I really appreciate an Airbnb host who provides incandescent bulbs in the bathroom.

It’s the little things that for the briefest glimmers make you feel like you matter. All it takes is a second or two of forethought on the part of a stranger, and the world is not implacably aligned against you, or worse yet, completely indifferent… That is, until you die in the least dignified manner possible because you just know that’s going to happen because that little touch made you normal for a second. That is just the universe’s calculus.

The place I stayed in Louisville last week had a few of those touches: there were not TOO many rules; a white noise machine canceled out traffic noise; the “art” on the walls was actual art and didn’t consist of shiplapped words like “family,” “laugh,” or “wine;” among the hardback books with the jackets removed to make them more Instagrammable was a copy of David Rakoff’s Don’t Get Too Comfortable, the title of which is pretty cheeky for an Airbnb. They knew me.

But there was one touch in that charming cottage convenient to Bardstown Road that made me feel human at the moment I was sure I was shuffling off this mortal coil in the least dignified manner. My pants were down around my ankles. I was in the middle of the worst food poisoning I’ve had this century. But when I looked up…

They put incandescent bulbs above the bathroom mirror!

Look, I get it. You’re a busy Airbnb host. You have a lot book jackets to remove and fake epiphytes to arrange. You can’t be wasting your time swapping out 60 watt Soft-Whites. I can’t imagine what it must be like to get a message in the middle of night because some bachelorette party down from Cincy for the weekend can’t use that one light in the corner of the living room. You don’t respond right away, so they start rewiring your eclectic bungalow for 220. Who needs that? Just throw in a bunch of compact fluorescents, and be done with it.

Staying at my Grandma’s place in Wisconsin began to get problematic as I started my teens. The light in the only bathroom consisted of a pair of fluorescent tubes, one on either side of the mirror. They would flicker to life, and you would flicker to death. It was like a monster transformation montage in a cheap horror flick from 1952. Every single blackhead and whitehead, greenhead and yellowhead pulsated under those cool-white, unforgiving lumens. I was as ugly as all those Young Life a-holes at my school told me I was. I lived under the assumption that “Faggot Face” referred to some inherent deformity so troubling to others that it could only be spat out while punching my head from behind to emphasize the “Face.” The punch really drove the point home, and it was hilarious for them.

But I could get thru the abuse somewhat because, when I returned to my home with it’s proper incandescent bathroom lighting, in the master bath, I could look in the mirror and see a kid who wasn’t half bad. Yeah, I’m slightly asymmetrical, my eyes aren’t a real color, and my lips are weird. Not THAT weird; it’s more of the angle my mouth opens to make smiles —too much horizontal, not enough vertical. But at least my complexion wasn’t a shitshow. I had the the occasional zit to pop —about one real humdinger every six weeks. Those were kinda fun, a satisfying Before/After.

There really was never any reason to call me Crater/Mayonnaise Face. Anyways, Faggot Face had alliteration. Everyone likes alliteration.

However, that fluorescent glow left me feeling exposed, bus ride home exposed. I wasn’t alone; my cousin Susan and I used to complain about it every time I was up in Wisconsin. The only thing that made the bathroom mirror bearable was to flick it on and off really fast so they would get stuck in that limbo where they don’t go on all the way: It cuts the brightness in half, and you can stare at pulsating gas tubes until you don’t care about your ugly, ugly face anymore. I was reminded every visit that doing so wasn’t good for the lights.

Thankfully, since I gained control of my own illumination strategy, I have been blessed with a pretty good complexion. I credit it to sunscreen, hydration, not smoking, and, in the immortal words of the gender-f*ck performer Dina Martina when asked about her youthful look, “Slow, steady weight gain!” She said that to a crowd of bears in Provincetown. It killed.

Beards are very forgiving.

Everything was going great, at least in terms of being able to pop into most bathrooms and convince yourself you don’t look that bad, are not THAT bad a person. I mean, you wouldn’t expect uplift from the bathroom at a gas station or an Arby’s. I understand the need for fluorescent tubes in an institutional setting, but for the longest time I could be assured of good lighting in pretty much any bathroom in which I was the sole occupant. Even my bathroom in the mental hospital where I spent the better part of 1999 had incandescent bulbs above the mirror. And a previous occupant had used a diamond ring or something in an attempt to X out their reflection, which is hardcore self-erasure. A flattering warm light can overcome even that.

