Opposite Her Nostrils


I recently came upon an honest test of my worth as a human being. My ATM spit out twenty dollars more than I had coming to me. I’m an honest enough person to tell you that my worth as a human being is twenty bucks more than it used to be.

Rationalizing that it was long overdue interest on my non-interest-bearing checking account, I set off for the post office, where I was about to receive even longer overdue interest.

An attractive woman in line directly behind me complimented me on my cologne. I thanked her. I wasn’t wearing any. The cell phone babbler in front of me was. I took advantage of another guy’s smell. Ol”fact”ory deception… under the guise of male, if not mail, fraud.

My one recourse was to hope my sense of humor and wit would trump or at least complement his scents of lavender and jasmine. To the degree she’d give me her phone number before he was called to a window, and all she’d smell was a poseur.

Post office lines have an annoying habit of moving quickly when you don’t want them to; so I had to work fast, carefully ensconced behind my aromatic buddy. While she remained under the power of this unknowing accomplice, I closed the deal in time for two windows to open up, mercifully allowing me to disappear in conjunction with his dissipating bouquet.

I thought about waiting outside for him. But what would I say?

“Pardon me. What’s that cologne you’re wearing?”

“Excuse me. A hot babe likes the way you smell and I’m trying to reap all the benefits.”

I decided to avoid a sock in the jaw or the guy’s phone number, and smell-test colognes that matched the memory of his scent. This was a challenging task, considering how off-putting it was trying to conjure up a guy’s smell. And what about the quantity? Too little, what’s the point? Too much, I’ll smell like Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights.

Maybe this guy had used too much. If it wafted past me all the way to her nostrils, it might have overpowered her had she been directly behind him. I could have been an all-important buffer. In effect, he needed my services to entice women as much as I needed his. I now felt less guilty using him.

And what about location, location, location? The neck? The wrists? The ears? All three? Make that, five? Maybe it didn’t matter. The only way I would win over this lady’s most primitive sense was by replicating the guy’s DNA. Cologne may smell alike, but in conjunction with one’s body chemistry, it transforms into a personal stamp of, one hopes, approval. Here was hoping that my DNA… and Tuscany… was the stamp that couldn’t be licked.

Seated and scented at Starbucks, I sensed in her a lack of energy – and this was with caffeine racing through her veins.

Did she smell me? Did she not like what she smelled? Had I been too conservative? Did she not smell me? Did she not like what she did not smell? I flunked chemistry in high school. Was I flunking body chemistry now?

We shared our history, such as it was:

“Did you mail off that letter okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied.

“Great. So did I,” I responded.

“Good,” she answered.

Awkward silence.

“It’s amazing. You can send a letter across the street. Or across the country. Same price,” I noted.

“Huh,” she noted.

“You send a person across the street, or across the country… Different price,” I reasoned.

“Huh,” she noted.

I must have looked as bored as she was, because I stretched a lot – with fingers clasped together and delicately scented wrists zeroing in on that turned up nose of hers.

Our coffee date ended. We exchanged pleasantries that were code for two distressed ships passing into the night. But I still couldn’t let go of the fact our “relationship” had begun on an intimate note: “I like your cologne.” I’d conquered one of her senses from the get-go, whether or not technically I was the conqueror.

At least she’d experienced no disconnect imagining I’d smelled good. Would her brain have allowed her to compliment Quasimoto’s smell if he’d been hunched in my place? Presuming he didn’t bring his own smell into the equation? My hunch: no.

After further reflection, what it really came down to was this: The Orson Welles syndrome. I peaked too early! Our post office encounter was my Citizen Kane.

Even if our less than magnificent Starbucks encounter had turned into The Magnificent Ambersons, she would have been disappointed. And before you know it, it could have spiraled down to an acting gig in The Muppet Movie. Yes, Mr. Welles wound up sharing the big screen with Miss Piggy. A very big screen.

My ultimate challenge, however dicey, was to raise the bar the next time, and make that date an even more impossible act to follow. Our post office date was now The Godfather. The next date… would have to be The Godfather II.

I waited a week and called her. Her “Hi!” had a discernible lift compared to her initial “Hello” – a hopeful sign that she might have missed me. Or him. I took what I could get, and wound up wining and dining her at a restaurant of her choice – Indian.

