A Tiny Ball of Sociopathic Cells

cells

During my annual physical last month, Dr.Cook glanced at my birth year in the file, and said “What are you planning to do about pregnancy?”

Before I had a chance to formulate an answer, Dr. Cook interrupted with her advice, “Do it now or not at all. Don’t wait. By the time you’re 40, your chances of ‘natural’ conception are 3%. Get moving.” [Note to reader: I did not Google this and have no idea if it’s true].

I told Dr. Cook that I hadn’t seriously considered a pregnancy because I had yet to established a stable long-term relationship.

I also mentioned that, as a queer woman, there’s a lot of pre-meditation involved. Like the pesky issue of sperm. Also, some lesbian couples consider reciprocal IVF—an idea that seemed kind of nice in theory.

Dr. Cook had not heard for reciprocal IVF. I went for concise in my answer: “Oh we’d harvest my eggs and put them in her.”

“Well that seems very complicated and expensive.” She rattled off a few more stats and urged me to really think it over now.

“Listen,” I told her, “if this were a straight relationship, I’m sure we’d just have sex, and make a baby,” but it’s not that easy.

When I came back for a follow up the next month, Dr. Cook had me up in the stirrups for a pap smear. With her hand inside me, she asked, “so have you ever had sex with a man?” Alas, I told her I was not a gold star. And then feeling like I had to explain it, I added, “I had an overachieving heterosexual phase and well, I also slip and fall sometimes.”

“Too bad she said,” not looking up, “because then your chances of HPV are virtually zero.”

When she came over towards my head, she asked if I had settled that pesky pregnancy question. That’s when I blurted out, “if I’m still with my current girlfriend in a year, I’ll let her try to knock me up.”

And that was the first time I said it out loud without equivocation. Maybe I did it just to appease Dr. Cook but having said it, I felt ready to test drive the idea of me pregnant.

A few days after my pap smear visit with Dr. Cook, a former colleague, Lauren, called me with a work question. And then, at the end of the call, told me she and her husband were expecting in a few months. After asking her how she was feeling, I shared my potential plan:

“I might get myself knocked up in a year or so,” I told her. Lauren replied with incredulity, “You’ve never seemed very maternal to me. And also, you’re tiny, a pregnancy will break you. Destroy you, really. If you’re with a woman, let her do it.”

Lauren’s comments not only caused catastrophic ideation surrounding my nether regions but, struck on a deeper level. Since as early as I could remember, the idea of becoming someone’s wife or mother horrified me. Around age five, I shared this fear with my mother who had a reassuring response. “You’ll love marriage. You know how you play Ghostbusters with Adam B.?”

Adam B. and I had matching Ghostbusting backpacks. We’d run around on playdates, and, when we spotted a ghost, we’d throw out the ghost trap. It was really cool.

“Imagine spending a life time playing Ghostbusters!”

My mom’s explanation of marriage (i.e. a lifetime of Ghostbuster playdates) got me through to puberty and even my first (and last) boyfriend. This boyfriend once asked me to clarify whether I was actually attracted to him. I told him I was “not un-attracted to him.” I tried to squelch his adverse reaction by telling him that was the highest of compliments. But, once I realized I was queer and mostly into women, I figured I could forget about marriage and pregnancy.

But now that Dr. Cook twice reminded me that my fertility window has started to narrow,  I feel less sure about dismissing pregnancy.

My girlfriend loves kids and wants them. She’d be more than happy to carry, and her friends and mine have mostly come to consensus that I shouldn’t get pregnant. One friend, an OBGYN, suggested I’d be an “ornery pregnant person.”

I have received lectures about the risks of a “geriatric pregnancy,” and many reminders that my tiny androgynous figure would transform into an overwhelming womanly bodice. Other friends have described in graphic detail just how big my chest will get during and after pregnancy.

Aside from the fears of the physical experience, I’ve developed an obsession with giving birth to a psychopath who will cause irreparable harm to the world.

My community, focused more on my potential to develop giant breasts, completely dismisses this fear. I tried to ask my parents about whether they worried about making the world worse through reproduction,  but both have no memory of worrying about any of the moral implications of adding people to this planet. Both of my parents repeated, “it was just what you did,” and “we never worried about psychopaths.”

My parental interviews revealed that basically, they just fucked and made some babies. Had they really thought about it, my siblings and I probably wouldn’t exist.

So, here I am, at 2:30am, listening to podcasts about the cause of psychopathy, Googling the potential catastrophic results of a geriatric pregnancy, and imagining a tiny ball of sociopathic cells destroying me from the inside. And yet, I’m still not totally ruling it out.

Sexuality is not just intercourse . . .

A week before the Supreme Court decision officially legalizing gay marriage in 2015, my 89-year-old psychotherapist grandmother, left me the following message:

“Dear, I just returned from one of the most exciting workshops I have ever attended. It was about sexuality. And there was one section that was quite meaningful about lesbians. And I don’t mean to intrude on your personal life but… this man was incredible. If you want me to share with you what I’ve learned, we could schedule something private at my house. He made some stunning distinctions, and sexuality is not just intercourse! There’s a whole range of qualities involved in such relationships that might interest you?”

Leaving aside the fact that a man conducted the most exciting workshop of my grandmother’s long career on the topic of lesbianism. (And rest assured that my grandmother, a Freudian psychotherapist, had attended her fair share of workshops). What bothered more was that it had apparently only just dawned on Grandma that my sexual orientation might not only be about some primal urge to rub myself up against another woman. Remarkably, my grandmother had spent the better part of a decade believing that I haven’t yet made the “stunning distinction” between sex and love in “such” a relationship. I could see why she urgently felt a private session at her home in New Jersey might be in order.

Back in 2015, as rainbow-painted faces popped up all over Facebook feeds in the days and weeks following the marriage decision, it seemed the world had become obsessed with gay love. Acquaintances who had always a struck me as uncomfortable with queerness busted out in full rainbow attire, marched proudly in Pride, and enthusiastically tagged articles and photos with #lovewins.

That year, Pride was different for me. Normally, Pride is a celebration of queerness in all its forms. It’s Dykes on Bikes. It’s couples. It’s transfolks. It’s families. It’s poly relationships. It’s being single and loving it. It’s gender non-conformity. It’s guys in leather. It’s dance parties. But in 2015, I didn’t swell with pride. I just kept asking myself: are we prepared to celebrate queerness outside of love relationships that parallels that of traditional heterosexual couple? Could people like my grandmother only embrace queerness if it fit neatly into a hetero-normative institution like marriage?

. . .

Grandma, as most women of her generation did, spent most of her life either single or in  a dysfunctional monogamous relationship with a cis man.

In her later decades after relationships had ended and partners had died off, Grandma made clear that she still very much desired sex and romance. Placing an ad in the Jewish local paper, she described herself as “semi-retired” and omitted a photo. Men in their 50s often reacted with surprise when a woman nearly four decades their senior sat across from them at the appointed coffee shop.

When Grandma did date in her 80s and 90s, she’d often dismiss potential “gentlemen companions” as boring, uninspired, or worse. She recounted ending a recent courtship because the man in question had never fathered any children and never wanted any. When I tried to break it to her that children probably shouldn’t prove a deal breaker at 91, Grandma turned to me and said, “Dear, children are our future. How could I date someone who doesn’t see that?”

She yet ended another potential relationship at age 90 because the man told her he liked reading magazines but hadn’t really developed a habit of reading books. No books. No relationship.

For the years I wasn’t around, my clues about Grandma’s sexuality derive largely from her recently-published memoir. It’s full of somewhat stilted descriptions of her disappointing relationships with men and gushing accounts of female companionship.

Looking back further to her teen years, Grandma mentioned a few fumbles with male suitors but wrote most passionately about her best friend, Gladys. They talked about boys, tampons, and the deeper meanings of the universe, “why are we here? What’s our purpose? They freaked themselves out that beyond life there might be nothingness.

But Grandma said these deeply intimate moments resolve when: “Together we found the answer to that possible ‘nothingness’. We had each other, our valued friendship, our caring for one another.”

She wrote of these intense talks with Gladys: “Those moments ended with a warm hug and squeeze. After an affection look, the final parting invariably included a small hand waive. ‘See you Tomorrow.’ We rarely missed a day.”

But soon Gladys’ father got transferred to a job across the country in LA and they parted, Grandma gifting her fancy stationary so they could write every day.

