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Well Whatevs: Modern Life with Eugene Mirman

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eugenemirmanarticleThe Book Cellar is packed, with room only left to stand, for comedian Eugene Mirman’s first-ever book reading. His book, “The Will to Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life,” is something that spawned from an advice column that he has had on his Web site for the past six years. “I made little books out of that [advice column]. I printed little books and took them on tour. I would sell lots of them,” says Mirman. “I sort of pitched it as answering questions, but then it turned into really what this is, which is sort of ephemeral self-helpish.”

Just after 7pm he rushes in, grabs a beer and quickly sets up. He begins with a PowerPoint presentation. The video, similar to those simple Web-cam videos that have made Mirman something of an Internet sensation, shows his advice on how to get a husband, with one possible suggestion to conduct the ceremony while the man is still in bed half asleep and will agree to anything. Mirman goes on to read from his book. He tells the story about someone from high school. He introduces the character by reading, “It’s important to note that he wasn’t an emotionally troubled pyrotechnic, which I would have forgiven at the time, but simply a crappy kid who lit a bunch of paper with a Bunson burner and threw it into my hair.”

“It was really fun,” says Mirman after the presentation and Q&A session that followed. “It’s not like I have to do stuff for some period of time, or anything like that. It was mostly like what seemed fun and enjoyable. It was fun taking questions and answering them. It was great.” (Todd Miller)

Chicago Hype Exchange: Charting the capricious contours of celebrity

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This Week’s Biggest Gainers

1 Barack Obama
Signed into law his first major decree—the economic stimulus package.

2 Ozzie Guillen
Praised for harshly criticizing baseball’s steroid users and calling for year-long and lifetime bans.

3 Derrick Rose
The Bulls guard won the Skills Challenge during the NBA’s All-Star weekend.

4 Jean Joho
The James Beard Foundation announced the chef and his Everest as semifinalists for Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Restaurant, respectively.

5 Drew Peterson
Reputed fiancée Christina came back! Yay!

This Week’s Biggest Losers

1 Roland Burris
Calls of “perjury” were heard after a mysterious affidavit from the Senator surfaced that indicates he may have been part of “cash contribution” conversation with Blago’s brother.

2 Barack Obama
Still no Commerce Secretary—Senator Judd Gregg backed out due to a difference of opinion.

3 John Paxson
Rumors swirled that the Bulls GM would be out of a job once this season’s trade deadline has passed.

4 Eric Hargrove
The 28-year-old Chicago policeman was arrested for possession of child pornography.

5 Dmitriy V. Sklyarov
The Muncie man and admitted Satanist pleaded guilty to biting a child and received one-year jail sentence.

