Sunday, February 28, 2010

Moving. And all the stuff that goes with it.

It’s looking like 2010 is off to a good start. Seems that way for a lot of my friends whom have had some serious rough patches in the last two years. But something happened in late January. Maybe we were all so desperate for this year to be an improvement that we made sure it would be, by doing something about it. Like implementing those resolutions asap. We’ve heard them before. Join a gym. Quit drinking. Two of my girlfriends got into therapy, and one fired hers (might not have seemed like a productive decision, but a proactive one nonetheless).

Like many people, I decided to check in on my health, and went to the doctor. It was my first visit, so the doctor had to run through the long list of probing health questions. When I was twenty-five, those questions seemed innocent. Now? Not so much.
Doc: “Any ailments?”
Cougel: “No, none that you can see.” (Yes, I even employ witty banter with my doctor).
Doc: “How old are you?”
Cougel (pause): “Thirty seven.”
Doc: “Married?”
Cougel (longer pause): “Divorced.”
Doc: “Children?”
Cougel (no pause): “No! I thought doctors were supposed to make you feel better, not worse.”

He was not amused.

Maybe that’s why I could feel him smirking when he phoned to tell me my cholesterol was “very high” and that I needed to “drastically change my diet, immediately.” I understood this to mean, no more Ben and Jerry’s binges. I was not amused. Ben and Jerry had been MY late night therapists over the past two years, and now it was looking like I needed to fire them both. Bottom line, as with your boss, or your spouse (and you married men know this), even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, nod your head and agree.

But, a major nutrition overhaul wasn’t enough change for me. Oh no. I needed more. I decided to move.

This was optional. Optional drama. I didn’t have to go anywhere. My lease was renewable, and the rent had been lowered. Staying put was enticing. But maybe the lease expiring was a sign. Telling me I needed a real change. I questioned whether I was just searching for something new and benign to talk about with friends and with my parents (my father loves reading leases and anything which requires his daughters’ signatures). Or maybe it was a subconscious attempt to shake things up. Because I didn’t really have much going on. The post divorce dust had finally cleared, I had completed a challenging revision on my novel, and my dog hadn’t bitten anyone or downed a bottle of Advil in a whole year. She too had made some resolutions it seemed.

So with only three weeks remaining on my lease, I hit the pavement in search of an apartment. I had high standards, a lot of criteria, more than most. For those of you who’ve read this blog thus far, I’m sure this comes as no big surprise. My argument against settling for Mr. Good Enough, also translates into Manhattan rentals. It seemed that finding an apartment that was right, that suited my personality, under a time crunch, was as frustrating and hopeless as finding a partner (for the same reasons). Nope, nothing seemed good enough. Exasperated, I questioned my decision. Was I a fool for not staying where I was comfortable, for courting this kind of stress? Not only that, I admonished my preferences, my tastes. Why couldn’t I just freaking like something? I couldn’t even look my eager broker in the face when she’d wisk me into a unit she was sure I would love. I wondered if I had contracted the “perceived options disease” that afflicts many New Yorkers. Just like with dating, you think there might be something better, tomorrow, around the next corner. Making it impossible to commit to the here and now.

In the end, I found a place that I loved (I know, I couldn’t believe it either), and set up to move on the last Friday of the month. As in, last Friday. The day of the biggest snowstorm New York City has had in years. I woke up at 7am, with all of my belongings packed up, sick with a sinus infection, and when I saw that shit coming down (there was nothing white and pretty about it) I told myself not to freak out. If anything, this would be a good story!

But it didn’t work. I was already feeling quite vulnerable. In 2007, the year in which the path I was on took a sharp turn, I moved five times. Knowing that people move all the time, doesn’t seem to make it easier. The upheaval in our physical environment reflects the emotional, and vice versa. For me, it triggers feelings of loss. Moving forces us to take a hard look at where we’ve been, and where we hope to be going. And for those of us who have been married or lived with one person for a long time, it inevitably underscores their absence. Especially when you’re up late packing and the smallest thing can serve as a heart-wrenching reminder of what once was. For some, it’s a found photo or a piece of jewelry. For me, this thing was a dishtowel I had purchased on my honeymoon.

I fell in love with my movers. And not just because they actually showed up and parked their truck on a snowbank, coming to rescue me at all costs. The Forman, a dead ringer for Snoop Dog, kindly told me to step aside and somehow, five hours later, I was riding shotgun in the truck next to Snoop on my way to my new place.