Our conversation began to flow as freely as the wine. She even touched my arm when she talked! The caffeine had obviously made us jittery before; this time, there was hardly a lag in the conversation.

I told her – I like cinnamon cookies.

She told me – she does too!

She said lots of foods actually taste better cinnamony.

I said – Sounds like a British wedding: “The cinnamony… was lovely!”

She laughed too!

Then I said, “Speaking of cookies, how come stale hard cookies get soft? And stale soft cookies get hard?

She laughed too! … I had indeed raised the bar!

But one thought gnawed at me as she alone happily breathed in the aroma of curry and cauliflower and asked, “Doesn’t this smell good?”

Her original appraisal of him-slash-me could have been full of it too.

cowan

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Opposite of Meaningful


WE’RE all guilty of it – conversational fluff. Those snippets of idle chitchat that pass for something meaningful.

Whether initiating it or being fed it, I’m usually aware of the fact it’s taking place. Them: “Take care!” Me: “You, too!”

What does “take care” really mean? Be sure to bundle up, because the flu is going around? Be sure to have your daily intake of food, because without it, you’ll die? Or does the aforementioned exchange of ideas simply boil down to “I’m done talking to you now.” “Me, too.”

People say a lot of things they really don’t mean, like “How are you?” If the interrogator really wanted to know how I was, they’d stick around for the details. Me: “I’m a little nauseous.” Them, as they pass out of sight: “Take care!” I am taking care. Otherwise, I’d be a lot nauseous.

“How are you?” is such a rhetorical question that it often goes unanswered twice. Me: “How are you?” Them: “How are you?” And the both of us scurry off without ever discovering the verdicts. Am I left to presume that how I am is more important than how you are? Will you not know how you are until you hear how I am? If I’m good, will you be good? Or will you be lousy, because you’d hoped I’d be lousy?

One of my favorite meaningless remarks is “Keep in touch.” That’s another way of saying, “Call us, because lord knows, we won’t be calling you.” And then there’s “The camera loves you.” Why don’t they admit it: “In real life, you look lousier.”

One thing I’m sure of. If I ever make it to ninety, I don’t want people telling me, “You look great!” They never told me that when I was twenty. Why should a few liver spots change things?

Another compliment I don’t buy is, “You smell good.” If I really smell good, it’s not me you’re smelling – it’s my aftershave. I could have stayed home and mailed you my Mennen.

Or what about this virtue, occasionally extolled by grandmothers: “He eats well!” That’s usually when the food being consumed was cooked by them, and not the other grandmother.

A multitude of messages can be classified as having little meaning when they begin by denying their underlying intentions. “I don’t mean to pry, but…” is a sure sign the speaker does mean to pry. “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” You guessed it. They’re about to make Miss Manners flinch. I don’t mean to belabor this point, but… Now pretend I proceed to provide you with twenty more examples.

One of the emptiest utterances to ever bog down the English language is “Y’know,” y’know? How often do you really know when someone says “y’ know,” y’know? For that matter, how often do they know you know, when they say “y’know,” y’know?

It’s ironic that in a world of cell phones, where the opportunities for communication are now seemingly endless, empty utterances are still the order of the day.

Guy on cell phone: “So I go, hey, dude, whatever.”

Excuse me? Did you really “go” it? Or… did you “say” it? If it’s the former, and your conversation with “the dude” already happened, you still didn’t “go” it. You “went” it.

Guy: “Like what’s your problem?”

Like what’s? Not just plain “what’s?” Are you implying the English language needs to produce a more precise replacement that’s like “what’s” but not quite “what’s?” Maybe then you’ll be able to use this new word all by itself. And save “like” for when you really need it. As in “I like to barely speak English.”

“Thank you” doesn’t hold much meaning. We even thank people for inviting us to sit down. If we’re obliged to offer thanks for letting us bend our backside, are we really living in a free society?

You’ll notice stores can have a sarcastic way of saying thank you, the next time you puff on a cigarette and encounter the sign, “Thank you for not smoking.” Or when you enter a store just to get change and spot, “Thanks for your patronage.” Why not say what’s on their minds: “Thanks for your patronage, tightwad.”

Even news readers don’t mean what they say when they wish us all a “great weekend” at the end of their Friday newscasts. All of us? Does that include the terrorist they just reported about? Shouldn’t he have a rotten weekend?

