Friday, August 29, 2003

The trouble with "Lions."

Oh, and what's up with the preview for Secondhand Lions, the new film with Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment and Michael Caine? I mean, I know it's a family movie, but, from what I'd read about it while it was being made, I expected it to be really, really good. I mean, the director wrote the screenplay for "The Iron Giant," which is a great movie, and the script for "Secondhand Lions" was supposedly one of those so-good-it'll-never-get-made projects that was batted around Hollywood for years and years.

But the trailer for it, featuring Osment in the squeaky odd stages of an adolescent voice change, looks downright atrocious. I mean, it's as though someone tried to piece together the most low-level humor parts of it, making it look like some sort of homespun hick comedy.

I was expecting something enchanted, like "Edward Scissorhands." Sadly, "Secondhand Lions" looks like garbage.

If it wasn't for that damn ad for "Radio" with Cuba Gooding Jr., I'd say "Secondhand Lions" has the worst trailer currently running in theaters.

Every day a new twist.

I just sent this e-mail to Lupo, and because I'm lazy, I'm reprinting it here in lieu of coming up with an entirely original blog entry.

In his note to me, Lupo said his new Savannah home was beautiful but that the people of Savannah talk too damn much. (I've been there and agree. I think you should just give them a dose of contempt, and that'll solve their cheeriness.)

Lupo also said that his home in Savannah has SoapNet. So it looks like I'll be visiting him every damn week until Comcast wises up and brings Soapnet to Atlanta.

I can't believe it. I don't even believe that the digital cable option presented to me has my beloved SoapNet, which is a complete hoot to watch, yet you damn yokels down in the sticks get it. And I had it in Buford.

I guess they figure people inside the Perimeter are too smart and busy to have use for such a thing as SoapNet. Instead, I wonder if I get BBC America.

I'm working a lot this weekend. The majority of the part-time staff has vacated my bookstore, and my replacement in the music department didn't suit my bosses - so they're switching me back to music for a couple weeks until another replacement can be properly trained.

(I tried to tell them I was the best at it weeks ago ... but they've paid the price for their foolishness.)

I suppose I'm averaging a 3:1 ratio of me calling you, and I will try to calm down my dialing fingers.

... three minutes later.

OK, I stopped writing this for three minutes to call my cable company again to see if SoapNet or BBC America was available through their digital options, and BBC America is available using that ... but SoapNet isn't available at all. I stuck with my original order. This completely blows.

Anyway, regarding my apartment, I like the way Larry helped me set up the living room. I finished watching CLEO last night, rather than unpack my kitchen, and I found a Chinese takeout place next door that's open late. (I've truly arrived in an urban setting, even though the place's fried rice was undercooked.)

I need to take out the garbage, put the sheets on my bed (oh ... it's so cozy how the air conditioning makes it so cool there that you don't want to get out of bed in the morning), get one of those GA 400 Cruise Card stickers because I use it every morning.

But mostly, I just want Vic and Kacoon to see my place. They've not been over yet.

Now that I know you have the Internet, I won't have to call you quite so often, and the Benjie-to-Lupo ratio will make more sense.

He published my letter!

Jordy "Ray" Purlky Jr., AJC B-movie critic extraordinaire, answered my e-mail in his latest Mailbag.

This is completely awesome.


You completely rock. Does the AJC send you only to movies that suck [posterior] on purpose, or has this summer's movies just really blown? Again, you rock.

-- Benjamin Carr, Atlanta

Hey Ben. That's sort of a chicken-or-egg question, know what I mean?

Yeah, it's been a pretty lame summer. But it DID include Eliza Dushku in "Wrong Turn" stuffed inside a white tank top! And that almost made up for crappy stuff like "The Hulk" and "Gigli." Almost.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

A betrayal of my own sensibilities.

The devil, I mean Cable TV, will arrive at my new apartment next Saturday to install a basic, Soapnet-less package for my use and enjoyment.

I figured if I was going to have a place that I expected people to visit and enjoy, I was going to have to buckle down and buy cable, though I didn't get digital or high-speed Internet.

I feel bad, as though I've somehow gone against my own principles. I feel as though I've betrayed all those soap characters I've come to know and love, treating them as they're just inconsequential when it comes to the day in-day out process of my life.

It's as if I'm saying to all those people I've gotten to know in Pine Valley and Llanview, "Oops, I'm sorry, but your problems are no longer my problems anymore. Sorry, Erica Kane, but I no longer care if you and Jack ever make it to the altar. Sorry, Bianca, but I don't care if you're now a raped and pregnant lesbian living through daily doses of hell! I just figured it was best if I watched QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY instead."

I make myself sick sometimes.

Freddy vs. The Meaning of Life

Last night, after Larry had left me alone in my apartment with my DVD player, my antidepressants and a half bottle of red wine, I decided to watch as much of Agnes Varda's "Cleo From 5 to 7" as I could before I got tired. (It's a movie that shows two hours in the life of a flighty French pop star before she learns from medical tests if she's dying.)

I got through Cleo getting bad news from her Tarot card reader, Cleo annoying her maid, Cleo shopping for a ridiculously garish hat, Cleo riding in a taxi and Cleo taking a nap in her house before composer Michel Legrand shows up.

Then, Vic called me about midnight, and we talked about life, including what our troubles were and how we were solving them.

Exhausting that topic, we then talked about Freddy Krueger and the best "Nightmare on Elm Street" death scene. (My vote is the girl kissed to death who dies of a fatal asthma attack in "Part 4." Vic said she was partial to the marionette-veined sleepwalker death in "Part 3," which is a classic.)

Vic and I were discussing what the actual causes of death were for some of the people since the movie explains some of them a bit but disregards others. I mean, they actually explain that the girl kissed to death dies, outside of her dream, of an asthma attack. But they never explain what the girl from "Just the Ten of Us" who turns into a giant cockroach and is crushed in her dream actually dies of -- though I'm guessing since she fell asleep while holding barbells that she was crushed by those. And how is it that they explained to coroners how Johnny Depp's bed swallowed him and spit out his blood in "Part 1?")

Vic said she thought "Freddy vs. Jason" was OK, but that it could have been better. I said that I was quite pleased with moments from it. Vic said that the movie didn't seem to have a clear winner to her, though to me it seemed obvious who the victorious killer was supposed to be -- the one with the most body parts intact at the ending before the wink-wink ending.

I guess discussions of life are important, but, if "Part 3" is my favorite to watch over and over again and "Part 1" is the best one made, why is my favorite death scene in "Part 4?"

It's troubling.

Meanwhile in Savannah and in London ...

From his new home along Georgia's Atlantic coast, Lupo sends along an instant message to my phone, "We made it! House is beautiful. Call you soon."

Across the point, Miss Gibson reports via e-mail that she and the Harvard Alabaman are having a good time.

This gets me to the announcement of my next intended goal: international travel. I want to visit Miss Gibson in London myself someday soon, and I want to travel more generally.

I'm going to do it, too.

Settling in comfortably.

Last night I got:

A brass, three-way standing lamp
A Swiffer WetJet sweeper (trendy - I know - but isn't it weird to live in a culture where we've created trendy mops?)
A paper towel dispenser that required assembly
A TV stand
Two bar stools

I also set up my DVD player, though I have yet to put sheets on my bed. (A boy has his priorities, after all.)

Larry was helping me by doing most of the assembly work and giving me design tips so that now my living room looks like a living room. I now know what to do about my patio, which will give Kacoon a place to smoke her Camel Special Lights when she comes over. (I'm putting my old kitchen furniture, run down as it is, out on the patio to create a place to hang out, and it will work once the mosquitos have gone away.)

Now I've got to start unpacking everything. I'm making my supposed last trip to the crackhouse tonight to make sure that everything is moved out of there. (My mom and stepdad are coming to pick up the appliances. I'm getting my George Foreman Grill.)

I have certain goals for my new apartment because, if this makes any sense, I intend to live in it. I mean, live there rather than just sleep there.

I've already had guests over (i.e., Larry last night shared a bottle of merlot with me). I intend to have more over. I've got places for them to sit.

I know where the nearest and best grocery store is. Oddly, it's the gay Ansley Publix, right next to the Ansley Starbucks that used to scare the bejeezus out of me.

I live in Atlanta now, and Atlanta's just going to have to get used to it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003


I'm still tired. It's been three days since my move, and I'm still tired.

I moved Sunday, then I worked both jobs on Monday and Tuesday. I'm not supposed to go to the bookstore tonight, so Larry is going to come over and help me unpack a bit. I am supposed to help my mother get the washer-dryer out of the crackhouse tomorrow, and I wanted to get everything out of there before I turned in the key. I'm scheduled to work again at the bookstore on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

I've not had a chance to hang out in my apartment or do any sort of real unpacking yet. I've just been sleeping there.

I think I'll like the area and like my new apartment, once I'm actually allowed to start living in it.

I spoke to Vic last night. Her new job is going well.

Kacoon's no longer working in the cafe at her store, instead she's working on the sales floor. Yesterday, she said she waited on Edward Norton and said he was really, really nice when he was trying to buy a magazine from her incognito. I don't know why he's in town, but I guess it's possible.

Anyway, there's too much to do, not enough time to do it, and I'm very, very tired.

