It’s the strangest phenomenon: wings, thousands of them, disembodied, fluttering around my neighborhood. From cicadas or fairies, anyone’s guess; they manifest a potent and malicious magic.
Last night, wrestling bags from the grocery and wine stores out of my trunk, I beheld a terrible and purple explosion. My beloved (but, thankfully, not very expensive) shiraz had fallen to the sidewalk and was seeping into the cracks. The bloody horror! Nothing left for me but the jagged glass shards.
Much later, wrestling boxes of recycling over my back gate (stuck shut for the moment because we were never given a key), I felt a blinding and purple pain in my forearm, which, I discovered, had become punctured on a spike. It was a hideously deep wound that strangely enough did not seep a drop of blood.
I am much accursed.
My Name Is Goblin (to the tune of Suzanne Vega’s “My Name Is Luca”)
My name is Goblin.
I now live in Baltimore.
I live next door to you.
Yes, I think you’ve seen me before.
If you hear the scrabbling of some feet,
Don’t let your ticker skip a beat.
It’s just me chasing my Hippoo.
It’s just me chasing my Hippoo.
It’s just me chasing my Hippoo.
I only chase
Until it’s caught.
Daddy throws it again:
It’s all for naught.
But it’s the main pastime of my life.
It’s the main pastime of my life.
It’s the main pastime of my life.
Goblin the Boston Terrier (to the tune of Rob Hartmann’s “Adventure, Spectacle, Mystery”)
I’m Goblin Foo Uvula,
Queen of the Universe.
I take my walk.
I chew my bone.
I like to stalk
The squirrels’ homes.
People love my pointy earlobes,
Bat-like, alert, and erect.
People love my sloppy kisses.
People love my poops and pisses.
People love . . .
People love . . .
People love . . .
The Boston terrier!
The Boston terrier!
The Boston terrier!
Terrier . . .
My former (and much beloved) business partner had a theory that after a certain age, people should forget about current fashion and adopt a classic look. Never mind that “certain age” is not specific, and what constitutes “classic” is open to debate. The idea that, at thirty, we are all supposed to start wearing oxford shirts and penny loafers calls to mind the “Star Trek” episode featuring a planet run by children who drop dead as they reach maturity.
I am not a student of fashion, and most of my “expertise” in that area comes by virtue of being a gay graphic designer with an eye for good lines and a horror of anything originating in the nineteen eighties; attempting to categorize my own style invokes the image of a slightly trendy hobo. Nevertheless, I keep my eyes and mind open and respond appropriately.
Today, emerging from a CVS, I held the door open for an old woman who, I suspect, was not as old as she looked. Her white hair was in a tight permanent, her glasses covered half her face, and her sturdy figure sported a Walmart tank top and polyester shorts (not a natural fiber to be found anywhere on her person would be my guess). This is truly a “classic” look: my grandmother dressed exactly the same way thirty years ago, except she dyed her hair ash blonde.
I suppose my question is, at what age does someone decide do this to himself or herself, and is it even a bad thing to disassociate from the vagaries of what other people think we should be wearing in favor of practicality and function? When that woman turned fifty, did she sit down and decide, “Today, I shall begin dressing like an old woman”? Which meant, of course, that she would also begin acting like and being treated like an old woman.
I suppose all of this implies there is something wrong with being an old woman, and there most certainly isn’t. Nor do I believe that being fifty constitutes being “old.” There is almost no way to even frame the debate without implying insult where none is meant. As usual, I am not so much concerned with that old woman as I am with the connotations for my own life. Will there ever come a time when I abandon my personal style (such as it is) for a polyester bargain? Or (and this is more likely) will I cling to the fashions from the era I came of age and comfort myself by redefining these as “classic”?
I really don’t know why I equate both of these possibilities with the idea of giving up on something. I place absolutely no weight, especially these days, on the opinions of the public; I don’t crave the approval of society. I suppose I’m worried that I will all of a sudden hit some sort of wall, after which I won’t strive to meet my own expectations for myself.