The story of Gladys picks up almost a decade later after Grandma had graduated college. Gladys is marrying Marvin and Grandma is engaged to my grandfather. Their constant letters become less frequent, and they can’t even find time to attend each other’s weddings. Grandma quotes from one of Gladys’ latter letters: “Marvin expressed desperation, like a drowning man, if our relationship ever ended.” Grandma and Gladys each have a child. Then, Gladys gets sick, and tragically, their separation becomes eternal.

. . .

On the long-term relationship side: Grandma describes an abusive relationship with my grandfather. Her divorce, at age 45, proved her liberation and that’s when she started a second career as a psychotherapist.

Most of her post-divorce sexual escapades ended with a disparaging remark about her suitor’s personality or his values. Right after her divorce she had an affair with, and I quote: “Ben, a married sexually-starved handsome man just ‘rarin’ to go!’” She described the excitement of that moment: As he came on to me, my slumbering libido awakened to new possibility. This was a bonus of divorce I had never anticipated—a virile suitor courting me… He brought a suitcase of sex toys for my pleasure.”Suitcase with rainbow flag, 3D rendering

She ended the relationship somewhat abruptly, at least as it’s written: “I deserve more, much more—a companion sharing similar values in an endearing relationship where we could grow old and wise together.”

After her divorce and a brief but wild dating spree in the 1970s, she had a 22-year relationship with a man I knew almost as a grandfather. From my memories, she mostly ran the show. She’d bark orders or fret while he finished the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle in record time or buried his head in a book. They broke up when I was a teenager, and he vanished from our lives. She wrote of the relationship demise: “Our uneventful relationship moved from tedium to outright boredom.”

. . .

Grandma was fixated on my sexuality, sending underlined articles from magazines, suggesting books, and even taking me to the NYC Museum of Sex when I turned 19Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 6.30.48 PM

Every year for my birthday, Grandma would take me on an outing to New York City. That experience—whether a show or museum—would serve as a mutual point of interest for us throughout the next year. If we saw a play about wrongful convictions, she’d spend the next year sending newspaper articles underlined and annotated in her impossible cursive handwriting. Before our calls, I’d read the articles like an obedient student to prepare for our discussion.

For my 19th birthday, Grandma proposed a trip a second trip to the Whitney Museum but I finally admitted to her I didn’t harbor a lot of excitement for modern art. Quick to propose alternatives, Grandma  began listing other ideas: history museum, ballet, off Broadway show, Broadway show, modern dance performance, or, she casually slipped in, “the Sex Museum.”

Just to see how she’d react, I repeated “sex museum?” Caught off guard, she immediately withdrew the offer. “No, I couldn’t. Your mother would have to approve errr…” But before she could utter another excuse, my mother, listening from the other room gave the green light, “she’s over 18, mom, you can take her wherever you’d like.”

Grandma and I starred each other down like fighters in a ring. “Would you want to go?” she asked. “I’d absolutely want to go, if you’re comfortable,” I bluffed back. “I’m comfortable if you’re comfortable” she tried to one up me. This went back and forth for what seemed like forever until, mutual challenge accepted, we made a date to go to the “Sex Museum.”

As the December date approached, Grandma began to worry about the weather and, the night before our outing, she called to cancel because of the potential of snow. We both breathed a sigh of relief into the receiver. “I’m so disappointed!” she feigned. “Me too!” I lamented back. But, the next morning, Grandma was on the phone early, “looks like the weather is going to be okay. Shall we do go?” And so, we went.

Unfortunately, Grandma had much to say about the Museum of Sex, and none of it was good. Off the bat, she was horrified at the high price of admission—”the Sex museum should be accessible to all!” Her outrage grew as we approached the first exhibit—an exhibit on the history of sex workers (then called “prostitutes”). Never one to keep her feelings to herself, she loudly objected to each display, still taking an agonizingly long time to scrutinize every placard and photo as youthful museum patrons observed the spectacle.

As we proceeded through the exhibits, Grandma told me (quite loudly) that she worried this museum might be sending me the wrong message about the intersection between love and sex. So, I nearly passed out when we got to the second floor exhibit on bondage and pornography. The exhibit included video projections of pornographic films from various eras–1950, 1960s, and 1970s. I basically went into hiding after passing an exhibit that instructed how a domintrix could exact the maximum pain with a whip without drawing blood.

When we finally got to the end, Grandma found a customer satisfaction survey and read her opinions out loud for all nearby museum employees and patrons to hear. Of course, she encouraged me to fill out a card and urged me never to let my voice be silenced.

I thought that once we escaped the confines of the museum, I might feel more comfortable but Grandma didn’t miss a beat even once safely inside of a cab. As if anticipating that the museum would send me all the wrong messages, grandma took out a copy of an article about the intersection between love and sex. She had pre-underlined  key parts. The cab driver chuckled as she read her favorite passages out loud to me.

For months after our outing, Grandma sent me articles, underlined and annotated. She asked me questions about my favorite “sex” books and tried her absolute best to start productive conversation about sex. I fear I wasn’t exactly a great conversation partner on the topic, and was relieved to return to the Whitney the following year.

In my early 20s, we took an outing to see Avenue Q on Broadway–a show Grandma expected to embody the wholesome educational values of Sesame Street. When the muppets started fornicating, she nearly walked out in protest. For months, she discussed the angry letter she sent to the producers to which she never received a response.

Grandma also tried to connect to my sister about the topic of sex shortly after she and her boyfriend (now husband) got engaged 12 years into dating.

Shortly after the engagement announcement, we all met a diner in New Jersey where grandma beamed at the notion of attending her granddaughter’s wedding. To commemorate the grand occasion, Grandma handed over a large plastic bag of “lightly used” lingerie for my sister to wear on the wedding night. IMG_6285

IMG_6296 2

Coined the “Martha Washington Frock,” this “lightly-used” little number had but one small stain on the front

 

 

. . .

 

 

 

When Grandma passed away last spring, I got dozens of calls from close women friends. One wrote an op-ed in the local paper, somewhat dramatically suggesting that the recent rains were the “heavens crying” for Grandma. A few women asked to see a draft of her obituary before publication, directed me to specific papers, and felt ownership over the smallest details of her life.

Yet another woman offered my family tickets to go to the NYC Ballet—they had planned to go the week she died. I heard from women with whom she had traveled to the Berkshires; another who worked with her on charity events; still another who taught her Chair Yoga, and so many more.

At the end of the memoir, Grandma lamented her search for a man: “If I ever discover a cultured suitor who is socially aware, excited about life, and holds promise for the future, I shall eagerly explore the possibility of a serious relationship. Hopefully, he’ll have a libido to match mine.”

The last time I saw her shorty after her 92nd birthday, Grandma gave a public talk about her secrets to longevity and musing on life: She concluded that she felt fulfilled in all areas of life except she still longed for a “male companion.”

Over the years, I even observed her putter around the kitchen squabbling over cooking jurisdiction with female friends who seemed more like wives. Looking back at her life through the lens of her female community, I often wonder if the intimacy for which she so deeply yearned was right there in front of her all along. Could it be that the message she left for me about how sexuality is not just about intercourse! was one she need to hear more than I did?

I recently flipped through her memoir, and found a photo of Gladys. It’s the 1950s. Gladys is with her husband Marvin, and baby daughter. Her lips are parted in what is clearly intended as a smile but she’s not quite accomplishing it. And, yes, she’s beautiful.

I’m a Housing Lawyer. And I’m Afraid of my Landlord.

It’s early January and I haven’t had truly hot water for about four months. In September and October, I could stand lukewarm showers. But when I get out of bed on a frigid winter morning, the prospect of putting my naked body in the shower feels like being torn from my mother’s womb.

Tiny Mouse

I also have a tiny mouse problem. By tiny, I don’t mean “no big deal.” I mean I have an infestation of extremely small size mice—the grotesque and abundant offspring of at least one disturbingly-hormonal pair of illustrative adult mice. I have never glimpsed these horny offenders but I know catching their fetus-sized offspring is like putting a Band-Aid on a stab wound. And yet, nonsensically, I remain dedicated to eradicating my tiny mouse problem.

The owner of town house-style building in gentrifying Brooklyn, my now-80 year-old landlord purchased the property back in the 1990s using a City-subsidized loan. She has a sprawling garden-level apartment and four tenants across the three other floors. Since her purchase, the building has at least quadrupled in value. Aggressive developers apparently make her frequent purchase offers. When the building causes her aggravation, the landlord likes to make a thinly-veiled threat to sell.

During my last housing search, having already toured a dozen corporately-owned buildings, it felt special to find an individually-owned property. The landlord decorated the stoop with potted plants, and adorned the otherwise-dingy internal staircase with packets of fresh lavender.

