PLACES TO GO
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
DOWN THE DRAIN
The most mentally disturbed thing I've ever done is probably when, in the weeks after 9/11, I went water-crazy.
The news was filled in those days with stories about how we were going to be attacked next -- crop dusters, dirty bombs, shoulder-fired missiles, stealth strikes on power plants, nukes smuggled on cargo ships. It would've seemed like the typical attention-getting fear tactics of the news media if not for the fact that we'd all just seen two commercial airliners bring down the motherfucking World Trade Center. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, that shit was terrifying.
I didn't work on the docks or own a crop duster, so mostly, like all of us, I felt powerless. Then I heard how vulnerable our water supply was. The way I understood it, just a thimble full of botulism could contaminate the entire LA reservoir, and 20 million people in Southern California would just shrivel right up and die. In a way, it was the best news I'd ever heard. This, you see, was a problem I could do something about.
I wasn't going to let myself become one of those shriveling losers. I was going to make sure that, in case anything happened to the water, I had plenty of it ready to go. I started stocking up. Big time. Whenever I went to the store, I'd buy another couple of gallons of bottled water. I kept picturing the shelves, which were now full of the stuff -- my God, it's even on sale! -- one day depleted and empty. People would fight over the store's last bottle, which cost nine thousand dollars, clawing and kicking at each other, reduced to feral savages willing to kill for their basic human needs, even though one gallon was only enough to sustain one person for one more day. And I'd just push my cart right past them, spend my money on microwave popcorn and ice cream and go home to bathe in gallons and gallons of crystal-clear Arrowhead spring water.
At some point, I realized I was slowly going insane. I was turning into one of the same people I made fun of in the Y2K hysteria, those paranoid goons who holed their family up in wooden shacks in Montana with ten years worth of canned soup and a thousand rounds of ammo. That's it. No more water, Jerry. You're not going to be Crazy Water Guy.
… but what about my friends? If the water attack came, I had plenty of water to last until the shipments began to arrive from Colorado or Oregon or wherever water comes from. But only for myself. I knew my friends weren't as forward-thinking as I was. They weren't stockpiling water, the fools. What if Janice came knocking? Or Julie? Or Frank? Sure, I hardly ever hear from Frank, and I'd know he was only contacting me because he heard I had water. Oh, hi, Frank. What brings you by? You need water? Why, I never would've guessed! That Frank, he's a pure-water friend. But I wouldn't want Frank to shrivel up and die, would I? No, I'd share my water, of course -- even with Frank -- and that meant I needed more of it, pronto.
I bought so much water that I began to worry that the people at the supermarket might notice me. They probably had a nickname for me, and I was as memorable as the old guy who came in just for free samples at the deli counter or the thirteen-year-old girl who knocked over the tampon display because she was too embarrassed to ask for help reaching the ones on top. They were talking about me in the break room, I knew it. "Did you see Crazy Water Guy today? He bought five more bottles!" "I hear he uses it to drown his rape victims!"
Besides, if you buy enough of anything, it makes a dent in your budget. I had to stop buying water. But that didn't mean I had to stop stockpiling it. Figuring that in the water crisis nobody would be picky about what they were drinking, I started filling old Coke bottles with tap water. This didn't cost me anything at all, so I'd be crazy not to make sure I had as much water on hand as possible. And in case of emergency, I'd give the Coke bottles to Frank. Drink up, Frank. Does it have a slight caramel color and taste vaguely of corn syrup? So sorry. Hands off the Arrowhead. That's mine, bitch.
Gradually, as my anxiety ebbed, I returned to my normal relationship with water. And I put the stockpile, like the fear, out of my mind. Then, last night, while bringing over the last few things from my old apartment, I came across my water stash. I had stopped adding to it two years ago, but it remained in my pantry (with the overflow located in the hall closet when the pantry filled up), ready to quench me should I ever need quenching. It was easy to keep it there and ignore it. I wasn't Crazy Water Guy anymore, but if, you know, we ever did get attacked, well, there it was. Oh, no, I don't really think I'll ever need all this water. I'm just too lazy to throw it out, that's all. Well, last night, I had a choice. Move it or lose it.
So down the drain went the Coke bottles, every single one of them. It was a big victory for me. Jerry, 1. Crazy Water Guy, 0. I proved I could take water for granted again. I could waste it. I was no longer paranoid that a drop I dumped in my sink today could've saved my life tomorrow.
Of course, I kept the bottled water. There are always earthquakes to worry about, and who knows what else might happen? I still believe it's good to be prepared, just not crazily prepared.
And obviously, if anything happens, Frank's on his own.
Monday, November 24, 2003
I was hoping to call this Winning Weekend, but unfortunately, my trip to Vegas deserves the title "Waiting Weekend". Normally, the biggest wait is just getting there. Depending on traffic, a drive from LA to Vegas takes somewhere between three and a half to nine hundred hours. If you're leaving on a Friday afternoon, expect it to be more towards the upper end of that range. Ditto for returning on Sunday. As this was a Friday to Sunday trip, Drew and I plunked down the bucks for some plane tickets, skipped out of work early and headed for the airport.
It turns out the drive would've been quicker. Due to high winds over the desert, we got stuck with a flight delay that was originally supposed to be eight minutes long. But due to a series of other delays, we ended up boarding about half an hour late. So three minutes turned into thirty, then forty-five, then sixty, and ultimately about three hundred. Somewhere in the middle, we were let off the plane, but we were told not to go too far because if the plane was ready before we got back, it would leave without us.
There was plenty of outrage among the passengers. One guy was screaming at the flight attendant, "I have 'O' tickets tonight!" I don't think she had any connections at Cirque de Soleil, so all she could do was nod politely. "DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG IT TOOK ME TO GET 'O' TICKETS????" Drew and I decided to be the nice passengers who didn't complain. The benefits of this strategy cannot be overstated. First of all, you can count on other people doing the complaining for you, so you're likely to share in any benefits that come of the complaining (i.e., flight vouchers, free booze). And second, the abused staff members will be so grateful to you for being cordial that they'll treat you extra-nice. Plus, most importantly, you won't have to live with the fact that you're an obnoxious asshole who made life miserable for an underpaid flight attendant who had nothing to do with the problem and who was probably just as eager as you were to end the nightmare.
Hanging around the airport for five hours wasn't fun, and it was hard to stay nice when the pilot's announcements always started with, "Okay, boys and girls…", which is too cutesy a way to address grownups under normal circumstances, let alone when everyone's so on edge. If that were me, I would've started with, I don't know, "I'm sorry for the inconvenience" or something. But I'm the nice guy. The pilot, on the other hand, was a quality jerk.
The whole thing led me to concoct a new movie pitch, "National Lampoon's Flight Delay", wherein a family going on vacation ends up getting stuck in the airport and has more of an adventure there than they would've if they'd actually made it to their destination. (Mom goes off her nut trying to get the brood switched to another flight, only to encounter typically byzantine airline clusterfucks, Dad makes an off-hand comment expressing his anger at the airline and ends up being detained, poked, prodded and interrogated by security all day, Sis has a whirlwind romance with a non-English-speaking Swedish hunk in the international terminal, and Junior thwarts a hijacking plot.) Of course, this would be nothing like "Jerry and Drew's Flight Delay", which mostly amounted to me teaching Drew how to play blackjack with a deck of cards I bought in the gift shop while he swapped text messages with his assistant. The only part of the actual story I'd keep for my screenplay would be that somebody should definitely have "O" tickets. That's what we in the screenwriting biz call "high stakes".
We wouldn't allow ourselves to eat in the airport because we figured a nice dinner would be our reward when we finally got to Vegas. When we finally checked in at the hotel at 10 p.m., we found out that all the good restaurants were closed, and the crappy Mexican restaurant was our best option. Somewhere between the margarita, the fajitas and the lingering airport anxiety, I started to feel really sick, so we cut dinner short and returned to our room. I took a couple of Tums and went to sleep. That was the end of our first day of our vacation.