That’s the day I will be old.
Yesterday, driving from Baltimore to New York with my dear friend Martin, I stopped for gas at a Sunoco station.
While I pumped, Martin went inside to get us drinks; I requested chocolate milk, but he emerged after a few moments to report a tragic lack of chocolate milk on the premises. Upon reflection, I don’t even know why I asked for chocolate milk. It is yummy but would (1) not do much to quench my thirst, and (2) spend a lifetime on the hips. Perhaps the God of Reduced Body Fat had arranged for the leche chocolate shortage, but I whirled around and spat in His (or Her) eye by going inside and getting carb- and sugar-laden orange juice, when I had already had orange juice with breakfast.
The cashier was a burly and disheveled grease monkey with a deeply gruff speaking voice. “That all?” he demanded of me and Martin as we put our drinks on the counter.
“Yes,” we said.
He squinted at us. “You sure?”
“Yes,” we said.
This manly fellow rang us up and returned to what he was doing when we had entered: coloring in, with felt-tip markers, a line drawing of a pretty butterfly fluttering over a field of flowers. Awaiting its turn to the side was a drawing of a girl wearing a bonnet and carrying a basket.
He seemed proud of his work.
Last night, I went with Faustus and his boyfriend, E.S., to see a very powerful film called The Mudge Boy. It’s the coming-of-age story of an awkward (and adorable) farm boy who copes with the recent death of his mother by secretly wearing her fur coat and carrying her pet chicken around wherever he goes. It would not be giving too much away to reveal that he falls in love with a handsome, slightly older neighbor, who protects him from ridicule by the local band of ne’er-do-wells. Various antics ensue, but the theme of the movie is that the people in the boy’s life encourage him to murder the best and most endearing part of himself in order to fit in with the masculine expectations society places on him.
All I could think of later was that I was glad nobody had done that to the gas station cashier.
Perhaps because it is on at a different time and conflicts with fewer other programs, TiVo in Baltimore has been taping more episodes of “Judge Judy” than TiVo in New York.
I have been watching them. As one of the only half-hour shows I record, it is the perfect thing to turn on when I’m eating lunch, unpacking, cleaning, or vacuuming up a hundred thousand million billion ants. And since I have been alone and unloved these past few weeks, I have started to look at the litigants on “Judge Judy” in a new light. I am fascinated by them: the petty ones, the sly ones, the dignified ones, the cute ones, the indignant ones, the idiotic ones.
Sometimes, when enough information is given about a person, I try to look them up on the Internet and find out more about their lives. Who are you? I wonder. What are you up to? What possessed you to make a fool of yourself on national television? Did you spend that thirty-eight dollars you won on the unpaid electric bill all in one place? Key any good cars lately
Inquiring minds want to know.
Update: What if I changed Goblin’s name to Pickles Squintacular, Starfleet Commander?
Update Two: Jwer, whose numerous and embittered comments here are the stuff of legend, has started his own blog. Check it out if you dare.
Yesterday I went into my living room and found a hundred thousand million billion ants crawling by the back door. “How did they get in?” you may be wondering. “Why did they come in? What were they doing?”
Who do I look like, the Ant Whisperer? How the hell should I know? I was far more concerned about how I was going to get them out.
“How did you get them out?” you may be wondering.
Good question. Luckily, I had brand-new vacuum cleaner gathering dust in its box. Or, rather, the box was gathering dust. I put it together post haste, and soon there were a hundred thousand million billion very dizzy ants whirling around in its cyclonic suction.
I hate to kill living creatures. The only things I hate more are the Bush administration and the sight of insects lurking where they shouldn’t be (but I repeat myself). For all I knew, the ants in the vacuum weren’t dead, but rather concocting a hundred thousand million billion revenge fantasies as they scoured the vacuum chamber for an escape route. So I ran out to the store to buy ant poison (now with new springtime scent!) and hardwood floor cleaner.
