Are New Yorkers giving up? Certainly many have become weary of the frenzied fray that lies just beyond the apartment door. Forget trying to belly up to any of-the-moment bar or restaurant (a bruising battle past blue button-downs and khakis, bearded hipsters and shiny publicists)—even doing something as seemingly easy as going to Trader Joe’s has become a self-conscious, ironic public act, as proven not only by the long lines that snaked down 14th Street the week it opened, but also by the plethora of media coverage of those long lines. It was a seminal moment in our culture: Here were thousands of New Yorkers lining up for the opening of … a grocery store.
What’s going on?
Columnist Liz Smith, who has lived in New York since 1949 said, “I just don’t go downtown anymore, and I used to go to the Village, Soho or Tribeca all the time.” The best way to spend an evening these days, she said, was with a good book, television and the telephone turned off. “We’re in a crush of pointless living in the interlude of pointless news, pointless publicity, pointless rushing about like lemmings to things. I don’t excuse myself entirely, but I can no longer afford to keep up.”
Cut to a recent Friday night. The forecast had called for chilly temperatures and rain, but it turned into the kind of spring evening that carries a strong whiff of possibility. It was 7:30 p.m. and still light out in the West Village as people spilled onto sidewalks for drinks al fresco along Seventh Avenue. Couples strolled hand in hand. A gaggle of girls in matching crocheted tops hailed taxis with purpose; illuminated above them in a bare window, a young woman dashed around her apartment applying lipstick, clad only in a glittery silver top and underwear. But inside Gourmet Garage, another New York story was unfolding: Shoppers kept their heads down, their iPods firmly implanted, as they loaded red plastic baskets. A pretty blonde with a blue Mark Jacobs handbag slung over one shoulder paused over the individual dinner selections, opting for pre-prepared sushi. “It’s such a hassle to go out on weekend nights,” she shrugged. “All the restaurants and bars are packed. I usually just pick up food or order in.”
But such giving up is not a defeat, not at all. Because what more and more New Yorkers are “giving up” is engaging with a social and intellectual public culture that more and more fails to enchant them. By giving up, they are reclaiming their privacy and some measure of critical distance from a social life that, they suspect, has become almost purely product-driven, a pay-to-play environment stripped of any shock or surprise. In other words, a publicist’s wet dream.
“A fun night is ordering in Mexican, making margaritas and channel-flipping with my boyfriend,” said Melissa, a 31-year-old Soho resident who works in finance. “I’ve let a lot of the whole rat-race thing go. Like the hottest new lounge or restaurant—c’mon, is waiting on line for a place with $12 cocktails really worth it? And besides, do I really want to be surrounded by a bunch of kids who think they’re hot shit?”
Whose couch doesn’t suddenly look appealing? Nothing can work as a de-motivator quite like seeing fresh-faced arrivistes. As one born-and-bred city gal put it, “It’s wearying—to compete with them for the apartments that you feel by natural-born right should be yours and watch them ‘discover’ all your childhood pleasures and haunts.”
Plus, now you can see it all on TV. “I’m confident that I could move away and not miss New York a bit, as long as I keep worshipping at the altar of Dick Wolf,” said one former East Village resident who relocated to Park Slope last year. “My Law & Order—and now Conviction—viewing hovers somewhere around 12 to 15 hours a week, which is more time than I spend outside, pounding the pavement, taking in the sights. And since so much of the show is shot on location, it’s like I am practically there.” She laughed, “There have actually been times that they shot the show within view of my apartment and I was watching it, like, ‘That place looks familiar—where is that?’ before it dawned on me.”
But do those who have given up intend to leave town? “Hal, the Central Park coyote, is essentially the only being that I know who would rather die than leave New York City,” she continued. “It was like he was called here by a larger force, and then, when faced with the prospects of going home, decided it would be over his dead body. And maybe that’s true of a lot of creatures who just get here, but I think if Hal had lived here for a few years, realized the competitive sport it is just to buy a movie ticket on a Friday night or get just a plate of eggs on a Saturday morning, let alone rent an apartment, he would probably have been happy to go back to wherever it was he came from.”
