ME TOO

removing-the-shacklesI stopped writing my personal blog posts when I accepted that they were more self-serving than informative or entertaining. But, in the light of the “Me, Too Movement,” the one personal story I always wanted to share has come to be less about me as it becomes one more thread to be woven into the fabric of the story of misogyny and male empowerment in this society.

I work in the operating room, and every day when a coworker is fastening the back of my sterile gown I ask them to leave the neck closure as loose as possible. Many people say they “understand.” They assume it’s a claustrophobia thing. In my head I scream at them “do you understand that I can’t tolerate anything touching my neck as it reminds me of something much worse?

When I was 17 years old, I was assaulted in my home. I was held hostage, beaten, strangled (hence the neck thing), and raped. But, that isn’t the worst part of my story. The two male police officers who responded after the attack told me it was my fault and accused me of much worse. They left me feeling more battered and humiliated than anything the rapist did to me.

I was taken to the hospital and made to wait 3 hours before a male physician came into the room to tell me that he had spoken to the police officers and since the (this is a direct quote) “sex act wasn’t normal” he didn’t consider it rape and wasn’t going to collect evidence. I was told to get dressed and go home so he could get back to caring for “real patients.”

The next day I went to work. I was bruised and visibly shaking. My best work-buddy asked me what was wrong and I whispered, “I was raped.” Two minutes later, I was called into the owner’s office and fired. I had told the owner what happened when I got to work that morning and he ordered me not to tell anyone in the office. He had the office wiretapped and overheard my confession. I lost a job I loved, a job that would have been the start of my dream career in publishing. In less than 24 hours, I’d been beaten and robbed again.

I went home to my apartment and as I walked past my neighbors sitting in our courtyard it was apparent that my story was out. The men and women who had been my friends, who had looked out for their youngest neighbor, now looked away from me, some literally turning their backs. Not one of them ever spoke to me again. I was shunned by my community and it left me scared and confused. I packed my belongings and moved out of my apartment that night. Getting that apartment on my own had been my first act of adult independence. It was also the scene of my attack. That one act of male dominance had, in only one day, damaged my body, my home, my livelihood, my relationships, my self-worth.

I’ve kept this story close to me not out of shame, but rather as an act of defiance. I wouldn’t give those who would harm me ammunition to shame me, shun me, or to hurt me in any way over this. But I think it is time for me to emerge from that shadow of fear and to use my story as a weapon against those who would silence and demean us.

I post this story as a protest. I post this story to shed one more light on this problem. I post this story to give others strength. There is strength in numbers, in the realization that this doesn’t just happen to celebrities or the privileged. In fact, it happens more to the powerless, to those who do not have a public voice to speak up against it. It is the disenfranchised who need us all to speak up, to call out the mistreatment and hypocrisy carried out by those to whom we have ceded power, and to share our stories without shame so that we regain our power over ourselves, our bodies, our lives, and so we lend that power to the collective in order to bring about change.

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RESISTANCE IS FERTILE

Wedding Bagpiper

The recent election result has left me wandering my apartment at 3am most nights, eating leftover Christmas stocking candy and making plans to leave the country. I have a history of putting distance between myself and unpleasant circumstances beyond my control.

I gave notice at work and began lining my Amazon cart with overseas travel goodies. I prevailed on my “British” cousins to take me in until I could find my footing. I checked on visas, airline tickets, and power convertors. I aired my backpack, reserved a storage locker and gave my apartment complex my move-out date. I did everything to fill my time except write.

In the past, when the black dog of depression nipped my heels, I wrote myself out of my gloom. Not this time. It wasn’t only sadness that has quieted my muse. My depression was laced with fear. Time has stripped away the optimism of my youth, and the wisdom of my age reminds me that what I fear from the new regime could, indeed, happen here.

My younger daughter told me I should stay and fight, but I argued that my only weapon was a pen and that I could write from anywhere. I also admitted that if I divorced myself from any imminent threat, I might be lulled into doing nothing. The destruction of our way of life would no longer be my problem. I became more determined to run.

As I was comparing ticket prices, Obama’s farewell address came on and I began following my source for timely American news – the British Broadcasting Company. I was waiting to hear if our president had a plan to save us. I hesitated to push the button to purchase my ticket.

I clung to his every word. He said it had been the honor of his life to serve us. He said he wouldn’t stop. He would be “right there” with us for all his remaining days. And then he called us to believe in our own ability to effect change. He challenged us to “Show up. Dive in. Persevere.”

I realized that if he could stick it out in DC after the way that town has treated him, if he could stay engaged instead of retiring to a few well-deserved rounds of golf, if he could continue to give of himself after sacrificing so much for so many years for the rest of us, it seemed the least I could do would be to stay, to put myself in harm’s way if need be, and if not, at least to struggle under the same hardships, should they come, as my fellow Americans.

I’m not always a patriot. I do not believe “my country right or wrong.” But I have more than a little loyalty to my homeland, and gratitude for the choices I have had. Now our imperfect way of life is being threatened and I don’t like it. So, when my employer asked me to stay on longer and my daughter reminded me that my granddaughter’s first birthday was 3 short months away, I was happy to tell them yes, I will stay.

