L.A. Times – L.A. Affairs: Cautious driver faces the prospect of a blind turn

Original Article: http://www.latimes.com/home/la-hm-affairs-20150425-story.html

I hadn’t been a personal driver long—it was a way to make extra cash, working the South Bay and Long Beach. She was my first job in Redondo Beach, and she had kept me waiting for 15 minutes outside her apartment. When she appeared, she was in a black cocktail dress and flip flops. She carried a pair of blue high heels in one hand, and her clutch purse in the other. She was friendly and complimented me on my tie.
“I’m so sorry. I’ve been running behind all day,” she said.
“It’s OK,” I replied.
The traffic on the 405 North was moderate. I figured I could get her to Hollywood in a half hour or so, but clouds had lingered for most of the day, and it had started to rain. I had already seen two accidents on the way to pick her up, so I was being extra cautious. We engaged in the usual chit-chat. She asked how long I had been driving. I told her a few weeks. She told me about her job in broadcasting and how she loathed having to go out on weekends—especially to Hollywood. I agreed that Hollywood had changed, or maybe I had just gotten older and it had lost its appeal.
“Roads are slick,” I said, “People drive too fast in the rain here.”
I merged into the slow lane. She reached into her purse and produced a small compact—she was finishing her makeup.
“I look all right?” she asked.
“Yes. You look nice.”
She laughed. “Does that make you uncomfortable? Are clients not supposed to ask those types of questions?”
I told her it was fine. Conversation always put the clients at ease, especially women traveling alone. She seemed to relax the more we talked.
“Damn,” she said, “I forgot to call my sister and tell her I’ve left. She likes to make sure I’m safe.”
She spoke to her sister and reassured her she was fine and that she’d call her after the event. I took the off-ramp to La Cienega and got bogged down in traffic around Pann’s.
“This is why I never leave the South Bay,” she said, “Traffic all the way to Hollywood.” She was looking at a travel app on her phone when she got a text. She said it was her sister reminding her to text once she got to Hollywood.
“If I don’t text my sister throughout the night, she has a fit. I wish she’d get out more.”
She explained that her sister was a very attractive girl and had gotten into fitness modeling. After dating a string of the wrong kinds of men, she opted to focus more on her career. She stayed in most weekends.
I had grown quiet, fearing where our conversation was leading. Then it came, the dreaded: “So, do you date much? Are you married?”
I rarely talk about my personal life, especially with strangers. However, she had a kind of openness that I appreciated, and I found myself opening up too. I told her I had been in a relationship that had ended. We had recently entered that awkward phase of trying to find a way to be friends—a phase that required some form of make-believe, pretending that our emotions and any lingering romantic urgings were gone.
She was sympathetic.
“You’ll find someone awesome. It just takes time.”
I had heard that continuously in the past few months and, frankly, it never seemed to make me feel any better. That’s the curse of a breakup– no matter what people say, it’s a dark valley you have to navigate on your own.
We were a few miles south of Sunset when she decided to call her sister, again. During their conversation, she mentioned me.
“Yes, I already told you, the driver is not crazy. Actually, I think you would like him.”
I stayed silent. There was no protocol for this. She was trying to set me up.
“Yes, he works out,” she said followed by a chuckle. She soon ended the call. I drove north on Ivar and found a meter.
“So, my sister wants you to call her.” She handed me a small piece of paper with a phone number.
“She’s never met me.”
“You’re a good guy. She trusts me.”
I told her I’d think about it. I wasn’t sure I needed to be dating at the time. The wound was still fresh and I was emotionally fatigued.
“You can call her while you wait.”
I was hesitant to say anything. I smiled, appeasing her. She headed toward the club’s entrance. I fed the meter, walked a bit, and then got back in the car.
I placed the number on the passenger’s seat and tuned the radio to jazz. After listening to a few songs, I got up the courage and took the phone from my suit pocket.

The Last Love Letter (An Exercise in Emotional Unearthing Inspired by S. Burke and E. Cleaver)

Dear:__________________________,

Lately I feel my words have been failing so it’s with great apprehension that I commit these words to paper. I’ve come under a kind of bout, a stupor that I can’t seem to shake. This could be a great catastrophe, but I’m prepared for the fall out. Shameless thoughts bullied their way into my head and they’ve taken up residence in my consciousness: I deserve to know you, to communicate with you and this entire happening. I’ve never met a woman like you before and in many ways I’m at a loss. I can’t really form words, build on ideas that can describe the complete gravity of my feelings, but I will try.