But then the planet began to spiral into the sun, getting hotter and hotter. Sacrifices would have to be made. Won’t somebody think of the children?!? 

It was decided that we should all replace our incandescents with little spirals of plastic, glass, shame, and mercury.

Almost overnight, self-affirmation disappeared from decent restaurants, shops, even hotels. The harsh coiled light eventually came to guest bathrooms in the private homes of boring people who always have the heat on too high. When I’m bored, stuck, and hot, I need affirmation every six minutes.

Affirmation has now been replaced with an accusatory klieg. Look at how absolutely wrong you are! You can’t hide!

I was hoping this few days down in Louisville would help me reacclimatize to being around people, especially in a queer capacity. For months and months, especially since I began to actively confront it, the trauma from getting sexually assaulted has rendered most social spaces extremely frightening.

Could I duck into the bathroom to chill and collect? No, all I see in that fluorescent harshness is a non-entity who’s only good for providing basic friction to idiots. The flickering, little microbursts of darkness and glare won’t let my brain calm down. It was best just not to go out. 

But maybe a few days in a fun town with my friend Damian, with no chance of that creep showing up, could help me feel human. I could go back to doing things I did before the assault —like just hang with a friend with no expectations. I got in just before dinner on a Tuesday. We had some Canes chicken fingers. Damian’s one of those people who never eats at chains; he would rather bob for questionably-sourced falafel balls in a bodega fryer than step foot in a chain. I love nothing better than seeing him walking his food on a tray. It was real nice of him to do that for me. 

After dinner, we won trivia at Chill Bar. Nothing makes me feel more human than regurgitating factiods at a rapid clip. For the first time in months, I didn’t feel ugly and useless.

Before I headed back to the very conveniently located Airbnb, I asked around about late night munchies. The trivia host suggested a place called The Back Door. Damian practically barked, “Back Door sucks!” I should have listened, but I was drunk with power after watching him eat the Canes. I was also drunk.

I got a few boneless wings and a quesadilla (with a plastic ramekin of guac). Nothing major. I ate about half of it in front of the TV and went to bed. Put the rest in the fridge. 

During the night my intestinal track was replaced with a very gassy crazed weasel. I spent the next twenty-four hours trying to drive it out the nearest available exit —high, low, both. When I wasn’t writhing around on the oh-we’ll-just-use-it-in-the-Airbnb mattress, I was in the bathroom.

Whenever I came up for air, I would splash my face, swish some water around in my mouth, and then check the mirror. The first time I looked I braced myself. Every room in the Airbnb had very harsh compact fluorescents. One of the first things I did when I checked in was toss t-shirts over the lampshades to cut down on the glare. I was sure the bathroom was no different. I would see every broken blood vessel, every bad decision, everything that made me wrong in full contrast.

But when I looked, I didn’t recoil. Yes, I still looked like crap, but I was warm, soft crap. And I could look at my crap face with “soft” eyes, drift away, and relax. The flickeringflickeringflickering wasn’t resetting my brain ten thousand times every second. I could be somewhere else than that Airbnb bathroom.

As a bonus, the bulbs were on a dimmer switch. One of the first useful things I was told after I came out was to get dimmer switches. Dimmers only work on proper incandescents. Those other bulbs stutter as they move between levels. How is that romantic? If anything’s going to be stuttering between levels during romance, it’s going to be me.

Between the dimmer switch and the flecked antique glass in the mirror, I could imagine that I was no longer suffering food poisoning. I could now be ill from some vague 19th century malady. Instead of looking forward to weeks of friends tittering from hearing that I got sick from “eating at The Back Door, now I could look forward to a fainting couch and some nice laudanum.

I’m not broken, just weird. Incandescents let you be weird.

Ever since the assault, I’ve been searching for justice. Rather, I’ve been searching for JUSTICE, some grand gesture on the part of the universe that tells me that I have value as something more than convenient friction for some loser to relieve his brokenness upon. Certainly I would be treated to an entire room turning on their heals to point at him, shaking their heads, then casting him out to wail and gnash his teeth. But he’s really well-liked in “the community” so………….

But I can’t be the one cast out. I need to stay around. I am not worthless. 

