Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Coffee + Stranger #1 (Part II): Coffee with Good Days and Bad Days

Apparently adult snuggle parties are a thing nowadays. Who knew? Not me. These are, I learned, organized parties where consenting groups of adults and strangers get together to lie around and do some non-sexual snuggling, kind of like that big monster pile in Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are (see above around the 1:10 mark). Curious, I googled the shit out of the phrase “snuggle party” and actually found several “how to guides to snuggle partying": you can find examples here and here. Among other things, it’s suggested that these fiestas include drinks sans booze, light snacks, soft, cuddle inducing music (maybe a little Monsters of Folk? I could snuggle all day with those monsters!), snuggle “lifeguards” to reign in potential amorousness, and the understanding that the occasional boner could arise. Furthermore, if you’re having trouble pulling such a party together, it’s suggested you defer to the experts - certified cuddle party facilitators.

I wonder how they’re doing in this economy?

And how did I learn about snuggle partying? From Marianne
1 , the fun, open, and energetic first of hopefully many strangers in this little project of mine. Although she herself had never been to a snuggle party, Marianne mentioned these shindigs as an example of why I might get many responses to my Coffee with a Stranger ad on Craigslist. People seem to be increasingly searching for “real” interactions with others, even strangers, so what’s the harm in a quick, free cup of coffee with some guy from the Internet?

And what can I say about my initial impression of Marianne? She was in her late 30’s, seemed tall to me, and had long, dark hair that was wet from a shower after a run around Lake Merritt. And as I mentioned in Part I of my experience at Café Madrid in downtown Oakland, she was a little late for our meeting. 15 or 20 minutes late to be exact, which gave me plenty of time to weave a fun web of neurotic, self-conscious, and self-doubting thoughts in my busy little brain. Good times!

Marianne, however, turned out to be well worth the wait. How could I not enjoy someone who, after some initial awkwardness and everyday chitchat, broke the ice with the story of the first time her boogers froze up due to horrifyingly cold weather? That’s when I realized Marianne and I could really talk and get down to business. If you can talk boogers 2 with a stranger without it being a reference to your kid or pet, you’re okay in my books.

If I had to describe Marianne in one word, I would use “expressive”. She had these huge, brown eyes that you could just tell didn’t miss a whole lot. She was also always in motion in some shape or form, even before the caffeine in her café con leche had a chance to work its magic. Her hands were always moving and she constantly shifted her body as she sat across from me. This isn’t to say that she squirmed around like some little boy who needs to go to the bathroom, but you could tell she’s someone who likes to be active. She also had the habit of pulling down the sleeves of her sweater and scrunching them into her palm when we talked about more serious things than boogers.

Things got a little more serious, for example, when we talked about “good days” vs. “bad days”. I know all about good and bad days – the difference being those days where I strut around like a man on a mission versus those days where I’m convinced my hair looks weird, my pants feel too short, I’m constantly checking to see if my fly is down, and I’ve definitely managed to dribble coffee down the front of my shirt. Obviously we all have our good and bad days. Marianne, however, talked about those particularly painful days where you pose those difficult “self-worth questions”. Scrunching her sleeves into her palms, she said that sometimes she felt like she wasn’t meeting the expectations placed on women in her age group. She was in her late 30’s, divorced, unemployed, and not preoccupied with burping babies or driving tweens to soccer practice. She felt it was easy, then, to sometimes feel like she didn’t fit into any of those “worthwhile/worthiness boxes” that society, media, and well-meaning friends and family want to place us in. Essentially, if you’re not a mother wearing high-waist mom jeans or a career woman wearing business suits a la Condoleeza Rice, what are you and where do you fit in? And if you’re not in the “mom box” or the “career box” like everyone else around you, who do you hang out with and what is your community? Jokingly, Marianne wished that she could be a part of a more “alternative” community. If, she said, she was a “transgendered polyamorist, maybe there’d be a stronger and more supportive community of like-minded people waiting for her?

