Boomtown Boudoir

A Story I Swore I Wouldn’t Tell
June 2, 2009, 4:59 pm
Filed under: boys, Hyperbole, Nostalgia | Tags: ,

A was in the bathroom, brushing his teeth with a toothbrush he’d thought to bring with him before coming over last night. I was stretched out on the bed, looking up at my green ceiling and feeling more content than I thought I ever could have felt again every time I’d broken up with some other boy who never would have remembered to bring his toothbrush to my house. I rolled off the bed and landed on my feet in one smooth motion, smiling to myself and shaking my sheet out from where it had bunched up beneath the comforter last night. A’s underwear fell onto the floor so I picked them up and took a good look at them. Gray boxer-briefs; sober, practical, and comfortable. The kind of underwear worn by the smilingly regular man on the Folger’s coffee can. Exactly the kind of underwear A would like and own.  Feeling smug about my ability to capture such a man in the flowered tangle of my bed sheets, I put them up to my face and sniffed.

My shriek of horror found him poking his head out  from the open bathroom door into the bedroom and I was caught with a pair of boxer-briefs that smelled like they hadn’t been washed in about three days still suspiciously close to my face. “What are you doing?!” he yelled across the room, toothbrush still in his hand. I started laughing because it was so horribly obvious what I was doing that there was nothing I could say to defend either one of us. This was maybe the second time he’d slept over, not counting high school. We were not ready for this conversation. I don’t know if anyone is ever ready for this conversation.

“I guess I was… smelling your underwear.”

“I could have told you not to do that! They smell really bad!”

“Yeah… yeah, they kind of do.”

“What made you suddenly decide to smell my underwear?” he shouted, and I bit my lower lip, trying to stop myself from laughing. A’s face was eloquently stricken, eyes hot and cold at the same time under a pair of eyebrows that still did not understand how I could do this to him. Knowing that whatever I came up with would be completely insufficient by way of explanation, I said, “I guess I thought they’d smell, you know, pleasantly like your balls? But I mean… really, I have no explanation for my behavior here. I’m sorry. I have no idea why I did that. I didn’t even think about it.”

He turned around, stomped back into the bathroom, and finished brushing his teeth. Even the splat of his toothpaste when he spit it into the sink sounded pissed off. I sat on the bed feeling awful but also still laughing a little. Didn’t he shake his dick off after he peed, or had he really just been wearing them that long? You think you know someone until you violate one of those boundaries that exist for what were turning out this morning to be very good reasons.

A came back out and stood in front of me, arms folded across his chest. “The next time you feel like sniffing my underwear, can you at least warn me so I can wear clean ones?” I nodded, looking up at him. He was in no way ready for a hug. “I need to do laundry, okay?” he said. “I was going to do it last night but then I wanted to come here and see you so I didn‘t.”

“Look, if it makes you feel any better, I’m completely embarrassed that you just caught me sniffing your underwear in the first place. It‘s kind of what I deserved if they smelled bad. I mean, I think we might be even.”

He reached down, picked the underwear up off the floor, and stepped back into them, sighing. One of the things I liked about A was the way you could see everything he was thinking on his face. Even when what he was thinking was specifically unflattering to me, I could not help but be flattered that I was allowed to see it anyway. Right now, for example, I could pretty much watch the argument unfold as the A head-voices bargained with each other about the cost versus the value of staying angry with me. When it looked like they were almost finished, I held my arms out. He ignored them and sat beside me on the bed. “It doesn’t change anything,” I said, taking his hand. That worked. A’s eyebrows smoothed out and he began to breathe normally again. I love you, I thought. He kissed me. “You want some coffee? Let’s get you some coffee.” I kissed him back.

This is the story of how I came into the creepy practice of surreptitiously sniffing my own underwear every time I thought a boy might go anywhere near them. If I was capable of random and inexplicable acts of panty-sniffing, anyone could be. I knew A loved me, but how could I be sure that whoever I ended up sleeping with after he left would love me? Precautions were in order. Usually, I did a check in the bathroom after peeing, but I wasn’t above taking my underwear off in the heat of a moment and passing them casually in front of my face before depositing them wherever they ended up. If I had any doubts, I hid them somewhere the boy would never think to look.

