FLAB

Like so many clichés that have preceded me, in the months before my wedding I exercised vigorously and lost a bit of weight. (Aided in no small part by the Charles Atlas Program I was researching for a story.) It has been less than three months since the day I was married and if someone asked me to recite my vows today I would only be able to frown and shake my head. It’s not because I have forgotten my vows, or have rescinded them; it’s just that these days my mouth has been so preoccupied with a constant stream of cakes, cheeses, bourbon, and candy that there’s scarcely any room in there for words.

I am out of shape. Or, more accurately, I am in shape but it’s a new shape — one that no longer requires a belt, and suddenly finds the elastic band of underwear “restrictive.” This new shape also came with a weird exhaustion with the slightest exertion. Something as simple as walking around my apartment and eating refrigerated cinnamon roll dough from its cardboard tube makes me almost dizzy, and causes my breathing to become labored, like Mickey Rourke in the opening minutes of The Wrestler.

On this sprint to ruin, I’ve tested Lisa’s devotion, patience, and gag reflex over and over by drawing constant attention to my new flab. Any time Lisa makes eye contact with me, I take it as a cue to lift my shirt, expose my belly, and tug at it like a suspicious-looking beard. If Lisa isn’t looking at me — something that’s been happening with greater frequency these days — I’ll go through the same belly-grabbing drill, making sure to also cry out, “WHAT HAPPENED TO ME?!!?” It’s become an almost unconscious behavior. Sometimes I’ll just find myself in front of a mirror, distractedly cupping the curve beneath my stomach, Thomas Beatie-style. After a large meal, my knee-jerk response is to expose my stomach like some kind of animal, and just stare at it hatefully, whether I’m in my own apartment or a fancy restaurant filled with French people. I know this embarrasses Lisa, but it’s something I do without any self-awareness at all. It’s some form of Tourette Syndrome triggered by self-loathing.

To help save my marriage — to her great credit, Lisa is not horrified by my flab; only by the way I constantly draw attention to it, privately and publicly — I returned to the gym earlier this week, barely sure what to do once I arrived. Jumping Jacks? Squat thrusts? Suicide drills? And I could almost deal with the exercising if I didn’t have to suffer through the dressing and undressing part. Maybe if I lived in Gary, Indiana, I would feel more solidarity with other gym patrons but at my gym in Manhattan many (all) of the other men are in such excellent shape that all I can think is, “Why are you here? You’re finished getting in shape. Congratulations. Now go home and have some waffles–you’ve clearly earned them.” Next to them, with my medium-soft breasts and the faint outlines of abdominal definition concealed within a fatty quilt, I expect I look like one of two things: Either a guy who was once in reasonably good shape and has recently gotten out of the hospital after a three-month-long battle with pneumonia, or a guy who has never been in shape before and is just discovering where his muscles are located.

I plan to keep returning to the gym, even if it means undressing privately in a bathroom stall for a few months. I’m also going to try to change certain habits in my diet, because I’ve learned that good choices can gain a certain amount of momentum, just as bad choices beget more bad choices. For example, drinking four glasses of wine last night begat defrosting the last remaining slab of our wedding cake and caking it up at one a.m. last night. I guess that’s an example of bad leading to bad. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any examples of good choices right now. It’s probably because these sweatpants are cutting off some of my blood circulation, and making me light-headed.

GRANNY

My search for a new couch has been driven primarily (maybe even solely) by concerns of the feline sort. When I moved into my apartment just over two years ago, I bought a couch through Craig’s List. It was an old couch — what I guess you would call a “mid-century modern” design if you are someone who wears tight-fitting merino wool sweaters and displays his casual, laid-back side by wearing Camper brand adult sneakers — and it was in nearly perfect condition. Apart from a small, almost imperceptible tear along the bottom edge, the upholstery (aquamarine, with a neat silver thread woven through it) was pristine. It was also the exact texture of a scratching post. The first time I witnessed one of my cats getting a claw caught in the sofa’s loose weave, the moment passed between us in a quick series of flashes, like that drug abuse montage from Requiem for a Dream: Ble’s claw, snagged; close-up of my worried eyes; Ble’s cat eyes, rapidly dilating, and glazing over with a “holyshitihavefoundparadise” expression; the claw, flexing; threads pulling free; me shaking my head, woefully; liquid boiling; a syringe filling; my pupils dilating; etc.

