Wednesday, February 26, 2003

A Well-Respected Man About Town

You can tell just from looking at this guy's clothes that he has money. It's the way that the colors are muted, dyed in color lots that the cheapo stores will never see, strange mutations of grey and green and beige and more grey that are not quite colors that you can name, and they look different depending on which light you see them under. The kind of material that is decorated not with graphic design, but my minute changes in texture. That kind of clothing.

It's not just the clothes, though. It's the clothing in combination with the shoes, haircut, manicured nails and a certain way of carrying himself that say that this guy has money. He's probably always had money, because he doesn't go for the obvious display of status symbols that the newly monied favor, but opts instead for the subtle, "I've always had style and class" way.

I kind of like that style, even though it's a world away from my own. White trash/working class style was always closer to my own way, even though at various times in my life I'd desperately wanted to know how to copy that muted on muted look. I remember my brother buying me a Gucci handbag while on a cruise. At first, I loathed the thing. What the hell was I supposed to do with this, wear it around with my rock 'n' roll t-shirts and my jeans? I'd feel like a total ass. I decided to hold onto the thing for special occasion wear, like at weddings and such. But my brother's feelings were hurt that I didn't want to use it for everyday, so I relented and carted the thing around. What an education that was. Suddenly, the appraising eyes of saleswomen lighting up at the sight of my Gucci bag was a far cry from the usual treatment in department stores. Amazing what a handbag can do. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth for the power of status symbols, and the type of person whose opinion of others was determined by their presence... or more to the point, the lack thereof. Fuck you, stuck up department store saleswoman, if all of a suddent the presence of this rather ugly handbag makes you find me more acceptable. Fuck you and the hundreds more like you.

Which brings me back to the guy with the money clothes. With a feeling of self-loathing, I felt myself being seduced by the muted tones, the tone on tone, the slight variations in texture from the shirt to the sweater to the jacket, not to mention the overall good grooming and the smell of good breeding. I admired the way he got out of his car and swung his jacket over his shoulder, just like he stepped out of one of those swinging cigarette commercials before television stopped showing them. He seemed so confident and cool, nothing could touch this guy's cool.

I happened to follow him into the Starbucks, because that was where I was heading in the first place. He stood right in front of me on line, ordering his fancy coffee drink, and I noticed that his voice carried no hint of the heavy regional accent that had tarnished so many of us. While deciding exactly how much foam I wanted on my drink, a feeling of unease came over me, and my attention was brought back to the man in front of me, the muted tone on tone man, who had begun raising his voice at the sweet-faced teenage girl behind the counter. Brazenly eavesdropping intently at this point, I quickly figured out that Mr. Polished was berating this young girl to within an inch of her life over some small infraction, a minor detail in his order. Yes, customer service is diminishing in America faster than the number of manatees in Florida, but the way this guy was carrying on was akin to a mental patient figuring out that he wasn't going to get to see Judge Wopner on time. Although I'm quite sure that the impending war, the national debt and cancer were all her doing, the way he was freaking out on this poor girl was embarrassing. Embarrassing for HIM, it should be made clear.

Funny how this incredible fit of pique over a coffee house drink made Mr. Polished turn into Mr. Scumbag Monster in the time it would've taken for the girl to simply re-froth his drink, or whatever the trouble was. I felt sorry for the girl, being dressed down by this imbecile for such a minor thing, even though I really should've felt sorry for Mr. Pathetic Anger Issues. Mr. I'm So Important, You Are Here To Serve ME, And Be Quick About It. And although the counter help remained completely professional in their behavior, even after he left, I hope that it made things a little better for her when I made them laugh by saying all the things about him that they would've liked to. As I belittled him for their amusement, we all watched through the plate-glass storefront window as he got into his car, illegally parked in the handicapped spot in front of the Starbuck's.

Handicapped more than he'll ever know.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Could You Just F'ing SAY It?

I need to hear it. Yes, there are times when I was quite sure that it's there, that it's real, like that night you looked at me across the driveway as we were saying goodnight, and you suddenly walked over to me, and when I said "What?", I soon found out that you just wanted to give me one more hug. And the way you put your big paw on my knee whenever we are talking in the car about our plans for the rest of the week and when we will see each other again. Or the way that you search out rare recordings of my favorite artists, and either surprise me with the record or burn me copies of things you know I'll like, because you actually listen to me and like to surprise me with little gifts. Those things are really special to me, and make me smile to myself when I drive to work in the morning, even when those damn lights take too long.

