Let’s Not Stand On Ceremony: Becoming Reverend Reck, Part 1

I was in the middle of my attempted return to a nightly yoga practice and (un)comfortably contorted into a parivrtta parsvkonasana (a revolved side angle pose… ) when my cell lit up with a text message fit for the opening lines of a Camus novel:

“Today, our Japanese rabbi died.”

My best friend, a bubbly, intelligent, and kind culturally-Jewish girl from the suburbs of New York City, was getting married to a warm, thoughtful, and humorous Japanese bar owner in exactly one month. And after all the pinterest boards and dessert tastings, this was the last thing she needed.

Shocking, I know, but like unicorns, Japanese rabbis are kind of rare.

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There was a few exchanges — she had a Plan B, everything was going to be fine.

The next morning I got a phone call.

I was the plan B.

When she asked me if I wouldn’t mind the promotion from bridesmaid to stand-in officiant, I flashed through the last seven years…

To the weekend she crashed at my small “efficiency” studio on the upper west side of Manhattan and I suggested we go to this fancy cocktail bar downtown. After comping us a round a drinks, the bartender made us a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage to help us make our way home. That bartender would become her boyfriend…

Flash forward a few years later, she and I were standing in an elevator she was wearing a kimono the bartender’s mother had gifted her. “He’s the one,” she said without reservation. “Women know these things”…

And now I was standing in the bathroom at work, on the phone, being asked to officiate their wedding.

“I really can’t think of a bigger honor than getting to marry you two.”

“Great! I hoped you’d say that! I think it’d be really awesome to get married by officiant in a blue jumpsuit!”

That’s right. I was the bridesmaid who was told “wear whatever you want, as long as it’s blue,” and decided on a cobalt blue jumpsuit. A Reverend in a jumpsuit. I could see the branding opportunities already…

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Up until this point, my day-of wedding responsibilities were fairly simple and superficial:

  1. Make sure the make-up artist doesn’t make the Bride orange
  2. Make sure the Bride’s dress corset is pulled in as tight as it can go — don’t worry if she seems to be suffering from shortness of breath.
  3. Make sure the Bride has a shoehorn so she doesn’t smash the heels of her Jimmy Choos when she’s putting them on under her dress.

I had just picked up a few more responsibilities that were significantly less superficial (Learn Japanese sake-pouring ceremony. Learn how to say “chuppah” in a way that doesn’t sound like a sneeze. Make sure Bride and Groom say “I Do” and sign marriage certificate) but I would handle them, because for her, for them, I had to.  There are only a few times in your life when the people you love really ask you to step up to the plate for them. And when they do, you owe it to them to bring your A-game… to try to hit a home run… and if you don’t, at least you go down swinging.

 

 

 

 

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Friendly Persuasion, or an Ephinany about Online Dating

“You know, I’d totally forgotten we’d met on OkCupid.”

So had I. The relationship we had forged over a handful of pleasant outings and months of texts and emails was so unlike anything that had come out of my foray into online dating, that I was convinced we had been introduced by old friends. Or better yet, that we were old friends.

My love life is more like a Woody Allen film than "The Notebook."

He confessed: “The truth is, I’m ambivalent about dating right now. I just want to find someone whose company I enjoy.”

We were standing chest to chest in the atrium of our favorite Museum. The lights were dim and for the most part, we were on our own. Had it been another couple and another night, the scene would have ended differently.

But my life is more like a Woody Allen film than a Nicholas Sparks-inspired Ryan Gosling flick — all the ambiance is there, but in the end, so are all the neuroses.

And all the greater life insights.

It's hard to find someone who will willingly spend an afternoon looking at Cindy Sherman portraits with you -- male or female.

Someone whose company I enjoy was all I was after too, and in the museum I was in the very enjoyable company of a new friend.

Up until this point, OkCupid had been a general disappointment. I shut down my profile. It’s not that I hadn’t met good-looking or smart or affable men. The problem, I came to understand, was the context in which we met.

