[Second] Shameless Plug.

The Virginian-Pilot, in an act of incredible graciousness or horrifying foolishness, gave me my own blog. I update daily. I don’t cuss in it, but I still mention Tampax. Read it and weep:

http://hamptonroads.com/blogs/ghent-view-apartment-5

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Filed under Prose for Hoes., {This Ghent Life.}

Love is Dead.

“Tell me something you’re afraid of,” Brian whispers.

We’re sitting on his couch, an overly cushy blue corduroy loveseat that likely belonged to someone’s parents before it ended up sandwiched between a honey-colored pine entertainment center and a basket of old Men’s Health magazines in his moderately-priced Ghent apartment.

We’re at the close of our third date and the living room is dark. A thumbnail of moonlight shines through the window near the sofa, illuminating half of his face. I’m sitting with my legs crossed, which is starting to make my knees feel raw and achy, but I’m too content with our placement to move. His legs are thrown over the couch; his head is resting near my shoulder. I can feel his breath hit my upper arm, and when he shifts slightly, I drawn in his cologne. He smells like lime and cedar.

“I’m afraid of lots of things,” I say, soft enough so as not to startle him away from my shoulder.

“Like what?” he asks, and his eyes, two startling bits of blue topaz, looked up at me in their upside-down sort of way and rested on my face. He smiled. My mouth cracked open dumbly; I had to remind myself to shut it.

“Well,” I start, “disappointing my parents. Being dissatisfied. Losing people I love suddenly.” I return his gaze and whisper, “Lots of things.”

He nods solemnly, and averts his gaze down to the brown throw rug stuffed under the shaky legs of the coffee table. He doesn’t offer anything, so, boldly as a woman who sits crossed legged on a couch in a dark room after a third date knows how, I lean into him closely and ask, “What are you afraid of?”

Brian takes a breath, and shakes his head. I am gripped by a strange fear that I’ve awakened something he’s been trying to hide, that he’s going to continue to bury himself rather than be revealed, but he looks up at me with surprising earnestness and answers, “Zombies, hands down.”

“Are – are you serious?” I ask, sitting up a little. He rises abruptly from my side and whirls around, putting two tightly gripped hands on my knees.

“I’m not even jokin’, Laura,” he says. His blue eyes are round as saucers. “People say anything about zombies, I have to leave the room. I hate zombies. I don’t like seeing them, don’t like talking about them – ”

 “When do you see zombies?” I shriek, and his dog, who was indulging in an albeit-too-brief nap in the corner, is jostled awake, gets up and trots into the other room. He is presumably no stranger to women howling their protests to his master’s declarations of fearing the apocalypse of the undead.  

“Laura, like, movies and stuff,” he says. “And I don’t know what’s out there, you know? Could be anything.” His whole body tenses and he shakes theatrically.

“Brian, they don’t exist,” I say, slower than normal.

“That we know of,” he returns, “but if they do, I – I don’t even want to think about it.”

I take a breath to further the debate, then think better of it. “Thank you so much for dinner,” I tell him.

“Yeah, of course,” he says, flipping on the tableside lamp. “Repeat for Thursday?”

He walks me to my car, plants a kiss on my tightened forehead  and turns on his heels back up the stairs to his apartment. He waves from the steps, mechanically, and makes his way slowly up the stairs, bobbing back and forth as walks up, his arms reaching towards the banister with a heavy, colossal grip, taking each step in a hulking slow pace, unhurried and measured. He stops suddenly and runs back to my car. I roll down the window.

“I just wanted to tell you your hair looked real pretty tonight,” he says, and kisses me suddenly and runs back upstairs into the dark of his quiet apartment and, quickly as they had died, my affections rose up again and walked the earth.

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Hair of the Bitch.

There is one setting on the Schick Quattro for Women TrimStyle Razor & Bikini Trimmer, and I am not happy about it.

In fact, I’m pissed. I haven’t felt such awareness of acute discrimination since Women’s Studies 201 – I’m Vagina Monologue pissed. It’s a self-righteous, sanctified kind of pissed where I’m drafting an e-mail in my head to Schick’s customer service, determined to get a dignified answer for their prejudice; or at the very least a few coupons for their Intuition razor, which costs roughly the same amount as an eight ball of coke, and I can’t even snort the fucking thing off my coffee table.

 To Whom It May Concern, I decide I will type. When did Schick decide how long my pussy hair was going to be?

I examine the instrument, which is teal. It’s surrounded by a pink, non-threatening box, and a cartoon woman on the front grins at me sheepishly. She has presumably used said trimmer, and as the box pledges, discovered “the confidence that comes with all-over smoothness and a neat bikini area.”

First off, let’s call a spade a spade, my letter will continue. The term ‘bikini line’ is just a sugary way of saying ‘vagina.’ You’re telling me I can’t be confident enough to screw dudes until my twat is trimmed to your specifications. The whole thing is one big shaving guard, because apparently one setting is fine enough, I don’t get to choose the length of my own pubes.

I am annoyed at Schick, but I am annoyed at myself for standing in the feminine aisle of Target surrounded by $7-raspberry shaving cream and razors with purple moisture strips. It was the commercials. They were Don Draper worthy. Women in towels walked past bushes that magically morphed into various neat shapes – a mound, a triangle, a landing strip. I was intrigued by their Alice in Wonderland quality, magical and whimsical. Plants, I thought, watching the screen. I like plants. They’re natural and healthy and serve as the perfect metaphor for my precious ladybits and I should buy that trimmer and have the most beautiful vagina in all the land.

