a draw — which is a perfectly honorable end to a chess match as well as to a date.

David refused.

So we played the game out. David does have an endgame, and he struggled to come back, putting me in check at every turn to cripple my offensive game. My king ended up so far up the board that I was able to use it to put his king in check, which led to a controversy as to whether this was a legal move. I offered to take back the move, but David said that wouldn’t be legal, as I had already taken my hand off the piece. He insisted we keep playing despite the disagreement and finish what was now a tainted game.

I won. Damn him.

When I dropped David off at his apartment, I promised to look up my move to see if it was legal. To my surprise, he kissed me goodnight, but just once this time. That was a clear enough sign.

The next day, I found a chess site on the internet, where a move much like mine had recently been discussed and in fact been declared illegal. David was right. I emailed him the link and told him I hadn’t really won the game after all. He wrote back two words: “I know”.

What bothered me most wasn’t so much that my ignorance had been exposed, but that David had robbed me of the chance for a legitimate victory when he refused to allow me to rescind the move and try something else.

I didn’t go out with David again.

But on Saturday night, Drew and I passed David by on Santa Monica Boulevard. We were picking up dinner, walking very close together down the sidewalk, talking and laughing and probably looking very much like boyfriends. David was headed for one of those mailbox stores, carrying a large box taped up with priority mail stickers (David sells vintage food on eBay — and yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like). He must’ve seen Drew and me walking together and before I saw him, because by the time I noticed him, he was looking down at the ground. I thought for a second that because of his eye problem, maybe he hadn’t seen me at all. But it was clear that he had. I had almost bumped into him and he’d had to step around me to get by.

I didn’t say hi and didn’t acknowledge David in any way. I kept talking to Drew, thinking about how it had only been a few months ago that I was so lonely I was willing to go out on three dates with a guy I had no interest in, willing to let him kiss me goodnight, willing to let him bring out my bad side, and as I watched David walk past me with his box full of old food, head down and I headed for the restaurant with Drew, that passive-competitive part of me couldn’t help thinking, “Checkmate!”

CHUNK

Last week, I met Chunk.

The only thing that could make that sentence more exciting to type is if you replaced the words “last week” with “fifteen years ago”. (Okay, and maybe replacing “Chunk” with “Tom Cruise” wouldn’t hurt either.)

In case you don’t know, Chunk is a character from THE GOONIES, played by an actor named Jeff B. Cohen (sometimes credited as Jeff Cohen — thanks, IMDB). Fifteen years ago, Jeff was a curly-haired, wisecracking kid with a fondness for wacky hats. Today, I can tell you, Jeff is a curly-haired, wisecracking 29-year-old with a fondness for wacky hats. Some things never change.

Other things do. Jeff is also a little taller, a lot slimmer (his character wasn’t named “Chunk” for nothing) and is now an entertainment lawyer. He also happens to know somebody who knows my boyfriend Drew.

So when I asked Drew if he wanted to see the midnight screening of THE GOONIES at the Nuart movie theater last Friday night (okay, I think my exact words were: “There aren’t many things I’ll REQUIRE you to do with me, but this is one of them.”), he told his somebody, who figured it’d be fun to call Jeff up and invite him along. I had no idea there were only two degrees of separation between me and Chunk.

I also had no idea he’d accept. It turned out Jeff hadn’t seen the movie in a theater since it was first released in 1985 and thought it’d be fun to enjoy a blast from his past with a live, appreciative audience. Jeff and his friend joined me, Drew, Drew’s coworker Lauren (the somebody) and Lauren’s friend Sara, about an hour before the movie at the Airstream Diner (which I recommend for good reasonably-priced diner-type food in the Beverly Hills area — it’s owned by the Fred 62 people — okay, enough with my Zagat tangent). By the time Jeff showed up, we had been waiting for him for about an hour and a half and figured he was chickening out. Jeff had already told Lauren he was nervous about being recognized at the movie — and that he was even more nervous about running into Corey Feldman. I thought both of Jeff’s fears were likely to be realized — Corey Feldman turn up a chance to be recognized and adored by his “fans”? Never! — but I said nothing. I enjoy other people’s pain.

Nobody was in a rush to get to the theater, except Drew, who’s just naturally nervous, and me, who thought the movie might sell out. Jeff was convinced there would be a handful of fans at best (stop, Jerry — you’re setting it up too much. They can see where this is going!). So we didn’t leave the restaurant until 11:30. When we drove by the theater about ten minutes later, they were just starting to let the ticketholders inside. The line stretched around the block and out of sight — from the street, you couldn’t even tell how far back it went. It was the biggest crowd I’d seen at the theater since “The Blair Witch Project”. Granted, their usual fare is more like the main feature this week, Le Cirque Rouge — not exactly a blockbuster.

Jeff, clearly overwhelmed by the turnout, wore a heavy coat and a baseball cap, walked with his head down and made us stand around him so he wouldn’t be spotted. He wasn’t afraid of being mobbed so much as being pitied. THE GOONIES was Jeff’s only major movie role, and he didn’t want people to think that all these years later he still craved the modicum of attention it provided him — in other words, he didn’t want people to think he was Corey Feldman.

