07
Apr
14

things steve winwood could not account for, or, “never change, dc…”

I very much needed to not think about the one thing my mind seemed determined to think about.

I needed to move; to be around people; to be otherwise occupied.

I didn’t go out out much, anymore.

Age had calmed the roaming spirit that had long wrestled, listlessly, within me.

But my mind—my mind wanted for distraction.

Here’s what I now know:

When you beckon unto the night, the night answers.

9:00 pm. Fancy event at a bar in DC.

I arrive at the bar. There is a line at the door. There is a man standing at the door with a clipboard. I tell him my name. He tells me I’m not on the list. I say I’m waiting for “Mike,” who is supposed to let me in. He tells me he doesn’t know Mike. I text my friend to tell her Mike isn’t here.

A gaggle of drag queens join the man with the clipboard. They coo and laugh and tease the man about not letting me in. I marvel at the size of each lady. I attempt a visual estimate of how many yards of sequined fabric are on display before me. A drag queen winks at me. I smile, broadly. Where the fuck is Mike?

Mike arrives, all exuberant merriment. I recognize him, immediately, by his bowtie. He recognizes me, immediately, by—I have no idea how he recognizes me. He tells the man with the clipboard that I’m with him. The man with the clipboard lets me in. I briefly consider how quickly he acquiesces, considering his indifference to my mention of “Mike,” two minutes prior.

Mike and I start to make our way inside. The drag queens grab at Mike. Mike is delighted. We spend the next minute at the center of 4 statuesque drag queens who make a show of patting Mike down. Mike bends over to let one spank him. The drag queen spanks him. Mike bends over again and suggests a full body cavity search. I decide I like Mike very much.

We find our way to a set of tables where our friends await us. “Our friends” is liberal. Only one is my friend. But she has an IPA and a bourbon, neat, waiting for me when I sit down. Sometimes, one friend is all you need if she’s the very best kind of friend.

We drink copious amounts of alcohol and eat a bevy of super fancy, lovingly-prepared hors d’oeuvres. My friend makes sure the waitstaff only bring me meatless food. My friend’s friend mentions that the man she is speaking with at our table is also a vegetarian.  Five minutes pass.

“Other Vegetarian” flags down a server with a platter. The server explains that she is holding Korean barbecue. “Other Vegetarian” picks up two skewers of beef and eats them. Then he smiles, gently, at us. I don’t look at my other table-mates, but I am staring at him in awe. “I’m just so hungry,” he says, sheepishly.

Mike and my friend drink more. Mike taps the breast portion of his suit jacket. My friend tells me Mike has a stash of reefer in his pocket. They discuss where they can disappear to smoke it. Mike mentions that his job routinely drug tests. I furrow my brow. Mike explains that he is the  (insert fancy, highfalutin job title here) at his place of work. Mike is apparently in charge of scheduling when drug tests happen. I, again, consider how much I really, really like Mike.

An hour goes by, and we begin to part paths. My friend is ready to go home. I want to dance.

11:30 pm. My favorite salsa spot. DC.

I am greeted at the door by one of the proprietors. He takes both of my cheeks into his hands and kisses me very close to my mouth, while laughing heartily. I don’t mind, even though he is super old. It feels good to be missed.

I put my things away and move upstairs to the dance floor. The narrowness of the space doesn’t allow for much movement outside of dancing. I make my apologies as I brush past spinning bodies. I find my way to an empty wall, and lean beside it for purchase. Not long after, a man is before me extending his hand.

I’m out of practice, for certain, but it’s not long before I’m comfortable. I ease into fluidity of movement and rhythm, and he holds me close. We dance for four songs, straight, all salsa. When we finish, I’m gasping for air, and find my place on the wall, once more. The music changes to merengue.

My friend, “John,” appears out of nowhere. We are dance friends who sometimes talk between our sporadic ventures out. I love John because he is an unapologetic asshole. This also makes me hate John. He’s the biggest dance show-off I know. He extends his hand. I remind him that I hate merengue. He makes a noise under his breath that is indicative of his dismissal, and leads me to the dance floor. John is from Cameroon. John brooks little refusal.

We dance for song after song after song.  John sends me out for a spin, extends his foot, and gives me a slight kick in the ass before I return to his arms. I am furious. John laughs. I make a mental note to kill John. John says that I am out of practice. John talks a lot when he’s dance-showing-off.

 

“We have much to discuss, you and I,” says he.

“Just shut up and dance,” I reply.

“You are angry because I kicked you. But you are dancing better,” he answers.

 

“Stand up straight,” John admonishes. “You dance beautifully when you stand up straight. Maybe not ‘beautifully.’ ‘Adequate.’”

 

Also…

 

“You are out of practice. And you never follow me. Stop being so strong in my arms. You dance like you live. This is why you are alone.” – John.

 

“Have you given any thought to my offer?”

–“What offer?”

“Do not play with me. Are you going to marry me?”

–“Absolutely not.”

“Because so many other men have asked you?”

 

And…

 

“Is it because we have not gone to bed together? We can finish this dance and go to bed together, tonight.”—John.

 

“I do not know if it has escaped your attention—I’m sure it hasn’t—but I am a very good looking man.” –John, with his first inarguable platform of the night.

 

Finally, during our last dance…

 

“All you do is fight me. And say ‘No.’ But when I hold you like this (draws me nearer)—right here (puts pressure on small of my back as we move together in bachata), right here says, ‘Yes.’”

 

I am ready to go home. John won’t let go of my hand and begs with his eyes the way he always does, but doesn’t protest. His pride won’t let him ask, out loud. It’s the thing I respect most about him.

I take a cab to the train.

U Street Metro. 1:15 am.

My phone is dying. I sit on a bench and wait for the train. A homeless man sits behind me. I play with the hem of my dress. I hear a grumble. The homeless man is talking. He seems agitated. I turn around to see the object of his ire. He is staring straight at me. I turn back around, but find the “memo” function on my phone. I know this is about to be legendary. He begins to curse me out.