Larry told me on Sunday that I was horribly out of shape and needed to start taking vitamins, so I bought these multi-vitamins at Wal-mart. I've been taking one a night. It's not boosted my energy much. I feel as though I'm about to collapse.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

On holiday.

My nickname-less friend, a.k.a. My Black Brother who's not black a.k.a. Miss Gibson's Surprise Mystery Visitor a.k.a. the Harvard Alabaman, is, I believe, in the air on the way to visit Miss Gibson in London. Since I know they'll likely read this because they're two of the three people who do besides me, I'm going to send them well wishes.

Have a good time, both of you.

While I was packing this weekend, I found an old letter from Welsh Guy, my best ex-boyfriend. The letter had been written in May of 1996, about one month after he visited me in Athens.

In it, he wrote to remind me that he loved me. He wrote to remind me that, though parting had been hard on both of us, the experience that we had at the time was valuable, the sort of thing that you always treasure no matter how old you get. He told me that we'd always stay in touch, which we haven't, but I haven't forgotten him or the time I had with him. And I doubt he's forgotten me.

Occasionally, life gives you a break. It gives you this moment of enchantment to spend with someone you connect with and care for, and I think the truly passionate and truly blessed are the ones who run with those moments, in spite of and yet aware of the consequences. Those enchanted moments are worth the risk, the potential hurt, the passion.

I'm not used to writing about this sort of thing, so forgive me if I become a bit cliched. But the only time I felt willing to abandon myself and truly risk falling deeply, unreasonably in love with someone was back in 1996. His name was Paul, and, though I probably won't see him again and probably shouldn't, his memory is burned into my brain.

Paul's letter said our relationship wasn't a holiday romance because we'd known each other long before we'd met physically. But I've not seen him since.

I knew it was love because, even though I could see the problems ahead of us, I didn't think there was any other choice but the one in front of me, to hug him and hold him and take care of him and let him do the same for me for as long as we could.

First love is weird. It echoes in your life. It's gone, but you don't ever let it go.

Kacoon says real love lasts. Kacoon says I've never known love because none of my love attempts has endured. Kacoon holds up her marriage to me sometimes, without even knowing that she's doing it and without knowing that it stings me a little, and says to me that I've never really been in love because I've never had a relationship like hers.

She's right a little and wrong a little.

(Kacoon is the same woman who said that an enduring love like her marriage would also help someone better understand and appreciate The Matrix Reloaded's endless orgy dance scene, so you can determine her credibility as a modern-day romantic philosopher right there.)

I've never known an enduring love, but I have known love. An enduring love hasn't been offered to me yet, but love was offered to me and to Welsh Guy.

And we, because we liked each other in an unexplainable way different from anything we'd felt before, took it on the terms it was available and enjoyed it while it lasted.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Midget's dilemma.

Kacoon's son Midget, now in his third week of Pre-K, was apparently kicked and punched by a fellow toddler during his class time in their "circle" today. I told Kacoon that she should withdraw him.

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

"Well, if Midget's getting beat up, then we should just take him out of school, right?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, that's reasonable," Kacoon said.

"Well then, maybe we should teach him how to use a gun," I said, jokingly.

Midget was sick last week. This week, he's getting beat up. His first week of school, Midget told Kacoon that he'd fallen in love with a girl whose name he couldn't remember and that she let him hug her. (I told Kacoon that Midget's little trampy girlfriend was probably good-for-nothing white trash, trying to trap Midget into some sort of shotgun wedding. Kacoon countered by reminding me that the little slut's four years old.)

He's been in school three weeks, and already so much stuff has happened. I have to make sure that, no matter what trouble happens, I always have Midget's back.

My response to Regal's response.

Mr. Roberts,

Thank you very much for your reply. I really enjoy going to the Regal Mall of Georgia 20 and, in fact, attended a screening there last night. I'm there every week, practically. I also attend the Tara and the Hollywood 24 with some consistency.

I didn't mean to suggest that the prices of the items were too high. I understand that's what I essentially said, but I'm sorry that I communicated the wrong message toward you.

I just don't like The Twenty. I find it distracting and unentertaining. Whenever possible I try to avoid getting into the theater before it has ended its run. I understand there's a profit incentive behind it and that it's not likely going anywhere, but I felt that my best course-of-action, so that I'm just not sitting and complaining about it to my friends who also dislike it, was to contact you.

It's just my way of doing something instead of sitting idly by.

Thank you,

Benjamin Carr

Regal's response to my complaint about The Twenty.

August 25, 2003

Dear Mr. Carr:

Thank you for contacting our corporate office to express your concerns
regarding your visit to our Mall Of Georgia Stadium 20 Plus Imax
location. I have forwarded your comments to the district manager directly over
this theatre and the theatre manager for their review.

I am sorry to hear that you think our snack bar and/or ticket prices
are too high. From a business perspective, our goal is to provide our
patrons with a quality movie going experience while making a profit at the
same time.

I hope you will understand that there are tremendous costs associated
with the operation and maintenance of a theatre. Not only do we have
high operating costs (payroll, utilities, rent, equipment, etc.), but we
must also pay costly film rentals to the film companies. Although prices
inside a theatre may seem high, they have stayed in line with the rate
of inflation. A recent report shows that the cost of movie admission
remains much below the admission to a sporting event or amusement park.

Once again, I thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding
your feelings on this matter. Your input is invaluable to us in our
efforts to continually improve customer service and enhance the operations of
our theatre operations. We value your patronage and look forward to
your next visit.

Clint Roberts
Customer Relations Associate

I dont like "The Twenty." Please get rid of it. I dont understand why
ticket prices are going up and concessions are so expensive when you
have companies paying you to put ads on "The Twenty." Why aren't ticket
prices going down if you're selling such ads

The key to a successful move.

All right, so I hate my moving truck company. I hate them.

I called them on Saturday to confirm my appointment on Sunday, and they tell me that the truck will be available at 1 p.m. I swear. So I tell Larry and David, who were helping me move, to come at 1 p.m. I really, really wanted the truck before that, but the moving company guy was confused on the phone, telling me that they opened at 9.

"So I can come between 9 and 1?" I asked the guy.

"1 p.m.," he said. Then he said, "OK," and hung up on me.

I called on Sunday at 10 a.m. because that phone call rubbed me the wrong way. The guy on the phone then told me that I could pick up the truck at any time. Seriously.

So I called my dad, told him that my friends weren't coming until 1 p.m. and asked him if he could help me get the truck. His golf game had been cancelled, so he offered to help me.

We arrived at the moving truck place about 11 a.m., then headed back to my apartment. My father, a former professional truck driver, drove the U-Haul. I drove my own car. When I got to my apartment, my father was already there. He was stacking my neighbor's - Busch Beer Man's - lawn chairs out of the way of the main door so that we could get the couch out. Then, we went to the other door and started pulling out the bedroom furniture.

Larry'd called me while we were gone, so I called him and told him that we already had the truck. He and David got on the road toward my apartment.

So I get off the phone, and I see this woman run out of Busch Beer Man's apartment to my visiting landlord. She doesn't live at the apartment with my neighbor, but she lives in the one in the back house. They chat a bit as he returned to his truck.

And I'm going in and out of the house, bringing things to my father in the truck.

"If you find a hole anywhere, put something in it," he said to me while we were loading the truck.

"That was my rule in college," I said to myself as I walked back toward the house.

After 20 minutes or so, there's a fire truck in the front lawn, and police car after police car starts pulling up. Officers keep going to the back house. More people come out of Busch Beer Man's apartment. (I ask one of them where he is, and that guy said Busch Beer Man was still asleep.) All the people coming out of Busch Beer Man's apartment technically live in the back house, where he used to live before he moved next door to me.

The woman who'd run out of Busch Beer Man's apartment was taken away in a squad car, and I asked one of the crowd of people gathering outside what was going on.

"They's manufacturing ice in the back there," she said. "Hadn't you ever heard them going at it?"

The couple in the back house did fight all the time. Apparently, they'd had a row, and the woman had ended up at Busch Beer Man's apartment.

The person I questioned told me that Busch Beer Man was involved in some sort of meth lab, too, which is why everyone in the back house was in his apartment when the cops arrived.

So the apartment that I'd nicknamed my "Buford Nouveau Crackhouse Apartment" really was a crackhouse. Ice, someone helpful told me, is like the crack version of crystal meth.

(At one point the vagrant lady from a couple nights ago showed back up lucid to talk to Busch Beer Man. She drove up in her red car, parked it, then went inside to talk to him. A couple hours later, her car was still there, and she, still lucid, was talking with a what looked like a hooker on a bicycle about getting home. Her husband, the vagrant lady said, had taken her car battery out while she was inside. I have no idea what's going on in that house.)

My father stopped me from asking the passerby anymore questions.

"Let's just get you moved before you get shot," he said.

Once the other guys arrived and the police left, this was my crew: my father, my 63-year-old English prof ex-boyfriend Larry and his life partner David, an electrician and independent contractor who is by far the most incredibly resourceful man I've ever met.

It was incredibly hot, and I don't have central air in my apartment. My air conditioning has very little power, and the fans could do little to keep us all from sweating.

So I assumed that the worst problem we were going to have was my father and my ex-boyfriend, who was older than my father. (Don't ask. That's a whole other story.) Only my father didn't know he was my ex-boyfriend. And no one told him. I may have been the only one who noticed that little piece of information was never discussed.

