Lindsay Hunter owes as much to Denis Johnson as she does to Mary Gaitskill. Her short stories, collected in Don’t Kiss Me (FSG Originals) do not hesitate to descend into the primal urges and dark, lusty behaviors that make us all animals at our core, but they also shine a light on the truth, a nugget of goodness at the center of what is quite often a lonely, depraved and tragic journey, one blanketed in a desire to be seen, to be loved—no matter who we are, or what we’ve done. Hunter’s characters work at diners and long to be included, they take care of their children while embracing their shortcomings, they chase boys into cornfields and kiss their best girlfriends, all the while longing to feel special and included.

Someday This Will be Funny, Tillman’s collection of short works, takes us through a myriad of subjects and styles—some with fast-paced quirkiness and economy of language, others with monotone didacticism.It’s amazing that the writer who turned out a multi-layered piece of flash fiction about a woman who hoards unpaid parking tickets in her glove compartment is also the same writer who produced a dull, overly sentimental and philosophical, essay-story-hybrid about mourning doves sitting at her window—unfortunately, the first piece in the collection.

A touching, funny, and unflinching look at a dysfunctional family, Drinking Closer to Home (Harper Perennial) by Jessica Anya Blau is a history that many of us may have lived. Hippie parents, competition between siblings, and the growing pains that we all endured: these are the fond memories and nightmares of our youth. What do you do when your mother quits being a mother? When your father grows pot plants in the back yard? When your older sister turns into a cigarette smoking, hard drinking woman on the prowl? When your younger sister retreats into her shell, a beach bunny with hidden dreams? When you suspect your brilliant brother of being gay, a ghost lost in the shadow of his dominant sisters? These stories are told in a series of flashbacks from 1968 to the present while the family is gathered around the hospital bed of their mother as she recuperates from a heart attack. Their sordid tales of youth and adventure unfold at a rapid clip, as the present-day regrets and promises to change float about the sterile hospital room and the messy homestead as well. Louise the freewheeling mother; Buzzy the worrisome father; Anna the wild older sister; Portia the heartbroken younger sister; and Emery the shy brother, run us through the wringer, and in the process, endear themselves to us—holding up mirrors, and windows, and open hands, looking for forgiveness.

Here in Australia, the International Comedy Festival has just passed. The newspaper sponsoring the event made a big push to cover every event, and as a result journalists who didn’t normally cover comedy were recruited to have a go.

It was a bit of a bloody disaster.

A lot of sub-par reviews came out, and in particular, this:

@simonjongreen Herald Sun sexist comments in Jen Brister review removed, angry comments remain. No mention of edit http://t.co/J2DNjB8

Thus was kicked up the stupid old debate of whether women are funny.

I think women are funny. I think it’s stupid to cleave the entire population of the world in two and then say one half aren’t funny. Some men are funny, some women are funny. Some people are funny.

I think women weren’t perceived as funny for a long time because men were in charge of hiring comics, and due to the attitudes of the time they simply didn’t hire women. No exposure means women don’t appear to be funny.

I have a sub-theory that I’d like to share. I think for someone to be funny, they have to have a degree of silliness: an ability to let themselves and their ego go and do what’s necessary to elicit a laugh. I think if someone wants to be seen as pretty or handsome, and that is their driving force, they’ll struggle to be funny, because in order to be pretty or handsome, there’s a requisite dignity and poise. This dignity and poise gets in the way of flopping around or admitting amusing secrets about your hygiene to make the audience laugh.

This isn’t to say funny people can’t be pretty or handsome. I just think someone can be funny if they’re willing to do what needs to be done to be funny: to let the conventional modes of carrying oneself fall away and for humour to emerge. If someone does that, and is also just naturally pretty or handsome, but their driving force is to be funny, then they’ll also have the fortune of being funny and attractive. Humorously boinkable.

Back in the bad old days, the wayward men who were hiring talent were happy to have the handsome and ugly funny men, but were looking mainly for the pretty women. They might hire a girl to be funny, but she’d need to have that main drive of being pretty so the wayward men could check that box. As a result, a lot of those women weren’t funny, and the wayward men could turn around and remark that women simply weren’t funny. A perpetual cycle, unbroken until the angry women of the nineties.

So I Got My Period Today

End of theory.


‘Dear log, can it be true? Do all Simpsons go through a process of dumbening? Wait, that’s not how you spell ‘dumbening’. Wait, ‘dumbening’ isn’t even a word!’

– Lisa Simpson

 

It’s been a while since my last missive. Too long. It feels like a virtual slap in the virtual face of this fine website. I can hear the mutterings about ‘that lazy Australian’, and the knives, if not yet being sharpened, have certainly been taken from the drawer.

I can only offer that most generic and unconvincing of excuses – the same one employed by philandering sportsmen and murderous wives ever since mental illness was dragged into the twentieth century, became a subject of sympathy and thus exploitable – I have been depressed. And while the pop psychologist in me says putting my feelings on the page might be therapeutic, trying to write whilst depressed is like trying to tap-dance whilst drowning: monstrously difficult, and of questionable efficacy. In any event, do any of you really want to read the kind of drivel that results from ‘writing as therapy’? The considerate writer either sends that shit straight to their stalking victim, or incorporates it into the pain-shrine they are building in the disused closet.