For now, my plan is to show up, dive in, and persevere. And to write. But I won’t throw out those Scottish hiking guides quite yet.

CONTROL – ALT – DELETE

Image result for hitler and trump

A Donald Trump presidency is not an accident. He has been bred and groomed for this by the fascist right. Trump believes he can rule as a dictator, unaware and uncaring of how the government system is designed to work. But we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by the man, his ignorance, or his childish behavior. He is not the core of the problem. His handlers and financial backers are the true protagonists of this tragedy. Trump will soon be the willing, if somewhat naïve, mouthpiece of a powerful fascist machine that has found their front man.

Don’t allow the media and others to call this political machine the “alt-right” as if it is a new movement. This is old fashioned Fascism, plain and simple. Robert Paxton said that fascism is “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” Sound familiar?

My personal manifesto is a work in progress as the right unfolds their true agenda in the coming months. I propose the following as a start:

  1. Hold American organizations, both clandestine and overt, to U.S. constitutional standards and their associated laws. Our military and paramilitary organizations need to be exposed to the light in both their foreign and domestic actions. The people must make them accountable to all Americans, not just the president and his hidden political puppet masters. These organizations must be made to promote the welfare of the American population as a whole, rather than catering to the whims of a plutocracy. The self-proclaimed alt-right is following the Nazi playbook of the 1930’s. If they manage to infiltrate the military, all is lost for decency and human rights.
  2. Speak with your money. Boycott, and share your reasoning with the public and with the companies you are spurning. One thing America has brought to the world table more than anything else is a plethora of choices for everything from brands of diapers or ketchup to where you worship (or if you worship). Do your research, or find trusted resources and follow their researched recommendations. If a company earns money for Trump or his cronies, or if they do business that causes harm to others, do not give them your money. And let them know that you have taken this stand.
  3. Fight at the grassroots level. For example, if Trump’s people manage to further dismantle the education system, fight it with education outside the system while continuing to fight the changes from within. Provide books and other educational resources where they are lacking. Read. Research. Talk to people. The neo-fascist right is not only attempting, but apparently succeeding, in manipulating the dissemination of information. The fascist machine is spewing out its own version of reality. This must be balanced with the truth. Resist the notion that “there is no such thing as facts.”
  4. Call out Trump for every deception. We hear about his outrageous plans and claims and then 24 hours later, they are normalized. This is not inevitable if we oppose it.
  5. Humanize the “enemy” and prove that they are us. Speak up. A chorus of voices is much more likely to be heard.
  6. Do not live and operate under fear as fascism coaches us. Do not be a victim. Claim a position of strength. Do not abdicate authority that is not earned or that is designed to cause harm to others.
  7. While it is uncomfortable, and at times dangerous, it is more important to face this fear-mongering head on. And loudly. We must drown out the ugly, misleading, dangerous rhetoric with words and actions wherever we find it. I read many stories about people who dis-invited themselves and others from Thanksgiving dinner because of their political views. When we do that, hate wins because it is allowed to grow freely.
  8. Believe in your ability to effect change. Be encouraged by the strength of numbers. Trump did not win by a majority vote and it’s apparent that the majority do not support a fascist regime. If you don’t feel you have the strength for direct confrontation, at least have the strength of conviction to support the organizations that are willing and able to speak for you. If you are a strong proponent of non-violent resistance and action, but are intimidated by the idea of public speaking, find strength in the written word.

 

For those who think “it can’t happen here” I have news for you – it already has. Deny the alt-right their white-washing of their name and agenda. Fascism by any other name is still fascism. It is white supremacy, ethnic cleansing, rule by secrecy and rule by fear. If we do not resist, it could be the death of us all.

Snapshots

Into an echo conducting its humble chores
When to look upon a memory is completely yours
Building a mountain of memories an echo’s test
To pick from a tree, the memories I like best.

from A Memory Shall Flow by M Rene Riel

images

Joyce Carol Oates, in her coming of age memoir, The Lost Landscape, wrote that “when we claim to remember our pasts we are almost certainly remembering our favorite snapshots, in which the long-faded past is given a visual immortality.”

My memories of my early years were, for the longest time, just that – snapshots. I spent many hours as a teenager with my ailing mother – in hospital rooms, ICU wards, chemotherapy units, and as we lay together in her bedroom which was darkened against the light that often gave her excruciating headaches. We never spoke about her time running out. I was young enough that I didn’t let myself think about her not being there. Well, not often, anyway.

She had a better sense of her winding down, and as her body failed she worked through the pain to share her story with me. We spoke a lot about the years in which our stories overlapped. I would ask her about memories that would come to me at odd times and without reference. Sometimes I would wake from dreams that I was sure were dredges of my youth. Images would flash beneath my eyelids as if I was thumbing a stack of photographs taken with our old Brownie Instamatic. My mother filled in the gaps. I told her about the face of a large German shepherd that would fill my dreams. I thought I should be afraid, but yet this vision seemed to bring me peace. My mother told me how she used to set me on a blanket in our South Carolina yard and the neighbor’s dog would come stand guard over me as if I were her pup. I don’t believe a paper photograph exists of that dog, not one that I would have seen. But my infant mind had recorded my guardian’s countenance, and I carry her image and the accompanying solace with me to this day. We would trade snapshot memories and stories like this for hours in her waning years.