Instead, my dad just thought I had these great friends, which I do.

I would love to say that the whole move went off without another incident after we got everyone together, but I can't say that. At all.

My father has diabetes, and he's been diagnosed with it for about seven years now. Most of the time he's fine. I've never had a real emergency with him in regard to it, though I always keep snacks and juice handy whenever he's around my house just in case. He says that the worst thing diabetes has done, other than occasionally make him feel weak and run down, is that he's occasionally scatterbrained.

So it gets to be his lunchtime, and he tells me that he's going home to eat. The truck's nearly packed full of stuff, and David said it's fine, that we could all go get food when we hit the road.

"No, my father needs to go eat now," I said.

David understood, without me having to explain it to him further.

My father started toward his truck, saying he's feeling a little low. I ask him if he needs me to drive him to a restaurant or anything, if it's an emergency or if he's OK.

He said he was fine.

"OK, so you have the keys to the moving truck," he said. "I'm going home to get some food and take my shot."

"I don't have the keys to the moving truck," I said.

"What are you talking about?" he asked me. "I gave them to you when we first walked in the door and told you that I wasn't driving."

"No, you didn't," I said. "I haven't seen the keys."

"BENJ!" he said. "What are you talking about? I handed them to you in your bedroom."

"Dad, I've never seen the keys," I said. "You didn't give them to me."

"Well, I don't have them," he said.

I checked all my pockets. Keyring after keyring after keyring, for I appeared to have gathered an abundance of keys during the day. But there's no U-Haul key. The truck is nearly packed.

"Did you maybe put them in one of the drawers or boxes?" Dad asked me.

"No, Dad, you never gave me the keys."

David approached us, asking me what the keys looked like.

"I've not seen them," I said. "I haven't had them since we left the U-Haul office."

Dad said the keys had a giant orange U-Haul insignia attached with them on the keychain.

"Benj, how can you lose something that looks like that?" my dad asked me.

Then we went through the blame game song-and-dance again.

Dad had me call the rude U-Haul office to get their spare set of keys. Surely, you know, this sort of thing has happened before.

"Dude, what do you mean you lost the keys?" the helpful man at the U-Haul desk who had given me the wrong time at one point asked me.

"Do you have a spare set of keys?" I asked.

"Um ... no, we don't have a spare," he said. "You're going to have to call a locksmith and have him make you another key."

And he hung up on me again.

A locksmith. Specializing in automotive work. On a Sunday. In suburbia.

"What do you mean they don't have spare keys?" my dad shouted.

"The truck's got Arizona plates, Dad. They drive them all over the country."

"Well," my dad said. "That's just stupid."

My dad reiterated that he had to go, then he jumped into his truck.

"Call me when you find the keys," he shouted as he drove away.

So the last person who'd actually admitted seeing the damn keys to the truck was leaving. The room where this key exchange had apparently occurred was now empty of furniture. And U-Haul didn't have a spare set of keys.

My moving truck wasn't moving.

Larry looked at David and said, "I told you something stupid was going to happen."

"What's that?" I asked Larry.

"Something stupid always happens anytime I try to move anyone, even myself," Larry said.

David climbed into the back of the truck to go through all the drawers we'd packed. The bedside chest was the first thing my father and I had packed, so David stepped behind the mattresses and the couch in order to go through the drawers as best as he could.

I didn't want to completely unload the truck.

"Do you see anything?" I asked David.

"I see a box of condoms and film and an 8-hour videotape," David said. "But no key."

Larry started going through garbage bags. I mean, he went through every room, every windowsill.

I was calling locksmiths. My phone was acting up, disconnecting on me.

I was almost crying. I was yelling obscenities.

Kacoon called me in the middle of this to ask how things were going, and I practically bit her head off when I thought she chuckled at me.

I figured, if we didn't find these keys, it would be possible to solve this problem, but it would be expensive.

No locksmiths in the area did that kind of work. None of the 24-hour ones I spoke to had anyone they could recommend to me.

So I called U-Haul again to see if they had a preferred locksmith.

The person who answered the phone then was not the person who kept hanging up on me. He helpfully suggested that I call the U-Haul emergency line to see if they could tell me how to handle the problem. (This information would've been helpful during the first call to them, I thought to myself.)

I was on the phone to them when my father arrived again. He said he hadn't found them since he left and asked me if we'd had any good news.

It'd been an hour and a half since the keys had gone missing.

David was going through the shelves again. I was losing my mind. My father jumped on the back of the truck to help David search, then he started unloading the truck on to the patio in front of Busch Beer Man's apartment.

I called the emergency line. My phone died. I called them again, spoke to someone named Devin who gave me the key code and was about to tell me more information when my phone died again.

I had Larry use his phone. He was able to get the full information. The U-Haul people told Larry to give the staff at our U-Haul Rental Center this special number, and they would have a replica key.

Larry walked out to tell me how we were going to solve the problem when my dad shouted out to us, "FOUND THEM!!!"

He held them up to the sky.

"WHERE WERE THEY???" I asked him.

"Between these lawn chairs," my dad said.

"I told you ...," I said. "I TOLD YOU THAT YOU'D NEVER GIVEN THEM TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I was screaming. It wasn't pretty. But, damn, was I happy.

"You were stacking those chairs when I got here," I said.

My dad had put the key down when he was clearing space by the main door. We'd looked everywhere for those keys, except inside a stack of someone else's lawn furniture.

"I love you, Dad," I said to him. "And that's the only thing keeping me from killing you right now."

"I love you too, Benj," he said.

My dad apologized to everyone. We reloaded the truck within five minutes, determined who was driving what and got the hell away from the crackhouse. (God, there's a phrase I never thought I'd write.)

My new apartment in Buckhead is now loaded with more furniture than I know what to do with.

The couch, because that's always the hardest thing for anyone to move, was successfully transported by strapping it to a handtruck and rolling it down a hill. (David, brilliant and resourceful, came up with that trick.)

It took several hours, but everything is sufficiently done. I owe Larry and David a large, expensive meal for everything they did and everything they put up with. And I will repay them.

With everything unloaded about 6 p.m., Larry and David headed home.

I drove the evil U-Haul truck back to the rental center, almost hitting two cars on the way while attempting to change lanes. Oh, and I ran a red light because I didn't want to get stuck on Lenox Road in a truck I couldn't see anything out of. My dad followed me in his truck.

At the rental center, my dad hopped into the U-Haul, drove it to the gas station and filled it.

Then, we drove back to the rental center, locked the doors, dropped the keys into the night deposit and headed toward his truck.

I was exhausted, and he was driving me home.

"Oh, looks like I left the lights on in the U-Haul," he said.


I called the emergency line again as he drove me back to the crackhouse, but there was nothing we could do.

My dad said his mind's not been the same since he was diagnosed with diabetes, and I have to believe him.

I went inside, took a shower there, put another load of laundry into the dryer that my mother is picking up later this week and decided that I needed to go out.

I had chicken fingers at a restaurant, the first food I'd actually eaten eall day, and I caught a late movie - because that's how I reward myself.

After the movie, in the otherwise empty restroom where I was washing my hands, I thought about what else I had to do that night - and the Atlanta apartment where I was going to be sleeping.

I smiled to myself in the cinema bathroom mirror and said aloud something really great.

I said, "I did it."

Friday, August 22, 2003

On the shocking season finale of "LIFE OF RILEY MCCARTHY"

For no reason at all, I've decided that this entry should be considered the end of my blog's summer season of episodes, even though it's not a TV series (and thus has no episodes) ... and I'll probably write something new again next week ...

Still, since things will be mildly different for a lot of people next week and because the blog seems to concern itself with one new problem or new boy-issue a week (Points to those of you asking, "Whatever happened to Snapshot?"), I figured that this provides me with opportunity for a wrap-up of this "chapter."

Since my favorite TV show season finales ever were those cliffhanger episodes of "Knots Landing," though, I have decided that the blog's season finale entry should end "with a bang," as they used to say. Indeed, several "characters" are facing major questions.

So, to all you fans (both of you), these and other questions will be answered next season ...

* Will Benjie's move into the new apartment go smoothly, or will tragedy occur on the frightening, "Exorcist"-ish staircase down to the new apartment during the move on Sunday? Will he be able to survive packing the Buford crackhouse apartment with help from his mother?

* Will Lupo and his boyfriend safely transplant themselves down to their new Savannah home, becoming semi-regular players in the drama that is this blog?

* Will Kacoon be able to cope through her son Midget's second week of Pre-K, or will thoughts that her little boy is all grown up drive her further into complete madness? Will she and husband Mike be able to find a new home for their family before her in-laws contribute to her downward spiral into insanity? And what will her hair color be next week???

* Will Vic's change of job schedule and emergency change of medication keep her around and involved in more blog stories next season? Will a change allow her to attend Saturday's Indigo Girls concert, or will those tickets go to waste? Will she ever see lesbian performers in concert, or will scheduling difficulties perpetually keep her from catching dykes on stage???

* And what exactly will happen to British correspondent Miss Gibson and her Nickname-less Mystery Visitor next week?