Regardless, I have good reason to be low. Because my country is in an apathetic, political limbo. Because the two sides competing to become the Australian government were so spineless and uninspiring that they both lost the election. Because the fate of my nation now rests in the hands of three men, and one of these men – a country redneck called Bob Katter, who wears a ten-gallon hat with a suit  – this week labelled the internationally respected climate change experts Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut as ‘lightweights’.

This is the triumph of the ignorant and the stupid, the gormless, sweaty meat-sacks who resent being forced from their couches for one hour every three years in order to participate in the democratic system. And, sadly, I cannot simply hold my nose and tell myself that I’m not like them. Not any more.

 

About three weeks ago, I destroyed my 42 inch LCD TV. I had purchased it less than a year earlier for almost two thousand Australian dollars. It is now totally fucked.

If I had destroyed my TV with a gun, or by pushing it out the window of my first-story flat to the shock and dismay of my wife, or driving over it with a Prius in some kind of confusingly worthy performance art piece, it might make for a good story. I would say something about shrugging off the decaying tendrils of old media, saying no to its brain-rotting bullshit, and how I’m counting down the days to the baby boomers dying, man, so we finally can have gay marriage and legal pot. You would read it and think me crazy, or pretentious, or dangerously sexy. And I would be reassured by your praise and my swelling loins that I am better and smarter than ordinary people. Oh, so much better and smarter.

I wish it had been that way. Because instead, I learned the horrifying truth about myself.

I am one of them.

I am a Wiitard.


 

There are two key safety features to the Wii remote. The use of either might have allowed me to remain ignorant of my ignorance.

First of all, just in case a white pointy controller which you spasmodically waggle around isn’t quite penis-y enough for you, it comes encased in a thick, fleshy, condom-like sheath. In the event of the average suburban ape experiencing a herp a derp moment, this jacket theoretically offers protection to both the controller itself and whatever consumer item or fat child it is hurled at. I peeled these off mine as soon as I got them, partly because I thought them unnecessary, but mostly because they creeped me out and I didn’t want my undersexed fiancee getting any unsanitary ideas.

More sensibly, each wiimote also has a strap which is simply and easily affixed to one’s wrist. Had I taken the three seconds necessary to do this then I could be watching season five of The Wire, in big screen surround sound comfort, right now. (Alright, season two of Futurama. Alright, THAT WEIRD JAPANESE PORN I TORRENTED LAST NIGHT.)

But, of course, that kiddy-safe crap is for morons, and maybe girls. Certainly not switched-on, sophisticated guys like me. And I sure as hell wasn’t about to look like a dork in front of my friends by taking basic precautions while playing Wii Sports.

It was only about forty-five seconds after we began playing that the Dunning Kruger Effect ruined my evening, my television, and ultimately my life.

 

The Dunning Kruger Effect, simply put is this: stupid people are too dumb to realise that they’re stupid, and thus consistently overestimate their own abilities. Meanwhile, smart people tend to underestimate their own abilities (relative to others) because they assume that others are as self-aware as they are. This in turn leads to what I call the Inception Effect. An entertaining, spectacular but essentially absurd action flick is sprayed with a superficial layer of metaphysics, giving its plot the appearance of complexity. Because it’s actually pretty straightforward, the less intelligent viewer (i.e. average mainstream film-goer) is able to understand what happens in the movie. But, thanks to the Dunning Kruger effect, they believe that their superior intellect has guided them through an Escheresque masterpiece. They tell their friends that it ‘really makes you think’ and give it four stars on their blog. Conversely, the more intelligent but less self-confident viewer is disturbed when they find this supposedly mind-bending experience underwhelming. Was there a deeper meaning they failed to grasp? Was it all a sophisticated allegory? Did they miss a crucial detail during the couple of minutes they tuned out while imagining what they’d to Ellen Page in a dream? So, rather than risk looking stupid, they go with the flow. The movie gets near-universal acclaim as an intellectual thriller of the highest order (rather than the clever, sometimes striking popcorn piece it is). And consequently, the standard is lowered for everyone.

Being (as I now know) a stupid person, I overestimated my own ability. But, being previously aware of the Dunning Kruger effect, I believed that was actually an intelligent person who was modestly underestimating my own abilities. Which puts my actual level of ability many orders of magnitude below what I had previously assumed. In this case, my ability not to let go of a Wii controller when swinging it towards a widescreen TV.

 

There is a special kind of dissociative state that kicks in when one is struck with a sudden and shocking misfortune. Time slows. The mind imposes an immediate, self-protective state of denial, making everything seem unreal, almost laughable. Stunned, the brain whizzes uselessly in a search for an impossible solution – how can what has already happened be prevented?

But it is real. I have just killed my TV. The screen is a fractured rainbow (and not the ecstasy-inducing double kind). My friends are standing there in horrified embarrassment. This is not what they signed up for. My wife is pale and slack-jawed. She is not angry, or disappointed. Rather, she is experiencing something much worse – a glimpse of her future. Stuck with stupid. I try my best to make light of the situation and lessen my friends’ discomort, but there is no way to undo the revelation of my true nature.

I am one of them. The lost and the damned. The mindless and the selfish.

An ordinary, everyday idiot.

 

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Time to print this off and send it to Zooey Deschanel. I know she’ll write back this time, that bitch.


I went to a high school that was pretty lax about class requirements. Students were strongly encouraged to take at least three years’ worth of every major subject: English, Social Studies, Math, Science. But the word “encouraged” is key.

