Archive for March, 2011

Amanda’s Story, Part 2

28 Mar

Amanda had met Johnny at Byrne’s for New Year’s Eve.

Everyone who drinks at Byrne’s thinks they’re more Irish than you. This supposed Irishness is a point of pride, but, like everything else, it’s also a point of fashion. Every evening, the bar fills itself with muttonchopped heads poking out of the tops of Flogging Molly t-shirts. More or less these heads know where Ireland is, and if pressed, probably they can find Dublin on a map for you. During the day, the damp corners accumulate the four or five second-generation Irish fiddle players who live in the vicinity. These two Irisher-than-thou factions look down their noses at each other during happy hour, when the transition happens. People genuinely from Ireland could sneak in and out undetected as long as they didn’t talk to anyone.

Since she’d been dumped, Amanda had been exercising her right to make bad decisions. It’s in the Constitution. Look it up. One of these bad decisions had been named Mike Downey, an organism who treated his biological imperative to mate with utmost seriousness. I guess he usually went by just his first name, but I never heard anyone say it out loud without saying the first and last name together, as though it were crucially important to establish that we were talking about this Mike.

For each person, there exists at least one other person with whom it is impossible to do anything but fuck. Mike Downey had been that person for Amanda. They had gotten along quite well until Amanda had suggested a role for him outside that rather narrow parameter, and he’d split. Ordinarily, none of this would be a difficulty, but, sometime in the forgotten past, Mike had also been involved with Amanda’s roommate, Mia. For each person, there exists at least one other person whose name rots them like cancer. Mike had been that person for Mia.

After Mike (and during a twilight time when each of their numbers endured in the other’s phone as a lifeline to an emergency booty call), Amanda had dated Nate, he of the thick head and thicker biceps. As I recall, his reason for dumping her had something to do with his truck.

After that came Johnny O’Brien. For a few weeks, his clothes had piled in a mound of varying size in the corner of her bedroom. Mostly, they slept at her place because he envied her Star Wars comforter. He formed the lanky, blond caboose on Amanda’s Train of Bad Decisions. This is not to say that I judge Amanda for making them. One of the best places to hide your pain is in the genitals of other people. Ask anybody.

Amanda rocked on her stool, sipping an imported beer with an Irish brand that, in reality, had been brewed in and shipped from Canada. She tried to focus on Johnny’s face. It surged forward briefly in a moment of crystalline, blandly sickening clarity and then receded into fuzziness. Behind him on the TV, the ball glowed at the top of its pole, preparing to drop. Johnny swayed with the affected, telltale posture of the mostly sober. True drunkenness carries with it an inimitable sincerity unattainable by the sober. Those who merely pretend retain the slightest self-consciousness.

He leaned against Amanda, pressing himself close to her in order to be heard above the crowd. Unsteady, Amanda grabbed his bicep, focusing her eyes closely on Johnny’s shirt. On it, perhaps caught in mid-whine, C-3PO stood with apparent serenity against a desert background. Everything always turned out all right for that guy. Even after he was blown to medium-sized parts, everything still turned out all right. Amanda hiccupped into her closed mouth.

Johnny’s leg, encased in skinny jeans, pressed against hers. The ball began to drop.

“So,” he said. “I wanted to ask you something.”

“What?” Amanda smiled and leaned against him. The ball shuddered and twitched its way down the pole.

Johnny leaned away from her and looked away. “Well, if we kiss at midnight, I don’t want you to think it means anything.”


Amanda’s Story, part 1

20 Mar

This is going to be a bit of a flash-forward, because Amanda didn’t actually have anything new to tell me on that particular day. So let’s skip ahead a few months to the winter, during the times I briefly dated a cyborg. That is, we went on dates. All our movements circumscribed the pattern of a weird ellipse that prevented me from moving any closer to her. Will I tell you about that later? You bet. First things first.

I’ve always required a mirror for my humiliations.

Not someone to witness the actual events, you understand. Actually, knowing that such witnesses exist is unbearable, and it’s my fond hope that those people present for my various embarrassments stay forever silent and forgetful. Rather, I need an audience, someone to absorb my repurposed and restructured versions of events (like everyone else, I need to digest the events that pass through my memory. And like every other process of digestion, the end results in poop). Sometimes, I need that audience immediately. Hence Katie and I cloistering ourselves one evening in the stalls of separate restrooms, in separate parts of town, on separate dates, despairingly texting to one another details of the dates waiting patiently for us in the other room. Hence this blog.

Hence also Amanda’s phone call to me some twelve minutes after the ball dropped on New Year’s Day, 2009.