Within six months, the couch looked like a middle-aged prostitute–and not one of those high-class ones, either. The kind of prostitute that make lots of mistakes on the job, forgetting to tell johns to pay cash up-front, picking a mean pimp, walking over subway grates in heels, and so on. Now, nearly every edge of the sofa is torn beyond repair and its stuffing exposed, except in certain places where the stuffing has been completely removed and secreted away in various cat hiding spots around the apartment. The frame is visible through giant tears on the sofa’s arms; you can slide your arm inside and press it against the fabric to make it look like the couch is breathing. And these days, when the cats drag their claws across the couch, they do so joylessly, like they’re just going through the motions. It’s not quite as sad as coming home each night to a couch that would look more at home in an underground compound inhabited by mole people than a Brooklyn apartment inhabited by an effete snob, his wife, and a pair of lousy cats.

In an attempt to avoid a similar outcome with our new couch, precautions were taken. Lisa and I did a lot of research. We tried “no claw” sprays — some kind of bottled mist that is supposed to smell like farts to cats, which is a pretty incredible thing considering how much cats enjoy the odor of “salmon and liver”-flavored cat food and each other’s anuses. Unfortunately, it seems my cats equally enjoy the smell of farts because that spray prevented nothing except a repeat-purchase.

Next up: Soft Paws. Soft Paws are kind of like Lee Press-On Nails for cats and come in an assortment of colors, including special holiday-themed mixes. Lisa and I had some disagreement about whether these would be a viable solution; I thought applying and maintaining them would require as much, if not more work than just cutting their nails; Lisa thought they’d look really hilarious. We were both right.

soft paws

Soft Paws are actually kind of fun, providing your idea of fun is participating in weeks-long scavenger hunt, collecting the ruby red plastic sheaths your cats have chewed off their nails and deposited all around your apartment. But as an alternative to worrying about our next couch purchase, they were kind of a big, fat failure. (Coincidentally, I think “Big, Fat Failure” is also the title of the 37th Garfield Comics Treasury.)

As a result, shopping for a couch has not been the fancy experience I’d hoped it would be. I haven’t even bothered visiting nice home furnishings stores like Conran’s, ABC Home and Carpet, and Design Within Reach. Instead, I’ve been spending most of my time on cat-related message boards, where cat owners share helpful advice about cat-resistant fabrics. I read a lot of arguments for (and, frustratingly, against) leather, microfiber and microsuede, but I also found a lot of advice like this:

“…to keep my twelve feral cats from wrecking my furniture, I simply drape my IKEA futon in a couple of old mismatched bed sheets, then and wrap hotel bath towels around the arms using electrical tape. Works like a charm!”

“I bought a couch upholstered in sisal. BIG MISTAKE! I learned my lesson real quick, and got rid of that thing. These days, when I want to watch my stories, I just stretch out on a pile of saved-up plastic grocery bags. The cats still claw at them and sometimes the noise can be unbearable, but at least the bags are easily replaceable. So I guess you could say we’re all living happily ever after!!”

“There is only one foolproof way to keep your cats from trashing your furniture: mittens.”

“Hi. I’m wrapped in a hand-made afghan covered in cat fur, and waiting for a mail carrier, Chinese food delivery person — anyone, really — to ring my doorbell and become part of my life, even for a few precious minutes of human interaction.”

When we finally settled on a couch — a model that was neither outrageously expensive nor upholstered with chain-mail — and found a few fabrics we liked, Lisa assessed the various colors against our apartment’s decor. I, however, had my own ideas about what to do with our fabric swatches. I arranged them in a small grid on one of the couch cushions and had Lisa transport one of our sleeping cats from the floor to the couch, directly on top of the swatches. I wanted to test the various colors and materials for their respective properties of Fur Magnetism and Ease of Removal. After a few hours, I lifted the cat’s belly and removed the swatches to examine them for hair distribution. This is what it’s come to, I guess.

The whole experience made me feel a little like a sad shut-in — the kind of person who posts hundreds of photos of himself on a European vacation, and you can kind of tell, usually by the distance of the camera to the subject, the angle, or the presence of tensed shoulders in the frame, that all of the photographs were self-portraits. But necessity is the mother of shut-ins, and these measures were necessary. I’m just grateful that, in 10-12 short weeks, we’ll have a brand-new couch to replace the tired prostitute we sit on these days. And just to be safe, I’m probably going to buy some filthy bed sheets and electrical tape, too.

