Category Archives: volumefreak

Taxidermy Soul

I woke up this morning at 5:45, pre-alarm, not moving just waking slowly, buzzing softly in the dark – feeling good — just lying there, still and quiet, listening to the world around me.

This morning I moved easily through the routine, like milk in glass, spilling into the shower, lotion, skirt. I felt light, ready, expectant. My whole mood was one of kinetics — the fluid crouch at the mark before the race begins. A breath to cool the head, every muscle prepared, at the ready — every cell craving that airborne gunshot.

Go time.

I’ve been dreaming of swimming, of running… but not track-bound, in laced-up Nikes… Like this: leaping through how-high weeds and beach grasses on all fours like a lioness, thrumming uphill in the snow with drifts to my belly like a snowshoe hare, bright white and fluffy in the winter sun.

I have been a dolphin with rubbery skin stretched tight over my lean muscular frame — no wrinkles or excess flesh — coursing through turquoise waves, drunk on the feeling of fluid ease.

I have been a Gypsy Vanner horse with piebald feathered feet, racing my shadow on the sand.

(I hear Hugh McGuire at age 10, asking me, “Kristin, what animal are you today?” Because I was always pretending to be an animal. And again, at age 17, running into Hugh downtown, when he asked me the same question and answered with a flourish, “You, girl, are a FOX!” But the answer was, more accurately, “a peacock.”)

I have been all of these things, at night, in dreams, in the quiet spaces of days intoxicated by the winter sunshine, my cells insatiable for it. Each breath feels like foxfire, my hands and feet transformed into massive paws, into emerald wings, into this lithe animal grace I carry just beneath my own flawed human skin.

So I went to Florida – my pilgrimage of sorts. I have put much of my endeavors on hold in the abyss, unsure what to make of them, knowing the best plan of action in times like these (especially with world-weary head and no context for happiness or success) is no action at all.

I waited, paused, my life in suspended animation.

I thought space would bring the answers – that somehow distance and air would inspire clarity. I sat for hours and hours in the southern sunshine and tropical air filtered through the massive screens of my parents’ patio, veranda, lanai (actually, “Florida Room”), not really waiting, but letting go in that anti-Buddhist way way I have, like giving a gift selflessly but secretly expecting one in return (I blame my gypsy heritage).

But no answers came.

I felt peace, yes… I was given the gift of context, of measure, the realization of how crazy/stressful/painful life has been when the sanity, peace and health returns. Surviving the chaos through that special brand of oblivion that enables us to conquer horrible stretches out of our control — a coping mechanism that easily becomes a way of life if one is not careful.

I saw the madness of the past 6 months (more accurately, 2 years) — saw its detrimental effect thrown in bas relief in my life. I was grateful to have found a way past all that and a shield against its return in future months

But I did not get Answers – specific concrete decisions eluded me. The running, yes, and the paying off debt, yes – but what about livelihood? My Path? My PLAN?

I had no idea which direction to take. It all seemed equally worthy, and yet simultaneously uninspiring.

After a gracious and peaceful holiday with my family (no freak-outs, outbursts, terse discussion or annoyance — miraculous!) I was in the back seat of the Taurus, air conditioned on grain leather seats, heavy and sad to be homeward bound so soon, leaving that floaty narcotic head of southern Florida, sand still in my toes and sandals from my secret sunrise morning, indescribably beautiful and opening.

We passed a string of businesses outside Ft. Lauderdale and there was a sign for “The Country’s Best Marine Taxidermiest.” (I thought briefly of Jason – my star-crossed, Alaska-bound lover at the Green Tortoise Hostel the week before my 27th birthday – 10 years gone now.) I remarked how wildly brilliant it was — the marketing — talk about a niche – knowing your target user profile! And I said absently how great it must be to have such a specific craft – to know from birth you were meant to be the best at this ONE THING – because really, there’s no other way to become the World’s Best Marine Taxidermy Provider — a singleness of purpose, laser focus – oh to be so chosen! To know your destiny!

And for one second I thought about what that must feel like to have that goal, to be on that path — to not be diverted. Darren The Taxidermiest is not torn between being an accountant or prepping pike for over-tanned millionaires, NO: he is a fish stuffer and fish stuffer only…

Until my head blew open and I realized the scope of my own ridiculousness.

Little Kristin at age 8 writing “The Windfields” and mailing it to her Grandma to type up, pre-PC, sheafs and volumes of short stories told for their own sake. A fifth grade novel, and summers spent crouched at the Commodore 64 drinking ginger ale and writing like my life depended on it – knowing I had to write, knowing I was born to this.

Lusting after the tangle of language, dancing with it like a dream, feeling so smug when adults asked me what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” knowing already I was a writer — right fucking NOW.

Saying, always, that I write for the same reason I breathe: to stay alive.

Yet I have never let that be enough.

And through the years, packing that wanderlust into smaller and smaller boxes, more delicately decorated but each less spacious than the last, opening them with failing frequency, until I am left with this corroded machine, and a pile of boxes, and the ache of wasted muscles mired in atrophy.

Something enormous came untethered in my head as we rode along in our suburban air-conditioned comfort to the airport – one thought shook loose and blazed through my consciousness like a hot pink vintage neon marquee: There could just be words.

There could just be words.

All this strife and planning and schooling and coding and frustration and anguish could all fall away and there could just be words.

Just me, and the words. Like in the beginning.

Because Darren the Taxidermiest and I have this in common: We were born to do this.

Like the otters. I am born to swim, and I’m swimming. I didn’t get their message before – heard it and documented it without full understanding — but it sounds like the voice of oracles now.

There could just be words.

And it wouldn’t have to be anything specific. I could just make room for them daily and they would rush in, like the flood beyond the door, water seeking its own level.

Sea level.

I could make the space – that would be my job. And the words would come in and fill the space. And after I could decide – could ask the words what they wanted to be, where they wanted to go.

In the back seat of that car, the whole world grew silent as we rushed smooth as silk along the Interstate and the bleached Florida skyline of terra cotta and peach melted into sepia tone and then faded to black and white – like an old grungy slide projection with filed corners and everything…

I felt weightless, some giant thrombosis broke and dissolved and the blood rushed to my brain.

I felt it sparkling in my veins, my fingers, my feet.

I felt my wings unfurling behind me on the leather seat with climate control and lumbar massage.

I stared out at this newsprint city, making more and more space in my head for this idea to stretch out and relax, to languish and loll like a lion the sun, stay awhile – and then I realized my parents were talking to me – had asked me a question.

I caught the faint echoes of my name being spoken and I couldn’t turn to look at them but I offered some hazy smile or remark of comfort that I was still with them.