Maybe the best way to get justice —or at least justice-adjacent —is to pay attention to the small little fragments of niceness that drift down like the aftermath of sorority pillow fight. These are the hearty , but not too hearty, hugs; the passive-aggressive yet friendly acquiescences to eat fast food; the just letting you sit quietly for moment; the letting me change lanes while I was driving in my car; the incandescent bulbs in the bathroom.

The best thing about these is that people can do them for you, and they don’t even have to know you’re broken. These small justices are for you because you’re a person.

Nothing like a little justice to make you think you look good.

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The mirror in question. You can hardly see the burst blood vessels.

A sheer leotard and a sexy bug: Experiencing Ric Ocasek.

Ric Ocasek’s death this past weekend hit me kinda hard. At this point I’m pretty inured to the musical icons I grew up with dying. Prince. Tom Petty. Heck, I even choked up a bit when I saw that Eddie Money passed away a few days prior. “Shakin’” will always be one of those songs that I scream along with when I’m alone and cannot be shamed for my awful, awful voice.

When I heard that Ric was gone, I needed to sit out on the porch for a while and be quiet. Then I put on Candy-O.

Ric was gut punch. 

For me music is an even more of a memory trigger than an aisle of Yankee Candle scents. And the deepest of those memories have a visual component:

–Sometimes it’s a movie I’ve conjured up in my head based on the lyrics. I do a harrowing Edmund Fitzgerald.

–Sometimes I imagine I’m up there performing a song. Usually that song is “Caribbean Queen.”

–Sometimes it’s the layout of the room where I listened to that song. Whenever I see ice glazing the trees, I’m back in our family room on Long Island during the ice storm of 1973 —the ice storm in The Ice Storm. The power was out for days; my dad was out off town on business; my mom was low on smokes. We huddled in sleeping bags and blankets in front of the fireplace. Our only entertainment was a very sturdy, pretty huge transistor radio clad in avocado green pleather. WABC 77 had this thing where they would play a particular song twice in a row, declaring it a “WABC repeat repeat RE-PEAT!” before starting it over. WABC’s chosen song, again and again, while the world froze? “Top of the World” by The Carpenters.

But so many of the musical memories lodged in my brain are tied to the promotional ephemera put out to promote the work. Album covers, videos, even those carnival prize mirrors —I stole three of them from my job at the Zoo Amusement Park: Mick Jagger’s lips, Pink Floyd’s Wall, and a psychedelic nightmare left over from REO Speedwagon’s “Riding the Storm Out” days. They fit perfectly one atop the other on the side of my stereo cabinet.

My intense memories of Ric Ocasek and The Cars stem from this non-musical side of music.

I will get thru the obvious one first. I lost my virginity on a Friday the 13th in front of the wooden altar of a 25” console television playing MTV and the video for “You Might Think.” It won the very first MTV award for best video. In it, Ric cute-stalks a model who looks like his famous model wife but is not his famous model wife thru an oversaturated fluorescent world set against a black background. Video effect follows video effect until Ric turns into a bug. Continue reading

Panic with purpose; or, that man is clearly trying to slip me a Quaalude!

Part 3 of… “Being vulnerable in the face of sexual assault (when you’re pretty sure it was your vulnerability that got you assaulted)”

This past Friday, I had what can only be described as a “beneficial panic attack.”

I had to flee a location. That alone was not unusual. Since I confronted the loser who sexually assaulted me this past May, I have fled more rooms than I have entered. Yes, it’s a paradox that violates all rules of space/time. I know that. I’m not here to explain quantum mechanics to anyone, but I live in a constant state of Schrödinger’s Panic Attack. Every room can contain a variable that will trigger me OR it may not. It’s completely random; I can never be sure until I open the box. And I never stop opening boxes.

PTSD messes with your sense of space and time. I’m told it’s the amygdala.

Entering new rooms has pretty much devolved into the same multi-point kabuki of driving around the block, breathing exercises, looking for exits, etc. Over and over again.

Once that is all done. I can how scan the horizon like a meerkat looking for that single point of information that I can extrapolate into a dire threat to my person.

Extrapolating from single points of information is what gives each panic attack it’s own nuances, it’s own notes. When you extrapolate from a single point, you can go anywhere. Literally. That’s how geometry works. Each panic is different, which is why each one imprints itself on the palimpsest of my PTSD brain. “Indelible on the hippocampus,” as the wise woman said. Continue reading

Yes! And I would like to stop talking about sexual assault now. Please?

