On a crisp night in February I left my Hoboken bubble to visit it's unpopular sister, Jersey City, for a housewarming party thrown by a friend of mine.
This friend is 50-year-old writer who actually has a tangible, published book available (seems unheard of nowadays) and took a liking to me while I was serving him at a restaurant almost four years ago.
Greeting the party in my gray and orange striped cardigan, gripping my Smirnoff handle I bought on sale for twenty bucks, it was clear I was at the wrong event. Jazz was softly streaming and the lights were dim enough to feel like I was entering a poetry club rather than a one-bedroom apartment in a Jersey ghetto. I pretended to look at the books lining the walls, but that was an act, since I already spent nights examining his bookshelves.
My friend tried playing good host by taking the large handle from my small hands and introducing me to some people, sitting in a circle, "This is Stephanie, she's a poet."
My face reddened and I stuttered something about not writing much poetry anymore, more along the lines of short stories. Everyone shook my hand and said their names but I did not process anything as I was too busy trying to fit in.
A surly man, who my friend introduced as "also a poet," starting questioning me on what I write or how I write or something and really, to stop the questions I just handed him my card. I am quite proud of my business cards, adorned with a black and white picture of an alter-ego of sorts with long, wavy black hair and a star tattoo on her neck.
I am pretty sure the next question was if I was having sex with the 50-year-old. I politely guffawed and dismissed that notion.
Later the glum poet pulled up my blog and Twitter via his smartphone and started quoting me -- to me! -- as I tried desperately to avoid eye contact and walk away. It's one thing to comfortably pseudo-promote yourself but another to hear your words read aloud, by a stranger, who you can't tell if he's drunk, condescending, hitting on you, or genuinely enjoying your stories.
The next day I had a friend request and new follower on Twitter. Turns out, this poet was just as nervous as I was and also felt out of place. We're friends now. He encourages me to write, builds my ego. Maybe, in a strange way he's become my mentor, or at least, showed me what I'd be like if I was a 40-year-old, professor-poet.
So that's how meeting the poet led to "Unemployed Sex" -- my new weekly column on njpoet.com.