And I was, in a way… but I was also out there dancing in the newsprint, with the summer rain cascading down my face, sand in my wings, searching for a snowy mountain to tharump up, wings itching for flight.

Wings itching for flight.

Four Seasons In One Day

There will be some stalling — a fall in the wind, and then the impact… the explosion, the shattering and breaking free of something enormous and clumsily-tethered.

I feel it stirring, feel the tension in my chest and temples and jaw.

It has to get like this. It has to push up against itself until it topples over. It must swell until it can no longer contain itself.

And I have to let it.

First things stop working, and then they get bad enough. Sooner or later you are left alone in a too-hot room, heart swollen and damp, bursting into the cool night with so many tears that the soul is torn down and shattered — becomes weightless — begins anew. Any effort before that point is mayonnaise on parched bread, scotch tape on plaster, a bandaid on that amputation.

Eventually things stop working — the food, the sleep, distraction, thrill of doing the unruly or absurd, being the center of attention, obsession with color-coded Tupperware, the world getting too small, plans of next year next week tomorrow — and never life in the present moment.

Caffeine no longer helps, porn does not hit the soul’s G-spot, spending money just turns me over on myself. Watching my behavior until the horror of witnessing it surpasses the torture it seeks to comfort.

And there is sometimes Tetris, and there is mostly a kitchen table, nag champa incense, a tank of dying angelfish, and the music of Andrew Bird.

And the urges come to escape this: make that list! Do that thing! And I say NO — sit right fucking here until you break — until you’ve had enough that the lists don’t bind you anymore and the guilt is set free, until you hit the breaking point of not being able to handle it anymore and letting go, hitting bottom, and turning yourself over again.

Sit here until the nightmare shatters and your world shifts so enormously that you can walk out onto that porch and tell me, “I’m ready to become a participant, ready to let go of fear and nouns I cannot control. I am ready to put down the remote, the bowl of pasta, the to do lists — and live my life.”

Tonight I sit here at this island table until I get there. Because I’m closer to that breakthrough than I’ve ever been and if I keep chasing it down with distraction, I’ll never break and heal and grow. I’ll stay where I am now — stagnant, overwhelmed with shame and guilt, afraid of myself and the world I live in, totally and completely paralyzed in every sense of the word.

This is what I’m talking about — the life where one does not need obsessive lists, schedules, goals… just a few concrete focuses and the willingness and discipline to act, decision to decision, towards them.

Shhhh. Don’t even tell me what they are. SHOW ME.

You don’t define yourself as a runner; running makes you a runner.

Tonight I meet the ache head-on. I am the tabla master tonight — drumming through this pain long enough to be approached by the ghosts — the long-forgotten pains of another life — chased by my current fears and night terrors, the future that looms sometimes bleak, sometimes filled with more chaos than I can handle, and I’m drumming through it all, hand to skin to hand, trying not to lose my rhythm, knowing if I can just stay with this song until the ghosts have quieted, I’ll be able to put the drum down and dedicate my hands and rhythm to something new.

When are you going to step out of these lead shoes? This self-made mental prison?

How about tonight?

_____________
I wrote these words on July 5th, 2003 — more than four years ago, on a Saturday night at 7:04 PM, but it may as well have been tonight.

It’s comforting to see them in my own handwriting on gently yellowed pages, 18 notebooks back in my chronological shelf of 68 volumes, housed in my white bookshelf, guarded by frosted glass doors etched with bamboo and blossoms.

I’ve left myself a little breadcrumb trail. Page by page. Step by step. Back to sanity.

be, greater

I’m at Wishville tonight with my window open and my hands are cold. They’re playing “Superstar” on the radio. Sonic Youth covering the Carpenters. It’s one of the darkest songs I know and I haven’t heard it in years. Probably about ten.

Ten years ago tonight I was curled in your enormous window, leaning out over the frigid city night. I was cold — I was always cold — and you gave me your nubby oatmeal sweater. Smiling slowly, I was dazzled, blowing bubbles out into the frosty December air. The bubbles froze as they left my mouth, dancing in the night sky, spinning in a curtain of foggy breath, the lights of the Citgo sign twirling like a discoball on their surface. Wearing brown corderoys, my tangled hair too long, drinking Andre pink champagne from the bottle, that windowpane — chipped from a dozen coats of paint that never stuck. We were listening to Sonic Youth. You loved them; they made long, loud noise.

Nine stories down, the city was sleeping. You played my black Takamine guitar with the purple butterfly, your hoodie pulled over your wild magenta curls. The soles of your boots were secured with duct tape. Your eyes always looked surprised to see me sitting there with you.

These are my pocket-sized memories. I carry them around. There was nothing extraordinary about that night, but I remember breathing softly into the cold air, oatmeal wooly sweater covering my hands; there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be.

You had your fixed gear bike, matte black with the little bird on the handlebars from a McDonald’s happymeal, with flight goggles and a hat with earflaps and a tiny propeller that spun when you pedaled. You gave me your sweaters, even when you were cold. And you let me sleep in your bed when I was too tired to walk the six flights of stairs to my room.

I bought a piano this morning because I can’t have a puppy.

This city doesn’t feel like home no matter what I do. It won’t let me in, won’t let me love it.

I went running yesterday in the inky morning. At six AM there is no light. Mt. Rainier was brooding, a sleeping hen behind the skyline, and as the sun breathed into the horizon, the mountain got blacker. The dock was slippy with pre-dawn ice, and I caught my breath as I almost fell, remembering the night on Broadway when my left leg collapsed beneath me and I landed in bed for a year.

Bones heal, for the most part. My softer parts do not.

I am at Wishville tonight. Strangely, my loft is #224. Just like Myles Standish Hall in 1995.

The warehouse is unlit and empty; I’m the only one here. Next door is the Ballard bathtub factory with a million dusty windows and concrete tubs wrapped in cellophane, stacked three high. I want to go roller skating inside, no lights, just the glow from the People’s Storage sign broken in red shards on the cement floor.

I have a tattoo on my neck in your handwriting. Umi — the sea. Because I’ve always been that mermaid who traded her fins to walk on land and will forever miss the ocean.

Some nights I like to pretend I wouldn’t drown if I jumped back in.

Post with the Most

I recently came across someone who has had an impact on me for years. There’s a lot of history there, and he doesn’t really know he’s a part of it. I tried to tell him not too long ago, but he said his memories were hazy.

This is my version of our story.

We lived at the Wonderland Records practice space in high school. All of us. One legendary winter night, Mighty Purple played a show in New York City, where they met Jaymiles. They liked him a lot so they brought him home with them. He never left.

The day we found Jaymiles should be established as a national holiday.

