Monthly Archives: April 2012

Imaginary Girlfriend in the Grocery Store

There are a lot of times I don’t mind being single. In fact, there are long weeks where it is probably for the best.

I don’t mind doing things like going to the movie theater alone. I kick my feet up, and if anyone gives me a look, I flash a polite smile. Then I watch the movie.

I can go out to dinner alone. If anyone approaches with “excuse me, are you using this chair?” I’m like “no, buddy, go ahead and take it. Take all three of the chairs if you want to.”

Can I get drinks alone? Um, are you pulling my leg, Mahoney?  I’m a writer, it was part of the curriculum.

There are other times it is more of a coin toss. Nights, yeah, that can be lonely. There’s no better feeling for me than a woman curled up next me with her head on my chest, sleeping peacefully, hair spilling over me. Other nights I’m up so late or fall into such fevered nightmares that  it’s probably best I not inconvenience the lady.

I’ve had moments where I’m the third or fifth or even seventh or (God help us all!) ninth wheel. I’ve hissed out through gritted teeth “my don’t all you couples look marvelous.” But like I said, those come and go. It depends on my mood or maybe how much vitamin C is in my system.

But there is one place where there is no refuge for my lonely heart, and that is the grocery store. 18 aisles of long loneliness. It doesn’t matter if it is busy or not or what time of day or what day of week—crushing loneliness again and again and again.

How can a single man find the strength to turn on  7, the cereal aisle, and travel down it while a Muzak version of “Hooked on a Feeling” floats softly from the loudspeakers?

Captain Crunch, Shredded Wheat, Simple Living, Life, Oatmeal Squares, Pops, Raisin Bran, Froot Loops, Honey Smacks, Corn Flakes, Toasted Rice, Special K, Smorz, Rice Crispies, Apple Jacks, Crunchy Nut, Frosted Flakes, Mini- Wheats, All-Bran, Fiber Plus, Cracklin’ Oat Bran, Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Raisin Nut Bran, Oatmeal Crisp, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, Total, Wheaties, Trix, Chex, Kix, Golden Grahams, Cookie Crisp, Golden Crisp, Honey Combs, Oats and More, Honey Bunches of Oats, Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, Grape Nuts, Nutty Nuggets, Go Lean, Weetabix, and a whole many more organics, granolas, generics, and oatmeals.

It is too overwhelming without a strong woman by my side, so  I decide I’ll eat toast instead.

 

In the frozen food section I notice a special deal—4 Tombstone pizzas for eleven dollars.

“This is a good deal,” I think. There is no one to ask. “Wait a minute…is it a good deal? Or is it a pyramid scheme?”

I thought you said you weren’t eating pizza anymore, anyway. You know, because of your diet?

Ah! Ah ha ha ha ha! There we go! The hallucination of my imaginary girlfriend, manifesting near the frozen pizza section.

Right you are, my dear,” I think.  I can communicate with my imaginary girlfriend telepathically. I try to concentrate and imagine what she looks like…tall, maybe. No, maybe she’s short. No, tallish. Glasses, perhaps. I don’t know. Tattoos yeah, real bad ass.  Real bright smile. Real big laugh. Big ol’ booty.

Now I’m wandering along under the flourescent lights, imagining I’m telling her about work last night, how we made Bananas Foster and then we all got try it, how I should try to making it at home. Hey, I could even make it tonight! We just need to get bananas, ice cream, rum, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

My imaginary girlfriend is way into it. She’s way into me, in general. We pass a fat mom in sweatpants pushing a shopping cart full of screaming kids. We look at each other and roll our eyes and smile.

As I walk down the aisles, I wonder what types of things she likes to eat. Jell-O? Jellybeans? Which is her favorite can of soup? Olives? Turnips? Maybe she’s a vegetarian? Cauliflower? Carrots? Carrots, yeah, I hope so. I’m trying to grow some this summer. Pickles? Yuuuuuuuuuck, dude. That’s the only thing I won’t eat.

After a talk on how to do up some potatoes (she’s saying mashed, I say baked) I find myself at the check out, 15 items or less. The National Enquirer says that Jennifer Aniston has collapsed. “She never believed Brad would marry Angelina,” it says. I turn to try to say something witty about this, but I look into my shopping basket and the illusion is shattered.

This Keyser Söze of a girlfriend is now mere phantom photons.  The evidence I am alone is there in the basket:  some disposable razors, a handful of items meant to feed one person dinner (one chicken breast, one potato) and breakfast (bread,  bananas) and that is it because he doesn’t think beyond that. One roll of toilet paper, a pack of gum.