Free Will Astrology

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): For a limited time only, you’re in a position to consciously choose your next problems. This is a tremendous opportunity that I hope you won’t allow to go to waste. By being proactive, you can ensure the arrival of fun and interesting dilemmas, thereby avoiding the frustrating and draining kind. In other words, Aries, if you go looking for provocative new challenges, the same old tired and trivial trouble won’t come looking for you. I suggest you begin the quest as soon as possible.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): I know where actor Sean Penn lives. It’s a few miles from where I am right now. An out-of-town friend of mine who’s an aspiring screenwriter is pleading with me to drive by Sean’s house and hurl a hard copy of her latest script over the high wall that affords him and his family privacy. My friend imagines that Sean will find it, read it excitedly and call her up to begin negotiating for rights to use it in a future film. I may do what she asks. It’s my policy not to discourage people’s fantasies about making the connections they need, even if they’re far-fetched. In that spirit, Taurus, I urge you to pursue any hunches you might have about forging alliances that could further your dreams.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): “Opportunities multiply as they are seized,” wrote Sun Tzu in “The Art of War,” an ancient Chinese book about success strategies to pursue in tough times. Now I’m conveying this idea to you, Gemini, as you enter one of the most opportunistic phases of your astrological cycle. What else can you do to get yourself in the right groove? First, adopt a perceptive, receptive attitude that attunes you to budding possibilities. Next, respond expeditiously to every little invitation that appeals to you. Finally, keep in mind that luck tends to happen to those who have done the hard work to generate it.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): If you ask young men what experiences have afforded them the most adventurous fun of their lives, a majority will talk about indoor activities. Some will say video games and others their sexual escapades. Only a minority will describe far-flung events in the great outdoors or exotic locales. What about you, Cancerian? Under what circumstances have your most amazing forays into the unknown unfolded? Where have you been transformed in ways that helped you stretch to meet your destiny? I’d like to suggest that it’s time to go beyond those previous benchmarks. You’re ready to transcend your personal limits as you wander into the frontier.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): “Dear Rob: In my dream last night, I was playing with a lion in my garden. Suddenly it jumped up, put its paws on my shoulders and got face-to-face with me. I realized it could either swallow my head or kiss me. I was excited by the possibility of the kiss and also scared because I sensed it wanted something from me but I didn’t know what. Can you offer any insight? -Leo in Limbo.” Dear Leo: A lot of Leos are dealing with themes like this right now. Here’s how I’d sum them up: The thing that’s most appealing to you happens to be wild. You need to exercise caution even as you go forward to engage with it more intimately. Just as you want something from it, it’s asking for something in return. You’ll have to know exactly what that is in order to protect yourself from its wildness.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): In the course description for a fiction-writing class at Sarah Lawrence College, professor Mary LaChapelle encourages her students to practice the art of enchantment. “How do we avoid succumbing to safe and unoriginal decisions,” she asks, “and aim to recognize and trust our more mysterious and promising impulses?” This happens to be an excellent question for you to keep in mind right now, Virgo, whether you’re about to create something or are starting a new chapter in the epic story that is your life. (P.S. “If you cannot be a poet, be a poem,” advises actor David Carradine.)

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): Evolution has given the human body a profound capacity to cure itself with its own resources, writes Roger Jahnke in his book “The Healer Within.” And yet most of us neglect to call on this inner reserve of natural medicine, looking mostly to drugs and doctors for the miracles we long for. Whether or not you read Jahnke’s book, I hope you will deepen your relationship with your inner healer in the coming weeks. It’s prime time to take a more active role in shaping your well-being.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): Founding Father Benjamin Franklin said that the U.S. Constitution “only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” That’s a good reminder for you, Scorpio, as you enter a phase when you’ll probably have more success than usual if you hunt for pleasure, joy and bliss. I suggest that you draw up an appropriate strategy to employ during the coming weeks. Start by creating a list of at least three sources of delight with which you want to commune. Then write descriptions of how you’re going to increase and expand their presence in your life.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): At the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, the value of petroleum rose forty percent. But by mid-January it had plummeted precipitously, even losing twelve percent in one day. As a result, suppliers started withholding large reserves from the market. For weeks, supertankers full of civilization’s most important fuel circled aimlessly offshore, refusing to unload their precious cargo until prices rebounded. I suggest you consider imitating their behavior, Sagittarius. Don’t make your best stuff fully available until your target audience is ready to reward you appropriately for its true worth. It’s OK to tease, though—or do anything ethical that will increase the demand for your services.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Even when you are not feeling your best, you try hard. You’re strong when things are broken. Where there is hurt, you rise up with surprising resilience to provide help and inspiration. If there are people who don’t know where they are or where they’re going, you are often a beacon of calm. Thank you, my beautiful friend. I applaud your urge to fight for justice not only in service to yourself but also on behalf of others who can’t be as composed as you are when things are broken. And I’m happy to inform you that the favors you’re doling out now will ultimately be returned in kind when you least expect it.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): I feel much better. Today I underwent plastic surgery for the first time. An intervention specialist over at the Consumer Counseling Center removed forty percent of my credit cards from my wallet. She then cut them in half and burned them, releasing fumes that sent me spiraling into an altered state of consciousness that revealed to me the steps I must take to upgrade my approach to money. In that state I was also able to have psychic visions about the nature of your financial karma. What I saw is that you too would benefit right now from expanding your mind and changing your habits in all matters related to earning, spending and saving money.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): If a cow is given a name by her owner, she generates more milk than a cow that’s treated as an anonymous member of the herd. That’s the conclusion of a study done by researchers at Newcastle University in the UK. “Placing more importance on knowing the individual animals and calling them by name,” said Dr. Catherine Douglas, “can significantly increase milk production.” Building on that principle, Pisces, I suggest that you give everything in your world names, including (but not limited to) houseplants, insects, cars, appliances and trees. Of course this is always a good idea, because it enhances your connection with all of creation. But it’s an especially smart approach now, when getting more up-close and personal should be your specialty.