Tad Low, a television producer and creator of the late-90’s VH1 fave Pop-Up Video, is familiar with the exhaustion. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think I might be missing the chromosome that makes others like sitting around music so loud that the only way to communicate with your friends is to bury your head in the unflattering blue light of an open cell phone and to text your thoughts about how long to stay and if the party’s better at Bungalow 8.”
Indeed, the influx of communications technology—the ever-present BlackBerries, camera phones, Treos, Gawker Stalker, etc.—only serves to increase the feeling of being adrift. “Technology, in an ironic way, has isolated people from one another,” said David Patrick Columbia, who chronicles city society on http://www.nysocialdiary.com. “People aren’t even aware of each other as they walk down the street. People talk about relationships like you can buy them at the store.”
“The idea that somebody might drop a bomb on New York is a pretty terrible thought, and one that we didn’t worry about till recently,” said Liz Smith. She cited the increasingly rabid devouring of all things celebrity as a way to avoid reality. “I cannot believe the public really gives a shit about Tom Cruise and this girl’s baby, or Angelina and Brad Pitt’s baby, or whether or not Jennifer Aniston is unhappy. I think things are so terrible that people are just addling their minds with this crap. It’s just loading your life down with something that doesn’t matter, to make you forget that we’re dancing on the lip of the volcano here.”
And there are more and more ways to avoid that reality: Netflix, DVR, Fresh Direct. Life has finally caught up with Seinfeld: recall how those guys basically never left Jerry’s living room and the coffee shop. Remember the classic episode when George takes to constantly wearing sweat pants? Jerry chides him: “You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweat pants? You’re telling the world: ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.’” (If you aren’t sure if you should be included in the “giving up” category, odds are that if you’re tuning in to the old Seinfeld repeats at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., you have your answer.)
The giving-up attitude is often tied to fashion—one is literally forced to give up if one wishes to continue paying for food. “I just can’t keep up with the denim-of-the moment hype,” said Jo, a magazine writer in her early 30’s. “A few months ago, a friend of mine e-mailed me asking what the coolest jeans were these days. I realized I had no idea. I know Sevens are so three years ago, and I know Earnest Sewn has a cool store in the meatpacking district, but I really don’ t know—or care—if Chip and Pepper jeans are cooler than Joe’s. And I’m not going to buy a new pair of $200 jeans every month just to keep up with the trendy publicist crowd.”
She’s hinting at a deeper truth, that the alternative to giving up is far worse: It is giving in.
Few things can make one want to throw the towel in more than dating in New York, that overly scrutinized and overly analyzed ritual that can thwart even the most stalwart-hearted. One journalist in his 30’s was recently couch-shopping when his thoughts turned to how, for the same money, he could afford a really nice leather recliner. For one.
Those who have given up sometimes find themselves drifting back to old loves rather than navigating the shoals of blind dates, online relationship shopping and the foggy shores of “friends who sleep together. Sometimes. And it’s O.K. It really is. Really.”
“It was kind of a devil-you-know-versus-the-devil-you-don’t-type situation,” said Billy Tucker, an East Village filmmaker who got back together with an old boyfriend two years ago. The couple had split over a variety of problems, not the least of which was Mr. Tucker’s boyfriend’s hard-partying ways. During their time apart, Mr. Tucker threw himself enthusiastically into the dating scene. “I was dating a 23-year-old actor-slash-liar,” he said. “Who basically had all of the same problems as my ex-boyfriend did. I realized that if I was going to be with someone like that, I may as well be with the one I know really well and have a ton of history with.” The two have been together ever since.
“I don’t, and never have, felt the need to constantly meet new people. I mean, I don’t even really like people that much,” said Chris Cronis, a 36-year-old editor. “In terms of what I like to do in my spare time—read, watch movies and sports, go to bars, see live music—there’s no reason why I couldn’t be perfectly happy in any other city. Maybe that’s why I moved to Brooklyn.”
Even the famous New York art of conversation—the expectant thrill of engaging with witty and deep minds into the wee hours—has fallen by the wayside.
