For the last week, New York local news has been dominated by new revelations about the August death of a baby in a Queens day care center. Apparently, the center had been inspected an hour before toddlers at the center killed a baby in its crib.
I cannot begin to express how pleasing I found the idea of bloodthirsty two-year-olds surrounding a defenseless infant and murdering it.
Under a certain very narrow set of circumstances I can lie like a champion. Sentences like "No, of course I don't believe Republicans should be drawn and quartered" and "Oh, don't be silly, those bruises on my ass look nothing like somebody else's thumb prints" ring monstrously false the instant they leave my mouth. But I am brilliant at praising bad performances (in any number of contexts) to the skies. "You were so fabulous," I'll gush. "I especially appreciated your [pacing during the second-act monologue, coloratura in the third aria, neatly shaved pubic hair]." Because, of course, whenever you say anything in such situations, people hear it as a referendum on their worth as human beings, which, I assure you, I have no interest in damaging, at least not sometimes.
There's a point to this, I promise. Years ago, in my former life as a very good classical singer, I participated in a competition run by the National Association of Teachers of Singing. (N.B.: if you start an organization, do not give it a name homonymous with that of an irritating bug.) NATS was, I had been given to understand, an organization with problems; just how true this was became clear to me when I won second place in my division rather than first.
Though the competition had clearly been a travesty of the most grotesque proportions, I chose nonetheless to participate in the recital given by the winners at some sort of French library in Boston. I prepared my four songs, worked with my accompanist, and showed up at the appointed time and place.
It was horrible.
First, I had to sit through the high school division. Each singer was worse than the last--and, since they started with third place and worked their way up to first, that should tell you something. Songs about vengeance (a particular interest of mine) sounded so lilting and pretty as to be utterly unbelievable; songs about warbling doves, on the other hand, seemed to be coming from the throats of dying toads.
Then came my division. The third-place winner was, inexplicably, absent, so I went first, acquitting myself admirably, if I do say so myself. Then it was the first-place winner's turn; she was worse than all the high school kids put together. At one point, unable to determine whether she was howling in French or German, I looked down at my program only to see that she was ostensibly singing in English. It was so awful that, when she was done, I had to move to the back of the room, from which position of relative anonymity I cringed through the rest of the performances.
At one point the program caught my eye caught and I saw that the first-place winner of the 35-and-up division was going to sing "Porgi, amor," the Countess's aria from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro--a fiendishly difficult, high, sustained piece that's also one of the most beautiful things ever written. "Oh, thank God," I thought. "Nobody on earth would program 'Porgi, amor' unless she really knew what she was doing. I may have to sit through the shrieking of harpies to get there, but the end of this recital will be something to hear."
It certainly was.
She was so bad I cried.
I'm not kidding. She mangled Mozart so brutally that I wept actual salt tears.
And then, years later, it was finally over. There was a reception afterwards, complete with cheap cookies and punch made with off-brand ginger ale, to celebrate. I stationed myself by the cheese and crackers and ate, lying through my teeth to any performer who came by. "You were so fabulous," I gushed. "I especially appreciated your [coloratura in the third aria, unique groaning, good skin tone]."
I avoided, however, the "Porgi, amor" lady. Lying rug that I was, I still wasn't sure I'd be able to manage it. So of course she sought me out. The first time she passed by me, I escaped meeting her gaze by diving into the cookies; the second time, though, I'd eaten them all, and there was nothing left to do but face her. She complimented me on my German, and I opened my mouth to tell her she had been so fabulous.
And nothing came out.
It would have been simply too gross a betrayal of Mozart and of music and of the ideal of beauty to do it.
So I stood there for a moment, my mouth working silently. And then I said, "I cried when you sang 'Porgi, amor.'"
She was visibly moved by this. She said, "Oh, you're too, too kind!"
And I said, "No, really. I couldn't help it."
I've tried and tried, over the years, to feel bad for being so vicious. But every time I make the attempt, I am brought up short by the absolute certainty that she feels no remorse for what she did. So I go on my merry way, secure in my meanness.
I know this because I just came across the senior thesis I wrote as a linguistics major in college. It was about Abhkaz, a language spoken in the northwest Caucasian mountains and in parts of Turkey. I did not speak Abkhaz, but I worked with a native speaker who worked in a Store 24 near campus. I was analyzing the word for "who" and where it could go in sentences. It seemed to be able to go in places where, according to linguistic theory of the time, it shouldn't have been able to go; I proposed that the only way to account for the data was to revise linguistic theory to allow for rightward movement. I graduated summa cum laude and my professors wanted me to turn the thesis into an article.
