February 20, 2010

A bit of the bubbly

Here's a fun picture from last week’s Literary Death Match in San Francisco. If you’ve never gone to one, definitely check these events out. They do them all over the world. Readings are sometimes really boring so it’s always an amazing experience to participate in ones that has vitality. Plus, it was a pleasure to share the stage with Michelle Tea, who is one of my favorites.

The whole show can be heard at KFOG’s website:

It’s sort of hard to tell, but I’m shaking a bottle of champagne all over the stage (and seconds later dumped it on my head). The photo shows a couple unhappy faces in the “inadvertent splash zone” … sorry about that.

While I’m certainly not above ludicrous public acts, this one actually had to do with the plot of the piece I read. The story “Family” is at the bottom of this post, should you want to read its entirety. Context is our friend.

Also, many thanks to those of you who voted on my author photo contest. “Contemplative Cowboy” was the winner! I loved reading all the comments people posted – many hilarious observations, insights, and general debasements about the “looks”.


I ask myself questions. I do this thing where I go to payphones and leave messages on my answering machine. I call my apartment and ask obscure questions, questions that I know the answers to because I’ve taken the time to find things out. I call myself and say, “What’s a hexahydrate? What are teals? What’s a taurocholic acid?” and then when I go home, returning from another ruined day, there will be a pinprick of joy as I open the door and leave the lights off and press play on the answering machine and hear the sad timbre of my voice, testing me, and I’ll stand there in the dark and say, “It’s a chemical compound with six molecules of water. They’re small, short-necked dabblers from the genus Anas. It’s a deliquescent acid found in the bile of certain carnivores.”

Between these questions, though, I have to entertain myself. I’ve been watching eighteen, nineteen hours of TV a day, which it turns out is a good thing because it’s where I see it: where I see baseball players celebrating, pouring champagne over one another’s heads, guzzling the stuff, spanking the asses of every teammate within an arm’s length. I’m no baseball fan, didn’t even know the World Series was happening right now. I mean, how am I supposed to worship millionaires with low IQs who adjust their cocks and spit brown piles of tobacco in the grass that look like smashed tarantulas?

But right now I’m in awe of their ecstasy. Their huge smiles. The way they speak in tongues. The whirling way they move through the locker room, hugging and frolicking and howling, “We won. World champs, baby!” There is no other emotion in that room besides joy: the aching problems that exist in these men’s lives are temporarily asphyxiated—the drug addictions and infidelities and steroids and depression and the nights they beat their wives while wearing championship rings—the celebration silences these realities.

I need a celebration more than these arrogant millionaires. They never worry about finding the money to make child support payments. They don’t know what it’s like to miss your wife and daughter so much that you call them every night, but your wife doesn’t want to take your calls and tells you not to call and says stop calling. She says she needs to go on, and if you loved her, you’d help. You’d help by letting go. You’d help by getting help for your problem. You say, “Can I talk to her?” and she says, “No,” and you say, “Why?” and she says, “You know why!”

So I hop in the car and drive to Safeway, and while I’m in transit, I tune in the post-game radio coverage from the World Series. A man is being presented with an award. He’s the Most Valuable Player. He says, “These guys are my family. What can you do without your family?” and his grace makes me cry, his grace makes me angry, and I park the car, it’s about ten at night, the store still has customers, mostly bachelors, buying razors and toilet paper and pasta, no vegetables in any of their sad baskets, and I walk toward the wine aisle, and there’s an employee stocking merlot, and I say, “I’m going to need a case of champagne.”

We talk about prices, quality. He keeps staring at my eyes, and I wipe them, but he keeps staring, and I look away, but every time I look back he’s still staring so I say, “What?” and he asks, “Are you crying?” and I say, “Whales cry. Do you have a problem with whales?”

He says he needs to get the case of champagne from the storeroom.
I stand there, and even though I’m not on a payphone, I pretend to call myself. I whisper, “What’s a hegari?” and let another bachelor walk by while he ogles the varieties of domestic beer. Then I say, “It’s a Sudanese grain sorghum.” The employee is back with my champagne and I thank him and walk away, need to check-out, and there’s a young girl behind the counter. She looks at me and frowns. I swipe my credit card and wonder when I’ll reach my limit. But I’m okay tonight.

Drive home and carry the case of champagne in my house and I’ve stopped crying, and I turn off all the lights, but leave the TV on, the baseball players are done with their soiree, probably showering, shaving, gelling their hair, sporting platinum jewelry and suits made from Italian silk, before they begin new celebrations with their wives and daughters. The television station replays the highlights from the game, and every time the Most Valuable Player is on the screen I remember his words: “What can you do without your family?”

Now I’m sitting naked on the couch. Now I shake the first bottle of bubbly, jostle it with all my might and fear and regret, and I launch its cork across the room, watch French foam ooze from of the tip. I empty the first bottle on my head, saying, “World champs, baby! We won! We won!” and I empty the next and scream, “What can you do without your family?” and empty another and whisper, “What can you do without your family?” and I won’t stop until I’ve drained every last one of them.