* Will Jenipher be able to push other people into fits of envy through her island wedding to Gabe in April? Or will her attendance at a Christina Aguilera-Justin Timberlake concert in Milwaukee on Labor Day change her fate forever???

These and hundreds of questions I haven't even thought of will be answered soon.

Tune in next season ...

What I did last night instead of packing.

Last night, when I should have been packing, I decided that I should instead check out the latest DVD sent to me by those lovely people at Netflix, which was director Akira Kurosawa's Ran.

The film essentially transplants "King Lear" into the middle of samurai-era Japan. It was an excellent movie. Absolutely excellent.

All through college, I used to fall asleep in my film classes whenever they would show Kurosawa after lunch, but "Ran" kept me wide awake for its full, bloody and twisted run. And the film's primary villain, the eyebrowless Lady Kaede, was sorta deliciously evil, if that makes any sense.

Is it bizarre, though, that the main character, a king who gives up his power to his three sons only to see them all war with each other, reminded me of my own grandfather?

Something random.

My ex-bookstore manager Michael and I were talking earlier this month, and he recommended a book to me. He said he was telling other people who knew me about it.

"I was reading this book, and the narrator sounded just like Benjie," he said. "Except the narrator was a male whore."

Michael said the narrator of this book, the title of which escapes me, just started stories in the middle (rather than the beginning) and just went on and on about people you'd never even heard about before.

Michael and I used to talk like that when he worked at my bookstore. I'd tell him stories about random ex-boyfriends, estranged friends and other past dramas, acting as though he already knew who they were.

Kris, another co-worker at the store, told me that I was one of the few random-speakers he'd ever known. That just, out of nowhere, I'd start talking about some sort of topic that was both fascinating and completely disconnected from anything related to any topics that had previously been under discussion.

My friend Larry says conversations with me on the phone are delightful because I'll just jump into whatever the hell is on my mind without even bothering to say hello. Larry once told me that I had this fascinating mind that didn't forget much and operated at its own speed. He said he could understand both why I could be really good to know and be completely annoying at the same time.

My train-of-thought runs in a circle. All the connections in my stories that go on in my head aren't vocalized. I apologize to people all the time, for it's sometimes easier than explaining to them why I'm two pages ahead of everyone else in the narrative. Or it's easier to apologize than explain why I know I'm right.

When I first met my friend Lupo, I presented him with a gaggle of essays, telling him that I came with required reading.

To know me well, to get all the references and hints and backstory, you have to read or pay a tremendous amount of attention, I guess.

I'm like a soap opera. You can jump in at any time, no matter how long the show's been on, and eventually you'll figure out everything that's going on.

Thursday, August 21, 2003


OK, I'm really upset.

I just called Comcast, my apartment's cable provider, to see how much their basic package is, and it's a fairly good price. But I asked them the single most important question before determining whether I would get the service.

"Um, I feel really silly asking this," I said. "But I only really watch one channel."

"What channel is that?" the operator said.

"Um, it's embarassing," I said. "But the only channel I ever watch is SoapNet."

"Oh, we don't offer SoapNet," she said. "We're trying to get it, but we don't offer it yet."

"Oh," I said, disappointed.

She asked me how SoapNet worked, and I told her. I told her about the old reruns of "Ryan's Hope" and the kitschy, addictive '80s episodes of "Another World" with Anne Heche in them. I told her that "Dallas" is starting up soon.

I decided not to get cable right now. It's no use getting cable if the one channel I've watched religiously for about two years isn't available, right?

Pack N' Party, Take Two.

Kacoon came over to the apartment again last night, and actual packing was done - mostly by her, of course, since I am the most easily distracted packer in the world. (No wonder I don't have a boyfriend.)

We began to piece apart Vic's cookie last night, and I ended up on the phone with Vic in the middle of all that.

"I don't think you can read the message anymore," I told her. "I didn't know when I was going to see you next, so we just started eating it."

"Is enough of the message left so that you can rearrange the letters to spell out 'Unreliable Bitch?'" Vic asked.

"YOU READ THE BLOG!" I exclaimed.

"You all but told me to," Vic said.

"Are you mad?" I asked.

"No, I'm not," Vic said.

I asked her if she was mad again, even though she told me that she wasn't. Then I asked her again and again and again.

Vic finally asked if it was OK to come over to the apartment, and she headed our way. I hung up the phone.

Kacoon, who doesn't read the blog for fear of what I might say about her, asked me if I really did call Vic an "unreliable bitch" on a previous entry.

I told her yes.

So Kacoon called Vic up and began to denounce me again, saying that she couldn't believe I would write something like that.

"Hey, if it had happened the way he thought it had happened, then he would've been perfectly OK calling me that," Vic told her, I think.

I wrote that blog entry before I spoke to Vic about what happened. I love that my friends are that understanding.

Kacoon read the original copy of the "Of Mice and Friends" essay while Vic was on her way to my apartment. She was surprised by how accurate it was, including a lot of the quotes. She was amazed that I didn't blow any of it out of proportion.

"I didn't realize how funny we were until I read this," she said. "We do the oddest things."

At one point in my living room, Kacoon was telling Vic about her own birthday party this year, which I nicknamed "Death Has Birthday Cake."

On Kacoon's birthday party at her mother's apartment, she went outside on the patio to smoke before I showed up. And Kacoon is having her cigarette, watching a scene across the complex. A woman had apparently dropped dead in front of her whole family while Kacoon was standing there, and people were running around yelling. When I arrived later and joined Kacoon during one of her other cigarette breaks that day, a hearse pulled up, and its crew brought out a covered body.

Kacoon got all depressed about it that day, telling me that it made her feel old, but I thought it was darkly funny myself. I mean, everybody dies. Kacoon told me she didn't want to think about it.

But I'm just like that.

Anyway, back to the present.

The packing effort winded down.

Vic stayed past midnight, though Kacoon had to leave at 11:30 again, so Vic and I were together on her actual birthday. She took a piece of the cookie.

I told her, at one point, that all this silliness had stemmed from the fact that I loved her. She told me she knew that.

The living room is essentially done. The kitchen is, for the most part, half done. The bedroom is nowhere near done, but it will reasonably be finished by the time I get the truck on Sunday.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The freaks come out at night.

I don't know what's up with things at my apartment lately. But last night, when I was watching "Chicago" at 9 p.m. instead of packing, this person in a white T-shirt starts screaming at me and knocking on the window in my living room.

At first, I thought it was some of those BMX twerps from down the street or perhaps a wandering trailer-park hooker, for I don't live in a good area. I turned off the movie, left the room and the person in the T-shirt disappeared.

So, about 45 minutes later, I realized that my cell phone is in my car, so I went outside to get it.

I walked outside, and the person in the T-shirt, a woman with stringy brown hair and a shrill voice, is sitting under a tree in front of the house. And she's babbling. She looked at the stray black kitten next to her, the one I've seen around the apartment lately, and starts talking to it.

I decided that I'm going to have to get to my car, even if she's camped out on the front lawn, so I try to make some noise on the front walkway to see if the vagrant lady will turn around. But she never turned.

So I walked to my car.

"Can you help me?" the vagrant said. She was wearing a Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt and didn't seem to be able to hold up her own head.

"With what?" I asked her, though I kept walking and didn't look at her.

"Whatever," she said. "Damn, we all just ..."

When I got to my car, she got up, mumbled to herself and then started walking first up and then down the street. She put her hands in her hair and massaged her forehead as she moved - never in a straight line. She stumbled to one side, then the other.

I went to my car and called the police, telling them that a deranged or drunken woman was in front of my apartment house. They told me that they'd dispatch a car. I told them that she was walking down the street, which she was.

I started my car because I didn't want to be there when the police arrived, went in the other direction from her, then I made a turn to a road parallel to the one in front of my apartment.

She wandered through the intersection past my car, waving her hands in the air and half able to stand. A car behind me actually stopped and began talking to her. I just kept going.

I drove back about 15 minutes later, and there was no sign of her, that other car or the police I'd called.

So I went in my apartment and started to go to sleep.

I'd been asleep about 20 minutes, and there was this loud bang on my door. I saw the vagrant woman's silhouette as she wandered past my blinds. I called the police again, and, while I was talking to the operator (who said they'd sent an officer to speak to her on Jones Street, not Bell Street), I watched the woman out the window.

She laid on the patio in front of my house and rolled around. Then, she got up, knocked on my door and tried the doorknob. (When she tried the doorknob, I freaked out a bit.) And she kept babbling.

Hearing my voice on the phone must've set the woman off, for she left my apartment after a moment and began wandering further down the street.

I put clothes back on, in case the police showed up, and I laid on my bed and watched the woman wander out of sight. I kept watching for the police car, but I fell asleep before anything else happened.

I don't know if she was drunk or crazy. I don't know what she needed help with. And I don't know why she wanted to talk to me.

It didn't have that "Everything Is Going To Be Better Now" feel to it.

I saw my new apartment for the first time yesterday, and it just struck me as kinda blank and a bit tiny.

When I first went to the complex, I saw a model, which was, of course, brighter and nicer. My new apartment is not at all bad. In fact, it should prove to be cozy and fun. But I kinda wanted to hear a chorus of angels announcing my arrival when I walked into the door. And I didn't.

I want my new apartment to be more of a gathering place for my friends, so I don't die or attempt to bog myself down in depressing loneliness. So that chorus of angels would've been nice.

