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NTKOG #106: The kind of well-intentioned busybody who can’t see a stranger let out a lovelorn sigh without immediately demanding all the details then attempting to caulk his broken heart.

I am: completely ill at ease when expected to comfort someone face-to-face.

I am not: interested in your woes, Lonelyheart. Get a blog, then we’ll talk.

The Scene: The Trader Joe’s by Sister’s house, Saturday night around 8:30, in a state of serious disarray. I’ve spent the past few hours in a blue mood — that particular “my first high school boyfriend is fucking engaged, and here I am, unemployed and wearing pajamas on a Saturday night” mood, if you happen to know it. Gathered my few purchases in the entirely empty store, then headed to the check-out.

Before I could take my earbuds out, the check-out guy asked how I was — I’m well, thanks. You? — and as I’m taking my headphones out, he says what looks like, “I’m doing well,” but is just one syllable too many. Surely he couldn’t have said — I mean, don’t he know there’s a protocol? — it’s inconceivable that he might have answered–

“I could be better,” he repeated, to my involuntary look of uptight honorary-New-Englander feelings-inspired mortification. “No, I guess I should keep it professional.”

Um, yeah. You should. But instead of smiling weakly and praying for him to speed up the process, I asked him what was wrong.

Trader Joe’s Clerk: No, don’t worry about it, it doesn’t have to be your problem. I should have kept it professional.
TKOG: I mean, life sucks enough without having to lie about who you are forty hours a week.
TJC: I cheated on my girlfriend.

Yikes. The clerk, incidentally, was cute in that over-expressive-faced European way. He looked like the drummer from Green Day with shorter hair. His eyes were red-rimmed. To my horror, they started watering.

He went on to tell me how his girlfriend had gone out of town and his ex had come to visit, asked to stay with him. He’d told her she had to sleep on the couch, but somehow….

“She tricked me! She manipulated me!”

“Yeah, we’re like that sometimes, women.”

After his tale of woe, I asked if he loved the girlfriend (yes) and said that, in my humble opinion, I didn’t see how he could do much better than making sure she could see he loved her and trying to earn her trust back. He thanked me and relinquished the bag of groceries he’d been holding hostage during the few minutes of our chat. Then put on my Garth and headed back out into my home-bound Saturday night, braless, pajama-clad, a guru.

The Verdict: Please don’t talk to me about your emotional woes in real life. I do not like it. I like to read about it, gchat about it, even sometimes talk on the phone about it, but in real life I do not know where to put my eyes when you want me to look into your soul.

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NTKOG #89: The kind of hopeless, anonymous romantic who meets a man at random and — after losing him in the crowd — throws a (metaphorical) message in a bottle to catch him again.

I am: in the habit of falling in love with half a dozen men a day.

I am not: so short of great lost loves that I need to dig them back up on the internet, it stands to reason.

The Scene:  The Brookline Booksmith (aka: Brookline’s literary Disneyland), shortly after moving here. I had a moment with the clerk after purchasing a book from the bargain table and — thuTHUD, is the sound of TKOG falling in love. For months, I would get all dolled up before browsing the bsmith, in hopes of meeting him, but alas, I never saw him again.

Enter Craigslist Missed Connections. Because surely a dude who reads George Saunders can read a measly little personals ad, right? Attached, verbatim, is the ad I posted last Thursday:

Bookline Booksmith former employee with taste for postmodern lit – w4m – 23 (Brookline)

You: hulked-out Korean (I think) former Brookline Booksmith employee with badass tattoos and a taste for postmodern literature.

I: came in sometime in September. Fast-talking brunette with black plastic-rimmed Weezer glasses.

We: bonded over a mutual love for George Saunders when I bought a copy of “In Persuasion Nation” off the bargain table.

You: asked if I had read any Barthelme.

I: am reading “60 Stories” as we speak.

You: were my imaginary boyfriend until you stopped working there at some point within the past few months.

I: miss having a reason to put on make-up on Saturday mornings.

You: got any more great book recommendations?

Looooove,
Your Former Imaginary Girlfriend (unbeknownst to you)

No word back yet; not even a book recommendation from a stranger. Oh well. That’s the thing about messages in bottles, I guess: sometimes they’re washed away forever, sometimes they’re found by someone else entirely. Almost never are they discovered by the person you intended.

The Verdict: I still totally support this one. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was nervous about posting a Missed Connection in the first place — aside from the fact that when I see a guy I like, I tend to do something about it. But next time I miss my chance with someone, I would completely try this again, because what’s the worst that could happen?

Actually, the worst that could happen is that Booksmith Guy could email me back:  “You, TKOG, like so many other George Saunders-loving brunettes, have been driven to the brink of madness by my pomo literary tastes and badass tattoos. Based on your prose style, might I recommend The Da Vinci Code?”