Thankfully, Corey wasn’t there. And thankfully, Jeff made it to his seat in relative peace. But if it wasn’t clear already that this was bigger than he’d anticipated, it became clear when the theater started playing a kooky novelty song that sampled dialogue from Chunk and Sloth from the movie. The crowd loved it. Jeff sank in his seat. But he was definitely smiling.

A few minutes later, a thirtyish father approached and politely asked if Jeff would mind saying hi to his preteen son. Jeff obliged and chatted with them for a few minutes. Then, as the movie was about to start, they took their seats, and the emcee got up to introduce the film. (Yeah, it’s that kind of theater.) He informed the audience that this was the largest turnout the theater had had for a non-Rocky Horror midnight movie ever. The crowd roared.

I couldn’t see Jeff during the movie, because the theater was so crowded that my group had to split into two rows. But I could hear him — talking, laughing, sharing little bits of information. He was enjoying it, and he was especially enjoying the crowd’s reaction. The audience was rowdy, cheering for all the good jokes and cheering the bad ones even more.

The movie is fun for its nostalgia value, but watching it as an adult, I can tell why it wasn’t a smash hit when it was released. Drew described it pretty well as, “Just a bunch of kids walking down a hallway for two hours.” What made it fun were the actors, who seemed to be having a blast walking down that hallway. I still love them all — Mikey, Brand, Data, Mouth, Stef, Andie and, of course, Chunk.

I barely said anything to Jeff all night. I knew THE GOONIES as well as anyone in that theater, and I remember a lot of things Jeff did during the 2 or 3 years when he was a successful child actor — his appearances on Family Ties and the Facts of Life, his celebrity guest star status on the game show Body Language. There were a million questions I could’ve asked him. Fifteen years ago, I probably would’ve asked them all, and he probably would’ve been more than happy to answer every one of them. But the guy was clearly afraid of being freaked out, and I didn’t want to freak him out.

When we said goodnight, Jeff was beaming. He avoided the attention, but he still felt the love of the crowd. And before he left, he thanked me for being the one who initiated the whole outing. He clearly had a blast, and although I didn’t gush, I couldn’t resist telling him what a talented kid he was. He gave me his signature “double thumbs-up” in return. And that was it, for one moment that night, he was Chunk. For the rest, he was Jeff. And that was great. Because ultimately, he was there for the same reason I was.

He just wanted to see the movie.

WAR

I oppose the war.

I don’t know what bothers me most about it — the anti-Americanism it will stir up around the globe, the scores of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians who will die, or the fact that if it starts on schedule tonight, it will pre-empt Survivor.

Does that make me a bad person? Well, maybe. It’s just that none of this war stuff seems real to me. George W. Bush doesn’t seem like a real president. Those green-tinted night-vision cameras that will broadcast our bombings have never seemed real. Even Saddam Hussein’s lunatic rants are translated on “60 Minutes” by an American actor PRETENDING to have an Iraqi accent. I thought the trend was that television was becoming more like reality, not the other way around.

Sure, it’s true that shows like “Survivor” are as manufactured and manipulated as anything else on TV, and you can’t take everything you see at face-value. But should there even be a debate as to which is more believable — the US vs. Iraq or Tambaqui vs. Jaburu?

Given the American military’s massive firepower, which is comforting to us and terrifying to the rest of the world, we’re surely going to win this war — that is, if you can call it winning when we’ve already lost NATO, the UN, half our allies around the world and the term “french fries”. But it seems like George Bush’s confidence in victory has overshadowed any rational contemplation of what the aftermath of that “victory” will be. We’re launching an unprovoked attack that will completely redraw the rules of political engagement in our world. And even though we’re going up against a guy who gases his own citizens, to a majority of people on this planet, we’re the bad guys.

Sure, my opinions on this are worth about as much as anyone else’s. Nobody can say for sure exactly what the fallout of Gulf War II will be, but we could start finding out the answers today at around 8PM.

Or we could find out whether Christy manages to win over Butch and Roger and oust that wicked bitch Heidi from their tribe.

I know what I’d rather be watching.

MOM

My Mom calls me on the phone once a week.

Every Saturday morning, at exactly 10am, the phone rings. It’s always Saturday morning, always 10am, always my Mom. It’s the one time all week I don’t check the caller ID. My Mom knows I like to sleep late on weekends, and she knows there’s a three-hour time difference between Ohio and California, so she clearly decided at some point that 1pm Ohio time was a good, safe time to try me and hopefully get in touch with me before I left my apartment for the day.

Or maybe one time she called at 8am and I yelled at her. I don’t remember.

We don’t always have a lot to talk about. “How was your week?” “Good. Yours?” “What’s been going on?” “Oh, not much. You?” That kind of thing.

This week, I figured I’d tell her about Drew.

I only came out to my Mom a few months ago, around the holidays. She told me she wasn’t surprised, and she seemed to handle it pretty well. Years ago, my Mom taught math at my high school. The first thing she did after I told her I was gay was to out about half the faculty. “Remember Mr. Tremain, the guidance counselor? He was gay. We all knew about it.” “Did you ever take Mr. Maciello’s class? Oh, you should’ve. He would’ve loved you.” I assume the reason she did this was to prove to me that there were homosexuals in her past. Or maybe she just finally felt free to gossip. I realized that when I was a teenager, my Mom told me all about which teachers were on drugs and who was dating whom, but this wealth of knowledge she had on her colleagues’ sexuality was always hush-hush.