I've finally figured out that actions really do speak louder than words, after years of emotional drive-by shootings by former friends and lovers whom I had neglected to distrust. NOW I get it, you can tell how someone feels about you by how they treat you, and what they do, rather than what they say they will do. "Billboard" is loaded with songs proclaiming the outrageous things lovers would do to prove themselves, climb mountains, drink their lover's dirty bathwater (uh, ewwww), die an outrageously painful, slow death, etc. But it's the guy who will buy me a cup of coffee when he knows that I'm swamped at work, and who will burn me a CD of his brother's copy of a Stones record, because I love it and I lost my copy, that's the guy I want to be with, because he shows me how he feels about me, and that feels really good.

Now, is it too much to ask that you actually SAY it once in a while? I don't mean that rhetorically, either. I really mean, is it too much to ask to hear THE WORDS? Should I just be happy to finally have found the man I was looking for, and shut my piehole already, because it's not his style to be demonstrative verbally? I just don't know the answer to this yet. Maybe I just need to be patient, which has worked wonders so far. But it would mean a lot to hear the words, it really would.

Monday, February 24, 2003


There was that familiar sharp pang of fear in my stomach and distaste in my mouth when I saw her again. It was the same pain I felt when people mentioned her name years ago, right after the dissolution of our friendship.

I noticed that she was keeping her hair red, as it was in the days that I knew her, only I could see the brown roots showing through. That was so typical of her, with her bohemian sense of style - the brown "old man" coat she used to love, and the boots that were painted a different color each month, to hide how worn they were. She was a charismatic mixture of creative genius, frailty, and madness that drew so many towards her, only to eventually find themselves dashed on the rocks at her feet, like so many discarded whiskey bottles. Back then, I thought that I would be spared, that I was special somehow. I didn't notice the bruises and cuts until it was too late.

I instinctively ducked behind a column, because I wasn't ready for this, what, meeting? Confrontation? No amount of preparation felt like enough. Another sharp pang shot through my chest, this time of shame. Why, after all these years, was I still afraid of her?

I'd practiced what I'd say to her in my head a thousand times, if I were to ever see her again. The tone and text of the imaginary conversation changed many, many times, to suit my mood and situation.

When my father was dying, I imagined talking with the soft and empathetic side of her, the side I rarely saw but which kept me loyal to her all those years, the side that made me feel protective of her. Maybe she would be able to understand and make some sense out of my loss, since she had lost her father too, in a sense, due to the divorce so many years ago. Or maybe she would make me laugh and keep me from falling into the pit of despair? No, at some point in the conversation, I most assuredly knew that without warning, I would feel the sharp, cold slice of her verbal talons, as she would lay into my exposed underbelly with speed and deliberation.

The memory of cruel comments during my hospital stay, and the dismissive way she had handled my various heartbreaks over the years, informed the plot of our conversation. I could still clearly see the cold gaze of her blue eyes and the little smile that played on the corners of her mouth when she made her most devastating pronouncements. Shock would always render me mute, and later I would berate myself for accepting such behavior, until I would think of a suitable excuse for her behavior, so that I could slink back into cozy denial.

Although this fantasy brought me no comfort after my father's death, it comforted me in the twisted, ironic knowledge that even if we had remained friends to that awful day, she would most likely not have been much of a comfort to me. That knowledge in turn made me comfortable with her absence during the biggest crisis of my life. How pathetic that my closest friend for so many years would become a much greater comfort in her absence than in her presence.

At other times, when I was dealing with other personal crises, I imagined our conversation as if I was talking with the cold, manipulative bitch she could be when she wanted. In that version, I ranted and cried, lashing out at her for every insult and indignity suffered during our friendship. I wanted to believe that I could finally expel the formidable latent anger I felt towards her, towards everything. Her cruelty, the injustice of losing my only real parent so soon, the responsibilities hoisted on me early in life, the incredible gaping insecurity and self-loathing I felt - she became the target for all this and more in those rantings. But even in my imagination, she would get in the last bitter word, leaving me unable to move or breath or blink in the harsh light of her judgment. I was left stuttering in my impotent rage, even in my own fantasy.

Sometimes, when I was feeling emotionally or spiritually uplifted, I would attempt to imagine our conversation taking a positive turn. Maybe we could put the past hurts behind us and talk about how our lives had progressed since our previous acquaintance. Perhaps, dare I imagine, she would apologize to me for some of the things that had happened in the past, and I would be able to forgive her. If I could forgive her, maybe I could even forgive myself for putting so much emotional energy into a friendship that gave so little back. Perhaps I could get rid of the unhappy memories that still taunted me, eating away at no one else's esophagus and stomach but my own.