So, during my tour of the unit, the first and only question I asked her was: “are you going to sell?”

Her quick answer: “Over my dead body.”

I remember looking her up and down, squinting to determine if she looked at all sickly. While we stood on the front stoop discussing the the neighborhood, she even bragged about calling the police on aggressive buyers coming door-to-door. Quaint.

But, she’s no dummy.

Because the building has fewer than six residential dwelling units, it is not “rent stabilized” but “market rate.” This means the following unfortunate news (for her renters).

1) No one is entitled to a renewal lease after the first year lease expires. If she wants us to move, she only has to offer 30 days’ notice; and

2) She can raise the rent upon 30 days’ notice to any amount at any time after the first year.

Sure enough, when my lease came up, I heard nary a peep from my landlord. My tenancy lapsed into a month-to-month situation as per New York State law.  The rent didn’t change but I didn’t get a new lease either.

The landlord has let all the other tenants lapse into a month-to-month tenancy as well.  This means, if she wanted us all to move so she could sell the building vacant (which is how it would prove most valuable), it could happen in as little as 30 days at no real cost to her.

The broker who rented me the unit also informed me on a few occasions that the landlord considered selling a few years ago, and ultimately decided she wanted to live the rest of her years in the building. After her death, as per the broker, it’ll pass to her sons who can turn it into luxury housing or flip it to a developer. So I’ve been monitoring my landlord’s health fastidiously, and searching for vitamins to gift her Christmas.

. . .

Despite my fears that an extermination request could send my landlord into the arms of a hungry buyer, I sent a gentle text message about the tiny mouse problem.

The landlord responded by admitting that her exterminator had died last year (he was in his 80s) and that she hadn’t yet found a replacement. But she also implied I might be to blame: “You need to keep your apartment clean of food debris. I’ve owned this building for 22 years and I’ve never had a problem until you moved in…” The longterm tenants inform me, however, that this is a boldfaced lie.

About a week after I requested extermination, the landlord sent a “professional” who did nothing other than put down some old-fashioned snap traps, and ask me about my weekend plans. When I asked if he wanted me to move furniture so he might stop up some rodent entry points, he brushed it off, “nah, that’s a lot of work.” Neither the tiny mice nor their sex-crazed parents ever fell for $1.11 snap traps.

Another tenant who also happens to be my brother (that’s a story for another post), loves animals no matter how repugnant, and convinced me to buy humane traps. Assuming that the youthful Brooklyn mice might have hipster tastes, I loaded my personally-purchased (no bitterness there) traps with almond butter. To obtain this bougie bait, the target mouse has to enter an enclosed tube. The act of entering the tube trips a spring and closes a door. Nice and simple. And, turned out, they worked.

Almond Butter-Loving Hipster Mouse

Humanely-caught mouse freaking out at 2:00AM.  (Later released at 6:46 AM in Prospect Park).

Most of the tiny mice took the bait in the middle of the night, waking me up at 2:00 AM with desperate scratching noises (the traps are reusable but the plastic has tiny mouse claw impressions).

Thanks to the racket, on nights when my almond butter bait successful lures a tiny mouse, I’m up early. Because I can’t bear to kill rodents (and my brother has prohibited it), I drop the entire tube into a disposable plastic bag, run a few miles to the park, and release them. According to the Internet, “rodent relocation” requires their release at least three to five miles away.   (I haven’t had the heart to tell my brother that PETA cautions that releasing rodent more than 100 yards away results in their imminent death). Having now performed this ritual half a dozen times, most of the mice freak out for the first ½ mile and then relax into the rocking sensation of the run.

After I return from my now weekly mouse runs to a cold shower, I feel especially inspired to remind my landlord about my various apartment issues. But texting her causes me serious anxiety. Even though she doesn’t ordinarily take too long to respond, the moments up until her reply prove torturous. I compulsively check my messages every few minutes as if waiting for the results of a diagnostic medical test.

This time, I tried to go especially gentle:

Me (12-15-18 at 9:31 AM): Good Morning, Ms. Landlord: I’m wondering if the plumber might be able to come. I still don’t get hot water in the shower. Usually, it’s lukewarm which is a little hard in the winter. I also wanted to let you know that the traps the exterminator set haven’t caught any mice. I bought some humane traps and have caught seven so far though! (I take them at least a few miles away to release them so don’t worry).

Ms. Landlord (12-15-18 at 9:50 AM): “sorry. My sister just died and I really have to focus.”

Me (Immediately): “I’m so sorry.”

And that was the end of that.

As a housing lawyer, unfortunately, I know exactly how few rights I have. It takes just one fit of rage for my landlord to raise the rent $400.00 a month (it has happened to me before) or just send a pesky, “30-day termination notice.”

Sure, if she threatens to sue me, I can stay and fight for more time in the dreaded Brooklyn housing court.  But ultimately, without rights as a rent stabilized tenant, I’m moving no matter how hard I fight.

And once I’m in housing court, I’m on the tenant black list. Future landlords will see I have been sued, and my already difficult housing search will get even harder. Prior to finding this unit (next to my little brother!), I moved seven times in six years (see more about this here and here).  I coughed up huge broker fees. And, now that my job involves suing not just landlords but brokers, a housing search feels even more daunting. And so, I will continue to catch mice in humane traps and maybe purchase (what is likely) an illegal electric heater for my shower.IMG_0232-e1546478964577.jpg

Oh and my brother’s key just broke off in the front door lock. The landlord plans to charge him $300.00 to replace it (since it’s obviously his fault). I’m also on a mission to find a locksmith willing to copy a “do not duplicate” key.

Aggressive Little Girl

At work, we recently started adding our gender pronouns to our email signatures. When a progressive female colleague expressed reluctance to comply with the new policy, at first, I didn’t get it. Then she explained: Her name, as per Google, is about 17x more likely to be chosen for a baby assigned male at birth than a baby assigned female. Basically, anyone she emailed without meeting assumed she was a male attorney. And getting to introduce herself to adversaries as man lawyer came with privileges and benefits she wasn’t eager to forgo.

From the beginning of my legal career,  male legal adversaries have had a problem with my “aggressive” attitude.  And now that I supervise a team of non-cis men, I notice patterns of treatment that cis male staff members do not endure. Common rhetorical questions and comments include:

  • “Why do you have to be so difficult?”
  • “Why are you being aggressive?”
  • “Let me speak to your supervisor!”
  • “Can’t you just calm down?”
  • “Just be quiet for a second!”
  • “Just relax, okay?”

While I admit to having higher than normal levels of anxiety in my personal dealings, in professional adversarial situations, I remain calm and composed. And the calmer I seem, the more attacking comments about my “hysteria” I elicit.

On occasion, a disgruntled male adversary doesn’t even bother with coded language. For example, a broker facing prosecution for discrimination referred to me as an “aggressive little girl.”  A few years ago, a male attorney dropped a page-long footnote in a legal brief personally disparaging me for my aggressive litigation tactics in other unrelated cases.

And, my all-time favorite incident: once, the principal of a large corporate landlord misdirected an email intended for his attorney to my office:

I am getting to the end of my rope with this [insert my name]. We need to take an action against her in every way shape and form. I want my money…and if there’s anything we can do to get barred from working here since she’s a lying stupid piece of garbage I want to act on it.

Respectfully Yours, [oh the irony]

Mr. Landlord

Once I get passed the initial shock of these kinds of comments, I try to take pride in the actual translation. “Aggressive little girl” really means, “you’re really going to insist on doing your job competently, huh?”

In honor of my attempt to celebrate these victories, I want to share my favorite “aggressive little girl” moment—which wasn’t so much a “moment” but 15 hours of physically torturous insanity. And, it all started because, I admit, I was being a little too “aggressive.”

Image result for bad ass female characters cartoon

Daria: The picture of calm with combat boots

. . .

A few years ago, a group of Bronx tenants asked my office to bring a case to remove their particularly sadistic landlord from control of their building. In New York City, the State Property Law contains much underutilized tool called “Section 7-A.”  Section 7-A requires at least one-third of the tenants in a building to ask the court to remove their landlord where conditions exist that threaten their health and safety.  In this building, we had near 100% participation.

During the late summer, the owner had sent unlicensed workers into apartments ostensibly to repair dilapidated bathrooms. Instead, the workers had torn out the sinks, bathtubs and toilets while demolishing walls containing decades old layers of lead paint. Families with young children and the elderly spent the fall season with no bathrooms. Justifiable panic set in when young children began testing positive for lead poisoning.