BIG-BOY CLOTHES

Spending my days in Midtown has made me extremely self-conscious about
the way I dress. For instance, today I was excited about the cool
autumn weather and my first instinct was to grab a hooded sweatshirt
out of hibernation, and climb into it. Then I remembered that in
Midtown, all the men wear big-boy clothes. And guys in hooded
sweatshirts are usually wheeling a cart full of Café Metro deli
platters along the sidewalk.

I know how to dress. Unfortunately, that knowledge has not been
augmented or advanced since my sophomore year in high school when I
settled on jeans, untucked button-down shirts over concert t-shirts,
and this year’s model of sneakers. And, apart from subtle seasonal
variations–for warmer weather, button-down shirt layer is removed;
for cooler weather, button-down shirt is exchanged for (or, in arctic
emergencies, supplemented with) a loose-fitting sweater–this has
remained my basic template for almost thirty years.

I’ve retained other sartorial tics for even longer than that. My
sneaker fetish began in fifth grade, when the latest sneaker was the
only essential element of any boy’s back to school wardrobe. I was a
regular Pascal Blaise in the suave (tearful, desperate) negotiations
with my parents that resulted in the purchase of Nike Legends for my
first day of sixth grade. They were $55 at the Army-Navy store
downtown–more than my parents had ever paid for a pair of sneakers,
and probably more than my father had ever paid for a business suit or
prescription eyeglasses. Until recently, I still tied my shoes using
the remedial “bunny ears” method despite knowing better. Even now, I
usually save the one-loop shoe-tying method for shoes stores, public
locker rooms, and any other occasion where I need to impress people.
And I still slip plastic sandwich bags in my rain boots so my socks
don’t fly off, and I can only wear a jacket if I first place it on the
floor and then dive into it. Some people might call these behaviors
“functionally retarded,” but I like to think of them as stubbornly
nostalgic.

By now I’m so far behind the curve of proper adult fashion that every
potential clothing purchase requires a complete assessment of my
wardrobe. Often, I just won’t bother because the ramifications of,
say, a pair of plaid wool pants would be far too great on my current
clothing situation. I would have to buy new belts, shoes, shirts,
sweater vests (?) — in order to convince people that I am not just
some hobo who stole the pants off a proper English gentleman.

It’s gotten so bad that, like a sad sack with scratch-off residue
lodged beneath his fingernails, desperately hoping to wish away his
low-key tragedy of a life in Lotto investments, I sometimes harbor
this fantasy that a bunch of homosexuals will break into my apartment
(not as sexy as it sounds), then dramatically toss the contents of my
dresser out the window, throw me into their Ford Escape (a proud
sponsor of the reality show in my head), and re-build my wardrobe and
home furnishings from scratch. That seems like a very millennial kind
of longing. Only in the last ten years or so has it become
conceivable, and even probable, that at some point in your life a
bunch of colorful characters will kick in your door and solve your
problems reality TV-style. I don’t mind rushing around, or having my
friends “confess” that I dress like a narc who’s gone undercover in a
Midwest high school. I would let someone take a pair of scissors to my
Batman t-shirt or bulky sweaters or dozens of nearly identical cowboy
shirts. They can destroy them before my eyes, and replace them with
suits and ties and monogrammed undershirts and trench coats for
wet and cold weather. I don’t care–they can burn everything I own, as
long as they stay away from my purple Nike Dunks. That’s my favorite
pair.

DUMBEST DUMMY OF THE ’00s

Recently, I taped one of those VH-1 talking head shows, where comedians and professional wrestlers and editors of Women’s Health Magazine narrate an essential list of cultural moments, such as the 20 Most Pregnant Ladies of the 1980s, or What Were Those Faggots Thinking?!? Part IV. I was a little conflicted about doing it for all sorts of reasons, both real and made up, but was gently talked into it by a friend at the network. She made the very excellent and difficult to ignore point that this would be silly fun, and probably no more harmful to my career than the Hitler uniform I choose to wear onstage at comedy shows, for shock value. (and comfort–the cotton moves remarkably well.)

