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Thursday, 28 June
May The Road Rise With Me

For Christ's sake, I wasn't sure my erratic host--for which I should say for the last five years I have paid nothing, thanks to the generosity--was going to let me post anything. Finally it relented. I just wish that in the middle of the night it wouldn't get all funky and be like, "Hey! You know what? I'm not going to load this page. I'm beating off to Tiffany Mynx. She's over forty, and looks kind of like a lizard, but what a rack!"

Anyway. You're on your own for a little while. See, the thing is, tomorrow the wife and I are flying to deepest, darkest, rodeoest Idaho for my 20th high school reunion. Yes, proud bulls will get their nuts tied up purely so we can drink beer and cheer them on to stomp on some insane cowboys. Perhaps one of those cowboys will get headcrushed in the ring and they'll audibly shoot him out of mercy in the parking lot. You never know!

The whole thing promises to be a complete clusterfuck. (Note to self: spellchecker does not like "clusterfuck." Other note: spellchecker also does not like "spellchecker.")

For one thing, we're all pushing forty. Which means that it's a bunch of people all standing around talking about things like weight gain, hair loss and prescription medication. I'm not sure why we even bother. We might as well just send in representative samples from our pillboxes. "Doug wins. He's got Paxil, Viagra, Wellbutrin, Propecia, Clugnubber and Magic Boot Root McSmoot Toot, which is illegal in Tennessee. Also, he weighs six hundred pounds and would have been here, but there weren't any winches available."

We might even have a float in the terrible parade, which means that they give you a case of beer and a bunch of Super Soakers to douse the children. I don't really fucking know. I don't know anything.

Can you tell I'm a little freaked out? Christ. Look, I'll see you next week. I'm guessing I'll have tons to write about.

Monday, 25 June
Junetwentiethish

Well, Sunday was my birthday, and I DIDN'T SEE YOUR GIFTS ANYWHERE, my tens of readers! You freeloading bunch of devil turkeys from Devilonia. Wait! Before I go there, maybe I should just assume that all of your gifts are in the mail. Much like my parents' gift was IN THE MAIL, and they TRIED TO DELIVER IT on FRIDAY, but I was AT WORK like the red-blooded American that I am, and so the box full of cobras they intended to deliver to me resulted in a box full of dead cobras, and so now I have several dozen new dead meaty scarves. HA HA, murderous parents!

Please don't send me any more deadly snakes. I have plenty of scarves.

We went to our favorite bar for my birthday, which is is not the bar I have written about in the past--that glorious dive--because that bar has been sold and is being converted to a Mexican restaurant. No, we have a new favorite bar, and it is . . . it is something that is perfect. This bar is different from our old dives--for one thing, they wash the stains off of the walls, and for another, they are steadfast in their refusal to serve me martinis with dead fruit flies in them, no matter how much I plead--in that it is spectacular. It's a scratch bar of the highest order, with a fruit press right there on the bartop, and I do enjoy it every time when some new idiot wanders in and gives it a glance and asks, "So, what's on tap?" Here, finally, is a place near my home (two blocks away, in fact) where I can order a Salty Dog that will actually contain real grapefruit juice. Here is a bar where they have genuine Pimm's cups on the menu. Here is a place that doesn't stare at me blankly when I order a Gibson and then serve me a gimlet.

(If it's not clear already, I have no intention of naming this place because too many people have already discovered it, and we don't need anyone else coming in to piss in our astonishing drinks.)

The bartenders there, of course, are also spectacular, not only for their craft, which is impeccable, but also for their professionalism. For instance, when on Sunday night I asked E., the head bartender, about a drink called a Vieux Carre, which I said another bartender had fixed for me, E. cried "I showed him that drink! Fuck him!" This at full volume at the bar, to which everyone cheered. Fuck him, indeed! I appreciate a bar where the bartenders feel obliged to swear freely, e.g. "Hey, Skot, thanks for fucking me so grandly on that tip last night. What happened, did you get too drunk to add?"