Jay brought with him pure and uncensored insanity. He also brought Ugly. One day Jay innocently opened the tape deck, inserted a copy of a demo, and started a chain events that began with a painfully beautiful song, climaxed with a surreal show in the Little Theater, and ended with Charlie Post dropping his pants in a roomful of 16-year-old girls.

But before Charlie did all that, we loved him blindly.

Jay told us, “This is my friend Charlie from D.C. and he has a band called Ugly.” From the first note of the first song, Ugly had us. Jay passed the tape on to the rabid throng of us, and the audience grew. I got a copy. I made copies. We made copies of copies of copies. It was a rough, single-track recording with talking between some of the songs. The quality was awful to begin with, and got progressively worse. But Ugly’s music stayed beautiful.

There was the acoustic guitar, sometimes biting and aggressive, sometimes bright and sweet. The hand-drumming. The irresistible rhythms. But it was the vocals and lyrics that got me. Charlie’s voice was rough and sweet, like wood and wine. Deep soul belly sound. He caught me in the throat, in the heart.

In the morning before school, I drove to the beach in the rain and parked at the edge of the water to listen, because being late and getting in trouble was a fair trade for a few more minutes of Charlie Post. “Daisies” was my favorite:

It kicks my ass to wonder
what goes on inside
where the darkness meets the light
did I tell you
when you wore my boots
well it makes me cry
And though I’m talking about my favorite sex position
I’m dreaming of you and your fingers
And your smile and the light
and the way the darkness holds me when
There’s no one to hold me left
No one to hold me when you’re gone.

His song “Tired is a Man” became my anthem in high school. I got it. Struggling with the meaning of self, trying to stay your own person. Feeling alone because of it. Jon Rodgers played it at open mic nights on the patio of Dakota J’s downtown and made it his own.

We became convinced that the name “Ugly” was meant in self-deprecating irony, and that the whole band was drop-dead gorgeous — and wouldn’t that be such an amazing thing when we finally met them? I told Jay earnestly that I was going to ask Charlie Post to marry me. He suggested I hold off until I met the guy.

So we mobilized our mission. It would be quite and undertaking and it would involve a lot of coercion and planning. But we convinced Jaymiles that Ugly had to come up to New Haven and play for us.

The night of the Little Theater show, in November of 1994, we were unbearably excited. I sat in the parking lot of the Little Theater with Ula, waiting to go in, butterflies in my stomach. When we finally crowded inside, the was dark and cool and smelled like an old church.

The songs lived in our blood and when Ugly began, everyone jumped up from their seats, singing, dancing, and smiling. Charlie later told us how amazingly bizarre it was to look out at the crowd, playing an album that had never been released in a city to which he’d never been, and see everyone’s lips moving to the words of his songs, turning in the music, losing themselves in the sound they knew like their own name. He was trying to figure out how all these kids had heard the songs he recorded on a four track in the garage.

There was no irony to their name. The band was not pretty. And they were at least ten years older than us. Our teenage hearts forgave them beause the music was just too damn good.

My expectations were exceedingly high, and Charlie’s voice fulfilled every hope I had about the magical show. Watching him on stage, I decided I was indeed going to ask him to marry me. I’d met him as Jaymiles suggested, right?

Not quite.

Elated and buzzing, we piled into vehicles and flew back to the Space, where all of us, the band included, were staying. We madly awaited the arrival of the boys who were loading out of the Little Theater. They were taking a really long time.

We were sprawled about the room, on the couches, smoking and chattering. Jon was stumbling around wearing a kilt and drinking Bailey’s Irish Crème out of the bottle. Dave Kone was wandering around with electrical tools installing locks on the filing cabinets. Victoria was provoking Christy, who was sitting on a stool next to the autographed life-size cardboard cutout of the band James from the Laid tour featuring Tim Booth eating a banana. Everyone else was sprawled on the couches, the chairs. I could feel the warm happiness on my skin, the satisfaction of the show, the excitement of the impending bonding session that would begin when our favorite musicians finally arrived.

I was in the room, sitting quietly in the corner like I always did, my magenta hair covering one eye, taking mental notes so I could write about it ten years later. I heard crashes downstairs as one person fell into a drum kit and another fell into a garbage can. There was shrill cackling laughter, and the raging voice of the man who just an hour before had been cradling our melodramatic dreams.

He was swearing like a truck driver and drinking like a fish. And Charlie Post tripped up the stairs into the loft and dropped his pants in greeting.

My little heart broke. I wanted my dear, sweet Charlie to put his clothes back on.

He tossed himself on top of us on the couch and tried to get the girls to make out with each other. When he’d had his fill of pseudo-lesbian tongues, he began to detail his photo album of nipples he kept from each show they played. He asked if anyone would agree to participate. I extracted myself from his surly grip and crawled back to the corner of the room.

Christy offered to strip for him if he would play “Salvation.” So they went downstairs and she took off her clothes for Charlie Post in the dirty practice space, by the red light of the Exit sign at Wonderland Records, while we sat upstairs listening.

The demo eventually disintegrated because everyone played it to death and the actual tapes broke apart. But they released some of the songs on the CD Round Boy Laughing. I hadn’t heard it for years and while at Victoria’s not too long ago, the topic of Charlie Post came up, and I told her I’d lost Round Boy Laughing. So she gave me a copy, and I went home and listened to it with new ears.

I understand him better now. Life is not black and white. I was a little girl, and I wanted to believe in the fairy tale. The poor boy had a lot to live up to. I was shy and his passion frightened me. I see now how much more alive the world can be. The world where you swear and fight and cry, you act selfishly and love carelessly. The world that makes the singing sweeter.

That album still gives me shivers when I play it. But I think it’s for a different reason now.
Deep down I don’t think I ever got over Charlie shaking up my view of blind love. He personified that intolerable conflict between the chaste and the vile. Simultaneously exquisite and grotesque.

For years it drove me mad and I didn’t know where to put it. I couldn’t believe that someone that crass could make such tender music.

I figured out how to resolve this Charlie Post conflict last month. I put him in my novel.

Such a Nice Day

Since my favorite subway serenaders have risen above the underground scene for greener pastures, the T has been a barren, musicless hole for several weeks now. It’s been plain depressing. My morning commute became a tooth-pulling, foot-dragging occasion. I found myself being on time to work every day, with no promises of “Carter’s Tune” to stall me on the subway platform. In fact, it got so dark in there that I was ready to throw myself onto the tracks.

But Leo Blais has saved mass transit.

His voice is champagne sunlight. Warmly-colored and weightless, filled with sweetness and air.