Homework: What’s your secret beauty—the great thing about you that no one knows about? Testify at

Love & Sex: First Date

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Photo by Evan Sears

Photo by Evan Sears

By Sharon Hoyer

In 1995, the age of consent in Michigan was 17. I learned this when I went to my job waiting tables at Thomas’ Family Dining on the first day of April of that year, and was met with a trio of sidelong glances and mock-enthusiastic birthday greetings from behind the line, along with one half-serious inquiry as to my plans for the evening.

To date, the bulk of my practical sex education had come unsolicited from Roxanne, a colleague at the restaurant—the most popular with customers for her flirtatiousness and bawdy humor—who volunteered reports on her scandalous escapades with Jason, one of the line cooks. Roxy’s graphic tales of quasi-public fellatio and odes to Jason’s masculine endowment threw unwelcome technical illustrations into my soft-focus fantasies of deep, reclining kisses with an anonymous figure—Golden Age of Hollywood scenes that grew blurrier as passions heightened and three-piece suits melted away. In truth, the image of foul-mouthed, full-figured Roxy in flagrante delicto with the unremarkable young man behind the broaster did little to spoil my conception of sex. Anyway, Jason was coarse, brutish and as dim as the bulk of my male classmates. It was Chris who kept me looking forward to pouring sodas and assembling breadbaskets for the elderly of Livonia. Tall and slim, shy, with dark hair already retreating a bit at the temples (like Cary Grant or any sophisticated man suffering from an excess of testosterone), a few curls of chest hair visible at the neck of his tee shirt, Chris was the only other line cook in his twenties who hadn’t done time. At least that I knew of. Our fleeting exchanges through the pickup window, about toast or the temperature of fries, were hampered by my downcast gazes and nervous watch-twiddling; the crystalline moments when he left the kitchen to fill his glass at the chocolate-milk dispenser had me walking into corners for a half-hour afterward.

Chris asked me out two weeks after my birthday and three days after a phone conversation—monologue, more accurately—in which I mourned, between sobs, my own inevitable loveless, virginal death. Yet like an act of God, on my next shift, Chris walked out of the kitchen as I was folding my apron and inquired if I was free over the weekend. I was. We exchanged numbers and about six hours later I realized that I had been asked, with no detectable sarcasm, on a genuine date by a man. A man I’d harbored a debilitating crush on for months. A man who developed a five o’clock shadow each day around five o’clock.

The possibilities of the universe yawned before me; if this incredible person were interested in spending recreational time with me, there was hope that I might taste a kiss before withering into half-mad crone. But that entailed a date. What happens on a first date? None of Roxy’s crude, utilitarian encounters certainly, but still, this was an older guy; how much older I wasn’t sure…old enough to bet on horses at the Northville Downs, old enough to legally order a beer at the windowless bar on the far end of Thomas’ parking lot. Did he know he had made plans to attend the Michigan State Fair with a high-school senior, an awkward child-woman—hungry, yes, hungry for five years now—but who hadn’t so much as thumb-wrestled with a member of the opposite sex?

Perched in the passenger seat of his pickup, painfully aware of every cell, I hid behind questions. It was easy to do; this powerful, relaxed human being was a mystery. Little splotches of detail appeared as we chatted, driving aimlessly, lost in the web of freeways that form the skeleton of Detroit. He was a farm boy from Ohio, never went to college. Wanted to deal cards in Las Vegas someday. Devotee of the Beatles, Billy Joel and a band I’d heard of in passing: Dave Matthews. On our fourth lap across the downtown stretch of I94, we pulled off the interstate to ask directions to Woodward Avenue. He locked the doors and I waited in the truck, mortified at my ignorance of this city I took fierce, underdog pride in. The gas station clerk was no help, but a passerby offered to divulge the whereabouts of Detroit’s central artery for a small fee. We found the fairground minutes later—a massive, shapeless expanse of lawn facing a cemetery that extended to the horizon.

