Recent Work By Megan Power

Louis Eugene Walcott was born on May 11, 1933, in the Depression-era Bronx.

Around the same time, a preacher in Detroit named Wallace Fard Muhammad disappeared.

This is significant.

A white man by some accounts and Arab by others, Wallace Fard Muhammad was a salesman. Peddling raincoats door-to-door afforded him just the right opportunity to evangelize.

Fard’s message went something like this: as descendants of the transatlantic slave trade, American blacks had been stolen from their spiritual and physical home in Africa. Because of Islam’s widespread influence in West Africa, most slaves had originally been Muslim. Which meant most American blacks were originally Muslim. According to the Qur’an, Muslims were Allah’s original human creation, so by proxy, Black Americans were actually God’s chosen people. The white man had been sent down as a test, a test blacks in America were failing. Once all black people returned to Islam, the only true religion, Allah would come down, return his people to Mecca and kill the white devils.

Fard’s gift of persuasion and the stress of the Depression worked in tandem; he quickly amassed a devoted following of black congregates.

Thus was founded The Temple of Islam.

Islam is the Arabic word for ‘submit’ and it refers to a person’s submission to God’s will in order to achieve peace.

Fard’s version of Islam espoused the prototypically strict moral code against drinking, smoking and pre/extramarital sex while also focusing on self-improvement and self-reliance. But the introduction of black supremacy essentially contradicted established Islamic practice, as the Qur’an explicitly rejects racial discrimination. Hatred of whites therefore defined the Temple of Islam as a distinctively American creation and heretical from an Islamic perspective.

Fard Muhammad was not the first nor the only person in America at the time preaching a mélange of Islam, Christianity, black nationalism and sundry religious elements. He picked up most of his ideas in Chicago, where the ideology was having a major moment, and in various other major cities poor and malcontent blacks were also gravitating towards similar schools of thought.

Meanwhile, Louis Eugene Walcott’s mother, a woman named Sarah Mae Manning who had come to the U.S. from St. Kitts in the 1920’s, moved Eugene and his brother Alvan from the Bronx to the Roxbury section of Boston. She was a strict disciplinarian who talked candidly to her
two sons about racial injustice and self-reliance.

Louis Eugene’s father was reportedly a Jamaican cab driver from New York uninvolved in his son’s life.

Louis Eugene went to Boston’s public high schools for gifted children, Boston Latin School and English High, where he made straight A’s, ran track and was a model student. In junior high he took up the violin. By age 13 he was performing with the Boston Civic Symphony and winning national competitions.

In 1951, at age 18, Louis Eugene won a track scholarship to the all-black Winston Salem Teacher’s College. Instead of attending Julliard to study music, he moved to North Carolina to pursue a teaching degree.

Because of the Temple of Islam’s burgeoning popularity, Fard Muhammad needed to train an understudy, and so he selected an autoworker named Robert Poole who fervently believed Fard to be Allah incarnate. As was de rigueur, Poole cast off his slave name and accepted the moniker Elijah Muhammad. Together the two continued converting hundreds of members, enjoying considerable success recruiting directly from prisons. The movement was just gaining traction when Allah incarnate was ordered out of Detroit as a result of his “cult activities” and subsequently dropped off the face of the earth. The circumstances of Fard’s disappearance have never been resolved.

Elijah Muhammad was immediately promoted to Supreme Minister.

On September 12, 1953, Louis Eugene married his childhood sweetheart, Betsy Ross, at 6:00 p.m. in St. Cyprian’s Episcopal church in Boston, where he had sung in the choir growing up.

He was forced to drop out of Winston Salem when Betsy began having pregnancy-related complications with the first of their nine children. Teaching career iced, Louis Eugene returned to music, pursuing a career in show business and recording a successful calypso record.

His stage name was The Charmer.

After playing a show in Chicago one February night in 1955 (which he headlined) Louis Eugene was invited by his saxophone player to a church gathering. The church turned out to be a mosque and the gathering turned out to be the Nation of Islam’s Saviour’s Day convention.

Elijah Muhammad was speaking that night.

Louis Eugene felt Truth dawn on him.

A few months later, in July of the same year, Louis Eugene officially joined the NOI and customarily dropped his slave name, replacing it with an X and later adopting the Muslim name Farrakhan. He convinced Betsy to convert as well. They had been married two years.

Ideological tensions between Elijah Muhammad and his most legendary convert, a young ex-convict named Malcolm X, were wreaking havoc inside the NOI. After Malcolm’s horrific but unsurprising assassination in February 1965, internal NOI politics gets so shady and twisted it cannot be adequately explored here.

Louis Farrakhan ascended to Minister at the Boston mosque in a few short years, and was transferred to Harlem Mosque in New York, where he served from 1965-1975.

In 1975, Elijah Mohammad died.

His son, Wallace (later re-named Warith Deen) Muhammad, succeeded him, and began moving the organization in a Sunni direction, closer to orthodox Islam. The NOI began accepting white members.

Although these changes had been brewing for some time (in fact Malcolm X attempted to bring about a similar transformation) Minister Louis Farrakhan freaked, walked away, then re-grouped and came back in 1978 with his own faction of the NOI, preserving its doctrine of black separatism.

Warith Deen Muhammed renamed his particular group and broke away from the NOI.