“People have given up on giving dinner parties,” said Liz Smith. “Everything is too much trouble. Your guests conk out on you at the last minute, nobody has any manners anymore, nobody answers if they’re coming. If you do a big party, you are lucky if you get 20 percent of the people to respond, and then they all show up when you don’t expect them.”
Plus, she added, “It used to be you could get anywhere in New York in 15 minutes—even Brooklyn. There’s a lot more cars, and a lot more of absolutely nothing going on.”
GEORGE and HILLY
Hilly and I were amped up. She was on Prozac and Lamictal, and I was on Nicorette, Starbucks and Ritalin. We were both stressed after living together for a month.
GEORGE: Hilly, you’re all wound up, why don’t you start?
HILLY: I don’t know—maybe it’s not a nice thing to dwell on this stuff, but I was thinking about how we live together and, last night, he had this episode where all of a sudden he just got really depressed. And just sat on his couch. I was up in my cubbyhole. And he just stared. It was similar to those catatonic states he used to have, but it lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. He was looking at nothing. Then I tried to say something to make him happier, and he said, “I don’t want that! I don’t want to be cheered up right now!” So I turned over, because I was upstairs trying to go to sleep.
Dr. SELMAN: So you tried to cheer him up?
GEORGE: Uh, can I try to address this?
HILLY: Well, you started saying, “I wish I was like a normal person—I wish I could get up early in the morning and function.” And I would try to say stuff like, “George, it’s not easy for me to wake up at 6:30 in the morning. I have to have like three Diet Cokes before I can deal with anybody.”
DR. SELMAN: How do you know that he was feeling depressed?
HILLY: Because all of a sudden he was really quiet, he was sitting in a sort of fetal position, ha-ha! On the couch! Just kind of staring like that. [HILLY demonstrates.]
GEORGE: Well, yesterday was bad. I woke up at 12:30. I’d gone to bed at 4 or 5, did e-mail for a couple hours, like I always do. After the e-mailing, I thought I’d go for a little walk, and on 79th and Columbus someone called my name, and it was this guy I know from the Hog Pit. Topher.
HILLY: Oh, yeah!
GEORGE: Real nice guy. He was sitting with a friend at an outdoor table, and I couldn’t really communicate. It was like my brain had been programmed, thanks to e-mail, where I have the option of responding later on—like, “Let’s just hold off on that one.” Pretty basic small talk, and I was stammering. Really strange.
DR. SELMAN: Does this concern you?
GEORGE: I’ve been working and not really interacting very much.
DR. SELMAN: So you’re not terribly bothered by this?
GEORGE: Well, I think this will happen if you’re looking at a computer screen for a month straight. Been having serious fantasies about living in some place civilized like Kansas City or Spain.
[GEORGE hiccups; HILLY laughs.]
DR. SELMAN: What’s the connection between Kansas City and Spain?
GEORGE [ hiccupping uncontrollably now]: Sorry. It’s the Nicorette. One of the side effects. [ Hiccups, gasps.]
DR. SELMAN: How long have you been doing Nicorette?
GEORGE: Many years.
DR. SELMAN: Many years.
GEORGE: Mm-hmm. But I haven’t had a piece in weeks. Just had one now, so I’d be alert. New York’s not been agreeing with me lately. Like film crews—when they have the crowd-control production assistant holding up a hand and saying, “Oh, can you wait a second? We’re filming a very important movie!”
DR. SELMAN: So you have the urge to disrupt the filming?
GEORGE: Yes. I did that once when they were shooting a film starring Danny Aiello and a pickle outside the Plaza Hotel. Another time more recently they were shooting outside the Dakota.
DR. SELMAN: That would be hostile, wouldn’t it?
GEORGE: They can’t stop you. It’s obnoxious but very satisfying. I think people should try to disrupt crappy movies, yell “Roll sound!” or something.
DR. SELMAN: So because of this, you want to move to Kansas?
GEORGE: I want to have another place in Spain or Kansas City.
DR. SELMAN: How are you going to afford that?