She has been gone for a very long time; more than half my life has passed since then. I went on to a live a full and often unorthodox existence. My mother gently pushed me out of the nest and on to my first big adventure around my 18th birthday. She admonished me to get my living done while I was young and able, to avoid a life deferred. She also begged me to let her live vicariously, and encouraged me to share my adventures with her through letters and phone calls. I dutifully wrote or called at least once every week throughout my years of wandering. Sending postcards and Aerogrammes was no easy feat from many of the places I visited. The only time I failed was during Ramadan in Iran. She understood. I was delighted to have an audience with whom to share my adventures, and happy that my stories cheered her up and though, for only a brief time, helped her escape her pain.

As I carry out the process of unwinding this overly complicated life I mindlessly built, I have the audacity to cull and destroy the photographs that no longer hold meaning for me. There are faces for which I have lost the associated names – I seem to do better with places than people. I keep the ones that remind me of who I was when I had no fear and refused to listen to the voices of others. The person I see is my essence, fully present, doing what I love, doing what I do. I may not have that young woman’s compact hips or high, tight ass, but I am she and I hold the photos in the hope that I will never forget. I am once again my own inspiration, my own best friend. And I have the pictures to prove it.

Plan B

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,       direction-sign_zps13d35402
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!      – Robert Burns

 

Many people who know me know that for some time I have been infatuated with the idea of a real and symbolic walk – a grand hike back to my Buddha nature. In recent years my Plan A had morphed into preparations for a 500 mile hike. I schemed to take a leave of absence from work, time away from the noise of daily life to just be with myself in every sense of the word.

This was not an impetuous decision. I started to make plans to go on my walkabout long before I heard about Grandma Gatewood through-hiking the Appalachian Trail in the 1950’s with nothing more than a blanket over her shoulder and a worn pair of Keds on her feet. Years before Cheryl Strayed shed her Wild monster pack and her childhood demons on the Pacific Crest Trail, I began staying up late nights and weekends making comparison charts of the pros and cons of hiking El Camino de Santiago in Spain versus scrambling across the Scottish Highlands. In preparation I have climbed mountains, pony trekked the Himalayas, and even completed a 100-mile hike across Wales.

I counted hiking miles instead of sheep to fall asleep. I smelled the morning coffee in the staff lounge and found myself wishing it was the scent of pine oils oozing from a bed of fresh needles beneath my feet. I bought boots, and trail runners and trekking poles. I hired a trainer at the gym to help me work on my stamina and stability. I’ve rebuilt muscles I had all but sacrificed to youthful abuse and the inevitability of aging.

People have described me as brave for being willing to take this long walk. I wanted to embrace and embody that courageous person. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Her words are scribed in Sharpie on a Kermit-green Post It note that hangs on my refrigerator. ‘Be Brave’ has become my new mantra. And yet I still struggle to define myself as brave.

The closer it got to my intended start date this Fall, the more terrified I became. Mixed with the excitement have been nightmares of broken ankles and bear attacks and worst of all, the failure stories of my past taunting my desire to succeed in body and spirit.

For my 18th birthday I sold my car and used the money to buy myself a plane ticket. I boarded the plane with a backpack, two pair of jeans and a scrap of paper with directions to a farming community where I could find work – somewhere in the Middle East, somewhere that I wouldn’t have been able to point out on a map if my life depended on it. My friends thought it was stupid, my mother whispered in my ear that I was brave. I was too young to understand what could make my leaving an act of bravery. So what if I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anyone there, had no clue what to do if I got hungry or cold or hot or lost or needed a bathroom? I was too naive to realize what there was to fear.

More than 40 years have passed. I have triumphed, I have fallen, I have persevered many times. I think I’m finally starting to get it. Some people define bravery as fearlessness, but my bravery comes with a great deal of anxiety and pain. Nelson Mandela said it well – “I learned courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Now on the threshold of realization, all my preparations, my fears, my excitement have become inconsequential. I’ve been ignoring the pain in my feet for quite some time. Well, not ignoring it so much as attempting to placate it with ibuprofen, soaks, salves, massages and injections. These remedies failed and despite my power of sheer obstinate denial I went to see a surgeon. I am now facing surgery that may incapacitate me only slightly less than the disease process that is hobbling me. When I tried to tell the surgeon about my hiking plan he snorted. I pressed him again to tell me for sure whether I could complete my hike this year. He stared at my damaged feet and said, “We will see how the rehab goes.” And then, somewhat unkindly, he suggested I take up biking.

So, Plan A is deferred, if not altogether lost. When the pine forest dreams come these days, they come with tears of frustration and privation. I am searching for a different way to be brave as I beat down new fears of facing the pain of surgery and rehabilitation, the barely bridled frustrations of my co-workers who will be forced to take up my slack, and the looming possibility that, despite surgery, I may have to spend the waning years of my life in Spandex bike shorts.

