Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Go ahead, make 2017 a year of forward-looking statements

I feel kinda sorry for 2017. Two thousand sixteen is a tough act to follow, and I don’t mean that in a good way. In a year when the proverbial stage desperately needed some Shakespeare, it got Charlie Sheen’s one-man show instead. This disappointing, laborious spectacle left audiences so hostile, exhausted and disgusted that no year in its right mind would want to take the stage after that. But 2017 is here, so we in the crowd might as well do what we can to help the newcomer succeed. How do we do it? The answer is simple: we give ourselves something to look forward to, every day, every week and every month.

Psychologists have long viewed the anticipation of a positive experience as a key to happiness. That’s great news, because we can choose to create positive anticipation, and that in turn means maintaining some control over our happiness no matter what presidencies, er, events are happening around us. Anyone who’s ever planned a vacation knows intuitively that looking forward to it gives you a boost long before you pack your bags. And, as a 2014 New York Times article points out, anticipating something great, and savoring that anticipation, not only increases the chances that the experience itself will be good but helps counteract any negativity that ensues if it doesn’t live up to the hype.

So let’s start off 2017 in a way that Wall Street would hate: by making tons of forward-looking statements. Here’s what I’m already looking forward to this year…

… by the day:

  • Sweating: I make a point of exercising nearly every day. Swimming, running, and going to boot camp not only make me feel good physically but also do wonders for my mental health, creativity, and overall outlook. That makes it pretty easy to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Reading a book: I wind down every day by reading at least a few pages of a book. It settles my mind and helps my writing. And if I wake up for long stretches in the middle of the night, as I am wont to do, reading eases my frustration.
  • My neighbors: I live in a great ‘hood, on a great street, where we all know each other, look out for each other – these unbelievable people shoveled me out from Snowzilla when I sprained my wrist last year – and enjoy the occasional front lawn happy hour. I see at least one of my neighbors pretty much every day, sometimes for only a moment as I drive past, but even just the exchange of a friendly wave makes me smile.
  • My family: Not a day goes by without one or more members of Team Yank calling, texting or emailing to say “hi,” send a photo or share a hilarious story. Many of their communications do all three.
  • My friends: My pals are fun, interesting, talented people who enrich my life every day in some way, including by sweating next to me, introducing me to cool places like Costa Rica, or keeping me apprised of such crucial current events as the dates of Barry Manilow’s farewell tour.
  • Music: I always find joy in music, whether I’m making it or just listening to it.

…by the week:

  • The podcast: it’s one of the most fun things I do, hands-down. The combination of hanging out with Philippa and talking about dating adds up to a whole lot of laughter.
  • Writing: not always one of the most fun things I do, but it makes me more engaged in my world, and that’s a great thing. Besides, I’m close to having a first draft of my second book, and I want to cross that finish line.
  • Walks with friends: my pal Bud and I do our best to take weekly walks together, even when it’s cold. I love the exercise, the camaraderie and the laughter.
  • Tuesdays with Larry: my comedy partner and I get together pretty much every week to throw around new material. Sometimes we get absolutely nothing done, but even those fails are successes, because we’re always laughing.
  • More meet-ups: My hike with the Capital Area Hiking Club was a rousing success, so I’m gonna try to do more meet-ups. It’s a great way to try new things, or to meet new people while doing stuff I already enjoy.

…by the month (presented in fragments because these aren’t yet fully formed):

