Archive for April, 2009

birthdays in wartime.

29 April 2009

today would have been my mother’s fifty-sixth birthday. instead she died, as many of you know, in january. i take some amount of pleasure from your momma jokes, especially informing the person once the punchline is delivered that my mother has passed away. i enjoy the awkward moment created much more than the apologies that ensue. certainly none of them were the cause of her demise. they were merely responsible for a bad joke, which is not a punishable offense, or else i’d be writing this from humor death row, which is to say nothing about where david sedaris would be.

recently a friend told me her mother wasn’t doing well and that she may have to move in with her. i remained empathetic, even after learning the lady was in her seventies (seriously, people, how long do we expect our parents to live?). after all, i myself had basically moved in with my mother toward the end and it allowed us to gain some closure, if such a thing is honestly possible. we continued the conversation as i learned that not doing well meant she hasn’t paid her mortgage in a year and was risking foreclosure. perhaps i’m being too harsh, i’ll acknowledge, and this represents the actual definition of someone old not doing well. it’s certainly possible that some unfortunate turns and unlucky breaks have skewed my mind to the point that i hear six months to live when someone means may have to move to an apartment. oh, and one on the first floor at that because, did i tell you about her ankle? well, she sprained it cleaning the garage and it’s still bothering her. that was two weeks ago — can you believe it?

i took this incident, as i have all those concerning life and death in the past year, to my sister for further study. she said that it annoyed her when friends talked about their mothers, when they complained about them and when they celebrated them, when they rolled their eyes while talking to their moms on the telephone and when they answered gleefully telling their moms they’d see them soon. honestly, don’t even get her started about her friends’ grandparents — it’s unfathomable to her that our peers can have so many relatives remaining while we are ostensibly half-orphans.

i don’t think i share my sister’s (quiet) rage. inside me exists a mix of bewilderment and indifference. on one hand i’m shocked by the different levels of doomsday predictions and their meanings conjured (and felt) by other people, and, on the other hand, i don’t care about the problems of others, whether real or imagined. the latter, i feel the need to explain, because i have a hard time quantifying the problems, placing them along a reasonable scale, so i just list them all beside each other, where someone’s declaration that they lost a ten-dollar bill while walking to work occupies the same space as someone else having to have a piece of their hip removed in order to reconstruct parts of their face. i’m no longer able to question what is worse — it doesn’t matter, as long as each person treats it as devastating. i’ve let people be themselves and speak, where i listen sometimes in a semi-daze, wondering how it’s possible that their thoughts could diverge so much from mine.

my sister confided with me recently that she’s no longer able to cry. it seems pointless. further she said if she developed cancer right now she wouldn’t care. i think we’ve learned, all too hard, the absurdity of life, how devastating it can weigh on you but also how you have to adapt, poking fun at its inconsistencies, preparing yourself for anything, and finding humor in the inadequate sources you can. such as:

your momma’s so fat that whenever she goes to the beach the tide comes in

or

your momma’s so poor that she goes to kentucky fried chicken to lick other people’s fingers

anyway, happy birthday, mom. i wish we could have spent thousands more with you.

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a cautionary tale about cougars.

23 April 2009

(the following was printed in the fall 2009 issue of stir magazine and represents the first time i received payment for a piece of writing)

this is how they do it:

they make some benign comment about men their own age. for instance, in passing, she’ll mention the high-ranking executive with whom she’s recently broken up and how at dinner he once told her she’d look better with more makeup. before you have time to respond, she’ll emit a sound of disgust and say that he lacked spunk and wasn’t spontaneous enough for her.

it’s difficult to look at someone close to your mom’s age and tell her, straight out, that it’s her fault she remains single. you want to suggest that maybe if she tried applying some foundation to brighten her skin and subtle eyeshadow to emphasize her eyes, which, admittedly, are really nice, her problems would disappear; perhaps men her age become more rigid because she meets them for dinner with hair disheveled. it’s not as if you believe in anachronistic roles for men and women, you just think it’s polite to look like you put effort into dressing up when you’re eating an expensive meal with someone whom you are affectionate toward. for now you’ll conceal your values and reply with a knowing nod that betrays your youth and tell her that you think she looks fine just the way she is (and, anyway, it’s true).

look at this from another angle though. for a moment, take the view that the woman who is asking you about her appearance is not only close to your mom’s age but is hypersexual. suddenly you’re no longer merely giving her relationship advice. instead you’re playing an awkward game of cat and mouse where the mouse (you) is blind and the cat’s house smells like cheese (i know, it’s a terrible comparison and worse simile, but work with me on this).

by day, she works as a physician or lawyer or widow with inherited fortunes (she’ll let you know which is the case as soon as you begin talking with her), but at night she wears as a dress a piece of clothing that was originally sold as a shirt. it’s extremely form fitting and features a combination of writing about dark subjects, with cyrillic thrown in for good measure, and images, including at least one of the following: hawks, swords, religious iconography, or skulls. she talks quickly, with a kind of chirping cadence, in order to confuse you and appear much younger than her years. in short, she is on the prowl.