What if I get run over by a bus on Wednesday? On Thursday, they’d report my death, and on Friday, they’d already be wishing my next of kin a great weekend. Pretty insensitive, if you ask me.

In the end, I suppose saying what you mean, and/or meaning what you say, isn’t always possible or appropriate in this complicated world of ours.

Well, take care.

cowan

Opposite of Mr. Nice Guy


LOOKING over my past relationships that haven’t gone the distance (all of them), I’m struck by the realization that each seems to have shared one trait in common: We never fought.

Until the very end. When it was too late, and so out of character, compared to the sea of tranquility that seemingly kept us afloat beforehand.

But like the corrections in the stock market, maybe it’s healthy to experience periodic mini-meltdowns to forestall the major ones. The ground on which a relationship is planted is as “unshakable” as the ground here in Southern California. I needed to ease the pressure building towards the Big One with an occasional 3 or 4 on the Relationship Richter scale.

Instead of trying so hard to be agreeable, I should have kept it more real. Maybe I needed to provoke a fight – a hair-raising thought, which figuratively transformed me into my own Don King.

In helping my present relationship go the distance, my challenge was trying to promote a simple one or two-rounder that didn’t end with a breakup. How could I knock her down gently enough, so that she could get back up and knock me down gently enough?

Following this punch, counterpunch, I figured I would, in effect, just lie there, “throwing the fight.” Then, like two sweaty pugilists at match’s end, we’d hug and let bygones be bygones. She’d win, but we’d both really win, because I’d helped diffuse tiny mutual hidden resentments before they mushroomed into deal breakers.

Okay, so what was ever so slightly sticking in my craw? The cold truth? Nothing. Wait. The cold truth. I was onto something. Why does her opinion of the cold always have to be the truth? Whether it’s my car, or the apartment I’ve managed to live goose bump-free in all these years, according to her, “It’s cold in here.” It’s not it’s. It’s her. She’s cold in here!

Okay, this was good. I was getting miffed. Maybe my thermostat doesn’t need adjusting. Maybe you need a little adjusting, Missy. Now I was getting too miffed. The goal was to extricate the venom, not nurture it. Deep breath. I was ready for her. To save our relationship, not to mention the white-out I’d need to dab over the name of another future ex on my auto-dialer, I was about to risk looking like a jerk. All towards the selfless goal of making my girlfriend slightly mad enough to secrete her relationship toxins. A dating-colonic, if you will.

I took her back to my place and waited for things to hit the fan – my trusty accomplice dutifully whirring in her direction.

“It’s cold in here,” she said, the second she saw the fan. Ding! The round one bell went off in my head.

“Not necessarily,” I countered. Nice jab. The crowd in my head was wooing. (Or maybe they were bored and booing.)

“Why is the fan on?” she prodded.

I kept on my toes, and delivered a sudden “Why wouldn’t it be?” Silence.

Had I grazed her? Evidently not. She returned with another calm, “It’s cold in here.” I had to shake up this “thrilla” before the crowd in my head began heading for their cars.

I sensed my opening:  I tossed her a quick, “Maybe it’s cold,” pointed at her featherweight frame, and laid my figurative glove on her with full force, “in there.” That’s it. Whatever she could muster in return, I was ready to take a dive and end this thing.

And then… she shivered. And asked for a sweater. Below the belt! Where’s a ref when you need one? The jacket I draped over her could have included an embroidered “Champ.” Maybe I could train for a rematch.

However lightweight, it occurred the next day, after I picked up the phone in work mode, and she remarked (with a hint of disdain) “You sound busy.” I was. I initially reverted to my old ways – I went overboard trying to sound un-busy enough to put her first. But our extended conversation was about to make me even busier in making up for lost time after I hung up. That’s when I applied my hard-fought lesson about keeping it real and admitted, “Actually, I am kind of busy.” Ding!

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” Nice return.

“I didn’t know how to say it, without sounding rude.” Decent block.

“Evidently,” she noted, landing an effective jab.

And then… I shivered!

The sarcastic kind, but equally as effective as her shiver. She apologized for making a big deal out of nothing. In effect, she was throwing the “fight!” Embroidered jacket, your new champion awaits!