If you like, you can see a small sample of the utterly incomprehensible thesis here, here, and here. At the time, every word was as clear to me as Austrian crystal. Now I can understand "the" and, in some cases, "now," but the rest might as well be Linear A. Nonetheless, here is proof positive that, though I am now as dumb as a box of bricks, this has not always been the case.
Though the fact that somebody figured out a year later that the word I'd been translating as "who" was actually not a noun but a verb, thereby rendering the entire thesis wrong from start to finish, makes me think that this thesis is perhaps not the best evidence to use in support of that assertion.
This afternoon, I tried to enlist E.S.'s help in my search for the perfect combination of fabrics for the quilt I'm working on. (My previousefforts, while promising, left something to be desired. Some of you may remember that E.S. is not only a doctor but also a painter, so he's good at things like color and contrast.) Today's conversation went something like this:
Faustus: Could you come over to my place tonight and look at some fabrics?
Faustus: I have twelve different kinds of red with metallic gold, and I need to know which will go best with the other fabrics I've got.
E.S.: I'll just pick one at random and say it's the one you should use.
(Faustus gasps, appalled at the thought of such a betrayal.)
Faustus: If you do that, I'm never opening my legs for you again.
Faustus: Actually, that's totally an idle threat.
E.S.: Yeah, I'm not really concerned.
He is on his way over even as I type. And I don't know whether I can trust him or not.
I want to thank everybody who has sent questions so far to help me in my attempt to become an advice columnist. I will, of course, keep all questions anonymous. Some of the questions are quite challenging, so I hope you'll be patient while I try to craft worthy answers. Please keep sending questions, about love, sex, or anything else that might be on your mind.
Meanwhile, it's time for another installment of "Words I've Had Trouble Remembering This Week." (Go here for the first installment.)
On the advice of some very smart friends, I have decided to try to get a gig as a sex and/or advice columnist for a gay magazine.
The problem is that the best way to do this seems to be to submit sample columns to gay magazines. The only thing I have that in any way resembles a sample column is this post about the pronunciation of Ayn Rand's name; while I'm pleased with the way it came out, and while Ayn Rand has developed, by some unfortunate quirk of fate, a large following among the gay population--the same quirk of fate, one assumes, that allowed Jodie Foster to make Contact--I'm not sure how likely that post alone is to get me a job at The Advocate.
So here's the deal: if you have any questions about any subject on which you would like my opinion, whether you're gay or not, please e-mail me and ask me. I can't promise that I'll post the question and my reply, but, given the series of unmitigated and self-inflicted disasters my life has comprised, perhaps you should consider yourself lucky if I don't.
Then I'll collect the best of the questions and answers, send them out, and hope for the best.
N.B.: For the last few days, MAK and I have been guest blogging over at Judgment Call, rehashing the brief but tumultuous period a couple years ago during which we somehow managed to date without causing the sun to implode.
Here is the letter I sent to UPS on Saturday evening.
Michael Eskew Chairman of the Board and CEO, UPS 55 Glenlake Parkway, NE Atlanta, GA 30328
Dear Mr. Eskew:
I am shocked and dismayed at the treatment I suffered today at the hands of UPS; I’m sure you will be too, once you hear what happened.
Yesterday, I ordered nine yards of fabric from equilter.com for a project with an imminent deadline. I needed to start right away, so I ordered the fabric for Saturday delivery. I stayed home today, awaiting delivery of the package. When morning turned into afternoon, I thought to track the package (tracking number xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx). Lo and behold! the UPS tracking page said the delivery had been rescheduled for Tuesday.
Very concerned, I phoned UPS and asked for an explanation. I was told, “The driver says there’s no such street address as xxx West xxxth Street.”
I was very surprised to hear this news, as I thought I’d been living at that very address for years. The answer was obvious: I was delusional and ought to seek help immediately from a mental health care professional. In fact, I thought as I flipped through the Yellow Pages for a psychiatrist who might take my insurance, I needed to let my roommate know that he was delusional too. And the United States Postal Service, which seemed to have been delivering mail to a non-existent address for years. And AT&T, and Verizon, and Citibank. I was alarmed--this was becoming a crisis of massive proportions. America was filled with lunatics doing business with people at an address that didn’t exist!