As foolish as it now seems, I never had a Plan B. Even the fear of failure was not enough to encourage me to create a list of If Not, What Then. Perhaps instead of hiking I will be forced to write about an epic hike – not from experience, but rather from my imagination. If that is the worst realization of my fears, I will consider myself lucky. I haven’t abandoned Plan A, but I feel it is prudent to consider my options. For now I will make the idea of writing a book about hiking and passion, and perhaps even about a dream deferred, be my back-up intention and distraction. It will help me conjure the courage to face the possible loss.

I will continue to believe it is worth making plans, trying to control and prepare for every nuance of my life.  Sometimes I will fail and be forced to change course. I am learning to live with the hope that Plan A will work, but comforted with the security of a Plan B. Of course, the problem with a Plan B is that, more often than not, it becomes Plan A.

Fish Soup and Matzo Balls

Amber: My plastic surgeon doesn’t want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose.
Dionne: Well, there goes your social life.               

                                                                – Clueless

making meatballs

This is a blog about my life at 60, not a food blog. But, I’ve been thinking about my family a lot lately, and when I think of my family, I often think about food. And, about balls. You see, my life and my family’s social life revolve around balls – food balls, that is.

As far as I can remember, it all started with my grandmother’s Polish meatballs. While my brothers roughhoused in front of the TV with Grandpa sleeping in his chair beside them, I would retreat to the quiet of the kitchen to watch my grandmother cook. She would stand at the battered O’Keefe & Merritt wistfully staring into space as she used her fingers to languidly stir meatballs floating in a vat of sweetened tomato sauce. I never complained about the fact that the kosher meat was so dry, and the meatballs so dense, that not even a gallon of cooking liquid could penetrate their exterior. I just washed them down with large glasses of black cherry soda and licked my plate clean. They were pretty awful, but I loved her so much, I would have happily eaten the entire pot if my grandmother had asked.

Most people can either bake or cook, but it’s rare to find a nonprofessional cook who can do both well. My mother was a stellar baker. A scientist at heart and training, she could appreciate the precision needed to execute the perfect pie crust. However, her culinary prowess was otherwise restricted to Boil-In Bags. She’d drop a bag of frozen peas into boiling water and stare out the kitchen window until the timer announced “Dinner’s ready.” She knew her limitations, and often sighed as she nibbled on caviar encrusted crackers and fished out delicate pieces of pickled vegetables from jars sent to her by her father who ran a Jewish Appetizers store in the Bronx. Her tastes far exceeded her abilities.

I’m not sure what possessed her to attempt a dinner party without the services of a caterer, but, at age 12 I found myself standing beside her as she attempted to make Swedish meatballs from a recipe she had cut from the newspaper. She spent the entire afternoon carefully crafting 200 perfectly round meat nuggets. An hour before the guests arrived, she dumped an entire tray of them into a huge vat of boiling water. The house was immediately filled with an unidentifiable rank smell. She fished a meatball out of the pot and popped it into her mouth. Her eyes bulged and she choked and ran for the kitchen sink. I remember tears welling up as she said, “it tastes like dog food.” We tested her theory by feeding one to our dachshund. Cricket scarfed it whole. Her face suddenly looked as if she had accidentally swallowed a bee. She coughed it up and immediately began studiously licking her hind quarters in an effort to avert her eyes from embarrassment for my mother, or perhaps to just get the horrible taste out of her mouth. 

I remember that day so well because it was the day Mom conceded to my superior cooking abilities. I saved the day with hastily marinated kebabs, and from that time forward, my mother left cooking for anyone outside our immediate family to me. It was the day the power dynamics shifted in our family kitchen and the moment was not lost on me. I am ashamed to think that I took credit for the win, when it was actually the meatballs that had bested her.

The Meatball Debacle of 1966 paled in comparison to the never-ending feud between my parents over matzo balls. Many of you are aware of the controversy of floaters vs sinkers. This battle has divided marriages, pitted parent against child, and may have even been responsible for a war or two. Who knows? The matzo ball has been causing such rancor since the first Jew crossed into Eastern Europe and decided to drop a ball of unleavened bread crumbs and egg into a vat of simmering schmaltz.

My mother preferred floaters – those light airy matzo balls that immediately rise to the top of the pot. Their fluffy goodness can be divided with the gentle touch of a spoon, and they melt in your mouth. My father demanded sinkers, like his mother used to make. Making these dense balls requires working the matzo meal and egg mixture repeatedly between your hands until you’ve created a miniature cannon ball that, once cut with a knife and chewed with vigor, still sits in your stomach like its lead counterpart waiting to be discharged from its artillery womb. No wonder their marriage was doomed.

Around my 18th birthday I decided that I was a communist and I needed to move to the only truly communist social system left on earth – a kibbutz. I sold my car for a plane ticket, backpack, and two pairs of jeans, and I took the next flight to Tel Aviv, followed by a long bus trip to the kibbutz. I arrived in time for the evening meal which was served cafeteria style to the community’s 800 inhabitants. There were two entrees – ketzitzot, which are fried turkey meatballs, and their boiled cousins. Even then I was adhering to a vegetarian diet, but I had been traveling for two days and had nothing more in my stomach than a hearts of palm salad from my layover in Paris. I think my ideals had parachuted somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea.

