Friday, December 07, 2007

So as not to see you see me react.

I wrote this to my improv teacher Jim, who is also my friend and whom I write everyday so that we can escape the tedium of our jobs.


You and I are alike in some ways, not alike in others. I've been attracted to bad elements, done bad things, destructive things and made some mistakes with some really terrible people. I would like to think that I've remained constant and good throughout whatever situations I was dealing with, but occasional lapses and weakness have probably made me a worse person than I'd like to think I am. It's certainly made me darker, a little bit more bitter - which would be great if I were, like, a chocolate, but I'm not. It's probably also made me a better writer, capable of drawing on a larger trove of human experience, but sometimes I wish that I could be the person who doesn't make jokes about, for instance, putting a puppy in a catapult.

I am also an intellectual snob, which makes it either ironic or telling that my apartment looks as scary as the Unabomber's. I've developed this habit around the bookstore and in my office of not tolerating fakery - even though I'm capable of it. A couple nights ago at the bookstore, our new security guard panicked because someone rang the back doorbell. I had to calm her down and tell her what happened. She asked me, startled, "There's a back door?" I had to tell her where it was - that it was in a room we'd actually been in together before. It was not her first night. She's the security guard. For some reason, it didn't provide me with much comfort when *I* had to tell her where one of the doors to the building was. Since then, I've had this opinion that she's stupid, and I can't shake it.

This year, because I've been trying to improve how I interact socially with friends and improve how I relax and cope with things, I've had to say goodbye to Scott, my on-again/off-again lover who could never commit and, in fact, would usually run from a discussion about commitment with me into the arms of some random Internet hookup, into the crotch of some skeevy guy from a bar or into some long road trip across state lines to experiment with some sort of fetish that he hadn't really indulged in before. I thought, at first, that it was because I was just too needy or that conversations with me just really annoyed him. It didn't occur to me that he was spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with the safety I was providing him, that I was - for once - the stable one in a relationship, until our waitress at the Steak 'n' Shake one night told me that any person who would run away from me and what I was providing was retarded. She said it in front of him. He was dumbstruck. It was one of the funniest moments of my life. I went back to the Steak 'n' Shake a couple months afterward to thank that waitress, but by then she was back in jail for - according to that night's staff at the Steak 'n' Shake - jumping the fence of a Halfway House to try and score some crystal meth. I don't think that invalidates her good advice, but I don't know.

I stopped hanging out with my friend Brad after I realized he would only come over to my apartment if he happened to have another appointment for "intimacy" near where I live. In March, an amputee in my neighborhood - whom he met through a website - canceled on him, and he told me that a trip to see me alone "wasn't worth the gas." On the phone, he said it in this sort of passive way, as though he were asking me to pass the salt. He couldn't figure out why I was laughing. And he didn't seem to notice for months that I was even upset. By then, I told him that I didn't like our friendship because I didn't like being "the back-up plan to an amputee hook-up." I asked him why my crippled legs weren't good enough to spend time with.

I also said goodbye to my best friend Vickye, who I actually don't think likes me very much. Even though she claims to love me, I never see her, and she's spectacularly unreliable. One time during our 20s, she got married, and she didn't introduce me to her husband for four years. She said she didn't think we'd get along. I finally met him at a skating rink during her niece's birthday party. They were divorced within a year. Vic lost her job earlier this year, then changed her phone number so that I didn't get to talk to her from August until the end of October - when she called up and said that she wanted to get back to "feeling like herself." We made plans to do something just recently, and she stood me up. And, actually, that's exactly the way that Vickye is herself.

The patterns lesson reinforced for me that, maybe, getting away from these folks - and unreliable folks like this - was the right move. Thank you for it.

Anyway, this e-mail is too long.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Holliday party.

Sometimes, I wish that my life was a TV show. Because, in my life, I met Jennifer Holliday and had a really good exchange with her. But, in the TV show version of my life, Jennifer Holliday and I would become friends, and she would accompany me to the Christmas party that I have to attend on Saturday. And, during the singalong, Jennifer Holliday would perform all sorts of songs. And everyone at the party would love me because I brought Jennifer Holliday to a room full of gay men that I usually feel awkward around. And then the magic of Christmas would rain down upon all of us like glitter, and I would smile and fall in love with someone under mistletoe. And then we'd have a big gay wedding for May sweeps, and Jennifer Holliday would show up again and sing another song.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Get busy dying.

My friend James and I were having coffee and another argument last night at IHOP.

I was trying to help him cope with the fact that a girl he likes called off what was supposed to be their first date without much notice or explanation.

"It wasn't a date," he clarified at one point. "It was, like, a pre-date."

"What's the difference, actually?" I asked him. "I mean, if you ask someone to coffee to decide whether you want to ask them to dinner, it's still a date, right?"

"Not necessarily," James said.

"I disagree."

"Well, what constitutes a 'date' in Benjie-land?" he asked me.

I was basic. I said, "If you make plans to do something with someone and then go out together, that's a date."

James argued the definition.

He explained, "Well, you and I made plans and went somewhere together yesterday, and not just that ... we went to a movie. And, after that, what did we do?"

"We went to the drugstore, and you explained soft-bristled toothbrushes to me," I said.

"No, I'm talking about dinner," James said. "You and I went to dinner ... and a movie. But was that a date?"

"We only had ice cream yesterday," I said to him.

"Whatever, was it a date?" James asked.

"Yes," I said to my heterosexual co-worker friend.