In the years after Elijah Muhammad’s death up to the 1990’s, Minister Louis Farrakhan attracted a level of attention the NOI hadn’t seen since Malcolm X. He was accepted as the NOI’s national leader and became The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

The H.M.L.F. is a beloved figure to many prominent members of the black community regardless of their, and in spite of his, religious affiliation.

Over the course of his extremely controversial and influential career, the H.M.L.F.has stated and retracted, then stated again, then clarified and re-re-stated an enormous number of shall we say charged remarks about Jews, homosexuals and whites, which is why he ranks pretty high up on the Anti-Defamation League’s blacklist (for lack of a better term). But his rhetoric, and what the press loves to call his “rage”, is almost always taken out of the smaller context of his famously prolix sermons and out of the larger context of the black liberation tradition, in which preaching has always been characteristically loud, physical and impassioned.

And while Farrakhanist delivery is often mistaken by the mainstream as a call to violence, theology scholars argue his preaching style should be understood mainly as an aesthetic to engage listeners, challenge those in power and raise questions for society to ponder.

Perhaps the best summary of why the H.M.L.F. is so revered and hated may be this:

Farrakhan, in his unremittingly vehement rejections of integrative ideals and his shrill calls for racial separation, succinctly articulates the sentiments of an increasing number of black – and many non-black – Americans, for whom the post-civil rights era of race relations in the United States has proven to be a very deep, painful and persistent disappointment.

– The Farrakhan Phenomenon, Robert Singh. Georgetown University Press, 1997.

In 2003, the H.M.L.F. celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary to Betsy Ross, now known as Mother Khadijah Farrakhan.

It is reported the H.M.L.F. is suffering from an untreatable recurrence of prostate cancer.

It’s 2008, and you’re a 27-year-old white girl in Texas. You have a mid level professional job. You rent an apartment with amenities including but not limited to a pool, gym and business center. You have your own credit history, your own car payment, your own vibrator.

You are more affluent and liberated than any woman in history.

Read Kay Hymowitz’s unflattering portrait of the twentysomething male here.

While it may be true that your male counterpart often fritters away his free time with basketball, gadgets and clubbing, replace ‘basketball’ with ‘shopping’ and both sexes are mirror images of each other.

It’s doubtful Hymowitz has walked into Forever 21 any given Saturday afternoon and seen the appalling lineup for a dressing room. Young women 17-37 endure the wait and the madness for cheap going out shirts/dresses/skirt-top combos. Disposable incomes thrown away at discount retailers, disposable dresses for a disposable Saturday night at the bar repeated ad nauseam, all to snag a guy (Cosmo speak). It’s acceptable, encouraged even, and females have all but given up questioning the power retail holds over their lives.

Most young women today invest a significant portion of their hard earned paychecks on a series of beauty rituals that make Cleopatra seem low maintenance: eyebrow threading, highlights, tanning,
manis/pedis, fake eyelashes, bikini waxes, aromatherapy facials, hot stone massages – I’m going to stop where my list ends but be assured it goes on and on…and it also adds up. So while men may be spending frivolously on iTunes, at least the songs they buy don’t need to be purchased again in 4-6 weeks.

Let’s take a moment and genuflect to Naomi Wolf who wrote, “As women released themselves from the feminine mystique of domesticity, the beauty myth took over its lost ground, expanding as it wanted to carry on its work of social control”.

What is the male equivalent of Sephora?

Sure, more men today use moisturizer and hair products. But our products still outnumber theirs, by
(my) estimates of 30:1.

Why doesn’t Hymowitz call out women for this “hyperfemininity crisis”, the Appearance Myth 3.0? If young men exhibit “general passionlessness”, women exhibit extreme overzealousness with their appearance, ostensibly to attract men. Yet these expenditures of time and money receive none of her scrutiny.

I have struggled personally with the Peter Pan type, the ultimate sports fan, the video game addict, the slacking stoner from Knocked Up – all rolled into one person. But he could also debate foreign policy while cooking a gourmet dinner for two using his own Calphalon. And he knew more about my clitoris than I did (do). He was not averse to deep attachments. He just wasn’t sure if he wanted to marry me. He wasn’t sure he ever wanted to marry anyone. I consider that prudent, not fucked up.

In Hymowitz’s eagerness to lay bare what she perceives as new and harmful character flaws young men have developed, she doesn’t leave room for the complex, personal contradictions most human beings live with.

Besides, when a love interest does indeed turn out to be a one-dimensional douche we don’t sit around wringing our hands like Hymowitz. The tendency is to bitch to our girlfriends over happy hour for a couple weeks then channel our inner Beyonce and it’s to the left, to the left…

Depicting all young women as lonely powerhouses killing time in silent desperation as they wait for scores of baby-men put down the Wii controller and fork over 2 months’ salary for a half carat stunner from Zales is a ghastly generalization only an older woman standing behind the Manhattan Institute could make without being laughed at.

“Masculinity crisis” is the cry of an alarmist.

And claiming that women have evolved as men have regressed is just a mortifying oversimplification.

But while Hymowitz’s picture of the modern guy falls flat and conveniently glosses over some ugly truths about young women, I don’t mean this to be a defense of men.

