Sunday, December 28, 2008

Slipping into Toothlessness

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It’s midwinter, you’re at the desolate tundra called the Jersey shore and you’re quietly slipping into toothlessness.

It all starts with a missed shower or two. It’s just too cold to peel off all of those layers. Besides, you’re not going to see anyone anyway. Bathe tomorrow. (That can be your big “Tuesday” plan! Yippee!)

You could comb your hair at least, but grooming seems like wasted movement. Shit you’d grow a beard if you could (warms your face, I hear). Sure, you shave your legs once in a blue moon, because you never know who you’ll meet at the local dive bar on Friday night. (Oh wait you do know who you’ll meet: a big, fat nobody. Because if there was a big, fat someone here for you, you would have stumbled across him by now.)

No the locals don’t even like you much let alone hang with you. They find you suspicious…what’s your deal anyway? And that’s just fine with you. Let them think you’re weird lest you wind up tied up to a rusty pipe in a basement.

You own 2 robes. One is dangerously cozy but pretty damn ugly. A pale grey-green, the color of a bored soul. The other one is your dress-up silky red robe for fancy occasions, like visits from friends (which happens never because winter) or walking my dashing young date to the door after a steamy night of raucous sex. 

You don’t wear the red robe often. 

Going to sleep at 10 seems reasonable because sleep is where the real action is anyway — but you can’t go to sleep any earlier than 10 because then your ass is getting up at the cold crack of dawn…you don’t want that. Because you’re not a farmer. Are you a fucking farmer? No, you are not.

Matching socks, a thing of the past. (Again who’s checking?) Folding clothes, pretty unnecessary if you think about it. A balled up t-shirt is going to look the same after you put it on, give it an hour. Same with jeans. Why have we been folding clothing all these years? Slaves to monotony.

You eye up the UPS man in a way that makes both of you uncomfortable. It’s not that sexy come hither look but more of a schoolyard pervy stare. (Maybe he should think twice before dressing like such a slut, you think. Or do you say it? Then does he ask, “What did you say?” and do you respond, “Nothing. Long winter.”?)

Late one night, you teach yourself how to pee like a guy so you don’t have to sit on a cold toilet seat. After several unsuccessful attempts, you think you’ve nailed it. You’re surprised by the pride you feel about this quiet accomplishment.

You sweep the front step (in your bored soul robe) while reliving an argument you had with a bank teller a few days ago. “Yeah, well I don’t like your attitude either missy,” you mutter. The local cops drive by and wave, including the cute one who looks like Father Karras from The Exorcist. You find this sexy for what reason? But you do.

While changing your sheets (because wine), you discover chocolate chips from god-knows-when. You eat them, tentatively at first. But then oh yeah, still delicious…another quiet victory.

Brush your teeth twice a day thy say? Once, if you’re lucky, mouth. Your hair grows longer than the nights. You wear gloves with the tips cut off, not for irony’s sake. There’s always sand on you somewhere, in your ears, between your toes. You’re weather worn. You’re an actual beach bum.

How hobo will you go, you ask yourself in a dimly lit mirror one night? Maybe you’ll lose a front tooth like the drunk dude up the street and just not give a fuck. What the hell…you got others right? Life isn’t a beauty contest. Teeth are for stars and presidents anyway.



 Homeless Chic

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Rise and Fall of Kenny Blane

Kenny Blane had a fast black car with orange flames painted on it. He would pick me up from high school and I’d slide onto his slippery seat and bask in the curious looks on everyone’s faces. We’d tear out of the parking lot and cruise – which in our little New Jersey town was rather limited. But we felt big anyway.

He scared me. Kenny was several years older than me and seemed so worldly and desperately cool. He was quiet by nature and I was quieted by shyness. So we’d drive around in silence. Then park. People referred to us as “going out” but even then, I didn’t quite understand what they meant. How could two people go out when they didn’t talk? Wasn’t that a prerequisite? Apparently not. But I knew he had a purpose in my life at that time - so I could lose my virginity and be done with it.

And lose it I did, one winter’s night at his house. I guess I lost it. Frankly, I still don’t know if I did technically. But close enough for me to announce it to my hawkish female ensemble the next day at the arcade. Like a game of musical chairs, I claimed my non-virginal chair and had nothing more to worry about it in that department.

Until he broke up with me a week later. To date the long-legged, gum-chewing Colleen McMonagle. Devastated, I sandwich my head between two speakers every night and sang the same lovelorn Led Zeppelin song and sob and sing and smoke alternately. I think on some levels – back then at least – breaking up suited me more so than dating. It was so dramatic. So operatic. Friends gave me cigarettes and attention and we carved Colleen into teeny little pieces with our mere words.

Yesterday, Krissie called me at my apartment in New York.

“You’ll never believe who I saw at the bar today. Kenny Blane!”

Krissie, one of my oldest and best friends, has worked at the same bar for quite some time and has often told me of people she’s run into from our past. Unfortunately, they are usually sad and scary tales. Our gang was a kind-hearted crew, but vulnerable and unparented. We relied on each other and drugs and alcohol to put a hazy warm glow on a rather dismal upbringing.
As years passed, many of us couldn’t seem to move on, as if the drugs and booze froze us in New Jersey suburbia and time. As if we only had 4 or 5 good years in us and after that, well, we were at Krissie’s bar for eternity.

Kenny Blane unfortunately was to be no exception. I sat down and prepared for the worst.

“Well,” Krissie continued, “He was at the bar, not drinking anything, probably because he couldn’t afford it, and eating a bag of 25 cent Doritos. I kept looking over at him because for a bit, I didn’t even recognize him. His right arm kept reaching between his legs and I kept thinking he was grabbing for something, like a bag.”

“What was he grabbing for, Kris?”

“Well, he was…he was…playing with himself.”

“Playing what with himself?” The concept momentarily alluded me.

“Like, masturbating.”

“What!?”

“I had to ask him to leave.”

“But I lost my virginity to him.”

“That doesn’t mean he can masturbate at the bar.”

“Yes, I realize that, Kris…but why? Why would he do that?”

Krissie went on to explain that he never really stopped using drugs and his life spiraled downward like a blind drunk on an icy hill. His faculties were now worn, his discretion poor. He smelled badly too, she said.

Somehow, the real clincher for me was the 25 cent bag of Doritos. I think I can wrap my head around your life tanking so badly from drugs that you lose any sense of public awareness – but to eat Doritos at the same time, with the other hand? That just seemed plain wrong.

Oh how the mighty have fallen, I thought, hanging up the phone. I don’t judge him. I fall with him. Those people were my flawed little family growing up. If Kenny Klein is masturbating at a bar with a bag of Doritos, then I too am masturbating at a bar with a bag of Doritos. I am no better and he is no worse - even though by outward appearances, it would seem so. We all have our Doritos and our public masturbation. We all pacify.

That night, I sat in a upscale wine bar in Manhattan and I reflected back on my strangely magical and dark teenage years. He wore a leather jacket…that’s right…that jacket. He smelled faintly of motor oil and leather. Wow.
 
I took a sip of my overpriced chardonnay. And he had those long, lanky legs, perpetually in jeans. Hmmm…I ate some peanuts with one hand and slowly reached my hand under the bar and touched myself with the other. In memory of my lost boyfriend and my lost virginity. Nobody seemed to care or even notice. This one’s for you, Kenny.

Cookie Day 2008



My friend Marianne invited me to her home for Cookie Day 2008. Sure, sure, I’ll go. Christmas cheer, whether I like it or not.