I remember my limbs working jerkily as I lurched across the grass beside him like a newborn calf, the left side of my body tingling at his proximity. I was aware of his breath as we leaned over the rope guarding a life-sized cow sculpture carved from a solid block of butter. On the midway, a silver-tongued huckster held him captive for at least twenty minutes, tossing darts at balloons taped to a pegboard—the exchange rate of darts and dollars that passed in a steady stream across the table never quite clear—for a plastic-framed mirror, painted with a portrait of Elvis. Too polite to disentangle himself from the encounter and too timid to refuse the prize, he took the garish object in his left hand, my hand in his right and we spent the next half hour trying to pass the painting off to unattended children dashing between rides.

The palm of his hand was strong and warm. His fingers interlaced with mine, their blunt tips reaching halfway up the back of my hand. I felt the fragile skin between each digit. The thick pads at the base of our thumbs and the heels of our hands pressed firmly together, creating a hot cave between our palms. My pinkie finger curled around his outermost knuckle; his thumb embraced the root of mine in a gesture so comforting I would not experience its like until the first time I drifted into sleep laying on my side, a bare arm draped over mine, a lover enclosing my back like a shadow.

The clasp may have lasted only a few minutes. I broke it, masking my fear by taking Elvis from his grasp and propping him against the driver’s side door of a red model sedan on arbitrary display. We sat on a bench in the vacant bandshell as the light faded. He was quiet by nature, but the conversation flowed easily, the silences brief and not uncomfortable. He drove me home a few hours later, turned off the headlights as we pulled into the driveway, shut off the engine and walked me to the house. A soft glow escaped from the living room, illuminating the glass panel in the front door. I stood looking up at him, my back to the house. He thanked me, strangely, leaned forward and gave me a hug. He returned to his truck, waiting to switch on the headlights until he’d cleared the driveway, and drove off.

There was one more date with Chris—dinner, a movie—unremarkable, pleasant. We parted that evening same way, the same hug. The shifts we shared at the diner after that were warm, affable, but each time I called his house the phone rang until I hung up.

Love & Sex: Get My Drift

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By Andy Seifert

“Lookin’ fine!” my buddy Mike once said to me. We were both 10 years old, and he had delivered this message in the form of a card, with a heart drawn around “Lookin’ fine!” And there was a person on the card who was delivering this message for my good buddy Mike: Michael Jordan, circa 1987. At the time, I thought nothing of it (except perhaps, “Dude, it’s MJ!”). Fourteen years later, I wonder, “Did Mike really think I was lookin’ fine?”

Fourth grade is an awkward time in a kid’s life. Back in second grade, “cooties” was still a major biological threat to the boys, a possible epidemic that threatened the fabric of schoolyard codes. If you developed a crush on a girl, you were a goner, man; zombies had more willpower than you. By fifth grade, a mere three years later, the story had completely changed: “Boys, you may have noticed some special changes with your body,” our teachers said, to which most of us thought, “Oh man, finally—superpowers!” And that blended seamlessly into the seventh grade full-blown sex-education course, when a dusty slide show from the early 1970s explained how we would eventually lose our virginity.

But fourth grade just sort of exists; it’s that limbo period between being oblivious to everything and inevitably accepting sexuality. The opposite sex may not be repulsive anymore, but there’s still mystery involved. There’s still a missing link, and until it’s revealed, relationships and romance are weird and undefined. Fourth grade is a void that needs to be filled. So what do we do? We construct goofy boxes and give each other cards.

The other day I found my box. It was called “The Lovecar,” a product of my NASCAR phase, an assembly of poster board and construction paper (that my dad made). The Lovecar features a hood that cleverly opens for maximum Valentine-stuffage, and is endearingly adorn with crudely drawn hearts. It also insinuates that love is sponsored by Citgo.