E. also very kindly offered to have a drink special in my honor for the night, and I took him up on it, selecting a peculiar Manhattan variant called a Red Hook, which featured rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur, punt e mes (a sort of Italian vermouth) and orange bitters. I availed myself of several of these during the evening, and upon ordering my ninetieth or so, asked how it was going. "Your drink is taking over the fucking bar," said E. Startled, I surveyed the rest of the barsitters, and sure enough, at least half of them had Red Hooks sitting in front of them. "Every time you guys order one, someone asks me what the hell I'm making. I tell them, and then they want to try one." He paused for a moment--unusual for E., who is a dynamo of a bartender who is only happy when he is behaving like a man whose nuts are on fire--and exclaimed, "Jesus Christ, I have to start doing drink specials!"

This can only be news of the most awesome kind, since the bar in question already has the world's greatest happy hour: 5-7, every day of the week, two dollars off all liquor, no matter what kind or variant, and one dollar off beer. Only wine drinkers lose out, but why go to a bar like this to drink wine?

It was a fantastically good birthday experience. The wife got me a bottle of Redbreast whiskey, DVDs of "Deadwood" (season 3) as well as The Descent AND Dog Soldiers! Holy crap.

Other people gave me cards. You know what? Fuck cards. You know what cards say? I don't buy things for assholes like you. Which, as an asshole, I understand. But honestly? I'd rather have nothing. Nothing is somehow less insulting than a card.

(EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE: A card that features Frog and Toad. Because Frog and Toad are not only friends, they are also AWESOME. Therefore, I am really tickled by my Frog and Toad card. Still friends! It's been like a hundred years! If I had a sister, I would happily let Frog and Toad fuck her. My notional sister would totally pull that amphibian train.)

(DISCLAIMER: Cards are actually fine. God, I'm a tool.)

You're totally welcome to my next birthday party, provided that my cherished bar remains mostly undiscovered. And I'm happy to come to yours! I'll totally buy you a card.

(I swear I was just being a dick about the card thing. I'll probably buy you one. Especially if I can find one with Frog and Toad. Because? They are friends.)

Monday, 18 June
It's An Odd Name For A Skateball Team, Don't You Think?

This weekend, as usual, the wife and I went movie-hunting at our local video store. It's a barren time for this sort of sport: none of the summer blockbusters are out yet, so all you get are the off-season offloads: Breach, for instance, the fairly turgid based-on-real-life story about espionage that features a thickening Ryan Phillippe, another wasted role for Laura Linney, and Chris Cooper mostly just looking like someone is pinching him for two hours. Lame. Lamer still, all the copies of Ghost Rider were rented. I cannot wait to see that film, mainly because of Nic Cage's previous effort The Wicker Man, which set all kinds of new standards for pure embarrassment, ineptitude and people punching other people who are wearing bear suits.

But there was nothing. I couldn't even work up the enthusiasm for any of the transparently crappy b-horror offerings, many of which seemed to feature either alligators, unconvincing zombies, or unconvincing alligator zombies. Then something caught my eye.

It was an older movie that I remembered a friend of mine had offhandedly recommended! Sure, it was from the eighties . . . kinda old, probably cheesy . . . but my friend had thought it was good! He said so! The movie was called Solarbabies. I picked it up.

(A side note: My friend did not recommend this movie at all. My memory just stinks. He had offhandedly mentioned an entirely different movie called Night of the Comet, and in point of fact, he didn't really recommend it so much as just sort of mention it. I apparently just took one eighties movie and, in my poisoned brain, decided to substitute in a different one because I was desperate to find a movie. Also, I'm a fucking moron.)

Solarbabies, huh? Kind of a stupid title. But it's some sort of future sci-fi thing! I like that stuff. I looked closer. Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, Lukas Haas, James LeGros and . . . Charles Durning? Wow, that's pretty . . . odd. But it can't be all bad! For one thing, my friend said he liked it! (He never said any such thing, and he didn't say that about a totally different movie.) And besides! If it were crappy, why would it be here, in my video store, in a brand-new DVD edition? Obviously it was a good movie!

We rented Solarbabies.

Solarbabies is about an orphanage in the future where Earth has post-apocalyptically burned off all its oceans, and so as a consequence, the orphans spend their time playing roller hockey. The Solarbabies play a bunch of meanies called the Scorpions, who CHEAT! And occasionally Adrian Pasdar shows up, displays no emotion, and communes with wild birds.

Then Lukas Haas finds in one of their roller caves--look, I didn't make this fucking thing, but I'm just saying that I suppose roller hockey makes sense in light of a nuclear-ravaged world that also happens to be paved with convenient roller paths every single place you go--a glowing ball named (it has a name!) Bodahi. Having made a new friend with glowing sentient ball, Haas does the logical thing and stuffs Bodahi into a storage trunk.