On Saturday, all my friends were arriving, but most of them were driving, so they wouldn't be there until the afternoon. Drew and I used the time to go to my casino. (And just for the record, I'm avoiding printing my last name merely to avoid a situation like this.) The cab driver took us through seedier and seedier parts of the seediest city on Earth. He was baffled as to why we would go to such a place. "It has my name in it," I said. "Jerry M.'s Silver Nugget. Is Jerry M. a big guy in Vegas?" I asked jokingly. "Like Steve Wynn?"
The cab driver shook his head. "You see that guy over there pushing the shopping cart?" he said. "I think that's Jerry M."
As we got closer to our destination, I saw a big, surprisingly nice-looking casino on the left called "Jerry's Nugget". It had a large flashy new neon sign that displayed the shows that were currently running in the theater as well as the latest buffet specials. "That's not it," the cab driver said, and then he pointed out a dilapidated chipped-paint shithole on the horizon. "That's where you're going." I figured that maybe if the actual casino wasn't something I'd want my name on, Drew and I could just walk up the road to Jerry's Nugget and take some pictures there instead. "You don't want to walk around in this neighborhood," the driver warned.
When we first entered the Silver Nugget (through the adjoining bowling alley), I figured I'd lay low on the name thing, but Drew had fun telling everyone we met that I was Jerry M., as if they might be momentarily fooled into thinking I was the same guy who signed their paychecks. No one was. Nor were they the least bit amused, curious or interested. We had breakfast in the coffee shop (the average menu item cost about $3, and the upcoming Thanksgiving Day Turkey Dinner was $5.95). Then we played blackjack at one of their two blackjack tables. I also dropped some money in a slot machine before I left, just in case there was really some luck to be had from having your name all over the casino you were gambling in. I played the nickel slots because that was the highest value machine they had.
For regular patrons, the casino offered a slot club. The redemption counter looked a lot like a skeeball prize bin, with fake jewelry and crappy casino souvenirs. All the employees were wearing Jerry M.'s Silver Nugget t-shirts, and I just had to have one for myself. Unfortunately, the casino was in the process of dropping the Jerry M. from its name, and almost all the merchandise available had already been converted to the new logo. All they had available with my name on it was a baseball cap for $3, or a windbreaker for $50. I bought the hat.
After taking a few pictures, Drew and I were ready to go. It turns out that cabs don't line up at Jerry M.'s Silver Nugget the way they do at the Luxor, so that meant waiting again, outside, on what local news said was Vegas' coldest day of the year.
Back at the hotel, we met up with the rest of our posse: Chuck, Meredith, Eric, Julie, Nick, Mary, Mike's friend Rick, Mike and Victoria. A couple of the couples had show tickets, so they went off while the rest of us hit the town to gamble. Victoria wasn't feeling well, so she went up to her room to take a nap. Later on, we were all hooking up for dinner, and I called Victoria to wake her up. She told me she was in the hospital. Right after we had left her, she started throwing up, and when she called the hotel operator, they brought up a wheelchair, carted her through the casino and sent her off to the emergency room in a taxi with a trash can to barf in.
Knowing Victoria wasn't one to overreact about these kinds of things, Drew and I went over to the hospital to see her. You might be able to guess what kinds of people typically populate a Las Vegas emergency room on a Saturday night. Let's just say that on the way in, we overheard a nurse asking a patient "Do you know why you're being restrained?". Once again, we got to be the nice people, and the nurses were extremely gracious and friendly to us. They said Victoria probably had a bad flu, but that it would be a couple of hours before the test results came back. So we pulled up a couple of chairs to keep her company for a while.
We had just come from the Imperial Palace, where some of the blackjack dealers are celebrity impersonators. So to pass the time, we tried to see if Victoria could guess the celebrities who they were impersonating. She was heavily under the influence of demerol at the time, but that was part of the fun. Victoria is a very smart, naturally funny person, but the great thing about pain medication is that it can make anyone into Emo Phillips -- spacy, funny and weird. At one point, I think Vic asked me to be a bridesmaid at her wedding. She grappled with each new clue we gave her, eventually got most of the answers and a good time was had by all.
I told Drew we'd hit upon a great idea for a game show. "Demerol Jeopardy". You take smart people, drug them out of their minds and then watch them struggle to come up with the answers to simple questions. He told me he'd heard about a variety of similar ideas, which had all failed for a variety of reasons. And he explained exactly why the show wouldn't work. "Demerol Jeopardy" was dead before it even began. As someone who's gone on lots of failed pitch meetings, this kind of rejection always stings, but I do appreciate the fact that dating a TV executive allows me to cut out the middle man.
Around midnight, Victoria was released, and we called another cab and waited for it to come pick us up. Vic felt much better, and she went up to her hotel room to get some rest. Drew and I were exhausted, and we wanted very much to go to bed. But we hadn't had enough Vegas yet, and we were leaving early the next day, so this was our last chance. We decided not to let some dumb circadian cycle screw up our fun, and we took another cab over to the Sahara to meet our group. It was 1:30, and there was still plenty of drinking and gambling to do. We'd spent most of our weekend at the mercy of airports, taxis and viruses. For now, at least, sleep would have to wait.
Friday, November 21, 2003
WHY BE PRACTICAL?
Pop quiz: Where is Jerry going this weekend?
A. New York City
D. Ancient Egypt
E. All of the above
If you guessed E, you're right!
With the new apartment in complete disarray, the old apartment desperately in need of cleaning and huge Christmas debt just around the corner, what's the last thing I need right now? How 'bout a weekend in Vegas?
Don't mind if I do!
I'm in for two full days of 21 Madness at the Sahara, Dance Dance Revolution at the New York New York game room, getting drunk on watered-down free margaritas and, for a change, no strip clubs! Yippee!
If I have time, I may finally make a pilgrimage to this place. See what kinds of things you learn when you google yourself? Sure, it's cool to have a casino named after you, but why couldn't it be the Bellagio?
Fun link of the day: This is the kind of internet geekdom I wholeheartedly support (and wish I had thought of first). This guy is reviewing every #1 R&B hit of the 1980's. I hope he'll be kind to Gregory Abbott.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
I HAVE SOMETHING I'VE BEEN MEANING TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT…
Earlier this week, I came out to my stepmom, which means I've pretty much checked everyone off my list now. Thus ends what was possibly the clumsiest coming out process gayhumankind has ever known, and definitely the biggest anticlimax of my personal life.
I remember exactly where I was when I finally admitted to myself that I was gay. I was 20 and walking on the boardwalk in Asbury Park on my lunch break from a summer job transcribing historical documents. (It was further down that same boardwalk that I had decided, earlier that summer, that I should major in sociology. That boardwalk was quite the place for making big life decisions, I guess.) I don't remember what came before my admission, what provoked me into finally telling myself, "Yeah, I'm totally gay", but I remember very clearly what my next thought was: "… and I'm going to be okay."
Just saying the words in my head made me feel infinitely better. I'd just confronted my most intimidating critic. I'd revealed my big secret to myself, and to my great relief, I was extremely supportive of me.
But the thought of telling other people still terrified me. It was several years before I told anyone, and at first, the only people who knew were the ones who figured it out and asked me about it. It wasn't like I could just send out a memo or gather everyone I knew and make a big announcement. Coming out to people would mean having awkward conversations, uttering the same words over and over again for everyone I cared about…
"Well… um… uh… you see… heh, heh… er…"
But I did it. Sure, lots of people found out through someone else or through some half-assed way, but the ones that'll stick out were the ones who didn't know it was coming, the ones who, at some point, I'd decided needed to know, now, even if I had to do it the hard way. Chris, Adam, Dave, my sister, Chuck, Eric, my mother, Nick, Greg, my stepmom.
In the three and a half weeks since I came out to him (and then he came out to me), Greg has amazed me with his own coming out process. He told his mother and sister a week later. And last weekend, his friends were taking him out for his birthday, and he was going to announce it to all of them at once. Everyone has a different process, and I really admire Greg, whose courage even helped me place the call to my stepmom the other day.
But the main reason I was ready to end my days in the closet, of course, is Drew. The Big Move is a big step for me, something very new and exciting and overwhelming. It's not just that I didn't want to lie to everyone about why my address and phone number were changing. I wanted them to know that this was a huge, fantastic change in my life. When you're happy, you want to share that with the people you care about. And finally reaching the end of my coming out list helped me realize why it took me so long to get through it in the first place.