I had my practical reasons for wanting to buy a pubic hair trimmer. I like things neat enough down there, but shaving was time-consuming and gunked up all my good razors. Those shitty one-time-use razors were out of the question because the cheap little fuckers left patches of razor burn that resembled medieval plague boils. One of my friends swore up and down that Brazilians were the way to go, but along with her testament of “the smoothest I’ve ever been,” came the less appealing report of “angry Russian waxer” and “taint burn.”

And I didn’t want to lose all my hair. I wasn’t trying to napalm the fucking thing. I liked my hair. It was soft and protective. It made me feel like a woman – the last time I had no pubic hair I was ten, and being that it was the age that I had a predisposition for hot pink stirrup pants and a life-threatening crush on a hateful 11-year-old Donnie Cross who used to snap the straps of my training bra, ten wasn’t an age I wanted to relive in any aspect.

I put the trimmer back on the shelf in revulsion. My letter turns indignant: I don’t need your woman-hating corporate fuckery, Schick! You can’t just lure me in with plant-life and then tell me that my vagina is going to look like every other woman’s who has bought your bullshit! I do not a have a Robot Twat! I want choice! I want guards, you motherfuckers! I want to pick a 2 or 3 or maybe even 8 if I want to keep it clown-hair length! You don’t own this vagina!

I figure that will be about the time the Schick customer service representative will be deleting my e-mail, possibly without the Intuition coupons. It was a very deflating thought, so much so that I give up on my e-mail entirely and walk to the next aisle to pick up body wash.

I find myself on the men’s grooming aisle. Blue and red and brown-toned bottles line the aisle, all looking very masculine, collectively smelling like a frat house. I pick up a bottle of Tom’s of Maine body wash and inhale because it reminds me of an old boyfriend, one who liked my vagina just as it was, though anyone who likes Tom’s of Maine is usually into a decent amount of hippie-love that I could have had an entire functioning vaginal ecosystem below the belt, complete with badgers, without any objection from his camp.

I’m taking a long inhale when I spot a Conair beard trimmer shining under the florescent lights of the grooming aisle.

It comes with several guards, a brush, a charging station, and a tiny comb that is conveniently vagina-sized. I look at the packaging. There is a picture of a man who has gone from a chin-strap to a goatee and is looking quite self-satisfied about the transition.

The whole thing costs twelve bucks and is sleek and silver, like a rocket ship, which I like just as much as plants, maybe even more. It lands with a satisfying thud in my basket.

I’m drafting another e-mail in my head to Schick, something akin to telling an ex-boyfriend that you’re engaged and said fiancé is a physicist for NASA who quit his part-time modeling job to spend more time volunteering to read to the elderly. I just wanted to let you know that there are other options than the Schick Quattro for Women TrimStyle Razor & Bikini Trimmer , it starts, and even if those options aren’t sold in the feminine aisle or come in a non-threatening teal or have a 22-year-old girl smiling at me happily from the box, I’m going to take it anyway. All I want is choice, the least of which involves how long my hair should be. Your days of pubic pigeonholing are over. We  are nothing without our sense of self-respect.

P.S. – I have included my return address where your Intuition coupons may be forwarded.

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In the Sack.

[Submitted for Poetry, Prose and Pints. Theme: “Nekkid Dreams.”]


I knew two things: one, his name was Kevin. Or maybe Greg. Either way, it was one syllable. Or maybe two syllables. And two, I knew that he wasn’t wearing any pants.

Was I wearing pants? I wasn’t sure. I’d had three – count ‘em – three rum and cokes and my coordination was roughly on par with that of a stroke victim trying to dance the second act of Swan Lake. I looked down at my legs – they were bare – so I guess I wasn’t wearing pants. Oh, that’s right, I had put on a dress before I went out, a little black number from H&M that was long enough to be elegant but was low-cut enough to suggest that the possibility of a boob touch was imminent if you played your cards right. In this case, playing your cards right meant buying me a drink and telling me I had pretty hair, both of which Kevin or Greg – actually, his name might have been Phil – did, along with touching my hand a lot when he talked. While my friends stood at the stage bobbing their heads in unison to our favorite band, Midnight Jellybean Addiction and the Rutabaga Flux Capacitor, Kevin or Phil or Greg stood next to me at the bar, and shouted sweet-nothings in my ear like, “I saw your tits across the room and wanted to say hi,” and “If those aren’t real they must have cost you a fucking fortune.”

He bought me my first drink, then my second. I was feeling pretty loose, loose enough that when he asked how big my areolas were, I slurred that they were “roughly the size of salad plates,” an admission I wouldn’t have shared without a little social lubrication first. By the third drink, I was touching his legs, putting my hands in his pockets and laughing at everything he said, even when his jokes were obviously primarily an excuse to use the word “nutsack.”

Kevin-Phil-Greg asked if I wanted to go home with him. His breath smelled like spearmint and I figured, hey, a girl could do worse. I waved to my friends, who were all too busy listening to the band’s new soon-to-be-hit-single “Bears Attacking Grandmas” to notice that I was headed out the door with someone whose haircut resembled Tony Shalhoub’s.

So I guess that’s where we were, back at his place in his twin bed. He was on top of me, kissing me passionately as an open-mouthed bass, compressing me down into his Duck Tales sheets, which had presumably not been washed since Duck Tails was on television, the first Bush administration, I believe. He took handfuls of my various body parts and squeezed them as you would a stress ball, twisting them around, and with each new grip I cringed, my eyes popping out like a cartoon character’s.