BUT! He can't keep that secret for long! Not from his roller hockey buddies in the orphanage, which is run by the "E-Protectorate" (the E is for Eeeeeeeeaaaawesome!), whose warden is Charles Durning, but who is ordered around by some terrible asshole in a truly amazing giant blue vinyl fascist zoot suit. He's mostly around to sneer. Adrian Pasdar wanders around some more, and some more birds land on him for some reason (it was clear I needed to step up my drinking early, so things get hazy).

Anyway, the gang discovers Haas' amazing lo-tech glow ball, and there's a truly humiliating Soundball moment (any actors out there?) where they spend joyous moments passing the ball around to each other while Maurice Jarre synths torture the audience. Hey, can you guess what happens when the single black orphan gets Bodahi? Yes . . . he sort of breakdances. It is the breakdance equivalent of Lou Diamond Phillips' speech in Young Guns where he delivers the standard-issue "the squaws were cut down in the night by the army marauders," which is to say, uncomfortably horrible and deeply embarrassing.

Then I think Adrian Pasdar wandered around for a little while more, resolutely not moving his face.

Okay, it wasn't all awful. By which I mean, it was. But we at least were laughing. The same way I guess we'd laugh if we realized that we were going to die in five minutes by being crushed under an avalanche of Swatches. You'd have to laugh, right? There was also, of course, the writing, which was delightfully wretched, featuring such gems as "Get out, you creature of filth!" and Durning's immortal "Stick with us, learn to serve the Order, and you'll achieve a decent life-grid." You have to sort of love terrible sci-fi movies where the writer attempts to create some sort of futuristic nonsense patois (dedicated aficionados of this sort of thing are directed to Sam Shepherd's unintentionally hilarious The Tooth of Crime as perhaps the ne plus ultra of the genre) that they cannot even bother to try and sustain for any reasonable amount of time. The Solarbabies would spend extended periods speaking in entirely conventional English before bizarrely lapsing into some brief comment about "putrid thinking." On my third beer, I was starting to indulge in some putrid thinking myself.

What was the movie that my friend had actually recommended, you ask? Night of the Comet, as I found out later after angrily (and incorrectly) accusing my pal of steering me into some horrible disaster. I don't know anything about that movie either. But I might just check it out anyway. It has to be better than Solarbabies. Right?

And even if it's not, I'll bet it's more fun than Breach. God knows that Solarbabies was.

Thursday, 14 June
Prejudge Not, Lest Ye Be Prejudged

IT'S THE MOOOOST WOOONDERFUL TIIIIME OF THE YEEEEAR! It's summer movie blockbuster time! Let the killing rain of dreck commence! I want to run naked in your murderous downpour! I want to prejudge you!

(Normally right here I'd make some nonsense claim about having no intention of seeing these movies. I'd be lying, so I'm not going to say that. Except for Evan Almighty, which nobody will see.)

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

The tagline for this movie is "Rise." Presumably they are referring to the penises of teenage boys whenever they find another dumb reason to show Jessica Alba wearing nothing.

Ha! See what I did there? I made an erection joke because of a hot chick who can't act. Not everyone can do that, mainly because it's pathetic! But I can! Practically every day! Hey, Anna Paquin! You're putrid! But sometimes you give me a boner!

See? I did it twice. Leave this kind of thing to the professionals, folks.

Anyway, this second FF movie carries a lot of promise because once again it features Ioan Gruffudd. This is awesome because: "Ioan Gruffudd." Also, I kind of hold out this desperate hope that they get so lost for ideas that they bring in the Black Racer.

DOA: Dead or Alive

What? Are we sure this is an actual movie? Shouldn't I have seen ads for anything that's supposedly being released in the next two months? It appears to be yet another video game movie, and it stars somebody named Jaime Pressly, whose name is familiar, but of whom I really know nothing except (thanks to IMDB) that she has enormous cans.

"Hey Jaime! You're probably putrid, but you . . . " Oh, forget it.

This movie is clearly going to be disastrously horrible, which means I cannot wait to see it on cable some fuzzy night while I clutch a bottle of off-brand rye. Here's some sample dialogue!

