Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
When Comrade and I went to Florida with a group of poets last October, it was mostly chaotic. I wanted to do certain things on certain days. Maybe they happened, maybe they didn't. Comrade found it either overwhelming or infuriating depending on the day, so when I told him we were going to Vegas, he said something akin to "Can you at least plan it out this time?" and was surprised when I turned my laptop towards him and showed him my Google Calendar completely filled in with certain events shaded for Won't Cost Us Anything Until We Hit The Gift Shop to Not Yet Paid For to Already Committed To And Paid for.
But just because I made a minute to minute schedule for our trip didn't mean there was any hope of us following it. Weather happens, transportation gets screwy, Comrade sleeps 23 hours a day, a butterfly sneezes in Saskatchewan causing a drunk NFL fan to shit their pants and pass out in front of you on your way to dinner. There are many variables to work a schedule around.
On our first day, the only things I Really Wanted To Do were hit up EggSlut for breakfast, and go to the Pinball Hall Of Fame. Everything else on the schedule was about checking out the casinos between The Flamingo and the Pinball HoF. And I didn't care at all if we failed to be in the proper casinos at the proper times.
We started about a half hour after I'd planned. Sleepy Comrade had to be lured out of bed with the promise of breakfast. "Are we going to The Nasty Egg?" he asked.
"The Nasty...do you mean Eggslut, you weirdo?"
He shrugged. "I don't hear the difference."
We zippered in and out of a couple of casinos on our way to The Na...Eggslut in order to balance fresh air and air conditioning, and because all casino interiors look the same to me, so I need to occasionally orient myself in the outside world.
EggSlut is in The Cosmopolitan, which may be the only casino in Vegas with proper signage. We found EggSlut immediately, and decided we would get our food there, and buy juice at a nearby juice bar. The juice bar, of course, ended up being like one of those "milkshake" places that actually sells powdered protein drinks in various gritty flavors that only visually resemble milkshakes. They sold alcoholic drinks and things like grass juice and vegan goat puss, and other things that aren't really juice.
By contrast, Eggslut was amazing and sold lots of egg products. I did not research how slutty the staff were. That's their business. Comrade had an egg sandwich that looked pretty tasty, but I had the actual EggSlut, which is a "cage-free coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar, topped with gray salt and chives, served with slices of baguette". Everyone not Vegan or allergic to eggs, potatos, chives, or salt, should try this. It was amazing.
We got soft drinks at a fake bodega where, not for the first time, I saw that everyone in Vegas is looking for tips. Tips are for food industry workers who aren't adequately paid for their work. I work behind a counter in retail. I work really hard at, and consider myself Very Good at dealing with customers. Don't tip me for it. It's my company's job to adequately pay me.
After breakfast, we toodled around the Cosmopolitan, seeing some creepy statues, an art vending machine, and a much more interesting food court than any of the surrounding casinos'. We then jetted towards The Pinball Hall Of Fame, which is barely on The Strip. Its nearest bus stop is actually at the Welcome To Las Vegas Sign. It's past the point where The Strip becomes visually split between Lavish Opulence and Impoverished Abandonment. As practically across the street from Mandalay Bay's shark reef bar and water slide are three shuttered motels with dumpsters full of furniture, a Subway sandwich shop, and a McDonald's that looks pretty depressing, even for a McDonald's.
We were ten minutes into the wastelands (coming soon: a new motel; vote for this candidate in last year's election!; check out this creepy pink elephant statue) when we saw the bright Pinball HoF sign, as well as the building with a stark white front that read PINBALL in giant red letters.
I hadn't been to the PHoF since 2014, when it was in a different location. Their website is still the same Angelfire garbage it's been since ... 1994? ... but I thought the new location might have given a little more life to the hall of fame.
Not so much.
It's still a warehouse vibe with lines of mostly pinball games. Some ripped open, so you can see the guts and how they work, some fully operational, some with sad little signs that say "Currently out of order, check back tomorrow." each sign with about two years of dust on them.
I expected the average age of the clientelle to be middle aged. But it was mostly people around my parents' age, playing a game or two, going outside for a smoke (no smoking, no vaping, no pot in the PHoF), and then coming back in. They looked as bored and zombiesh as most of the casino dwellers. It was rather sad.