GEORGE: I don’t know! I think another thing going on is, it’s tax time. I’m turning 38 next month, and this is the first time, since I started paying taxes, I’m not going to be able to pay on time. Are you getting an extension too?
DR. SELMAN: Here it is, you’ve been living together for—what is it now, a month? And he’s already talking about moving away.
HILLY: He’s always talked about moving away. Anyway, about living together: What happens is, he goes to sleep about an hour before I wake up. And I wake up and go to work, and then near the end of my day is when he wakes up and starts working, so by the time I get home, I’ve been up at the office for 12 hours and I’m really tired. I either want to go out, meet someone or meet him for dinner or do something fun, or I want to go back home and relax and unwind. Like sometimes—yes, I like a cocktail or two. But even things like puttering around, look through magazines or books or my stuff, or plan out the next day, mend a pair of pants, cook something—
GEORGE: Cook something?
HILLY: But George doesn’t like me to do stuff he’s not in control of.
DR. SELMAN: It seems as if you’re living more like roommates than boyfriend and girlfriend.
HILLY: Yes, and you complained about that the other day—I was up in my cubbyhole, and you freaked out. You said, “If this is all you’re going to do, I’m just going to go to sleep!” This was on Sunday night. Well, the reason I went up there, we had gone to see a movie and on the way back from Times Square we were walking, and all of a sudden I felt this change in his mood and I kind of sensed he was getting into “irritable mood.” So when we got back home, it seemed like everything I was saying slightly irritated him, so I thought, “Maybe I should back off.” So I went to the store for a while, and then I came back and he didn’t seem to want to talk. So I thought, “O.K., that’s fine, I’m going to go up to my little cubbyhole and do my own thing.” The next thing I know, he screams and runs into his room and slams the door.
GEORGE: Can I just say something? Last night, I think I picked up on something. First of all, she stole my Chivas.
HILLY: I didn’t steal it.
GEORGE: Yeah, you did—you finished it.
HILLY: I finished it, but I didn’t steal it.
GEORGE: O.K., but last night you had Veuve Clicquot, and I think that is what you should drink from now on. That agrees with you much more than Sancerre, which lulls you and makes you less present. That’s when you tune out—when you drink Sancerre. I will invest in champagne. But I think our schedules and our energy—
DR. SELMAN: How are you going to buy her Veuve Clicquot if you can’t afford paying taxes?
GEORGE: What is it, 30 a bottle? More? Maybe cheaper stuff. Andre Spumante.
DR. SELMAN: Well, we started this out with Hilly saying, kind of complaining, that you had gone into some sort of trance-like state that she identified as being depressed. Now I’m not sure that you were depressed.
GEORGE: Lack of exercise and smoking and not leaving the apartment and—
DR. SELMAN: Wa-wa-wa-wait. You just said that you don’t smoke ’cause you’re on Nicorette.
GEORGE: That’s the first Nicorette I’ve had in a long time.
DR. SELMAN: So you smoke?
GEORGE: I have been lately. I can’t write without cigarettes.
DR. SELMAN: That’s all?
GEORGE: Dr. Lamm said that smoking can reduce the libido.
DR. SELMAN: Yes. It makes it harder to get an erection.
GEORGE: Yes. Hilly brought back all these great cigarettes from Switzerland. Cartons of Cartiers. What else?
HILLY: Really, it’s such a conflicting schedule. You’ve been so extremely busy on this story and it’s busy for me at work right now. And George kind of wants to have control of me—I love living with him, I’m so happy, yesterday when you got home I was so happy.
GEORGE: I like that too.
HILLY: It’s so fantastic. But then George will want to watch a movie, and that’s fine, but the thing is, I like to do stuff—if it’s an after-work night, I have other stuff to do. Unpack my stuff, get another outfit ready, blow-dry my hair—I can’t do that stuff in the morning, because it makes noise. I have to write cards to people. I’ve been thinking realistically that I’m probably ultimately going to become a little frustrated with not being able to putter around. It makes me feel bad—every time I want to get up and take a shower, you get mad. Or when I blow-dry my hair, you get mad.
GEORGE: Oh, right.
