Monday, October 16, 2017

Moving Hands

Everyone has a clock inside them that ticks away the minutes.

It takes nine months to wind itself up, and the minute you enter the world, the little hand jumps forward.

When you do something good for yourself, the clock slows down. And when you do something harmful, the clock speeds up. That way, you're always in control of how much time you've got.

But when I look at you, my clock stops.

It takes a little break.

It lets me live outside of my timeline, just for a moment.

Because whether my time here is long or short, my clock knows that every moment with you is time well spent.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Men Wearing Rings

There's a guy sitting across from me on the Google shuttle from Mountain View to San Francisco. Good-looking Asian man in a henley and tortoise shell frames. On his left hand, he's wearing a wedding ring.

A few months ago, I had a conversation with Emily at Tsunami in New Orleans. "I never notice that kind of thing," I said. "When women are pregnant or when men wear rings. Breezes right by me. But women seem ridiculously in-tune to it—like on a primal level. Every single one of my girlfriends can spot a ring from across a crowded room. But when they call it to my attention, I feel blindsided. What the fuck, I think. I can't even find myself in a group photo."

But at Coffee Culture in late-July, I noticed a wedding band on a man pointing at a breakfast pastry inside a glass display case. "Cheese," he said. "Now does that mean cream cheese or like provolone or something?"

My friend Matt's friend Brett was wearing a gold ring on his left hand while plucking ramen from a bowl at Chow on Church. I noticed it almost immediately, and then I noticed I noticed.

At this moment, there's a guy reclining across from me on the GBus, wearing a simple band around his ring finger. And if I'm being honest, I noticed the ring before I saw his face.

Part of me feels like I never noticed pregnant women or married men because I didn't live in their world. It's not in the cards, so why would I notice at all?

But now—with you—I'm sharing my present and building our future. Browsing for rings isn't a fantasy. It's something I did this morning while listening to the playlist you made me. Size 8, yeah?

Being your partner gives everything more context.

Suddenly, I've got more options; more possibilities.

You've cracked open the world.

The shuttle creaks to a stop at Market and 9th, and everyone rises to their feet. In a single-file line, we descend the steps and land on the busy, rush hour street. I watch the handsome, be-speckled Asian guy disappear into the crowd navigating the crosswalk. And then I turn away and march down 9th towards my apartment, passing exactly 12 men wearing rings.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What I Wouldn't Change

I wouldn’t change my legs. There’s always room for improvement, but I think my thighs and my calves are pretty sexy as is, especially in athletic shorts and crew socks. Legs are an easy default for folks to hang their self confidence upon, but my toned runner’s legs, covered in trim waves of blond hair, are objectively hot. And that’s my stance on that.

I wouldn't change anything about my face, except for a few hard lines etched into my forehead and around my smile. In my reflection, I see my mom’s eyes and my dad’s mouth. I like being reminded of where I come from. Thank God they’re not terrible assholes.

I wouldn’t change my carrier service. $130 a month seems like I’m overpaying, but just the thought of leaving AT&T seems like a nightmare. Avoiding the hold time alone is worth whatever cash is being swindled away from me.

I wouldn’t change my lisp. Since I was a little kid, people have poked fun at the way I talk. Inching towards 30, I still struggle to be taken seriously in a conversation. My wide tongue grapples with fricatives like a clown fish trying to escape the jaws of a hammerhead. But I wouldn’t change my lisp because it’s mine and no one talks like I do. Plus, it’s forced me to cultivate a personality that projects beyond my speech—even if I’ll never know the joys of a tongue ring.

I wouldn’t change my apartment. The rent’s sky-high for a studio loft, but I don’t mind because it’s right smack in the middle of the city. From my fourth-floor balcony to my tiny, pocket-door closet, I like everything the way it is. It’s the first place I’ve lived alone. It’s my first big claim to independence. It’s my haven in this sparkling, bustling city. Though it would be nice to have a Subway inside the building. Hoofing my way down Mission five times a week for my Oven-Roasted Chicken on Italian Herb & Cheese is getting old. Even if it’s right around the corner.

I wouldn’t change my childhood. I can’t change my childhood. But if I could, I wouldn't.