There’s room for improvement on both sides. Both genders could put their free time to better use. Both genders could use less escapism and more pursuits dedicated to intellectual development, social justice, community involvement. Young adults in this millennium are positively rolling in luxury: of free time, of personal possessions and dispositional arrogance. As a natural response to all of the above we are in transition, re-defining what it means to be an adult and re-writing the formula for happiness.

Clearly the formula needs tinkering.

Hymowitz’s most offensive phrase may be the shudder-inducing “reciprocal obligations”. Does she realize she’s speaking to the open source generation? The bisexual reality dating show generation? The no contracts, no enrollment fees generation?

I don’t want a man to be obligated to me.

And I don’t want to be obligated to a man, though I’m painfully aware tradition and popular culture expect me to want to.

‘Obligated’ is such a loaded term. It sounds like bondage, and indeed Hymowitz means it that way. She claims that men need to be legally forced to grow up. She says that marriage and kids are exactly the kind of weighty, unfun obligations a child-man needs in order to become a regular man. Assuming, as she does, the definition of man remains “provider”.

I don’t buy it.

If men “get the benefits of a wife without shouldering the reciprocal obligations of a husband”, then isn’t it axiomatic that women would enjoy some of the benefits of not being a wife?

I know I have. Big time.

Since it hasn’t proved itself to be a sustainable vehicle of commitment and devotion, and not in small part because it excludes a segment of our friends, marriage as an institution reeks of irrelevance to this generation.

As irrelevant as an aging researcher’s provocations on the mating habits of young men.

A fisherman discovered the body of a two year old blond girl inside a blue Sterilite utility box on a sandbar in the Galveston Intercoastal Waterway on October 29, 2007.

Imagine you’re a fisherman, going about the hard labor of your day and you find a dead toddler.

The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office determined the unidentified child had been dead for several weeks and for purposes of the investigation referred to her as Baby Grace.

News affiliates distributed a Baby Grace sketch. A grandmother in Mentor, Ohio, who hadn’t seen her blond granddaughter since May called the Galveston Sheriff’s Office when she saw the sketch. Her son later gave a DNA sample. It matched.

Baby Grace turned out to be Riley Ann Sawyers.

Working around three skull fractures and severe decomposition, that forensic artist deserves a promotion. Imagine that’s your job, drawing portraits of the dead.

I guess this story nagged at me because I was in Galveston at the time, for the first time, attending a conference.

What a dump, I thought as I drove into town.

The area has some pretty things; sprawling resorts and Victorian mansions and slices of beach. But turn off the main drag (or get lost for thirty minutes, as I did) and you’ll cruise by a lot of people sitting on rotten porches smoking cigarettes and looking poor in the middle of the afternoon.

It’s not hard to picture bad things happening inside falling down houses.

Yet when Kimberly Trenor and her cyber boyfriend were arrested for Riley’s murder the community was shocked, outraged, hungry for blood.

Whenever a parent murders a child, people call the act “unthinkable”.

A lot of adjectives come to my mind, but not “unthinkable”.

Think.

Imagine you’re 18. You’re a high school dropout. You’re a teen mother. You’re from a low socio-economic background. You don’t have many friends. Your relationship with your high school sweetheart/baby daddy ended a few months ago, when you had him arrested and charged with domestic violence. You are isolated. You are alienated. The child you didn’t plan on having fills your days with banal chores. The monotony is endless, suffocating.

Don’t touch. Where are your shoes? Put that down! Time for bed. Don’t touch that. No you can’t have that. Stop crying. Say thank you. Brush your teeth. Did you brush your teeth? I said brush your teeth. Did you brush your teeth? Did you hear what I said?

To escape life’s myriad disappointments, you spend hours online playing World of Warcraft. You meet a 24 year old guy from Texas. He becomes the only interesting part of days that drag on like decades. In private emails you exchange tips for killing monsters and retrieving magical artifacts.

Your new cyber boyfriend sends you expensive gifts and eventually invites you to move in with him in Spring, Texas.

You inform your father you’re leaving and stuff your belongings and toddler into the car, driving from suburban Cleveland to Spring, near Houston.

At first the change is exhilarating. A wedding takes place on June 1. You’re an honest woman now.

But the summer is brutal in Texas and it wears on even the best of nerves. Your new husband is not so great in the parenting department. Your hyper toddler needs controlling, and his ideas are primitive and cruel. But you go along with it.

One day the correctional plan goes awry. Something snaps. Your new husband beats your daughter with a belt, holds her head underwater, throws her across the room and ultimately kills her. You help him wrap her body in a purple towel and stuff it inside a blue Sterilite utility box. The box will sit in a shed for two months. The two hottest months of the year. When your father calls, you lie and tell him Riley’s sleeping or playing. Which she might be – only, in heaven.

When summer’s over you and your new husband take a drive. The blue Sterilite utility box gets thrown into Galveston Bay, as if guilt and remorse could be so easily disposed of.

It’s a relief not to have the box in the shed anymore. But you know what you’ve done.

On December 13, 2007, both Kimberly Trenor and Royce Clyde Zeigler II were charged with capital murder.

Trenor’s attorneys maintain that Zeigler had Riley on a “disciplinary program” that went too far. The blame shifting begins.

I find their poor parenting uninteresting. Sad and terrible, yes, interesting no.

AN EYE FOR AN EYE scream the message boards.

I get upset when communities get upset about these things. The mob mentality, the collective grief and outrage seem so disingenuous, so contrived.