HILLY: It’s O.K., I understand—
DR. SELMAN: Why is that O.K.?
HILLY: He’s been living alone—
GEORGE: We’re living in this little place.
DR. SELMAN: Wait a minute. Why is it O.K. for George to be angry with you?
HILLY: Well, because he was gracious enough to let me live in his apartment under these circumstances, after I got evicted, and I love it and we’re having a fantastic time—with the understanding that ultimately we’ll find a place that’s larger.
DR. SELMAN: If this was a fantastic living arrangement, I’d hate to see what a horrible—
GEORGE: It’s not really anger. I’ll give you an example: I’m in my closet-size room working on a story, and she’s six feet above me in the other cubbyhole where she’s stored all her stuff, and she’s stomping around. It’s not anger—it just feels like you’re going to lose your mind.
DR. SELMAN: Feels like you’re going to lose your mind?!
HILLY: No, but it’s like if you have an irritating neighbor who makes a lot of noise—
GEORGE: An hour of stomping and boxes sliding and crashing right above your head will tend to—
DR. SELMAN: George, you said you were outside taking a walk with a film going on, and you felt like going over and shouting something. You said you’ve actually yelled during the filming of other movies?
GEORGE: Well, when they try to stop me from walking down the street to my apartment, I’m not going to let some—well, this kind of goes back. I worked on a film once, so yes, there’s a little background here. This friend of mine from high school, she was a producer, she said I could make a hundred dollars a day—this was 1993, and I was unemployed and unemployable. So I agreed, and my first day I drove this big Ryder truck in and out of every single borough and Yonkers and upstate New York picking up lights and equipment, and I showed up in Brooklyn at midnight, at this film set. It was this stupid independent N.Y.U. ridiculous movie that never got picked up, all these pretentious fools, and I hate them to this day—and anyway, I showed up thinking I’d be this hero, and no one said anything. They were like, “Where have you been?” Then, after three days of this bullshit and these idiots —I still remember their names—I find out this hundred dollars a day you only get paid if the movie gets picked up. It’s a “deferred payment.” So the next day, they had me take care of a dog who was in the movie. And this annoying P.A. was like, “Oh, you’re doing such a great job, George—thank you so much for taking care of the dog. I’m so sorry to ask you this, but do you think you could go to the deli and get some food for the dog, ’cause he’s barking a lot?” So I did and I came back and she did it again: “Oh, George, thank you so much, you’re so great. I’m sorry, but is there any way you could go to a pet store, get a toy, some dog treats?” That’s when I walked off the set.
HILLY: And I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have used the word “anger”—it’s not like he’s angry, it’s more like he’s irritated.
DR. SELMAN: Irritable.
[GEORGE’s cell phone rings. GEORGE can’t find his ringing phone.]
GEORGE [ finally answering his cell phone]: Wait, Hampton? I’m in the middle of a therapy session.
HILLY: Yeah, it’s not anger—and listen, I totally understand. George and I both have been living on our own for a long time. So it’s hard to break those patterns. So my erratic behavior, getting up and walking around and doing stuff—slowly but surely, already I’m starting to change. Like in the morning, I have all my accessories in one little pile, so I don’t have to walk up and down the ladder—
DR. SELMAN: I’m curious. When we started out, you said George would go into a trance. He was curled up in a fetal position.
GEORGE [ to HILLY]: Will you take that back? “Fetal position.”
DR. SELMAN: O.K., whatever it was.
GEORGE: She tells me to lay on my left because of my acid reflux—I wasn’t under the couch in the fetal position like that televangelist.
HILLY: He was sitting on the couch with his feet on the couch, so his knees were up in the air, and he was just sitting there with his arms hugging his knees and he was kind of staring.
GEORGE: Because you were all wound up on champagne and trying to cheer me up—relentlessly. I was just trying to catch my breath.
DR. SELMAN: Well, I’m interested, Hilly—were you concerned about that?
