Saturday, December 23, 2023

It is winter and in every German tree are clumps of mistletoe. I guess it's there all year round, but you can only see it after the leaves drop in winter. It grows in giant balls that are thickest at the tops of the trees.

In New York you pay five bucks for a couple of twigs, so of course I couldn't resist greenery that was more valuable than my education. One day while we were driving to a local farm stand I spotted a low-hanging ball, and I told hubby to pull over so we could get it. He jumped a small creek, crawled through a hole in a rickety fence, and waded through a muddy pasture to the tree. That night I attached a string of miniature Christmas lights and hung it on the balcony.

The next day our friend Evelyn came over to make gingerbread houses, and she said in Germany it's illegal to cut down mistletoe. I said it's a parasite that hurts its tree host, but she said it's protected like all wild plants.

"Do you know why there's more mistletoe at the tops of the trees?" she asked. "Birds eat the berries, which means there are seeds in their poop. Since they're always flying, that's where their poop usually lands."

She doesn't say why you're supposed to kiss under it. And despite her decidedly cold explanation, I still find it romantic. The next time we're walking through a forest and I see some hanging high above I still can't resist. "Hey, a bird pooped up there," I say to my husband. "Give me your face."

Friday, December 22, 2023

One night on our cruise my friend Mike got really excited about the evening's entertainment: a mentalist. He had to sit in the front row, and for some reason he'd put on a suit, which stood out among all the muumuus and flip flops. I asked him why and he said, "I had a really, really good friend, Rick, who died twenty years ago. He promised me if there was any way he could contact me, he would. And I've been waiting ever since."

I just about cried. Mike is a really sweet Southern man so this didn't surprise me, though his naivete did. "You want a medium," I said, "not a mentalist. A medium talks to the dead. A mentalist asks you to think of a number between one and a hundred, and two minutes later a chicken walks in with the number painted on its ass."

Mike was stunned. "Oh," he said. "So this guy can't talk to the dead?"

I shook my head. Mike's face fell as the realization slowly crushed him. He seriously thought he'd hear from his long-lost friend again.

There wasn't much I could, but I had to do something. "You should definitely talk to the guy, though," I said. "The skills don't seem that far apart. If he asks you to think of a number between one and a hundred, tell him, 'I will, but first do you see an older man near me whose name starts with an R or an L?"

Monday, June 6, 2022

Conversation with my fictional American husband.

FAH: "Hey, it looks like a beautiful day. Let's go have some fun!"

ME: "Great idea. What do you want to do?"

FAH: "We could stop by the flea market at City Hall and then have Aperol Spritzes by the park."

ME: "Oh, that sounds perfect. Will I need a jacket?"

FAH: "You'll be fine. If it gets too chilly, I'll keep you warm."

ME: "Aren't you wonderful? Okay, let's go!"

Conversation with my real German husband.

RGH: "Get up. At your age you need to move around or you will die."

ME: "Great idea. What do you want to do?"

RGH: "First you will use the toilet, then I will use the toilet. Then we will go out. When we come back, I will use the toilet, and then you will use the toilet."

ME: "Oh, that sounds perfect. Will I need a jacket?"

RGH: "Yes. It is not cold but you need something to absorb all of your sweat."

ME: "Aren't you wonderful? Okay, let's go!"

(Naturally I'm crazy about him.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Opens today in France. I'm not going to see it but I'm curious how much sugar they needed for the top.

Monday, February 14, 2022

STRANGER: "Is that a Moose Knuckle?"

ME: "No, I wear thick underwear. [PAUSE] Oh, you mean the JACKET."

Wednesday, February 2, 2022


I have to do something. Every morning I wake up and it's like my eyebrows have grown just a little bit bigger, until they threaten to consume my face. It looks like two squirrels are scurrying across my forehead, and very soon there's just going be to one. Years ago, though, after an overzealous afternoon with a razor blade, I learned that shaping and tweezing your facial hair is like trying to remove your own gall bladder. This time around, I decide, I'll let a professional handle it.

I don't exactly keep up with the trends, but I know about threading. I've seen it on the news, where an Asian woman wielding something like dental floss wraps a loop around a stray hair and yanks it out, faster than the blink of an eye. While I run my daily errands I pass eight or nine threading salons, and I slow down in front of every one. I feel my giant eyebrows weighing me down until I can hardly hold up my head. I think, why don't I just go in and get it done?

You hear all these rumors about New York metrosexuals, but I'm the only guy in the salon I finally choose. There's so much estrogen in the building, in fact, I feel like I've accidentally stumbled into a frozen yogurt shop. Mercifully, the procedure is quick and painless. Five minutes and fifteen dollars later, the woman passes me a hand mirror. My eyebrows are far apart and half their original size. The delicate arch makes me look ever so slightly surprised.

I look at the woman. She looks at me. "Well, I think they look good," she says.

