whatsthatyousaymrsrobinson

In the first month after my husband bailed on our 21 year marriage, I lay on the floor and cried. The second month I lay on the bed and cried. Then I got up, dusted myself off, selected a couple of items of clothing that still fit after all those months on the sheer misery diet, and ventured forth into the world of single.

The Hero

I think a lot about stories.

I like stories.

As I have probably already mentioned, I think stories are our most perfect art form. I think stories are how we got from being cave dwellers to whatever it is that we consider ourselves to be now.  We learned to talk to each other. To pass knowledge along around the campfire.

I like the way a good story is constructed. How it draws you in, turns you around and, if it’s really well done, at the end makes you think about something entirely different from what you thought you were thinking.

A good story will do that. A good story is about structure. A good storyteller understands that it’s the end that matters. Not the beginning.

Although the beginning also has to be good. The beginning has to draw you in, make you want to care. And the middle. The middle should also be good. The middle should prepare you, in a tricky way, for the end.

We tell ourselves stories all the time, whether we are writers or not. We have things we think are true. They are not always true, but we think they are: the Buddha had plenty to say on this subject.

I tell myself stories every day. Things I should be doing. Things I should have achieved. Those are all stories. Not artfully constructed, but stories nonetheless. I don’t examine them the way I do the stories I write down, they just float through my head.

But intellectually, with the stories I actually analyze, I have a problem with the hero. The hero is everywhere. We cannot escape him. He’s the one. He’s Neo. Superman. Jesus Christ. The one man—almost always a man—who will save us all.

Sometimes when I go to the movies or watch television, I take exception to the story. Mostly it has to do with the way that women are portrayed. If you examine the subtext of most stories, women are feeble creatures, who wear ridiculous shoes and do a lot of screaming and fall down when they are chased and need to be picked up by the hero. They need to be rescued. Men do the rescuing and women are the rescued.

The man. The one who will rescue us. The rest of us are just waiting around for that to happen.

Sometimes, if I find somebody who is silly enough to listen to my opinion on this subject I will tell them that I think this paradigm is pernicious and insulting.

So this is the point in the story where I do a clever pirouette.  

No matter what you just read in the previous paragraphs, it recently occurred to me that I’ve been waiting for a man to rescue me. I’ve been searching somebody to step forward and say, hey, even though your husband left you and is prepared to divest himself of half of his worldly assets to never lay eyes on you again, you’re still okay.  You’re not a worthless human being. You’re okay because I say so. Even though you’re 52, I still think you’re not completely repulsive.

Subconsciously, I’ve been looking for this man. Seeking him out. Thinking if I can just latch on to someone who thinks that, then I’ll be okay. Justified. Validated.

Intellectually I told myself a different story, kept telling myself that. But deep down, this was the narrative.

And, it turns out, that there are a couple of candidates in my orbit. Superficially, they meet my hilariously vain criteria. Young, good looking. In superb physical shape. Ready to come when they are called. Sort of.

But this is New York, so nothing is easy. And if 21 years of marriage taught me anything, it’s that communication between any two mammals is fraught with, well, fraughtness.

And the men, both desirable, are skilled in the art of the game. Both each in their own separate ways, can play it because when they look in the mirror, what they see pleases them. And would please most people.

So I’ve been dancing around the two candidates. Making concessions that I probably should not have. To feel desired and okay. Because when I look at them both, I also think, hey. Not too shabby. If they’re prepared to be seen out with me, then I must be okay.

This story works both ways. I have not been seeing them as people. I’ve not been judging them by my standards. I’ve been seeing them as emotional ammunition.

Like I said, I have been basing my decisions on the most superficial criteria. To bolster my ego. So I’ve been working a little harder than I probably should to get the two candidates to like me.

Until a couple of days ago, when I just decided not to. I don’t know what happened but something thing did. The story flipped and when I considered them in terms of what I actually like in a male human being, I saw that they didn’t really measure up. Yes, they are both beautiful and young. But I wouldn’t choose them if I wasn’t looking for a hero.

I’m not sure how to end this story except to say that both of the candidates called me on Saturday night and obliquely enquired about my availability. They can’t come right out and ask if I want to go out. Because it’s New York, and that’s my job.