Coming out wasn't just about telling people that I'm gay. In the end, it was also being able to say, "And I'm okay."
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
KEEP ON MOVIN' DON'T STOP
Well, there's a couch blocking the hallway, and there are books piled up all around the TV. And there are 5,000 unpacked boxes taking up every available inch of floor space. But from a purely technical standpoint, the Big Move is done.
I wouldn't say it went "smoothly". But that's fine with me. When things go smoothly, there's nothing to remember (and therefore, nothing to write about), so who would want things to go smoothly? Well, maybe Drew did. There were moments when I thought he might lose it. But for a guy who went from having a nice, orderly apartment to an apartment where his junk and my junk were intermingled and piled high from wall to wall, I'd say he handled it all very well.
I thought I was smart to reserve a truck in advance, but the truck rental place was closed when we showed up at 9 a.m. On the internet, it said their hours were from 9-3. The sign out front said the hours were actually 11-3. Suddenly, Drew and I had two hours to kill and a lot less time to complete the heavy lifting. When we came back at 11, the lady informed us that in fact, their hours were 11-2, which meant we'd only have three hours to complete what was originally supposed to be a six-hour move.
My friends Chuck and Eric both offered to help, but Drew figured two more helpers wouldn't hurt, so he hired a couple of Mexican-American Day Laborers (and if I'm not using the politically correct term, please note that I at least tried to). I was nervous about doing this, but Drew had done it before, so he handled it like a pro. Marco and Juan were very nice and extremely good workers. They were finished packing the truck before Chuck and Eric even showed up. Suddenly, we were on schedule again.
Our moving men also gave Drew an opportunity to practice his Spanish. I took six years of Spanish in high school and college, but when called upon to use it, I panic. As I was trying to explain which items were going, all I could come up with was to point at various things and say either "Este, si" or "Este, no". And I said "muchas gracias" about ten thousand times. When they left, Marco and Juan complimented Drew on his Spanish. To me, they said, "Adios… do you know what this means?" Uh, yeah. I knew that one.
Since I was moving into Drew's already fully-furnished apartment, I got rid of a lot of my stuff ahead of time. But one of the things I wanted to keep was my couch, mostly because it was one of the few things I had bought new, and I paid way too much for it. When I get ripped off on something, I'm reluctant to part with it. So even though Drew already had two couches, I wanted to keep mine for the spare bedroom. Well, couches aren't good at bending around corners, and the spare bedroom is unfortunately located around a corner. Marco and Juan tried every type of pivot and partial-lift, scrape-against-the-roof-tiles, halfway-into-the-bathroom-and-out-again, but-what-if-we-take-the-legs-off strategy imaginable, but could not get that big couch through that little doorway. After about the fifth time I heard "no lo hace", I knew it was time to give up.
We really had nowhere else to put the couch, so we just left it sitting in the hallway. This is supposed to be a temporary solution until we figure out who to give, sell or donate it to, but I can already see us getting comfortable with having the couch there. It's been three days, and I barely notice it anymore. I squeeze past it every time I walk down the hall, and it no longer seems like much of an issue. It's a minor inconvenience I've learned to ignore. Some people have noisy neighbors or a leaky roof. We have a couch blocking our apartment's main thoroughfare. No biggie. We deal. I have a feeling that couch will be there a long time.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
I thought I'd noticed a sharp spike in the number of hits I've gotten lately from people searching for the phrase "naked penis". In fact, 4 of the last 100 people visiting this site have found me through a Google search of just that phrase. I'm not sure exactly how. I don't remember writing about a lot of naked penises.
So I decided to check into it. It turns out if you type "naked penis" into Google, Why Jerry Why is the ninth site listed.
If you're thinking that's pretty high, if you're thinking, "I'll bet you'd get a lot of hits on 'naked penis'," you're right. I'm #9 of 3,710,000. You know what this means?
I'VE MADE THE "NAKED PENIS" TOP 10!
When I started this website eight months ago, I never dreamed I'd make the Naked Penis Top 10. A humble little website like mine? Why, I'd be happy if one in a thousand people looking for naked penises ended up here at my picture-free, porn-free site. If I were in the Naked Penis Top Million, I'd be flabbergasted. But the Top 10? Wow. I mean, how do you even deal with an honor like that?
Sure, I'm #4 on "'jerking off' UCLA", and I'm even #1 on "misshapen penis". But the "Naked Penis" Top 10 is an elite group. And I am among them. I'm just two spots below "Hairless Boy Penis Pics". Just five spots below "Giant Black Penis Giant Cocks and Giant Dicks". And just eight spots below the leader of them all, "Penis Amulets".
This entry can only help my standing. I'm number nine with a bullet now.
And I'm not stopping until I get to #1!
I LOVE YOUR NEW WINDBREAKER, GUS!
As someone who's never had a garage sale before, let me say that I learned two things from the experience. First, garage sales are a mutually beneficial way for people to clear clutter out of their homes and turn a small profit while allowing other people to purchase items they may need at extremely low prices. And second, people who go to garage sales are freaks.
The Early Bird. At 7:45 AM, as Drew and I were putting up our last homemade garage sale sign (oh, we had fun making those signs!), a woman spotted us, read the sign and followed us in her car back to my apartment. We were a little behind schedule, as we hadn't even started setting up yet. But she didn't mind. She got out of her car and waited in the driveway outside my building while we brought down boxes from upstairs, one after the other. We'd bring down a box, she'd rifle through it. We'd come down with another box, and she'd be waiting for us. From the amount of stuff she set aside, we got the impression she was going to buy everything. She practically did. After ten or fifteen minutes of pawing through our things, she had stacked up about fifteen CDs, books and videos, which we sold to her for twenty bucks. Freak rating: 6.
DVD Guy. A leather-faced older man with a goatee and a gruff voice, clearly from years of chain smoking, he was one of our earliest customers. He wobbled up with a cigarette dangling from his lips and inquired, "Ya got any a' them DVDs?" I told him no, but at that point, we were still bringing stuff down from upstairs. So he didn't believe me. He kept looking through what we had, searching through each new load we brought down as if I might have been lying to him. "What's this?" he asked. "That's a Playstation game." "I don't want that. I'm just looking for DVDs." "Sorry, we don't have any." He walked over to Drew. "You got any DVDs?" "No, sorry." He shook his head in disbelief. "Everyone loves them DVDs." Yes, that's why they keep them for themselves, rather than selling them at their garage sales. He finally left. But an hour later, he drove up again, smoking another cigarette. "I just wanna see if you brought down any DVDs." Freak rating: 9.
Knife Guy. During our first big rush, which started about five minutes after we were done setting up, a really creepy-looking guy with one eye that stared right at you and one eye that was rolled back in his head picked up a handful of the knives I was selling and asked what they cost. Having no idea what a knife was worth, I shrugged and told him they were a dollar each. He said he'd only pay fifty cents, and I declined his offer. (I was a hard bargainer.) But he didn't put the knives down. He stood next to me, holding them up and, while I tried to deal with other customers, kept saying, "Fifty cents! Fifty cents!" It suddenly struck me that I was haggling over an item I was planning to throw out anyway with a cockeyed weirdo who was brandishing knives. He got the knives for fifty cents. And I got to live. Freak rating: A solid 10.
Ebay Vultures. We got at least 3 or 4 of these guys. All of them were guys in their 20's and 30's, and they would show up, stack the CDs, videos and video games in one big pile and say, "I'll give you twenty dollars for all of these." We turned them all down, and when they couldn't get a ridiculous bargain, they snorted and walked away. It didn't matter, because we sold all our CDs and videos anyway, individually to good homes. Yes, even Jesus Jones. Freak rating: 3. Loser rating: 10.
The Wacky Gay Neighbor. One of the three groups heavily represented among our many customers was Older Gay Men. It turns out the building next door to mine has its own Mr. Furley, a flamboyant older man who jogged up the sidewalk toward our sale dressed in bright 70's pants and a new agey-looking pajama top. He said he was planning on having a garage sale, too, but since we had already set up, would we mind selling a couple of things for him? This will make no sense, given what a hardass with the knife psycho, but I gave right in to Wacky Gay Neighbor. He brought down a Tacky Lamp and a Tacky Painting. We sold the painting for $28, and he gave me a $5 commission. Nobody bought the lamp. Freak rating: 2.