“You are one stupid, ignorant bitch. Why don’t you do something with your life? Other than act like a fool—“(If, at this point, you’re kinda mystified because his tirade seems really personal and direct, join the club. I legitimately have to take a second and consider whether I’ve ever actually dated him, so accurate are his criticisms.)

“You think everybody wants to be with you, but they don’t. Nobody wants to be with your dumb ass. I’ve had enough pussy to last me a lifetime. I don’t need yours. Why don’t you just focus on one thing? Can you do that? Can you focus on one thing?” (The whole time, all I’m doing is taking shorthand of this homeless man who, inexplicably, knows my life. Other people start to sit down, but no one says anything. I guess they figure that I’m not overly-concerned, and reason they shouldn’t be either. He is loud, though. And convicted. Also, pro-tip: Never sit beside a man with no house but lots of conviction.)

“Why don’t you focus on breathing, you slow bitch? Can you do that? Can you at least do that? Just sit still and breathe somewhere for a while. Because your pussy AIN’T all that (debatable). I’d want you if you had some goddamned sense, but you don’t. And I don’t have no time for any  no-sense bitch. You thick. But you can take your bum ass on.”

My train comes. I do as he bade me.

King Street Station. Old Town Alexandria.  1:45 am.

I walk down the steps towards the turnstyle. Two tall, brunette women are a few paces before me. I watch the first woman hold her smartrip card to the turnstyle and walk through. The second woman makes a show of putting her smartrip card on the turnstyle but doesn’t. She proceeds through anyway. I shake my head, apply my card, and walk through. The metro attendant calls after us from his station.

I turn around, point to my chest, and mouth, “Me?” The two brunettes continue walking, pretending like they don’t hear his voice booming into the otherwise quiet night. He shakes his head at me and calls out to the brunettes, “Excuse me. Ma’am?! Ma’am! Come back here, Ma’am.” The taller of the two, RideThief, turns to him, abruptly. I can sense the indignation in her movement. I slow my step to idle by the entrance.

She marches back towards him, irritation obvious in her gait. She presents much in the fashion a small child would, tantrum at the ready. “What is it—“ she spies his nametag, “*Jamal*?” She spits out his name with disgust. I bite my knuckle to keep from laughing.

He responds, “You didn’t touch your smartrip to the machine, Ma’am.” RideThief is furious. “I did! I did! Are you saying I didn’t? Is that what you’re saying, *Jamal*?” She keeps saying his name with this shady intonation, as though she suspects “Jamal” is not his real name; as though his name is only *allegedly* “Jamal.” I look over at her friend who is nervously hanging back in the periphery. She says nothing.

Jamal speaks again. “Ma’am, I’m going to need you to apply your card again, or I’ll have to detain you.” RideThief loses her shit. “DETAIN ME?! FOR WHAT, *JAMAL*? WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DETAIN ME FOR, *JAMAL*? WHAT CRIME HAVE I COMMITTED, *JAMAL*?” I’m not certain what this woman has drank throughout the night, but it’s clear she chased it with White Privilege.

I take out my phone and turn on the camera. Jamal spies me and peeps game. I see him suppress a smile. He looks into my eyes. Shaking his head, he mouths, “No,” silently. I put my phone away dejectedly.

RideThief is about to have an apoplectic fit. She’s screaming out things like, “What? You think I don’t have any money? Is that it? ARE YOU SERIOUS? ARE YOU SERIOUS, *JAMAL*?” Finally, her friend approaches, whispers to Jamal, and hands him her fare-card to run through the machine. I consider that this is no solution as it won’t account for wherever RideThief entered the metro, but Jamal seems content to get her off his hands. I walk towards my car as he swipes her card.

When you beckon unto the night, the night answers.

11
Feb
13

“Ad Vitam Aeternam,” or…”Advice to a Valentine.”

vilubj

Do not pray for Love.
Pray for Time.

The cruelest thing about Time is that it selfishly persists ever on. Time has no means to understand that what was yesterday, is today, no longer. It brutishly powers forward, ignorant of your attempts to quell the tide.

Time has no idea not too, too long ago, someone made you feel light and hopeful; shiny as a new dime. And while everything has returned to the way it was before him, nothing is quite the same.

And though he didn’t stay long enough to move furniture, or leave little this and thats behind; while there’s no abandoned and re-appropriated, over-sized tee shirt to cloak about your shrunken shoulders; no smell of him clinging to air or sheets–a vacuous, empty space, molded in the likeness of his frame, moves about your house like a specter; touching every table, chair, wall, surface like a stain.

Time is both benefactor and robber baron.

It lays expansive swaths of moment before you like an afghan, inviting you to lose yourself in the eternity of it all. And only when you are secure in the warmth of covering does it rescind itself, begging your pardon while taking its leave.

Do not pray for Love.
Pray for Time.

Because no matter how desperate the entreaty, how earnest the plea, Time advances. Moving you so far away from that briefest of windows where hope ran wild and uninhibited.

Let not your head be overly-concerned with love. Love is too extraordinary a measure for the ordinariness of us.

And though it is beset on all sides by enemies–dejected, bitter apostates of every kind—Love bears it out, a stronghold unto itself.

So do not pray for Love.
Pray for Time.

But should Time grant you Love, mind its temporality. Do not restrain it, track its movements, cluck disapproval or furrow brow when it dares dip south of your estimation–for it surely will.

Rather, say, simply:

Our moment may be brief.

 It is wasted with talk of fate. Neither do I care to consider that which is destined or pre-ordained. I do not know that I believe in all of that; that there is enough hope left in the world to even dream a scenario whereby our paths are inextricably bound.

 But in the hush of night, when all is still, you are the answer to every question my heart asks.

 Your name is the benediction at the close of each breath.

