The Law of Attraction on Metro-North

About once a month somebody starts a conversation with me on the train. I don’t go looking for these exchanges, but I must emit electromechanical impulses that pull the lonely talkers toward me. Call it the Law of Attraction on the Harlem Line. I never completely ignore the talkers since I’m curious about where the conversations will go. While some get a polite murmur or two as I keep my nose in a book, I avidly engage others when I sense a common ground. Sometimes I’ll even start the conversation if the person is reading a book I’ve enjoyed or is wearing some obviously orange-and-black Princeton attire. Usually I do more listening than talking, knowing that, one way or another, I’ll exit the train an hour after it leaves Grand Central Terminal.

Two talkers grabbed me in the past week, both times on the way home from New York. The first time, I was sitting in facing seats, with two visiting tourists laden with bags across from me. I sat down after they moved some bags. Then a man got on at 125th Street and offered to move the remaining bags to sit down. The women didn’t understand English and couldn’t tell what he wanted.

“Ok, I’ll go stand out in the vestibule,” he said with a belligerent edge in his voice. Finally they saw the point and he moved the bags to an overhead rack. I was deep into reading the book “The Beautiful Bureaucrat,” and put out now conversational vibes. I did notice the man didn’t have a backpack or briefcase, just a cell phone and a tablet. He made some calls, either to family members or business related. We sat knee to knee but I studiously avoided interacting with him.

The train moved along and he started talking about how lousy the train system was. “The German and the Japanese, after the war, got the latest technology. We’re still using train technology from the 1840s,” he groused.

“I think the Germans and the Japanese paid a pretty high price to get that technology,” I said.

“If we had the $7 trillion we spent in the Middle East we could rebuild the infrastructure.” He sounded like a man on the edge, needing only one comment cross-ways from his world view to push him in a direction I didn’t want to see. I gave fewer and fewer details to questions about my family or work.

Then he began griping about real estate prices, how he had lost a lot of the value of the home he bought in Westchester. I said I wasn’t aware of that since I didn’t own any real estate. I really began to back away when he said people weren’t moving to communities in our area because the public schools were becoming, shall we say, more diverse, and guys like him had to send their kids to private schools even as their property values tanked.

He finally got the point I was trying to avoid him. “I’m sorry, you’re reading,” he said. I relaxed for a stop, then he started in again. I feared he was getting off at the same station I was, but he left a few stops before, to my relief.

Saturday night, I was coming home after seeing the play “A View From the Bridge” by Arthur Miller. My favorite newstand at Grand Central happened to have the Jewish Press,the voice of Orthodox and black-hat Brooklyn, and I buy the paper when I can find it; the newstand veers in and out of stocking it. I snapped up a copy and settled in to browse the paper, which is now far thicker than the venerable Village Voice, another publication I’ve read since I moved to New York in 1980.

I’ll admit I liked to display the Jewish Press to see if anybody notices it. Not only am I one of the rare souls on the train reading a print publication, but I was reading one a little different from, say, the New York Times Magazine or The New Yorker. For some people, the Jewish Press may be a provocative as American Rifleman.

Sure enough, before the train left Grand Central, an elderly woman across the aisle asked me where I got the paper. I said my favorite newstand happened to have it, so I bought it.

“Is is Orthodox leaning?” she asked.

I pondered my answer. “It IS Orthodox, and moves out from there,” I said. “You’re not going to find any Conservative or Reform or Reconstructionist tendencies in the Jewish Press.”

I said I have subscribed to the Forward newspaper since it began publishing an English edition in 1991, and she was interested in also subscribing, but didn’t know who to contact. She lacked a computer and didn’t know how to proceed. I looked up the subscription number on my phone and jotted it down on the Press’ front page — and told her I’d give her the Press when she was leaving the train.

The talk went in a political direction. First she asked what I thought about the death of Justice Scalia, and I told her the vicious comments about his passing saddened me. She felt his positions went against Jewish values and she had no problem with his death. For the election, she was a strong Hillary Clinton supporter. I wondered how she would react if I declared, “Hillary doesn’t belong in the White House, she belongs in the Big House!” but that would have been unfairly provocative and cruel. As with the earlier conversation, I simply let her talk.