I was completely available. I had absolutely nothing going on. But I couldn’t be bothered. I was in my sweat pants. And tired and had had a hard week. I could not imagine getting up and putting on makeup and going out to please somebody for some superficial reason.

I was more than happy to stay in and watch Jennifer Garner be a hero on Alias.

And that’s when I truly realized that I don’t need a hero. I can rescue myself.

 

 

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The Designated Hitter

I hesitate to write about baseball because as much as I enjoy the poetic sight of world class athletes performing at their peak, I know next to nothing about the game.

I don’t know absolutely nothing about the game. I played softball in high school and am familiar with the principle of hitting the ball as far as possible and running as many bases as one can. I did it for many years. But the strategy and statistics I don’t understand. A good friend walked me through it once, at a farm league game in Western Massachusetts, and I greatly enjoyed knowing that there was a big picture, but I’ve never made an effort to acquire that knowledge for myself.

So when the cartoonist asked me other other day if I wanted to go to Yankee Stadium I realized that, even in purely anthropological terms, I should have been on my New York to-do list, yet it wasn’t.

Nevertheless once the cartoonist lodged the idea in my head, I was excited to see what the experience was like.

I’m not a big one for organized sports but I enjoy the feeling of togetherness that big sporting spectacles provide. It’s like going to a mega church that lets you drink beer.

Commonality of purpose is a powerful thing.

And everybody at Yankee Stadium was happy, I noticed that too. At least they seemed to be. Catching balls that dropped into their seats. Dancing to YMCA. Proposing on the big screen in front of thousands of fans.

The cartoonist and I took our very expensive seats. One of the perks of his job. I mean, the seats were gaspingly, hilariously expensive. I had to ask the cartoonist a couple of times if the figure written on the ticket was correct.  They were Metropolitan Opera-priced seats.

The cartoonist pointed out, rightly, that ball players are paid more than opera singers.

Once the game started, one of the first things that occurred to me was that, after seeing the Yankees pitcher doing a bang up job, would he be required to also go into bat? It would be a rare bird, I imagined, that would be good enough to both pitch and bat for the Yankees.

The cartoonist said no, he didn’t have to go into bat, there was another guy to do that for him—the designated hitter.

When I was married I used to joke that my husband was the designated worrier. When I had to do something that made me nervous, and where it was disadvantageous to be nervous, then I would outsource the worry aspect.

It was a joke, of course. It applied to things like making puff pastry. But lately I’ve realized that it served as a larger metaphor for our relationship.

My ex-husband is an Olympic level worrier. And when I was laboring under the illusion that he had my back, I worried a little less. It’s natural when you think somebody has your back. When you’re married, and have two incomes instead of one.

But now I am facing my future and being forced up against a wall of worry. Because I’m on my own now. And I’m in my fifties. And in the last couple of weeks I’ve been acquainted with the reality that I will be out of work at the end of this year.

It’s a frightening prospect. At my age. In this economy. It wakes me at hours when I should be asleep. And I have no designated worrier. Now I know for sure that my ex does not have my back, I must assume this burden on my own.

It’s a hard one. It feels perverse. Because if it wasn’t for that, I’d be okay right now. My heart is mending. I’m getting back to life.

But the worry is hard to block, all of the time.

So it was luxurious to sit in Yankee Stadium in seats that cost more than I spend on groceries in a month and enjoy the spectacle and the crowds and the happiness. Everybody did look happy, and I can’t imagine that all of the thousands of people there did not have sickness and pain and bills and grief to deal with on some level.

Maybe there were lots of people there, like me, who were taking a break from the worry. Enjoying the sunshine and the peanuts and he sight of ridiculously overpaid athletes almost earning their salary. Making a bread and circus spectacle for us.

I have to not panic. I know that. Panic is the enemy of good sense. Because the end of the year is both a short and a long way off. And this past year has taught me that anything can happen. Strange and marvelous and left of field things can switch our perspective in a moment. I know that because they’ve happened to me. I have trusted that things will be okay, and they have been. This can and does happen.

I can’t let the months in between be poisoned by something that may not be real. I cannot not enjoy a game and a communal experience and an overpriced beer. 

That would be the waste of a very short life. 