I don’t believe in the concept of merit, or karma without the sutra, or any other mystic jazz, but I do believe in fate. As clichéd as that may sound, and believe me it almost pains me enough to erase it, but it is a very real thing…at least to me. It is no mistake that I met you and in our few encounters I’ve developed a profound respect for you. I do seek the profound. Contrary to the advice of those around me who claim wisdom, I’ll take the credit and let the cash go. I prefer to incur interest or debt with the hope one day I’ll be able to pay such a thing off. I could write letters, poems, bleed on the page if need be and get nothing in return. I could do this everyday if it pleased you. I am not afraid of ultimate failure and I do not believe that a beautiful relationship has to always end in carnage. It’s a lie when they say all good things must come to an end. It is true that I’m a realist. Many say too real for my own good. But I do dream and not arbitrarily. I intend to make all things I dream sublime realities. But I’m not without folly or fault. I suppose you caught me in a transition. I have been accused of being things that are not complimentary. I’ve been called aloof, a playboy and an eccentric. So I consider the stakes are high. But with all honesty I must say you’ve cast a spell and in the words of Solomon Burke, “I feel your mark upon me now as surely as the hand that leaves the bruise”.

We know each other little, but with the capacity for much. I know words can be lethal, and can bring about frightening realities. They can resurrect, create and destroy. So I must reiterate that this was not an easy task. But it is an awesome thing and I hope you have the ego for a compliment, but you deserve these words and much, much more. I know as an artist that inspiration can overpower us. It can cascade down on our heads and threaten to beat us into the ground, into the dust. But I’ve never feared such unknowns in my work, so why in my life? I suppose in my work I have more control, but in life one must account for what is not written: real emotions, real souls, and real-life. I am learning. Any man would be lying if he said he would rather hold a woman than for her to stay out of her own free will. Just as any man would be lying if he denied wearing a mask in an effort to impress or con a woman. I say con, because I believe that a man who operates in a sham is a con artist. I bare my soul proudly. I Am what I Am. Now that I’ve begun to write, I’ve put it all on the table, emphatically. I’ve lowered the boom, so to speak. I know what I’ve done but I do not regret it, not one word. I suppose this is all a gamble, a game of hearts and craps. But by meeting you, you’ve tossed me a lifeline. I’ve already won. There is no pressure. In fact, if you never responded to the words I’ve written I’d be fine with that. I just want you to know the impact you’ve had. I admire your tenacity, drive and determination. Your passion astounds me and during our conversations I’ve found myself in owe of you. Aside from your immense beauty is your intellect and wit. I could talk with you for hours and not think of anything else except the words being spoken…what can I say, you put a smile on my face every time I see you and now just for now, nothing is more real than this.

Truly,
Aaron

For the Love of Conversation

Los Angeles is a busy place—most of us work 9 to 5 jobs and then spend forty-five minutes to an hour navigating traffic to get home. Once home, we tend to our pets, chores, make dinner, call friends and family, etc. It’s why taking the time, after all those domestic duties, to pick up the phone and chat with someone matters.

There’s something magical about talking into the wee hours of the night—both of you battling to keep your eyes open because you don’t want the conversation to end. One person says that they really need to sleep and then thirty minutes later the conversation is still going. It reminds me of conversations with my best friend growing up, Tammy. She’d call every Saturday morning after cartoons were over and we’d talk for hours. My mom would marvel at it—saying we stayed on the phone like grown folks. I don’t remember what we talked about, kid stuff I suppose, but I do remember laughing and not wanting to hang up. I looked forward to talking with her, to sharing that time with someone I cared about.

In the end, relationships are about just that, giving someone your time and being there for them when they need you. Even though I was a kid, if Tammy ever said she needed me, I’d be on my Huffy racing over to her house on the other side of town—I’d find a way. And that’s the point; some relationships lose sight of that. Those late-night conversations stop after the first few months of dating. People settle in and sometimes start taking the other person for granted. The relationship becomes less about communication and connection, and more about the roles each person now assumes. Even as an eight-year-old, I’d do anything for Tammy because she was my friend—it was honest and pure. Which is why when I encounter that same feeling in my adult life, I savor it. Being able to get to know someone, to invest time into that person is a gift. It’s what we were put on this earth for. We’re not designed to live as islands—isolated and withdrawn. We’re designed to interact, to communicate, to fellowship, and to love.