“Do you like Bibi?” she asked, referring to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“He’s the right man for the time,” I said, and we moved into Israeli politics, where her views surprised me. Besides liking Netanyahu, she also was a huge fan of Ariel Sharon. I would have never suspected. Then again, she had lived in Israel and had experienced the country first-hand.

We talked more about family issues, dating, and she asked about my Significant Other, knitting and listening to a podcast beside me. We exchanged business cards in case topics of mutual interest arose, She asked me to keep an eye out for a not-tall cultured single man who was looking for a similar New York Times-reading woman. I made a pitch for my dating book, so we both used our chat as a sales opportunity.

Her stop came and she left, Jewish Press in hand. I’m glad we engaged.  I’m looking forward to the next encounter that the Law of Attraction throws at me.

 

Next on the Discard Pile: The Rolodex of Memories

First I replaced the LG dumbphone with the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone, then I stopped renewing my annual purchase of monthly Day-Timer inserts and now . . . I’m ditching the Rolodex.

Unlike the other techno tools, I haven’t used my Rolodex in years. I had a circular one once, but the current one is flat. After a recent move, I’m trying to simplify my life and a Rolodex brimming with cards for people from decades past at companies that no longer exist looks like a prime candidate for Goodwill. Jotted in my jiggly handwriting and free from any email addresses, URLs and Twitter handles, the cards record a pre-digital life that must be impossible for young people to imagine. Those were the days you memorized phone numbers and carried them in your head, not your pocket.

Still, I linger before sending it off, mostly because the names evoke times and places, both personal and professional.

Most of the cards date from 1987 to 1995, when I was the east coast editor of Video Store Magazine. The cards give contacts at movie studios, retailers and trade associations involved with entertainment and consumer electronics. Some cards of note:

  • CompUSA
  • Bizarre Video Productions
  • Mark Harrad, the very savvy PR manager for the anti-piracy program of the Motion Picture Association of America. He would arrange for members of the press to attend FBI raids on places making or selling illegal videos; I was an observer at a Brooklyn raid, an edge experience.
  • Sega
  • Kay Bee Toys
  • Montgomery Ward
  • New York Public Library telephone reference
  • Artist Mark Kostabi, who did a book of his paintings called “Sadness Because the Video Rental Store Was Closed;” I did a story about the book and he gave me a copy, which I still have
  • Tandy Corp.
  • Atari Computer Corp.(written on the back of a Rolodex card that bore the name and phone number of a fellow Princetonian I dated once, more details to come)

Video Store laid me off 20 years ago this month, ending my career in business journalism, so those cards lost any value, but I hung on to them anyway.

Rolodex

Other cards stir memories of personal connections:

  • The phone number for the Harriman Institute at Columbia University; I fantasized about studying Russian there and becoming a kremlinologist or East Bloc-hopping journalist in the twilight of the USSR. But I stayed in journalism and fate took me in a very different suburban direction.
  • Project Dorot, a group matching volunteers with the Jewish elderly, where I was a friendly visitor from 1980 to 1994, teamed with a German immigrant named Rena Frank.
  • A woman named Shira, who I had one date with and then we both moved on to other things and she made a very good life for herself.
  • A woman named Shula (a/k/a Sheila when I met her at a singles event in 1981). We had a date on my 25th birthday and a photo shows us both looking spiffy. She’s wearing a beret like Faye Dunaway wore in “Bonnie and Clyde.” She urged me to eat organic foods and was into algae products.
  • That fellow Princetonian who I dated once or twice, who has the same 212 phone number, over 30 years later. Good for you!
  • Women with the confusingly universal Jewish name combination of Laura/Laurie/Lori/Lauri/Lauren Friedman/Freeman/Friedman/Friedmann/Freidman. I could never remember which was which, although one walked out on a first date we had to see Shakespeare in Central Park. She had to get ready to go to the Hamptons the next day and she saw I was “really enjoying the play,” so she up and left during the intermission. I scratched her off my dating list, but I kept the phone number, or was that the number for Lori/Lorie/Laurie/Laura/Lauren in Brooklyn who liked to get stoned? I’ll never know. Trying to find one Laurie Friedman in New York is like trying to find one Maria Garcia in Texas — the proverbial needle in the haystack of similar names.
  • Texas Monthly, when I dreamed of relocating to Austin in 1990 for a completely different career in journalism.