Yesterday I was heading downtown with smiles for the world after kicking ass at an interview when I heard this angelic voice filling the Harvard T station. I was instantly struck. I rounded the corner quickly, curiously. I know all the regular buskers on the Red Line. I had never heard this voice. He was plaintively singing, “…such a nice day…” It was a nice day, I conceded, having just experienced a brilliant morning. But there was a touch of irony in his voice. Not quite bitterness. More like a child who’s been slapped but isn’t sure why.

He had a harmonica and an open guitar case, beside which was piled a stack of CDs. Being largely unemployed, I have no business buying CDs. I resisted the urge, leaning on the giant metal support beam and listening. But with each shining song and each passing train, my resistance grew weak. I finally got on the subway and the whole time I was at work I just wanted to get home so I could listen to my new purchase.

I immediately searched for the song that had been stuck in my head since the second I heard him sing it. “Nice Day” is officially my new Shower Song.

So today was obviously the result of a strange planetary alignment. The Harvard job I interviewed for yesterday requested a second intreview today, so I was once again coming down the escalator and heard Leo’s sweet vocals bouncing off the dingy brick walls. And he was once again singing “…such a nice day…”. I reveled in this moment of synchronicity.

He He slid through some gorgeous finger-picked harmonica tunes and then began playing “Green Plastic Trees.” The first few lines put a little shiver in my spine. In full-on coitus interuptus, a Fat White Man came bustling hastily over, wielding his copy of the Metro. I thought he was going to smack Leo in the face with it. He was panting for breath from the sheer exertion of walking, brow damp with sweat, chapped lips twitching with agitation.

At first I thought he was some MBTA official, but he was wearing Fat White Man civilian clothing. And, of course, reading the Metro.

Leo stopped strumming as the guy lurched toward him, gesticulating wildly. “Turn that down! It’s too freakin loud! No one’s going to give you money! You’re annoying!”

I stared at him incredulously. Leo’s champagne sunlight voice singing Radiohead annoying?

The reality is that he was jealous because he wasn’t young, beautiful and golden-throated. He was jealous because he didn’t have a soul.

Leo recovered gracefully. Eventually I had to procure an iced coffee and tear myself away to meet a handful of friends and scamper about the city. But I’ve returned now, sunburned and sandy-footed, to listen to Beethoven Never Heard This once again.

The album surprised me. I guess I was expecting largely acoustic solo material. Leo’s gorgeous melodies run through all of it, but some of it is big music. Several of the tracks are catchy, almost theatrical, piano-driven tunes with bouncy drums and horns. Bright and energetic, but maybe a little poppy for my current taste — a little too clean. My favorites are the darker songs — the ones that feel like he’s seen enough pain to write valid art but not enough to be bitter.

“Nice Day” (my Shower Song) is all minor chords, strings and sweet sadness. The vocals are breathy, airy and delicious. It feels the same on the album as it did in the subway — driving in the summer with the top down, but driving away from something painfully important.

Then there are the sparse finger-picked guitar and harmonica songs I was expecting that center around his vocals. “You Just Sigh” is another big favorite of mine, and the underwater “All That You Want”, which shudders with reverb and delay.

So, yay! I love finding new music, especially in my neighborhood. And especially if Leo is going to make my morning commute sweeter this summer. I’ll have to start getting up earlier or taking a longer lunch.

Halloween & Hardware

This morning I came into the gleaming marble and platinum foyer of the gargantuan building where I’ve been putting in forty hours a week. I stopped at the concierge desk to give them my ID for entrance, and as usual, there was a bike messenger there as well. Downtown they are everywhere. They are tiny splashes of color on the urban landscape – dots of green hair and spiral print shirts, trying gracefully not to become splashes of color on the pavement.

I’ve always been attracted to the absurd and slightly frightening, the otherworldly; bells in the hair and mismatched eyes, devil horn implants; I’ve dated guys who wore more make-up than me and whose jewelry could kill a civilian at twenty paces. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll enjoy an Ambercrombie and Fitch romp every once in a while, but…

I don’t know why I’ve always been so attracted to the Bike Messenger species. Almost without exception, they are punkasses with freaked out hair, head-to-toe tattoos, and insane clothes, playing mad music on their headphones. They roll up their pants to their calves and wear ugly shoes that click on tile floors. They fascinate me. I feel this bond when they come into the office, and I feel like I’m undercover, like they couldn’t know I secretly relate to them, to their community of outcasts, dirty bars, fuck the man, and rock and roll. I used to see them at the Rathskellar downing their post-work pints, watch them in awe.

This morning as I came up to the desk, there was a messenger leaning on the desk smiling at the woman reviewing his identification. At 8:30 AM she hadn’t decided how she felt about the day yet, but he was trying to persuade her that it was going to be all right.

Even from behind he was a sight to behold, all Halloween and hardware. Slung across his chest was the uniform messenger bag: Pearl Izumi in chartreuse with a fluorescent orange ID flag stapled to it. The walkie-talkie chattering softly. He had one earphone in and the remote of his walkman clipped on to the strap of the bag.

He was leaning on the desk and when he stood up, he was easily six foot four. His hair was pale blond and kind of dreaded so it spiraled up off his head and it was tipped bright orange. Every inch of his exposed arms and legs were covered in ink, but these delicate, Tim Burton-esque curls. He had a purple ring through his nose and when he looked down at me, he froze me with these blue eyes that were so light they were almost translucent. He gave me the same warm smile that the desk concierge was presently ignoring as she smashed the computer screen with the heel of her hand.

I froze for two reasons… he was so startlingly beautiful. And I realized I knew him. He had a bit more ink on him, a few more holes, but he was Paul, and he spent the fall of ’95 drawing pictures of me with charcoals.

There was a party in Allston the first week of school. It was a big party, and pretty crowded, but I knew most of the people there. I sat down on the floor in the hallway (it occurred to me lately that there came a day when it stopped being okay to just sit on the floor) and I was wearing this ankle-length gauze skirt and burgundy Docs that I had stuck gold stars all over. I saw Paul across the room. He was one of the few people at the party I didn’t know. We made eye contact and he came over and sat down on the floor next to me. “You have stars on your shoes,” he said to me. I peeled two off and stuck them to his cheek. “You have stars on your face.”

We sat on the floor watching people for a while. Then he reached in his pocket. “I brought you something,” he said. He opened his hands slowly. It was an orange. He peeled it in one go with his very long thumbnail, in a perfect spiral, and then offered me a slice like it was a diamond. We sat on the dirty floor of this Allston apartment and he fed me oranges and watched people and said random things to one another and listened to the Verve. He told me he was a painting major.

“I want to draw you.”

“Okay.”

Our exchange was surreal and dreamlike and easy.