Every online date had more or less followed the same course: hello hug, beverage consumption, laughter, good-night, kiss, let’s do this again soon. In between those mile markers the terrain varied, but generally I could expect to meet the same conversational obstacles — why did you sign up for OkCupid, what kind of relationship are you looking for, have you ever been in love.

“I don’t know what I’m looking for,” I remember saying once when I was on a date and, thanks to a drink, was feeling particularly candid.

“I believe in playing a relationship as it lays. Some begin and end as friendships. Some, as disasters. Maybe one as happily ever after. We’ll figure ‘us’ out as we go.”

The guy didn’t like my response very much. He was looking for a mother to his children. I couldn’t promise I was ready or willing to go minivan shopping with him. But we had met on an online dating site — a place people go with the expressed purpose of finding a romantic connection.

How could I say that we might only ever amount to friends?!?!

How could I say that we might never have sex!?!!?

how often does a match light on a first strike?

The problem with online dating is that it forces you to evaluate a person along a specific set of parameters — namely, do I want to get romantically involved with this person. Physical attraction and adherence to an idealized wish-list dominate. We sit across a table from someone waiting for a spark to fly. If there’s no spark, then we’re quick to dismiss the candidate.

But how often does a match light on a first strike?

Online dating hasn’t brought me a boyfriend. Someone might argue it’s been a failed experiment. But looking back, I’d say I beg to differ. Just don’t expect to find me transferring my account to match.com anytime soon.

I’m Sorry, Friend, I love You, But I Don’t Care About Your Boyfriend

I have an aversion to telephones, just like I have an aversion to another story about your boyfriend.

I have an strong aversion to telephones. It might even be classified as a phobia. Someone asks me to make a phone call, and I start to have a panic attack. I’ve learned to control it to a degree over the years, but still, it’s something of a handicap.

I blame Erin for my problem. When we were 12, she used to call me every day after dinner to talk about Dan — the boy she was “dating.” We were 12. It was the conservative 1990s. We listened to the Backstreet Boys and wore our hair in braided pigtails. We really had nothing to talk about when it came to relationships, but somehow she found a way to spend 2 hours a day gushing over how cute his hair was, or how he waited for her at her locker, or how jealous Libby was.

The novelty of a friend with a boyfriend wore off. I quickly stopped giving a sh*t.

There’s a great scene in an episode of Sex & the City when Miranda, in a fit of frustration, scolds her gal pals — we’re 4 smart women with careers and lives, she says (I’m paraphrasing, here), why is it that all we talk about is men? Surely, there’s more to us than that!?!

Crushes, first dates, budding romances, heart aches, and their aftermath are all things our friends help us navigate through. When it comes to matters related to love, we seek the approval, advice, and empathy of our friends, hoping they’ll knock the sense into us or share our joy — whatever the situation requires.

sometimes we have to remember, our girlfriends are there because they love us, not because they love our boyfriends.

But even when friends are willing listeners, it’s important to remember, your friends are friends with you because you’ve got more going on in your life than your boyfriend.

Eventually, the novelty of your relationship wears off. For your friends far sooner than it does for you.

Not every conversation is a door opener to another reason why you and your boyfriend are so cute. Puppies are cute. Once that guy is your boyfriend, he’s not cute. He’s someone else we’re competing with for your time. So when you’re with your friends, we want you with us. We’re not an alternative to his company. For better or for worst, we were there first. It’s you we’re interested in, honey, not your boyfriend.

Rewriting “Life’s Little Instruction Book” from the Cusp of a Quarter Life Crisis

In the 8th grade, "Life's Little Instruction Book" was required reading. our teachers felt learning secularized parables would be more beneficial for our intellectual growth

Rather than learn the art of well-crafted sentences through a standard curriculum of books like The Jungle Book, the English department of my sleepy suburban school handed out copies of Life’s Little Instruction Book and Chicken Soup for the Soul to my 8th grade class. The thought must have been that learning secularized parables would be more beneficial for our intellectual growth.