As for Mr. Whatever You Say, Dear, he’s retired (if not undefeated). Now that my partner has had a few tangles with the new less than subservient me, maybe she won’t be as surprised the next time he enters the ring. Diplomacy that camouflages the act of truly relating isn’t as life-affirming as mixing it up a little. Call it the good fight that keeps things from getting really chilly.

By our next date, the vibe between us actually felt warmer. When a bond becomes strong enough to withstand the expression of honest feelings, it can help make the fight to respect those feelings worth winning. That’s one added punch that won’t hurt any relationship.

cowan

Opposite of Attached


AFTER I wondered if the saleslady could help me find the perfect gift for my wife, she asked if I could describe her a bit.

“She’s nice, down to earth, empathetic, smart without flaunting it, an understated beauty, funny, a tad offbeat, not afraid of being feminine, but reasonably low maintenance,” I volunteered. Moments later, I picked out something after she assured me, “I think your wife will love this.” As I carried it to my car, I thought – Great. Now all I have to do is find “my wife”.

I once fantasized that the above happened. Back in the days when I figured marrying Ms. Right would help me avoid the over 50% divorce rate as effectively as the other way I’ve managed to avoid it. By not getting married.

A la the politician’s quote about his own fantasies, I “have no plans” to get married, but should a compelling reason to do so present itself, I won’t rule it out. However, unlike politics, there haven’t been enough viable candidates. Or maybe there were more than I realized.

Perhaps the prescription for love is like the one for new eyeglasses. Things may look fuzzy in the beginning, but maybe I should have withstood an early headache or two before things kicked in and allowed me to possibly see clearer than ever.

Instead, I’ve basically been a long-time dictator in the world of I-Ville. What I say goes, and my one victim, “I,” kind of likes it that way. The longer you spend without somebody else holding a mirror up to your idiosyncrasies, the more idiosyncratic your world becomes.

Is my dictatorship a threat to my true happiness? Do I need somebody to, in effect, “invade” my world and overthrow me? Democratically ruled people live longer, as do married people. But what if after transitioning into the democracy of We-Ville, there’s the clear and present danger of continued fighting – especially if another dictator takes over?

I’d opted for I-Ville before I was supposed to be born. I’d broken free a month early, leaving behind my former cohabitant, my twin sister, for another seven-and-a-half minutes. I couldn’t even commit to a full-term pregnancy.

Could my pre-natal sibling have impacted my future chronic need for my own space? You married quintuplets out there needn’t answer that.

Had I taken the plunge when many of my friends first did, there’s at least a fifty-fifty chance that my ex would be among the sea of exes out there. Would our parting have been amicable? Would money have screwed things up, or would we have simply drifted apart? So many contenders. See that one whose eyes glaze over when it isn’t her turn to talk? Imaginary ex marks the spot.

Some divorced women will only seek out a fellow divorcé, as opposed to an untested guy like me. If marriages were akin to presidential terms, I’d wonder about this logic, seeing as how subsequent terms are usually less successful.

Then again, I’m missing a woman’s ultimate seal of approval, her willingness to take my name, along with the ultimate seal of disapproval, her willingness to return my name, after quite possibly calling me a name. Shouldn’t the lack of these two seals cancel each other out?

When given the opportunity to date a recently divorced woman, it’s no wonder I feel a special responsibility. In the relationship relay race of life, her ex has, in effect, handed her off to me, who’s now faced with the challenge of proving his negatives were aberrations and that guys are worthy after all.

He was cheap? … Order anything you’d like! … He didn’t know how to have fun? … After dinner, let’s go dancing in a hot air balloon! … Your marriage failed, because it was a mirror on him, and he never wanted to look there? … Check, please.

cowan

Opposite of Breast-Fed

WITH my mother’s birthday fast approaching, picking out a card that properly expresses my gratitude is proving to be especially challenging this year.

For no longer can I comfort myself with the rationale that mom did all she could to help prepare me for a better life, ever since the news that breast-fed babies have been shown to have higher IQs. I was bottle-fed. Thanks, Mom!

You could have raised the consciousness of embarrassed diners in a mid-20th century restaurant, and raised my IQ in one fell swoop. Had you set aside your silly inhibitions, I might not even be mentally challenged enough to need the likes of Hallmark to speak for me in the first place.