The Argentinian

The Argentinian and me exchanged phone numbers a few minutes after we met. But I didn’t hear from him. And I hope I don’t have to.

I met the Argentinian at night and the lighting wasn’t good, so my impression of his looks is imprecise. He is, I think, is of average height, slender with olive skin and dark eyes. He may or may not have hair, but I don’t know for sure. Because when I met him, in the dark, he was wearing a cycling helmet.

And I was lying in the bike lane on Second Avenue in the East Village.

It was dark and it was raining. Hard.

I had recently fully overcome the psychological impediment to getting back on my bike. I had ridden to work all week and was starting to forget about my ex and his bicycling advocate girlfriend and remember instead the joy that I attach to traveling on two wheels.

The first part of the week was marvelous. At the end of my commute I had that old, remembered feeling—a pang of regret that my journey was about to end.

This I took to be a good sign.

So I was happy on my bike, until the night of the deluge. 

It deluged and I pushed on. A mistake. A taxi was parked in the bike lane and a passenger opened the door, and the door and I collided.

I’ve been in some crashes. They’re not all the same. Except for the ways that they are. There’s this sound—a dull sound of contact that you don’t hear anywhere else—but that you never forget. And then there’s this feeling of time slowing down. And a thought floats through your head. It’s something along the lines of, “damn, that was stupid.”

And then you’re flying. And then you’re falling.

And then time starts again.

Time has started, but you’re not an active participant. This is because of adrenaline, your body’s reaction to shock.

Things happen around you, but it’s like you’re watching a play.

I hit the door and then I hit a post, which, in a way, broke my fall. I started bleeding.

The outsourcing of blame began.

The passenger who had stopped my journey so precipitously looked down at me lying in the street, sniffed out a reluctant “sorry” and stalked off. The driver, desirous of leaving immediately, insisted that, although he had parked illegally, my bleeding state wasn’t his fault because he hadn’t touched me.

The Argentinian was the reason he didn’t leave. He stood in front of the cab, holding his bicycle and said, “If you want to go, you’ll have to run me over.”

I called the cops. They were busy. So we waited. In the cold. In the rain. For nearly 45 minutes the Argentinian stood in front of the taxi. Getting drenched. And while he stood there he took a photo of the cab’s license plate. And he asked me my number and he texted me the plate. Call me, he said, if you need a witness.

While we waited, I asked him his name and where he was from. Marco. Buenos Aires. And he stood there while I tried to remember that I speak some Spanish. We spoke a little Spanish. Then he stood there silently while I cried from the shock and the pain, and I shook from the cold.

The cops came and the ambulance came and I crashed a second time, into New York City bureaucracy, which is not always sympathetic to people who travel on two wheels. I must have done something wrong was the subtext, both from the cops and the medics. They reluctantly came to the conclusion that I hadn’t. That I wasn’t trying to make trouble, with my bleeding and my bruising.

The Argentinian gave his testimony to the cops. And I thanked him and he said to call me if I needed anything else.

And he got on his bike and left.

The medics hailed me a taxi and I got home. And this taxi driver, seeing that I was bleeding and in shock, carried my bike to my house. And I got myself upstairs and ran a hot bath because I could already feel my muscles seizing up.

I lay in the bath and thought about how the incident had conflated a couple of metaphors. Just when I thought it was safe, psychologically, to get back on my bike, just when I think I’m safe from the ex and his girlfriend, I encounter a situation that is a terribly obvious illustration of the past year.

It was the black hole of metaphors. Or is it irony? I’ve never truly understood the correct meaning of irony. I know I should, but I don’t.

But I do know this. It’s a bitch when you think one minute that everything is chipper and the next you encounter the taxi door and you’re lying in the streets all bruised and crying and shaking and you think, “Crap, what am I going to do now? Who will help me? I can’t do this alone.”

But then you find that you don’t have to. You get up. You stand up. And you move. Slowly at first, while your wounds heal, but you do move, even though every movement causes pain. And someone will help you. Someone will stand in front of the taxi. Someone will make sure you and your bicycle get home. The next day someone will call to see if you need food or painkillers.

In your bruised and battered state someone will keep on helping you, until the day when you can help yourself.