Suddenly there came a moment of very clear, startling sobriety, a tiny voice hidden within who was wading through the river of rum and coke coursing through my veins. Oh, no, it was Sober Me. “Well,” Sober Me, “another night of disappointing sex, I see.”

“Shut up,” I slur. “Just shut up.”

“What’s with this guy’s hair?” Sober Me asks. “Must be enlisted. Navy, I bet.”

“You ruin everything,” I hiss.

“Oh, really?” Sober Me chides. “I ruin everything? Am I the one wearing boxers with dancing bananas on them? Because I think those belong to the guy you’re about to let pork you.”

“Go away!” I demand. “Just go the hell away! It’s too late to stop now!”

“Fine,” says Sober Me. “But make sure he bags it. Not that you’ll be feeling it one way or the other.”

Kevin-Phil-Greg is moaning, unaware of the conversation I’m engaged in, pinching my inner thigh so tightly with his rough fingers it makes my eyes water. I lie back. Sober Me was right. This is going to be disappointing. Not that I’m surprised. The man has a Rush Hour II poster. Twenty-eight-year-old men with Rush Hour II posters, as a general rule, do not make good lovers.

It occurs to me, though I’ve never been the prayin’ type, to turn to what little religion I had left. So while I lay on my back with my legs rotated at a 90-degree angle on either side of me, I have my own little conversation with God.

“Lord, I know I’m not a perfect woman,” I murmur as Kevin-Phil-Greg, drunk from lust and from nine bourbon shots, licks my inner ear, “and maybe we should have had this conversation earlier, but if there’s any way you could help me salvage this night, show me a reason to get my life back on track, I would really appreciate it. Also, thank you for making Jenny Pierce fat and for renewing True Blood for another season. Amen.”

Kevin-Phil-Greg’s strokes suddenly become softer, more supple and embracing. “You look amazing tonight,” he says, but it’s not the same voice that picked me up at Hoss’s Beer Barn. Yet, it sounds familiar. It’s a calm, silky baritone that I’ve heard before. It’s said something, it’s said something to me before. It was..it was.. I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen. It’s..oh, Jesus, it’s the voice of John Cusack.

Oh, my fucking God, I am about to fuck John Cusack.

I squint to make sure it’s really him, that I’m not just imagining Kevin-Phil-Greg as the star of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but his face is unchanging, even in my drunken haze, and when I touch it, he looks at me with his soft chocolate eyes and whispers, “I’ve waited so long for this.”

“Oh, my God, so have I,” I answer.

He nuzzles my neck, pulls down my panties. “Tell me what I want to hear,” he whispers.

“I thought your performance in Must Love Dogs was highly underrated,” I moan.

“Yes,” he moans. “Yes.”

“And I can’t believe you didn’t get an Oscar for your work in Being John Malcovich,” I pant.

“Tell me more,” he says, thrusting.

“I took up smoking after I saw you in High Fedility!”

“Uh-huh, uh-huh!”

“I’ve never loved you more after I saw Hot Tub Time Machine!”

His eyes close and he delivers the final blow, and suddenly the mountains are moving and the seas are roaring and the stars are falling from the sky, shattering like glass onto the ground and my eyes are open wide, taking in his face: the sweat dripping down the bump on his nose, his soft hair falling on his forehead, the way his thin lips quiver as he releases a small whimper. He smells like sandalwood – wait, no! – like cedar. Or, no, he smells like..he smells like..

He smells like spearmint.

Oh, shit.

Kevin-Phil-Greg’s Tony Shalhoub haircut is hanging over me, and the sweat is pouring from his doughy white chest onto my neck. He rolls off of me, squishes my arm against the wall of the twin bed. “You came alive under me,” he says. “You were really something.”

I look to see if I can find John anywhere in his face, a hint of his sandalwood cologne, but I’m only met with the face of the doughy enlisted sailor, whose flaccid dick is hanging like a nightcrawler from his middle.

I say nothing. John is gone. My John is gone. I turn towards my fleshy partner, who gathers me up in his arms. He hugs me close to his panting chest. Over his shoulder, I see a familiar face.

It’s John. My John. He’s staring at me from a Grosse Point Blank poster over Kevin-Phil-Greg’s dresser.

“Cigarette?” Kevin-Phil-Greg asks, and I snap out of my trance.

“Sure,” I say, sliding one out of the pack. He hands me a lighter.

“How was it?” he asks. His face is earnest, his voice is soft.

“It was quite alright,” I say. My cigarette starts to glow a burning orange.

“Did you..?” he asks.

“I did more than that,” I reply.

“You came twice?” he asks.

“Honey,” I tell him, taking a long inhale from the Camel Lite. “I saw the face of God.”

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Sequined Peacock Promises.

[For L.P. – better things are coming.]

If you don’t believe in ghosts, you’ve never been broken up with in front of your own Christmas tree.

I see him every holiday around December 1, the moment I plug in the lights on my Charlie Brown-style artificial fir, though of course he’s not there. He’s probably busy with the leggy blonde I heard he starting seeing after me, the one who chain-smokes and is an assistant instructor at a dance school or a gymnast. I forget which.

And yet he’s sitting on my couch, crossing one leg over the other so that his ankle is resting on his knee. He’s wearing Pumas.

He’s drunk.

“And it’s not you at all,” he tells me. “I don’t want you to think it’s you because it totally isn’t.” He’s talking out of the corner of his mouth the way he always did. It was worse when he drank, stroke-like almost, the way his right side went paralyzed after a few Coronas with lime. I watch the tips of his front teeth as his lips formed the words. The left one had sharply defined ridges that I hadn’t noticed before I was focusing on them to get my mind off the fact that he was telling me he no longer wanted to go to make lasagna with me on a Thursday night, or see my hair tousled in the morning when I got up to pee.