i’ll tell you that all older women do not look like demi moore. but, then again, you yourself are no ashton kutcher, even if you did once bring a picture of him in to your hairstylist. maybe you’re still intrigued. as is said, appearances are not always what they seem. for instance, maybe you don’t realize that two of the toes on mr. kutcher’s left foot are fused together (yeah, i read an unauthorized biography, but not because i’m obsessed with him or anything).

i’m still going to attempt to dissaude you from continuing when she denounces men her age, not because i necessarily think persuing her is a bad idea, but, more so, because i like assuming the role of the voice of reason. in the future, simply tell her to keep putting herself out there, sooner or later she’ll find someone who can match her spontaneity and overall lust for life. it’s not you, though, so excuse yourself and walk away. do not, under any circumstances, stick around as she tells you she lives in the same building as your friend and then suggests that you knock on her door the next time you visit.

whatever you do, don’t joke with her. she has no time for humor. don’t tell her that one of the biggest draws of your friend’s apartment is that he has a drum set and ask if hers has similar amenities.

she’ll smile, the wrinkles around her mouth and eyes resembling a map of tributaries leading into the mississippi river, oh, so you’re looking for something to bang.

really, i’m a fungi to be around.

17 April 2009

i am a very sensitive person. through the years i’ve weathered all manner of bizarre ailments from sun poisoning after riding in a tube down the dan river (my fellow tubers referred to this condition as beaver fever, a name unused outside our polytheistic past when evil spirits were thought to cause all illnesses) to ingrown hairs quietly becoming inflamed metropolises, from large blisters festering on my palms after merely taking a two-hour golf lesson at a driving range (insert your preferred joke about tightly-gripped shafts here) to an almost ceaseless supply of canker sores due to minor immune imbalances.

the latest chronic skin irritation — tinea versicolor — to strike is undoubtedly my favorite mostly because the name reminds me of rainbows. it’s caused by malassezia globosa (even that sounds cool (i’m so lucky)), a yeast that occurs naturally on the skin of many animals including humans, that only becomes troublesome under certain circumstances like a warm and humid environment, though the reasons behind the initial outbreak are not understood.

the yeast feeds on skin oils and dead skin cells and appears as small circular patches of discolored skin (on light skin such as my own, the spots are darker, like dark pink or tan with a reddish undertone). it is thought to have been brought from the amazon river by peter elam, an american engineer who was developing clean water in poor villages.

it can disappear and reappear throughout the course of one’s life. some treatments, such as coating affected areas in selsun blue shampoo (which i’ve tried with some success) and waiting ten minutes before rinsing have show efficacy as well as other topical antifungal medications (yeast infection solutions, et cetera). there are also medications only available with a prescription that administer higher doses that suppress growth, lessen inflamation, or can even remove the problem completely.

let me add this bit of information before concluding: it is in no way contagious. many of those that have come into contact with me over the years have lived long fruitful lives, free of sickness and full of vigor. if i hadn’t already used the fungi joke in the subject, i would use it now. instead i have to fall back on a vastly inferior reference to rainbows and suggest that somewhere near me lies a pot of gold, to be shared in a way that we all become richer, more productive people, regardless of our many unexplained infections.

the hardwood club.

11 April 2009

we turned into an underground parking lot beneath the arena, lined with newly-waxed black cars. handing off the keys to the valet, she turned to us and said, they wash your car during the game. we continued through the arch of a metal detector, entering the building where the charlotte bobcats were about to play their last home game of the season against the philadelphia seventy-sixers. everyone came up to greet us as we walked along the concrete floors in the bowels of the coliseum, then passed through a curtain, finding our seats between the visitor’s bench and scorekeeper’s table.

they had purchased the tickets one night out of boredom, looking for something to do at night. they bought two extra so they could entertain friends. everyone was so polite to them that we felt it worth mentioning, as if they hadn’t noticed. they told us that that year before they had been invited on a road trip to minnesota, aboard the team jet, because they had always stopped to talk to everyone associated with the organization, and that was their reward, they supposed, for being generous with their time.

they lead us toward a restaurant full of season ticket holders, and we inquired if that was where we were headed. no, that club has three hundred members; ours has thirty. after talking with the ushers assembled in the doorway, we passed into a small room with three high tables in the middle and plush chairs along the outside. there was a chef slicing prime rib and a buffet counter with trays of asparagus, mashed potatoes, rolls, and corn-on-the-cob. we filled our plates turning to the bar where a man asked us if we wanted a single or double. what’s the price difference?, my friend asked, in similar amazement at being brought here as a guest. they’re both free, was the reply. we both ordered doubles and a shot of whiskey, also at no charge. while we ate, we took note of a man asking if the chef could put his prime rib on a roll, and she obliged.