When I got home, there were a hundred thousand million billion ants crawling on the living room floor. I was pretty sure these were different ants, but I couldn’t tell where they were coming from. Once they joined their compatriots in the vacuum cleaner, I scoured the floor and spritzed the cracks with deadly springtime-fresh poison.
I’m not sure I’ve taken care of the problem. These battles tend to escalate, and two hundred thousand million billion ants have had all night to plot their next move. Luckily, I blew my defense budget on Weapons of Mass Ant Destruction (WoMAD).
Bring it on.
I am alone most of the time these days. Rob is away for a month, working on a production of his play. Goblin ignores me unless she’s hungry. She divides her days between wrapping herself in the blankets on my bed and watching the squirrel feeder in the backyard as if it were a riveting soap opera.
Matt Damon drops in occasionally, but mostly I’m not in the mood.
I am alone but not lonely; I am decompressing. In the all-encompassing stress of the past few months, everyone wanted someone from me, and no one was happy when they got it. Now I’m not even answering the phone. If there’s an emergency, I don’t want to hear about it. Instead, I’m using my time to develop some healthy habits, such as exercising and eating right, and some unhealthy habits, such as leaving the dirty dishes in the sink and letting the recycling pile up.
It will all balance out in the end.
Update: Today is my dear friend Viki’s birthday. Whether you know her or not, drop her a line. You get bonus points if you refer to her tusks, tentacles, antlers, or stink lines.
Update Two: A word to the wise . . . if you suspect that people think you’re bizarre, and not in a good way, it may behoove you not to compound matters by wandering around looking as if you’ve been struck by lightning. Really.
Yesterday, I went to the Motor Vehicle Administration in Glen Burnie to get my driver’s license renewed. (“Glen Burnie” is not a gay couple, as some may assume; it is a wasteland of trashy strip malls just outside the Baltimore Beltway.) The process was so quick, smooth, and pleasant that I died of shock on the spot—so I suppose it was fortunate for someone that I had just signed up for organ donation.
Really, why are hard-working people such as myself constantly fending off requests for donations of one thing or another?
“Please, sir, might I have fifty cents for some food? I haven’t eaten in seventeen days.”
“Please, sir, might I have a few dollars for my political campaign so we can get the Nazis out of the White House?”
“Please, sir, might I have your heart since mine doesn’t seem to be working anymore?”
Why am I so gullible?
OK, sure, I will give up my organs. But I hereby swear to return spectacularly from the grave and torment whoever receives them.
Or perhaps the curse of having to make due with my organs will be punishment enough.
Update: In other news, I discovered a more stylish filing cabinet at Staples than could be found at Target. I died of shock on the spot.
Update Two: For the third day this week, a black cat and a cicada crossed my path in the same instant. Is the omen mitigated by the fact that this black cat had white feet, or were the solidly black cats merely busy somewhere else?
Update Three: Come to think of it, the cicada was looking somewhat peaked itself.
Last night, I went to Dunkin' Donuts and ordered a green tea. Ordinarily, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to order a green tea at that establishment, except there was a large display of Dunkin' Donuts-branded teas on the counter, with the green variety prominently featured.
So I ordered a cup.
And despite the prominently displayed rack featuring at least two boxes of Dunkin' Donuts-branded green tea, the man behind the counter insisted that they were out of what I wanted; no amount of scientific or philosophic evidence could persuade him otherwise.
So, quite in a snit, I ordered black tea instead. Blah.
Update: Today I am wearing very subtly mismatched socks.
The other day, I saw a very silly movie called The Saddest Music in the World. Let me see if I can explain this. Set in the Great Depression, it is the story a Winnipeg beer heiress who sponsors a worldwide tournament to discover which country’s music is the saddest of all. She is sad all the time because her legs had previously been amputated by mistake by a drunken doctor, who loved her, and one of his sons, whom she loved. The father (representing Canada), son (representing, for some reason, the United States), and son’s brother (who has run off to become the saddest cellist in Serbia) all enter the musical tournament. I can’t remember anyone’s names, so this will be difficult, but what has apparently happened is that the brother’s son has died, and the brother’s wife developed amnesia from the grief and ran away to become the lover of the first son. The first son has also taken up his affair with the beer heiress sponsoring the contest, who has rigged it so that he will win and get rich on the prize money. Perhaps most importantly, the father, no longer a drunk, has spent years crafting a pair of glass prosthetic legs for the beer heiress, whom he still loves. He has the brother present them to her. They are filled with beer. Also, the winner of each round of the tournament gets to slide down a chute into a beer vat and splash around for a while.