This is an old story, and I feel like my promise not to tell it has expired. Plus, I’m fairly certain that if A can forgive me for sniffing his dirty underwear, he will forgive me for the rest of it, too. Won’t he?


Jessica Harper in “Shock Treatment”
May 6, 2009, 5:56 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: , ,

Don’t do the 80s unless you’re going to do it like this:

Including the crazy white face.

That’s all I have to say about that. I haven’t been feeling very verbose lately.

March 25, 2009, 6:05 am
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: ,
Photo of Joan Didion and Family in Central Park, 1970 by Dominick Dunne

Photo of Joan Didion and Family in Central Park, 1970 by Dominick Dunne

Now I know what to wear to work.

I recently read The Year of Magical Thinking and the only thing I liked about it was the way Didion named, over and over again, the exact locations where she and her husband ate lunch or dinner, but  the contrast between the subtly mismatched floral prints and the “are you speaking to me?” expression in this photo have redeemed the six or so hours I spent slogging through the book.

I have logged into google at least thirty times this week to look up and inspect pictures of Joan Didion. I can’t help but feel that I would have really liked 1969-1973ish, living near Central Park with a bag held up with chains and a highball every night before dinner. I think that’s why I didn’t like The Year of Magical Thinking. Beneath all of its touchingly dispassionate tragedy, there seemed to be a deeper layer of smug, which had the perhaps desired effect of making me duly jealous.

The Tufts
March 8, 2009, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: , , , ,
Painting by Henry Darger

Painting by Henry Darger

“Do you remember a night in here where I sat down with you guys and you started talking to me about the tufts? Because I just wanted to come over here and tell you how offensive that was. Really not cool.”

It’s N, this goofy art kid who’s friends with Angry Mike from the Last Drop, a few years younger than me, prone to outrageous outfits and apparently, offense. I’m sitting in McGlinchey’s with four guys, drinking my porter out of one of those old-timey glass mugs that is covered in textured ridges that feel really satisfying under your fingers as you fondle it in between sips. And trying to figure out what this kid is talking about. “I said what that offended you?”

“The tufts?” he kept saying, in this very accusatory voice. Eventually I make him spell the word out for me. T-U-F-T-S. Yep.

“The college?” I want to know. My cousin went there, and that’s the sum total of my information about Tufts.

“No, the kind that sprouts from young boys’ chests.” N is about six kinds of pissy, hand on the hip, talking out of his neck. “And it was unbelievably awkward and offensive to me and I have thought of it every time I have seen you since then.”

“That’s offensive! That’s offensive!” my friend Ben heckles from beside me, pointing at N. I push his hand down and tell him to shut up because it has occurred to me that this is some kind of gay thing. N is gay, and he is telling me all of this like I see him and mutter “fag” under my breath, such being the depth and breadth of my casual insensitivity regarding homosexuality. “I don’t know what to say, N. That sounds extremely creepy and I certainly believe you that I said it, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I recall the night in question, because it was possibly the only time I have ever had a discussion of any length with N. I was at McGlinchey’s with my friend Matt K. and we started drinking at five o’clock. It was the kind of happy hour that ended up closing the bar down. Somewhere in the middle of it, we’d picked up N and had, I’d thought, a good old time talking about all the exciting things people talk about when they’re drunk, including, I guess, tufts.

“It was some book. I walked in here and sat down and you started telling me all about how I needed to read this book about tufts and boy scouts having sex with each other and it really kind of traumatized me.”

“Guy Davenport!”

“Whatever,” said N. “I think you should apologize.”