Comrade and I did have fun, but I do wish one of my super-invested-in-pinball friends was also there. I like pinball, but I'm not super knowledgable or talented at it. I'm reasonably good at the Addams Family Pinball Game because that's what they had at my high school. "Pfffft." Emily snorted when I mentioned this to her twenty years ago. "That's THE most popular pinball game in the world. There were over 20,000 of them. That's like being pretty good at Pac-Man."
I am not especially great at Pac-Man but I can hold my own.
Before I could find the Addam's Family, I found a Twilight Zone pinball machine (same designer and basic game play as Addam's Family) and tried that out for a bit before moving on.
Then we stumbled on Addam's Family. I was Not As Good At It as I had been the last time I played it, which was just before the pandemic, but Comrade watched, asked questions, and settled into play for a bit, as I moved to a Star Wars pinball game next to it.
When a ball gets lost in a game, the machine clacks several times looking for it until it can push it back to where it belongs in the game. This was most of the soundtrack to the Star Wars game. I'm not sure what was wrong with it but I was constantly getting mutiballs that I did nothing to earn, and then the flippers would just shut down until there was only one ball on the board, at which point they might start working again. I got some insane scores that I did Not deserve, and was on my fifth consecutive free game when I asked someone at another machine if they wanted to play the remainder of my games.
I found other pinball games like Bad Cat (terrible), South Park (awful), WWE Royal Rumble (hilariously mediocre), Nightmare On Elm Street (broken in a similar way to Star Wars, Comrade played it for over a half hour), Aerosmith (wicked pissah), two very different Indiana Jones games (both pretty decent), and a variety of unmemorables.
Next to a delapitated claw machine with no interesting prizes was Super Mario Brothers. An original 1993 machine clearly marked with "If you hit this machine, you will be banned for life. NO SECOND CHANCES." It was only a quarter per play, so Comrade and I decided to do some 2 player action.
I used to be As Great as most people my age were at SMB. I knew all the tricks thanks to Nintendo Power Magazine, and they are Still Lodged In My Brain. So while Comrade struggled to make it past world 1-2, I was in 8-3, strutting my glosious plumber's behind.
That was about as good as it got. We spent exactly the $20 I'd budgeted for pinball, and were there for two and half hours, each of us having used some quarters to buy sodas, and also lose a few in various machines that weren't quite working. I'm really glad we went but I wish it wasn't quite as depressing to be in. I'm not advocating for loud music, showgirls, or zany mascots, but the warehouse vibe is even sadder than the casino floor aura to me.
We walked all the way back to Mandalay Bay, and waited for a tram to take us to Excalibur. There were no adequate signs for the Tram, you had to guess where you thought they might be, so we walked around (literally, not within) the building until I saw where the tracks went in, and then worked our way back inside. Many people on the tram seemed to think it went further than the three stops it contains, and definitely went back and forth at least once before getting where they wanted to. We would have joined them, but I couldn't visualize another hotel past Excalibur with tram tracks, so we hopped out. Just in time.
We were scheduled to hang out in the Bellagio Gardens but we had accidentally done that on our way to the PHoF, so there was nothing other than casino walking on our schedule until sunset. Bellagio Gardens are totally worth about 15 minutes of your time. A few couples saw me positioning Garden Duck for some fancy shots and falsely assumed I knew what I was doing, and asked me to take pictures of them with their phones.
When we crossed the Strip to the Balley's side, there was a massive sign that said Monorail Station, and because we'd walked quite a bit, we thought we'd take the monorail back to the Flamingo. But, you know, it's Vegas. GIANT MONORAIL SIGNS on the walkway, pointing you into the casino. No signs within the casino to tell you where to go. After many false starts, I found a guy selling problematic hats who told us we had to hug the walls all the way to the back, go down a flight of stairs, walk through a food court, and take a left, and THEN we would see signs for the monorail.
He remains the only helpful person I've ever met inside a casino.
The GooglePay app for the monorail didn't work intuitively (it does sort of work), so I ended up putting a twenty in the machine, and now have enough dollar coins to blind a dozen and a third casino sign makers, whould the opportunity arise.
Per the recommendation of a friend, we decided to hit the Holy Roller (think, the London Eye style ferris wheel) around sunset. We made it up two minutes before peak sunset, and got some good shots in, making friends with a trio of Phillipino tourists who needed their pictures taken at various stages of our 30 minute trip around the wheel. There was also a family with children. We avoided them.