Bass: Tina! It's showtime!
Tina Armstrong: Dad! Not now I'm in my underwear.
Christie Allen: Which I hate. Why can't you just sleep in the nude like me you'll never know.
Bass: Oh my god.
Tina Armstrong: No dad, she's just another fighter we're just sleeping together.
Bass: Yeah I can see that.
Tina Armstrong: No. I mean we're not sleeping together we're just... sleeping.
Bass: Seems to me like my baby girl's found a special friend. We'll settle it tomorrow sweetie. Nice to meet you miss.
Christie Allen: Oh it's Christie.
Bass: Tina's real name's Christina!

Yay!

1408

When did John Cusack go from being to one of those rare actors who was liked by males and females alike (kind of a nerdier Johnny Depp) to . . . this? I submit that it was the terrible one-two combination of American Sweethearts, which audiences reacted to as if it was the offer of amateur surgery, and Identity, a movie that was a lot like amateur surgery.

I looked at the cast list hoping to see yet another embarrassing Stephen King cameo where he wanders around sucking on his teeth and acquitting himself terribly, but alas, he's nowhere to be found. Instead you get Tony Shalhoub, a fine fellow who apparently picks roles by blindfolding himself and throwing darts at piles of scripts, and Samuel L. Jackson, who--let's face it--has been coasting ever since he realized that after Pulp Fiction, he wasn't required to do anything at all resembling acting. He just has to show up as Big Sam, do his bit and cash his check. Sweet gig!

Evan Almighty

Seeing the ads for this day-glo nightmare, I was forced to wonder What the fuck, Steve Carell? Coming off of two pretty great comedies--The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine--this is what you want? Jim Carrey's sloppy seconds? By the director of such . . . items as Patch Adams?

Then I figured it out. This is not a comedy. (It is, after all, directed by the noted drooling sadist Tom Shadyac.) This film is dead serious.

What it is, is a dedicated atheist's attempt to posit the inherent ridiculousness of the existence of God. This is a movie whose entire intent is--it must be--to portray a world in which God is such a terrible buffoon that His existence becomes, in light of the onscreen evidence, a world that cannot possibly exist. There is also the hard-to-ignore fact that God here (again) is played by Morgan Freeman, which would seem to point out any number of troubling issues, such as why God would be such a dick to people who actually were in his image as opposed to a bunch of white assholes who can't dance and perpetrate such crimes as Matchbox 20 and Tom Shadyac.

Another supporting point to this argument: I am frankly certain that Evan Almighty will share one overwhelmingly common trait with atheism: a complete and total absence of humor. Or anything resembling humor. Have you ever met a really fun atheist? A real cut-up, life-of-the-party atheist? Of course you haven't. They don't go to parties. They sit at home, chewing on their legs, dreaming up witty ripostes to esoteric Biblical quotes.

It's about time Hollywood finally embraced its Godlessness. I just wish they hadn't picked Steve Carell to deliver the message. He's too funny for a serious film like this.

God help us all.

Tuesday, 12 June
The Blackout Jungle

Some of you might have heard the news that The Sopranos concluded this last Sunday if you were paying close attention to the news. I think the weirdest moment of that next day--the day the Internet went sideways--was coming home and turning on Baseball Tonight and seeing various ESPN analysts stammering to respond to hopeless fucking questions like "So what do you think happened after the blackout?"

"I . . . well, I think Tony . . . Tony's concerned for his family, and his family is right there, and Tony, he cares for them. This show is all about family, both kinds of, uh, family, and Tony is finally with his family and I think he's happy about that."

"Karl, I think that the real message is right there on the screen: Don't stop believing. Tony never did."

Or some such nonsense from people named "Buster" or "Orestes" or "Gorp." Yes, hope and happiness have always been running themes on The Sopranos.

Weird. Weird and horrible. Look, I'm not pretending I know myself--Chase clearly didn't feel like providing anything resembling a conventional ending at all, and he's obviously enough of a misanthrope not to give a shit about it anyway. I have my theories--just like old Buster and Gorp up there--but when ESPN babblers start horning in, it's time to open up the floor to everyone, I guess. So I took the trouble to poll some of the best and the brightest, present and past, to get their take on the most important TV event since Princess Di missed her exit.

So what did you think about the final episode of The Sopranos?