“I think you misunderstood me. I really like Guy Davenport. I was not telling you to read this book because I thought that boy scouts having sex with each other was something that you, specifically, would be into,” but I’m laughing as I say it because I am, as usual, absolutely sincere, but ever further breath I expend fixing this is only serving to make me look like an even bigger asshole. “I’m sorry,” I finally say. “I am so, so sorry.”

I am sorry. I’m sorry I ever told N about one of my favorite writers of all time ever, a writer whose expansive utopian ideal of what the world should look like includes boy scouts having sex with each other in a way that really grows on you after you get over the whole, “Oh my god, I’m reading very literate kiddie porn” thing. Having been over it myself for years, I forget that most people don’t want to sit down and have a discussion about anything even resembling the acceptance of pedophilia in polite company. They can’t even play nice on Guy Davenport’s wiki discussion.

I sent this email to my friend Erik Bader about Guy Davenport over a year ago:

I think my favorite thing about him this time around is that he
dictates every tiny detail of his utopian ideal. It’s not just a
Mondrian (only he spells it Mondriaan, and I swear he’s the only author I actually like MORE for being a pretentious fuck), it’s from Mondrian’s most minimal geometric period. They’re not just little boys’ underwear, they are made in Denmark and they are a pellucid blue and they are very small in a way that he implies only Danish underwear are. There are so many pairs of underwear in Davenport‘s books. I wonder how he knows so much about them. Did he do a study on boys’ underwear around the world? He must have. But anyway, it’s not just a
room painted red, it’s a red that is from a specific place and time that means something. You could read the books and easily Davenport your entire life out. Go buy all the stuff he talks about. Go read all the books he namedrops. Go make all the food he talks about. I am strongly attracted to the way he makes it possible to go in whole hog for Brand Davenport. Plus, I like the brand itself. He really makes it seem like there is only one right way to decorate your home.

I am also enjoying, kind of, that while his male characters all seem to be these paragons of running triathlons and then going home to study the scriptures and then making some buckwheat crepes and fucking the shit out of someone nice, the girls are just kind of there to make the guys happy, and they are very cheerful about this. They don’t see it as being sexist on an intellectual level, nor are they frustrated by not having apartments that are as nice as the dudes’. But it’s not
like they’re dumb, either. They all have their own thing going on behind the scenes.

I also like how his characters desire to do everything, and they do not care if it furthers their career or makes them friends. They want to be into not only theology, botany, art, food, music, literature, athletics… but they also seem to have enough time left over for sex and the domestic joys. And they do all of it because they are curious, or because they feel like it, with no ulterior motives. It makes me wonder if they are living in 48 hour days, but ultimately, it’s an ideal that I approve of.

That’s what I have to say about that.

But, you know, fact of the matter is that some people are only going to walk away from this discussion with the word tufts and a sense that something distasteful has taken place. I’m never telling anyone about Guy Davenport again unless I am sure they are cool. And I don’t mean cool in the Man-I-love-children-NAMBLA-chatroom kind of way. By cool I mean what everyone means, which is, ultimately, sympathetic.

April Blizzard, 2003
February 4, 2009, 6:17 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole, Nostalgia | Tags: , , ,
Anais Nin, photo by John Pearson

The house where we all lived on Rodman Street opened into a short hall that lead to a long flight of stairs, and I don’t think this typical quirk of Old Philly townhouse architecture found its true purpose before the blizzard that April. We had over three feet of snow when just the day before we’d all been running around in sweatshirts. I woke up late and found Jonah, Hershel, and Natashia at the top of the stairs with their BMX bikes. They were riding them down the stairs, out the front door, and into the enormous wall of snow that had been plowed directly in front of our house.

