Anything’s Missing

Have you ever walked off a plane to see someone holding up a sign with your name on it? Me neither. But that was the feeling Parker had when watching Barbara Harris perform in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? or, as Parker retitled it, Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is This About Him When Allison Densmore Is More Interesting And Only Has One Good Scene? Parker wanted to perform it for an audition, a decision that majored on meta, since the scene is an audition, before turning into a dialogue with the director; really, though, it’s a monologue with interruptions, all of which Parker ignored; therefore, we will do the same, in our transcription:

“The best part was just coming up. I have three good notes. I never seem to get to them. I can’t leave. I can’t leave I’m sorry I – I can’t leave…I feel like I just auditioned for the part of human being and I didn’t get the job. See, it – it took me three weeks to get this audition. And I bought a new dress and I worked on my song and and I had my hair done – Mr. Max 22.50 a work of art with lashes – and now I can’t leave right away, I just can’t leave right away…Oh God, I hate these auditions. I’m not what you’re looking for. I’m not even Linda Kaiser. She’s my roommate. My name is Allison Densmore. I never use it because it sounds so old. Centuries old. It sounds like a lot of doilies to me. Very beautiful here with the lights out. This is a – this is a great set for Lucia de Lammermoor. Dawn on the Moors. I study opera every day an hour. Do you like opera? I have ’em all here. Opera’s the best. People live at the top of their lives and die very beautifully. Lucia and Edgardo – they meet on this moor at dawn. She saves him, in a way, but mostly he saves her from a wild bull. And she’s crazy about him. So they save each other. Mister, listen to me, I’m still auditioning. All the time I think I’m auditioning. I wake up in the morning and the whole world says, “thank you very much, Ms. Densmore, that’ll be enough for now…it’s not the audition. It’s not that. It’s my birthday. I’m 34 years old today and I’m not prepared. I’m prepared for 22. Right now I could do a great 22. I woke up this morning and all of a sudden I was not young…Not young enough for this dress. Not young enough to be a corporate librarian with three good notes and a briefcase of opera. Mister, I don’t understand what happened to the time. All of a sudden I’m going into my tenth year of looking for a new apartment. I’m not much of a singer. And I’m not a gifted file clerk either. The one good thing I’m good at is being married but my husband wasn’t. That was 10 years ago. I’ve never learned another trade. The time, Mister, it’s not at all a thief, like they say, it’s something much sneakier. It’s an embezzler, up nights, juggling the books so you don’t notice anything’s missing.”

Parker felt as though anything and everything was missing. Some of that could be dismissed as a symptom of cultural messaging, because he wasn’t married, didn’t own a home, didn’t have dental insurance, the last of which became important recently as a lump developed on the inside of his lip. Now his tongue passed over it – and he read the monologue – again and again. He was increasingly convinced of two things: 1) Not a word of it needed to be changed for his audition, not even the gender pronouns, and 2) He could not perform it for his audition, for the same reason you can’t lick your ear; it’s all just too connected. And, of course, if your tongue is preoccupied with a lump, that compounds the problem. For months Parker had optimistically ignored it, but one day he made the mistake of mentioning it to a nurse friend, which began her badgering him to call a local school of dentistry for a cheap appointment.

Yes, it was easy not to notice anything was missing, until you started grabbing for something. And Parker was getting grabby. For example: his roommate. The young man was just nice, not to mention straight, but Parker had a tendency to misconstrue gestures as overtures. One day, after Parker had put the kettle on and lit the wrong burner, causing a greased pan to smoke, the roommate noticed and turned it off, smiled and rested a hand on Parker’s shoulder; he nearly collapsed under the weight. One night, while the roommate’s back was turned, Parker took a picture, texted it to a friend, declared the body good. Since we’ve practically used the slogan, we might as well state that essentially Parker was one of those ’90s milk commercials, feigning coyness but completely prurient.

He thought about this while driving home late on a Thursday night, accompanied by the university radio station. The DJ had crafted a playlist with a fantastical theme, and when “Puff the Magic Dragon” came on, Parker felt as he was at the center of a push/pull shot: the car moved forward, but his mind went back, back, back, to when he was 10 years old, to the small town in which he was raised, in a vintage ice cream parlor, in front of a jukebox. Perhaps it was his first memory of music as a mode of transportation, taking you elsewhere.