Eventually, we were charged with the assignment of creating our own Life’s Little Instruction Book. We knew nothing of the real world and yet we were going to act as authorities on “how to live a happy and rewarding life.”

I recently found my flamboyantly illustrated attempt and was amused. “Don’t worry if you’re not the prettiest rose. We’re all beautiful in our own light” — my teacher found this little stroke of transcendental wisdom endearing. If I had to rewrite my 8th grade book of advice today, I might include that same instruction, though perhaps rewritten with less sentimentality, and add a few other insights I’ve picked up in the 13 years I’ve traveled since…

Invest in at least 1 Ina Garten cookbook. The orange scones in this one are an ace.

1. Invest in at least one Ina Garten cookbook

2. (Re)read Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style”

3. Learn how to make your favorite cocktail

4. Plant an herb garden

5. Always have a go-to outfit

6. When you’re a broke grad student, never refuse his offer to pay for dinner

7. Become a member of at least one museum and visit often.

8. Keep in touch with your old study groups

9. Get a good tailor

10. Get lost in Italy

11. Have a pet

12. Don’t forget to thank you parents

Find your red lipstick and wear it often. Mine is Laura Mercier's Sexy Lips

13. Find a shade of red lipstick that suits you and wear it often

14. Print calling cards and never leave home without them

15. Learn all the words to “American Pie”

16. Drink lots of green tea

17. Buy a really good yoga mat

18. Write postcards when on vacation and send one to yourself

19. Print out your digital photos

20. Start a blog… and don’t look back.

Happiness is a warm puppy who loves you.

Boys Don’t Have Cooties

In kindergarten, I didn’t know what a cootie was, but I never thought boys had them. As far as I could tell, a cootie was just an excuse for girls to avoid boys on the playground. This made no sense to me. Boys played better games at recess – tag, dodge ball, hide and go seek. Girls played pat-a-cake. I was terrible at pat-a-cake, but I had a mean peg for dodge ball.

I always thought girls who said "boys have cooties" were ridiculous. Boys didn't have cooties. They had penises.

“Eeeeew, no! Go away!” Lauren squealed when Michael Cagliatella asked if he could push us on the tire swing. “Boys have cooooooooties.”

I shot her an evil eye. Michael Cagliatella didn’t pull my pigtails like the other boys in class and he once offered to share his chocolate milk with me at snack time. Michael Cagliatella was different and I was smitten. The way I saw it, Lauren and her cootie problem were getting in the way of my childhood romance.

“Boys don’t have cooties,” I replied indignantly as I watched my first love skulk off to jungle gym. “Boys have penises.”

Lauren’s ears perked up. “What’s a pensises?”

The truth was I didn’t really know what a penis was or what boys did with them, but I’d been such a know-it-all — I had better follow through.

“They’re kinda like toys and fun to play with. You’re no fun.” I got off the swing and joined Michael on the monkey bars.

I can only imagine the dinner table conversation at Lauren’s house that night: “Kathleen and I had a fight. She said I was boring and that she rather play with Michael’s penis.” Lauren wasn’t allowed to have playdates at my house any more. I could tell by the sideways stares that her mother and father had painted me as a five-year old harlot that their daughter was to have nothing to do with.

Michael liked it when I was the nurse to his doctor, but I made sure he agreed to change it up -- I mean, sometimes, I liked to be in charge.

The scarlet letter didn’t really bother me because Michael became my “boyfriend.” Our favorite games were doctor-nurse play-acting. Michael liked to dress-up as a doctor and I would be his nurse. He even gave me a white hat with a red cross to wear when I came over. Michael would call the shots as we performed emergency surgery on his favorite teddy bear with the arm that fell off at least once a week.

“What should I do, Doctor? I can’t stop the bleeding?”

“Pass me the masking tape! Stat!”