An hour later in the living room, he was sitting behind me in this huge chair and I was sitting on the floor between his knees. “I brought you something else,” he said. He put his enormous hand to my throat and tipped my head back gently so I’d open my mouth. He placed a pill on the end of my tongue and handed me a bottle of cider. I swallowed without a word. An hour later we were wandering in the mist, through this garden I had never seen and have never been able to find again, rolling hard and dancing through the Allston night.

We fit into that slot together for the brief time we knew each other, full-tilt and half-insane.

I sat for him in the studio of the BU School for the Arts. There was a beat up velvet couch that smelled like a church basement and it was covered with coffee stains. At least I hope it was coffee. Other painters spent the whole night in there frowning into their canvases. Mostly we went at night and I played my guitar and he drew me. It is one of the sexiest feelings in the world to have someone following every inch of you so intensely; feel their eyes mapping you, and then seeing the results – how they see you – on paper. It was a good thing he could paint because he tried to make me dinner and practically burned the apartment down with the bread.

It was fun for a few weeks. He called me to meet up with him and I tried to take a cab to his house, but got in the back of a cop car instead and rattled off the address before thinking briefly that the taxis were using serious armor these days. I never made it and we kind of lost touch after that.

So seven years later he’s standing in the lobby of this building in Post Office Square, all Halloween and hardware…

Just two days ago — before I ran into him — Ruby I were talking about gifts that guys give. I think flowers are unoriginal, and I much prefer something out of the ordinary, or something randomly meaningful, even if it’s as simple as a Magic Hat #9 bottle cap with a silly phrase inside that made him think of me. And I said, “Remember that kid Paul I went out with sophomore year? The night we met at Matt’s party he brought me an orange. That’s it right there.”

In the lobby, he kind of recognized me and he squinted like he wasn’t sure from where. I reached over the counter for my ID and he saw the BU insignia and the exposed tattoo. He took my wrist in his enormous hand, studying the tattoo. He turned those translucent eyes on me and he said, “You have a star on your wrist.” We both smiled. I walked toward the elevator as he slid the walkie-talkie out of its holster, watching me go. It was just as surreal and dreamlike as that Allston garden I’ve never been able to find again.

Digital Indigestion

My dad’s birthday was last week. I got him the Absolute Moron’s Guide to Digital Photography. Here is why.

He bought my mother a digital camera for Christmas, which she conveniently hasn’t learned to turn on yet while he gets hours of excited use from it. I’ve been providing tech support for my dad since my sister bought him a computer two years ago, and most of the questions are pretty basic, but it’s hard to explain to someone why Windows just crashes sometimes.

“Well, dad, it’s just… that’s just what it does. You know, the whole Bill Gates is evil thing.”

“But I don’t understand. You pay good money for these machines. The refrigerator doesn’t just “crash” sometimes and let the food go bad. What if I didn’t feel like working one day? What if I just up and left my job for no reason and left things unfinished and even threw them out so no one could find them again?”

And you wonder where I came from.

So my dad buys the digital camera, and he’s all jazzed up about it, and sending three dozen .jpg attachments in one email to my Yahoo account, which explodes and refuses delivery. After sending the email he calls me frantically on the phone, trying to figure out why there’s a demon sending him email (is it the same thing as a virus?!) and why I didn’t get the photos.

So last time I was in Florida, I gave him a crash course on Windows and file management. I think he hung on long enough to figure out how to name folders.

I’ll probably cry while I’m writing this part of the story, because it’s a total Hot Dog Moment (the definition of which I will have Shannon explain in detail at a later point); when a parent is so vulnerable you just want to shield them from the world. But I have to share this because it’s really fucking funny.

The condo complex where my parents live hosted a Super Bowl party a while ago. Actually, it was around the time of the Super Bowl. My dad brought my mom’s digital camera and took a bunch of photos, which he later downloaded to his computer. There were other photos already on the camera, so they were all dumped into the same folder. I’m assuming the program asks you to name the topic and then it assigns a name to each photo in the folder, such as Party_001.jpg, Party_002.jpg. You get the picture.

My dad is a construction worker, so grammar and spelling are not his natural forte. He builds a mean roof, but his email… sometimes I get the urge to print them out and hang them on the fridge with a rainbow magnet and a gold star.

He named the images after the Super Bowel.

The first three photos of the Super Bowel party he sent boasted the spread fit for kings on the buffet. This included a trough of the one and only Mama D’s Bean Dip, which has been proven to produce “Super” results.

The emails came a few times a day for the first week, my mom and dad red-cheeked and grinning, eating nachos, watching football, Super Bowel style. The first time I saw the names of the .jpgs and laughed hysterically, I felt a little guilty. At first I thought it was my dad being funny, which he is known to do. But when the rest of the photos from the folder started showing up, including pictures of my cat sunning herself on a lawn chair, the seriousness of the Super Bowel issue became clear.

My sister and brother-in-law were copied on the emails. I wondered if they, too, were amused by the state of my father’s bowels. Especially my sister the English Teacher, the Grammar Bitch, the Defender of All That Is Spellchecked and Holy.

I figured I’d let it go. Didn’t want to embarrass my father, you know. He was making big strides in the technology department and I was pulling for him. Plus the emails stopped after a week and I figured the next round would be appropriately named and I could stop obsessing about whether or not I should tell him before he copied everyone in his address book. Or be forced to consult my sister about the situation.

My father has been rebuilding the condo for a few months now. The place is very 70’s, which works in my current apartment but not in a retired folks’ summer space. He’s been redoing the kitchen, wallpapering, tiling the floor. To get good use of his digital camera, and to show off his work, he’s been keeping me updated with weekly before and after photos. A few of them I have printed out and hung on my fridge with rainbow magnets and a gold star. Thankfully, the kitchen shots arrived perfectly in threes, to my non-Yahoo account, with the names NewKitch_001.jpg, NewKitch_002.jpg. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then came the bathroom photos.

Subject: new pics of bathroom
Hi kris we started the bathroom today — your bath, the one off your room and taking down teh ugly gold paper for new peach stuff the mother picked out. And the new toilet seat. Goind to home depot tomorrw love dad.

The attached photo was of the new peach toilet seat. It was called SuperBowel_075.jpg.

I got an email from my sister two minutes later. She was one of seven people copied.

Subject: our father
should we tell him?

I replied:

Subject: re: our father
it’s his birthday next week.
i’ll take care of it.