I went in and, yes, it was actually kind of fun. The only difficult part was my reluctance to use certain kinds of colloquial words that might have pleased the producers. This was because 1) My great respect for the English language causes me to get terrible migraine headaches just from seeing slang like “hottie” or “blogroll” or “23 skidoo” written on a page, and 2) I feel super insincere trying to make that kind of youthful stuff come out of my mouth. (Please understand I realize this also makes me a tremendous prick. My reluctance to fist-bump only makes my interactions more awkward, and my insistence on avoiding emoticons and spelling out every little bit of Internet shorthand is probably only slightly less annoying to people than my insistence on repeatedly telling everyone about these delightful grammatical rules I follow.)

Now that I think about it, there was one other difficult part for me–I had no real memory of about 1/3 of the celebrities I’d been asked to discuss at length. I mean, I recognized their names (mostly), but couldn’t place most of their faces, couldn’t remember their pop songs, never watched their sitcoms, didn’t follow their modeling careers, etc. To their credit, the producers were very nice and did their best to re-awaken my interest in Gabrielle Reece and Toni Braxton, but I guess I was thinking about other things when the rest of the world was obsessing over those two. Actually, it did make me wonder what I was thinking about back then, if not Toni Braxton. Probably something awesome.

Oh wait. I just remembered one last part that was a little difficult for me. (My life is way harder than yours, Burma.) It was not easy to discuss certain things without betraying some measure of cruelty or contempt in my voice. Really, it’s harder than you’d think. For instance, if someone were to say the words “Jordan Knight” to you right now, how many truly positive things would you have to say about him? Keep in mind this isn’t you in the year 1989; this is you with almost 20 years perspective on the version of you that used to wear a gigantic NKOTB button pinned to the single strap holding up your acid-washed denim overalls. I understand and respect that VH-1 prefers upbeat or tongue-in-cheek jokes but, man, when you’re charged with generously offering an extra cultural minute to someone like Jordan Knight or Joey Lawrence, there really is such a fine line between tongue-in-cheek and knife-in-back. (or gun-in-own-mouth.)

Apart from navigating those concerns, I honestly did have a good time and my first thought after wrapping was, “I’d do this again, if the topic were something I’m more familiar/comfortable with.” (i.e. not ’40 Reasons We Used to be Really Horny for Nick Lachey.’) Sure, the experience was a little embarrassing and I definitely wrestled with my own highly self-conscious ideas about integrity, but what it really came down to was this: I got to goof around for an hour. I wasn’t asked to wear a crazy hat, and no one suggested I sing a Gerardo song for grins. I just sat (slumped) in a chair and joked. Pretty painless, kinda fun. Until I saw the show.

Here’s the thing…I sucked. Honestly, after watching the broadcast I was watching some of the other pundits speak very knowledgeably and sentimentally about the show’s subjects and I started thinking, “Ohhhhh, that’s what makes shows work. People who are really good at setting up video clips!” Also, people who are not shy about being very enthusiastic. And people with decent posture. Suddenly, any traces of embarrassment or compromised credibility were supplanted by a very strong sense that I looked chubby, had bad hair, poor posture, and weak eye contact. Also, maybe only about half or fewer of the topics on the program were ones I discussed during my taping. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of screen time. After spending all that time deliberating about doing the show in the first place because it seemed a little shallow, I ended up disappointed that I was barely present in the broadcast and, when I was present, it was a really unappealing, nasal version of me. It proved an O’Henry-esque lesson in dramatic irony. And, with literary references like that one, if VH-1 ever produces a special called ’40 Most Gifted Short Fiction Writers of All Time,’ hopefully I will be asked back. But first, I’ll be sure to take night courses in diction, nutrition, and The Alexander Technique.

HERE COME THE WEDDING JOKES

Getting engaged was so easy; all I had to do was ask. Now, things are much more difficult. Did you know, unless you are bananas-rich, you are kind of expected to plan an entire wedding by yourselves? Venue, invitations, colors, flowers, caterers. (For example, Papa John’s requires a two-month lead time for weddings! And they don’t do cakes.) You even have to be sure of things like “will the wedding venue have a sadsack on hand in case one of your wedding guests besmirches the restroom?” It really is that detailed.