My parents were in Israel, and called me four times, concerned and upset that they weren’t in town to help me. My younger sister and seven-year-old niece took a train in from Jersey and trekked in their snow boots to bring me lunch. I kept telling them that I was fine, that I didn’t need any help. I guess I was relishing that taste of empowerment earned from doing something completely independently. Which in hindsight was completely moronic.

That night, after unpacking as much as I was able to alone (my sister had left hours ago), I decided to quit for the day. I had done plenty! That, and because I had tried to drag my couch to the other side of the room, and ran over my pinky toe. I thought of Samantha from Sex in the City, in the episode where her blinds come crashing down on her head, and she wails, under a heap on the floor, “I need a man!!!!” She had a point. But that wasn’t going to stop me from celebrating.

I went to eat at Gramercy Tavern, and toast the day’s events and the promise of the future. On the street right outside my apartment, I ran into Mr. Big. Another sign, you ask? That’s what I thought.

I woke the next morning to my buzzer ringing. A surprise delivery. From Fresh Direct. In my parents’ absence, my sisters had ordered five boxes worth of food and supplies to stock up my kitchen (yes folks, it’s always about food. There weren’t really any supplies).

As I unpacked everything into my first “real kitchen”(my last apartment kitchen was more like a built-in shelving unit), it began to dawn on me how each and every item was selected with such love and care, from the two people that know me best.

This time it wasn’t a dishtowel, but dates (the fruit) that undid me. This time, it wasn’t tears of loss that surprised me, but tears of gratitude.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mr. Good Enough (Good enough for what, exactly?)

A few weeks ago, on the heels of a break up, I vowed to immediately “get out there.” No, not in that way. I didn't want a new boyfriend, or even a casual hook up. I wanted to try and connect with more than just the fabric of my couch. A friend had invited me to a book reading for a friend of hers, one day after my break up, and without bothering to actually ask what said reading was for, I eagerly agreed to attend. A book reading! Isn't that something a writer is supposed to do? Isn’t that the kind of event where I can not only learn something about my own writing pursuits, but also meet other writers? PS. When I told my mother I was going to start going to these things, she exclaimed, “Good! Maybe you can meet some men who have sold books!” (the operative word being “sold,” of course. As in, for money).

I pride myself on being punctual. And I got to the Borders on 57th St. and Columbus Circle right on time, to see Melissa Rivers behind a podium, speaking to a group of women who all looked like her. This was not the kind of reading I had in mind. Luckily, I was at the wrong Borders. The one I was meeting my friend at was on Park Avenue and 57th. I was going to miss most of it. When I finally arrived, I wandered into a similarly crowded and disorienting pocket of the bookstore. Women, all over thirty five, who looked like Melissa Rivers but Jewish (the hair, not the voice...ok maybe the voice too), were beaming with adoration at a skinny blonde woman on the podium, Lori Gottlieb. She was fielding questions with messianic zeal for her new book “Marry Him. The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” as if she was Dr. Ruth, Carrie Bradshaw, or Jesus Christ. She was saying something like: "If a hypereducated, ambitious woman is still single after age 35, it's because she's too picky."

You know that tingling sensation, the indescribable kind whose symptoms resemble a panic attack? The kind experienced when you’re trapped in the back row of an airplane on a seat that doesn’t recline, for a night flight, and a family with three kids parks it in front of you? The kind of fright or flight feeling that courses through you when you’ve agreed to be set up on a blind date, and the moment you sit down across from the guy, you immediately wish you were blind?

One glance at this Cougarish pack of disciples (I don’t care that they were mostly Jewesses; they appeared too desperate, and not cute enough, to qualify as Cougelish) looking to this embittered women for answers was enough to trigger the equivalent of that anxiety. Not to mention that right on cue, my ex-boyfriend of barely 48 hours, texted me just then to say that he missed me. I should add here, that my ex-boyfriend is a decade younger than me. Yes, I fell for a Young Cub. But I’d argue that it was a mutual fall, with no hunting on either side (persistence is not the same thing). Pangs of regret hit me then - did I just lose my Mr. Good Enough? Was I too picky? Did the Cougel scare away the Cub by mentioning that big topic called “The Future” (and no, not in the cool sci-fi way).