The Wacky Russian Neighbor. Since I live in a heavily Russian neighborhood, one of the other groups represented in bulk among our customers was Russians. Many of them speak little or no English, including the guy who lives downstairs from me. Apparently, in Russia, when someone has a garage sale, you just walk into their home and point at the things you want, because that's what Wacky Russian Neighbor did. As Drew and I were setting up, he followed me up the stairs, walked right into my apartment and pointed at my couch. "Hyow… myuch?" "Not for sale!" I said, and wheeled him around and escorted him outside. Apparently, he had done the same thing to Drew two minutes earlier, and Drew told him to get lost. Freak rating: 4.
Early Riser. The third heavily represented group was Mexican Men. A very nice Mexican man wanted to buy my Saved By the Bell clock, which a friend of mine who worked on the show had given me as a gift. (I hope Julie doesn't read this blog.) I had priced it at $2, thinking that someone who liked the show might buy it for kitsch value. I'm pretty sure this guy had never heard of Zach and Screech and pals. He just needed a clock. "Does it work?" he asked. I explained that it was a wind-up clock. Very old school. It worked, but you had to wind it every day. I even demonstrated for him. Crank, crank, crank. See? "But it works, yes?" He clearly had no idea what I was talking about. "Well, technically, yes, it works, but--" He pushed the clock in my face. "Can you set it for 5:30?" I took the clock and set the alarm for him. "I get up at 5:30," he said. I thought about this guy relying on my piece of junk clock to get him up for work in the morning, and I couldn't bear it. I tried to talk him out of the clock. I offered to sell him a nicer, Mickey Mouse clock, which actually worked, for the same price. "This one works better," I assured him. "And it's got Mickey Mouse!" "No, I like this one better," he said, pushing Mickey away. Then, he handed me two folded-over dollars and started to walk away. "It's set for 5:30, right?" "Well… yeah." "Good. I wake up at 5:30." And he climbed on his bicycle and rode away. This one will haunt me forever. Freak rating: uno.
John Hughes Boob Woman. I can't decide whether this woman's defining characteristic was her nostalgia for the 80's or her enormous cleavage. She told us she was glad to see us because she just moved to the neighborhood and she was starting to think there were no young people around. She went through all our videos, many of which dated to the 80's, and shared her memories of each film. "Pretty in Pink! I can't believe it!" (I want to note that most of these videos were Drew's and that he was parting with them only because he now owned them on DVD. I mean, who would willingly give up Pretty in Pink?) She was going to buy my George Foreman grill, but then she remembered that her mother was going to give her one for Christmas. She stayed for about half an hour and bought about ten dollars worth of stuff. Freak rating: 2.
People vs. Larry Flynt Guy. The second-most common mode of transportation that brought people to the sale was bicycle. (#1: pickup truck.) The guy who bought my Larry Flynt script arrived on a bike. When he opened the book, he saw the autograph inside. "Who's Jerry?" he asked. I raised my hand. I then told him he could have the book for two dollars, but if his name was also Jerry, it would cost him five. He wasn't amused. He gave me two dollars and proceeded to stand there and read the book for a good fifteen minutes before he hopped on his bike and left. Freak rating: 1.
The Clown Car. This tiny car pulled up in my building's driveway, and four men with enormous asses climbed out, all at once. They were very methodical. They swooped over our goods, each of them bought one or two things, then they climbed back into their car and disappeared as fast as they had come, off, presumably, to the next sale. It was like a ballet, beautiful in its way. Freak rating: 4.
The Russian Brady Bunch. They came towards the end of the day. Mom, Dad and about sixteen kids. Almost immediately, they circled my dining table, which was the only "big" item (i.e., priced higher than a dollar) I still hadn't sold. Most people throughout the day had been turned off by the fact that it only came with one chair. You would think for a family of eighteen, this would also be a problem, but apparently not. A teenage daughter, who had a very thick accent herself, stepped up to translate for her parents. She offered me $15. Earlier, I had been telling people I wanted $25, but since the sale was winding down and I was desperate to sell, I told them they could have it for twenty. "Syevuntyeen," she shot back. No, twenty. She ran it by the parents, who said something to her in angry-sounding Russian. Syevuntyeen, she said again, more insistent. Nope, twenty. Was I crazy? Yes. Did they turn me down? Nyet. I got the twenty, and though he had about syevuntyeen helpers who could've pitched in, Dad lifted the table over his head and carried if off alone. Freak rating: 2.
Amazingly, we sold every single piece of crap I listed in my entry last week, including that leather strap of unknown functionality. (The only exception is Drew's TV, which he decided not to sell after all.) The total take was over $400, which was about $350 more than Drew and I expected. I should be happy, but now that the sale is over, I have this weird feeling. I keep thinking about how my belongings are scattered around a hundred different homes in the Los Angeles area. I keep picturing that gross guy who brought my windbreaker. He's wearing it everywhere he goes, and it's breaking hiswind now. "Hey, don't I look great in this windbreaker?" he's saying to all his friends. "I got it at a garage sale for two dollars!"
And that gets me thinking about how I forgot to check the pockets of that windbreaker before I sold it. Maybe there was something valuable inside: a wallet-sized picture of an old acquaintance, or a winning lottery ticket, or another piece of crap I could've sold for a buck or two. I wish I had checked the pockets. I wish I had dubbed my CDs before I sold them. I got fifty cents for Jesus Jones, but if I ever have a craving to hear "Right Here Right Now" again, I'm going to have to pay a dollar to download it. And most of all, I wish I'd wiped my fingerprints off those knives. I got rid of a thousand pieces of junk and picked up a thousand little neuroses. But that's just me.
My freak factor: off the charts.
Friday, November 14, 2003
With the Big Move scheduled for Sunday and with all the junk I've turned up in my cleaning and all the furniture I failed to sell on Craig's List, I've scheduled my first-ever garage sale for tomorrow morning. Yikes. I posted about it on Craig's List, and already I'm getting emails from the eBay vultures looking for an advance peek at my CDs and DVDs. I hope they show up tomorrow just to learn that the only CDs I'm selling are ones the Wherehouse won't accept because they have too many copies of them already. Jesus Jones is like styrofoam. Once it's served its purpose, you don't really need it, but you can't recycle it. We need a landfill specifically for them and Del Amitri, too.
Among the things I'm selling:
My guitar. This is the one thing I own that's spent more time in the closet than I have. I bought it when I first moved out here, thinking, "I should learn to play guitar." I answered an ad in the Recycler and ended up in the apartment of a college kid in Santa Monica. He was selling it for $60, and he clearly needed the money badly. Prying the guitar from his hands made me feel like the Nazis in Sophie's Choice. His supportive roommate was sitting by his side, helping him to let go. Like a jerk, I tried to talk him down to $40. He said no. The fact that I used his beloved instrument for about a week before I got bored with it, then hid it away for nine years makes me feel like even more of a jerk. I figure I'll ask $25 for it.
Renee Spearman and the Prosperity Crusade Choir. I bought this CD after a gospel brunch at the House of Blues. They were a good choir. (Their version of "Oh, How I Love Him" was a highlight of the brunch. Sadly, it was not on the CD.) And I guess I figured some honest-to-goodness "blah blah blah Jesus" gospel would be a nice counterpoint to the rest of my collection. I maybe listened to it one time. Liked the blah blah blah, but not the Jesus. Bought it for $17, selling it for a buck.
Ugly Metal Folding Chairs. My old roommate bought these one day with the joint apartment fund. I think he spent $20 on them at Target, and I was furious. He said they'd be good if we had company over. I said, "Yeah, if we're hosting an assembly for fourth-graders." Somehow when we went our separate ways and split up the common goods, I ended up with these. I've never had anywhere to store them, and they've sat in the corner collecting dust in two separate apartments now, never ever used. I think I'll sell the whole set for $5. And if nobody buys them, I'll HURL them in the trash.
