Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
It's been 2:18 for over a month now. I get up at 2:18. I sleep at 2:18. Life at Zuzu's is consistently 2:18.
The last time it was 2:17 was when Renee Francois, a French student (quel suprise), moved in. Renee has the peculiar habit of launching into showtunes during the midst of conversation:
"Hey, Francois, how's the new job?"
"It's good for my brain...I could while away the hours, consulting with the flowers..."
It's cute until you're trapped in a car with him for ten minutes.
"Is he gay?" Zuzu asked me.
"Either that or he's French."
It was still 2:18 when he moved out last weekend. One of his friends, a very Elvis Costelloish nerd, came over to help him move.
"Stop oogling my tenant's friends." Zuzu said.
"I'm not oogling." I said. "I've never oogled anyone in my life. I'm ogling. Check out his ass." And for once, I wasn't calling attention to my favorite boy part because of its shape, but because of what was in the back left pocket: a red bandanna.
"What does it mean?" She asked. I made a fist with my right hand, a small hole with my left, and then punched the right hand through it. We tried not to giggle everytime Costello walked down the stairs. "It could just be something else." Zuzu said, but the next time I saw Francois walk down the stairs I noticed the red bandanna in his right pocket. I had to go out back and laugh into my fist until the look of my fist grossed me out, which caused me to laugh even harder, then I was thinking the word "harder", and I was a snort away from hiccuping.
Shortly after Francois moved out, Zuzu adopted Pup Ratzinger, an impossibly cute (not miniature, thank God) dachshund who only barks when barked at, and has a nearly insurmountable fear of stairs. For some reason he reminds me of Dmitri.
Last night, while Zuzu was training Ratzinger, Landlord, Doctor O, Straight Roommate and I went out to a French Bistro to wish bon voyage to Straight Roommate, who will soon be replaced by an Evangelical Christian. I couldn't imagine why Landlord was inviting an Evangelical to live with us until I saw a picture of our future roommate. He's a Chinese guy in his early twenties. Landlord would invite Reverend Phelps to live with us if he looked remotely Asian. "Don't prejudge him because he's Christian." Landlord said when I rolled my eyes at his the picture he's brought with him.
"It's not that." I said. "Look at the banner he's standing under: Crusade for College Christianity? Crusade? No one in their right mind would combine the word Christian and Crusade these days unless they were trying to evoke negativity or violence. Why not just call it 'Kill a Campus Muslim for Jesus'?"
We argued semantics for a few minutes until the hot, obviously straight, Asian waiter took our order. I don't like American French Food. Pate disgusts me, and if I'm paying twenty dollars for an appetizer, it better suck my cock before I eat it.
Dr. O and I split an order of escargot in garlic butter that was amazing. Then, I had some lobster bisque. For $18 I got two tiny pieces of lobster in about an ounce of bisque. Next time, I pick the restaurant.
This whole week has been a series of papercuts with elaborate bandaids. No working computer means I spend more time Chez Zuzu, overindulging on homemade food and watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force with her son, Lot. Put some ice on it. Because yet another coworker was late, and I spilled coffee on myself, I had to skip a night out with a cute non-poetry-slam bisexual and his friends. Instead, I spent hours on the phone talking with cute friends in Iceland and California. Kiss it and make it better. I still haven't made it to the post office, and I have a ton of shit to send, so I go home and eat a half dozen macaroons I bought at the French restaurant. Bathe me in Bactine. Fuck papercuts, all of my problems are two tiny pieces of lobster in an ounce of bisque. People would kill for my problems.
Except Tuesday night.
Tuesday night was a six pound order of escargot sauteed in battery acid. Tuesday night was Reverand Phelps with automatic weapons. Instead of a papercut, Tuesday night was a guillotine. For the eleventh time in one day, I'd identified someone as the cutest person in the world. I watched him watch me watch him for ten minutes before he came to the counter to order some "Mode?"
No one has called me Mode since I was a camp counselor over ten years ago. "Grant?" I can't believe I was checking out one of my former kids, why he must only be...25...ok, I can believe it. I just forget that the "kids" I counseled were only three years younger than me. The chasm between 14 and 17 seems immense, but 25 and 28? Who cares?