"WHAT?" James asked incredulously.

"It was a date," I said. "By my definition, it was a date."

"Your definition describes an 'appointment,'" James said. "If that was a date, then you're a lousy date."

I was a little miffed. And I think someone eavesdropping at another table started to laugh at us.

"Excuse me?" I asked James.

"Well, I didn't get sex or anything," James said.

"Would you want that?"

"No, not from you," James said. "But I would want that on a date."

"Even a first date?"

"I think that's standard for people our age nowadays," he asked. "A good date usually ends in sex."

"Well, I'm sorry I'm not easy."

"You are so. Who are you kidding?"

* * *

James then went on to suggest that his issues with women would end if he just, of all things, became an indiscriminant womanizer.

"The womanizers I know don't have my issues with women," he said. "That'd be better."

"If you were a womanizer, then you'd just have different issues with women," I said. "Besides, I think you'd need a different, more damaged background to be a womanizer."

"I could totally be a womanizer," James said.

"Yeah, but what if you ever wanted something more serious?" I asked.

"I could stop being a womanizer if that happened."

"Yeah, but then you'd have that history and reputation," I said. "And I think smart women would avoid that. And you prefer smart women. We like smart women."

"We do?"

There was a pause, then I changed the subject again.

"Ooh, I forgot to ask you something," I said.

"What is it?" James asked.

"Will you be a speaker at my funeral?" I asked.

He looked concerned.

"You planning on dying?" he asked.

"I don't really have a choice about that. It's gonna happen whether I want it to or not."

"But you don't have any immediate plans for it, right?" he asked. "Is there something you're trying to tell me?"

"No, but you're not the first person to ask me that," I said. "At my office, I asked my friend Angela if she would sing at my funeral, and she said that was morbid and started to worry."

"Well, it's a natural reaction, frankly," James said.

"No, I'm not suicidal," I said in an attempt to calm his nerves. "I just know that my mom is a control freak, so, if I want the service I want, I'm going to have to start planning now."

"Will your mother even be at your funeral?" he asked.

"Probably not, but I'm planning just in case," I said. "I mean, I told her that I wanted to be cremated, and she freaked out, saying that she'd NEED to see my body. I was, like, 'Why?' She said, 'Because I'd need to see that you were gone.'"

* * *

I'm not suicidal. I have been suicidal before. One time in high school, I wanted to nosedive off the balcony of a mall. If saying that makes anyone sad, I apologize, but, even when being harsh to myself in my head or in writing, I try to create an honest image of myself in everyone's head. The funeral idea, thus, is not a new one. I plan my funeral because, like my mother, I'm a control freak and image-conscious. I think that if I visualize and plan my perfect funeral, I can manipulate - even from beyond the grave - what everyone's opinions of me will be. I realize this is ridiculous and that talking about it makes me look vulnerable. But I can't control that. All I can do is talk about it.

Besides, my mom keeps the sheet music she wants used at her funeral in a compartment in her briefcase. Once, during a reflective period when she was revising her will, she let me and my brother Dan know where to find it. Ironically, one of the songs was "When the Saints Go Marching In."

So this tendency runs in our family.

* * *

Sitting in the IHOP, I explained to James how the funeral would go.

"Angela was really freaked out that I was talking about my funeral until I told her what song I wanted her to sing," I said. "Then she got all excited."

James asked me, "Which song was it?"

"It's this choir version of 'Let It Be' that I heard in a movie," I said. "I think all of my ideas for the funeral are stolen from movies. Anyway, Angela apparently loves 'Let It Be,' so now she really wants to perform it."

"You should hurry up and die, then," James snarked.

"Funny," I said. "Anyway, so that books you and Angela and Lupo for the funeral, contingent on you knowing me and us being on good terms when I die."

"Yeah, that's a good stipulation to add in there," James said. "Although I'd probably still come and talk shit about you at your funeral if you and I were on the outs when you died."

"If it's a good anecdote, use it," I said. "I just want a lot of people telling good stories, not too many people feeling sad. I want people to laugh. That's what I really want. I just want people to remember me and laugh. And I want people from all the different branches of my life to come together so that they can see how all the pieces come together and made my life."

"That sounds cool," James said.

"Yeah, I wish I could see it when it happens," I said. "Maybe we could have a run-through or something? I wonder if anyone aside from Tom Sawyer ever got to attend their own funeral."

"I think that's the main reason why people fake their deaths," James said. "People want to see what goes down at their funeral."

"People don't really fake their own deaths, outside of soap operas," I said. "Right?"

"Maybe," he said. "It'd be cool."

* * *

I explained that I thought the Relapse Theater - a former church and homeless shelter where I take improv classes - would probably be a good venue for the service.

"I don't want religion mentioned at the funeral, but I figured that it'd do my religious friends some small comfort if it were held at a building that at least looks like a church," I said. "There's even a sanctuary."

James asked, "Does it have pews?"

"Not anymore, I don't think. The last time I saw something there, I think they used folding chairs."

"I don't think it qualifies as a sanctuary unless it has pews," he said. "Without pews, it just doesn't have that church feel."

"It has a baptismal," I conceded.

"How would they use a baptismal at your funeral?"

"Maybe they could put ice in it to keep the drinks cold," I said. "I don't know. I haven't gotten it all planned yet."

"Well, you have time," James said. "But, to make sure things go according to plan, you may want to write it all down."

I looked at him and smiled. And we finished our coffee.