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Lately, my social plans have been thankfully restricted to the kinds of establishments patronized predominately by other people just like me. Divey bars with salted snacks and homey restaurants with mix-and-match cutlery, 3/4 filled with other 20 and 30-somethings who share my lack of muscle tone and taste in eyewear, are of average height and natural beauty, possess mid-priced haircuts, limited edition sneakers, and a belief that jukebox music should also have lyrics. Throw in a few oddballs here and there for texture, and it makes for a nice place to spend your time. I like my kind, and I don't feel as though my lack of desire to drink and dine and view and hear outside of my immediate demographic speaks to a lacking sense of adventure; it's just that I value my time on this planet.

So, when I'm thrust into an alien environment I sometimes regress. To be more specific, when I am thrust into an environment that, to me, seems above my station on the social evolutionary chart, I become awkward and helpless. (I needed to be clear about this because a dinner club in Harlem is definitely an alien environment, but I would consider that a lateral social move.) The meat-packing district has become that alien landscape, for me. I always thought this area was kind of happening, but it was never happening like this. I could relax at Florent, and even Pastis. The Hog Pit - no problem, as long as it wasn't too crowded in the back. All those crack whores along 11th Avenue? My people.

But Vento? My God. And what about Pop Burger? The only White Castle-type fast food burger place with a private VIP room in the back. How many more ways are people required to remain painfully aware of their social status?

At night, the meat-packing district has become lousy with products of a superior (or cosmetically-abetted superior) gene pool. Women with buffed skin with golden highlights along their calf muscles. Expensive hand bags. Microscopically small cell phones. Men who, on average, tower over me by three to four inches minimum. Thick wrists with coarse hair and precious metal timepieces, compared to my balsa-wood wrist-twigs encircled by a Keith Haring Swatch and gummy bracelets.

Do these people go to the movies, I wonder. I never see them there, eating from buckets of cumin-foam-drizzled popcorn and drinking 64 ounce cups of electrolyte water. Do they laugh at things other than their own friends' personal humiliations? My initial response to the lovely and wealthy is derision, but I must confess that what I really feel, more than anything, is a deep fascination. I get the same way when I'm at my gym, surrounded by heavily muscled men. I never see them anywhere else, even though it's a neighborhood gym and as such I should be seeing these guys all over the neighborhood. And, in their company, and likewise in the company of the exotic birds of the meat-packing district, I can't help but think: "How can we be the same species?" It sounds silly, I know, but it really is puzzling to me. Here I am, small-boned, stoop-shouldered, kinky-haired, sallow-complexioned, still prone to acne breakouts. How can I even be the same kind of animal as these well-toned, well-poised people with strong hairlines, who are never self-conscious about the location and/or activity of their hands? I don't understand it. As I munched greedily at my Pop Burgers while sitting on the curb in front of Vento, and feeling very much like a Jewish Gollum, I decided, "Maybe God just isn't finished making me yet."

WE FIRST MET ON 06.17.2004

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