I had to get out of there. I swiftly found my girlfriend and said, “Sorry, but this whole thing? It’s not for me.” She completely understood. “Why don’t you go upstairs to the café? I’ll meet you when it’s over.” My response: “Café? I’ll be at the bar at the Four Seasons.”

Little did I know, because I rarely frequent bars north of 27th street (that includes Hurray Hill, let alone the Upper Easy Side) what awaited me there. Men. Old men. We’re talking Papa Bears who’ve raised young cubs. Salesman. Semi-retired tech guys with homes in Miami and West Hampton. Dentists. All divorced at least once, and on the prowl for young Cougels - dressed in second-hand fake fur coats and ripped jeans – like myself.

The drinks these men bought me managed to do two things: take the reading’s edge off, and influence me to give out my phone number to one or two of them (not the dentist). It also reminded me that there is a whole world out there, not just outside the den, but above 27th Street.

But still, I had no desire to go out with any of them. Not then, anyway.

When Mom called the next day to ask me how my night of “getting out there” went, I told her that I had a good time.

She said, “Really? So you met guys at the reading?”

I told her that actually no, I met them "at a place called a bar," but that none of them were for me.

“Why not?” I could tell in her voice she was already accusing me of being too picky.

“They were too old for me, Mom. Like over 50. And divorced.”

“So what?! They’re good enough.”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cougar versus Cougel

Some of my friends are taking issue with this blog. They don't think I'm a Cougar. They say I'm too young, shy (ok, I made that up) and unpredatorial to qualify. I guess I've ruffled some feathers (damaged some fur?) because these women are approximately my age and have been laboring long hours for the anti-Cougar union.

The thing is, why have Cougars gotten a bad rap? What’s wrong with being over 35, knowing what you want, and being confident enough to go after it?

This is how Urban Dictionary defines the word (my thoughts in parentheses):

Urban Dictionary Definition #1:
Cougar: A woman in her sexual prime who prefers to hunt rather than be hunted (well, who wouldn’t?) A Cougar's victims are usually under 25, as Cougars prefer to mate with men who still have hair (again, who wouldn’t?)

I take issue with the word “victims.” I’ll bet there are plenty of guys who would argue that by the age of 21-24 they are full grown, independent men who are able to take responsibility for their own actions (feel free to comment if you’re in this age group). Why should a hot twenty-four-year old who likes a strong older woman be victimized? Besides, aren’t his friends high-fiving him?

Urban Dictionary Definition #2:
Cougar: An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. The Cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, to an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie or milf. Cougars are gaining in popularity -- particularly the true hotties -- as young men find not only a sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together.
“That Cougar I met last night, showed me shit I didn't know existed, I'm goin back for more.”

See? These young guys like it! What’s the problem?

The truth is, when I started writing this blog, I didn’t really think through the definition of Cougar that clearly, or its image, or if I really am one. I’m over 35, I’ve dated two men significantly younger than me, and both relationships proved to be healthy, loving, and balanced.

So, I’m not necessarily arguing against my friend’s assertions. In a way, they're right. I’m not a Cougar (according to Urban Dictionary anyway). I’m a Cougel*. And Cougels are a different breed altogether. First off, as history demonstrates, our people have always been the ones hunted. So evolutionarily speaking, our Jewish DNA prevents us from actually being hunters (and any attempt at it is fumbled awkwardly anyway). Secondly, if a Jewish woman who wants to have children is still single when she finds herself approaching forty, well it’s her duty to widen the playing field a little bit more than she did when she was 28.

Anyone is fair game.

*Alternate definition: A Cougel is a woman raised by nice Jewish parents and fed kugel with eggs for breakfast instead of bacon. At 35, she finds herself single. This is because she has failed to find the perfect Jewish man who could also please her in bed, while simultaneously ensuring that her parents would be able to sleep well in theirs.

(This posting is dedicated to my girlfriends who I love and respect and who I don’t believe are Cougars).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mom wants to read the blog (without knowing what "cougar" means)

My mother knows I've been in a good mood lately...that I've found "an outlet" for all of "my writing stuff." And she's asked to read this "blog thing," several times.

