Lying in bed at 5 a.m. this morning, trying to psyche myself out of an oncoming cold, it occurred to me: I haven’t written about the one idea, the one problem that has taught me the most about myself and about other people this year.
The problem of honesty, compassion, and how they relate to each other.
I consider myself an honest person, overall, but there’s more to honesty than not lying. There is the realization that, no matter how strongly you feel about something, no matter how utterly you believe something to be true, it is only your opinion, your truth you can ever know.
There is the drive to be right, and to believe in the experiences that have shaped you until this moment. Sometimes in the pursuit of truth, armed with the tool-cum-weapon of honesty, compassion can be discarded, forgotten.
The more I read, the more I realize that it takes no skill at all to present one’s truth to the world, in one’s own terms. The skill lies within the presence of compassion: the realization that whatever you say and whatever you do somehow affects another living being, whether in overt or subtle ways.
Popular opinion dictates that total honesty is better than the alternative. But is the alternative really dishonesty? Or is it rather a different level of honesty, which makes it no less valid, only more compassionate.
I would argue that there are very few situations in life that call for total honesty as it is revered in online journals and diaries. This same honesty can also be referred to as “journalistic integrity” that leaves nothing out, nothing to be left to the imagination of the reader.
But so much is left out.
Every time I write about an instance in my life that was important to my development, it is me who is deciding what importance to deem on each event, and it is my eyes through which I have seen it. The choice of words is mine; the memory, incomplete or no, is mine. You are seeing my life as I want you to see it, as I want to see it, as I want someone, somewhere to see it. Whether I portray myself as a hero or an anti-hero, it is still my own portrayal.
It will, regardless of truth, regardless of honesty, conflict with someone else’s experience. Without fail.
I decide what I write about. If I were to document every thought I perused, every phrase I uttered, in every single day, I would not be living the life you read about.
Instead, I choose. The choice itself tells you a great deal: what I leave out tells you much more about myself than what I tell you. For example, you may notice I don’t say much, if anything, about my sex life, the project I am wrestling with at work, my conversations with friends, my politics, my religious beliefs, my poetry. Does this mean I don’t find meaning in these aspects of my life? Certainly not. What does it mean?
It means you are not privy to these parts of my life, or that you are only privy to them when I say you are. It means many other things: that I am uncomfortable writing about works-in-progress, that the inner workings of my relationship with Chad are not for public consumption, that I refuse to publicly disrespect the people I have known simply because I hold opinions on their lives.
Their lives are, after all, their lives. I can’t claim to always know why I do things; assuming I know why other people do things, simply by virtue of being acquainted with them, is a grossly deluded belief. Judging them according to how I lead my own life is even more deluded.
I can make these assumptions and judgments, however. I can and do because I want to examine my life, to understand why things happen and how I can either encourage or prevent them from happening in the future.
Whether or not I share these assumptions and judgments with you … well, that’s the kicker, isn’t it? Some would say that part of keeping an online journal is leaving nothing relevant out. Yet who decides this relevance? The author, of course. Where compassion makes this murky is how it tweaks what is relevant and what is not, and orders them accordingly.
I have decided many times since the inception of this journal to leave things out.
Does this make me a bad diarist? Perhaps; like many things, it depends on your definitions of “bad” and of “diarist”. But I suspect that you, like me, are unwilling to discount a body of writing as “bad” on the basis of one person’s truth. After all, I much prefer literature to journalism.
Does this make me dishonest? Again, perhaps. I am certainly not without flaws, and the problem of honesty is one that plagues me regularly because I have had such a tumultuous affair with its manifestations. On the one hand, I would like to be able to write “I never lie” but I do. Whether or not you make a distinction between “the little white lie” and “lies of omission” and “fabrications” and “exaggerations”, they’re all in the same category and it is a category I am well-acquainted with in both the liar and lie-ee roles.
On the other hand, I would like to be able to add a disclaimer about what lying really is, and why I have done it, and why I will do it in the future. You know where I’m going with this already. My compassion tempers my honesty, and whether that is a good idea or a bad idea to you in theory, I assure you that in practice it has given me perspective and even wisdom. One such practical application of compassion in regards to honesty is the age-old, “If someone asks for my honest opinion, do I give it to them, regardless of how I think it may affect their feelings and/or our relationship?”
I almost lost one of my dearest friends because I refused to be compassionate toward her. I couldn’t see past my own opinion far enough to want to know hers. I insisted that I knew what was going on, that I knew what was right, and she was obviously confused about what she really wanted.
Instead, I dumped kilobytes of text on her, with the guise of “concern” and “love” when really it was only me spewing my own self-righteous gunk at her and expecting her to say, “You’re right, Halsted. You’re right.” I needed to be right more than I needed to help her. I needed to be heard more than I needed to hear her. And I needed to be honest more than I needed to be compassionate.
It turns out I was wrong, about judgments I passed from firsthand knowledge of her situation, about assumptions I made on secondhand information, and about opinions I held that had actually very little to do with her personally and more to do with my own negative experiences. I placed my truth at a higher importance than hers. She called me on it, too, and although it hurt to hear what I had done to her, she was gentle, she was compassionate … and she was right.
My wish to be both honest and compassionate is a difficult one. There must be some way for both to compromise so they can be equally important, but I haven’t found the fail-safe method yet. Not all of my stories on this subject have happy endings, but most of them do, and I continue to learn. By surrounding myself with people who are willing to understand my hybrid of compassion and honesty, I learn even more about the delicate interplay within, and how each define my life.
And that I would rather lack honesty than lack compassion.
Carmela explained to me, hesitant, fingers pressed against the plastic tablecloth at her kitchen table, that she had a problem. The problem is Thursday.
I never realized how odd the word Thursday sounds; how hard it is to say: the smushing of /th/ and /ur/ then with a side of /z/, flipping to the afterthought “day”.
We practiced, of course, earning a bright, toothy grin from her youngest child whose name I, ironically, can’t pronounce at all.
He gave me Halloween mini-M&Ms, giggled, and disappeared into the living room, leaving Carmela and I to Chapter Two, “Tomas is from Mexico.”
Mostly I listen, in between explaining and defining, to her pronunciation, to the rich Spanish thrill sneaking blind kisses on the consonants. I listen and I try not to get lost in linguistic theory because somewhere right across the table from me there is a person who wants to Learn Something.
I’m not as good at teaching as I thought, although the slow progress we made this week thrilled me. I need help. I need a lesson plan. One mention of the phrase “lesson plan” sends Chad into apoplectic fits, so I’m on my own, armed with the xeroxes of second-language texts, several hundred index cards, and a black marker. Fear me and my office supplies.
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Brisk walk to store. Good. I’ll try it again. This time, I swear I won’t run into anything.
Haven’t the nerve to try the stairs this way yet, so I’ll wait till the trail. Smoothest pavement in the world, nearly slippery under bootsoles. Corduroy whisks, a sound comforting as night, everything so soft this close to midnight. Crunching means I’ve lost the trail: veer a bit left … there we go. But it’d be nice to get so good at this I can cut across the exquisite grass. Hm, when I do this I forget what color the grass is at night. Green? A bit bluish? Just another gray? Doesn’t matter; it sounds green, the green of the cotton boy’s sweater my dad bought for me last year, muted and huddling, clean even when it’s not.
Dammit! damndamndamn I always hit the damn stone thing. There’s no warning! Why isn’t there a divot in the trail, something to remember it by? Next time I’ll count paces to pain. No I won’t. Who am I kidding? I’m too busy making sure I don’t fall into the moat …
Moat’s off. No burbling after 10 p.m., don’t you know, quiet hours and all. No wind-chimes, no birdhouses, no burbling. If I’m not hearing the moat, then I’m about to curve a little more leftwards and – yep. Stop sign. Good thing I caught the post with my hand this time and not my face.
And then I give up, because my miles-away mother whispers in my ear, “Stop look and listen, before you cross the street; use your eyes, use your ears, and then you use your feet.”
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Punctuating my workday: the birds nestled in the honeysuckle at my window, the “uh-oh” of ICQ, scurrrches of Zen’s litterbox, the somewhere-anywhere children who scream in perfect pitch, significant “I’m shutting myself off” beeps from the coffeemaker, far-off ferry horns, neat snicks of keystrokes. Chad’s voice, resonant, smiling, as he paces from study to living room and back. An occasional impertinence from Zen, meowing to be petted, then collapsing on her back just out of hand’s reach.
Tones of simulated maiming and lifelike death waft in from the other study as worktime ends, increasing amounts of “uh-ohs”, chatty status-reports of certain food-dishes, the inevitable “what are we doing for dinner?”, messier keystrokes, cabinets and doors and windows adjusting to evening, muffled yelps of the somewhere-anywhere children, the “Star Trek Voyager” theme, steady cruck-crick of frog news, my own yawns and creaks.
Even the thick blankets sing to my flannel pajamas as I crawl into bed, lightless, and listening.
Today is National Make a Difference Day. I do admit to being a bit put off by National Anything Days simply because of the potential cheesiness factor, but at the same time, I don’t object to wandering in the realm of cheese so much these days. I have things like a webcam and an online journal that automagically qualify me for potential cheesiness.
But as I’m learning, quite rapidly these days, it’s so much more important to like myself than it is to have everyone like me. I don’t want enemies, and now I know that sometimes, it’s just not my decision, so I have to deal with that in such a way that my self-image exists outside of others’ perceptions of me.
Again, like many of the other things I’m learning these days, most everyone I know already has a handle on this concept. I teethed late and I’m doing this late too.
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One of the experiences I’ve been missing for the past several years is the feeling I get after I’ve willingly shared lent some of my time and energy to a cause I believe in. I have often pissed away hours either (a) indulging myself in time-wasting activities, and feeling quite righteous about it (“it’s my day off; I’m going to do what I want to do”) or (b) choosing activities that cannot possibly reap tangible rewards (like attempting to help friends who really don’t want or need my help).
Tony and I were discussing this the other day, and he brought up an excellent point: I am a people-oriented activist, rather than a cause-oriented activist. Which makes it very easy for me to wander into “you are my friend and I will help you whether you want me to or not” territory, I suppose. It also motivated me to volunteer with the local mentoring corps.
Next Wednesday I will have my first mentoring session with a woman who is fluent in English but who would like to hone her conversational and written skills. Once a week, I’ll go to her house and help her with that.
Yesterday I got the call to set up our first meeting, and afterwards I was hopping around, bursting with the news. It didn’t occur to me that I might be coming across as a bit of a self-important sap by announcing to everyone that I was Doing My Part.
I’m perfectly aware of the negative subtext that can be read into anything. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.
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Most of the emails I get from strangers are about setting up webcams or journal-writing. I enjoy answering these messages, because it feels good to impart advice about subjects I’m at least semi-versed in.
How come I get flustered when people ask me for Life Advice? I’ve only had a webcam for the better part of 1999, but I’ve been alive since the ‘70s. Why then should I feel unqualified to answer Questions About Life?
Maybe because the stakes are higher. I’d feel pretty bad if I helped someone set up a webcam and the picture turned out upside-down; I can’t imagine the guilt I’d feel if I accidentally did the same with someone’s relationship.
Then again, there is the Bad Pixie (on my right shoulder, whereas the Good Pixie sits on my left) who sneers, “Ah, but it’s their fault for taking advice from a schmuck like you in the first place!”
Right! I mean. Well. Right. Wait …
At any rate, the satisfaction I get from advising friends in crises is similar to the satisfaction I expect to receive from helping someone refine her language skills. Connecting with people, reaching out and being reached out to, fulfills me and renews my sense of purpose. That’s about as cheesy as it gets. And I like it.
“Just got back from the mountains. I was there a week,” said the middle-aged man sitting across from us on the ferry.
“O yeah?” smiled his friend, a younger, be-newspapered man, dressed in a similar khakis-and-shirt combo that is the Business Casual trend in the Bay Area. “What’d you do up there?”
“Armed nature walks,” the first man laughed. “Some people call it ‘hunting’.”
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There is a name for the creature that hunts all other creatures in Larkspur. It is a growly, scarred thing with matted fur and a crusty slit where its left eye should be. They say it comes out only at night, but I have seen its jagged shape, white like jaundiced corneas, stalking the underbrush.
Its name is Mrs. Pingle, and it is the Persian Cat From Hell.
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I enjoy sitting outside on our patio in the empty autumn nights, every once in a while glancing up at the clear sky at the stars in constellations I am too impatient to learn about. Several nights ago, I heard rustling in the lawn next to the patio of the first-floor apartment, so I leaned on our railing and peered over the edge.
To find myself staring at deer. Not just a lone deer, but a doe, a many-pointed buck, and three fawns. They couldn’t have been more than ten yards from my fingertips as I clutched the railing to keep myself from giggling out loud in delight.
We stood, the six of us, them munching on the low grass, me gaping, all silent, until another rustle echoed throughout our corner of the courtyard. It was slower, even ominous, and the deer froze perfectly as I startled into motion, creeping to the other side of the patio to see what was coming.
That’s when I saw Mrs. Pingle. All twenty pounds of her, poised for the hunt.
The deer disappeared: they were that fast. No trace of them remained except the hollow clops of their hooves on the pavement as I pictured them crossing the street and clambering up the steep, rocky hill. Mrs. Pingle followed at a leisurely canter, her knotted, brambled fur streaking dangerously through the landscaped bushes.
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Between the hours of eight and ten in the morning, Mrs. Pingle stakes out our corner of the courtyard, barely visible unless you know her hiding place in between two particular bluish-leafed bushes that give her an adequate view of the rest of her domain. She sits, and waits, for deer or skunks or raccoons or – god forbid – smaller creatures to pass by. And then she need only stand, as only cats can stand, with the leisurely unfolding and stretching of each miniscule muscle that seems to whisper, “After I’m done with this … you’re next.”
We unarmed creatures back quietly away.
The worst part about having a journal is feeling compelled to write simply because I haven’t in a long time. I set aside today to catch up on a lot of things, including tandem, and now it’s nearly six in the evening with no end to the two entries I’ve already started in sight.
They both have really great titles, but I’m going to have to keep those for later entries, and just blather for a bit …
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Living outside the city and not wanting to commit ourselves to the hell that is parking, Chad and I spend a lot of time on public transit. More time, actually, in the past month and a half than I’ve spent in my entire life, and that includes my eight-year stint in Chicago. I’ve come to understand that not only do I not mind spending a few hours a day commuting: I depend on it.
There is something innately humbling about getting lost in San Francisco. I’ve actually remained panic-attack-free, even through running late, getting lost, and stumbling over the myriad rules and regulations of the different transit lines. This isn’t to say that I’ve avoided being terribly embarrassed about my directional shortcomings, not at all. But it puts my life right in perspective, it does.
A perspective I’ve sorely needed.
Today Chad and I were wandering around the Grape Festival County Fair and I murmured, “What a gorgeous day.” A few moments passed before I realized that I have said that almost every day since we’ve been here. A few more moments passed before I realized that certain other things have happened nearly every day since we moved to the Bay Area.
I’ve laughed. I’ve been in turns deeply thoughtful and deeply silly. I’ve been less upset and frustrated, fewer times. I’ve appreciated the people in my life more. I’ve spent a lot less time online, and made some enormous social leaps in the meatworld.
Enormous. We’re talking bridges over chasms, here.
Work has done wonders for my social life, as ironic as that may seem. All my coworkers are fun, fascinating, intelligent people, and we hang out together quite a bit. In addition to having fun with them, I’m meeting people outside of work, as well, like David and Mark.
