Monday, October 31, 2005

Mischief Night

A few weeks ago I went to a play at one of the smaller, local theaters in the city. I didn't know anything about the show or cast beforehand, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a former classmate of mine from law school listed in the program as one of the performers. She was excellent that night, and while we didn't get the chance to talk in person after the show, I finally got a hold of her by phone this weekend and told her how good she was and how much I enjoyed her performance. We also talked about our days together onstage as leads in a musical during our third year in law school, and we reminisced about the night of our final performance in particular.

The Court Jesters was a student organization made up entirely of law students and faculty who were looking for a creative outlet to help balance the monotony of pouring through legal textbooks all day. They put on one show a year, and always chose from among the many Gilbert & Sullivan operas for their selection. Gilbert (who wrote the dialogue) had been an attorney early in life, so a lot of his scripts featured lawyers, judges, and other legal characters. The plots often hinged on some farcical legal twist that helped lead to the required happy ending. So it was kind of a natural fit for a bunch of legal extroverts looking for any excuse to avoid studying to perform a Gilbert & Sullivan musical--as opposed to, say, a production of "Cats".

In my second year of law school I had gone to the Court Jesters' performance of "The Pirates of Penzance" and was amazed by their talent, and was attracted to the genuine fun they seemed to be experiencing onstage. I was also attracted to several very cute women in the female chorus and thought that evenings spent at rehearsal with them would beat the hell out of toiling away in the solitude of the law library. So in my third year I showed up for the auditions, and much to my surprise was cast as the male lead. Lest you get too impressed, keep in mind that this was an amateur theater group at a regional law school, so I harbored no illusions that the only reason that I got the part was because I was a not-so-big fish in a very small pond.

The show we would be performing that year was "Ruddigore", one of Gilbert & Sullivan's lesser known shows. The plot was somewhat convoluted but basically was about Robin, a shy young man (my character) who was pining away for Rose, the most beautiful girl in his village. She had been raised as an orphan with only a book of etiquette as a strict guide, which tended to interfere with any of the local boys being able to properly court her. The men put off asking any of the other girls in the village to marry them until someone was successful with Rose, so the women formed a band of professional bridesmaids to help Rose pick a groom.

It turned out that there was more to Robin than met the eye. His family had been living under a curse placed by a witch condemned by one of his ancestors (a judge, naturally). Every oldest male in his family had to commit one crime per day, or else perish in unspeakable agony. Robin had been leading a double life--committing one small, trivial crime each morning to get it out of the way, and then leading an exemplary life for the rest of the day to make up for it. Just before Robin and Rose were to be married at the end of the first act, his jealous best friend spills the beans, Rose rejects him, and he goes off to live in the family's deserted cursed castle.

The second act begins with him, in his grief, failing miserably in his attempts to be a "bad baron". One of the coolest scenes in the show was a musical number where the portraits of some of his more infamous ancestors come to life and the ghosts step down out of their frames, warning him that he's not being bad enough. Eventually someone finds a legal loophole to the curse, so Robin becomes good full-time again, Rose accepts his proposal, and it all ends with everyone pairing up and getting married (even some of the ghosts.)

It was a fun show, and was impressive to see how so much of Gilbert's dialogue still held up now despite having been written over a hundred years ago. The show had originally been meant as a satire about the over-the-top melodramas which were popular at that time in the late 1800's, but the scenes have a kind of universal theme about how taking on a false personality can get in the way of finding happiness with another person. The duties of directing the show were split between two people: David was the musical director and primarily focused on making sure we sounded okay, even for law students. Mark was the stage director, and all along insisted on a slavish devotion to the original text and scene blocking that had been outlined in the script. The two of them often clashed over details large and small, and as we got closer to the performance, the cast got together and worked out many of the issues ourselves.

The first two performances went pretty well. There had been a dropped line here or there, and a bit of a technical snafu when the portraits were supposed to come to life, but overall the audience laughed where they were supposed to laugh and the music sounded on key and in tune. But I had gotten the feeling that the show could have been even better. A couple of the lines of original dialogue were very specific to English society, and while very clever in that context, went right over the heads of an unfamiliar American audience. A couple of times over the months of rehearsals, I had off-handedly tried to suggest updating the show with some modern day references and more comical blocking, but was shot down emphatically by the director each time. Since we only had one more show remaining, I decided to take matters into my own hands. At the cast party on the evening before our last show, I quietly approached my castmates and carefully felt them out to see if they would be up for a little onstage coup during our final performance. Everybody was up for it, so we got together on our own the next day several hours before the show and rehearsed all of the new changes in secret.

One of my favorite Marx Brothers comedies is "A Night at the Opera", which is about Groucho, Chico, and Harpo trying to con their way into high society, and it ends with them completely disrupting an opera with their antics both onstage and out in the theater itself. I used that finale as my inspiration for ramping up things in the second act of our show. We rechoreographed one of the musical numbers by lifting some of Groucho's trademark moves right out of the movie. I rewrote some of the more obscure English references to become a little more culturally relevent-- I'm pretty sure I worked the line "I've fallen and I can't get up" from that MedAlert commercial with the old lady into one of my scenes. At another point, I was supposed to get into a sword fight with the female leader of the professional bridesmaids, who was pissed that I had ruined her efforts to marry off Rose, which would have cleared the way for the rest of the women in the town to get married. Instead of handing me one of the two full-sized broad swords that we had dueled with the previous nights, she pulled out a tiny little pocketknife from under her dress, and tossed it to me. I held it in a way that blatantly implied my suddenly diminished manhood, and instead of just circling around onstage, we had worked it out so that she would chase me in and out of the wings and down through the audience. Stealing another scene from the Marx Brothers, I ran into the orchestra pit at one point and tried to impersonate one of the musicians, frantically banging out 'Chopsticks' on the piano trying to throw off my pursuer. Shortly after that I was supposed to run up to the portrait of my uncle and beg for help. Normally that had just involved drawing back a curtain so that he could step out onstage, but since his dialogue had implied that he had been a bit of a player in his day, we came up with the idea of having one of the young bridesmaids sitting in his lap apparently making out with him when I threw back the curtain that night. I think that one sight gag got the biggest laugh of the evening.

I know that it was alot of fun for us onstage, and as things continued to spiral more and more out of control, the show took on a kinetic energy that hadn't been present the previous two nights. The audience ate it up, and the laughs kept coming in waves with each new farcical twist. I was more than a little concerned about the reaction from the directors who had watched their show get hijacked out from under them right before their eyes, and I went up to them at the final wrap party and let them know that it had been my idea and not to hold the rest of the cast responsible. The musical director was fine with it, once he had gotten over the shock of me pushing him aside on the piano bench for my impromptu concerto. The artistic director was a different story on the other hand, and wouldn't even look at me at all that night. He softened up somewhat from all of the positive feedback that he later received about Saturday night's show, and since most of the audience had never seen the other two performances, they credited him for all of the comic touches that we had added.