How can anyone be genuinely outraged when poor and stupid people commit heinous crimes, considering how indifferent we all are on a daily basis to other people’s circumstances?

It approaches the highest levels of hypocrisy.

Want to be indignant and demand justice? Frequent your local Wal-Mart. Intervene every time you spot a teen parent smacking a toddler. Offer to babysit and help out financially. Then you can act as self-righteously as you want when the child is fatally tossed across the room.

Calling a crime “unthinkable” and “monstrous” also lends a sensational air to a poor, stupid person’s shitty decisions. It imbues a person with Otherness, allows us to disassociate their behavior from their humanity, from our own humanity, when in reality Kimberly Trenor is little more than a young, selfish asshole, psychologically unready for parenting.

Trenor and Zeigler made horrible decisions, for which they may receive humanity’s harshest punishment.

We’re so eager to label them insane, psychotic, crazy. But the scary truth might be they’re just dumb and bad.

The kicker?

Trenor is several months pregnant with Zeigler’s child.

As you sit reading this she sits in the jail’s medical unit awaiting trial.

If they make it to trial.

Last week Zeigler attempted suicide.

Would have made a lot of people happy had he succeeded.

UPDATE: On June 26, 2008, CPS took custody of a baby boy born to Trenor.

UPDATE 2: Trenor was convicted of capital murder in February 2009 and is serving a life sentence. Zeigler was also convicted of capital murder in November 2009. He received an automatic life sentence. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.

He climbs my stairs like Tigger, full of bounce and light.

I’m waiting in the kitchen drinking wine, the ceramic tile smooth and cool under my bare feet, the anticipation of him hot and prickly.

He grabs me roughly and we kiss until our lips throb. He gets a hard on, steps back for assessment purposes.

Nice, I say sincerely.

Like that? he asks.

Of course, I reply. It’s so difficult to find a guy with a big cock and a big vocabulary.

He spits out a laugh. Is that right?

One or the other is easy, I explain, pulling him by the belt buckle toward me, but not both.

Not both? he echoes, suddenly kissing me too hard and pinning my spine too tightly against the kitchen counter. I push him off to breathe.

Don’t, I protest. We have reservations.

He sighs, retreats and cracks his knuckles. Where are we going by the way?

Aldo’s. Does it matter?

Absolutely not. You look incredible.

So do you.

I can’t wait to fuck you.

Can you not say that? It makes me feel pukey.

Who says pukey?

Plenty of people, I play along, stuffing an ID, debit card and lip gloss into a clutch.

Preteen people?

We jostle each other down the stairs.

At the end of creme brulée he confesses, I’m having feelings I’m uncomfortable with.

Everything you feel I feel, I breeze, pouring a last glass of wine.

I don’t know if you do, he says doubtfully, throwing his napkin on the table and settling back into the shellacked rattan chair.

I swirl cabernet and sigh. Yes you do know, because I’m telling you. And isn’t that the best part? How mutual this is?

Satisfied with this, he smiles at me. For me.

It is.

He beckons for the bill and pays. He always pays.

I’m having a traffic jam in my mouth, he says hoarsely. I have so many things to say and they’re all piling up in there.

I gnaw the insides of my cheeks.

You’ve taken over every inch of my heart. And you keep spreading.

Genuine or not, original or not, this kind of talk has a narcotic effect. I reply by ardently initiating the baptism of my new sofa.

When the tempo becomes unmanageable he rises from the sofa, stands in front of me and holds eye contact as he finishes himself off, cups it.

Through the sliding glass door comes the cheap tinkle of my next door neighbor’s windchimes, melodic for the first time.

I detangle knots from the shower while admiring the juxtaposition of his summer tan, his freeweight hardened body, against my multicolored butterfly sheets.

A dirty sort of pride fills my little black heart.

I turn back into the bathroom, catch myself smirking in the mirror.

Every day at least twice and usually more people ask about the scar.

His flat, white, ear to ear, not aesthetically displeasing scar –

The sandwich artist, the valet parking attendant, the bartender, they all want to know what happened, how you can be walking around with a scar that says you really shouldn’t even be walking around.

It’s rowdy, that scar, impossible to disguise with a hat or bandana. It invites inquiry, almost begs for it.

Not my scar and not my story, yet one side effect of being his sometimes companion is that I am constantly irritated at humanity.

How casually we risk hurting others with our reflexive curiosity.

We are not boyfriend and girlfriend.

So kissing him goodbye or not is a constant dilemma. One generous morning I am leaning down and he stirs, pulls me back into bed.

Call in sick, he pleads, yanking the covers over us despite my work clothes.

I never call in sick.

Exactly! All the more reason.

I can’t.

Why not? We can stay in bed all day and I’ll make you scream like you were screaming last night.

That’s not going to happen. I can’t drink this early in the morning.

He smiles, half-annoyed and half-amused, and yawns. Oh, so it was the booze?

Pretty much. I’m going now.

Sucks to be you.

Thanks. Have a great day too.

At first I am impressed: he never deflects, never shrinks from the curiosity. He tells the scar story with verve, with flair, with all the hideous details. He never gets tired of the territory, never grows bored of the repetition.

But I do.

I think you actually like the attention.

Like the attention? I went through five fucking years of surgeries. I’ve earned the right to talk about it. I’m not embarrassed.