Speaking of things I can’t change but wouldn’t if I could: my ability to forgive. I can take in a painful experience and channel it through a filter of forgiveness—almost immediately. It can be jarring when the person with whom I’m arguing watches my shoulders and the corners of my mouth relax, right after saying some bitchy and below-the-belt. “You’ve got a body like Whoopi Goldberg!” or “Fuck you, your sister’s in rehab!” maybe. But in the same breath, I can step outside of the disagreement and move along. “I’m sorry,” I’ll say. “Where can we go from here?” And the other party—stunned, mouth agape—will typically stutter and get in a few final jabs before moving along with me. I don’t want to lose that talent. It's necessary and hilarious.

I wouldn’t change my eyebrows. I’ve never tweezed them, shaped them, threaded them, or otherwise. Subtle and low-maintenance. Nothing like me. But everything I aspire to be.

And I wouldn’t change you.

I wouldn’t change the patterns of hair on your chest, or your heavy eyes when you’re drunk, or the volume of your voice when you rap Drake lyrics at me in the car.

I wouldn’t change the way you dress—actually, I love the way you dress. Even the rubber flip flops you wear with nice clothes. Even your Adidas gym shorts with the worn-out waistband. Even that time you wore a tank top to the House of Blues. Actually, we should talk about that.

I wouldn’t change the fact that I missed my shuttle to work today because you were having a bad morning and you desperately needed to talk to me. And I lied. I missed two shuttles. But I would do it again because I’m your partner and there’s always another shuttle.

I wouldn’t change the hours we said we lost with fighting. We didn’t lose them at all. Sure, we could’ve been saying nicer things instead and yelling, but now we’re here. And our time together is more valuable than anything I’ll ever own. Because life is short and even hours spent fighting are hours spent with you.

I wouldn’t change anything about you.

Not a thing.

So don’t alter anything.

Please stay the same.

And don’t move.

Stay right there.

I’m on my way.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What Are Your Plans?

I was planning on grad school.

Eventually, I’d re-enroll and finish up my Master’s degree.

My resume says I have a M.S. in Communications, but that’s not exactly true. I bailed with one semester left  — choosing my budding career as a Junior Copywriter over 3-hour weekly Comm. Theory labs. But honestly, I always planned on going back and knocking it out. I’ve gotten far enough without it, but it’s an integrity thing, you know?

I was planning on staying in New Orleans for just a little longer.

I had one foot out the door, but I didn’t really have anywhere to go.

My role as a Senior Copywriter was fine, I guess. I advanced relatively quickly, but after that first promotion, it felt like years before the next one would come along. Still, I could’ve hung on for a bit before moving onto elsewhere else, which happened all of sudden, pulling my complacent life out from under me. My future was a dead end, but thankfully, it didn’t extend beyond summer 2017.

I was planning on moving to Europe.

This wasn’t really a plan, so much as a vague, paper-thin aspiration. But still, it was an option.

Writers can live anywhere, right? I imagined saving enough cash to hold me over for a few months and then taking my bullshit across the Atlantic — writing website copy for American companies while sipping espresso [which I hate] and taking a shine to infinity scarves [please don’t make me]. Paris is cliché, but it was my first choice. I know I’d feel isolated in Dublin. And Italy feels more like New Orleans than France. So maybe I’d backpack around for a bit before finding something I liked. Then I’d return to the states and create a six-month plan for my new life abroad. It was lofty, but it could’ve worked.

I thought about starting a business.

Like a real business.

I’ve got my copywriter sidehustle now, but I planned on taking it off the ground into a full-blown agency. Being my boss wasn’t [isn’t?] important to me, but I like the idea of kicking ass on my own terms. Plus, I’ve already got the logo and letterhead. Can’t let that go to waste.

What about my life as a mixed media artist?

I could always abandon writing altogether, and return to my first true love: making art.

Maybe I’d have enough cash in a decade or so to jumpstart my career. Oil. Watercolor. Black and white charcoal on craft paper. Meeting my friends for happy hour with pastel wedged underneath my fingernails. Wearing acrylic stains like badges of honor.

But if that didn’t work out, I still had my body of work.

I imagined myself at 30, with my vibrant, extensive portfolio and the world at my fingertips.

