Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Interrogation: The Blind Date From Hell

A while back I set up a dating profile on Plenty of Fish. It was my first time trying online dating, and I'd recently gotten out of a bad relationship and was nervous about dating again. But since I have trouble meeting people in other ways, I decided to give it a shot.  Shortly after I signed up I found myself trading messages with a couple of guys on the site. One in particular seemed like he was intelligent and interesting, and we had common interests and beliefs, etc., so after chatting online for a few days we decided to meet downtown at a restaurant/bar to check out a local band.

Because it was not only my first date in years, but also essentially a blind date, I had a fair amount of apprehension. I told myself that it wasn't a big deal. My friends told me it wasn't a big deal. But I should have listened to my instincts and not gone. It was a date from hell.

Arriving downtown, I found a parking space and  dropped some coins in the meter, wondering if I'd recognize the guy from his online photos. I have a mild form of prosopagnosia which means I sometimes have trouble remembering faces or recognizing people, especially if they're new to me. I shouldn't have worried. He found me.

"Heeeeeeeeey Krista! How you doin'!" He grabbed my hand as I spun around, startled. It was more of an ambush than a greeting. As it turned out, I'd parked right behind him on the street and he'd just been sitting there waiting for me, ready to pounce and say hello. Immediately several things became clear: he was significantly shorter than he'd claimed in his profile (so what else was he lying about?); the NRA sticker on his car betrayed the laid-back hippie persona he'd presented online; and I instantly disliked him for reasons I couldn't quite articulate. Fighting the urge to just get back in my car and leave, I detached my sweaty hand from his and made some strained small talk as we headed toward the restaurant. I really needed him to back away a few inches and give me some space.

He was a law student with some vague ideals of "defending liberties". I quickly discovered that he really was quite suited for prosecution work, based on the barrage of questions he fired at me as we took a table outside for drinks. Rather than a friendly get-to-know-you chat, it turned into an interrogation.

"So what specifically do you do in the 'animal care' field?" he asked, referencing my online profile.

"I've done some veterinary work, but right now I manage a dog kennel," I said.

"How many dogs are under your supervision? Only dogs, no other species? How satisfied are you with this line of work? Do you plan to continue this as a career? Do you plan to go on to grad school?"

"Well, obviously it's not a career job, and I'd like to do something with my environmental degree instead...but most grad students I know have a drive and ambition that I don't share, at least not right now." 

"So you don't have any drive or ambition, then? You feel you'd be competing with the other students and they'd have this advantage over you?"

"Uh, I guess. Maybe...I don't know." This conversation was taking an uncomfortably personal turn for someone I'd just met.

"Do you like living here? What drew you to this place? How is this town is different than where you went to college?"

"Well, there's a lot of yuppies and old people here. Gainesville is mainly a college town."

"So, when you say 'yuppie', what is your definition of that term? When you say 'college town', what specifically do you mean by that?" Without giving me much time to answer, he fired more questions at me: "Have you ever been to Jacksonville or Tallahassee? How recently did you go there? What specifically did you do or see while you were there?"

"I've been to Jacksonville. I went to the zoo," I replied. 

"So you like zoos, then? Did you like Jacksonville?"

"I don't know."

 "So you hated it."

Jesus, what was wrong with this guy? I didn't see a notebook or tape recorder, but I was about to ask him if I'd been accused of some crime for which such questioning or alibi would be warranted. This was supposed to be a date, right?

"Are you an only child? Any cousins? What do your parents do? Do they live in the area? Do you have a good relationship with them? Are they conservative? Do you consider yourself a conservative person? No? So you rebelled against your parents, then? Do you have any religious affiliation? What are your parents' religious affiliations?"

Why didn't I leave at that point? I honestly don't know. He never spoke a word about himself, and I didn't care enough to ask. We moved inside and took a table to listen to the band do some mediocre blues/rock covers.  The interrogation continued:

"How would you describe this type of music? What adjectives would you use to describe this music? Do you live in an apartment? Do you have any roommates? Just you and the dog? Are you training your dog to be a guard dog and attack people? No? So he's docile, then? How long have you lived in Florida? Have you ever been outside the state of Florida? What other states have you visited? Have you ever left the country? What other countries have you visited? Which one do you have the fondest memories of? Would you like to live there? Why? Just because of the scenery? How did you feel about the people? Did you interact with the locals? So the people are nice, then? Have you ever been to New England? Is it on your list of places to go?"

"No, not really."

"So you hate it, then? You want to see it nuked?" 


I discovered this was his idea of humor.

The few times he didn't assault me with questions, he instead complained about the lack of culture in South Florida and how people our age don't appreciate live music or go to concerts anymore. (Huh?) He quite obviously hated living in Florida and made no attempts to conceal it. At one point he complimented my hair and said "You know, I used to have hair that length, all the way down to my butt, but when I moved down here to South Florida -- Heil Hitler! -- I had to chop it all off."