Say Hello to the Angels

Before I even start this entry, I have a disclaimer. Since I majored in journalism, and I don’t read the newspaper as a result, it has been suggested that I use my four years at a major accredited university to write music reviews. Considering my absolute love of music and my predilection for writing, it seems like a logical conclusion. But this topic came up recently with someone who clearly hasn’t read any of my music reviews. It seems to me like what I have to say about concerts and records would be largely useless to the general public. I mean, would the average consumer considering the purchase of the new Luna album need to know I think it sounds like Coney Island at seventeen and drinking out of a pineapple? That the Iron and Wine show was so tender that I cried through most of it, rendering the set list illegible? That Enon’s High Society makes me want to wear velvet pants and smile? Is it relevant to know that Josh Ritter’s performance feels like a fresh-picked bucket of homegrown strawberries, and I would make him pancakes the morning after?
Maybe you do. If so, welcome to my world.
As a secondary disclaimer, we all know Interpol is good, I’ve been telling everyone to buy Turn on the Bright Lights for the past year, it’s on my top five… blah blah blah — that’s the reason last night was my third Interpol show in the past six months. So I don’t need to detail the cinematic atmosphere, the familiar set list, the midnight-in-the-city lighting, and the way the sound is pulsating, aching and dark. I just need to detail the way I wanted to rip the clothes off of a certain band member with my teeth.
I waited outside in the cold for an hour before the doors opened, and it was a violent snow storm. I was the fourth person into the club, and immediately staked my territory front row center. I was a little nervous about it; the show was sold out and there were two opening bands. I mean, what if I had to go to the bathroom or something? Anyway, I refused water, stretched out my back and I was in it for the long haul.
The Raveonettes were good. They’re Danish. Go see them.
Then Interpol snuck out in their shy, wispy-haired, black suit procession. It’s quite an experience to be up front against the stage for a big show; it’s not something I usually do. But I had to, you see.
The bass player. I wanted to yank him by his dark, sweaty forelock, drag him into the back of a cab, and bite him til he bled.
There are the bands I want to Just Be Friends with, and the singers on my Must Make Him Breakfast list. And then there is Carlos, who I want to ravage, tear apart, and smoke Camel non-filters with between the sheets. No omelets involved.
Rumor has it that you can tell what a musician is like in bed by the way they play their instrument. So here I was in front of that fine choice piece of a bass player, with the jawline, the shock of hair, magical hands throttling away like the bass was part of his body, darting and jumping. I just stared in disbelief.
The thing with Interpol is, I love them. I love their music; after a year I still listen to their albums several times a week. But they could never be one of My Favorite Bands. And I was trying to figure out why. Last night, leaning up against the stage being almost sucked into the performance, I realized this is because they are so disengaged, so cut off from the audience. The reason I go to so many live shows is because studio albums may be fulfilling to a certain extent, but I don’t feel I understand a band until I’ve seen them live. And as overwhleming and darkly vibrant as an Interpol show is, there is a wall. There is a coolness, a non-smiling distance. At the first two shows I ascribed that to their swollen egos, but last night I realized that’s not the truth. Paul Banks just seems painfully shy. He’s modest and quiet and hides behind his blond bangs, singing “I’m sick of spending these lonely nights training myself not to care.”
I think in the past I hadn’t gotten such an up close feel for them because I was on the periphery at the Middle East, and we all know how I feel about that hell hole of a club. (Speaking of hell hole clubs, Avalon last night was not. They had a total supersonic genius on sound, and it was perfect.)
Bands that become My Favorites are those that are interactive performers, that realize the fans are the only reason they can be there, performers who don’t throw up this barrier. A little bit of banter never hurt. Acknowledgement of breathing humans in the audience, a little humility.
While I’m airing my disgusting image-conscious side that I never show, I also got to thinking about the resurgence of bangs. Four-fifths of the band was hiding behind their little Brit pop hair cuts. Bangs and pleats. Rock stars in suits. That got me thinking about ironing — ultramoody singer in his boxer shorts, iron in one hand, frowning over his charcoal pants, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
Sometimes my head is busy during shows.
Ears ringing, legs aching from dancing, I crawled into bed exhausted and smiling.
How’s that for a review? Phoenix? New York Times? Anybody interested?

Barflies & Celebrity Sightings

So we were out at Shay’s recently, the little nook of a bar on JFK in Cambridge, and things started getting pretty rowdy. It was closing time on a Friday night, wall to wall with med students, locals, some chick celebrating her birthday and the 20 people there to help her, taking up half the bar in the process.

I always miss the beginning of the good stuff. But there was a gaggle of giggling blondes in front by the windows, and judging by the number of empty bottles of Bud Light on the table, and the animation with which they spoke, they were reasonably sauced up. The poor table service there betrays one’s alcohol consumption over the course of the evening. Amid the celebratory singing and general hub-bub, one of them fled the tribe and stumbled forth into the crowd, navel exposed, tripping on platform sneakers. She squoze her way to the bar and requested a cigarette from a middle-aged man leaning there with his middle-aged wife, deeply absorbed in scowling at one another.

The last I saw of our trio, the blonde was retreating empty-handed to her corner. Like I said, I always miss the beginning of the good stuff.

It was at this time that my attention was drawn back to Ruby, who had returned from the restroom and was now engaging me in conversation about karaoke.

Eventually the bartender bellowed last call and the birthday party broke up, wandering off clutching their heads with one hand and their Molecular Biology texts with the other. Upon their exit, our friendly middle-aged man rose unsteadily but flushed with adrenaline from his bar stool. The seat would have rocked dramatically, but the stools there are nailed to the floor. His craggy voice sliced out through the closing time din. “Hey, miss!” Our jazzy blonde, now leaning over the corner table talking to her friends, did a 180 — well, more like a 210 before correcting her line of vision — and cocked her head. He thrust his arm out violently, shaking his middle finger in the smoky air. “Fuck. You.” He said it accusingly and with disgust, like one New York City cab driver to another, following it cinematically with a phlegmy spit on the hardwood floor.

The record scratched off and the bar fell instantly silent, all heads swiveling between the two players, eagerly awaiting the next exchange.

He was clearly out of line. She was clearly not having any of it. She lurched back toward him and the two began slinging profanities at one another.

I was amazed. Call me old fashioned, but I wouldn’t stand for a man old enough to be my father telling me to fuck off while in polite company. Even if the company was just shy of polite. And he was getting a little riled, enough that he looked like he might even haul off and deck her.

All over a cigarette?

I always miss the beginning of the good stuff.

So we left. Mainly because it got a little warm in there and the bartender had his hands full, but also because it was closing time and Charlie’s is open an hour longer than Shay’s. So down the block we went.

Charlie’s in Harvard Square on a Friday at 1:15 AM is no joke. Climbing the stairs, you part the smoke and emerge into a dancing spree of bike messengers, food service workers celebrating the end of their shift, punk rock kids, the more daring 20- and 30-somethings of us, Metallica, tattoos, fries, Vans, chops, pints, and Natalie Portman.

Natalie fucking Portman.

