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As a kid, I had a jaunty denim cap that I wore everywhere. Now, there's an army of young dames wearing jaunty caps, all ironic-like. Me and Shandy, we go to the UO and shake our heads about how it's a hunerd bucks for a shirt with a bib. When I was little, my mom was adamant that I wasn't allowed to wear clogs. She thought I'd fall off them and twist my ankle. Later, she wouldn't let me drive her car. If you have an accident, they'll take the house, she'd say. I never did know who 'they' were.
My roommate is nearly a total stranger. A stranger who never buys toilet paper or takes out trash. It's like we're on some low-budget reality TV series starring me, him and the 16 year-old cat. On today's episode: The dude has a cold and has holed up in his room. I know he's in there, because a beam of light pours out the crack under his door. "Do you want me to bring you some soup?" his girlfriend coos on an answering machine message he'll probably never listen to. I delete it, and go feed the cat more Fancy Feast.
Got an instant message indicating that my friend wants to cancel a date because the suitor stutters. She spelled it in all caps, as if aghast. As if she was telling me that he LIKES TO FUCK SHEEP. Or DRINKS TOILET WATER. But a 'STUTTER'? Whatever response she expected to get from me, I don't know. So I was livid. Shandy agreed with me, saying love means ignoring – and even adoring -- your partner's idiosyncrasies. I guess it made me mad because I'm lonely, and I'd welcome a stutterer with open arms. Some people are more concerned with f-f-f-f-fashion than feelings.
I should disable my computer's instant messenger program. Today, I'm still miffed enough about the stutter incident that I cringe every time I hear the clarion ‘bloop!' noise. Email is another story. Dozens of times, I press the special combination of keys that forces immediate delivery. There's always someone I'm longing to hear from. Unable to resist, I flip my Rolodex to "H" and have the operator place the overseas call. You'd think I'd have his number memorized by now. ‘I'm out of the office until October 10,' his voice says on his machine. Relieved, I go back to work.
I send the boss an email saying I'll be late – bad head cold – but as I finish up a quickie shower, I hear the phone. ‘This is what sick days are for,' he advises. ‘Stay home.' ‘OK,' I croak, incredulous. I hang up and wish I'd shaved my legs, rather than rushing through my shower. But it seems overly indulgent to take another shower, especially when I'm supposed to be sick. Later, I awaken from a two-hour nap disoriented and hungry, and wonder, ‘Does being home sick mean I'm not allowed to go get a manicure?' It doesn't, I decide.
After quoting Imus -- corny, yes -- my mother advises that the best revenge is living well. Revenge is overrated, and usually a waste of time. The universe sorts these things out eventually. People do get what's coming to them. The best defense, in this case, is subterfuge. Because I don't need the annoyance. Aren't there enough problems in the world? Last month, 5,000 people died. At least those terrorists had a higher sense of purpose. And what about her? Petty bullshit. In any event, Shandy is right: Someday I'll look back on this and laugh. Wait -- I'm already laughing.
Last night I dreamt that Osama Bin Laden was actually hiding out in the U.S. rather than some cave in Afghanistan. How diabolical would that be? Dude, that'd be so fucked up. I think I've been watching too much CNN and MSNBC and CSPAN. It's making me CN-NUTS. James and I decided that, since the phrase ‘in light of recent events' has become so ubiquitous, we're gonna start using it at the head of every sentence. Like, ‘In light of recent events, I'll have a cheeseburger.' Or, ‘In light of recent events, I don't like you like that.' Try it.
Nine years ago today, I got that horrible phone call.
‘Something's happened to Kenny.'
I've been thinking about those people who lost loved ones on September 11 and wishing I could make them know that time does heal all wounds. The scars remain, jagged and bumpy with a topography all their own. Sometimes you forget they're there, and then you catch a glimpse of one in the mirror. And you remember. And you're there all over again, gasping for breath on the other end of the phone, wishing you'd never had to say the words, ‘How did he do it?'
You don't delight in other people's misfortune. But, though you fancy yourself non-religious, you believe deep down in karma. That bad deeds don't go unpunished. That, after all, what goes around comes around. And so you feel a twinge of satisfaction, vindication when the Tef gets thrown out like yesterday's Chinese food. He got his name, ‘the Tef,' because he was like teflon – nothing stuck on him. Like a wok. Suddenly, you feel sort of icky, and wonder if it's because you actually hold some affection for the Tef. You soon realize it's just yesterday's Chinese food, repeating on you.
‘I was in Turkey,' he offers, though I haven't asked where he's been. I notice that he uses the singular, ‘I,' rather than ‘we,' but I'm not convinced that he didn't have her with him. Duh. It was a vacation. She was surely with him. I don't ask, telling myself it's none of my business. I start imagining their trip: The two of them lazing on the beach. Naked. Spooning. Him saying things like, ‘I never cared much for that Jenny Eliscu.' Then he calls me ‘love' and I realize I'm a goner. I just wish I knew her name.