Heil---? What? Huh? I was running out of bewildered expressions.

He explained: "Heil Hitler. You know, 'cause it's so conservative around here. They don't tolerate hippies."

"What? I just don't...seriously, what are you talking about?"

I finally decided to sabotage the evening. I couldn't tell him that he was creepy and weird and horrible to be with, so I took the passive-aggressive route, ignoring him and giving vague or monosyllabic answers. I devoted my attention to playing with toothpicks and Sweet 'N' Low packets. I really wished I'd asked a friend to call me at a particular time so I'd have an excuse to escape. As I tried to think of a reasonably polite way to just get up and run out to my car without turning back, he finally asked what was wrong. I really wanted to be honest but I just couldn't tell him to his face that he was an irritating douchebag. 

Finally in frustration, he cried, "I'm just trying to get to know you, baby, and have a good time!"

"Did you just call me 'baby'?!"


"Don't ever do that again. Please," I added, inanely not wanting to come across as rude.

"Uh...okay? Listen, I get the feeling that you're not enjoying any of this and would really rather be somewhere else right now."

"Yeah, you're right." I muttered something like "it was nice to meet you" and hightailed it out of there.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Little Girl Blue: Requiem for Janis Joplin

[Untitled poem excerpt, originally written February 2001]

They laughed at your feathers,
your lyrics, your voice.
They called you ugly.
But when I look at your pictures
I see a lost little girl playing dress-up
And doing everything just because you could.

Janis, did you even know yourself?
You let them destroy you.
Killing yourself pretending to be this
character they made you. 
Selling your blues, pain for profit.

They market your name, your image.
In the store today I saw you
Immortalized as a doll.
A cartoon on a t-shirt. A lunchbox.
Don't they realize you were a person?
With a beating heart and soul you were
Compelled to share with the world?

It's just that you
Never held back.
Orgasmic voice at its breaking point
Straining, screaming, too drunk to finish.
I love you Janis for
your fiery explosions, your howling cries.
The brilliant girl behind big glasses.
You thought you were hiding
behind beads, boas, booze...
Decked out in full regalia you claim your throne.
I can feel your electric tangled hair, that raspy voodoo voice
Soothing and scaring me all at once.
Where are you now?

On October 4, 1970, Janis's manager went looking for her after she uncharacteristically failed to show up for a recording session. She was found dead in her room at the Landmark Hotel in Hollywood, of what would later prove to be a heroin overdose.

The above video is a clip from D.A. Pennebaker's 1967 Monterey Pop film, showcasing Big Brother and the Holding Company's "Ball & Chain".  James Gurley's guitar solo was cut from the final film so the footage could focus on Janis (you can see/hear the edit at 2:33). This was the second performance they played at the fest; the previous day's set wasn't filmed due to contractual issues, but was by all accounts just as spectacular. Although they were billed as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis was featured as a breakout star and began to be promoted as a solo performer, with Big Brother being relegated to a backup group. Within a short time she left the band, who struggled to find success in her absence. Janis's solo career was varied and uneven, as she experimented with several different styles of music in a span of just two years, including soul, R&B, ballads, and country-folk.

I first saw this clip when I was about 13, either on VH-1 or a PBS documentary about the history of  rock & roll. I'd never encountered anyone like Janis before. I was only just getting into hard rock and hippie music after being raised on the Beach Boys, Elvis, and Buddy Holly. Suddenly here was this electrifying bad girl, scary in her raw beauty and mesmerizing in her intensity. She was acne-scarred and didn't wear a bra. She was fire and rage and sex and shouting. I loved her instantly.

That footage led me into an obsession with Janis that lasted for a strong ten years. I've since discovered other singers, artists, and performers that connect with me in similar ways, but there will never be another who grabs me by the heart and soul like she did. She was the first. She gave me something to strive for, an outlet for years of pent-up pain and frustration and longing and blues. She defined my attitude and my sense of style, and served as a warning about how living up to your own image can destroy you. (She was quoted as saying, "People, whether they know it or not, like their blues singers miserable," and "Maybe they can enjoy my music more if they think I'm destroying myself.").

Every year on October 4th I watch concert footage and interviews and think about how much Janis meant to me when I was growing up. I identified with her, growing up in a small conformist town where I was considered ugly and unpopular. But she made it out. She made it out, to be free and have adventures and fame, even if it wound up killing her in the end. That took a lot of guts, and I didn't have the guts to start living my own life until I was well into my 20's.

If I hadn't discovered her at just the right time in my life, I don't know if she would have made such an impact. Maybe someone else would have influenced me more. Or no one. But it happened to be Janis, and I'm glad it was.