After being in a relationship for two years (with another one right before that), I thought that being single would be easy and that having my relationship removed would be a relatively painless procedure. It would be like getting your spleen taken out. "What does that thing even do, anyway?" I would laugh, throwing caution to the wind as I lived out my Very Mary Richards life.
However, this was not to be the case.
The first time I encountered an eligible mate was on the train about two months after my breakup. I was listening to Big Star's "September Gurls," which I did a lot of then, and thinking about ordering a pizza when I got home, which I did a lot of, too. And out of nowhere, the handsome man standing next to me on the train reached down and grabbed my hand, which he held for the rest of the trip. It was one of the strangest and most unexpectedly tender things that's ever happened to me, and we didn't say a word to each other until the train crowd dissipated and we were mostly alone in the car. I told him that I had to get off at the next stop, but he should call me. I wrote my number on the back of a fortune cookie fortune that was hanging out in my pocket.
But after getting off the train, I realized I had made a grave error. Instead of giving him my number, I accidentally gave him the number of my hometown pizza place, which had been on my mind in all this pondering of pizza. The restaurant's name is LaRosa's. If he called them, he would have been greeted by their catchy yet suggestive slogan: "Tastes so good, you want it bad."
This single thing wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.
When I lived in Paris last year, I worked at a local bookshop as a way to meet people and brush up on my French -- but only got good at stacking well-known American novels, explaining to people that, yes, I spoke English and doing lots of pointing. "Où se trouve la science-fiction?" could be answered with a simple finger, the universal language of linguistic inadequacy. But every once in a while, I'd strike up a conversation with an interesting local or a sexy tourist just passing through -- ones I would try to dupe into thinking I was attractive, bohemian and cool. I'm bisexual, so there were lots of opportunities to fail at this endeavor.
My favorite was a Londoner and staunch Austenite who expressed an interest in Marcel Proust and the classics but left with an armful of Gary Shtyengart, Zadie Smith and Nick Hornby -- after we found out we shared a love of the movie High Fidelity. I wanted to put my mouth on her mouth for days.
However, I realized I'd forgotten to ask her name, which is a bad habit of mine. She said it was Nell and stuck out her hand, just like in the movie version of our falling in love. I then replied, "Oh, Nell. I love that name. Like the movie Nell!" She was silent, so I just assumed that she hadn't seen it. So I explained that the movie was about a wild child who shows her breasts to strangers and struggles with acclimating to a society where people don't flash people in public and spin around while singing in their made-up, forest-people language. "It has Jodie Foster in it," I told her.
She looked confused, so I moved on from my plot summary and told her that my name was Nico. Nell shouted, "That's so awesome! There are tons of Nells." Then, because I hadn't had enough self-sabotage, I decided to respond with shooting our conversation in the face: "You could always kill all the other Nells, like Jet Li in that movie where he has to take out all the other Jet Lis... so he can be the one."
She looked incredibly confused and had one of those looks on her face like she couldn't possibly think of what to say to me. So I sent Nell back to the wilds of Paris. I shook her hand, pointed to the science-fiction section and went back to The Grapes of Wrath.
Shortly after this, my roommate decided to take pity on me and hook me up with her friend, whom we'll call "Benoit." I wasn't that into him, but it was France, and all the romantic France things and baguettes and shit made me horny. So I shaved my chest, put on some clean underwear and asked him over to watch Midnight in Paris, which is just about the most cliché thing I could have done (#touristalert). However, he acquiesced because he's a Woody Allen fan -- like most every European I met. (They're good like that.) He brought wine, and I made hummus, which is how I attract all potential mates -- with sexy chickpea breath.
We had settled down to a relaxing evening of watching Owen Wilson's girlfriend be mean to him, but when the movie started, so began the gorgeous opening sequence -- which is like a mini tone poem composed of recognizable Paris landmarks. "There's the Champs-Élysées! Look, the Arc de Triomphe!" one might exclaim. Instead, I shouted, "Hey, I peed on that building!"
I would be eating hummus for one that evening.
When I got back from Paris and settled back into Chicago, one of the first things I did was attend a local showtunes night, as is my way. I met a cute guy there who was a waiter at a posh restaurant I'd never heard of -- because I'm a writer and only get to eat things that have "ramen" in the title. I liked him immediately, especially the way he laughed at all my weird jokes and played along when I hit on him using lines from Fatal Attraction after I found out his name. "I will not be ignored, Dan! This could be my last chance to have a child!" Clearly, I'm not a lesson learner.
After we grabbed two stools at a quieter part of the bar to get a little more "us space" and ordered two gin-and-tonics, I decided I wanted to know about his life and cut to the core of Dan. Who is Dan? What are his hopes and dreams? So, I asked him what he went to college for. He said he attended the University of Illinois for psychology. I thought that was interesting, because when you're into someone everything is interesting, so I shouted, "That's interesting! What do you plan to do with that?"
I thought this would lead into a discussion about how he wants to go back and get his master's in social work or plans on joining the Peace Corps to be young, idealistic, make a difference and do lots of things that involve mosquito bites, growing your hair out and Karl Marx. Instead, his brow furrowed, and he sat in silence, looking at me intensely. After a long pause, he said, very slowly and deliberately, "I plan to wait tables." Because I was totally unprepared for this scenario and am not a great improviser, I shouted, "Oh! That's interesting!" It was the last thing I said and sounded good then, so why not again? I wanted to die.
I ordered another gin and tonic and then asked the bartender if I could get another for the road, in a "to-go cup or something." They couldn't do that.
Some months later I was sitting in a local Caribou Coffee reading a copy of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom that I picked up in Paris and still hadn't finished. (I have a bad habit of not finishing books I start. Infinite Jest, it's just never gonna happen for us.) Across from me sat a beautiful specimen of a human man who looked a little like Jean Dujardin and (quelle chance!) was speaking in fluent French into his phone. I decided to scoot up a little closer to him so that I could casually strike up a conversation in which I help him locate the science-fiction section. However, the moment I moved my butt, a giant, unexpected fart came out. Jean looked at me, giggled and went back to his conversation, probably to discuss my anal acoustics.
And I still didn't fucking finish Freedom.
This Thanksgiving I was at the grocery store picking up Brussels sprouts (which are criminally underrated, in my opinion) for my first queer turkey day feast. I didn't get to have Thanksgiving last year, because of France. I'd initially invited some of my French friends over for a not-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving, one that would stave off any homesickness I'd been feeling with feasting and copious cigarette smoking. However, by the time they came over to help me prepare, it was too late, and no one felt like cooking, so we just got drunk and watched The Big Bang Theory. Just like the Pilgrims intended.
I was looking forward to this year's Thanksgiving as a summation of the almost-year I'd been stateside and a reminder of all the little things I'd missed while I was gone last year: the love of my community and the ritual observance of overconsumption. I hoped this year would be a toast to a new me. The Year of Stacy might almost be over, but the Year of Nico could be just around the corner. Or the world could end in a ball of Mayan flames.
When I walked in the store -- coffee in hand and preparing to take the world by storm -- I locked eyes with a cute grocer who was stocking canned yams on the shelf. He smiled at me. I bashfully looked down at my feet and then coyly went to take a sip of my coffee, as if to say, "I'm single and secretly slutty." Instead, I accidentally threw hot coffee all over my face.
I then realized I'm probably going to be single forever, but you know what? Come at me, singledom, 'cause I don't even care. I have no shame, but I've got coffee. I've got great friends to overeat with. I've got pizza. And I'll always have that building I peed on in Paris.