Have We Met Before?

The year I was 21 was the year of that reality show named “The Pick-Up Artist.”

You might remember it. It was that Vh1 reality show with the audacious failed-rock-star-type Pick-Up Guru who attempted to teach groups of men with no game whatsoever how to get any woman into bed. I only watched one episode. In it, Mystery (an appropriate name, since his marketability as a dating guru is a mystery to anyone who saw him) taught the young Jedis how to make a move on a girl who was on the move. That is, he showed these gameless men how to pick-up a woman who was walking down the street.

Gameless? Mystery's here to help......
Gameless? Mystery’s here to help……

(Now, for anyone that’s lived in a city, you know there are neighborhoods where any man can be successful at this without even saying a word. Thank you, Red Lights… obviously, the Pick-Up Artist found his disciples on farms…)

If Mystery was anything like Robert Downey Jr., who played in the late 80s flick of the same title, I might have ignored his fur-clad top hat and cut him some slack. I mean, did men take this guy’s advice seriously? I was doubtful… Until the following Friday night…

I was plowing through the lower west side, with a  few of my girls a few steps behind, all of us en route to a concert, when a short, chubby, blonde guy walked passed me, looked back and then cut in front of me.

“You look familiar. Have we met before?”

My jaw-dropped. Clearly he’d seen the same episode.

“No.” I pushed him out of the way and kept walking.

“I think that guy thought you were a prostitute,” my friend Maddie said when she and the other caught up.

Maddie always had a way of making me feel better…

You look familiar. Have we met before? <– that combo of phrases was the key to the approach.

It implied a kind of safety (you know me, so you know I’m not a serial killer.)

It’s an understated compliment (you’re memorable.)

It might also imply fate (I knew you before I met you.)

In theory, it’s a good approach.

I’ve rarely fallen for it. The answer is almost always “no,” unless you’re at an alumni event, and then it’s only vaguely likely (You studied in the architecture library!? Me too!… Oh, right… orientation week…)

Every once in a while, it’s worth taking the bait (like that time in the elevator with the Coulda-Been-A-Gucci-Model…)

Unless you’re wearing hoop earrings, stiletto heels, and are walking through that neighborhood where it’s easy for men with no game to pick up women on the move…

That was the last time I tried to harness my inner Pretty Woman....
That was the last time I tried to harness my inner Pretty Woman….
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The Loose-Leaf Worries

carton (c) The New Yorker

At 4AM my eyes shot wide open for no particular reason, as far as I could tell. For the next several hours, until my alarm clock went off, I spent the minutes tossing and turning, my brain operating at full-speed, dreams mimicking all the awake moments of days past and days to come.

It’s a scene I’m used to: Late August Insomnia.

Sometimes, I sit up in bed and read or write until my body finally agrees to a system shut-down. Other times, I attempt yoga breathing exercises hoping to force a blank-slate on my brain. In theory, I’m supposed to wipe it clean of my thoughts and hide the chalk. This is a method I’m new at and therefore find it largely unsuccessful. So most nights, I just try to tough it out, hoping the physical exhaustion of flipping from my right side to my middle to my left will eventually put me back to sleep.

I realized this is an annual occurrence. A sort of seasonal allergy. But instead of ragweed or pollen, the root cause of sleeplessness is loose-leaf.

Yes, loose-leaf.

I used to believe that my Late August Insomnia was the result of excessive sleep stores. Perhaps I had slept in too much in July and my body was some how trying to return to equilibrium? No. It was because of loose-leaf.

Loose-Leaf. The root cause of my Late August Insomnia

It was usually around mid-August that I began my back-to-school supply shopping. It was, as the Staples commercial is so keen to say, the most wonderful time of the year. Fresh notebooks. Clean binders. New pens and just sharpened Ticonderoga pencils. It was exciting: Nothing holds as much potential as a clean first page in a brand new notebook.

But with back-to-school shopping and my new stacks of loose-leaf, so came a boatload of concerns to keep my head spinning into the wee hours of the morning.

Worries that I hadn’t completed all my summer reading assignments on time or to standard.

Insecurities about lunch-time cliques.

Aspirations for athletic glory.

Hopes for young love.

Concerns that I hadn’t bought enough loose-leaf.

All of it kept me awake at night.  The funny thing is that it’s been nearly 4 years since I’ve had to do back-to-school shopping, and yet I still find myself suffering from Late August Induced Insomnia.