The Holy Roller is kind of worth it. It's not transcendent. It won't in any way change your life. But it's a nice view of the Strip and the mountains, and we saw a massive area being set up for something...it was an ominous warning for the next few days. They tried to sell us $50 photos they'd taken of us before our trip, but they were worth, at most a $10 flash drive.
For dinner, we headed over to Gordon Ramsey's Fish & Chips. Where Comrade had ... ummm ... fish and chips, and I went off menu for the G Spot, a chicken, shrimp, fish, and chips sampler. I thought they were all really good but Comrade thinks the awful restaurant he used to work at made better fish and chips. I disagree. The people on staff at Fish & Chips were some of the happiest food service workers I'd seen anywhere in a long time. They all seemed to genuinely like their jobs, and were having a good time. I plan on heading back there one more time before we leave.
I also went into the I Love Sugar store, which is a Disneyesque super store of candy with Nostalgia Brands, a wall of jellybean flavors, a Make Your Own Pez Flavor Pack, and an upstairs "martini" bar that specialized in Diabetes.
I bought several slices of fudge to compare them to the various companies I've made fudge for. They were okay. They were priced pretty well, but the overtired woman behind the counter gave me a peanut butter instead of tiger butter. I'm still working at finishing them, several days later.
Comrade had requested something "brownie-like". So I got two marcreamcakes from Sweet Sin. These are basically filled cupcakes with macaron hats. They were both delicious. Way better than the fudge. We finished them instantly.
I looked back at the schedule, pleased to see we'd hit almost every stop. Sometimes in the wrong order, but we hadn't missed a thing.
Then I got a text telling me that our kayaking reservations for Thursday were cancelled due to wind. And not the wind caused by eating too much EggSl... Nasty Egg.
Emily meets me at Problematic Pizza to drop off some money for a project I picked up. Before Problematic Pizza Guy has a chance to say anything particularly misogynist, she leaves.
As she drove away, I made my way back to my seat at the back of the restaurant. On my way past the counter, PPG pushed a basket filled with brownies and whoopie pies in my direction.
Me: "No, thanks."
PPG: "I charge you for two brownies, right?"
I continue walking to table.
PPG: "I charge you for two brownies, then, right?"
I sit down and put in my headphones. He walks over and stands in front of me, smiling.
PPG: "I said, I'm going to charge you for two..."
Me: "Most of the time I hear what you're saying, I just don't think it warrants a response."
PPG: "I guess I'm not funny today."
Me: "If you guessed that every day when you woke up in the morning, and decided not to try, the world would be a better place."
5: Karen yells at and kicks out a guy who blatantly takes a bottle of Jack Daniels out of his backpack and starts drinking it five feet in front of the bar. His excuse? "I bought one drink. And I even tipped! But I couldn't afford another one."
4: Kimberly Hyphen-Surname refuses to serve a clearly intoxicated guy who tries to sneak in through the back door. During the open mic, both Emily and Kimberly have to approach him as his drug-fueled enthusiasm is bothering the people sitting around him. As the last poet takes the stage for the open mic, the guy comes to the bar and asks me for a beer. I say no. So he asks for a ginger ale. As I turn to get a glass, he grabs a bottle Jack Daniels and starts to pour it into a plastic cup. I yell. Very loudly. Dude, who was hella high, jumps up, drops the cup, first tries to run into the ladies' room, then the mens' room, then the doorman leads him up the stairs and out of the venue. He hasn't returned.
3: Having driven all the way to Providence to pick up the night's feature, Zuzu expected to be able to read on the open mic. She is denied by the host, so she orders food (remember when there was food at the Cantab?) and a drink. When she pays for her bill, the server gives her incorrect change. Like, change that doesn't even make sense. Zuzu and the waitress argue quietly, and Zuzu goes next door to what is now Tavern On The Square but was then...something else, and gets deeeeeerunk. She re-engages with the waitress after the night's slam (which was a regional bout). The waitress who keeps repeating that she is from Revere and she will "fight a bitch" and all hell breaks loose. I don't think there were punches thrown, but the room cleared out entirely. Apart from the host, even the other emplyees got the fuck out of that basement. The waitress continued to shout that she'd "fight a bitch", Zuzu kept shouting "where's my nineteen dollars?", the host soft-voice shamed everyone still in the room, and the bartender did a lot of shouting. Zuzu was banned. When I interviewed the bartender for a project I was working on, she admitted that the waitress had almost definitely stolen the money, as she "had a history of taking things from people she didn't like". Independently of this, Zuzu was unbanned.