As the winter advanced, the tenants reported inadequate heat and hot water.  The owner had torn out some of the tenants’ kitchens (using a strategy similar to the “bathroom demolition project”), and a number of apartments had no cooking gas.

After interviewing the tenants and collecting evidence in mid-November, I spent the long Thanksgiving weekend throwing tenants’ narratives together into a 300-page motion, listing the reasons why the owner should lose control of his building. The plan was to get into court before the holiday-related court closure in December, and, of course, before the lack of heat would prove even more unbearable.

Before we arrive at the dramatic part of the story, bear with me through some civil procedure law and elementary math: The 7-A Law requires that the owner receive “personal notice” of the lawsuit at least five days before the court date. So after drafting the papers, I went to court, asked the judge for the earliest date possible (nine days away), and then set about the task of getting the papers to the landlord with at least five days of notice.

Typically, I would have just dropped the papers at the landlord’s office personally (always a fun encounter). Customarily, even if the owner isn’t personally at his office an employee will accept service on his behalf. This time, given the high stakes and the fact that the motion was 300-pages (and we needed to serve three copies), I called a professional process server, and my office paid him about $150.00 to handle it.

Early on a Thursday morning, the process server, George, called me to say that the owner had instructed his office building’s door person to restrict access to employees only. Even if the process server could get passed the door person, the secretary stated through the intercom system that she would not accept service on behalf of the owner.  George had already been trying for a few days.

As per the process server: We could not serve the owner at his business.

As per the law: There were only two options.

  1. “Mail and Nail”: Make another futile attempt at serving the owner at his office, adhere the papers to his office door (somehow, since we couldn’t even get upstairs past the door person), and then mail the papers; OR
  2. Personal Service: Find the owner somewhere else, and serve him personally (hoping he hadn’t taken a vacation outside of New York City).

Some quick math revealed that Option 1 wasn’t an option at all: Sure,  we still had more than five days before the court date but when service of the papers involves a snail mailing, the Civil Procedure Law of New York requires an additional five days of notice. We simply didn’t have the days.

Onto Option 2: Finding the owner personally, while not impossible, seemed very unlikely. The process server suggested staking out the owner’s home early in the morning before he left for work or catching him on his way home, late in the afternoon Unfortunately, good old George didn’t have the time. And, even if he did have the time, his stakeout fee was $100.00 an hour.

Also mitigating against Option 2: Since court would be the following Friday, we had a deadline of Sunday to get the papers to the owner personally. But, you can’t serve papers on Sunday as per New York Civil Procedure. And, making matters even more difficult, because the landlord purported to be an observant Jew, we could not serve him during the Sabbath. More bad math news: In December, the sun was setting at 4:30 PM. Since this was Thursday morning, we had less than 32 hours left before the Sabbath started.  At sunset on Friday, game over.

I called my boss and we agreed to deliver the bad news to the tenants—no court until January. The owner would have another month to run around torturing the tenants without any court supervision. I reached for my phone to call the tenant leader but then put it back down. There had to be another option.

Before I called the tenants, my then-girlfriend suggested I go on a run a clear my head (a run is the answer to most of my problems). As I breathed in the frigid December air, the answer became clear. Nothing in the law would prevent me from conducting my own stakeout. I cancelled my plans for the day, and started plotting. Time was ticking.

A frantic Google search revealed a YouTube video of the owner’s home—a brownstone on the upper west side of Manhattan adjacent to the frigid Hudson river. In the video, captured the winter before, a different group of tenants protested outside the landlord’s home, holding homemade signs demanding heat. The owner never emerged, and I could see from the video, that he had erected high fencing around his property. Blinking lights attached to modern-looking surveillance cameras pointed at the sidewalk in front of his little fortress.

The landlord knows me by face, and so, during my stakeout, I would have to stay out of sight of those cameras. If he did come out of his home, I’d have to let him open the gate to the fence surrounding his compound, emerge, and lock the gate behind him. If I pounced too soon, he could retreat inside before I could serve him.

If I caught him on his way home, I’d have to serve him before he got inside the gate. I knew that if he saw me, he would run. Since I would be numb from the cold and weighed down with 900 pages of legal papers, giving chase seemed like a losing proposition.

Rushing to get to his house, I decided to leave the details for later.  I threw on whatever winter clothes I could find early in the winter season, and headed uptown on the “1/2/3” train. The rush of adrenaline associated with my first stakeout gave me a false sense of confidence that my body would withstand the elements.

When I arrived, I selected a pillar belonging to the building just to the west of his home, where I knew the cameras wouldn’t capture my presence. There, I crouched down with my pile of legal papers stowed in a cloth shopping bag beside me. Within 30 minutes of standing still, the excitement had worn off,  and my limbs had gone completely numb.

Nearing sunset, a colleague came by to offer me a chance to take a bathroom break at a nearby book store. We huddled together and watched as domestic workers, food delivery people, and others came and went from the home. In the most exciting moment of the day, the owner’s daughter came out in a fancy fur coat, likely to meet friends that evening.

After seven hours of shivering behind the column, neighbors began to ask if I wanted to come inside to make a phone call or for a cup of hot tea (white aggressive little girl privilege, of course). “No, I’m just waiting for someone,” I said (not a lie). I suspected they thought I might be waiting for an ex-boyfriend in a mildly charming but actually creepy way.

Around 7:00 PM, two solid hours past sunset, a large black SUV pulled up in front of the owner’s house.

The tinted windows concealed the driver’s face but he/she/they sat in front of the house for about 20 minutes with the car idling. Total paranoia crept in as my body shook harder from fear. He was probably just an Uber driver waiting for a late passenger. And then, the driver emerged—a man in his 40s, tall, broad, dressed in a black trench coat with a black bolo hat to match. He seemed unaffected by the cold as he crossed his arms and leaned up against his SUV confidently. He stared directly my way with his bolo hat just revealing his intense eyes. I tried to look away but he started to approach me. I had nowhere to hide.

“Are you [insert my name]?”

“yes, that’s me.”

“Oh good. I’m your process server, George. I felt bad about your situation so I brought the papers along hoping to catch this guy on his way home from work. I have your papers right her in the car.”

I let out a breath.The Legend - Walrus Hats Black Wool Felt Bowler Hat - H7003

“Where’s your car?” George asked me, gesturing to the street and looking confused. When George had mentioned a stakeout as our best option, he never imagined that I didn’t have a car. Concerned, George invited me to wait inside his SUV with heated seats.

After 30 minutes of basically molesting George’s heated seats with every conceivable part of my body and letting him handle the surveillance of the compound,  I stopped shaking. But was I warm enough to consider returning to my perch behind the column of the neighboring building?  George was having none of it: “It’s way too late. Go home. Come back before sunrise if you want to catch him before the Sabbath.” It didn’t take much more convincing. George dropped me at the train and I headed downtown.

That night, our office was having our annual holiday party, and my colleagues implored me to come enjoy a round of drinks before the open bar ended at 9:00 PM. I chose a martini, hoping the pure, unadulterated liquor would either warm me or make me forget how cold and defeated I felt. A colleague ushered over a second martini just as I finished the drink a bit too quickly, and for the first time since the morning, I relaxed. My supervisor (also a neighbor) handed me her car keys “go back tomorrow in my car once you’ve sobered up.”

I stumbled home around midnight, a bit of a mess. To my then-girlfriend’s dismay, I spent an hour over the garbage can attempting (and failing) to release the martinis from my digestive system. Before passing out, I set my alarm for 5:00 AM. Surely, in four hours, I’d be sober and more digestively comfortable.

When the alarm clock rang, my girlfriend, who had initially supported this insanity, implored me to stay home. But despite my poor decision-making of the prior night, I stumbled out the door at 5:15 AM before I could field any further protests.

My head spun and my stomach ached during the dark frigid walk to my supervisor’s car. I dared not hydrate my hangover away; there would be no bathroom in my future. I found a parking spot right in front of the owner’s compound, shut the engine off to preserve gas, and lowered the seat to a completely flat position to conceal my presence. Of course, that meant lifting my head every few seconds to observe the front door.

I watched the sun rise over the Hudson around 7:00 AM, and braced myself for a long day. The car had become nearly as cold as the outside (minus the wind), and I periodically turned the engine on to warm up. But, for fear of running out of gas and drawing attention to myself, I mostly left the car off.

A colleague even joined me for an hour that morning, but as soon as she left, I realized that my body urgently needed to eliminate the remaining toxins from my two martini dinner. The pain in my stomach became truly unbearable about 10:00 AM, and I contemplated giving up. My supervisor’s kids had various toys and empty drink containers in the back. I wondered if I could fashion a temporary bathroom but I reconsidered, not wanting to simultaneously miss the chance to serve the owner and ruin my supervisor’s only vehicle.