Los Angeles is packed with people but it still offers isolation. And though Warren Zevon sung about isolation being splendid, it can also turn depressing. My advice to dreamlanders who feel like they are losing connections to those who matter, pick up the phone, don’t text. Instead, have a real conversation because just hearing the voice of someone you care about, might be just the medicine you need.

The Swirl: Race and Dating in LA

It’s well-known that Los Angeles touts itself as a cultural melting pot—a liberal Mecca with a thriving culture of art, music and film. It’s a place of sophistication and forward thinking, and where the only societal pressure is to be the hippest version of you. People are free to date whomever they like, and most onlookers won’t give a second glance. Having lived in the South where interracial dating is still taboo, LA is in direct opposite. I have had the pleasure of dating women of various ethnicities. What I look for in a woman has always been substance and depth. I’ve always been attracted to a woman who has something to say and isn’t afraid to say it. And in my life, these women have come in various tones and shades.

 

However, like with anything, there is a less appealing side to what talk show host and radio personality, Wendy Williams, calls “the swirl”. On three occasions, I’ve dated women of European descent—most recently, German. She was a sweet, attractive and pleasant woman. Though we had our disagreements and ultimately a failure to sustain what we had, we ended things on honest terms. Yet, there was always an elephant in the room. She always seemed apprehensive to introduce me to her friends with the exception of her roommate. Once, as we sat in a Mexican restaurant near her hometown, a young white woman she recognized approached us. They greeted each other quickly and without introduction, the woman left and my date seemed relieved she didn’t stick around. I didn’t bother asking who it was, since it wasn’t my business, but it was strange.

She would later explain she had no black friends, and limited friends of color. Out of curiosity, I once asked her, why that was? She didn’t really know, but she assumed she just spent time with people who were mostly like her. I found it odd. Living in a metropolis like Los Angeles, I had grown up with friends from all ethnic backgrounds, and I realized how much of a gift it was. I learned so much about other ethnicities and cultures. I learned to see the beauty of humanity; tolerance was imprinted into my upbringing. My parents had a diverse group of friends as well, and I remember as a child thinking that’s how friendship should be—a melting pot.

In a later conversation, she explained she had dated black men before, but nothing serious had materialized. Her friends thought she simply had “the fever”, and that it was more of a phase she was going through since she could never stick it out with a man of color. She assured me that wasn’t the case; instead, she felt she could only see herself marrying a black man. Every now and then we’d have conversations concerning race and identity. She didn’t know much about black history, and rarely shared any tidbits about growing up German. We never attended cultural events in the city, or ventured into neighborhoods that predominately had an ethnic make-up other than white. She lived in the valley, and much of our time was spent there. Looking back, I realize there were times she was clearly uncomfortable. It made me wonder, was I that edgy accessory? Was I the equivalent of getting a tattoo or a piercing in an unexpected place? Was it a case of fetishization and rebellion?

I remember in high school how certain girls from prominent white families would take a black boy to the prom. It was seldom that they would date them for longer than a month, but for the prom they were showcased in photos with the star black athlete—the award-winning wide receiver, the basketball playing MVP, the captain of the wrestling team. Sure, one could say girls just like athletes, but it was peculiar.

I’m an eternal optimist and a racial deconstructionist. I believe racism will only be eliminated when great distinctions in color no longer exist—similar to what was broached in the National Geographic article, “Changing Faces: What Americans Will Look Like in 2050”. But I’m also a realist and understand the nature of people—some like to experiment, and LA is a great place to do it without facing judgment. However, there is something inherently racist in doing so. I faced moments where I felt less like a person and more like “the non-threatening black guy she was dating.” She once said, “From your voice on the phone, I’d never guess you were a black person.” This wasn’t so alarming since I’ve heard it all my life, and I’ve actually mastered sounding ambiguous on the phone—it’s helped me land job interview after job interview. Yet, it still bothered me. What is talking ‘black’? It’s a concept I’ve never gotten. I’m college educated with a master’s degree, so sue me. I read books, sometimes a book a week. Am I an anomaly? I don’t know, but I sure feel like one sometimes. It all boils down to cultural understanding and experience. I don’t think the girl I dated was a closet racist. On the contrary, I think she saw race in America as something that could be shelved and perhaps not really dealt with. After all, people can connect over music, films, food, books, etc. But there will always be that elephant in the room, and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

I believe people should date others not because of their racial identities, but because they find them interesting. But if you are going to participate in “the swirl”, just be sure you’re dating someone who has a true interest in your culture. Since it’s a component to identity, someone who has no understanding or interest in learning about where you come from, may have an even less interest in really getting to know you on a deeper level. 

