Monday, July 25, 2005

A Long Way Down

He said, She said. Annie and Paul debate the merits of Nick Hornby's new book, A Long Way Down. Annie talks about the agonizing wait for the author's books; Paul contemplates suicide.

There are a lot of ways to commit suicide: jumping off a bridge, ODing on drugs, pissing off Oprah; but I’ve never really seriously considered it. I mean, yes, as with many alienated gay teens, I have fantasized about Ending It All instead of having to suffer one more day of wearing a uniform to high school.

But in my fantasies, I’ve somehow skipped the killing myself part and pictured myself lying in the casket, looking serene and peaceful, a light dusting of powder on my nose and cheeks to prevent shine. My family would be wailing, beating on their chests. Serves them right for not letting me go to the Salsa and Merengue Dance Camp.

Suicide is scary to me. Death is scary to me. I fear death because I fear the pain of dying. I visualize the dying, I visualize the pain.

I have very lurid visions of what it would be like to be rammed head-on by a speeding semi-truck while driving on a highway.* I look at a knife and imagine someone stabbing me repeatedly, my eyes watching the blood spurt from my chest, a silent scream frozen in my mouth. I think about suffocating under Star Jones and an avalanche of Payless shoes.

But what of those who experience a pain in life that exceeds that of the pain of dying? At least when you’re dead, there is no more pain.

read what He said.

This book would have irritated me less had it not been written by Nick Hornby, which I suppose is akin to saying, “I’d like water more if it weren’t so wet.” It is what it is. Great Mandy Moore--how to deal?

The thing is, I can’t outright say “it’s bad” or “I didn’t like it,” would that I could be more two-dimensional, like Janice Dickinson. And it’s nothing to do with my long-standing allegiance to this particular author. There’s Hornby in here to be sure, but I can’t help thinking the real novel is another draft or two away.

Waiting for a new Nick Hornby novel is worse than waiting for your period after senior prom. You start getting a little antsy as if something’s...missing, only you’re not quite sure what. Before you know it you’re a seven-week-long F-you to Strunk & White. But then there are hints: you’re a raving bitch; you’re crying at that Michelin commercial again; all that’s left of your graduation wad is the receipt for $675 worth of smores ingredients. And the big payoff? YOUR STINKING PERIOD.

Fast forward seventeen years: You live your life, read books, see friends, watch TV--okay okay maybe that’s the same as “see friends,” but my point is, you live. No matter how sad & empty it might seem compared to your glamorous “friends’” life – it’s living, as some of us know it.

read what She said.

Recommended books by Nick Hornby:

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hardly Knew You

Doug, you were the first person who made me feel welcome at work.

It’s hard starting a new job. Expectations are high: I’ve built myself up in my resume, now I have to live up to it. My resume said my name was Jet Li. I was hoping they didn’t remember that. In my interview I said that I played well with others, but the truth is, I only play with myself well.

It was my second day. I was being dragged by my bouncy, perky boss to be introduced to every department. It was very embarrassing. I felt like a little chihuahua. I wished she had a little Louis Vuitton bag for me to hide in. I felt so fake with my wide, pasted-on smile, it made me nauseated. I wanted to puke on her awful mint green pumps, it might’ve made an improvement.

I must have shaken the hands of nearly thirty people, but all I could remember was that of Bob in Accounting. He, with the damp sticky hands, the bulbous, red, runny nose and the crumpled snot rags on his desk. I thought it might be rude to ask if I could go home and take a shower. I felt a little bit like Typhoid Mary Tyler Moore, passing on Bob’s germs to at least eight other staff members before I was able to wipe my hand.

You didn’t notice when my boss and I walked into your department. I got a glimpse of you surfing on eBay before you heard us behind you and casually clicked away. As if you knew I saw you, you gave me a sheepish grin. I knew we were going to get along.

You were so ambiguously gay: soft-spoken, witty, you used mousse in your longish, shaggy hair. And when you told me you loved David Sedaris, I was almost positive you were gay. I was so excited, I instantly thought that you would be the perfect boyfriend for my friend Annie.