Given my stomach pains, I started reasoning that I had made a huge mistake. The landlord probably wasn’t even in New York—rich people go skiing for the weekend or escape to Florida during the winter.  What had I been thinking? Okay, sure, I made an aggressive (or just mathematically stupid) error in selecting the court date, but now, I had wasted two valuable days freezing my ass off. A responsible lawyer would have already re-drafted and re-filed the motion. One overly aggressive move made worse by a second.

And then, just as I began to truly consider leaving, the owner emerged from his compound with his brief case. It was 10:17 AM.

I waited the excruciating 45 seconds for the landlord to descend the steps of his brownstone, go through the compound fence, lock it, and step onto the sidewalk. I opened the car door, literally tumbled out in front to him, thrust the 900-pages at his body, and, said, “you’ve been served.”

The owner looked shaken as the papers fell to the ground.  “Those are for you, take them,”  I demanded in a voice that didn’t sound like my own, as I pointed to the mountain of papers on the sidewalk.

He looked to his left and then his right. I remembered, that, in front of his neighbors,  he might actually experience the otherwise elusive emotion of shame.  He scooped up the papers, and ran inside.

Lamentably, there was no time to ask to use the bathroom.

. . .

When the tenants and I arrived in court the following week, the owner’s attorney approached me in the hallway. “You know my client didn’t get served. He never does. So we’ll first be having a hearing on service as a preliminary matter.”

A challenge to service could delay our trial on the merits for weeks or months. Classic delay tactic.

“Did you read the affidavit of service?” I asked the attorney, thrusting a copy (aggressively) in his face. I had created a detailed narrative of my trials and tribulations for the pleasure of the court.

“Well…no”

“Read it,”  I demanded.

I could see opposing counsel had no intention of reading anything so I offered him the Cliff’s Notes:

“Your client is a dirt bag who dodged my process server. It cost us $150.00. So I waited outside his house for 15 hours personally over the course of two days. And if you challenge service, I am going to tell the court how your client dodged service in bad faith, and then take off my boot and show the judge the frost bite on my left big toe.”

Opposing counsel stared at me. “You’re not serious?”

“Deadly, serious,” I told him.

Though I’m not sure what got into me, I had one last aggressive move left: I  dramatically put down my court file, hunched down, and began to take off my left boot.

“I’m going to show you right now,” I told the attorney.

“Maybe we should subpoena the National Weather service to see if it was really that cold last week,” he half joked. I kept unlacing my boot. I was down to my sock when he protested: “Stop. Put your shoe back on. We concede service. We concede.”

Thank goodness. I was completely bluffing on the frost bite.

. . .

The rest of the story is a long one–a story that is still technically going on. All I can say for now is that the tenants fought like hell, won the day, and would go onto to win an unprecedented victory during the court date to follow. Although I’m no longer their lawyer, I feel humbled and privileged to have represented them.

 

The Double Message

After a year on Tinder, I realized I might use my time more effectively if I knew more about my date than what could be conveyed in a string of 10 emojis. So I joined OkCupid, and answered questions about my preferred cuddle position, political leanings, tolerance for spicy food, and desire to reproduce.

Unlike on Tinder where I rarely got any messages more elaborate than “hi,” ambitious daters, clearly having read my profile, looked for clever ways to start a conversation. Jennifer’s first message demonstrated that kind of raw ambition, citing to a mishap I referenced under the category: “The Most Embarrassing Thing I’m Willing to Admit.” My disclosed mishap involved urinating all over myself using the “She-Wee”–a device used to pee standing up. Apparently Jennifer had a similar story of woe to share.

A 35-year-old doctor from the east coast, Jennifer looked familiar in that very generic sense. For some reason, I felt underwhelmed by her very well put-together profile. Her photos followed the proscribed formula: hiking photo, dog shot, obligatory body shot, another dog shot, and a picture of her in doctor scrubs looking happy with her co-workers.

Jennifer’s message certainly represented the most clever to date, but even though it caught my attention, I didn’t respond. I had already booked a few dates that week, and didn’t feel like trying to coordinate schedules with a doctor. A day or two passed and Jennifer did the un-thinkable: She “Double Messaged” me.

Jennifer’s Second Message: “I never second-message anyone, but you said [in your profile] ‘life is too short for secrets, hiding the ball, and swallowing emotion’ and I interpreted that as that I should try again and see if I can convince you to have a drink with me. I think we could potentially have some really good and interesting conversations.”

I’ve long debated whether, in the formation of a romantic relationship, it ever makes sense to suffer the indignity of Double Messaging. For those not familiar with the intricacies of modern dating, Double Messaging usually takes place over text or a dating application’s message platform. If you were the last to send a message, the best practice is to wait until the other person picks up the conversation thread again. But in the fast-paced New York City dating scene, that might mean you’ll never hear from your person-of-interest again (until you awkwardly run into them on the train and pretend you didn’t see them). The boldest among us might endeavor to send a second message on the off chance of inviting the person back into your orbit.

Jennifer’s choice to quote back the first line of my profile (about being open and taking emotional risks) stoked my ego in just the right way. Sure, I didn’t interpret my statement to mean I should go out with every person who asks twice, but then, again,  I wanted to reward that kind of dedication to the cause of getting my attention.  I responded.

My first message to Jennifer: “Hi  Jennifer, Whoa. A double message. I’m flattered. And your first message was one of the best (or the best) I’ve ever received on here (I’m new(ish) to this website). I should have rewarded that effort by dignifying your message with a response. And I did really appreciate your first message. . .  Since you did just quote me back about ‘hiding the ball,’ I didn’t write back just because my ‘dance card’ got a little full… So if you can be patient with my scheduling, I’d love to meet up. . .Thanks again for writing twice!”

I figured coordinating the schedules of a doctor and a lawyer might take a month, and I decided I could spare an hour for a woman who had just swallowed her pride for her first Double Message ever. Surprisingly though, Jennifer offered a wide array of time slots and I squeezed her in early the next week.

In terms of logistics, I had told Jennifer that I didn’t want to drink on a weeknight and suggested a walk. Jennifer countered that we could, at least, meet at a bar. She picked a convenient location close to my last meeting of the day.

When I got to the bar, Jennifer had already finished some oysters and half a beer. Although I knew the area, I told her I hadn’t ever noticed this bar before, and apologized that it took me a few minutes to find it. Jennifer responded only: “This is the bar where my parents met for the first time.”  Intense. I also guessed we were not going on a walk, at least for a while. I ordered a glass of wine.

Despite the intense opening, Jennifer had the first date down to a science, inserting cute but impressive stories about her work as a doctor, and also taking the time to ask me personal yet appropriate questions. I found her uncanny ability to quote to my profile and remember fun facts about my life slightly jarring, but, I figured, at least she had done her homework (I really had not).

Given my busy month, I had not focused on the date until the walk over. But, trying to review Jennifer’s profile while searching for the bar had annoyed every other New Yorker on the sidewalk, and had contributed to my slightly tardy arrival. I gave up after making it through the second photo of her posing with her dog.

Next, Jennifer and I exchanged the details of our respective “She-Wee” disasters, each telling the story of that unfortunate time we had managed to spray urine all over ourselves. Her story involved a hike and a wet pair of pants.

My story took place at a Long Island Beer Fest. Even though the event had just started, the bouncer informed me that I could not re-enter if I left to go to the parking lot. Confessing that I had urinated all over myself in a Port-A-Potty,  I managed to negotiate 10 minutes to regroup.

I then painted the colorful and humiliating picture of me sitting in my friend’s parked car with no clothes on below my waist in a very full parking lot. I had attempted to wash and dry my clothes with a bottle of hand sanitizer and a few wet naps—the only tools I found on the floor of her car. Having placed my underwear and pants on the AC vents, the car started to smell of urine and alcohol. Kind of hospital-esque, actually.

The story culminated in an even more graphic depiction of me sobbing in vast Long Island parking lot as passersby observed the spectacle. Running out of time, I called my best friend Cynthia for advice. Having purchased the She-Wee as a gift for me years earlier, Cynthia seemed like the right person to call. Cynthia had advised me to squeeze back into my soggy under garments, leave the event (thus exceeding the bouncer-imposed time limit), and find myself a mall to replace my sullied outfit. Cynthia even helped me negotiate re-entry with the bouncer 40 minutes later.

She-Wee

The cause of my urination humiliation.