Who knows how fewer Indian tech support personnel I would have needed to call, had my brain power been upgraded along with the power of my computer? Add my embarrassed mid-20th century mom to millions of other embarrassed moms of her day, and who knows how many outsourced techies could have stayed right here to handle the dwindled demand for help, had mom/we kicked the bottle? (That is, you breast-fed babies who are smart enough to add into the millions.)

If it weren’t for my baby formula, I might have invested in Apple, and not record store payphones. I might have met smarter women, who were drawn to my interest in subtitled movies, instead of my developing a disdain for them as I frustratingly stewed, “Now I’m missing the action… Now I’m missing the subtitle…”

I would have been smart enough to read all the terms of software downloading agreements, before checking off “I agree.” I would have avoided the resulting commissions I owed to Nigeria.

That said, I would have been smart enough to not let the overuse of “that said” stick in my craw. I might have even been smart enough to know where, exactly, “my craw” is.

Was Einstein breast-fed? If not, my IQ isn’t nearly high enough to imagine what else he might have discovered E equals, had nature taken over. Was Former President Bush breast-fed? If not, comedy writers could very well owe his mother’s prim and properness a huge debt of gratitude. As for our other huge debt, a couple of extra IQ points couldn’t have hurt that deficit either.

Happy birthday, Mom. I forgive you, and leave you with this heartfelt token of my affection: I won’t be suing you for bottle-feeding me. Thanks to you, I’m not smart enough to do the homework.

cowan

Opposite of Grown-Up

I just returned from my annual trip on a time machine.

Don’t let those old episodes of Star Trek fool you. Time-travel is shocking to the system, which is why I generally limit it to once a year. However long my journey, I’ve discovered that I need the same number of days back in the present to fully recover from it. It’s a bit traumatic. But it never fails to shed new insight on where I’ve come from – the house in which, at least, I thought I’d grown up.

As I exit the USAir time machine cabin in Philadelphia, three-thousand geographical miles from my home in Southern California, I’ve figuratively traveled well over ten-thousand days into my past. I’m a kid again, waiting for my folks to pick me up. Upon seeing them, I relive the feeling that I’m still growing. It might be because they’re shrinking.

When I reenter the kitchen of my youth, it might also involve the size of my hands compared to the size of their diminutive dishes. When I ask for a bowl that’s deep enough to house my cereal, my folks scoff. I now feel guilty about ingesting an inordinate amount of fiber.

Aging parents tend to evolve a lot less than their kids do, so any habits that I’ve developed on my own, however well-researched and time-tested, still seem strange to them. And that’s where my feeling guilty mechanism kicks in all over again.

“Now, what’s wrong,” they mutter. “Nothing,” as I try to covertly scan the ingredients of yet another processed food of theirs that contains something “partially hydrogenated.” This kind of fat is a heart attack waiting to happen. I mentioned it to them years ago. They didn’t listen. The stress of feeling guilty about inspecting their food in the hopes it doesn’t aggravate them will probably kill me before the partially hydrogenated stuff does. After all, partially hydrogenated stuff hasn’t killed them.

Nor has their meat-centric diet. To them, a vegetable is a comatose person who sits around all day, which is what I become during our visits, never far from an overpowering TV.

My folks wake up to the tube. There’s a loud one in their bedroom, another one in the kitchen, another one in the den, another one in the other bedroom. Wherever you go, there’s a room with “The View.” I now remember why I grew up addicted to TV. If there’s a TV 12-Step Program they could watch, I’m setting their TiVo to it.

Our phone rings. “Get it, it’s for you,” they grunt. I now feel guilty about interrupting Joy Behar. But wait a minute. Why is it for me? It’s their house. It’s not like the kids down the street are calling me. A) They’re no longer kids. B) They’re no longer down the street.

It’s for my folks. Another friend or relative with a kid who’s making a killing in whatever line of work I can’t begin to understand, let alone figure out how to make a killing in. Aren’t I tired of not knowing where my next dollar is coming from, they later ask? Not as tired of being asked if I’m tired of not knowing where my next dollar is coming from.

If only my creative streak created security. Even dead creative people make more money than I do. Shakespeare. Elvis. Rick James. I can’t compete with them. I’d kill myself, but I’d make even less of a killing.