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I was nervous and excited to attend a meeting of the SF Gamers, what I perceived to be Birmingham Boardgamers’ Left Coast counterpart. Chad and I mangled our timetable a bit, with the help of our Transit Newbie status, and arrived a few hours late to a coffeehouse in what I can only describe as “not one of San Francisco’s nicer neighborhoods.” I mustered up what was left of my patience and nerve and marched up to a table with four people sitting around it, immersed in a boardgame I didn’t recognize.
“Hi there. You must be part of the gamers,” I smiled cheerily. One man looked up and smiled back, then said, “Halsted!” It took me a second to realize that he must be the David person I’d been planning to go to the They Might Be Giants concert with; he said he might show up to the SF Gamers just to check them out, and possibly see me there.
We – that is, David, Chad and I, as we were studiously ignored by everyone else at the table and at the surrounding tables – exchanged a few pleasantries and then I stumbled off to find the bathroom. The top of my head was really warm, which is my version of an embarrassed flush, so I sat in the bathroom for a minute and pressed my palms on my forehead and skull. Like anyone can tell that my scalp is blushing. I suppose the embarrassment resulted from realizing that I had pinned too many hopes on the SF Gamers being as friendly to new people as the Birmingham Boardgamers is. I took my time, feeling a little sorry for myself (and making sure there were no boogers hanging off my nosering) before I went back out.
Chad and I sat down as close as we could to the other players, about twenty-five in all, which ended up being across the room since there were no free seats really near them. David finished his boardgame and joined us at the table, and the three of us chatted amiably for several minutes before determining that Chad and I had to leave to make the ferry back to Larkspur.
“But you’re welcome to come with us,” Chad offered, smiling at David. Who accepted.
On the way back to Larkspur, we played a boardgame called Spree, which involves moving around a shopping mall, buying things, taking the things back to your car, and doing it all over again, with a healthy dose of violence and screw-your-neighbor tactics thrown in for fun. We had a blast. The fun continued when we tried to order a pizza at 1 in the morning, and determined that, Friday night or no, no one in Larkspur orders out after midnight. If our neighborhood is any indication, no one stays up past midnight, so there’s no real reason to be ordering food, I guess.
David ended up crashing on our living room floor, and the next day Chad enlisted his help moving our garganto-TV before letting him catch the ferry back to the city. We talked – a lot – and I especially liked it when David asked questions, because he always pays attention to the answers. Later that night he wrote, “Isn’t it wonderful to find someone that you just ‘click’ with?” It is wonderful, and I’m learning to appreciate it right when it happens.
This past Wednesday, David and I went to the They Might Be Giants concert and I appreciated it the entire time, especially when we were bouncing around, yelping out all the lyrics to all the songs.
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Mark is a sniper-conversationalist. He invited me to Scoma’s for lunch, which is in Sausalito, one of the cutest towns I’ve ever visited. We sat outside – in Scoma-speak, that’s nearly on the water, since the restaurant itself is built onto an old pier – and when I started talking, I forgot to stop. Mark drew me out, adding his own verbal nods and snippets, and I didn’t substantially shut up and let him lead until we were inside and having a wonderful meal. (Again, saying “the food is wonderful” is a lot like saying “it’s a gorgeous day” in San Francisco: they’re universal constants.) I had to leave early because of a meeting in the city, but not before the bank declined my debit card, TWICE: another series of scalp-blushes for me. It could have been worse; I could have not known about the problems my bank has been having with point-of-sale transactions, and really thought I had Done Something Wrong with my checking account.
At any rate, it wasn’t enough to spoil the afternoon, capped by the satisfaction of finally meeting Mark, who is in person every bit as charming as he is via email and ICQ, and who brought me terrific presents – mocha java and Dr. Weirde’s Weirde Tours: A Guide to Mysterious San Francisco – besides.
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Every once in a while, like tonight, I get a little full with social contact and need some time to spread out and be alone. Being alone is something I’m really good at, but I still need practice from time to time. I’ve been getting much better at liking myself while I’m around other people, but have remained at the same level of liking myself while I’m alone. So tonight, Chad is in the city with friends, and I am here with the napping cat, as another gorgeous day fades into another gorgeous evening. And while I wasn’t even looking, I finished one of my Saturday projects, too.
There are no stupid questions.
Except, apparently, the one I asked today.
It went a little like this: “Hi; we’re new here. Could you please tell us where the ferry terminal is?”
The woman squinted at me over the paper-wrapped bouquets of purple irises I had been admiring moments before. “This isn’t the ferry terminal,” she glared.
“Right, this is the ferry building,” I smiled self-deprecatingly. “We were wondering where the ferry terminal is.”
“There’s a sign,” she drawled, disgusted. “There’s a sign right out front. Why can’t you look at the sign? No one looks at the damned sign. Is this some sort of DISEASE or something?! I mean, my GOD, it’s RIGHT THERE.”
I was shocked past the point of witty rejoinders. My face was burning in embarrassment. All I wanted to do was turn around and walk away from the woman and her absurdly-aimed venomous rant. So I did.
“You’re not going to get to the terminal going THAT WAY!” she yelled after me, and continued to mumble incoherently as I stalked away, the clack of my boots hitting the pavement in my own angry tattoo. From within my confusion and shame, I heard Chad reply dryly somewhere behind me, “Thank you so much; we’ll find it on our own.”
I did look back at the sign the woman was referring to. It was the very same sign I had inspected before getting the bright idea to ask a native for help. There was no pertinent information on that sign; the word “terminal” wasn’t even on it.
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Silent, we walked for three blocks before Chad reached over and set his hand at the back of my neck, which has been a calming gesture between us for years now. “We can just walk down Market until we find a 9 stop,” he offered quietly. I nodded, furious.
We did find a 9 stop, and at it, I proceeded to sputter and growl, recounting the woman’s answer to my (stupid?) question. Chad remarked that she probably got that question a lot, and after the seventieth time it wore on her nerves or something.
Yeah, I agreed. I used to work at a library; people would call and ask if we had BOOKS. And I still get the question, after nearly seven years: complete strangers pointing shyly at my nose-ring and asking, “Did that hurt?” I think I have some experience in stupid questions.
The difference is that when asked a question in earnest, even if I happen to think it is the most stupid question I have ever heard, I answer it.
This has nothing to do with thinking I’m better than anyone else for doing so, or with any sort of misplaced altruism about the dissemination of information. No. It’s because I really do believe that people are innately curious, and at least partially involved in the processing of new information. In other words, human beings ask questions when they need the answers to them.
It would have taken less energy for the woman to ignore me completely, or to point and say, “Go that way.” Go that way. Would that have really been so difficult?
Instead, she used me as a focal point for her frustration and annoyance. She might have been having a terrible day; she might have been asked that question seventy or seven hundred times that week.
Does that still give her “the right” to go off on me?
I would argue no; you might disagree. All I want are informational t-shirts that people can wear, grouping all human beings between There Are No Stupid Questions and There Are Stupid Questions & You’re About to Ask Me One. Just so I know.
The laptop in front of me is new. The nylon jacket tied around my waist is new. The Detroit Tigers baseball cap on the seat beside me is new. The used books shoved in any free space whatsoever in my carry-on are new (to me).
But some things never change.
I am 30,000 feet above the Earth. My gut twists, but it has nothing to do with the gentle burr of the plane, or with the massive quantities of excellent Italian food I’ve been stuffing in my face. It is the same, the only contraction of good-byes said to people I love.
My earth shifts quickly these days, little shudders of difference, of newness. Laughter comes easily and genuinely, and my abdominal muscles thank me for it. Each day I wake up looking forward to whatever life might throw at me.
Of course, that means I have to take the bad with all this good. That means I can’t become spoiled with all this happiness.
On the 23rd of August, my paternal grandfather had a massive coronary, and his heart stopped beating for thirty minutes. As a result, he fell into a deep coma from which he would never fully recover, so my grandmother, uncles, and father made the decision to shut off life support and let Grampa pass on.
He fought eleven hours on his own, and then died, right as I was tossing random clothes into my backpack 2300 miles away and whispering, repeating, “I’m almost there, just hang on.” Just hang on.
I have no idea what I was asking him to hang on for. No; that’s wrong; I do know. For me. For selfish me, I wanted him to hang on so I could have some closure.
Is there such a thing as closure, ever? You can’t erase things that happen to you, or at least I can’t. Every single instance, every single person, has left their imprint on my sometimes-too-malleable surface. People speak of closure as if it were possible to bag up a moment, Ziploc style, and make it all make sense and somehow come together and end just as you want it to, when you want it to.
But my life has never been that way and I don’t think it should start now.
Possibly the worst linguistics professor I ever had the excruciating difficulty of studying with also gave me my favorite platitude. “Language,” she said to an exasperating student, “is messy. LIFE is messy. So you just … deal with it.”
I’m pretty sure she was talking about phonemes, but it applies. Not only does it apply, it’s the life lesson my grandfather’s death is teaching me right now.
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Grampa knew how to laugh. Moreover, he was silly. My grandmother tells the story of how at parties he would be speaking to her and one of his business associates and suddenly turn to her and say, “See, he’s not as ugly as you said he was.” Or there was the first time that Gramma met Grampa’s family, in mid-July, and Grampa built a fire in the fireplace. Or there was the time I walked into the front room of their house to see Grampa crouched on the floor, peering intently underneath the sofa.
“Grampa, what are you doing?” I laughed, knowing that there was of course a completely unreasonable explanation.
“I’m looking for the cat,” he replied plainly.
“Grampa, you don’t have a cat.”
“That must be why I can’t find it.”
(They should have invented a portable rimshot for the man.)
He enjoyed telling his jokes much more than anyone ever did hearing them, and would most often break into chuckles about halfway through, costing his intelligibility greatly. I couldn’t not laugh if he laughed and the only person I know who could is Gramma. But then again, after you’ve heard the same jokes over fifty-seven years, I’m pretty sure the novelty wears off.
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He and I used to sit at the kitchen table and play Solitaire together. An oxymoron, that, but let me explain: we’d each have a deck of cards and we’d play separate games, side by side, sometimes stopping in our own to comment or help the other, or just to talk or laugh. Solitaire remains my favorite card game because it is so imbued with the memories of family, of holidays, and particularly of Grampa.
Last Thanksgiving, Grampa was in the hospital. I went downstairs to the gift shop and bought him a deck of cards and we played Solitaire for a while, together. Visiting hours ended and Grampa pleaded with me and my dad not to leave him alone overnight in the hospital; he was confused, didn’t know where he was, kept calling it a boarding-house. I held, brave face forward, until the cold air of the parking lot outside speared my eyes lengthwise, pain and anger all at once, saltwater bleeding out as my dad’s arm went around my shoulders.
Then, it was obvious that Grampa would not make it to this Thanksgiving. It was the sort of obvious that perches in the corners of every room, glaring at you because you refuse to look it square in the face. When you do get up the nerve to turn your gaze its way, it is painted clowny and bright, so harmless you think you will be able to handle it when that time is up.
And you never do. I never do.
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Dad smiled when he saw me in the airport Thursday morning; we hugged, and he put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed just momentarily before letting go. That out of context is nearly meaningless, but from him right then I knew: I was too late. Right then I was too angry and selfish and tired to cry. It didn’t hit, that slicing sensation again like a flat bar thrust against my throat, until Saturday morning at the memorial service. I was sitting next to Melissa and staring at Uncle Greg’s feet when Gramma’s voice broke, and she said something I don’t even remember because I was utterly shocked that she was crying. In the twenty-six years I’ve been around, my grandmother has never once cried around me. It’s not that I view crying as weakness – quite the opposite – but her vulnerability to me had not existed until that moment.
Common to our family was the wish, morbid as it sounds, that Gramma would outlive Grampa, because quite frankly Grampa wouldn’t have known what to do without her pragmatism and her reliability, and Gramma has always seemed impenetrable by pain or tragedy. She is well-acquainted with them – her favorite part of the paper is the police blotter, which she recounts with photographic detail – but she is immovable.
Her tears yesterday were the first sign I had of her impending loneliness, and of how much she would miss Grampa.
“Fifty-seven years,” Melissa whispered to me at the memorial service. “Can you imagine being with someone that long? I wish that for you and Chad.” And that is when I started to cry.
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The rest of the day was spent rising to our usual joviality, aided greatly by the presence of my cousin Matt’s daughter, Brittany. She’s just twenty-eight months old and already a true, loony Mencotti. My favorite part of Saturday was watching Brittany stare at my dad’s antics in abject horror and then refer to him as “the big boy.” Big boy, indeed! Brittany was getting so much conflicting information that she just kept referring to me as “that girl” and I felt appropriately Marlo Thomas-ish for the occasion. With the secrets of the disposable camera explained to her by an unknown relative Brittany was ON THE LOOSE and I have it on good authority that several pictures of my nostrils and feet made it onto that roll of film.
Mencottis have always known how to enjoy themselves. It’s a genetic thing as far as I care. I started out this life pretty sullen, but I’m working against it because my grandfather had it right: really enjoying yourself is the key to getting through … well, getting through anything. Being able to laugh at yourself, at the messiness of life, at both the absurdly silly and the absurdly heartwrenching, while taking it seriously enough to care about it: Grampa was a master.
I’m not searching for closure anymore; I want the real deal, and I want it visceral and open-ended. No matter how messy life gets, I’m still strong enough to handle it. Let’s just hope I learn the lessons well so I can continue to clean up my own messes.
“Is that her?”
“I don’t know, she has a laptop … short hair …”
“Yeah, but does it look like her?”
“Does it look like her?”
“I don’t really know what she looks like.”
(Pause.) “You don’t.”
“Neither do I.”
“Oh.” (Pause.) “At least parking’s only a dollar an hour.”
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“Yes, we’re having a great time. Bea told me how to say ‘go to the bathroom’ in German.”
“Well, there are several ways to say it …”
“Yes, but she told me the BEST way.”
“Was it [insert polite German phrasing here]?”
“Ah, it was [insert less polite yet still polite German phrasing here]?”
“Okay, what was it?”
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“Should I be talking?”
“I wondered if you wanted me to say something, instead of just being quiet.”
“Um, noooo ? not unless you want to say something.”
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“It’s 4 a.m.”
“I know. Chocolate?”
“Well, are you ready to go?”
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“Are you serious? I’ve quoted you a hundred times.”
“Yes! I say, ‘As my friend Halsted says, “It doesn’t lessen the suck factor.”’”
“Hm, sometimes I am quotable.”
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“Have you written any of these DOWN?”
“Yes, I have fifty-two ideas in my PalmPilot. Want to see?”
(examination of PalmPilot ensues)
“Do you realize that if just one of these fifty-two ideas actually works, you would change society?”
“That would be cool.”
“So write a grant proposal! I’ll help edit it!”
“But what if it doesn’t work?”
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“So am I paying for this?” (gesturing to landmass of chocolate on drugstore counter)
“Do you want to pay for it?”
“Well, if you want me to pay for it, I will.”
(To drugstore cashier) “This is married-code for, ‘I do not really want to pay for it but I feel the need to cover my ass in case you expected me to.’”
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“So have you made a decision about your medication?”
“Yes. I want to taper off the dosage as soon as possible.”
“Yes, ‘okay’. What did you think I was going to say?”
“I don’t know, maybe something along the lines of, ‘Don’t sue me if your head falls off.’”
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“So where in San Francisco will you be living?”
“We don’t know yet.”
