Gut Instinct: Otherwise Engaged

Written by Joshua M. Bernstein on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Posts.


I will begin with the big news: I no longer have a girlfriend. Instead, I have a fiancée. And I owe it all to mayonnaise, White Castle and middling Mexican food. Allow me to begin.

Back in late 2005, I was going through a ragged split from an ex-girlfriend. Instead of simply dumping me, she bought a plane ticket to Mexico. Foolishly, I followed her there. I flew home after two weeks. She didn’t. Back in Brooklyn, I fell into a funk. Some broken hearts comfort themselves with ice cream and rom-coms featuring Jennifer Aniston. I relied on Jim Beam, 24-oz. cans of Coors Light and generally being a jerk-face.

This behavior manifested itself in a reprehensible fashion that, five years later, still bastes me in shame. I dated and dumped girls as if they were sacks of potatoes in a wheelbarrow. I stayed out till 5 a.m., mouthing off to bouncers and cab drivers due to two drinks too many. And I devised the Mayo Clinic, a cackle-worthy concept for the Idiotarod.

The extra "o" makes all the difference.

Come winter, the Idiotarod is a doit-yourself race subverting Alaska’s endurance dog contest: attach four humans to a shopping cart (decorated like octopuses, for example), let another mush, then dash through Brooklyn, Queens or Manhattan. Rules are scant (no Spandex, to weed out runners), and sabotage is encouraged: teams attach locks to wheels and snip ropes tethering racers to carts. "Let’s dress like doctors," I told my teammates. "We’ll be the Mayo Clinic— and terrorize people with mayonnaise." Our plan worked to greasy perfection. Fellow racers were so frightened of being smeared with creamy, squishy mayonnaise that they allowed us to run unimpeded. We still lost the race, but we co-won most disgusting cart. Our prize was $12.50 and eternal scorn.

One member of Mayo Clinic was Rebecca Smeyne. I’d met her a few weeks earlier while returning from a Matt and Kim concert at Greenpoint dive Tommy’s Tavern. She had the misfortune of being seated beside me on the train. Emboldened by booze, I struck up a conversation. "I write about bars—what do you do?" I asked in my confrontationally charming manner. "I also write about bars," she replied. Turned out, Rebecca cofounded My Open Bar, a website allowing broke bastards to get sloshed for free. I felt an intense cheapskate kinship.

"Want to get White Castle with me?" I wondered. It was 2 a.m., the only time when it makes sense to eat small hamburgers as soggy as used Kleenex. "Sure," she said. At that, my future—or was that me?—stumbled into place.

Regarding our relationship, Rebecca and I never progressed beyond friendship. We were platonic pals, and one night she invited me to a reading by New York Press alum Jonathan Ames. Afterward, Ames invited attendees to dine at Carroll Gardens’ Mexican restaurant Pacifico. Famished, Rebecca and I tagged along. We sat across from two cute girls, a blonde and a brunette, intensely discussing the Northeast, namely New Hampshire and Maine. To wash the taste of my exgirlfriend from my mouth, I was escaping to Portland that summer. The blonde gave me ace tips. I liked her blue eyes. I kept on my best manners.

After polishing off so-so pork tacos, us ragtag Ames acolytes headed down the block for a pint at the Brooklyn Inn. On the stroll over, conversation turned to the Idiotarod. The girls had dressed like lil’ monkeys. "What was your team?" the blonde asked. "We were the Mayo Clinic," I replied, sensing this conversation would quickly turn south. "We hated you," she said, her eyes as slitted as a stoner’s on 4/20. However, Hellman’s did not doom our relationship before it began. Now on each other’s radar, we bumped into each other at random parties across Brooklyn, ending one night together—but not together—at Williamsburg’s Anna Maria Pizza.

Our first official date was as inauspicious as our meeting: on April Fools’ Day. We met at Prospect Park, me toting Mexico Coke and cheese-andpepper tamales from Rico’s, in Sunset Park. We lay on the grass and opened the tamales’ cornhusks, carefully forking up steamy masa. "So…" she said. "So…" I said. Between bites, we unspooled the details of our separate lives that, five years later on a windy Red Hook pier, we’d decide to combine into a single thread.

Phew! That was emotional! How’d you get engaged? Tell me at jbernstein@nypress.com. Follow me on Twitter @JoshMBernstein.

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