Two or three decades separate me from these people and memories. Technology moved on. The discardable contact entries in cellphones and computers store the intricate contact details for hundreds of contacts, across multiple phones and emails. I make no more scribbled updates on Rolodex cards or address books. I type updates in bloodless Arial fonts, or just hit “delete and they’re gone.

The Rolodex kept the old paper life around long after the Rolodex lost its use. I’ll save some of the cards just for old time’s sake (a sentimental weakness of mine). But something’s got to give in my endless efforts to declutter and this small tool, a rope tying me to the past that will never be relevant again, has got to go.

Still, for all I know, Shira/Shula/Laurie/Lauren still has a forgotten address book that includes some guy (wasn’t he a writer? Whatever happened to him?) who lived at 131 Amity Street in Brooklyn.

 

Junior High Confidential: Teenage Dance Party, 1971!

Hormones + a dark room + Jackson 5 records = a fun evening for all, according to my notes from autumn 1971, a Facebook ThrowBackThursday special.


November 6, 1971. Tonight is Lois’ party, + I guess I’ll go. It’s from 7:30 to 11:30 pm, at Lois’ house (I guess) + I’m looking forward to it. The only problem is since I’ve never been to a party like this, I don’t know what to expect, what to wear, + how to get home. Mom says I can call her, but getting her up from bed at 11:30 (if I stay that long) or later isn’t too appealing.

November 7, 1971. Last night I went to Lois’ party + had a lot of fun. Good many people there: me (of course), Daniel, David, Joe Sietz, John N., Tito, Abel, Johnnie Martinez, Ridling, Dean Williford, Pee Wee, some high school guys, Robert Rojas, Joe Gonzales, Ricky Garcia, Eli Ochoa, + others I don’t know or remember. Oh, yes, Larry Bray was there, as was Gabby Garza + Ricky Hinojosa. The girls were: Lois, Angie, Sylvia, Dee Dee, Dalia Martinez, Janet, Stephana, Sandy Miller, Mary Ann, Cynthia Nelson, Raynell, Hilda Perez, Teresa C., Rachel Currie, Sheri, Bertha Hernandez, Joe G’s sister, Rhonda, Sandra Kemp and some more I can’t remember.

Anyway, I got there about 7:45 pm at Lois’ house at 16th + Conway. I walked to the door + peered thru the darkness + saw that it was the right address (1623 Conway) + told Mom + Coop who where parked on the curb, told ’em it was the right house and to leave. So I walked to the door.

The 1st time I went up to the door I  knew it was the right house because I could hear young voices inside + an Osmonds song on a record player.

As I walked in the room where the action was was in almost total darkness, illuminated by a candle at each end of a room 7 yds wide + 15 long. The walls were jammed with people. The 1st person I saw was Daniel + Charlie + Ricky Garcia, by the door. We talked a bit + they told me David was at the far end of the room.

He was, with Joe, John + Belinda, Ricky + a few others. We sat + talked a while, every so often someone moving to a refreshment table at the corner of the room across from us.

After an hour or more (Time got too fuzzy to remember when things happened) I danced with . . .

The music was well fitted for the occasion, lots + lots of slow 45s like the Osmonds, Jackson 5, Carpenters, etc. They must have a huge collection of records but only 1 album was out “Cosmo’s Factory” + it was played for only parts of 2 songs. I left a little before 11:30. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Jewish Name Game

Ace feature writer Lenore Skenazy kindly quoted me in an article in the new issue of the Forward titled, “When a Name Screams ‘I’m Jewish!‘” I finally made it into the fabled Forward, which has printed my acerbic letters on stories before, but this is the first time I cracked its editorial pages. Skenazy writes,

But then there are those who wouldn’t give up the identifying moniker for anything. “I enjoy having a Jewish last name because it much better identifies me as a Jew than does my first name,” said Van Wallach, a proposal writer at an accounting firm. His dad was crazy about racecars, so he was named for a British car from the 1950s, the Vanwall. (His brother Cooper was also named for a car.) “If I was a girl,” Wallach added, “I would have been Jaguar.”