 I do not want to do anything, anything, except talk to you about nothing, and everything, until however long, whenever is, forever.

 

23
Dec
12

“this world. then the fireworks.” part i.

All of a sudden, I was hypersensitive to everything. Every unsolicited touch, every look threatened to bulldoze me. And even though I knew I was imagining it, I swore I felt ache each time I breathed.

But the words were the worst part. Everyone was talking so much, it seemed. At court. At the office. On tv.

By Tuesday evening, my emotions had come forward in unexpected waves. Sadness. Anger. Confusion. And then sadness, again. My professional obligations satisfied for the week, I cancelled all of my personal appointments.

A restless night saw me sleep-deprived and haggard on Wednesday morning. I stood before my full length mirror and assessed my nude reflection. Critical eyes returned my vacant stare.

“Fuck,” I said, gathering my robe and looking around frantically for my phone.

One by one, I set about rescheduling the appointments I’d cancelled. Hair. Pedicure. Sugaring. By noon, all was back to right. All but the sugaring.

As pisspoor luck would have it, my highly sought after vag-aesthetician had already filled my slot (keep the pun), and me and my sweetladypurse were up Shit’s Creek.

Panicked, I worried this bump in the road would derail what meager progress I’d made. Biting my bottom lip, I scrolled through my phone’s contacts until I found the number for which I was reluctantly searching. I exhaled a long, dejected sigh before dialing.

****

“What up, Chief?” the voice on the other end answered.

“Kiersten, I need the number,” I said slowly.

“What number?” my friend asked.

I sighed, again. “You know the number. THE number.”

“The Bolshevik?” Kiersten questioned, her disbelief palpable.

“Yep,” I returned.

“Nooooo,” came her response.

“’Fraid so, Kid.”

I felt the exact moment Kiersten’s incredulity turned to smugness. “I told you this day would come.”

“You did, indeed,” I replied.

“You sure you wanna go this route?” She asked. “Thought you were firmly entrenched in the clean-pussy-for-beginners camp.”

My anxiety was growing. “My lady’s booked. Desperate times, Friend.”

“And you said you’d never return to the fold,” she laughed.

“Never turned out to be a long time, Dude.”

“It always does,” she countered. “You got a hot date or something? Don’t want him to see your George Herbert Walker?”

“I don’t  even want to—“

“Your Big Bush!” she exclaimed, laughing excitedly. “HA! Get it?! YOUR BIG BUSH!!!!”

I’d known this call would go this way. I gripped my temples with my left hand. “Seriously. You are the most vile white woman on the face of this earth. I put that on everything.”

Kiersten finally calmed herself. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Cherub. Lemme find that number.”

****

Though I’d never met Pavi, her reputation in my circle of fancy older friends preceded her. Kiersten had happened upon her a year ago, and occasionally regaled us with stories of the woman’s episodic vagina-treachery when the booze flowed too freely during brunch.

We weren’t exactly sure about Pavi’s origins. Kiersten was a firm believer in not asking personal questions of people who saw her genitals, service industry members included. She did, however, guess that the woman was of Eastern European decent. “Russian or Czech, Lithuanian or Ukrainian. Whatever the fuck,” she’d decided dismissively.

I’d immediately christened the mystery woman “The Bolshevik,” explaining to my friends that her savagery was a way to exact revenge on the people she believed to be her rich, capitalist oppressors. I’d just as instantly vowed never to go to her, irrespective of Kiersten’s glowing praise. The woman sounded like a sadist, and I personally found sugaring to be a more humane option to a brutal hot wax any day.

Until this day.

****

If Kiersten’s upbeat nature had temporarily alleviated my gloom, my call to Pavi restored it in full force. I’d had to beg the woman to take me on such short notice, fumbling over my words as I explained how shitty my week was going. Perhaps sensing the desperation in my voice, Pavi’d finally relented.

“Last appointment. Thursday. 6:30. Do not be late,” she’d commanded in clipped tones.

I’d driven to the furthest recesses of Fairfax County to meet her. My determinedness to be doing something, anything other than sitting in my house sulking had left little time to thoroughly consider the gravity of my decision.

But as I sat in the waiting area, flipping through old Washingtonians, the full crush of my trepidation weighed me down.

A tall woman with porcelain skin, severe cheekbones, and cropped jet black hair entered and introduced herself as Pavi. She sized me up, looking me over, slowly. “You friend of Mees Kiersten?” she asked in a thick accent.

“I am,” I responded.

“Hm,” she countered, curtly, as though she didn’t believe me. “Come.”

I followed her through a long corridor to a spacious room in the back. Shitty art adorned the walls, and products of every kind lined each table top. I was immediately reminded of a dentist’s office. Or a gynecologist’s office. Or any other sterile, quiet place that I hated with all my being.

Pavi indicated a folded gown at the end of the waxing bed. “You put on.”

I frowned. “I’d actually prefer to just keep my sweater on, and only remove my skirt.”

Pavi eyed me only for a moment before turning to leave. “You put on,” she said before closing the door behind her.

I was too tired or too grateful or too scared to argue. When she returned, minutes later, I was on the bed, dressed in the gown.

Pavi smiled when she entered, happy to see that I’d complied. She spread my knees to assess the situation.

I looked at the ceiling and counted tiles while she applied a liberal amount of powder to my nether regions.

“You lawyer, like Mees Kiersten?” Pavi asked. I felt the wax on my thigh.

“Yes. That’s not how I know her, though. We actually—JESUS CHRIST!” I shouted as she ripped the first strip of cloth from my skin. I looked frantically down to where Pavi sat, not raising an eyebrow, head dutifully bowed, fixated on the task at hand.

I stuttered, and struggled to find my words. “I thought you’d give me some kind of warning. Holy Christ.”

“Ees fine,” came her reply. I felt another slather of wax. “I like Mees Kiersten. Good customer. Always on time.”