As a conscious dating strategy, I almost always bring up the fact that Cynthia is my best friend, platonic soulmate, and the first woman I ever dated. Cynthia lives across the country but my last serious girlfriend cringed at the mere mention of her name. So, in the interest of never “hiding the ball,” I don’t omit Cynthia from stories in which she appears, and let her come up early in any dating situation, even if not by name. Luckily, Jennifer reacted well to my friendship with my first girlfriend, and asked some curious but, again, appropriate questions.

I began to feel a little restless talking about Cynthia (I try not to go too far into my dating past on a first date), and attempted to pivot the conversation. But before I could, Jennifer turned to me and said: “I have something to tell you but first, promise me, you won’t run away.” Okay, I nodded with great uncertainty, looking down to see if my boots were laced up.

“That first girlfriend of yours: what if I told you I know her?  And what if I told you I’ve seen photos of you on social media with her over the last 10 years?

I froze.

“Ok, don’t run away,” Jennifer implored

As I’ve lamented in past posts, the lesbian world is tiny, even between the east and west coast. But Cynthia had done very little dating since our relationship, had visited the east coast one time, and had no friends that met Jennifer’s description. So how?

“Don’t run away,” Jennifer repeated, as she prepared to explain.

Jennifer told me that she had roomed with Cynthia’s childhood best friend, Laura, in college. Incidentally,  Laura had introduced me to Cynthia a decade ago. I searched the recesses of my brain and scrutinized Jennifer’s now increasingly familiar face.

“Wait,” I said.  “Stop.”

My mind began to race and suddenly, I felt like the dumbest person alive.

“You don’t just know my first girlfriend—you had sex with her. You were her first. You’re THAT Jennifer.”

Jennifer nodded, “yes, I’m THAT Jennifer.”

I had been Cynthia’s second lady encounter, and here I was sipping drinks with Cynthia’s first.

The details of this very significant sexual moment in Cynthia’s sexual biography started pouring into my mind, and soon, I realized I knew way too much.

Jennifer confessed that she had followed my relationship with Cynthia (through Laura’s and Cynthia’s social media), had thought I seemed “cool” and wanted to meet me. That charming Double Message strategy about not “hiding the ball” now struck me as highly manipulative.

But Jennifer saw it otherwise: my popping up on OkCupid seemed to hold some kind of cosmic significance for her. Jennifer told me she was tired of dating: “I want to meet my person already.” As she saw it, only a single Double Message stood between her and a lifetime with her “person.” What Jennifer hadn’t stopped to consider was that I was not looking for my “person.”

“Don’t run,” Jennifer repeated a third time.

Double Messaging with Cynthia
Note the 15-hour time lapse between my first two messages to Cynthia. Four hours after I shamefully Double Message, Cynthia responds. After my failure to immediately respond to Cynthia’s first message, Cynthia freaks out and Double Messages me. A Double Double Message

At the end of the date, when Jennifer asked me to go on a second date, I declined politely.  I had stayed put long enough, and now, I did want to run.

But, my refusal prompted Jennifer to make three clearly-prepared counter-arguments:

  • 1) Assuming that my feelings might have been influenced by her disclosure strategy, she protested that her encounter with Cynthia had occurred 15 years ago—a romantic lifetime ago.
  • 2) Further, Jennifer insisted, she deserved credit for telling me about our shared connection up front—”within an hour of meeting” and “not hiding the ball.” She had apparently debated long and hard how to disclose this connection with her friends. Said debate apparently led her to the conclusion that a true upfront disclosure risked my refusing to go out with her at all.
  • 3) Finally, Jennifer argued that we were “on paper” a great match—namely, age appropriate New York professionals with a shared elite educational background. This description of our supposed compatibility proved the biggest turn off of all.

Jennifer had conjured an imagine of me as a person—and even us as a couple—purely through demographic information she had collected on the Internet. OKCupid prompts you to answer questions about nearly every aspect of life, from sexual kinks to overly specific idiosyncratic dating behaviors:

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 9.44.12 PM

A sample random question I have yet to answer.

After you answer a few dozen of these questions, OKCupid offers you a “match percentage” with every other potential date on the Internet. So long as both you and your potential match answer the same question, you can compare and contrast answers. By analyzing these hundreds of questions, you could conceivably collect more raw data about a person before ever meeting than you might learn organically in a lifetime.

Exacerbating the situation, Jennifer possessed additional information gleaned through mutual friends on social media over the course of a decade. Evidentially, Jennifer had created a version of me that exists only in the ether.

I’ve come to learn that Internet dating poses a serious risk of investing in the idea of someone without any sense of real life chemistry. To avoid a colossal disappointment on the first date, I try never to indulge in more Internet stalking than is necessary to reassure myself that my date isn’t psycho killer. I definitely do not stalk people’s questions, and try to just trust in the OKCupid algorithm–better to not see how the sausage is made.

But, embarrassingly, during the same week that I met Jennifer, I fell victim to my own little Internet let down. Even if Jennifer’s instinct towards “fate,” supremely turned me off, I came to understand its origins.

Just as Jennifer was busy deceptively Double Messaging me, my very secret college crush appeared on OkCupid as one of my highest matches in New York City. I say “very secret” because, at the time of this crush, I wasn’t even out of to myself. I never interacted with my crush one-on-one. I pretty much just admired her from afar, and thought, perhaps I respected her as a role model (which I’m sure I did).

After contacting her and confessing my college feelings, we actually planned a time to hang out. Because I had been the one to prompt the meet up with my overly bold disclosure, I let College Crush take the lead in terms of where the date might go and how it might end. She walked me towards home (but not all the way…), gave me a warm hug, and said she definitely wanted to see me again.

After she told what she thought I wanted to hear—that we should hang out again—I felt that rush of adrenaline so rarely experienced in the sterility of online matchmaking. And even though I’d like to think I would never have included having a shared “professional background” on my list of compatibilities, like Jennifer, I put College Crush on a present-day pedestal based on nothing more than a high match percentage and a 15-year-old crushette from college.

When I followed up to make a second date, College Crush responded intermittently with tepid enthusiasm (this is called “Frosting”), and then simply stopped responding (this is called “Ghosting”).

My last text put the ball in her court, asking her to let me know when she might be free to hang out again. That was more than two weeks ago. But, at least I know better than to  Double Message her.

 

WHOA IS AC

When I was 22, my friend Larry helped me move out of my apartment on the east coast so I could spend my summer working in the midwest. As Larry lifted the heavy boxes still filled with college text books, and loaded the family car at record speed, my father fell deeply and madly in love.

The love affair became obvious to me when the two started swapping man-related data during the box-loading process. My father questioned Larry about the origin of his box-lifting skills, and Larry proudly shared the details of his upper body gym routine. When asked about his cardio workouts, Larry told my dad that he ran on the treadmill. “What’s your mile time?” my father asked. “About 6 minutes,” Larry said casually.

On the car ride home, with everything all packed away, and my east coast life falling away into a bittersweet new chapter, my dad broke the somber silence:

“Is Larry gay?”

“Not that I know of, dad. You interested?”

“It’s just that I think he really likes you and he seems perfect. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t gay before suggesting it.”

“Sorry dad, that’s never happening,” was all I could muster in response.

The next day, Larry and I talked on the phone (this was before texting was really a thing) and he told me that he had something to confess: He had lied to my father about his mile time. He’d never really clocked a 6-minute mile—close but not quite.

But, Larry assured, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that he decided he had to make his white lie true. He went to the gym the next morning and forced his first 6-minute mile, thus rendering his exaggeration a non-contemporaneous truth. The bad news: He had pulled a few muscles but did hope to make a swift recovery.

For the next few months, while Larry and I lived 800 miles apart, my father would check in about the progress of our relationship. I’d report the same each time: Just friends.

One morning, at 6:30 AM, I called my dad to ask about a flat tire on the bike I used to commute to work, “any advice for a quick patch?”  My dad condescendingly delivered advice but he also reminded me that if Larry were my boyfriend, he’d be able to help me with these kinds of “repair” tasks. Larry probably didn’t even own a tool box, I grumbled under my breath.

. . .

Growing up, my dad taught me to drive stick, throw a ball, and play sports but his attempts to teach me to use tools had failed woefully. Unlike throwing a ball and driving a car—two tasks he couldn’t do for me—he could always swoop in and repair a broken toilet or change a hard-to-reach light bulb. Patience has never been my dad’s strongpoint;  he never wanted to wait for his daughter to learn how to hold the power drill when he could accomplish the task-at-hand in a fraction of the time.