“Have you ever been there?”
“So, um, … wow.”
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“A surprise party, yeah! And a cake, too!”
“Really, what kind?”
“A Tennessee Williams cake!”
“Okay, not only was that totally obscure but it was lame too.”
“They got you a glass cake?”
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“Your new haircut reminds me of Charlize Theron in ‘The Devil’s Advocate’.”
“With or without the grotesque Southern accent?”
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“So you’ve really never been to San Francisco before?”
“Wow. You’re brave.”
”… or something.”
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(after 1.5 hours in U.S. Customs) “I am the most-checked person on the planet.”
“Well, after they performed a RANDOM CHECK on me, they wanted to search my pack for explosives. I told them, ‘Please do; if there are any in there, I would like to know too.’”
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“I love my Rubik’s Cube. Thank you for getting it for me.”
“Now can you solve it for me?”
“I bought it – YOU solve it.”
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“I can’t believe you weren’t scared!”
“It wasn’t scary.”
“How can you say that! It was terrifying!”
“It was creepy in parts, not scary.”
“So you’re going to tell me that ‘The Shining’ was scarier than ‘The Blair Witch Project’.”
”‘The Shining’ was just WEIRD. Not even creepy.”
“O, come on. When the kid turns the corner on his tricycle and the twins are standing there. Scary.”
“We have such wildly different interpretations of scary. I don’t think I can live with you anymore.”
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“So when are you going to San Francisco?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“How are you getting there?”
“Flying, I think.”
“And what will you do when you get there?”
“Work, I suppose.”
“Aren’t you nervous?”
“I burned out my last nerve about a month ago. Feels great.”
In grade school, I remember sitting in music class and listening to “Peter and the Wolf.” Fascinated by the idea of different instruments for different characters in the story, I was still confounded by the task of picking out the sounds of each within the whole.
In college, Patrick introduced me to an amazing variety of classical and modern music, and urged me to listen to the individual sounds. I tried so hard, but the more complicated the pieces became, the more frustrated I got; it all seemed to blend so well that I couldn’t focus on any particular instrument.
Older still, my ear for music is no less of a meat-grinder, smushing up all the delicacies into one enjoyable mass. But occasionally there are moments when I can latch onto a slithering viola, a yearning cello, a prancing violin. When these moments occur, it finally dawns on me just how important they are together.
Without further adieu, I present to you my string quartet.
Béatrice, First Violin When Tony and I became friends, I hoped so fiercely that Béa and I would too, by virtue of Tony’s connection with her. “Fiercely” is an apt adverb for Béa: she is fiercely protective, fiercely loving, fiercely honest. She intimidated me with her wisdom, her loyalty, and her absolute avoidance of bullshit. And now these are the traits of her I most admire and emulate.
Béa embodies the passion of children, her English tinged with Tony’s birth in Dublin, her laughter the force of thunderclaps. She is the easiest for me to focus on, because she simply draws focus wherever she goes. Yet no matter how much focus she draws, she gives that same focus back tenfold to the people she loves.
There is a part of Béa I envision standing in front of a violent, overflowing river, gauging how she will cross it. Not if she will cross it, but how. That’s Béa.
Roe, Second Violin Delightful Roe, charming and sweet, more subtle at times than even I fancy myself to be, and still powerful. Her measure begins with a complimentary email and slowly builds into an integral counterpoint to Bea; while Roe and Bea are similarly forthright, Roe is gentle where Bea is hard.
Within the quieter, subtler notes of Roe, there is still inimitable strength. She soothes and listens, but shares the tempo, adding her own words for inspection with an openness and a willingness to be human.
Compassionate without being overbearing, supportive without being hypercritical – Roe has a handle on the balance of emotion both internal and external. She does not ask more from me than I can give.
Rebecca, Viola Almost a year has passed since I met Rebecca, also online, in the alabama.birmingham.general newsgroup. We were both reaching out for someone, anyone, to pass the time with during a few games of Scrabble. From these outstretched arms came the Birmingham Boardgamers, my social “family.”
But there is an aloofness to Rebecca I have been wary of. From the start, I doubted whether or not we could be friends because she didn’t appear to need anyone new in her life. Instead of trusting her with that decision, I made it myself, and kept myself distant from her, too selfish to want to see what she needed.
People affect Rebecca intensely, more than I know even now, but now I have the chance to learn if I listen carefully.
Sharyn, Cello And underneath, alternating between mournful and inspiring, there is Sharyn, giving her advice while never assuming absolute Rightness. My favorite memory of Sharyn is a phone call we shared some months ago; she asked me questions. How did I feel about this, what did I think about that. I never suspected her of having ulterior motives, although if I did I’m sure she would reply that she doesn’t have the time, don’t be ridiculous.
Sharyn claims she is not classy. She is elegant, striking, witty and bright. If this isn’t class, I don’t care to know what is.
I am most in awe of Sharyn, for what she’s been through and for what she accomplishes on a daily basis. As a result of my own awe, it’s hardest for me to talk with Sharyn because I am afraid of disappointing her with my naivete, my lack of a career, my youth. But I haven’t disappointed her yet.
When I don’t hear the individuals within the whole, I still know they are there. While I don’t have the sheet music before me, I still trust they will play true. Upon a sour note, I do not cringe, but am reminded of my own sour notes, and commiserate, knowing that it is not enough to unravel the entire composition. Together, these four combine to amaze and strengthen me; separately, the loss of one would detract from the melody I have come to depend on.
Perhaps I have an ear for music after all.
Liquid360, the café where Birmingham Boardgamers is held, got their liquor license. They’ve also reportedly gone “corporate,” which means to a teenage boy (and sort of to me too) that everyone has to wear the same ugly style of logo-emblazoned polo shirt and … gasp … tight pants.
Mind you, “tight pants” means to this teenage boy “pants with legs that are loosely based around one’s own actual size,” as opposed to what we old people call “skater pants.” Or used to, anyway, until we realized we were old and that was the lamest thing ever to call them and by the way, no one says “lame” anymore either.
Regardless, I love skater pants. I love pants with legs larger than the human being wearing them. I own one pair of tight pants, which in Normal Twentysomething Speak would equal “boot-cut.”
Skater-Pants Boy, who works at Liquid360, is apparently about to be let go, since the Corporate Troll has laid down the law: “You’re not passing this bridge in those pants, young man.”
So Chad and I are staring at the huge glass case by the register, which used to be filled with diabetic-coma-inducing cakes and brownies, and scanning the gratuitous selection of imported beer. Between us, we recognize maybe 1% of the names. I remember “Red Stripe” because I like the idea of Jamaican beer; Chad points at a honey wheat variant, declaring: “O, that’s the beer you drink when you want a loaf of bread.”
I am almost afraid to ask for an iced mocha. But I do anyway. Smiling my best smile at a waitperson I don’t recognize.
Whew, they still have coffee.
The other bit of gossip is that they’re getting rid of the computers. Ah reckon ah never run one o’ them new-fangled internet cafés, myself, but Ah’m purdy darn shore ya gotta have computers in ‘em.
The veggie club sandwich, replete with avocado gunk and sun-dried-tomato mayonnaise, is still devastatingly good. I’m willing to sell out for an excellent veggie club.
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Any political stance, philosophy, or religion that is based around, “you do what you wanna do, I’ll do what I wanna do, and we won’t hurt each other” is usually okay by me. The trappings surrounding such tenets are the turn-offs; I think many different people can be right at the same time. More fool me. At any rate, it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that I have Strong Opinions that I am annoyingly passionate about.
One of these is about alcohol.
I’ve never been a drinker. Reason one: carbonation is, to me, the most bizarre, inhumane punishment that could be inflicted in beverage form. Okay, that rules out beer. Reason two: beverages should be both tasty and … ah, screw that. They should be tasty, period. Okay, that rules out 99% of the drinks I’ve tried.
I will drink – for example, I made a darling idiot of myself for Kandi’s bachelorette party not two months ago - but it requires me making one promise to myself. I promise not to drink so much that I puke, because I hate puking.
Well, two promises to myself. The other is to never to order a Sloe Comfortable Screw, because I’m so childishly enthralled with the name I’d be an alcoholic if it tasted even marginally good. “One more Sloe Comfortable Screw for the lady, ahahahaha.”
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In my mind, there is a very simple formula that goes a little like this: Alcohol + Strangers + Public Places = Loud, Annoying, Potentially Intrusive Strangers in Public Places. I know this because I have been one. Several times. I’m not proud of this, but I’m willing to live up to it because I expect other people to accept that they too can become idiots under the influence. The most bothersome aspect of this formula is not the annoying part; it’s the public places part. I like public places as long as I am not terribly aware that I’m in a public place. In other words, places like nightclubs, bars, concerts, large and unruly parties, and conventions keep me on edge. My proximity alarm goes off too frequently for me to concentrate on anything else.
This proximity alarm does, however, keep me out of potentially dangerous situations. I like to think of it as a car alarm that never quite resets properly, except instead of beeping or whooping, I prickle. Some people describe the sensation of “getting the heebie-jeebies” much the same way: the hair on the back of my neck stands up, I get goosebumps, a chill runs up and down my spine. I wish I could say that this proximity alarm never backfires, that it has never failed me yet, but that’s not true. My butt was recently hailed as the braille Rosetta Stone.
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Nobody’s groped me at Liquid360 yet, which is a major point in its favor, but I still bemoan its loss of small-time innocence. It’s loud now, and busy, and probably making the owner a lot of money, which is what the point is these days. Eventually, it will get too rowdy on Thursday nights for the Boardgamers meetings, and we’ll have to move elsewhere. I’ll miss Skater-Pants Boy, I’ll miss the Counting Crows albums set on infinite repeat, I’ll even miss the flat-screen monitors that go woojie when you poke them. But most of all, I’ll miss the quiet hum of coffee buzzes as I rearrange the letters on my Scrabble rack, looking for a triple-letter-score for my Z. Beer and Scrabble just don’t mix.
“I speak Spain,” she said. “Yes, I speak the whole country. Portugal is a little prickly on the tongue – but it’s the price one pays for speaking an entire country.”
“It’s the mountains,” he said. “Yes,” she said, “all those mountains. And nobles. At least they bathe. Didn’t used to; I had to use the Black Sea as mouthwash.”
– h.m.b & s.m.e © 1999
Here comes the backlash of the backlash. I love my brain.
Rereading some of my old paper-journal entries last night, I discovered several themes. None of them are catchy or cute, but they’re the framework for the worst pattern in my life so far: not believing that other people believe me, and so withdrawing in some sort of elaborate punishment to myself and to aforementioned people.
I also have this strange obligation thing going on, like X number of people are depending on me at any given time, and if I can’t deliver the emotional support they need, I Am A Bad Person.
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Dr. Doctor and I discussed meeting once a week instead of twice; I accepted. More like, leapt at the offer. Going to therapy twice a week makes me feel decrepit, like I need a mental pit-stop twice as much as the average nutcase.
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No movement on the San Francisco front. Of course that is weighing heavily on me these days, because I want to go now more than ever. The excitement about a new job in a new city in a new part of the country crept right up on me, and now it’s infected every single thought I have. Chad and I are tense, waiting. Neither of us is very good at waiting.
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I don’t talk about the serious things anymore, and they line up in the shadows around my pillow and then pounce into my sleep. Even with the Klonopin, I sleep two, maybe three hours in a row and then wake up from disturbing dreams. Most of them are about Zen escaping. I follow her, grab her, and look for a container to transport her in. A basket, a backpack, a pet carrier, my arms, a bowl. Then I bring her to safety. Over and over again.
If I don’t dream about Zen, I dream about Chad: Chad not recognizing me; Chad leaving me for someone else; Chad standing silent while someone hurts me. These scenarios are implausible. I wake up upset anyway. The real Chad rubs my back, whispers, “It’s just a dream,” and I lay there a few minutes until he drifts off again. Then I go downstairs, find Zen and pet her as she purrs, sometimes go outside on the patio to smoke and watch my sickly flowerbeds.
Yes, the flowers are dying in the Alabama swelter, no matter how much I water them or how I reposition them. The moss roses are hanging on admirably, but today the bud I was waiting on bloomed incredibly melon-pink and died, all within the space of five hours.
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I got myself into a bad situation in the trivia chatrooms. Once again, I became the babysitter of a group. Like I’m some paragon of virtue and etiquette. So I left.
I search for Meaningless Discourse, flitting from shallow encounter to random exchange. Most of my friends have stopped asking how I am because they know they won’t get anything real, if anything at all. They are patient.
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It’s so much easier to mean nothing to anyone. Then I’d get away with all sorts of irresponsible shit. Maybe I’d still feel guilty for it, or obligated to rectify my errors, but at least I’d have those few moments of whatever exists in the absence of guilt. Haven’t seen it; wouldn’t know it if it bit me.
And even though this entire entry is projectile spew – thanks for holding my hair back, by the way – the guilt has lessened minutely, because I finally got an entry written and I’m going to post it immediately so I don’t change my mind for the thirtieth time about what it is I really want to tell you about myself.
If anything at all.
Pretty good hermit-crab impression, wasn’t it? I know.
Crawled out, now, and I’ve got that one huge claw waving and snapping around like mad. I’d better grab a pen while I’m still in the mood.
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Light. Bright light. Augh. Heat, too. Humidity. O, my flowers on the patio! The begonias have taken right over, they have. Globular hot-pink locusts. And the marigolds … ever since I moved them up to the penthouse shelf, they’ve gone nuts.
That daisy I was so proud of, though. Kite and I found her, flesh-melon and huge, among the racks of anemic WalMart greenery. She’s quite dead, now, and I know nothing about reviving her.
I still have this bruise on my left thigh from where I tagged myself on the footboard of the bed. My balance isn’t what it used to be, and I like to blame that on the meds although it’s probably just my bad eyesight.
The bruise turned alarmingly green one day; I had never had a green patch of skin before. I felt moldy, couldn’t keep from touching it. It is shaped like Poland, if my knee is Finland, which is a strange yet appropriate navigation marker. Hi, Tony and BÈatrice; you are across the Baltic Sea from my bruise.
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Saturday night, I went to the Summerfest Cabaret production, which was held in the basement of an old building in downtown Birmingham. Green tablecloths, plastic chairs, candles on the tables. The production was called “All Night Strut” and it was a collection of swing and jazz standards, performed (sang and danced) by two men and two women, all incredibly talented, accompanied by a similarly talented four-piece band. Of course, they could have been hippos in leotards accompanied by a tone-deaf xylophonist and still been wonderful.
Have I mentioned that Chad was the technical director and stage manager and pulled everything together beautifully? No? Well. He is a theatre demigod.
Before the show started, I was introduced to lots of people, and the cast in particular. Carl and Lonnie, the tenor and baritone, were very charming. Carl was, however, disturbingly grungy, and I had no idea how he was going to pull this sort of show off.
“The cast consensus is that you’re hot,” Chad announced proudly to me as he sat down where I was skimming my XML book while the audience ate dinner and chatted. “Carl threatened to sing ‘Just a Gigolo’ to you.” I waited for the internal cringe at the possibility of not only being evaluated physically but later on singled out of a crowd of strangers and sung to. No cringe.
Uh, hello? No cringe?
For a moment, I had a flash of waking up in a bathtub filled with ice and reading the note pasted on the tiled wall: “You have approximately three hours to live. Do not attempt to stand up. The phone is by your left hand. Call an ambulance. Your neurotic gland has been removed.”