There are no clementines. No oolong tea. No Nutella. No grapes to feed Cleopatra.

And not much left for me this night except a long, melancholy walk home, a proletarian dinner, an evening without flourish.

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“MAN IN THE WINDOW!”

-Portland, Oregon, 7007 Kirby St, circa 1998

“Ok, dude—you ready? Here’s a flashlight.”

“Yeah, let’s roll.”

“Hey! Where are you guys going?”

“We’re gonna check out the abandoned reformatory school for girls across the street.”

“Oooooh, creepy! I want to go, too.”

“Ok.”

“Hold on, let me get Jen and Chris.”

“Ok.”

– – –

“So, there’s all sorts of fucking crazy stories about this place. It’s supposed to be crazy haunted and I heard a bunch of dudes are squatting it and have a meth lab set up inside.”

“Meth lab?!”

“Yeah, you think the five of us can take on a gang of tweakers?”

“Ha ha ha!”

“Is the gate always just open like this?”

“The city chains it shut but someone keeps cutting through it with a bolt cutters or something.”
“Hmmm.”

“Ok, here’s the first building. The door is chained shut, but someone kicked in the bottom so you can crawl through.”

“Ok. I’m going in.” 

“Be careful on the floor, there’s some broken bottles.”

“Shine the flashlight over there—what is that?”


“It’s just garbage.”

“Why the fuck are we whispering?”

“Ha ha ha! Yeah, why the fuck are we whispering?”

“So this must have been like the office or administration building and the bigger building behind us was the reform school.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah, you can see it here out this window.”

“Hey! Look up there!”

“What?”

“Up there, top floor. The room up there has a light on and there’s a man standing in the window.”

“What?! Where?!”

“Look where I’m pointing. There’s a silhouette of a man standing in the window. Maybe he heard us coming in here.”

“OH MY GOD!”

“WHAT?!”

“DUDE! There IS a man in the window!”

“RUN!”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!”

“WHAT THE FUCK!”

“HEY!”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

“Ok, why…no, why did you all freak out and start running? Did you think that dude was going to fucking fly down from the window and grab us?”

“I didn’t– everyone else started screaming and running, I had no idea why.”

“Christine is super pissed off at you guys. Her and Jen are on shrooms  and she thinks you made that up about the guy in the window just to fuck with them.”

“Dude! No! There was a guy in the window, we saw him. I had no idea they were on shrooms!”

“But you shouted it. You were like ‘DUDE! MAN IN THE WINDOW!’ really loud.”

“I think she thought you were saying a guy jumped in front of the window on ground level, like in a horror movie.”

“No! He was up on the third floor of the other building. It was kind of creepy, but no need for a major fucking freak out!”

“I didn’t see it.”

“Tea?”

“There was a man standing in the window, hands on his hips, looking down toward us. That much is for sure.”

God, Nirvana, One Bad Pig, Quicksand

In 1994 I was in high school, confused, depressed, and an all around emotional wreck. I felt that everywhere I turned I was met with enemies waiting for me. I hated the high school I went too, a creepy suburban nightmare called Port High.

There were a couple of sympathetic faces among the faculty of the liberal arts, but overall the teachers were just as mean and dopey as the cave-apes they taught. The students, with a few cool exceptions, fell into two categories–soccer brats or white trash. Though scenic, the town was devoid of any culture except the high school football games and a bizarre annual fish-worshiping holiday named Fish Day.

At that age, I wanted to burn that city to the ground and play a violin while the ashes swirled around me, like Emperor Nero.

I was constantly picked on the entire time I was there, every day, for being a “weirdo.”

When I prayed to God, I prayed for him to curse Port Washington with a series of plagues, real brutal Old Testament stuff.

Looking back, I can only express relief I didn’t go ballistic and trigger happy in the hallways of Port High or on myself.

“These are the best days of your life,” a teacher once told me. I laughed really long over that gem.

My issues were magnified by my declining relationship with my parents and my high school girlfriend.

My parents told me my girlfriend was overbearing, pushy, suffocating, and bringing me down. They were right. My girlfriend told me my parents were overbearing, pushy, suffocating, and bringing me down. She was also right.

In an effort to get me away from my girlfriend, the dark side, and back towards God’s good graces, my parents told me they were going to send me on a church youth group retreat to Denver for ten days.

I thought about it and agreed with them that getting out of town and being anywhere other than that demented fish hole was a good idea.