I’m not saying you should be embarrassed. I just would not enjoy telling the story twenty fucking times a day.

You know, I’ve met some amazing people because of my scar. It’s the best conversation starter ever.

I see that. But how about, just once, saying ‘I’d rather not talk about it’?

Because I do want to talk about it. It’s part of who I am.

I would just get tired of the story.

Well. That’s you then.

Yeah. That’s me.

Like most informal relationships, our affair ended quickly, irrationally and with bad feelings on either side.

And so it goes.

The scar from our parting is much smaller than the one he has to wear forever, and in all likelihood it will fade until neither one of us remembers ever having it.


1. This American Life broadcast #339 “Breakup” released 08/24/2007. Available for $0.95 on iTunes or I can email the MP3 to you.

2. Sweat. The gym kind.

3. Cary Tenis’s advice in general and in particular this.

4. Moderate seclusion.

5. “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life” by Steven Hayes

6. The blog of NY Times hip hop critic Sasha Frere Jones

7. Mozella’s Light Years Away


This is my record of quitting smoking with the cessation drug Chantix.

Note 1: Always consult your doctor about drug dosages.

Note 2: This is not the diary of a pack-a-day puffer. I cannot attest to the stuff’s efficacy with hardcore smokers.

But I can attest to a hardcore and irrational love for smoking.

Especially with wine.

Or vodka tonics.

Or Baileys.

Or anything alcoholic, let’s be honest.

I love smoking on my balcony before bed staring at the moon.

I love smoking on foreign beaches.

I love smoking on special occasions.

Stressful occasions.

Occasions such as Saturday.

I’d never take a smoke break at work – that’s gross – but happy hour on a Wednesday? Pass the lighter.

This year I turned 30, which is simply too old to be smoking.

How does Chantix work? you may be wondering.

Varenicline, the mellifluous chemical in Chantix, sneaks up and latches on the nicotinic receptors in your brain.

Normally when you smoke nicotine attaches to those nicotinic receptors, sending a message to your brain to release dopamine.

But when Varenicline’s hanging out it prevents nicotine from binding itself to the same pleasure receptors, meaning you can’t derive pleasure from nicotine.

Essentially, Chantix cock blocks your Marlboro Lights.

QUIT DAYS 1-7

Because it takes a week to build up in the body, popping half a milligram twice daily of Chantix has no discernible effect. Continue to smoke when the mood strikes.

USEFUL READER TIP – In Texas at least, the cheapest place to fill your Chantix script is the pharmacy at Sam’s Club. Membership not required.

QUIT DAY 8

One milligram twice daily (double the dosage) doesn’t fuck around.

Listlessness.

Nausea.

I keep attempting to smoke but my beloveds smell and taste like industrial polymer, like the poison they are.

The last thing I love is no longer lovable.

Relief/grief. It’s a weird combo.

QUIT DAY 9

Cranky.

Foggy.

Forming a complete thought is

Secondhand smoke makes me heave.

I nearly pass out in my hot yoga class. Which may be the Chantix or the 105 degree heat. Hard to say. I manage to stagger from the room despite the teacher’s dirty look. You are not supposed to leave the room in hot yoga. It’s very bad form.

I meekly apologize to the teacher after class, after twenty panicky minutes sitting in the stinky locker room trying not to die.


QUIT DAY 10

Fuck that guy in grade 10 who stole his mother’s Du Mauriers and brought them to school.

Fuck RJR.

Fuck me.

Fuck.

The rest of the side effects have arrived at that side effect frat party going on my body. Shortness of
breath/dizziness/headaches/irritability/nightmares/and because I write anonymously I will admit/ diarrhea.

Like PMS and food poisoning together.

QUIT DAYS 11-25

Insomnia.

Mild depression.

Chantix has locked into my nicotinic receptors like Z tetrads into T tetrads. The only urge is hand to mouth. Attempted smoking tastes repulsive.

When I’m lucky enough to actually be asleep I have vivid, acid trip nightmares the online ex-smoker community refers to as Chantix Dreams. Usually involving graphic violence and/or rough sex acts.

Pfizer unleashes a barrage of “GetQuit” email encouragements written by idiots who clearly never suffered from a nicotine addiction.

Example email encouragement: You’ve been Quit for 3 weeks. Reward yourself with a latte!

Idiots. Latte is standard.

I deserve porcelain veneers.

Or Lasik eye surgery. Some major health-related reward.


QUIT DAY 26

The nightmares are euphemistically noted on the warning papers stapled to the paper bag the pharmacy gives you like this: Changes in dreaming are possible.

QUIT DAY 37

5:27AM.

I’m up. UP.

The doctor’s office opens in three more hours. Christ.

I think about my life.

Overlooking a few things, my life is pleasant.

I think about my clothes. Mental wardrobe inventory.

I think about being awake and bored.

I get up, get ready, get going.

Eight on the dot I call Dr. Williams and rattle off the list of side effects.

Just go ahead and stop taking the medication, he says.

Cold turkey? I ask incredulously. At this point I’ve been reading the online Chantix forums and I know the cold turkey thing is not good (which I relay this to Dr. Williams, I think a little testily).

Back to half a milligram then, he suggests (I think a little impatiently). The side effects tend to show up at the higher dosage. We hang up.

Where the fuck did Dr. Williams go to medical school? I wonder to myself for the first time in the five years I’ve been going to him.