Marianne was one of my sweetest classmates in high school. Always friendly, always trying, always smart, always pretty. But I was always partying, always cool, always disconnected and didn’t foster our friendship. Over the years, I realized my coolness is vastly overrated and I’m happy to be in her company once again. I sat there, watching her bake dozens of cookies in her kitchen and smiled, now able to really appreciate her.

I almost left Cookie Day 2008 at first. Too many kids, too much commotion, too many strangers. But because of my often-solitary lifestyle, I felt like it was time to try a little. Bit by bit, my armor fell down. I jumped in, started helping with the cookies, kids crawling all over me. It feels quite nice to be out of your element sometimes.

As the day progressed and we were on our millionth cookie, we broke out some wine and turned off the holiday music that was beginning to drive us all mad. We replaced it with, of all things, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I attempted to teach the kids a few key lyrics and we danced about the place. Long Live Cookie Day 2008!

My phone rang in my back pocket and I saw it was Richard, my ex-boyfriend from a few years ago, when I lived in New York City. We just started talking again this year – not to reconcile, but to reconnect, as friends.

How does one describe Richard? He’s larger than life. A crazy, wild cowboy of a man – tall, dark hair, piercing blue eyes. He’s extremely hedonistic and if he lived in ancient times, he’d undoubtedly be a practicing Bacchanalian. But amidst the New York City posing and ultra-coolness, I found Richard to be a breath of fresh air. Unapologetic, fun loving, genuine. A real rebel.

He owns a beautiful wine store in Manhattan, which is where we met, at a wine tasting. I learned that night that he used to be a Navy Seal. He was also in the Secret Service. He’s an expert marksman and sports a scar on his temple where he was grazed by a bullet during his time in Grenada. He’s a dangerous man, in his own right.

You’d never know it, though. He’s comes across as a big, sweet Southern guy who just loves having a good time. Too good of a time. He could never handle me emotionally. He can’t handle himself emotionally. He never invited me into his life the way I wanted. He protected his bachelor lifestyle like a pit bull and I tire of men who have commitment issues when I’m not even asking for one.

I couldn’t talk to Richard for a long while. Too many hard feelings. But with the passing of a good female friend this year, I wanted to reconnect with him and let go, move on. And he was happy to. He loves my company and loves me.

So why was Richard calling on Cookie Day 2008?

Undoubtedly to try to hook up with me again, I’m guessing.

“Which is not going to happen, Richard.”

“I’m just calling to say hi. See how you’re doing.”

“I’m fine. I’m making cookies at a party.”

“Good. You need to be out more. You need to have more fun.”

“Said by a true professional.”

We chatted about this and that but cookies were baking and it was time to get back to some Floyd and wine.

“You go back to your friends, Beth. You have fun tonite.”

“What’s the matter Richard?”

“Ah…nothing. Nothing. They just…forget it.”

“They just what?!”

My blood started running cold. Something was wrong.

“They found cancer. I have malignant cancer. It’s in my lungs.”

The floor started slipping from underneath me. I ran to the bathroom and shut the door.

“Stop it. Stop it, Richard. Stop your lying!”

Richard is also a professional liar. He lies without knowing he lies, he lies so much. It’s taking me years to not take it personally. To realize he never means harm by it. He just wants to avoid trouble, pain and anger - anything negative. Thing is, I’m a professional lie detector and I always felt the sting of his untruth.

“Please tell me you’re lying!” I screamed. Suddenly I heard the party get quiet. I brought my voice down.

“Please, Richard,” I whispered.

“Sweetie, I wish I could tell you I was. I’d lie to get in your pants and since you’re not here, it would be a worthless lie.”

Perhaps the most honest thing I’ve ever heard Richard say.

“They think it’s from the pancreas. They don’t know. I’ll get the scan results back tomorrow.”

“That’s a bad cancer, Richard. A really bad cancer.”

“If it is, I have 2 years with treatment and 9 months without…I’m not doing any treatment. I don’t want my little boy to see me like that.”

Richard has a little boy from a previous relationship. He’s 5 years old.

The pain I began experiencing was incredible. All the times I’ve wanted to kill Richard, all the times I thought I wouldn’t care if a Mack truck plowed him down…and suddenly I couldn’t get close enough to him, I couldn’t reach out enough. Funny how quickly that anger just melts and your left with unadulterated love.

“God, no. No. No. No.” I started sobbing uncontrollably.

The party got quieter again. I huddled next to the toilet, shaking.

“It’s been a good run. I got to meet you. You’ve always been such an angel to me. The first time I saw you, I said, ‘She’s a real, live angel.’ Did you know that? Did you know I’ve always thought that about you? You always seem so good, so pure.”

“Stop. Stop Richard!”

He was drunk, waxing nostalgic. It was too painful to hear.

“Do you remember the night of the dare?”

“Of course.”

Richard and I sat in his wine cellar underneath his store one evening. It was one of our favorite places to hang out. Grand, gothic wine cellar; giant mahogany table, monster-sized leather chairs, candles burning, jazz playing. A real hedonist’s dream.

He dared me to go upstairs naked and ask his employee for the best Cab in the house. I disrobed, walked upstairs and asked for it, as casually as I could. The poor gay man was shocked. Luckily for me, no one else was in the store. I grabbed the $350 Cab, ran to the basement and Richard and I drank it, laughing for hours. It was one of the best nights I had in NYC. It was definitely one of the best bottles of wine I’ve ever had. You see, shocking Richard is next to impossible. The man has seen literally seen it all. And I achieved it.

“That was a great night.” I said.

“Hey, does this mean we can have sex again?” Richard asked, out of left field for anyone, except him.

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Even with the whole death…”

“No.”

“Damn.”

“Richard. I’m scared.”

“Go back to your party, Beth. Go have fun. You don’t have enough fun. You’re too sad.”

“I don’t want you to go,” I sobbed.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad.”

“Yes, lets get results back first okay?”

“Yes, results,” he said quietly.

“I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Okay…oh and remember this, Beth: the stars we could reach were just starfish on the beach.”

“What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

As I finished asking the question, I knew. He was quoting from an awful 70’s song, “Seasons in the Sun.”

“Funny,” Richard said, “that song keeps playing over and over in my mind.”

“For that, I am truly sorry.”

We both started laughing. Then crying.

A moment of silence.

“How do you feel, Richard

“I’m fine. I’m fine. It’s...alright.”

“This is anything but alright. But okay, I figured I’d ask anyway. I knew you wouldn’t really answer me.”

I hung up the phone and opened the door. Marianne was standing there, flour on her chin, looking very concerned. I explained to her what happened and soon afterwards, left for a welcome drive home. Dark roads through the woods. Freedom. My mind, trying, trying to clear. Thoughts of the speed of life.

When I got home, I saw that Richard had sent me a text:

“I’m scared out of my mind.”

I am too, my friend.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Family Matters


I stood there, in full fighting stance, watching my brother intently. If he took one more step toward me, I’d hit him. After years of martial arts training, I had no intention of letting my 58-year old brother lay one bloody hand on me.

Why don’t they teach you how to handle these situations in high school? They taught you how to make snickerdoodles or how to make a lamp from a log. But there was never a class on how to handle an angry sibling who believed you were an intruder in what he believed was his house now.

Background: I’ve been a part owner of an old house at the Jersey shore since my mother died in ‘96 though I’ve rarely visited since her passing. My brother had been living there for many years and it seemed like his house by default, squatter’s rights kinda thing.

When my mother was alive, it seemed like a family house. Some of my most pleasant and few good familial memories occurred in this old house. And I was happy to return, after such a trying time in New York. It was here I breathed my first sigh of relief in years.