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For my seventeenth birthday, my mom rented out a hall in the Winnetka Community Center and hired a band and invited all my friends for a semi-formal ball. It was a blast. My favourite part of the evening is captured on videotape: three of my closest friends singing “In the Mood” to me. Soprano, second soprano, and alto. I love that song; I love that version of that song.
Saturday night, I about bounced right out of my chair when they started singing it in four-part harmony and dancing too. We’re talking swing dancing here, folks. It was insanely fun. And Carl was the absolute opposite of grunge onstage. He was … well, he was one cool cat.
Since I don’t know how “Just a Gigolo” starts, I was sadly unprepared for the freaking-and-hiding maneuver I had planned. All I remember is chewing on my lip as soon as I heard Carl intone, “I’m just a gigolo, and everywhere I go …” He has a lovely voice and wasn’t approaching my table, so I felt safe enough to bop along in my chair to the music. The two strangers who sat with me were quite blank, but I think even they did a little head-bob during this song. So fun, enjoying myself so much, relaxed and not cringing in the least.
He’s not singing anymore. Wait. Music’s still going. He’s … o, fuck. He’s walking over here. Well, I’ll show him. I won’t freak out. I’ll just … sit here and laugh stupidly! Yeah! That’ll teach him!
I don’t even remember what Carl said after he sidled up to me, but it was cute and I laughed and other people laughed, and he ended by turning back to where Chad was stationed at the light-board to say, “You can bring her back anytime, Chad.”
After the performance, Carl came up to say hi and hoped he didn’t embarrass me. Normally, that would have been the point in which I would have lied politely; no, no, not at all, it was fine. I didn’t lie this time.
I didn’t have to.
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I want to ride a ferry to work in the morning, across San Francisco Bay. I want to see the water, big water, every day of my life, see the sun on it in the morning and the sun on it in the evening, and I want to be on that ferry, reading, or talking to Chad, or just looking silently at the water after a long workweek.
We’re interviewing for the jobs at Exemplary this July, and if all goes well, we’ll be Californians in August.
Everyone in the known universe has something to say about San Francisco, or California, or start-up companies, or computers, or working, or money, or life, or anything at all. We’re socialized to want to correlate our experiences, to collate them, and then to make big Experience Albums that we can reference so when something weird comes up, we can turn to page 178 and ah! there it is.
I’m a brat. This wonderful thing is happening to me, to us, and I want everyone to be as excited about it as I am. I don’t want to hear another word on the high cost of living or the crime rates or the freakin’ earthquakes. Chad and I have sat through hours of lectures on the topic since we first mentioned it; we even have friends who are avoiding or ignoring us because of it. I know why we’re getting these reactions, I know the company could go belly-up in a year or less, I know how bad life can be, I know I know I know. It’s not heaven; it’s San Francisco. I know.
But dammit, this might be the best thing that’s happened to us yet. That’s what I’m focusing on. I’ve been depressed and disgruntled for long enough; give me some risks, some challenges, some excitement, some success. I’ll take the bad stuff, too, as long as I get what I want. And soon – god, I’m so impatient for it that I’m starting to insult Birmingham, and that’s not how I want to leave. Birmingham has been a good home for us. I just feel like leaving it. Now.
Because you know, you shouldn’t keep a lady waiting when she’s in the mood.
Good friend to bad friend. Present to absent. Involved to disinterested.
I’ve done this backlash before. Last time, I survived with only one friendship intact.
This time, it might be less.
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The big honkin’ Casio DataBank 150 with the address book and calculator and eighteen other functions has disappeared. I took it off one day and haven’t put it back on, have successfully lost it completely. Suspecting it is somewhere downstairs, as I hear its plaintive hour-beep on occasion, near the TV.
Off with digital, on with analog: my delicate little Timex Indiglo bracelet-watch, battered and familiar. Chad bought it for me on Sweetest Day, 1995 … the day I found out that no one else in the multiverse celebrates Sweetest Day except Mister Hallmark and me.
“Aren’t you going to say something … ?” I mumble into the receiver, twisting slowly in my office chair with one foot propped up on the windowsill. The autumn is warm, still, but I hate my ankles so I’m in leggings and not shorts.
“I’m going to say … what?” Chad replies, the chuckle edging his voice, a bit of tension behind there, too. He has no idea, I realize. He really doesn’t. O well, might as well have fun with it.
“It’s Sweetest Day.”
“What the hell is Sweetest Day?”
“The day you get your sweeties presents,” I proclaim, forcing my syllables into a mock-quiver.
I hear Chad lean away from the phone and ask the roomful of guys, “Hey, anyone ever hear of ‘Sweetest Day’?” His answer is a low rumble of snickering and ‘you’re in trouuuubles.’
“It’s okay,” I sigh. “You bought me a watch.”
Pause. “I … did?”
“Yes. You did.”
And he really did, retroactively: about a week later, he sent me a check for the cost of the watch. Every year since, we mark the day with me “forgetting” and Chad “reminding” me of what day it is.
I don’t really think it’s all that silly a holiday, to be honest. Now, Valentine’s Day – there’s a silly holiday. Celebrating the death of a saint who had some funky platonic relationship with a nun. Symbolism: arrows in hearts. I mean, OW.
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Pleas, in email, in voicemail, in person, pleas to please let them in. Talk to me, listen to me, just be around … you aren’t around anymore. I’m around, I insist, just not as immediately. I’m around, but I don’t want to be.
There should be a pause button somewhere, so I can put this on hold and figure it out without anyone missing me, without anyone reading anything into my silence. If I wanted to talk, I would. A middle-point occurred about a week ago; I wanted to talk again. Coincidentally, I was asked, begged to talk by several people that day, and the middle-point sped away, leaving this backlash in its wake.
You want me to say I am okay, and I will say it, because I am. But no, I won’t say it, because I don’t want to say anything right now.
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Escaping into online trivia games is apt. Trivial things to distract me from what I don’t want to face right now. It’s only postponing the inevitable, the eventual confrontations by innumerable friends, telling me how awful I’ve been, how long they’ve missed me, how scared they become when I withdraw from them.
I am angry at myself for avoiding people, angry at them for needing so much when I can’t give anything. And then the flipside of that is their offerings of help, for me to lean on them, open up to them, trust them again. Talk, just talk. You can say anything as long as you talk to me.
But I don’t want to be that person; I can’t be her. Even though the easiest solution seems to be the one I’m taking – avoiding, escaping – it isn’t. The easiest solution would be for me to go on as I did before and continue to put other people before myself, in some idiotic, misplaced martyr-instinct that could only stem from my own inability to deal with any-damn-thing on my own.
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I would stay up three or four extra hours at a time, despite exhaustion, to listen to friends’ myriad difficulties. I had no advice to give, nothing but support, and even then I always felt as if my support was somehow lacking, because no matter how much I would give, it was never enough.
You’ve done this to yourself, I keep repeating. You surround yourself with people, tell them you can always be sweetness and light, convince them somehow that you deserve their trust and confidence, and then … ?
I am sated with people. Desperate for some days off, or just one day off, in which I am not reminded of letting someone down.
You can’t fix people, I keep repeating. You can only love them and support them and hope they fix themselves; that’s all anyone can ever do for you, in return.
And when I am tired of this routine, what then? When I need to be by myself?
Then you have to accept that some will go away.
ï ï ï
For my twenty-third birthday, my mom came to Birmingham. She bought me a small leather pouch on a cord, and two stones to go inside: one for my birthstone, an asymmetrical, polished amethyst, and the other for my golden birthday, a piece of golden spinel, which looks like molten glass with spikes of golden tinsel trapped inside. I wore that pouch for over three years, every day, and it bulged with tiny stones and charms from people adding to my collection. Two weeks ago, I took it off, and I haven’t put it back on.
I can’t decide if these outward changes are healthy or not – no matter how small they might seem, they are monumental for a habit-creature such as myself. There are inward changes to go along with them, and I’m undecided about those, too. I certainly don’t feel good about shutting people out, but it feels markedly better than letting them in without caring about my particular needs.
Do you know what a good friend is? No, I always reply. I don’t even know what a friend is. In fact, I wish I could start all over in order to see step-by-step what makes a friend and what doesn’t. Now that I have these people in my life, I’ve forgotten what keeps them here other than my overwhelming sense of obligation.
It’s true most of that “obligation” crap has to do with my own anger. At least eighty percent of these days I spend angry. There is no way to convince the people in my life that it doesn’t have to do with them; I’m quite sure that no one compartmentalizes their feelings quite as much as I do, when I’m angry. I can store things in the deep freeze better than anyone I know.
But the rest of the world keeps on growing, melting, changing, and there really isn’t a pause button, and at some future date I will claw my way out and defrost and expect everyone else to want me again.
And what if they won’t? I keep repeating.
Then you have to accept that some will go away.
“Ben!” I yelped, grinning, as I hurried up to the man still waggling the notebook paper sign at me. Just waking up from my nap on the plane, my contacts were still doing their best flypaper impression, so I spent most of the walk from the gate to the cab stand outside doing that odd eyeball-rolling-squint thing in an attempt to o, I dunno, see or something.
As it was, I must have blinked because I missed the awkward first-meeting phase altogether. We just … fell in step.
Ben’s handsome in that way that I won’t be able to describe very well but I’ll give it a shot anyway. He’s charming, yes, that’s true, and definitely funny, but his features are just interesting and nicely arranged and they fit him. I also like the fact that I don’t have to break my neck looking up at him, that his voice is calming and Canadian, and that he has swank fashion-sense, including yet not limited to a silver pocketwatch and utterly groovy wire-rimmed glasses.
And he’s got stories. O, the stories. Voices to go along with all his characters, animated expressions and vivid demonstrations, frame by frame. Writers don’t just love stories – they love good stories, and Ben’s got truckloads of them.
But the best part about Ben is his energy. If I could adequately explain the entire “energy” thing, I would; yet another concept I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about yet can’t describe for shit. I react to others’ energy levels quite like I react to temperature.
As a result, being around Ben was both emotionally recharging and exhausting at the same time. And that was just within twenty hours.
ï ï ï
I was terribly pleased that Ben and Chad hit it off so well. Saturday night, the three of us went to Tony Roma’s for dinner and had an excellent time. Ben and Chad are both dynamic conversationalists, so I spent most of the time listening and laughing.
Right up to the part where Ben looked across the table at Chad and offered him a job.
In San Francisco.
I remembered to breathe right about the time Chad leaned forward and said, “So, tell me more about this …”
ï ï ï
Chad is, without a doubt, a marvelous teacher. His charisma draws people’s attention, and his wit drives even the most elusive of points exactly home. Chad is also quite miserable being a teacher right now. I’ve watched him for years exhaust his time, his energy, his self-concept while being a teacher in a world that has arbitrarily turned teachers into baby-sitters instead of mentors. Someday, Chad’s said to me, someday I could be happy teaching. But not right now.
I don’t know if that someday will ever happen. I hope it will. Regardless of society’s denigration of the profession, teaching is still one of the most important.
So because Chad is not one to wallow in self-pity, he’s enrolled in classes at a local college for computer science, hoping to initiate a career change that won’t be such an emotional drain, not to mention a financial one.
And then Ben appeared, and just as suddenly handed us an opportunity as golden as the bridge we’ve never seen.
ï ï ï
Ben left Sunday afternoon, after a less than tasty lunch at The Mill and a half a day’s work at the library. We sat in the cashier’s office and talked; he introduced me to the incomparable Nova Scotian fiddle folk-cum-rock of Ashley MacIsaac, and we talked some more about human nature and my future. It was an eclectic, electric, too-short visit, best summarized in our hasty good-bye hug and then Ben jogging to catch his cab. I watched, and realized I forgot to tell him something. Too late now, dammit.
No; not too late. I laughed at myself, not too late, and yelled it to him right before he disappeared into the car.
Later, Ben would scold me for saying what I did at such an inappropriate moment, one in which he couldn’t properly respond. But I didn’t need a response; I know that bridge exists, now.
All it took was an opening gate.
I’ve always liked the word “self-absorbed”. Perhaps it’s because it reminds me of sponges – absorbing always does – and I like sponges. Kitchen sponges, ocean sponges, that odd loofa thing my mom used in the shower. I like the idea of something that light, soaking up liquid, and then wringing it out again.
Now I use those mesh sponge things, which really don’t absorb anything, just sort of contain it vaguely, like human bladders with cheap beer.
Self-absorption, while most often used in a negative context, is my mode right now, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. You see, whenever possible, I used to soak up other people, because I found myself lacking in interest, or coolness.
And now I’m just full of … myself.
ï ï ï
The trip to Chicago was quiet, mostly, even in a loud city with a normally loud family. I spent a long time during those few days thinking about Uncle Joe, Aunt Louise, and my cousins, but even longer thinking about myself.
The wake was two days long. Well, not literally two days long, but it was held on Thursday and Friday, the 13th and 14th of May, from 3-9 p.m. both days. My mom, her partner T.R., and I were there for most of the time, and I was honestly glad to be there.
Wakes are creepy to me. There’s nothing about the whole wake/funeral combo that isn’t creepy to me, but wakes are creepier than funerals. I’m really glad my family is Italian and not old-fashioned Irish; seeing Uncle Joe in a coffin was creepy enough to worry me how I would react to seeing him in a standing-up coffin.
His hair had all gone white. When Chad and I last visited Chicago, over New Year’s, his hair was black, with just a touch of gray at the temples. Uncle Joe’s hair went white sometime after the chemo started, Mom said.
Uncle Joe was a police captain, and so many cops came to the wake both days, all in uniform and badges and guns, those pale blue shirts I remember seeing so many times hanging, in plastic from the cleaners, in the kitchen closet at Uncle Joe’s house. Uniforms are also creepy to me, in a way, but especially police uniforms; that singular look, on no matter what shape of human, marking a stern difference between who I am and who they are. And who he was.
Mayor Daley wrote a letter to Aunt Louise, expressing sympathy, and remarking on my uncle’s excellent work for the city of Chicago. T.R. was quick to point out that it had been hand-signed by the mayor, and not automagically done by someone else. The letter itself came on official stationery, brought by someone from the mayor’s office, even, and was encased in a navy leather portfolio. I was duly impressed.
I looked at the signature for a while, wishing I could see what Uncle Joe saw. He loved to analyze handwriting, and I wondered what he would say about Mayor Daley’s vivid, back-canted loops.
My mom and I went up to kneel before the coffin – casket, it’s always called, not coffin – and pray. I saw the dark rosary beads tucked around my uncle’s fingers, and remembered Nonno’s wake, and Nonna’s too. If I died tomorrow, would they give me a rosary to hold? Would they know what to do about that? What would they bury me in? All I could think about while looking at my uncle was the process of embalming, the stitching the lips together, how he looked like wax, and how I didn’t touch him because I knew he would be cold.
Aunt Louise didn’t look as awful as I thought she might; she actually held it all together rather well, except for a few, appropriate moments. My cousin Lisa, their oldest child, looked so lost and small. I sat next to her on one of the floral-printed couches and held her hand for a bit, telling her I didn’t know what to tell her, but that I was sorry, and I loved her. She cried some more, held onto my hand. We’ve never been close, and I wish I thought we could be.
Joe and John, Aunt Louise’s two other children, were in dark, sleek suits and solemn expressions the entire time. I did have two warm, strong hugs from Joey; he was always the gentlest one. Johnny has grown more and more like his father, overwhelmingly so, taking these days as sad but unavoidable, and doing his best to make sure everyone who came was greeted and shown the letter from the mayor.