I saw myself at 40, owning one or two things of value. A Creative Director with a mortgage. Pets? Probably not. I’m allergic to cats and dogs. Some people might hear this and think, bummer. But I don’t really know what I’m missing.

At 50?

I never considered what my life might be at 50.

After 50? Not a clue.

No plans.

I saw the fabric of my life fraying out at the edges and then creating new patterns in every direction spreading out across oceans and along parallel paths of time. No endpoint in sight, but definitely plans. Plan A. Plan B. Back-up plans. Tertiary plans. Worst case scenarios.

At 28, I had no tethers. No anchors. Infinite options.

No one but me.

And then there was you.

And then there was you and me.

And then us.

My plans?

Hopefully, I spend hours, upon hours, upon hours listening to music with you.

Hopefully, I have to learn to cook the things you like. I know you’ve got the palette of a fifth grader, but I still want to make the best chicken tenders you’ve ever eaten.

Hopefully, I’m forced to make small talk with your parents. But just so we’re clear, they’re wonderful parents and every moment spent discussing our shared love of Lafayette, Gretna, or Buc-ee’s is time well spent.

Hopefully, my future is a series of conversations, and pictures, and pockets of time where everything stops because I haven’t seen you in weeks, so I savor the smell of your skin in baggage claim.

Hopefully, the days ahead are spent compromising dinner spots, and picking out furniture, and discussing real estate.

Hopefully, my plans are making a family with you. Whether that means just the two of us or more, I want to create a family worthy of our individual upbringings.

Hopefully, I can wrap this up soon and we can talk.

Hopefully, you’ll leave the gym in a few minutes and I can tell you that I love waking up to a slew of texts from you. Then morning FaceTime in bed. Then morning phone brief in transit. Then constant Snaps, Insta DMs, texts, and mid-day phone check-ins. Then afternoon phone debrief in transit. Then evening affirmations. Then nighttime FaceTime in bed.

Hopefully, you’re the only plans I have for the rest of my life.

In just a few minutes, I’m going to call you.

And let you know that I’ve got a plan.

Come with me.

Let’s go somewhere.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

To Be In Love

Right now, you're asleep in my bed and I'm sitting on my balcony at 4:51AM on Sunday, July 2, 2017.

Yesterday felt like the hottest day of the year, thus far. But at this moment, the breeze making its way across the Lower Garden District could fool any local into believing it’s a typical September dawn in New Orleans.

I’ve been awake for hours — restlessly shifting from one position to another and renegotiating the symmetries of our bodies. In my arms, I watched you dose off, and then eventually lapse into a natural pattern of calm and steady breathing. I willed myself to sleep shortly thereafter so I could join you, wherever you went. So I can find you and continue our conversation, in some other state of consciousness.

A few days ago, you asked me what it was like to be in love. “It’s excruciating,” I said. “It’s nagging anxiety that you’re going to fuck something up. It distracts you from getting work done and from keeping up with your day-to-day routine. It’s being terrified that someone is going to notice your imperfections and then hate you for being imperfect. In your head, you turn over impossible scenarios, over and over again. You lose sleep over it. You reprioritize your life for it. And none of it makes any sense."

"But,” I said. “You endure it anyway because it’s worth it.”

It took me 29 years to write my own definition of "what it’s like to be in love.”

But today, I changed my mind.

Today, staring at you on the rooftop of The Ponchartrain Hotel, my clunky, acidic definition of love came undone.

Go ahead.

Ask me a second time.

If you did, I’d tell that being in love is wonderful. It’s like being happy all the time. It’s like seeing the best in someone when you’re not even looking. It’s admiring the pores across your face because they’re your pores. It's the need to be a kinder, more thoughtful person. 

What’s it like to be in love? It’s fun as shit. It’s being excited about tomorrow instead of worrying if someone is going to answer your texts. It’s wanting to be a part of the family without having met anyone. It's being with you and looking forward to the next time I see you.

When I go back inside the apartment, I’m going to slam the balcony door a little harder than usual.

Hopefully, the sound will wake you up.

Then, I can quietly reenter my bedroom and find you shaking off slumber.

And we can talk.