The part of the article that amused me the most were the quotes from one woman (I won’t say which) whom I had met on Jdate in the mid-80s. We haven’t had any contact in years, but if I can dig up her email address I’ll drop her a line and say, “Hey, we’ll always be connected through Lenore’s Jewish-names article in the Forward. Small world, isn’t it?”

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/181152/when-a-name-screams-im-jewish/?p=all#ixzz2aOclvETC

The Bobby Pickles Podcast

Podcaster extraordinaire and t-shirt design maven Robert Piccirillo, a/k/a Bobby Pickles, interviewed me on the steps of the New York Public Library recently for his podcast program. This marked the first interview I’ve done in a public setting and it went well. Bobby had the questions, the technology and the knack for connecting that makes for a fun give-and-take.  Give it a listen — it’s one of the best (and unlike my last interviewers, some radio shock jocks, no Holocaust jokes!).

Who the heck is Bobby Pickles? I’ll let him explain:

Robert Piccirillo, better known by his nom de plum, Bobby Pickles, is a professional podcaster/tee shirt peddler. Pickles began his rise to prominence in 2013 when he appeared on the TLC reality series “America’s Worst Tattoos”. Bobby is Co-Founder and CEO of FAT ENZO, a brand of satirical graphic tee shirts depicting people of history, literature and pop culture, which he peddles at Union Square in New York City. He is the host of The Bobby Pickles Podcast, which can be downloaded for free on iTunes. And he has a BA in English from the University of Florida.

So give my interview a listen, check out his other programs, and if you want to be really fashion forward, buy some of his t-shirts. Support Staten Island entrepreneurship.

Getting Quoted by Match.com

One of the fun aspects of publishing the book has been leveraging it into some press exposure, either through radio interviews or contributions to articles. Here’s an article, “Stop Dating the Wrong Person,” that quoted me, part of a longer comment. The author did a good job pulling the substance out of what I told her without including some of the more gruesome details of my adventures dating women that were attractive but just not good matches for me. Well, this is for the Match.com magazine, so talking about matches makes sense.

Here’s the relevant part:

How to break the habit: Resist the urge to “fix” another person
Having an “ah-ha” moment of clarity can strike at any time, but you can speed up the process by acknowledging your issue and taking steps to change things going forward. “I often went
for needy, sexy women who were struggling with emotional, family or financial issues, and then I’d set
myself up as a kind of ‘white knight’ who could ‘solve’ all their problems,” says author Van Wallach. “The relationship would revolve around the
woman’s issues… rather than an equal partnership.” After dating a woman with massive, relationship-dominating issues (including an ailing parent and job difficulties), Wallach finally decided that enough was enough. He’s now in a more balanced relationship that’s been going strong for almost five years.

The Forbidden Passages: Tales from the Editorial Spike

Journalists call it the “spike” – the decision to not publish a story for reasons of its truthfulness, incompleteness or other political sensitivity. I used the spike on thousands of words I could have included in my dating book. Even after years of polishing and considering materials, I had to decide what to include and what to delete up until the end. The book could have topped 250 pages had I opted to throw in every pearl of wisdom I’ve ever scribbled on dating topics, or topics completely unrelated to dating.

In some cases, I spiked episodes that I ultimately did not feel comfortable seeing the light of day (at least under my own name). They were just too personal, revealing more than necessary about the inner workings of intense relationships. I decided to leave in related but shorter or milder material that made a point without drawing blood. And in some cases, I think I’ll save the material for either a novel or another try at the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column. Something may be too personal for a book, but just right for Modern Love (as I’ve said at times in my life, I’m corruptible).

Still, no harm will come from a peek at what’s not there. So, here, free of most context, are snippets of what I call the Forbidden Passages — Tales from the Spike. Feel free to create your own imagined stories about them.