I didn’t know what to say to Aunt Louise. My mom was also at a loss, but afforded more … credibility, it might have been, with my aunt, by virtue of closeness and age. The morning of the funeral, Saturday, we went back to the funeral parlour to say our last goodbyes before the casket was closed. Mom stopped to hug Aunt Louise and then toppled a bit, crying and shaking, and when T.R. and I helped her out she said she felt sick, sick, was going to be sick.
I was nine again.
I was nine and at the kitchen table and my mom was crying about something I couldn’t understand. I feel sick, she kept saying, sick.
ï ï ï
Selfishly, I enjoyed being part of the funeral procession because we had a real live police escort, directed by the commissioner himself. No sirens, just lights, and we drove past Aunt Louise and Uncle Joe’s house on the way to the church. Another creepy tradition, but one that I liked this time because there were neighbours out on the stoops, not waving, but watching, and it reminded me of some ancient, unknown place where whole clans carry their dead to the next life, if even with just the recognition of their eyes.
St. Pascal’s is a gorgeous Catholic church. The apse – where the altar is located – is tiled with gold mosaic in “columns” that meet in the dome’s spandrels and scatter over the ceiling. I couldn’t stop looking at those tiles sparkling in the cold morning sun that day; they were just so true as they were placed, carefully I imagine, but like they had always been there.
Whenever I visit that church, I look at it like I look at the fleshy begonias on our patio, or Zen stretched across a windowsill: there is something in each of these forms that squarely grabs hold of Something That Makes Sense. You can call it aesthetics, or truth, or even god if you please. I haven’t found my word for it yet.
And so, while I should have been worrying about embarrassing my mom by refusing communion, or remembering when to sit, stand, and kneel, and what to say when, and if I was going to have to shake hands in the sign of peace part, or genuflect whenever I exited or entered a pew … I was calm, and somber, and present.
The apostate finally feels at home in church.
ï ï ï
It wasn’t all about loss and grief. My mom, T.R. and I had some severe backlashes after maintaining straight faces for long periods of time, and we all giggled an obscene amount of the time we spent out of family’s way. I also got to visit with my cousin, Little Andy, who really isn’t little anymore but his father’s Big Andy so that’s just how it works out. Little Andy is now nearly six feet tall, and quite stocky and handsome, well-tanned and soft-spoken as ever, with his father’s kind playfulness groomed into a dashing smirk. He and I spent a good amount of time on Friday outside, chatting and smoking in the chill spring wind.
And anyway, I couldn’t be sad for long. Not when I stepped off the plane in Birmingham to see a familiar man I’d never met, grinning and waving a sheet of looseleaf upon which was scribbled: STED.
Walked out of Dr. Doctor with Ashley MacIsaac’s “Sleepy Maggie” beating my headphones (only volume level 5, good god, what happens past level 5) and into the beautiful Alabama sunshine. I took off my clogs to walk on the pavement – eerk, no, let’s rethink that – put my clogs back on as my feet sizzled and aimed for grass. Aaah. Now take the clogs off, moron. Cold grass on summer days. There’s nothing quite like chilled toothbrush bristles on my scorched feet.
I walked as far as I could on the grass, then slipped the clogs back on and hoofed it the rest of the way to my car.
Hot day. Hot car. Bottle of water empty. Need … Vietnamese iced coffee from Lucy’s!
ï ï ï
Lucy’s is really run by Lucy, a darling middle-aged blonde woman with a quick smile and a full laugh. She makes the best Vietnamese iced coffee in the universe. I’m pretty sure it’s not even this good in Vietnam. Shae and Des remember when Lucy’s was just a stand on the street; since then, she’s got her own storefront, with earthy-coloured, overstuffed couches and little two-person tables and a huge counter with a huge blackboard over it to match. On the blackboard are the day’s selections, in addition to the running tabs of regulars: names beside how much they owe.
I always wanted to run up a tab at Lucy’s, but I’d feel guilty so I don’t.
ï ï ï
I wander up to Lucy’s door. There is a young man in khakis, a chambray shirt and sunglasses sitting against the front of the building. He’s got a paper. Bad sign. If you’re not reading a paper in eighty-degree heat inside Lucy’s, there’s something wrong. He watches me approach, but not in a smarmy way. He’s looking for someone.
So I smile. (She must be full of herself. Unshowered, recently head-shrunken, bopping to the cutest Nova Scotian fiddler ever, wearing shorts of all things, and she smiles.)
“Hi, are you Paige?” he asks me expectantly, and his voice is Patrick’s so I am instantly focused on him. Surprising how after several years I can still recognize Patrick’s voice, even if it happens to be in downtown Birmingham and coming out of the mouth of someone who is definitely not Patrick.
“No,” I shake my head and then I’m at the door of Lucy’s, which only contains a small white piece of paper on which is written: CLOSED TODAY 5/21. Damn. Still I clutch the cool metal doorhandle and peer inside.
It occurs to me that I have two options. I can break in and attempt making my own Vietnamese iced coffee, thereby getting me thoroughly frustrated, thirstier, and definitely arrested … or I can talk to Chambray Shirt Guy.
“Are you going on a date?” I grin and look over at him. Folding and unfolding his Post-Herald, he grins back and shakes his head. “Nah, more like a … meeting-date.” At least that’s what I think he said. The Sherlock-Holmes-O-Meter in my head is ticking away. Fair skin, red hair, buzzcut, goatee, small silver earring, expensive sunglasses, Midwestern accent. Guessing Wisconsin or Minnesota.
I tug on the doorhandle. “I would give my right arm for a Vietnamese iced coffee,” I declare, tugging and sighing and peering inside some more.
A couple approaches the door, definitely hospital administration from their badges and expensive clothes and new-money haircuts. “O, it’s closed?” the woman sighs as the man remarks, “She said she might be closed today; probably drank too hard last night.” Lucy drinks?! I am shocked. She seems so … coffee-oriented.
Chambray is still folding and unfolding his paper as the couple walks away. Another woman approaches us, takes one look, sighs, mumbles something about continuing her stroll, and walks on by.
“Ah well,” I give the door one last half-hearted tug and turn to Chambray, smiling at him. He smiles back. “There’s really nowhere else to get coffee in the city anymore, now that Celestial Realm’s gone,” he shrugs. “Well, Mountain Brook. Liquid 360. It’s an internet cafe; it’s really cool,” I blather. He nods but I know he isn’t really listening. Paige, Paige, where are you?
“I guess you’ll have to keep searching,” Chambray looks up at me, and as the sun peeks into his dark glasses, I see his eyes are Patrick’s too, that blue of dawn on Massachusetts snow. “Yeah, I’ll probably just go home and make a pot of coffee and pretend,” I chuckle, flipping my headphones back up. “See you.”
“Bye,” he gives a little wave with the worn flap of his paper, and I wander back to my car.
Paige, where the hell are you? Keeping Chambray waiting like this. Maybe she will show up after I drive home; maybe she won’t ever show up. What’s a meeting-date, anyway?
I drive down University Boulevard and get in the left-turn lane. Chambray is standing now, looking small and lost. He looks up the street, first west, then east. A few cars make it through the light ahead of me, so I move up and idle.
An hour before, I spent the entire session with Dr. Doctor telling him how proud I was of my newfound social assertiveness. (How proud you are of talking to random psychopaths on the street, you mean, the mom in my head says.)
Leaning out of my window, I point and motion, “HEY! Heyyyy!” and Chambray turns and grins at me, gives a little hand-wave this time. “Do you need a ride?” I yell, and he replies, “No, but thanks … I’m going to wait a little while longer.” Without looking, I know the light has changed and it’s my turn to crawl forward. “Okay, bye!” I wave and pull Ashley up to my ears again as an opening appears, just large enough for a very old and slow Toyota Corolla to gun it through.
The whole way home, I think about little lost Chambray, a third-year pathology student, clutching his newspaper, waiting for Paige, who happens to be a brilliant yet chronically late neurosurgeon and the future love of his life.
My favourite memory of Uncle Joe was at my nonno’s wake – nonno is Italian for “grandpa” – when I was six or seven, I can’t remember just now. What I do remember is how sad my mother was, how sad my aunt was, and how my nonna was holding up surprisingly well under the circumstances. But she was always a strong woman.
Uncle Joe took me down the street for dinner. It was a brief respite from the gentle chaos of the wake, and I was hungry, always hungry for spaghetti. My cousin Johnny was there, too, and maybe there were others, but it’s twenty years ago now and my memory stalls.
Between mouthfuls of pasta in marinara sauce, I spilled some on my dress. A small stain, but it contrasted enough with the taupe linen to alert everyone within a 500-foot radius that I Was A Slob. I felt awful. My mom had made the dress, as she made most of my clothing, taking extra care to ensure I always looked as beautiful as she and my dad thought I was.
I felt absolutely despicable when we went back to the wake and Mom saw the stain. She was so upset already, and here I had contributed to this painful day with my own carelessness.
I remember Uncle Joe telling me it was okay, that my mom still loved me and so did everyone else. And then he pointed to his cheek for a big sloppy kiss, grinning, and I obliged. That was always our ritual.
Last New Year’s was no exception. And now he’s gone. Just this March he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and he passed away this evening.
ï ï ï
I wish I could eulogize him properly here, but the news is not even an hour old and I’m just meandering, thinking, sending all my good energy towards my Aunt Louise, my cousins, Uncle Joe’s relatives, and my mom. On the phone just a little bit ago, my mom and I made tentative arrangements for me to fly to Chicago on Thursday morning and fly back either Friday night or Saturday morning before work. I want to be there. I want to be there for my family whenever I can, especially at times like this.
And to say goodbye properly, with a kiss on Uncle Joe’s cheek.
Up until five years ago, I made New Year’s resolutions every year. Since I’ve kept handwritten journals ever since I was seven years old, I have documented evidence of these resolutions, which turned out more like wish-lists, and fantastical ones at that.
And then I stopped. I think it was in part due to the fact that my expectations of myself were so unreasonable, there was no way I could fulfill those goals in the year to come. That made me terribly depressed, and took my self-esteem down more notches each year.
This year, I’ve been working through a lot of crap that’s piled up in my head over the last twenty-six years. After massive, near-lethal doses of introspection, I’ve come to one definite conclusion: I must improve my interaction with others. There is no way I can continue to function if I don’t. People have always affected me deeply, but I’ve reached the point where I’m experiencing almost a total loss of self. An astrologer once told me that Pisceans immerse themselves in other people, sometimes to the extent of emotional martyrdom or extreme dependency. I’m still not sure of what or how much I should believe when it comes to astrology, but this part of the deal is true for me. There are benefits to this: I am an extremely empathetic and compassionate person. And there are drawbacks: I lose myself in other people. Pisces, the fish, swimming ever deeper and faster into the cold black ocean, and then realizing that it’s gotten too cold, too dense. Much too late.
By the end of April, I was stranded at the very bottom of my ocean. It’s happened before. But this time, I saw the faintest shimmer of light from the surface … and this time, I swam for it.
ï ï ï
On April 30th of this year – called Walpurgisnacht or Vappu in some places, Beltaine or May Eve in others, and also just plain two Fridays ago – I made an oddly-shaped bunch of resolutions. Reasonable ones. Logical ones. Good ones.
So, without further adieu, here they are.
ï ï ï
halsted’s walpurgisnacht interactional resolutions (now in oceans near you – not for resale) I will tell you the very moment something upsets me between us, and try to articulate it as best I can, because for all my protestations of inarticulation I think I do a better job than I give myself credit for. I will heap praise upon you when you succeed, when you give me a gift (be it tangible or no), and when you need skritches to feel better. I will not under any circumstances use passive aggression or “the silent treatment” to show my disapproval of something that’s happened between us. I will think enough of my own opinions to share them with you freely. I will take care of you when you need me to, not because I expect you to do the same but because I want to. I do hope that in turn you will take care of me when I need it. I will respect your need to be alone and/or apart from me for (hopefully) short periods, or to not discuss a particular topic at any given time, provided I get the same respect in return. I will make a conscious effort to keep in close contact with you, or if that is not possible, to let you know that I’ll be unable to do so. I will try my hardest not to simply withdraw and leave everyone guessing. I will clarify what communication between us is private-only and what is not, so I am not upset if our communication is shared with other people, with my consent. I will not share things with you if I am uncomfortable sharing them, nor will I expect you to do the same. I will, however, explain why I would be uncomfortable sharing them. I will always be honest with you about how I am feeling and what I am thinking. I will not be afraid that you will go away if you hear something you don’t like. I will apologize to you for my actions and/or words when I have hurt you with them. I will not apologize for being myself.
ï ï ï
The water’s much warmer, much lighter up here. I think I’ll stay.
One of my first compliments on Sunday came from Ben. On Monday, he told me he was flying to Birmingham this May to meet me. Early Tuesday morning, we talked for three hours on the phone. And today, he’s writing my journal entry.
Dear diary,Okay, not really, but I had you going a moment there.
Today, I…wait. What if someone gets ahold of this? What if they use it against me?! Why do I feel a compulsion to write this? Are there aliens in my mind? Agh!
Until tomorrow, Ben
how do you do that? i thought i was something special that we connected so quickly, but no … you’re just immediately close to every tony, ben, and karawynn …okay, to clarify. connecting for me is special, and dependent on each person. you and i connected a hell of a lot faster than tony and i did. it’s been over a month since tony and i started emailing each other regularly. a month and six days, i think.
ben’s different. not as close as you or tony are to me, but perhaps approaching. he’s super-easy to talk to, very dynamic, and we have a shitload of similarities and differences that are either REALLY similar or REALLY different. so it’s just easy to pop off emails and go all over the conversational radar screen with him.
and he just likes to pick up and go places. so within 24 hours he was pricing flights to birmingham. that part of it was all him….
Lightning doesn’t strike me the same place twice. I don’t care what the songs say; I don’t care what anyone says. It never does. These close-and-fast friends are lightning-strikes for me, but each one of them sears through a unique part of me, some of those parts I hadn’t even known existed.
Sometimes I get advance warning, a low rumble of thunder that spreads out and underneath me slowly, like living on a subwoofer. And sometimes it just strikes, and I blink … blink blink … rub my eyes … okay, where the hell did that smoking tree branch come from.
My life has been so far from the mean for so long that I forget Things Don’t Usually Happen This Way. Within two days of meeting Chad online, he asked me to apologize to Greg, whom I was currently dating, because “you’re going to dump him and go out with me.”
I thought Chad was the most arrogant, egotistical, self-serving, undignified jerk I’d ever met.
So I married him.
She must be really needy. She must just befriend anyone who comes within arm’s-reach of her. She must change friends like some people change underwear. I duck the hailstones but I’ve never escaped without a few bruises. And when the next rumble comes, or the next flash behind the greenish sky, I look up to find myself huddled underneath the only tree on a desolate plateau.
Counting: one, one-thousand … two, one-thousand … thr– CRACK!
Here is my secret:
Sometimes people find me. They wait, or tap insistently at the window, or just barge in. And then, they grab hold and refuse to let go, because I’ll try to shake them off with everything I’ve got at first.
Even after Chad and I started living together, I kept shaking like a soggy dog. One instance in particular stands out; after a major argument one night, I dragged an old egg-crate mattress cover and my feather pillow into what is now the laundry room and slammed the door, declaring that tiny space as “my room” and sulking until Chad came to talk to me.
It’s simply a matter of how hard I can push, and how sturdy the branch is, once it falls in my path.