A few months later we all graduated and went off to our separate legal careers. As fun as that experience was, we all realized that there were woefully few job postings that sought "experience drafting legal motions and pleadings; top 10% academic standing; tenor or soprano vocal range." We exchanged our capes and Victorian dresses for sober ties and severe, dark pantsuits. Now that I think about it, every single one of the leads in that cast is out working in some area of trial litigation, with the main responsibility involving some work in a courtroom. In a way, we're still performing in front of an audience before the judge and jury. For me, I just have to remind myself every now and then that sometimes going off of the script can be a risk, but can lead to some pretty spectacular results. Maybe I'll try to work a little song and dance number into my next closing argument...

Friday, October 28, 2005

Martinis for two, with a twist...

This past Wednesday I received an invitation to a Singles Martini Tasting event from the same people who put together the speed dating night that I wrote about here. Since the events from that night provided plenty of material for an entire blog entry, I thought that I should give this one a shot too.

The event was held at McFadden's, a popular nightspot in the currently trendy Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. The bar itself is your typical faux-Irish pub, with the latest imported beers on tap and dark walnut chairs and tables spread about the main room. The martini tasting was held in a smaller, private room towards the back, with its own bar and leather couches and ottomans. The night involved a new flavor of martini being served every half-hour, for a total of five (in 3 oz. glasses). The target age range of the singles was listed as 27-45. I went there straight from the office after a hectic day and didn't arrive until almost 7:30. My plan was just to unwind with a couple of cocktails, have some light-hearted conversation, and hopefully come away with some interesting blog material. By the time I eventually walked in, the event was in full swing.

As I entered the room, two things struck me right away. I did a quick count of about 12 women all around the room, all of various ages and all of them fashionably dressed. The more remarkable fact was that, with my belated arrival, the total male population of the room rose to three. In addition to me, there was Ed, a sales rep in his early forties who resembled a slightly stockier version of the actor Joe Mantegna. The other Y-chromosome in the room was supplied by Peter, a tall, thin asian male also in his early forties who resembled an older, matured version of Long Duc Dong, the foreign exchange student from "Sixteen Candles".

[hey, folks--I just call 'em like I see 'em...]

The other thing that quickly became apparent was that as one of only three males in a room full of women at a singles event, my plan about laying low and making mental notes for my blog went right out the window. Hanging up my suitcoat, walking over to the bar to order a drink, catching up with the hostess who I knew through mutual friends--I had the unmistakable feeling of at least a dozen pairs of eyes following me about the room at one point or another. I started to make brief small talk with the people standing around me, but I wanted to take some time to try to speak with everyone before I jumped into a prolonged conversation with anyone in particular.

I noticed a woman with dark hair in her early thirties sitting on one of the leather couches along the wall. I would be lying if I didn't admit that the very flattering top that she was wearing was also one of the first things that had caught my eye. Sometimes a low-cut shirt can be a blessing and a curse, because there is always the danger of becoming too self-aware of the very area where you in fact are not supposed to focus your attention. So the more you begin to engage in an internal monologue to remind yourself that you should be looking the woman in the eyes and not glancing down at her chest, the more you feel the growing compulsion that you CAN'T HELP BUT LOOK DOWN and your eyes start to water from the strain of fighting to keep themselves level...

Right about then some appetizers were set out on the small table right in front of her couch, so I had the perfect opening to walk over and begin a conversation. Her name was Nancy and she was sitting beside her friend Carol, who had curly blond hair and was also in her early thirties. They had come to the bar together, and neither had been to one of these singles events before. They had actually become friends about a year ago after attending a seminar entitled "101 Places to Meet Single People". When I asked about some of the ones in the top ten, the suggestions like #5--"Join a co-ed sports league", or #10--"Volunteer for a charity" seemed to make good sense. But I kind of got the sense that the creators of the seminar had gotten desperate towards the end of the list and had to stretch to come up with some fillers. For example, I was fairly certain that
#98--"Hang around the Greyhound bus terminal" wasn't going to turn up any viable suitors.

We spoke for awhile about our individual backgrounds and careers. She worked for a non-profit organization and provided training and education to employers with mentally and physically disabled employees in the workplace. The conversation flowed easily from one topic to the next, and was balanced pretty much fifty/fifty between us. Ed sat down across from Carol, and the hostess brought around a different style of martini every half-hour. I'd like to fill you in on the rest of the attendees from that evening, but to be honest I pretty much stayed put and continued to talk with Nancy. I did notice a slight commotion about thirty minutes later, when five of the women got up and left. They were complaining that there weren't an equal number of men there and that they thought this was going to be a speed dating event. I found out later from the hostess that there actually had been a total of ten men confirmed for the evening. I can only assume that the other seven must have bailed that night to watch Game Four of the World Series in some crowded sports bar surrounded by other men. Good call, guys...

Pretty soon the martini tasting officially ended, and a group of six of us headed over into the main bar itself. Nancy had picked up my martini glass along with hers when we got up to move, and sat them down next to each other on the big round table where our group had settled. I pulled my chair up close to hers and pretty soon the tone of the conversation made a complete transition from polite small talk to full-on flirting. In addition to Carol and Ed, two other women from the event had joined us at the table. Mary, who was in her late 20's and had just moved here from the West Coast, worked for a national pharmaceutical company headquartered in Philadelphia. After subjecting her to the 1000th joke she heard that day about getting free samples of Viagra, we found out that she apparently worked in the company's research and development division. We good-naturedly began to tease her about being single-handedly responsible for everything from the world-wide outbreak of the SARS virus, to her inventing the condition of lactose intolerance just because she was bored one day at work. Mary and Ed began to really hit it off, and they spent the rest of the night talking to each other.

At one point I had gone up to the bar to buy the next round for the group. As I returned to the table, Carol was mockingly claiming that every guy that she had ever met was too afraid to dance in public. Acting on impulse, as I tend to do after my third martini, I put down the drinks and said "Let's go." The bar was about 3/4 full of people and there was still enough room to find an open spot for some basic swing moves (picked up at the same time that I took ballroom lessons several years ago with a former girlfriend). I had only intended on twirling her around a couple of times to call her bluff, but she got so into it that I couldn't just stop in the middle of the song. My moment of spontaneity began to backfire, as the song continued to play for several minutes, and I caught just the briefest glimpse of something flash across Nancy's face. Finally the song came to an end and I went back over to the table. Nancy was smiling and gave us a round of applause, but laughingly demurred when I said that I wanted the next dance with her.