Part of me wanted to join in but I didn’t, satisfied with the way this event filled the house with shouts and laughter. I made myself a cup of instant coffee and curled up in my quilt at the kitchen table, reading Anais Nin. I had moved past all the Henry and June stuff and was now getting into Incest. There were certain things for which I could forgive old Anais and certain things I could not. I thought of her as a kind of moral abomination and hoped I never got like that myself, but found it very exciting that she had written the warning signs out for me with such detail and density. I was irritated by her insistence on portraying herself as this fragile, empathic ingenue who even while laying waste to the lives around her was perpetually laid up with the vapors in a home someone else was paying for and trying to work up the energy to write, but then again, that seemed real to me; the way it would actually go. The thing that really scared me, though, was the way she just let everything and anything happen to her and wrote about it with almost zero implied responsibility. Kind of like, “ooopsie… did I really just have sex with my estranged father?”

The Rodman Street house was maybe a step away from being a squat. None of us cleaned, although sometimes one of the people crashing there would try. There were random holes in the wall. The outside blew inside regardless of the season through the walls, the fireplaces, the cracks in the foundation. It had the most sinister basement imaginable. Everything could be used as an ashtray. My own theoretical morally abominable affairs would necessarily be prefaced by a statement like, “just move that stuff over.” The door was wide open and there might have been almost as much snow in the hall as there was outside that day.

Later, we went down the street to Dirty Frank’s for pitchers. My ex boyfriend showed up there, as he inevitably showed up everywhere in those days. I’d thought I’d been safe, in the aftermath of a blizzard, with him living at least fifteen blocks away. “How did you get here?” I asked, not very nicely, ignoring the girl he’d come with. He made a gesture that suggested he swam to the bar through the banks of snow. He looked as though he thought he was going to sit down and join us. “But why?” I persisted. That worked. He left. If I were Anais Nin, I would have gotten yet another journal entry describing in exquisite detail my torture at having to sit through yet another evening of the same thing happening the way it always happened. But it occurred to me then that Anais never had much in the way of territory to defend, which must have been the entire problem.

Karen Volkman, Spar
February 1, 2009, 9:40 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: ,

I had this dream last night that I was in one of my favorite used bookstores and the proprietor said to me that a woman browsing the shelves was Karen Volkman and that I should ask her to read something for us. My heart bucked in my chest the way it always does right before I do something that I know is the wrong thing to do. Karen Volkman, in my dream, was not into “read[ing] something for us,” as I knew she would not be, but she was friendly enough that I was encouraged to tell her about my paperback copy of her book of prose poems, Spar, a book swollen to about three times its normal size by years of being carried around in various purses, thumbed through, propped open by something heavier, and cried all over. It meant less to her than it did to me to tell her that even in my dream, but when I woke up, something small had been resolved.

I can never decide where the fine line is between sincere fandom and something tinged a bit darker with the erotomaniacal and creepy. It was difficult, even in a dream, to come up with something disingenuously lighthearted to say to this woman who wrote a book that knows all about me. Even, “Nice book! You go, girl!” would sound all wrong when my purest impulse would be to start spouting quotes from it like a secret language, because she’s already written about all of it and therefore should know exactly what it means. So it would go something like, “Oh my God. Oh my God. It’s you. I know this line. It’s–it’s– ‘As I was saying, nice hat, nice head–a riot heart. A gamine dracula and so much to swindle–the parched, anemic stars, the moon’s liquidations.'” But there is not a line in this book that I have not cannibalized; having given up caring about her intent years ago and using her words instead to help me define my own. I think the crazy line is drawn at the point where I might convince myself that this would be personally flattering to her.