My Mom wanted me to know she was “comfortable” with me being gay. She then asked me a few questions, one of which was whether I had a “partner”.

When I talked to her this weekend, I didn’t use the word “partner”, for many reasons. It kinda went like this:

JERRY: So, I’ve kind of been seeing this guy.

MY MOM: Oh. Okay.

SILENCE: About five seconds.

JERRY (changing the subject): Yeah, but other than that, not much has been going o–

MY MOM: Is he your age?

JERRY: Yeah, he’s 31. In fact, he’s about two weeks younger than I am.

SILENCE: About three seconds.

JERRY: He’s a nice guy. I really like him. But anyway –

MY MOM: So, is he, like, into the same things as you, like the writing and stuff?

JERRY: Well, yeah, but he’s not a writer. He works at MTV.

MY MOM: Oh, he works at MTV?

JERRY: Yeah, he’s kind of like a TV executive.

SILENCE: About eight seconds.

JERRY: So have you talked to Kathy lately?

And that’s when I successfully changed the subject. I know there’s a big difference between being comfortable with something in theory and being comfortable with something that has an age and an occupation and who’s dating your son, so I’m not surprised the conversation got a little awkward. (And as a man who waited 31 years to come out to his mother, I certainly share the blame for the awkwardness.)

I know my Mom will get used to the idea of Drew over time. I’ll just have to dish out the details — like, say, for example, maybe his name next time — in small doses.

After all, I’m sure I’ll be speaking to her next Saturday morning at 10am.

DRUNK

I got pretty drunk last Saturday night.

That’s bigger news than you might think, as I’m not much of a drinker. When I tell people I don’t drink much, they usually don’t understand, so let me try to explain. I’m not a recovering alcoholic, I’m not a diabetic and I’m not a Mormon. And it’s not that I don’t like alcohol. I just don’t like it enough. I don’t drink for any of the reasons people normally do. I don’t drink to feel better or to feel worse, or because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t uncork a bottle of champagne to celebrate when something good happens, I don’t drown my sorrows when something bad happens, and I never have wine with dinner or a nightcap afterwards. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what a nightcap is. I’ll have a beer or two at parties sometimes, I’ll usually get a little tipsy on New Year’s and occasionally, I’ll have a drink when I meet someone “for drinks”, but not always. I never drink because I want to. I only drink when I feel like I’m supposed to.

And Saturday night was a perfect example of that. By any measure, I was definitely supposed to be drinking. If anything, I underperformed.

I went to a party for a couple who had recently eloped. It was on the terrace of Shutters, a beachfront hotel in Santa Monica, and a Spanish guitar player played a bunch of songs I didn’t recognize, along with one I think I did, “Fragile” by Sting, as the guests watched the sun set over the ocean. Everyone had a drink in his or her hand, except for one pregnant woman, who told me, “God, I wish I could have a drink right now”. It was the kind of atmosphere where “So, what are you drinking?” is a good opening line. There was an open bar, and people started to leave as soon as it closed for the night.

None of this alone explains why I drank. Nor was I drinking to toast this couple’s union, as nice as they both seemed to be. Any one of these reasons might’ve been enough to put a single beer in my hands, which I would then proceed to nurse all night, and if I had to, I’d lie to people and say it was my third or fourth. But as for why I had as many drinks as I did, well, there’s a much better reason.

On Saturday night, I met Drew’s friends.

I’m not the kind of guy who reaches the “meeting the friends” stage of a relationship very often, and that’s because my feelings about dating are a lot like my feelings about drinking, except if anything, I’m even more tentative about men than I am about booze. They both can be found in bars, and they both make me uncomfortable, but at least alcohol has never left awkward messages on my answering machine for weeks on end and failed to take a hint.

Complicating matters further was the fact that Drew had only recently ended a relationship that lasted over five years. Gregg was the one Drew brought to social events like this. This was Gregg’s crowd, not mine, and these people weren’t used to seeing Drew with someone new. I was nervous about being compared to Gregg, who I don’t know very much about. One of the things I DO know from the stories Drew’s told me is that Gregg is apparently somewhat, well – I swear this isn’t just the jealous new boyfriend talking – crazy. So that was a good start.

Before we left for the party, I stressed a lot over what to wear, and Drew and I decided to coordinate our outfits so as not to look too much alike. Telling a gay couple that their outfits match is like telling a woman she looks pregnant. You just shouldn’t. Even if it’s true, nobody wants to hear it. And if you do know a gay couple who intentionally dress alike, cut them out of your life. You don’t want to know people like that.

Drew decided that only one of us should wear a tie. I decided it should be him. I don’t like to wear ties. But when I got to his apartment and saw him in the tie, I started worrying that I was underdressed. Suddenly, my first impression seemed extremely important. “Have you seen Drew’s new boyfriend?” “You mean the tieless moron?” “Yeah, Gregg may be crazy, but at least he would’ve known how to dress.”

