Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Flaming cookie wrappers and other standard Monday night fare

Tonight I approached a perfect stranger sitting alone at an outdoor table at the beer garden near my house and said, “Do you mind if I use this corner to set something on fire?” (as you do).

The stranger said, “Sure,” and then moved closer to the fire source.

Only one of two things could explain such a reaction:

  1. The stranger somehow knew that I’m only capable of setting things ablaze accidentally. (I owned a cat who could’ve attested to that, had he not passed away long ago under circumstances that I swear did not involve fire.)
  2. The stranger was a man.

The second explanation was the only one I could confirm with a visual.

I really shouldn’t have been at the beer garden at all tonight, much less setting things ablaze, because, in addition to bringing back bacon shirts from the road trip to Allentown, I also brought back a case of strep throat. I capped off my weekend with the Roommates by making a festive trip to the urgent care center yesterday, so the only rounds I’m doing right now involve antibiotics. But I stopped by my local watering hole anyway because the friend of a dear friend happened to be in town, just for tonight, and I wanted to meet her. (The meds had been in my system for more than 24 hours, the friends gave informed consent, and I wore a HazMat suit.)

Shortly after I showed up and introduced myself from a medically safe distance, she pulled a few small wrapped pastries from her purse. She’s of Italian descent and had wanted to buy the cookies, which are supposed to bring good luck, for the wedding she came to attend, but she didn’t find them until after the event. Once you’ve polished off the cookie, you’re supposed to make a wish, roll the empty wrapper into a cylinder, stand it up on end, set it ablaze, and watch your wish take flight.

I was disappointed to learn that you had to do more than eat the cookie to get the good luck. Still, I decided to give it a go. I’m in the market for wish fulfillment –who isn’t? –and this sounded way easier than praying.

I let my friends go fist. Their papers caught fire with ease but flight was another matter altogether. They attributed their botched launches to our table, one of those wire mesh jobs that made it hard to get the paper cylinder to stay vertical. Having learned from their poor choice of platform, I wandered to the standard wooden picnic table where the stranger was sitting. His table offered greater flatness, not to mention flammability.

I’m superstitious when it comes to things like wishing, so rather than aim for something grand, like finding true love, I decided to lower the stakes and wish for a couple of good dates.

No doubt you’ve heard that life imitates art, but maybe you didn’t know that it also imitates flaming wish paper. No sooner did my cookie wrapper catch fire than it capsized and played dead. Then a breeze blew it, still ablaze, in the direction of the stranger, who wore a wedding ring. This time he had the good sense to recoil.

The good news? Just because your wish burns to ashes doesn’t mean it won’t come true; it just means you need to make another wish. So pass the cookies, will ya?

It did not go up in smoke, it just went in smoke. Pass me another one!

It did not go up in smoke, it just went in smoke. Pass me another one!


The silent treatment: somehow it speaks volumes

Last week Philippa and I responded to a question we received from a gentleman who listens to our podcast, Women of Uncertain Age. “Why do nice guys finish last?” our man had asked. Or so I thought. Shortly after we posted here and here he politely informed me the actual question was, “Why do people give the silent treatment?” (No wonder our listener corrected me. The first question is as similar to the second as apples are to umbrellas.)

Dear listener, I know exactly why daters give the silent treatment: because it’s cheaper than a restraining order.

I’m kidding, though I have crossed paths with and/or married at least one person with respect to whom silence and total disengagement were my best, and ultimately only, options. But let’s assume a non-extreme scenario in which both daters are relatively sane, even if this requires me to become a writer of fantasy.

I might not be the best person to answer our listener’s question because I don’t use the silent treatment unless I have to. I find it cruel and can’t stand it when someone does it to me, which happened somewhat recently.  I had met a Person Of Interest one Saturday afternoon in August and then saw him again at a dinner party in September. The POI seemed to hit it off at the dinner party, after which he sent an email that vaguely suggested getting together again. My response picked up on the vague suggestion and went concrete by mentioning a party to which I’d been invited and could bring a “plus one.” He wrote to say he couldn’t make it that night and to ask if I’d like to get together that week. I said yes and included dates that were open for me. A day went by, then two, and then a week.  He never responded.

I found baffling, not because I had anything invested in it but because getting together again had been *his* idea. Whether he was insincere, changed his mind, or fell into a combine, I will never know. (Actually, I do know. We have a friend in common and I’m pretty sure my pal would have said something if there’d been an unfortunate agricultural mishap somewhere in Northwest D.C.) At forty-three, I no longer take this stuff as personally as I once did, but I find it poor form and still don’t think silence is golden when it comes to dating.