I can’t wait to talk to you.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Scotty Goes To Heaven

When Scotty arrived in Heaven, the first place he went was a gay bar.

The text notification told him that orientation began in half an hour, so he figured he’d get a little hammered in the mean time. He certainly had a lot of process, being an atheist and all.

The bar was called Ascend and it was located on the corner of a busy intersection between a fast-casual poke restaurant and one of those aerial fitness studios. Scotty rolled his eyes. "Great," he scoffed. "Annoying white girls go to Heaven, too."

With its wide, dark windows and crumbling stoop, Ascend was relatively unassuming, except for the giant rainbow flag hanging over the door. Scotty jumped up and slapped it before walking inside, an impulsive habit like flipping off a yellow light or crossing yourself in front of a church. Just within the doorframe, Scotty stood frozen and slack-jawed, positively stunned by what he witness. Ascend was a maze of bicep tattoos and trendy haircuts where chiseled, statuesque men of various ethnicities sipped vodka cocktails and body-rolled to what Scotty immediately recognized as a vintage Fedde Le Grand beat. Just outside the door, it was a normal weekday afternoon. But inside Ascend, it was peak Saturday night.

Scotty eased his way through the crowd, attracting the attention of every man he passed like a magnet. When he finally reached the bar, he heaved himself onto a stool and exhaled a sigh of exhaustion. He covered his face with him palms and rubbed his temples. “Fuck me,” he muttered under his breath. The reality of his situation was finally settling in, like a delayed hangover. “I’m legit dead, aren’t I?”

Suddenly there was a gust of wind and a shower of glitter. “You sure are girl,” said a voice. “You’re deader than Whitney, Amy, Aaliyah, Lindsay, Amanda Bynes, etcetera.” Scotty looked up to see a tiny Asian man wearing a black tank top, emblazed with the Ascend logo. The bartender flicked his wrist and a bottle of Carlsberg appeared. With his other hand, he gestured a fanning motion and an ornate bottle opener appeared. He cracked open the beer and placed it in front of Scotty, under which a coaster materialized. “That’s my favorite beer,” said Scotty in disbelief. To the bartender, it sounded like Scotty was more impressed by the beer than Heavenly magic. Without hesitation, he scooped up the beer and chugged it. The bartender propped himself onto his elbows and leaned in close. “How’s your night, little baby cherub?” Scotty belched and wiped his lips with the sleeve of his shirt. “Never felt more alive.” Above the music, someone screamed in Scotty’s direction.

"Oh, you've got to be fucking kidding me!"

Scotty spun on his barstool and faced the man sitting next to him. The guy was trim with a cropped fade and a white T-shirt that clung to his torso. From his angular chin, a shadow cast all the way down to his navel. His eyes were deep-set with two bright green irises that radiated light from inside his skull. Scotty scanned the stranger’s face then found a gentle gaze on his hulking forearms. He recognized this gentleman, but didn't know how or from where. "Hi," said Scotty. "I know you." The stranger tossed back the rest of his drink and rolled his eyes with distain. “Barely,” he sneered. Scotty contorted his face. “Did we fuck or something?” The stranger ignored Scotty’s question and looked down at his phone — vacantly scrolling through Instagram. “There are infinite gay bars in Heaven,” he said without meeting Scotty’s eyes. “But this one is my favorite. So I’d be extremely relieved if you found somewhere else to grace with your particular brand of assholery. Given the fact that you don't have a soul, I can’t even begin to understand how you made it through the pearly rope. Also, I’ve been dead for five years, so I’ve got seniority here and I call dibs!”

Suddenly, above their heads, CO2 cannons blasted streams of thick, cold fog onto the crowd. Immediately, Scotty was lost in the bulky expanse of the ghostly white mist that imposed itself upon the entirety of Ascend. “Just tell me,” he yelled into the synthetic cumulus cloud. “How do we know each other?!” Green lights shot through the fog like snipers in the dark. “You met me at Club Pink in Downtown Philly!” yelled the disembodied stranger. “You said I was the hottest guy in the bar! Then, you suggested I close my tab and bring you back to my place! I admired your confidence so I thought, ‘Sure what the hell!’ Then, when we finally got to my apartment, you said you were going to step outside and smoke a cigarette! Five minutes later, I went to check on you, and you were gone! I died in a car crash the next morning! You dick!”