When we arrived, I noticed right away that the event was more casual than either of us expected. In fact, Drew was the only one who was wearing a tie. Instantly, my fears were put to rest. Now I could imagine people saying, “Poor Drew, he looks so out of place.” “Well, at least his new boyfriend is dressed appropriately.” “Maybe this guy will be good for Drew.” One man was even wearing sweatpants, along with a baggy sweatshirt advertising some surfing product. He kept the hood up over his head the whole night, signifying that he was either trying to show off that he was cool or hide that he was bald. It turned out he was the lead singer of Ugly Kid Joe, who used to date the bride a few years back. According to Drew, her more recent ex, the coke addict, was a no-show.

Thankfully, everyone had been prepped about the recent changes in Drew’s social life, so the question “Where’s Gregg tonight?” never came up. And the phrase “… and this is Jerry” was usually greeted with, “Oh, right. Hi, Jerry.” Introductions were typically followed by the usual string of small talk questions. “What do you do for a living?” “How did you meet Drew?” “Did you know that the lead singer of Ugly Kid Joe is here?”

I had my first drink not long after we arrived. I had Drew order something for me, because obtaining alcohol is always a stressful experience for me. I worry that I won’t order convincingly enough and my ignorance will be obvious. Or that I’ll get some impenetrable followup questions like “Neat or on the rocks?” or “Bacardi or Kahlua?” These things mean nothing to me. They frighten me. Even “Twist of lemon?” throws me for a loop. I don’t know which drinks go with lemon, and I’m terrified I’ll get it wrong. I finally learned after several faux pas that you can’t order salt on the glass for just any drink. Try it with a rum and coke and you get some funny looks. On several occasions, I’ve been carded after I’ve ordered. Bartenders are used to reading nervousness as a sign of juvenile delinquency, not liquorphobia.

Drew ordered me a gin and tonic. I’m pretty sure it was the first time I’ve ever had anything with gin in it, but the taste seemed familiar. I realized it was because the smell reminded me of my grandmother’s house. That must’ve been her drink of choice, as the scent was always the first thing that greeted me whenever I walked through her door – growing up, I thought it was her air freshener. All night long, as the taste of this new alcohol lingered in my mouth, it was hard to get that thought out of my head: my Grandma, gin junkie.

All of Drew’s friends have nicknames, which is confusing enough, except that many of them have three or more. Leslie is also called Lily or Bones or Bonesy. Christian is Frenchy or Jarry or Black Man. Margaret is Mags or Maggie or Madge or Marge or Margie or Margarita. Karen is Monster, but I’m not supposed to say that when Karen’s around. Nash and Kramer are referred to only by their last names. And Drew himself is often referred to as D.D. or Deeds or Mr. Deeds. I only met about ten or twelve people, but I learned at least forty names.

Margaret decided I should have a nickname myself, and she suggested Jiminy Cricket. If there’s a flattering way to take that, I haven’t thought of it yet. Margaret was probably the most comfortable meeting me, which was unexpected because according to Drew, she was also the closest to Gregg. About five minutes after we arrived, Margaret was telling Drew and me how, earlier that day, her husband overheard her telling her hairstylist that she wanted a divorce. That’s Mags for ya.

Once I’ve seen somebody order a certain drink successfully, I feel more confident ordering one myself. So I had little problem getting my second gin and tonic. By that point, I had exhausted all my small talk with everyone I was likely to meet, and Drew and his friends had moved on to gossiping about other people they knew who either didn’t show up for the party or who were just slightly out of earshot at the buffet table. As I had little to contribute on the subject of Monster and Tino’s marriage, it was a good time for me to excuse myself.

The thing I like about mixed drinks, as opposed to beer, is that because you’re drinking less by volume, you don’t have to go to the bathroom as often. So I was on my third gin and tonic before my bladder sounded its first alarm. The problem was that after three gin and tonics, the bathroom was a lot harder to find. “Just go up the stairs, through the gate, take the elevator down, go through the lobby, make a right, then a left, then it’s on your right.” Those are not words you should say to a drunk person.

Drunk people are also not good with vague notations on bathroom doors. If you own an establishment that serves alcohol, I don’t think your bathroom doors should say anything on them other than “Men” and “Women”. No “Guys” and “Dolls”, no “Buoys” and “Gulls”, no “Senoritas” and “Caballeros”. I know that some people think its cutesy if they own a Russian restaurant to put the Russian equivalent of “men” and “women” on the restrooms, and I’m all in favor of cutesy – okay, that’s a lie – the issue is that I don’t see the point in confusing people about where they’re supposed to pee. I don’t speak Russian – even a little – and I don’t want to have to explain that to the senoritas when I mistakenly walk into the gulls’ bathroom. I don’t understand those male/female symbols on bathroom doors either. The only difference I can see between them is that the woman is about a half inch shorter and doesn’t have a slit between her legs. I’m a fairly short guy, and I always worry that if I’m wasted and wearing my baggy jeans, the woman symbol will seem like a better match for me.

When I got back from the bathroom, people were taking pictures. I hadn’t thought about it until that moment, but suddenly all the implications of a photograph of me and Drew together became obvious. That photo would sit in someone’s album forever, and years from now, it would be something people would look at and say either, “Aw, look how cute they were when they first met,” or “Oh, remember that guy? What was his name? He had a big chin.” Drew still has pictures of Gregg around his apartment, and they look so happy together. I worry that taking a happy picture with Drew is a death sentence for a relationship.

