Sunday, December 28, 2008

Slipping into Toothlessness


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.”


“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…”



“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


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!