Knives. When I first moved out here, my parents gave me a bunch of stuff to get me started. Among this stuff were about 25 extremely sharp knives. Many of them are rusty. I don't know what (or who) they thought I'd be cutting up, or maybe they thought my Sociology degree wouldn't leave me qualified to do much more than become a butcher or circus performer. I've kept these knives under my sink in the same paper bag I used to transport them out here. Keeping knives in a paper bag is about as smart as giving your son this many knives in the first place. I think Jeffrey Dahmer's parents learned the same lesson, only the hard way. Price: probably a dollar each. And that's a bargain any way you slice it. (Those knife jokes, they slay me.)
Some sort of leather strap. Much of the stuff I'm selling has some kind of memory attached to it. Some of it is difficult to part with. Then there's stuff like this. I have no idea what the hell this is or where it came from. It has a ring on the end of it, so I think it's intended to be used as a keychain. It came in a fancy box, so I think it was a gift. It has a pricetag on it, but the price has been torn off. My price: 25 cents.
The People vs. Larry Flynt: Screenplay. I only bought this because the writers were speaking at Borders and autographing them. I thought the movie (like all their movies) was just so-so, but I got caught up in the moment. I wanted the cute one to sign it, but instead, I got the other guy. He wrote "Jerry: Free speech ain't cheap!" In theory, I still support any event that makes writers feel like celebrities whose autographs are worth something. I guess I'll ask $2 for this.
Drew's TV. Drew has two TVs. I have two TVs. Two TVs for one person living alone may be a bit excessive, but four TVs for two people kinda makes you the weird TV couple. With picture-in-picture, we could watch eight channels at once. Just the fact that I even thought about that makes me realize how important it is for us to jettison at least one TV. I don't know what Drew's asking for this, but probably about $50.
Gettysburg on VHS. An old boyfriend loaned it to me against my wishes, claiming it was one of his favorite movies and I guess that it would be good for me or something. Of course, I never watched it. It's a period piece, it's a TV movie, Parker Posey is nowhere near it. I mean, really. Who would think I'd like something like that? After we broke up, I offered to give it back to him. He told me he'd rather have me throw it out than see me again. I'm asking three dollars for it, which is what I would've paid for postage. (He also "loaned" me "Harold and Maude", which I'm keeping.)
Dining Table and Chair. Adam sold this to me when he moved to New York. I don't know why there's only one chair, but that's all I needed at the time. I hope I sell this late in the day, because that's what I'm putting all the other stuff on. I don't want to put anything on the ground. Who would buy stuff that's been on the ground? Ants crawl there. Dogs poo there. Phooey on the ground. For both table and chair: $25.
Q*bert watch. I wanted this so badly when I saw it on eBay. Of course it's a piece of junk and it plays nothing like the arcade game. But that's not the point. Wearing a Q*bert watch lets everyone who asks you what time it is know how much you like Q*bert. I guess I grew to resent those no-watch people more than I liked to show off my love of Q*bert. Don't mooch off my time-awareness, people. I mean, either learn to live with not knowing what time it is or get your own damn watch already. Perhaps I could interest you in a wonderful Q*bert watch! For you? $3.
YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS TO PEOPLE WHO TELL OTHER PEOPLE THEY'LL GET CANCER?
God makes their play fail.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
A WHALE OF A TIME
Since I have about 5,000 people to buy for this year, I've started Christmas shopping early. While looking for toys for the little girls on my list (oh, and there are MANY little girls on MY list), I came across the following five-star Amazon review for this interactive doll.
This baby is adorable, cute, obedient and most importantly, she is fun!!! When you feel down, you can have a whale of time with her. She will let you forget all your problems, and make you just relax and play with it. You can even talk to her, just like with your best friend. When you feel happy, you can share your happiness with Jasmine.
When I got to the part about her only being twelve, I heaved the biggest sigh of my life. I don't know why, but I was picturing a middle-aged woman with 35 cats.
I mean, she's still creepy at twelve.
In other news, PETA is going after Clay Aiken with a campaign that has Triumph the Insult Comic Dog saying "Get Neutered—It Didn’t Hurt Clay Aiken". PETA apparently declared him fair game because he did an interview where he admitted that he doesn't like cats. It's one thing for a puppet dog to impugn your masculinity, but a nonprofit organization? Man, that shit's cold.
I don't know what bugs me more, that PETA has reached a new low, or that they've put me in the position of defending Clay Aiken.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
JESUS, TUPAC, OLD BOYFRIENDS
Some things are known to rise from the dead.
I got a really strange email this morning. It was a response to an online dating profile of mine. The strange thing was that I took down all my profiles ages ago. Or at least I thought I did. Insecure Jerry immediately imagined the worst: "Oh, my God. My profile's been up all this time. I'm just such a loser that no one was interested in me! I'm an Average Joe! An Average Joe!!!!!"
But Insecure Jerry gave way to Detective Jerry, who went to the site to check it out. Sure enough, my profile was not only deactivated, it was so far gone that the site had deleted it altogether. If I wanted to put a profile up now, I'd have to start from scratch. Then I remembered something else. This site had stopped allowing people to post their email addresses over a year ago. Even if someone had discovered my profile through some cached memory or other internet magic, they couldn't have used it to contact me directly.
So I took another look at the email. The guy used an obvious pseudonym, gave very little personal information about himself and mostly wanted to know what I was up to. Whether I'm in a relationship. How my personal ad has worked out for me. What kind of relationships I'm looking for.
Looks like a ghost from the past has come back. And he underestimated Detective Jerry's detective skills.
I'm still trying to figure out how best to jerk this jerk around.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
CONGRATULATIONS FAGGOT FAMILY
No time to blog today, but for a larf, I recommend you check out Chrisafer's latest entry, where he brings you this tasty treat.
Best wishes to the Doodys, the biggest faggot fanatics in all of Great Britain. Yes, those Doodys really love to wrap their mouths around Mr. Brain's big meaty balls.
Go on! Make your own joke about England's official Faggot Family. It's easy and fun!
Monday, November 10, 2003
HOME ALONE WEEKEND
Drew had to work all weekend, which meant I reverted back to my swinging bachelor days of several months ago. Our usual Saturday morning breakfast at our second-favorite breakfast restaurant would be just about the only time all weekend we'd spend together. As I ate my chocolate chip pancakes, I had a melody stuck in my head, and I couldn't place it. I knew it was from a movie, and I suspected it was from a Christmas-themed movie, which meant I probably started thinking of it after seeing "Elf" the previous night. (One-word review: "Delightful!")
So I hummed it for Drew. "Do you know what this is from? Dum-dum dah-dah DUM-dum! Dum-de-dum-diddy-duuuuum!" Drew placed it immediately. The song I couldn't get out of my head turned out to be the theme to "Home Alone". Eerily appropriate.
As much as I'd like to say that I used my Jerry Time to throw some wild swinging party with all my boytoys, toyboys and homeboys (okay, I don't really have any homeboys), I mostly stayed at my apartment and cleaned and packed, getting ready to move at the end of the month. On Saturday afternoon, I made a trip to Office Max to buy boxes, which of course, also meant browsing and impulse buying. It's not easy to impulse shop at an office supply store, but I'm gifted that way. I quickly found a display of cheapo Christmas CDs that looked like it had been set up about ten minutes ago, and I was immediately tempted to buy "The LaFace Family Christmas". But that wasn't the only CD that caught my eye. Among the knockoff Nat King Cole and Christmas Samba! compilations, I spotted the face of Kevin McCallister slapping his cheeks and wailing.
It was the "Home Alone" Christmas CD.
Just another lame compilation of songs everyone owns on a thousand other Christmas CDs (including TLC's "Sleigh Ride", which was also on the LaFace album), but it included that John Williams theme music that I had stuck in my head.
I bought the CD. I listened to it. It wasn't enough. On Sunday, I bought a "Home Alone" DVD, too, and I sat and watched it while I did some more packing.
For all the serendipity involved, and because -- let's be honest -- "Home Alone" is one of the best movies ever made -- ever, ever, EVER -- I'm calling this "Home Alone Weekend".