Annie would’ve loved you and your tall, skinny frame. You are Lanky Boy, her romantic ideal. She even has a poem for you: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ribs..."

I was so disappointed to learn you were not gay and you already had a girlfriend. I wasn’t sure what angle I could use to hook you into friendship. Homosexuality or possible sex with Annie was all I had. I had nothing else; I couldn’t learn a sport now, the muscles in my wrist have atrophied from disuse.

Then I found out that you are a drummer in a local Chicago girl band. That’s bonus, you know? I love music and I love men who are brave enough to be in a "girl band." Very Hole, very Eric Erlandson. I play the guitar. We could jam. Music indeed, makes the people come together.

Last Thursday, at work, you called me on the phone. “Paul, what the fuck is going on with the company website? Why I am not getting our orders? Is the webmaster asleep or something? You should kick his ass or something!”

We both despised the webmaster, this old fart who didn’t know the first thing about running a professional website. So, we ranted for a little while about the guy and then chatted about other incompetent people in company and the upcoming weekend.

“Did you hear,” asked Doug, “I just got promoted to Customer Service Manager, I start next month.”

“Congratulations!” I was excited; I would be working closely with this position.

“My band and I are playing a gig in August, you should come. We rock!” He laughed.

“Yeah man, I’ll put it on my calendar,” I promised.

“Ok, call me after lunch, we’ll find those missing orders.”

Doug never came back from lunch.

He was killed instantly, along with two other co-workers in a car accident. A suicidal young woman deliberately crashed her car into theirs at high speed.

She survived.

When I didn’t hear from Doug, I just thought he was busy. I didn’t hear about the accident until the next day when our VP herded us into a room to break us the news.

I’ve only known Doug for six months, only part of a year. We were more colleagues than friends, but I was in shock for the rest of the day. His death was senseless.

I couldn’t function. I don’t know why, but I kept thinking about whether there were any eBay auctions he was bidding on. I worried that his feedback rating would get dinged.

That afternoon, in my status meeting with my manager, my throat locked up and my eyes turned a watery red; an item in my agenda had Doug’s name on it. My manager silently handed me a napkin from McDonald’s. I think it had a small grease stain on it. It was the only thing she had on her desk. I am such a faggot.

Back at my desk, I checked my e-mailbox. Amidst the long list of e-mails, Doug’s name was sprinkled about like daisies in a field. I wanted so badly to delete those messages.

On the way home, I turned the radio on to see if I could catch any news about the details of the crash. No news as of then, the authorities were still keeping mum until the families of the victims were notified.

Every song on the radio made me think about drummers. Mick Fleetwood. Larry Mullen. Animal from The Muppet Show.

I kept trying to remember, who is the drummer for Oasis? Don't remember. No Doubt, oh that's easy, Adrian Young: shirtless, hot, with a mohawk. Coldplay? Don't know.

I didn't know if I was doing this because I was thinking of you or trying to stop myself from thinking of you. So I played an Indigo Girls CD instead, Come On Now Social.

When "Soon Be To Nothing" came on, these words from the song made me lose it:

"I have passed these pines 'bout a million times / Effortlessly / Now I grip the wheel / fear is what I feel / At the slow unraveling of me."

I don’t know why, but I kept repeating the song until I finally got home. I guess I needed a sentimental song to accompany my tears. Gays and their need for a soundtrack. But I don't know if I could've dealt with the silence.

Goodbye Doug. I hardly knew you. We might've been good friends. You were a good man, one of the very best.

"But the road is long and my song is gone / I blow empty in my cicada shell / If I saw my choice I might find my voice / But I don't know when and I just can't tell..."

"Soon Be To Nothing"
- Indigo Girls

doug, second from the left
Doug, second from left, with his band


Epilogue - Three years later.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Wanted: Friend

When you’ve got a well-established group of friends as I do--well-established in the sense that for the last ten years, we’ve gone through a lot together, lied and backstabbed each other--you realize how empty your life would be without them. Just think: no Friday night movies; no Saturday night drinking binges; no Sunday morning calls to a bail bondsman. We’re friends through thick and thin--but mostly thin because I only have a sub-compact car.