The moment passed and the flirting resumed its intensity. I asked about a gemstone that was set in her necklace, which was positioned at just the perfect length to further enhance the whole effect she had going on up top. I reached out to look at the stone more closely, and then kept my hand there just inches above her chest while I continued the conversation, making serious eye contact the whole time. A short time later, the right song started to play over the speakers, so I stood up without saying a word and took her by both hands. She put up a moment's playful resistance, and then smiled as I lead her out to an open space. Soon her entire face lit up as I spun her around and twisted her back into my arms over and over. That song came to an end and a slower song began to play. I took her left hand in my hand and slipped my other arm around her back. My hand pressed against the small of her back and I pulled her body up tight against mine. I shifted my hips slightly so that I could move my knee in between her legs, so that one of her legs was on either side of mine, and she gently began to press against my upper thigh. Our faces were just inches apart and we slowly rocked and swayed standing in place for the rest of the song.

They announced last call right after that, and I settled up the bar tab and we all headed outside. I walked the two of them over to the parking lot, and Carol helpfully announced that she was going to try to find a decent channel on the radio while Nancy and I stood by the rear of her car. It had gotten a lot colder during the night, and I had put my suit jacket around Nancy's shoulders as we walked along. I slipped a hand under each lapel and pulled her to me. Our faces moved towards each other and I began to kiss her. We stood there for several minutes, and the kisses ranged between just a gentle brushing of our lips together, to a little flicker of our tongues, to a deeper, harder kiss, and finished with me giving just the slightest pull on her bottom lip. I brushed her hair back from her face and thanked her for the dance. She smiled again and said yes when I asked if she wanted to go out again sometime next week. We exchanged numbers and made plans to talk over the weekend. I leaned over and said goodnight to Carol, helped Nancy into the car, and watched as they pulled out of the lot and into traffic.

I went over the events of the past few hours as I headed back to my car. I had to laugh at how the evening had taken a completely different turn from what I had expected. I had planned on just unwinding with a few drinks and making some small talk in the hopes of finding something to write about for the next installment on my blog. Instead I found myself kissing a beautiful girl after several hours of laughter and intriguing conversation. I wondered if the night would have ended the same way if I had gone out actively looking to meet someone, instead letting things develop naturally the way that they did. With blind dates, the singles scene, and internet dating, too often the focus becomes placed just on the process of searching for someone, instead of getting out of the way and giving chemistry the chance to develop on its own. Sometimes it pays to simply go out there, put everything else out of your mind, and just let yourself move with the night's rhythm.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Longest Night

In splitting up the events from Saturday's Halloween party into two parts, I hope I haven't oversold the second half. In hindsight, it was a simple misunderstanding without any serious consequences. It just created an uncomfortable few hours that kind of stuck with me for an extra day or so. I had been invited to the party on short notice by the woman from the night of my speed dating adventure. I hadn't planned on needing an outfit for Halloween this year, so without enough time to come up with a new idea, I had to grab an old costume out of mothballs. As I came to find out later on that night at this particular party, it might have been better in the long run if I had left it there.

A little backstory--since high school, I've been fascinated about military history, particularly World War II. I was particularly drawn to the book 'Band of Brothers', which followed a single company of paratroopers from their training through the end of the war. They jumped into France on D-day, were surrounded in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, liberated a concentration camp in Germany, and helped capture Hitler's Eagle Nest in Austria. What struck me the most was that these were 17-19 year old kids from all walks of life who had volunteered to be part of this experimental unit. When I was that age, I thought getting through high school and working part-time delivering pizzas for Domino's was a big burden. These kids stepped out of airplanes into darkness over Normandy with anti-aircraft shells bursting all around them and thousands of German troops waiting below. I was and remain in awe by what courage that must have taken, and wondered what I would have done in that situation if I had lived in those times.

Back in the 90's, I decided one year that I was going to recreate one of their uniforms as authentically as possible for Halloween. Historical re-enactments are apparently a big business, so finding the bits and pieces of the clothing and equipment was pretty easy (and a little expensive...). But in the end, I had the original uniform, leather jump boots, specific patches, and other little touches to try to make it as authentic as possible. The uniform even had a cloth patch of the U.S. flag with only 48 stars sewn on, because Hawaii and Alaska didn't become states until after the war. I had received a lot of compliments at the time when I first wore the costume--of course the guys thought it was cool and wanted to know if the hand grenades were real. And I got more than a little attention from some of the single women--the uniform definitely gave me a leg up over the guys who had come to the party dressed as Mr. Spock.

I hadn't worn the costume in years, but since I had to come up with something quickly, and this didn't sound like a party where you could get away with wearing something half-assed, I dug the unform out of storage. My date had also been unable to come up with a good idea up to that point, so we decided that she would go as my French Underground contact (inspired by a scene in the Hollywood movie, 'The Longest Day', which is all about the events of D-day.) The main attraction for her was that the costume simply required her to wear all black. She went out and bought a french beret, and the finishing touch was a red scarf tied around her neck, which was one of the secret signals that the resistance used to identify each other.

It was raining heavily on the night of the party, and parking is a nightmare around South Street, so I dropped her off at the front door and had to circle around the block for 10 minutes until I could find a spot. As I mentioned in the previous post, I didn't know the hosts or any of the other guests at the party, but I've never had a problem meeting people and finding something in common to talk about with complete strangers for a few hours. I opened up the door, shook off the rain, and stepped into the entrance.

The first people that I encountered were dressed as 60's counter-culture hippies, which I see now was an obvious omen. They both had psychedelic bell-bottom pants, mohair vests, and 4-inch peace symbols dangling from their ears. As soon as I walked in through the doorway, the rest of the people in the room turned their heads to see who the latest arrival was.

In the movie version of that moment, a record needle would scratch along the entire length of some Joan Baez protest album as the conversation stopped on a dime. I smiled at everyone generally, and started to scan the room for my date. I was puzzled by the couple of glares that some people started giving me, followed by others purposefully avoiding eye contact. I checked to make sure that my fly wasn't open, or that I hadn't tracked mud into the room, and then made my way towards the back of the house where I eventually met up with my 'contact'. It became very clear that something was going on, from the looks of disdain that I continued to notice. There were long, uncomfortable silences as I offered to pour a drink for someone standing next to the bar, or while I was waiting in line outside of the bathroom. Slowly it began to dawn on me the reason for their reaction. A couple of the younger, drunker guys at the party began to point at my costume and go "Hey--Desert Storm," or "Look out, he's on the hunt for Bin Laden!" Everyone was assuming (understandably, in hindsight) that my uniform was supposed to represent a modern soldier, and the reaction that I was experiencing from the majority of the guests (none of whom knew me) was because they assumed that I was advocating some blatant, in-your-face support of our policy in Iraq. There is hardly any resemblance between the army uniforms of 1944 and 2005, but I can see now that it's a distinction without a difference for someone who isn't familiar with the historical context.

The whole situation grew more uncomfortable over time. If this had been a bunch of my friends, or even casual acquaintances, I would have gotten everyone's attention and cleared up the misunderstanding at once. But since no one was actually confronting me or giving me a verbal opportunity to respond to the group as a whole, I would've only made a bigger ass out of myself if I had interrupted the party to make an announcement to a room full of strangers explaining the meaning behind my costume. So I decided to hang out in the kitchen where the food and drinks were located while I thought about the best way to clear things up.