The meatballs looked equally unappetizing. They were nearly as big as my fist. The boiled version was grey and the fried one was brown. I was holding up the line trying to decide until a skinny man with a wild black pony tail that trailed down to his waist leaned over and in a very British accent said, “Under no circumstances ever eat the boiled ones.” He seemed very wise. He was definitely smart enough to wait until after I finished eating to tell me that the kibbutz was a turkey farm and the only meat served was from the turkeys who died of turkey cholera. That was my first and last Israeli meatball.

I forgave David after he took me to an Arab falafel cart outside the main gate of the kibbutz. Apparently, both Christianity and food trucks started in the Holy Land. I am convinced that Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi was modeled after the surly proprietor. We had to know our order before we stepped up to the kiosk. He would bark at us in Arabic and if we hesitated to answer, no food for us that day. Forty two years later, my mouth still waters when I think of those delicate balls of chickpea perfection. The only trick to enjoying them was to grab the pita wrap out of the grump’s hands before he could drown it in the hottest sauce this side of the Nile. David made sure I would not starve during my year in Israel and I rewarded him for steering me to this little piece of heaven by marrying him.

My family tale of food balls does not end there. Let me tell you one more story. My daughters and I drove from our home in Chicago to upstate New York for my father’s funeral. We arrived at dinner time on Friday night. My siblings, most of them adopted from Korea, their spouses from various lands and their children were gathered in the kitchen. I hadn’t seen my much younger adopted siblings for almost 20 years and had only met a couple of them once before. As soon as I set down my bags, my stepmother ordered me to the stove to prepare matzo balls for the chicken soup. It could have been an awkward time with a kitchen filled with more than a dozen people, related though amicably estranged, all grieving the lost of a father in their own way.

I stepped up to do my eldest daughter duty and found myself standing beside my Korean brother Micah who I hadn’t seen since he was 6 years old. He was busy fashioning eomuk for the fish cake soup which was simmering in the pot in front of him. He was rolling tight little balls of fish meat, as our father would have liked. I laughed to myself as I countered with my delicate matzo ball pillows. We talked about the food, laughed about our family’s food habits, and marveled at the harmony of it all. Our ancestors would have been proud.

Free Dogs

first date

I’ve been on so many blind dates, I should get a free dog.” – Wendy Liebman

This blog is about what my year of being 60 years old looks like, my meditation practice and getting in touch with my bliss. One question put to me by friends comes up more frequently than any other when I discuss how my year is going. That is, “So, are you seeing anybody?” I have to admit, I am dipping my toes back in the dating waters with happy anticipation and a healthy dose of trepidation. No amount of meditation seems to prepare me for the sheer terror or the disappointment. It does help me keep my sense of humor.

I made my last serious attempt at dating a couple of years ago. Before venturing forth that time, I sat down to review my past experiences. Below you will find my retrospection. Now it’s years later and another half dozen dates under my belt and I am still confounded and amused. The only thing that has changed with turning 60 is that now I am competing with 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, 50-somethings, AND 60-somethings. But, I do love a challenge.

I thought you would enjoy my online dating story. If you are coupled, it will fill you with gratitude. Go kiss that unshaven slug imbedded in the couch, channel surfing the games and rubbing Cheeto dust into his sweatshirt. You could be facing this instead:

“I knew from the first moment I saw you that we were going to fall in love.” My heart beat rapidly and I couldn’t suppress an uncomfortable smile. No, this wasn’t the start of a marriage proposal. That would have been absurd. Not because I didn’t return his affection (I didn’t), but because I had met this man only 30 minutes before. It was our first date.

When he delivered this line, the woman at the table next to us let out a brief, strangled sound. I thought she might be choking on her latte foam but, when I turned to look at her, I caught her staring at us. The look on her face told me she had been listening to our conversation. She’d seen me walk into the shop earlier, stop to look around quizzically before settling on the man whom I almost didn’t recognize as he was four inches shorter and 40 pounds heavier than his profile picture. From where the woman was sitting, she had the perfect view of me girding loins that, in an instant, I had determined would never be breached by this man sitting in front of me. She saw me fashion a smile out of good manners, and possibly noticed that I pulled my cellphone out of my coat pocket and clutched it to my chest as I wove my way to his table.

Later, when I got up to leave with him, I caught her look. She was begging me with her eyes not to go with him. She pleaded with me to understand that I could do better. I got the message loud and clear. But I hadn’t been on a date in five years and I had been no good at dating even then. Fast forward to this corner cafe and I still had no clue how to extricate myself and feel okay about crushing an enthusiastic partner.

I wish I could tell you the date ended at the door with a handshake. However, as a way to get out of the coffee shop, I had agreed to a walk by the lake. I was counting on the Chicago autumn winds to make my excuses for me and hasten my escape. No such luck. As we wandered along the lakeside path, I leaned heavily on the weapons I had in my meager date-dumping arsenal. I incessantly sent text messages to my younger daughter. I talked too much. I talked too little. I talked about my kids, my exes, my cats. But still he bested me. He spoke of astral charts, he gave me a complete list of his depression medications (generic names, brand names and side effects), he sang the praises of his unemployment and he, too, regaled me with cat stories.

