Thursday, March 20, 2008

Let Me Upgrade You

Image by Gabriella Fabbri

Kyle had just purchased a fresh pearl white Lexus coupe for his birthday. He said he’d rock it for a year or two, then trade it in.

“Oh, it’s a lease,” I assumed.

“No,” Kyle replied.

“Two years…you’re not going to have it paid off by then, will you?”

“I’ll probably never pay off a car. If I’ve had it four or five years, I’ve had it too long.”

I bristled at the callous decadence of his attitude. The nerve of trading in a perfectly good vehicle just because you’re ready for a new one—preposterous! How wastefully indulgent!

At the time this conversation took place, I was a loyal fan of my worn, rain-damaged, non-air-conditioned, don’t-let-the-back-windows-down 1994 Honda Civic affectionately known as “Babygirl,” bought used when I was in high school. The navy blue champion had scaled over 150,000 miles of asphalt and showed every scratch, dent, and ding of it. So as a member of the “Ride It ‘till the Wheels Fall Off” cartel, I could neither relate to nor cosign on Kyle’s lavish idea of trading in his brand new Lexus after a mere two years.

Well as my mom used to admonish, “Keep sayin’ good morning.” A year or so after my pow wow with the Diddy Wannabe, Babygirl’s chronic sputtering signaled a well-deserved retirement. I purchased a brand new jet black Nissan Altima, so fresh that it still sported factory papers on the hood, fenders, and trunk. The sexy beast’s odometer displayed a cool six miles.

The roads must have been buttered as I glided home that night, new car smell titillating my nostrils. I recalled the conversation with Kyle and it all made sense. At the time, I was ignorant to the experience of owning a new vehicle and couldn’t comprehend why a person would endure eternal car payments just to have one. But now that I am the first owner of a whip, the concept doesn't seem so far-fetched.

A similar epiphany occurred when I stopped by an out-of-town acquaintance’s hotel room recently. I paused in the doorway of the mildew-smelling room complete with damp turquoise carpet and loud, tacky art, and thought: Wow. It’s been a minute since I’ve been in a hotel room that opens to the parking lot. The absence of thoughtful d├ęcor and the lack of space and amenities that I had grown accustomed to made the place just somewhere to sleep and not an experience to savor.

On the flip side, some of my earliest trips as a child were to Disney World, when as many as seven family members mashed into the same sort of economy rooms that strike me as foreign now. Somewhere along the way, I upgraded.They say once you’ve had filet mignon, it’s hard to go back to Hamburger Helper. For some, it’s elevating from an old school TV set to HD, upper level to courtside, Wal-Mart to Whole Foods, coach to first class.

But are we sometimes better off in the unknown? Ignorance is not only blissful, but often cheaper. After all, upgrades come with strings attached, usually dollar signs. Other times, drama—mo’ money, mo’ problems. Jay-Z, who seems to constantly struggle with his rags-to-riches existence, explains it like this in "Success" from the American Gangster album, "What do I think of success? It sucks too much stress. [...] I use to give a sh--, now I don't give a sh-- more. Truth be told I had more fun when I was piss poor."

There’s even a bit of discomfort associated with the discovery of escalated tastes, similar to when Roscoe the up-and-coming celebrity wakes up and realizes he lives in the hood--and then moves out immediately. Or when Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit and were no longer down with chillin' in the buff. It's exposure to people, places, and experiences outside the norm that may render the customs and habits of old less satisfying.

The upgrade also means saying peace to defining elements of your past. It’s moving into a house and missing the convenience of an apartment, or striking out on your own and yearning for the company and cahoots of family or roommates. Progression can be bittersweet.

I initially found these insightful moments disturbing. It’s like, my preferences changed and I didn’t get the memo. What happened to the down-for-whatever me? Is she bourgeois now? Stuck up?

Not at all. Everything in my life doesn't require an upgrade. My $10 purse was stolen and I went out and bought another $10 purse. I'm okay with most store brand groceries. I'm loyal to my $9 L'Oreal foundation. As a java junkie, I actually prefer Burger King's coffee to Starbucks. And these days, I'm so glad the Altima takes plain ol’ regular gas!

Yet, there are some things for which I'll pay the upgrade--whether it is for top shelf spirits, getting my eyebrows threaded instead of doing them myself, or descent hotel accommodations. And who knows, maybe this time next year I'll trade in my '07 for an '09, just for the heck of it.

But it's too early to tell.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Worth the Woo

If I am not worth the wooing, I am surely not worth the winning.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Patrick* and I have been bumping into each other around town for five or six years now. After the latest run-in, we planned to meet up at a bar, but I was tired and took a rain check. He called some weeks later; I playfully reminded him that he owed me a drink.

“Oh yeah, I guess I do,” he said. We spent the next couple minutes tossing some spots up in the air as to where to go. It was a weeknight, so I wasn’t trying to do it big.

Enter the inevitable.

“Why don’t I just get a bottle and you come over here?”