But Drew refused to pose for the picture before I even got a chance. I guess he was thinking all the same things I was, only he knew that if things didn’t work out between us, he’d be the one who’d actually have to look at that picture every time his friends broke out their wedding album for the rest of eternity. I’d just have to know it was out there. If it ended up being some haunting symbol of an unfortunate relationship, Drew would have to pull it out of the album and burn it when they weren’t looking.

Eventually, the party broke up, and a few of Drew’s friends went downstairs to the bar. I realized these people like to drink a lot more than I do. They actually drink in bars. During the relocation, Drew asked me if I wanted to leave, but there was no way I was going to be the new boyfriend who makes Drew leave parties early, even if it meant I was going to be the new boyfriend who got really drunk and threw up on Monster’s dress. Before we left the terrace, I drank half of Drew’s vodka tonic and by the time we rejoined his friends downstairs, my drunkenness had progressed from the giddy, fun kind to the forlorn, mopey kind. And then I ordered a fourth gin and tonic.

By now, I was getting cocky about this drink. Gin and tonics are prepared differently in the Shutters bar than on the Shutters terrace. The waitress delivered a glass filled halfway with gin, along with a bottle of seltzer on the side. There was a long plastic stirrer, too, all of which seemed to indicate that I’d have to mix the drink myself. This was WRONG. I’d had gin and tonics by now. They didn’t seem that complicated to make, and if these supposed professionals couldn’t figure out how to put one together, then they knew less about alcohol than I did. I warn you: if you’re going to get a gin and tonic at Shutters, get one on the terrace. They don’t serve them properly in the bar.

And then – and this is the part that I still can’t believe, the part which seems like it must’ve been some kind of hazy drunken fantasy I made up – we started playing charades. There, in the bar, sitting around a tiny coffee table, we played charades. I’m generally a pretty reserved person, especially around large groups of people I don’t know. But party games like charades bring out the Mr. Hyde version of myself. My exuberance and skill at competitive social activities either impress people or really, really frighten them. After a few minutes of charades with Drew’s friends, I was able to draw a very telling conclusion about myself: nothing, not alcohol, not social awkwardness, not fear of being a public spectacle, can impair my charades guessing ability. I impressed and won over several people by identifying “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”, a book most of them hadn’t heard of.

My ability to give clues, however, was another matter. I whirled my arms around, repeating the same vague gestures over and over again, certain I was perfectly conveying a newborn mother cradling an infant in her arms. But I was greeted with silence. It made me think of how deaf people must struggle to communicate when they’re drunk. There’s definitely a sign language equivalent to slurring your words. When someone finally figured out that my desperate flailing was an attempt to pantomime “Baby One More Time”, everybody groaned. I wasn’t sure if it was because my clues were so terrible, or because I had debased their game by bringing Britney Spears into it. Either way, I was humbled. After that, the group waived the “whoever guesses correctly gives the next clue” rule for me.

Charades grew tiresome, and people started getting up. “Well, we’ve gotta get up early tomorrow.” “Our babysitter’s waiting up for us.” “It’s been fun, guys.” As Drew and I walked to the car, I realized it was a few minutes before 10 o’clock. Drew tried to rally the troops for a late-night snack, but only Georgian seemed game for some dessert. We headed to Swingers, the restaurant I go to about 90% of the time I eat out. It was the first place I’d felt truly comfortable all night.

Drew and Georgian started talking, and I realized the reason Drew was so anxious to keep the party going. He wanted to gossip some more. Drew gossips a lot. While I ate a brownie sundae and sobered up, Drew and Georgian talked about what a mess Lisa was, what a mess Bonesy’s mom was and, of course, about Ugly Kid Joe. It’s always fun to talk to people who gossip until you start wondering what they say when you’re not around. I didn’t even want to get up to go to the bathroom.

When Georgian went to the bathroom, Drew gave me my feedback from the night, which was overwhelmingly positive. Several people had noticed that I was not crazy, which was refreshing in a boyfriend of Drew’s. They took my quietness as a sign of shyness, not snobbery, which was also good. Margaret thought I didn’t like her.

And according to Drew, nobody said anything about me being drunk. That was a big relief, as one of my big fears about being drunk is that I won’t handle it well and it’ll be obvious to everyone. Some people can pound back drink after drink and never lose their composure, but if I have half a beer, I can’t walk straight. Tonight, it seemed, nobody minded. They understood. I realized that if I had spent the entire day sober, I probably would’ve garnered more attention than I did for fucking up “Baby One More Time” in my inebriated haze. After all the worrying – about how I was dressed, about remembering people’s names and mostly, about drinking – it seemed as though I had handled myself just fine. It was a good night.

And now, I was ready to go home, drink lots of water and go to sleep.

WORK

A game I like to play at work is to look at the new phone sheet and try to figure out what’s changed.

The law firm where I work has five branches across California, and this office is the smallest of them, with about 50 employees. It’s small enough that you know everybody but big enough that you don’t have to talk to the people you don’t like. It’s also just big enough that you don’t always notice when somebody leaves or somebody new is hired. Whenever there’s any personnel change, which seems to be about once every other week or so, the office manager issues a new, updated phone sheet. And there are enough names on that sheet that the revisions aren’t immediately evident.