So then why am I ready to dropkick my brother? I had suggested that I might rent out one of the rooms (something he had been doing for years) and use the additional income for some of my needs, now that I lived here too.

This sent him into a fit of rage. This was his house after all. Who the hell do I think I am? He ranted and raged, slamming this and that. I stood there, faintly amused at first. What a big baby.

“It’s not your house. It’s our house. I’m a part owner. So you better just deal with that fact.”

He inched closer to me, fuming and spitting mad. What I did next would be perfect learning for high school. The course? “Outcrazy the Crazy 101.”

The gist of it? At some point, when someone becomes a real threat, you have to act crazier. Now there’s no ironclad rule. There are times – perhaps most – where maintaining your cool is what you need to do.

But I saw my brother’s anger escalating. He was taking more liberties. I dropped back into my fighting stance and told him to back off.

He laughed. “Oh that’s right, you’re a black belt now. Ha.”

I stood there silently and intently. I was no longer amused by his display. If he took one more step toward me, I’d front kick him and send him flying.

Frustrated, he punched the wall, only bloodying his fists.

“Is this what you were you trying to do?” And I planted a roundhouse kick that busted a hole through our sad aging walls. (Later on, I would apologize to the walls. I feel badly for the house sometimes. I know it hurts, like I do. I know it remembers better times.)

“I could knock you out, you know,” he said, taking a definite step back.

“You’d better. Because if you don’t, I’ll kill you,” I hissed.

When I lived with my boyfriend during college, a crazy guy lived in an efficiency below me. He looked like a spare member of ZZ Top - big, gruff and with a long beard with all sorts of shitty debris hiding in it.

He heard voices in his head. Well, specifically mine. He would call me on the phone and tell me how he heard me talking about him again and I’d better stop or he’d send the FBI and the aliens after me (for good measure, I guess. In case the FBI didn’t work).

One day, Crazy Bearded One entered our unlocked apartment and started shouting. Terrified, I grabbed my boyfriend who proceeded to disengage from me and run upstairs to “call the cops,” leaving me alone with him. (Ah, my knight!)

That’s when I remembered Outcrazy the Crazy. I ran right up to the hairy menace and started screeching crazy gibberish that included mentions of Mars, my mother, cake and little teeny razors that cut me from the inside. He stood there, stunned. Finally, he said, “You’re fucking nuts, man.” And walked out.

Outcrazy the Crazy. They do not teach you this shit in high school.

My brother and I never really came to blows that day because I dropped my passive mode and became unpredictable and potentially dangerous. As a woman, I’m trained to deal with others unleashing and me fixing it or picking up the pieces. It felt good to be the menace.

After that day, my brother and I would learn to co-exist. No real love though, that’s for sure. We’re not even “brother and sister” in our minds. He’s more of a biological happenstance, as I am to him (but that doesn’t go over well during introductions).

The house has become less of a political hotspot as he realizes I’m no threat to his existence and I have every right to be here. We try to improve the house together in small ways, though its in state of disrepair. Like its owners, I guess.

And every once in a while, we have our familial moments. I broke my favorite mug a while back. It had big strawberries all over it and made me feel little girl sweet. When your early life lacked in pink things and ponies, those simple things become extra precious, symbolizing all the sweetness you never received.

I cried a little when I broke that mug, throwing it in the trash. The next day, I saw it in the dish rack. My brother had repaired it. For us, that’s about as good as it gets.

When I hear people go on and on about the importance of family, I cringe a little. It sounds so discriminatory. Family matters the most! What does that mean to those who don’t feel like they have a family? Or physically don’t have one? Or their family does more damage than good?

My family situation isn’t that dire. I have a connection with a good amount of family members. But I know what its like to feel like an orphan. I know what its like to have a brother and not feel like I have a brother. 

When my brother and I finished our standoff that day, I sat in the middle of the backyard, trembling and trying to catch my breath. As if by fate, my local friend Ed suddenly appeared.

I’ve known Ed since I was a child. He dated my oldest sister for eons. He’s a good old hippie, still sporting his long hair and Jesus-like looks. Ed fixes things for me that I can’t fix. And he shows me how to understand the weather by looking at the clouds and how to be a better surfer.

As a child, he showed me a meteorite shower which is one of my favorite memories of all time. I thought that the world was wild and bedazzling that night. I still believe in magic because of that night. Looking at Ed, I remember thinking, “Oh, this is what a brother does. Well, doesn’t this feel nice?”

When Ed saw me standing by the clothesline that day, I could barely speak. “Help,” I uttered. “My brother and I just got in a big fight.” He came over, put his arm around my shoulder and walked me to the beach, just as he had when I was a child.

We sat by the shoreline for a while, as I stared off into space, shocked, disillusioned. He showed me how you can tell the wind’s direction by letting a handful of sand slip through your fingers. I tried to do it myself. I noticed my hands shaking. The wind was blowing west.




Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Worst Non Date Ever


two-men-one-woman 

I logged onto to some dating site a few days ago and promptly found an offer from "two very hot guys willing to satisfy one woman's darkest and wildest fantasies."

So I wrote:

"Yeah, I'll take you up on your offer. When can we satisfy my darkest and wildest fantasies?"

A bit later, I received an email:

"Whoa, not so fast! Let's talk a little first. Get to know one
another. How about all this snow?"

I responded:

"Oh yeah, snow…crazy. When can you two can fulfill my darkest and wild fantasies?"

They responded:

"Wow, you're a real take charge gal! LOL. Okay well, how would you like to do this? Your place or ours?"

"How about your place? Or better yet a hotel. Let's embrace the anonymity of it all. How about this Friday night?"

A few minutes passed:

"I can do Friday night but not until after 9. I have a business party. Tom can't do Friday night at all because he's getting a root canal that day and doesn't want to be uncomfortable for our "meeting."

This was becoming what is referred to in the industry as a real "buzz kill." Root canal? What were we going to talk about next? Fabric softener? Flossing habits? Lactose intolerance?

"Okay, fine. What about Sunday night then? (Saturday night I was planning on...nothing. I just didn't want to appear too desperate.)

They responded:

"Well Tom can do Sunday night but there's an Oscar party that night I don't want to miss. Do you like the Oscars? I do."

I took a deep breath before answering:

"Actually, I don't give a rat's ass about the Oscars or Tom’s dumb old root canal. I do care about my darkest and wildest fantasies being fulfilled. And preferably rather quickly. But its obvious you cannot fulfill your promise. You're a mad disappointment." I wish no further contact.

They had the nerve to respond:

"Oh well...your loss."

I answered:

"I think I'll live."

They responded:

"You're a retard."

I responded:

"It takes one to know one."

And that's how it ended. In a blaze of juvenile insults.

I poured myself a glass of barely respectable wine and sat down on the living room couch and contemplated my situation.

I knew the next time I pursued a sordid sexual experience, it would be with two guys who would never tell me about their dental work or their love of the Oscars. The men I’d meet one imaginary night in a bare hotel room would have missed their mother's funeral for our "meeting."

They would be two strapping and serious men who take their ménage a troises seriously. Is that so much for a girl to ask? For people to take their ménage a troiseses seriously?

It’s going to be a long and cold winter after all.



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Only Friends

I called Amanda a few days ago, crying. The holidays and midwinter depression were already getting the best of me, on top of life sucking for a myriad of other reasons for which I shall not bore you. (Well, maybe I will but not right this second.)