But no matter, my dad had a backup plan to fill in the gaps in my life skills. He would ensure I found a man-fixture to perform all household and car repairs (of course, in my dad’s version of my life, I would own at least two cars). I’m sure he expected I’d handle the cooking and cleaning, dividing the chores just as he and my mother had.

Coming out to my dad two years after his love affair with Larry involved delivering a lot of disappointing news. First, I had to destroy the dream my father had conjured for my future life, but, more importantly, I validated his fears that I would have to continue to rely on him for the “manly” tasks around the house.

For the last decade, I’ve desperately wanted to prove my dad wrong by showing him just how little I relied on others, especially men. And, over these years, my dad has changed in so many ways. His once epic disappointment about my sexual orientation and choice to work in public interest law have transformed into acceptance (gay stuff) and even pride (work stuff).

But, tools and repairs remain a third rail issue.

Two years ago, when I moved in with my then-girlfriend in what I thought would be a serious long-term relationship, I had a momentary sense that my dad and I had overcome this tool-related war. Although I hadn’t found a man to handle the tools, at least I’d found someone to help me call the repairperson or hold the latter if, heaven forbid, I tried to change my own lightbulb.

My then-girlfriend, complaining that the used piecemeal furniture that populated my tiny studio looked like it came from a college dorm, decided we should start new—a new spacious apartment filled with brand new furniture. After discovering that real couches and dining sets fell way out of our price range, we took a trip to Ikea. The dreaded assembly party awaited.

That week, my mom and dad came over and the four of us started to assemble the furniture against my better judgment. My dad couldn’t tend to all the simultaneous  projects and watched as these three women in his life worked more quickly than he did on a number of assemblies.  Sure, dad would sometimes pull one of us women away from any task that seemed too “physical” or comment on how we NEVER could have gotten this all done without him. But, at the end of the four hour session, we all broke bread together and no one cried. A success.

When my ex decided to move out eight months later and it came time to disassemble our life, my father was conspicuously absent. I didn’t know how to ask for anyone for help in breaking down the life we had just built. I feared, without a partner—even a female one—our old issues would return.

I struggled alone. I pulled muscles. I lost money on furniture I couldn’t sell. I got screamed at by neighbors for leaving virtually new furniture on the fancy sidewalk in the over-priced Brooklyn neighborhood that I could no longer afford.  By the end of the move, I had sloppily broken down the couch that my parents had so carefully assembled, dropped it on my foot, and ripped the fake leather on an errant nail while awkwardly trying to get it through the door frame. Physically, I was no match for that giant shitty Ikea couch.

On move-out day, several friends offered their assistance, knowing that I probably wasn’t in a great mental space to ask for help.  I felt surrounded by chosen family, and more grateful than they could ever know. Even though it was Yom Kippor and my father  observes, he showed up too. The landlord, despite having no incoming tenants, refused to let me move out the next day. When my mom told me that dad didn’t fast for the first time in his adult life,  my heart filled with love and gratitude. But my enchantment waned by the end of the move as my dad stormed around the empty apartment, finally asking in utter frustration with me, “didn’t we just set this place up?” That’s when I thought I might lose it but I mostly held it together as I closed the door behind me for the last time.

When I made it to my much smaller new apartment after an exhausting 16-hour day, the only thing I wanted was to assemble my shitty Ikea bed frame and sleep on a proper bed. We only had 30 minutes of sun left and the bed area didn’t have an overhead light or lamp yet. So, with my dad looking impatient, I tried to get the Ikea frame back together (for the 7th time since I moved to New York–shouldn’t I remember by now?). Every word out of my dad’s mouth seemed like a criticism of not just my lack of carpentry skill but my failure to find a protector to save me from myself. We snapped at each other viciously. He called me irrational and inept. I called him sexist.

My parents, unwilling to witness a full on meltdown, left to get a quick dinner. When they came back 30 minutes later, they found me in far more dire state. Moments before their return, having almost finished the frame, I discovered that I had installed a vital piece of wood backwards (this is a mistake I’ve committed many times). I had just finished disassembling 30 minutes of work.

My parents took in the scene: a dozen wooden slats strewn about a tiny space, an Allen wrench flung halfway across the room, and a 33-year-old woman on the floor weeping in the near pitch black.  That’s when they literally took off running. “Time to go, sleep on the floor tonight,” they advised as they swiftly closed the door behind them. I could not have felt more alone.

Once they left, I pulled myself together. I finished the bed, installed the curtains, and slept. When I woke up with the worst emotional hangover I can remember, I knew I could never ask my dad for help again.

And then, eight months after moving into my new apartment came summer. It was 97 degrees in late June and air conditioning no longer felt optional. The only window in my apartment potentially capable of accommodating an AC unit faces the street, approximately two stories above my landlord’s front door.

And despite my mixed feelings about my landlady, I would go to considerable lengths to preserve her life. Aside from the moral obligation not to put even my worst enemy in harm’s way, her untimely demise would also spell my untimely eviction from my non-regulated apartment.

IMG_2951

Unfortunately, the window at issue, designed in the late 1800s, needed some major alterations in order to  safely accommodate an AC unit. My landlord had proved no help when I asked her about a contractor who might assist me. Although she gladly sent someone to my male neighbor’s apartment for his AC installation, all she sent me were nasty text messages warning me that the AC “better be” legally installed. Great.

Asking her for help meant that if she saw the AC in the window in the morning, she’d know I had it jerry-rigged with duct tape. So every morning at 6:30AM, I lifted the 65-pound-monster from its precarious perch while it leaked water all over the floor. Hardly a sustainable solution.

My dad’s warning about the situation, “you could kill someone!” kept me up at night listening for the sound of a stiff breeze that could disrupt my duct tape installation strategy.

\

AC
It’s 6:30AM. Time to remove the AC from the window so it doesn’t kill the landlord when she goes out to get her newspaper.

Desperate, I reached out to a property manager I had gotten to know in the context of a quasi-adversarial litigation at my last job. Said property manager, unlike so many of the villains who kept me busy, respected clients and, even treated them like humans.

Despite coming from very different worlds, after I left my job, the manager and I stayed in touch. He drove from his home in Staten Island  to Brooklyn for sushi. Over dinner, he confided that he had never eaten raw fish before and that he didn’t know any other lesbians (he had many questions…).

The property manager turned friend responded immediately, offering to send “some buddies” over ASAP. Those buddies, as it turned out, were from a construction company that I had brazenly accused of negligence and tenant endangerment in at least two court cases. Having cross-examined the head of the company, I worried I might be recognized, and considered various disguise options.

Luckily, the contractors did the majority of the work outside, placing a ladder in front of my landlord’s front door to work on the installation. A young worker, new to the company, came to my apartment to handle the small tasks required from inside. As he chatted me up, I felt so relieved that he didn’t recognize me that it took at least 10 minutes for me to realize that his line of questioning about my favorite neighborhood bars wasn’t his way of filling the awkward silence—he was trying to ask me on a date. By the time I realized what was happening, he had my phone number (we exchanged numbers, at least I thought, so I could have a buddy to call next time my toilet clogged).

Later that day, with the AC safety bolted into the window, my landlord called me at work. “Do you know what those workers have done to my property?” As she ranted, I interrupted her to let her knew I believed each of her accusations to be credible—I had every reason in the world to believe each of her grievances. “Send me the bill,” I sighed.

Later that day, I told this whole story to a friend at a BBQ, and, without realizing, I pocket dialed my landlord, leaving her a three minute message in which I had just depicted her in a less-than-flattering light.

My father’s dire warnings seemed to be coming true. To solve a simple home-repairs problem I had spent hundreds of dollars, invited the enemy into my home, withstood said enemy’ sexual advances, upset my landlady, and left her a message describing my true feelings. On the bright side, I hadn’t killed the landlord and I don’t think she knows how to listen to her voicemail.

Despite my better judgment, I ended up telling dad this story, and exactly how impotent I feel around home repair. His side of the story remains that I never showed a shred of interest in tools as a child (lies), but we have agreed to put the past behind us and work on some repair projects together this summer. Stay tuned.

 

 

A Natural Born Cunt

I love the word cunt. I think it’s fun, intimate, and, still has shock value. I reserve its use for the humans I trust the most—my sister when she makes a hilarious but subtle dig at me. Or my best friend when she utters something particularly surly. And, under rare romantic circumstances, “cunt” can be really sexy.

This weekend, one of my best single friend (let’s call her “C” in honor of this post) and I took what has become a yearly end-of-winter pilgrimage to Miami Beach. While the majority of the tourists lean “frat boy” of center, the escape from New York’s late-coming spring is well worth it. And with dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, we figured we’d have the resources to locate like-minded(ish) vacation friends and potential flings. But, by the end of our Friday night on the town, I had met exactly zero single queer women and C’s date had called her: “a natural born cunt.”