SNAAATCH.

“HOLYMARYMOTHEROFSWEETINFANTJESUSDAMNIT,” I exclaimed.

Pavi was undaunted.

I could feel tears building in my eyes. “Wait. You gotta tell me when you’re gonna do that. Seriously.”

Pavi’s face remained impassive. “I tell you, you tense up. I do not tell you, you do not tense up.”

“I’M TENSE NOW.” I burrowed my fingernails into the bed cushion.

SNNNNNNNNNATTTTTCH.

“THIS IS NOT A GOOD STRATEGY,” I almost yelled.

Pavi ignored me. “You want shaaeep, maybe? Streep? Hhheaart? Diii-aa-monnd?”

I closed my eyes and fought the urge to kick her in her face. “NO. No shape. Just. You know. Just .You know. What Kiersten gets.” I struggled to find the appropriate tactful words.

“Ah. For boyfriend. Clean. Like baby,” she said, applying more wax.

SNAAAAATCH.

“Not for boyfriend, no. And I’d just as soon not have any man down there thinking of a baby. Holy smokes, this hurts,” I answered through clenched teeth.

“Young girls, deefrint, today,” she said, to no one in particular. “My huuusband, my age, verrrry deefrint.” She looked up from between my legs. “Like, pooouf, you know?” she asked, smiling. She used her hands to gesticulate what appeared to be a mushroom cloud.  “Pooouf,” she said.

SNAAAAAAAAAAATCH.

I let out a whimper. Whether it was in response to the ripping of cloth or Pavi’s revelation, I was uncertain. Now, on top of everything else, I had the horrifying image of her hairy, hobbit pubis firmly ingrained in my head.

“Okay,” she said. “Up. Turn over.”

I sat upright.

“I really don’t think that will be necessary,” I said. My heart was beginning to race.

“You want like Mees Kiersten? Up. Turn over. Leek dog,” she commanded in a voice that brooked no refusal.

I sat there, wordlessly staring into her dark eyes, for a moment. I didn’t know what to do. Something about her “Leek dog,” had rocked me to my core.

When Pavi’s face betrayed no emotion, I knew my course had been decided long before I’d arrived. Shaking my head, I slowly turned over.

If she says, “Good girl,” she will meet her end, tonight, I told myself.

When it was all over, Pavi took care to examine her handiwork, and tweeze out a few strays. She was all at once gentle, applying a liberal portion of cream.

She asked, “Looks good, yes?” but her tone was more matter-of-fact than questioning.

I couldn’t deny it. For all my pains, physical as well as emotional, she’d done a spectacular job. “Yes. Thank you.”

“You feel bad. Now better, yes?” she asked.

“Yes,” I responded, solemnly. It was true. I hadn’t thought of my craptastic week the entire time I’d been there.

“Ees not so bad. Thees easy. Life ees hard.”

 

 

 

23
Dec
12

“this world, then the fireworks.” part ii

Any fragile truce I’d reached with my emotions was shattered around 2 am Friday morning. It seemed my email inbox was hell-bent on delivering electronic shit-missives whenever the opportunity presented.

So, I was grateful, late morning, when my hairdresser texted, offering to move up my appointment. I felt myself relaxing as I surrendered to her massaging hands and idle chatter.

A mere two hours later, cut and coiffed, I turned my car in the direction of home, determined to reclaim the sleep the past week had robbed me of.

When I was little more than a stoplight from my house, my fifteen year old mentee’s name flashed across my phone screen. I groaned at the thought of whatever awaited me on the line.

As it happened, my anxiety was warranted. It appeared Jesus Claus had granted the girl a boon, and in a rare Christmaswishmiracle, had compelled her teacher to hold over consideration of semester projects until next term. My mentee had failed hers, but her teacher graciously agreed to let her jazz it up provided she could submit it by Saturday afternoon.

The girl pleaded with me to help. Her mother had left her and several of her siblings in the care of her grandmother, and she’d Continue reading '“this world, then the fireworks.” part ii'

29
Oct
12

this teachable moment is brought to you by the good people who make scotch whisky…..

June of 1990 was a rough one, for me.

I dropped a baby. Like dropped, dropped. Onto cement. From my shoulders.  Because in June of 1990 I thought one’s shoulders were an appropriate place to sit a baby. Even if one had absolutely no evidence of well-developed upper body strength. Even if one had irrefutable proof that one’s upper body strength was complete rubbish according to several years’ worth of school-issue Presidential Physical Fitness tests. Seriously. Truly god-awful moment. You don’t want to be born of the only black family on your street, and out in the world dropping white women’s babies from your shoulders onto the pavement.

June of 1990 was also the start of what would become my inadvertent flashing of all adult family and friends. My mother apparently needed everyone in Christ’s earthly kingdom to co-sign on the matter of my breast development. Maybe you just came to the house to have Sunday dinner. No matter.  Sometime after the potato salad but before the cigarettes you were pretty much guaranteed a viewing of my budding girl-swells.

But no matter how horrifying or embarrassing June of 1990 was for me, at least I wasn’t Mary-Kate Bell. Mary-Kate Bell had the worst June of 1990 in the history of American pre-teens. I know this for certain. Because in June of 1990, I ruined Mary-Kate Bell’s whole life.

Let me start by saying that I firmly believe one must determine one’s course at a young age. Granted, experience and passage of time will serve to impact our various life trajectories, but by and large, you gotta know who you are from the start. For instance, I have always been a leader. Eight times out of ten I am blessed with the gift of self-assurance. Even when I’m wrong. Fuck it. ESPECIALLY when I’m wrong. And while I’m never quite certain of what I will do (a necessary by-product of my soul being “black as the pit from pole to pole”), I have a concrete grasp on what I won’t do.

Like pour Cutty Sark up my vagina.

In June of 1990, Mary-Kate Bell had no such grasp.