To my surprise, the Valentine cards that my classmates had tossed in fourteen years ago were still under the hood, a glorious pile of awkwardness, meaninglessness and John Elway references. They were a blast. When I read them, I did so within the context of knowing that a Disney or Hallmark executive had, in a very brilliant yet twisted way, somehow convinced millions of confused youngsters to give each other notes that vaguely announced their romantic intentions to one another. To those that refuse to believe Valentine’s Day isn’t at least partially an artificially construed corporate holiday, consider what my 10-year-old peers were telling me:

1. “Be mine?” told through the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”’ mentor Splinter, who’s inexplicably holding a heart and dreaming of a relationship with April O’Neil. As a “TMNT” fan, this offends me on so many different levels.

2. “You give me a lift!” (Michael Jordan) and “Go for the fun!” (Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly), two of a myriad of sports-themed cards, mostly from boys, who figured they could salvage their masculinity by simultaneously reinforcing their love for athletes. And, also, “Go for the fun!” does not make any semantic sense whatsoever. It’s like having Superman say, “Up, up… and a-fun!”

3. “I’ve fallen for you!” which usually means “I’ve fallen in love with you,” unless, in this case, it’s delivered by the “DuckTales” Launchpad McQuack.

4. “Don’t be shy…be my valentine!” told through Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.” This was given by a girl who I suspect had a little crush on me, so that may actually be an honest message. As I recall, we realized it was beneficial to save the most suggestive cards for the targets of our romantic hunches.

5. “You’ve set my heart soaring, Valentine!” told by the main characters of “Aladdin.” This came from Adam, a kid who I never talked to (and never have since), and who even signed it “love, ADAM.”

6. “Don’t break my heart” told by Batman, who is swinging, feet-first through a huge heart. I suppose the Batman is trying to say, “There’s nothing on this utility belt to mend a wounded heart…I’m really just a sensitive guy.”

In retrospect, it’s difficult to answer why in the world we were forced to say these things to one another. It’s all innocent, of course, and it’s also relatively ambiguous and docile (there’s no such thing as a Valentine’s card of, for example, Dan Marino saying “I wanna sex you up”), but why make a bunch of kids toss around symbols of love and romance at such an early age? It’s mindless, crazy and absurd. Then again, so are at least ninety percent of relationships.

Maybe our teachers knew what was coming.

Love & Sex: Full Tank of Gas

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By David Witter

On this year Valentine’s Day approximately coincided with the Chinese New Year’s celebration in Chinatown. Proud to show off my urban savvy to a girl from Northbrook, our date was set: watch the Chinese New Year’s Parade along Wentworth Avenue, have a great meal in Chinatown and go see a movie.

The parade was spectacular. Dragons, floats and a cavalcade of firecrackers left a trail of shredded paper that blew over the half-melted snow like tumbleweed. We ventured into a rundown storefront restaurant where old Chinese men smoked unfiltered cigarettes, drank coffee and played a Chinese form of dominos. She was a film student at Columbia College, and I knew she would be impressed by the urban scene. It was sure a lot more “real” than the Fuddruckers in Highland Park.

I gathered my limited funds to order a grand meal: a large order of egg fu young, large pork fried rice, Chinese barbeque ribs, moo shu pork and egg rolls. The egg rolls came first and we dispatched them quickly. I thought nothing of it and as the three giant platters heaping with egg fu young patties, pork fried rice and ribs arrived, and went into the bathroom. I took my time washing my hands and grooming myself, hoping that the food and Valentine’s Day aura would pay dividends later. But when I returned I saw the first crack in my plan. Before I left there were six egg fu young patties. One and one-half remained. The ribs lay in a jagged pile of bones, like something out of “The Flintstones.” There was a small serving of fried rice left out of what once had been a heaping platter. Jesus Christ, I was gone for five minutes tops. Did she inhale it?

We ventured in to see a revival of “Pulp Fiction.” Think she was done eating? Hell no. The first thing she got was a barrel of popcorn. As the movie went on, I heard the persistent, “munch, munch, munch” and the ice-rattling, dry-slurping sound from a drained pop. As a film student, I thought she was sophisticated, but I’d guessed wrong. Throughout the movie she would yell out the obvious punch lines and plot twists, usually about five minutes late.