Today, we got a new phone sheet in the morning, then another one about two hours later. Carolyn, one of the assistants, told me last week that she had given her two weeks notice, which meant that today was her last day. I’m not very social at the office, but I talk to Carolyn a lot. Or rather, Carolyn talks a lot. Sometimes to me. She’s a soft-spoken, heavyset woman who likes to smile and likes to stare at you for a long time before she says anything, as if to make sure she has your attention first.

For most people, “How are you doing?” is a meaningless pleasantry, meant to invite a stock response, along the lines of “Pretty good. You?” or “Not bad for a Wednesday.” But not for Carolyn. Last week, I asked her how she was doing, and she told me her sister was dying of cancer. After temping for years at a lot of different companies, as temps do, Carolyn had finally settled into a permanent job at this firm, and she said it was the best job she’d ever had. “They really respect the employees here,” she said.

Now she was moving to Laughlin, Nevada to share her sister’s last days. She didn’t know what she was going to do for work when she got there, and she dreaded starting another job hunt. She knew she’d never find anything as good as the job she had now.

Me, I hate this place.

Two weeks ago, I received a gift from the employment agency that got me this job. It was a jar of jellybeans with a note on it congratulating me on completing a year on the job. I don’t like jellybeans, and I really don’t like the fact that I’ve been here for a year.

When I started this job, it seemed like I was only about a month away from something big finally happening in my writing career, which would enable me to quit. Throughout the last year, it’s always seemed like I was about a month away from something big finally happening in my writing career. At this very moment, as I write this, big things are brewing. I also have some timesheets to enter and faxes to send.

Working in a law firm was never my dream, and neither was being a secretary (my official title, though I always substitute “assistant” whenever I can). I went to a good college, got good grades, and I have a master’s degree — okay, it’s in screenwriting, but you get the point. I’m a smart guy, smart enough to realize that this law firm isn’t the right work environment for me. It’s not just that I’m overeducated for what I do. There are people here with better educations than mine. I don’t fit in here. Everyone in the office is much older than I am, and they don’t resent being here as much as I do. It’s not easy to find someone to have lunch with.

Scott is the only other male secretar—er, assistant – who works here, and this week, he found out that his boyfriend has a melanoma and doesn’t have long to live. This has not been a good couple of weeks for the health of my co-workers’ loved ones. Scott has already decided to take a leave of absence. He’s worked here ten years.

It’s never easy to leave a job, and the only reasons people usually do are for something more important to them than work, or for a different job. I’ve been here for a year and two weeks.

Usually, I don’t know why we’re getting a new phone sheet, but when the first one came this morning, I knew exactly what was different. Carolyn’s name was gone, replaced by that of the temp who’d be taking her place. And the revised phone sheet that followed that one two hours later corrected the spelling of the temp’s name, which was apparently wrong the first time. It was a minor change and one most companies wouldn’t have bothered to issue a new phone sheet to correct. But my company not only corrected it, they corrected it immediately.

They really respect the employees here.

DISTURBANCE

There was a domestic disturbance in my neighborhood last night.

“LAPD, open up!”

It was like something out of a movie, with sirens and cops and the kind of shouting that sounds like regular people trying to sound ferocious to scare someone else off.

Only no one cared.

I don’t mean “no one cared” in the Tracy Chapman a capella protest song sense, or the Lifetime movie – “Won’t somebody help me?” sense. It just didn’t register at all. Most people just went on about their lives as if nothing was happening. Maybe you need to know a little about where I live.

My apartment building sits on a residential street in West Hollywood, which is known as the gay part of town but which, for my immediate surrounding area at least, is mostly home to a lot of Russian immigrants. It’s easy to recognize the diversity just by walking around. Go two blocks from my apartment in one direction and you’re on trendy Melrose Avenue, where you can comparison shop for an Academy Award dress or a body piercing, depending on your scene. Go two blocks in the other direction and you’re on Santa Monica Boulevard, home to countless pawn shops, nail salons and lots of windows with flickering neon signs reading “Bail Bonds”. In that direction, you’ll also see a lot of signs written in Russian, as well as some clothing stores that sell outfits you could certainly NOT wear to the Academy Awards, but which will make you fit in just fine among the husky Muscovites on Spaulding Avenue, my street.

At every street corner in my neighborhood, there are signs advising motorists that making any turns after 10PM is illegal. I learned recently that these were put up to discourage people from cruising for prostitutes. Hugh Grant was picked up not far from where I live. At the end of my block, in the pawn shop district, you’ll also find the Tomkat, Los Angeles’ gay porn theater. The Tomkat’s marquee always reminds me of the great unappreciated wit of gay porn producers, whose movies have titles like “Homo Alone”, “Gang of Thirteen” and my personal favorite, “God, Was I Drunk”.

Despite the seedy, low-rent feel of Santa Monica Boulevard in this part of town, my neighborhood is a pretty safe, quiet place to live. I’ve never heard a gunshot, never given a second thought to walking alone to my car after midnight, never seen anyone hanging around who made me the least bit uncomfortable. About once a month, I’ll be woken up in the middle of the night by sirens, but it’s always an ambulance coming to the aid of one of the many elderly Russians who stroll endlessly back and forth up the sidewalk by day and have heart attacks, strokes and seizures by night. For some reason, whenever someone passes away on Spaulding Avenue, it takes at least two firetrucks in addition to an ambulance to respond, and the churning of their engines will reverberate down my block for an hour or more, but I’ve learned to ignore the noise and go back to sleep. My neighborhood reeks of death sometimes, but not in the way Compton or “the LBC” does. If NWA had started on Spaulding Avenue, they’d be singing about paramedics and not police.