  • January: Going to see Wicked with Mom, Lynne and Emily; taking a trip to NYC with my great friend, LC, and both of our moms; the Women’s March; taking Dad to lose a bunch of money at the new casino at National Harbor; resuming standup comedy stints.
  • February: L.J.‘s birthday; trip to Atlanta to see him, my sister-in-law, and the kiddos. More standup.
  • March: A Joe Bonamassa concert with two people I adore; UVA basketball and March Madness; the official arrival of Spring; the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and maybe even actual cherry blossoms!
  • April: Mom’s birthday; my parents’ anniversary; cherry blossoms! (And maybe the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler?) another chance to reprise my role as the neighborhood Easter Bunny; Opening Day for Major League Baseball!
  • May: Mother’s Day; Memorial Day = cookouts, outdoor swimming, front lawn happy hours, outdoor concerts, etc.
  • June: Father’s Day; a landmark birthday for my sister Suzi; my nephew J.J.’s graduation, followed by a two-week graduation trip with JJ to celebrate said graduation (the burden I carry as his aunt).
  • July: Celebratory graduation trip, cont’d!
  • August: The Yank family reunion; Lynne’s birthday; Dad’s birthday.
  • September: Steve Martin and Martin Short at Wolf Trap. (ALERT: I bought two tickets, so those who are interested in being my plus-one should start lobbying now!)
  • October: Hikes to enjoy the fall foliage; another chance to judge the neighborhood Halloween costume contest.
  • November: YANKSGIVING!!!!!
  • December: Star Wars Episode VIII! I don’t know how I’ll top 2016’s “I’ve gone further for less” Rogue One experience, but if I have to go to Hawaii to see Episode VIII, so be it.

Whaddya know, the same things that make me happy every day – family, friends, exercise, outdoors, laughter, and music – pop up regularly in my weekly and monthly lists, too. Another cool thing? I know the list will only grow.

Try making your own list and I bet you’ll not only make the same discoveries but find that the simple act of making the list sets a perfect stage for 2017. Happy New Year, everyone!

What ‘good grief’ really means

Like most people, I loathe funerals. And as regular readers know, I’m not very good at them.

It’s not that I don’t know what to do or say: I give great hugs and I usually know the right words (sometimes I even sing them). But I just can’t make my upper lip stiffen, no matter how how hard I’m trying to avoid putting my grieving loved one in a position of having to comfort me. I blow it every time, and Saturday was no exception.

My friend T’s younger sister Gina passed away suddenly, just over a week ago, and her funeral took place on Saturday.

I became friends with T several years ago through work, where she’s as strong, successful, and poised as sales executives come. T’s one of four sisters with whom she’s close, and she’s not much older than I am. That makes her far too young to lose a cherished sibling, in my book. The pages of my book, in fact, depict a dreamy fairytale landscape where siblings are always around. I need those pages to look like that because my brother and sisters are my best friends. They make me laugh so hard my face hurts, they stand ready to hug me at my happiest and saddest times, and they love me no matter how badly I screw up (something I have tested, alas). I simply can’t imagine life without them. Until Saturday, I had refused even to let such an awful thought enter my brain. Saturday morning, however, that thought saw no need to ask for permission; it just barged its way to the front of my mind and heart as I approached T at the funeral home.

One look at my friend proved that absorbing a staggering loss on a balance sheet is one thing and in life another altogether. No kind of training prepares you for the latter, not even intellectual awareness that big love sometimes means big pain. The sorrow on T’s face telegraphed the enormity of her grief. I hated what it meant for her, and what it might mean for me someday. Overwhelmed, I was in tears long before I reached her. So much for putting my friend’s needs ahead of my own.

Then the ceremony got underway and I learned about Gina, a woman I’d never met but soon wished I had. Everyone who spoke mentioned her generosity of heart, the way she loved unconditionally and her capacity to love people through flaws most of us couldn’t abide. Her family members poked gentle fun at some of her quirks –evidently she loved to plan events, which meant you’d better head for the hills when she started writing the to-do lists–but to a person they painted a portrait of someone who was a nurturer by nature, a superwoman who took care of anyone who needed it. Gina didn’t let her loved ones get away with any crap, but they knew she always had their backs.

In describing Gina’s steadfast loyalty, no matter the circumstances, T’s son said, “I could be dead wrong, and I knew she’d be standing right there, being dead wrong too.” I laughed with the crowd while thinking that’s exactly the kind of aunt I aspire to be (minus the event-planning part). So whether she ever set out to or not, T’s sister set an example, even for a total stranger like myself.