Irritated, I stomp to the kitchen and cut every pill in two. Little blue bits go flying behind the stove and fridge under the force of the knife.

QUIT DAY 54

I’ve got this shit on lock.

0.5mg in the mornings only, on a full stomach only.

Pound water all day.

Some type of exhausting cardio after work.

Tylenol PM Rapid Release Gels before bed.

Resignation.


QUIT DAY 75

I don’t smoke any more.

Smoking is over for me.

I am a non-smoker.

I’m still taking half a milligram of Chantix. I’m still having nightmares that would make Wes Craven piss himself. I’m still taking the odd puff at the bar when my decision-making skills are impaired by alcohol and it still tastes like nail polish remover with gasoline. When I even go to bars. Drinking without smoking = sex without orgasm.

In summary, Chantix at the lower dosage doesn’t limit normal life functioning and it makes cigarettes suck.

Depression and sleeplessness seem like a small price to pay for breaking an addiction.

Sat in my apartment and cried.

Cried until the tears formed a single stream and pooled in the hollow indentation at the base of my throat, spilling.

If you had been watching you wouldn’t have heard a sound because the air conditioner was roaring so loud it muffled even the cracked sobs.

Thought about getting in the shower. Putting on a great outfit. Getting drunk with friends at the bar.

Remembered how that doesn’t work.

The heart can’t process pain like the liver filters alcohol. Undealt with pain sticks around. Denial lodges it deeper.

So the crying continued.

And continued.

And continued spasmodically.

Got tired of the crying. Changed. Drove to the Super Target NOW OPEN by my apartment and bought some really expensive eye drops, ones that cost more than $3, and did some damage control.

Rohto
(The fact a person can go to Target in any state of disarray and no one will comment or appear to notice makes me truly appreciate living in America)

Came home and sat on the stairs for a long time.

If you had been watching you would have thought the wall had some kind of hypnotic power but actually a slideshow of us was playing in my head.

Highlights and lowlights. The usual scenes.

Thought the crying was going to start again but it didn’t.

Told myself the worst was over.

Put on my sneakers.

Walked to the park.

In the narrow embrace of the trees started running.

Hard running, hard breathing.

Went all the way inside my head until there was no reason to be running and no running and no park and no me.

Got inside the culvert, took my shuffle off and yelled.

At my own weakness. At yours.

At the discrepancy between what love could be and what it ends up being.

Walked back to my apartment.

Booted up the computer and listened to that Sia song.

Wrote this.

Turned off the computer and waited for it to be Monday.

1. Yes, you can randomly drive in from Houston at 1am and stay with us.

2. If we rocked your world you don’t need to resist the temptation to psycho call us – just go with it.

3. Asking us if we’re wet in the proper tone and volume is the “question that answers itself” (A.L. Kennedy)

4. Since breastfeeding is our job, you’re mowing the lawn for life.

5. We can love your balls but only the unwrinkled, symmetrical, sweet smelling ones. OK, neutral smelling. According to informal research, approximately 12% of you have been blessed with gorgeous nuts. The sight of these balls cause us to drop to our knees for oral worship. If you don’t have a nice sack, the least you can do is keep the area well landscaped.

6. White socks on you are like beige bras on us. Lacy = argyle

7. Repairing a relationship after you’ve cheated is a bit like trying to rebuild Iraq. It’s hard to know whether to pull out or stay the course. Either way, proceed with conviction.

8. Careerist men should marry pretty women mainly interested in shopping and fashion. The old beauty-for-money exchange still functions quite well in modern times.

9. While cunnilingus does take more skill than fellatio, it is nonetheless expected in (near) equal ratio. This will never be be brought up only noticed and resented silently if it doesn’t happen.

10. Women are highly contradictory. Get the fuck over it. Please.

It’s far more satisfying to see a lie coming than to elicit a confession. A confession ratifies only your ability to badger.

Anyone can badger.

But to know a lie is coming before it is told, to watch it form on someone’s lips:

That is pure power.

Except, it’s the kind of power that makes you a little sick from enjoying it, like Presidential power, or kidnapper power or cheesecake.

Through snooping, sleuthing and sneaking, you can ferret out the future.

The NSA agrees with me wholeheartedly on this.

Mainly out of boredom (impelled somewhat by societally-engineered female insecurity), I started spying on my boyfriend. Nothing major; strictly cyber surveillance – no hired henchmen or hidden cameras. I simply knew the name of an online forum he frequented, so I checked in as “Guest” and monitored what he wrote, who he wrote it to, when.

I guess I wanted a glimpse into his private thoughts.

Yet bearing witness to his frat boy antics illuminated nothing. Bestowed no happiness. His avatar was a large pair of cartoon breasts and his handle also referenced mammary glands. He regularly posted links to porn sites and Jackass-esque stunt videos. He wrote in what I can only describe as ghetto teen speak.

Who was this sophomoric moron?

Why was my college-educated, professionally employed, intellectually developed male partner making time each day to ingratiate himself with a bunch of misogynistic retards?

While the love of my life redeemed himself in my eyes somewhat by regularly posting erudite articles about current events for debate, these submissions went largely unanswered or were acknowledged with monosyllabic replies such as Sux, mayne or Dope.

Yet he continued to post them, day in and day out.