When all my attempts to escape politely failed, I admitted defeat and told him it was time for me to go. I evaded his kiss and headed for my car. He walked me to the parking lot and manage to jump into the passenger seat before I could stop him. He reached into his pocket and I was concerned for my safety until, rather than a switchblade, he pulled out a notebook and started reading poetry. His poetry. I stared out the car window and wondered if I had remembered to feed the cats.

I like to think of myself as a nice person when it comes to first dates. I approach each meeting full of optimism. I do this while trying to beat down my insecurities about whether my date will think I’m too wrinkly, too flat-chested, too boring, too crazy. I consciously will myself to ignore my own gremlins of self-doubt as I try to find the key to truly liking the guy. And I attempt to do it all in high heels.

I figure the average man in my dating age range has been emotionally emasculated approximately 15,000 times before he dons that tie and sport coat and walks into the cafe to meet me. By the time he has survived the humiliation handed to him by his high school coach, ex-wife, bosses, co-workers, and the sexy next door neighbor (who the man tells himself must be a lesbian to shoot him down so coldly), he’s been muddled to a fine emotional pulp. I feel I owe it to the world to refrain from adding to the misery of one more guy.

I have never had the nerve to walk into a first date and just say “Sorry, this isn’t going to work,” and then leave. In fact, the less interested I have been, the guiltier I felt about being so shallow and thus the harder I tried to focus on something I could like about the guy. I would stay twice as long, smile twice as much, look interested, give the guy some hope. On the inside I was plotting my mental escape (and also hoping he wasn’t a stalker) as by now he had my phone number and possibly other identifying information.

Sometimes I felt that I had too much invested in the situation not to give it a chance. One of the biggest financial commitments I made to a first date was to fly across the country to meet a man. In all honesty, I had a conference to attend in a neighboring city so the date was, for the most part, on the company’s dime. I was only paying for the last night in a swanky downtown hotel. I caught a glimpse of the thinking of a man who shells out $500 for a sushi dinner and expects his date to repay him with a red-stilettos-to-the-ceiling thank you. I was spending $300 for a hotel room; I wanted my date to be charming, handsome and kind – not too much to ask for. I got exactly what that kind of thinking deserves.

I wish I could tell you that ‘Raven Man’ was a nickname I gave him, but it was a self-designated title. I had missed the inferred line in his dating profile where he must have explained how this very white and wizened Scandinavian man had morphed into a Native American shaman. I could hear his Viking ancestors turning in their graves. He was a civil servant with budget deadlines and staffing issues by day, a supernatural healer by night. Still, I thought I could tolerate a little crazy.

The date did not go well. My apparent texting (I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was actually playing solitaire on my phone) annoyed the faux buckskin pants off him. It is never a good sign when I recognize my own passive-aggressive behavior while I am doing it. I found myself angry with him for being one French fry short of a Happy Meal and yet, coincidentally boring.

I’ve learned where I draw my dating tolerance line in the sand. Boring, crazy, or just-not-my-type will still get you a cup of tea. I will even pay for it myself. But meanness is a deal breaker and I will walk out. However a man, or woman for that matter, gets to that place of seething rage, it is never okay to let it out on another human being. I have begun to suspect that there are more than a few people out there who are going on dates as therapy after a bad relationship – the kind of therapy where you use transference to deal with issues. It’s one thing to misplace your daddy feelings by developing a crush on your therapist. It’s a whole other pathology to verbally abuse other women four nights a week and twice on weekends because your ex-wife thought the mailman would make a better drinking partner. I don’t know if I just attract that type or if there are that many broken people out there. I prefer to think the former, which is something I can fix. If it is, as I fear, the latter, the world is in a truly bad place.

My most memorable hater was a man I will call ‘Charlie.’ Charlie was tall, dark and drop dead gorgeous. I could tell he had money by the cut of his jacket, not to mention that I had done my due Google diligence. His voice when he said hello made my knees weak and he smelled better than a simmering pot of chocolate molé sauce.

I should have known something was wrong when we went to take a seat at the bar. There were only two unoccupied seats. One had a jacket draped across the back, but no one claimed ownership. Charlie helped me onto that barstool and took the other one for himself. We ordered beers and began checking out the menu when a young man emerged from the knot of people waiting for table seating. He said, “Excuse me” politely and went to remove his jacket from the back of my seat. Charlie jumped up, grabbed him by the shirt collar and asked him what the hell he thought he was doing trying to fondle his date. The man apologized and tried to explain to Charlie that he was mistaken. Charlie threatened to “beat some manners” into him if he didn’t leave. Of course, I should have left, too at this point, but I needed a moment to digest what I had just seen. Perhaps I’d missed something?