I did begin to establish a small beachhead with two of the members of the crowd. Paul, and his partner David, were neighbors of the hosts and were dressed as the Phantom of the Opera and some other theatrical character that I wasn't familiar with. The matching black capes seemed to be the unifying theme between the two outfits. Paul made an effort to compliment me in a friendly tone on the detail that went into my costume, and I explained to him the meaning behind it. It turns out that his father had been a glider pilot in World War II. I had read several books about their part in the war, and knew that they had an extremely high casualty rate. He seemed pleasantly surprised when I showed a genuine interest in hearing more, and you could tell that he enjoyed recalling and sharing the stories that his father had told him about his experience in the war.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, one of the guests started playing music on her guitar at the front of the house. I was grateful for the shift of attention in the party towards someone other than me for a change. I made my way into the living room and hung back towards the edge of the crowd. At one point during a short break between songs, I saw the woman dressed in the hippie outfit walk up to Paul and start talking to him. Her back was to me, and I couldn't hear what she was saying, but at one point she looked back over her shoulder and shot a derisive look in my direction. Since Paul was facing me, I could see him lean in and say, "Oh no, he's a World War II paratrooper, and that's his French resistance partner." She turned more fully around as she looked back in my direction, and I could see her eyes deliberately scan up and down my costume. The effect on her was immediate. Her face softened, her shoulders relaxed, and I could see her say, "Oh, I get it now." She shifted her gaze over to my date and smiled as she took in her outfit. "That's pretty clever."

Unfortunately, there wasn't time for Paul to become my peace envoy and help bring about an armistice with the remainder of the guests. As soon as the impromptu performance ended in the living room, the party started to wind down. We quickly thanked the hosts and I walked back to get the car. I had never been the focus of such a negative reaction from so many people, and I was a more than a little put off by it. I explained all this to my date, and decided to just drop her off at her home. That strange feeling stayed with me throughout the next day.

I don't go around intentionally trying to offend people, and when that does happen, I try to make up for it right away. So it was such a strange feeling to suddenly find myself the focus of practically an entire house full of people looking at me with antipathy-a kind of walking party pariah whose very appearance was a constant faux-pas. Of course that's an exaggeration, but at the time it definitely felt a little weird. One of things that I had discovered from performing improv is that it is a huge thrill for me to stand before a room full of strangers and hear laughter because of something that I've said. And one of the things that makes creating this blog worth it for me is that it gives me the opportunity to (hopefully) make somebody smile or crack up over something I've written. The reaction that I inadvertently created from the people at the party was the complete opposite of the thing that I make an effort to bring about.

Over the course of yesterday and today, I had a chance to think about all of this and work through the weird feeling that had hung around. I realized that, in the scheme of things, it was a pretty minor event, and one that is kind of funny once I removed myself from the situation a little bit. I didn't post this topic to make any kind of statement about individual politics or open a broader debate about Iraq, and I'm not trying to blame the people at the party for overreacting or excuse myself from being a little culturally tone-deaf in light of what's going on today in the world. It was a simple misunderstanding on both parts, and I hesitated about even writing about it at all. But I decided that this blog should include some of the things that affect me in even the smaller, more subtle ways. I thought that some people might be able to relate to finding themselves in a situation where they've created a negative reaction in another person (or a house full of people) through no intent of their own.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Beautiful on the inside

I went to a Halloween party on Saturday night, and the evening turned out to be full of highs and lows. I thought that I'd focus today on the positive things from that night, and I'll get into the negative ones later after I've had a little more time to put them in perspective...

The party was just off of South Street, a very funky section of Philadelphia with a lot of hip bars, goth clothing stores, tattoo parlors, and the occasional fetish boutique. I was invited by someone kind of last minute, and I didn't know the couple that was hosting it or anyone else who would be at the party. Everyone had been encouraged to dress up, and it was clear that most of the people had put alot of thought and work into their costumes. There were a good number of geishas and samurai milling about in ornate silk robes, powdered faces, and black wigs. There was one couple who went as individual halves of the 'American Gothic' portrait, which involved cutting out an oval for their faces and wearing the exact same clothing as the man and woman in the painting. Another woman wore all black and had round black balloons taped in a cluster all around her midsection. That one kind of eluded me until I saw that she was handing out little post-it notes saying 'you have a message', and then I realized that she was a Blackberry.

But hands down, two costumes stood out above the rest in terms of the most unique ones that night. In the female category, a woman came dressed as the Chicken Lady from the sketch comedy show "The Kids in the Hall". She had all of the details down, including the white wig, the pointed nose, the orange tights with chicken feet, and the white feathered boa. In the male category, a man came as Mugatu, which was Will Ferrell's character in the movie 'Zoolander.' The fact that the guy was about 6'6" (actually, 6'8" with that wild hair) only added to the weirdness factor.

One of the more surreal moments of the night came when these two people were off talking in a part of the house right next to the bar. As it so happened, that's where I was located for most of the evening, but that is a separate story for an upcoming entry. It became clear after awhile that Chicken Lady and Mugatu apparently had a history together, and as they continued to talk, I couldn't help overhear (due to the fact that I was actively eavesdropping) the two of them start to admit that they really had feelings for each other beyond just being friends, and that maybe they should give themselves another chance to see where things might lead. It was like a scene right out of "When Harry Met Sally", if you can picture a six-foot-six Billy Crytal with a white goatee finally admitting his feelings to Meg Ryan in a chicken nose.

But the most surreal moment came towards the end of the night--and as it so happened, it also involved the Chicken Lady. A small crowd had gathered in the living room, and the host of the party brought out an acoustic guitar. Chicken Lady, whose real name was Emma, or Emily, or something with an 'E', began to play and little by little, the conversations dropped off all around the house, and more people began to gather around. She was an excellent guitar player, and had a strong, clear voice. Apparently she plays regularly around the city, and has put out her own local CD. She played all of her own songs, and her style was a cross between Sarah McLachlan and Jewel. I can't remember the particular words, but the overall theme was of the highs and lows of relationships.

The longer she played, I found my focus being drawn closely in towards her face--particularly her eyes. She sang with such passion that her emotions shone through despite the make-up and costume that she was wearing. As ridiculous as that picture sounds, this woman in a white wig, fake nose, feather boa, and orange tights held that entire room spellbound with her intensity. I wasn't looking at a funny person in a silly outfit anymore--I was looking at a very gifted artist opening up and pouring out her heart through music.