I’d like to think these issues are going away soon, but I think they are here to stay for a while. Misunderstandings and stereotypes are traps, and if they burrow their way into a relationship it will prove to be disastrous. More education is needed and an even greater willingness to expose our ignorance to each other, especially if love is at stake. For those participating in the black and white “swirl”, for your next date, skip the romantic comedy and check out “Dear White People”. It might be just the thing that lets that elephant out of the room. 

Good luck, Dreamlanders!

 

You Scare Me To Death (Working through “Gone Girl”) (Spoiler Alert)

I recently saw David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” which resonated on a few levels. It’s a slick film based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, with an underlying metaphor about the futility of marriage. The female protagonist is Amy, a scorned woman who is also a psychopath. She constructs a revenge scenario of biblical proportions and sets out to make her husband suffer in unimaginable ways.

The film treats marriage as some type of shared psychosis. It’s emotional but also very mental. What exactly happens to a person’s brain when they get married, or better yet, fall deeply in love? Things change upstairs–chemicals and neurons, an altered psychosis.

Amy’s mission is to make her husband feel as bad as she did–worse. She recognizes that at some point, early on, she did love her husband but that love turns to hate upon discovering his infidelity. I understand that Amy is a murderous psychopath, but how she sees marriage may not be that far-fetched. Her philosophy is that when we meet someone and begin to build a relationship, we enter into a social contract. Who you say you are or pretend to be, is who we accept as the truth. It’s like both parties are agreeing to this lie or revision of who they both are–sure, things will come out later but they shouldn’t be earth-shaking shockers.

Where the overall theme becomes apparent, is within the last 15 minutes that leads to the climax and resolution. Amy attempts to restore the contract she had with her husband and in the process she kills. She reclaims her marriage and renegotiates the terms of their agreement. This time with a trump card–pregnancy. The fear of Amy having a child and raising it is what propels her husband to stay. And their marriage becomes an even bigger production. Most marriages are just that–a production. There’s the public version, the private version, and then the version that exists in silence. It’s what isn’t said in the moments at the dinner table. There are people who have been married for years and quietly resent each other, but they don’t divorce. It’s that shared psychosis–a mental illness. Yes, Amy is insane but marriage isn’t for the sane. And they aren’t always about happiness for some. There are those who take comfort in knowing the devil they sleep with. Once you understand the nature of a thing, you know what it’s capable of. It can be much more frightening starting something new and having to get to know the ends and outs of that person. What if they’re worse than the person you left? What if they hurt you again and you can’t recover? These are frightening thoughts for most. 

In marriages people hurt each other–some hurt big, some small. Some go out of their way to hurt, and some just make horrible mistakes. Meeting someone sets unknown events into motion. It’s the unknown that we crave and that’s healthy. However, when venturing into the unknown, always be sure you can see a light at the end of the tunnel or at least a good exit route.  

The Rewind

Looking back on a past relationship is never pretty. It requires having to filter through moments you thought mattered but didn’t. Those moments that resonated on an emotional level, but for the other person were simply a series of seconds that made up the minutes of some mundane event. It’s harsh but real. When entering a relationship, you must face the possibility that the person you are with isn’t with you because they love you. They can be with you because they fear being alone. Or you may be that experiment–that person they think will save them. 

The following are rules when rewinding through the past:

1. It’s going to hurt–it’s going to hurt bad. Even if you weren’t in love with the person, humans have an insatiable need to never give up. There’s always going to be that feeling of–“What if I tried harder?” or “Communicated more?”. The fact is, there is nothing you could have done. In the words of James Caan, “Sometimes we just don’t mix.”

2. Was it really romantic? Romance is a major part of sustaining a relationship. For some, they believe sex over romance will keep something going, but that always fails. Sex changes things. What begins as one thing, is something completely different in the end. You don’t include love, respect, romance, faithfulness–it’s doomed. It’s imperative that you ask yourself, was it ever romantic. Did you get those butterflies in your stomach when that person came around. I’ve felt it a few times in my life and it’s unmistakable. The most recent was with a girl, almost a year ago. She’s gone to Louisiana now, but I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. I remember standing at her door and waiting for her to open it. I always had a lump in my throat and my stomach was doing flips.

3. Were you inspired? This is major because I’m a firm believer that the person you’re with should inspire you in some way. You should wake up and want to be better for that person because you care what they think of you. If you don’t feel inspired by the moments shared, then they weren’t anything special.