Man. That would be horrible. Please don’t do that, Bookstore Guy! Otherwise, I’m down with Missed Connections.

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NTKOG #85:The kind of girl who, when she spots you in a room, acts on the mandate of destiny and, dude, honestly, kind of stalks you until you give her your number.

I am,: say it with me now, not dating.

I am not: like totally immune to the murmurs of fate.

The Scene: Brookline Booksmith, showing Kiss-Ducker around on the last night before she ends her visit and jets back to Barcelona. We head to the used books section downstairs and thumb through all the fiction novels; they’re light in Wodehouse, but Kiss-Ducker pauses to ask my opinion on an Evelyn Waugh novel. I’m telling her that Handful of Dust is a must-read (and now I’m telling you guys that too), when a man pushes between us, to hover in the W’s.

He is tall and broad-shouldered, wearing a motorcycle jacket with an asymmetrical collar and holding a Trader Joe’s wine bag; his hair and skin I can only describe as sun-kissed; he has just strode purposefully through the W’s. Wodehouse, Waugh, Wilde — who the fuck strides purposefully through the W’s? My goddamn soulmate, is who.

He seals the deal by saying a few words in praise of Handful of Dust, then lamenting that he has been prowling the city for a copy of “Scoop.” I may or may not stutter that I just got one, and we banter — we banter — back and forth about Evelyn friggin’ Waugh. Whose name the dude pronounces correctly, to boot!

To my credit, I refrain from proposing to him on the spot.

Sadly, he bounds upstairs before I can attempt to expand the conversation, and I give it up as a lost cause (dude with wine obviously is running somewhere), with Kiss-Ducker whispering for me to go for it. I tell her to grab her books and we race upstairs to stand behind him in line.

“This is a great bookstore,” I tell Kiss-Ducker, loudly enough for him to hear. “They bring all kinds of fantastic authors here. There was a two-block line for Lorrie Moore a few months ago.” HA! He turns around and looks curiously. Kiss-Ducker asks didn’t I tweet about that?, and I say, yeah, I was bummed not to get in, but I’d already heard her read that chapter back at PWCU.

Direct hit. On the second mention, Motorcycle Jacket of Destiny fully spins around, obviously eavesdropping on our conversation. Right about then he ends his transaction, and I bound to the door to intercept him:

TKOG: Look, I’m sorry, this is sort of out of the blue, but save me the trouble of posting a Craigslist missed connection later. You have completely awesome taste in books. Do you come here often?
Motorcycle Jacket of Destiny: Only when I’m walking by.
TKOG: I mean, yeah, that’s how people get places — you have to walk by. But I — look, I’m not coming on to you or anything, but I just moved here and I don’t know too many people. Do you want to grab a coffee sometime and talk Waugh?
MJOD: Uhhh, I have nothing to write my number with.
TKOG: No problem, she said, pulling out her iPhone a little too promptly.
MJOD: My hands are kind of full.
TKOG: I take dictation. [takes his number] Yeah, I’m not — don’t worry, I’m not actually doing to call you.
MJOD: Good luck. Happy New Year anyway.

The Verdict: Ouch, guys, was I covered with snow? ’cause, dude, he completely brushed me off. I’m going to assume it’s because he was taking the wine over to his girlfriend’s house, but man, usually people find me at least a little engaging in a hurricane-of-raw-intensity sort of way. Dude was just like not even having it.

Still, after sighing and cringing for a few minutes on the walk to Sister’s, I let Kiss-Ducker convince me that it was a good thing to try, and by now I whole-heartedly agree. Dude was wearing a fur-lined hat and buying Evelyn Waugh novels in bulk at my favorite bookstore — if I hadn’t said anything, chances are I’d end up on my death-bed, grandchildren on every limb, my rheumatic old eyes watering: ‘What if, what if, what if I had only spoken to that boy in the Brookline Booksmith and my life had been completely different?!

At least now I know for sure.

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NTKOG #76: The kind of girl who, as you go about your daily business, decides to shout a few well-placed criticisms about your actions and lifestyle.

I am: like basically the foremost living authority on how you should live your life. Duh. As evidenced by my own picture-perfect life.

I am not: actually crazy enough to shout out any of the little thoughts or comments that pop into my head.

The Scene: Coolidge Corner in Brookline, waiting for the light to change outside of the CVS. A jogger pounds his way across the intersection during the walk light and, as he gets back on the sidewalk, runs across the path of a grizzled old man.

“HEY!” the old man shouts at the jogger’s retreating back, “Those thirty seconds worth the rest of your life?!