Also this weekend:
I talked some more to my friend Greg, the one who recently came out to me. The recap: before he came out to me two weeks ago, he had come out to no one. The update: by now, he has come out to just about everyone. His mother, his sister. On Saturday night, a bunch of his friends were taking him out for his birthday, and he planned to tell them all at dinner. He didn't think he should tell his father at the Nets game, so the next time he sees him at a non-sporting event, he's going to tell him, too. I couldn't be happier for him, though it makes my twelve-year-plus coming out process seem a bit stretched out. I previously avoided mentioning his name in this blog out of respect for his closetedness, but now, who cares. Greg is gay everyone! Well, whatever. You probably already knew that.
On Saturday night, I saw "Love, Actually" with my film school friends at Century City mall. I had long ago vowed never again to see a movie at Century City because it's way too crowded, and it's too difficult to park there. But I figured with the all the newer, nicer theaters like the Grove and Arclight sucking away all the customers, Century City was probably a ghost town. Wrong! Everything was sold out, the theater was jammed, and worst of all, the audience roared at the "Along Came Polly trailer", which I can say objectively is simply not funny. That's another thing I hate about Century City: lousy audiences.
Afterwards, we hung around outside the theater yakking about the movie like the film school geeks we are, and a security guard came up to us and asked us to move and keep the area clear. "If you need somewhere you can sit down and talk," she said, "you can go see Guest Relations." Oh, it was so tempting to go to Guest Relations and ask them to seat us, but we just left. I didn't have much to say about the movie anyway.
Getting out of the garage at Century City was a nightmare. Every exit was closed except one. (It was after midnight, but when every movie is selling out, it stands to reason that multiple exits might be necessary. I'm talking to you, Century City Management!) I sat in my car and waited and waited. It took 37 minutes from the time I first got angry until I finally got to the cashier, and there's nothing to make you feel more powerless than trying to get out of a garage when only one exit is open. All you can do is stay in line and wait. And plan what you're going to say to the cashier when you finally get there. And then not say it because you know he's only making about five dollars an hour and doesn't need the aggravation, and besides, he doesn't make the policy and everyone else has been yelling at him all night long and at this moment, he's either pondering his other career options anyway or plotting to come back tomorrow with a semi-automatic and try to become the evening's top news story. So I just went home and vowed to write a really angry letter to the jerks in Guest Relations.
And I didn't do that either. Screw them.
Friday, November 07, 2003
No way is this cast list that's making the rounds legit.
I mean, seriously... Amber?!?!?!
ANGER. MY DAMN ANGER.
"One tribe hosts a 'Survivor' first....a wedding!"
Okay, Mark Burnett. I was quite intrigued by that teaser for last night's episode. I mean, there hadn't been any hint of romantic feelings from any of the castaways this season. A wedding was sure to be a dramatic development. Who was getting married? Ryno and Pelican Pete?
I watched your damn show last night. Guess what? No wedding. I mean, there wasn't even anything close to a wedding. Sure, the tribes merged. Maybe you think a merge is like a wedding. But it's not. And if it were, that would hardly make it a "'Survivor' first". Besides, the merge involved two tribes, not one. And nobody "hosted" anything. Don't play it off like the wedding took place. A wedding means vows and singing and a bouquet made from clamshells. We got none of those things.
Somebody call 911, because I know a TV producer whose pants are on fire.
What's up with the new Tony Hawk game? Why has my second-favorite game series (this being the favorite) become just another ripoff of Grand Theft Auto? I mean, how sad. The game that launched a thousand shameless imitations has become a shameless imitation itself. You know what, Neversoft, makers of Tony Hawk Underground (Ooh, T.H.U.G., get it?)? Only losers rip people off. You guys used to be cool. If I wanted to play Grand Theft Auto, I'd play Grand Theft Auto. But I wanted to play Tony Hawk, and now I can't because you guys stunk it up. Why do I have to steal a drug dealer's car and drive it into the river? It's a damn skating game! I'm going to make my feelings clear in a bitter, one-star review on Amazon.com. That'll show 'em!
Where does Steve Martin get off writing 163 lousy pages and calling it a novel? I mean, did he write the entire thing on the ride to the set of Looney Tunes: Back in Action? Way to capitalize on your literary cred, you sell-out con artist. Sorry, but I have better things to spend my $19.95 on. Like a DVD of Roxanne. Remember the guy who starred in that? Yeah, he was pretty cool.
How did I end up back in the lousy BMG music club again? I swear, I didn't commit to anything on the phone. Now I'm stuck mailing back their dumb reply cards to make sure I don't get CDs I didn't want in the first place? Plus, I'm probably on some telemarketer sucker list. That's it, BMG. You're getting a nasty letter from me.
This is war!
Thursday, November 06, 2003
I'm a major honker. When another driver pisses me off, I don't yell or give them the finger. They usually can't hear you yell, and they often won't notice the finger. Those things just help you vent your anger. I want to share my anger with others. Honking not only pisses off the person who pissed you off, it pisses off other people who weren't involved until then. It gets them to notice the injustice you have just suffered. That makes me happy.
I'm not a honking anarchist, though. There are rules to honking:
But last week, I broke the biggest, trickiest rule of all:
Like most people, I don't even look at who I'm honking at until after I've leaned on the horn for a good five seconds or so. Sometimes not even then. Other drivers are faceless and anonymous, especially if they're seated way up high in an SUV. I don't have time to crane my neck. Fuck you, end of story.
So, to the mailroom lady who's been glaring at me and giving me the silent treatment all week: I'm sorry. I didn't realize it was you, but that's no excuse. I thought you were stopping outside the garage because you were finishing a cell phone call. I hate when people do that. It blocks a whole lane of traffic and forces me to wait until traffic is clear so I can swerve around you. I'm not the one who's making the call. Why should I have to wait, right? You see why that upsets me.
Okay, so your husband was just dropping you off outside the building. Well, golly, there's nothing wrong with that. And I know he doesn't usually do this. I'm sure it's been hard for you to get to work these last few weeks with the bus strike stretching on and on as it has. It must be a major hassle. And you don't need another driver hassling you because you were taking ten seconds to stop to get out of your car after a hellish two-hour commute that's making your husband late to work, too, and costing your entire family a lot of money. Ten lousy seconds. I mean, really, what's that guy's problem?
I know it seems like the appropriate response to that is to ostracize the honker, to turn the other mailroom employees against him, to curse him out in Spanish whenever he comes in to drop off a letter. (I know more Spanish than you think I do.) But please, let's be civil here. We're not out on the mean streets now. There's no honking in this office. I'm nice here. I'm quiet here.
Can I please have my shipment from Amazon.com now?
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
CONVERSATIONS WITH MYSELF
JERRY (three weeks ago): Hmmm… so I can order CDs from Amazon.co.uk and find stuff that's not available in the US? And without paying outrageous import prices? Wowee, a new way to satisfy my boy band addiction! Finally, Westlife will be mine!
JERRY (last Thursday): Hooray! Westlife, you finally made it across the Atlantic! Wait a second… I Have a Dream? Against All Odds? Uptown Girl?!?!?!?!? How many lame covers did they do? I'm not even going to listen to this garbage! Boo, Westlife! Boo, boy bands! Boo, Amazon.co.uk!!!!
JERRY (driving to work this morning, singing): You're the only one who really knew me at allllllllll… I love how he accents "really" on the first syllable, not the lame way Phil Collins did it! Against All Odds is the best song ever! Oooh, Brian, Kian, Mark, Nicky and Shane, I love you all! Westlife rules!
JERRY (three weeks from now): Boyzone, you're here! At last we can be together!!!
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
NEW FAVORITE BLOG
High school kids write the best blogs. They always seem to get bored with them after a few weeks, so enjoy this one while it lasts.
I really hope the leader doesn't forget his password again.
And that Ben Haring doesn't know how to use Google.
TWO CRAZY LADIES
Chloe Sevigny and my landlady are both very complicated people.
I want to like them both, but liking them means ignoring a lot of stuff that makes me feel icky. Chloe is a great actress, and I've liked her in everything I've seen her in. She seems really humble and low-maintenance for an actress of her caliber, and she takes lots of roles in independent films. She doesn't complain when people put her umlaut in the wrong place (and she probably wouldn't mind that I've just left it off altogether). She was so good in "Shattered Glass" that it got me thinking again about how talented she is.