She was in the middle of making soup for dinner. It required the use of a blender. She somehow juggled my breakdown and the preparation of her dinner, as if it was just another task to perform. We even decided that I could cry extra hard when she was blending, since the sound would drown me out anyway. I timed my bigger outbursts during the puree cycle.

In the middle of her second blending, I told her to stop. She did. Through my sobs, I managed to tell her that I thought she was over-blending her soup and it would turn out like baby mush. She appreciated the culinary concern amid my meltdown and we both started laughing.

Friends do things like this.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Toys in the Attic, etc.




My friend Tim sent out a group email this morning that read the following:

"When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look south. Beaming through the twilight is one of the prettiest things you'll ever see: a tight three-way conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the crescent Moon. It's definitely worth checking out."

I responded:

"Kiss my ass."

This has made me laugh throughout the entire morning. I can't stop laughing, actually. I don't know why. I guess it just seemed like such a delightfully inappropriate response, considering the subject matter.

Perhaps the screws are finally loosening.

Good. It feels better that way.

Three way this, Tim! Three way this!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ventura Highway Plays in My Head When I'm Sick

Down for the count today. Ear infection from cold water surfing, high fever. As a slightly addictive personality type, I always relish in the cheap high a fever brings - that surreal "I'm a balloon!" feeling.

I went to see the band America many years ago. They were past their prime and playing with Three Dog Night at a football stadium during halftime. I was very sick with a flu but insisted on going with my friend.

They came out and stood at the sidelines, waiting to go on. I recognized the one guy and said, "Hey, will you play Ventura Highway for me?" He said sure. Several songs into their set, the singer announced, "This song is for the girl in the pink pajamas." (I was wearing pink pajamas because I was too sick to change that morning.) Then they played the song and I felt so spacey and special.

That night, as I lie awake with a very high fever, I heard the opening chords of that song play over and over in my head, like a sickly broken record. What a trippy and peaceful feeling! To this day, the beginning of that song makes me feel essentially content, like everything will be alright, like the fever will break, eventually.







They don't make guys like this anymore, do they? So sincere.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Looks like Domestically Abused Gypsy Again

I consider myself a creative sort. But when it comes to Halloween costumes, I tend to feel pretty ill-equipped and uninspired. As I child, I was a ghost, year after year, because it was easy, spooky and warm. One time, my sister put sparkles and stars on my sheet and told me that this year, I was a "space ghost." So then I was a space ghost for a few years after that.

As I got older, I pretty much grabbed anything in my closet and called it a costume. My regular clothes with a cowboy hat? A cowgirl. All black dress, with a broom in hand - a witch. See...not really that creative. And of course, tonight, I will go with my old standby: a domestically abused gypsy.

It's easy enough to do, especially if you're me and have lots of scarves and flowing clothes and stuff. You "gypsy up" and then you blacken up one eye. Voila! Domestically abused gypsy. If a man approaches you, raise your arms in a blocking motion and say "I didn't do it. I didn't do it!"

Politically correct? Not at all.

Easy? Hell yeah. ..


The Calm before the Storm

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How Chowderfest 2008 Made Me Gay

The Other Beth called me last Saturday night and asked if I’d like to volunteer for Chowderfest 2008 the next morning. What is Chowderfest, you ask? Chowderfest is where many of the restaurants on the island dole out their chowder in little plastic cups and 15,000 people vote on their clammy goodness.

Of course, I said god, no…for a number of reasons. Being surrounded by throngs of Joe Public can render me speechless, doing free work is never my idea of fun and well, it’s called Chowderfest. I don’t go to things called Chowderfest, just as a rule.

But there I am, 9 o’clock the next morning.

“Oh what the hell,” I thought. “It’s not going to kill me, right?”

Well, whilst it wouldn’t kill me, little did I know, it would change me…forever.

I will walk you through the rest of the events in pictures:















At first, I’m horribly overwhelmed when the gates are opened and thousands of people come swarming to our little table.


After a while, I start relaxing – mainly because I let Beth do most of the work while I play around with my camera and take shots of the madness.















If you look closely at the photo, you’ll notice a slight look of annoyance in her eyes.

Maybe Chowderfest isn’t going to be so bad after all. Oh and the German cook is kinda sweet. His name is Marco. He likes me because my last name is Mann. Germans always feel better around fellow Germans.















Everything seemed fine for a while. Lots of people, dead clams in broth, happy together. I run around the whole place and try 20 different chowders and proudly know who the winners will be in both the white and red category (red, of course, being the only real chowder in my opinion.) And guess what? I picked BOTH winners!















I come back to our camp, where Beth is diligently doing both of our jobs. One of the people running our camp comes up to me, as I sit by myself on a cooler with a beer in one hand and my camera in the other. He says, in a bold, Italian manner:

“Hey, you. Why don’t you do something – even if it’s wrong!?”

Man, I thought, those are some real words of wisdom. Really, think about it: how many times in life are we seized with indecision when we can choose ANYTHING and it will at the very least change the course of things – thereby eliminating the idea of “right” or “wrong” altogether.

I really appreciated him for saying that. So I start taking pictures of him instead of The Other Beth (since she was looking pretty overworked and angry at this point.) I forget his name but I liked his brassy attitude:















“Do something…even if it’s wrong!”

After several shots of bold Italian dude, I begin taking photos of the crowd. I pan across the tent and that’s when I see him standing there, looking in our direction, poised to change my life forever. Oh god. Please don’t come over, I mentally plead. Please.

He starts walking toward me, on a mission…a mission to disturb the hell out of me and possibly change my sexuality from this point onward. He somehow knew he encompassed everything I consider wrong with the average “Joe Six-pack” (as that nut job from Alaska refers to them), one of the reasons I don’t attend things called “Chowderfest” in the first place.

Do you remember when Brad Pitt went “scruffy?” That really pissed me off, for instance. We have enough men in this country looking scruffy au natural. We don’t need one of the hottest men in America purposefully going for a look that I see all too often. Just do your job, shut up and be hot.

But I digress. This isn’t about Brad Pitt…at all. This is about a man who would end up hanging in front of our camp for at least 20 minutes, basking in the discomfort that I and The Other Beth were soon to experience.

This man, walked out of his house this morning, purposefully and willfully looking like this:















Please note the teenager in the background with the spoon in her mouth, equally amazed and aghast. I think the guy in the sunglasses is stunned too but its hard to tell.

At first, I look away, as if witnessing a crime scene or road kill. But then, I keep looking back, staring, stunned. The Other Beth, reading my mind, mutters:

“Why won’t he leave? Why won’t he just leave?”

I move past my shock and start snapping away. I need evidence. I need something to look at in the future, on a night when I want sex so badly, I could crawl out of my fevered skin. I need the photographic equivalent of a cold shower.

I betcha you could chop up that belly of his and make enough chowder to feed all the people at the Chowderfest and none of them would be the wiser. A 2008 clammy version of Soylent Green.

Luckily enough, I even got a shot of his “fancy footwear”:






















People wearing this shoe/sock combo should be lined up against a wall with a last cigarette.

When he finally leaves, The Other Beth and I stand there, in shock. “I’m traumatized,” I confess to her. “Let’s not talk about it.” “Fine, let’s forget all about it.”

I go back to work…well, The Other Beth goes to work and I begin watching her as she marches around, serving her cute little cups of Manhattan clam chowder to the public, her long, silky brown hair flowing in the wind, her smile dancing across her face. I never thought of Beth this way, never before this day – I swear.