As a good friend I try to look after them as much as I can, because if I neglect them, that naked picture they took of me could wind up on the internet. I was skinny-dipping in a very, very cold Lake Michigan and my mighty ‘bamboo shoot’ looked more like a puny ‘rice stick.’ I've a reputation to maintain.

I think finding a lover is significantly easier than finding true friends. With a lover, there’s always the promise of sex to lure them in. And if that doesn’t work, you can always slip them a roofie. You don’t have that kind of luxury with potential friends. You actually have to make them like you, not your clothes, your a-list status, or if you’re a lesbian, your flatbed truck.

Short of joining a religious cult, there’s no real easy way to make friends. It’s not like you can go door-to-door, hold out a pamphlet and say, “Hey, would you like to be my friend?” The pamphlet would have to be two $20 bills taped together.

We’re a very picky bunch. It’s not easy to get into our inner circle. You’ve got to have the right type of personality, sardonic humor and raving psychosis to fit in. It helps if you’re on some kind of medication, so that we can bum your prescriptions.

Han, a grad student from Korea had started hanging around our little group, unexpectedly showing up at places that we usually hang out: under the Walgreens sign, at the local Starbucks, in the alley behind Einstein’s where they throw out the day-old bagels.

We were standing in the alley one Saturday morning, Starbucks cups in hand, tongues hanging like dogs, waiting for Einstein’s to open the back door and start throwing out the day-old bagels. We would jump up in the air and grab them with our mouths and then walk casually to the street corner, munching and sipping, watching the people in the gayborhood.

That’s when we first noticed Han, who also had a bagel in hand. From his sidebag, he pulled out some lox he kept in a baggie and kindly offered it to us, along with some cream cheese (I declined--the dairy thing).

For the next few weeks, he doggedly stalked us. The others started to warm up to him, but I think it was the A/X sweaters he gave them for Christmas.

I resisted, of course.

I mean, the Asian quota in this group is used up. Everybody knows that according to very strict boy band rules that there shouldn’t be two overlapping “types.” There’s the Rebel, the Cute One, the Kleptomaniac. So, Han had a huge obstacle to overcome to get into our group. And if I had to give the obstacle a name, it would be Joey Fatone.

I was already the resident Asian, that’s my thing. We can’t have two people who make Chinese take-out impressions:

“Phone numba? Ok. Wat would you rike? Ok. Ok. Ok. You rike egg loll wit daat? Ok. Ten minute.” Click.

Or the Dude, Where’s My Car? drive-thru version:

“And then? And then? And theeeeeen? And theeeeen...” NO AND THEN!!!

But I had the upper hand, I could also do the classic “Suckee fuckee five dollah me love you loooong time!”

Everybody knows that if you put two Asians in a group, they would have to fight to the death, or at least until somebody loses a slipper. I refuse to be sidekicked. I mean, I shake my head sadly when I see some of the all-gay Asian groups (or the ‘Gaysians,’ as I call them). It’s like there’s the Lady Thiang and her attendants in The King and I. It can’t work. Just throw a Rice Queen into their midst and watch them implode.

But my concern was unwarranted. Han was open and honest, totally lacking in attitude. He won us over one by one. I’m not really sure how he did it with the others, but with me, it was the 20G iPod complete with carrying case.

Han is moving to Amherst in a few weeks to pursue his Ph.d. In the past year, he had become an integral part of our group.

We had jokingly said we would have to put up a want ad and hold auditions for people to replace him. Even though he laughed along with us, I sensed that he felt a bit hurt. I think he felt that we had already moved on, even while he was still here. But he cannot be replaced. Making jokes, that’s just our way of dealing with pain--and we are a very jokey bunch.