So why does she have such a thing for untalented losers? Quick, who are the two worst independent filmmakers working today? Did you say Harmony Korine and Vincent Gallo? Well, Chloe has dated them both. I don't care if she goes out with lousy directors. If she hooks up with Brett Ratner, you won't hear me complaining. But Korine and Gallo are really awful human beings. Korine is the nicer one, only because he never told Roger Ebert to get cancer or took credit once he did. It's not my place to judge somebody's taste in men, unless it's Vincent Gallo. Chloe, what were you thinking?
And Chloe not only dated Gallo, but she gave him a bl*w j*b on camera in his unreleased Cannes bomb "Brown Bunny". Not a simulated bl*w j*b. A bl* j*. (My #1 google for the last several weeks has been people looking for pictures of this act, due to some mention I made of it on this blog ages ago. Let's see how many "Chloe Sevigny acting" googles I get off this post.)
My landlady, on the other hand, is a shrinking old lady in her 80s with a strong Polish accent and squeaky voice. She's about four feet tall, and five years ago, she was probably four foot six. She speaks in mildly broken English and does adorable foreign old lady things like refer to Drano as "medicine" and a refrigerator as a "frigidare". In her fifty years in this country, she's picked up a few Americanisms, like dropping the word "whatever" into almost every sentence. (i.e., "I receive you rent check whatever.") As far as I know, she's never blown Vincent Gallo, but who knows what he's planning for his next movie.
Last week, I gave my landlady my one month's notice that I was moving out, and she insisted that I come over to her house "to talk about you future". I had been to her house before, so when I went over last night, I knew exactly what I was in for. Talking about my future actually meant talking about her past. She told me about how her husband bought the apartment building in 1962, then left it to her when he died. She told me about how, as a young woman, she worked in a "sanitorium" for "people with the lung problems – you know?". (Yeah, I know. Whatever.) And she also told me about Auschwitz.
My landlady is an Auschwitz survivor. As far as I'm concerned, if you were in Auschwitz, you get to talk about Auschwitz as much as you want, and the rest of us have to listen for as long as you choose to talk. Still talking about Auschwitz? Okay, fine. I've got nowhere to be. You get to talk about Auschwitz for the rest of your life. You can bring it up in the checkout line at the supermarket. You can remind your great-grandchildren of it on their birthday cards. You can write a TV miniseries about your experience and all the networks should fight over who gets to make it a sweeps event. I'm still listening. You've earned it. And if an Auchwitz survivor doesn't want to talk about Auschwitz, that's their prerogative as well, and anyone who brings it up in their presence should go to prison for exactly one year. If you went to Auschwitz, the floor is yours. Do with it what you will.
So, as much as I respect and admire my landlady for what she's been through, I knew I was in for a long night of talking about my future. Auschwitz first came up when we were discussing whether the "last month's rent" I paid when I moved in actually covered my last month's rent. My landlady reminded me of how good she's always been to me. How she operated as if I were under rent control, even though the rent control laws in West Hollywood were lifted just before I moved in. How she didn't raise my rent at all the first year I was there. It's true that she's been good to me, although it means a little less when she's using her kindness as a tool to get something out of me.
Then she explained her theory of goodness. With all she's been through in her life – her husband's death, the sanitorium, Auschwitz – she's often struggled with the issue of why she's been allowed to live such a long life. Why was she spared when others weren't? The obvious answer, she says, is that she's a good person. "If you do good," she told me, "God is good to you." I was stunned that an Auschwitz survivor couldn't see the idiocy of this logic. I was pretty sure that of the millions of people who died at the hands of the Nazis, at least a few of them were good people. But she actually knew some of those people. She talked to them, lived with them, suffered with them. Hearing my landlady imply that everyone she knew who died at Auschwitz must've been receiving God's punishment really disturbed me, but I reminded myself of my feeling about letting Auschwitz survivors talk. I decided that the rule still applied even if they were nuts.
Later -- I think it was when she was asking me if I could move out earlier so she could come in and paint -- she brought up the war in Iraq. She softly told me how strongly opposed to it she was. I was so relieved to be on the same side of an issue with her that I told her I agreed. Bad war; good landlady; happy Jerry. She nodded and leaned in. "We can talk about this because Bush is not here right now," she said. She turned up her nose when she said the name "Bush" and then looked over her shoulder, as if to make sure that Bush wasn't hiding behind the stove, taking notes on her every word. "Nobody ever wins a war," she said. "You know this?" I kinda half-shrugged. "Nobody!" She said this was true even of World War II – "my war", as she called it. Millions of people died, and what was accomplished? (Well for one thing, you got to leave Auschwitz.) She's an Auschwitz survivor, Jerry. Say nothing. Say nothing…
My landlady really is a good person. She kept asking if she could make me some dinner. When I was a kid, I always had to drink sour milk at my grandmother's house to keep from upsetting her, so now, I always politely decline old lady food. After about fifteen dinner refusals, she offered to order me Chinese food. Nice, right? So why does there have to be a part of her that's so unpleasant? I like my Auschwitz survivors to be humble and inspiring, just like I'd prefer that Chloe Sevigny wasn't consorting with scummy poseurs.
But every story can't be perfect. Everyone we admire can't be flawless. I let my landlady talk and didn't challenge her crazy opinions. And likewise, I'll continue to see Chloe Sevigny's movies even if she starts dating – I don't know – Ted Bundy next.
Because I'm a good person.
Sunday, November 02, 2003
I’m going to see "Shattered Glass" tonight, and I couldn’t be more excited. People like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair fascinate me, because in my life, I’ve been friends with two different people who’ve turned out to be compulsive liars. Each time, it took me months or years to unravel all their bullshit, and to this day, I still don’t understand why either of them did it.
The first time it happened to me was in High School. In my little Scooby group, Joe was the quiet, shy one. And then, in Senior year, he was the first one of us to have a girlfriend. (For the record, Joe is not the friend who just came out to me, who was obviously girl-shy for his own reasons.) Once Joe was dating, he underwent a complete social transformation. He was outgoing, self-confident, and he wouldn't shut up about Ann. Ann did the funniest thing yesterday… Ann got him the nicest birthday gift… Ann's favorite movie was "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure". Be excellent to each other, party on, dudes! Ann totally transformed Joe, and we couldn't wait to meet her. But she was extremely hard to pin down.
See, Ann lived about fifteen minutes away. She went to a different school. She didn't know anyone we knew or hang out anywhere we hung out. She was a year younger than us and didn't yet have a driver's license. Every time we wanted to meet Ann, there was always something preventing her from getting together with us. She was out of town for a family wedding. She was on vacation. She was hospitalized with a chronic knee injury. (And never at a nearby hospital. She needed to go to a hospital about an hour away in northern Jersey… you know, where they had specialists for her kind of ailment).
Every excuse was always meticulously detailed. The wedding was a Greek wedding, and Joe went as her guest. He described the food, the dancing, the plate-breaking exuberance of each of Ann's colorful relatives. He knew specifics about her knee problem – how it happened in the first place, what she was doing when it started acting up again. Joe told very elaborate stories about Ann. He told us about all five of Ann's younger sisters, the youngest being "the twins". He knew all their names and ages, and he told us how her parents had desperately wanted a son. Ann's mom was pregnant again, but this baby was also going to be a girl. Every weekend, Joe spent time at Ann's house helping her parents decorate the nursery for the baby's arrival. Joe told us about Ann's friends, about how she wanted to study psychology in college, hopefully Princeton, and about how he was teaching her to drive.
This went on for most of senior year. We suspected early on that maybe there was no Ann, and we debated it endlessly when Joe wasn't around. Something wasn't right, and it wasn't just Ann's constant unavailability – or the fact that Joe still seemed to have plenty of free time to hang out with us. We couldn't be sure, but we all suspected that a girlfriend would take up at least a small amount of a guy's time. But given how often Joe was hanging out with us, we weren't sure just when he and Ann were having all the adventures he was constantly talking about.
From time to time, we'd catch a small inconsistency in Joe's story. He'd say that he went with Ann's parents to pick up the new baby's crib, and one of us would remember him saying something about picking up a crib a month earlier. He'd tell a story about Ann's sister Erin, and one of us would vaguely recall that Ann's sisters included an Emily, but no Erin – maybe. (With so many sisters, it was hard for us to keep their names straight, a fact which could only have worked in Joe's favor.) Then he accepted another girl's invitation to go to the prom. Ann couldn't make it because she was going to… yes, another Greek wedding. Was he getting lazy? Was he reusing lies?
