Any Kind

She always seems to be posing for an Edvard Munch portrait: the splash of startled agony on her face, diluted milk skin, bowed slender appendages.

The roommate and I have often wallpapered over her personhood with explanations: mental illness, physical illness – so intoxicated with the fumes of our rational paste that we forgot our own illnesses. We are afraid: of her, for her, of ourselves, for ourselves.

Today (like every day) she is sitting on an office chair on an outdoor patio, near the front entrance of the apartment building. Just what is her occupation? Bouncer? Secretary? Gargoyle? I smile and say hello, as I do every time she is in her office. In response, her eyes widen like Malcolm McDowell in the eyelids-forcibly-pried-open part of A Clockwork Orange. Or Gloria Swanson in any part of Sunset Boulevard.

I am about to flee the scene of the kindness; I am about to close the thick curtains of disregard over my glass block sympathy; when her hand rises into the air like a periscope. Her mouth opens to reveal a dark graveyard with evenly spaced tombstone teeth and it says, “are you going out again?”

Doorman! That’s what she is. I didn’t know. “Oh,” I stammer, “No. Well, yes. In a little while.”

She leans towards me. “Would you buy me some cigarettes?”

“Oh,” I walk towards her, “yes.”

“I’ve been jonesing for a cigarette,” she says, trembling towards her concept of a standing position, then staggering like a zombie grandmother into her apartment. She reemerges carrying some crinkled bills. I ask her what kind.

“Menthol 100s.”

“Oh. What kind?”

“Any kind.”

Later, I walk to the closest gas station and ask for Menthol 100s.

“What kind?” Asks the clerk.

“Any kind,” I respond.

“I’ll get you the cheapest.”

I am on the way back, when I see a squirrel running away from another one that’s not moving. I walk towards the one that’s not moving. He is dead, laying on his belly, appendages outstretched in every direction, just inches from the curb. So perfectly preserved; he must have been stolen from a taxidermist. Eyes like dark frozen lakes, reaching for something beyond his grasp. I look up and see the first squirrel run up a tree.

She is waiting for me on the patio. I hand her the cigarettes and recount, “he said these were the cheapest.”

“Thank you.”

Pause. We are uncomfortable, but we can’t move. I feel my voice sneaking out of my mouth like a teenager out a window. This is how it sounds: “I’d like to be your friend.”

She lights a cigarette. “I’d like that.”

Win, Lose or Don't Care

“Don’t let the assholes win.”

I am so grateful he was eating a mushroom swiss burger when he said this, rather than salad or baked salmon. Beef always lends an aura of machismo authenticity.¹ Swearing does too, but it should be a special privilege, for it is a delicate poetry, requiring tender handling.²

I was admiring his command of traditional manhood when I realized I didn’t agree with him. I didn’t respond, because entering an argument with a man usually results in me realizing I’m not a man. I may be benefiting or suffering from years of not participating in athletics, but I don’t want to think about anything in terms of winning or losing. If I’m in control, I’m responsible. If God’s in control, He’s responsible. We could introduce pre-destination and free will into the discussion, but let’s not mix liquor and beer.

God’s in control. He’s responsible.

This looks and sounds like faith, but it is only fear doing a good impression (Like Cate Blanchett doing Bob Dylan† in I’m Not There, or Cate Blanchett doing Katharine Hepburn‡ in The Aviator, or Cate Blanchett doing…*). But – have you ever had faith that wasn’t preceded by fear? Aren’t they conjoined? How can you be seated in the certainty of your worldly circumstances and be filled with faith? Something has to be threatened** for you to even think about it. Ideally, difficult times create dependence on God, which is the definition of freedom.

So…the more you lose, the more you win?

 

A NOTE ABOUT THE FOOTNOTES: Since my writing is a manic secretary consumed with multi-tasking, the footnote is an effort to quarantine potentially hazardous thought processes. Should they have been ommitted altogether? Possibly, but do you want to be the one to tell them that?

1. Unless, I suppose, you’re a ravenously carniverous sissy; then the beef is petulant and will not lend its aura.

2. Like gluten-free products: “Keep frozen/refrigerated” “Best when toasted” “Microwaving not recommended” “Ask how it is doing before you eat it” “Do not open around wheat products as this creates an inferiority complex”

† That’s gross!

‡ No, that’s gross.

* Me. Now that’s not gross.

**Have a recession! It’s good for you!