Elmo, psychopathic Muppet

"Hee hee hee! Elmo liked when the old man got his head run over like an rotten melon! Ha ha ha ha ha! Elmo liked that! Elmo saw the bystanders making sick! Hee hee hee! You know what Elmo also likes? Skin! Elmo wants to eat young skin!"

Izzle Pfaff: "I, ah, I see. Any thoughts about the startling ending?

"SKIN! SKIN! ELMO NEEDS SKIN! HA HA HA HA HA!"

Richie Sexson, .200-hitting Mariners 1B; loathed member of current fantasy baseball team

"What? Hey, stop touching my skin."

Camille Paglia, loudmouth, professional terrifying person

"My generation of Sixties rebels wanted to smash the bourgeois codes that had become the authoritarian totems of the Fifties. As a feminist and a champion of the gay male, I find Tony's struggle to--"

Interview terminated.

Sylvia Plath, poet, Siouxsie Sioux progenitor, cruel posthumous punchline

"Tony, Tony, you bastard, I'm through."

Green Lantern, aka Hal Jordan, Guardian of the Universe, reciter of silly doggerel

"What the fuck was that? Even Rot Lop Fan thought that sucked. On the other hand, he really wants to hear more Journey."

IP: "What did Mogo think?"

"Mogo doesn't socialize."

Erwin Schrodinger, quantum physicist, pothead icon

"Until Mr. Chase agrees to another season, a superposition of states exist where Tony is both alive and not alive. Only when we receive new episodes will the wave function collapse and we may observe the result. I'm so high right now."

Thursday, 07 June
Fat Lady, About To Sing

Note: This blog entry contains mild spoilers about The Sopranos. Don't read if that's going to bother you.

This coming Sunday evening, HBO will be airing the final episode ever of its landmark dramatic series The Sopranos. This event is momentous enough that the wife and I have made plans to travel to her brother's place to watch the thing with him and his wife. They are, of course, making lasagna. We've decided to take this all in together, for we are, obviously, utterly devoted to this brilliant, often maddening television show. We're all in agreement that nobody will fucking talk during the show, something we've experienced before when watching this show with nonwatchers who ask unwelcome questions. The phone will be turned off, just in case.

Back when I was obsessed with The X-Files, in the middle set of seasons when it was awesome and long before Robert Patrick and that other broad came along to ruin everything, I remember watching the show with the uninitiated or simple half-ass fans. They were intolerable. "So you gotta stab those weirdmouth guys in the back of the neck?" SHUT UP SHUT UP I'M WATCHING HERE SHUT UP

We won't have these problems come Sunday. We will watch the final episode as if sealed inside a large thermos. I believe the wife's brother has sworn to murder the dogs mid-show if they start making a ruckus from their imprisonment inside the garage.

The Sopranos is, as everyone knows, one of the most lauded shows in television history; some make the claim that it's the finest TV drama ever made. I don't know if I'm ready to go to bat on that one, but I'd sure rank it way the hell up there. (For one thing, there's that other HBO fan favorite, the unjustifiably maltreated Deadwood, which was a practically Jacobean take on the American western.)

There's been the writing, of course, which is routinely splendid, intelligent and knowing, whether it be something like Christopher unexpectedly spouting Bruce Springsteen lyrics to an annoyed Tony, or the utterly perfect description of Richie Aprile's eyes as "Manson lamps," or, most recently, the gorgeously crass joke of a storefront sign that read "Flatbush Bikini Waxing."

This is not to say that the writers have been perfect. The Sopranos is in fact famous for its litter of abandoned storylines, many of them dumped unceremoniously on the streets like little blind Gorey waifs. Famous ones include things like the otherwise ridiculously great Pine Barrens arc--apparently that indestructible Russian mobster is still lost in the woods, eating bark, unless he horrifyingly pops up in the final episode to stick a fork into Paulie's ear, which, if it happens, should surprise nobody. Or maybe they could revisit the Adriana/rap impresario storyline, which irritated Christopher so much that, later, he hilariously retaliated by crushing her dog to death by sitting on it. (I'm only sort of lying. He didn't vengefully crush her dog; he was just stoned out of his mind. But it really was hilarious.) More recently, there was the extremely bizarre amount of time detailing the doomed, gay Vito, which left many viewers wondering if they had accidentally tuned into a different show.