A coming-out cookie?

My friend Doug, reading the blog, suggested that a gay person could come out to their parents by using a giant, frosted cookie.

I laughed out loud at your suggestions for what to put on those big
birthday cookies. Surely somebody in America has put Thanks For The Herpes,
Slut! on one of those at some point. I think another good use for those cookies
would be to come out to your parents. Ask the folks at the Cookie Company to
put "Guess What, Mom and Dad — I'm a Homo!" on one of those, in frosting.
At first they'd be like, "Oh no." But then they'd realize it was a cookie,
and they'd be like, "Yay, a cookie!" And they'd think, Our son is gay, but
he was nice enough to tell us with this delicious cookie, so maybe it's
not all bad. I don't know. Your mileage may vary.

How would my mother have reacted to that? Considering that I came out to her three times, one of which involving her asking me if I was having sex with men, I think she might've preferred a cookie. I mean, yeah, there's still all the grief and stuff she went through, but she would've gotten to indulge her sweeth tooth.

My stepmother, on the other hand, wouldn't have liked a coming-out cookie. I told her that I was gay, though my father had already mentioned it, while she was doing her nightly Power Walk through her subdivision. She's big into Weight Watchers.

And my father wouldn't have appreciated a giant cookie outing. He's a diabetic, so he would've thought that I was just trying to override his senses and kill him.

I told him I was gay on top of Buford Dam, while we were both looking out at the lake. That was the best of the coming outs.

I still haven't come out to my stepfather. But he called me "Faggot!" once during a fight, so I think he knows.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Epilogue to the below story.

Vic called this morning at 6 a.m. to apologize. She said that she'd been in the hospital all night under observation because things went haywire with her new prescription.

She said she had her ex-husband drive her to the hospital last night after she got scarily ill. To not alarm her mother, she told her mother that she was just driving him home.

She didn't call me then. She called me this morning.

I don't know what to think about this.

"Hi, I'm Vic. I go to the hospital, and I try to keep it from people."

Of Mice and Friends.

Written at 4 a.m. last night.

The Pack n' Party, through surprisingly little fault of my own, proved to be the worst disaster of a social engagement I have ever, ever attended. Ever. And I was technically the host, so I think this may be some sort of sign. I don't know what it's a sign of, exactly, but it's either an indication that I should never leave Buford or I should turn my back on this horrid town as fast as I can and run, RUN to Atlanta.

I didn't know necessarily how to begin writing about it, and I realize "worst fucking party ever" is a bit juvenile. But there is, quite simply, no other way to put it. I've never before involved Kacoon in something so stressful and nerve-rattling that she had to indulge in more than one cigarette before. By the end of the party tonight, she'd had four of them, I think.

Kacoon called the evening one of the "classics," the sort of evening that only she and I would experience together. Me with my arsonist ex-boyfriends. Her with her freaky breakup stories involving dead prostitutes and stolen cars. While it was happening, it was on that level of bad. Our night's plans were so thoroughly thwarted, so ridiculously messed up beyond belief that she and I began calling our friends midway through it to say, "Oh my God, you're not going to BELIEVE what's happened!"

I suppose it all starts with Vic's ironic giant birthday cookie.

I was still at my office around 5:30 p.m., and the plans for the evening, that Vic, Kacoon and I would all get together to pack, drink, eat, watch videos and chat, were coming together. Kacoon said to me over that she'd show up around 8 and would call when she was within range of my apartment. Vic told me over the phone that she'd show up between 8 and 9 p.m.

So I ordered the cookie, complete with the "I Got You This Instead of A Gift" message that seemed so funny hours ago, and went to the mall to pick it up. Blake, that adorable Mormon high schooler who gazes and smiles at me and loiters in my store on his breaks from the cookie shop, told his manager that I was a mall employee and deserved a percentage off my purchase. I thanked him and told his manager that he was a keeper, for an employee, and she agreed with me.

(I didn't tell the manager about the time Blake, then a junior in high school, brought a girl friend, not a girlfriend, of his into my music section to chat me up and check me out, but I think of that every time I see him. I remember his girl friend giving the whole thing away after they were through perusing me, saying "Bye, Blake's Special Friend!" to me as they left the music department.)

I asked the cookie manager if everyone thought they were clever when they put out-of-sorts messages atop a dessert like hers, and she said she's received a lot of odd ones. I asked her the worst one, but she and Blake just sort of stared at each other and couldn't come up with a good one. I was surprised they couldn't. I imagined a giant cookie that said "I Want a Divorce" or "Thanks for the Herpes, Slut!" or something. When I asked the message question, Blake just looked cherubic for a moment and blushed.

Then I rushed to my apartment because my mother and stepfather were dropping off her leather couches for me at my apartment, and I needed to be there to receive them. As my stepfather carried in the couch, my neighbor, who parks his classic Ford in the damn front yard and installed a blue mosquito lamp in front of the house to provide himself with entertainment, decided to come out and witness the ruckus we were causing. The neighbor, holding a can of Busch Beer in his hand, would wait until my stepfather was carrying something away from him, and then he would start flirting with my mother. Seriously. Eventually, I had to shoo the neighbor out of the doorway.

At one point, my stepfather, who brought an extra man with him (and a four-year-old boy who I guess I'm sorta related to by marriage) to help move the furniture, picked up my old couch. An old issue of Playgirl, stripped of its cover by my co-workers at the bookstore and given to me, was underneath it. I'd forgotten, of course, that it was under there. Since it didn't have a cover on it, my mother and the four-year-old in the room didn't pay it any mind, and I was able to see it and kick it under a table without incident. Their entire visit was brief and decent. It was a welcome change.

So my mother and stepfather left. I put the giant cookie on top of the refrigerator in the kitchen. I had an hour to rest on the "new" couches before the girls showed up to "pack n' party." I loaded a DVD of "Sports Night" into the machine and watched it, leaving my cell phone in the other room.

After a bit, I hear a knock at the door. Kacoon, again looking cute, was there waiting for me.

"Why didn't you answer your phone?" she asked. "I called to tell you I was coming."

I looked at the phone. Two missed calls. One from Kacoon, the other I assumed from Vickye. It was 8:30.

I checked the messages as Kacoon settled herself down on the new love seat.

"It's not as big of a disaster as I was expecting," she said as she looked around the apartment, which I used to pay her to clean.

"What, the apartment or the new furniture?" I asked her.

"The apartment, of course," she said.

"Mom came over and help me clean it up this weekend," I said, for Kacoon knows that I don't really clean up after myself. "We're supposed to get it to the next step today."

"What time is Vickye showing up?" she asked me.

"She said between 8 and 9," I said. "What do you want to do until she gets here? Let's wait to order the pizza."

:"I have no idea what to do," Kacoon said. Neither of us was eager to start packing.

"Ooh, there's a dirty magazine I kicked under the table there," I said.

"Really?" she asked me. "Where is it?"

We moved some furniture, uncovered the issue of Playgirl. Kacoon immediately began critiquing the centerfold models.

"Ugh, no one in here is good looking," she said. "Who is the editor of this? I doubt it's a woman because no woman would ever think these men were sexy."

The editor was indeed a woman, so Kacoon scoffed and instead began reading some of the Playgirl "articles."

"Buck polished his instrument as lovingly as he would the hood of a '57 Chevy, thinking about Charla and what it would be like to 'lift her hood,'" she read.

I laughed.

I located another stripped issue of the magazine under my bed, one that I had remembered I owned, and Kacoon and I spent about 15 minutes doing dramatic readings from the Playgirl testimonials. We then threw the issues in the garbage and returned to wondering where the hell Vic was.

I called Vic's cell phone. No answer.

I checked the messages on my phone. Nothing from Vic, just a call from my mom wondering if the vulture-like neighbors had gathered up my old couch and chair from where we'd left them near the street.

I left a message on Vic's cell phone, telling her that Kacoon and I were already at the apartment. I didn't mention the giant cookie.

We waited five more minutes. I called Vic's mother's house to see if she was there and just didn't have her cell phone on her.

"She just left," her mother said over the phone.

Then, her mother indicated that Vic wasn't on her way to my apartment, as she'd told me she was going to do. No, Vic was driiving her ex-husband back to his house, located about 25 minutes in the other direction.

"Oh," I said, my voice working in clipped tones, trying not to sound annoyed. Kacoon watched me, waiting.

Then, Vic's mother asked me if we'd had some kind of plans.

"Yes," I said.

"Have you tried her cell phone?" she asked me.


"Well, I'm sure she'll call you," Vic's mother said.

"Uh huh," I said. "She told me she was coming here, though, so I decided to do something for her birthday. I got her a giant cookie with writing on it because I know she doesn't like gifts."

"That sounds nice," her mother said. We exchanged goodbyes.

Kacoon tried to read the look upon my face but couldn't.

"What is it?" Kacoon said. "Where is she?"

"Oh, she's driving her ex-husband back to Clermont," I said. "It's about 45 minutes away from here."

"Why?" Kacoon asked.

"Because she feels like she has to," I said. "Maybe she feels guilty."

"And she's not going to call you?" Kacoon asked.

"Maybe not," I said matter-of-factly. "Not while he's nearby, anyway."