This is why I’m not going to have any trouble getting back on my bike next week. Because I’ve already been through this. Yes, I look like I’m in a fight club and it hurts to laugh. It hurts to move.  

But I know this thing now; I’m tough. I’ve done my time in the trenches.

I can, and I will, get back on that bicycle. 

The Accountant

My thinking for this post is freedom. What does it really mean? Because it’s tax season and tax season for me concentrates the mind. I have to think about numbers. Numbers and I do not have a friendly relationship. We are, in fact, barely on nodding terms. I don’t trust numbers. Even the word looks stupid. I don’t think in numbers. I always think numbers are out to get me.

This is an actual thing. You can Google it, if you don’t believe me. Alright, I made that last part up. I think.

So this year I made an appointment with my accountant. It’s the first time I’ve visited him on my own. Historically, my ex-husband took care of all the finances. This year I had to do it alone. Which was a little weird.

I approached with trepidation. I thought I would fail in some way because my ex husband used to spend hours and hours and hours compiling lists and charts and stuff to present to the accountant. Weeks it would go on. He suffered. In the extreme.

I set aside a weekend and prepared to suffer in the extreme. I cleared my social calendar. I wasn’t going out. I wasn’t going to have any fun.

But it turned out it wasn’t too bad. I put on some loud music, made a cup of tea and rounded up all of the stuff that banks and investment places obligingly send right to your house to facilitate this very experience. And I gathered a few receipts which was easy because I’ve been too lazy to open my mail and file shit, so it was all right there on my desk. And I did a thorough inventory of my social activities some of which are deductible. And it was a nice way to review the year and think about all the colleagues and friends who’ve stood by me, pouring wine and stuffing food down my gullet. Standing with me, week in and week out.

After I’d spent a couple of hours not really suffering, I called the cartoonist and said, hey, you wanna hang out? And he said yeah. I can’t remember what we did, but we didn’t suffer.

A few days later I took my rather patchy list of things to the accountant and said, “Sorry I don’t really know how to do this. On my own.” And he smiled and said, “That’s what I’m here for.”

So he plugged all the numbers into this document that is required by the US Treasury. And he sent me the draft and asked me to review it. And I thought holy crap. I have no idea what any of this means.

My ex husband obligingly pitched in. It means I get a refund and you owe $11,000 he said. And not only that, on top of the eleven grand you’ll have to pay an extra like seven grand for all the taxes you owe for this year.

Well that is just fucking typical. I thought. Here we have him, all Mr Present and Correct getting a refund. And me completely looking like an irresponsible idiot.

I mean, I know I dropped the ball financially last year. Mainly because I was so distracted I didn’t concentrate on things like quarterly payments and shit. I was a little more open with the purse strings. I bought new clothes and new underwear, and new shoes, and I ate out more than I generally would. I did what I had to do to get by. I think it was the patron saint of New York, Jay-Z who said: “We try to spend it all because the pain ain’t cheap.”

I spent to compensate for the pain.

But $20,000? Could I really have screwed up that much? So quickly? I don’t know much about money but I’m never in debt. Ever. I felt embarrassed. And I felt insecure. Like everything was going to fall down around me.

It seemed emblematic of something that I couldn’t put my finger on.

And like I really needed another reason to wake up at three am, my heart trying to escape my chest.

So today I stopped by the accountant’s office for another round of taxes for morons.

And he gave me all the documents and he told me what to sign and where and when to send the checks. And I looked at the numbers. And the numbers said I owe $10,000. Not $20,000.

Is that right? I asked. Yep, he said.

It’s not 20 grand?

No. He said. No it isn’t.

And it’s money I have. Lurking in my bank account because I did not make a couple of those quarterly payments. And I didn’t really overspend. Not really. You can’t break the habit of a lifetime. And I am in my heart quite frugal. I don’t need much. I drink in dive bars. I do not darken the doors of stores on Madison Avenue. I eat out expensively quite seldom. I’d rather have people over than pay somebody else to cook.

So tonight I poured a big glass of wine and turned on some music and sat down and wrote the checks. To the United States Treasury and the State of New York and to a couple of other places. I’m not sure why I have to pay a commuter tax, but I do and, just for the record, it’s $200 a year.