He sighs. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I say nothing. The bulbs on the Christmas tree, the only light source in the room, are dotting their reflection like measles on the flat blackness of the TV screen. I am sitting on the stiff white couch in my apartment in a black nightie, one that shows too much cleavage, one that I selected before he came over and now want to rip off in humiliation and strangle him with so that there is no evidence that this moment ever happened. I take a throw pillow and clutch it in front of my chest. If you break up with me after I track you down a special-edition Misfits mug for Christmas, you don’t get to look at my breasts, the ones I exfoliated with coconut-scented sugar scrub, while you do it.

He continues. “It’s like, you’re great, right? You’re like, funny and like, clearly attractive and like, highly intelligent…”

You sound like an eleventh-grade girl, I think. I am being dumped by a shitfaced eleventh-grade girl.

He smears his hand on his forehead, trying to wipe the drunk away, a tactic I’ve used myself and can attest to firsthand of its ineffectiveness. He looks back up at me. “I know what you’re thinking. Fuck, this guy is stupid and drunk.”

“Couple that with ‘I’d like to remove your nuts with a rusty cheese grater and put them in a mason jar in my garage, you Christmas-ruining bastard’ and you’re halfway there.”

“Huh?”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“But I’ve thought about it and yeah, I’m not picking the right time to do this, but the holiday is a great time to meet somebody, you know? I thought, ‘Hey, she could meet a really great dude at a Christmas party, and I could be standing in the way.’”

I pictured meeting a handsome doctor at a holiday soiree and saying miserably, “I’m sorry, I can’t give you my number. I have this guy I’ve been seeing who I have half-hearted sex with who barely speaks to me anymore but I really feel like he may be The One.”

I suppose I knew it was coming. We had barely spoken for weeks. In the beginning, we talked for hours at a time about news stories, gossiped about mutual acquaintances. He introduced me to the movie Swingers. I made him baklava. We drank two bottles of Merlot on his couch and listened to college rock LPs. Then, drunk and warm, we went to bed.

Then the end started, the way it usually does, in a slow evaporation. The calls became less frequent, the sex suddenly nonexistent. He claimed a demanding new work schedule, but I knew it was a lie. And then we were here.

I held out a few shards of hope when had he texted me that night: Just came from Dave’s party. Can I come over? Please say yes. Presuming that no one would come over at nearly midnight three days before Christmas to tell me they no longer desired even a hint of my company, I told him, absolutely, come over, and did he want Christmas cookies? I cleaned the kitchen counter with a Lysol wipe while I waited for him to come over, positioned the presents under the tree so that the most attractive part of the wrapping was facing forward. He was coming over, things were getting better, a tiny Christmas miracle all my own.

He knocked on my door. He was wearing a brown sweater. I let him in. He sat on the couch. He said, “I’ve had a lot to drink.”

It probably should have been my first hint that things were not going to end well.

So here he was now, trying to salvage my feelings somehow while I stare at him with widened eyes and measured breathing. He puts his head in his hands, then looks back up at me and says, “It’s like, I don’t even know where I am these days. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. I’m on like, Wizard Time.”

Oh, Christ Jesus, he just said he’s on Wizard Time. He’s blaming our break up on the time-space continuum.

Too drunk to sense my horror, he moves closer to me, pats my bare leg that I am trying to cover with what little material my nightie will allow, because we’re pals now. His jeans graze my bare leg and I tremble in resentment.

Get your fucking Levi’s off of me.

He smiles at me. “You really are great,” he says. He bends down towards my lap and I jump. He kisses my knee.

I’m so shocked I don’t say anything, just sort of look at him with my mouth partially open, my jaw poised for argument, but nothing comes out.

“I just kissed your knee,” he smiles.

“Yeah,” I acknowledge.

“Oh, my God, I just kissed your knee,” he moans, and throws his head back on my couch, which, in its starched rigidity, bounces him slightly.

He closes his eyes. I’m wondering if maybe he’s about to pass out, in which case, I could easily bludgeon him with the wok I have sitting on the stove strictly for aesthetic value, but it’s late and I’m tired and I’m not sure that I have enough baking soda to get the blood out of the couch, but before I can check the pantry he shakes his head and comes to.

“It’s late,” he says.

“It is,” I answer.

“I should go,” he says.

“Yeah,” I answer.

He gets up and stumbles to the door.

“Do you need a ride home?” I ask, then immediately regret it. If he takes me up on it, it will be five more miserable minutes I have to spend with someone who has dumped me in front of the emblematic light of Christ.

“I can walk,” he says. He looks at me thoughtfully in that horrible, wrenching way he has, and says with what appears to be the beginnings of sobriety or a last-minute mustering of somberness, “Goodnight, Laura.”

I hate the sound of my name in his mouth. I smile at him weakly and shut the door with a slow, heavy thud. I hear him leave out of the front door of the apartment building, can even make out his footsteps on the cold sidewalk. The room is quiet.

“Fucking Christmas,” I say, and switch off the lights of the tree.

Years later I stand in front of the same tree, but mercifully, a different couch. Change, always change. Nothing, thankfully, is permanent.

The apparition still appears, but I immediately recall its flesh and blood counterpart, the one I find walking down our mutual block every now and again. He’ll stop to ask me about a new bar or to discuss the mutual acquaintances that we’ve let slip away, and sometimes when he talks I’ll watch the ridges of his teeth. I wonder if he remembers planting one on my knee. Whether it’s time or meeting new people who come in and make a mess of things, I find that the ache for him is gone. He’s skin and ridges of teeth and a voice that I knew better years back when it meant something, when it meant everything.

