Friday, April 29, 2005

Family Dollar (pt. dos)

Two hours of the workday passed as they always did. Jaime pilfered some cash here and there. Brad peed in the mop bucket and mopped up a foamy detergent spill on aisle four.

“Yo Jaime, you ever tried any of this stuff?” Pointing at a bottle of Pert 2-in-1: shampoo and conditioner. “I mean, you have that girl hair and all.”

“No. My hair is too oily and thick for that. I only use GHD products. From Britain. I get them online. And they don’t come in a single bottle either.”

“Sounds gay.”

“Well, it probably is. But that’s what I use.”

Brad continued to stare at the bottle, pretending to read the scripture on the packaging, when he was actually mulling over Jaime’s potential homosexuality. Brad had never met anyone who was gay. Or Chinese. Or anyone with an advanced degree in Psychics. But he had somehow formed steadfast and unappealing opinions of them all. Another gift from his father.

He came from a wonderfully insulated place. A place where everything fit into neat and tidy compartments. Everything he encountered then, and since, could be easily crammed into one of two categories: acceptable, or unacceptable. His accomplices had other words for their categories. Such as holy, or unholy. Moral, or immoral. Right, or wrong. But the sentiment was always the same. It was a question of familiarity. Familiar = acceptable. Brad considered his upbringing to be right and just. He believed himself to be a shining example of whom and what a person should grow up to be. And he tended to project that feeling onto any and everyone he came across. This is how he understood and reconciled himself to his reality: a perfect fit.

“So, you do still like girls, don’t you Jaime?”

Jaime, his back to Brad, finishing up some mathematic adjustments to his register tape, stopped all motion. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Brad threw the question out as more of a mental slip. He was honestly curious as to the answer, but was aware that in such a small town, the implications of simply asking someone that question was tantamount to outright, debasing, scorn. But he had no quip to catch himself. So he continued to fumble through it.

“I mean, I remember when you dated that girl in middle school. Christie or something like that. But you haven’t really dated anyone since. So, I’m just wondering, that’s all.”

Jaime knew just how loaded this question was. He knew that even his demeanor while answering such a poorly disguised indictment would be used as evidence against him, especially if it countered his actual answer. Unfortunately, there was no clear-cut answer. It was more of a contextual thing for Jaime. And in the current context, his answer should have been a patent ‘no’. But he knew it would fail to roll off his tongue in any believable way. Especially since Jaime believed that in the back of Brad’s mind, if not the front, he really wished for an admission.

“What the fuck are you asking me that for?”

Brad’s answer was a fat-lipped shrug and stare. Still holding the hair cleaner. An awkward silence pushed itself into the space between them. As if they were squaring up for a schoolyard brawl.

Jaime, determined yet mentally stammering, did his best to prop up the most sincere expression of incredulity. But he could feel it slipping away, chipped off by Brad’s lazy-eyed stare.

“Fuck, Brad. I could sit here and explain myself to you all damn day. But you’re just too, too…”

In Jamie’s mind, at that exact moment, this conversation could only go two ways. He could either answer the question as affirmative or negative as he pleased, giving Brad (and whomever Brad told later) whatever necessary ammunition they needed to continue believing what they already did. Thereby setting himself up even further as an outsider. Or, he could defend his right not to be asked such personal questions, in hopes that Brad would accept this argument as a defense for the fundamental right of a man to his privacy. But in order to pull off option two, he would have to maintain a level head, without volleying back anything equally damning in retort. This was not a fire vs. fire discussion.

“too… small town. You know? You’re too damn small town. You don’t get it. All you know is this shit hole, and that’s all you ever will know. I don’t think you’re capable of anything bigger.”

So much for either initial options. The previously ignored ‘option three: reckless temper tantrum’ was on deck instead. Brad seemed to be taking the slap rather well. He slowly returned the bottle to its spot on a shelf, walked to the end of Jaime’s register counter, leaned on to it with folded arms, and let out a deep breath.

“Well, Jaime. You didn’t answer the question, did you?”

Brad was already knee-deep once the initial question got tossed out. No point in backing down now.

Jaime, mockingly, “well, Brad. You aren’t going to listen to my answer anyway, are you?”

“Sure I will. If you’re honest.”

“That’s what someone would say if they were expecting a particular answer. Which means you aren’t listening to my answer AS an answer. You’re listening to the sounds coming from my mouth, looking for a forensic match to the sounds you’re expecting to hear.”

For a brief moment, it appeared that Jaime’s words might be sinking in. That Brad might posses cognitive prowess beyond Jaime’s estimation. That Brad may actually understand what Jaime believed to be a logical flaw in the purpose of this interaction. That Brad may actually recognize the root of his error.

“If you’re honest, I can tell.”

But then… maybe not.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Honestly? Honestly.

Here’s what needs to happen:

I need to train a chimp to mow lawns. That way, I can go get my groove on while the simian kicks the lawn care. Then I can… wait. That idea is awful.