On the other hand, I think that Spar is actually about this exact type of human mess, the struggle to aggrandize oneself through personal relationships in a world that one so often has the nagging suspicion is entirely subjective. The book tries to stick pins in things, fails, takes it from a different angle and fails again, rearranges the entire organic structure of the way things are to make it accessible to pins, fails some more, looks for a bit of comfort in all the wrong places, and seems to decide that acceptance is not only the path of least resistance, but valid for its own exhilarating and complex reasons. She’s talking about the banged-up relationship that she couldn’t put to bed because its failure blew the causal realities of space and time and environment wide open into the state of “whole howl” anarchy that anyone who has ever been through this understands intimately. These poems do not tell the story that anyone over 25 can tell, though. Instead, they give briefings about the turmoil directly from the center of the turmoil. “The first greeting on a bright sift, yes. And the less falls, a loss does. You will not be absent in the day’s convocation, as a trickle wakes to find itself in the rift’s mind,” Volkman writes, not only drawing a parallel between the weather and a personal event that has become the only reliable structure despite being inherently unreliable, but speaking as though the two are organically interchangeable. One of our more touching aspects as human beings is the way that in times of crisis we perpetually seek to understand above everything else, and Volkman’s poems seem to dignify this stubborn optimism while highlighting the dread that it might all be for nothing. And always, in these poems, while we’re being stubbornly optimistic, is the brave certainty that human emotions deserve the same sort of maps and barometers as the rest of our barely-understood environmental phenomena.

It almost goes without saying that when I found Volkman, I was in the middle of my own crisis of matter. I found incredible solace in these poems and their insistence that understanding the inexplicable is an important job for the very reason that it will never be finished. Often, reading these poems, understanding what Volkman is even talking about becomes its own exercise in understanding something not meant to be understood. The title of this blog, for example, comes from one of the poems in Spar that I felt to be most difficult, which is to say that I still don’t understand it. From one of the few titled poems in this collection, Kiss Me Deadly, came this:

“Though intentions erode like the moon,

they are still as ghostly, as noble.

Someday to sing it with champagne and sherry,

in a gauze gown, tonic,

stippled with perfume.

An opera of Edens. A synaptic how-come.

In this boomtown boudoir, baby,

you always wrong.”

My interpretation of this is that a) she’s speaking directly to the man that all of this has to do with, and b) she’s speaking as a writer, telling him that whatever happened between them is her material now and she’s going to make it as grandiose and ridiculous as she wants. It also seems a bit mocking in a sarcastic way, as though she’s making fun of what he thinks she will write. But as I said earlier, I’ve cannibalized this entire book and that’s only what I would mean were I to write something like that. As for the blog, I didn’t think about it very hard when I named it. It was just her poem that contained the word “perfume” and some neat alliteration. But now that I am thinking about it, yes, my boomtown boudoir is also a bit of a “synaptic how-come,” rife with all the hysterical trappings of the kind of glamour that is always a bit of a spoof of itself. I like that. I’ll take it.

As for dream-Karen-Volkman, the thing I regretted most was that I no longer carry Spar around with me everywhere so I couldn’t show her how physically well-loved my copy of her book is. It really is funny to look at. The edges of the pages have mushed together so that it’s almost impossible to turn them and the cover is half torn off. It is full of greasy fingerprints and cigarette ashes. It is the physical proof of how someone else’s words can turn into something of a worry stone, the kind of superstitious tool to turn to when all of the actually concrete tools have failed, useful almost despite itself. I think my appreciation probably surpasses what anyone could comfortably listen to in a face-to-face encounter. I could barely bring myself to speak even in the dream.

The Inevitable Pathos of Objects
January 14, 2009, 8:02 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags:
Happier Days

The sunglasses were special from the beginning. Lying beneath the cracked glass of a thrift store counter, there were two pairs of them: mottled tortoiseshell plastic old-guy reading glasses, “aviator” being far too cool of a term for their homely 1970s utility. I bought both pairs, one greenish, one brownish, and took them to a lens crafter to turn them into sunglasses. The greenish pair broke promptly. The brownish pair, the ones I’ve been wearing all year, broke yesterday.

I was shocked at how sad this made me feel. I am usually able to keep a healthy perspective as to the value of the stuff I own until it starts breaking on me, but then it all comes crashing down in a junkyard landslide of loss: every roll of toilet paper I’ve used up, every blown light bulb, every smear I’ve inflicted on a pedicure before I’ve even left the nail shop, every worn down pair of high heels. At times like this it is difficult to not see myself as a sum total of all the bright shiny hopeful things I have ruined and I begin to wonder what it would be like to live feral in the woods, owning nothing at all.