(Speaking of setting great examples, I give very high marks to the way the family structured the service. A few relatives and friends had been selected to speak about Ts sister, and according to the program, had been allotted two minutes apiece. But we all know emotions can make it easy to lose track of time. So in a nod to one of the more redeeming feature of the Oscars, the minister notified the speakers that, if they were still talking at two minutes, the organist would begin to play. If they kept going, well, so would the organist, and he was gonna crank up the volume. I can only hope T starts to run meetings this way.)

No matter how hard you try to smile through the tears, it hurts like hell to say goodbye to someone who set an example like Gina clearly did. It’s like losing the coach who not only knew how it was done but taught you everything you ever knew, the one you counted on to keep you motivated when you faltered. The minister acknowledged that pain while exhorting all present to use Gina’s example to examine our lives and repair any dysfunctional relationships we might have.

I liked that call to action. I heard it as a reminder to live well not because life could end at any moment –we all know it could –but rather to honor the beautiful example someone left us by doing similar good works.

I left the funeral home in tears, but glad to have been there. Though I absolutely stink at funerals, I go because I believe it’s important to show up for your loved ones whenever you can. Never once have I regretted going, and every single time I walk away having learned something important. In getting up close to a loss that terrifies me, I realized T’s sister will live on not just in memory –a fickle and increasingly unreliable thing as the years pass –but in the actions of those whose lives she touched.

May we all live, and leave, so well.

When I saw my sister Lynne last night, I told her about the funeral. In an impressive display of sibling rivalry, she assured me she's going to go first.

When I saw my sister Lynne last night, I told her about the funeral. In an impressive display of sibling rivalry, she assured me she’s going to go first.

 

 

 

You’ve Got Mail. Way too much mail.

I have a confession to make: I’m an e-mail hoarder.

Though I have little trouble unloading possessions I don’t use or need, I can’t bring myself to delete the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve exchanged in cyberspace with my loved ones. Those messages mean as much to me as actual letters, even if they take less effort to send and travel in an ethereal medium. I’ve been hanging on to them since 1996. Like a box of old photos, these e-mails capture all sorts of moments in my life, and it reassures me to know I can pull them up when I want to take a nostalgia trip.

Some of these personal exchanges live in my work e-mail in-box. It does not have unlimited storage capacity, so every now and then I get an automated love note informing me that, if I don’t start getting rid of things, I won’t be able to get anything new. (Too bad my parents didn’t think to use that logic on me and my siblings when it came to storage space in their basement.)

I got one of those automated love notes today, so I began picking through the digital pile in search of messages to dump or at least file. As I moved several messages to a folder I’ve labeled “Personal,” I couldn’t resist taking a few minutes to peruse the contents of the folder.

If “Personal” were a tangible folder whose items I’d organized chronologically, it would have a gigantic bulge right around July 30, 2011, when I left the Lawnmower. I rolled out that news slowly and usually by e-mail because the emotions associated with it –sadness, embarrassment, anxiety, shock—put me in constant jeopardy of bursting into tears. Every email I sent at that time prompted an incredible response that I saved, and as I read those notes today, they moved me again.

Most of my friends wrote to express shock and dismay and made immediate offers to show up. These two messages are a representative sample, one from a law school pal and another from one of my oldest friends:

Well please let me know the first instance you are available and I promise to be there…no matter where. Keep that chin up.  You are one of the most beautiful, intelligent, talented women I have ever known.  Just remember that.

My dear Karen, I am at a complete loss for anything approaching adequate to say.  Just know that I am so, so sorry and that I am here for you at any time and for anything you need.  I would love to see you soon.  For one thing, I’ll rest easier once I can see you in person and give you a huge hug, not that that will change a damned thing, but I really, really want you to know that I am here for you.  You name whenever is good for you, and also name what you’d like to do.  And in the meantime, call me ANYTIME you need a friendly ear.