It’s easy for us to talk, but I’m in a hurry to meet someone for coffee. We say our polite goodbyes.

“You look good,” he tells me.

“So do you,” I tell him. This is a lie. His hair looks terrible.

I’ve opened a box of ornaments donated to me by my mother, old family decorations that have been downsized in her effort to de-clutter the garage. They are the only witnesses to the haunting. I put my brother’s homemade sponge-mouse ornament on one of the branches of the little tree, and it smiles largely at me. “You’re doing better and better,” it winks.

“Couldn’t have been worse than before,” says the shark, a present from one of my schoolteacher father’s old students, while it dangles heavily on the bottom of the tree.

“I bet this year will be the best yet,” the sequined peacock promises, and sits near the crown of orchids I’ve used for the tree topper. Bird ornaments should go near the top of the tree, my mother always said.

I gather up the forest green cord from the floor and walk it towards the outlet on the wall, and when I plug it in, the 50 bits of 2.5 Watt light glows through orchids and mice and peacocks and onto the window panes and my own skin, and everything shines.

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How to have a Bar Fight: a Guide for the Post-Collegiate White Suburban Woman.

When you’re handed your Bachelor of Arts degree, it comes with several things: pride in your craft, a new societal standing, and years of crippling debt. But strangely, what it doesn’t come with is street cred.

What is street cred, you ask? Short for street credibility, it’s the respect you garner from the survival of your surroundings and the thriving within. For instance, someone who was born on the streets of Detroit selling smack to feed his or her ten siblings and can hold a handgun sideways when involved in a shoot-out with a rival gang member would typically have more street cred than, say, a post-collegiate suburban quasi-hipster white woman whose main concern is that she will not be off work from her editing job in time to catch the buy one get one half-off sale at Ann Taylor Loft.

Ohmygodsocute.

What’s a girl to do? You can’t help that you were born in a neighborhood that fed into a fully accredited public school and that you learned to drive on a Saturn, nor was it your fault that your shoulders are sloped perfectly for frequent pastel cardigan-wearing.

Or for tasteful necklaces.

The easiest way to combat the lack of street cred is to earn it in full force, and the fastest way to do that is to kick someone’s ass. Now, sensible woman that you are, you know you can’t just go around kicking anyone’s ass, lest you inadvertently thrash up a nun who is having her habit dry cleaned. You have to step out of your comfort zone a little, because if there’s one thing that a dependency on kitten heels in your wardrobe guarantees, it’s that a scrap will not easily find you.

Trouble repellant.

Trouble repellant.

You don’t want to start throwing ‘bows with someone you know, though – that just makes you look like an unstable lunatic, and then who will want to go to the Passion Pit show with you? Instead, you have to use the age old formula for fights: alcohol and culture clash.

Step 1: Choose the locale.

The best place to have a good ol’ fashioned pub brawl is in the white trash section of town. So how do you know where that is?

White Trash Neighborhood Checklist:

  1. Bar with no windows
  2. A marina titled with someone’s first name
  3. More than one tire store per any given block
  4. A 7-11 that has been converted into a church
  5. Signs for palm readings

"You make weak financial decisions."

Go to the bar furthest off the road, as it will probably be populated with true locals (you may have to bribe the Shell station clerk with a boob touch for this information); if the walls are wooden planks and it smells like Winstons then you’re in the right place.

You may also see this man.

Make sure you have a friend with you. You may not survive unless you travel in a pack.

Step 2: Select your target.

It should be someone of your same race, gender, and sexual preference (or you could be charged with an alleged hate crime), no matter if you think you could take the Asian lesbian spitting cigar bits onto the floor in the corner of the bar (note: you can’t).

You don’t want her to be too young (as 22-year-old women typically have strong fingernails and a disposition of invincibility), nor do you want to go too old (because fair is fair, and cat-scratching a septuagenarian, no matter how much she watches FOX news, ain’t).

"Did you know a colored man is president?"

Thirty-something is usually a good choice, for the following reasons: she’ll have slower reflexes but will not be seen as defenseless, plus she’s probably had children, which decreases her will to survive to continue the race. That’s just evolution, baby.

How do you know if your target is a true white trash maven and not a disguised suburban post-collegiate? Check her name beforehand. If it’s Destiny, Cheyenne, Misty, or any name that doubles as a gemstone, you’re in business.

Just be sure to not pick a woman with bleach blonde hair that has clearly been blasted with Aussie Scrunch Spray, because she will show no mercy.

Shudder.

Step 3: Start said fight.

Usually this is the easy part, since white trash ladies are primed to want to kick your school-book-learn-ed-ass up and down the boulevard without much prompting from you anyway.

There are a few courses of action you can take:

1. Snicker at her Coach purse as she walks by.

Q: What if she doesn’t have a Coach purse?

A: White trash women will always own a Coach purse.

Like a moth to a flame.

2. Announce loudly that you can see her “scar from her Caesarean” in her “midriff top.” This works especially well if she is not wearing a midriff top.

Bingo.

3. Announce loudly your affection for MSNBC and its unbiased broadcasting.

It's like looking into the face of an angel.

Avoid lofty insults (i.e., “Someone’s looking a little nouveau riche this evening.”) – you have to go straight for the adolescent smackdown. If you’re out of verbal slights, just look over in their general direction and whisper with your drinking partners. Then let nature take care of the rest.

Step 4: The Challenge.