My guidance counselor was just too sweet for her own good. Or I guess for my good, really, because once I realized that the requirements were flexible, it was goodbye to Math and Science. Anything with numbers or facts? Peace out, see ya later.

What I loved was English. I was always reading. You know that phrase people (it seems like only old ladies, actually) always say, like: “That Billy always has his nose in a book! Such a bookworm!” I was that bookworm. Literally, though; at almost all times, I walked around with my big nose in a little book. I would read on the bus, step down, and keep reading as I walked across the parking lot to class. I looked like Belle in The Beauty and the Beast, walking through the halls like I was strolling around Paris with a book in front of my face and a croissant in the other hand. If mentioning a non-Pixar animated movie is too archaic, by the way, and the reference has been lost on you, go to 1:45 in this vid. The chick ecstatically sliding across the bookshelf, that’s me.

I also loved languages. Beginning in seventh grade, we had to take a language and our choices were Latin, Spanish, or French. The hot girls took French, the apathetic masses took Spanish, and the parent-pleasing “intellectuals” took Latin. Which one do you think I chose?

After three years of Latin, I liked learning a language so much that I added Spanish, too. I dropped Math in order to do so. Then, junior year, I dropped Science, too, in order to double up in English. Our choices that year were Classical Lit—in which we read Homer, Aeschylus, and other dead Greeks, or AP (Advanced Placement) Lit, which involved Joyce, Dickens, Dostoevsky and blablabla, you know those dudes. The literary giants.

I couldn’t just choose one. I elected to take no Science, no Math, and to make up for the void by adding something called an “independent study.” For my independent study, I sat in a small storage closet with my favorite English teacher (poor, kind man) and we would discuss short stories from the 1800s.

So, to reiterate the list here: I was taking two sections of foreign languages, two sections of English, and a special private study of Hawthorne and Poe. I was a huge fucking nerd.

Senior year, I wanted to do it again—no Math or Science. But my guidance counselor insisted that colleges might not like the discrepancy, and that I should really choose at least a Science class. Of all things, we went with AP Biology, based on the logic that I had taken regular Bio freshman year and scraped by with a B, and hey, it was just memorization, after all. Kingdom, Phallus, Order, Genius, right? Lots of lists and stuff.

On the first day, the teacher announced to us, “This is AP-level Biology, I expect AP-level work and commitment.” Fuuuuck. Then she passed out a huge book and said we would cover a chapter a week and have a big multiple choice exam every Friday.

For the first test, I studied for a little while, memorized the bullshit, and felt pretty good after taking it. She handed them back Monday, and I got an 85. I was pretty happy with that. 85 was a B, and hey, if I could get a straight B in the class, that was okay.

I felt really good after taking the second test. I felt like I maybe even brought up my score from the first one, maybe got into the 90s range. But on Monday, she handed them back and I got a 74. “Hmm,” I thought, “That’s a bit of a drop. But it’s not so bad, and I’ll pull it up next time.”

For the third test, I studied harder than before. I made flashcards, and had my parents quiz me. I felt good. After actually taking the test, though, I didn’t feel so good. I just wasn’t gettin’ this science stuff! We got the test back Monday, and sure enough, I got a 65. Uh-oh. That’s like a D, right? I was upset, to say the least. I wanted to burn my Bio textbook. A year later, in college, I would get the chance to burn a book, but it would be Eccoci, my text from first-year Italian. As I held the flame to its angry pages, I closed my eyes and thought about AP Bio. Note: No books were harmed in the making of this TNB post (nor even in the photo below; after holding the lighter there long enough for a picture, I wussed out).

Meanwhile, we were nearing the deadline to drop a class. Soon, I’d be in too deep. But I also knew I couldn’t really drop the class, because I needed a science corurse.

So, for the fourth week’s test, I really kicked into high gear. I started studying a week in advance, read through each chapter twice, and tried to think of any surprise, trick questions. This time, I wasn’t fucking around.

At this point, you know where the story is headed, don’t you?

I took the test, and boy, it went great. I knew all of the questions with confidence, and walking out of class Friday, I thought that if anything, I had been overprepared!

After completing the test, I felt so good about it that after school that very afternoon, I actually went to the Science office to approach the teacher. I wanted to find out my grade, and I knew that even though we didn’t get tests returned until Monday, they were all graded with the Scantron machine (“Use #2 pencils only! Darken each rectangle fully! No errant pencil marks!”) and therefore took a teacher thirty seconds and zero effort to score each one. She had probably already graded them.

The teacher’s name was Miss Tyson. “Hi Miss Tyson!” I said when I walked into the Science office. “Hello, Daniel,” she said quietly. She looked grim.

Hey, so, I know we won’t get back them til Monday, but I thought maybe if you had already scored them, I could find out my grade from today’s test now? I just feel really good about it and wanted to see mine early!

She looked at me, and said, “Are… are you serious?”

“Yeah!” I said with genuine, doe-eyed enthusiasm.

She looked around the office at the other science teachers like she was embarrassed, and she said, “I’m going to write your score down for you on a piece of paper.”

“Gee golly, okay!” I said, excited to see my A+ grade.

Then she took a little corner of scrap paper and brought out her pen. I still remember it today; it was a purple Le Pen. Felt tip, gorgeous ink. A really nice pen! She wrote something on the scrap of paper and then slid it over to me with her hand covering it. Then she slowly lifted her hand.

On the piece of paper, she had written the number 47.