Where am I going to get a chimp? It’s not like they have a primate section at Petsmart. Plus, the whole idea of forced servitude gives me the willies. I’d probably fuck up as a manager at Arby’s, so how the hell could I pull off animal slavery? I mean, let’s be reasonable here.

Instead, here’s what needs to happen:

I need to find a desperate clutch of fine-ass ninja chicks, which are looking for quick work. I’ll convince them to mainline insecticide, and pull lines of Drano until they agree to knock over a series of Clinique counters. They can keep everything but the blush.

No. That won’t do either. I don’t even know where I would get the right insecticide for ninjas anyway. They’re so damn particular.

In reality, what I honestly need to happen:

Write-write-write. My computer is fixed. Motherboard, LCD, and video card: all replaced. The only thing left to croak on the fucker is the hard drive. Rather than wait for that to happen, I need to pull everything off it and wait for it to descend into doorstop hell. That’s what needs to happen. Must cover my ass. And then, then? THEN?...

Then, I shall continue to write my crap. I’ll start with some waxed-up poetry. Something sweet, like

Met with two “nine” salutes -
To settle such mad disputes,
He shimmies up the pipe,
To pick at what’s ripe.
But with mysteries all gone,
Along with all hopes to move on,
He’ll settle against the squad,
And still wonder about their god.

But I should really be working on the long-assed stories that were almost lost, that were eating away at my brain while the computer slept like the dead. Those stories, all in my head, but neatly down in type on the drive, are the valve for my brain’s main drain. I need those words to keep the shadows back. To read, and re-read. To consider, and re-consider. To wish upon and concurrently curse.

Now they’re back. In all honesty, that’s what I needed to happen.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I Will Buy You a Robot.

Am I teetering on the edge?
Have I grasped that last straw and dropped it?
Is this fumbling leading me to completely fold?
No, I cannot tell from here, but I know one thing.
It’s cool, because I’m going to buy you a robot.
Sure, I’m difficult, and I know that.
I can go off the map, and break like one glass of wine too many.
I know I make normal situations difficult.
And you get frustrated by my moves.
But It’s cool.
Because I am going to buy you a robot.
A robot that will step right in.
For those moments when I careen and slide.
The robot will be there to hold your hand.
To tell you that soon, very soon, all will return to smooth.
Without saying a word.
The robot will be whatever it is you need at that moment.
When my mind has strayed, and you will be comforted.
Because of its blinking lights and mechanized movements.
It will occupy those safe nooks I tend to abandon.
Whenever the wind blows that certain way.
So it’s cool.
Because I am going to buy you a robot.
A robot with bright colors and a perma-grin.
Metallic skin.
Predictable moods and minimal needs.
Self-sufficiency and standardized output.
For those events where my eyes widen just so.
And my driving ability is next to nothing.
When you’re on the brink of shut down.
And you don’t know what to do.
Worry no more.

It’s cool, because I’m going to buy you a robot.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Tubes and Cab Rides

You know what I wish? I wish I could tan. Why? So that after being outside for all of ten minutes, I could avoid a Novocaine purchase. Went to an outdoor restaurant this weekend. Had no umbrella in the beginning. My face is peeling, just slightly today.

It really is ridiculous. I have absolutely no melanin whatsoever. Like a grub.

It reminds me of all the things I find so wonderful about living in Austin. The waterholes. Barton Springs. The lakes. Tubing in San Marcos. Oh, tubing, how I love thee. How I love to kiss the waters and set off on thine tide. Held aloft your waves upon the innards of a trailer truck tire. And having a caboose tube with a cooler of watered-down yankee beer, such as Miller, Bud, or Coors, makes my trip so much more pleasant. The joys of having the sun come down upon us as we lazily make our way down stream, pretending we aren’t peeing all over ourselves and each other. The sammiches packed into zip-lock bags, which we pass around while all our tubes are locked together in united harmony. The herbage and smokage, brazenly puffed with reckless abandon.

But man, I could do without all that goddamn sunburn. My scalp gets fried on those trips. That’s right, my SCALP. Under the hair, on the top of my fucking head. Ever tried to wash a sunburned scalp? Whoa… it feels like you’re using a Garden Weasel to comb your hair. And then it gets all dried out, and flakes like Buffalo in January for a week or so. Insult to injury.

I love being outdoors and all. I love being on the lake, playing a pick-up game of mid-day basketball, or looking like a complete fool while trying to hackey-sack in the park, but that sunburn makes me second guess the whole Austin life.

And that gets me thinking about what I love about other cities. The little elements that I latch on to whenever I stay in another town. Sometimes I’m wrong. As in, I’ve picked up on some element that does not really exist in regularity, and I just happened upon it by sheer coincidence.

For example, I cannot honestly say that one of the elements I really love about San Francisco is how friendly their homeless population is. Sure, my experience with them was full of hilarity and good times, but there are an overwhelming number of stories to the contrary, and I have never been able to repeat that experience. So, no dice on that generalization.