Then I came across a note from my friend J, whom I’ve written about before. In typical J fashion, his note started from the same foundation as many of my friends, but then he made it his own. Because one of the Lawnmower’s first acts as my new husband was to ex-communicate J, one of my first acts as the Lawnmower’s soon-to-be-ex-wife was to re-communicate my pal. Fortunately for me, J was happy to pick up right where we’d left off without uttering a word of blame. J’s version of showing up for me over the course of our friendship usually meant plying me with food and booze at his condo or at a nearby restaurant. I had learned long ago to pack an overnight bag in case of overindulgence, and that preparation paid off in this case. Though the details of the evening mentioned in the note below have been lost to the ravages of time and/or Pinot Grigio, some of the constants of our friendship came through loud and clear, including a shared hatred of Tuesdays, mutual affection for the movie Airplane!, and a healthy dose of mocking.

YO-I just wanted to say, “Good Luck, we are all counting on you.”  …OK, Airplane references aside (though really, is there a better theme for a Tuesday?), it was great to see you on Saturday.  I am looking forward to getting back on a regular schedule and hopefully cooking together when schedules and inspiration allow.  BTW, I wanted to let you know that you left your rings, earrings and CD here.  I have copied the CD, am wearing the rings, and have an appointment scheduled to get my ears pierced.  …thought you should know.

Joseph and I have drifted apart over the past three years, but that note proved the truth of Victor Borge’s famous observation that “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” As I read the message, I laughed, and for at least a few minutes, I didn’t feel quite so far away.

 

You’re Lucky…

“You’re lucky.  It could’ve been so much worse.”

We’ve all heard this at some point or another, after telling a friend or loved one about something bad that’s happened to us.  I heard it twice recently, and in both cases, I reacted poorly.

The first “you’re lucky” came two weeks ago, as I was griping to a girlfriend about my latest visit to the periodontist.  I’d gone into the doctor’s office on a Tuesday morning for what I expected to be a consultation about my third and final gum graft.

He’d done the second one more than a year earlier, so I figured he wouldn’t want to schedule the third procedure without first taking X-Rays. (My gums and teeth, when left unattended for more than ten minutes, tend to go wandering off, so it wouldn’t have surprised me if they turned up in Ohio.)  I was so confident this would be an in-and-out visit that I held off eating breakfast.  Sure, I’d gone to swim practice just before the appointment and was famished, but I figured I could easily wait another half hour or so.

The first clue that my confidence was misplaced came when the doc’s assistant donned a pair of vinyl gloves, opened my mouth, and stuck a swab in it.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“To get you numb,” she said.

“For X-Rays?”  I’d endured a lot of dental assaults over the years but none had been so violent as to require numbing at the X-Ray stage. I didn’t like where this was going.

“No, you were here pretty recently so we don’t need to take X-Rays again.  We’re going right into the procedure.”  She beamed when she said this, making me feel like I owed her some sort of Leave It To Beaver-style response like, “Golly gee, that’s swell!”

But as I sat there with a chemically laced Q-tip hanging out of my mouth, staring down an expensive an painful dental procedure on an empty stomach, I couldn’t do it.  I drooled instead.

An hour and $2,300 later, I left with a set of Frankengums that I didn’t even know I was getting.

I called a friend, expecting my graft-and-run story to elicit sympathy.  Her reaction?

“Well, you’re really lucky they did it then. Imagine how much worse it would’ve been if you’d had to stress over it for two weeks.”

Aside from the fact that this pal is an amateur patient who clearly doesn’t understand the vital role dread plays in dentistry –professional patients never skip this step in preparing for a procedure – she didn’t seem to get that “lucky” was not the adjective I was experiencing at that moment.

It happened again a few days later, this time as I was lamenting the fact that my father’s Parkinson’s Disease has converted mundane tasks like buttoning a shirt into a motor skills debacle that takes upwards of 15 minutes and ends more often in frustration than a fastened shirt.

“That’s tough,” he said, which was an excellent start.  But then he added, “Though it could be so much worse, you know.  You’re really lucky.”