VIEWS: 3 REPLIES: 0.

Why? I wanted to ask. Why are you drawn to these idiots?

Badly. I wanted to know badly. But this would have meant blowing my cover.

You can either trade in your secret power by asking for answers, or you can live uneasily with the questions teetering on the tip of your tongue.

I became drunk with spying power.

Which I duly exercised.

He’d already posted on the forum certain hip hop shows he planned to attend, and I would often ask, casually, where he was going, though I already knew. On several occasions, what came out his mouth did not match his postings. I wanted to call him out.

It made me a little sick, not being able to ask why he was lying.

But I enjoyed knowing I could show up at any moment and provoke a confrontation, Cheaters-style.

The other members of the forum dedicated time to rating asses on a scale of 1 to 10 (Jessica Alba = 10, obese African American fetish model = 2), comparing the buffets of local strip clubs and bragging about who had the worst hangover that day. Crude photo-shopped pictures were extremely popular and provoked delighted outrage amongst the members, especially when someone from the group’s face was used.

Discussion of their craft (DJing) and the state of hip hop, was merely a front for some kind of degenerate brotherhood.

I began to wonder if I was still dating my boyfriend’s Representative.

A Representative is the person that shows up the first couple months of the relationship freshly showered, attentive, interesting, humorous, idiosyncracy-free.

The aseptic version of yourself, your interview self, which is on display until you bridge the gap between initial dating to breaking wind in front of each other without caring.

Maybe he’d kept up the mature male persona only for me. For a relationship. The person he presented himself as on the forum was, frankly, embarrassing.

But what if this was who he really was?

My perception of him was altered, bathed in an unflattering light.

Then it got worse.

I cataloged a trend of increased responses to the only female member of the forum.

Her postings received a lot of views, not just because she was the token female, but because she often uploaded new soft-porn self-portraits.

I began to imagine how they Private Messaged one another, exchanging fantasies, having a cyber affair.

I started to hate him.

Over time my judgment softened.

Well…not softened exactly.

My attention simply wandered.

I lost interest.

The locker room talk and Slutty Sue’s pictures just got boring after awhile.

Nothing ever seemed to change; the same parade of T&A, the same gross-out videos, the same wacky photo shop pictures.

It became as routine and boring as a workday.

As predictable and tedious as a monogamous relationship, perhaps.

And I realized what the BF was looking for probably wasn’t an affair. It was a sense of community, of belonging to a group.

This realization of mine happened around the time Porno Patti posted a picture of her 2 year old and the baby Daddy on the forum. Not that having a baby precludes affairs, just that I didn’t know she had a baby and this checked my imagination.

It didn’t matter that this particular group couldn’t spell, type or use standard American English.

Acceptance mattered.

Recognition mattered.

A common love of music few others had ever heard of mattered.

So I stopped caring about the goddamn forum.

And I stopped checking it.

Stopped checking it so much.

I guess my point is this: it’s good to be vigilant, but perhaps it’s most important to be vigilant of oneself.

Everyone watches Internet porn.

And research shows that pretty much everyone has viewed pornographic material at work, too, intentionally or not.

Internet porn is doing more than setting the mood in dens across the nation.

It’s prompting legions of bored people to try their hand (and various other body parts) at online porn stardom.

But they’re not even stars, really. More like porn lab rats.

All too often, porn victims.

I don’t hanker to be one of those poorly lit amateurs. I see some of those girls and think, “My ass is better than that, if I do say so myself.”

But the sad thing is, it won’t always be. Which is inevitable.

I can’t freeze my ass in time.

Or can I?

It might sound strange to say it, but Internet porn has ignited in me a rather strong yearning to have (private) pictures of my own twentysomething splendor. Before I morph into a saggy old wrinklebag.

My writerly sensibilities cause me to believe coincidence does not exist and that everything is endlessly connected (see also: I Heart Huckabees and What the Bleep Do We Know?).

Both concepts are loosely related to Nietzsche’s Amor Fati. Which I subscribe to.

Accordingly, this manner of thinking dictates that when you’re surfing online classifieds for concert tickets but come across an ad for nude models, you must reply….

> > On Apr 28, 2005, at 9:36 AM, MLP wrote:

I’m interested in your craigslist ad. I’m 28, 5’3, 115lbs.

> > On Apr 28, 2005, at 10:59 AM, Photographer wrote:

Thanks for your response. I’m a professional photographer looking to branch out. I prefer suggestive nude shots. You can see a sample here www.website.com.

> > On Apr 28, 2005, at 10:14 AM, MLP wrote:

That’s a great shot. Suggestive is perfect. I have no experience, is that ok?

> > On Apr 28, 2005, at 10:19 AM, Photographer wrote:

No experience is required. Do you have any pics or any ideas of what you are looking for?

> > On Apr 28, 2005, at 1:55 PM, MLP wrote:

I’m open. I love the b/w & use of shadows. I have some pretty noticeable tan lines…is that a deal breaker? Attached is the only picture i have on my work computer…I’m on the right.

> > On Apr 28, 2005, at 2:19 PM, Photographer wrote:

Tan lines are fine, I think we could have some fun with them depending on where they are. You are welcome to all of the shots. I am really trying to build my portfolio and this experience helps.
Please check out my other work: www.website.com as you can see most of it is journalism related, hence the need to pad my portfolio with some more artistic shots.