"Why wouldn't she call you and tell you that she's going to be late?" Kacoon asked. "Or why wouldn't she tell him that she already had plans and that he should get a cab?"

"Because she thinks I'll understand," I said, my tone of voice divorced from any feeling. "It's easier for her to disappoint me than him. She thinks I'll understand."

I called Vic again, leaving her another message but not letting her know that I knew what was keeping her. When I told Vic's voice mail that I hoped she was safe, Kacoon said that I was laying on a guilt trip thick.

I ordered the pizza.

Dejected and feeling as though I'd left way too many messages on Vic's voice mail to preserve the element of subtlety, I told Kacoon to follow me into the kitchen. I pulled down the giant birthday cookie and opened the lid, showing Kacoon the frosted message. Instead of "I Got You This Instead of a Gift," I felt like she and I should change the message to something like "Happy Birthday, Unreliable Bitch."

That was the bad joke I was going to make to Kacoon, but I didn't get the chance to say it. I was about to do it, but something odd happened in the kitchen.

I heard a scratching behind some boxes, then I saw something move really quick out of the corner of my eye on to the windowsill. I saw a gray tail.

I'm moving out of the apartment in one week, and I had never seen an actual rodent in my usually squalor-filled kitchen before. Now, two days after my mother cleaned the kitchen - and on the rare damn occasion that I was supposed to have guests over, there were vermin scurrying in the corner of my window.

I couldn’t tell if they were on the way out or just hiding.

I looked at Kacoon and stated plainly, "Get out of the kitchen now."

"What is it?" Kacoon said.

"Just get out of the kitchen."

Damn it, I thought. Kacoon is never going to want to come over ever again, no matter where I live or where I move. I'll always be the Guy Who Had Mice At the Spontaneous Three-Person Surprise Birthday Pack N' Party That the Guest of Honor Didn’t Attend.

I thought it was mice. It might have been rats, I thought. I'm unlucky … and I saw something gray … so they're probably rats. I'm moving in a week. What should I do about this?

I grabbed wasp spray. I lined the windowsills with it. Nothing moved. I sprayed the counter, where the cereal was. That seemed to be where the original noises were coming from.

Kacoon worked her way back inside the room, and she saw the can of bug spray.

"What was it?"

"It was a mouse or maybe a rat," I said.

"Why are you using bug spray?" she asked me.

"I have no idea," I said. :"I'm trying to get it to move."

My mother used blue morsels of poison to kill mice who invaded our old house. I didn't know where any blue morsels of poison were.

"We got cats when my family had mice in Colorado," said Kacoon helpfully. "Do any of your neighbors have a cat?"

"I'm allergic to cats," I said.

"You too?" she said. "I'm really allergic to cats. But that's what we always used whenever we had mice."

I ran out into the lobby to see if I could track down Busch Beer Guy. I thought he might've picked up that stray black cat I've seen around lately. I mean, Busch Beer Guy parks his car on the sidewalk despite warnings, so he probably doesn't give a damn about the apartment pet policy, either

Busch Beer Guy's front door was wide open, but I couldn't get any response from him. And I didn't see or smell a cat, so I came back inside my own apartment.

"Please don't brand me a bad housekeeper because of this," I said to Kacoon. "I mean, you know I'm a bad housekeeper, but I've never had a mouse here before."

"Benjie, didn't you just hear what I told you about Colorado?" she said. "Everyone gets mice. I mean, your apartment has faulty windows, and it's on the ground floor near a wooded area. Of course you're going to get mice. Just be glad you're leaving in a week."

Determined to solve the problem with the mice, I picked up a broom and went toward the counter.

"What should we do?" I asked.

"I don't know," Kacoon said. "Maybe we should just pack in the other room."

I called my mother, who told me to get a cat. So I said good night to her and hung up.

I saw a tiny mouse poke its head out from behind a Nigella Lawson cookbook on the counter. Shivers rushed down my spine, and I screamed like a big-breasted virgin in a horror movie. Kacoon, who probably would've chastised me with tidings of bad karma if I'd actually attempted to harm the mouse, climbed on a chair and kept her balance by holding on to the door frame.

"You look like a '50s housewife," I told Kacoon, even though I was the one who screamed. Then, I reminded her of the time we saw "Willard."

I started singing the first lyric of "Ben," which Kacoon told me wasn't at all funny. Then, she gasped. A mouse had stuck its head out at her, somewhere between the boxes of Crispix and Rice Krispies.

Unsure of what to do, I went toward the counter with a broom to find the hiding mice and scare them. Scare them. Make them run. Make them run outside.

For some reason, I began to channel Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING.

I swear to God, I said something like this, "MOUSEY!!!!!!!! MOUSEY, COME OUT AND PLAY!!!! WE'RE MAMMALS, TOO, AND WE DON’T' WANT TO HURT YOU … MUCH!!!!!"

I knocked the unopened tins of Jiffy Pop off the counter with the broom handle. Kacoon flinched atop her perch, but nothing moved. I poked at a can of corn.


When I began the taunt of the Niblets, Kacoon started laughing, telling me that it was the funniest thing she'd ever heard me say. On top of her chair, she told me that they were hiding behind a can. But I moved the can with the broomstick, and they weren't there. I moved the sugar, but there were no mouse. It seemed weird to me that a space so small on the countertop could provide rodents with so many hiding places. It seemed neat for a moment. Then I remembered that the vermin were fast and creepy, and it stopped being neat. At Kacoon's urging, I poked the cereal boxes, and nothing happened.

"What if they're demon mice?" I said to Kacoon. "What if we're in an old episode of 'Tales from the Crypt?'"

"If we're really in a Stephen King story," Kacoon said. "I think we should call him right now, and tell him to change the story to a comedy."

The tattooed, punk rock feminist was standing in a chair, and I, the gay cripple, was singing songs while antagonizing stealth mice with a broomstick. And we were the only guests at someone else's surprise party. It seemed like a comedy to me.

"Benjie, I want you to know, if a mouse comes flying off the counter and starts biting you in the neck, I AM SO OUT OF HERE," Kacoon said. "I love you, and I would call the paramedics on my cell phone as I went home. But, if it comes at your jugular, I'm telling you that I'm gone."

The counter was nearly clear, and there were no signs of the mice. I noticed the small sack of flour on the counter had a hole in its top. So I poked it.

And a fucking mouse came flying out of the damn sack. I mean, flying. Kacoon and I both screamed bloody murder, and the mouse did this Cirque du Soleil routine down the back of the counter, jumping off its edge and landing squarely on the floor. Then, it scurried into the corner.

"Well, that's that," I said.

And another fucking mouse jumps out of the sack of flour. And Kacoon and I screamed again, her firmly up in her chair. And it jumps off the other side of the counter, then runs under the counter and toward the same apparent yet unseen mouse hole in the corner.

After some investigation and some poking into the corner I couldn't reach, Kacoon climbed down from the chair, saying we probably scared the bejeezus out of the mice with all the noise and the poking and prodding at them.

"I am NEVER going in that kitchen again," Kacoon proclaimed.

She grabbed her own phone, called Vic again and said, "I hope you're still coming, Vickye. Oh, and if you could, stop at the store and bring mousetraps!!!"

Kacoon then called her husband, telling his voice mail (because he wasn't answering) that he wouldn't believe the night we were having.

It was 10 p.m. Nothing had been packed, and nothing was going to be. Our nerves were shot, so I did the best thing I could think of and called Kacoon's mother Kathy on my cell phone.

"I need your help," I told my friend's mother. "This is the worst party I've ever hosted. My friend Vickye didn't show up to her own surprise birthday thing, but mice did. And I got a giant cookie with an ironic message, but she's not here to read it!"

"Who did you call?" Kacoon asked me, looking puzzled. Then, she looked out the window. "The pizza guy's here."

I handed her my cell phone and said, "It's your mother."

"You called my mother?" Kacoon asked. "MY mother? Did you wake her up?"

"I don't think so," I said and then reconsidered. "I hope not."

I went to the door and got the pizzas while Kacoon talked to her mother about our party night from hell. She was bidding her mother goodnight when I returned with the pizzas, one of which was a flavor specifically picked in the hopes that Vic would show up.

"I want to talk to her, I want to talk to her," I said, sounding about five years old. Kacoon handed me the phone.

It turns out that Kathy had, in fact, dozed off while watching TV, but it had just been for a moment. So I don't think I technically woke her up, at least not in the traditional sense.

I asked her what we should do about Vic, and Kathy said we should do something really cruel, like call up Vic's voice mail again and sing "Happy Birthday," then say at the end, "Wish you were here!"

But we didn't. I don't know how many times we called Vic or how many different stunts and requests we left on her voice mail. She never called back. She never found out about her giant cookie.

So we ate a couple slices of pizza, lounged on the comfy new couches and called everyone else we knew who would find the story amusing.

Then Kacoon and I watched a DVD, and she headed home about 11:30.

On her way out of the apartment, she looked back at me and said, "Have fun in your apartment tonight … with your new little friends."

I threw out the flour. I cleared the counter. The leftover pizza is elevated, as is the untouched, giant ironic birthday cookie. There's still lots of packing to do, but, God and mice willing, it'll get done.

However my plans get mucked up, and I'm sure they will, I am leaving my hometown in less than a week.