She’s very small but was creating quite a stir. Clean faced and hair in a ponytail, she sipped some pink beverage through a straw and made her way smoothly through the chaos from one end of the bar to the other, the grungy throng parting like the Red Sea to let her pass. She couldn’t help but brush up against every guy in the thickly packed crowd. I have never seen so many erections in my life.

I wish someone good would enroll at Harvard. I mean, I don’t have anything against Natalie Portman, but why not some dashing young male actor for me to fall hopelessly in love with and follow around Harvard Yard at an inconspicuous distance? Whenever I see a famous person in public, I wonder how they can leave their house — especially someone so duly worshipped as she — and come to a bar where every boy in the room has been waiting pantingly for her to turn 18 so they could masturbate unfettered to The Professional.

So we left. Mainly because it got a little warm in there and the bartender had her hands full, but also because it was closing time. So down the block we went.

That said, I am far more impressed with Ruby than with Natalie Portman. And here is why.

The following night, it was snowy and cold and I was itching to get out of the house. Ruby agreed to brave the weather, but I wasn’t sure where I was in the mood to go. She said, “There’s always the B-Side.”

I sucked in my breath and blinked, torn between fear and disbelief.

The thing with the B-Side is this. The place is Mythical. Like Atlantis. Or Jupiter. My friend Mike from Berklee used to talk about the B-Side and his eyes would get all sparkly and distant, a tiny stream of drool escaping down his chin. I have never been to the B-Side, and there is only one reason why: I can never find it.

Inman Square is the Bermuda Triangle of Cambridge. I’ve lived here for almost nine years, and left to my own devices, I am consistently unable to find Inman Square. I’ve been told it’s quite simple, really. Still to this day it evades me. When someone returns from an evening in Inman Square, I touch them in disbelief. “You made it back? Thank God!” and I pull them to me protectively and want to never let them go there again.

But Ruby goes to the B-Side every night so not only does she know where it is, but she knows which bus stops it’s okay to park at where she won’t get a ticket. Even if I ever located the B-Side, I would have to drive by it all night, peering in from the street, wishing I had one of those deflatable cars like the Jetsons.

So when we rolled up in front of The Legendary One and Only B-Side Lounge, she had a parking spot waiting for her directly across from the entrance. Later I realized it was actually assigned to her, that the B-Side hired undercover Secret Service men to vigilantly guard her personal 10′ x 20′ space on Cambridge Street in case she showed up.

Given it was 10:30 on a Saturday night, a line was to be expected. And a line there was. In the freezing rain, people huddled around the corner waiting for some sorry fool to leave so they could be blessed with the presence of Boston’s Coolest of the Cool in the B-Side. So we get in the end of the line, and I start wondering if this is such a good idea. I can see in the window where warm and lighthearted conversations bubble, and good music is probably being played.

Then as he’s denying entrance to three more people trying to schmooze their way in, the door guy sees us and rises to attention from his stool, hurrying over. He nods reverently to Ruby and assures her, “I’ll go get Andy.” I’m already impressed. Straight out of Fight Club. “It’s all under control, sir.”

I’ve been informed before our arrival that Andy is a real character, a tall boy of the sexy-ugly variety. Come to think of it, he actually is a character — Ruby has written him into her latest screenplay. Andy, in all his tall, sexy-ugly glory appears post haste from the back door, and ushers us carefully through the unmarked fire exit, between the storeroom and the dishwasher, through the kitchen and out into the bar. We are greeted with cheers and libations.

I’m hit with two simultaneous epiphanies: One, the B-Side has hard-boiled eggs aligned in glossy spirals on either side of the taps. And Two, my best friend is a fucking rock star.

We hang our coats and she pulls out a Camel Red. Before she even has a chance to grope for a match, two men in black appear and begin a sword fight with their Zippos to light her cigarette. I look down at the dirty floor for a red carpet.

“Yeah. Hi. I’m with her.”

The B-Side is one hip establishment. In fact, they are playing the Cure’s B-Sides, without irony. I order a cold plate — a scoop of mandarin, pineapple and peach sorbet, dressed with a handful of berries. At a freakin bar. The rest of the evening is all about “Your booth” and “Your usual” (a glass of Chardonnay with a side of diet Coke).

At the end of the evening, as my dear sweet Ruby is dropping me off at my apartment, I ask her for her autograph. I can’t even imagine how good it’s going to get when she’s really famous.