Sigh. “I don’t want to come over there.”

“Why not?”

“Because there's nothing romantic or intimate about sitting up in your house with a bottle, drinking with you.”

“I think it’s more romantic and intimate than being out somewhere!”

In the midst of my explaining to Patrick (who is in his late-thirties) about the differences between men and women and that maybe if we had some history doing something else, chilling at his house would be an option, but considering that we’d never been anywhere in the five years that I’d known him---I stopped.

“You know what? Never mind. I’m not going to sit here and debate with you over buying me an $8 drink,” I said. The dial tone drowned his apologies. You’d think I asked the man to cosign on a car.

It’s not breaking news, nor will the rise of this crushing epidemic interrupt primetime programming. Yet in cities and suburbs across the land, quality women of all ages and races have been chronically subjected to the deceptive clutches of the “come-through.”

Don’t get me wrong, kickin’ it, watching a movie, sipping on a little something…all that’s fine. The problem is when the come-through becomes the predominant substitute for a date. When wooing is replaced by chronic effortlessness.

Being an expert on the laments of my girlfriends, I needed to find out if the epidemic surpasses women in their mid-20s. “There is no more woo,” said Katia, a 43-year-old, caramel sister with dimples and a gleaming smile. “All I see is men who want to come over my house and watch a DVD.”

Shocked and appalled, I had to consult with my Aunt Bess. At 61, Aunt Bess is a curvy, chocolate, vivacious fox. If there is any hope to be found in the dating game, she had to hold the key to its whereabouts.

Consequently, the same thing had been on her mind. Aunt Bess penned an essay in February called "Romance and Wooing." In it, she recalls a recent date with a man her age, “We sat, talked, and ate lunch, got to know each other a little bit. This must have taken all of forty-five minutes. Then Mr. Blank asked me if I wanted to go back to his place. No thanks!!! I must say that’s record wooing, even in this day and age.”

Aunt Bess went on to tell me that while she’s had some great times with a few good men, it’s not the norm. There’s more “Mr. Blanks” in the batch than any other.

What happened to a time when even if a man was just trying to hit, he’d still sprinkle a dash of effort into it? And while there are still men who don’t mind doing for a woman, the come-through has claimed the game of many a fella.

Some folks attribute this lackadaisical attitude to the surge of feminism and the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and 70s that continues to permeate society today with women proclaiming independence from the hills. “Chivalry is dead…and women killed it!” exclaims Dave Chappelle in Killing Them Softly.

In other words, women have fought to prove that we don’t have to cry, and we’re not sensitive, and we can be tough like men, hard like men, respected like men, do the job like a man or better, and I’ll be damned, we got what we wanted. We’re treated like men.

Then we're left to navigate the aftermath of a revolution, negotiating with tactless, spoiled fellas that call you a gold digger for expecting more than a ham sandwich and BET on a first "date."

But because we perceive what we want, we justify men's actions, or lack thereof--maybe he’s just not like that; some guys are not the wine-and-dine type. Or maybe he’s broke.

The Mt. Everest of all excuses that women provide for men? Maybe he doesn’t know any better. As in, maybe he was raised by a tribe of monkeys and somehow missed the 100,000 romantic comedies in rotation at the movie theater or on TV, maybe he hasn't read any Shakespeare or Eric Jerome Dickey or perused a magazine and since he was raised by animals, he doesn't have any sisters or a mother or some aunts or a grandma or some girl cousins to tell him that women just want the kind of romance and affection that requires a little more energy than soaking up each other's air conditioning.

If a man is that out of tune than I don't want him anyway.

It boomerangs back to positioning. If a man is genuinely interested in putting his bid in for Top Boo, he'll take you out. Period.

Granted, a man taking you out doesn't guarantee genuineness. However, every fruit is not an apple, but every apple is a fruit. In other words, every guy that spends ends doesn't want to be the man, but every guy that wants to be the man spends ends.

It's a minimum. If he doesn't ask you on a date, and never does…surprise! You're not "dating."

In retrospect of my experience, the guys that eventually led to boyfriends thought it not robbery to take me out to dinner, or a movie, or a show from time to time. The majority of the rest started out with DVDs and come-throughs.

So, despite the complaints of what men don’t do, the primary accountability resides with us, the women. We'll crave affection and attention so much so that we accept (and get) next to nothing just to have something to hold on to, not realizing that that same dude is taking the next female out on the town. We let our emotions cloud the reality of the position.

The result of this epiphany is that I spend more time alone now than I ever have in my life. There’s no shortage of approaches, phone numbers, or interest, I just choose not to entertain every wink and smile. Higher standards equal fewer options. And that’s fine. Quality, not quantity.

Truth is, a year ago I would’ve put on a pair of jeans and a cute top, slid on some lip gloss, and drove over to Patrick’s house, all under the impression that sipping Hennessy in the wee hours of the morning and sharing our company was special.

Fortunately, I've learned that how you start out is how you stay.