And if I'm looking for a sign from the mice, maybe I should avoid any thoughts of Steinbeck. Maybe some country mice knew that I was moving to the city and stopped by to say goodbye, in their own way.

Monday, August 18, 2003

What to get the person who doesn't want a thing.

I just got Vic a cookie for her birthday. When they asked me what message I wanted to put on it, I told the lady on the phone that I had no idea and felt silly. It's hokey to get the cookie. (I realize that's part of the charm of it. It'd be like renting "The Real Cancun" for us to watch. Hey, that's an idea.)

Vic hates gifts, I said to the lady on the phone who likely couldn't give a damn.

Seriously, she hates gifts. She says they make her feel indebted.

She just suggested that I put "Happy 27th Birthday, (your name here)!" on it. But considering the odd way Vic spells her full name, "Vickye," I decided that it wouldn't be a good idea to put her name on the cookie, lest those Rhodes Scholars at the Great American Cookie Company get befuddled with written frosting.

The message I settled on is:


I think it works.

The Pack n' Party begins at my house at 8. My two favorite guests are going to be there, and we shall sit on my mom's old leather couches - which are now mine.

One of my failings.

I own too many books. This is something I already knew, yet it always hits me when I move that I only read 10 percent of the books I own. The last book I seriously read, though I have gotten loads of books since it, was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That one was 870 pages long, yet simply written, whereas I can't get into Catch-22 no matter how many times I try. I have yet to read anything by Walker Percy despite numerous attempts to get into his work, though I love his basic philosophies and ideas.

Vic tells me that I'm not a deep reader. I pick deep movies but cannot do deep books. When she says that to me, I envy her reading speed and capacity to take on difficult literature. I wish I could accomplish more difficult books.

I feel like, as a bookseller, I'm failing my customers. I feel, as a writer, that I'm failing to learn. It's annoying.

Why can't I do just one Dostoevsky?

Pack n' Party.

Vic's supposed to come over to my apartment tonight, and I'm having Kacoon join us. Vic's birthday is this week, and I'm going to try and get one of those giant cookies with her name on it to surprise her. (How quickly do you have to order those in advance? Can I just go to the mall and give them her name and have the cookie within 15 or so minutes?)

Vic said when I saw her last night that she'd bring over pizza and some sort of drink mix, and we can pack and stuff ... and have a good time doing it.

I spoke to Vic again this morning, though, and she sounded beat. Like she hadn't slept at all, which she told me she hadn't. So I don't know how firm tonight's plans are.

I hope she can make it. I think it'll be fun. And I want an excuse to buy one of those giant frosted chocolate chip cookies.

My apartment, my self.

Now that we're back from the weekend, the computers are mostly down again, and I can't check my e-mail.

And I was hoping to leave early today to fill out paperwork for my new apartment. That change is approaching fast, and it's freaking me out.

I turned the whole thing into this giant identity crisis on Saturday, telling Lupo that I didn't know if the new apartment would reflect "me" as I see myself rather than the Bufordite, messier version of me that I think doesn't really impress anyone.

I have a huge ego about my writing, which may or may not be justified, but I'm very insecure about everything else. I wish that my own personality, in day-to-day contact, used the voice that I write with, if that makes any sense. I don't know why I'm not more "me" and why I fear that the new apartment won't help me find a better sense of belonging.

I spoke to a friend this weekend who just started college and told me that he didn't feel comfortable in his own skin, so he got a tattoo, changed his hair and pierced his eyebrow. Though he looked absolutely terrific, he also looked completely different from the way he looked a couple months ago.

I told him that I went through that when I was in college. But I didn't tell him that I feel that way now, felt that way last year, the year before that and the year before that.

My friend Vic's motto is this: "When you can't change your life, change your hair."

When I was working on that "Consequences of Falling" story, which I'm still working on, I realized that we're all together in feeling completely alone and misunderstood. There's no escaping yourself or your own individuality. Changes-of-scenery help. Changes-of-habit help. But you can't completely change your own nature.

Do we ever feel as though we're understood? I don't think we do.

So what's the solution in that case?

"La," a note to follow "So."

Dianne had been working at my Mall of Georgia store about a month when I had my first real chat with her. Though all the management had warned us that she may try to cause some trouble because she was a transsexual with a rumored "lawyer on retainer," she'd seemed like a nice enough sort, but I didn't want to get myself in any trouble.

When the bookseller formerly known as Brian first transferred from the Gwinnett store, the store managers pulled me aside specifically, saying not to talk to her in the way I usually talk to everyone on staff. They feared I might be "blunt."

"Be careful what you say," Michael the manager told me about a million times. Others, who'd worked with pre-op Brian, were warned of the same thing. There was a lot of whispering.

But she didn't seem all that dangerous. When she arrived, Dianne was 40-ish, quiet, a fan of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, a good worker who maybe tried a bit too hard. Occasionally, she would go into corners, partly to rest and partly to see if people were talking about her. She would hum to herself a lot. I thought we were getting some sort of high drama drag-queen bitch, from the way the rumors were going. Instead, we got someone who looked like a smart, meek librarian.

After a month, I'd grown comfortable working with her, occasionally chatting.

But our first real conversation was a hoot.

She was closing the cafe, humming something like "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." So I looked Dianne in the eyes, asked her if I'd guessed the right tune. And I started singing along.

And one of the cafe workers, who didn't know how to talk to Dianne either, said, "Oh God, Benjie's singing!"

"I can sing," I said to the worker.

"Sure ...," he said in a patronizing tone.

"No really," I said. "I can sing. I can sing really well."

"Whatever, Benjie," the worker said.

"My mom taught me to sing when I was a toddler, and I've always sang," I said. "Um, when I was five, I was in the Atlanta Boy Choir."

Dianne, who had been quiet during the exchange, looked at me and said, "So was I!"

I wanted to laugh. I didn't. I just kept on talking about the conductor, asking her questions about when she was a member of the troupe.

"How long were you in it?" I asked her. "Did you train under Fletcher Wolfe, too?"

She answered those, so I asked her more.

And that night, on our way through the parking lot, Dianne and I sang "Do Re Mi," a song we both learned from the same teacher.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Protesting The Twenty.

Last night, when Kacoon and I went to see the surprisingly good "Dirty Pretty Things" at the Tara, she was dressed all in black-and-white and looked fantastic. Seriously, it was the cutest I'd ever seen her in my life. She looked like the sort of girl you'd want to be with at an art house movie, the smart-looking, geek-chic one. She looked like Thora Birch from "Ghost World." White shirt. Short black skirt. Pale skin. Dark hair with bobby pins. Black Mary Janes. My geeked-out Poindexter glasses that she borrowed during the movie. I was proud to be with her, particularly when she and I got all sarcastic during the Regal Cinemas' pre-movie showing of this digitally-projected ad block called The Twenty, which we hate. It's worse than those slideshows they used to show. I mean, why are tickets so expensive when the theaters are selling ad space? I realize they want to maximize profits, but those ads are annoying as hell.

During the promo for LidRock, the latest gimmick where they put CDs in the lids of all the large-sized drinks, Kacoon walked out because she found The Twenty beyond annoying. And I laughed all through the ads, saying that the new Lid Rock CDs featured songs by Celine Dion, Jessica Simpson and Mandy Moore (who slaughters John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me"). Dion and Simpson, in the videos they showed in the ads, both had apparently gone shockingly blonde. It was horrifying.

Kacoon, when she came back to her seat after those pop divas stopped invading the screen, joined me in mocking The Twenty until the actual previews began. She and I would boycott, I think, if it weren't for the fact that we know neither one of us would actually be able to avoid the movie theater.

I sent an angry comment card to Regal, but I can't threaten to boycott. I couldn't handle not going to the Tara or to the IMAX at the Mall of Georgia. I guess I'm just going to have to live in perpetual annoyance with The Twenty.

What I Have Now.

To concentrate on the bright parts about my upcoming move, I've decided to make a list of what I have that I didn't have the last time I tried moving into Atlanta in 1999 when I went to work for CNN.

1. Family of friends. I've got people looking out for me now, wanting the best for me. I've got people who like to hear from me everyday, who include me in their family gatherings and make me feel like I belong. They stand by me when things are good, and they listen to me and occasionally offer to help when things are bad. I'm there for them if they need me, and I offer them my loyalty and care. I share my wealth of stories with them, and they provide me with new ones.My friendships are much stronger than they were in 1999. I've let people in, and things are better because of it.

2. Less reliance on family. Thanks to the horror of July 5, 2001, I no longer rely so much on my mother or her husband to provide me with assistance. My mother is helping me start packing tonight, which will be good though I am sure she's going to include a guilt trip in the midst of the preparation, but at least she's getting to help out.

3. More job security. Things have been going well at both McGraw-Hill and Barnes & Noble for a while now, so I shouldn't worry too much about whether I'll be completely jobless. Knock on wood. Also, after spending this much time working in a corporate environment, I've gotten good at staying out of trouble while continuing to be myself.

4. Myself. I have a yellow belt in Choi Kwang Do. I've survived incident after incident and been able to write about it. I know that I need therapy and medication to keep myself from being completely depressed. I know that the best way to stop feeling lonely is to keep busy and surround yourself with people. I know better my own wants and needs - and how to tell the difference between the two. I know my weaknesses, and I'm working on them. I know I can survive and thrive amid chaos. I know I need a home that I want to spend time in, for things get messy at my house now because I don't want to be there and am never there.