This is going to sound weird, but I had a great time. I enjoyed taking inventory. I enjoyed the feeling of knowing that things are not as bad as I thought they were.

I faced the numbers and I felt free.

And I enjoyed the, for me, novel notion that numbers really can tell a story. 

The Singer

I would like to speak frankly for a moment about the brutal reality of being single in New York City.

Yes, you have all your own hair and teeth and are not completely repulsive to members of the opposite sex. You’re in shape. You dress well. You can present. 

You are funny and whimsical. You are up to date on current events. You can bullshit at length about art and music and the North Korean missile crisis and the geopolitical ramifications of regime change in Syria.

Whatever.

The singer is much younger than me. Way, way younger. And I’m fascinated by her, not just because she’s fascinating, but also because she’s female.

I don’t have many female friends. I never have had. I can count my close female friends on fewer than the fingers of one hand. I don’t know why this is, but it’s been that way forever. I have male friends lined up out the door and around the street.

My female friends I can count on fingers.

In very many ways, I relate to men. When they’re my friends.

Female friends make me nervous. I don’t know what to do with them. I feel embarrassed and clumsy. Like there’s some club that I never figured out the rules to, that I never spoke the language of. Maybe it’s because I never had sisters. I don’t know.

It’s weird. Because my father raised me to be hail fellow, well met.  And I am my father’s daughter. I can meet anybody. You met me, you would like me. I can do likeable. I can do it in my sleep. Hell, I can do likeable drunk, one hand tied behind my back whistling Dixie. Standing on my head. Balancing spinning plates on distal limbs.

But for most of my life, I have never had any female friends. Scratch that, I have had few female friends.  Very, very few.

Men like me. Men I’m relaxed around. Women, for the most part, I find a lot harder.

The singer likes me. The singer is tough. And I mean that as high praise. She’s a tiny thing. She weighs probably about as much as one of my legs. She has seal black hair and pale skin and eyes the color of icebergs that float in cold oceans. You don’t forget her eyes. You don’t forget her voice. She has a big, big voice. You hear her sing and you wonder where it came from. Surely not from that tiny body.

And she likes me. She has sought me out on more than one occasion. I would not have sought her out, because she would have made me nervous.

As I said, men I can do. Women, not so much.

The singer is a good conversationalist. I can talk to her about stuff. And it’s interesting to hear her take about being single in New York. Being young and beautiful, and successful, and wanting something quite specific. The singer is articulate about all that.

She has different attitudes to what I had at her age. At her age I would have wanted a husband and a solid commitment. 

Casual sex would have been, for the most part, off the table. I would have wanted something durable.

The singer wants none of that. The singer wants a cute guy who looks French or maybe Spanish, anyway definitely western European. Light skin, dark hair, dark eyes. A lot like her, in some ways. She wants that western European guy to be an excellent kisser and to stick around, kissing her, for, oh, I don’t know, more than two nights. Six weeks, maybe. Six weeks is a good length of time for a fling, we have arbitrarily determined.

At the very least, she wants to get a song out of the liaison.

Yet she does not seem to be able to achieve it. (Except for the song part.)

Which I find puzzling. Because there’s nothing about the singer that says, and again I mean this as high praise, warm and fuzzy. There’s no clingy in this equation. She’s razor sharp, cool and modern. Anybody with moderate intelligence would see this. And she’s beautiful. And she wants somebody, not to put too fine a point on it, that she can kiss, and then she can fuck. And have fun with. For longer than 48 hours.

Yet she can’t achieve it. In fact, some idiot of the French persuasion had the lack of grace to stand her up quite recently. I don’t think he even made the 48 hour mark.

This I do not understand. I don’t understand why a man gets to be so churlish to a woman who doesn’t want anything from him.

So I’ve been saying all this time about how I like men and I don’t understand women. But that’s not entirely true. Because I understand exactly what the singer is saying. And I don’t understand why some idiot would treat her in such a way.

Why stand her up? At the very least, why not just be a man and call and say, oh, I don’t know, “Sorry, won’t be able to make it, tragic luge accident, and all that.”

Still trying to figure this out. Because none of the men that are my friends would do that. My father wouldn’t do it. Neither would my brothers.

Yet there are men out there who do.