“Oh, Doctor! You’re so clever!”

“Now the paper towel and the string!”

“Doctor! You saved Mr. Fuzzywuzzy’s arm. My hero!”

Even though this was Michael’s favorite scenario, I made him agree to change things up every so often – I mean, sometimes, I liked to be in charge.

Our role play abruptly ended that summer when Michael’s parents moved the family to California.  I can’t say I was heartbroken. I acknowledged that I was only 5 and that there would be plenty more boys who’d want to play doctor to my nurse in the future.

Every so often, I think about Michael Cagliatella. Does he still have those trouble-maker’s eyes? Does he still wear those striped shirts and a middle part in his hair? What would happen if we had a playdate today? Would his parents finally let me sleep over? And if they did, would he still like to see me in my nurse’s hat?

Love Letters Lost

His name was Simone Volpini and we met on a blistering August night in Paris.

The penultimate city of romance - Paris - an Italian architect and the promise of letters exchanged. It was too good to be true

I was dining in an over-sized bistro sandwiched between the tall, blond, brown-eyed Italian Simone and a handsome gay couple who had spent the day at the Musee D’Orsay. The couple and I quickly dove into conversation after one of the men compared my full pink cheeks and white skin to a Renoir — it was the only time I felt compelled to like and discuss Renoir. After they paid their check and bid me bonsoir, Simone asked me if I was American.

Simone was from Rome and was the only son of an Italian architect. He drove a white Vespa and was studying to take over his father’s business. He spoke little French and equally minimal English. I read Latin but spoke no Italian. We giggled through a conversation of muddled pig-romance-languages while we sipped our coffee. He called me his American Beauty and walked me out into the street to help me find a taxi. As I slipped into the car, he handed me a piece of paper.

“You will write me. Your letters will teach me English. I will teach you Italian, and then you will come stay with me in Rome.” A kiss on the cheek and we were both off into the Paris night.

Back home in the states, I wrote Simone a letter. His handwriting was atypical for an architect — messy and non-linear — and I could barely decipher the address. His letter was returned to sender.

Alas, I would not get to play the part of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

The sole letter I've received from a friend, celebrating our graduation from college 4 years ago. I still have it.

It had been years since I had thought about the love letter exchanges that never were, but then a chat with a guy I’d met early last week reminded me why I found the idea of a pen-pal romance so appealing.

“You’re working very hard to get me to go out with you,” I typed in the text box of gchat after having received a handful of flirty texts and emails over the course of the week.

“There’s nothing hard about sending you a text message or an email. I sent them on my way to lunch.”

Clearly, he wasn’t a smooth operator, but Chad had made a very good point: sending a one-line message while you’re working on other things is not very hard.

In the age of texting and sexting, we’ve come to expect constant and instantaneous messages of love (or lust). On the one hand, there’s something extremely romantic about receiving, at any time of the day, a note that lets you know your beloved is thinking of you. On the other, one wonders if this communication blitz doesn’t lack of bit of sincerity. If it’s so easy to key in an “I think I’m in love w u”  when you’re on the go, then do you really mean it? Texts don’t necessarily demonstrate commitment… sometimes I wonder if they might even be a sign of over-commitment.

Writing letters are hard. They require time and thought. They lack that benefit of instant on-screen editing and spell-check — your flaws are more evident. And it seems that sitting down with pen and paper is something we only do these days when we’re taking notes, that is, if we haven’t forsaken a legal pad in the name of an ipad. It was not so long ago that a letter, composed with pen and ink, was our primary means of communicating from afar.  We’re out of the habit of letter writing.

Call me old-fashioned but “Ever thine, ever mine, ever ours” reads so much better when it’s scrawled on paper.

I kept the letter I wrote to Simone and every time I travel to Rome, I stuff it in my backpack. It wasn’t a love letter, but just in case I run into a tall blond architect riding around the Coliseum on a white Vespa, I’d like him to know I didn’t take the easy way out.