I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “Oh, was it graded out of 50 this time?”

“No, that’s your score out of a hundred,” she said.

I smiled, and thought for a second. I probably thought about what I would eat for my after-school snack. Then I looked up at her and said, “Okay, will you sign this drop sheet?”

[This story is broken up into two parts. Part II will appear nearing January’s end. A couple of names were changed to conceal identities.]

An unclad young woman stared at me from across the room. A straight line ran from her pointed breasts to my line of vision. I took a sip from my beer. Topless, unabashed, she positioned herself against the wall in a rather somber pose, half sobering considering the atmosphere. I took a drag from my cigarette, another sip from my beer. I wiped the froth from my lip. She had yet to blink, kept looking in my direction. Some specimen she was, I thought silently.

I exhaled a cloud of smoke and it hung heavy overhead like empty time. I walked her way. As I approached, she titled forward falling. I caught her, stood her back on the wall, and secured the loose piece of scotch tape that kept her shoulders square, her posture in perfect alignment.

Her name was Amanda. She was a sucker for the shy type. She was a late bloomer, she said.

She straddled a Harley Davidson motorcycle and wore a pair of black leather assless chaps. Amanda was one of various nude women, which served as wallpaper in my cousin Gary’s home.

He was a bachelor.

He drank whiskey.

He wore a leather beret.

He listened to Willie Nelson.

He once traded hats with Willie Nelson after a Willie Nelson concert.

They didn’t smoke marijuana together afterward.


It was getting late. The wee hours of the night tugged at my eyelids. My nostrils widened. Blood shot and dry, irritated by the cigarette smoke lingering in the air, my burning eyes did their best to water. I brought my hand to my mouth and let out a deep yawn. Jeremiah looked my way. His eyes closed. His nostrils widened. His mouth opened and springing from the pit of his stomach a deep yawn arose.

“I guess…. it’s like…. they say—” I said to him, finishing my yawn.

“Contagious is right,” he responded.

I dropped my hands to my side.

Wu Tang entered the speakers. The RZA, the GZA, Raekwon, and the rest of the Clan verbally assaulted us spitting more heat than a woodstove in winter….

You can’t party your life away
Drink your life away
Smoke your life away…

One by one, drunken teenagers and young twenty-somethings saturated in wildly wandering hormonal distress stood in a single file line down the hallway guzzling cheap American beer. With all their shouting, grunting, and vocal might they attempted to revive the once vibrant game of Waterfall that had so consumed them an hour earlier.

Their calls were moot at this conjecture in the night. Cal Adams stood tipsy on the tips of his toes, chugging a beer.

One cold can after the next, participants dropped like flies—beer foam all the while dripping from their lips and chins, giving them the impression of rabid raccoons rocking steady to the beat across the room.

I looked in Jeremiah’s direction and noticed him wobbling. His head bobbed from side to side. His hips swayed. His bones danced a jiggly, gelatinous dance. His body swayed like a drunken vessel….

He belched.

He opened the front door. We both trailed out, lit our respective cigarettes, and surveyed the scene.

Numerous friends of ours lay before us in Gary’s front yard. Some were curled up in the fetal position. Others were slumped over the rail on the stoop blowing chunks of Natty Light and Pabst Blue Ribbon from their jowls.

In spit-filled slurs slung sideways, they promised empty promises: “I’ll never drink this much again,” only to drink that much and more the following Friday down in the boonies of southern Virginia.

Phenix.

Drakes Branch.

Red Oak.

Red House.

Aspen.

Keysville.

Charlotte Court House.

We all were born and raised in a county without a single stoplight. We celebrated our boredom the same way every weekend. We had no music venues. We had no bars. No clubs. No movie theater save the drive-in.

We celebrated our existence, our invincibility at Gary’s on Scott Rd.

“This is the famous Budweiser beer,” I said flicking my cigarette, walking back into the house. “We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive beechwood aging produces a taste, smoothness, and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.”

“Get this bumbling idiot some water,” Gary said.

“Who me?”

“Yes, you. And tell your buddy, what’s his name—” He pointed in the direction of my friend Derek who was passed out on the couch with a cigarette still in his mouth. It had burned its way down to the filter.

“Derek?”

“Yes, Derek. Derek Smith. Tell him not to come over to my house again unless he’s wearing a shirt. Do I need to post a sign on my front door that reads, ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service;’ huh, do I?”


Derek rarely wore a shirt anywhere. He wasn’t some macho asshole. He just didn’t like to wear a shirt. Half the time he didn’t wear pants. That night at Gary’s he had on pants: camouflage cargo pants. Derek had signed up for the National Guard. He was due to leave for boot camp in a few weeks.

Derek used to sit in the parking lot at B&D Mart in our hometown of Phenix, Virginia, in the broad daylight in his tighty-whitey boxer-briefs with a Camel unfiltered hanging off his bottom lip, shaving his face with the Norelco electric razor his parents had given him. He shaved his face everyday with that razor. He kept it charged in the A/C adapter, this all despite having minimal facial hair at the time. The type of facial hair you have when you’re in high-school.

Unless you were Dwayne Davis.

Or Jimmy Lovelace. Also known as Paco. Or Mustapha. Whether he looked Mexican or Arab depended on the season.

If it was summer or fall, Jimmy looked Arab. If it was winter or spring then Mexican.


Jimmy got the nickname Paco when the two of us enrolled in summer school after 9th grade. We both had flunked Algebra II.

