No Greeks or Comedians Allowed

Emily Reinhardt

I'm a generally happy person. There are exceptions, of course. If I have a cold and snot is running out of my nose, then I am not happy. If I have to walk ten blocks in the miserable cold with no gloves, then I am not happy. If I go back to Michigan, and some horrific middle-American farmer's wife in a sweatshirt asks me if I've found a man yet, then I am not happy. But overall, I'm satisfied with my lot in life. Heart is beating, lungs working (despite those Camels)... all major organs report in and things are well.

But many people spend most of their time dissecting their unhappiness. Some I cannot blame. Some are missing body parts. Some have cancer, some have AIDS, some have been raped, some have been mutilated. The loved ones of some have died at inopportune times. I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for all this misery, this pain and suffering. It's people who lead tragedy-free lives and yet still are obsessed with unhappiness that worry me.

Twelve-step programs, for instance, help people around the world every day and I would be a fool to deny that they serve a valuable purpose. However, dating three men in the same AA group has taught me the truth of that old chestnut: misery loves company. And if a miserable AA man isn't in the company of another miserable AA man, he will try and make you miserable. Harsh, but true.

I, in the past year, met a comedian who looked like Paul Kantner from Jefferson Airplane/Starship and went out on a lunch date with him. Attractive in an older, benign hippie sort of way, he was dressed like a tourist on a tropical island. With the air of nervous intelligence that most truly unhappy people have, he was a live wire in a Hawaiian shirt in a diner in Queens.

My mother always warned me against dating comedians and Greeks. (She did not, however, warn me about eating a Greek salad while on a date with a comedian. I truly wish she had.) Frightened that there might be a Richard Belzer or Ari Onassis in my future, she said that I would either end up as material (comedian) or a trophy-wife (Greek) if I did. But being that no Greeks had knocked on my doors and that being a wife was the furthest thing from my mind, I thought no harm would come from one lunch at a local diner with a comedian. How much material could I create during one date?

It didn't help that he was Jewish. We Midwestern German women are like Kryptonite for Jewish men. They don't understand us and they're a little afraid of us, but they would sure like to fuck us. This is not meant to be anti-Semitic, mind you. It's flattering when a man rips off his yarmulke in the heat of passion. I'd even go so far as to put on a top hat so we could play-act Marlene Dietrich and Joseph Von Sternberg filming The Blue Angel. But I can only play the Aryan Goddess for so long before I begin to feel like a cultural geisha instead of a woman. What good is it, really, to be forbidden fruit? It just means they eat you a lot faster and with less care.

When the comedian and I met for lunch, I could tell early on that he wanted to fuck. I knew it because we had connected via e-mail and made this lunch date under the guise of both of us writing, and now writing was not even discussed but he made a few comments about my breast size. Men do this when they want to have sex with a woman. What's more, he mentioned two friends he'd made at AA, an Italian writer and an Irish actor - two men who'd been "sex mistakes" of mine. It's a bad move, usually, to sleep with a friend of a "sex mistake." During any lull in the post-coital conversation, the mistake usually comes up, like a ghost in bed with you and your lover.

So when I was told that he knew my previous AA bachelors' mistakes, I had to go out and smoke and ponder this unsettling turn of events. It was unfortunate, but unlike cold hands, bad sinuses, and irritating Midwestern women, it was not enough to make me unhappy. Clearly, he was a successful comedian and would be picking up the tab. Free food is free food, and I'm not one to look a Greek salad in the mouth.

Bit if I am Kryptonite to Jews, recovering alcoholics are Kryptonite to me. I end up fucking them and I lose my appetite around them. There's a strange vibe of longing they put out. And because, unlike the rest of us, they've ceased temporary trips away from reality, they seem to notice every damn thing on the planet.

Returning from my smoking respite, things began to unravel. The comedian was too much "in reality." He made me nervous and I was unable to eat my free food. He noticed this. The comedian was with my salad like the Italian was with my plate of pasta and the Irishman was with my salmon before him. "I see that you have not finished that piece of feta beside the olive and the mangled slice of onion...might you have an eating disorder? Or maybe you're coming off drugs? Why aren't you eating that piece of feta! Eat the feta!" This is what happens to bitter folk once we take away their right of self-medication. It would have been worse only if it had been a Greek instead of a comedian, and I had offended his cuisine.

I kept thinking how his approach was novel; unlike most men, he didn't try to flatter me into thinking it was my ingenue looks or my very small waist that attracted him. He cupped my face in his hands and talked about how daring and dramatic the creative life was. He told me we were bonded in our creative energy, in our love of cigarettes and Lenny Bruce. He was trying to convince me that there was energy there and for a moment, I could feel it. I could feel it, looking into this set of eyes of a B or C celebrity.