I walked around the counter and hugged him. An act that would shock most of my friends who seem to think I wrap myself in barbed wire to keep people from touching me. "How've you been?"
"Better." He said. "I've been much better than today. My mom's here." He waved in the general direction of the hospital. "Breast cancer."
"I'm so sorry." I said.
"Oh, it's no big deal. It's just that this is the first time I've been back to Mass since the Bernard thing."
"Bernard thing?" I asked.
He gave me the Velociraptor Look. "You don't know? Oh my God, it must have been after you left. Do you want to go out for a drink after work? I'm buying."
I don't remember the last time I said no to that question.
For the next hour, I flashed through disjointed memories about my days as a camp counselor at Camp Davis. Nothing emotional, just a series of snapshots of people I'd forgotten. Bernard. Bernard was my nemesis. When I was an eleven year old camper, Bernard was a twenty year old counselor. He taught archery. All the cool boys got special permission to spend time with Bernard at the range, while the rest of us suffered through gymnastics or horseback. I was not cool, so I hated Bernard. The first year I was a counselor, Bernard was unemployed due to his mistakenly thinking he was more valuable to the camp then he was, so I got to work on the archery range with his assistant. Sure, the cool boys spent a lot of time hanging out with me, but so did the uncoordinated girls, the boys with lisps, and even the girls who smelled like their fathers' insecurities. When Bernard returned the next year, I was banished from archery, forced to teach swimming to the kids not cool enough for bows and arrows. At after work parties, Bernard shunned me, and spread the rumor that I was a fag. I wanted to shatter his smile into arrowheads.
Oddly enough, it was Bernard who offered the peace pipe. I was dragging a cooler down to a beach with a group of Irish friends when Bernard drove by in his black Jeep and blew the horn at me. "Hey Mode, I'm having a party at my house tonight. If you and your friends want to stop by, that'd be cool. Just bring some beer."
So a sixpack of Zima and a sunburn later, my friends and I were sitting on Bernard's porch, listening to the Black Crowes and mingling with some of my other coworkers. The night was fireworks with no calendric meaning. I stumbled into the kitchen for another Zima when Bernard grabbed me by the hair and said "Take your faggy ass friends and get the fuck out of my house."
The people around us supplied the "What the fuck?" for me.
"You come into my house, trash my living room, drink my beer, and..."
"What are you talking about?" his girlfriend of the week asked. "The living room is fine, and he brought the beer, remember?"
I ran out of the house before he could respond. I stopped on the porch and looked at my friends. "We have to leave. Now."
From that day forward, we spoke in scowls and glares. Then I grew up, took a real job and forgot all about him.
"He molested us." Grant said after our third shots of tequila.
"Fuck." Was the only thing to say.
"Didn't you ever wonder why it was only the cute boys? Why he called everyone he hated 'fag'?"
I hadn't. Then again, I'd been a naive 18 year old when I'd left.
"He made me hate myself for years. Then I found out he'd started messing around with my little brother and..." He took another shot. "It had to stop."
My tongue was granite, my eyes seized.
"There were so many of us...Jared ended up in jail for some hate crime thing. Brad still won't talk about it with anyone. And Ryan ended up killing himself."
Must not break shot glass in fist. Must not shake Grant until he sucks his story out of my brain to some place safer. Must not drive back east, find whatever cell Bernard is currently occupying and rip his balls out via his ear canal.
"Fucked up, huh?"
I heard nothing else until goodbye. A brief hug.
I gave him my phone number and told him to call me if he needed to blow off steam. I've spent enough time in hospitals this past year staring at white walls to know the loneliness of fluorescent lights.
"Sure." He said. "I'll probably come down and get coffee from you tomorrow. Mom might come with me. She'd shit if she knew you were here. You were one of her favorite counselors."
"That'd be great." I said.
I didn't see either of them on Wednesday. Thursday was my day off. Yesterday I took long breaks, and spent most of my non-break time reorganizing shelves. I'm staying at Zuzu's to avoid the temptation to answer the phone at my house. When I close my eyes I see a slideshow of kids with question mark eyes and closed mouths. I wish I'd been smart enough or strong enough to help them back then. Today, I'm thankful I'm out of earshot.