HILLY: I wasn’t concerned, but at the same time, listen—I’ve been in very low states of mind frequently in the past, but right now, presently, I feel like life is too short to spend time being upset about anything. It’s just kind of frustrating for me to see anyone, especially someone I care about, not feeling well and not understanding how wonderful they are and how many great things they’re capable of doing. It really puzzles me. I think, George, you’re so smart, you’re so fantastic, I love you more than just about anyone in the whole entire world. So how can you sit there—
GEORGE: But don’t I also have moments where I’m feeling great and godlike?
HILLY: Yes, sometimes. But I think you said it: It’s just from being inside all day. It would be one thing if you were inside a palatial five-room apartment.
GEORGE: We had a good time in Palm Beach, didn’t we?
HILLY: Well, you had a sad moment for a while.
GEORGE: I don’t want to talk about it.
DR. SELMAN: You don’t want to talk about what?
HILLY: You took a nap that day, and maybe you planned on taking a 30-minute nap but instead it took four hours, and then by the time you got up it was late, and I started to come down and my throat was sore—
GEORGE: Didn’t we have a crazy night out?
HILLY: The night before, and we walked to that place in the cold?
GEORGE: McCarty’s. Then at 3 a.m. we got in this cab, and the driver started taking us to Miami. We were staying about two minutes away, and the next thing we knew we were on the highway. That was really scary. And then you started to kind of insult the cab driver, and I got really mad at you because I thought he was going to kill us.
DR. SELMAN: That sounds like a great time overall.
GEORGE: On a lighter note, so you’re paying almost half the rent. I just gotta say, I’m paying for Con Ed, paper towels, light bulbs, ever-y-thing else. And that’s O.K.! But when I get all the groceries, I bring them back—O.K., so there’s also transportation involved. Those things don’t magically appear in the fridge.
HILLY: O.K., you’re right. I’ve been guilty of that—
GEORGE: You never go to the grocery store—
HILLY: I’ve gone a couple times, but you’re right. Well, I’ll make a point from now on of forcing myself—well, not forcing myself, but I’ll make it a habit to go at least twice a week. You could tell me certain things I’m responsible for.
GEORGE: You do keep the place clean.
DR. SELMAN [ to HILLY]: I don’t understand. You know, you’re living there, he’s criticizing you for drinking his Scotch—
GEORGE: Sneaking drinks.
HILLY: That night, you were out until 6 o’clock in the morning! I’m sorry.
DR. SELMAN [ confused]: She tiptoes around. You’re on completely different schedules.
HILLY: I guzzle.
GEORGE: I’m all for you drinking champagne.
HILLY: Because he’s busy and he’s cranky. But for the most part, he’s so precious. I really think things will be fine if we have a place where we have two separate bedrooms. But also, since I’ve been in your apartment, the movers took my stuff in 30 boxes that are about this high and packed them like sardines into this loft storage unit. It’s only like three and half feet high, so you can’t stand up there. You can’t stand up straight; there’s no air up there. I can’t even get the boxes down—I have to unpack them up there and then throw the stuff down onto the floor, deconstruct the box, then climb down the ladder, so it makes a lot of noise. It’s really hot and really uncomfortable, so I get a stiff back and my neck hurts. So yes, it makes a lot of noise and it’s not fun for me, but I’m trying to unpack the stuff so I can get rid of it to make more room, and I know—
DR. SELMAN: You have furniture up there?
HILLY: You’re thinking of the cubbyhole where I sleep. There are two of them. One is where my boxes are, and the other one is really glamorous, with a fur stole for a rug and a dresser, Chanel sketches on the wall and—
GEORGE: It’s three feet high; it’s like a dollhouse. You know, sometimes she’ll be up there—it’s pretty high up—and I’ll be down on the couch and look up, and she’ll have her little piggy hand-puppet stuffed animal, and she’ll—do it.
GEORGE: She makes oink sounds. It’s really cute. So funny. Do it.
HILLY: Nooooo. So it’s just these little minor things, and I think you’re extra-sensitive about them right now because you’ve been working so hard and you had two really late nights. Friday night, you were out until 6 in the morning, and then Monday night you were out until 4 in the morning. But that’s totally fine.