After about 30 minutes, she set the guitar aside to loud applause, and the illusion was broken. She was back to being the Chicken Lady, receiving compliments from a guy in a Superman costume (with an excessively enhanced 'package' beneath his tights) and a woman dressed as a hippie. The stereo was turned back on and the house began to fill up again with the sound of dozens of overlapping conversations. Later it occurred to me that if by chance we passed by each other on the street someday, I'd have no idea who she was outside of her costume. But if I were to ever hear that voice again filling up an entire room from some random stage one night, I would recognize her in an instant.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mad Hot Boardroom

As I mentioned in the 'Seven Things' meme below, one of the things that I have been planning to do is (someday) go back for my MBA. A friend of mine works in the career development office of one of the area's top business schools, and she put me on the guest list for a networking event last night for prominent alumni, recent grads, and current MBA students. The event was being held at the Union League, an ultra-exclusive, old money social club that was founded in 1864 for the bluest of blue-blooded Philadelphians and has been the hang out for all of the scions of upper-class society for generations. Ninety-five percent of the place is covered either in marble, mahogany, red leather, or some combination of all three.

I went to the event out of curiosity, as I've been wondering recently if I really wanted to be slogging it out in a courtroom for the rest of my career. Within the first fifteen minutes, I began to realize that at least for the present, I was lucky to be right where I was--gainfully employed. The purpose of the event was to put current business students in touch with successful alumni who were now leaders in their fields, and who hopefully could be their direct pipeline to a job. It also became very clear that most of the recent graduates still hadn't found work yet, and I spent the beginning of the night primarily trying to avoid death by lethal papercut from all of the heavily-embossed business cards being whipped out and thrust towards potential contacts all around the room. I made a go of trying to engage some of the people in conversation, and at first when they heard that I worked for a Fortune 100 insurance company, they immediately perked up and feigned interest. But as soon as it became clear that I was merely in-house counsel and was there trying to decide for myself about getting a MBA, their faces literally fell and they (understandably) looked for the quickest exit from the conversation so that they could continue in their quest to land a job.

After about an hour, I had eaten all of the crudite and cheese cubes that I could possibly digest, and the line at the bar seemed to be constantly growing, despite the fact that the only selection was a choice of either red or white wine. The room was also very hot, so I made my way into the main hallway to get some fresh air. Right away my attention was drawn to the sound of live music coming from the room directly opposite the MBA event. I wandered over and saw a trio of musicians in their early eighties hunched over their intruments, faithfully plucking out a standard variety of ballroom melodies. The room was half-full of men and women who were all there for the club's
Ballroom Dance Night. They were decked out in tuxedos, pin-striped suits, and the finest of this season's eveningwear from Talbots and Anne Taylor. I would estimate the median age of the group was around 65, but there were also a handful of people in their forties. What also caught my attention was the fully stocked bar of top shelf liquor, and the numerous sterling silver toureens filled with gourmet (yet easily chewable and digestible) food.

I've come to find that in any type of party-crashing situation, the best defense is a good offense; so I walked straight up to the welcome table and picked up one of the yet unclaimed nametags languishing in solitude. Apparently for the rest of the night, I would be playing the part of Phillip H. Ward, III. I headed over to the bar and ordered a glass of Glen Livet scotch, then started to fill my plate with filet medallions and braised asparagus. As my sudden arrival had dragged the age curve for the room downward by several decades, I began to attract the attention of some of the elderly patrons lingering nearby. It became clear that I couldn't just hover around the free food and drink for very much longer.

I noticed a woman in her early sixties standing by herself just off the dance floor, so I went over to her and said something along the lines of how I just loved listening to these classic songs. It turned out that she was there with some of her friends from the raquet club, and after some other small talk, I asked if I could have the next dance. She seemed very amused, and with a chuckle she took my arm as it was offered. As the band began to play "The Girl from Ipanema," we made our way onto the dance floor. She was a good sport about the situation, and after a moment asked :

"So, 'Phillip' is it?"

"Yes--Phillip Ward" I said, after shooting an offhand glance down at my nametag one more time to be sure.
"...the Third."

Several years ago, a girl that I had been dating had signed us up for ballroom dancing lessons. After several initial missteps with last night's dance partner, the basic rythym of 'step, step, sidestep' started to come back to me, and soon I was promenading her all around the dance floor. I was trying to pay attention to my feet to avoid stepping on her toes, but I kept getting distracted by the blinding glare of the extravagant jewelry adorning her neck, ears, and fingers. Her diamond necklace alone would have covered my monthly mortgage payments well into next year. For a moment I pondered what life might be like as a 'kept' man, and I decided that-- all things considered, I would be absolutely okay with that type of arrangement.

My dreams of a life of carefree luxury were cut short as I noticed a small commotion beginning to stir over in the corner of the ballroom. Apparently the chairwoman of the dance club and a few other committee members were going through their printed list of registered attendees, trying to determine who I was. As soon as the song ended, I thanked her for the dance, and quickly but discreetly made my way across the hallway and back into the MBA event to blend in with the crowd. It was not without a little chagrin, however, when I noticed the ornate ballroom doors snap shut not five minutes later, so that the dancing could continue without any further intelopers.

I had a 9 a.m. hearing the next morning in a courthouse located over 45 minutes from Philadelphia, so I took a pass when asked to come along to a bar a few blocks away where the networking would informally continue. I did notice a distinct look of eagerness and slight desperation on the faces of many of the attendees who were still jockeying for position around the several remaining alumni.

As I stopped by my office to pick up the casefile for the next day's hearing, I decided that for now, as far as the choice of careers was concerned, I wasn't quite ready to change partners just yet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A river runs down it

I went camping with friends this past weekend at Rickett's Glenn state park in northern Pennsylvania, about three hours from Philadelphia. The park has an eight mile trail that runs alongside two large streams that wind their way down through a gorge and meet up at the bottom. There are 22 waterfalls on the way, and as you pass by them you walk beneath trees that are hundreds of years old towering overhead.

I drove up from the city on Friday night--and between the rush-hour traffic, some last-minute packing, and the 8th straight day of overcast, rainy weather, I didn't arrive at the campsite until almost midnight. I go camping pretty regularly, so even in the dark and the rain I was able to get my tent up pretty quickly and stow my gear away. I went to sleep with the sound of the rain falling among the trees onto my tent far below.

I awoke the next morning and could tell right away that something was different. I opened the flap to my tent and was immediately taken back by a blinding light that poured inside. I made my way to my feet and saw a strange, vaguely familiar golden orb that was hanging in the sky. My lips began to form the word as my mind searched for its name. s...ssu...sun. Sun. Yes--I was almost sure that's what it had been called.

After a week of miserable weather, Saturday was a perfect day to be outdoors. The sky was bright blue and there wasn't a cloud in sight. The air was crisp, but warm under the sunlight, and the trees in that part of the state were an explosion of color. After whipping up breakfast and filling our backpacks with water and food, we were off.