Dude. A fellow street-shouter! Surely, I figured, this prince among men would appreciate hearing a few of my views on him!

TKOG: May I share an observation?
Grizzled Old-Man Muppet: What?
TKOG: Well you asked him if those thirty seconds were worth the rest of his life. which is what people say to chastise other people for doing stupid, reckless things and putting themselves in danger. But it seems to me you were actually more upset that he almost ran into you. In future, I’d suggest the classic “Watch it, buddy!” in this situation.
GOMM: Fuck you.
TKOG: See, that one’s appropriate.

Then he stalked away before I could hit him with a few more of my salient observations. To wit: it takes at most ten seconds to cross a street, so in fact the jogger saved himself significantly less than thirty seconds; the jogger’s life was at no point in danger, because he crossed during the walk signal; ironically, engaging in regular cardiovascular activity will prolong or even save the jogger’s life, and certainly doesn’t risk it.

The Verdict: Sadly, it seems my caustic old pal dished it a lot better than he took it. Which just shows the obnoxiousness and futility of street-shouting. I mean, what are the odds he’ll walk away from my critique thinking: “Man, words really do mean stuff, and I guess I should be more articulate in future” or “The fact that being criticized on the street made me feel defensive and threatened is a powerful motivator for me to reform my heckling ways”?! Hell no, guys. Instead, he’s just going to keep bellowing judgmentally at random pedestrians — now with an extra side of “oh those golldarn disrespectful kids!”

Please don’t be a street shouter, is all I’m saying. It turned me into an asshole. It will do the same to you.

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NTKOG #66: The kind of girl whose personal obligations are significantly more pressing than your own, and so who feels quite at home putting her needs before yours.

I am: a bit less than the average amount of busy and important, on balance.

I am not,: for instance, employed. Or, at present, wearing real pants.

Some Context: I read about a study a few years ago, looking at line-cutting as a social phenomenon, and set in a copy store. There were two phases in the study. First, the experimenter would go to a machine with a line and simple ask to cut in front of the people ahead of him. In the second phase, the experimenter would ask to cut ahead of the people in front of him and then say, by explanation: “I need to copy these papers.” Well, I mean, no shit — everyone at Kinko’s needs to copy papers — but, amazingly, although very few people in the first group let him cut, the second group overwhelmingly allowed Mr. “I Need to Copy” on ahead.

Um, did I need to try this or what?! Usually, though, I have kind of a thing about cutting people in line. But I girded up my loins for three encounters:

The Scene:

Encounter the first: Thursday morning, 10:30am, at the local Stop&Shop. There are only two lines open, so I enter the one where a woman is unloading about three kids’ worth of frozen chicken tenders and pre-cut apple slices. I am carrying a box of cereal, a carton of soy milk, and an Archie comic. Clearly vital purchases, right?

I clear my throat (my heart freezing with fear and self-loathing, natch) and ask her: “Excuse me, can I go in front of you? I need to buy these things?”

Weirdly, she not only says yes, but adds, “I’m sorry!” as though it should have occurred to her to let me go ahead of her in the first place! Because clearly someone who is at home in a Green Day hoodie mid-morning on a Tuesday has some PRETTY URGENT BUSINESS TO GET TO. Like that conference call. With Riverdale.

Encounter the Second: It occurred to me that the last woman may have been so accommodating because she was buying so much more than I was, so I pitted myself against a shopper who was buying less than me. Trader Joe’s in Brookline, a Sunday night, I pop in the store and pick up frozen pizza, chocolate Mochi and a carton of milk. Ahead of me in line, a man is purchasing a bottle of Malbec and parmesan crisps (uh, sir — call me). We wait for a few people to ring up, then shortly before the gentleman puts his belongings on the “next-in-line” ledge, I ask: “Can I go in front of you? I need to buy these things?”

This guy, to his credit, looked skeptically at me (wearing highly respectable black trackpants) and my purchases, but maybe the carton of milk won him over, because he sighed audibly, but jerked his elbow to usher me ahead of him in line. The upshot? My rudeness saved me seconds — maybe even a minute — over the course of my busy and important day.

Encounter the Third: Totally weirded out by the success of this ploy, I decided to pit my final experiment against someone closer to my own insolent age. Indian corner store, across the street from my apartment. I am buying a can of organic soup, while a tall, swaggering guy close to my own age picks up a bag of tortilla chips and a Cherry Coke Zero.

“Excuse me,” I ask, “can I go ahead of you? I need to buy this.

“Yeah, I need to buy this too,” he says, positively spearing me with a look of derision. He turns back to the store owner and asks for a pack of Camel Lights, then mutters under his breath, “Crazy bitch.”