He spoke of creativity, how we were both creative people destined for failure in life as human beings. I was temptation, a cyclone, a dangerous woman. And that was the clincher, the home run of the lunch, when he began speaking about how dangerous I was. Then and only then was I sure that his entire purpose was to fuck me.

This comedian had never seen my work. Had never read my Michigan-obsessed rants, nor my stories about my family, nor my love poems to the first "sex mistake" - the self-obsessed not-even-a-celebrity Italian. How did he know about my creativity? How did he know he wasn't sitting across from a future Danielle Steel or V. C. Andrews, a romantic schlock, an absolute phony? Maybe I wrote greeting cards. Maybe I was responsible for those insipid sitcoms on the air right now. The only thing he'd seen me creatively do was match my necklace to my outfit and smoke a cigarette while pacing.

And, at the tender age of twenty-two, I took offense at "destined for failure." His two buddies had the same grim prognosis for my future. Because their twenties were besotted by booze, drugs, bad jobs, gross incidents, melodrama, and farce, they felt that horrible human need to project. Genetics and childhood are against their predictions. My parents spent their twenties camping in northern Michigan and listening to Steely Dan. I can only imagine that my twenties will be something similar, albeit set against different landscapes and music.

Being called a "temptation," a "cyclone," a "dangerous woman" is certainly as flattering as a ripped yarmulke but Lolita I was not. Nor was I some Bette Davis creation out of a thirties movie. I was twenty-two, in a floral print skirt, with a pack of Camels, a cell phone, and a copy of Moby Dick in my purse. The only temptation I would have offered this comedian is a temptation to watch the "Golden Girls" with me at six and eleven at night, both episodes. The only cyclone I know of is my stack of bills and the only dangerous thing about me is that occasionally I forget to turn the gas stove off.

Obviously, this comedian had a whole list of projections to throw onto my face, so there I was, his Lolita. Only his mask didn't quite fit my face. Old, wise, and smart enough to know the difference between true character traits and imagined ones, I said good-bye.

Six months later, his book came out and, curious about what I had missed, I read it. Now I've seen every Woody Allen film and read many Philip Roth novels and I've never read a creature as painfully neurotic as this comedian. Over and over again, the world pisses him off, misuses him, isn't what he expected, and things are just awful again and again and again. Sam Kinison is a monster, New York doesn't understand him, his father's a bad father, his mother's a bad mother, he doesn't like being Jewish, he doesn't like high school....

It seems I had missed a whole lot of self-diagnosed lunacy and misery when I had lunch with the comedian. Which is relieving. I actually kicked myself a few times for letting a good one go by. I had to listen to Cat Steven's Tea For The Tillerman about fifteen times after reading his self-abusive rant just to remind myself that there was, potentially, possibly, still beauty in this world. Maybe there was energy between us, or maybe it was just a whole lot of static he was reading from his messianic complexes.

Ex-alcoholics are never good to have attachments to; they always suffer from self-diagnosed lunacy. Active alcoholics are better. They're just insane and haven't yet found the time to diagnose and treat themselves. But the need to wallow in misery, in pain - this is what an ex-alcoholic does best. "I am not well. I'm not a good person. I've messed up." Nowhere is there a line in this mantra that goes, "And now I'm getting over it. I'm moving on with my life."

We're all lost. There is not a single person on this planet that isn't screwed up in his own special way, and this comedian and his ilk are just upset that they discovered, at some point, that their lunacy wasn't special. It wasn't original. It had been done before, and done better, by Dorothy Parker and Jesus and Billie Holiday and the Marquis De Sade. These poor men had to discover that the specialty and pain they thought was theirs alone was shared by more than five billion people. Self-obsessed people never like to share.

That's why AA meetings are such an addictive, tight phenomenon. "Oh, there are others like me, but it's okay that they're there, because all of us are in this room together." And it's good that they all sit together and keep tabs on each other. It's good that the rest of us less sober creatures don't have to monitor them.

All of that is true, but can't one still have time to smile? Must one wallow all the time in misery? Orange juice in the morning makes me happy. "Golden Girls" at six and eleven makes me happy. A walk in Greenwich Village on a crisp spring day makes me happy. I didn't read about those things in his book. I read about glowing green monsters that he was sent here to slay for the rest of us boneheads and how miserable it was to be the slayer. Well, retire the sword. No more comedians, Greeks, or Greek salads for me.

© Emily Reinhardt

Emily Reinhardt lives in New York City.

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