“WHAT’RE YOU TALKIN ‘BOUT MEH?!”

“BE-ITCH, I WILL KICK YUR AYUSS!”

“YOU GOT SOMETHIN’ TAH SAY, LITTLE BE-ITCH?!”

Any variation of the above phrases constitutes an invitation to come to blows. You can respond by either a confirmatory, Yeah, so?, or a simple, Maybe I do, or, if you’re feeling terribly bold, the go-to Suburban White Lady passive-aggressive catchphrase, Well, I’m sorry you feel that way.

Be sure to have this look on your face.

By this point she will have thrown a minimum of seventeen swear words, called your outfit ugly (white trash women never appreciate floral babydoll dresses and patterned Target hosiery), and demanded that you step outside to the parking lot.

Shit's about to get ugly.

Step 5: Prep.

Remove all expensive jewelry. Even if you’re wearing a semi-precious cocktail ring that you think would be a vital aid in causing Amber nasal septum deviation, consider the time and effort it will take to replace it. How long ago did you purchase it? Would it still be in stock? Could you devote yourself to finding it on the internet? Remember, you can always buy a new nose for yourself, but the garnet-encrusted cocktail ring from éclectique Mélange is going to be a huge pain in the ass to track down out of season.

Too cute to be permanently fused to a girl named Amber's face.

Have your friend quietly call the cops.

Take off sequined belt.

It's ass-whoopin' time.

Step 6: The Battle.

You don’t have long to build up a rage whereas your white trash contender has had her whole life to be pissed off at your middle-class privilege, so think fast. What gets your goat? People who take up two parking spaces with non-fuel efficient vehicles? Knowing that Rob Thomas has three Grammys and some people have never even heard of Joni Mitchell? The fact that Arrested Development was canceled? The world is full of injustice, so you have to pick one and get fired up.

The face of rage.

The rest won’t be easy, but you have a lot of advantages. Pull her inexorably long hair and tell her you think Brad Paisley is a sub-par songwriter. Kick her in the shin and holler, “That’s for the McCain-Palin sticker on the back of your Mustang!” You’ll probably get a little bloodied up through her stunning use of acrylic nails, but if you can just keep that picture of Jason Bateman is in your head, there will be no stopping you.

Until the cops come.

Step 7: Dealing with the police.

You may think this is a disadvantage to getting in a bar fight, but if you want street cred, it has to be documented, plus they’ll be able to pull an irate Crystal off of you, who is pissed that you ripped her Confederate flag babydoll tee.

It took many gas station visits to find the perfect one.

Being the nice suburban gal that you are, you know how to start crying when speaking to authority figures, unlike Crystal, who will still be yelling obscenities at the “muther-fuckkin” deputy who is stuffing her in the back of the cop car.

I needed a good excuse to post this picture.

Sure, they’ll probably take you down to the station, but you can coo at the booking officer enough to sway him to believe that you were unprovoked and acting in self-defense. Besides, even if they don’t buy it, your friend’s brother is a lawyer and he can probably have it knocked down to a disturbing the peace charge anyway.

Step 8: Collect street cred.

The best way to spread this is to drop is subtly; you can’t just launch into a story all willy-nilly about how you were in a bar fight, otherwise, you look like you’re making it up. So say something along the lines of, “Oh, no, I can’t have a beer. I’m – I’m sort of on probation. No, no, it’s a long story. You don’t want to hear it, believe me. It’s, it’s just so awful what I did.” And then, when they prompt you, act uncomfortable and excuse yourself to the bathroom to retouch your Lancome bronzer. Have the friend that was there offer up the details. The best street cred is the kind that gets spread – purportedly – on its own.

I said, Gott DAMN, you are gansta.

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Tenth Life.

She first came into our lives at 5 a.m. on a Thursday.

The kitchen door was open. The porch light was buzzing with the last few nightfall moths, drunk and combating with the glass that was barricading them from the hits of light, and I thought for sure one of them would flutter in. I was zipping up my freshly used toothpaste into a square tweed suitcase. The bus for New York left in an hour, my first spring trip with the high school chorus. Dad sipped black coffee at the kitchen table. My mother was not yet awake.

The moths are still tumbling, wanting frantically to break through to the electric flower, and I’m watching them both sleepily and intently; so when she first walks in the door, I almost miss her. And I might have, had she not looked at me first.

She’s a cat, small but certainly not a kitten; her face is chiefly white, and tan and gray patches cover her back and belly. What strikes me first about her is that she is no particular hurry. She blinks slowly and steps over my suitcase, a minor inconvenience, and heads straight towards my father.

My stomach drops. I look to my father, who didn’t take kindly to outside creatures coming into the house. Once, a bird flew in and perched itself on one of the copper weathervanes my parents had fastened to their enormous kitchen wall. Some people would have been bemused – By God, there’s a bird in the house – you don’t see that every day! – but my father was frantic. He borrowed a crab net from the neighbor and chased it around the kitchen, barricading the door to the foyer, swearing at it so heavily that my mother made him sit down and take a break while the bird sat watching him from above. “You’re going to have a heart attack, Bob Watkins,” she scolded, “and all over some little bird.”

I stare at the cat, and she looks back at me.

You’re new here, her face said.

I’ve lived here for nine of my fourteen years, I tell her back, and never once have I seen you come in.

She looks away and turns towards my father, who looks at me, reddened. She sits in front of him until finally, he gets up, wordlessly, and that’s when I realize that she’s been here before.