In exchange for listening to my stories essentially on call and assuring me that, regardless of their content, they don’t mean that I am somehow bad, Amanda tells me hers. Often these things happen simultaneously. A naïve observer might assume that we were having two entirely separate conversations that simply talked past each other, but she and I know better. It is our way.

I spent this particular New Year’s evening lying unaccompanied on the tasteful, attractive, discreetly dog-stained carpeting in my parents’ living room. On TV, a crowd of people was having apparent fun in Times Square. Somewhere in that crowd, someone was having a worse time than I was. Probably, anyway. While I talked idly on the phone, I scanned the bobbing waves of heads, looking for the knit cap of someone sadder.

Amanda called I was having phone sex. Specifically, I was having phone sex with Cora. There are friends for whom you will stop having phone sex. Amanda is one of those friends. There are also friends with whom you will stop having phone sex when one of the aforementioned friends calls. Cora was one of those friends. We’d met while I was in grad school. She was an undergraduate at the time, and most of our interactions until recently had anchored themselves around Andrew, my then-roommate. Once, to my incredulity, Cora asked me in the spirit of genuine curiosity about how many hundreds of women I’d slept with. This range, I learned, had come from Andrew, in whose mind I inexplicably lived as an unparalleled lothario. I wish I lived the life that other people imagine for me.

The conversation with Cora had not yet reached the point of unrestrained gasping, so I interrupted her descriptions of unrealized sex acts with the sexiest words imaginable:

“Whoa, hey, sorry. I have call waiting. Can you hang on a minute?”

I felt bad. Also, I still felt horny. I switched lines. “Hello?”

Hearing Amanda’s cadence adds something to this story, and of course I’m unable to represent that in text. Imagine, however, the following words spoken in a cranky female voice, a smoke-roughened alto thickened with beer. She bit off her phrases with outraged, staggering pauses.

“Guess what. Just happened to me.”


Andi Epilogue

09 Mar

Not all rejection comes from the internet.

A lot of it does, though. Despite Andi’s particular style of blunt criticism and penchant for wading ballistically drunk through life, she wanted to go out with me again. I’d spent the four days since our date hibernating. The basement of my parents’ house sheltered the futon (as futons go, it was a classy affair, expensively upholstered in plaid fabric and attached to a hardwood frame) that had become my residence. The atmosphere stayed a coolly subterranean sixty degrees, winter and summer. My parents had last refinished it sometime in the early 80s, and the décor consisted mostly of wood paneling, earth tones and a macramé owl. And spiders, who for some reason habitually drowned themselves in my water whenever I left a glass on the floor for any length of time. I piled blankets on myself and burrowed in with my laptop, sending out resume after futile resume.

“So, why I haven’t I heard from you lately?” Andi’s voice on the phone was jovial. It had been four days since our date. I shifted beneath the blanket. It would have been easy to ignore the call. Catholic guilt, however, demanded that I have this conversation. (I don’t go to Mass, but I remain Catholic in the same way that people twelve years sober remain alcoholics).

“Well, mostly because I haven’t called you.”

She laughed. “Obviously. So when are we going out again?”

“We aren’t.”

The silence that followed sounded confused. “You were pretty mean to me. I don’t want to go out with you again.”

When she responded, her voice sounded forlorn, quiet. It oozed pathos. I felt like a child explaining to another why his parents wouldn’t let him play with her anymore.

As breakup conversations go, it took longer than it should have, never mind that one-date relationships shouldn’t even have to have breakup conversations. At ten minutes, I gave myself permission to begin ending the conversation. Forty five minutes later, I lay in an exhausted heap next to my phone, now dark except for the nagging flash of its battery light.

For days, I kept only the company of my numbered boxes, thinking about abstractly and conceptually about rejection. It felt weird to have refused Andi, her unconscious cruelties notwithstanding. A few months earlier and I wouldn’t have. I thought about the jobs that weren’t calling me back.

Between the time I’d last lived in Cincinnati and now, I’d managed to lose all my friends, much in the same way that you lose things in a move. It’d just sort of happened. My friends tend to have an average shelf life of about ten years, which, incidentally, is also about as long as my clothes last, and ten years had passed since I’d met most of them. I manufactured a social life out of my brother’s friends and showed up at events wearing things that had been passably fashionable two years ago. All this was fine for loud music and drinking myself stupid, but for genuine conversation, I had to put in more effort.

Amanda and I had become friends in Columbus around the same time that my bad decisions had all decided to go critical at once, melting the fragile existence I’d constructed there for myself. She happened to be going through something similar at the same time, and we bonded over our bad breakups and bad finances. For every story I had, she had a worse one. Except, of course, for when I had one worse than that.

I needed to hear a worse story than mine, so I called her.