The first half of the hike was all downhill. The path literally runs right next to the falls and gets very steep and narrow in alot of places. The wet leaves and moss-covered rocks kept us on our toes, and there were a few bottlenecks as we passed the scores of other hikers coming up the trail from the bottom. The whole park is an old growth forest, and even though it was an extremely sunny day, it was like twilight down at ground-level beneath the towering oak, cherry, and hemlock trees. The entire time we walked down through the gorge, the rushing water filled the air with a low roar. It had the same relaxing effect on me as when I'm reading a book on a beach late in the afternoon with the sound of waves endlessly breaking in the background.

It took us about two and a half hours to reach the bottom, and we took a short break for lunch. We needed the energy, because the hike back up to the top was a significant workout. It took us well over three hours to get back to our starting point, and we had definitely worked up a sweat by the time we had finished. And I'm a big fan of finding good meals served with a stylish preparation in the new restaurants that keep popping up in Philadelphia, but every once in awhile nothing beats a hot plate of Dinty Moore stew over a fire after you've been hiking all day.

Saturday night was spent laughing and catching up with my friends around the campfire. The sky was just as clear that night, and being far away from the light pollution of the city, the moon and stars shone extra brightly overhead. We put out the fire around 1 a.m., and between the workout that day and the clear mountain air, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the sleeping bag.

Sunday was just as nice outside. We had breakfast again and then took a short hike around a lake that was the source for one of the streams in the park. Here's a picture I took from the shore:

Pretty soon we packed up, threw our gear into our cars and began the drive home. As each mile brought me back closer to the city, my mind started to wander to the to-do lists, bills, and projects at work that waited ahead. I turned off the radio and rode in silence for awhile. And in time, I found that if I concentrated hard enough, I could just make out the sound of roaring water.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Seven things...

I saw this meme here, and since Sara made a personal request, here's my go at it:

Seven things I plan to do:
1. Run in the Philadelphia Marathon next month.
2. Attend the Chicago Improv Festival in April.
3. Ski out west this winter.
4. Go back for my MBA.
5. Become certified in scuba.
6. Travel to London, Paris, and Rome.
7. Skydiving.

Seven things I can do:
1. Speak in front of an audience without prepared notes.
2. Remodel a room myself from start to finish (carpentry, plumbing, electric, painting)
3. Think on my feet under pressure.
4. Make crazy shots in pool.
5. Quote entire scenes from movies word for word.
6. Adapt to new situations quickly.
7. Sing.

Seven things I can't do:
1. Organize paperwork.
2. Play a musical instrument.
3. Turn in things ahead of deadline.
4. Juggle.
5. Color within the lines.
6. Fall asleep before 1 a.m.
7. Confrontation.

Seven things that scare me:
1. Losing another family member.
2. Extremely tight spaces.
3. Losing physical and mental agility with old age.
4. Sharks.
5. Not always being able to work in a fulfilling career.
6. Letting down people close to me.
7. Not being able to truly focus when it's important.

Seven random facts about me:
1. I am the oldest child of four.
2. I once broke my collarbone on a golf course.
3. I have attention deficit disorder.
4. I graduated near the bottom of my class in law school and have won 45 out of 50 jury trials since becoming an attorney.
5. My biggest loss was a $2.1 million verdict against my client, which was a record amount in the city for that type of case that year.
6. I faked my way onto the set of the movie "Suspect" by pretending to be an extra and wound up in a scene in the final cut.
7. I've performed onstage at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

Seven things I say the most:
1. Just kidding.
2. Let's try something new.
3. I'll get that to you tomorrow.
4. What the fuck...
5. Let's do that again.
6. So are you seeing anyone right now?
7. Objection.

Now it's your turn...

Monday, October 17, 2005

Business as usual

I had a great time camping with my friends this weekend. The weather was perfect (finally), the scenery was cool, and it was a good way to unwind for a few days. I took some photos so I'll post a more detailed trip report later in the week when I get them developed.

Unfortunately, the serenity and inner peace that can only come from cutting yourself off from the modern world was wiped away in the first few minutes upon arrival at the office this morning. I should have known that the day would be off to a frenzied start--the 'new message' light on my phone seemed to be frantically blazing a more alarming shade of red, and my Outlook mailbox was chock full of urgent incoming emails adorned with exclamation points, red flags, and this apparently new icon:

So the morning was spent racing over to the courthouse to put out a small emergency and then getting stuck in one of those endless meetings monopolized by someone who just loves to hear themselves talk. A good part of the afternoon was spent trying (and failing) to decipher html code in an attempt to redesign the color scheme of this blog. I was about 75% successful, but I finally gave up for today and decided to tackle it tomorrow.

As the day wound down, I had a chance to reflect on the contrast between the positive effect of living outdoors versus the negative stress of working in an office. I began to think that maybe the Amish were on to something with their disdain for modern technology. I had to admit that, the idea of living a simple life close with nature was a seductive one, but I came to realize that, ultimately, their dogmatic insistence on the use of buttons in place of zippers would be a deal-breaker for me. Plus, I'd miss my TIVO too much. Maybe I'll just buy "Witness" on DVD as a compromise...

Friday, October 14, 2005

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Getting away from it all

Between the 8th straight day of rain here in the city and and a rush of deadlines and last-minute emergencies at work, I definitely could use a change of scenery. So in about 6 hours, I'm shutting down the computer, stuffing my gear in a backpack, and heading to a state park about 3 hours away in north-eastern Pennsylvania to go camping with friends.

Tomorrow we're going to hike about 8 miles on a trail that runs along 22 waterfalls. I'll try to bring a camera to snap some of the highlights. I grew up in north-central PA and used to camp there when I was a kid, so it'll be interesting to see if it's the same as I remember it. It'll be good to unplug from technology for a little bit and unwind. Hope your weekends are just as fulfilling, and I'll see you on Monday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hurry up & date...

Since I took the step of creating my own blog, I've been keeping my eyes open for any opportunities that might have potential for an interesting entry. So when I received an email from a popular singles event planner inviting me to a "Make your Own Margarita & Speed Dating" event yesterday, it seemed like it would be good for at least a couple of paragraphs. The night did not disappoint...

The event was held at Bourbon Blue, a very cool bar that features great Cajun food and live blues music. The night was split into two halves: first, everyone took turns behind the bar learning how to mix their own margarita, and then the men and women were randomly paired off at numbered tables to mingle for five minutes, after which the men got up and moved on to the next table. Everyone was given a form to write down the names and table numbers of the people that they were interested in contacting again. The coordinator would sort out the replies, and send an email to each individual in a couple of days with their positive responses.

I had never been to a speed dating event before, so I didn't know what to expect. To be honest, I went in with a pretty amused attitude towards the night. I had got stuck at the office at end of the day, and due to the bad weather (and a serious traffic jam) I didn't get to the bar until just before the end of the warm-up bartending class. I hopped behind the bar, whipped up my drink, and then it was time for everyone to line up for the starting gun and speed date!

