A Companion

My friends have been hounding me to watch Doctor Who for awhile. They told me it was right up my alley and I’d love it. I finally got around to watching it a few weeks ago and they were right. I love it. It’s just such a rich and expansive world that is so easy to lose myself in. The last time that happened for a TV show was probably The X-Files which I had an unnatural obsession with in college.

If you don’t watch Doctor Who, here’s a brief primer for the series. There’s a guy called The Doctor who travels through space and time in a space ship that looks like a police call box. He goes on various adventures and saves the world (and other worlds) time and time again. Periodically, he picks up somebody to travel with him for awhile.

While they are women for the most part, they’re not called his girlfriends or lovers. Simply “companion.” This is because the relationship is not really physical but about a guy who is really lonely and enjoys sharing his crazy experiences with somebody.

That concept of a companion has been hitting home recently. When I quit my job to give writing a real shot, one of the important factors was I didn’t have a family. If I did, I’m not sure I could’ve given up a cushy job to chase a dream while my family starved. But since I had no one to answer to except myself, I could go ahead and become poor again without feeling a sense of obligation to people who depended on me.

Besides that, I just thought it would be easier to do this alone. Being in a relationship is hard enough but add to that the stress of my random, floaty lifestyle now would make it too difficult to handle.

But it’s lonely. And lately I’ve been thinking it would be nice if I had somebody in my life going through the same experiences as me. Because right now, all of my friends are pretty advanced in their lives. They have good jobs. They have families. Houses. Hell, I barely know anybody who’s single any more let alone unemployed and trying to pursue a creative career. Having somebody around in the same boat as me would make things easier. Less lonely. Keep my spirits up.

I’m not saying trying to be a writer is the same as traveling through space and time. And I’m certainly no Doctor but it would be nice to have a companion to ride around in a call box with. Or maybe I should just get a dog.

#370 The Pheromone Party

A couple of weeks ago, Apocalypstick clued me into a strange sounding event called a Pheromone Party. It’s a singles mingle party with a twist. Everyone brings a white cotton t-shirt that they’ve slept in (and not laundered) for three nights. You’re supposed to keep the t-shirt in a Ziploc bag after you wake up in the freezer as that purportedly helps preserve your sex scent. The bags are brought to the party where you and your bag are given a number. The bags are all placed on a table and you can sniff people’s t-shirts. If you find one you are “attracted to,” then you get your photo taken with the bag and its number. The photos are displayed on a screen so if someone sees their number and thinks you’re attractive, they go find you and you make babies and live happily ever after. The theory behind it, of course, is pheromones, those mysterious olfactory odors that are supposedly one of the factors behind attraction.

Silly as it sounds, this is based on an actual study by some dude named Claus Wedekind. The science behind it involves a cell-surface protein called a Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) and blah blah blah sweaty t-shirt sex. Whatevs. I had to go this thing so I bought my ticket immediately.

Despite my abundance of white cotton t-shirts, I only have a few “nice” ones. The ones that  aren’t Hanes t-shirts that I got when I was college that one would only call white in the vaguest of terms and have more holes than OJ Simpson’s alibi. My nice ones are kind of expensive and I didn’t want to give one up but embarrassment prevailed over economics and I decided to sacrifice one of them for the sake of this party.

I didn’t follow the suggestion of keeping my t-shirt in a Ziploc bag every night. In fact, I didn’t even have a Ziploc bag that could fit my t-shirt on the day of the party. A quick trip to the Rite-Aid down the street remedied that. Bagged smelly t-shirt ready, I drove over to the Cinefamily Theater where the party was being held.

In particularly un-Greg-like fashion, I arrived 15 minutes “late.” There were about 10 people standing in line at the sign in table and they were all dudes except for one girl who was actually kind of cute.

I eavesdropped as she checked in since she was only a few people in front of me and memorized her number. My plan was to find her bag, get my photo taken with it and see if she came and found me. Was this cheating? Yes and no. Yes, I know it was cheating. Rimshot!

After a few minutes, I was at the table. I gave them my Ziploc bag and they gave me my number. Then I headed inside.

It took me a few minutes of aimless wandering to realize that the party was behind the theater, in an outdoor patio area. Quite a few people were already there. There was a table near the entrance with a giant sign and bags of t-shirts already on it.

The blue post-its denoted male shirts, the pink ones were female. Not surprisingly, most of the bags were male.

There was an area setup in the back where you could get your photo taken with a bag and a bar on the side. I got a beer and then headed for the t-shirt table.

I noticed right away that this was going to be a disaster. The bags were all just thrown on the table as people checked in. There was no separation between the female and male bags. Also, the table was in a very cramped area of the patio so a wall of people blocked any access to the bags. I stood around, trying to get at some but had no luck. Eventually they opened up a second table so I headed over there.

I started sniffing bags. That’s when I realized unless someone was particularly pungent, all I could smell was plastic. Other people realized this as well so pretty soon, people were yanking the shirts out of the bag and burying their noses in them. I’m not at Howie Mandel levels of germophobia, but this really grossed me out. First of all, you’re plunging your nose, mouth and face into the shirt of a stranger, a shirt that stranger has been wearing for three nights. Second of all, once that bag’s been around a few times, you’re sticking your face into a shirt that a bunch of other strangers have stuck their face into. Kind of disgusting.