I wander up, hands in pockets, and try to walk around the tree branch, but it shifts parallel to the horizon no matter where I turn, and it’s too slick with rain for me to scramble over. So I kick it.
“Nope, not going anywhere.”
Scowling, I push at it, try to pull its leaves off, strip whole sections of bark from its length.
“Nice try, but no.”
Another clumsy kick.
The branch sighs at me. “No, again.”
My jaw sets. I mumble something about chainsaws, about firewood, about just how much devastation I could cause to this poor, defenseless tree branch.
“You’re going to have to do better than that,” the branch smirks.
“Fuck it!” I growl, plopping down on the marshy grass beside it. “Fine. You will be SORRY.”
The branch smiles at me amiably. “Let me be the judge of that.” I give it one last bump with my back and then lean against it, pretending it would take more effort than this sorry piece of wood is worth to get up again.
Ben doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, although I’ve kicked and pushed and scowled at him a lot in the past four days. He insists I could have done more to terrify him, and perhaps that’s true, although from inside this hail-battered noggin I’ve put up a pretty good fight.
And he also insists I’m not leaning on him; I’m watering him.
The thought hadn’t even occurred to me.
Somewhere near my right ear, a tiny, tinny Elton John is wailing away, “Caaaaaan you feeeeeeel the loooooooove toniiiiiiiight?”
I can feel it, Elton-baby. My emailbox can feel it. My ICQ list can feel it.
With Sunday’s Nine Lives journal entry, Karawynn pointed several hundred people to squixel.net. I’m scared to look at the server logs. I’m sure the good people at DreamHost are wondering if I’m now qualifying for the “adult site hosting” plan with the extra-huge bandwidth. Super-size it, folks.
You know the saying, “trying to catch the deluge in a paper cup”? Crowded House sang it and that’s where I remember it from, but I’m fairly positive it existed before that. (For a long time, I thought it was “catch the deluge in a paper cut ” which, while logistically impossible, still makes me wince.)
I’m catching the deluge in a two-day old bathroom-convenience-sized Dixie cup.
The lack of metajournaling on my part is intentional, because I am ever the diplomat. To praise some is to insult others, and to hoist a standard on the flagpole draws boundaries, allegiances. I’m unwilling to close any doors this way; I’d rather just sneak out the window.
It is obvious I read online journals, and that I have for some time, Karawynn’s included. (Even though I get all the dirt ahead of time.)
Still, I left that damned Dixie cup out and it’s looking frightfully soggy …
I haven’t received this many compliments since the braces were torched off my face, since I got past the initial squick of flapping tiny pieces of plastic onto my eyeballs.
“Man, I always knew you were cute, but I didn’t think you were hot,” guys who knew me before would ooze, and I couldn’t help but feel like a leaf just discovered by a hundred starved slugs. Wait. I went from zero to hot in 3.2 seconds … how’d that happen?
I was no more prepared for the reactions my updated appearance incited in people than I was for this.
Now I am Known. I am more than a name; I am a domain name. HTTP 404 FEMME NOT FOUND no more.
O god. People are reading me.
Exaggeration aside, I really did not expect to be noticed. When Kite and I started writing together, I was excited, aware of a new project, a new area of our friendship, a new section of myself to explore. We wrote for ourselves, for each other, and if other people wanted to read it, well … they were shit outta luck. Sometimes I quoted things to Chad, when I thought he’d smirk or snort or nod thoughtfully. Mostly Kite and I wrote our tandem entries and let them be.
My insecurity lies in my perceived clumsiness in the prose marshlands. I can’t buy boots big enough; the rocks I step on sometimes turn out to be alligators. Instead of wading about, happily swatting at mosquitoes, enjoying the oily damp, I flounder, skirt the edges, or just avoid it completely.
But it’s true, no matter how this sounds: every time I get a “thank you for sharing your emotions” or “you made me laugh hysterically with your boob story,” I am compelled to write more, write deeper. Each earnest compliment daubs another colour to the brilliant sunsets I can only appreciate when I’m hip-deep in tepid water, breathing in wet and heat, the chiruzz-ruzz of dusk-bugs lulling a smile from my face. I can write.
Stepping onto more solid ground, I return to poetry and the fixed forms I’m currently fond of. My (apparently bizarre) habit of keeping a handwritten journal entirely in poetry is no affectation: I really do feel more comfortable writing and thinking in free verse.
And limericks. For example, a recent entry that never made it past the larval stage began like so:
There was a young lady named ‘Sted, Who frequently curled up in bed. Upon getting out, She would shout with a pout, “Good god I’m fed up with my med!”Writing with Kite has always been a challenge for me. In both her poetry and her prose, she’ll smack the shit out of a phrase I’ve been fiddling with for months in my head, and I’ll just have to step back and feel both “good for you!” and “dammit, Iwanted to do that!” at the same time.
And of course, it is nothing less than intimidating having a published fiction writer and terribly well-known online journaler for a close friend.
I do want people to read the journal. I want them to read all of it, and I want them to want more. But I still haven’t figured out why, yet, or figured out how Kite and I can keep on doing things Right so people stick around.
So I’m going with Yoda. He’s telling me about there being no try, only do. He’s also improvising a bit about how I’ve been slacking off in my entries lately, and how I need to do the laundry too.
Once you let the voices into your head, they’re a bitch to get out.
My arm’s aching now. I haven’t exercised properly in months, and although I’m keeping the cup steady, the droplets are soaking through the pulpy, translucent bottom. Every time one hits me in the face my whole head jerks, eyes blinking reflexively, and then I laugh. Head back, watching for the next downpour, and laughing.
on a stretch of beach put to your insecure ear a small shell roars
but it is your ear your air you have listened to bouncing off the whorls
off this beach gathered sold and set upon a shelf still a pretty thing
dusty dusted held against your selfish ear your secrets back to you
Tonight, Chad and I had finished dinner and were sitting in front of the TV, not really watching it, and for whatever reason I mimicked the TV, “undeniable,” and Chad mocked too, “Un–” and then sipped his smoothie. Knowing I was waiting for him to finish, and he was going to do it when I least expected it, to make me laugh.
What he didn’t understand, what I can’t explain to him, is that every second that joke goes on, I was in pain. I wanted him to finish the word. I needed him to finish the word. It’s definitely a compulsive thing and I’m not proud of it, but I begged him to finish the word so we could just move on.
Thinking I was playing into the joke, he refused. I crawled into his lap and tugged on his shoulder, continuing to beg. “Say it, please, say ‘-deniable,’” I whined. “Please say it, you didn’t finish it, please finish it.” He refused, chuckling, shaking his head, sipping his smoothie.
It was funny. To anyone else but me.
In utter frustration, I rapped Chad hard on the top of his head with the flat of my fingers. Not hard enough to hurt, but definitely enough to get his attention, like we make thumb and middle-finger thwacks on Zen’s nose when she is being Very Bad. To get her attention, not to hurt.
But it did hurt him. Not physically, but I saw his hurt in the way he looked at me, and then refused to look at me, and then mumbled, “-deniable,” and turned back to the TV.
I hate that I did that even though I apologized and he said it was okay. His sense of humour, his sense of fun, amazes and thrills me, cheers me, calms me. But he just doesn’t know when to stop playing sometimes. No time seems to be serious-time for him and although I want to play, I also want – need – to be taken seriously.
I don’t believe anyone believes a word I say.
ï ï ï
Dr. Doctor said today, “Maybe it’s not about other people believing you; maybe it’s about you believing other people.”
I don’t believe anyone. I am always waiting for the punchline, always waiting for people to laugh and say, “Wasn’t that funny? And you bought it.”
The Dr. Doctor in my head asks me what happened, when did this start, what crucial, traumatizing event fucked me up forever. I shrug at him, Always been this way, Doc. That must get lonely, he murmurs. Lonely. It echoes in my marrow.
Truth is, I’m happiest alone. Because I’m not shitting me; no one is around to shit me. When I get around other people, that’s when it starts. And I realize that no one really wants the whole Halsted-package, neuroses, insecurities, sensitivities, and all.
Who would really want all that?
Some people insist they do.
And I do not believe them.
ï ï ï
I used to believe I believed in god, that he would want all of me and never turn away from the ugly parts. It’s not important that everyone likes me, just that they believe me. But god wants nothing to do with me unless I play by his rules, unless I prevent myself from thinking women are just as wonderful and loveable as men are, unless I marry whomever I choose to live with, unless I have babies now that I am married, unless I go to a specific building once a week to say hey god, I’m still here, and I still dig you.
I used to think I was going to hell. I’ve certainly been told so, more than a few times. You cannot convince me I am going to hell because I live there. I have everything I need to be happy, and I am unhappy. What is hell if not that?
There is no void waiting to be filled. I am filled. I am full. There’s just the belief that no matter what I ever do, I am not someone who anyone really wants to know.
Lonely, lonely, lonely, Dr. Doctor crows inside my eyeballs now, scratching to get out. Lonely, lonely, inside my gut, roiling my bowels, making me choke on nothing at all.
ï ï ï
I can buy a world map, put it on my wall, and with those tiny red pins I’m so fond of mark off the locations in which I have people who say they love me, and believe me. Birmingham, Alabama. Madison, Wisconsin. Seattle, Washington. Chicago, Illinois. Meadville, Pennsylvania. Marianna, Florida. Atlanta, Georgia. Tornio, Finland. With the white ones I can mark off all the locations in which people live who know who I am and might miss me if I were to disappear. New York, New York. Baltimore, Maryland. San Diego, California. Tucson, Arizona. Vancouver, Canada. Detroit and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Australia. Great Britain. Germany.
And I’ll look at that map, and I’ll repeat to myself over and over again, “Look, stupid, look at all the places in the world your presence has visited. Look at all the people who would hug you and tell you it’s all right if you’d only believe them.”
The pins pulse at me, my heart thump-di-dumps and I realize they’re both in syncopation with Dr. Doctor cackling, lonely, lonely, lonely. One by one the pins pop out of the map and fall and perhaps Zen will eat them, she eats anything inedible, until there are just miniscule holes in a meaningless piece of coloured paper on my wall and somewhere a cat burping plastic and metal.
ï ï ï
So I write this, in two places. One place, my bound journal, I carry around with me every day, although more often than not I don’t open it outside the house since I’m convinced that someone will find something inappropriate about me and fire me, fire Chad, burn crosses on our tiny townhouse lawn. The other place goes out to whomever wanders across it, or to whomever knows so-and-so who knows whosisface who knows me. I turn the cam on and send out pictures every two minutes, faint flaps of a semaphore flag that no one recognizes.
I overheard someone at work talking about webcams the other day: “God, I feel so sorry for them. How lonely for attention those people must be.” Lonely, lonely, zipping and unzipping my spinal column in a cascade of crackles.
ï ï ï
“But can’t you just believe me when I say it?” People are incredulous. No, I can’t, I really can’t. I see the good things about myself; I’m starting to see even more these days. But I still can’t let go of the fear that I’ve learned this language late and some things are just getting lost in the translation; you say “I believe you” and it’s really a conditional tense that I haven’t conjugated properly, “I only believe you on every other Tuesday between 9 and 10 a.m.”
Lonely, lonely, lonely. That word always means the same thing.
There are some moments we never do forget. All of them are remarkable in some way: some magnificent, some devastating, some mind-bending, life-altering, worldview-skewing. Everyone has profound moments that are remembered and recounted; some of them turn into family stories or journal entries, daydreams or nightmares. I take great consolation in the fact that everyone has these moments; I feel more connected to other people because of them, and I even feel, sometimes, that I fit in.
And then there are moments that remind me I really am a total freak.
ï ï ï
Tuesday was a luxurious spring day in Birmingham, a true Southern Belle of a day with just the faintest edge of her glistening crinoline showing as she descended one more stair into the heat of the parlour. Just enough, the warmth, the breeze, the green, to pique the interest of the buds waiting less than patiently to bloom.
It was a day for The Shirt.
Anyone who’s either (a) bought me clothes, (b) seen me more than once in person, or © watched me on the ‘stedcam knows that my wardrobe consists almost entirely of wide-legged pants and plainer-than-plain shirts in subdued, solid colours. Black, primarily, followed by white, beige, or various shades of gray. I can count on one hand the number of times I have worn light colours or patterns in any given year.
But The Shirt, see. The Shirt is the exception.
It is a polo-style, short-sleeved, sandwashed silk shirt in the most exquisite pale green I’ve seen outside of nature.
There is a window of opportunity for The Shirt by itself, unlayered under my traditional black blazer. I can wear it for maybe three weeks out of the year, before summer hits, and the green is so pale that the half-moons of perspiration appear distastefully under my arms.
Some people look forward to the first day of spring; I look forward to the first day of The Shirt.
ï ï ï
I run late for work no matter when I set my alarm, no matter when I get out of bed. I am easily distracted normally, and even moreso these days with the help of brain-frizzling Zoloft. And then I panic at some point, because I’m running late, see. I literally jump into my clothes and toss the barest amount of makeup in the general direction of my face while running a 99-cent comb through my poker-straight, short hair. If someone can be vain while still being low-maintenance, I’m that person.
It will be no surprise to some people reading this that I have two types of bras: frilly and not-so-frilly. The not-so-frilly ones are saved for shirts under which the frills are apparent because that is, according to my mother and foremost fashion advisor, a major fashion faux-pas. And in the South, well … you aren’t even supposed to know what frilly underthings are .
Anyway, Tuesday morning is no exception to my frenzied preparations. I am running late and some vaguely frilly underthings go on then The Shirt and a pair of wide-legged pants and my clunky sandals and I’m out the door, closing it on Zen’s meeyowling protestations that her litterbox is nearing radioactive levels.
I do not notice the bra, of course, until I am at work and, while reaching up to fiddle with one of my many earrings, I accidentally brush my wrist against myself.
Against my breast, to be particular.
Hey. That felt cool.
No, that message was not sent from my breast, safely protected from any intruding stimuli, but rather from my wrist, feeling the lace texture underneath the thin layer of silk. Zoloft has this remarkable effect – aside from making me as manic as a chihuahua on speed – of fascinating me with texture, any texture. I can be mesmerized by the broken spines of paperback books, the foamy-plastic buttons of my phone, the delicate fringe of light hair on my forearms. Corduroy keeps me happily entertained for hours.
So I brush my wrist against my breast again, feeling the bumpdiddy-bump of each ridge of lace contrasted against the rubbery silk. And then my fingertips. And then my whole hand. Cool. This is COOL.
Until I look up and see a reasonably young and definitely entranced college student watching me fondle myself in the middle of a medical library.
Frozen in full-copping mode, I hear myself saying automatically, “May I help you?”
Without missing a beat (nor a glimpse), he replies, “It looks like you’re helping yourself .”
Pause. Stare. Pause.
Both of us burst into laughter.
I do try to explain what was Really Going On but between his guffaws and my own keening cackle, it is lost to both of us. I give him his change and his copycard. Still giggling, flushed with embarrassment, I mumble, “Thank you.”
Fanning himself ever so delicately with his copycard, he replies, “No. Thank you ,” and wanders off, murmuring something about cold showers, leaving me to bury my magenta face in my hands, laughing.
ï ï ï
That night, I hung up The Shirt, sighing and grinning at its auspicious first wearing. And carefully added the plainest bra I own to the neck of the hanger.