Beer might just be a symbol here, but of what, I’m not sure.
The Important Life Lesson I took away from the movie is simply this: “If you are sponsoring a tournament to find the saddest music in the world, keep it legitimate. If you play favorites, and if, even though you’re the judge, you turn up in the entry for your secret lover so you can show off your beer-filled glass prosthetic legs, you are going to anger your secret lover’s Serbian brother, who will play a note so piercing on his sad, Serbian cello that your beer-filled glass prosthetic legs will shatter, and not only will you be humiliated in front of everyone, you will set into motion a murderous chain of events that will burn your beer factory to the ground.”
I hope that didn’t spoil it for anyone.
Update: What if I changed Goblin’s name to Spottie O’Snubtail, Lady Pilot?
Update Two: For the second day in a row, a black cat and a cicada crossed my path in the same instant. Whatever this is an omen of, I am apparently in for a double dose.
I saw my second “Brood X” cicada today, lurking in the alley behind my house. Goblin tried to eat the first one, but she was distracted from the second by a black cat that apparently looked tastier.
A cicada and a black cat both crossed my path in the same instant.
I’m a little rusty on my omens, but surely this is significant.
Yesterday, I went to Ikea with Jwer, who felt compelled to show me his bank account balance while we were in line at the cashier. He was simultaneously happy because he had a healthy amount of money and dreading the inevitable rapid decline of that sum.
I was of course reminded of my Listerine fixation.
For some reason, whenever I open a new bottle of Listerine, I become manifestly anxious of the day I run out. Each day, my spirits slowly sink along with the level of mouthwash in the container, and when it’s finally gone, I’m inconsolable.
No other product, not even ice cream bars, affects me in the same way. For a while, I stopped buying Listerine altogether because it simply wasn’t worth the heartache, but then they came out with the new citrus flavor, and I couldn’t help myself.
The obvious solution is to buy two bottles at once, but I get the idea that this will merely postpone the inevitable.
As a proponent of the “Lord of the Flies” school, I have never been a fan of human nature, but at least I understand it. The same cannot be said of some of the curmudgeons who wish to run my Baltimore neighborhood like junior Mussolinis. “No dog poop on the sidewalks!” they proclaim, and yet they close the parks and grassy areas to dogs and refuse to provide public trashcans for waste. “No posting notices on trees and telephone poles!” they decree, and yet the alternatives they provide are fancifully insufficient. They demand a vibrant, clean, and safe neighborhood and simultaneously choke out the forces that might lead to that result.
They already run the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches of the government; have Republicans taken over my neighborhood, as well?
Have you ever tasted aloe vera juice? It tastes like it smells; it smells like minty cat pee. However, as a health tonic, it is supposed to work wonders in small doses. (In larger doses, it is a laxative.)
I had a nice, new bottle of aloe vera juice. I had only taken one dose from it (a small one, thank you). It was in a box of things I was moving from Manhattan to Baltimore. At two-thirty this morning, I was carrying that box into my new house when the bottom fell out of it (the box, not the house).
The vestibule is now a minefield of menacing glass shards I was too tired to clean up, and doused with the acrid aroma of minty cat pee.
Welcome, welcome, welcome to my home.
Last night, I casually mentioned to my sister-in-law, the mother of my adorable baby niece, that her daughter could grow up to be a prostitute. It was not any sort of prediction or warning; I was just noting that she had an infinite array of options, that being one of them. I suppose I had sex workers on the brain after yesterday’s musings about blue-collar careers.