The fog thinned and Scotty got another good look at the man’s face. “Ellis,” he said flatly. “Your name’s Ellis.” The man crossed his arms and looked away. “If I can explain myself,” Scotty continued. “When we finally got to your apartment, the place was covered in cat hair,” said Scotty, fumbling over his words. “I’m allergic to cat hair, but I still wanted to sleep with you. But then, you took off your shirt and there was a…” Scotty stopped himself mid-sentence, a distressed look painted across his face. “There was a what?” demanded Ellis, still seething. “Tell me!” Scotty took a long gulp of his beer, then he belched and said, “There was a bellybutton ring, okay? Your bellybutton ring. I saw it and I bailed. My actions were impulsive and cowardly, but like. I mean, c’mon. You get that, right?! A bellybutton ring for Christ’s sake!”

Ellis looked like he was about to burst into tears, so Scotty reached over and put his hand on the man’s knee. Scotty assumed Ellis would slap it away, but to his surprise, Ellis didn’t react at all. Instead, after a few wordless moments, Ellis took his hand and gingerly touched the middle of his own stomach. “They took out my bellybutton ring,” he said above a whisper. “For the funeral. Apparently, my dad hated it too.”

The world around them buzzed with Heaven’s circuit party. But between them, there was stillness and sadness. “I’m sorry,” said Scotty. “I’m an asshole and I’ve always been an asshole. But now I’m dead. And every one-night-stand I ever had, and every short-term relationship I ever ruined, and everyone I pretended to love is back on Earth — living their lives without me. And the worst part is that the only thing I left behind is a body that’ll probably go undiscovered for another week because I live alone. So if you give me the opportunity, I would love to make it up to you. Because I’m new to this place and I don’t really know anyone and I can use a friend right now. Any chance you want to go somewhere with me? So we can talk more?”

Ellis understood exactly how Scotty felt. The isolation of dying young. The agony of Heaven with its curated Earthly pleasures, repurposed for comfort but ubiquitous reminders of everything left behind. It was window-dressing. It was a Radiohead song.

“Okay,” said Ellis. “We can go to my place. And lucky for you, cats don’t go to Heaven.” Scotty breathed a sigh of relief and gripped Ellis by the knee, one last time. “Thank you,” he said. “Go ahead and put our drinks on my tab, then meet me outside. I need a cigarette.” Ellis smiled. “There are no tabs in Heaven, but I need to use the restroom, so I’ll see you outside. And if you need a cigarette, just make a ‘V’ with your fingers. A lighter will appear in the other hand.”

On the street in front of Ascend, Scotty enjoyed his first cigarette in Heaven. He’d already missed orientation, but he wasn’t terribly worried about it. He figured the programming authorities in Heaven had to be lenient. Day had turned to night and the chilly electric wind reminded him of Maui. He’d taken a vacation there with his father when he was a child. He took a drag and recalled walking out onto the beach after dark just to enjoy the wind. It was special. And it was the same brand of wind in Heaven. 

All at once, he was thrilled. Sure he was dead, but Heaven had infinite gay bars. It had men who seemed genuinely interested in him when he walk through crowds. It had wind that smelled and tasted like Hawaii. It was completely devoid of cats!

Before him, Heaven spread out in every direction, faster then he could fathom. Heart beating in his throat, Scotty reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He was going to order an Uber and take it anywhere. Heaven was his next big adventure. He had to go. Right now.

But then a voice called out from behind him. “Hey,” chirped Ellis. “We can walk to my place from here.”

Ellis wrapped his arm through Scotty’s and nodded in a direction that suggested “this way.” Scotty look down at their intertwined arms, and like a spark of divine inspiration, realized he had all the time in the world. Heaven wasn’t going anywhere. And neither was he.

Monday, May 8, 2017

I'm Not Your Buddy

I’ve never liked the term “fuck buddy.” It’s crass, it sounds inappropriate, and it generally doesn’t feel like a label one adult should assign to another adult. But mostly, it bugs me because it feels like a misrepresentation of the relationship, at least in my limited experience.