Kite says, “evenin” Halsted says, “evenin” Kite tips her hat Kite says, “i am wiped out” Halsted says, “dad just asked me what we’re going to do for fun.” Kite says, “and you snickered disturbingly” Halsted says, “and i said ‘we’re supposed to have fun??’” Halsted er. Halsted said five points, botanical gardens, boardgamers, thai restaurant, etc. Kite says, “you said body piercing and maying!” Halsted says, “like i’m telling dad about those.” Halsted says, “my dad can barely accept the fact that i’m married. i think me having a girlfriend too would stop his heart.” Kite grins Kite says, “So how are things tonight?” Halsted says, “tonight they’re okay. karawynn called me then mac called me.” Kite nods Halsted says, “i didn’t really want to talk on the phone at all but it was okay.” Kite says, “maybe in another year or two i’ll be one of these pesky calling people” Halsted says, “work up to it.” Halsted says, “just dial a few numbers peskily to start” Kite says, “Ok” Kite says, “can I do it without the phone plugged in, at first?” Halsted says, “yes.” Kite practices Halsted says, “do you ever wonder why we don’t talk on the phone?” Kite says, “Yeah, except I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m a weenie” Halsted lol. Halsted says, “we’ll talk in person, right?” Kite umm Kite says, “You mentioned gardens and piercing and stuff, not TALKING” Kite says, “Do you ever wonder why we don’t talk on the phone?” Halsted says, “damn.” Halsted says, “yes, i wonder about it all the time.” Kite appears to be idling in hopes of receiving another line Halsted lol. Halsted says, “you’re driving me craaaaaazy” Halsted says, “you get to say flippant stuff and i have to do the serious stuff.” Kite says, “is that good or bad?!”
[ snip. imagine some steamy scene here if you like. fade to black. moments later … ]
Kite says, “I am also starving and tired and emotionally exhausted.” Kite says, “and i dont know what the hell I will write for tandem toniight. whose idea was this daily stuff?! oh.” Kite says, “I like what you have been doing with different kinds of entries.” Halsted says, “sorry – said goodnight to chad.” Halsted says, “you do like it?” Kite says, “yes, I do” Halsted says, “i’m so glad you like it.” Kite says, “it’s like a journal, where you put all these different kinds of things in. It’s neat.” Halsted sparkles. Halsted says, “it’s really important to me that you like it.” Halsted says, “i don’t know how to say that in a nice way.” Kite says, “well, you should do what you do even if I do’nt like it..” Kite says, “but I’m glad that my liking it makes you happy :)” Halsted says, “it’s very important though.” Halsted says, “your opinion matters to me.” Halsted says, “not just about writing, either.” Halsted says, “although writing too.” Halsted says, “about all sorts of things. about just about everything.” Halsted says, “okay, that’s mushy enough for me” Halsted says, “remind me to call the piercing place tomorrow and make sure they do daiths.” Halsted says, “how do you pronounce ‘daith’ anyway?” Kite says, “call the piercing place tomorrow and make sure they do daiths” Halsted says, “i thought it was like ‘faith’ but on the body mod site i saw it says ‘doth’” Kite says, “well, I read somewhere.. yeah, that.” Kite says, “but I only hear people say it like faith.” Halsted says, “weird.” Kite says, “because nobody reads body mod sites for pronunciation guides.” Halsted says, “i’d hate to call them and say ‘hey do you do doths?’ and them say ‘sure, we do goths, preps, geeks, all kinds of people, y’all come on down’” Kite says, “I would call them and say do you do, er, daiths or doths or something?” Halsted says, “‘hey, do you do the piercing that’s like inside but not really but kinda so if you take your ear and go around the upper par–’ ‘yes, we do daiths.’” Halsted says, “what if they say, ‘what’s that?’” Kite says, “If they do piercings they should do them. my left one was the first one the chick had ever done.” Kite says, “then we run screaming” Halsted says, “and then i say, ‘uh, you don’t know? you goddamn freak’” Kite says, “I think mine is 20g” Halsted says, “and then they say, ‘hey you fucking bitch, i’m gonna kick your ass’” Halsted says, “and then i say, ‘o yeah, just try it you jerk fuck’” Halsted says, “and then they say, ‘i’ve got caller id, i know where you live’” Halsted says, “and then i say, ‘yeah well at least i know what a daith is’” Kite laughs Halsted says, “then i think it’d be a stalemate.” Halsted says, “my life is a hypothetical situation.” Halsted says, “hypothetical needles” Halsted says, “ha ha.” Halsted says, “what if we see them lick the needles to sterilize them?” Kite says, “then we run screaming.” Halsted says, “okay cool.” Halsted says, “there are lots of things that could happen that would require us to run screaming” Kite says, “yeah” Halsted says, “but it’s good that we’re in accordance” Halsted says, “so we both run screaming.” Halsted says, “because it’d be terribly embarrassing for one of us to run screaming and the other just to sit there.” Kite says, “we need a ‘let’s run screaming’ hand gesture, so we can make sure we’re in sync.” Halsted says, “i think it should be a quick golf-clap followed by an armpit-fart sound.” Kite says, “I can’t do armpit farts” Halsted says, “neither can i. damn.” Halsted says, “okay, well, a quick golf-clap followed by a loon call.” Kite says, “I can’t do loon calls” Kite says, “we could call like a giraffe” Halsted says, “fuck! i can’t either.” Kite says, “three times” Halsted says, “giraffes call?” Kite says, “it’s a silent call” Halsted says, “o. i could learn those.” Halsted says, “okay, giraffe call three times, then run screaming.” Kite says, “we could do guinea pig noises. boik boik boik” Halsted says, “i think we should use some of our online conversations as entries. they’re funny.” Kite says, “Ok” Halsted says, “wow, really? i thought for sure you’d say no.” Kite says, “But whose?” Halsted says, “whose what?” Kite says, “well, they’d be tandem entries. hey, we haven’t done any tandem entries.” Halsted says, “they’d be tandem entries.” Kite says, “I was wondering whose entry it would be.” Kite says, “but I forgot it was, like, tadem” Kite +n Kite silly me Halsted says, “let’s do a tandem entry tonight, and have it be our conversation.” Kite says, “Ok, so let’s have a really funny conversation” Halsted says, “okay, go.”
Halsted says, “this is pretty cool. i think folks are going to dig reading this.” Halsted stares at the floor. Kite says, “Well, they don’t see the pauses when reading logs, unless we take pains to point them out.” Halsted says, “o, okay.” Halsted says, “no more spoofing pauses, then. sorry sorry.” Kite says, “Just stop spoofing pauses, and we’ll look witty as hell” Halsted says, “fuck yeah. witty. we. are. witty.” Kite says, “I feel like of like throwing up” Kite says, “kind of like. dammit, I can’t type with an audience.” Halsted says, “throwing up isn’t funny.” Kite says, “I’m all flustered.” Halsted says, “we don’t have an audience yet.” Kite says, “I’ve spent a lot of time flustered, lately.” Halsted says, “we’re just us for now. audience later.” Kite says, “it’s not entirely unpleasant.” Halsted says, “flustered is a good adjective to be. i’m proud of you.” Kite says, “but it’s girly. maybe that’s where that part of the dream came from.” Halsted says, “girly is not bad, contrary to your belief.” Kite says, “girly is bad in the context of me flouncing around and wearing dresses” Halsted says, “for example, i am girly, and i am not bad.” Kite says, “it’s like bad drag” Halsted says, “well, i don’t flounce or wear dresses. well, i wore a dress to get married.” Kite says, “ok. but flustered is ok.” Halsted says, “you’re female, though. i mean, don’t you self-identify female? or do you identify either?” Halsted says, “to be in drag, you’d have to … i don’t know what you have to do. i’m new to all this gender stuff.” Kite says, “I self-identify female, as an afterthought part of the time.” Halsted says, “most of the time i just think of myself as a person, and then remember later i’m female, like when i get my period, or someone looks at my boobs.” Kite says, “well, yeah” Halsted says, “i don’t recognize my physical being very well” Halsted says, “‘hey, shit, that’s my physical being. don’t wave. pretend to look busy.’” Kite says, “I’ll point out who’s you, in some pictures” Halsted says, “okay good.” Kite says, “that’s you on the stedcam” Kite says, “See? wave.” Halsted says, “she didn’t wave back.” Kite says, “it wasn’t taking a picture then..” Halsted says, “o. man, her site is lame.” Kite says, “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” Halsted says, “this is nice. i like hating myself in the third person.” Halsted says, “she doesn’t have any graphics except that stupid icq indicator. what the hell.” Halsted grins cheerily. Halsted says, “the moon’s caught in the tree, someone let it out.” Halsted says, “o maybe that’s a streetlight. ha ha. woo.” Kite says, “Sorry, pizza just got here” Halsted says, “i don’t know about you, but i’m thinking this is just witty as all get-out.” Kite says, “moon won’t be full till the 30th” Halsted says, “aha, when you get here.” Halsted says, “did you plan that?” Kite says, “So it’d be nice if you’d just give, if you’re a werewolf and you’ve been denying it.” Halsted says, “no one’s asserted anything for me to deny.” Kite says, “failing to volunteer it is just like denying it.” Halsted says, “o, we’re doing the lies vs. lies of omission argument.” Kite says, “Well, I would HOPE you’d TELL me before we got this close!” Halsted says, “so, let’s just chat here: what if i were (correct use of subjunctive?) a werewolf?” Kite says, “correct” Halsted whews. Kite says, “well, if you were a werewolf, then we could both run around causing carnage on the 30th.” Halsted says, “so you’re saying you are a werewolf.” Kite says, “I said no such thing.” Halsted says, “i always pictured you as a werebat.” Halsted says, “but i guess that would be hard.” Halsted says, “but we agree bats are good guys, so.” Kite says, “Aren’t those vampires?” Halsted says, “ha ha, love the injokes.” Halsted says, “vampires, shmampires.” Halsted says, “vampires don’t exist. werebats do.” Kite says, “oh right. vampires don’t exist.” Kite says, “jinx” Halsted says, “and bats eat bugs.” Halsted says, “buy me a milk!” Halsted says, “i’d be a wereswan. they’re not very scary.” Halsted says, “or a wereplatypus.” Kite says, “Shae never did send me my prize. What a jerk.” Kite says, “I mean, er” Halsted says, “i never figured out the code and i feel so lame for it.” Halsted says, “everyone else is smart enough to figure it out but me.” Kite says, “I didn’t figure out what the code was till other people did.” Kite says, “I just guessed by substitution, because I guessed that the thing that looked like an email address was his email address.” Halsted says, “that’s not true; i thought you were the first to guess it.” Kite says, “I didn’t figure out it was dvorak keyboard though” Halsted says, “shae loves dvorak keyboards.” Halsted says, “which i still don’t really understand.” Halsted says, “the keyboard, not the love.” Halsted says, “i understand love.” Halsted says, “no i don’t.” Kite says, “Do you understnad love for keyboards?” Halsted says, “i understand affection for keyboards.” Halsted says, “i have great affection for my keyboard.” Kite says, “I love my keyboard, now that it’s back from the brink of a soupy death” Halsted says, “i spilled coffee in this one.” Kite says, “Did it fuck it up that bad?” Halsted says, “i have greater affection for my new keyboard that does not work gdmt.” Halsted says, “for a while, the cursor keys wouldn’t work and it got stuck on the letter ‘l’ and that just made typing hallllllllllllsted. very difficult.” Halsted says, “actually, no; it made typing halllllllllllllsted. very easy.” Kite says, “I pried off all the keys and cleaned the board last night, but goop got inside” Halsted says, “it made typing halsted. very difficult.” Halsted says, “i never pried off all the keys.” Halsted says, “i was scared.” Halsted says, “to see its underbelly.” Kite says, “it was like a major hairball in there.” Halsted says, “gross.” Kite says, “but ti’s clean now” Halsted says, “i don’t want to ever disassemble a keyboard.” Kite says, “except for these pizza crumbs” Halsted says, “what kind of pizza?” Kite says, “well, there’s a difference between prying off the keys and opening up its guts” Kite says, “it’s not really pizza, it’s pokey stix” Halsted says, “prying off its keys is like – wait. you’re eating something called POKEY STIX???” Halsted says, “what the fuck is a pokey stix?” Kite says, “From Gumby’s.” Halsted says, “you are shitting me.” Kite says, “I am not.” Halsted says, “there is no restaurant called gumby’s.” Kite says, “ www.gumbyspizza.com , babe” Halsted says, “o that’s just WRONG.” Kite says, “pokey stix are breadsticks, sort of.” Halsted says, “with sauce on them?” Kite says, “no sauce, that’s why they aren’t pizza.” Halsted says, “man, that’s sick. they turned pokey into breadsticks.” Halsted says, “and gumby into pizza.” Halsted says, “and you’re sponsoring this.” Kite says, “they have deals called things like the Pokey Pleaser” Halsted says, “no WAY!” Halsted says, “that’s just downright naughty.” Halsted says, “‘the pokey pleaser’ sounds like a dildo.” Kite says, “now legal in alabama” Halsted says, “because it’s food-based.” Halsted says, “and god made food, god is good, la la la.” Kite says, “god made the elements of plastic, too” Halsted says, “no he did not.” Kite says, “well, as much as he made anything” Halsted says, “what are the elements of plastic?” Halsted says, “i mean, he had to have made some of them.” Kite says, “I don’t know. Plastic and stuff.” Halsted says, “why the fuck am i arguing the christian viewpoint?” Halsted says, “why do you do this to me?” Halsted stomps about. Kite says, “If god created the earth, he created all the elements on it.” Halsted says, “plastic isn’t an element though.” Kite says, “So whatever we make out of anything, we’re making out of stuff God made, so what is the probleml” Halsted says, “the problem is, we are creating new things out of what god made. they’re not god’s creations, they’re ours.” Kite says, “So is a peeled carrot” Halsted says, “unless you argue that god made us, therefore, god has a patent on everything we make.” Halsted says, “fucking copyright laws.” Halsted er. Halsted says, “as far as i’m concerned, god put a bunch of dirt and water and amoebas and sunlight and stuff and mish-mashed them all together, then went on vacation for the next hundred millenia or so.” Kite says, “so god ultimately created everything, because it all descended from stuff he put there.” Halsted says, “‘let them sort it out.’” Halsted says, “well, depends on what you’re calling god.” Halsted says, “the christian god no.” Kite says, “since I am agnostic, this is all quite academic to me.” Halsted says, “the concept of god, the theory of a superbeing that exists outside and throughout our consciousness, yes.” Halsted says, “maybe there’s no god.” Kite says, “except I fail to believe in that.” Halsted says, “who knows.” Halsted says, “i don’t.” Kite says, “superbeing that is.” Halsted says, “not anymore.” Halsted says, “superbeing sounds like a cool superhero.” Halsted has a temporary agnostic hat on. Halsted puts on a nametag: HELLO! MY NAME IS halsted. Halsted says, “okay where’s the conference.” Halsted says, “i want to drink beer and talk about not knowing if god exists or not.” Halsted says, “i guess that’s like philosophy huh.” Kite says, “I don’t want to drink beer” Halsted says, “i want to be a philosopher.” Kite says, “You want to be morgan?” Halsted says, “i don’t want to drink beer either. well, flat beer.” Halsted says, “no, i don’t want to be morgan, i want to be a philosopher.” Kite says, “flat beer, that’s much more appealing” Halsted says, “i can’t drink carbonation.” Kite says, “how can anyone drink alcohol? it all tastes