What is rather perfect about the show, though, is the acting. I don't know quite why, really--none of these people save two are what I'd call amazing outside of the context of the show (more on the outliers in a minute); it just seems that the show has caught these people at exactly the right time in exactly the right way. As a whole, they are amazing--but then you see something like Gandolfini in things like True Romance or Crimson Tide, and you're like, "What's the big deal?"

But Gandolfini is a big deal, at least for this show. He is terrifying, mostly when he's not doing anything, but simply thinking about doing something. He has never once on the show hit Carmela, for example . . . but I can describe for you in detail the times he has come close. And I'm pretty sure I'm never going to forget the number he pulled on Meadow when she mouthed off to him about being "the big mob boss."

But here's my half-assed theory regarding ensemble pieces: everything hangs on the secondary characters. Without those guys, everything else just withers. And, against all odds, The Sopranos delivers the goods practically every time. There's Silvio, Steven Van Zandt's utterly singular creation, Tony's consigliere, whose very posture seems to suggest that he spends most of his life wadded up in someone's pocket. There's Tony Sirico as Paulie Walnuts, who, disturbingly, might actually think he's a genuine gangster if some of his police reports suggests, but Paulie's unfailing need to make himself the center of any single event in the universe is readily identifiable--and is what makes him such a natural foil for Michael Imperioli's Christopher, who evidently feels just the opposite, and which is why he drugs himself up at every possibility. And then there's Robert Iler as A.J., Tony's son. Iler is either preternaturally gifted at playing an utterly loathsome, unsympathetic fuckup--in which case I applaud him--or he is a preternaturally depressing actual fuckup, in which case I would like to kill him. I will be charitable and assume it's the former.

There is also Jamie Lynn-Sigler, who is a very pretty girl.

Oh, there's millions of others--this is a show that's gone on for seven seasons, after all--but there are really just two left to talk about.

Edie Falco plays Tony's wife Carmela, and for me, she's the linchpin of the entire series. Not Tony. It's through her reactions to Tony that sets everything in motion, I think (I'm taking some liberties here). Leave aside the obvious blast that the costumers, makeup artists and hairstylists have with Ms. Falco. She's the heart of the family, and she's the heart of the show, even when she's selling out everything she believes in to buy a spec house. Falco is ridiculously terrific, and this show would have died in a ditch without her.

And finally, the lost and lamented Nancy Marchand, who played Tony's incredible black hole of a loving mother figure Livia. Marchand--a veteran screen actor, who, like Falco appeared reliably in crime dramas like Law & Order--managed to out-Macbeth's wife with Livia, a character so utterly corrosive that Tony--the mob boss--and his wife, Carmela--no shrinking violet herself--were apparently totally powerless to even step up to. True to the spirit of the series, though, Livia was--again, Marchand needs a lot of credit here--fucking hysterical. The wife and I are still fond of saying to one another in times of strife, "Oh, someone just open a window and push me out!" I will never in my life forget the scene in the hospital when Gandolfini is chasing her down the hall while she's strapped to a gurney, and she's smiling at him, and Gandolfini screams, "She's smiling! You see what she is? She's smiling!"

Christ. I could go on and on. I have gone on and on. I'm really going to miss this show. I'll miss the common language that I used to have with friends and family when it goes. I don't want to sound like a "Well, I know better than you because . . . " kind of dick, but I think it's telling that most of our friends--who are nearly all actors--all adore this show. I do think it's extraordinary as a TV drama, that very marginalized art form.

But as has been said so many times: If this isn't art, then what is?

And if you disagree with me, then I'm just going to shoot you. Which is fine. What won't be so great is when I start dreaming of fish.

Monday, 04 June
Going With

When I was in sixth grade, I found myself with my first girlfriend. But we didn't call it that. We called it "going with." As in, "I'm going with [this person]." "Did you hear? Damon is going with Hortense." Going with. We might have been sharing a car ride. It was about as erotic.

I promptly informed my parents of this, possibly because it was novel, and also possibly because I had no firm grasp on what was actually going on. "How was your day?" my mom asked. And for once, I had something other to say than "Nothing." "I'm going with J.," I said.

"What?" asked my mom.

"I'm going with J.," I repeated. Duh.

My mom stared at me as if I had grown a fresh set of ears on my forehead. "What does that mean? Do you mean you have a girlfriend?"

I had no immediate reply. I wasn't sure. I hadn't thought about it that hard. Did I? I decided I did, sort of.