But then I realized that I have, in fact, received UPS packages at this address. As the opinion of UPS had been, up until that moment, the benchmark against which I measured my sanity and, indeed, my worth as a human being, I slowed down and tried to piece together what could possibly have happened. I came up with two options: either the address both exists and does not exist simultaneously--an application of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that strikes disarmingly close to home--or the UPS driver messed up.
Come on, Mr. Eskew: there’s no such street address? I could have bought “nobody was home,” even though I’ve been home all day, or “the driver was abducted by aliens,” or even “the Illuminati stole the package as part of their plot to take over the world,” but this is lame beyond human comprehension. Your company said it would deliver a package to me today, and not only did it not deliver the package, but the people I spoke to when I called said the local center was closed and I couldn’t even go to the inconvenience of picking up the package myself. The earliest I can get the thing is Tuesday, which, I assure you, is far too late for me to be starting this project.
I have used UPS many times in the past, and have generally been a satisfied customer. However, this appalling experience has severely damaged your stock with me. I would like an apology and a credit of $xx towards future UPS shipments, to compensate me for the time and frustration your mistake has cost me.
If, as your web site claims, UPS “has never shied away from reinventing itself,” allow me to suggest that you reinvent yourself as a company that delivers packages it is paid to deliver. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you within two weeks and to resolving this issue satisfactorily. I certainly hope I won’t have to switch to using another company for my shipping needs (and encourage my friends to do the same), but please believe that I won’t hesitate to do so should it become necessary.
Very truly yours,
Cc: John Beystehner COO UPS 55 Glenlake Parkway, NE Atlanta, GA 30328
Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York, Inc. 257 Park Ave. South New York, NY 10010-7384
Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection Office of the Attorney General 120 Broadway New York, NY 10271
New York State Consumer Protection Board 5 Empire State Plaza, Ste. 2101 Albany, NY 12210-2891
New York City Department of Consumer Affairs 42 Broadway New York, NY 10004
Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection CRC-240 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Washington, D.C. 20580
I may not get my credit for $xx, but let me tell you, writing that letter felt good.
N.B.: For the next few days, I will be guest blogging at Judgment Call, along with MAK, whom I dated briefly but tawdrily a couple years ago; it's only appropriate, as the proprietor of Judgment Call was the one who introduced us. I have started things off there with a gauntlet of sorts. It remains to be seen which--if either--of us will survive.
E.S. recently moved from his apartment in Brooklyn to an apartment in Manhattan across the street from Beth Israel, where he's doing his residency. Though the new apartment is about a third the size of the old apartment, he gains at least a half hour in travel time, which, when your work day starts at 6:30 in the morning and can end as late as 11:00 at night (except on the days when it doesn't end til 10:00 the next morning), is nothing to sniff at. Furthermore, the new apartment is on the 21st floor of the building, which means it has a fabulous view. Unfortunately it seems to be a myth that street noise doesn't reach apartments above the 12th floor of a building; however, the occasional noisiness of the apartment is made up for by the fact that it's above all the surrounding buildings, which means that we don't have to close the curtains when we fuck, which is good, since there aren't any curtains yet.
Friday morning, after E.S. had left at whatever ungodly hour he'd left at and I'd gone back to bed for another three hours, I lazed around the apartment before heading home. I turned on the computer, checked my e-mail, surfed the web, and then decided to find out what kind of pornography E.S. enjoys looking at when I'm not there to satisfy his needs. It took no time at all to figure out that it was in the folders called "surgical selectives" and "clinical therapeutics" (the porn on my computer is in a folder named "W-2 Info").
As the street noise got louder (from the morning rush-hour traffic), I started examining what I'd found. I naturally felt the urge to do what one often does when one is examining this sort of material; as I was already naked, this was easily accomplished. Although E.S.'s taste in porn is somewhat different from mine, there was enough overlap for it to suit my fancy. As I began to approach the state of excitement that would enable me to reach my goal, however, the street noise got louder and louder, eventually reaching a level annoying enough to interfere with my concentration on the task at hand.
Then I looked over at the window and saw that the noise was coming not from the street but from the suspended scaffold right outside the window on which a construction worker stood.
The scaffold was rising slowly towards the roof, but he was looking so resolutely in the other direction that it was simply impossible for him not to have seen me.