There was a kid named Deron that used to always ask him for lunch money. He hassled Jimmy a lot. Gave him a lot of shit.

Then one day Deron walks up to Jimmy, sort of nudges him. They were serving tacos that day.

“Yo Paco. Let me hold a dollar. I need a Taco, Paco.”

It’s been fifteen years. I still call Jimmy, Paco. He passed Algebra II that summer. I didn’t. I took it once again in 10th grade. Third time’s a charm.

The year before, we pleaded with Jimmy for nearly an entire semester in 8th grade to shave the Superman logo in his chest hair.

“My mom would kill me.”

“How the fuck is your mom going to know,” I asked him. I was pissed. Jimmy used to do anything I’d tell him like bark for a piece of chewing gum in 7th grade. Now he protested.

“Bark for a piece of gum and I’ll give you a piece. It’s Teaberry. Teaberry is fucking awesome,” I said chewing. “Man, this is some good ass gum.”

“I’m not barking for a piece of gum,” Jimmy whispered back. Our teacher had her back to us.

“Guess you won’t be getting any gum then. By the way, your breath smells like dog shit. Did you eat a turd for lunch?”

A few minutes passed. I had swallowed my gum by that point. I used to always swallow my gum despite my mom telling me it would take seven years to come out the other end.

That was bullshit. I remember seeing chewing gum in my shit when I was six years old.

“Ruff!”

“What was that,” Mrs. Clark said.

When Jimmy barked, I had switched over to Sugar Babies and had crammed my mouth with a handful of the caramel and chocolate treats developed in 1935 by the James O. Welch Co.

I began choking on my own saliva.

The saliva was thick and sugary.

It tickled my throat.

“Who just barked,” Mrs. Clark demanded.

I started to laugh. My eyes watered. I had too many Sugar Babies in my mouth.

Jimmy was shaking with laughter. I was shaking with laughter.

Old, fat women in bikinis, I thought to myself. I was trying to think of something not funny. It wasn’t working. I could hear Jimmy barking over and over in my head.

I started to cough. I thought my eyes were going to burst out my head.

Then I threw up on my desk. It looked like cat shit, kind of. I thought Jimmy was going to throw up too. Jimmy used to always throw up when other people threw up. I used to always throw up when other people threw up too. I remember once in 1st grade when Larry Wade poured milk over his tuna ball that sat on top a piece of lettuce in his lunch tray. Someone had dared Larry an orange push-up he wouldn’t eat the milk, lettuce, and tuna mixture.

Larry did.

This overweight kid I used to call Skipper threw up watching Larry eat. He called me Little Buddy. His mom worked at a chocolate factory. Every Valentine’s Day she would come to our class for Show and Tell. The Skipper’s real name was Chad.

When Chad threw up, I threw up. Then other kids started throwing up all the way down the table. My cousin Brandon threw up. He was in the middle of an argument telling all the other kids that Santa Claus didn’t exist when he stopped to throw up. He had a rat-tail. So did Erik Ragsdale. I’m not sure if Erik threw up.


Jimmy’s mom knew everything her children did. He was terrified to go against her or do anything he thought would upset her in the slightest. His older sister would later become pregnant out-of-wedlock, carry the baby the entire length of the pregnancy having never been to the doctor for a single check-up, and go into labor one day at the high school. She was a teacher.

She had graduated college, had a salary job, and was still terrified of her mother.

Jimmy would later tell me about the situation. He prefaced it by saying, “Man you aren’t going to believe this shit.” The conversation went sort of like this.

JIMMY: By the time I get off work, get to my locker, and check my phone I have like ten missed calls from my mom. One missed call after the next. One new voicemail.

“Jimmy,” my mom said. “Please call me when you get this. Call me as soon as you get this.”

She was extremely upset.

Crying. Fucking delirious sounding, man.

Naturally, I’m thinking someone has died. Somebody has definitely died. I start to panic a little. I’m almost scared to call her back. What if something happened to my dad or sister? I’m a little fidgety, antsy about returning the call. I’m going to do it. I just need to calm down first. I light a cigarette. I’m shaking. I’m hot-boxing that bitch. Then my phone rings. I look down at caller ID. It’s my mom.

She’s sucking back snot.

“What’s the matter I ask her? Mom, what’s the matter?”

“Melissa had a baby,” she says.

(Jimmy pauses, looks at me, eyes big as saucers, and laughs)

ME: Yeah man, that shit came through the grapevine. I heard about it all the way in Charlottesville. I didn’t even know she was pregnant.

JIMMY: Neither did I.

ME: What did you say?

JIMMY: The first thing that came to mind: “Are you fucking kidding me?”

That triggers my mom to bawl more.

“When the hell did she get pregnant,” I asked her.

I was floored. Dude I was fucking floored. My sister had a baby. Do you believe that shit? She was fucking pregnant for nine months and never told anybody. I mean shit. How do you pull that shit off? Thing is, you couldn’t even tell she was pregnant. You know my sister. She doesn’t exactly win the gold medal for most physically fit but still—pregnant? Nine months? Had a baby? Fuck!

(laughs)

Suddenly me dating a black chick isn’t the worst thing in the world for my parents.

(laughs)

ME: How’s that situation going?

JIMMY: Same ole, same ole. Don’t come home unless you’re single or got a white girl on your arm.