Part Two of series that’ll be as long as I need it to be:

“Being vulnerable in the face of sexual assault (when you’re pretty sure it was your vulnerability that got you assaulted)”

Now that I’ve moved past the etymological implications and diversions of the word “vulnerable,” I need to get busy being vulnerable. Seems like the best way to be vulnerable would be to interact with people.

Of course, it was a “people” that assaulted me. There will have to be some work to do before I can go back to feeling my standard annoyance in crowds rather than dread.

Fear has a way of flattening. Going to a bar or a party is like one of those tactical ranges you see in cop shows. Two-dimensional cut-outs pop into view, and you have to decide RIGHT THEN AND THERE whether or not the old lady with the grocery bags is packing heat. Except I have to peer into the cut-out’s mind and figure out whether or not they’re not going to listen to me if I say no —either that night, or a few months down the road. I shouldn’t have to go all Minority Report just to grab a beer and be around people.

But not all people are that smirking loser, although sometimes it seems all people are smirking-loser-adjacent. Since I confronted what happened, it’s been very easy, too easy, to recall all his behaviors as threatening. Then it’s a quick step to concluding that every action by every person is a threat.

But, there must be literally dozens of people in Greater Columbus who are not him. And nothing like him. If not, I’m screwed anyways. Continue reading

Vulnerability, I am com-miiiiiiiing!



immigrtant song

Part One of series that’ll be as long as I need it to be:

“Being vulnerable in the face of sexual assault (when you’re pretty sure it was your vulnerability that got you assaulted.”

The worst aspect of dealing with the PTSD caused that smirking bastard sexually assaulting me is that I’ve been closing myself off from others. It’s not just that I’m scared to step foot in a gay bar. That I can understand. Unfortunately, I’m also avoiding friends, family, and anyone who can help.

My therapist says I should be more vulnerable, more open to these interactions. I’m not going to get thru this alone.

But isn’t vulnerability what got me into this mess? I certainly was vulnerable when he assaulted me. Now I’m supposed to be some sort of therapeutically vulnerable?

Etymologies will help. Etymologies always help. They’re not just for SAT prep anymore.

As I tried to wrestle with the contradiction of being vulnerable when vulnerability got me in the situation where my therapist says I need to be vulnerable, I went down the etymology hole. I go there whenever my therapist introduces me to a concept I don’t quite grasp.

New concepts from the therapist’s office often land with a bit of a clunk with me. It’s not that they don’t make sense —the words are never “big” words —it’s more that they come into my brain thru the wrong door, too fast. Researching the etymology helps me guide them thru the proper door at a proper speed. Continue reading

Facing Pride (when the guy who sexually assaulted you will probably be riding on a float)

And when that float comes by, people will cheer. It’s a very popular organization. People like popular things.

I do not feel particularly popular this year.

He’s a very active member of a very active organization that has always mustered a float, going back to the days before every company with a slack-jawed intern’s ability to Photoshop a rainbow onto promotional materials had a float. I assume he will be up the night before putting some sort of tissue paper rainbows on the float because of course rainbows.*

*No one will be able to figure out it’s a float of gays without the agreed-upon signifier. People love agreed-upon signifiers as they are scalable all the way from billboards down keychains down to Pride-themed quarks…“Take this fun quiz to find out if you’re a Top Quark or a Bottom Quark. Then alter your fundamental quantum architecture to show them ‘Love is Love.’”



But I digress. Let me. Let. Me. Digressing is the only way to keep him out of my head now that I’ve confronted him. 

He is everywhere.

The actual incident took place over two years ago, but I had compartmentalized it away. I was busy walling off this particular anchorite even as I was calculating how much friction* was needed on my part to get this the hell over with.

*There has to be a happy medium friction. Not too enthusiastic. That would get it over with, but you need to demonstrate to him that you really, really wish had not chosen this current path that is fucking up your life even as it happens. Not enthusiastic enough, and it may never end.

When you’ve been reduced to mere provider of friction, you’re free to leave your body and wander your mind. You look for an empty chamber in which you can brick up all the emotions attached to whatever hell your body’s going thru. It’s called dissociating. It’s neither fun nor not-fun; that’s the point of it.

So, I walled off what he did; we remained friends; I met new people thru him. I actually had people to stand next to in gay bars. That’s pretty good for me as I am wondrously horrible at small talk. But, I have not been intimate with ANYONE in Ohio since. I am increasingly scared to be alone with people. I let other relationships, ones without sexual assaults wither. I wasn’t worth it.