I wish I had a pair of little magic glasses
That I could see the future just by looking through

Another song had started, a strange lullaby by – was that Johnny Cash? Yes, it was. Apparently he had done a children’s album. If “Little Magic Glasses” was any indication, it was a children’s album that parents would not like. Not because it was silly and obnoxious, because it was direct and vulnerable, states of being which adults carefully avoid.

Parker’s phone rang. It was someone he met in junior high; the friendship had passed the test of time, or at least the first 20 years of it. The friend was in recovery for alcohol, had relapsed. Their voice oozed through Parker’s phone, syrupy: “I’m out of excuses. I’m 34. I’m working at Pizza Hut. I come home in the uniform and my daughter says ‘I’m going to wear a uniform too,’ and I say, ‘no, no, honey, you’re going to do better, this is beneath you.'” The friend cried. Parker was quiet for awhile. “Still,” he responded. “Your daughter likes you. Sounds as though she loves you.” The friend exhaled. “My children are each a bell. Each of them ringing continually in my heart.”

Students at the school of dentistry examined it – Parker’s lump – and one of them left to find the doctor. Under the fluorescent lighting, Parker’s vintage cocktail shirt seemed dirty, as did his sneakers, which he had just cleaned that morning. The doctor arrived, touched the lump, and announced it was a mucus cyst that Parker must have aggravated somehow. The cyst could be removed, but there was a high likelihood of it returning. Parker opted to leave it, and, as if a need for attention had been met, it began to recede.

Cardio Arrest

Let it be known that I am not a fat ass. I am on the treadmill for a half hour every night. I don’t mean just standing on it while I watch TV because the gym has cable. I mean walking on a moving treadmill while reading novels upward of 400 pages. I can feel my heart beating, not like a love song, like a psychological thriller, because if I don’t step lightly and balance the book, it will fall off the stand and I will trip over it, slamming my jaw on the hand bar, biting off my tongue and swallowing it as I gasp for breath, face planting on the treadmill and riding it like a backwards waterslide, until I splash into a pool of my own blood on the floor, surrounded by a gorgeous cloud of chiseled witnesses.

Disregarding my commitment to not dying prematurely – physically or socially – one of my friends, Beth, extended an invitation to a class at Diversity Fitness. I was afraid we would be the diversity. I was afraid that some black woman, like Isis in Bring it On, would say, “can’t even break a sweat without white people breakin’ it up.”

But upon entry, there were bodies of every shape and color – even shapeless and white. While I wasn’t inspired to give a scientific presentation defending white as a color, I wasn’t uncomfortable. Probably because we were joined by my subtly-but-definitely-Hispanic friend Brianna.

We found a spot near the back, by the vending machine stocked with vitamin water. I hadn’t brought any water with me. I wasn’t planning on sweating that much. The class was called Latin Cardio, and I thought it would be fun, exotic – not really exercise – exoticise. A little vacation from my normal workout.

Near the end of the first song, I began to understand there are benefits to a fat ass. When it’s kicked, it’s not as painful. And when it’s time to shake it, you got some salt in the shaker. And this was a class of Shakers – religiously bootylicious.

At one point we were ordered to engage in a dance-off, like West Side Story. That reference is perhaps not appropriate for Diversity Fitness. Or Latin Cardio. Nonetheless, we faced each other, Brianna and I, taking turns shaking our tukhuses. It was a bizarre sort of urban mating ritual, in which I was not the most flamboyant, and therefore not the man. This was a cause and effect to which I was totally unaccustomed.

The dictator – dominatrix – instructor – seemed to have no threshold. After a good threshing, I looked at the clock. “We’re not even halfway through,” I croaked. Seemingly in response to this, the instructor raised a finger to each cheek, coaching us to smile, like a stage mom. Scared, I smiled. Then there were more songs with a beat that my ass could not follow.

I’ve heard that many spouses share the bathroom during any of its myriad uses. A fitness class is a bit like that. You’re around these people during some rather compromising positions, and after awhile you really don’t care. Yeah, this is my ass. When’s the next movement?

Afterwards, as we all stood outside speculating whether we’d have to call in sick because our muscles would be hungover, the instructor walked by. “Thanks, guys,” she said. “Thank you,” I gushed, wondering if I was experiencing a kind of Stockholm syndrome. I had tried to move with her, tried to make myself work with her. She had almost killed me, but not quite, and – I remembered, as an October breeze cooled the sweat on my back – I was free.