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.