we returned to our seats for the first quarter, players standing within feet of us as they waited to be substituted into the game. i glanced at the computer to my right, then announced to the group a team’s shooting percentage or how a certain player already had two fouls. when the buzzer sounded, we returned to the club, choosing a prime rib sandwich, another double, and an accompanying shot. it was getting warm, so our hosts suggested placing our jackets in their locker. we went down the row of lockers, reading the names — so-and-so motorsports, the blank corporation, this-and-that incorporated (not actual company names) — until we arrived at theirs, merely listed under their surname. also, they had two.

we continued in this pattern: watching some basketball and returning to the club for drink refills. during halftime we stepped outside. we helped ourselves to the pile of candy left for the players on the announce table. late in the game, after someone running the length of the court lofted his gum toward the desk, we even advised the other players to watch their step. during the fourth quarter, aided by the free drinks and, likely also, by the idea that we were in a dream, we stood up, alternating between shouting encouragement to the home team and lambasting the referees for their botched calls.

at the end of the game, we told our hosts that we would like to tell our friends about our night but no one would believe us. my knowledge of basketball hadn’t increased much. i knew a few more names and a few more statistics thanks to my seating position (by the way, raymond felton scored a career high thirty-two points). most importantly, the bobcats won by three, so now i’m seen as a lucky charm or talisman to be welcomed to games next season.

love in unexpected places.

6 April 2009

i sent my dad a text telling him that, during a fashion show, i was responsible for making sure no nipples were exposed. i sped back and forth between the two dressing rooms, handing outfits to models and making sure the clothes they were removing were being stored properly. i manipulated the necklines of dresses and blouses so that the proper amounts of collarbone and breast were revealed, using double-sided tape to adhere garments to the girls’ skin.

my dad called to tell me about a trip to paris my parents had taken a few years ago, specifically how he envied the people whose job was to apply ice to the nipples of the female performers in moulin rouge. it was his dream job. his declaration reminded me of his first visit to new york city. upon returning, he repeated enthusiastically that he wanted to become a taxi driver, transporting people across the boroughs, stopping at delicatessens along the way. you wouldn’t believe these sandwiches, he said, mom and i shared one for dinner and we still had enough for lunch the next day.

in the end we both agreed that eating a sandwich is more intimate than getting paid to make someone’s nipples properly erect or to ensure they are hidden from view. it’s like josh hartnett’s dream in the incomprehensible forty days and forty nights where he floats over and under detached breasts. it becomes non human, one blending into the next like a wall. in the same manner, one continues icing and taping in a daze, each movement automatic, operations become robotic, later unable to tell one breast from another.

sandwiches are different. there’s one i initially tasted on the third floor of the time warner center in new york city that i’ve been trying to recreate: cashew butter and apricot jam on a soft and crunchy brioche with a side of banana chips. for a short time trader joe’s carried pureed cashews but have since discontinued the item. i am at a loss for purveyors of such a product, but i shuffle on, scanning grocery shelves lovelorn in a quest for the unrequited.

notes on a ledger.

2 April 2009

cynicism dictates that when heath ledger died the probable, that is, winning an oscar for best supporting actor, became a lock. for a long time i held that it was only due to his death that he would be given the award, but after contemplating further i decided that it was fruitless to worry about the reasoning behind a meaningless award. this is not to say, however, that his performance in the dark knight wasn’t deserving of a prize, especially in comparison to the other nominees who were adequate but not instantly memorable. while jack nicholson’s portrayal of the joker bordered on cartoonish, ledger’s was invested in the darker elements of the character, the maniacal tempered with sensitivity, the brutality and cunning counterbalanced by comedy and wittiness.

his victory was due as much to this role as it was a recognition of his previous. it goes without saying that he was great in brokeback mountain, but his performances were also noteworthy in the patriot, monster’s ball, ned kelly, and even, somehow, in ten things i hate about you. also he played the grimm, jacob, who shares a birthday with me, january four, instantly making him the cooler of the brothers.

i’d really like to find more similarities between heath ledger and myself, but i’m left with the tangential. sure, my family came close to moving to austrailia before we decided on north carolina. we were both born in the same year, on the fourth day of a month. we each have reported difficulty sleeping. members of the paparrazi also once squirted me with water pistols while i was on the red carpet.

there’s a detail that keeps coming back to me — something that fortunately we do not have in common — his access to health insurance. i will never accidentally overdose on prescription medications because i cannot afford to go to a doctor. i remain intentionally oblivious to my health, relying on my immune system to defeat all illnesses. it’s not completely alone in the struggle — i eat nutritiously on most occasions, i come very close to exercising at times, but for the most part i count on merely wishing my body could quit the pathogens that invade it.


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