I had taken to reading my father’s old stockpile of Penthouse and Playboy magazines. And I was fascinated. Like, truly riveted by the finds. And while I was certainly intrigued by the pictures of naked women in risqué poses, wet mouths parted in an obvious display of ecstasy, I was equal parts riveted by the stories and letters wedged between. There, before my very eyes, were these elaborate tales of seduction—in glossy print, utilizing profanity never so much as uttered in my home. It was a whole, new secret world.

But the more I read, the less I seemed to know. I knew what “sex” was. I had pieced that together. I knew that when sex was particularly good, people had “orgasms.” The pursuit of “orgasm” was a particularly constant theme in all of the reads. I just wasn’t entirely clear on exactly what one was. Or how it felt. And since a woman apparently needed a man to have one, I reasoned I’d never know. Or at least I wouldn’t for years and years to come.

And I despaired.

Until that fateful June of 1990.

I’d happened across it so casually. A brunette woman in cascades of yellow, diaphanous silk scarcely covering anything of relevance. Her long, chestnut hair had been brushed out, and the length of her spanned three pages in the center fold. She was laughing into the camera, lips ruby with color, a teasing gleam in her eyes. Her legs were spread, and she gripped a bottle of champagne in her right, pouring rivulets of the alcohol between them.

I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t fathom what she was doing. I reluctantly turned my attention to the inset.  The model claimed to derive orgasms from champagne. She noted that it, “burned at first,” but then “felt amazing.” I was FLOORED.

For days I could think of nothing else. “Champagne gives you orgasms” was a recurring thought through camp, through dinner, and interrupted every book I attempted to read and every movie I tried to watch.

 ****

My mom had invited Mary-Kate Bell over.  Not in a legitimate way that could really be seen as an invite. In one of those casual, by-the-by-stop-over-any-time kinda ways.  We were in the same Girl Scout troop, and she lived in my neighborhood. But I hated her. Truly. Her dad insisted on singing my name in that stupid bo-berry-fo-fina name song, and Mary-Kate’s mom was generally not warm. Marrying insult to injury, the Bells could always be counted on to have the absolute shittiest snacks at their home, as if in open defiance to the juvenile taste bud, and Mary-Kate had once refused to let me borrow her brush. “The last black girl I let borrow my brush got hair grease in it,” she’d said, nastily.

So, right. I didn’t fuck with Mary-Kate.

But there she was, in my play room, sighing dejectedly at her lack of sufficient amusement. “I’m bored,” she’d said over and over.

I bit my lip, as I glanced at her from the corners of my eyes. She was haphazardly dressing a Barbie as I played Nintendo. My father had just prepared to mow the lawn, and my mother was at work, so I knew we’d have the house to ourselves for the duration.

“We coullllllld look at my dad’s dirty magazines,” I said, coyly, never taking my eyes away from the television, feigning disinterest.

I didn’t really expect Mary-Kate to go for it, as she was generally a goodie goodie of the highest order. I could barely contain my excitement when she tossed the doll aside with a whole-hearted, “Okay!”

I knew I would have to be subtle if I wanted my plan to work, but I was almost undone with anticipation. I took her to the guest room closet where my father kept his old things.  I knew I’d have to let Mary-Kate thumb through a few of the magazines, herself, before I could show her the champagne centerfold. So I waited, patiently as she did just that, busying myself with issues I’d read three times over.

She was on her fourth magazine before I asked, “Mary-Kate. Do you know what an orgasm is?”

She scrunched her nose at me, briefly, before returning to her magazine. “Of course I do. Don’t be a baby.”

I wanted to punch her, right then, but I knew if I called her on her snobbery, I’d never get what I needed to know from her.

I gingerly pulled out my now-cherished volume from the bottom of the stack. “Look at this,” I said, turning the pages carefully. “This woman says you can have an orgasm if you pour champagne down there.”

“No, you can’t,” Mary-Kate said matter-of-factly. “You have to have a boy.”

I took a deep breath. “I thought so, too. But look. She says so, right here.” I showed Mary-Kate the inset. And then waited.

Her cyan eyes widened with bewilderment. “Do you think this is true?” she asked.

“How would I know?” I answered. I could tell she was considering it. I took my shot. “Dare you to try it.”

Mary-Kate looked at me, for a moment, not saying anything. My heart faltered, for a second, worried that she would not only decline, but tell on me as well.

“What will you give me if I do?” she asked, unexpectedly.

“Nothing. It’s a dare, dummy. You don’t get anything for a dare,” I said, talking to her as if she were slow.

“I get to borrow any three games I want. ANY three. For a week,” she said, her mouth curving into a snarl.

It was a small price to pay to unearth the great orgasm mystery. And Mary-Kate was a shit gamer. She would tire of them long before the week was out.

“Fine,” I relented. “Any three games.”

“YES!” Mary-Kate exploded. “Okay. Where should we do it?”

“Go into my bathroom,” I told her. “I’ll grab the champagne and a towel. Take your pants off and stand in the tub.”

Mary-Kate paused. “You can’t stand in there with me, lezzy.”

I, again, considered punching her in the mouth. “If I don’t stand in there, I won’t be able to know for sure that you did it, stupid. Besides, I don’t have to watch. You can draw the curtain.”

Mary-Kate still looked unsure.

“Any three games that you want,” I sang.

“Fine! Hurry up,” she responded, saucily.

I ran downstairs to the wet bar area of our den. I searched bottle after bottle, but there was no champagne anywhere. Not even in the mini fridge. I was crestfallen. I had come so close, only to be defeated by an inventory failing on the part of my parents.

Then, it hit me. I scanned bottle after bottle, holding each one to the light to examine the liquid inside. I settled on the Cutty Sark. Of the other choices-which consisted largely of gin and vodka-it seemed the closest in color to champagne.