A few years ago, on a weekly basis, I’d leave my office and go to the movies. Here, in the mid-morning weekday seclusion of AMC Westbank Palace 16, I’d work my way to the bottom of a large popcorn and feast on horror and sci-fi films. One morning, while leaving the day’s first screening of The Babadook, I crossed an attractive guy the lobby, who was also by himself. As we continued on, we both looked back at one other before he walked into his theatre and I walked out into the sunlight. Later that evening, I saw him again, thanks to Facebook’s creepy People You May Know algorithm. I friended him and we exchanged numbers. It happened that fast.

He was a litigation attorney with a gorgeous townhome in Mid-City. I liked him enough, but after the first date, there was a tangible unspoken understanding that neither thought the other was boyfriend material. But that didn’t stop us from regularly having sex. And almost instantly, we carved out a routine. The standard text and response; a brief, straight-to-the-point dialogue in two-word sentiments.

>What’s up?
>>Home, you?
>Out. Busy?
>>Working. Blah.
>Hang out?
>>Sure. C’mon.

When The Litigator came down to meet me, he never wore shoes, which only drew more attention to his calves, which were bulbous and meaty. He was a small guy, lean on top and muscular on the bottom. Part jockey, part swimmer, part rugger.

Even though I could [and have] navigate his home in a full blackout, The Litigator always led the way. We made the kind of vacant small talk that required no attention from either party. But it was part of our ritual and it had to be practiced.

Inside his room, I unbuttoned my shirt and scanned the bookshelf for new novels. Behold, the complete works of Brett Easton Ellis peppered with Palaniuk, Vonnegut — and obviously — Salinger. I’d swear he was the most boring straight white guy ever, if wasn’t already sleeping with him. I wondered if he stopped reading fiction after high school as I kicked off my shoes and stripped away my socks. “Want anything to drink?” he’d ask, switching on a lamp and turning down the TV. “I’m okay,” I’d say, fluffing a pillow and making myself comfortable.

We’ve been here before. We’ve run these exact lines and blocked this exact scene. We were rehearsing for a play we would never perform for an audience.

The sex, like the rest of our relationship, was scripted. We didn’t kiss on the mouth. We didn’t hold hands. We didn’t get creative. Three positions max. When we were ready, he would go before me. When I finished, I’d lay there with my chest rising and falling. 

Immediately following sex, there’s a brief moment of worldless, heavy breathing where both parties re-enter the present. I love this moment. No matter how wonderful, mediocre, or terrible the sex, you can always undercut the weight of reality with a dumb, offhanded comment. “Meh, C+” is a go-to favorite of mine.

If The Litigator were someone else, I might take this opportunity to make him laugh. But we didn’t really do that. So I’d pay him an arbitrary, meaningless compliment. “That was awesome.”

To fill the silence, we asked insipid questions without making eye contact. My podiatrist and I discuss weekend plans with exponentially more genuine interest than The Litigator and myself trying to cobble together something that passes for a conversation after sex. We shuffled around, picking up garments, turning them inside out, and wrestling them onto our bodies, respectively. Then, I’d head straight for the door, sometimes with shoes in-hand, sometimes with pants unbuttoned, but always with the disheveled urgency of someone leaving jail after a night in holding.

Finally, he would walk me to the front gate where we would have our final scene together. This part, for some inexplicable reason, was never scripted. We improvised, and inevitably, it was hasty and incoherent. “Talk to ya later!” with an awkward side hug. “Peace!” with a bro handshake, followed by an unnatural bro pat on the back. One time, I went in for a fist bump, but he went in for a side hug, so we tried to compromise with a high-five and both missed.

The Litigator moved to Chicago nearly six months ago, and we haven’t spoken since. Then yesterday, I saw a photo of him with another guy — standing on a beach in Cabo San Lucas — wearing matching Ray-Bans and matching H&M swim trunks. 

“Happy 5 years, baby!!!” the caption read. “You’ve always been the love of my life and I look forward to our infinite future together!!!”

I rolled my eyes and continued scrolling.

I’ve never liked the phrase “love of my life.” It’s cliché, it's maudlin, and it generally doesn’t feel like a label one adult should assign to another adult.

But mostly, it bugs me because it feels like a misrepresentation of the relationship.

At least in my limited experience.