I would like to meet first to plan this out i.e. clothing, lingerie, locations (I have office space downtown) your ideas and boundaries and my ideas and boundaries. I am free for coffee today or tomorrow and, not to rush you, but would like to do this Friday night or this weekend as I need to send my portfolio out. I have attached the following photos of myself for some sort of comfort level.

> > On Apr 28, 2005, at 3:40PM, MLP wrote:

Thanks for sending pictures of yourself. I already checked out your other work. The Spain photos are my favorite. The use of color…gorgeous. This weekend should be fine. I live on the NW side, can we meet around here to plan? How’s 6ish?

*****

We meet at Starbucks, a wooden table crammed into one corner.

He’s tall, preppy, close to my age, mild-mannered.

We sit with our backs to the wall, making small talk about the rapid onset of summer, the sinful goodness of the toffee nut latte and then, the expected awkward pause.

Hesitantly, he opens his PowerBook.

“Can I show you what I think is sensual?”

Debating the artistic merits of soft porn stills with a stranger is a highly underrated means of building rapport.

Despite my pleas for more gym time, we arrange to shoot a couple days later.

This small window turns out to be a blessing in disguise: I can’t help obsessing every nanosecond of the ensuing forty-eight hours, unable to sleep, subsisting on instant miso soup and Fiji water, worrying about razor burn and undergarment imprints.

Stressful.

It does cross my mind that, in the wrong hands, the photos could wind up on a “Horny Sluts Get Naked” site and/or jeopardize my potential future husband’s political career.

Am I being vain and dumb?

It’s hard to say.

But here’s one thing I do know.

My (empty) gut is saying: This is for you when you’re decrepit and sexless. Do it for posterity. Do it for posterity. Do it for posterity.

*****

D-Day

10:00am P emails to inform me of the procurement of new backdrops (actually he uses the word ‘sheets’). He asks me to call to confirm. Over the phone I confess to being nervous to the point of nausea. Genuine and solemn, he replies that he feels the same way. He says something trite about the formation of a trusting bond, and I respond with an equally cheesy line about embarking on an adventure together.

10:15-11:30 am At my day job, I labor over routine tasks. I can’t concentrate while mentally doing my best nude poses.

1:15pm I shouldn’t take a lunch break. I’ll be too tempted to eat.

1:30pm I take it anyway. I scarf a fake chicken salad and a friend’s Xenadrine.

2:37pm P emails with instructions to check out Helmut Newton’s website. I pray to God he’s that good on his debut.

3:30pm Email from P:

Playing with light, set-ups. Only about 30 seconds worth of photoshop.

www.websitegallery.com

Password is the name of the site we first met in, sans .com. No caps. You can tell me tonight what you would like the password of your private gallery to be.

5:30pm My private gallery. My private gallery! I clock out of the office with extreme punctuality, speed home, pack and unpack my bag several times. The anxiety of being naked in front of a camera is now overshadowed by the fear of turning out ugly. Modesty and prudishness have been subverted by the might of my ego.

6:30pm P’s studio is deep downtown in the arts district, an eclectic area of majestic historical homes, converted warehouses, galleries and a wide bend of gushing river. The studio’s interior is a large, open space with a concrete floor. The back wall has been painted merlot, quite similar to the kind of thing you see in movies. Umbrella lights have been arranged on the edges of the white sheet, but other than that it’s dark. The air conditioner is roaring and the temperature freezing.

P gets up from his desk and walks across the space. Gives me a sideways hug. I put my bag down.

He hands me a glass of wine. I drain it too quickly. Over light banter we sign copies of a legal agreement.

I retreat to the restroom to undress and take my time touching up.

When I emerge semi-nude in a well-constructed black Victoria’s Secret number, P is fiddling with the stereo.

I stand and shiver and adjust some straps.

“How about The Diary of Alicia Keys?” he asks.

“I love that CD.”

“All girls love this CD”.

He turns from the stereo and gives me a thorough up-down.

“You’re beautiful,” he says.

“I need you to say that every three minutes,” I reply.

I mince to the sheeted part of the floor and the shutter begins clicking.

The next three hours are a strain. My heart rate is dangerously elevated for the duration of the shoot, especially considering I’m not really moving.

The last of my self-consciousness is suffocated by the effort of following directions: left arm back more…now turn about ninety degrees…I’m shooting your face now…look at seven o’clock…hold your hair back…relax your shoulders.

Some poses are uncomfortable.

I should have taken those modeling classes at the mall.

He’s using a big black digital camera, which he holds out every now and then, looking at the screen and admiring his work.

“I think you’re gonna love that one.”

The umbrella lights pop and squawk.

Every flash is slightly dizzying.

It is an experience I move in and out of, navigating between what I’m doing and what’s happening.

And then, eventually, it ends.

*****

Afterwards, I go out and get drunk with my girlfriends, high on my secret.

Somehow I manage to keep it to myself.

*****

A few days later, I meet P one last time in a parking lot. He gives me my own portfolio and a DVD slideshow.

The pictures aren’t exactly Playboy material, but I love them.

Call the whole thing narcissistic, needy, indulgent.

You’re free to make your own judgments.

And I’m free to look at my fine ass immortalized forever in high res, glossy photos whenever I want.

Strangely, this is much more arousing than any Internet porn I’ve ever seen.