The first thing that you realize is that the five minutes are over before you can get through asking the first question, "So where do you work?" And what really surprised me was the lack of self-awareness in alot of the people there, where you would think that people would really be trying to make a positive first impression. Four out of the five women I sat down with had launched right into their own individual monologues and hardly came up for air before the next round started with a new partner. Here were some of the highlights:

1) Stacey--an environmental scientist in her early thirties. As soon as I asked if she had ever been to one of these types of things before, she went off on how: "I had gone to an event by this same organizer last month, but when I got to the door they couldn't find my online registration (or payment). I had to pay again and was promised a refund, but when it finally came it wasn't as much as I expected and... " All the time she had been relating this, the anger in her voice kept getting louder and more strident, and started to become focused squarely at me (as I was sitting three feet directly across from her) to the point where I had to fight the urge to move all of the sharp utensils on her side of the table to a spot just beyond her reach. Fortunately the time quickly ran out and I was off to the safety of the next table.

2) Kelly--an accounts receivable clerk in her mid-twenties. When I asked about her job, she went on to describe it and mentioned that she had just enrolled in a two-year program to get a degree as an X-ray technician. Then began four minutes of her financial woes, starting with her mountains of school loans from college, her past due bills, the upcoming loss of her salary, and the addition of even more school loans. I felt so bad for her that I began to quietly check for loose change in my pockets. The more she talked about the crushing oppression of her financial situation, the more she began to resemble that little girl on the poster of 'Les Miz'.

3) Lisa--an economist in her late thirties. When I asked if she had ever made her own margarita before, she held forth on the evils of tequila, and how she usually blacks out or throws up after drinking it. I found myself backing away ever so slightly on the other side of the table, just to give myself those few extra precious seconds to dive out of the way if necessary. She thankfully managed to hold her passion fruit margarita down during the rest of our session together. Right before I got up to move for the beginning of the next round, she noticed that I was drinking an Absolut & tonic and began to relate her digestive problems with vodka. Alas, the eligible bachelor who sat down at the table after me will have to fill you in on all of the details from that point.

4) Danielle--actually, I never did find out what her job was. She was there as a wingman to support her friend Kelly (bachelorette #2, Young Cosette, from above). I think she had also been the one to drive them there, as I'm pretty sure Kelly's car had been repossessed and sold for parts earlier that morning. She was very laid back and spent most of the five mintutes actually asking personal questions to find out more about me. She seemed to have a really good sense of humor about the whole situation.

5) Irene--an insurance adjuster in her late forties. When I asked if she had ever been to one of these singles things before, she spent the next four-and-a-half minutes running through a litany of the events that she had been to just in the past month. Let's see, there was the single's happy hour on Friday, the single's lock and key party last week, and the single's "quiet" party (where apparently everyone could only communicate by writing notes to each other for two hours) a few weeks ago. I think she mentioned something about attending a single's Wiccan fertility ritual in September, but my pen ran out of ink trying to take notes as she kept talking.

The men at the event seemed to be equally lacking in self-awareness. The one that stood out the most was Todd, a late thirtysomething guy dressed in an ill-fitting dress shirt buttoned all the way up to the top of his neck, and sporting a plaster cast on his right arm. When I asked him how he injured himself, his voice strived to drop an octave lower as he answered "weight lifting." I complimented him on his inspired choice of such a macho-sounding cover story, but privately reflected that the fact that he was 145 lbs soaking wet might have undercut the impact with the ladies.

Since there were more men at the event than women, each guy had to sit out for two five-minute rounds until he could jump back into the rotation. When my turn came, I made my way over to the bar, ordered another drink, and began to chat up a woman who was not one of the speed daters. It turned out that we both went to the same college a few years apart, and had a couple of things in common, like being the oldest child in a large Irish Catholic family. It seemed like the flirting was mutual, and it got heavier after the two of us moved to another bar down the street, and eventually led to us hooking up later in the night.

And let's just say that at that point, speed was the furthest thing from our minds...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Getting to know you...

Since my blog is pretty new, I saw this quiz on another blog and thought it would be a good way to fill people in a little about what makes me tick. Feel free to cut & paste yourselves...

1. Craziest place you ever had sex? Outdoors in a biblically epic lightning storm
2. Ever pass out from drugging/drinking? Yes. Although I still claim that losing conciousness at 4 a.m. can still technically be classified as 'falling asleep'...
3. What have you done you could have been arrested for? sex in public, shoplifting (on a dare as a teen), trespassing, disturbing the peace (see: sex in public)
4. Ever cheated in school? Yeah, but usually I was the one helping a girl that I was into cheat.
5. Ever dated a goth or a vamp? Goth
6. Ever keep secret from your friends someone you were dating? Yeah.
7. Most unusual place you ever slept? This was during a summer internship in law school:
Woke up at 6:30 a.m. on a bench at a train station 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia (had passed out on the train on my way home earlier that night and the conductor must have dumped me out at the last stop on that route). Was due in court at 9 o'clock and still had to:

a)catch a train back heading back into the city to the station near my house
b)shower, change, and get another train into center city
c)track down my friend's car (that I had hitched a ride in to the bar the night before) in South Philly with that day's court files in it
d)take the subway back to the courthouse
e)be prepared to try the 25 cases on the list that morning.

epilogue...I burst into the courtroom at 8:55 right before the judge took the bench (extremely hungover), and somehow managed to avoid getting all of my cases thrown out of court.

8. Favorite sexual position? standing up, with my arms hooked under her legs and her arms around my neck.
9. Cum before? Cum with or cum after your partner? with or after.
10. You have a tattoo or any other distinguishing features? birthmark--you'll have to get to know me in person to find out where...
11. Ever dated someone you met online? yeah, Match, craigslist, chat rooms...
12. Ever fell in love with someone you met online? once
13. Ever had sex with the same sex? no
14. Had a threesome? yes--MFF
15. Ever cheated on a spouse or lover? yeah.
16. Are you a geek, dork or a nerd? Well, I'm typing this on a computer, so I guess geek is the closest fit...
17. What is the biggest risk you have taken in your life? Climbed into a burning bus to carry out some senior citizens on a casino junket who had crashed on their way to Atlantic City. The bus driver and the driver of the other car had been killed.
18. What do you smell right now? what The Rock is cooking (actually, I don't even know what the hell that is supposed to mean...)
19. Last song you listened to? Panama, by Van Halen- on the radio on the way to work this morning
20. Last show you watched on TV? Lost
21. Last movie you saw in the theater? The 40 Year-Old Virgin
22. Favorite reality show? The Amazing Race
23. What was the last thing you felt guilty about? having to end things last month with a f*ckbuddy who had unrealistic expectations about the relationship
24. Have you ever had phone sex? yes
25. Ever had virtual sex? yes, and I've been banned from Dave & Buster's arcade for life...
26. Have any sexual regrets? a couple of opportunities that I didn't pick up the signals on at the time
27. What is your most recent sexual fantasy? becoming a member of the mile-high club
28. Last time you masturbated? yesterday
29. Can you lick your own nipples? not without dislocating my neck...
30. Would you ever date the person who sent you this quiz? Well, I copied and pasted from her blog, but yeah, she seems like a fiesty redhead with a healthy attitude towards sex.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Jogging my memory

I've decided that I'm going to do the Philadelphia Marathon next month. I've done a half-marathon and a mini-triathalon, and after getting a torn ACL back into shape after a lacrosse injury, I want to give a full marathon a shot.