4. Now this is difficult but were they always present in the moment? Was there a time you caught the person drifting off or looking at someone else in front of you? Were they always intently focused on you, like you were the only one in the room? It’s painful to confront but it must be done. If you ever felt like they weren’t fully engaged–eye contact, body language, listening, etc. Then you experienced that so-called “connection” alone. They were simply occupying the chair next you.

5. This may be the hardest, but were they honest with you? Honesty is key, always. Was there ever a time when you just knew they were holding back information (omission), maybe even flat-out lying? I’m one for the truth, no matter how terrible it is. However, there are those who con and through deceit, gain your trust and access to your heart. But with any lie, it falls apart sooner or later. That little lie was a sign of things to come. It meant that you didn’t truly matter, not enough for the person to be straight with you. And it can easily snowball into cheating or more terrible forms of deceit. 

In the end, we do the best we can. Dating and relationships of any kind come with risk, but with great risk is the potential for great reward. In the city of dreams, it’s easy to get lost. But Drake put it best, “Know yourself, know your worth.” Don’t ever compromise. Good luck out there Dreamlanders!

Knowing is Half the Battle

“You can hook up with someone for a long time or know their middle name or what records they like, but that’s not a connection…Anyone can have that. Really knowing someone is something else, a completly different thing. And when that happens, you won’t be able to miss it. You will be aware and you won’t hurt or be afraid.” – Adam, HBO’s Girls

It can be a frightening reality, that the people we love are strangers. We don’t always know they’re strangers but one day, maybe a month after meeting, six months, a year, ten years, you realized you didn’t really know the person you shared your life with. We humans, we dreamers, have a way of building people up–making them into something they’re not. People do it everyday, we revise people so they’re what we desire.

Yet, it comes a time when you have to accept people for who and what they are. Sure, we want people to be their best because on some level we all aspire to be more. But we all get there at a different pace. Pushing someone to be something they’re not never works. It causes resentment and mental anguish. The real work should be spent knowing the person–who they really are. We should learn to listen more and talk less. Enjoy the moment and after all that, if the person still seems to be an enigma, there’s a reason. Some mysteries just aren’t meant to be solved.

Tinder Moments

After some urging from friends, I recently joined the Tinder craze–yes, that app that links you with random strangers with the off-chance you’ll make some kind of connection that will propel you into romance, or just an easy ‘hook-up’. I thought the app was sleazy. And to an extent it is, it’s mostly used by call girls to sucker men into ordering their services. However, there are everyday women using the service too. I tried my hand at it–swiped a lot until I got a match. When I did, I viewed her profile. She was a grad student working on her MSW. We had things in common. She liked live music, beaches, and independent films. A conversation ensued. All day we talked off and on. It was nice. So nice we agreed not to spoil it by actually meeting. I think we both wanted to live the fantasy and knew that meeting would just deflate it; after all, who starts a relationship from meeting on an app?

 

text tinder

 

I know there’s a kind of loneliness out there, especially for my generation. We used to talk on the phone, now we text. We used to write letters, now we email. And we’re all desperately alone–looking to make a connection through social media or some app. I realize it’s like gambling–it’s like going to Vegas and betting on red or black. You swipe on Tinder, thinking will this be it? Will this be the one? You go to a bar dressed to impress some imaginary person you just know is there waiting to make your acquaintance. We’re all addicted to hope, to chance. Maybe it’s because we’re fed a heavy dose of romance. It’s practically shoved into our faces. Such and such met and fell in love on Match, eHarmony, OkCupid, etc. Do people even meet face-to-face anymore?

I love romance. I think it still exists, somewhere. But I question if it exists in Los Angeles. I think Angelenos may have killed it. The bar and club culture in this city has people convinced that romance is a shared Uber to Mel’s Diner, and afterwards a dip in a hot tub. Los Angeles reinvents itself all the time, just like the people who inhabit it. You don’t like who you are one year, next year get a new job, new friends, new hobbies. In Los Angeles, you can pretend to be someone else. The trouble with that is when you do find someone worth your time, the role you’ve decided to play is the character they want. It’s who they fell in love with. You can’t just take the mask off and if you do, you run the risk of them not loving you. Masks make us forget who we really are–they’re dangerous. If people really want to find love in Los Angeles, they should start by figuring out who they are and what they want. Then they should give up on searching and live their lives–get some hobbies, meet new people, join clubs and groups they’ve always wanted to join. Stop fantasizing and live in reality.