This is the start of a new chapter, I told Kacoon last night. I'm getting out of Buford, moving to a place where I want to be. Everything will be fine.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

I'm bummed. The summer movies sucked.

Kacoon and I, I believe, are going to finally catch Dirty Pretty Things tonight at the Tara. It's a Stephen Frears film with Audrey Tautou in it, and the reviews, though not great, have been solid. It should be interesting. It's supposed to be thriller-ish without being a thriller. Hell, at this point, I'd be happy with a decent summer movie. I've only seen a handful of them this year.

I miss good movies.

Kacoon and I could either see "Dirty Pretty Things" or that Colin Farrell movie SWAT. And I'm sorry, but I'm not seeing that. I'd rather watch Gigli than SWAT. (No, I've not seen "Gigli," for Kacoon said it wasn't even worth giving it money to see how bad it was. And she and I went to see Crossroads, so it's not like we're picky.)

Too many movies came out this summer, and none of them have been very good. I'm confused about all this. Used to be, a film opening at #1 or grossing $100 million meant that it was a hit. Now, you're lucky if $100 million in profits will help you break even. And how can you expect to make a lot of money on a movie if you rush it into theaters at low quality and then rush it out of theaters when the next behemoth of a blockbuster comes out.

Kacoon's been mad at me since May when I saw The Matrix Reloaded three times, then called it bad, pretentious, hard-to-follow and annoying, but it seems as though history's being written on it by people like me, who were disappointed. Kacoon still loves "The Matrix Reloaded" beyond all reason.

Though I wasn't surprised by how good Finding Nemo was, I didn't expect Freaky Friday to be one of the best movies of the summer. That shows you how bad this summer has been.

That Zion dance scene still appears in my nightmares.

Bedlam at work.

So I come in early to my office, which is a rare feat, and I'm all ready to actually do work, which is even more remarkable. And the computers are down. All of them, with the exception of maybe five, so I have to do all of my work using the phone and a piece of paper, which is possible but not as efficient. And I have no access to my e-mail account or anything, which is a blessing and a curse because it helps me maintain my focus.

I took a longer lunch than I was allowed a couple minutes ago. The computers are the way they keep track of how long we're gone, so without them they don't know if we go over or not. It was a little fun cheating, let me tell you.

In addition to calling all of the people I was supposed to call, I also called my new apartment complex to get a copy of my new address. Now I get to go through the whole "change of address" thing, which is fun and a headache all at the same time. What if I forget to turn on a major utility before I complete the move? What if I get cable without being able to afford it, just because I want to catch episodes of "The O.C." or "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" that have everyone raving about their excellence.

I'm nervous. And paranoid.

And it's all coming, so I need to get ready for it. There's no need for me to panic, I know, but I'm panicking anyway.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The fundamental things.

I walked out Larry's door to get my copy of the Casablanca DVD out of my car, and, on my way back into the apartment, found the door locked.

Maybe they thought I was just walking to the other room, I thought, so I knocked on the door.

"Come in," Larry said, and I imagine he had a wine glass in hand when he said it.

I tried the door again. No luck.

So I rang the doorbell.

I heard Larry sigh. "Hold on ...," he said.

He tried the door. It wouldn't budge. It wasn't the lock, though. He tried the door again. Nothing.

"DAVID!!!" he called to his husband, still sitting on the couch waiting for the movie.

"David, this damned door is stuck," Larry said.

David tried it, then tried it again. It was still stuck.

"Hey, are you still out there?" he asked me. "I need you to push!"

I pushed. The door didn't budge.

Though a gay man, David has tools. David started to remove the doorknob. Larry told me a long time ago one of the reasons he likes David so much.

"He's very useful," Larry said.

There's a door to Larry's bathroom up in his condo now. There used to be a curtain hanging. Now there's a door there. David installed it. You can't even tell that the wall above the door was ever incomplete. David's work is seamless, perfect.

The door knob flew off and landed by my feet. I started to talk through the open doorknob hole at Larry and David.

"What happened?" I asked.

"We're figuring that out," David said.

A screw holding on the doorknob had come loose and lodged in the door.

"You're useful," I said to David when the door came open.

"You have no idea," Larry said and laughed.

The door was soon fixed, and David joked with me at that point.

"We thought we'd gotten rid of you," he said, laughing. "I said to Larry, 'Why does he want to watch that movie? I've seen it a dozen times. Quick, try to lock him out!'"

David's very, very good for Larry. The two of them work well together. Though Larry and David are perfectly fine on their own, together they make something stronger, funnier and more admirable. They make, figuratively and literally, a better-constructed device. They opened doors in their lives, allowing each other in, and they live together.

And they've opened their door for me. And their love, which survived all sorts of silly drama, distance and other complications, shows me that it may be possible for me to open the door in my life for someone else, whenever fate determines that the right person should come knocking. And though I'm a gay man, I hope I have the tools to make a relationship happen.

I'm a terrible flirt.

Chris the ex-cafe guy, the one who once lifted up his shirt in front of me and I gasped at the sight of his kung fu-toned abdominals, came into the bookstore last night, and he told me that I never made him feel uncomfortable at the bookstore with my attempts to "convert" him when he worked there. (He said "convert," not me.)

"What good would it do to convert you?" I asked him in front of his girlfriend. "You obviously can't dress, so there's no way we could make you gay."

Chris was wearing a "Conserve Water ... Drink More Beer" T-shirt. His girlfriend smiled at me and muttered in agreement. I paused.

Then I said, "Well, I guess we could always make you wear nothing."

When I said that, neither one of them looked amused.


Though I said I wouldn't talk so much about movies, it turns out that I was wrong. Today's a distinctly movie day because, in addition to yesterday's release of that new DVD edition of Casablanca featuring deleted scenes, today's the birthday of the Master of Suspense.

My favorite movie of his is, of course, Rebecca, for entirely subjective reasons. (Mostly because it's a very good movie, has staying power and is creepy and psychological. But also because, when others name their Hitch favorites, few name "Rebecca.")

Kacoon and I were talking a couple days ago about Hitchcock, though, and we mentioned that some of our favorite works of his were actually on his anthology television show, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.

The best episode of that show, in my opinion, was "Lamb to the Slaughter," starring Barbara Bel Geddes as a woman who murders her philandering husband by beating him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb. Then, she cooks the dish and serves it up to unsuspecting homicide detectives looking for the murder weapon.

I caught the episode once on Nick at Nite, and I think they're rebroadcast on TV Land sometimes. Also, that one may be on video. I highly recommend tracking it down.

Quick ways to start fights with my friend Lupo.

1. "American Beauty is one of the greatest movies I've ever seen."
2. "Roberto Benigni is a genius, and Life Is Beautiful is an amazing work."
3. "Patch Adams made me cry."
4. "I love Robin Williams when he's at his best, hamming it up for the camera and chewing on the scenery."
5. "The special effects made Amelie even more magical."

Oh, and I haven't completely sold my soul to

Don't worry. I'm not just going to do movies and CD recommendations on this site, though that's what you've seen a lot of lately.

I've not really had a lot to complain about on here lately, though I am stressed out and not really sure about this whole move thing, which is supposed to occur in one week.

"It's all good," my roommate Tommy used to tell me freshman year when I'd get so panicked that I'd freak out during our nightly viewing of DAYS OF OUR LIVES.

It's all good.

From what I hear, this is the new, fun, underground movie.

I've heard things about both this movie Camp and its soundtrack that have me really hoping that it opens in my area. Though it's receiving a lot of buzz from the gay press, of course, because it has gay characters and showtunes and all, it's not a strictly gay movie, at least from what I've read about it. With all the AMERICAN IDOL hoopla, I can frankly see why a FAME-ish throwback would be getting good press. The majority of critics are saying it's flawed but charming.

It's coming to a theater in Midtown on August 22.

Apparently, the Victoria Williams cover of "Century Plant" is excellent. And I think a movie is worth seeing if it even bothers to include a Victoria Williams cover. And Stephen Sondheim's in it. THE Stephen Sondheim.

Monday, August 11, 2003

God bless DVD.

Apparently, there's an episode of "Futurama" in its second season when the crew travels underwater for vacation and finds the Lost City of Atlanta buried in the depths. The episode is called "The Deep South." Being a native, I now feel as though I should have watched more episodes of "Futurama," but I could never figure out when the show was on. They kept moving it.

God bless DVD. Because of DVD, I became a "24" junkie. Because of DVD, I got to watch every episode ever made of "Sports Night," a completely great series. Thanks to DVD, I can watch "Alias" soon. Now, thanks to DVD, I can catch up on "Futurama" and discover for myself if it truly is a lost masterpiece.

Who's reading this?

All right, so I went to my grandpa's house in Ohio. I come back, and the counter on this site goes from around 100 hits to 160 hits. And I only know of a couple people who bother to look at this site.

Funny. Very funny.

Anyway, so long as your here, click on that rainbow checkmark thing and vote for my site on this poll thing if you haven't already. Granted, my site's nowhere near as interesting as those featuring transsexuals, nudity or graphic descriptions of sex, but mine's got its own value. And I don't care if you vote on those other sites, either.

Thursday, August 07, 2003