“Oh, the Zed guy is gay! Bruce Willis better watch his ass.” Or, “If Marcellus finds out John Travolta is with his girlfriend, he’s in big trouble.” But the embarrassment was only starting. First, it was belching. Long, loud burps, like the kind 12-year-old boys do to impress their friends. OK, that’s what happens when you gobble food. It serves her right. Then came the <I>other</I> gas.

I detected a slight odor. Maybe the popcorn? Then she began to emit long forays of flatulence—farts that would go on for seconds, emitting sounds like an off-key trumpeter. At first, it was nasty stares from people around us, like the familiar, “sniff, sniff, sniff” followed by giggles. A couple of people began to stir. Then a loud voice blurted out, “Some motherfucker’s blowing farts.”

The film ended, but as she entered my Toyota Corolla wagon, the fart symphony continued. Four hours ago, it seemed like a perfect situation for a conquest, but now all I wanted to do was get her out of the car. Finally, she acknowledged her plight, mumbling something about the stomach flu. I would have felt bad for her but she was the one who turned her fork into a steamshovel.

As I dropped her off, she said something about calling me. I had been dumped before but couldn’t help thinking, “God, I am finally rid of her.” But the nightmare wasn’t over. When I started the car the next day, the odor was embroidered into the upholstery. I took my mom’s dog for a ride and the Golden Retriever furiously dug into the seat, thinking there was some kind of food buried beneath the vinyl. A pine-tree shaped cardboard thing hanging from the mirror seemed to mask it, but only temporarily. On a surprisingly warm seventy-five-degree day in March a couple weeks later, it returned. My roommate entered the car and began the familiar, nostrils flared, nose in the air, “sniff, sniff, sniff.” He looked at me and asked, “Hey Witter, where’s the pizza?”

That was probably my worst Valentines Day. My best? A few years later my girlfriend and I decided to get married in a spontaneous ceremony at City Hall on Valentine’s Day. It was just us, no family or friends. Afterwards we walked to Navy Pier and rode the Ferris Wheel, our first act as man and wife. Since then we have lived happily ever after.

Love & Sex: The Tracks of My Tears

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Photo by Evan Sears

Photo by Evan Sears

By Sarah Klose

Cupid fires an electric arrow into your soul. A tornado of endorphins whips through your heart, and you realize the Barenaked Ladies were right: the object of your desire can be your Yoko Ono.

You embark on a grand love affair with your beloved, who agrees that you are perfect for each other. Your world explodes in a kaleidoscope of scarlet, fuchsia, magenta and ruby. You blast the Rolling Stones’ “She’s Like a Rainbow,” Liz Phair’s “Supernova” and Wilco’s “I’m Always in Love” from your iPod. You sing along to these songs at bus stops. You assign the qualities of Einstein, Adonis and Valentino to your beloved. Your angel is as dazzling as Marilyn Monroe, Satchel Paige, Cleopatra and King Tut rolled into one. Amazingly, he or she feels the same way about you.

Eventually, you notice a decrease in phone calls, emails and text messages from your one-and-only. This cannot be happening, you think. The Turtles song “Happy Together” was about the two of you. Elvis dedicated “Love Me Tender” to you both (or he would have if you had been dating back then). Still, as Stevie Ray Vaughn lamented, you get a real, real bad feeling your baby doesn’t love you anymore. Shortly thereafter, your sweetheart tells you goodbye.

Crushed, you realize that your baby no longer sees you as his or her Yoko Ono. You sob to Kasey Chamber’s “Not Pretty Enough.” You listen to The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” fifty-nine times—one time for each week you were together. You clean your apartment twenty times and trash the love letters from the one who was perfect for you. You stumble out of CVS or Starbucks watery-eyed if you hear Linda Ronstadt’s “Heart Like a Wheel” (which becomes “Heart Like a Heel”) or Oasis’ “Wonderwall” (which feels like “Wonderwail”).

If “Morning Song” by Jewel used to be your song as a couple, you refuse to listen to it because waking up with Simba instead of your beloved turns it into “Mourning Song.” If “Your Body is a Wonderland” comes on the car radio, you immediately change the station, because you cannot handle the idea of anyone on this Earth making love while you suffer. However, you are able to dance to “Dead Flowers” when you see The Redwalls in concert, because that Stones song describes your life better now than the one about the rainbow.