I rushed back upstairs to the bathroom, stopping only to get a towel. When I entered, Mary-Kate had folded her shorts and undergarments and placed them neatly in a corner.

“What’s that?” she asked, reading the label, and looking at me warily.

“Whisky,” I answered, dismissively. “My parents don’t have any champagne, but this is the same color.”

Mary-Kate frowned, briefly, but could tell from the determined expression on my face that I was no longer in a place to brook refusal.

“Sit down,” I commanded.

Mary Kate sat down. I pulled the curtain the length of the bathtub and handed her the bottle behind it.

“Okay. Cross your leg over the tub. Like, spread out,” I instructed.

One summer-tanned leg appeared beyond the curtain, over the ledge of the tub.

“Okay, Mary-Kate. Whenever you’re ready,” I said, calmly.

“How will I know if I’m having an orgasm?” she asked.

I hadn’t really considered this.

“You’ll just know. You’ll probably scream out and shake, I think. But you’ll know,” I assured her.

The truth of the matter was, I kinda knew I’d made a critical miscalculation from the moment Mary-Kate opened the bottle.

The smell of the whisky hit me, even though I’d cleared a distance of a good two feet. It occurred to me that nothing that smelled that rank should be ingested through any means, LEAST of all down there.

But a dare was a dare.

And it was just Mary-Kate.

I heard the liquor spill out in a WHOOSH. I could tell from the sound of the splatter that she’d poured way too much.

“OH MY GOD!” she screamed.

“Are you having an orgasm?” I called out, staring at my guilty reflection in the bathroom mirror.

“IT BURNS!!!!!” she yelled.

“That’s fine. It’s supposed to at first. The magazine said,” I rejoined.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. IT BURRRRRRRRRRNS!!!” Mary-Kate started to cry.

I started to panic.

“Turn on the water! Turn on the water!” I shouted.

She did, but the cries continued. She sounded like a pair of cats fighting.

“Stop crying!” I shouted. “You’re gonna miss the orgasm!”

But Mary-Kate sobbed and sobbed. Even after she climbed out of the tub she cried. I didn’t really know what to do, and nothing seemed to calm her.

At some point she wanted to call her mom. I immediately put the kibosh on that. I turned my back to her as she slowly got dressed.

Sniffling, she walked, defeated, to the door, her austere pride humbled tremendously by our failed experiment. I felt a pang of guilt as she slumped a leg over her bike seat, grimacing in obvious discomfort.

“Wait,” I called out. “What about the video games?”

She only turned her bike around and rolled out of my driveway in reply.

Mary-Kate Bell never came over, again.

June of 1990 wasn’t a particularly exceptional moment in time for me, this was true.

But I sure as fuck wasn’t as bad off as Mary-Kate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

11
Jun
12

For Colored Girls who Haven’t Quite Considered Suicide, But Have Hated Life Just the Same, Before Ecclesiastes 9:11 was Enuf

I had taken to staring at old people.

Life had felled me in such a way, I’d began to question my own ability to do it.

Because, contrary to the holistic musings of optimists, I now knew that a person necessarily “did” life. In much the same fashion a person did work, or did masturbate.

Life wasn’t a contact sport, or any other pithy bullshit saying meant to move us forward with empty encouragements.

I wasn’t a franchise player, solidifying my team’s brand; giving hope to the coordinator that’d invested so much in me; or the millions who tuned in each week to see me orchestrate some feat of well-timed, athletic majesty.

Because there was no team. No one was watching.

It was just me.

And I wasn’t inspiring to anyone in particular.

I was a woman. Waking up every day, going through the motions, breathing in and exhaling out. Doing life.

The irony of the phrase’s euphemistic connection to prison terminology wasn’t lost on me.

And I’d taken to staring at old people.

Because they’d somehow managed to *do* life for an extended period of time.

And each liver spot, each varicose vein, each gingerly, rheumatic movement was a battle scar of the life-war long fought; every slow, haggard breath the evidence of the same war, hard won.

I’d considered all of this for the one hundredth time as I stood in line at the grocery store similarly regarding the elderly woman before me.

She was in her early to mid eighties and diminutive of frame. Her equally small, age-d voice revealed Latin origins that weren’t necessarily apparent on first glance. And though slight enough to give rise to concern in the event of an overly-aggressive wind, her stature belied a spirited fury caged within.

The sales associate behind the register was the current target of all of that fury.

I’d been standing there for some time, patient as the grave, even as two people who’d separated the woman and I departed with frustrated huffs for more expedient lanes.

But Life had recently dealt me the latest in long series of blows, and I was determined to bide my time in solemn quiet. So I austerely stood my ground. My left hand held a basket laden with wet dog food. My right gripped firmly at a brown paper bag disguising 750 milliliters of triple-distilled, eighteen year old Irish whiskey. Salvation was as good as mine. I needed only wait it out.

I was still staring at the woman when another sales associate and an assistant manager walked over to usher us both to the customer service desk.

My new guy was all apologies and overly-dramatized contrition, while the woman’s interactions with her new guy seemed more constrained than before.

On closer inspection, her face bore a passing familiarity, though I could not quite place it. She’d attempted to write a check, but had been denied as she’d failed to bring the requisite identification card.

She’d assured the store manager over and over that she shopped there every day; that she wrote checks every day; that she’d only stopped in briefly to purchase a few items and had neglected to bring her customary change purse. She’d presented him with a bank card bearing her name and likeness.

The very young manager was cordial, but dismissive. He spoke the language of “regrettably,” “unfortunately,” “I’m truly sorry,” but his tone betrayed a casual apathy.

It wasn’t lost on the woman, either. She’d clenched her tiny, worn hands in righteous indignation, chastising the younger man, letting him know she’d be certain to “tell all of the seniors at the center about this!”

She’d asked about the cost of the beer in her basket, thinking maybe she had enough cash on hand for that at least. Her hopes were dashed, once more, as the manager barked out, “$6.35,” and the crumpled five dollar bill she held shrunk within her withered grasp.