That I do not get. That’s the part of being a man that I do not understand. It doesn’t seem polite for one thing. It’s not brave for another.

I like men. But that’s the part about men that I don’t get. The non-manly part.

 

 

 

The Neurosurgeon

I’ve been thinking a lot about pain this week, and how seductive it is.

Because it’s happened again. I wake at three in the morning. I’m wide awake and my heart is trying to escape my ribcage.

I don’t go back to sleep. I lie in bed and look at the walls. I fret. I listen to my heart beat. I go to work looking as if I’ve been punched in both eyes.

The source of the pain is almost not relevant. I extended my trust to somebody, not even a friend, an acquaintance, actually. And that trust was broken. And it hurts, a lot more than it should. My expectations of people, outside of my closest circle, are not elevated.

It’s disproportionate. So I’m not sure where it is coming from.  Except it’s started me thinking about the time in my life when I was paralyzed. It was some time ago now. I remember it well. Paralyzed is scary. It concentrates the mind.

I was in a car crash. A drunk driver hit the car that I was in and I paid in full. It’s the inverse karmic equation that often applies to drunk drivers. The next day his worst injury was a hangover. I had three broken cervical vertebrae and was staring down the barrel of months and months of agony.

And I was paralyzed on my right side. Which you should try to avoid, if you possibly can.

Have your ever had your skull drilled? I have. It’s not fun.

It doesn’t hurt, because they give you all kinds of drugs, but (and this is almost worse) you can hear it because, guess what? It’s going on in your head. So they drilled into my skull and attached some clamps and at the end of the clamps some heavy weights to take the pressure off my spine. And I lay around like that overnight, trying to imagine what my life would be like if I couldn’t walk. Who would be around to help me? What would I do?

There’s a lot of unsavory details to this story and I’m going to skip them because it had a happy ending. I had a gifted neurosurgeon and he patched up my spine with some super duper titaniun and some bone that he borrowed from my hip, and several hours after the surgery, when he could see that I could move my right thumb, he got me out of bed and made me walk. 

I’ve been walking ever since. But I’ve been in pain a lot too. Even though I was young and fit, messing around with the neck affects a whole bunch of other muscles. Until I started practicing Pilates, I was in pain every day. Not chronic pain, but pain nevertheless.

And I developed a lot of other issues because the body is a complex machine and when one part doesn’t work well, it sends a signal to other parts to play up.

So I hurt a lot. And I hurt for years and years.

The shocking thing about pain is that you get used to it. It starts to feel like a friend. Because you can rely on your pain, it will be there. I don’t know why this happens, but it does. 

Emotional pain is like that too, I think. Otherwise I would not be feeling this over being slighted by an acquaintance. Lying in bed at three am, staring at the walls. Looking at my pain and thinking, “Welcome back, my old friend. We’ve been here before. We know the drill.”

The Mid-Westeners drove me to their house in the country last weekend and we did our customary stocktake of the status of my single life. One of the mid-Westeners is a graduate of a twelve step program and, as I may have already mentioned, he talks sometimes about recovery and how important it is to complete the journey, and not sit down for a rest and never get up. Both of them are quite strong on this point. The Minnesotan took me to task for telling a neighbor whom I hadn’t seen in a while that my husband had left me. Don’t phrase it like that, it makes you a victim, she said. You’re not. That’s not who you are.

I know that.

So this period of pain feels like an indulgence, almost.  It will pass, because that’s what pain does. And it will come back, in some other permutation, and surprise me again, because I’m a human being and part of that job description is allowing oneself to be hurt.

And there’s something else, too. Pain gives you a voice. It gives you something to say. Happy is hard to write because there’s no drama, nothing to see there.  

Still, there must be a balance.

So I’m going to end with a poem. It was given to me by a young man whom I met last week, and who’s just cast off on a very rough journey. His pain is much closer to the surface than mine. It is etched on his face. He looks like I felt, one year ago.  He gave me this poem, which is by Robert Penn Warren. I like the way it strikes that balance. It imagines that the journey will end.

“This/Is the process

By which the pain of the past/in all its pastness/ May be converted into the future tense

Of joy.”

 

 

The Greek, Part Two

This is an apology to the Greek.