The physical pain from being scared and clenched all the time sucked, too.

And the panic attacks. Don’t forget the panic attacks.

I had to confront. I had to let him know what he did to me. After getting triggered by particularly lame pass at a May 4th BBQ from a dude in a sad, confusing hat, I spent the next three weeks consumed with the notion that he thought everything was okay. I yelled at a lot of things and and a lot of people.

So, I wrote him a succinct note. Short declarative sentences. The biggest word was “compartmentalize.” I never used “sorry.” And, if you’ve ever spent five minutes with me, you know that’s a big fucking deal.

So, that’s that. Right? I mean, they released the Mueller Report, and the next day we got a functioning democracy back again, right? And my succinct note actually took longer to come into the world.

Everything is now great!

When you stop compartmentalizing something, the shit-covered anchorite you got in there runs amok. It smears the walls and tries the locks on other cells. Some of those open, and those shit-covered anchorites get to rampage, too.

His stupid face is everywhere, even in places it’s not. Week before last, I thought if I went to DC to twirl thru some museums, I could escape him. Lose myself in the loose structure of sightseeing. And, at times, it worked. It’s hard to be think of anything but the Hope Diamond when you’re looking at the Hope Diamond. I saw the moment when two 70 year old women discovered that LL Cool J stands for Ladies Love Cool James.

*

*Then they both tittered, blushed a little, and seemed to get lost in the giant hands Kehinde Wiley had given him (or he actually has; in that case… Damn!). Of course, this was all done in hushed tones, because Mr. Cool James was hanging in the same room as Amy Sherald’s rapidly iconic Michelle Obama. Michelle and LL were brooking no nonsense.

But those moments were fleeting. I couldn’t escape WHY I had driven three hundred miles thru the mountains. I didn’t want to go to DC; I wanted out of Columbus. I did not want to see him, did not want to think of him. So, of course, that’s all I did. I was miserable. I had panic attacks each time I tried to go out at night.

And now this weekend…



They will be parading him thru the streets of Columbus like some golden calf of non-consent. Over half a million folks —the biggest Pride in the Midwest (and West Virginia) —will cheer and smile when the float goes by, and he will smile back. In that moment, his smile and the crowd’s smiles will all be the same to me. I won’t be able to discern whether they mean happiness or threat. The worst shit comes with a smile.

I cannot forget that smile. It’s a smile that in an instant went from a sign of camaraderie and affinity to one of menace and uncertainty. He never stopped smiling, like steamrolling over my withholding of consent was just a fun game. I wasn’t attacked at knifepoint in a dark alley by some right-wing closet-case unfortunate —it happened on a pleasant afternoon, for the most part in my kitchen. After a bit of pleasant chit-chat.

And now I’m supposed to go out and make small talk? I rather stroll thru the parking lot of a dead mall in a dying suburb with glowing fifty-dollar bills stapled to my naked supple man-flesh. At least then I could reasonable be prepared for what happens.

Small talk is now a primary assault vector as far as I’m concerned.

I am overwhelmed by this new variable. I know in my logical brain, when I slow things down, that a smile and some banter are still just as innocuous as they always were. But are they? Were they ever?

What am I supposed to do when the float comes by?

I could stand up on a trash can, point, and go all Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasions of the Body Snatchers.

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J’accuse! 

The crowd will hush, turn to me, and I will clear my throat. My voice will not waver or go into that octave that only the astronauts can hear. In my best police procedural prosecutorial tone, I will calmly, forcefully lay out why they shouldn’t fucking be smiling at him. 

They will stop smiling. Someone will suggest harming the guy, teaching him a lesson. No, I will say, let this be a teaching moment, but for everyone. I will make a sweeping hand gesture. I will urge them to examine their own actions.

How have they contributed to an LGBT community that in many, many ways valorizes toxic power bullshit?*

*For examples of toxic power bullshit, look at the flyers to your next club “night.”

How often have they laughed off assault as just something that happens? Just something you’re asking for by walking into a bar?

Have they ignored someone’s NO, treated it as the starting point of a zero-sum game?

Everyone will be quiet for a moment. A few will weep, but then smiles all around. Folks will hug (only if they want to), happy the air has cleared. The parade will continue, just a little more chill and respectful. They will make me King Gay.