You know better than to listen to Norah Jones or Lucinda Williams, so you try downloading songs that burst with power and strength. If you are a woman, this includes “Better Be Good to Me” by Tina Turner, “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera and “Respect Yourself” by Madonna. You even add the cliché emancipation anthems “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “Sisters Are Doing it for Themselves” by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin.

You purposefully avoid “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Everybody Hurts” and “I Will Remember You.” You can’t watch diamond-ring commercials. Even Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” makes you tear up. Your rainbow world has been painted black, so you crank up “You Oughta Know.” It is good to know that you are better off than Alanis Morissette. At least your ex-boyfriend didn’t dump you and quickly marry Scarlett Johansson.

Love & Sex: The Hate Dates

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By Byron Flitsch

My friends call it “Hate Date ‘08” because the year I ended a long-term relationship with my boyfriend was the same year I decided to go on the worst dates of my life.

“You should just…just get back out there!” my friend Miles says when he buys me my third beer at this hole-in-the-wall joint in Wicker Park. Miles always knows a good hole-in-the-wall (which should have been a sign not to listen to his advice). “I date as much as possible!”

“But shouldn’t I, you know, try to just chill on my own?” I ask Miles swigging my Stella. A Cyndi Lauper song beats in the background.

“Dude. Just have fun. You’re a writer! Think of the stories you could get!”

That week I call Aaron. We’d met at a party a few weeks after my breakup. There was total flirting and he’d asked if he could take me out.

The date is at a pub in Lincoln Park when he shows up with another attractive guy. I hadn’t known it was going to be a “group thing,” but it is my first date after four years in a relationship. I am confused, but remain open and optimistic.

“Hey, Byron, this is Max.” Aaron says to me while pulling out a chair.

Max smiles and sits down.

“So, hey, nice to meet you. How…how do you know Aaron?” I ask, looking through the menu for wine choices.

“He’s my boyfriend,” Max says with a tempered glare.

That June, I decide to go out with Dan, an actor. He had taken me to an expensive Indian place in the West Loop. After loads of drinks and dinner, the tab arrives. He slips the check into his hand and says: “It’s on me!” It was over 200 dollars and I wasn’t going to argue.

“I’m just going to run to the restroom quick,” Dan says.

Dan never comes back.

Dan number two (You’d think I’d learn from Dan One) seemed like a great dude. He had a job at an advertising firm. He had a sense of humor. He also had a lot of gas. He also didn’t mind sharing that gas while in the cab, in the movie theater and while I said goodbye to him faking an early morning meeting the next day.

Ryan is cool in the sense that he meets me at the bar high as a kite and barely able to walk while calling me “Brad.”

Then there is Adam. He is hot. He is polite. He is also a thief.

“Wait… what are you doing?” I ask, watching him put a Speedstick in his coat pocket at a convenience store we stopped at for cigarettes.

“What? I need deodorant…no one cares. Why? Does this bother you?”

I leave, telling him I’m not going to jail just so his pits could smell good.

In life, most people learn after touching something hot once that they will get burned and not to do it again. But some of us, apparently, have higher pain tolerances. Finally, after five consecutive bad dates, I decided to go on a date with someone I didn’t know very well, but wanted to—myself.

Love & Sex: Homewrecker

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By Jessica Meyer

He was in Chicago for Christmas; he lives in L.A. His brother thought we’d get along, never mind that the only night we could coordinate, I was sick and blissed-out on cold-med quaaludes and anti-anxiety pills, already relegated to movies on the couch by myself. Never mind that he had a girlfriend.

Have you ever met someone you knew would be significant? Ever met someone you want to stand so close to it’s never close enough?

We drank bourbon in a loud bar, he talked a lot, we hit it off. It started snowing. I was oblivious, chatty, staring down, and he kissed me like we were in a movie, in the street, in the snow.

“Do you want to come over to my place?”

This man took off four layers of clothes, bra through sweater, with two fingers, in five seconds. And then the fucking. The sex. The all of it. “You can’t leave this apartment until you come in my mouth.” Fucking him the first time was like being in love. Fucking him the second time transcended even that. We couldn’t stop. I made pierogi from scratch for him, just to keep him as long as I could. It felt like our bodies were teaching us a lesson. He was in town for six nights. He stayed with me for three. We never slept, and he almost missed the plane.