None of this is to disparage my neighborhood, which is a rare find in LA, safe and centrally-located but also mostly unpretentious and very affordable by LA standards. It’s still very much Los Angeles, though, and people don’t generally take the time to get to know each other. I don’t know anyone in my building by name, though the language barrier definitely contributes to that. I’m the only native English speaker in any of the seven units and a “Hi” now and then is about all most of them can handle from me. Young, mostly gay professionals and old, mostly Russian retirees may not mix well, but they don’t clash well either. Gays and the elderly both tend to want to avoid conflicts with other groups, so everybody just kind of ignores everyone else. I feel like I live in Rodney King’s Los Angeles, as if when he said, “Can’t we all just get along?”, my neighborhood replied, “Okay, sure.” And that’s what we do. We JUST get along.

“I’m not doing anything illegal, why should I open up?”

So it was a little jarring last night when I was woken up by what sounded like Spaulding Avenue’s first injection of real drama in ages. It was 11:58 PM when I got out of bed to see what was going on. Normally, I would still have been awake, but I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, so I went to bed a little early. I walked to my living room and parted the slats of my blinds to see if I could get a look at what was going on. About halfway up my block, through the trees blocking the driveway of an apartment building, I spotted the flashing police lights and saw some shadows moving around, which I could only imagine was two or three police officers looking for a way into the apartment.

There wasn’t much to see, but what amazed me most was that no one was looking. Sure, it was late, but nobody came out of their apartments to gawk. You might think they were just frightened of what was going on, but as I said, it’s not a violent neighborhood, and besides, I didn’t even see anyone else looking out their windows. There was exactly one man I could see outside on the block, this young long-haired guy who I’ve noticed before. He sits outside on his front stoop every night after midnight, with his German Shepherd at his side, reading a book by the dim walkway light outside his apartment building. And there he was, sitting in his usual spot, reading his book, undisturbed. Even his dog didn’t seem interested in the activity.

“LAPD, open up!”

I realized that my car was parked at the curb directly in front of where the disturbance was taking place. I imagined that somehow the fight might spill out into the street. “Oh, yeah, well if that’s how you’re gonna be, you son of a bitch, then I’ll just smash up this Nissan!” Or maybe one of the people involved would hotwire my Altima and peel off to try to elude the cops, and within minutes, helicopters would be tracking my car all over the city and broadcasting it live on FOX-5. They’d run the plates and announce that the car was registered to me, and that I was considered armed and dangerous, and everyone in the city would think that I was a fugitive from justice. People who knew me would call in and talk to the reporters live on the air. “I always knew it would end this way for Jerry,” they’d say.

But after a few minutes, the noise just kind of stopped. The flashing lights got turned off, and what little movement I could see through the trees had come to an end. I didn’t even see the police cars drive away; they must’ve gone the other direction.

As I stood there waiting for some confirmation that the scene was indeed over, a neighbor walked by my window, trying to get a look at what was going on. It was the first person I’d seen besides myself who thought this was worth getting out of bed for. He couldn’t see much either, and he turned around to me as if to inquire whether I had any information I could provide. As soon as he made eye contact, I closed the slats and backed away from the window. I was in my underwear. Besides, I didn’t know anything anyway.

And then I walked back to my bedroom and about five minutes later, I was asleep.

ACCIDENT

I was in a car accident last night.

Don’t worry. I’m fine. I got rear-ended while I was stopped on a side street letting a big rig back out of a parking lot. Some guy turned the corner too fast, didn’t see me stopped until it was too late and, though he rammed on the brakes, he gave me a good bump from behind. I got out of my car filled with dread, certain that my car, which I love so much (it’s a 2000 Nissan Altima, not a Jaguar or anything, but it’s the first new car I’ve ever owned, and it’s been good to me), was now a slightly condensed and more angular version of its former self.

The first thing I noticed was that the guy who hit me looked a lot like John Corbett (who was the DJ on Northern Exposure, Aiden on Sex and the City and the groom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding — wow, that guy’s got quite a resume for someone most people wouldn’t recognize by name). He had slick model-boy hair, with the kind of slightly off-kilter spikiness that looks so casual it clearly took hours and hours and big heaping goop-mounds of product to achieve, and which no normal person can maintain until 10:30 at night, when this occurred. This being the heart of Hollywood, CA, my next thought was that maybe it WAS John Corbett. That’d be a good story, wouldn’t it? Well, it’s not this story. Sorry.

As I walked back to my bumper, I saw that his car didn’t seem to have a mark on it. Whew! That was a good sign. And my bumper looked a lot like it used to, only with about ten to fifteen stark white nicks across it. Not a good sight to see, but a reminder that the good folks a Nissan sure know how to put together a good, solid machine. He gave me his phone number and his name. So of course, when I got home, I googled him. Turns out he’s a graphic designer. A pretty decent one, too, judging by his website. If you’re looking for a nice, boyishly cute graphic designer, check out his resume:

http://www.altproject.com/nick/assets/nickResume.pdf

(Can I get in trouble for linking to that? I mean, I don’t even know this guy. Look, don’t be mad, Nick. I’m just trying to get you a job.)

