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.

Out Of Home

My flight from JFK to MSY got in around midnight.

It was delayed more than two and a half hours, with no explanation from Delta. Catching an Uber from the airport to the Lower Garden District would cost me $33 and some change. It sounded steep, until I remembered I don't really have anyone I can call for a ride, especially at this hour on a Monday.

The driver was listening to some satellite radio station that played instrumental versions of 80s and 90s pop songs. A lyricless, vaguely Tejano version of "Fast Car" drifted out the open windows and into the sticky, desperate-for-something-to-happen New Orleans night.

As we finally arrived at the edges of the Central Business District, I looked up from my phone and noticed something familiar.

It was a billboard. Your billboard.

I'd seen on your laptop screen about a month ago when you smoked me out in your apartment. You were working on a new campaign — designing a series of clever, headline-driven creative. It was entirely your concept, and apparently, your client loved it enough to buy ad space around the city. I was reaching for my phone to take a picture when something suddenly grabbed my attention.

On the other side of the highway, facing your billboard, was another billboard. And I recognized it immediately, because I wrote its headline. My billboard.

I could have screamed. And frankly, I'm not sure I didn't. I am always proud of you, but I felt especially proud in that moment.

Your billboard was advertising a locally beloved restaurant, while mine was announcing a new type of hot sauce.

The boards are digital, so they rotate in blink-and-you-miss-it intervals along with other ads. But for just a few moments, suspended high above the expressway that separates Downtown from Uptown, our work was displayed at the exact same time. Our work, together. In the wild.

We haven't spoken in more than a month.

But I think about you all the time.

I miss you.

I know you've been a little bummed out lately — feeling homesick and needing some time to recalibrate. I can't imagine what it's like for you. And I want you to know that you never have to think twice about calling me.

The billboards are running right now, but eventually, the buys will come to an end. As you know, ad placements (even for digital out-of-home boards) are costly and fleeting. Make a few meaningful impressions, and then go away. If you're lucky, you'll reach someone and inspire them to action. That's what we do for a living. It's how you and me pay our bills. It's funny how two people who consider themselves artists can make something impersonal, send it out the world, and then fully let go of it, at the whim of a media buy. It's counterintuitive to the way you and me are naturally hardwired.

Still, the billboards are really beautiful, especially at nighttime.

If you catch them before they stop running, shoot me a text.

It would be really nice to hear from you.

And If you need me, I'll be around.

I'm not going anywhere.

I Want To Believe

You told me it was the best you ever had.

Sometimes you would say it while sitting across from me on my bed, Indian-style, naked and out of breath.

Sometimes you'd say it just above a whisper, lying right next to me with our sides touching and your arm draped over my shoulders.

And sometimes you would say it during sex, just because you knew it would make me cum.

I always believed you.

Because I knew exactly why you felt that way.

And I want you to know that I felt that way, too.

I don't believe in religion.

I don't believe in mysticism.

I don't believe in witchcraft or healing crystals or Bigfoot.

But I believed in that crackling spark that happened in my core when we were together.

It made me feel awake.

One day, I'll wake up again.


Sometimes I leave work and head straight home, just to think about you.

Sure, you drift in and out of my consciousness during the day (almost every day, sometimes all day). But I typically keep you at arm's length until I can be alone in my apartment, locked behind my bedroom door.

I draw the curtains, undress to my underwear, and lay down in bed. Then, I close my eyes and turn my body away from the window, just so I can find you in the space where no one else can. About four feet of dark, empty space between the wall and me. That's our space.

This bed. This bed used to be our space, too. In fact, right here, right where I'm laying. This is where you slept. On the left side. On a plot of memory foam you claimed the first time you slept over. Overnight, my bed became our bed.

I live with a roommate in a small, third-floor apartment in the Lower Garden District with a balcony overlooking the skyline anchored by the Superdome. The view is worth the rent, but common space is limited. So my bedroom (and the bed that imposed on more than half the square footage) was our only sanctuary.

Here, on a weekday afternoon in October, we fucked for the first time. I won’t say we made love because that would come after — almost immediately after — when we fell in love. Weeks later, on a frigid December night, you wrapped me in your hulking arms and traced your nose along the crest of my neck. In the muted moonlight, I could see the tattoos winding and weaving across your hands and forearms. Here, for the first time, suspended in the moments before sleep, I felt myself loving you. It slid up from the foot of the bed and covered the both of us.

I inhale and I can smell you. Old Spice deodorant and menthol cigarettes. Then suddenly, my phone buzzes and I’m alone in the dark again. I twist and slap around until I touch vibrating glass. I absently click buttons until the buzzing stops, then softly lob the phone onto the floor.

Today is Wednesday, which means trivia night at Finn McCool’s. Also, Torres is playing at One Eyed Jacks in a few hours. I should probably text Kylie back. I’m not going to make happy hour at Tsunami.

I’ll make plans later. Maybe I’ll catch up on TV. Or do some writing or some laundry or both.

But right now, I just want to relive the moments when I first knew I loved you.

In the space where it was just you and me.