When I go out with someone and don’t see another date in our future, I say so, sometimes right on the spot. I speak up partly out of respect for the other person, and, less heroically, because I’m selfish. Not answering a benign and sane communication from a date I just didn’t connect with makes me feel like a jerk. I don’t want my conscience weighed down with that when it has other pressing things to feel guilty about, like that day’s chocolate consumption.

So I respond. The amount of information my response conveys, and the medium in which I provide it, varies directly with the length and quality of the relationship. If we’ve gone out once, my response probably won’t relay much beyond my personal belief that we’re not a fit for dating. I don’t need to say, for example, “Not only did you extoll the virtues of smooth jazz, but you did it while your mouth was full of jambalaya.” Most men thank me for the honesty and move on.

Since it’s a school of thought I don’t subscribe to, I can only speculate about causes for giving the silent treatment. I suspect some people do it because they view an overt communication of rejection as more insulting than a passive one. They see my oh-so-respectful “we’re not a fit” as a verbal slap in the face and figure the other person would just rather not get hit. And maybe they’re right.

Some do it because they fear the other person’s reaction or can’t stand conflict. I understand this, too, having wished on at least one rather memorable occasion that I’d kept my big mouth shut.

Some people do it because they don’t care, they like to be in control, they want to hurt you, or possibly all of the above, in which case you should silently thank them for showing their cards now.

Some people do it because they’ve tried to break it to you gently and you just won’t buy it, in which case, well, a little self-awareness would go a long way.

If you’re on the receiving end of the silent treatment, you certainly don’t have to like it–I know I never have — but at a certain point, you do have to accept it. And if you’re really afraid the other person died, then go read the obituaries, for heaven’s sake.

Silence might sting, sure, but it can also teach you if you let it. It might be telling you that someone who “communicates” that way isn’t for you. Or maybe it’s saying you’re two texts away from earning stalker status. Either way, listen up.


Why do nice guys finish last? Baking soda. That’s why.

My friend Philippa and I, both divorced forty-somethings, do a podcast called Women of Uncertain Age that focuses on relationships and dating.

We spend a lot of time talking about our love lives (including major first date blunders like the one I committed recently), so it’s always a relief when a listener suggests a topic for us.

One of our male listeners wrote to us after experiencing a few romantic disappointments in a row, asking us to offer our thoughts on why nice guys finish last.  I’m honored that he asked, though I have a quibble with his question. It assumes nice guys finish last, when everybody knows they don’t. They come in second, maybe third if they haven’t trained properly.

But I get his point: it seems like the nice guy never gets the girl. And it’s probably even more discouraging if you’re smart and handsome, like this guy is. (I met him very briefly and took an instant like to him.)

I’m going to answer this question partly as a lawyer, and partly as an actual human being. The lawyer in me thinks the answer turns on what the definition of “nice” is, because experience tells me the word doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.  Some women who describe a guy as “nice” mean that he’s polite, respectful, and/or kind. Others use the same word as a euphemism for boring or, even worse, doormat. They’re just too “nice” to say so.  Many women seek balance in their romantic relationships—I know I do—and it can be hard to respect someone who’s so accommodating he gets stepped on more often than a dance floor.  (I have at times struggled with this, myself, having been trampled a time or two.)

The human being in me thinks it comes down to the fact that nice isn’t enough, at least not all by itself. It’s a bare minimum, like having to be four feet tall to get on an amusement park ride. Nice buys you a seat on the romantic roller coaster but doesn’t guarantee you a high quality ride.  If you want a hands in the air, cracking up the whole way, can’t wait to do it again kind of experience, you’d better show up with something more than nice. Like a robust wallet, er, wit.  I joke about the wallet but not about the wit. I’m dead serious about that.  I won’t last more than one date with someone who doesn’t enjoy bantering, no matter how nice he is.

And of course, in addition to nice and funny, the third basic ingredient (for me) is chemistry. Chemistry in my book doesn’t necessarily equate to a gas-meets-match style explosion—those work better in a Warner Brothers cartoon than they do in most romantic relationships—but it had better be at least baking-soda-meets-vinegar. Otherwise, no amount of nice is gonna keep me in it. If I had to guess, the chemical reaction, or lack thereof, is the real cause of our listener’s woes. He seems to be the right amount of nice, and I know he’s tall enough to ride the roller coaster, so it’s just a matter of time before he meets his baking soda.

It takes at least this to get a relationship started. (Food coloring optional.) Thanks to how-things-work-science-projects for the photo!

That Lovin’ Feeling

The other day, a friend asked Philippa when she’d last gotten a love letter.

Like anyone who’s been handed a verbal hot potato, Philippa immediately threw it at me because, what the heck, we might as well all get third degree burns.

I had to put a fair amount of thought into this one.