Anyway, I don’t think I’ll call Nick, as my bumper’s problems can be solved with some touch-up paint — which let’s be honest, if it takes the slightest bit of effort, which it does, I’ll probably never bother to go buy anyway.

And that makes me feel plain awful.

See, the damage Nick did was a LOT worse than the damage this woman did to my bumper a few years ago. In fact, the last time my car touched another car was only a week after I bought it. Keep in mind, I had spent the last seven years of my life with a piece o’crap car, dented, dirty, ugly and barely running. When it finally died, I knew it was time to trade up, and I decided I was ready at last for a new car. I had been doing my research for months. I knew exactly what I wanted. I shopped around, found a good offer and finally made the plunge. I sunk almost 20 thousand D’s (d’s = dollars, another slang term I’m trying to coin — pass it on, will you?) into my new wheels and I drove them around LA with pride — until one rainy day this woman slammed her tiny Mazda thing into my rear end.

Again, not my fault, but the scatches she made were obvious, and they were obviously her fault. My car was a pristine machine, just a week off the lot, and I cannot convey how freaked out I was that my perfect little baby had been damaged by this awful, awful woman. Oh, I didn’t yell at her or anything — I’m not one of those kinds of people — but I took down her name, and then I took my baby to a body shop for an estimate.

The body shop guy was suprisingly honest. He got a look at my bumper and kind of rolled his eyes. He realized what it took me until last night to realize — that I was overreacting. That blissful euphoria that comes with anything new and exciting can’t possibly last forever. Sooner or later, the scratches will appear, and you’ll have to learn to accept them. (Geez, when did I get so moralistic?) Sure, it would’ve been nice for my car to stay perfect for longer than a week, but ultimately, a few scratches is nothing to freak out about. And even a few more scratches, like I got last night, is still not such a big deal. The car guy gave me an estimate of about $300. Then, as I was leaving, he told me to take the woman’s money and put it in the bank. He didn’t think it was worth it to get the bumper fixed.

The good news is that I found an honest body shop to go to if I should ever need one. The bad news is that, yeah, I made the woman give me the $300 — and I never got the bumper fixed. Even though Nick did more damage than she did, I’m not going to ask him for anything, not even the cost of the touch-up paint I probably won’t buy. It all comes down to time and maturity, and I’ve changed a lot in the last three years, both in how I deal with cars and how I deal with people. If that woman had hit me a little later on, she would’ve saved herself some money.

So Maha in the Mazda, if you’re reading this, drop me a line. I think I owe you something.

You know, like lunch.

I’m still keeping that money.

COUPON

My lousy boss had me redeem a coupon for him today.

Apparently, Haagen-Dazs ice cream is running a promotion where they’re “giving away” copies of the “Chicago” movie soundtrack CD. Now, I’m all about coupons. I use coupons all the time, especially at Ralph’s supermarket, which has double coupons everyday (a great value, and one which I appreciate).

But let me lay this all out for you, if I may. And keep in mind that my boss is a big-shot corporate attorney who pulls down mid-six-figs a year, and that I am a guy who answers his phones, gets him coffee and, as of today, redeems his coupons, for a salary that’s roughly mid-six-figs less than his. Also, I love ice cream and would come up with just about any excuse to purchase and consume it.

It’s not about the ice cream.

Here’s the procedure my boss went through to obtain the “Chicago” movie soundtrack CD:

1. He went to a supermarket of some sort.

2. At said supermarket, he purchased two boxes of Haagen-Dazs ice cream sorbet bars. (Estimated cost: $10.00)

3. At home, he consumed said boxes of Haagen-Dazs ice cream sorbet bars. (Estimated calories: 2240)

4. He cut the UPC symbols off the boxes of said Haagen-Dazs ice cream sorbet bars.

5. He composed a letter to the good people at Haagen-Dazs, which I have reprinted here:

March 7, 2003

Haagen-Dazs Rewards/Chicago Soundtrack CD

168 North Clinton

P.O. Box 618360

Chicago, Illinois 60661

Dear Haagen-Dazs:

Enclosed are two UPC’s from Haagen-Daz products, and a check for $7.50 made payable to Haagen-Dazs. Please send my Chicago soundtrack CD to the following address:

Lousy Boss

Lousy Boss’ Address

Phone: Lousy Boss’ Phone Number [Jerry’s note: Yes, he gave his PHONE NUMBER. Is he really expecting a call from the Haagen-Dazs people?]

Thank you very much.

Very truly yours,

Lousy Boss

6. He brought that letter into the office and gave it to me, asking me to print out an envelope so he could mail the letter.

7. He called his wife and forced her to come into the office with her checkbook so they could send out the $7.50 check TODAY (you don’t expect him to wait until he gets home tonight for the check, do you?). He then waited for her, and she came.

8. He sent the letter, check and UPC symbols in the envelope.

9. He now must wait 4-6 weeks to receive his CD.

TOTAL COST (including price of stamp): $17.87

My process to purchase the same CD:

1. I went to Best Buy.

2. I picked it off the shelf and paid for it.

TOTAL COST: $15.14