OR… I will fly up like the pissed-off chupacabra I am, and I will rip out his carotid artery with my teeth or beak or whatever chupacabras have. Then I will shake it around like a chew toy, howl, and dive into the Scioto. Everyone will know my righteous anger.

BUT… I will shrink. My anger and shame and confusion and loneliness will register with no one. The “community” that Pride supposedly offers is not for me this year. I cannot compete with tissue paper rainbows and FUN. I will disappear into a Mobius of blaming myself while knowing that I did nothing wrong. And he will be on a float. I can’t square that. I shouldn’t have to.

Wait, you say… You’re always going on about how you hate “corporate Pride.” And you hate crowds. Like you’re going anywhere near 500,000 people all milling about and bumping into each other. So, you’re not even planning on going… What gives? Why are you buying trouble?

Because, I want to be able to avoid the Pride parade on my own terms. I don’t want to have to avoid it because I’m scared to see his stupid, stupid face. Or remember his stupid, stupid bad touch.

I want to avoid it because I don’t like it. Now, if I don’t go, it’s a personal defeat, not me being too cool for school. I don’t have much. So, if you take away my ironic detachment, you’ve really hobbled me as an individual.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do this weekend. I know I’m not supposed to hide. He’s certainly not going to. He’s popular; people want to see him. I’ve spent over two years shrinking away out of shame; no one will miss me. Pride is for winners.

Geez, I can’t let that be my new narrative. It can’t be dictated by a guy who thought I was a person until he didn’t want me to be one anymore. 

But what am I supposed to do? Go, mill about, and hope that I “understand” peoples’ smiles?

I’m really stuck.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day nine.

I got the window seat at the coffee shop on a snowy day…

Bite me, Mrs. Murphy!

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Instead of doing what I “should” be doing, I’m looking at snow.

It’s a wintry vindication.

Being able to stare at snow in lieu of work is one of my most cherished activities. It’s been that way since the first day it snowed outside of Mrs. Murphy’s fifth grade class at Malibu Elementary in Virginia Beach.

That helmet-haired, pinchy-faced woman was probably the most damaging teacher I’ve ever had. Continue reading

A Lamprey with a Gavel

 

I had to turn away from the television during his testimony. I just couldn’t look at his garbage mouth any longer.

I got through hers. I rooted for her because I related to her being terrified, her asking politely for caffeine, and going all nerd under stress. Thank the baby jeebus nothing in her account triggered me too badly. I’ve never encountered physical sexual abuse. I have been “persuaded” into providing unenthusiastic consent on numerous occasions, some much worse than others. Example: here’s a special place in hell for the woman in college who asked “You do like girls, don’t you?” as a negotiating tactic. But nothing physical. I’m lucky. I’m a pretty big guy. As my grandpa would say, “Strong like bull; dumb like ox.” I can look real mean, like I’m about to go berserker, and I have a very low center of gravity.

But the Brett Kavanaughs of my life did physically abuse me. Sometimes it was fists. Once it was milk crate. Or it could be having to run until I felt like my heart would burst. Or it was the constant stress of never knowing where the next attack would come from.

And when the bullies cornered me —and they always eventually did —all I could focus on would be their mouths. I couldn’t look at their eyes because that would only enrage them. I would focus on the mouth because it was always pointed in my direction. And the mouths were always moving. I would fixate on those mouths until my entire field of vision was some twirling psychedelic bully-mouth kaleidoscope. Whatever crap they were spewing pulsated into almost-music. Sometimes it would seem like the bully’s toadies were dancing like go-go toadies to the almost-music of his hate. It’s easier to take the blows if you imagine they’re dancing.

If you turn away from the mouth, you start to react. People don’t like it when you react to bullies. How people react to you reacting is worse than whatever you’re dissociating away from at the present time. So you stare at the mouth.

Sometimes it seems like their teeth have come detached from their jaw and are just swimming around in pink spit.

All bullies have the same mouth. When that much anger, illogic, and saliva get forced thru a small opening, the force of the hate begins to change their faces. The mouths cease being human. They become mere conduits for an ugliness so old, so gross that you’d have to go really far back in time for an analog, to some back channel of the evolutionary tree. Continue reading

It’s like Shark Week, but with despair instead of ocean.

hammerhead-shark

This is what you get when you Google “melancholy shark.”