I met him, as I have mentioned, on the night when I decided I should have sex with somebody who wasn’t my ex-husband. For the first time in 21 years. Just to get it over with. Just to get it out of the way.

He was, for some reason, at my local. It was late. We were two Jamesons away from a foolish decision. He was thin and cute and clearly into me.

Greeks dig me. I already said that.

We had those two Jamesons.

He was, and is, and continues to be, much, much younger than me.

I chalked it up to whatever one chalks these things up to. Never hear from him again, I thought. Didn’t really want to, actually.

And, yet, for some reason, he decided not to step out of my life. Every now and then I would get a text from the Greek. On vacation. At work. Suggesting fun trips we might take together. Fishing! Upstate! Dinners! Drinks!

Pictures of his hats! Pictures of his car!

He texted me from Hawaii, in his beach wear.

And over all these months, nearly a year in fact, I’ve built up this picture of the Greek as a very young guy who is a little clueless, but sweet. And not terribly well informed about his own country’s history or well equipped with the social graces.

So this week, out of the blue, the Greek texts me. Come and have dinner with me, he says. And I think, why not? Because I’m starting to think differently about being single, starting to think that it might not be time to get back on my game. And to do that some practice is in order.

Fine, I say, but it has to be Greek food. And I’m prepared to travel to get the best. Deepest darkest Queens. I will be there. Name the subway stop.

Don’t be silly, the Greek says. I’ll pick you up. You’ll never find the place and besides its miles away from the nearest subway.

So he picks me up. And we drive to deepest darkest Queens and we have the best Greek food that I’ve had in some decades. The Greek knows his food and his wine. I’m the only non-Greek in the restaurant and I’m in fucking heaven.  I stuff my food n a greedy fashion and swallow some excellent wine from Santorini. 

The Greek says wine from Santorini is coming along. Although not quite there yet, in his opinion.

I find out that the Greek is a father. He has a three year old daughter called Ariadne. He was married for a bit and his wife left him for someone who wasn’t him and moved to California with his daughter. He’s working on a business that’s struggling. His year has been tough, like mine.

He’s polite and kind and well informed about Greek history. We go back and forth on the question of the cultural values of classical Athens and Sparta. He knows his stuff. I don’t know why I was arrogant enough to assume that he didn’t.

And I find out too that the Greek, until he moved to New York ten years ago, spoke not one word of English. 

He’s come a long way. Because he’s cracking wise in quite a satisfactory way.

After dinner he drives me back to Brooklyn we go to my local and the Greek holds his own with the regulars, a couple of whom are three or four beers past their best, in a calm and clever way. He says he thinks his English isn’t very good, but it actually is.

I’ve misjudged the Greek all this time. Based on his texts. I thought he was a little silly, but he isn’t. He’s quite sober and grounded.

So I decide to tell him the truth. That I only slept with him to see if I could. I tell him I hope he isn’t insulted, because I find, now, that I like him.

He’s not insulted. He says he wanted to buy me dinner to make up for pestering me all these months.

We talk some more, about international politics and football, and I make sure he hasn’t had too much to drink so that he can drive home okay. If he kills himself driving while drunk, I tell him, I’ll personally come to Queens and kill him again for being an idiot.

The Greek says he’s okay. So I let him drive home.

I was completely wrong about the Greek. Texting is a wildly imperfect medium, especially if you add the extra degree of difficulty of doing it in a language that is not your mother tongue. A language that you didn’t know ten years ago. I’m a little sad, in a way. If I’d given the Greek the benefit of the doubt, we could have been friends all of these months. It sounds like he could do with friends. Because he told me too, that it’s hard having his daughter live thousands of miles away. So hard, that he’s thinking of moving to California to be near her. Even though it would mean starting from scratch. Again.

The Greek doesn’t seem so young when I speak to him. He seems quite old, actually. He’s had his fair share of shit to shovel, and that takes its toll on all of us.

I decide, in light of the change of the status of our friendship, that I should have his correct name in my phone. For months he’s been lurking there, somewhat patronizingly as George the Greek.

George isn’t the name his parents gave him. So I give him permission to write his actual name into my phone. First and last.

He takes my phone, looks at the label I’ve given him, laughs, and writes; Yiorgos The Athenian.