And there they stood before me, the young and the old, both equally resolute in their respective positions, locked in the stalemate to end all stalemates.

It all came rushing at me in these alarming waves—Hobbes, Spencer, Darwin, Schmidt, Burgess—I wasn’t smart enough to piece it together in discernible, intelligible, palatable linear thought, but I knew I was bearing witness to a century’s worth of debate on natural selection, survival of the fittest, and derivative social evolution.

I saw her so clearly, then. I saw how tired she was. How old she was. Every line etched on her tiny face appeared to me some twisted, epidermal merit badge, earned from doing life. She had risen every single morning and walked this earth doing life for eight decades. She had eked out an existence in this ever-changing, crazy, unpredictable world, and lived to tell the tale for nearly one hundred years.

And at 8 pm on a Friday night in Northern Virginia, the ONLY thing in the world this long-suffering, ever-enduring, sainted woman wanted, was a fucking beer.

And this young punk, who undoubtedly thought his managerial position at 24 qualified him a winner at doing life, wouldn’t let her have it.

Something inside of me became outraged.

And not just on the woman’s behalf.

But for me. For me and every other person out there that was struggling to put one foot before the other, day after day, while confronting seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

I was angry at the prospect of my somehow *managing* to do life; to get through; and reaching the point of exhale in the sunset of my days, having out-maneuvered the pitfalls that caught so many others in the fray—only to be told “No,” by some self-aggrandizing, young prick in a name-tag.

“Wait a minute,” I said to my new guy.

I turned my attention to the assistant manager. “I’m buying her beer.”

The old woman had already turned away, dejectedly, to make her humiliating exit. She paused as she heard my words, and looked up at me, seeing me only for the first time.

“What?” she asked, bewildered.

I made a show of pushing her beer to my side of the customer service desk just to let the manager know what a bright star of hateful dick he shone in my eyes.

“Ma’am,” I said, gently, “If you’d allow me, I’d like to buy your beer for you.”

As the realization dawned on her, the older woman’s face was overwhelmed by the magnitude of her smile.

“You’d do that for me?” she asked, beaming.

I felt good, felt whole for the first time in a very long time.

“It would be my pleasure,” I assured her. “I think everyone is having a hard week. It’s Friday. You deserve a beer.”

Tears began to form in her eyes, and she all at once seemed taller than before. “Thank you,” she said slowly.

I realized, then, that this woman lived in my building. I’d seen her in passing, never sparing her more than a glance. Perhaps in as dismissive a fashion as the young manager before me.

I made the purchase, gathered our things, and we left the store quietly (I determined to hum the chorus to “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong” whenever I called to mind the events in later days).

When I handed her the bag with her beer, I’d expected us to part paths. Instead, she’d linked her arm in mine, and walked with me across the street to our building, excitedly chatting about how we’d “showed him.”

As it happens, her name is Julia.

And she is 82.

Life is not a contact sport.

You wake up every day and make a conscious decision to do it.

And you will spend much of it confused. And alone.

But, every now and then, someone steps in to walk beside you; to help you cross.

And after you get wherever you’re going, you should have a fucking beer.

 

 

 

 

17
Jan
12

the unfunny post to women. and i’ll talk and you won’t listen. but for what it’s worth: keep your heart, 3 stacks.

When I was 18 years old, I fell in love for the very first time.

His name was ________   __________ and he was amazing. Tall, dark-skinned, slight of frame, beard. The most beautiful teeth I’d ever seen.

I can still tell you where I was the first time I saw him.  I was new to campus, and desperately in need of black friends. I was sitting cross legged on the floor in the Student Union building during the course of a Black Student Alliance meeting. He entered 20 minutes late with his fraternity brothers, and I was floored.

He was darker than all of them, and taller, by a head. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a wifebeater. But over the wifebeater was an open, blue workman’s shirt; the kind a mechanic would wear. A wide-brimmed straw hat rested atop his head.

He was the first man I ever wanted that I was able to make my own.

Only, he wasn’t my own.

At all.

He’d made it very clear from the beginning that he didn’t want a girlfriend.

“No titles,” he’d said. And I’d agreed.

And we hung out, messed around, went out on dates, exchanged gifts, he met my parents. But he’d been clear. No titles.

Clear as mud.

When it became evident he had a whole other non-relationship, and a smattering of women around campus, AND off of it, I was heartbroken. And confused. When I’d confronted him about his indiscretions, he’d been as tolerant as he could before the shame of it all and realization of his position had his back to a wall. Unable to withstand the hurt in my voice and accusation in my eyes, he’d shouted, in anger, “DAMNIT! YOU ARE NOOOOOOOT MY GIRL!”

I will never forget that moment. As long as I live.

We grew and changed and our lives took us into different directions. We both matured into the adults we were meant to be, and he remains one of my best friends. And we laugh about it all, today. Well, I laugh. He’s still rather ashamed, and gets defensive.

But the fact of the matter is, no matter how much I love him, today, or how my life has changed, or how I barely recognize the girl I was at eighteen, those words, and the vehemence with which they were shouted, continue to haunt me.

I knew then, that was a lesson I’d learn one time, and one time only.

I’ve never had my heart broken again.

So my question, dear readers, becomes: Why are women still learning this lesson, today? Why are grown women paying taxes, getting bikini waxes, possessing expensive gym memberships making this mistake, today?

I’m going to stand on this working hypothesis:

When a man says he does not want to be in a relationship with you, he never will.

The end.

When a man says he does not want to be in a relationship with you, he never will.

I know no one wants to hear it. I know life changes. Circumstances change. People change their minds.

He won’t.

I’m trying to save you some time, here.

He won’t.

Oh. He might change his mind about being in a relationship. Being with you and experiencing the creature comforts of boo-hood might certainly whet his palate in terms of being properly loved and cared for by a woman.