That’s the last time I try to be encouraging. Mothers are so sensitive.
The truth is, I’m afraid of movers. Watching someone pick up the boxes I have ineptly packed or the furniture on which I spent too much money makes my heart palpitate like a mariachi band. But since I have an increasingly bad shoulder and no physical strength whatsoever, movers have become a necessary indulgence.
My friend Lauri commented last week over coffee at Starbucks that blue-collar workers of any sort who do labor on her behalf make her anxious. I suppose that’s the core of it for me, as well: liberal, white-collar guilt. When I lived in Chicago skyscraper, I always went in and out the back door because I was too terrified to face the doorman. Even today, when I have people in to clean my apartment, I can’t disappear from the scene quickly enough, and I often over-tip taxi drivers, hair stylists, and restaurant servers to the point of embarrassment for everyone concerned. (Once a taxi driver tried to return some of the tip I gave him, and I ran and hid in a building lobby until he drove away.) Luckily, I have never hired a prostitute: I just know I would end up being the one who does all the work.
Yesterday, Rob and I moved our things from Manhattan to Baltimore. Since he is the best boyfriend in the world and understands my erratic neuroses better than anyone else, he offered to stay in Manhattan to supervise the loading while giving me the comparatively easy job of supervising the unloading on the other end.* This meant that I was not in New York to help him with the last-minute packing of his own apartment, which lasted until four o’clock in the morning. I feel wildly guilty about this, but it’s nowhere near the level of agitation I would have experienced if I had had been there when the movers showed up.
I must confess that, despite my fears, everything went rather smoothly. Could it be that I am now desensitized?
Perhaps I ought to hire movers more often. Or electricians or painters or doormen or hair stylists or housecleaners or prostitutes.
* I spent most of the time hiding in the kitchen.
The other day, on the subway, I overheard a conversation between a scruffy man leaning on a walker and two attractive young men who appeared to be brothers. (It was actually more “maniacal monologue” than “conversation,” and it was of sufficient volume for me to have overheard without leaving my apartment, but I like to paint these encounters with as civilized a brush as possible.)
What got my attention was when the scruffy man declared, “Everyone knows that it a guy’s got big feet, he’s got a big thing. I mean, in the changing room or something, you can’t help looking around and being, like, whoa! So now I can pretty much tell if a guy’s got a big thing. You just gotta look at his feet and then look him in the eye. And if he meets your eye, you know, yep.”
The young men to whom he was speaking nodded sagely at this point. I wondered if they even spoke English (they looked German), or if they were just trying to meet his eye to influence his evaluation.
The conversation (or maniacal monologue, if you prefer) shifted then to travel. The scruffy man had apparently been to the Bahamas and Miami, locales that, if one puts any credence in his report, featured beautiful women forming lines to service him in a particular way, one after another.
The woman sitting across from me on the subway bit her palm to keep from laughing.
At Forty-second Street, the three men departed the train. On the subway platform, the young men thanked their scruffy companion for the insightful discussion. For me, this was the best part of the encounter: they were serious, and the scruffy man knew it. He received the appreciation with a regal inclination of his head, as if he were a tribal elder imparting great wisdom to the next generation. Then they were out of sight as the train departed and everyone remaining in the car furtively met each other’s laughing eyes, a thin crack in the veneer of New York indifference.
When I first moved from Chicago back to Baltimore in 1997, I had never seen “Friends.” I also did not get any television reception in my new apartment, so I spent two more Friendless years. The closest I came was when I briefly dated a man who, so astonished at this hole in my experience, dragged out his personal stash of video tape recordings with the idea of forcing me to watch the entire series to date. “I want to introduce you to my friends,” he announced smugly, an approach that saw me fleeing into the night before the first episode was over.
Not until I moved in with Michael (who had cable) and absorbed his viewing habits did I make any effort to watch the program, and I eventually came to feel rather warmly toward it. The writing was consistently amusing, and the characters were not as much of the caricatures that they might have been (and eventually became). I developed a little crush on Ross, of all people, who was passionately goofy in the way I wanted to be (and in the way Rob actually is, although he for some reason identifies more with the icky Chandler).