In both cases, I was well aware that it could be much worse.  A gum graft is in many ways a luxury, especially if you’re into periodontal extravagance.  And I know the hand of Parkinson’s Disease has barely swiped my dad.  It hasn’t marred his speech, hobbled his gait, or robbed him of his independence. I’m grateful for that.

When I step back and think about my good fortune overall, something I do on a regular basis, it quickly becomes an exercise in infinite regression.  I’m lucky to own a nice house in a nice place, which I was able to buy because I have a good job that I enjoy,  which I got because of my education, which I had access to because I was born in 1971 and in the U.S.—a place that isn’t perfect but does better than just about anywhere else at giving people a shot at chasing their dreams—to two parents who provided for me in every way imaginable and created a close-knit, mainly functional  family full of love (and comedy).

I know I have a ridiculous amount of good luck, along with everything else that matters in this world, so I find it hard to appreciate the unsolicited reminder.

“You’re so lucky” without question comes from a good place, and from people who worry that I might be in danger of losing perspective.  They think, understandably, that the best way to keep someone from falling into a pit of despair is to point out that it’s just a puddle.

But here’s the thing: knowing I’m lucky doesn’t mean I can’t be mad about spending a fortune on  a new set of gums I don’t want, or that it doesn’t hurt to watch my father struggle to keep Parkinson’s at bay.  I have no intention of swan diving into the pit of despair. I just want to dip my toe in it for a second.

Thanks, and Giving

[On this day meant for giving thanks, the regularly scheduled splat has been hijacked by sincerity. What can I say, maybe Philippa is rubbing off on me.  But don’t worry, the splatting will resume tomorrow.]

When I made the decision to end my marriage after just ten months, I knew my friends and family would have questions.  I braced myself for, “Are you sure you tried everything?” and “Did you really give it your best shot?”

Sure enough, as soon as I made my news public, questions came pouring in.  But not a single person asked me if I’d tried hard enough.  Instead, the people who love me flooded me with countless variations of one simple question: “How can I help?”

It came to me in forms like:

  • Do you need a place to live?
  • Would you like me to listen?
  • Can I remind you that you’re special and wonderful?

The very people who didn’t wait for me to seek their help didn’t wait for me to answer their questions, either.  They simply gave.  Their acts of generosity showed up as:

  • A finished basement to live in and the world’s best (and youngest) roommates to keep me company
  • Shoulders that shook as we cried together
  • A hilarious getaway to Gettysburg to ride horses and scramble for a place to stay when the TraveLodge turned us away
  • Ears that listened without fatigue and with complete faith in me
  • Lovingly prepared dinners
  • A lockbox and real estate advice that helped me survive For Sale By Owner
  • Couches and guests rooms in all kinds of places
  • Phone calls
  • Letters and cards
  • A “Do-Over” 40th surprise party
  • Laughter, in unlimited quantities

When I tried to express my gratitude for this unsolicited outpouring–the thing that made the worst time of my life somehow also the best — my loved ones told me they were thankful for me, for our relationship, and for a chance to give back.

As a result of that experience, I’ve begun to equate gratitude with generosity.  The best way I, or anyone, can show appreciation for what we have –walls and a roof that shelter us, clothes that warm us, food that fuels us, and, most important of all, relationships that sustain us – is through generosity, especially of spirit.  Give things that no one could ever have too much of, like smiles, the benefit of the doubt, encouragement, your full attention, and your gratitude.  Give whatever you can, however you can, as often as you can, simply because you can.

Line ‘Em Up

Your friend lineup –the list of non-family types you really count on – has to include people of the opposite gender, regardless of whether you’re male or female, gay or straight, single or married.  These people fill a vital perspective gap, at the very least, and they often do much more than that.

During my stay with Philippa, for example, I watched as her guy friends did things like drive her to the hospital, make her smoothies, keep her stocked up on flowers, and whip up a brilliant Bolognese.