First-day-of-class anxieties have been replaced with real-world “grown-up” worries. In the art world, a gallery season often kicks off in September. My next opening looms right around the corner. Offices return to full-steam-ahead. Galas and fundraisers sneak in before the close of the fourth quarter. Holidays creep closer. Somewhere in all the hullabaloo of responsibility, I have a social life, a family life, and a romance to maintain.

It’s past my bed time as I put my head to my pillow on Labor Day night, but I’m far from sleepy. For a fleeting moment, I wish my biggest worry was a book report on The Great Gatsby due in class tomorrow.

…But maybe that’s only because I know the grown-up me would ace it.

If You Give a Girl A Flower…

In my mother’s day, the flowers a boy would send you would become keepsakes…

A pile of flaky dust fell from the pages of my mother’s 1961 college student handbook and course listing as she pulled it from the shelf.

“What the hell is that!?” she cried. “I just vacuumed. Goddammit.”

“It looks like flower petals.”

She examined the bits more closely before brushing them into the dust pan and determined that they were, in fact, the fragments of a carnation.

“One day, when we were first dating, your father pulled off the side of the road on his way to pick me up and bought me a bouquet of carnations. I hate carnations. But they were such happy little things and I was thrilled. So I tried pressing them. We did things like that in those days. Pressed the flowers a boy gave us so we could have it as a keepsake if we ever got married. Of course, most of them turned out to be bastards. The boys, not the flowers. But I always did a shit job, totally mangled them, and usually forgot what book I used.”

“Case in point.”

When it comes to women, a well-picked bouquet from a fella goes a long way.

Which is why on Wednesday, along with my sneakers, a cluster of sunset-hued roses wrapped in damp paper towels and the cellophane from my 3AM room service order passed through the x-ray scanner at LAX.

An elegant birthday bouquet from a class act kind of guy.

My birthday had been only a few days earlier and these roses had been the feature of a bouquet that greeted me on that July 1st morning. Despite the resort’s legendary service, the elegant arrangement, I would soon learn, was not courtesy of my 5-diamond resort, which had also sent a cake. Even better – the flowers were from my new flame.

5-diamond concierge fail.

New flame home run.

The SoCal sunshine may have mellowed the east coast gallerist, but the roses from the boy who set my heart a flutter with just a glance put an indelible smile on my face for the duration of my “birthday week.”

“Did you go to a wedding while you were out here?” my flight attendant asked when she saw me wedging the roses gingerly into the seat pocket in front of me.

“No. They were a birthday gift.”

“From a beau?”

I nodded with a blush.

“Looks like he’s a keeper to me. Those are stunning.”

Thousands of miles and several changes in cabin pressure later, the roses looked a little worse for wear. Despite the suggestion, I elected not to press them. Much like my mother, home crafts and remembering where I put things are not my forte. I think for now, I’ll leave the act of preserving memories to my Canon… and a moleskin notebook.

… too elegant to leave to the cleaning staff, I valiantly tried to carry the roses cross county, neatly tucked into the seat pocket in front of me. Call it sentimental, call it futile, I call it a noble “thank you.”

A New Job. A New Desk. An Old Memento.

Forty-eight hours after writing a post about the agony of post-job-interview waiting, I got a call:

Welcome to the Nook. Where schedules are made, emails sents, and galleries coordinated.

“So, when can you start?”

“When do you need me?”

“What’s today?”

“Friday.”

“Come in on Monday.”

My first day as the Exhibitions Coordinator for a large art not-for-profit passed in a flurry of paperwork, meetings, and how-tos. I was taken to “The Nook,” a u-shaped work station that I would share with my boss’s executive assistant. I looked at the desk that had been vacant for 5 months and was now mine. It had been turned into a storage shelf — boxes filled with leftover wall-hanging materials, stacks of postcards announcing opening receptions for exhibitions mounted 5 years ago, and a box of crocheting hooks.

Why do I have crochet hooks and "Blues Clues" temporary tattoos in my desk?

Before I could begin coordinating exhibitions, I needed to coordinate my desk. Clearing the rubble took the remainder of the afternoon, but left me with a blank workspace to decorate. I walked in the next day with an armload of items necessary to transform my half of  the Nook into a homey yet functional gallery-managing command center.