If we did write a want ad, I think it would say:*

* Wanted: Friend. Must have eclectic taste in movies and own White Chicks on DVD. Able to order bulgogi, kimchi jigae and mandoo in a Korean restaurant convincingly. MUST BE ABLE to get side dishes only reserved for locals. Can solve moderate-to-difficult Sudoku puzzles. Most of all, wanted: a friend--honest, loyal and true.


My Einstein's bagel sandwich story

Thursday, July 07, 2005

This Is The Last Year

I know that to a lot of people, their hairdresser is their confidant, their shrink, their priest, all rolled into one. You come in racked with guilt and dark roots and you come out a new man. It’s like a one-stop shop at the Guilt Emporium. You can’t get it better than that. Father O’Shanley may absolve your sins with three Hail Mary’s, but a hairdresser can make your three gay friends go ‘Hail, Mary!

Hair is just such an integral part of who we are, it’s hard to entrust its care to anyone who charges less than $150 per cut, shampoo extra. I mean, how can I take you seriously, if you only charge $12.99 a cut? Creating a unique look from such instructions as ‘short on the sides, a little off the top,’ or artfully covering up a 4 inch bald spot takes real skill. Obviously, Nicholas Cage has not learned this last lesson.

One may go bargain basement on things that are less visible, less obvious, such as a kidney transplant, but when it comes to our crowning glory, only one who has toiled endless nights at beauty school, whose hands are blistered from no-ammonia bleach, who has done more to promote the gay stereotype, is worthy enough to take my incredibly generous $3 tip.

Some hairdressers are too eager to cultivate this relationship. They can’t wait for you to bare your heart and soul the second you are seated in their chair. For good reason: a repeat customer is one whose weighted follicles are cared for, whose weighted soul can be used for a little bit of blackmail and extortion. They have your name, your phone number, the dates and places you had your trysts with that hunky Irish Catholic with the piercing green eyes and broad shoulders.

But garrulous as I am, I find myself unable to speak in the presence of a hairdresser. There must be something defective in my homo genes that I cannot form meaningful relationships with hairdressers.

Maybe it was because I was brought up in another era when men went to barbershops. The barbers in my youth wore white tunics and smelled like the combination of Ben-Gay, Brylcreem and the sharp astringent they slap on you after every haircut. These men traded crude jokes and hurled their political views over their customers’ heads, but nobody just talked, you know, nobody shared their feelings.

Or maybe I was just traumatized by first experience in a salon.

Very soon after I came out, I started going to the local salon. The hairdresser was very friendly and open and gave me a great haircut and then skillfully mussed it. I started to open up to him over the next couple of visits.

But then something started to feel very wrong, although I was unable to put my finger on it. Maybe because I was often distracted by the hairdresser’s hard crotch pressing on my shoulders under the cape. I couldn’t figure it out. My discomfort continued so I left soon after.

Maybe I can’t share my feelings with someone who just cuts my hair. Maybe they have to do my nails and taxes too.

This is the last year I will have a full head of hair. I can feel it.

Next year, I would have to start avoiding any direct light above my head when I am giving a blowjob. The shine on the top of my head may become too distracting.

I have never understood this before, but now I do:

"With Great Hair Comes Great Promiscuity."

Is all my good hair is being wasted being in a relationship? Shouldn’t I be out there fucking my brains out while my hair can still be styled into the latest ‘do? Should I buy a sports car while I’m at it?

I don’t know how to broach this subject without sounding pathetic and ridiculous. I’m sure Donald Trump feels the same because, well, just look at him. Does he look like someone who is communicating honestly about his hair? Please. With his money, he has more options than that dead squirrel on top of his head.

For me, my deepest, darkest secrets can only be revealed in that most private, most intimate place: a blog. Within the confines of this URL, I can reveal all my innermost thoughts, all laid out in a nice template, comments provided by Haloscan.

I've never discussed this with any of my closest friends. I have not made a pact with them signed in tinted hairgel to tell me when I should stop combing my hair over. Maybe they'll be too embarrassed to say something. I don't know. I don't know how to share this with the people in my life. So, like everything else, it ends up right here.