The case for or against Ann was entirely circumstantial, so when questioning her existence, my friends and I tended to rely mostly on pure logic. Again and again, we kept returning to the same agrugments:
ARGUMENT #1: There had to be an Ann, because Joe was incapable of keeping such an elaborate lie going for so long. The idea that somebody could make up so much and keep all their inventions straight in their head for such a long period of time just seemed too far-fetched. It would take some kind of demented mastermind.
ARGUMENT #2: There had to be an Ann, because lying was not in Joe's character. He was no demented mastermind. He was a nice, shy kid who published his own personal newspaper and had a monogrammed bowling ball. He didn't even curse.
ARGUMENT #3: There had to be an Ann, because what kind of an asshole lies to his friends like that?
ARGUMENT #4: There had to be an Ann, because the change in Joe's demeanor was undeniable. There was no mistaking it: our meek, sullen friend was happy. Really happy, in a way we'd never seen him before.
ARGUMENT #5: There had to be an Ann, because what motive would Joe have to make one up? None of us had girlfriends, so there was no reason being single should make Joe insecure. (Yes, my friends in high school were all nerds. We knew it then, and I won’t deny it now.)
But as time stretched on, still with no concrete proof of Ann, we started to see the counterargument to each argument. Maybe Joe was a demented mastermind. Maybe he was an asshole. Maybe the change in his character wasn't due to sweet, adorable puppy love. Maybe he was getting off on jerking his friends around.
The more complicated the Ann story got, the more complicated our discussions became. Someone would argue that there was no Ann because Joe didn't have a picture of her. Who doesn't have a picture of his own girlfriend? But then someone else would point out how easy it would be for Joe to dig up a phony picture if he wanted to. He could cut something out of a magazine or fish out a photo of a cousin from a family album. If Joe was going to such lengths to lie to us, why would he stop at producing a fake picture? In our twisted adolescent logic, Joe's refusal to present a picture was testament to his honesty, making it less likely that he was lying.
Gradually, Joe got wind of our suspicions. But rather than retreat, he just got bolder. He would taunt us with our own doubts. "I don't think Marcus exists," he'd say, when Marcus was sitting directly across the table from him. Or he'd argue his case with a mixture of impatience and condescension. "So if there’s no Ann, then where was I last weekend?"
We became more skeptical as time went on, and one day, Joe told us that Ann's family was moving. With the baby due any day, they had found a bigger house about two hours away. It was going to be rough driving up there all the time to see her – Ann still didn't have her license, so there was no chance of her coming down our way – but Joe was happy for Ann's family, and he described their new home, of course, in exquisite detail.
When I heard the news, I had an immediate question for Joe. "Did they just decide to move very suddenly?" I asked.
"No, they've been planning to move since Ann's mom got pregnant. Their old house just wasn't big enough."
"Then how come a couple of months ago you were over at their old house decorating the nursery?"
Joe assured me I had misunderstood him. I don’t remember exactly what detail he claimed I had wrong -- he was fixing up the nursery in the new house, not the old one, or he was merely shopping for nursery decorations, or I was completely wrong and he had never mentioned a nursery at all. What I do remember was the way he said it. Confidently, casually, emphatically. He didn't behave at all as if someone had just caught him in a monumental lie, as I clearly had. He didn’t even flinch.
As far as I was concerned, I had my smoking gun. Our friend Dave remained unconvinced. Dave had been Joe's best friend for the last five or six years, which was an eternity at that age, and he knew Joe better than anyone. He kept referring to Arguments #1-5, as well as what I'll call "the Mikey Factor". Mikey was Joe's little brother, a twelve-year-old asshole who farted out loud and threw worms at people. His idea of a killer joke was to depants Joe when we went bowling. (I know, I know. I'm inviting the depantsing googles back again.) If there was an opportunity to humiliate Joe, Mikey would pounce. But Mikey backed Joe up on the Ann thing, insisting that he had met her. We all agreed there was no way Mikey would cover for his brother's lie.
Now that I was convinced there was no Ann, all I had left to do was punch a hole in the Mikey Factor. I needed to get Mikey alone to grill him on the subject. This would not be easy, since we never saw Mikey without Joe at his side. One day, by fate, I got my chance. I was driving the gang around, and Joe needed to stop at home to pick something up. We parked in his driveway while he ran inside, and as my car idled in the driveway, Mikey ran up from the backyard to throw dirt at my car. See, wasn’t he a little punk? But instead of yelling at him or chasing at him like I normally would’ve, I just rolled down my window and told him I wanted to talk to him.
Mikey was skeptical of my intentions. He cautiously approach the passenger seat. "Yeah?"
I spoke softly and urgently, knowing we probably had less than a minute before Joe came back. "Have you really met Ann?"
"You're not just covering for Joe?" Dave said from the back seat.
"See?" Dave said, smirking at me. That was all the evidence he needed.
"Wait a second," I said. "Ann, Joe's girlfriend? Ann Kay."
"Who?" Mikey asked. "You mean Ann Murphy?"
Dave stopped smirking. Ann Murphy was a girl in our bowling league. (That’s right. Bowling league. I said we were nerds, didn’t I?) We had seen Ann Murphy earlier that day, and she and Joe were definitely not dating. She probably didn't even know Joe's name. "No," Dave said. "His girlfriend's name is Ann Kay."
"He told me it was Ann Murphy," Mikey said. We were all speechless, including Mikey. Even he knew what was going on. Joe had duped Mikey into assisting him. He told Mikey he was dating the girl from bowling league. Mikey had met that before because he used to be in the league himself. So when anyone asked questions, Mikey could answer truthfully while helping Joe lie. Ingenious.
Before any of us could respond, the front door of the house opened and Joe came jogging out. He was smiling and joking, in a great mood. He had no idea what we were all thinking. We hung out the rest of the day, and Joe continued to talk about Ann, about her new baby sister, and about how she was studying for the SATs – she had to do better next time if she wanted to get into Princeton. Her studying meant she wouldn't be able to hang out with Joe next weekend, which meant he was free to go to a movie if we wanted. Did we want to go to a movie? We played along, not encouraging him, but not confronting him. We didn't know what to say. It all just seemed so sad.
That was the last time Joe ever mentioned Ann. Mikey must've said something to him, because none of the rest of us did. After almost a year of deception, it was a little anticlimactic. Joe never told us a story about how Ann broke up with him, or how she moved to Zimbabwe, or how she died in a horrible fire or a freak tractor accident. The lie just went away, as if it had never happened. I try not to be mad at Joe for lying. I still don’t understand what motivated him to do it, but it has to be some kind of sickness. If I’m mad at Joe for any reason, it’s because he didn’t give Ann a proper farewell. Like with any great fictional character, I felt like I knew Ann. I’d come to care about her. I knew she wasn’t real, but part of me was still hoping she’d get into Princeton. I wish Joe had allowed Ann to have some closure. She deserved better.
The next year at college, Joe had a new girlfriend. Dave assured me this one was real, because Joe had a picture this time. Looking back, it makes me think of Homer Simpson's line on lying: "It takes two people to lie. One to lie, and one to listen." I think what keeps people like Stephen Glass and my friend Joe going is that it's never hard to find someone to listen.
A few years later, Joe married a woman he met in a chat room. I love the thought of Joe meeting a woman on the internet, where everyone lies. I wonder what their first meeting was like, when she noticed that the guy she had been talking to didn't actually resemble Antonio Banderas or stand eight feet tall. Maybe she was a liar, too, and that’s why they fell in love.
I couldn't make it to Joe’s wedding, but I heard from my friend Greg that it was a really nice ceremony. A lot of Joe’s family was there, along with a real-life, flesh-and-blood bride who was a lot like Joe had described her and who definitely existed. Greg also met a lot of Joe’s college friends, who he said were really friendly and really happy for Joe. And without exception, each of Joe’s college friends had a question they desperately wanted to ask Greg:
"So… Joe doesn't really have a sister, does he?"
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