Of course, this inspiration has hit me a little over one month before the race, so I went for an extended run yesterday to kick-start my training. As the miles started adding up, I was looking for any distraction to take my mind off of the growing fatigue. I was running along a path in Fairmount Park, which starts in center city but winds out through a heavily wooded area along the Wissahickon Creek. In the middle of the park is the Valley Green Inn, a restored historic building that now is a pretty decent restaurant. It's also very popular for weddings, and as I approached I could see a bride and groom posing for photos with their wedding party by a scenic spot along the river. There were alot of people out in the park, and a small crowd of runners, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and parents out with their children had gathered nearby and were offering their congratulations.

As I ran by, the scene of random people in the community sharing in the wedding celebration reminded me of my brother's wedding a couple of years ago. My brother is fluent in Spanish and was always in love with the culture, so right after graduation he took a job in Mexico City. He quickly fell in love and it wasn't long before our family headed down for a wedding in the historic town of San Miguel de Allende--which is a couple of hundred years old and now is very popular with the art community. The photo at the top of this entry is the church where they were married.

They incorporated alot of Mexican traditions into the ceremony, but the best one was done on the night before the wedding. My brother hired a mariachi band, and rented a real, live burro with two big casks of sangria strapped across its back. The tradition is for the bride and groom (de novios) to walk through the streets of the town and welcome everyone to join in the procession (of course the offer of free drink is a big draw...)

As I ran further into the woods, the specific memories of that night in Mexico started to come back. I could remember how clear the moon and stars looked overhead as our group walked along the cobblestone streets, the colors on the mariachis' costumes, and the growing spread of color on our own clothes as we spilled purple sangria all over ourselves the longer we tried to walk and drink at the same time.

But mostly I remembered the faces of the people as they came out to their doors and windows as our procession passed by. Some joined in, and others just leaned out over their balconies and said something in Spanish wishing the bride and groom good luck. But you could tell by their expressions that they were genuinely happy for the couple, and enjoyed being part of the celebration. I remembered thinking that it was a very cool way to experience another culture, and how most weddings in the States are more of a spectacle without any real interaction between the couple getting married and the people around them. So it was kind of nice yesterday to see that same sense of the community sharing in the wedding celebration here in our culture too.

It also reminded me that our family has decided to go down to Mexico City for Christmas this year, since my brother and his wife have a little girl now and it's much more of a production for them to travel up here for the holidays. So I need to get busy and book my flight. Looks like it's going to be tequila and huevos rancheros instead of eggnog and fruit cake this year...

Friday, October 07, 2005

Compromising positions...

Today was mostly spent trying to emerge from beneath the deluge of emails and paperwork that landed in my inbox and on my desk this morning, but I couldn't resist taking a moment to check out some of the more interesting blogs that I've found recently.

Yesterday, on Half-Naked Thursday, a lot of people were putting (at least a portion) of their exterior on display. Today, it seems like the focus was turned inward. A couple of blogs, and the comments that followed, talked about the specific qualities that men and women require in a potential partner. Two of those discussions are here and here.

My comments on both blogs sort of followed the same theme: for me, it pretty much has come down to finding a balance. The focus shouldn't be on trying to change your personality to fit some 'type' that others might want or expect, but on first really figuring out what you yourself want, and then finding that comfort zone around the things that you can't live with or without in a potential partner.

Yesterday at lunch, I happened to run into someone that I had dated several years ago. We weren't really boyfriend/girlfriend--to be honest the relationship began and was sustained because we were very sexually compatible. (That's a story for another day...) We were both new attorneys, overworked, and without a lot of time for a social life. We would always have a great time when we went out (or stayed in...) but neither of us was looking to begin a serious, committed relationship at that point in our lives. At the time, her long-term priorities were set on being independent, child-free, and eventually having a very active lifestyle focused around center city life.

So I was kind of surprised yesterday when she told me that she was:

A) married to an older man;
B) had moved into a new house in the suburbs, and
C) was a step-mother to two teenage boys

Money was definitely not an issue--she's earning a six-figure salary at one of the biggest firms in the city, and she had come from a pretty wealthy family herself. We didn't have the time to get into how she and her husband met, or what led to her change of heart, but she seemed genuinely happy and content with her life now.

It got me thinking about how sometimes setting up a whole list of specific conditions for a potential partner could prevent a person from taking even a first step towards something that could lead to a very fulfilling relationship. Of course, we have a responsibility to ourselves to make sure that our core needs aren't being ignored or compromised. And timing also plays a big role--sometimes it takes living through a particular experience, or having some unexpected, external event occur, before we start to re-examine our priorities.

Well, there are plenty of sides to this, but I just looked down and realized that it's past 5 o'clock, so my weekend has officially begun. I'll see everyone on Monday--I'd be interested to hear your thoughts...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

About the title...

A few years ago, on a whim, I signed up for improvisation classes at the N.Y. training center of The Second City, a famous theater in Chicago where John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Mike Meyers (and dozens of other film and tv stars) got their start.

A basic improv scene is two people walking onstage without any pre-arranged dialogue, scenery, or character choices. You truly have to work with your scene partner, be open for whatever suggestions might come your way, and respond in a way that will heighten the scene further. The best way that they train new actors to think that way is to emphasize the concept of 'Yes, and...'

If your partner begins the scene by making motions like they're typing at a computer, don't block that choice right off the bat by saying something like "I hear that Michaelangelo is finally going to finish painting that ceiling in the chapel today..."

Wait for them to say something related to what they're doing ("Just a minute while I finish typing out this email to you about why we need to break up..."). Then go with that premise (the 'Yes' part) and add something that will heighten the scene (the 'and...' part). ("Fine. Could you hurry up with my computer, then--I'll need to update my E-Harmony profile with photos of us with your face blacked out...).

So hopefully this scene will be off and running about two extremely callous people who had been dating and seem to need to one-up each other with technology to start and finish relationships. After you practice agreeing and heightening in scene after scene, you start to realize that it's a great idea to try in real life--at work, with friends, in relationships (and in bed...).

And that is the meaning behind, 'Yes, and...'

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"Nature abhors a vacuum"

and an empty blog. There probably should be a more profound start to my very first post on the first day of this site, but a work deadline looms. There will be many more to follow, I promise...