If this had been a porn movie, of course, he would have opened the window from the outside, entered the apartment, and ravished me before continuing up to the roof; or perhaps I would have gone naked out on to the suspended scaffold and been ravished there.
This was not, alas, a porn movie. I leapt out of my chair and managed to reach the kitchen before dying of shame; I stayed there until the noise of the scaffold had stopped. Then I darted out, put my clothes on, and fled the building.
A few weeks ago, he got his call schedule for the hospital and found out that he'd be on long call today--that is, that he'd go in to work at 6:30 in the morning and leave somewhere between 9:00 and 11:00 at night. This was, as you can imagine, a blow, not only for him but also for me, as I'd been looking forward to spending the day with him, and now I wouldn't get more than an hour or two--and probably less, as he's usually so exhausted after long call that he goes right to sleep (though often I'm able to persuade him to participate in certain activities pleasurable to both of us before he falls into the arms of Morpheus).
So I sat thinking, what can I do to celebrate E.S.'s birthday in absentia? I struggled long and hard with this question before stumbling across the utterly obvious answer that had been staring me in the face the whole time: I would pay someone to dress up as a gorilla and bring E.S. balloons and sing him Happy Birthday.
This was easier said than done, but eventually I found a satisfactory company and arranged the whole thing. I ended up discarding the gorilla in favor of a chicken because, although gorillas have the weight of tradition behind them, chickens are funnier. So a guy (or perhaps a girl) in a chicken suit would show up at the hospital between 10:30 and 11:30 (the chicken costume was only available before 2:00) bearing balloons, flowers, and a box of Godiva chocolates. He (or perhaps she) would then sing a personalized birthday song based on details I provided about E.S.
Fast forward to this morning, at 6:00, when E.S. still wasn't awake. Worried, I woke him up. "You should shower and go," I said. "You're going to be late."
"No, I'm not," he said. "I got somebody else to take my shift so I could spend the morning with you! I don't have to be there until noon! Surprise!"
I felt sick.
"I hate to tell you this," I said, "but you have to be there at 10:30."
"Why? Did you arrange a surprise for me or something?"
"Yes," I said, gritting my teeth.
"I'm not telling." Even if he knew something was going to happen, I could still surprise him with the particulars. "But you have to be there at 10:30."
"That's too bad. I'm not going in until noon."
There was no way around it. I was going to have to reveal the whole plot.
"If I tell you what it is, will you please, please, please go in?"
"Oh, all right. But I hope it's not something stupid that I won't like, like a happy birthday singing telegram or something."
"Um . . . yes. With flowers and balloons and chocolates. And dressed like a chicken."
He stared at me. "In the CANCER WARD?"
I defended myself. "Look, when my mother was dying, she would have been HAPPY to see a giant singing chicken, okay?"
I spoke with him at noon. The chicken had apparently been a big hit. "I was mortified," he said, "but in a good way."
I wish I could say I was surprised that not a single major "news" organ has picked up on this story and that one has to go to the fucking Billings Gazette in Montana to find out about it, but really I'm only disgusted. If things keep on in the direction they've been going, "disgusted" will soon give way to "weary" and then eventually to "an expatriate."
I had lunch with this brilliant woman a couple days ago, and she told me about the two most memorable things she encountered at the Republican National Convention protest on Sunday.
The first was a pro-Republican counter-protester chanting, "A VOTE FOR KERRY IS A VOTE FOR OUTSIDERS!"
The second was an anti-Republican protester holding a sign that said, "BACK, DEMON SCUM, BACK TO THE SULFUROUS CAVERNS FROM WHENCE YE CAME!"
Now, honestly: if this were a different election and you knew nothing about the people running, which protester's candidate would you support?
P.S.: I wrestled long and hard--would that it had been with a hunky angel like the one Jacob struggled with all night, but no, it was just with the dilemma of which of these two quotes to put first, because, really, each warrants its own post. But to end with the one about a vote for Kerry's being a vote for outsiders, in the end, would have been just too fucking depressing, and I am, at heart, an optimist. Now excuse me while I go cry.
When I was six, I picketed my house, hoping to be allowed to eat breakfast before getting dressed rather than after.
I marched back and forth in front of our front door, carrying a sign that said "BREKFAST FIRST DRESSED LATER."
My parents, being civil rights workers, didn't cross picket lines, and that was the only way into or out of our house,
so they were trapped there until they acceded to my demand.