My final picture that day:















Note eyes as blue as the heavenly skies.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Night Connie Francis Came Home with Me

As I sat at the bar eating spaetzle at the only German restaurant in New Jersey, I thought of the song “Lipstick on my Collar.” Hmmm…why did he have lipstick on his collar? Was the traitorous woman making out with Connie’s boyfriend’s collar? Wouldn’t that be a strange moment, looking down and seeing some girl grooving on your shirt and not on you? Or maybe he wiped his mouth on his collar when he was done. Oh. I guess that sounds about right...and a little gross.

Speaking of collars (smooth segue, Beth), I had an interesting collar-related experience this week. (How many times do you get to say that?)

I’ve been trying really hard (read: barely) to date during my time on this lonely island. Because I’ve convinced myself that it’s “good for me” even though my heart belongs faithfully and hopelessly to someone I can’t really have. So I went out with a surfer guy last week.

We went out to eat and then played some pool at the local pub. I was having one of those drunken idiot savant moments - you know, where you can’t walk a straight line to save your life but somehow you manage to sink a series of ceramic balls on a pool table and everyone is wowed, including yourself, because you have no clue how to play pool - one of those moments.

Anyway, this guy was really nice. And pretty sweet-looking. I knew I wasn’t wildly attracted to him but I figured I’d use the night to hone my fine seduction skills. So between my staggering (figuratively and literally) shots at the pool table, I’d saunter up to him and make out with him. Sometimes, I’d let him show me how to hold the pool stick while standing ridiculously close behind me, grinding myself ever so slightly into the groove of his arched body. Or I’d bend over the pool table wearing a rather short skirt. I was getting my slut on a little. Which is a good thing. Trust me.

After completing my finishing eight ball shot with utter finesse, I walked up to him and pulled him toward me, gently grabbing the collar of his shirt (which may have had lipstick on it at that point but only because I bumped into him repeatedly - not like the Connie Francis song) and kissed him hard and good. When I was done, he looked down at his shirt.

“Is something the matter?” I queried.

“Oh, it’s nothing. You just kinda pulled at the collar of my shirt and I don’t want it to get stretched out.”

And with that I kissed him on the cheek, grabbed my pocketbook and left. He followed after me, repeatedly saying, “I don’t care. Really. Pull away!” But it was too late. The damage was done. I walked home by myself singing Connie Francis and wondering why I was such a hardliner.

I mean, really…it’s not that big of a deal. But wait a second. Maybe it is. In my opinion, if some hot (and humble) chick is making out with you with even the possibility of going home with you in the air, the last concern you should have as a red-blooded male is your fucking $18 long-sleeved t-shirt collar.

But wait Beth…what if he had on a fine, silk shirt? Well, guess what? Same applies. First off, I’m not that aggressive. I’m not some dominatrix with a whip in one hand and your ripped-off shirt collar in the other, laughing demoniacally. Secondly, I’ve had clothes torn off of me at several points in my life. Maybe it bothered me after the fact, but at that heart-racing moment, the last thing I thought of was the state of my clothing!

His concern about that collar showed he lacked a certain primal drive that would no doubt showcase itself in bed.

What are you trying to say, Beth? Speak your mind!

I thought it was a real pussy move…there I said it. I mean, where's your beast, man?

This same principle applies to the bass player I dated in college. He didn’t like when I would grab his long, pretty hair while making love. Pussy. And the same holds true with scratches or bite marks. Just shut up and be man about it. Buck up and take it. Take a bite, a scratch, a slap, a pull. And don’t be a pussy.

I don’t really like saying pussy repeatedly. I don’t. It’s gauche. But my point is…don’t be a pussy.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Waves of Defeat

As my surfing improves, the brothers encourage me to visit the “big boy” locations on the island. I do so begrudgingly because by the time the session is over, I’m usually pretty shaken up. Yesterday was no exception.

Holyoke is the pinnacle of “big boy” surf spots on the Island. It’s a small, crowded location where the waves are big and the male egos often bigger. Pro and semi-pro surfers try to impress one another, like gay sea-bound peacocks (I don’t know if that analogy is going to cut it but oh well.)

The brothers give me the lowdown before I enter the water:

“Grab a wave or two within the first 10 minutes and they’ll give you some respect. If you don’t, they’re going to plow you down.”

“Okay…I guess. But what if…”

“Just do it.”

We paddle out and I’m shaking already. The waves are towering and nobody is friendly. I toss around a few “good mornings” and “hey theres” but hardly anyone responds. I see a wave coming in my direction and set myself up. Paddling for it as hard as I can, I miss it. Everyone sees it. And the brothers are right. This is sensed as weakness. The next wave I attempt to ride, someone “drops in” on me.

A quick side note on surfing: dropping in on a surfer is akin to cutting in front of someone in line. It’s a major sea faux pas and has lead to bloody fistfights in the water. But it will happen if your fellow surfers aren’t taking you seriously.

I see a woman paddling out to our tight-knit little group. This increases my jitters. Is she better than me? Will I look even lamer in comparison? Oh well. I smile and say hi to her. She barely nods in my direction.

Another wave heads in my direction. I start paddling and I see the woman next to me, trying to get the same wave. She technically has the right of way, but she’s so far behind me, I know she won’t get it. I’m set up in a better position, so I continue to paddle.

I miss the wave. And she misses the wave. And she’s pissed. She swings her board around abruptly, the nose of it almost grazing my face. I grab the nose of her board and push it away from me, so I don’t get hit.

The rest of the session was a blur. I was shaken and trying hard to focus. I got several waves to save some face but for the most part, I kinda bombed.

On the drive back home, the brothers begin lecturing me on what I did wrong. I sit in between the two of them, shivering, hungry yet trying to stay open.

“You don’t push away the nose of someone’s board…ever. It’s a sign of aggression.”

“Aggression? EVERYBODY was aggressive out there. I moved her board away so it wouldn’t hit me. Was I supposed to let her hit me as a sign of respect or something? Sorry but that’s an act I reserve only for a very select few.”

“But you dropped in on her. It was her wave.”

“But she wasn’t going to make it! You guys do that same thing to ME all the time. You paddle next to me and if you see I’m not going to get a wave, you take it.”

“But you don’t know these people. It’s different.”

“Well, how did I know? You know, the one time I do something aggressive, it’s a big deal. The rest of the time, I was being friendly and looking forward to meeting new people and no one was nice to me…and I even know some of those people!”

“It’s surfing, Beth. It’s not about being nice.”

“But I don’t really have much of a…community…here and...”

Oh shit, I feel it coming.

“Why are people so goddamn mean?”

And with that, I start sobbing. In the front seat of a car with two young guys on either side of me, painfully unsure of what to do next. The youngest brother starts awkwardly patting my shoulder.

“Beth, fuck them. They’re nobody. You’re just trying to get better. Don’t focus on them. That scrawny-assed blond chick, you’re so much better than her. You’re learning.”

His words feel like a blanket around my shivering body. Again, they remind me of what real brothers would say. Words of comfort, assurance. It takes so few words to make someone feel better. Truth is, she may have been better than me but it was nice to hear anyway. And it was also true, the part about her scrawny ass.

I don’t know if I want to surf competitively. Surfing has always been calming and fun and spiritual to me, like singing. I never cared much about how good I became. I just did it for me, to make me smile. But how do you know when you’re supposed to push yourself and go up against the big boys, just to strengthen your mettle? If you don’t jump into the hot seat sometimes, your little kid fears can trap you indefinitely.

I can’t imagine what Olympic competitors must feel like at the end of the day. Do they cry in cars, wondering why people are so mean? Do they even enjoy their sport anymore? Maybe I don’t feel like winning in general. Maybe the best days are spent drinking pink lemonade, smoking a little weed, going to yard sales, downloading music, making pies, making out and surfing with friends - real simple-like.