Jim’s Big Ego

I was moving stuff around in my room yesterday and these boxes stacked on top of my dresser fell on my head like a proverbial golden brick and memoirs from the past ten years of my life spilled on the floor of my bedroom, covering the beer stains and other residue from my party Saturday night. How poetic.
The photo that landed on top began an interlude of sordid reflection culminating in disenchanted sighs. It all goes back to Jim’s Big Ego.
The photograph, riddled with holes from when it was previously affixed to my dartboard, is covered with red paint. I donned Jim’s adorable face with horns and a devilish goatee. Glued to the bottom is an ad from the Phoenix for the band Jim’s Big Ego. That was not his band. It was, however, his ego. The listing seemed so appropriate that I had to augment the photograph with it when he dumped me.
I still can’t believe he dumped me. I don’t usually get dumped. But he threw a couple of knives while he was in there raking my heart over the coals. First off, he did it on Valentine’s Day. But that’s pretty much the end of the story. Where did it all begin?
I worked at the dining hall in college. I swiped meal cards at the entrance to the cafeteria in my dorm. Hence, I knew 900 people — by name if I was interested in them. A quick glance to the school ID would clue me into the details of various crushes. I had little to do while sitting there during seven hour shifts in my booth, so I learned the names of all the cute diners. Jim was one of them.
It became apparent after two weeks of school that we had common friends. I consulted one of them. Yes, he was single. Yes, he was an English major. Yes, she would have a discreet talk with him. His response? “She’s too cool for me. She would never go for a guy like me.”
Let the manipulation begin.
This kid was slick. He played the shy, dejected artboy well and used it to his advantage. The loner in Converse One Stars. The guy sitting by himself reading Ezra Pound in an ugly sweater. He had Weezer syndrome. This was just about the time of the 1995 So Geeky I’m Cooler Than You movement. He knew damn well that I would go for a guy like him.
I don’t recall how we first hooked up. There was the Saturday night Allston party circuit and the Moonlight Jazz at Venus de Milo dating ritual. And then Jim became the perfect Indie Rock Boyfriend. At first.
He made good mix tapes with bad handwriting, came down six floors to my room to do his music theory homework. We talked about family and fears and futures. We talked about being from suburban Connecticut. He bought me the new Catherine Wheel CD and lent me his whole Superchunk catalog. He sprawled in my chartreuse chair in his brown corduroys and tucked his hair behind his ears, crinkling his eyes at me through wire rimmed glasses. He even let me play his drums after band practice.
We had a blast together for a few months. We went party hopping, stayed up all night in his bed that overlooked Kenmore, the sun coming up over brick and copper buildings. He read my poetry. He read me Kerouac’s poetry. He read me articles from Alternative Press, a copy of which he always had rolled up and stuffed in his back pocket. We drank cheap red wine from the bottle and chain smoked cigarettes under the slowfade Christmas lights. He gave me The Unbearable Lightness of Being and inscribed it, “To Stella.” He was strategically sweet — and I later discovered, calculatedly devious.
His best friend and bassist Alexa, who he had known since high school, had a slot on the college radio, the station of which was located in the basement of our dorm. We would go down to the listening room and call the studio from the phone there, pretending to be various people. She interviewed me on the air as “Daphne,” a stripper paying my way through medical school, and another night Jim and I were staged as Billy Corgan and D’arcy talking about the upcoming Boston gig. All was giggles and happiness and light.
And then, Merzi.
Merzi was the bane of my existence and everything I was not. There were three of them — the Alterna Puff Girls. Matching vintage quilted vests in pink, blue, and mint green. They all had skateboards. One blond, one brunette, and the token Asian chick. Merzi, Zoe, Ginhee. I wanted them all dead.
Especially Merzi.
On the night that began our downward spiral, I was at a party with Jim. With, as in, we came together. I was curled in a chair halfway across the room, and I watched as Merzi slid in beside him on the loveseat, smiling slimily. I gritted my teeth and clenched my hands, but he was my boyfriend and I trusted him. So I shoved that territorial instinct back down. She oozed all over him. He blushed, looked at me sideways, and looked briefly uncomfortable, tucking his hair behind his ears. “Jim, how’ve you been? I haven’t seen you since your last gig. How are your classes this semester? We have to catch up soon.” And then her intonation changed. She reached out and touched his arm. I squirmed visibly. “Are you seeing anyone special?” He kind of laughed.
“No.”
He actually said this. Out loud.
“No.”
Without a word I removed myself from the room and stumbled into the kitchen. I sat down at the table numbly. This girl Jesse from the 8th floor, who we deemed “Fro-yo” because she always ate it and always called it that, lit my cigarette. “What’s up, Pumpkin? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I told her that I had been sitting in the living room when Merzi came in and Jim told her he wasn’t seeing anyone. “Well, sweetheart, it’s the truth. Why do you think I’m sleeping with him?”
*please pause for a moment of silence*
“What?”
“Oh yeah. You know, on and off, whatever. Since September. He’s a real rock star in bed.”
“I know.”
“Oh — you’re banging him too? Jeezus the kid gets around.”
I had no idea how to react. Apparently, everyone knew this kid was Valentino in the sack and no one knew I existed.
“Why do you look so floored? Were you and Jim, like, together?”
“I thought that’s what we were calling it.”
“Oh honey — I had no idea. I totally wouldn’t have gotten all up in his shit. That bastard.”
I left the party and went home. I locked my door. I took my phone off the hook. Four days later I ran into Alexa from the radio station. “Did you hear? Jim had to go back home. He’s got Chicken Pox. Really bad, too. Poor thing.” My first reaction was, who the fuck gets Chicken Pox at 20? My second reaction was the part of me still so hooked on this kid that I couldn’t see straight.
So I called him like the moron I am.
He was really sick. He could barely speak. The first thing he did was apologize for the “incident” at the party. “I didn’t know how to react. She made me all nervous sitting there next to me.” I wanted to believe it. I did.
“What about Jessie?”
“Well, she and I were hooking up before I met you.” Which was true. I tried to forget about the whole hooking up with Jessie while we were together too thing. I was worried about him. Sick and all. Plus, his cocker spaniel Pepper had died while he was home. He was all broken up over it. He cried and everything.
To further my moronic status, I made him the care package to end all care packages, and mailed it to his house. A few weeks later, he was still stuck home, and he asked me if I would come visit him for Valentine’s Day. So I drove four and a half hours to white-picket-fenced Darien, CT to see my lying, cheating, dying boyfriend. Who looked remarkably repaired. I thought it was weird, but I was working on my goal of growing up to be the Biggest Moron Ever to Walk the Earth.
We hung out at his house. And then we went to the Greenwich Diner. At the diner he sat down across from me, unceremoniously ordered coffee, and without preface said, “So, Alexa and I are seeing each other. And I need to end things with you because I’ve been in love with her since high school and this is my chance to finally be with her.”
After all the drama, it fully made sense. It fit in comfortably with the schema I had built of our relationship.
“Oh, and she’s meeting us here.”
She walked in the door behind him, giggling with the Asian Alterna Puff Girl in blue. And he said to me, “I don’t want you to think I’m not attracted to you. I don’t want you to think you’re not a pretty girl.”
To my credit, I told him, “I have a fucking mirror. I know what I look like.”
He kissed her as she sat down. I wanted to grab both of the thick lipped white ceramic sad latenight coffee cups from the table — one in each hand — and smash the two of them in the skull. Spill coffee and brains all over the pristine floor of the 1:00 AM Greenwich Diner.
Again to my credit, I simply got up and left. I started walking back to his house, where my car was parked. I had no idea where it was or how far. Miles and miles. I just wanted to get away. It took him almost half an hour to get in his car and follow me. I didn’t say a word to him as he dropped me off in his driveway. He started to apologize and I slammed the door in his face. He drove back to the diner. I drove back to Boston.
I saw him every day for the rest of the semester. At lunch I swiped his meal card. When he came in with Alexa I spit on it. To add insult to injury, he never returned the two dozen Beatles CDs I lent him that belonged to Ruby when we were sharing a room.
The funniest thing was, the first day of school the following year I was running on my way to the elevator and I bumped into my friend John, who was standing in the hallway with some people. I talked to him briefly and excitedly and then continued on my way, until I heard the voice behind me. “Kristin, wait.”
I spun around and there, next to John, stood Jim and his Big Ego. He had gotten a Green Day makeover. Cropped his chin-length golden hair off and dyed it black. Contact lenses. Blue ringer T-shirt and jeans, which he had never worn a pair of in his life. Wallet chain. He had freckles on his nose from the summer sun. He was smiling.
“You don’t recognize me, do you?”
And I said, “No — I don’t.”
So I graduated to Grade A Moron that year and I haven’t wanted to repeat the curriculum. I wouldn’t say I’m guarded in my relationships. But one experience after another like that, even when I started ending them before I got real stupid, will give you some sort of turtle shell to duck into. There’s always the flinch for every conversation that begins with, “Kristin, listen…”
I don’t know if that explains the whole dry spell dilemma.
Maybe it’s just Urban Isolation Syndrome.