I spoke with a caterer today (not that I’m better than any of you) about one particular venue I’d found attractive, and she warned me their rental fee doesn’t include basic services like trash removal. This is not a question I would ever think to ask, although perhaps I’m not the gold standard for inquisitive first-time wedding planners. Here is my standard checklist of questions for all venues:

  1. Is this space large enough to accommodate 150 seated guests, and a dunking booth?
  2. Are you insured for freakdancing mishaps?
  3. Where do I plug in my fog machine, boss?
  4. Can I black out these windows?
  5. Does your fee include a private suite where the bride and groom can go between the ceremony and reception, to “do it?”
  6. Is it OK if we have our wedding at 4:20, if you know what I mean? (they never know what I mean, until I pinch my index finger and thumb together, put them to my lips, pretend I’m inhaling very deeply, start coughing, explain “I’m ok, I’m cool…I just need some water or something,” and then throw my arms around them and croon, “I’m soooo weeded, buddy!”

So far, it’s been an interesting learning experience, even when it comes with the inevitably crushing disappointment of realizing certain ideas I had for the wedding are probably unreasonable/not feasible. I suppose this is a good dress rehearsal for the kinds of compromises my therapist says are inherent in a life shared between partners. (She did not use those exact words because she is not the weird and horny caftan-clad therapist from HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me,” but she did say something similarly grounding and useful, minus the cringe-inducing stuff. However, my previous therapist might have expressed herself using the sage-scented language of Self-Help. That was more her style. She liked to use words like “partner” and “visualization”, “navajo” and “sacrum,” and I would often respond in kind, with words like “sigh”, “blecchh” and “can i climb out of this adult-sized papoose now?”) I think Lisa and I will still have a lovely wedding, because we care about these things and are lucky enough to have many creative friends upon whose contributions we can hopefully rely. I just might have to resign myself to the fact that, given our budget, timeline and space constraints, I will probably have to abandon my plans for a Cop Land-themed wedding. At least I can stop scouring the Internet for vendors that sell working police siren centerpieces.

HOW TO TALK TO STRANGERS

On Sunday night I did a set of stand-up comedy in the East Village. I honestly haven’t been doing a ton of stand-up since the Aspen auditions last October and November, and I don’t know if it’s because those auditions were somewhat exhausting for me, or because they made me want to abandon all of the jokes I’d been working on up until those auditions, or simply because I haven’t been showing my face enough lately. And I don’t know if I haven’t been showing my face enough lately because the Aspen auditions were somewhat exhausting for me etc.

[By the way, I don't think I ever mentioned it, but here's how Aspen shook out. I made it to the finals, and didn't make it past that. It was sort of a crazy and confusing process because, when I first found out I had an audition I entered it with absolutely no sense of entitlement. Since I still consider myself very new to stand-up, it was a complete surprise to me that I was being seen for the festival. Then, gradually, as I progressed through three rounds of auditions, I actually started to gain some sense of belief that, yes, it was actually possible I would make it into the festival this year. So, when I found out I didn't make it – and I found out through the most bizarre means possible – it was just as mysterious to me as being given an audition in the first place, particularly since I think my third-round set was as good as, if not better, than my previous two sets. I think that's part of the mystique of the entertainment industry: it refuses to allow you a sense of certainty. That said, the whole experience was kind of exciting and, more importantly, it actually taught me the value of constantly repeating and refining a finite set of jokes – something I didn't quite value so much before all of this. And God and heaven and blessings on my head and stuff.]

Last night was sort of a crazy evening for me, in that I’d been writing several new jokes and hadn’t really worked any of them out yet. I was sitting at the bar, trying to do just that, knowing I had a little more time before I was supposed to get onstage. Then, suddenly, I heard my name called prematurely because the host simply forgot the order. I had to bolt to the stage and by the time I got up there I was still holding a pen in my hand and a pile of notes. I must have looked like a professor (translation: substitute teacher) who had just shown up late to his own class.

Once I got past my disorientation, and a new joke at the top of my set that was completely lost on the crowd, I had an excellent time. (Seinfeld and Colin Quinn were right in Comedian – no matter how tempting it may seem, it’s often a good idea to stay away from 100% fresh material at the top of your set. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and one that you learn repeatedly because you somehow convince yourself that the new stuff will instantly invigorate you and the audience. In this case, I had spent the previous two hours POSITIVE that there was something very funny about being so lonely that you frantically comb the Missed Connections in Street News. In my head, I heard an audience getting to its feet and embracing me like I’d just won the Indy 500. Onstage, it sounded a lot more like confused silence. I’m not sure Street News – a newspaper distributed by homeless people – still exists. I just know that joke will not.)