We turned back to our menus as the bartender came to take our order. I’m a vegetarian, which Charlie knew from a previous discussion, and the list of food items available to me were limited. I was there for the company anyway, right? I found a combo plate of fries and onion rings and thought they would do a good job of soaking up alcohol and helping me to keep my head clear and my skirt on. As soon as I finished my order, Charlie turned to the bartender and said, “She’s not eating that shit. She’ll have . . .” and he proceeded to order a large bowl of calamari for me. I laughed. The bartender gripped his pen tighter, but didn’t commit the new order to paper. I suspect that working for years in that profession had trained him to read people’s faces. Mine was saying, “Oh, yeah, Buster, just who the hell do you think you are ordering my food for me?!”

I looked at the bartender and said, “No. Actually, I don’t eat calamari. I want the fries and rings.” The bartender winked at me before moving quickly to the opposite end of the bar to enter the order.

Charlie turned, glared at me and said, “You’re a feisty c**t, aren’t you?” Yes, ten minutes into the date and my well-heeled dinner companion had called me the ‘C’ word! Did I hear him right? Seconds passed as I replayed the mental tape to make sure I had heard him correctly. Oh, yeah, I had; and he did. I opened my mouth, but before I could form my first word Charlie said, “Gotta take a piss,” and he sprinted to the back of the bar. I caught the bartender’s attention as I waved a $20 bill at him before tucking it under my beer glass. I figured that would cover my share of the food and drink and leave a fair tip for the amount of verbal abuse he was about to suffer. I got out of there as fast as I could.

In some ways I have benefited from the dishonesty of my dates online profiles (no, not all my first dates have been plucked from the online kiddie pool, but more on that later). I have set fairly narrow parameters for my potential suitors. If they were all honest in their descriptions, I would find myself repeatedly dating the same man; and they would all be wonderful and compatible with me. But these men, in running from their insecurities have exposed me to many different personality types, social strata and professions. In lighter moments I am filled with gratitude; on the dark days, I wish I could sue them for false advertising.

There was one first date that allowed me a rare view into the cloistered world of commercial airline pilots. Before anyone starts dialing their attorney’s number to sue me for libeling all pilots, take a breath. I know not all pilots are like this guy. Sure, you hear the rumors, and we all know that where there’s smoke . . . But I got a 3 hour lecture that left me chilled to the bone. That was the day I decided I would never go on a second date with this man; and, I would never fly without making sure my life insurance was paid up.

I was stunned to learn how many pilots are high or over the legal alcohol limit when they strap themselves into that cockpit. Should I believe him? I walked him to his car after lunch. He opened the door and a crack pipe rolled off the seat onto the pavement. The color drained from his face as he bent to dig the pipe out of a snow bank. He stuck it in his pocket, then looked at me and said, “It’s my son’s.” That made me feel so much better. Then I wondered, had his 27 year old son been sitting in his lap while he drove to the restaurant? I declined a second date, citing irreconcilable differences.

Some dates didn’t work out because I just wasn’t attracted. I once showed up expecting to meet a handsome gray-haired man in a tuxedo, as advertised. I got, instead, a badly dyed comb-over, orange spray on tan and enough gold chains that Mr. T might have dated him (if it wasn’t for the whole orange thing). I didn’t recognize him when I entered the restaurant and stood at the door until he started waving his napkin and yelling my name from across the room. There was no way to make a graceful exit. I felt as if I were taking the walk of shame at the beginning of the date as thirty pair of eyes followed me to my seat. Only his charm exceeded the impression left by the hair dye streaks down the side of his neck. He regaled me for an hour with a list of every DUI and moving violation he’d ever had. I would have had him arrested for bad taste.

I made my worst dating mistakes early on in my dating career. More than once I broke the cardinal rule – don’t go to their place (or yours) on the first date. That would seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve always attacked things scientifically. I had some burning need to collect empirical data. There was the man who my co-workers, on hearing the story (yes, men, we tell all the stories – even the ones that make us look foolish) named him Mr. Nipps. The date was actually going pretty well at first. He was handsome, extremely intelligent, charming and had a beautiful home. I was excited to get to know him better. He wanted me to know him better as well. That is the only explanation I can come up with for why, after only one glass of wine, he emerged from the bathroom with his shirt off yelling “Rub my nipples, rub my nipples!” I laughed and shuffled backwards out the front door.

I think there must be a men’s dating manual somewhere that suggests a man exiting the bathroom in various stages of undress is all it takes to make a woman swoon. Mr. Nipps was soon eclipsed by Mr. Viagra. Use your imagination. At least he kept his shirt on. And, yes, as cruel as it seems, I laughed then, too.

It’s been my experience that men are no better than I am at a graceful brush-off. No one has ever told me to my face that it just wasn’t happening for him, but I have had my share of sneaky dumpers. One guy slowed his car as he drove past where I was sitting at the front window of the Starbucks. I watched him cruise by, slow down, take a good look at me, and then peel out. Part of me wanted to run after him and yell,”That’s not my good side!” Didn’t he know how long I had spent on my hair and make-up and on choosing my casual, yet alluring outfit? He hadn’t even seen my boots. The fake leather would have showed him that I am politically correct and frugal. He would have liked that about me.