I race to the bathroom of a nearby Bed Bath & Beyond and survey the damage. They could definitely be worse. They're certainly not that 30s Jean Harlow brow, the thin Sharpie squiggle dancing just below the hairline. They could almost pass for natural. Still, the arch is sharp enough to change my default expression. I'm no longer bored. I'm not exhausted. If I keep my face entirely still, I'm somewhere between inquisitive and questioning. Add in even the slightest additional surprise, though, and I look like a man fleeing Godzilla.

I run my remaining errands as I struggle to keeping my face utterly placid. Inquisitive eyebrows aren't such a horrible thing, I discover. They have the attitude that I don't, second-guessing every word I hear.

I stop at a fruit stand for a mango and some strawberries. "That'll be twelve dollars," the man says. I look at him. He looks at me. "Okay, okay," he snaps. "Maybe it's just eight."

I drop in Macy's to see what's new. There's a red knit cap I almost like. I'm not sure if it works with my beige skin and ridiculous height. "You look great!" a clerk says. "You look fabulous!" I look at her. She looks at me. "You look like a lit match," she admits.

By the time I head home it's late, and the subway is deserted. Still, a middle-aged man sits down right next to me. His suit is cheap, his hair's thinning, his mustache nearly hides his mouth. "You should be a model," he says, just out of the blue. "I mean, you are absolutely gorgeous. You've got cheekbones for days, and it looks like you've got a smokin' hot body too. You could be, like, in one of those Calvin Klein ads, just wearing underwear. David Beckham's got absolutely nothing on you."

I look at him. He looks at me.

"Well, I wouldn't turn off the lights when I fucked you," he says, so imagine my surprise when he did.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Halloween in New York

This year, like every other year, I didn't make plans for Halloween. I figured I'd maintain the distance I kept from the real world and just watch it from the comfort of my apartment. The first knock on my door, though, wasn't a trick-or-treater: it was Emma and Charlotte, who weren't quite as content with staying inside. Though it came as news to me, apparently Having Nothing To Do On Halloween is a humiliating predicament for Brooklyners, and after a few minutes of frantic texting suddenly the three of us had a party to attend.

Emma and Charlotte disappeared for ten minutes and came back wearing wigs, revealing dresses, and dramatic makeup. I'm pretty sure these were Halloween costumes, though it was also what single New York females wore to the grocery store. I had no clue what they were supposed to be, but I figured if I asked they'd laugh and say, "Oh Roman, you are so out of touch."

So, let's go with Internationally-Renowned TikTokers.

Halloween has changed dramatically since I was a kid. Back then, you had a reason for your costume, and since we were young and dumb it was usually just a stupid joke. Every neighborhood would have a Cereal Killer, a Taco Belle, and a Black-Eyed Pea. These days, though, it doesn't matter how you're dressed but only that you're hot. Highlight your boobs and your ass and nobody says a word. Nobody ever says,

"Excuse me, but since they lived millions of years apart, slutty cave women couldn't have worn dinosaur-skin bras."

Or "If Little Red Riding Hood had actually worn something like that, her grandmother would have dropped dead years ago."

Or, "Judging by the toga, I'm guessing you're a Trojan woman. Did the war start because you used up all the hair spray?"

Or, "Oh, I see. You're a Sexy Scarecrow. Because enormous tits make birds go, 'AIEEEEE!'"

Or, "Sorry to nitpick, but even Sexy Football Players restrict the padding to the general shoulder area."

Or, "If Tinkerbelle's boobs had been pushed up that far, she'd never have gotten through the window."

Or, "Why would a Sexy Bee have such enormous cleavage? Do they want to pollinate flowers, or Charlie Sheen?"

When I was a kid, Halloween was fun. Now, it's a kitschy excuse to get laid, and as long as you look sexy nobody really cares if you're Ruth Bader Ginsburg or a Slutty Manatee.

Emma and Charlotte gave substantially less thought to my costume. Charlotte grabbed a few wigs she had lying around and slapped them one at a time on my head. I don't know what she was looking for, but her final decision was a wild, straggly blonde mop. Although it went against everything I stood for, she clearly didn't give a damn if the carpet matched the drapes.

Never in my life had I worn a wig, and I knew absolutely nothing about them. I couldn't imagine why she had this one, unless she spent part of her day breaking in wild horses on the Scottish moors. I assumed with styling she'd magically transform it into something attractive, but instead she just tousled the front of it and pronounced it done.

For my clothes, she rummaged through her closet and then tossed me a Led Zeppelin t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. "Be careful with that," she warned.

"I didn't know you liked Led Zeppelin," I said.

"Never heard of them," she replied. "I paid four hundred bucks for it at a vintage shop."

I put the shirt on. I'd never had the nerve to wear a sleeveless t-shirt in public, but Charlotte was the stylist and I was the mannequin so I didn't complain. I also didn't know who I was supposed to be: I gave off major notes of grungy, dissolute, and creepy with undertones of kinky sex and weed. Aging porn star? Bisexual surf instructor? The answer to "What would Sean Penn's character in Fast Times at Ridgement High look like all grown up"? Emma agreed that I looked good and then we hit the road.