The experience brought me fresh appreciation for my man-friends (“The Dudes”) and the realization that there are certain guy-friend types that I simply can’t live without.  Without further ado, I bring you my very own, personal Dude Roster:

The SubDude: Your “plus one” when you need a date, this purely platonic pal adheres to the Arm Charm Manifesto, keeps you entertained, and is socially savvy enough to know when to give you a little space.  Bonus points if he looks smokin’ in a tux. (It’s ideal to have more than one of these at any given moment.)

The Sidekick: This guy is equal parts fun, fearless and adventurous.  He’s the dude you want riding shotgun when you make a last-minute decision to roadtrip.  Or when you need a guest co-host for your radio show, hypothetically.

The Work Hubs:  This husband hasn’t seen you parade around the house wearing nose stickers, but you and he work so closely that he’s witnessed the office equivalent and he still likes you.  Most of the time.

The Flagman: Like the guy who halts traffic for roadwork, the Flagman points out hazards you might not be able to see and tries his best to get you to slow down or, in extreme cases, detour. A co-worker of mine, “Scott,” does this for me.  Scott earned this job as a result of some doodling he did on a white board one day while I was telling him about a date I’d gone on the night before. As I yammered on about how my date was basically nice except for his tendency to bring up exes who seemed unable to get over him, Scott was drawing this red triangular thing that sat atop what appeared to be a pole.

“Do you recognize this?” Scott said.

 “It looks like the pin for the 18th hole. Are you drawing a golf course?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s just as I feared. I had a feeling you wouldn’t see it, Karen, because you have Red Flag Detection Disorder. Best-case scenario, this guy’s insecure and has an endless need to have women adore him, and to make sure you know it.  Worst-case scenario, he’s not over his ex.  Either way, do NOT go out with this man again.”

I did not heed Scott’s advice, mind you, but a second date proved that he was right.

The Broker:  This Dude traffics not in financial instruments but in honesty.  About everything.  It’s critical to have at least one of these on hand at all times, preferably two or three.  The Broker, for example, will tell you what he really thinks of your clothing choices.  If asked, he’s one person who won’t treat, “Does my butt look big in these pants?” as rhetorical.  I once posed a variant of this question and he said, “Hmmm…if butts were states, I can’t say yours looks the size of Rhode Island in those pants, but it’s not Texas, either.”  The Broker tends to own Kevlar.

What does your Friend Roster look like???

 

Those Three Little Words

Since I’m currently hosting a slumber party for three kids under the age of 10 I’ll keep this short.

For those of you who were waiting with bated breath to find out about the holiday missive from FBM, your suspense ends tonight.

But before I tell you what arrived in the mail, I must talk about the emotions it evoked.  As these holiday transmittals are wont to do, it brought tears to my eyes. I’m just glad to have opened it in the presence of my entire family (14 people, as we were shy one nephew who’s spending the holidays in Ohio with his mom and her family). Their love, warmth and support at poignant moments like this means so much, as you can well imagine.

The bright, red envelope was a standard size, though it felt like it might hold something slightly heavier than your average greeting card. Small wonder FBM had to spend $.80 to send it from Santa Barbara to Virginia. FBM turns out to be the kind of careful sender who probably insured it, too.

My mom had already opened the envelope so I could see that it did, in fact, contain a greeting card with all kinds of people in suspended motion on the cover, as if Hallmark had vogued. And that’s pretty much where the similarities between this card and your average Hallmark ended.

Most cards convey their message through unspoken words. This one sent it with digestive noises.

That’s right: my greeting card farted.

“FBM” didn’t stand for the name of a former suitor–the senders are very dear, and hilarious, friends– but rather a groundbreaking (and possibly pants-rending) company called “Farts By Mail.”  I’m sure they do a booming business (har!) at Christmas but they must really clean up on Boss’s Day.

When you least expect it…

I can’t reveal the identity of the givers–all great donors appreciate a little anonymity lest they get bombarded with requests for similarly grand philanthropic gestures –but I will say they read this blog and must’ve split a side or two before they busted my family’s collective gut tonight.  (And my mother, by the way, knew what it was the whole time, proving that the “never lie to your mother” maxim does not have a converse.)