The boys drop me off, with a sympathetic yet slightly traumatized look on their faces. As I continue my sobbing in a hot shower, I slowly start to…touch myself. No, I don’t. I actually wash my hair and use this really good deep conditioner afterwards, the kind you leave in your hair for a few minutes. My ego bruised but my hair - silky smooth.

Thoughts of my childhood float through the steam, when you could fearlessly walk up to some kid and say, “Hey, you…you wanna be my friend? You wanna play?” It was that simple. My parents taught me to be kind at all costs, even when people aren’t being kind in return. It was your spiritual duty and I believe in it. I try, I fail, people try, people fail. And it can hurt sometimes, the whole sticky human process.

And that’s when I actually do touch myself. You know, just to forget about the whole damn thing.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Know What I Did Last Summer (or Statutory, Smatchatory)


While sitting on my countertop last summer, legs wide open, carrot peels flung everywhere and an 18-year-old boy’s head between my legs, I had to ask myself, “Whose life is this anyway?”

It’s a blonde head of a tall, strong boy I surf with, named Kevin. He looks so all-American, you feel like you could bake an apple pie and then eat it off of his face. I’d always catch him staring at me while we were in the water but I attributed it to admiration, surfing with a woman considerably older who could surf as well as he did.

But when my handsome gay friend Kenneth came to visit my house at the Jersey shore last June, he had a different take.

“Behhth,” (that’s Kenneth’s sleepy southern accent) “That boy lahks you!”

“What are you talking about? He has a gaggle of young girls following him around. I highly doubt…”

“Oh shut up. He lahks you.”

“Well, that’s his problem. I’m not going near a 17-year old boy. I do have some standards, Kenneth. 24 is as young as I go. And besides, I’m not even attracted…no!”

One night during Kenneth’s visit, Kevin came over to fix a ding in my surfboard. Kenneth insisted on Kevin staying for dinner. Kenneth was up to something.
As Kenneth and I started chopping vegetables at the counter, Kevin sat at the kitchen table and small talk ensued. Usually Kenneth and I would talk about any old raunchy thing but I didn’t want to hurt Kevin’s delicate young ears, so I kept it safe.

“Kevin, that girl you were surfing with today. Boy, she’s cute. She looks just like Alyssa Milano.” I say, with my back to him.

“Yeah, she’s alright. I’ve known her since I was a kid.”

Which you still are, I think. I turn around and his eyes are decidedly fixed on me. On my ass, I think, specifically at that point. I quickly face the counter and go back to peeling carrots.

Kenneth begins to dig for facts, as he marinates next to me:

“So how old are you, Kehvin?”

“18.”

“Oh, really! That’s nice. 18. Behth thought you were only 17. I told her you looked older than that. Didn’t I, Beth?”

I sneak a look over and Kenneth starts smiling. I’m afraid I’m going to erupt in awkward laughter and shove some celery in my mouth to stop it.

“Hey, Behth. I’m think I’m gonna go pick up some more wine at the store. You want anything, Sug?”

“We don’t need anymore wine, Kenneth.”

Now I know what he’s up to.

“Really, Kenneth - a bottle is fine for us. And Kevin can’t drink. He’s not legal…if you get my drift!”

“Well, I want some white wine. I don’t lahk red. I’ll be back in a bit.”

Damn him. I continue to peel carrots furiously, with my back to Kevin.

“Kevin, you don’t have to stay. I mean, your friends are going out surfing again, aren’t they?”

“I want to stay. I wanted to see you.”

“Oh. I’m not meaning, um…you should leave but…”

He gets up from the table and starts walking towards me. Shit. Shit. My carrots are getting pointy from over peeling.

“Do you need some help?” he says, as he stands directly behind me, breathing near my ear.

“Absolutely not. I’m fine. I’m really good at carrots.”

He pulls my hair away from my neck and starts kissing it. Oh such a weak point. I’ve always loved Dracula for this very reason. He cuts right to the sensual chase. Except Dracula is like 2 thousand years old and this guy’s 18!

“Kevin…really. This…we shouldn’t…” The peeler drops from my hand. Shit!

In no time flat, his hands are all over and under me. Wearing a little sun dress proved to be my undoing. Sometimes a girl needs to be wearing tight-fitting, hard-to-get-off jeans.

The next thing I know, he picks me up in his arms and flips me onto the counter, in a sitting position. He spreads my legs, pulls me forward and proceeds to go down on me.

While sitting on my countertop, legs wide open, carrot peels flung everywhere and an 18-year-old boy’s head between my legs, I have to ask myself, “Whose life is this anyway?” But then bit, by bit, I stop caring.

It’s a very special moment indeed, when your body and mind let go, when you stop worrying about who might walk in on you or how carrot peels look when stuck to your inner thighs or why you’re with a 18-year-old boy in the first place. When you just stop caring. When you feel good and dangerous and a little dirty and embrace it like a woman should. That precious little moment when life crashes right over you, through you.

Afterwards, he lifts me off of the counter and on to my feet. My knees feel weak and I’m shaking slightly. He tells me he needs to go. I don’t dare ask him if his mother is expecting him for dinner, though I have a feeling that’s why. I feel relieved. I kiss him one last time and make a parting joke, as I walk him to the door:

“Well, it’s a good thing you’re 18, huh?”

“It is good I’m 18.” he says, walking out.

He turns around one last time:

“Tomorrow.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It’s a Bird not a Butterfly, Frankie



Meditating at the Jersey shore in summer is a spiritual act of futility. Entitled tourists and their sand-tossing offspring (kids love throwing sand for some reason) have taken over and peace is tough to find. 

Interestingly, no one ever looks like they’re having much fun on "vacation" here. Families bicker, kids whine and shrill New York voices yell “Tommy get that filthy shell out of your mouth or I ain’t buying you no ice cream, you hear me??”

But whatever, I live here and am determined to find inner peace amidst the chaos, goddamnit. Besides its early morning and there's time before the throngs descend. 


I find a section of undisturbed space, cross my legs, close my eyes and attempt to quiet those unruly inner demons. (Little did I know, an outer demon would soon be my undoing.)

After oh about a minute's worth of frigging inner peace, I feel the thud of footsteps circling me. Opening my eyes, I spot a gawky kid running mindlessly around me, because, you know, I'm meditating and all so where else would he run? 

I spot his breeder nearby. Teased blonde hair, bronze leathery skin and pink pastel lipstick, his mother looks like she just walked off the set of The Jersey Shore. (Hmmm...or maybe I'm walked on the set of The Jersey Shore?)

She's in deep conversation:

“I told him he’d lose that job if he didn’t get his shit together. The man’s a filthy bum!”
 
Block her out, Beth. Still your mind. Use this as a spiritual challenge. Embrace the moment.  


I close my eyes again and take a deep, fucking cleansing breath.

“Mommy! Mommy! Look. Look at the butterfly!” Annoyed again, I open my eyes to see the awkward child pointing frantically at a small bird that landed on a nearby sand castle.

“Mommy! Look at the butterfly.”

“Hold on, Frankie. I’m on the friggin’ phone!” leather lady screams.

“But the butterfly!”

Now clearly this isn’t a butterfly. But perhaps Frankie is the next Picasso and he's simply thinking outside the box at an early age. More likely, he's a little daft or spent way too much time indoors.

“But Mommmmmmyy!!!!”

I then make a critical mistake and open my mouth:

“Psst...hey Frankie, get this. That’s not a butterfly. That’s a bird.”