like turpentine.” Kite says, “why not?” Halsted says, “plumwine doesn’t.” Halsted says, “because the carbonation goes up my nose.” Halsted says, “i do not drink anything with carbonation in it” Kite says, “it does. anything containing alcohol tastes like turpentine.” Halsted says, “no it doesn’t.” Kite says, “I do not drink anything with alcohol in it.” Halsted says, “kahlua doesn’t. plumwine doesn’t.” Halsted says, “well, i don’t eat anything with stuff i don’t like in it, so that’s that.” Kite says, “it all does. everything I have ever tried has any individual flavor or difference overwhelmed by the TURPENTINE effect.” Halsted says, “maybe that’s psychosomatic.” Kite says, “I think wine coolers taste like pure turpentine.” Halsted says, “maybe you’re just having ta– what’s that word.” Halsted says, “not tactile.” Halsted says, “for taste.” Kite says, “it isn’t psychosomatic. I’ve tried things with an earnest heart.” Halsted says, “an earnest heart.” Halsted says, “i didn’t know you had one of those.” Halsted er. Halsted ducks! Kite says, “I keep it for such occasions.” Halsted says, “i have ernie’s heart.” Halsted says, “for such occasions” Kite says, “I mean, I know they say it’s all an acquired taste, but I really can’t stand to swallow it, period.” Halsted says, “well that’s cool with me. i’m not going to make you beer bong or anything.” Halsted says, “i hardly ever drink alcohol anymore anyway.” Kite quotes herself. Halsted laughs. Halsted says, “that reminds me of the eating at the keyboard log.” Kite says, “one of the Clydes is stuck on top of the box because it’s tilted a bit and he can’t skitter off of it.” Halsted says, “i want a clyde.” Kite says, “oh yeah, I always wanted to do something with that log, put it on my web page or something.” Halsted says, “you should have named them clyde, clyde, and formaldehyde. that would have been fun to say.” Halsted sings, o/~ clyde, clyde, and formaldehyde ~o Kite says, “I could bring you a Clyde. The one that bites.” Halsted says, “o gee thanks. don’t do me any favours there.” Halsted says, “‘here, have the defective one.’” Kite says, “He could learn” Halsted says, “he could be eaten by zen in a heartbeat.” Kite says, “or that.” Halsted says, “actually, she’d probably nibble his limbs off first.” Halsted says, “that’s what she does with bugs.” Kite says, “the neighbor’s cats found Nita in teh basement” Halsted says, “o dear.” Kite says, “the neighbor rescued her, took her somewhere to find out if she was a hamster, gave her food and water and kept her in a bucket all day after posting notes on all the doors of the house.” Kite says, “I think the neighbor is nice.” Halsted says, “whose neighbour is this?” Kite says, “Mine. it’s the guy upstairs, who has the cats.” Halsted says, “so wait, you got your hamster back.” Kite says, “yes” Halsted says, “i didn’t know she was named nita.” Kite says, “after a week in the basement” Halsted says, “i thought hamsters didn’t care about their names.” Kite says, “They don’t, but she has one anyway.” Halsted says, “i like the name nita.” Kite says, “I’m Nita on a pern mush” Halsted says, “so now you have nita and the clydes, and moly.” Kite says, “And the guinea pig.” Halsted says, “wait, what?” Halsted says, “you have a guinea pig?” Kite says, “I told you about the guinea pig!!” Halsted says, “next you’ll be telling me you have a brother” Halsted says, “‘nita and the clydes’ sounds like a rockabilly group.” Kite says, “I didn’t mean to get Clydes with Nita still alive. I had to pick up another aquarium tonight.” Halsted says, “o, tony is making you a tape of …” Halsted says, “i forget.” Halsted says, “kitchen something?” Halsted says, “bbc broadcast.” Kite says, “Hmm” Halsted says, “kitchens?” Kite says, “a group called?” Halsted says, “did you say you liked some band named kitchens?” Kite says, “Yes, kitchens of distinction” Halsted feels so old and dowdy. Halsted says, “yes. he’s taping you some bbc recordings of them.” Kite says, “Woo!” Kite says, “I have all their albums” Halsted says, “he said he doesn’t know what else to record for you. you prolly have all that he has, aside from the bbc recordings.” Kite says, “Could be” Halsted says, “i like ‘everything but the girl’ – do you like them?” Kite says, “I like a few things that I’ve heard, but don’t own anything.” Halsted says, “he taped me some.” Halsted says, “and … let’s see.” Kite says, “They did a pretty cool version of a smiths song once.” Halsted says, “two tapes full of ‘a midsummer night’s dream’” Halsted says, “and ray davies.” Kite says, “a midsummer night’s dream music?” Halsted says, “and another tape it’s downstairs.” Halsted says, “a midsummer night’s dream performance.” Kite says, “I used to write twenty-page letters to a guy in England” Halsted says, “you and tony should icq-hook-up.” Halsted says, “he is utterly groovable.” Kite says, “I really hate icq, I have to say.” Halsted says, “let’s go to brussels.” Kite says, “Except for talking to you” Halsted says, “okay, i like icq.” Kite says, “When I can’t any other way” Halsted says, “well, i’m going to show tony how to muck eventually, so.” Kite says, “it’s always squeaking in the bakcground and making me click things. it never flows“ Halsted says, “you could write email to each other. he writes exquisite emails.” Kite says, “we could write email” Halsted says, “i would like that.” Halsted says, “you go be friends with my friend now.” Halsted says, “ooga booga.” Kite says, “goddammit, you can’t be so nice and shary when I was jealous of him!” Halsted says, “jealous of him forwhy?” Kite says, “because he is so awesome and writes the best emails” Halsted says, “like i’m jealous of floyd?” Kite says, “and you got to know him like THIS all of a sudden and boom, he is one of the biggest people in your life” Halsted says, “because he is so awesome and has all-night talks with you.” Kite says, “I didn’t fit nearly so easy.” Halsted says, “well, it’s not like that happens all the time to me, or that i had any control over it.” Halsted says, “no, you didn’t.” Halsted says, “but you are my best friend.” Kite says, “I didn’t say it happened all the time, I said I was jealous” Halsted says, “so does it matter how you got here, if you’re here now, and i’m not willing to let you go?” Kite says, “Of course, I trust it more that you didn’t even say you liked me till after a year or more of seeing all my crap.” Kite says, “No, it doesn’t.” Halsted says, “i didn’t say i liked you because you’re not an easy person to tell that sort of thing to.” Halsted says, “i did like you for a long time before i said it.” Kite says, “When did you like me?” Halsted says, “since before christmas ‘97. hanging out at delusions with gast2 and cuisinart.” Kite says, “but you stopped talking to me” Halsted says, “yes.” Halsted says, “because i didn’t think you wanted me in your life, particularly.” Halsted says, “it’s not like you’re the easiest person to love or anything. i mean, you have major go-away-i-can-do-this-by-myself vibes. i’m glad i’m here now, and that i love you, but it wasn’t really easy because i’m awful – i go away at the first feeling of those vibes, instead of trying harder.” Kite says, “I never know when you’re thinknig that.” Halsted says, “but then i couldn’t stay away because you are so important to me.” Halsted says, “you never know when i’m thinking what?” Kite says, “I was surprised you invited me to chicago. we seemed so totally estranged for so long.” Kite says, “When you’re thinking that I want you to go away or something.” Halsted says, “i was trying to open that door back up.” Halsted says, “o, i usually think you want me to go away, except when you scritch me or make smileys at me.” Kite says, “I wasn’t sure whether I should go, but you had called me to wake me up that one morning and talking to you had made some small but important alteration in my concept of you.” Halsted says, “i won’t know what to do if you ask me to go away while you’re here.” Kite says, “I never want you to go away. I can skritch you more often if you want.” Halsted says, “i would like to be skritched more often by you. it makes me feel good, like you like me.” Halsted says, “i feel like i’m talking like tarzan tonight.” Halsted says, “ooga booga.” Halsted says, “i fully admit that i need a lot of reassurance in the liking department.” Halsted says, “which isn’t always feasible.” Kite says, “I feel like I’m exaggerating or playing to an audience whenever I’m at all demonstrative, not that I don’t feel that way but that I usually don’t have to express things.” Halsted says, “and if i ask for it, it negates it.” Halsted says, “well, i can understand that, although i don’t feel the same.” Halsted says, “being demonstrative is an integral part of who i am, see.” Kite nods Halsted says, “if i like someone a lot i want to touch them and hug them and be near them. and online the only translation for that is posing affection, which may seem canned or ingenuine, or like you said, played to an audience.” Kite says, “But it doesn’t look like it; it just feels like it will, to me, inside, when I think of doing it.” Halsted says, “maybe you can try just a little more and see how it works out. you can whisper it to me if you like.” Kite says, “I even worried that it would look scripted if I said I liked your tandem stuff lately. I mean, I thought it, earlier, and then I thought, maybe I should say that, hmm, like, maybe it’s not totally obvious.” Halsted says, “all i know is that i just light up inside when you say ‘Halsted!!’ to greet me or hug me or any of that.” Halsted says, “it wouldn’t look scripted. i want and need your feedback, positive and negative, on all tandem stuff.” Halsted removes the ‘tandem’ from that sentence. Halsted says, “i’m not just here because of tandem, you know.” Halsted says, “i’m here because of you.” Kite says, “I know” Halsted says, “and if we ever figure out how to talk on the damned phone together, i think i could show you that more.” Halsted says, “but i will settle for showing you in person in nine days.” Kite says, “can we talk before then?” Halsted says, “no.” Halsted says, “absolutely not.” Kite says, “gdmt” Halsted says, “starting NOW.” Halsted says, “er.” Halsted says, “we can talk before then.” Kite says, “ok” Halsted says, “do you want to talk before then?” Kite says, “yes” Halsted says, “are you talking talk talk or are you talking talk?” Kite cries. Halsted produces hanky. Kite HONK Halsted winces. Halsted says, “keep that.” Kite says, “You don’t love me!” Halsted says, “I DO!” Halsted says, “gdmt!” Halsted says, “i do i do i do i do i just don’t want your snot.” Kite says, “see? all I have to do is produce snot and you don’t love everything about me!” Halsted says, “what i meant to ask was, do you mean talk online talk, or talk on the phone talk.” Kite says, “I was talking about phone” Kite says, “I kind of assume we will talk online within the next nine days” Halsted says, “i don’t love your snot, no. it is a byproduct of your body and although you have a lovely body i’m not terribly interested in non-sentient waste.” Halsted says, “now SENTIENT waste, on the other hand” Halsted says, “i’m way into that.” Kite says, “does that mean babies?” Kite er Halsted says, “babies are sentient wa–” Halsted says, “i won’t even go there.” Halsted says, “that’s just a no-go-there.” Kite says, “oookay.” Halsted says, “you’re not pregnant, are you?” Kite says, “not unless we’re talking the Second Coming here.” Halsted says, “wow, was it that good for you?” Halsted er. Halsted says, “you do order ‘pokey stix’ quite a bit. it could be a euphemism.” Kite says, “mmhm” Halsted says, “‘sorry can’t talk tonight, i’m Ordering Pokey Stix’ [wink nudge cough]‘” Halsted says, “i’m not pregnant either.” Halsted says, “aren’t you glad?” Kite says, “Ok, now that we have that settled.” Halsted says, “why are we talking about this?” Kite says, “sentient waste” Halsted says, “is this all going into tandem?” Kite says, “Snot” Halsted says, “snot.” Kite says, “and because I cried about talk talk, or talk, which produced the snot” Halsted says, “okay, you don’t need to go all the way back.” Halsted says, “talk talk or talk produces snot. check.” Kite says, “I’m afraid to put this in tandem because it’ll look like we think we are being so very clever with every last thing we say.” Kite says, “Can we edit it?” Halsted says, “well, no, it’ll just look like we’re being goofy and how we usually are.” Halsted says, “sure we can edit it.” Kite says, “noooo no editing” Halsted says, “gdmt.” Kite says, “it has to be RAW” Kite says, “REAL” Kite says, “slice o LIFE” Halsted says, “RAW?” Halsted says, “REAL?” Halsted says, “slice o LIFE?” Kite says, “Damn straight” Halsted says, “you’re so confusing.” Kite says, “we’re on MTV” Halsted says, “o god.” Kite says, “exciting online interaction” Halsted says, “thrilling. titillating.” Kite says, “we aren’t titillating anyone.” Halsted says, “IN YOUR FACE WEB JOURNAL” Halsted says, “we’re not?” Kite flashes the audience. Kite says, “Now we are.” Halsted says, “maybe we are. you just don’t know what some people get off on.” Halsted says, “aha.” Halsted says, “have we been clever enough?” Kite says, “Whoa, my name is Kite. I was starting to think it was You.” Kite says, “hell no” Halsted laughs. Halsted sings, o/~ you say ~o Halsted gets lisa loeb firmly lodged in her ears. Halsted says, “god, lisa, get off of my face.” Halsted er. Kite says, “that may be costly to remove.” Halsted says, “are we going to the botanical gardens? i have a cell phone.” Kite says, “is that a really bad joke?” Halsted says, “in case we wander into the bad part of the garden.” Kite says, “oh, ok.” Halsted says, “no, it’s not a joke. i’m manic, these things are related.” Halsted says, “in case we get mugged by some uppity tulips.” Halsted says, “are you going to hold my hand?” Halsted says, “or is that gross.” Halsted says, “i don’t know where your personal girly boundaries are.” Kite says, “my personal girly boundaries are, like, me flouncing around and saying “I’m a girl!”” Kite says, “Anything else is fine” Halsted says, “i’m pretty sure you don’t get facials, pedicures, or go on thousand-dollar shopping sprees, but so far as the holding hands thing i’m lost.” Kite says, “well, those too.” Kite says, “holding hands is done by plenty of non-girly people.” Halsted says, “well, but two non-girly people of the same, um, biological predisposition?” Kite says, “well, you’re the girly! I thought we had this covered!” Halsted says, “o, so you’re the butch? can i say that?” Kite says, “Oh hell, I have to be the butch and like, be all pushy?” Halsted says, “what’s a butch, anyway.” Halsted says, “no, i’m the pushy girly.” Kite says, “I don’t know. Do I open doors for you?” Halsted says, “fuck no.” Kite says, “What do I do? Act surly? I cna do that.” Halsted says, “surly squid” Kite says, “goddammit” Halsted says, “you, um, protect your territory.” Kite says, “wtf is that” Halsted says, “pee in the corners. things like that.” Kite says, “I can’t pee in corners” Halsted says, “it’s just like peeing along straight lines, except intersected.” Halsted says, “wtf am i talking about?” Kite says, “I don’t, as a rule, pee on things.” Halsted says, “yes you do. you pee on toilet bowls.” Kite says, “that isn’t, er, aiming.” Halsted says, “you don’t have to aim.” Halsted says, “you just … go.” Kite says, “you do if you’re trying to mark something” Kite says, “or hit the corner” Halsted says, “well, dogs just lift legs, that’s not aiming, really.” Kite says, “that’s aiming” Halsted says, “no way.” Kite says, “yes way” Halsted says, “that’s getting leg out of the way so you don’t piss on it.” Kite says, “I guess that would come in handy.” Kite writes it down. Halsted too. Halsted copies everything kite does. Kite says, “You’re sure you remember who I am, right? I was the one in chicago who didn’t leave on the first day?” Halsted peers at you. Kite says, “Well, sometimes I want to ask just to be sure…” Kite says, “that you mean me.” Halsted says, “i mean you.”