In theory, the last love letter I got was in September of 2011.  My then-husband handed it to me a month or so after we separated, when we had agreed to meet to discuss the sale of our house.  The card contained heartfelt declarations of love and spoke of his hope for reconciliation.  I did not share that hope.  This prompted an immediate retraction of the heartfelt love stuff and its replacement with heartfelt non-love stuff.  I don’t think that card counts.

Though this is perhaps the most common packaging, love letters can come in all kinds of forms.

I’m not dating anyone at the moment, but if I apply a fairly expansive definition of “love letter,” I got one just yesterday. (This message was even better than the note I got from an old friend on Wednesday.)

The love letter I got yesterday traveled electronically instead of by snail.  And it’s not from a present love interest but a former one.

We dated briefly a decade ago, and I now count him among my closest friends.  We call and text occasionally, but email is our main medium. The sight of his name in my in-box always makes me happy.  It means that a great read awaits, and I know it’ll be as insightful and funny as the author himself.

Yesterday’s note included the expected catch-up fare, but after the “news” segment, there was more.

I won’t repeat his exact words, but suffice it to say that my cherished friend expressed profound gratitude for the fact that I think enough of him to call him my friend.  These words floored and touched me.

I should have been relaying that very message to him, given his constant support and presence when my marriage was ending and, more recently, when Nana passed away.

And then, because this friend is really smart and knows a love note recipient won’t believe you unless you temper the flowery stuff with reality, he wrote that the years have enabled him to see my strengths and weaknesses, and to love me for both. I know he meant every word.

But believe it or not, that stuff isn’t what made it a love note for me.  It was the very last thing he wrote, the thing that made me laugh–hard — and then smile for hours:

Our romantic ship has sailed but our friendship ship is sunken in the harbor like the Arizona…leaking vast amounts of oil, probably, but it ain’t goin’ anywhere.

He couldn’t have said it better, and I definitely felt the love.

Three’s Company, the Sequel

[We pick up where yesterday’s post left off, which was after I’d made the questionable decision to tag along on my best friend’s date…]

We boarded the train for the 30 minute ride to the suburb where Kate lived.  She met us at the station.

Tall and willowy, with dark hair that fell past her shoulders, Kate was quite striking except for the smile she was wearing that looked about two sizes too small.  I got the impression she couldn’t wait to get home and put on a nice, big eye roll.

Awkward small talk filled the chilly air as the three of us walked from the train station to a quaint village square of sorts.

Kate said, “We can go to my favorite spot here, unless there’s someplace you two would rather go?”

“We’re happy anywhere,” J said. “Let’s go to your favorite.”

“Great,” Kate said. “It’s a cozy little French bistro and I think you’ll like it.”

We very well might have, had she not led us straight to…Café Rouge.

Though not the original scene of the crime, the suburban outpost was still a little too close for my comfort.  My discomfort, on the other hand, had found a very happy home there.

One of these doesn’t quite fit in…

When I wasn’t busy trying to choke down the anemic potato gratin I’d ordered out of social necessity, I attempted to be an unobtrusive, yet engaged, conversational participant.  Not that I’d ever laid eyes on that particular hybrid in the wild.

To no one’s surprise, dinner didn’t last all that long.  Soon, J, Kate and I headed back in the direction of the train station. As so often happens on a bad date, I had begun to dread the goodbye.

As we neared the station, we came to a waist-high fence that separated the passenger waiting area from the taxi pick-up point.

I thanked Kate for her graciousness and said goodbye, expecting J to walk her around the fence to the taxi stand so he could have a moment with her in private before she grabbed a cab.  I think he expected the same thing, so neither of us was prepared for what happened next.

“Bye, then,” Kate said in our general direction and then leaped over the fence like a thoroughbred in the home stretch of a steeplechase.

J and I stood there, stupefied by her equestrian exit.

“She jumped the fence,” we said in unison and amazement as we watched her sprint towards a waiting taxi.   We looked at each other.

“She jumped the fence,” J said again, as if repeating the words somehow rendered them  less true or absurd. I couldn’t keep a straight face any longer.

“She jumped the fence,” I chimed in and then dissolved into uncontrollable, stomach-aching laughter.  It didn’t take long for J to join me.

“Wow. I’m kind of impressed,” he said. “I’ve never seen a woman to go such lengths to get away from me.”

“I think you mean ‘heights,’” I said.  We were off to the races again.

Suffice it to say that J learned his lesson about letting strays tag along.  For her part, Kate set the date escape bar so high no one has since come close to clearing it.  It’s the rare woman, indeed, who can pull off the “giddy-up and out.”

So…what’s the most extreme measure you (or your “friend,” ahem) have taken to escape a social situation? You can tell us….don’t be shy!