Frankie looks at me, stunned, mouth agape. A second ago, he didn't even know I existed. I was just an object to run around. 

“That's right, dude. Butterflies are entirely different creatures.”

His mother manages to tear herself away from her face-implanted phone and shouts my way:

“Hey lady, why don’t you mind your own goddamn business?”

“Well, why don’t you teach your child the difference between a bird and butterfly?"

“Why don’t you shut the hell up?”

“Only if you kiss my ass?” To punctuate my point, I do a downward dog, said ass pointed in her direction, pausing a moment to really feel the stretch. 


Walking home, I feel renewed, lighter. Like the weight of the world just fell off my shoulders. I'm relaxed, present and oh fuck me, it's summer at the Jersey shore again.

 

 Photos by Beth Mann

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Between My Legs


Ruby’s visiting. Good. Cause see, I’m supposed to be going out more and meeting people (read: getting laid) since my life at the Jersey shore has become a little too solitary. With my friend visiting, I have more impetus to get over my social issues (read: I hate people) and have some fun (read: getting laid).

So I pull out a sexy, little dress from my closet, one that hasn’t seen the light of day in quite some time because I’m either wearing ripped jean shorts and a tank top or a wetsuit. While Ruby and I drink wine and apply makeup, I dance around my room, trying to convince her Fall Out Boy is not a bad band (she’s remains unconvinced.)

When we get into my truck, I start feeling this strange fluttering between my legs. I tell this to Ruby, to which she responds, “Overshare.” “No, really, Rube. Something is going on down there…oh my god, there’s something between my legs!!” I start screaming. “It's not me!” Ruby yells back, showing me her hands.

I open my legs and this giant moth comes flying out from under my dress. Not a little, poofy pantry moth – a big ass, Silence-of-the-Lambs-style moth. I kid you not! Ruby is my living proof. You can ask her. Apparently, my cute dress had been in the closet a little too long. I’m screaming, Ruby’s screaming, the moth is screaming (real quiet-like). It’s bouncing between my wide-open legs as I scramble to open the window. It flies into our faces and we freak out even more. Ruby falls out of the truck, laughing and screaming. The moth flaps off into the sunset, flustered and homeless.

I’m laughing but real tears start emerging. The symbolism is too great. What next? A cloud of dust? Tumbleweed? Ruby tries to be empathetic but is laughing too hard to be much help. I guess I’ve had my first summer encounter after all. Nobody said it had to be with a human.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Surf Lessons

I stand by the shoreline, watching this man struggling to get up on his surfboard. It’s very frustrating for me, since I surf. He’s just doing one little thing wrong. But I’d have to swim out to tell him. No. Let him figure it out. Ah…I couldn’t!

I swim out to the sandbar.

“Hey, I hope you don’t mind me telling you this but you’re doing one little thing wrong. Let’s fix it!”

He’s not annoyed at all. He looks rather odd. Good-looking but almost to a fault, with these dazzling white teeth and shiny soap opera looks. Not my type but whatever.

I show him what he’s doing incorrectly: he keeps trying to stand up on the board before he actually catches the wave – a common beginner’s problem. He needs to paddle harder then get up. So I show him how it’s done. He’s as good as gold after that. After a while, I feel a deep urge to commandeer his surfboard for a few minutes.

“Hey, do you mind me catching a wave or two on your board?”

“No, that’s fine.”

So I leave him on the sandbar and paddle out far, where the big waves play. I catch a few. Then a few more. I do realize I’m being a little rude but oh well…I’m always nice and whatever. I look over at shiny soap opera dude and he’s talking to a group of people on the sandbar. He must know a lot of people here, I think. That’s strange. I’ve never seen him before.

I paddle back to him and overhear some kids saying to him, “Hey, nice meeting you, Mr. Guttenberg.”

Steve Guttenberg, film actor. Hmmm...now the dazzling white teeth and LA waxen looks all make sense! Plus earlier, he had mentioned how being in the water was very “Zen-like” for him. People around here don’t talk like that. You could get you’re ass kicked for Zen.

I give him back his surfboard.

“Cocoon.” I say.

“Yeah and a few other movies.” he says.

“No doubt.”

We resume our lesson and at this point, he’s doing pretty well. I feel proud of my handiwork. He catches me looking off into the distance, at the bigger waves.

“You can take the board again if you want.”

“No, that would just be too…but I didn’t think the waves would be so nice so I left my board at home and you know what? I will. Thank you.”

And with that, I paddle off a second time on Steve Guttenberg’s board. I catch some nice waves and he happily body surfs the smaller, sandbar break. I could tell he was feeling really Zen. Me too.

Steven Guttenberg and I play well together.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Bloody Bike Incident of 2008

"One dollar? Are you serious? That's a great deal! I'll take it...howabout 75 cents?" (I like to haggle.)

That's how the incident began, innocently enough. At a yard sale in my suddenly overpopulated home by the sea. The score? A sealed box set of Led Zeppelin tunes. 4 cassettes in total. (I know, CD's would have been cooler but as luck would have it, my old vehicle only has a cassette player. And believe it or not, I actually like the scratchy, thick sound of cassettes sometimes.)

Okay, back to the horror story. Old lady selling box set has nothing to put my score in except this over-sized, white plastic bag. She says she'll find me something smaller, it's too big. I don't care, I tell her. She gives me a look of warning, foreboding. I ignore it. She ain't the boss of me.

I climb on my old, trusty bike, put on my iPod and start flying back home, excited to read every boring detail in the linear notes. I'm flying along, flying along, dodging the myriad of tourists and their 200 screaming children, ready to have a "fun" day at the beach. I'm dodging cars and riding aggressively the way I always do.

Suddenly, oversized plastic bag gets stuck in the front spokes of the wheel and suddenly, I am airborne…swoosh! It's always such an interesting feeling when you’re in an accident. Time really stands still. I must have been up there for 5 minutes, I swear. Hmm…how should I fall, I ask myself. I know! I think I’ll fall the way I always fall...well.

I can't seem to come up with "positive affirmations" to tell myself, like "You are worthy and special." "You have hot legs." "God loves you more than the next person." But I can say this about myself: I fall well. I relax, let go. I don't brace or get tense. I let my reflexes do the work and I take a backseat and watch. Of course, I get hurt like anyone else. I just don't get as hurt.

So after an eternity of mid-airness, I land. No, it was a skid, actually. The human body can skid, I note to self. When I finally stopped, I just laid there. (This is part of falling well. Don't get up. Your spine could be in 8 pieces. Just lay there. Relax a spell. Who cares what you look like?)

I turn my head around gingerly and see two soccer moms unhurriedly approaching me. I think to self: Huh. If I saw somebody spill out like I just did, I'd pick up a run, not a goddamn saunter. And these women are supposed to be teeming with maternal instinct? My ass.

When they finally approach me, they ask the inevitable, "Are you alright?" Don’t be sarcastic, Miss Mann. Don't shout enthusiastically, "You know what? I'm MORE than all right. I'm GREAT!" I simply say, "I don't know."

They lift me up and I'm bleeding. Everywhere. A lot. My arms. My legs. The palms of my hands. They look at me nervously. I'm fine. I tell them how I fall well. It’s just something I do. I tell them I can’t manage daily living, relationships, family, finances or my overactive, constantly worried mind, but I seem to fall well. Nobody can take that from me. (Well, I didn’t tell them that. I’m telling you.)

I look at my bag and it's ripped, the contents strewn everywhere. My iPod is fine, thank goodness. The women pick up the tapes and the linear notes and stick them in the bloodied bag. "It's all for rock and roll" I say to no one in particular.