“Who put a knife in the dishwasher?” I did. I now feel guilty about putting a knife in the dishwasher. I now feel guilty about not knowing why I should feel guilty about putting a knife in the dishwasher.

My niece stops by, another flash to the past when I was her age. My folks dote on her. I’m starting to feel like they’ve traded me in for a younger model, the thought of which makes me feel – you guessed it – guilty.

My dad and I open up the Scrabble board – the original, un-fancy, un-computerized version that’s always been there. Its wooden tiles evoke comfort somehow. We’ve saved and dated the tally sheets from most of our matches over the years, but I avoid them now, preferring not to be reminded of how much time has passed.

My father balks at my insistence that “Oy” is a word, but allows me the points anyway. I guiltily accept. Nothing’s changed. A thought occurs to me.  I think I like it that way.

As the end of my journey approaches, I’m starting to enjoy myself. This too is like a blast to the past, when I experienced my first “sorry when it ends” syndrome. In the beginning, I hated summer camp. Hated archery. Hated calling counselors who weren’t related to me “Uncle.” The sad part was – it took me half the summer to realize I was really happy, but by then it was too late. I had to go home. I always like what’s about to end more than what’s about to begin. What if it’s that way with my life? Choke, sputter, gag. Hey… this was a great life! Too late.

I’m starting to like this blog. Too late.

Oy.

cowan

Opposite of Divorce

IN this day of twice-and thrice-married candidates and miscellaneous marital mayhem, maybe it’s time to address the elephant in the room that isn’t solely Republican or Democrat. We need marriage reform.

Yes, to improve the health of this institution, it’s time for a little matrimonial insurance — maybe then the burgeoning population of single lifers like me will feel less trepidation about taking the plunge.

To the drawing board . . .

During the blood test, DNA would be extracted from both parties and rushed into the hands of a geneticist, who would proceed to clone the participants.

During the wedding ceremony, “till death do you part” would be replaced with “till death or clone-swapping do you part.” More on this later.

During the honeymoon, all picture-postcard destinations would be strictly off-limits. Couples who look the least bit lovey-dovey would be allowed to visit only towns mired in misery.

Honeymoon suites would feature the most oppressive accommodations — no heart-shaped objects allowed, unless they resemble the working-organ kind. And each suite would be within earshot of street repair and high-powered drills that render the couple unable to hear each other unless they constantly shout at the top of their lungs.

After an angst-ridden week or two of yelling and feeling anything but romantic, the rest of the couple’s life together would feel like a cakewalk. No longer would they begin a marriage with an act they can’t possibly follow. The honeymoon’s over? Thank God.

Our “marriage-insured” couple would have 18 years in which to try to keep their union alive. During this time, society’s growing inability to commit to just one choice, be it a person or an iTune, would dictate a new fashion trend that makes the challenge of staying together easier: a different hair color for every day of the week.

Alternating your shampoos would be more crucial than ever. Monday’s might be laced with auburn dye. Tuesday’s: honey blond. The net effect of feeling married to seven different partners would be like polygamy without the guilt. A “hairem,” if you will.

Throughout this 18-year trial run, the couple’s clones would be raised by foster parents, per the life lessons learned by the original couple. If the wife discovered that the husband was a poor listener or didn’t like to share his feelings, she’d instruct the foster parent to discourage any signs of such behavior in the formative stages of the husband’s clone, when there was still time to correct it.

Should the husband discover that the wife has a tendency to nag, he’d forewarn the foster parent to withhold her clone’s allowance if and when she whines about not having enough toys.

BY the 18th year of marriage, the original couple would be left with two options:

(1) They remain together. Upon this milestone, they would be allowed to withdraw half of their IRA money tax-free for plastic surgery. (IRA stands for “I’m really aging.”)

(2) Both are free to marry younger, sexier, improved versions of their spouses and remember all over again why they were originally attracted. Send in the clones!

“How can you leave me for another woman?” “Don’t be silly, dear. I’m leaving you for you.”

True, she may be awfully young. But clones reportedly age faster, so she’d also be uncommonly mature.

Would complications ensue if the original couple has kids? Not necessarily. Relating with parent clones that are the same chronological age would help bridge the generation gap once and for all. And what happens to the original couple in another 18 years?

Send in the clone clones!

cowan