(He pulls on a cigarette)

ME: Your folks need to be more understanding. Do they realize you don’t even look white? You look like you’re from the United Arab Emirates. And you’re balding prematurely.

JIMMMY: Hey, fuck you.


Finally, the owner of B&D confronted Derek about his lack of outerwear. He was shirtless and had on no pants. He wore army boots and white boxer briefs. He had been polishing his boots since we got off from school.

He was standing at the Coca-Cola machine, trying to straighten a dollar bill on the side of the machine. I sat at the picnic table with some other friends: Rick, Ricky, and Brian.

Brian had a stuttering problem. If we were all having a down day, we used to get Brian to sing “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive for kicks.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
Here’s something that you never gonna forget
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet

Brenda, the co-owner of B&D Mart (the “B” stood for “Brenda”), knocked hard with her knuckles against the drive-up window that was duct-taped shut. Derek looked her way. I looked her way. She had a mean snarl on her face and pointed at Derek.

“You stay right there,” she said. You couldn’t hear her but you could read her lips. She was fuming. Then she proceeded out the front door and began berating Derek.

She finished, turned around, walked back inside. She stood at the window looking outside at us.

Derek looked at me and said, “Shit. What’s her problem?”

“You don’t have on pants,” I said.


Gary turned his attention back to the fizzled out game of Waterfall. Then Jeremiah stumbled back into the picture, wobbling across the carpet like a pregnant woman, her water about to burst.

He squinted.

“Are you alright,” I asked Jeremiah.

No response.

He narrowed his eyes even more trying to fix his pupils on one of the three of me he saw. Assuming he was staring into the image of me located in the middle of the other two blurred images of my form, he asked if I was ready to leave.

“Are you ready to leave,” he asked.

I was.


To read Part II, please click here

It’s noon and I’m lying on my bed listening to the lilting voices of the neighbors waver with abandonment, teetering on the verge of happy hysteria. They are intoxicated, summer, weekend voices. BBQ gathering voices.

Excitable voices.

Gay.


Literally.

Under the purple rain of the flowering jacaranda tree next door lies a picnic blanket rife with fabulous cliché.

I mean no condescension, no judgment, no malice- but there is a collection of screamingly fey voices drifting over the back fence that have infiltrated my thoughts and invited themselves into my bedroom to rearrange the furniture and borrow my shoes.

I am eavesdropping on West Hollywood gossip. The highs and lows and ins and outs of the botoxed and be-muscled set. Offers of cocktails and declarations of “Ooooooo, yes!”

I smile.

The boys club is having a ball today.

The high pitched conversation makes my mind wander.

Growing up I had a lot of male “Aunties”. Gay couples were normal in my world. Two men together never once seemed strange or perverted. It saddens me that for some people it is such an issue. It glaaddens me that so much progress has been made.

My mother and I were so inured to homosexuality that it wasn’t even something we thought about much. Or discussed.

My nanny was a tranny and we didn’t even notice.

Her name was Ngaire (a Maori name traditionally pronounced “Niery” but which my stubborn, cross-dressing babysitter insisted was “Na-Gair”).

My mother hired Ngaire in all her 1920’s glamor when I was about ten years old. I loved her from the outset. I loved her eccentricities and elegance, her regal stature, her doting, grandmotherly love for me, her ability to lose at backgammon and never draw attention to the fact that I’d changed the rules.

I remember that she was in her late fifties, maybe.

She wore white satin gloves pushed in silky ripples up past her elbows.

She wore drop waisted dresses and curled, bobbed wigs.

She asked me to design outfits for her- purple hooded capes and fancy, beaded frocks with lace sashes. Then she had them made.

She wore strings and strings of low-hanging pearls.

She was an Agatha Christie character come to life.

She was my tranny, granny, nanny.

I remember the scandal we went through when we realized we’d been fooled.

It lasted about thirty seconds.

One day my mother had several guests over for drinks before heading out to a party, and one drunken lout saw through the (probably quite obvious) ruse and announced it to us when Ngaire was out of earshot. My mothers beautiful face took on an air of shock and bewilderment, her brain tick-tocked and did the math as she turned to me with a quizzical face.

The wigs. The costumes. The deeper voice. The bashful demeanor. The white satin gloves… worn to hide the mans hands!

Im00068

We looked at each other.

It made sense.

We smiled.

We laughed and shrugged.

Then the party left and Ngaire and I sat down to play backgammon.

I won.

Rules are made to be broken.

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As I sit here, intent on typing the third installment (now long overdue and angrily demanded) of this sorry tale, a song begins to shuffle and shimmy out of my speakers…

The song is ‘Do Right Woman’ by Aretha.

Oh, the precious, delightful irony (and another bit of proof to back up my theory that iPods on ’shuffle’ are actually a direct line from God).

God has a sick sense of humor, but we knew that already.

Anyway, where were we?

That’s easy, we were here….

THE COLE FIASCO. PART 3-

The humidity was dense and suffocating. From the moment we debarked the plane the air began molesting us with sticky fingers.

It was hot.

It was wet.

It was like trying to walk through sex.

I loved it.

Cole, on the other hand, was used to more temperate climes.

Whenever love presents itself, no matter what the extenuating circumstances, I always advise people to leap at it with an open heart and mind, to take it by the balls and make it dance a drunken jig, to go meet its parents and charm them into submission. Do it all. Dive in head first. Go crazy! BE MAD!!!! Fuck love’s brains out with a rubber strap-on, and respect it with an eager blow-job in the morning.