“Your corner has a personality!” Ali-Kat cried as she joined me at her station. “I dig it. Do you have Pandora? Because yours is the only computer with speakers. Let’s get the party started!”

I could tell we were going to be good Nook-mates.

Of all the things around my new desk, the photo in the corner of the bulletin board is the most meaningful

Of all the things adorning my command center, there’s one item that has particular symbolic meaning. In the upper right corner of my bulletin board I’ve placed a photo from my 2007 college graduation. Four of us stand arm in arm among thousands of undergraduates and graduates dressed in powder blue, all receiving our degrees. We look happy and tired, young and ready for battle.

The photo is there in part because the 3 guys standing with me are my dearest friends, mostly because that moment represents an entire journey from that day in May to this job, this desk, this future. We posed for the camera to remind ourselves that we had survived 4 years together. The next 4 years would be unpredictable — each followed paths entirely different from the ones routed for us as of May 2007.

Then we were 4 kids just starting out, uncertain of the purpose of our past and clueless about our futures. It’s hard to always know where you’re going, but the way I see it, it’s important to always know where you’ve been.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and Somewhere in there, I’m a Tobin

As I write this, my mother is in the kitchen, listening to Riverdance and banging two wooden spoons together. Her clacking is not in time, but rhythm has never been one of my mother’s strong suits — they took the triangle away from her in grade school. She’s had both hips replaced but that doesn’t stop her from doing her most inspired Michael Flatley impression.  She’s a Tobin after all and it is St. Patrick’s Day.

We take Irish food and music very seriously... we have enough Irish oatmeal to lead the nation through another potato famine

Despite being a conglomerate of Italian, German, Scot, and Irish heritage, we take St. Patrick’s Day fairly seriously in my house. Come to think of it, we take being Irish pretty seriously in my house, even though we’re 2 generations removed from the family homestead in County Clare. Well, we take Irish food and music very seriously. My mother makes a mean boiled potato and there’s enough Irish oatmeal in the pantry to lead the nation through another potato famine. My favorite song growing up was “The Orange and the Green,” I was more interested in playing a reel on my fiddle than Mozart on my violin, and my first concert in New York City was Gaelic Storm at the BB King.

I was more interested in 300 fiddle tunes than a Mozart symphony growing up.

In honor of the holiday, I’ve put two loaves of traditional Irish brown bread baking in the oven. Meanwhile, my mother made green jell-o and we collaborated on cabbage rolls and green Scotch shortbread cookies. My father contributed with a 6-pack of Irish Red in the basement fridge. We’re ready to party in a way our ancestors would be proud of… maybe.

I went to Ireland once, when I was 7. That trip was the first time I’d ever stayed up past 9PM and first time I’d ever been to a bar. My father was on business and my mother used it as an excuse to met up with her favorite Irish cousin and her son. Julie drove us from Shannon into a small town hidden among fields and knolls. It was like the setting of JRR Tolkin book. The sky was black and clear and the only light illuminating the streets was the glow from cottage windows. We stepped out of the car into a informal parking lot outside a pub. Music and laughter filled the air and it was clear we were in for a rolicking good time.

The whole world seemed to be crammed into the small, smokey public house. Pints sloshed as joyous patrons slammed their glasses down in time to the music, which was provided by a group set atop a rickety stage. The tables and chairs had been cleared from a section of the floor, and men and women reeled around in circles, stomping and spinning, pulling in new partners at will. An older gentleman with a white beard and cap, straight off a postcard, threw me into the middle of the floor, determined that I would learn how to step dance before the night was through. As a kid, I had chalk white skin, rose bud cheeks, and thick blond curls. In my cable knit sweater, I looked as local as anyone else there. I would eventually learn that the Tobin farm, tied up in family feuds for a half century (how typically Irish), was but a mile away — I was as local as anyone.

We rolled into our cousin’s B&B at 2AM and slept till late afternoon. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

Sometimes I feel like pulling a John Wayne in the Quiet Man and moving to Ireland to reclaim the family homestead

It’s true what they say about Ireland — it gets under your skin, you become part of a family, and you start to pine for it. Sometimes, I feel like pulling a John Wayne in “The Quiet Man” — retire from this fighting life, move back to my people’s farm, fix it up, marry me a nice Irish bloke, and dance a jig to the tune of a happily ever after.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for my home baked bread, a pint, a warm memory, and a toast to my Grandma, Anna Tobin.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.