CUE VOICE (FROM BEHIND ME AND TO THE RIGHT):

Remember how the Sugar Free Dr. Pepper fizzed in your mouth and all over your face? Remember how a little fountain of Sugar Free Dr. Pepper shot out of the gap between your front teeth? Remember how one of the Xanaxes got loose and, through a forced perspective, seemed to hover in front of the faces of your dorm-mates. And, drama queen, they’re there because you summoned everyone to their windows for the fountain spectacular. Now we’re just going to freeze it here and zoom in on your roommate, Larry, standing naked in one of full-length stairwell windows. And let’s put one of those shadow circles around Larry’s ridiculous penis. Wow, if everything had gone according to your impulsive non-plan, one of last things on your retinas would’ve been an image of quite possibly the largest member you’ve ever side-eyed.

Y’know how during August, when it’s Shark Week, how you have Shark Week proper on The Discovery Channel, but there’s also Shark everywhere else? All the little ancillary remora channels of the Discovery Network are shark-flogging. Then Colbert does a bit about how the Mueller probe is like Shark Week. Then one of those weird retro channels that have decimal points in their ID programs a block of sitcom episodes where the shark is jumped. Yes, the Fonz is there. Then your Facebook feed fills with sad pictures of sharks with their dorsal fins hacked off because shark fin soup is cruel, and sharks are not the mindless killing machines that Discovery portrays! Didn’t you know that?!? Why do you hate Mother Ocean? You suck at being woke. Then, in response, Discovery has a night where they assure everyone that sharks are perfectly reasonable denizens of Mother Ocean. Sharks gotta shark. Then they will show slow-motion video of hacked-off dorsal fin set to whatever Sarah MacClachlan-ish collection of chords they own the rights to. Then there will be a BP commercial.

You cannot escape Shark Week. That is the whole point of Shark Week. It is a merciless engine.

Well, it’s June, and this June it isn’t Shark Week. It’s Suicide Week. Continue reading

“The Bear Who Auditioned First” [On parlaying a Jeopardy! audition three weeks ago into fifteen minutes of fame, then into a lifetime as a cherished cultural icon.]

Please note: For the piece itself I will forgo the exclamation point after Jeopardy. It is stupid. If they had one of those Spanish upside-down exclamation points before it, too, I would happily reconsider.

This morning I’m in a coffee shop writing. I forgot my earbuds, and I’m way too lazy to walk out to the car and grab my “emergency” pair. Then I remembered that I auditioned for Jeopardy three weeks ago, and, as parting gifts, they gave me a set of Jeopardy! earbuds and a Jeopardy pen. “Please do not use the pen as a ‘practice’ buzzer. We do not travel the country to hear people click pens.” Noted. The earbuds came in a little Jeopardy blue pouch –Pantone 2935 U, because if you want to be on Jeopardy, you need to know these things. I took the pouch out of my bag, removed the buds, and flopped the pouch on my table. It landed logo-side-down.

IMG_1183That would not do. I flipped the pouch over. Now folks coming through the front door of Luck Brothers Coffee can see the blue of the pouch highlighted against the black of the café table. This is by design. When the eye is fully adjusted to darkness, blue stands out against a black background more than any other color. This is why railroad signals and those little reflectors people in the country use to mark their driveways are blue. Yes, it’s bright sunny out today, and everyone’s eyes are adjusting in the opposite direction, but if someone does ask me about the pouch I can tell them all about blue reflectors. And they will say, “Wow! You certainly do belong on Jeopardy!”

In my time as a Jeopardy Auditioneer™ (I figure I should start trademarking various aspects of my upcoming fame and icon-hood), I have been amazed at how many people are interested in the audition process. As luck would have it, my audition coincided with a visit to NYC to see friends that I was already planning. (I used to live in NYC. If someone asks about the blue pouch, I can also work in that I used to live in NYC. Moreover, I will tell them I lived in Brooklyn because that’s more specific, and people crave specificity –especially specificity that involves the word “Brooklyn.”) So in NYC, instead answering “Why are you visiting?” with “Columbus is boring.” I could proudly say, “I had a Jeopardy audition.”

Then they would inhale a little bit, maybe subconsciously stroke their hair or beard with a couple fingers. “You did?!? Please do tell me all about it? This will certainly be enlightening and fill an intellectual void I did not know I had.” Continue reading