"Sort of," I said. My mom fixed me with a momlook while my dad just sort of smirked and said nothing. He was probably thinking, Oh man! He might not be gay!

"Aren't you a little young for a girlfriend?" my mom said without real force, turning back to doing kitchen stuff. My dad didn't say anything, but retreated to the living room, figuring, I assumed, that there was nothing he could say here that wouldn't get him yelled at or something, and also probably to do a merry little jig.

"Nah," I said confidently. Probably, I thought to myself. The fact was, I didn't have the faintest idea what was going on. I only knew I was going with J. because someone had told me so.

Earlier that day, in class, T., a nice girl, approached me. "Do you like J.?"

I thought about it. J. was a quiet, nice girl. She wasn't like the alarming L., who once said to me in the cafeteria, "You're so into me," and waved a french fry in my face. L. was terrifying, because I was totally into her. J. was about as unterrifying as Switzerland.

"Sure, she's nice," I said.

"Do you want to go with her?" asked T.

I thought about it and resisted the urge to ask, "Do I have to do anything?" I didn't know what that meant, really. I mean, I had some idea--I'd be expected to spend some time with her, of course, and maybe kiss her--maybe?--but would I have to, like, beat up assholes who said stupid shit about her? Because, as a complete pud, I couldn't beat up anything animate. I decided I couldn't ask anything without sounding dumb.

So I said, "Sure."

T. wandered over to J.'s desk and a brief conversational flurry ensued. T. came back to my desk.

"Okay, you're going with J." She walked off, as her job was done. I sat like a mute lump, thinking, I am? I looked over at J. She smiled at me. I smiled back. Hey! She's not terrifying! Not like L. For one thing, she hadn't developed breasts like L. had--go figure why L. figured me out in about thirty seconds--and hence was that much less threatening. My lifelong embrace of utter cowardice seemed validated.

This is going to be easy! This is all I have to do? I was jubilant, sort of, and confused, so confubilant, and I guess that must be why I was eager to tell my parents about this whole strange new thing. I did a thing! Others are doing this thing! Therefore, I'm not the weirdo I assumed I was.

Then that night J. called me, right during dinner. My mom picked up the phone, and said these surprising words: "Skot, it's for you." Huh? Nobody ever called me. I went to the phone and said, "Hello?"

"Hi, it's J. What are you doing?"

This was like getting a phone call from the Marianas Trench. I handled it as such. "Eating," I said. "What are you doing?" A pause.

"I just wanted to talk to you. You want to call me back?"

Not really. But somewhere in my hindbrain, I was starting--incrementally--to see that there was more to this process than I understood when I signed up for it. "Yeah, I'll call you back," I said. "Are you at home?"

Classic. We were in sixth grade. No, she's at the racetrack, or perhaps a group meeting for urine enthusiasts. "I'm at home," she said quietly.

I called her later. "Hey," I said.

"Hey," she said.

We had more than one conversation exactly like this. Our conversations made Waiting for Godot sound positively DieHardian. Another example:

She: "Are you going to Rusty's?"
Me: "Probably."
She: "Me too."
(Silence.)
Me: "I guess I should go."
She: "Me too."
(They do not hang up.)

J. and I went to exactly one party--hosted by the aforementioned Rusty--where it was revealed to one and all that we were dating--no scratch that, going with each other. Rusty immediately ordered us into a dark room.

"When I come back in, you guys better be making out," he declared. He shut the door.

We sat there, not moving, not talking. J. coughed softly. I lifted up my hand tentatively and waved it around uncertainly in the dark. I eventually settled it next to--not on--her knee. I left it there a moment. J. bounced her knee a little bit. I didn't know how to interpret that, so I did nothing.

J. coughed again.

All women are terrifying, I concluded as those moments spun out and exploded into little baby universes of their own. Breasts or not.

Rusty eventually charged back into the room, flicking on the lights suddenly in order to catch in the no-act. His expression immediately fell as he saw us sitting there, doing nothing at all. I put my arm around J., attempting a look of defiance; J. merely hung her head in defeat.

"Jesus Christ," said Rusty. He shook his head.

The next week, T. stopped by my desk. "J. isn't going with you any more," she said in clinical tones, as if she was giving me grave medical information, like I had spine failure or mime's gene.

"I know," I said, feigning sadness.

But I had never been happier in all my life.










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