But the warm and fuzzy version of The Conversation stank so much of a big-budget movie ruination of the novel's true sad ending, that I couldn't even convince myself to continue thinking along those lines. I hadn't actually grown up enough myself to be able to forgive her, and worse still, I was still expending mental energy on someone who probably hadn't given me another thought after wiping her hands clean of me years ago.

Now, confronted with the physical embodiment of much of my anger and pain, I found myself unable to confront the demon. I stayed behind the column until she was well out of sight, my heart beating loud enough for the passersby to surely become alarmed, and I silently berated myself for my cowardice - my inability to face her, to face myself and my demons.

Never mind that she wasn't really ever there, that the woman I'd seen that day only reminded me of her. The truth is that no matter where I go, she is never far from me.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Whatchoo lookin' at?

He was wearing a beige and tan plaid blazer, big enough to be a man's blazer, but with kind of that color scheme that looked like your auntie the retired schoolteacher would've worn it and thought it looked smart. He'd made it more punk rock by putting all those dog collar studs up and down both lapels, and he'd managed to find some orange Chuck Taylor sneaks, which were actually pretty damn cool. I was dubious about the jacket, but definitely jealous of the sneakers, and I was watching him and his friends laugh and make their way to the mall escalator. And then I realized what it was that they were laughing at. The one in the orange shoes, by far the alpha punk of the group, was laughing at ME. He kept stealing looks back over his shoulder, making eye contact, and then his group would erupt in a new round of guffaws.

Of course, a fist-sized wallop of "lo-so" hit me in the face at that moment, and I felt embarrassed and hurt and angry all at once. ("Lo-so" being low self-esteem, according to my boyfriend J) How could this teenager, whose shoes I was just admiring, be making comments about me to his friends, and they were all laughing meanly, well within ear-and eye-shot. And more importantly, why the hell did it bother me so? I had taken two seconds of sizing up his sartorial style and translated it instantly into a generalization that this was a person who I'd be interested in meeting, only to find just as quickly that I was an object of sport to him and his friends, and I had the bizarre reaction of feeling betrayed by this complete stranger. Wearing dog collar studs on his auntie's blazer, no less.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Marching orders

I was really surprised to hear this war veteran tell me that he wasn't too keen on the idea of going to war with Iraq. Before our conversation today, it seemed to me that many veterans are suprisingly gung-ho about going there and "defending our country's interests", a surprise mainly because I would have figured that anyone who'd actually been IN a war setting would've been precisely the last person to be enthusiastic about sending someone else into the same setting. A surprise secondly because "defending our country's interests" seems to mean fighting for oil that we really don't have a right to, and killing the country's leader without any good plan about what to do afterwards, not to mention the ethics of trying to decide that country's fate without consulting the citizens thereof. I'm sure that there are some who believe that there are strong ties between bin Laden and Hussein, but I'm not so sure that is even what this whole push towards war is about, and I'd really like to be SURE that there is a damn good reason to put our military personnel in that horrible situation. It just doesn't add up.

Back to the veteran, he had another reason for holding back support for the war. He said that Bush senior at least had military experience, but this young one, he'd never marched with our armed forces "with a gun slung over his back", and he hadn't the personal experiences his father had - and he didn't have the right to be so cavalier about sending our sons, brothers and husbands (he's of that generation that doesn't recognize that the daughters, sisters and wives are going there now, too) into war without a damn good reason. I've never marched for this country with a gun over my shoulder either, but I have to say that the vet and I were pretty much in agreement.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Crazy Cat Woman

I'm a crazy cat woman in all respects, except for the habit of owning more cats than one's quota (3 ought to be a good limit, and that would make me at one below my personal limit at the moment), and in being totally alone in the world except for the house climbing with cats. I mean crazy in the sense that I won't get up when a cat is peacefully asleep in my lap, unless absolutely necessary (read: bathroom emergency). I will take in cats that other people don't want, sometimes at great financial expense when they turn out to be dying of a mystery disease. I talk to my cats like they are my children, especially since I don't have children (nor do I want them). I will make sure to squint my eyes and blink slowly when looking into the eyes of my beloved kitties and at strange kitties alike, because a cat book said that this was the body language one cat uses towards another to show they are friendly. I spent hours upon hours getting the stray cat outside my office to trust me, and now I am the only human allowed to pet him - and I feel greatly priviledged by this.

I notice the different sounds my cats make, and can tell what kind of mood they are in from the position of their ears and tails. I make a point of greeting them when I come in the door, and we sniff each others' mouths when we see each other for the first time that day. I cry piteously when having to put one down at the vet's, and feel the white hot sharp stab of panic if I think one's gotten out of the house. (These two are indoor cats exclusively, and they should know that by now). And most tellingly perhaps, I love them more than some people I know.

Is that wrong?

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