Anyway, I watched the series finale last night, uncomfortably conscious of a country full of people out there beating their breasts over the loss of their dear imaginary friends.
I, on the other hand, New Yorker that I have become, spent the whole episode bemoaning the loss of an imaginary rent-controlled apartment.
Tonight, Goblin and I accompanied Rob to the grocery store and waited outside while he went in to buy yummy pudding. Goblin started shivering in the cool and damp night air, so I crouched down, positioned her little body between my knees, wrapped my arms around her, and quietly sang the “Goblin Is a Good Girl” song. The only thing visible to passers-by was an unshaven man kneeling on the pavement, crooning tunelessly.
As one might imagine, I got a rather wide berth.
My guess is that everyone is secretly bored to tears. This is why advertising works. We buy things because we think that some of the glamour or excitement of the product’s marketing will infuse our dreary lives. Thus, every razor and toothbrush we use is as gleaming and aerodynamic as the space shuttle, and the automobiles we drive can transport us with ease to jagged mountaintops. Whether the Enterprise beams me up during my morning toilet or my boyfriend is captured by the yeti, I’ll be ready. (I just have to call in sick from work, board the dog, make sure the mortgage is paid and the floors are swept, put the mail on hold, make the bed, pack an overnight bag, and not forget to grab my vitamins, my glasses, my dental night guard, my prescriptions, and a change of underpants. Here I come to save the day, honey! Don’t leave without me, Captain Kirk!)
I’m a designer, so good industrial design and clever advertising give me a quiet joy, but these days, there is desperation in the air. If a product can’t claim to be “New and Improved!” every six months, it might as well not exist. It will be bypassed on the shelves by the hordes of jaded zombies who need their next fix of excitement, and it will languish in consumer purgatory until some wiseguy comes up with a way of revitalizing the brand.
We don’t buy things because they’re actually new and improved. Who cares if our no-wax tile is two percent brighter, or if our electric toothbrushes have four speeds instead of three? We buy things because for one brief, sparkling moment, we have in our very own grocery bag a package depicting a shiny burst of color and too many exclamation points. The exhilaration lasts until we get home, throw the packaging away, and sink back into the routine tedium of our existence.
Though I once pretended to be a sadomasochist to get out of dating a man who looked like a snaggletoothed George Costanza, I am not really a sadist or a masochist. Still, I have occasional insights into those mindsets, most notably in the bathroom. Yes, it’s what you think:
My guilty secret is that I tend to go months or even years without flossing, not because I dislike it, but because I like it too much. The searing pain of the floss cutting into my gums is exquisite and accompanied by geysers of hot, sticky blood. When I finish, my mouth feels raw but immaculate: through suffering comes redemption. Because I don’t subscribe to a religion, I can’t get it any other way . . . and yet, I crave it. (Hairshirts and self-flagellation actually start making sense in the CVS dental care aisle.) At first, flossing once a day does the trick, but as my gums get tougher, I need more and more to get the same high. Two, three, four times or more; once I did it six times in one afternoon.
Pressing the floss deeper and deeper into the soft tissue between my teeth reminds me of a side stairway in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. There, on display, is a corpse encased in glass, sliced into one-inch segments so perfect, it might have been done by a laser beam. Gawkers who stumble upon this macabre exhibition can see everything, inside and out, of this poor, unsuspecting creature. I have recently begun to imagine, however, that the slices are less uniform, that they taper as they move up from the feet, toward the dead man’s jaw, and terminate between his teeth. I used to be horrified by this dead man, cut up like a salami. He haunted my dreams. But now I see that he is just me, preoccupied with flossing, with digging, cutting, slicing, bleeding, cleansing . . .
. . . oh yes, yes, YES!
(I recently purchased a vibrating flossing machine. Y’all may not be hearing from me for a while.)