Still, I got in close to a bunch of shirts to be able to actually smell them. For the most part, they smelled exactly the same. Pretty neutral. Some smelled a little spicy. Some like perfume which I thought was cheating. But I really didn’t find anything I was that interested in.

I also wasn’t able to find that one girl’s bag. Because at this point, people had taken bags off the table to stand in line to get their picture taken so there were few actually left on the tables. This was the dumbest part of the whole party. Why did people have to take the whole bag for the photo? It would’ve made more sense for people just to write down a list of numbers of the ones they were interested in. Half of the bags were standing in line most of the time so you couldn’t even smell all of them if you wanted to. Not to mention the line for the photos was incredibly long. There should have been at least two photo stations.

Eventually, the photos were sent to a TV screen in the patio area and on the movie screen back in the theater.

I talked to a few people but nobody interesting so I headed out to the theater where it was quieter and I could look at the photos. That’s where I ended up meeting a cool girl named Kate who also came out to sit. We chatted for awhile. She was smart, funny and interesting which seemed to be qualities lacking in most of the females there.

Eventually, she went off with her friend to sniff more shirts and I’d had enough at this point.

Overall it was an interesting concept completely ruined by execution. The biggest thing is they need to ditch the whole taking the photo with the bag idea. I know it makes for fun photos, but it makes it extremely difficult to sniff as many shirts as possible which is kind of the point. Also, they really need to organize the bags into men and women sections as well as have a bigger venue.

So I didn’t fall in love with anybody’s scent but I did meet someone the “old fashioned” way. You know, by talking with them and finding them interesting. Also, the party was written up in the LA Weekly. That’s me in the last photo, looking terribly stressed out trying to get to the shirt table.

#369 Have a Drink with an Ex-Con

I was in San Francisco this weekend visiting friends. I decided to cash in some of my stockpile of American Express Starwood Points and treat myself by staying at The W Hotel.

On Saturday night, I had some time to kill before my friends picked me up to go out to dinner. Since The W Hotel bars are usually pretty nice, I decided to have a drink there while I waited.

There wasn’t much going on since it was still early. I sat down at the bar, ordered a martini and settled in. I played with my phone for a few minutes before realizing I was breaking my own rule about being out alone: limit your phone use.

A few moments passed before a man two seats down from me leaned over and said, “I know this sounds weird, but do you think I could borrow your phone? Mine is all fucked up.” I looked at him. He was a light-skinned black guy, smallish build, looked like he was in his late 20′s. There was an iPhone sitting in front of him on the bar so I figured he was telling the truth or at least partly. But my immediately gut reaction was to say, “No, sorry.” Then I realized if SYED was still going on, I’d let him use my phone so I’d have a story to tell. So I did.

He called two numbers, none of who picked up. Then he slid the phone back to me. “Thanks a lot,” he said. I took a sip of my drink then looked back at him. The old me would’ve just been quiet and drank my drink. Instead I asked, “What’s wrong with your phone?”

“It’s kind of a fucked up story,” he said then explained he couldn’t pay his phone bill because he had to pay his rent first. And the reason he was so low on cash was he just got out of jail this morning.

Whoa. An ex-con. I had to ask this guy some questions.

Turns out he was in maximum security prison because he had gotten his second strike for his third DUI (make sense?). Maximum security for a DUI is absurd. He had a 30 day sentence reduced to 15. Maximum security involves being on 23-hour lockdown with absolutely nothing to do.

“No books? Pen? Paper?” I asked. Miguel, as his name turned out to be, shook his head.

“I counted to keep myself busy. By 1′s. Then by 2′s. Then by 3′s. 3, 6, 9, 12… and on and on,” he said. I was shocked and of course thought about my own little stint at doing solitary confinement. I could barely do 10 hours and this guy had to do two weeks. Others had to be in there for life.

Breakfast and dinner was one of the three “deaths.” Black death, red death or white death. Black death was a gravy with weird meat in it. Red death was a tomato sauce with weird meat in it. White death was a cheese sauce with weird meat in it. Everything basically had no salt because many of the prisoners had high blood pressure.

“The worst part about it,” Miguel said, “is they wake you up at 3:30am to feed you that shit.”

Lunch was bologna sandwiches and a salad with “dressing.” “They called it dressing but believe me, it was just mayo,” he said.

I looked at Miguel. He looked like a nice enough guy. Seemed smart enough when I talked to him. True, he wasn’t smart enough not to get three DUI’s but maximum security prison seemed excessive and expensive to taxpayers as well.

“All you do is think about how dumb you were to get in there. The whole time. There’s nothing else to do but beat yourself up about it,” he said. “I know what I did was stupid. I have no one to blame but myself. But it ain’t right in there. Fucks people up.” I just nodded like I understood which I really didn’t.

“Hey, next drink’s on me,” he said.

But I got a text from my friends. They were pulling up to the hotel. I finished my drink and thanked him for his offer. “Be good,” I said as I left the hotel.

I hope he will be.