Love your love, for that is what nourishes it. Love, carnivorous, cannibalistic, feeds only on itself.

Love.

Embrace it, adore it, run towards it…

Unless you’re clinically depressed and fucking kidding yourself.

If this is the case, then think very carefully. Be cautious and mindful of yourself and your actions, and the way they affect your life and others.

In mid-2005 I was still sick, but with all the heady jubilation and fluffy butterfly moments… I just couldn’t see it, or I forgot, or I chose to believe I was better.

A depression manifests in many different ways.

In my case I was a volatile and emotional basket case. Reactive, angry, scared, suicidal, at times vicious, often terrified and constantly, consistently, without hope.

When Cole innocently tripped into my life I managed to sweep these symptoms under the bed, then clamber unceremoniously on top of them for a dirty shag. I was so happy and so in love that my demons were temporarily banished into something flimsy, a paper bag perhaps, something it didn’t take them very long to claw back out of.

Cole and I spent ten blissful days in paradise. There were no pressures, no stresses… just sun and sex and food and beach and sex and laughter and a bit of sex on the side. We banished the Fijian help from our house so that we could utilize every one of its surfaces. Finally alone we pottered around, naked and sweaty, playing “happy families”, imagining all the while that a vacation in the tropics was indicative of what a REAL LIFE together would be like.

We were naive.

When Cole left I was bereft. We spoke every day, as many times as we could, and reverted to our routine of sharing Internet stories and twisted adventures.

I wrote-

“A lopsided ceiling fan stirs the air above the bed, click-click-clicking as it rotates.
The air is barely stirred by the motion of its blades, for the dense humidity resists all movement.
The air is wet and think.
Like a loaf of fruit bread.

Beneath the mosquito netting He stirs. One hand rises to shield His eyes from the encroaching sunrise, the other moves stealthily across the bed to touch Her. Blindly He gropes through the sheets until He hears Her sigh sleepily in response to His touch.

Her breathing stays regular, She dreams on. He can feel the soft rising and falling of Her breasts against His wrist. A sticky curl of long hair falls over Her shoulder and tickles the tips of His finger. He is about to tug on it, gently, to bring Her to life when He hears a small sound.

A rustle, barely discernible, from under the bed.
A bug?
An animal?
A crazed Fijian crouching in wait, maggoted on kava?

He opens His eyes and looks around. She shifts in sleep, arching Her back, smiling a little at a private joke, a memory. He can almost see Her small triangle of pubic hair before She turns completely and bares Her back, moist with the perspiration of One Who Dreams Heavily.
He hears the noise again.
Odd.

He withdraws His hand from between Her legs and shifts the mosquito netting from around the bed.
The morning light is still vague, but His hangover has magnified the reaction His head is having to it. In short, He feels fucking awful.
What monstrous chaos did She cause last night?

He peers over the edge of the bed.
Nothing.
He hears a scurrying, a patter.
He leans further.
The darkness under the bed is slowly fading as His eyes adjust.

What is that?

What are THOSE?

Reaching, from the floor up to the mattress, are dozens of tiny ladders, spaced at intervals of a few inches, all around the bed.
What?
He starts to speak, to laugh and rouse Her, when He hears a voice.

A tiny voice.

“Freeze”.

And so, He does.

“Turn, very slowly, We have You covered”.

He raises His hands and slowly lies His prone body back on the pillows, finally turning His head, His eyes squinting in apprehension.

“Don’t move”.

There, on the bed, facing Him, are row upon row of miniature soldiers, rifles drawn, expressions fierce. The stained, damp wrinkles in the sheets have become trenches, forts and watchtowers. His legs have been swarmed with orderly lines of infantry and canons. Thousands of small, beady eyes are trained upon Him, peering out from their bunker in His crotch.

“Are you kidding me?”

“SILENCE!!”

The order comes from Her side of the bed. All along the silhouette of Her body stands a regiment of officers, swords and guns drawn. A General perches upon the highest ground, the rim of Her hip, just above where it melts into Her thigh. The General tries valiantly to keep his footing as the ground beneath him moves with Her breathing.

“One move, big boy, and we’ll fire”.

Nobody moves. There is silence. A few members of the cavalry shuffle and dig in further behind folds in the bedding.

A thought occurs to Him, a vague drunken memory of something that happened last night. He struggles to remember the cause of the violent reaction that had been triggered in Her. What was it?

She freaked out about something. Caused pandemonium in a restaurant… Spiders?

“SPIDER!” He yells, and instantly there is chaos.

She erupts from the bed like a human hydrogen bomb, naked, sending pillows, sheets and little soldiers into the air.

“Where? Where?! What the FUCK?! WHERE????”

The men in His crotch fire desperately as He attempts to swipe at them, but She is already destroying all. With pillows as weapons She swings and smites. The bed is a battlefield.

“DIE YOU FUCKERS DIE!!!”

Her fury knows no bounds. She is deranged.

She is still trembling in the aftermath, when the bed is once more Their own.
She huddles behind Him, eyes like saucers, freckled skin pale and shivering.

He comforts Her. “There there. Come here. It’s okay. I’ll protect You.”

Her hysteria subsides and She slowly relaxes. “That was horrible”.

He flicks the corpse of a small officer off the bed and reaches down. The ladders are still there, perhaps they will come in useful when He gets back to Los Angeles.

“I hate it here”, She says.