He takes a plate from the kitchen cupboard – a heavy, china one painted with azaleas, the ones we use at family dinners – and tears her a piece of Canadian bacon he had laying for me on the stove. “I’ll fix you a good breakfast before you go,” he had told me, but here he was, giving it away to a stranger.

Not a total stranger, really. She’d been around the neighborhood for years, wandering around to whichever family would feed her. She was born in a litter from an old cat our neighbor Milton had; most of the kittens were given away, but either through lack of demand or her own purpose, she resided with Milton’s family. The youngest son had taken to calling her Sam, though she was female. They kept her in the garage where she was born, but she left it soon after the family adopted a Cocker Spaniel named Sassy. They had taken to putting bows in Sassy’s fur, which Sassy either liked or took pleasantly enough. You could never tell with dogs.

She tore at the bacon and my father sat back down at the table.

My mother walks in, hair slept on, rubbing her glasses. She puts them back on and her eyes refocus on the creature eating off her china.

“Oh!” she pops, and once she gets used to the idea she coos, “Who is this?” She kneels beside the cat, who rubs her heads on my mother’s extended hand.

“Looks like a cat to me,” my father says, not taking his eyes off the newspaper crossword. He’s playing it cool, but I have him figured out – he’s been feeding the cat in secret, probably around 5 a.m. every day when he gets up, an old habit, he claims, from being in the Marines. By the time anyone else is awake, the cat has been fed and is off to the next house.

What surprises me about this is that my father always disliked cats. He wouldn’t go out of his way to speak ill of them, but if one of us mentioned that our friends had gotten kittens, he would shake his head and say, “You don’t want a cat,” hoping that it if he’d proclaim it, it might be true. I remember him chuckling at a t-shirt in a store once that read I love cats! They’re delicious on toast! though I’m not sure if he particularly agreed with the sentiment or just found the not-then old joke amusing.

To be fair, he wasn’t particularly interested in dogs, either – he swore he’d never own another one after his bulldog Snowball was put down, who had been his companion long before he met mother. “Damn near broke my heart when he died,” my father had said, and always had to have a cigarette after he spoke of him.

So we were an animal-free house for as long as I could remember, until that morning.

“Do you want to stay with us, baby?” my mother asks Sam, rubbing her head.

“How about asking Daddy?” my father says, eyes wide, looking at me. You’re on my side, right? He had to pretend to exert some kind of authority here. But looking at my mother, you could tell she was hooked. And besides, the man was busted anyway.

Sam became permanent. I don’t know why she came when she did, or why she chose us; I’m not saying the bacon was the only reason, but it certainly didn’t slow down the process, either.

My mother tolerated the name Sam – she hesitated to change it because she had gone by it for so long, not that anyone was calling her by it often. “Still, she probably knows,” my mother figured, and so instead of making up a new one she altered the old. Sammie Annie Dots, we called her, a slight literary allusion to T.S. Elliot’s poem, The Old Gumbie Cat, about a cat who sits by day and commands an army of mice at night. We weren’t sure about commanding of mice part, but she was certainly big on sitting.

She was big on eating too. Once she moved in, my father’s treats became more frequent, and by the end of my high school career, she had gained a substantial amount of weight. The vet proclaimed her obese, and put her on a diet cat food. My parents both fed it to her, but on more than a few occasions they secretly fed her leftovers from dinner. She remained quite plump, her weight up to 18 pounds at one point.

“That’s a huge cat!” people would say when they walked in the door. Sammie would mostly just look at them and go back to sleep. Having been a vagrant for a good part of her life, I’m sure she felt entitled to be fat and comfortable for a while. She would lay on the couch with my mother, taking up an entire seat cushion, purring while they watched the evening news together.

She loved my father dearly. He was, after all, her ticket in the door, and I don’t think she forgot it. He fed her at 5 a.m. every morning. If some reason he was slow getting into the kitchen, she would meow at an ear-shattering decibel until he came into the kitchen moaning, “Alright, alright,” and pour her food into a little red bowl my mother painted for her. Refill, please! it said.

She earned his forgiveness for her impatience one summer evening when a bird again flew into the kitchen. His reaction, now becoming quite usual for birds in the house, was to yell, “Goddamnit!” and watch it fly up into the loft. My boyfriend and I were sitting on the couch at the time, and before I could turn to him and apologize for the scene of my father becoming so angry he was spurting blood from his eyes, Sammie pranced up the stairs and robotically took the bird in her mouth. She crushed it between her teeth and trotted downstairs to lay it in front of my mother, who was doing paperwork at the dining room table.

She screamed.

My father fed Sammie an entire can of tuna fish on a little white plate that night. She ate the whole thing. Then she fell asleep on my parents’ bed.

Sammie liked to lay outside in the lariope bed and watch my mother weed. My mother indulged her with cat talk. “Dis ish da Sammie girl,” my mother said to her while she pulled stalks of grass from the azalea bushes. “Sammie Annie Dots lays in the lariope and lets the sun shine down.” Sammie swings her tale in reply.

In my sophomore year of college, I broke up with the boyfriend I had since the eleventh grade. I ran to my mother for consolation that I wasn’t a bad person for breaking up with someone, no matter what his own mother thought. I wept on the living room couch. Sammie sat next to me, clawing me for attention until I finally snapped, “What?” and she rubbed her head on my knee until I finally scratched her behind her ears the way she liked. Her world hadn’t stopped and neither had mine.

Her hearing started to go somewhat. You could vacuum right next to her and she wouldn’t wake unless you accidentally jostled her bed, then she would look up at you with a slight annoyance before closing her eyes again.