That woman just won’t be you.

Let’s examine it further.

When a man tells you he doesn’t want to be in a relationship, he is stating straight out, point blank, that he doesn’t want you.

This is so powerful because it is entirely antithetical to how we’ve been led to believe they operate. This man doesn’t even want you enough to lie to you to convince you otherwise; he doesn’t even have the time to blow smoke up your ass. He is going to tell you something he knows you don’t want to hear, and risk the chance that you will walk away. He won’t even try to sell you a dream.

Because it’s NEVER going to happen.

That’s how committed to that shit he is. He is willing to risk you WALKING AWAY rather than tell you something different. Because, he could take or leave you.

I suspect, at this juncture, many of you are in disagreement with me. You think that I’m making a broad, sweeping indictment of all non-title situations. I haven’t taken care to look in on each specific instance, and the motivators and driving factors that have led your particular breed of noncommittal man to his anti-relationship platform.

Maybe he just got out of a horrible relationship.

Maybe he just got divorced.

Maybe he’s been hurt before.

Maybe his parents never loved him so now he can’t properly process genuine affection.

That’s a bunch of bunk.

He likes sleeping with you, doesn’t he? He likes hanging around you, doesn’t he? He likes it when you cook for him, fold his drawes, and pick up brews for he and his trifling friends, doesn’t he?

That’s RELATIONSHIP SHIT.

AND HE LOOOOOOOOOOOOVES it.

What he DOESN’T love is being accountable to you. He doesn’t love being a conservator of your feelings and emotions; taking them into account and letting them influence his course of action. He doesn’t love having to come home only to you without the freedom of flirting with or sleeping with other broads.

But, that’s really neither here nor there.

The POINT is, whatever reasons he’s offered you are crap, but even if they weren’t (which, they are), they’re inconsequential. The POINT is, he has already TOLD you that he doesn’t want you for anything serious. If you want something serious, you need to get a move on.

And this isn’t a reason to be unhappy. It may be disappointing, yes, but be of good cheer.

This situation is one of the only times in life that a person will look you in the eye and tell you, outright, that if you stick around, he’s going to screw you over. This is one of the only times in the course of your entire adulthood when someone is going to tell you he has no good intentions where your heart is concerned; that this is going exactly nowhere. This man is doing you a favor. You should be grateful.

But no. You don’t see that. You see a challenge. You think you’re gonna change this man’s mind.

Now, my friend, D, a PhD candidate, and chronic over-thinker, has rather wisely pointed out the fact that women are conditioned to think this way.

D says that society has taught us, since our birth, tales of our persistence being rewarded with success. Women, specifically, have been given tricks of the trade to keep a man happy –keep quiet, don’t be too argumentative, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”—that he might somehow suddenly realize how good he’s got it and find his way back to us, back to love.

D makes a good point. And I agree.

But I suspect there is something else at play.

Arrogance.

I know.

It’s a big word. And it stings. But it’s appropriate.

Arrogance.

Something is so great about you, and your love, and your sex, and your macaroni and cheese that you can overcome his relationship trepidation.

He hasn’t known love like yours. He hasn’t met a girl like you. What y’all have is different.

Bullshit.

This man has seen you. He has known you. He has kicked it with you and laughed with you, and knows enough about you to realize that he DOES want to spend time with you.

He knows your love and what it’s capable of juuuuuuuuust fine.

Trust that, in the weeks and months that y’all have been not-titled booed up, he has inventoried your character and your you.

And made a determination that he doesn’t want a relationship with either.

You know what men do when they are thinking about having a relationship with you? When they’re open to the option?  NOTHING.

They do NOTHING.

They keep their mouths shut, they scope out the situation, and they let the chips fall where they may. They watch as things are progressing, and if something blooms within their hearts, they come to you with an offer.

THAT’S what men do.

They don’t start out from the GATE with, “I don’t want to be in a relationship.”

Men who say this have a very distinct reason for doing so. And this is what women need to realize.

At some point, very long ago, before all of us were alive, men and women entered into a tacit agreement, whereby men were only responsible for their words. We were to take a man “at his word,” and punish him only when his actions belied those words; when he acted in opposition of them; when he failed to make them true.

This is controversial.

This is controversial because we all know that men in a no-title relationship BEHAVE the same way as men in titled relationships.

And these behaviors are what lead us to believe that change is possible; that they are warming to the idea of being with us.

They’re not, though.

They’re enjoying the moment. They’re enjoying the benefits of the boyfriend experience while remaining indemnified against poor-boyfriend liability.

All because of their initial disclaimer.

And it’s messed up and unfair.

But there’s a grace to it. There’s a comfort in words that people are bound to. There’s a safety there.

Because actions are subjective.

You see the intimacy of a spoon; its suggestion of long-term affection.

But that man just likes to hug.

You see the sweetness and tenderness of a frontal lobe kiss.

That man was just saying, “Hey.”

If you have found yourself on the wrong side of a failed non-titled relationship, before you rally like hell against this man for what he has led you to believe; before you call his job and key his car, and tell his friends he isn’t worth a damn, look at yourself.

Look at who you are.

Why are you okay with someone telling you he doesn’t want you?

Even if you both start out on noncommittal footing, if your feelings change, and his remain the same, why are you staying?

Why is it okay to be with someone whose mind you have to bring round to the idea of you?

That man who leads you on, he’s an asshole. Make no mistake about it. He knows what he’s doing.

And he’s dogged you out for sure.

But you’re the bigger asshole.

Because you dogged you out first.

A stranger, no matter how close you fancy him, doesn’t have any obligation to you. At all.

The only person charged with a duty to protect you and your well-being is you.

You are the only person accountable for you. You are the only person who can keep you from being hurt.

When a man tells me he doesn’t want to be with me, I take him at his word.

It very well might be the last good thing he says to me.




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