If you've read any of my posts thus far, you'll understand why I haven't been forthcoming with the link. Finally- an email commanding me to send it to her (in CAPS of course.. as you will see I've inherited this skill). The conversation, via email, went like this:

Email # 1:
NU GET ME YOUR BLOG. EMA

Email #2:
Send me instructions how to get in ? ema

From Cougel, to Mom:
its http://www.cougel.blogspot.com/
MOM DONT BE SENSITIVE! THERE'S STUFF ABOUT YOU AND DAD THAT"S CUTE but EXAGERATED FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT

From Cougel (giving mom proper context):
by the way, a "cougar" is a popular term in pop culture now for women over 40, attractive, independent, who go after younger men... it started derogatory but now its not.. it's like demi moore.

MOM FINALLY READS IT
From Mom:
its cute.
i like it.
can i go on it and add more?

From Cougel to Mom:
Ur so cute! U can comment. At bottom of each story there should be, in gray, "comments" and a box will open for u to write whatever u want. What do u want to add?

From Mom:
I have to think about it. The world reads them ???
Did you eat dinner ?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Every Cougel needs a fur for the winter

In my parents attempt to “dress me up nice,” they came into the city to take me out for dinner and offered to buy me some new “classy” clothes. My dad smiled and shook his finger at me, “No more of this rock and roll, college look, it’s attracting the wrong guys.”

By wrong guys, I’m pretty sure my dad meant “boys, in their 20s, who can’t take care of you like I can.” Meaning, if you’re going to stop dating young cubs, and start attracting older (aka established aka rich) men, well then it’s time to shed those frayed Cougel layers (shmatas) and put on outerwear that’s more upscale. “Especially in the winter, when you live in New York, and your coat is all people see. You need a fur coat.”

Well, how could I argue with them? It makes my parents happy to help out, to find a way to take care of me, now that I don’t need the help any longer. I wouldn’t want to deny them of the pleasure.

Besides, doesn’t every cougel need a good fur?

My mom got right on it. Now that she’s learned how to google (I know, it rhymes with cougel… and yes, I already tried to google “cougel” and nothing shows up, not even this blog) she can find wholesalers in the garment district by the hundreds. She can also email her friends, who now also have email, and who have birthed their own little cougels and bought furs for them too (at a discount, of course). I love my mother. I love her even more now that she knows how to email me, and that sometimes she mixes Hebrew in with her broken English. And I love that she’s thankfully figured out how to keep only the things she wants to make sure I hear in CAPS, rather than yelling at me the whole time.

So after this dinner with my parents, after my dad paid the bill and we put on our coats (my shabby fake fur one that I bought 2nd hand on the lower east side, which prompted my mom to shield her eyes), it was decided. An hour later, when my parents got home, she sent me this email:

* Spoke to Rivi, about furs. she bought for Tamar, at Lord and Talyor, a cashmere long coat. she gave me a name of an whole saler fur store. in the 20's the name is MOHL fURS. THEY HAVE A SALE .
i will check it on the web.
Love, Ema *

I have yet to get to this fur store. I’m putting it off, hoping that spring will come around and I can wait until next year. When I can afford to buy one for myself. Or, acknowledge the truth. That I don’t really want one. That expensive, real, fur coats just “aren’t me,” and get up the gutts to tell my parents. And break their hearts.

Tough call. What would you do?

Embracing the Kugel

I hated kugel growing up. It confused me. Slimy noodles, raisins, eggs, ambiguous looking slop (cheese? potatoes?) disguising themselves as a casserole. I didn't get the concept of using ingredients for foods normally eaten for breakfast and lunch, for dessert. I like sweet things, but after my meal, not alongside it. Besides, what about kugel makes it Jewish? Is it its blend of conflicting tastes, a metaphor for the love-hate relationship people (oh, admit it) have towards Jews and the weird foods we eat? I just couldn't get into it.

My picky eating habits used to drive my mother crazy. I didn't know what was good for me. Was this a harbinger of what my habits would be like when I grew up? Including my selectivity (and bad judgment) choosing a mate? Is there even a connection?

My mother stopped pressuring me to eat kugel long ago, and so I had forgotten the word even existed (I avoid it at all temple kiddishes and Yom Kippur break-fasts)...

Until recently. A twenty-four-year old co-worker (not Jewish or familiar with our particular cuisine), started calling me Cougar. And then, the more comfortable he got around me, the name evolved. First to "Cougs," and then finally, to "Cougel."

He meant it as modified term of endearment, uttered casually and fondly. But little did he know what questions he had unleashed. Am I really a cougar? But worse, am I a pain in the ass, picky, conservatively raised, worried about what my parents think, Jewish Cougar?

Maybe the time has come for me to embrace my inner Cougel.