GEORGE: She’s encouraging me to do that, so she can tinker and putter around. That’s another thing—every time I come back to the apartment, something is different. The lamps have been moved or something’s not there. It’s like in Poltergeist.
HILLY: I can’t help that, though, because I’ve never had such a big place to live in—even though it’s small, it’s so much bigger. And he has all this nice stuff from his mom, like really beautiful things. It’s so much fun to play around and move stuff around.
DR. SELMAN: Good thing you’re not Helen Keller. [ Pause.] Well, what do you want to do with all this? You know, there’s a lot of stuff here. Is this stuff you want to work on? I’m not sure you consider it necessarily important. You present it to me like this is how it is. It’s not like, “George is curled up in a fetal position—I’m really concerned about it.” Or, “George is angry—what can I do?”
GEORGE: “Fetal position.” Why did you have to say that?
HILLY: Sorry. But it’s like a status quo thing with the living situation—how long is he going to put up with being able to deal with me being there? Or find another place and—
DR. SELMAN: Or how long are you going to put up with him being the way he is towards you?
HILLY: Well, you know, I think there’s the light at the end of the tunnel—the thought, the idea that at some point in the next four or five months from now, we’re going to move into a bigger place.
DR. SELMAN: Where is that going to be?
GEORGE: I’m thinking about not renewing the lease and maybe just rolling the dice, see what happens.
DR. SELMAN: I think, based on past experience, we know what’s going to happen: Your stuff is going to be in storage. You’ll be dealing with those movers with the black porno.
GEORGE: Black Cheerleaders—I want to see that. No. [ Pause.] In a marriage situation, do you think once a quarter, or a couple times a year, I could have an unconsummated “romance”? Not a real romance, but a thing that went nowhere for two weeks and then I’d never see her again? No? A friendship with a woman—
HILLY: Why would you call it a romance if it was a friendship?
GEORGE: Like a quote “romance”?
HILLY: Maybe if it’s a romance in your mind, in the artistic sense that you have a romantic crush on someone—that happens to everyone. But you don’t have to talk about it to me. Like I’m not going to talk to you about my fantasies about—
HILLY: I’m not going to tell you! ’Cause you’re going to start harping on it.
HILLY: I don’t have any!
DR. SELMAN [ to GEORGE]: Are—are you serious?
GEORGE: No. O.K., “romance” is the wrong word.
HILLY: See, that’s why I think it all goes back to divorce and what you think about divorce. I don’t look and think, “I want to get married so I can get divorced.” But, it’s kind of the beauty of the situation—that it’s a possibility that if things really go wrong, you can annul a marriage and wish each other the best and hopefully remain friends and move on and hopefully try to create a better life. Why continue making each other miserable? Instead, support each other and go separate ways.
GEORGE: My whole idea about everything is just one day at a time.
HILLY: Yeah. I would have the same outlook if I was married to you.
GEORGE: One day at a time?
HILLY: Yeah, sure! Today I heard these stories about Stacy’s boyfriend’s best friend’s sister. No—Stacy’s boyfriend’s sister’s boyfriend. Wait—Stacy’s boyfriend’s best friend’s sister’s brother. Died in his sleep. 27 years old.
DR. SELMAN: Did he do an overdose of drugs?
HILLY: She said it’s possible, she doesn’t know. But the way to think about it is, “Yeah, sure, that could happen—but don’t let it ruin today or tomorrow.”
DR. SELMAN: Don’t let it ruin your day!
HILLY: No, but you don’t want to walk around with this cloud over your head.
GEORGE: I have my 20th high-school reunion coming up this summer, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I always thought my circumstances would be different by the time of my 20th. Thought I’d be rolling up in a Ferrari—this was a while ago. But I still have hang-ups about what happened to me back then. Not the hazing so much.
DR. SELMAN: This is the reunion for the boys’ school?
GEORGE: It’s co-ed, but the girls’ school was five miles up a mountain.
DR. SELMAN: Why on earth would you think of going to a reunion after the way they treated you?