What they pulled off was nothing short of brilliant, and they certainly showed me how much they cared this holiday season with those three little words that go by the initials: “F.B.M.”

(Oh, and since I whiffed on the Splat of the Week yesterday for lack of time rather than material, I think this post can do double-duty.)

A little off-key

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“Hope you’re around for the obligatory annual visit,” Mitch and Denise had written in the Christmas card that arrived late last week.  They’re close friends from my law school days, and I see them regularly, including during the holidays.

They always encourage me to bring a guest when I come over, but I’ll be going solo this year, and not just because I’m in between significant others.   Much as I love Mitch and Denise, on the rare occasions when I’ve brought a date to their house, things haven’t gone too well.

There was the time, back in 2007, when they invited me and my then-boyfriend, “John,” to their house for a dinner party.  An assistant dean from our law school and her husband rounded out the group.

The dean had introduced me to Mitch when we were 1Ls in the fall of 1998, and she took a personal interest in both of us that she maintained even after we graduated.  She always kept an eye out for dating prospects for me, so I was excited to introduce her to John.

I knew she’d like the fact that he was un-lawyerly, kind and tall.  She’d also appreciate his success as an entrepreneur, whether or not she was a fan of the online gaming industry he worked in.   I suspected she’d view his laid-back, reserved nature a good complement to my chattiness.

And she might have, except it didn’t look so complementary when John withered in the face of her steady stream of questions.  He looked relieved when she shifted the focus away from him.  Eventually his look of relief gave way to a face of boredom.  He tried to hide it but the occasional flare of his nostrils as he nose-yawned revealed his true feelings.

We moved into the dining room, where he appeared moderately engaged but uncomfortable.  His taste in chair styles leaned more toward beanbag than Queen Anne.

As we dined on pork loin, he followed the conversation, meaning he was always a step or two behind it.  The evening was not unfolding as I had envisioned.

After dinner, I knew John was ready to go.  Just as I was about to start the goodbye process, Denise asked me to play their piano.  She and Mitch always made this request.  Usually I didn’t mind but this time I tried to beg off.

“Oh, you all have better things to do than sit around and listen to me bang on a piano,” I said. The dean dismissed my objection with a wave of her hand.

“You have to indulge us at least a little bit before you go.  I’ve never heard you play.”  She said this as if I were Billy Joel instead of an amateur who’d taken lessons through high school and still remembered how to play a few tunes.

With leaden feet I followed the group into the living room.  I hoped John might at least welcome the change of venue and a respite from lawyer talk.

After I played a jazz number and a ballad, they asked me to play played a classical piece.  I knew just the thing: A rollicking, challenging Beethoven allegro.

I had just gotten through the toughest part, a set of fast-paced arpeggios at opposite ends of the keyboard, and was making my way toward the end of the piece.  From the corner of my eye I saw the dean’s face.  She wore a tiny frown that I took as a sign of concentration and interest.

I glanced at Mitch and Denise.  They looked happy.

I stole a peek at John. He looked…asleep.

The dean may well have been interested in my piece but she was plainly transfixed by the sight of my boyfriend on the loveseat, eyes closed, head back and mouth ajar.   The sound of hands clapping woke him up, but I barely heard it over the voice of the fat lady warming up in the wings.

My next boyfriend, “Steve,” came to dinner at Denise and Mitch’s, too.  Steve was 11 years my junior and had a huge, fun personality to match his king-size smarts.

This time, other guests attended in place of the dean and her husband, and there was no playing of the piano.  (Perhaps Mitch and Denise feared touching off another relationship-ending bout of narcolepsy.)

But some playing did occur.  At some point after dinner, Steve ended up in the basement rec room, horsing around with Denise and Mitch’s teenaged son and his friends.

I can’t blame Steve for choosing the kids over us.  They were, after all, closer to his age.  But I did blame him for putting a large hole in the drywall that brought a swift and awkward close to another evening at Denise and Mitch’s.

Yep, “plus none” is definitely the way to go this year.