So, I pined. We pined. He vacillated—stay safe with her, suss this one out with me—and I hated him a little. His presence in my life was so much defined by how I felt when he was gone, how disproportionate the strength of that feeling was to the time we’d had together. I flew to L.A. We fucked four straight days. I wanted his dick in every part of my body. We hurt, and we did it again.  I didn’t ask what he told his girlfriend, but we played house and ate cheese and watched movies half-naked and he showed me California. It felt like love. It felt like I was in a movie. It felt like I was overreacting.

Returning to Chicago was bleak, subdued, cold. Every poem I read was him, overhearing the boring sex of my neighbors made me scoff—why are they able to do this so poorly and so often? Why, when we fucked so loudly, with such fervor, we got threatened with police? I’ve been shaken up before. Sex with anyone should be a tremendous memory at least, but this was different, this was like remembering your first orgasm, your best dream.

And why is he not here? Or better still, why am I not there? We made decisions, big, weighty ones. We’ve displeased a handful of people. We talk every day and send smutty photos and go through a lot of yearning. And it’s worth it, because even thinking about him is gratifying, even remembering the completely mundane bits.

He didn’t break up with his girlfriend for me, except he did.

I’m not moving to L.A. next month for him, but I am.

Love & Sex: From the Waist Down

Love & Sex No Comments »
Photo by Evan Sears

Photo by Evan Sears

By Sally Field

I abandoned the boyfriend in the streets of Orlando, two hours away from our home in Gainesville. He poured beer in my purse, drowning my cell phone. He yelled at me in front of long-lost friends. He clung to pillars supporting gargoyles while he spat at invisible sharks in a goth club. He ham-fistedly shot me the bird while I drove away, slamming on the break to snap photos of his frustration. I condemned him to a Greyhound-station slumber party with a vagrant who taught him that manhole covers were nature’s pancakes.

My friends didn’t know how pathetic I was, that when the boyfriend would hear me knocking at his door and ignore me, I would whimper and throw acorns at his bedroom window. They didn’t know he often wished out loud that I was thinner than his ex-wife, whose father was our snoopy mailman who clearly broke many federal laws. They didn’t know that I called hospitals and jails frantically when he went missing for days on a secret “rendezvous.” The boyfriend and I lived in gray areas.

The Parliament House is an expansive gay resort including six nightclubs and bars, one full-service restaurant, a pool, a beach and a motel, among other amenities. It also included room 110, a very important hotel room, a hotel room for me.

I made friends with the drag queens with peacock eyes and they introduced me to their friend Juan. Juan was a Chippendale dancer, until a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. He was beautiful and buff, and the lingering adrenaline buzz left over from leaving the boyfriend in the streets only intensified his attractiveness. Several vodka tonics later, I hopped off Juan’s lap, and we left the queens in the club. He drove his car with his mouth and hands, limiting all conversation to stoplight length. He gave me a tour of his house, a desolate gray-tiled mansion with tiled wheelchair ramps, a huge-screen TV and a pool he couldn’t use.

I asked Juan how his penis worked. He said it sort of worked. He could get hard, but that was it. He couldn’t feel it. He was one vertebrae away from an orgasm. So I did what I could. A wheelchair is ripe territory for experimentation. Then we had a 4am root-beer float and breakfast sandwiches at Steak ‘n’ Shake.

Juan dropped me off at the gay resort to weep through “Sixteen Candles,” which I had never seen, though I told people otherwise many times. Room 110 was a surprisingly generic room. I did not expect a corner-mounted black-and-white television set. I certainly did not expect a sun-bleached, pastel beach print over the bed. I expected a little more style.
It was a long drive home.

When the boyfriend finally arrived, I had plastered his front door with photographs of him standing in the street giving me the finger as I drove away in my bedraggled Volvo. We lived in a duplex, he on top, me on ground level. I moved out that week, leaving him with a hippie subletter to whom I had bequeathed all of my furniture. I left behind my piano, my desk and my hunting-lodge-style itchy sofa.