My brother likes to say, "you should just get a girlfriend, I think it would make you happier," as though the option is just sitting there ripe for the taking - as though I've been actively turning down the opportunity to date a bevy of sexy, sweet, and simple women. Now, it would be easy, at this point, for me to start writing about all of the reasons why the presence of a girlfriend hasn't been a part of my life since college. But again, like blogging about my job, discussing the reasons behind my proper assimilation and acceptance of modern dating procedures on my blog is just not within my realm of ability or comfort at this point, nor do I hope it ever is. No, this little post is about something slightly different. It's about why, when you reach a certain age, when it comes to women, you stop competing with only your peers and start competing with them and with all those who came before you.
My roommate and I live in a small apartment complex comprised of four two-bedroom apartments. Recently, probably a week ago, we got new neighbors - two girls from Chicago, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to be in the warm and sunny climes of America's hitmaker of a city, Los Angeles. Pulling up in their Penske truck late on a Wednesday night, the roomie and I decided to help our fellow neighbors, as is our Godly duty, and broke quite the sweat schlepping their seemingly endless parade of stuff up the stairs and into the new apartment. What can I say? We're stand-up guys. It should be noted, for purely scientific and empirical reasons, that the girls are not significantly cute, though one is a bit cuter than the other. They are of that healthy breed of gals that come from the chilly climate of the hog-butcher to the world - Chicago requires a thicker winter coat than southern California is all I'm saying, and I'd appreciate it if you'd not judge me harshly for my clinical observations. I can enjoy the friendship of women without having to think of them as sexual objects, you damn prevert.
During the past week, they've come down the stairs for a beer or two, and I've made my way up the steps to share some music and chat about their respective job searches. It's almost painful to talk to them at times - the same spot in my heart hurts every time I speak to anyone new to LA, full of faux-hope and not completely buying their own bullshit, as if the louder they proclaim their unwavering desire and determination to "make it", the greater their chances. It is the fumes from these gaseous delusions that run this city, the hundreds of thousands of technicians and interns and PAs that don't mind being abused and degraded and underpaid, so long as they someday have their shot (their shot at what, exactly, is universally vague, but the chance to rub shoulders with someone like Kanye West would surely suffice) - and sadly, how few of them are able to see the little compromises they make along the way, the slow slide into cynicism and the casual drift of personal tastes, until ten years go by and they've become the person they first worked for and whom they always said they'd never become, still renting a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood and holding out hope that someday their script will be read by a famous actor too overcome with emotion not to produce and star in the film themselves, a stroke of luck that will buy them a little respect and a one-way ticket on the fast train to celebrity luches at Spago and a house in Malibu. Onward fame-obsessed soldiers!
Last night, I returned a few CDs to the ladies from the Windy City, lingering in their apartment as they recounted their day for me - an eventful but slow drive up the coast to Malibu, full of stops on the side of the road and snapshots taken. Oh, the innocence of youth. We talked about how much I hated my job, and how much they were looking forward to their new, still imaginary jobs, and the conversation drifted into one of the girl's bedrooms, where she was working on her computer. The three of us joked a bit more and, after being prompted, I again did my impression of Gob from Arrested Development, one of the easier guaranteed laughs in my repetoire, a high face card always held for an easy hand. After the girly giggles subsided, the girl at the computer whispered, almost inaudibly, "You remind me so much of J." I asked who J. was. She pointed to the large, framed picture of a young man playing a heavily stickered guitar on the dresser and said, "Just . . . a guy." As is my nature, I mocked her. "Oooh, just some guy, huh?"
"Actually," she said, "he's passed away."
What do you say then? I apologized and asked what happened, but she said that she'd rather not talk about it. Of course she wouldn't want to talk about it! I mean, all she did was bring it up herself! Who in their right mind would take that as an invitation to discuss the circumstances of the young man's death? A presumptuous asshole was the implication and, being a presumptuous asshole, I pressed further. "Oh, well, I'm really sorry. You don't have to talk about it . . . I mean, if it's really personal or something . . ."
She claimed that it was really difficult to talk about it because J. was "her guy" and that maybe her roommate should explain what happened. After a confused look and some hemming and hawing, the roommate proceeded to vaguely describe how "some sort of freak accident" took J.'s life, that somehow he was electrocuted on the El. It was hard to understand everything the roommate was saying, though, because of her unfortunate mumbling and the faint high hum of a chorus of violins playing the theme from the Twilight Zone somewhere on Santa Monica Boulevard. I quietly excused myself and retired to my apartment, where the lock was quickly but quietly engaged, the blinds closed, the lights dimmed, and the television turned down.
You see, this is what you get for reaching out into the world. You try to help someone. You try to make a connection with people, to develop an understanding, to find common ground. And at the end of the day, all you get in return is the creepy feeling that the world is full of unstable women waiting to compare you to their dead boyfriends.