But something strange occurred to me after I did my set and had a chance to really examine the room. I saw all these guys in dress shirts tucked into slacks; a large black guy in gold chains and a colorful sweater from the Bill Cosby collection; women who looked like they were on a dress rehearsal for their office jobs at an administrative office for a major Health Maintenance Organization; men with European accents, holding domestic beers; a tiny Hispanic bartender. Basically, I saw a room full of people who, on any other day, would never be interested in spending eight minutes with me. These were people who would probably prefer to beat me up, or stuff me in a locker, or possibly rape me. (Cosby sweater, I’m talking to you.) And, reciprocally, I doubt I would feel inclined to spend any time with them. My natural inclination would be to think they’d bore me, or annoy me.

But last night, because I had a microphone in front of me, and was elevated on a tiny piece of stage built eight inches from the floor, we were all hanging out. And I was totally dominating the conversation.

HOW TO EAT RIGHT

Last night I regressed, if mildly. After skipping dinner to catch a show (successfully, enjoyably) and purchase hair products (unsuccessfully, regrettably), I found myself puttering around my kitchen at 11:34pm, looking for things to press against or stir into or spread across other things in order to end up with something like a meal.

This search commenced after I dismissed my initial idea of walking 10 blocks for pizza. (I swear, if I thought it wouldn’t result in exhaustion and distended bowels I would make every single day a pizza-party day. I love that stuff so much, even when it’s the warmed-over kind with cheese that was never once chewy, and tastes like you ordered it at a roller-rink.) I am trying to be more frugal these days, as I have a way of making sure my future is uncertain. Plus, a friend of mine has been making me feel guilty for having too much stuff. I want to be more like Walt Whitman, but I think even Whitman would agree that TiVo is a pretty good idea in that it leaves more time for daylight constitutionals and gently poking at marvelous caterpillars with a hickory stick and such.

So, left with only the contents of my kitchen to guide me, I pulled some cheese (Iberico, because daddy doesn’t roll with that pepper jack shit), hummus (fresh once, now a little tahini-stinky), olives, crackers, and eggs. Seeing all of these items spread out before me, it made me realize I have given up on preparing home-cooked meals in my apartment so completely that when I go grocery shopping I merely stock up on appetizers.

I chewed on a couple of things but the food, like so much of my life, felt very incomplete as a meal. It was a series of poorly focused scraps and momentary distractions without any real sense of commitment or follow-through.

Then I remembered that I’m a big boy and I can eat big boy food, so I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with a glass of chocolate milk. (Soy milk because big boys have big boy difficulties digesting cow milk. Please also note, in the photograph link, the suspicious background presence of a bottle of bubbles. I was just thinking about how great it would be to answer that “what did you do this weekend?” question with, “I was really tired from work, so I just stayed in and blew bubbles. It was fun. I popped a bunch of them and, on Saturday, I made a bubble inside a bubble. I forgot to take a picture of it, though, and it popped when it landed on my lollipop.”) Here’s the thing about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: for an adult, they can be very centering. It’s the dietary equivalent of finishing a difficult yoga class in child’s pose. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but preparing and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as an adult makes me feel both accomplished – no one needed to make this for me, and I paid for all the ingredients, and could use a knife without supervision – and allows me to see my entire life stretched out, and realize that even with all the small bumps of existential crises, the landscape is still pretty smooth. I’ve probably changed a lot since I was a kid. I’ve become more jaded, of course, and more saggy and hairy and measured and self-conscious and taller and deviant and observant and my spelling has improved considerably. But it’s nice to know I haven’t lost my taste for certain things.

HOW TO SET A TENDER TRAP

Two boxes of doughnuts are sitting in my building’s foyer. The doughnuts have that inexperienced, cost-cutting glaze common to off-brand doughnuts – the kind that leaves the doughnuts looking like they’ve been left out in a rain for a few days, even though the seal on the box has never been broken.

I know it sounds crazy, but I want to eat those fucking doughnuts. Why can’t I eat those fucking doughnuts?

Every time I walk by them – they’ve been resting in the foyer, those two boxes cuddled next to each other inside a plastic shopping bag, for two full days now, maybe more – I feel like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, painfully attempting to re-orient himself into society and resist his natural appetites. Except, my appetite is for doughnuts instead of raping and hitting old people with sticks.