2: The first of two entries which could be subtitled "When Emily's Not At The Bar, The Crazies Take Over". In 2007ish, somebody great was featuring. This was before fire code, and I don't even want to consider how many people were crammed in that room before the doors were locked. Rudy snuck in through the back and nodded at the host. The host nodded back. Rudy's nod meant "I want to read tonight." The host's nod meant "Hello." The open went way over time (again, no Emily), and Rudy, who'd showed up forty-five minutes late and never actually used verbal communication or written communication to express his desire to read, didn't get to read. So, in a crowded room, he went up and started shouting at the host. Asterisk got involved. And thenthe bartender. The bartender was annoyed enough that she got out from behind the bar, leaving me behind it for, I think, the first time. In the midst of his tantrum, Rudy decided to leave, and threw an elbow at someone who was in his way. Someone who happened to be The Owner's Granddaughter. The bartender yelled at and banned him, which, in the long run, probably saved his life.
Rudy would also appear on a list of the Top Five People Thrown Out Out Of Tuartas By An Angry Bar Staff. I think he's even show up on that list multiple times. Perhaps, he would be all five. We're a bit stricter about the kind of people we let back in.
1: A Poet Who Shan't Be Named Because Fuck Him Getting Any More Attention came to the bar on yet another night that Emily wasn't around. Apparently, he had started a fight with me at Seattle NPS in 2001. I have no memory of this. But he was in a bout with the team I was on that year. Flash forward to 2010 and the guy buys three drinks from me, and seems amiable. He's loud, but he's not obtrusive. Then, during the feature, he starts talking during a few of the poems. Asterisk approaches him to be quiet. I don't know if he got quiet, but I didn't hear him. As the slam starts, he is loudly talking nonsense to a friend. Asterisk, again, approaches him, this time snidely. The guy starts yelling that he "read at The Nuyorican" and is "allowed to be loud" (He was not FROM the Nuyo, he was just letting us know that he'd been there once). He then tries to order a drink, and I refuse. He responds by offering to fight me, Asterisk, and Wiz. Wiz laughs. Asterisk gets enraged. The featured poet tries to subdue things. I go upstairs to get Cowboy, the bouncer. The upstairs bartender asks why I'm getting Cowboy, and when I say "I'm throwing somebody out." he joins the party. All of this is taking place WHILE the slam is happening. When the upstairs bartender, Cowboy and I get downstairs, The Attention Glutton is still yelling about himself and how he's not going to leave the bar. One look at Cowboy changed that. (Cowboy is....6'5? 400 pounds? Not to be fucked with.) As he was being led up the stairs he shouted at us that he was a former Mass Poet Fellow (Turns out he shared the title with another individual because he helped design a website for poetry. Using Angelfire. Remember Angelfire sites?) and we would never be as important as he was. He then stood outside and took video of poets, asking them why I was crazy. By the time I got home, he'd sent me four e-mails calling me pejorative terms for female genetalia, and asking me to call him so he could help ME be less crazy. He also claimed to have helped book our show (translation: he'd been on an e-mail chain wherein poets were invited to participate in a regional), and has since claimed (falsely) to run another reading that I've gone to.
He has not returned.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: All y'all pillowhumpers who won't stay off the fucken stairs, or who think you're cool enough to go into the back room. There's probably fifty of you on my FB page. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
The last time I bought Converse All-Stars I was eleven. My age barely bigger than my shoe size. Black high tops, that's all I really remembered. Over two decades later, I was in a Foot Locker, looking for some new kickers, and these oddly verdant blue All-Stars sat at the center of adult sneakers that looked desperately childish. Sneakers that looked like they were made of teething rings and mobile parts. Bright orange and pink coily disasters of sneakers.
I needed new sneakers because, like everything else in my life in 2011, my sneakers were falling apart. Frayed heels. Permanent knots in the laces.
Still, I wandered around Downtown Crossing in my comfortably ruined sneakers searching for something better suited to my feet than the Converse All Stars. Six stores later, I returned to Foot Locker to buy the Chucks. The very nice lady in the referee costume informed me that you want to buy All-Stars a size smaller than your usual size, because they run big.
This is not, precisely true. The reason Converse All-Stars run a size too large is because the soles are made of onion skin and sneezes. You buy them in your normal size, and then buy support pads to put in the bottom. Otherwise, your feet constantly feel like you're walking on syringes and seashells. Like you're walking in the junkyard where Tooth Fairies dispose of the useless baby teeth they collect.