But I can generalize about New York. The cab rides at 5am from Manhattan to Brooklyn during the summer of 2001. I will never forget how much I LOVED those cab rides. Especially in the cabs with air conditioners in the rear. Sweet jesus what a fantastic thing they were. Let me toss out a random recap, if I may.

It all starts at 3:30am

I am stumbling, horrifically, down the stairwell of some club, in some strange part of the Lower East Side, somewhere between Double Happiness and Cherry Tavern (I know, big span, but hey – I am really fucked up okay?). There is no a/c in the club, and I am pretty sure I am slipping on sweat that is dripping from my own legs. I’ve had way too much tequila, which will make any Caucasian sweat profusely, even under climate controlled conditions, but it’s an Africa steam bath in the place and I can barely see for the stinging in my sweat-drenched eyes.

We walked everywhere all night, between multiple establishments because we have no vehicle, and we all tend to get FAR too obliterated to operate anything more complicated than a zipper or disposable lighter. So it is probably fortunate that we never tried to drive. With all that walking, comes heartburn-inducing opportunities for food. Four slices of pizza have been consumed at various places, during the various stages of the evening. At one point, I was in a grocery store buying Brooklyn Lager, stumbling drunk, so I could cram the bottles into my pockets and enter the next venue without having to shell out $8 (+ fucking tip) for every Heineken I chose to drink. I could easily put away 8 of those between ten and midnight. The clubs stayed open ‘till four + I had no job + I would regularly divide a single serving of broccoli beef into four meals.

Simple math. No way in hell I was paying that kind of cheese for a single beer.

By closing time, we’re all stupid drunk, staggering around amongst the garbage blowing around in the street, arguing with each other about pop culture, politics, or Astroturf. It is the summer of ’01, so it is hopelessly hot, even at four in the a.m. I am sweating like a whore in church, wiping my face with my t-shirt sleeve and slicking back my overgrown hair with the moisture from my forehead. More pizza or pancakes, and it is time to try and find our way back to Brooklyn.

Since the bars have been closed for a bit, cabs are a hair easier to snag. Find a decent boulevard to loiter on, trying to come off as a four-to-five somewhat coherent twenty-somethings (in the case that there were five of us, there would be extra negotiation with the cab driver to allow it, as they max out at four passengers. I have no idea how we negotiated these things. I was usually unconscious by that time). When a cab pulls up, we all just get in. No sense in telling the cab driver that you want to go to Brooklyn first. Half the time, they won’t even answer that question as they speed away, denying you another air-conditioned coach-ride back to King’s County. Assholes.

So you get in, and THEN you tell them where they will be taking you. If they put up a fight, just ignore them. Start staring out the window, whistling, playing with your phone, beat-boxing, whatever. Ignore him until he starts driving. Then start giving him specific instructions. The hard part was always finding an empty one, and then getting him to pull the fuck over, to pick your drunk ass up.

I’m sure it helped that I was white. I’ve certainly been ignored by my share of cabbies, but I would attribute that to the fact that I was trying to hail them while leaning against a wall of restaurant garbage. Perhaps my pants were undone. Or they just saw me finish vomiting. Who knows. But when I had some semblance of normality, it would not surprise me to learn that my skin color gave them comfort. Even though a) they certainly weren’t white, and b) I was still going to punk them out by going to Brooklyn anyhow.

Back to my original point.

After a night of swilling Brooklyn Lager, dredged from the East River, and sweating two gallons from my pores in the horrendous Manhattan summer heat, my body would be in a state of emergency. My liver, having been denied a single glass of water for over seven hours, and in a most fierce feud with my lizard brain, would have long ceased all metabolic processes. My eyes would be swollen and crinkled like someone glued fortune cookies to my face. Pizza sauce drippings, spattered on the front of my ironic t-shirt, signified that my stomach was in twisted, marinara-tightened knots. And my sweat-soaked hair would usually make me look/smell like I just showered after a dive meet for chubby douche-balloons where the pool was filled with bovine sweat and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

But all the sweat was old. From hours prior, since my glands had long stopped any sweat production.

After standing/laying/sleeping on a street corner long enough to trick a cab into stopping, I was usually on the verge of pissing dust and sleeping in a doorway. We always had to wait a good thirty minutes before catching one. But once we got in… and the lovely voice of Chris Rock came over the speakers, berating me into putting on a seatbelt (a recommendation we typically ignored)… with the lovely sounds of Chicago pulsing through the open-windowed cab… the sounds of the Williamsburg Bridge after hitting Delancey, crossing over the East river… Magical. Truly magical.

Even more magical to me was when we would catch a cab with air conditioning controls IN the rear, with vents less than a foot from our faces. Oh, the fantasticalfullness of those rides! With the windows down anyway! Cold air, cooling my dehydrated and fevered face! With the rhythmic cu-cuck, cu-cuck, cu-cuck of the bridge beneath.

For all the wondrous things I did while living there, I will forever hold a special spot in my heart for the cabs with air-conditioners in the back seats. Over the Williamsburg Bridge. Just before sun-up.