Maybe that’s a poor analogy. Imagine if, in A Clockwork Orange, instead of being a ultra-violent droog, Alex was a black bear and a forest ranger caught him eating garbage from a campsite and then shackled the bear into a chair with his eyelids forced open. Then, while a PA system thundered with the sound of the bear’s favorite song – maybe the theme from Yogi the Bear or that song where the bears are tricked into picking up garbage in the park by performing the task to a catchy tune (“then you take the stick, put it in the bag – boom! boom!”) – the forest ranger plays the bear continuous footage of black bears eating garbage and tearing apart picnic baskets while victimized campers cry.

I feel a lot like that bear/droog, released back into society, and those two boxes of doughnuts are a clever snare. I want to bite through the cardboard and eat those (24!) free doughnuts, but I won’t. I can’t. So, instead, I just slouch toward my apartment and eat the two boxes of doughnuts I went out of my way to buy at 3 in the morning, as a way of taking my mind off the free doughnuts in my lobby. And I feel like a productive member of society, even though at night I dream of having a bit of the old “in-out” – in this case, “in” being “doughnuts in my mouth” and “out” being “hot, glazed tears of joy streaming out of my morbidly obese eyes.”

[post-script: someone ate some of the doughnuts. the bag is still there. i wish i could be that free.]

HOW TO MAKE SURE YOUR GREATEST MOMENTS DO NOT GO UNNOTICED

I am on fire today. As I was preparing my entry into a coffee shop, and holding the door for a slow-moving convoy of moms and strollers, one of the mothers (I know she was a mom, and not a nanny, because she was white) asked me how the rain was. Surprise small talk – my greatest weakness. However, I rallied myself and replied, “Well, that depends on how you feel about rain.” We both laughed and laughed and laughed and embraced and our eyes held each other, hers regarding an old soul and mine cradling a student with so much to learn, and our twin brains nodding in unison, agreeing that I had conjured up the greatest of all possible responses to her banal, weather-related inquiry. If I had a lariat and syphillis you would have sworn I was Will G-Damn Rogers.

Moments later, I was waiting in line for a latte with a shot of vanilla (wink!), and one of the coffee shop’s resident mothers ahead of me in line perched her baby-man upon the counter where he would enjoy a more fortuitous view of the glassed-in walls of Muffin Town. The mother pointed to several different residents of Muffin Town, and chose the muffin that elicited the loudest coo from her baby-man. (I should explain. I’m only calling him a baby-man because he was a baby dressed like an architect. I find this strange, and I guess Baby Gap started this trend in dressing babies like gainfully employed men and women, when everyone knows babies should be dressed crazy, in frog outfits and superman capes and gum wrappers, simply because they are too young to assume the responsibilities of, say, a Gap night manager.)

Next, the mother paid for said muffin and the coffee shop employee (dressed exactly like this woman’s baby-man!) placed said muffin on a ceramic muffin resting-plate. Then the mother, clearly mistaking her own perched baby-man for a real man with fully developed motor skills (Nice one, Baby Gap!), decided to let the baby-man hold the muffin resting-plate upon which a blueberry muffin was precariously (from the perspective of a baby) balanced. Naturally, as soon as the mom scooped up her baby-man, he tipped his muffin resting-plate and the muffin tipped away. That’s when I, with senses sharpened from my previous witty rejoinder* (*see Paragraph one of Tremble’s True Tales of Spectacular Small Talk, Issue #137), snapped a hand out and caught the muffin on a single bounce, from the plate to the counter, just before it was about to embark on a second bounce, ON THE FILTHY, RAT FECES-COATED COFFEE SHOP FLOOR. I don’t even remember my arm darting out, it happened so fast. Then I placed the muffin back on its resting-plate, and received an indifferent “thanks” from the mother and a “good show, dear chap,” from the baby-man.

I was electrified by this moment, and the coffee shop employee informed me that what he just witnessed was akin to “The Immaculate Reception.” I couldn’t have agreed more, honestly. In fact, I was glad someone saw it all happen, and appreciated for what it was: The Single Greatest Moment Of My Entire Life.