By the time I arrived at Zuzu's house, one of the many places I'd been crashing since the last time the world ended, the backs of my ankles were practically worn through to the bone.
Two weeks, and an assortment of cushiony foot pads later, I went to visit my father. I decided to test my foot endurance by walking a mile and a half round trip in the shoes with the pads, and then without the pads, and then barefoot. After nearly five miles, I came to the conclusion that I would be better off wearing two pairs of socks than these fashion accessories that Americans have been conned into believing are shoes. If only eleven year old me had written a blog about these when I was younger, I wouldn't have spent the first half of July limping like I'd just gone river dancing with Jeff Gilooly.
Last night, I put on my starting to conform to my feet All-Stars, and headed to Gayme Night. Gayme Night being an assemblage of queer friends who meet bi-weekly (which definitely calls their real sexuality into question) to drink and play board and card games.
This was to be my first night at Gayme Night, having been invited by a recent poet transplant to Boston. The night itself was a blast. Four definitely gay guys, one definitely bi girl, and a couple who may or may not be gay or bi, but one was definitely a man, and the other a woman, but it was their house, and their party. If they were, indeed, straight, they were at least the sort of people who surrounded themselves with gay people without making it a point to surround themselves with gay people. At no point did either of them fawn over our sarcasm, refer to any of us as precious, or attempt to put any of us in their purse for the next time they go shoe shopping.
After four beers, and two rum and Cokes, I noticed that the other guy who wasn't coupled had been complimenting my Apples To Apples skills more than can be considered polite or accurate. Especially as he ended up winning the game, with five exciting adjective cards like Graceful, Charming, Worldly, Intense, and Nerdy, while I came in dead last, winning only one round. The adjective that I won was Busty.
As the game neared its inevitable conclusion, the future game winner began to casually mention how he loves hairy guys, while alternating between looking at my arms, typing things on to his phone, and then showing his phone to the gay guy sitting next to him. I couldn't decide whether he was hitting on me, or whether he just had five drinks. Partially because I, myself, had had five drinks. And partially because less than a month before, a guy had fallen asleep in my arms after an amazing date, and amazing sex, and told me he thought we were perfect for each other. Then he gave me a morning blowjob, sent me an e-mail about what a great time he had, and stopped returning my calls and texts.
So, instead of flirting or Stereotype Forbid, actually saying "Hey, I think you're smart, and attractive, and funny, and I would like to spend a long time pressing various parts of our bodies together.", I shook his hand, and left.
While we were playing, I was fielding texts from an old high school friend who needed some relationship advice. And, as soon as I was out the door, I decided to listen to her predicament, so I could forget about mine.
It was nearing midnight. I had the choice between a ten minute or so walk to the nearest T, or thirty minutes or so back to the place I was staying in Cambridge. I decided to walk all the way, and invested myself in the phone call.
According to my phone, the call lasted one hour and three minutes. At which point, I looked up and had absolutely no idea where I was. I saw a street sign that said Broadway, and figured, I (like many very gay scripts) used to live just off Broadway a few years ago, and I could easily get from any point on Broadway to get back to Cambridge by taking a right and walking to either Mass Ave or Somerville Ave, depending on whether I was on Broadway in Cambridge or Broadway in Somerville. But while all of my surroundings looked sort of familiar, none of them looked actually familiar. Oh sure, there was a laundromat. Hey, there's a liquor store. A chain pizza place I ordered from that had locations in Cambridge, Somerville, and a few other places that didn't help me determine my location.
I decide to take a right on a side street, because, regardless of which Broadway I'm on, taking a right will take me in the proper direction. Unless, of course, I took a wrong turn directly out of the house, and am in neither Cambridge nor Somerville.
It wasn't long before I saw a sign welcoming to Winchester.
I've lived in Boston for over ten years now. I had never even HEARD of Winchester, let alone been there on purpose. This was. This was bad. It was at this point that I noticed that my backpack, which was filled with formerly blank books, and my computer, and an assortment of other heavy books was starting to chafe my shoulders. And my shoes. My goddamned feet.
In front of me was a rotary. The most hellacious of all traffic inventions. A paved crop circle whose usage laws vary from state to state. The one useful thing about them is that most of them have to be marked very well with bright green signs directing you which exit to take. Such was not the case with this one.