I get back on my bike. It’s making a funny noise. The frame is all messed up but I need to get home. I am now a living, breathing bloodied horror story amidst the plump, lily-white suburbanite families rushing to the beach. I pull up to the first traffic light and plead for it to turn green. No such luck. A woman in a massive SUV next to me looks over and I see her mouth "Oh my god!" behind her closed tinted window. A child crossing the intersection looks at me in terror, grasping his soccer mom's hand. I feel like a vampire out in daylight.

By the next intersection, I'm feeling a little more comfortable with my new, nightmarish look. I decide to up the ante and drag a bloodied palm down both of my cheeks, in downward streaks, like war paint. Which feels kind of appropriate here. These people are nothing like me and I'm nothing like them. But the worst part is that they take over my home and act like I'm the foreigner! Sometimes when I walk on the beach with my surfboard, I get these crazy looks. Like people are really shocked that a female is surfing. I think, "Wow, this is really outside the box for you and your little world, isn't it?"

I get home and the visiting tenants across the street are drinking coffee out on their porch. I decide to act like nothing is wrong, just for kicks. "Hey, great weather we're having. I hear it might storm tomorrow though." They look at me in bored shock, if that's humanly possible. I jump in my outdoor shower and watch the red slowly turn pink.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Coconuts





Coconuts. I can’t believe I worked at a store called Coconuts. The comedy of it hurts too much.

Before starting my online business, I needed money fast. A touristy clothing store right up the street from me was hiring. I figured it would be pretty mindless. (It’s called Coconuts after all. How mentally taxing could it be?)

The clothing was of the garish Jersey shore variety. Beach kitsch fashion at its absolute worst. Coral orange t-shirts with big seashells on them, sweatshirts that read stupid shit like “Gone fishing on Long Beach Island” or “I Left My Heart on LBI.” The kind of clothing worn when you’re interested in watercolor classes or making Rice Krispie treats.

As I stood behind the Coconut’s counter that first day, I wondered how long I’d last. Three weeks? Maybe a month? Knowing me, it wouldn’t be long but I had to stick it out to get one decent paycheck. So I’d keep my big mouth shut and let Clarissa train me.

Ah, sweet Clarissa. Well, okay…she wasn’t sweet at all. Cute as hell but wound up like a constipated nun. 20-something, bobbed black hair, ivory white skin, pursed crimson lips. Focused and almost entirely devoid of humor. She took Coconuts very seriously and felt a great need to impart its importance on me. Good luck, Clarissa, good luck. 

She showed me how to work the cash register, how to treat the customers, how to fold sweatshirts just so--the stuff done in Hell repeatedly, for eternity. But I endured. I can do it. I can do it. One paycheck.

At one point, Clarissa bent over in front of me to pick up some hangers off of the floor. Clarissa has one nice ass. Tight, round, just ripe enough. Ideas raced through my mind that probably never occurred to anyone in the history of Coconuts.

Someone ought to tap that shit, I thought. Somebody ought to grab it and slap it, bite it and kiss it. Someone ought to make that girl blush. Maybe I should be that person. I don’t swing in that direction, but for novelty’s sake, maybe today I would.

Maybe I’d follow Clarissa to the stock room and take one of those hangers and whack! She’d stand there in stunned silence and I would do it again and again until Clarissa realized the vast unimportance of a store called Coconuts.

Poor Clarissa. It seemed almost tragic that such an uptight girl should possess such a fine behind. If she’d just focus on her ass more, let it guide her in life, she’d be far better off. Her tight little derrière contained all of the sexuality that the rest of her probably would never possess.

When the phone rang, just for kick’s, I answered “I’m kookoo for Coconuts! How can I help you?” Clarissa didn’t think it amusing. “You say ‘Good morning, this is Coconuts. How can I be of service to you today?’” Bend over, Clarissa. Just one time. I’ll show you real service.

When Clarissa returned from lunch, she found me sitting on a stool, reading a surfing magazine. She folded her arms, pursed those ruby lips of hers and said firmly, “We don’t do that around here. When we have spare time, we stock and we fold.” Oh boy, the royal “we.”

Why did her parents name her Clarissa? They were asking for a prissy daughter. A friend of mine named her dog Bonkers. Bonkers ate bees and tried to chew its own tail off. You have to watch what you name your pets and people. Now had Clarissa been a Wendy or a Sandy, she wouldn’t be lecturing to me but smoking pot in the stockroom, looking over her freshly-inked tattoo.

“Clarissa, I know you mean well. But I’m not being paid enough to be constantly busy. I’m paid to show up and ring up an ugly sweatshirt or two, then leave.”

Silence. I felt my two weeks quickly shrinking to 4 hours.

“I’m going to have to talk to my manager about this. I don’t think she’s going to like it.” Clarissa muttered, reaching for the phone.

“Clarissa (using her name repeatedly made her so uncomfortable and so cute!), you don’t have to worry about it because I’m going surfing instead.”

I grabbed my bag and sweater.

“And you should never take a job at a place called Coconuts so seriously. It’s going to make you old before your time.”

She was practically shaking at this point. Her lips trembling, a darling vein on her head pulsing. I wanted to kiss her, I really did. She’d resist of course, but I’m stronger. On the floor of Coconuts, I would ram my tongue in her mouth and make it all better, like a bizarre lesbianic sexual exorcism. The Exorcism of Clarissa.

But I sighed and walked out the door instead. My first and final day at a store called Coconuts.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I've Been Drinking Ants for Days


Drinking water must be around me at all times or I get weird. So I have a Brita pitcher in my bedroom in case I’m suddenly struck thirsty.

This morning, I brought the pitcher to the kitchen to refill it. When I opened the lid, there were about 100 ants crawling around. Some dead, some mating, some staring off into the distance, drunk off my water.

 I’ve been drinking ants for days and hadn’t a clue. It made me wonder how many other gross things are happening to me on a daily basis without my knowledge.

One can only ponder how disgusting life really is if looked at closely enough. Seriously, we have mites eating the waxy oil from our eyelashes, thousands of dead skin cells falling off our bodies every minute and don’t even get me started on the belly button, home to about 2,000 species of bacteria.

Researchers can’t even identify the different types of weirdness found in your navel. One person had bacteria previously found only in Japan even though he’s never been…weird, right? And gross. Just plain gross.

I remember as a child finding bugs in my oatmeal. When I informed my overworked mother, she was unconcerned to say the least.

 “Well, eat around them. They’re not going to kill you!”

No, they wouldn’t kill me. Nor would the ant parts I’ve been drinking or the mites eating my eyelash oil or the bizarro shit in my belly button. I rinsed and refilled the pitcher and continued on with my day, nonplussed.

Now let’s say my mother freaked out about those oatmeal crawlers, I probably would have issues eating them. But she didn’t. Thanks to my mother’s brass-tacks guidance, I drink bugs in stride now. What’s the big deal, right?

Parenting is cool like that. If we’re instilled with certain belief, no matter how small or trivial, it sticks to our gray matter and we take it with us to life.

“It adds character,” my mother said when I told her how I hated how one of my canine tooth sticks out slightly. Little did I know that it really meant, “We can’t afford braces so deal.” 
But I ran with the whole character thing and have embraced it ever since. Now I brush that tooth with a little extra special love.

The takeaway? There are gross things out there and we’re all terribly imperfect. If we can embrace our inner grossness and imperfections, self-love will follow. Or at least you won’t throw up in your mouth when you realize how disgusting you truly are.

You go tooth!