I had mixed feelings about both Christianity and the youth group I belonged to at that point. If God was so effing great, I thought, then why did he allow me–who had done nothing to instigate anything–to get harassed and threatened every day by this city full of bigoted, ugly, idiots? Why was the old bastard loafing  around somewhere on a cloud while all those kids starved to death in Africa?

And yet, the youth group had given me comfort. My parent’s church was about 50 miles away and I was a different person there. The girls, some of them pretty foxy, smiled and said hi to me. They laughed at my witty jokes. Yes, they were a bit like future Stepford Wives (and I recognized that at the time) but the girls at Port High were actively mean to me, so any modicum of kindness was like a ray of light to me.

The guys were nice to me, too. They invited me to play basketball with them while we waited for our parents to pick us up. I was getting sucked in.

But, then again,  I was somewhat of a freak there, too.  I was strolling through the halls of the church one night when I was suddenly yanked into a church office to discuss the Nirvana t-shirt I was wearing.  I was straight up promoting the devil with that T, they told me. They seemed very alarmed.

Exhibit A: The satanic t-shirt in question.

They sent some kids from the youth group, junior exorcists, to talk to me more about devil music.

They all agreed I should ween myself off the devil punk/metal stuff with a “Christian punk” band named One Bad Pig. They gave me a cassette tape and a pat on the back.

“This is awesome, you’ll love it!” They all said.

Love is not quite the word I’d use.

One Bad Pig was a bunch of youth leader clowns who decided they should put on punk rock disguises and do a third rate Suicidal Tendencies impersonation to try to reach the kids, and that is exactly what it sounded like. How they flim- flamed Johnny Cash into covering the shittiest version of “Man in Black” ever with them remains one of rock’s great mysteries.

Exhibit B: These guys are totally dope punk rockers. No, really, you can trust us.

Anyway, I was trying to ignore all this. Besides the occasional “oh, you” scolding about music and t-shirts, the group was very nice to me and that simple fact was huge to me. Maybe this could be my group, I thought. I could be the lovable outsider of the gang, like The Fonz or Judd Nelson.

So, I signed up for the trip–ten days of sightseeing, Christian motivational speakers, Christian music, hiking, and lots of praying.

After a couple days I realized I just couldn’t do it. This group wasn’t me. I couldn’t be The Fonz or the Judd Nelson or anyone of the group. The group was about a strange optimistic, naive conformity that went against my grain. And the group sing-a-longs were driving me totally mad.

One night we were told to report to some sport arena for a mega God rally for more of the same. More talk about Satan cruising around with Nirvana or whatever, more sing-a-longs, more praying. God must be really sick of all this mundane praying, I thought.

I decided I would skip it and go wander around downtown Denver by myself. I later got in some trouble for this. It wasn’t allowed and my youth pastor suspected I was trying to score drugs.

I walked and walked. I eventually found a cool looking skate shop, went in and bought an Alien Workshop t-shirt. I threw away my old shirt and put the new one on. Then I sat down on a bench in a pedestrian mall to watch a  couple of skaters zooming around, awkwardly trying to do ollies and slides on park benches.

I sat there on the park bench, trying to think. My mind was like an engine turning over and over and flooding, but not starting. Then I had a strange visitor.

She was slowly cruising toward me on a pair of rollerblades. She had neon pink hair, tied into two clumsy pigtails, a plethora of facial piercings and gawdy gothic jewelry, a plaid skirt and a Quicksand t-shirt. Most alarming, though, was the fact that every inch of her elbows, forearms, knees, and legs were badly scraped and oozing blood.

She sat next to me, pulled a long cigarette from a pack and lit up.

“Man, I should really learn how to fucking skate before I try doing jumps off stairs and shit.” She told me.

“You’re bleeding all over.” I replied.

She looked down at her legs, exhaling smoke.

“Yeah, no shit.” She told me. “You’re real fucking observant, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, yeah.” I said, dismissing her dripping sarcasm. “That’s a pretty cool t-shirt. Quicksand is pretty badass.”

I had never listened to Quicksand before.

Despite  the fact that I was obviously a huge poser, the girl sat and chatted with me for awhile. Like we were friends. I was pretty much in awe of her and had a pretty intense momentary crush. She told me about bands she liked and Denver and asked why I was here. I told her. She laughed.

“Well, good luck with that, Tea. Don’t let them get you! It was nice meeting you.” Then she nonchalantly wiped some blood off her arm with her t-shirt and rollerbladed off.

I hooked back up with my youth group later and suddenly felt really bored with them.

When I got back home I bought a Quicksand album. I thought it sounded really good.

Exhibit C: Dude, check it out, it's Quicksand!