The road I came from had a bank on one side of the street, and a restaurant with a very distinct retro font. I took a mental snapshot, checked my phone to see what time it was, wished I hadn't, and made my way toward what appeared to be either a small lake or a bay. The perfect place to look in the distance and see how far I was from the city.
I could not see the city in the distance. Thus, I figured, I was facing the wrong way. I was not taking into account that, technically, there is not just one wrong way to face, but a nearly an infinite amount of ways. In fact, there was really only one direction to look in that would be correct, so all I'd proved was that I was currently walking the wrong way. It did not tell me which other way was right. Still, I walked back to the rotary, and couldn't find Broadway. I saw the bank, and the restaurant with the odd font, but no Broadway. I looked all the way down in each direction until I saw another rotary.
Emily's house is in Arlington, not too far from two rotaries. Arlington, I guessed, was near Winchester. It's at this point that I realized that I had walked an hour and a half in the completely wrong direction. Still, now that I knew where I was, I could walk toward Mass Ave, and either catch a late bus or a cab back to the house. So I walked, and I walked, and I walked. None of the landmarks I was expecting were popping up. I figured maybe I'd gone the wrong way, so I walked back to Rotary #1. Bank, check. Weird font, check. I walked back to Rotary #2. Bank, check. Weird font, check. What the fuck? The names of the restaurants were different, but that was it. I walked back. I walked forth. I backed. I forthed. I...completely lost track of which rotary was #1, and which was #2.
A bus approached. I rushed toward one of the oddly shaped Bus Stop signs and waited to find out which bus line it is, and where it's headed. Thinking I could either hop on it, or else realize it's going in the wrong direction, cross the street, and wait for a bus going the other way.
Alas, it was the dreaded Out Of Service bus. The most popular line in the Boston area. In fact, it's the only line that runs between 1:30 AM and 5: AM. And it was, of course, well after 1:30. I looked up at the bus sign, it said Lechemere and Davis. I wasn't sure which one was closer to where I was currently standing (since I was no longer sure I was in Arlington, and not some sort of netherworld that had cropped up in the last few weeks), but I do know how to get to Cambridge from both those places, so I began walking. Well, to be exact, I began limping. Possibly lurching. Why Chuck Taylor decided to install a vegetable peeler on the inside heel of his sneakers, and why he designed an apple corer into the soles of his shoes is beyond me.
Around Fuck No O'Clock, I reached Davis Square, which is about a four minute walk from the house where I'd left Gayme Night behind, four previous hours ago. I grabbed a cab to Central Square. I got out at the CVS to buy some Hangover Prevention Juice, and then began to walk to the couch I'd been sleeping on off and on for the six months since I'd moved out of my terrible apartment.
I was about a block away when a date rape of Frat Rats stopped in the middle of the road, and pointed ever so slightly behind me. "WOLVERINE!!!!!"
"Look the fuck out, it's a WOLVERINE!!!!"
Central Square in Cambridge is known for many things: homeless people, rats, buses, urine, poetry, a wide variety of perfectly mediocre cuisine, expensive housing. It is not known for its dangerous animal population (the rats are nice enough). Still, I slowly turned and looked over my shou--
It was at that point that I realized, he wasn't pointing behind me, but, in fact, pointing to my shirt, a bright yellow t-shirt with a picture of...Wolverine on it.
Kimberly Hyphen-Surname was still awake when I let myself into her apartment. "You're home earlate." She said.
I gave her a not so brief rundown of my evening.
"So the lesson here is 'Always keep your eye on the present, instead of getting consumed by phone calls from your past?'"
There's no lesson here. Every road is traveled the appropriate amount. Perspectives, like grammar, be what they be.
I chugged a can of Watermelon Fruit Punch, took off my horrible shoes, and my wonderful shirt.
"Seven more days to the end of the world." Kimberly Hyphen-Surname said. Smiling.
Oh, right. Fuck.
I want my excuse to be that I was still in my single digit years, and therefore more vulnerable to the Disney like nature of musical theater. But I distinctly remember living in the Lakeview house, and we didn't move there until I was eleven. One of those friends of the family that my parents had me call Uncle was on the outs with his wife. While I was shipped off to summer camp, he stayed in my room. He brought with him clothes, a stack of magazines ranging from The Weekly World News to Newsweek, and a small beige briefcase full of cassettes.