I do have to say that his behavior was slightly less insulting than the man who walked by (same Starbucks) pretending to talk on his cellphone. For half an hour. He would slow, check me out, then walk away. Part of me was tempted to chase after him just to call him out. But it quickly became a game I played with myself to see how long he could keep it up. I’d place bets on whether he would come back for another circuit. Every time he made a pass, I had to take a sip. I went through two tall chai soy lattes before he failed to make his appointed round.

So, we have the men who instantly fall in love with me and those who are so repulsed that they are willing to risk a traffic violation to get away. There are also a number of men who fall in the middle of the ‘should I date her’ spectrum. In the past, these men often felt the need to validate their decision with a trusted friend of whether I was second date worthy – while we were still on the date. One man was a movie director. That is what he called himself. The first half of the date was watching him shoot an info-mercial for a local business. It looked like the kind of piece that was destined to air in the 3am time slot on a local television station. Still, it was gainful employment and he didn’t appear to be struggling financially for his art.

The film shoot was fascinating, we shared a beautiful dinner at a chic Gold Coast hot spot and I was really enjoying his company – right up until the point when he pulled out his cellphone and called his daughter to join us. He looked me in the eye as he told her he wanted her to come check me out. She showed up at the restaurant a few minutes later with eight friends in tow. Five of these friends just happened to be members of a world famous rock group. Our evening deteriorated into me watching my date and his daughter as they joined the alcohol binging, pill popping, raucous antics of their entourage. I’m not exactly a prude, and I won’t say I didn’t have a great time. I sucked down my share of Jameson and I laughed in all the right places. However, at the end of the evening his daughter took my arm and steered me down the street. She told me she had decided I wasn’t cool enough to date her dad. I thought she was right.

At least she was a human being. I had one date who took me out for drinks. We hit it off so well that we moved on to dinner. And more drinks. That is my only excuse for going back to his house with him on the first date. I know, I know. But wait. When we got to his house he rushed in excitedly, saying he had to call his best friend to tell her the date was going well. He was upfront with me and said he wanted to get her approval. He dialed her number and put her on speaker phone. Then he said, “Hello, this is George. May I please speak with Leslie’s vagina?” Yes, you heard me right. He then pushed me over to the phone and insisted that I hold a ten minute conversation with this woman’s talking vagina. I had not consumed enough alcohol for this. Still, I soldiered on and apparently made a good first impression. A squeaky voice rose from the speaker and said, “You’re a keeper.”

I could continue listing my 50 first dates from hell. After all, there was the lawyer with OCD who continuously cleaned the counter top with Windex – while I was sitting there eating my salad. There was the journalist who showed up for the first date at the restaurant with a shoe box filled with photographs of all his ex-girlfriends. There was the 6’10” 400 lb gentleman who was dressed as if he realized at the last moment that he had nothing to wear, so he ripped the sheets off his bed and wrapped himself in them. He spent the entire date bragging about making it through 5 years of undergraduate studies by living in the basement of the school’s architecture building and showering in the gym. One resourceful dude.

I didn’t always resort to online dating for my potential love matches, but meeting people has become much more complicated. My friends and family do a lot to help. I’ve been given dating site subscriptions as gifts – JDate netted me the Day Glo stunt driver. I’ve been through the cattle call of Match.com and Plenty of Fish. I have Become One with Dharmamatch, and I have been humiliated by eHarmony. According to their system, there was not a single compatible man for me. I was surprised the rejection didn’t come with an offer to refund my fee if I promised to put it towards counseling. I can honestly say “It’s me, not them.”

Whether I am too picky, too shrewd, or just plain too tired, I am not sure I can face one more first date. Of course, first dates can lead to second dates – good and bad. I actually went out again with the guy from the coffee shop who wrote bad poetry. He spent the entire evening running down a comparison of the bra cup sizes of every woman he’d ever dated. I started fake texting my daughter. And the man who showed up with the box of photos of all the women who had dumped him? He took me to a Bob Dylan concert for our second date and we had a great time.

Over the years I’ve turned into a dating wimp. I can’t recall the last time I got up the nerve to dip my toe into what has become a very shallow dating pool. But, I know in my heart that I haven’t given up completely. I still put on mascara to go to the grocery store. I join social groups and do volunteer work where my altruistic sensibilities compete with my hope of meeting someone to date; and, I realized the other day that I still check the ring finger of every man as he walks through the door at the neighborhood coffee shop. The fact that I still sit in coffee shops is a testament to my eternal optimism.

Let me leave you with one final story. There was a young woman who agreed to a fix-up first date with a friend’s ex-boyfriend. The friend thought he was a great guy, just not for her, so she offered to pay it forward. It was supposed to be a casual meeting at a party where they would be surrounded by spinach dip trays and old friends to greet if a diversion was needed. She got to the party late and her friend was nowhere to be found. She opted for a drink and turned to make her way to the kitchen. There, leaning against the doorframe, stood a man who took her breath away. Normally shy, she felt compelled to approach him and start a conversation. He was perfect – his smile made her weak-kneed. He was smart, charming, and handsome. He never took his eyes off her. The whole world seemed to fall away until her friend emerged from the crowd and said, “Oh, great, you guys found each other.”

I was the besotted young woman and that date was pure magic. I would do it again.