As she got older, she was on more medications. The vet said she was at least sixteen, a year older than my brother. My parents went to Venice and left me in charge of picking up her medication. “I’ve prepaid it, all you have to do is pick it up,” my mother told me. “And please don’t forget to get it because I don’t know what could happen if she didn’t take it.”

I go to the vet to pick it up and the receptionist gives me a hard time. She swears it hasn’t been prepaid. I know my mother; she cares about her family being happy, her house being clean, and her cat being alive. I knew she had taken care of every detail possible before leaving Sammie in my care. “She’s paid it,” I insist. The receptionist, young and peroxide blond, repeats dully it has not been paid.

I have no money after paying my rent and I’m sure the medication is easily a hundred bucks. I am incensed. It is the only time in my life I have ever thrown a fit in public. “Check your records,” I say, loudly, my face burning with anger. “Check them right now. Check them better.” People in the waiting room are looking at me like I do this all the time, become a bully when I don’t get my way, but I’m so enraged that Sammie could be without her medication that I don’t care. I picture my parents coming home to her lifeless body, passed out dead into her food bowl.

The receptionist is quiet. She tells me she’s found where my mother has prepaid, and hands me the pills in a white paper bag. “I’m so sorry,” she says, “the vet told me – ”

“Just give me the fucking medicine so she doesn’t die,” I hiss, and when I turn around to leave, people look down at their dogs and pretend not to notice that I’m seething. I know I’m overreacted but I’m too mad to be repentant. The receptionist leaves an apology on my parents’ answering machine. I promptly delete it. My mother is mortified when I tell her. My father is amused. “From now on when I go to the vet, if they gave me any trouble, I’ll say, ‘Do you want me to bring my daughter up here to talk to you?’” Sammie says nothing, just lays on the couch and sleeps.

Her kidneys start to fail. We can keep them in working order with a few drops of medication every day, crushed into some tuna. My mother keeps it in a pink Tupperware container labeled SAMMIE in the fridge.
She loses three pounds, then a few more. She’s still plump, but at seventeen we’re wondering how long she has. On Christmas morning, my mother chokes up while we open gifts and says, “This could be her last Christmas.” Sammie is asleep on the wrapping paper.

It isn’t her last Christmas, though my mother says it for three more. She’s twenty. She’s developed a crust around her nose and mouth from where she can’t clean herself anymore. My mother takes a warm washrag and wipes it for her. My father feeds her scraps at the dinner table, doesn’t think to hide it anymore. When she comes to rub my hand, I can feel the bones in her head, and the soft scrape of her teeth that are now protruding from her mouth.

“She’s my little girl and I’m going to miss her,” my mother says to no in particular, her voice barely above a whisper. She’s rubbing Sammie’s head, which is in her lap. She’s so thin now. When she walks you can see her shoulder blades move like two skiis, back and forth down the hallway until she reaches her bed.

I go over my parents’ house to visit my mother after she has surgery. We’re all sitting in the living room in our respective places, talking about Mother’s Day plans, and Sammie comes and lies on the couch. It’s the last time we’re all in the same room together. She’s exhausted and goes to lay in her bed. When I go to leave I want to say goodbye to her, but she startles easily when she’s sleeping, and she looks happy as she is. I watch her breathe for a few moments.

I get the e-mail while I’m at work. Sammie, reads the subject line, and I know she’s gone.

I call my parents at my desk. “We put her down last night,” my mother chokes, “she could barely stand. She kept falling into her water dish. The doctor said it was the right time.”

I start to cry. My mascara is navy blue, a recommendation from the Sephora associate to brighten my eyes, but when it leaks onto my cheeks it’s an absurd cerulean. Editors and reporters are walking by looking at me sympathetically and it occurs to me that it’s probably comical to see the obituary writer weeping at her desk, gimmicky almost.

“She had a long, long life,” my mom says. “Dad and I wrapped her in a little towel and it just looked like she was asleep.”

My coworker hands me a tissue. Another one strokes my hair. They’re going to ask me what’s wrong when I hang up, probably thinking now that my grandmother has passed, but it’s more than that, and more than I care to explain. She’d been the neighborhood girl for nine years, and our girl for eleven. I feel idiotic weeping the way I am over a little sleeping mass of bone and fur, stereotypical, even – a single girl loses her cat and is inconsolable. I want so badly to be on my parents’ couch, huddled up, away from this computer screen with a blinking cursor that keeps flashing Get back to me, your life is not ending. Type. Talk. Phone. Sleep. Work. Live.

I hang up the phone. “Fucking cat.” It’s the only thing I can think to say.

I walk back to my apartment. The alley I cut through to the fire escape is buzzing with the sound of breeze through the clothing lines and windchimes. You can hear the lonely clicking of my cowboy boots, which are a little out of place on the East Coast – why I bought them in the first place – on the pavement. It’s almost cinematic.

I look for a cat I’ve frequently seen sitting a story up on a second floor apartment balcony. Sure enough, he’s there. I watch him for a moment. He’s dark brown and barely visible, but I can make him out next to the string of Christmas lights the apartment owner has strung up year-round on the railing. I can’t tell if he notices me, but he’s calm, so if he does, I haven’t bothered him much.

Sammie Annie Dots lays in the lariope and lets the sun shine down.

The apartment door swings open and lets loose a flood of light onto the balcony. “Arthur,” I hear a woman say, and in no apparent hurry, he gets up and walks inside, and the door shuts, and I’m standing there in a pair of boots in a scene like a lonely cowboy, watching the world wind down the way it is apt to do, everyone pacing through in the universal condition, what I want, what all of us ever want, to see the kitchen light, to come in from the cold.

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