OK, so I'm a hypocrite. I was in the UO and nearly bought one of those jaunty caps. It was uncharacteristically affordable, by UO standards, priced at only $16. And damn it if it didn't look pretty fucking jaunty when I tried it on. I restrained myself and hung it back on the hook where it will lure some other sucker. Since 9/11, I've been spending, spending, spending. It's a good distraction and, after all, Rudy's been coaxing us to ‘stimulate the economy.' So there! Now if only he'd implore us to purchase jaunty hats, I'd have a good excuse.
Maybe it will happen like this: A Mr. Softee truck comes speeding down the street just as I step off the curb. Bam! My goose is cooked. Or maybe I'll be eating a PB&J sandwich and it'll get stuck in my throat. (Trust me, it happens. Amelia knows of two real life peanut butter fatalities.) Or, you know, maybe it'll be anthrax. Until recently, the only time I said the word "anthrax" was when I talked about the band (rare) or tried to quote the relevant portion of that Holy Grail movie (even rarer). So, yeah, I'm a little nervous.
Churches have always made me uncomfortable, like I've accidentally walked into one of those video stores that bills itself as "all kinds of video" when they mean to say "all kinds of porn." I was in church twice today, first for Adams memorial and then Luciana's baptism. Death and birth, the full spectrum in less than three hours. "The smile," said the minister, his voice cracking. I blotted my own tears away with Kleenex, wishing I'd seen that smile more often than I had. Later, I held Lucy in my arms and kissed her sweet, soft head again and again.
The dude who let me sit on his lap and then, six days later, gave me the ill-timed ‘can we be friends?' speech – he called yesterday. I was floored, and would have called Shandy but she's at Doug's country house. ‘We should hang out,' he says. Clueless. Then, last night, I ran into the ‘I-fucked-you-over'-hug guy. By two a.m., I wanted to bury my face in my pillow, alone in bed with the 16 year-old cat. But these days I can't sleep before four. It's been a month.
On all counts, I believe this is what they call a rut.
My intention was just to swing by, try it on one more time, and figure out once and for all whether to buy it. A passing sales clerk, sensing my crippling indecision, offered help. I gave him my schpiel about how I don't want to be ‘that girl in the jaunty cap.' So – get this – he says: ‘What if it was only $10?' How could I refuse? In exchange for his employee discount, I had to give him my phone number. Not such a bad trade, if you ask me. Now I'm wondering if I'll ever wear the friggin' thing.
I've become obsessed with the idea of moving out of my Brooklyn apartment and into Manhattan. The strange thing is that, for all of my life, I was pretty adamant that I didn't want to live in "the city," as we Queens-folk call it. Too expensive, too cramped, too bourgeois. Those were my rationalizations. Besides, I'm an outer-boroughs girl. But, since 9/11, I've got this bee in my bonnet. I'm willing to give up my affordable, high-ceilinged place in the Polish ghetto. I need a change of scenery, even if that just means staring at a different set of walls.
Perhaps it sounds nit-picky, but I get pissed if someone doesn't say ‘thank you' when I've done something kind for them. An occasional ‘thanks so much' is all I ask. ‘Merci,' ‘danke' or ‘gracias' will also suffice. It's symptomatic of a larger problem when someone fails to say it, like, ever. Because, much as I'm willing to do all sorts of stuff for my friends – drive them home, buy them dinner, offer a table dance – I only do it to show my devotion, in any number of tiny ways. I dig devotion. Loyalty. Appreciation. I should just get a dog.
The sister struggles to describe this woman, dead at 44, who had lived upstairs for 15 years, and with her mother before that. ‘She had it kind of rough in high school,' the sister says in a Queens accent way thicker than yours. On a Post-It note, she had scrawled the following: "At my funeral, play ‘The Loner' and ‘The Wall.'" You wonder what made her so sad, but you know you can't ask. What will they say about you when you're gone? Preferring not to think about it, you light another cigarette and check up on your Ebay auctions.
Would I have suffered the smell of fresh paint and stale beer to spend an evening not talking to him? Probably. Good sense took hold, and I went out with Zooey instead. At the bar, a portly guy inspected my tattoos. When I showed him the new one, he sneered. ‘The small of a woman's back is a very sexy spot,' he said. ‘I don't want to see a hand giving the peace sign there.' Shandy says I should have quipped, ‘Good, because you'll never ever see the small of my back again.' Wish I was quicker with a comeback.
With only a couple of cocktails in me, I had made a two a.m. call to his hotel room, three thousand miles away. Half dazed, I tousle my pillow-flattened hair and wonder whether I said anything too heavy for voicemail. I head out without my sunglasses, armed with a take-out coffee and a half-empty pack of menthol cigarettes that I'm not sure why I bought. I hate menthol. He'll be awake soon and listen to my hoarse, sleepy voice croaking on his phone. ‘I hope I didn't freak you out,' he'll hear me say. Ugh. Victimized, again, by the drink-and-dial.