My parents listened to oldies, classic radio shows, and country music. When I was six, I told my grandmother that I didn't like any music made after 1967. That Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of Michael Jackson's Thriller, and an incredibly premature Best Of The 1980s collection. Tony Basil and Donna Summer became my favorite contemporary artists, and my favorite song on the Elks Club jukebox was Kool & The Gang's Celebration. So maybe the whole musical thing shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise. Still, I'm thirty-four now, and much more comfortable talking about that hilarious time I ejaculated into a man's anus, then I am talking about the first time I listened to Cats.
Of course it was Cats. The green eyes on the black background, the catchy poems that Andrew Lloyd Webber set to saccharine music, the obligatory tacked on diva belted ballad. If you're going to leave a copy of Cats in an eleven year old's boombox the same week he gets the lead part in a play about fairy tales, you should go the extra centimeter and paper his bedroom's wall with pictures of greased up men with little or no clothing.
It's never been discussed why Uncle Mo spent two weeks living in my room while I slept in leaky cabins, and on the beach, but I suspect it had something to do with marital problems stemming from his pronounced lisp, gravity defying hands, and bright floral print blousy shirts. Or possibly he just needed a break from his own pre-teen boys who, the next year, would introduce me to ACDC, A Clockwork Orange, and the curious site of a twelve year old boy shoving a harmonica up his ten year old brother's ass. Whenever I start to think my own childhood was perversely gay, I think back on Cousin Bruce and Darren's oddly incestual Truth Or Dare games, and a wave of heteronormalcy washes over me. It feels like the opposite of a facial.
Once I'd memorized the lyrics to Cats, I moved on to Phantom Of The Opera, Les Miserables, A Chorus Line, and Hello Dolly. Later that fall, I grew tired of the weirdly homosexual overtones of Boy Scouts, and quit the troop to be in a production of Bye Bye Birdie.
When you grow up knowing all the lyrics to An English Teacher and Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend, you have two choices: be a debonair straight boy who spends his teens and early twenties training to be a professional cunnilinguist, or be a fat homo with body issues and a fake girlfriend. All my exes describe me as "charming".
Even at eleven, I knew that liking musicals was, like waking up hard with your arms wrapped around your tentmate in Webelo camp, something you kept to yourself as long as possible. His future boyfriends would call him "charming" too. His ex-wife has other adjectives. Very few thesauruses connect her descriptions to "charming".
When Queen Sarah The Formerly Popular had her parents turn their loft into her Phantom Of The Opera style bedroom, I was the only one who described it as "cool". A week later, we sang a thirty second variation of All I Ask Of You on my answering machine, recording over my auspicious hip-hop debut. "You have reached 428-1383, we're not home right now, as you can see. Leave your name and your number right after the tone cause right now we can't be reached by telephone right now right now right now." I was born a decade too late to be a Beastie Boy.
Our recording caught the attention of precisely no one except for my parents who erased it because it was "too long".
The first musical I was in was You're A Good Man Charlie Brown. I played Linus. I had a crush on Schroeder, and rat tailed Lucy with my blanket on opening night because she decided to improv and kiss him on the lips. That the actor playing Schroeder was hopelessly straight, or that the actress playing Lucy was his sister didn't cross my mind until I was in my twenties. That there was a disturbing amount of vaguely incestual sibling activity on Cape Cod didn't occur to me until I started writing this paragraph.
I'd like to thank my parents for making me an only child.
The closest I had to a brother, growing up, was Kevin Harris, a professional wrestling fan who used to Weird Al Yankovic lyrics to pop songs, and expose himself to passing traffic. But if we were brothers, then our relationship was aggressively incestual.
Cats led me to try out for musicals. Phantom Of The Opera influenced my outgoing message recordings. Les Miserables enticed me to read the unabridged Victor Hugo novel when I was twelve. It wasn't for another decade, when I was playing Eddie and Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Show, that I started connecting the dots between my affinity for musicals and long showers after gym class.
Last week, I found myself at a party with Wiz, Emily, and an assorted mix of poetry friends and strangers, when a girl pulled a eukalale out of her backpack, and began playing songs from The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and Evita with honest to tone deaf sincerity. A group of lispers and belters joined in. I knew all the words but had no desire to sing them. This is what I call Gay Pride. Unfuck parades, drag shows, quilts, and rainbow glow sticks. I am proud every time someone shouts "One!" and I don't reply with "Singular sensation!" That's what I call progress.