This is not to say that Marianne doesn’t have good friends and a nice community in the Bay Area. Far from it, as she spoke of several friends and the fun things that they do together. Interestingly, though, she did mention that she wasn’t going to tell just anyone that she’d met up with me. Even some of her closer friends might think our encounter was a somewhat “odd” thing to do. I hadn’t thought about this. How many people might I meet during this project who might not tell anyone about meeting me or who might be quite selective, including the careful omission of husbands, wives, significant others, siblings, kids, and BFFs? Is there something inherently weird or taboo about agreeing to this particular kind of meeting? Marianne even mentioned that she has friends who are quite comfortable with one-night stands with strangers met at a bar, but who would never agree to a much less intimate cup of coffee with an Internet stranger. I wonder what kind of numbers I’d get if I took the following poll:

What are you more comfortable with?

1) A one-night stand with a stranger picked up at a bar.
2) A cup of coffee with an Internet stranger.
3) Neither. Both are gross/crazy/unappealing/immoral.

Maybe I could get Star Magazine to tackle this subject in their next big poll?

All in all, Marianne was a great test subject for my first
Coffee with a Stranger. She might actually have been perfect, as she was a firm believer that people often “reveal more to strangers than to close friends.” Strangers, after all, never have to see each other again after an encounter. That’s the beauty of being a stranger, despite the loneliness and isolation that may come with it. If you’ve moved around a lot in your life, as Marianne had from California to New York City to the Twin Cities to Scandinavia and back again, maybe you can relate.

Eventually my conversation with Marianne petered out. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Later that night, she would send me a nice email thanking me for the cup of coffee and asking that I keep her posted on my project’s progress. In the meantime, I’m going to try to keep my “bad days” to a minimum and, if all else fails, I guess I could give an Oakland snuggle/cuddle party a shot?

1 Marianne, by the way, isn't her real name. This particular stranger had some concerns about privacy, which I wholeheartedly respect, so she asked that I come up with a pseudonym. Why Marianne? Lately, I've been listening to Beck's cover of Songs of Leonard Cohen with MGMT, Devendra Banhart, and others, so I thought I'd give Marianne a shot.
2 In case you were wondering, Marianne's boogers were frozen while she was living in the Twin City area of Minnesota. I can't say she enjoyed the experience or would like to repeat it any time soon, but at least, I guess, it was memorable?


ellison said...

Can i respond to all your posts? good.
1. dude, my boogers froze in saratoga on many an occasion. i tell that to all spaniards to keep them far away from the place. they think it's arctic if they have to wear a winter coat. i get good, oohs & ahhhs, from the snow and frozen eyelash tales.
2. your survey includes the word "immoral." i havent labeled something immoral in...maybe EVER.
3. this is the 4th time in 2 weeks ive heard and talked about this polyamor phenomenon and with very different people: an israeli anarchist via email, a spanish anarchist (at a club), an argentinian linguist (in a bar with wine post movie). i thought it was an anarchist thing (seeing as my first two encounters seemed to point that way) but argentinian said no and i see you and M know about it and anarcho-syndicalism was not mentioned. interesting. insidious post-modernism is it? (pm being the catch all of modern woes for me, if you havent picked up on the pattern. excuse the use of the word m with no p, i cant help myself)
4. can we add a question to the survey? who thinks snuggle parties are FRIGGEN WEIRD?

Coffee with a Stranger said...

1) Spaniards and Californians might dig each other when it comes to weather. Californians freak out in a major way at even the slightest chance of rain. I've had days where an entire class of adults hasn't shown up for one of my classes - why? Because it's raining.

2) I like to use the word immoral in these kinds of situations: "Damn, you look good! Those shoes with those pants is IMMORAL!"

3) I love talking about polyamorousness. When you come to California (right??), we'll talk more about this.

4) Agreed.

ellison said...

1b. you're totally right. the metro (!!) stops working in places when it's raining. what? is that NORMAL?