The Verdict: Guys! Never in my life have I been quite so glad to be called a crazy bitch! It’s a sign that at least one person in this whole mixed-up world isn’t TOTALLY BONKERS. It really did seem that most people would have been — although not happy — perfectly willing to let me cut in front of them in line, just for having the stones to ask.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that this is because it’s so rare for people to talk to or make requests of strangers that they assume in order for you to actually cross that magical line of interpersonal conduct, your need must be dire. Even when, in cases like mine, it visibly was not.

TOTALLY INSANE! And a really cool thing to experiment with in human psychology, but totally, totally not that kind of girl. There’s no sense in acting more important than you are, in my mind — especially when it leads to potentially inconveniencing others. I felt pretty bad both times I cut in line and wouldn’t do it again. Although it is a great reminder that if you want something from someone, it never hurts to ask!

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NTKOG #65: The kind of girl who, when she has been mistreated by someone in a position of authority, instead of just taking it with a smile, gives the jerkwad whatfor instead.

I am: laid-back, would be a nice way of putting it. A doormat, though, might be more accurate.

I am not: good with: confrontation, authority, or recognizing when people have definitely stepped over a line with me.

The Scene: Job interview in Brookline last week, for a secretarial position at a firm that deals in a field completely outside my range of interests. The interview has been set up by a temp agency, though, so I put on my power suit, brush up on my interview questions, and walk in fifteen minutes early with resume in hand and a big ol’ smile on my face.

Half an hour later, the guy who’s supposed to interview me finally moseys into the office and immediately I can tell he is — well, “a sleazy fucking jerkwad” is really too delicate a phrase, I think. He’s in his mid-50s; very GQ; too much cologne.When he takes my hand, there is no pretense of a shake. Instead, he squeezes hard enough to pulp the bones down to marrow, then takes a seat across from me.

“So, you’re from Prestigious West Coast University, eh?” he says, and I smile and nod. “And you’re looking for a secretarial position. Ha!” He looks like a guy who has too often and too wistfully watched Mad Men, wishing for the good old days when he could have conducted this interview while sipping from a tumbler full of Scotch.

While we are talking, he leans back in his leather exec chair and crosses his arms behind his head. One of his legs is crossed, his foot resting against the table. He looks like he’s waiting for a girl to crawl under the table and just start blowing him right there.

Did I mention he’s a huge fucking asshole?

The whole interview, he lets me say approximately twenty words. The rest of the time he goes on about how important he is and what high-level work he does. He mentions, charitably, that “the girls” are necessary to help run the office. He asks whether I feel up to the challenge of cleaning up the office at the end of the day.

The whole time, also, he keeps throwing out acidic little barbs about the university I went to, and the fact that I left there without a job, then smugging that he bets I don’t like it when he makes these little jokes. Uh, no shit? The school I went to was, like, pretty okay, and not infrequently, insecure people like to play a nasty little head game about it: they’ll make constant negative comments about various stereotypes about the school — not least of all the stereotype that grads are arrogant — then when I finally tell them to, dude, seriously, stop it, they smile back: “See what I mean? You guys are so arrogant.” I — I cannot tell you how much this infuriates me. I love the school I went to; I had four wonderful years there, met all my best friends there, and generally have positive feelings about it. And I’d expect everybody to feel the same way about their own undergraduate institutions, so why are we even talking about this?

And yet, he talked about it. For at least ten minutes of the forty-minute interview. After he’d finished his monologue of Important Manly Poweritude, he asked me: “So, you have any questions for me, honey?” Um, yeah, just one. How does the fine Commonwealth of Massachusetts feel about vigilante castration?

Sadly, though, although I prepared a totally appropriate feminist rant — or at least a withering barb — the asshole hurried me out of the interview room before I could find my voice. So. Fail on that front. But. BUT! I did call the temp agency and withdraw myself from the interview process, citing, in only slightly more polite language, irreconcilably assholic behavior as the reason for my request.

The Verdict: I’m pretty bummed out that my knee-jerk authority cowering was too strong for me to overcome right to this jerkwad’s (jerk)face, but I’m going to go ahead and give myself partial points for actually withdrawing from the interview process instead of continuing to jump through his asshole hoops. The more of the (sometimes terrible) real world I see, the more I realize that there are lots of guys like this out there, who feel the constant urge to make it known: “Hey, little lady, fuck your fancy education and your power suit and all your big clever ideas. At the end of the day, this is still a man’s world and, heads up, I take my coffee with two sugars, sugar.”

Aaaaaaargh. Even thinking about this makes me hate men. So even though I wimped out this time, next time I meet a guy who is Part Of The Problem, dude, he best be prepared for an unholy rant.

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