[Post-Script: I pushed it. Feeling a bit self-important after my conversation-action combo, I instigated small talk with a couple of strangers sitting next to me at the coffee shop. The circumstances were such: a small child on the other side of the lounge had found something hard and wooden and discovered, if one were to take this hard and wooden thing and smash it with all his might against a larger hard and wooden thing, it would make a very loud sound. And then, if those two hard and wooden objects were smashed against each other repeatedly, with no discernible rhythm, it would be Awesome™. So, the people sitting to my left, who up until this point were exchanging phrases such as “we want to know ourselves” and “it’s part of the whole internal energetic patterns of zzzzzz,” became very annoyed by the baby and his racket, and made many baby-hating jokes about why people should never breed. All of these jokes made them laugh very loudly. Thinking I could do no wrong here, I turned to them and said, “Don’t be so hard on the baby. He’s building book shelves.” They both looked at me for a moment, and their blinks of indifference were almost audible. Then they went back to talking about “the winds of shiva” and why everyone should see that movie, What the BLEEP Do We Know and zzzzzzz.]

HOW TO LOSE TRACK OF GOOD TIMES AS YOU KEEP TRACK OF BAD TIMES

“What kind of jackass launches a beach ball in a Franz Ferdinand crowd?”

When the first beach ball took flight over the thousands of fans (and malingerers) gathered to see FF at the Austin City Limits Music Festival last weekend, I was both surprised and disappointed. Jimmy Buffet seems like a good beach ball concert. So does Jimmy Cliff. Or Jimmy Swim and the Beach Ball Bunch. But not Franz Ferdinand, a group of Scotsman so thin and wan they look like dimly charged fluorescent tubes flickering onstage. But the first rule of Festival Concerts is this: once a crowd exceeds 70,000 people, EVERY show becomes a Jimmy Buffet show. This means you’re going to have to live with beach balls and beer cozies. And you’re going to have to live with shirtless dudes in bucket caps and pookah necklaces, doing that weird, dodge-dodge jackrabbit dance they teach you at Phish Concert Orientation Weekend.

So there it bounced, through “Auf Acshe” and “Jacqueline,” making its way from the tight swell of under-twenties crowding hard against the stage, and back to the less dense throngs of (older) people more prone to heatstroke in the park’s shadeless 95 degree weather. As the beach ball floated within 20 feet of me, I began to strip away my own initial reaction to its presence and see only the subtext of my complaint, which was, “Oh dear God please do not hit that fucking beach ball to me.”

While I’m perfectly capable of gently tapping a beach ball into the air – I’ve a Masters Degree to prove it – my performance anxiety mounts in direct proportion to the number of witnesses for the event. (see “How to Make Mistakes in Public” for a further discussion on this matter.) I was sure the beach ball would at some point reach a bouncing frenzy and the shirtless masses would begin counting out its consecutive bounces like they were God’s miracles – “67…68…69 (“tee hee!”)…70″ – and, which each successive bounce the crowd’s pitch would grow wilder and wilder, until only dogs would be able to count along. Soon, the beach ball would reach me and, with sweat cascading off every ridge of my body and dual cool rivulets of perspiration sneaking through the hair on my legs, on their way to the lips of my sneakers, I would raise a hand to swat the ball and one of the following things would happen:

  • I would swing and miss the ball completely, letting it fall to the ground.
  • I would swing, miss, and snag a fingernail across the cornea of the most beautiful girl at the concert, blinding her instantly and turning her into a misshapen monster. She would find herself unable to cope with a leading a life this way, no longer capable of using her tremendous beauty as a crutch for social anxiety. She would later throw herself into Austin’s lake and then Jack Johnson would write a song about her.
  • I would swing, make contact, and the ball would instantly burst in mid-air, its pieces floating down like butterfly wings, and everyone would go home disappointed, knowing that if it weren’t for me, we could have made it to at least 200 bounces before Franz Ferdinand’s encore.
  • I would swing, make contact, and send the ball on its way. However, right after my swing, someone in the crowd would yell out, “Nice hit, queerbait,” and all 80,000 people at the Austin City Limits Music Festival would laugh, including the drummer from Franz Ferdinand. (this would fuck up the tempo during “Michael” for just a second, which would cause someone to punch me in the face for “fucking up my bootleg, dick.”]

It was because of this concern that I cannot tell you a single song FF played during the second half of their set, as I spent the entire time watching the beach ball, worrying, practicing a swing in my head, and cursing those jackasses who set it loose at a Franz Ferdinand concert.

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