Thursday, March 09, 2006

F%*k Buddies and Alternate Side of the Street Parking

HOBB (Husband of Bungalow Babe) left for India two days ago with sixteen graduate students and Middle Babe, our seventeen year-old daughter. As a professor, he has a grant to study religion in a foreign country and will be gone for two weeks. Because of this, I am stuck moving our red Dodge Caravan from one side of the street to the other in that urban choreographic maneuver known as Alternate Side of the Street Parking.

(I'm also stuck walking Alfie the Pomeranian twice daily, which I try to do while moving the van. Multi-tasking is the Manhattanite's only shot at survival.)

Having last moved the van on Tuesday morning (Wednesday, in our neighborhood, is an Alternate Side of the Street Parking-Free Day), I had only a hazy recollection of the parking regulations for the south side of W105th Street, where I had scored a spot after only 25 minutes of block-circling two days earlier. I did remember, however, that the street rules were in effect from 8:30-10:00 a.m. After a futile conversation with the affectless operator at 311, Bloomberg's telephonic gift to NYC, I realized that I needed to haul my butt down to W105th Street by 8:30 or risk being ticketed.

Let me be candid. It was a shock being out at 8:15 a.m., venturing well beyond the parameters of my regular Alfie pee-pee 'n poop circuit. I am not accustomed to witnessing the Upper West Side waking up. Working out of home office in my Morningside Heights apartment, I begin my professional day by 7:45 a.m. and typically do not see the outside world until late in the afternoon. This possibly masochistic workstyle is shared by my assistant, Julie, who works out of her home office in much the same way. I am moved to leave my office only for meetings, emergencies (Gd Forbid!) and trips to the gym, though due to the location of my gym at the JCC of Manhattan (www.jccmanhattan.org), I am usually able to multi-task my workouts with social or professional networking.

Anyway, unaccustomed as I am to joining the morning herd of students and professionals shuffling up and down Broadway en route to office or class, I found myself withdrawing into a reverie about a recent conversation with a friend (all names have been changed to protect the innocent. Any resemblance to people you might know is strictly a product of your dirty imagination.)

My friend Talia (no, let's call her Mary Alice), called to bring me up to date on her relationship with David (uh, how's Christopher?), which has been going on for about a year. Mary Alice is 45 (make that 35). Christopher is 50, (actually, let's say 40). She is an editor (hmmm...how about cocktail waitress?) and he is a lawyer (wait....no. A professional cricket player!) They met at Makor (umm, make that The Learning Annex.)

From the way she spoke about him, it was obvious, at least to me, that Mary Alice cared for Christopher a great deal. Though they didn't see each other a lot, there seemed to be a strong bond between them.

Anyway, after a particularly romantic Sunday at the Mohonk Mountain House (...whoa, I didn't mean to write that! I meant the Sheraton Tara in Parsipanny, NJ) Mary Alice called Christopher and they gushed happily about their time together. The day had been extraordinary for Mary Alice and Christopher said it was special for him, too. They spoke several times during the week, but it was only as Shabbat (er, the weekend), was looming that Mary Alice realized that she had initiated all the phone calls they had shared.

"I'll call you tomorrow," promised Christopher on the Thursday night of their final phone call. But he didn't. Nor did he call once during the week. Something was up, Mary Alice thought. But what? In the course of the previous weekend, Christopher had extolled their friendship in addition to their sizzle between the sheets. But she also remembered a warning note creeping into his voice when she pointed out that they never discussed their feelings for one another. "If you feel things are going in that direction..." he said ominously, looking off into the distance.

As she was painstakingly mining their previous conversations for additional clues and conducting a full-scale a Relationship-Year-in-Review, Mary Alice had a profound revelation. She and Christopher hardly ever went out together. For the space of one year, their relationship had taken place almost entirely within the confines of a bedroom.

Sitting with Talia (um, Mary Alice), at Cafe Edgar's (I mean The Olive Garden), I felt like a character on an episode of Sex in the City, an archetype -- the sympathetic married friend with a healthy touch of realism that the sad yet starry-eyed single gal is in desperate need of.

Yes, it was possible that Christopher had suddenly had to leave the country or that he entered a witness protection program or was sequestered as the member of a jury on a high-profile murder case, but something in my gut told me otherwise. Since the best-selling phrase, He's Just Not That Into You had already been co-opted, I felt moved to tell my friend a true thing or two, Bungalow Babe-style...but she beat me to it.

"I thought we were soulmates, but it turns out that we were just F%*k Buddies," she said sadly, yet sagaciously, having analyzed her year-long tryst from every possible angle and being forced to conclude that it was only just that, after all -- a tryst.

Ever since I first heard that phrase uttered by the brilliantly bizarre store manager played by actress Jane Lynch in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, I have both loved and hated the sound of it. F%*k Buddy. So shocking yet succinct. F%*k Buddy sounds like the grown-up participant of a Play Date. If I had a F%*k Buddy and wanted to see him (or her), surely our Mommies would call each other to make arrangements.

F%*k Buddy. So carefree. So unadorned. So friendly. So no-fees/no-obligation. It's the sexual equivalent of Commerce Bank, which took the formidable grown-up aspect out of banking and made it as brightly-colored as a candy shop (they even have bowls of red lollipops) and as inviting as a toy store. The message of Commerce Bank is come and play. You can almost forgot that your money hangs in the balance.

Here's what I've observed as a very-married Babe in the Big City: in the crazed, over-programmed professional and personal lives that we lead in this metropolis, single babes often unwittingly become the F%*K Buddies of men who pass themselves off as prospective boyfriends (forget husbands, for now. This is not about marriage as the ultimate aim, but emotional intimacy.) Sometimes women are fooled by an emotional con artist; other times, they delude themselves when the reality is as bright as bling. I know that there are some mythic, uber-liberated chicks who claim that they aim only to be someone's F%*k Buddy, not girlfriend, but I don't believe they represent a critical mass of femalekind.

As I walked the streets early this morning to save my van from being ticketed, I thought of Mary Alice and the quest for love and intimacy and the phenomenon of adult F%*k Buddies (until this recent conversation, I had kinda thought that F%*k Buddies and Friends-with-Benefits were strictly adolescent pursuits). I was wondering how many men get burned by being the unwitting F%*k Buddies of women. I was considering how to write about this subject without going off on a rant against guys or even the concept of F%*k Buddies...which might be okay (not to mention fun) as long as both (or more) parties agree that the raison d'etre of their relationship is f%*king and nothing else.

Such as love. Or intimacy. Or caring. Or even friendship.

As I reached the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and W105th Street, I suddenly realized that the concept of Alternate Side of the Street Parking regulations had everything to do with what was on my mind. Instability is the theme of our contemporary urban lives. What is good on Monday is bad for Tuesday, but it's okay for Thursday... just not on Friday. You're okay where you are as long as you move by 8:30 or 11:00 a.m. Don't even think of standing there. It's fine if you're with me on Sunday but not on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Saturday morning is okay, though.

Just make sure to leave by noon.

And let's agree that feelings have absolutely nothing to do with what we do together.

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