———————–

She had said I was a pain in the ass for never calling, just doing IM. “That’s not true!” I protested. “As soon as Helga gave me her phone number I called her.” Ingrid was stunned by this—she never knew I had actually talked to Helga. I had behaved the same with Ingrid—when a woman gives me her phone number, I call.

———————–

A 37 year-old Catholic lawyer of Lebanese background in Latin America, Judy immediately attracted passionate attention from men who loved her glamorous profile and pouting, voluptuous photograph, remarkably similar to Latin TV star Ninel Conde.

In fact, the woman in the picture was Ninel Conde. The profile was a fake, a lark invented by a friend to assemble all the stereotypical themes of a glamour-girl profile. Then the lie became a kind of truth. My friend turned to me, as co-writer, to help figure out what to do with the emotional mess that her sexy monster created.

———————–

For months I chased Sandi even as her yes/no/maybe-so ambivalence made the pursuit as futile and maddening as Captain Ahab’s quest for Moby Dick. I knew this opportunity would end badly, but my back muscles strained and my hands and heart bled as I plunged my emotional oars into the churning, blood-chilling waters of romance with Sandi. . . . Then, Sandi flipped her cruel, mighty tail one final time and smashed my pathetic little whaleboat of love, ending contact between us.

———————–

Vera says: Come to see me

Van says: That’s a long haul, a big step. Will you be in the US at any time?

Vera says: No, I prefer you come  ladies first choice

Van says: I see. Too bad about all that water in the middle.

Vera says: Bye

———————–

My favorite venues have been the Essensuality “erotic expression” salons and the monthly Wide Open Wednesday at the Museum of Sex, where performers gather in the Oral Fix Café for a rollicking, unpredictable time. I’ve had to go deep within to find my own performing style and material. From the start, I knew I had to connect to audiences with my words, not my looks; unlike some performers, I’ll never wow anybody by stripping down to my skivvies. What, I thought, could I possibly say compared to talented performers like Bikini Bondage Babe, Little Miss Orgy Organizer, Gay Phone Sex Dude and Brooklyn Transgender Birthday Gang Bang Guy?

———————–

We were in our 40s and used my classic Corvette Stingray to get away from our kids. Better late than never!

Did I say “Corvette Stingray”? I meant my “Hyundai Elantra.” But it thinks it’s a Stingray.

 

“Headlights on the Driveway,” Now on JDate’s JMag

JDate, the font of so many colorful dating adventures for me, graciously let me contribute an essay related to the book to its JMag section. The title is “Headlights on the Driveway and Other Awkward Dating Moments.”  The essay covers some of the excruciating encounters that the risk-tolerant dater must at times endure, ranging from the short and sour to the endless “Twilight Zone” interludes. Here’s the mood:

You’re out there emotionally, revealing hopes and fears and your brightest smile. Do it long enough and you get a thick skin that still bleeds easily. Sure, you want to leap into the great romance of your life, but that electricity doesn’t always strike. More often, you’re drenched in a chill drizzle of encounters that range between wryly amusing (in retrospect) to heartbreaking.

 

Some Modest How-To Ideas

I cover a lot of ground in the book, but one topic I mostly avoid is how-to. By the time you’re in your 40s and 50s, you don’t need my advice on how to present yourself or appeal to men or women. Then again, why not some ideas from a guy who spent years out there knocking around and getting knocked around? I’m compiling a list of pithy, good-hearted guidance, initially for women. As ideas come to me, I’ll add some for men out there who are working the websites and wondering how to make them work better. So:

  • I like self-confidence in a woman, especially on appearance issues. Of course, our bodies changes as we age, and a woman’s sense of satisfaction and self-acceptance is very appealing. Put your best foot forward and save the neuroses for your girlfriends.
  • When going out to dinner with a man, take plenty of time to find a restaurant you both like. Once there, select what you want to eat with a minimum of agonized consideration; long discussions about the pros and cons of different dining options exhaust and confuse men. We like to decide on what to eat and be done with it. Save the food fetishes and phobias for girls’ night out.
  • If you had an enjoyable time with a man and think the feeling is mutual, surprise him with a hand-written thank-you note. Everybody likes to get real letters yet  nobody sends them. Break that pattern and surprise a man with your communications flair and elegant handwriting — you will make a BIG impression.
  • When using an online dating site, remember that men are intensely visual creatures. Use as many profile photos as possible, selecting those that focus on YOU in a favorable, put-together light. Let men’s imagination wander and envision themselves with you via evening wear, business wear, fresh at-home ensembles. Avoid blurry cell-phone and webcam photos, photos with sunglasses (what are you hiding?), travel pictures that make you look tiny (men don’t care that you visited the Eiffel Tower), or group photos with your arms draped around Uncle Fritz and Aunt Gerdl. Show that you care enough to get appealing photos.
  • Don’t let strong political views overly color dating profiles, since that can turn off men who don’t share those values. You may think “Republicans make me vomit!” and “Rush Limbaugh is a war criminal!” but saying so brands you as a political crank rather than a caring progressive. I found profiles with such intolerant views and they were a major turn-off. Men and women are more than their political views so it’s better to agree to disagree rather than dismiss an otherwise compatible man just because he does not think exactly the way you do. (In my experience, liberal women are far more adamant and unyielding in their politics than conservative women.)
  • While on a date, you may see other friends. It’s perfectly acceptable to stop and chat with them and introduce your date of the evening. Beware, however, if the conversation with the friend turns into a one-on-one discussion that leaves your date feeling ignored and isolated. This could especially sour an early date in a new relationship when people feel vulnerable and want to stay connected with the romantic potentiality. Save the deep discussion for later (post-date, when you’ll want to dish about the date, anyway) and keep the focus on having an enjoyable time with the man/woman of the evening.
  • GUYS: This is for you. Based on conversations with women, such as my dear friend, mentioned in the book as Chloe the Oracle of Romance, show some common sense. Chivalry is still popular: Hold open doors, stand up when a lady enters the room, push a woman’s chair in at a restaurant, observe good grooming at all times, be attentive to a woman’s interests and questions. Don’t drone on about your obsessions, be they sports, World of Warcraft, the “Saw” movies, your prostate, or anything else that could be a conversation-stopper. Keep the focus on getting to know your date and let her know about you — but not everything about you. Sure, you’re interesting — but she is, too.

Thinking About Body Images and “Someday Melissa”

I typically scan the New York Times obituary page for lives well lived, but the December 21 edition with the tiny-type paid notices was wrenching with its sketches of too-soon loss. One very long notice was for Suzanne Hart, the advertising executive killed in an elevator accident a week earlier. By contrast, the memorial notice for Melissa Rose Avrin ran only 7 lines, plus a photo. It read,

Dec. 21, 1989-May 6, 2009. Your movie is a reality. It’s changing lives around the world in the battle against Eating Disorders. Missing and loving you forever, Mom. www.somedaymelissa.com.

I followed the link and found that “Someday Melissa” is the name of a documentary made by Melissa’s mother, Judy Avrin, as a response to Melissa’s death at 19 from a heart attack related to her bulimia. It has already accepted at a film festival and screened at medical schools, universities and Jewish community centers. Someday Melissa includes journal entries from Melissa and interviews with family members, friends and medical and mental health professionals.It deserves wide viewing and discussion.

Melissa Avrin’s wrenching and fatal bulimia resonates with me as the extreme expression of body-image issues. In my dating days in the 1980s, I met women with bulimia and the memories of their deep distress over appearance and other psychological issues still haunt me. I tried to be as supportive as possible, but I realized the matter was far beyond my influence, other than saying I accepted them for who and what they were. Whatever self-perceptions led them to behave this way had no basis in reality — they were attractive and fit. But we’re not talking about reality with any of this. I couldn’t save anybody, and it took years before I realized that.

I touch on body image issues, both men’s and women’s, in my book. I don’t know if Jewish women are more prone to eating disorders than any other ethnic group, but they are perhaps more articulate in acknowledging and addressing them. I look at the film’s website and I think of other women and their pain. The film already has had an impact, judging from the hundreds of comments posted on the site’s guestbook about viewers’ responses to it. I can only hope that Judy Avrin’s response to her great loss leads to comfort and support for people who punish themselves when looking in the mirror and not seeing the God-given wonder they truly are.