Before we even got to the subway, it was obvious something had changed. I'd always been ignored when I ventured out of doors, and I'd assumed that was true for everybody. New Yorkers were famously cold, and too self-absorbed to care about anyone except themselves. Now, suddenly, everybody was looking. They were interested in me. I was getting double takes.

One of the heads that turned was a stocky bearish type with a beard."Hey," he said, flashing dark green eyes. "How are you doing tonight?"

Had he confused me with somebody else? I wondered. Was his Cousin Sid a traveling carnival worker? Had his Uncle Mark grown up in an abandoned condom factory?

"Uh, I'm doing good, I guess. Just on my way to a party."

"Cool. Yup, it's Halloween." Something clicked in his head and once again he looked me up and down. "That's a costume? It's a costume! Ah, that's cool. Have a great night!"

Emma and Charlotte and I exchanged confused looks and headed for the subway again. This was literally the first time in New York that a stranger had spontaneously talked to me. Well, I'd never been outside for Halloween, I thought, so maybe it was always like this.

The L train was crowded, with maybe half the riders in costume. The three of us temporarily went our separate ways, with Emma finding a seat and Charlotte and I leaning in opposite doorways. Standing next to me was a DILF in t-shirt and sweatpants. I'd have noticed him even if he didn't keep looking my way.

"Hey," he finally said the next time I looked over. "What's goin' on?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "Nothing," I said. "Getting ready for a fun night out."

"You're looking pretty casual. You looking for somewhere to go?"

This sounded like an invitation from an actual living male so I immediately carpet-bombed our previous plans. "Well," I said, "I had been thinking about going to a Halloween party."

"No costume?" he asked. The look I gave him must have run through a few different emotions: maybe confusion, followed by curiosity, then disbelief, and finally incredulity. "Ah, man! You fooled me. Okay, I'll leave you alone, but you really are looking great." The doors opened for 1st Avenue, and with a thumbs-up he was gone.

I closed my eyes after he left and tried to make sense of it. Did New Yorkers really think people looked like this? And, worse, did they like it better than my regular look?

It didn't seem possible. I checked out my reflection in the window. It was clear: I was the guy who sold photos of his feet online to put his girlfriend through tattoo school. My fall-back occupation was a cardboard sign that read, "Why lie? I need a beer." When God raptured everybody back up to heaven, I'd be behind the door smoking weed.

I was a totally new person, low maintenance and low expectation. The guy who ignored the rat race and listened to the beat of his own drum. But strip away all the judgements and I looked relaxed. In control. Possibly ... fun.

Thinking about it this way, my newfound popularity actually made sense, especially if opposites attract. Everybody in New York was fighting for a job, or a healthy relationship, or even just recognition, so it made sense that they were turned on by a dude who'd dropped out entirely. Who didn't give a fuck. Who wasn't fighting. Who was just happy to have a beer and a couch to sleep on.

I'd taken particular note of these guys through the years because they always mystified me. Worse, they made me jealous. Because I'd followed the rules and floundered, while they'd blazed their own trails and ended up happier than me. I'd remained largely single while they always seemed to have somebody by their side.

My parents impressed upon me what's required of a modern male: good grooming, good manners, clean clothes. I'd spent a big chunk of time and money trying to maintain those goals, and didn't even notice they'd aged as badly as a Fear Factor VHS. Nobody wanted that junk any more. Maybe it was predictable, maybe it was boring, maybe now that the earth had like seventeen years left nobody worried about retirement plans.

We reached the Sixth Avenue stop where Charlotte, Emma, and I reunited. I quickly got them up to speed. "So, all my life I've tried to stay interesting and look good, and all my life I've been completely ignored. Tonight, though, two men have already hit on me, because I look like I have a head full of Nordic Death Metal under a disheveled rat's nest for hair."

"Excuse me?" Charlotte snapped.

Emma shrugged. "I was going to tell you," she confessed. "Maybe this is something you should explore in the future. You really do look hot."

I didn't want to argue so I ignored her implication that "hot" was a new look for me. Besides, even before the words were out of my mouth I was already starting to reject this new theory. New Yorkers also had a modicum of common sense. Was I seriously thinking that the real me, at least faintly stylish with a competent haircut and borderline hunky in shirts with sleeves, was less desirable than an unemployed stoner whose t-shirt screamed, "Get a load of these guns!"?

Impossible. Absolutely not.

My parents also told me that crossing your arms in front of your chest was terrible body language, so it's exactly how I stood when we finally got to the club. I was fed up enough for one night, so I stood there in the dark, totally closed off, with a "stay back" scowl on my face. Despite all that, a middle-aged woman in a tight, sparkly dress was homing in on me like a heat-seeking missile from half a room away. She wasn't intimidated. She didn't care. She eyed me like a tiger spotting a bowl of tuna salad. "Yo, baby," she purred. "How's about you and me get some parts bumpin' on the dance fl-- "

"It's a Halloween costume," I snapped.

"Oh," she said. "I'm very sorry to bother you, sir."