Here’s how it all happened:

When I landed, C had already been in Miami for a few days, exploring on her own and having some fun on the dating apps. Since she had taken herself on a movie date that evening, I had an extra hour to kill before she got back to the hotel. When she returned, C asked me, “have you been swiping?” as if she’d been paying for my piano lessons and wanted to make sure I’d been practicing my major scales. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied wearily. With a tinge of self-pity, I lamented that I’d already run out of women on Tinder and had just turned to Bumble where I saw the same cast of (limited) characters.

As C and I sat down to enjoy our first official vacation libation, a pick-up truck with giant tires and an unbearably offensive sound system parked right next to our table on the street. Hordes of tourists descended to photograph the monstrosity and awkwardly bob up and down to the “music.”  Because we couldn’t hear each other speak, we both dove into our apps. C, a straight woman in her 30s, had several viable candidates on both Bumble and Tinder, and many more swipes to go. I glared at her in envy.

Spotted in the Sky in Miami Beach

A lovely advertisement for the “Firearms Museum” spotted in the sky over Miami Beach.

In the morning, I woke up early and checked my phone. I’d now been on the app scene a solid 12 hours, and I expected to wake up to a few matches. My mission was simple:  Find out where, if anywhere, queer women hang out on the weekends. And maybe, try to meet someone cute at said location(s). But I had just one match on Tinder and one on Bumble. I quickly realized it was the same girl who seemed uninterested in actually communicating.

Later, after a run in the warm sun, Tinder sounded the alarm to show me a second match—a girl I’d meant to swipe “no” on but inadvertently “super liked.” That apparently really does happen when you’re working quickly and dealing in high volume swiping. The day remained quiet until about 5:00 pm when I heard the charming ring of a Tinder match on my phone, inducing a Pavlovian kind of momentary excitement. But it wasn’t a match: It was an advertisement for the Body Shop. (Is this a thing? Ads disguised as matches? Was this ad sending me a message? Have a nice fragrant bath in lieu of a disappointing night out?)

At C’s urging, by 6:00 pm, I had broadened my settings to include women four years younger than usual (down to 25) and within 25 miles (rather than 10) of my location. It was vacation, after all. But still, no real luck. Lauren, from Bumble, the one woman with whom I carried on any sustained conversation, had an early class the next morning and refused to venture out. A business school student, Lauren fancied herself a rare breed of classy Miami lesbian. She provided me multiple levels of warnings about dating in Miami. I was to watch out for the following (and I quote): violent crime, uneducated women, women with penises  (she assured me she wasn’t transphobic—she had trans friends), STDs, and ghetto lesbians with gold teeth.

Despite, Lauren’s warnings, out and about on the beach at dusk, C and I met some vaguely bi-curious cuties who invited us to play “never have I ever,” and even shared their thermos of vodka. Even though the ring leader claimed to have moved past her “lesbianic” phase a few years ago when she stopped making out with her female friends, she seemed down to join C and I at Twist. The infamous local gay club, bragging “seven bars,” “three dance floors” and two stories of debauchery, Twist seemed like the best option in absence of guidance from the ladies of the apps. Surely, one of those seven bars must have had regular women patrons.

Before our night out at Twist, C and I stocked up on snacks and beer (liquor stores close at 8:00 pm in Miami and sit down dinner will run you easily $50 a head).  As C readied herself, I offered to staff and monitor her apps (she had a number of conversations to carry on, and, of course, I offered to assist).

Dennis* took up the majority of my attention. On the plus side, he was close by and seemed amped to come out to meet us both at Twist. He’d even come to the club once a few years ago, and demonstrated none of the homophobia I might expect from a random cis, straight man. On the negative side, he seemed a little too eager to prove his ability to bed the ladies of the various cities he had visited (“Turns out Philly girls are really fun and hot,” he commented on his time visiting the City of Brotherly Love).

When C and I arrived around 11:00 pm, each of the seven bars at Twist were flooded with gay men. When we made it to bar number five on the second floor, C and I started dancing with a group of guys celebrating their buddy’s bachelor party. These 20-something male millennials identified as bi, gay, and straight. All pretty attractive, they each paid us a lot of attention, offering drinks, glow sticks, and inquiring about our respective relationship statuses.

The groom-to-be, who I had assumed was engaged to another man, told us that he was actually marrying a woman in August, and that he had an open relationship with his fiancé. It seemed several of them—even the ones on the straighter side of the spectrum—had “sucked a few dicks” and/or had been in open relationships involving folks of multiple gender identifies.  One cute guy, Jason, described his relationship status as “TBA” at least three times when I inquired.

Our 11 new bachelor party friends also came with one female gay friend, Anna. By the time I introduced myself to her, I’d heard a variety of reports from her male companions, all of whom seemed to feel for my isolation (let’s leave aside for a minute whether I even found her attractive).

In trying to effect a setup, I’d been told she was:

  • Single: I should do dance with her!
  • Taken: She had a girlfriend so I should be careful about crossing a line.
  • Taken: But, very recently. Reportedly, she’d had three dates with the same woman and was now “practically married.” I didn’t know if that was a warning not to dance with her or an invitation.
  • Taken: But, serving as the third in the groom-to-be’s open relationship AND dating her own girlfriend (of unspecified duration). I wasn’t sure how to take that.

Finally judging that her dance card was more than full, C and I turned our attention to Dennis from Bumble who let us know he would arrive shortly. To help welcome him, C and I hung out on a balcony above the entrance to the club and called his name as he walked in. I think we made an adorable first impression.

Dennis, C, and I hit up bar number four, but after we ordered, I let the two of them have a few minutes alone to feel each other out. I wandered the club looking for the secret female hideouts but, after seven minutes of fruitless searching, I decided to check up on C and Dennis.

When I found C, Dennis had disappeared. Apparently, he didn’t judge C receptive enough to his initial physical “moves,” and then stormed away because she hadn’t seemed likely to put out within the first two minutes of their meeting. Definitely his loss, C and I concluded as we searched for our bachelor party friends anew.

Two minutes late—exactly 15 minutes from the moment Dennis had arrived—he followed up with C via text: “You’re a natural born cunt.” My jaw dropped. After a moment of initial shock, C seemed hardly phased. “Has this happened before?” I demanded. “Yea, once,” C answered nonchalantly.

Rage bubbled up inside me as I fantasized about an apt response to Dennis. Given Dennis’ rapid and rude exit, any unkind text would have been completely out of line. But, how dare he co-opt “cunt.” As I contemplated a retort, I realized I’d find no equivalent even within the deepest recesses of my crude vocabulary. In the way Dennis used cunt, it was inherently misogynist, and therefore uniquely oppressive when directed at C.  “Asshole,” “jerk”, “douchebag” would all just seem like a light tap on the shoulder—even an implicit congratulations for being a player—compared to the punch “cunt” packed.

Motivated to move on from Twist and realizing our “lesbianic” beach friends were a no show, Lauren from Bumble suggested a girl party allegedly happening at a venue in Miami proper (where we would find all that crime—she advised us to go “door to door” in a car). A roundabout Lyftline later, we found ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder with a crowd that was decidedly not that queer and not that female. Because it was 4/20, we were also surrounded by ample clouds of marijuana smoke. Less than thirty minutes after that, I paid for another “door-to-door” trip back to the hotel. Lauren sent me a screen shot of the club she had suggested, and informed me that we had gone into the wrong venue—the lady party was apparently across the street. Epic gay fail.

While my night ended without even exchanging a word with a single queer woman, C  got a text from Jason, the guy whose relationship status was thrice characterized as “TBA.” Jason offered to meet C at our hotel for a 2:00 am stroll on the beach. As C later recounted, Jason’s situation gave him free reign to engaged in a limited set of sexual activities. And so, our truly bizarre night out ended in C playing by Jason’s open relationship rules for an hour on the beach.

While my failure to locate the lesbian scene and/or set up an online date felt deflating, I realized there was beauty in the fact that if my date ever used “cunt” with me, it’d likely be in a sexy way. To get to “cunt” though, I’d probably have to stick to the bigger cities. Meanwhile, from now on, I’m taking Natural Born Cunt (“NBC”) away from Dennis to describe any female-identified badass women in my life. Accordingly, C is definitely a “Natural Born Cunt.”

 

*All names in this post have been changed to protect the innocent except for “Dennis” who I’m actively still trying to hunt down and find a way to shame.