GEORGE: Well, it was the older kids, those bastards. Also teachers. In 10th grade, I made the J.V. tennis team—I made the team! And I don’t know what she did, but the coach put me on thirds. Then the next year I made the team again—played this guy in tryouts, beat him soundly, made the team again—and she tried to keep me off it! This time my dad intervened, made a few calls to the headmaster or something. So she kept me on the team, but then she tried to get rid of me again. During practice, get this, I was hitting with this guy Tobey, and I wasn’t hitting it back to him, like I was playing really well, hitting winners—so she tried to kick me off again because I wasn’t allowing this guy to improve.
DR. SELMAN: So why would you go to this reunion? It sounds horrible.
GEORGE: Well, it was the best-and-worst-of-times kind of situation, like all these schools. You read about these incidents at St. Paul’s and Groton—they’re just twisted places.
HILLY: Because he likes being miserable sometimes.
DR. SELMAN: Is that true, George? You like to be miserable?
HILLY: Yes. His idea of a beautiful day is when it’s chilly and raining.
[HILLY gets up and leaves the room.]
GEORGE: Most of my friends are from high school; we went through all that stuff. A sixth former once urinated into a Pringles can and poured it on me when I was asleep.
DR. SELMAN: I take it Hilly has heard these stories before?
[HILLY returns with a soda pop.]
DR. SELMAN: I’m curious. Do you have any curiosity as to what he just talked about?
HILLY: About the tennis coach?
DR. SELMAN: He went on to some other topic. I have the impression that you’re bored.
HILLY: I like hearing stories, but—
DR. SELMAN: You just got up in the middle of the story, you left the room—
GEORGE: I got framed in tenth grade—
DR. SELMAN: And you didn’t miss a beat. It’s astonishing.
GEORGE: In tenth grade, and this guy came into my room and said, “Oh, I gotta take a piss!” And I said, “Well, go out the window!” This was the last day of school. So he did, then he ran out. I went over to the window, and all these teachers were pointing up, because there was a teacher barbecue going on down below, and they said, “It was Gurley!” So they came running up, and I said, “Look, I know who did it, it wasn’t me, but I’m not going to say who it was.” And they said, “Well, under the regulations of blah-blah-blah, you’re going to have to do a work project.”
DR. SELMAN: Work project? You could have gone to jail for that.
GEORGE: For urinating on a teacher barbecue? So it’s two years later, and all these teachers hated me for what this guy—
DR. SELMAN: I wonder why!
GEORGE: I didn’t do it, all right? I swear. But I went up to one of these teachers my senior year who had been at the barbecue, and I said, you know, that was actually this guy Fred, who’d been kicked out by that point for something else. And he said, “We always thought it was you.” That’s probably why the coach didn’t want me on the tennis team. So I should probably make peace.
DR. SELMAN: At one point you got up, left the room, and the conversation kept going without you here.
GEORGE: I just thought we’d keep talking.
HILLY: Right now, I’m not really thinking about the relationship. What’s really on my mind is just work. And I think maybe that’s the case for both of us right now. Maybe when it comes to us, we’re just trying to enjoy it and be comfortable and not mess with the status quo for now.
GEORGE: There’s a lot of sweetness and love between us, don’t you think?
DR. SELMAN: Yes, I believe it, big time.
GEORGE: Wait. Are you kidding?
DR. SELMAN: I can tell that you guys love each other. Absolutely. I do think you guys need to come in more often. I really do. We could also revisit the idea of mood stabilizers for George.
[ To be continued.]
Prior Articles: George and Hilly published 04/17/06 George and Hilly published 04/03/06 George and Hilly published 03/20/06 George and Hilly published 02/6/06 George and Hilly published 01/23/06 George and Hilly published 01/16/06 George and Hilly published 12/26/05 George and Hilly published 11/14/05 George and Hilly published 11/07/05 George and Hilly published 10/24/05 George and Hilly published 10/17/05 George and Hilly published 10/10/05 George and Hilly published 10/03/05 George ’n’ Hilly, Back in Couples, Turn on the Doc published 09/26/05 But Should We Get Married? Part III published 08/29/05 But Should We Get Married? published 08/15/05 Should I Get Married? My Hilly Joining Me In Couples Session published 08/08/05
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