“Me too”. He says, His voice dripping sincere empathy, and reaches lecherously for Her arse.

“Next time lets just stay at the Chateau?”

The End.

And Cole replied…

“Aspirin dreams, sedative dreams, tequila dreams. No, what kind of dreams? Stoned, drugged, something. Haze.” He fell back into sleep for several hours and drifted into what his body clearly identified as something that resembled (a little too closely for its own comfort) — death; and he shot wide awake, hurtling into the obese person in the seat next to him, whose layers of fat oozed over the side of the seat like blue cheese dressing on a skimpy lettuce salad at a bad steak house.

He violently tried to put the blood back into his arm and the leg on his left hand side by slamming them into the seat and he caught, because of the spill-over, the edge of the hefty sized t-shirt on the passenger next to him and pulled him inadvertently across the demarcation zone that divided the two seats so that he started suffocating under the weight on top of him.

“Get the fuck off me lard ass. And take a fucking shower. You smell like you have been wiping your ass with your face.” He screamed this so that the entire business class section and most of coach turned to stare.

“Oh, excuse me, excuse me.” The fat man said repeatedly with a disarming sincerity, squishing his seat mate as he pulled himself back into his own.

In the mean time one of the flight attendants, trained after September 11 for events such as these, raced hastily toward the overhead bin, searching frantically but methodically for the in-flight tranquilizer gun and handcuffs. She opened the overhead bin and as she did so she heard something that sounded like “ALLEZ” and the tranquilizer dart miraculously lodged into her forehead and she stumbled into the seats and passed out.

“I’m really sorry about the fat insults.” He said as the blood slowly crept back into the left side of his body. “I just kind of feel into a weird sleep and woke up and was not sure where I was and had one of those shitty death instilled dreams.”

The fat man, smiling all the while, said “I have those dreams all the time. No big deal. My name is Ron.”

“Nice to meet you Ron. Do you think she is alright?” He said as they both looked toward the commotion of the other flight attendants who were pulling the sedative dart out of her forehead and carrying her to the back of the plane. While she attracted the attention of the passengers he felt a distinct but but slight pulling sensation on his pant leg and he looked down to see one of the soldiers winking at him and he quickly scooped him up and whispered into his ear “Get back in that bag and behave yourself or we are really going to get into trouble. Nobody has a sense of humor about airplane pranks anymore.”

And he casually dropped the soldier to the floor just as his seat-mate turned back and hefted “What did you say?”

“Nothing, just commenting that it probably hurts like hell to have a sedative dart stuck in your forehead.”

“No shit. But I kind of had a premonition something like this would happen,” Ron said happenstancely, “In fact, I even wrote it down about an hour ago in my journal. Want to see?”

“Sure man. That would be kind of cool.” And Ron pulled from his bag a tattered old journal full of food stains and his pudgy little fat fingers that looked swollen with high blood pressure turned to a page and Ron handed the book to him and he started reading and almost to the action, Ron described the preceding 20 minutes with a level of detail that escaped even the events themselves; and as his eyes arrived at the end sentence and it read “Right about now the captain of the plane will tell us that he has to make an emergency landing.” And he looked at Ron and started to ask a question and over the intercom a smooth fly boy voice came over and said, “Ladies and gentlemen no need to be alarmed but we are going to need to take this big bird down a little bit sooner than we expected. One of our flight attendants shot herself in the forehead with a dart gun and it looks like she may need some medical attention and we are still about 5 hours out of Sydney and so we are just going to drop in on the nearest airport, which is on the island nation of Fiji. We are about 10 minutes out so if everyone would return to their seats, buckle up and get ready for a little unexpected tropical getaway.”

“I told you so.” Ron said with no hint of pride. “I am what is known as psychic.”

“You are not what is known as psychic you are one bad ass mother fucken psychic“, He said with a good deal of respect.

Ron struggled to get the buckle out from underneath his ass and looked at him and said “Could you help me find the other end?”

“No way man. Not a chance. I’m not going near that thing. You’re psychic. You’ll find it,” he said reassuringly.

“Oh there it is” Ron extended the seat belt to its maximum girth and took a deep breath, sucked in his stomach and barley managed to clasp the belt. “I meant to tell you,” Ron wheezed, “your girl is not in Sydney, right about now she is sitting in some office in Fiji reading her emails.”

“That asshole,” he said out loud. “She was going to make me fly all the way to Sydney and then what? Fly back to Fiji? Any idea why, Nostradamus?,” He asked Ron.

“I don’t know the why’s, I just tell it like it is.”

And He sunk into deep thought as the wheels of the plane touched the ground of a tiny island in the middle of a very large ocean.”

The End.

We were having fun, despite the distances between us.

I had never felt so in love, so loved in return, and so inspired. I told myself I was better, and stupidly, I believed it.

A month passed and we missed each other with adolescent fervor.

I was broke and employed as a writer in Fiji, an adventure indeed, but not a lucrative one. I didn’t have many options. Cole considered returning to see me, then at the last moment cashed in some points and sent me a ticket to join him. We were to spend a week together in LA, my old home, my favorite city in the world, the place I dreamed about returning to. After a month in the jungle I was ready for some city. I wanted to kiss the pavement, the graffiti, the filth…. Cole.

He met me at the airport, lingering, laconic, in the background of the departure area.

He leaned against the window and waited, smiling, almost shy, as he watched me walk towards him in my jet-lagged haze.


To be continued….