He strokes your hand with his fingers. Puts his arm around you, pulling you against him as you walk. This has gone on for weeks now. At his apartment, missed opportunities and mixed signals. He kisses you lightly on the lips, then watches you walk down the hall. You think about turning back but don't. It's 5 a.m. and you should have read your horoscope before you left home:
‘Go with your loving feelings, but ignore the urge to commit to anything more serious than a romantic tryst.'
This whole thing, you remind yourself, is a very bad idea.
You hear the sound of your own voice for the first time at 2:30, when you order your mocha at the café where you've camped out with your newspaper.
‘I'm reading about the war,' you tell a friend who's come over to say ‘hi.'
There's always someone to bump into in this town. Secretly – or not so – you wish things were a bit less random – that someone would bump into you on purpose. You don't feel lonely, but you long to feel something different, to feel indispensable. You decide not to call him again. He knows where to find you.
It's technically a new day, a couple hours past midnight. I just finished watching Woody Allen's Manhattan. My resolve broken, I called his mobile phone. He answered, told me he's stoned, and began yammering. Pot aggravates his stutter, I noticed, but it's strangely endearing. Still, he was no better able to say the things I want to hear stoned than he is straight. And I realized that what I want to hear may be something he'll never say. I've told myself to expect nothing – he lives across an ocean, after all – but I never have been able to take that lesson to heart.
Though my sleeping pattern has been erratic lately, a few hours sleep did me a helluva lot of good last night. I had penned a long and melodramatic letter to send him. The gist of it was something like, "What the fuck is up, dude?" When I awoke, I almost laughed out loud thinking about how I'd turned the whole situation into this giant cloud of gloom and doom. I read the letter to Shandy, but I'm not sending it. I do plan to keep it, for shits and giggles. Sometimes you just need to get it off your chest.
Jim and his friend – who I thought was kind of handsome until Andrew suggested he looks like Jay Leno – have had a few, and they keep insisting I point out Johnny One-Date, whose name is pretty self-explanatory. Wishing they'd quit teasing me, I head for the bathroom line, where a friend greets me with a tight, tight hug. His fleece-and-corduroy jacket smells smoky, or maybe I've just had too many cigarettes. ‘Last time I saw you, you looked so sad,' he says. I wonder how I look right now. It's 3 a.m. and I'm not sure why I'm still out.
I pause, trying to remember when I'd seen him last. ‘It was right after the World Trade Center thing,' he reminds me, words slurred, his grip around me tightening. Have you noticed how no one quite knows what call it? ‘The attacks.' ‘September 11th.' ‘The day the world changed.' You'd think some propaganda whiz would have thought up a slogan by now. So I laugh faintly, and he's STILL hugging me. ‘I mean, you looked particularly shattered,' he says. Shattered. You can tell he writes music because it was the perfect word. It's definitely time for me to go home.
My mother's attic holds my memories in a haphazard array. Dancing school trophies. Dishes from my first apartment. Clothes I can't believe I ever wore. Books I barely remember reading. 8X10s from when I thought that photography might be my calling. A catalog of fuck-ups, that attic.
Rifling through a bag of beat-up stuffed animals, my 11 year-old sister asks, ‘Why don't you take these home?'
My mom teases me about my first gray hair. ‘It's premature,' she says, and swears she didn't have any until her forties.
Don't look back, Dylan said.
I like to think I'm getting better with age.
It doesn't look like I'm going to be moving any time soon. Remember that? Remember when I said how I'm antsy to live in the city? Shandy's staying put for awhile, and it's probably for the best. I had already begun to think I should stay where I am. Get a second job and -- politely -- kick my lumpen roommate to the curb. (The sink counter was sopping wet AGAIN this morning! What he does to get it so soaked, I don't wanna know.) Then it would be just me and the cat and a nice dry sink counter.
The G train is typically slow, so you take out your rumpled copy of today's New York Times, rattling the pages as you fold them in half, and then in half again. You've been reading it nearly every day lately. A photo catches your eye, and you feel a knot form in the pit of your stomach. The train arrives. You get on and flip to the next page. And then back to the photo. And then once more. Before tears come, a voice interrupts. It's your roommate, and crying in front of him would be awkward. So you don't.
Before you get into bed, you turn to the page with the photo. You're not sure why you want to keep it, but something impels you to tear it out and file it away. Curled up in bed, you put on your headphones and listen to that Tony Bennett/Bill Evans record that makes you so nostalgic. It reminds you of Sunday dinners, 1982. 'I'm so sorry,' you whisper into your pillow, not sure to whom you're apologizing, but feeling like it needs to be said. To the heavens, maybe. Tony sings, 'I wish that we were young and foolish again.'
I haven't called him since that night he was stoned and stuttering. The strange part is that I've hardly even thought about him. Strange in a good way. I could pick up the phone right now, but I don't really want to. And I wonder how long it will take him to be in touch. One week? Two? I suppose it's a test he can't pass. I'd be lying if I said I'm not hoping he'll surprise me. What's the point in hoping for that? There's still an ocean between us. I need to recruit some new locals, I think.
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