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The Shipwreck Rose: Things I Didn’t Do

Wed, 10/07/2020 - 16:54

“Cancel” is the word of the year, and not just in the social-shunning sense.

My long-anticipated outing to watch the new version of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” starring Judi Dench and a crowded cast of British character actors at the Regal Cinema with a medium bucket of popcorn, extra butter? Canceled. The East Hampton Village Centennial Parade, which was going to blissfully shut down Main Street to automobile traffic for an entire day in September? Canceled. Our family trip to the Clan Rattray Gathering and the Blairgowrie and Rattray Highland Games in Blairgowrie and Rattray, Perthshire, Scotland? Canceled. My plan to take up yoga again, after 15 years? Canceled. My intention of potentially thinking about internet dating? Canceled. Or dating at all? Canceled.

Before lockdown, actually, I had grand plans to create a podcast about trying to get a date, specifically, with the alt-country singer-songwriter Steve Earle. You know, “Copperhead Road”?

It’s a long and somewhat convoluted story, but a year ago, I became an evening student — before Covid-19 canceled the classes — in the Podcast Fellowship program at Stony Brook Southampton. We fellows learned to use recording equipment, and to conceive of and launch our very own professional podcasts. Mine was going to be about women’s sense of self-worth — versus how society values us — plus celebrity-stalking, aging, and romance. The listener was going to travel along as I tried to get an actual date on my mom crush. The podcast was going to be called either that, “Mom Crush,” or “Mr. Earl” (after the song by the Cadillacs).

I realize the subject sounds semi-bananas, but, believe me, it was going to be hilarious. I have never met Steve Earle, but we have one or two mutual friends and he once stared me in the eyes so long while he was performing on stage and I was sitting in the front row that other audience members turned around to point and whisper.

How could Steve refuse me, when my podcast became a hit?

Coronavirus gave me three perfect excuses not to push the Steve Earle project beyond my rough-cut recordings for episodes one and two: A) It was an inappropriately absurdist subject to pursue when the pandemic was at its height. B) Sadly, I never finished the semester, because I had to stop being an editor and start a new career as a contact tracer, in order to support my family, and my work life in lockdown actually became frantically busy, between the contact-tracing during the day and moonlighting at night with the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association. C) And this part isn’t funny — Steve Earle’s son died this summer. Not of Covid-19, but something else. So, the whole thing was off. It wasn’t going to work. My podcast was definitely, indefinitely canceled.

But, really, it should not have taken me a podcast course to start thinking about online dating and the pursuit of romance. I’ve been dragging my feet for four or five years, to be honest. Ooof! That’s a really long time, I think to myself with concern as I write this. The clock is ticking. Time stops for no divorced woman.

Maybe I’ll date again after I go on a diet. (That was my mother’s suggestion. Thanks, Mom!)

Maybe I’ll date again after I get a haircut.

The deeper problem isn’t the unavailability of Steve Earle, it’s that I am a bit socially phobic. I have excellent interpersonal skills — I didn’t work for Vogue magazine for 18 years for nothing — but when it comes to the banal chitchat and small talk of striking up new acquaintance, I get mentally tangled up in the artificiality of it all, my thoughts wander off into another, private zone, and I stand there like a scarecrow, staring awkwardly at the horizon. (One day I’ll tell you about the time I was introduced at a cocktail party to one of my favorite actors, Ray Liotta of “Goodfellas” fame, and stood there, frozen, with mouth actually agape while he gazed down at me with a pained expression and a lowball glass sweating in his hand.)

I didn’t properly realize this about myself — this social anxiety thing — until, one time, in my late 30s, when I got a friend to give me a single Xanax pill from her stash so I wouldn’t have a panic attack on an airplane flight, and, that evening after landing at J.F.K., I went to Joe Allen, the Broadway restaurant, with a theater-world friend and her brother, and let me tell you, I’ve never been more charming. It turns out I am absolutely beguiling over Caesar salad with the glamorous crowd if and when I’ve had a Xanax to overcome my social anxiety. But I have no intention of becoming a pill-popper — a Xanax habit? not for me — so I just mentally filed this experience under “Oh! Duh,” and went back to not wanting to make small-talk with anyone, least of all with attractive men.

Number-two word of the year for 2020: excuses.

Word of year for 2021: boyfriend.


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