That point on a Friday night when you aren’t totally sure if you’re talking about a John Berryman poem, a Donald Barthelme short story, or Bananas in Pajamas.
"Picture this: we were both buck-naked, banging on the bathroom floor," bounced off the street corner, strained out of the window of a car stopped at the light up at DeKalb, a SHAGGY song, of all the things to be coming out of a car stereo in 20fucking14. I physically cringed, and it took a minute to match the memory to the instinct.
During my freshman year of college (you might be surprised to learn) I pledged a sorority. Fueled by a half-baked combination of peer pressure, anthropological curiosity, and a young iconoclast’s desire to disprove the bandied-about claim that “anyone who thinks sororities are dumb is just mad that they couldn’t get into a good one,” I tarted up in black pants and a cashmere twinset and struck out into rush. After a blur of choreographed conversations and lo-fat cheese cubes, I found myself with a bid to what was generally considered “the second best sorority on campus” (smacking of “the second cheapest bottle of wine on the menu,” a bit, there).
It quickly became apparent I really wasn’t cut out for that shit. For one early party, everyone (prefiguring Mean Girls even!) was to wear pink, and, owning approximately zero pink things, I was forced to borrow a “cute top” from another pledge, only to be taken aside later by the “pledge mom” and reprimanded for looking “slutty” in a too-tight shirt. But I’d already forked over a semester’s-worth of books in dues so I figured I’d stick it out until summer, and learn all of the hallowed secrets of the hazing and rituals and handshakes, hoard the details, the experience, for some future purpose.
Of course they were all so hackneyed & dull that I almost immediately forgot all of them. Now, I have only vague memories of sitting in a dim attic wearing a white dress (legs crossed at the ANKLE not the KNEE, ladies!) and carrying a candle past a fake coffin with styrofoam bones in (symbolizing rebirth I guess) and a nautilus (symbolizing god knows what, maybe connectedness?) and some weird handshake that will supposedly allow you to recognize your sisters in the distant future, like anyone is wandering around shaking hands wrong just in the recipient might, too, be an ex-Blerga-Delt.
The “hazing” took place in the same attic, only brightly lit, and mainly consisted of things like not wearing makeup (and I’m someone who, upon losing her luggage en route to Heathrow, went directly to a Boots to buy toothpaste, deodorant, and eyeliner, but come on), making dream boards out of cut-up Cosmo’s and Elle’s, and one feeble exhortation to sort some of those tiny ball-shaped sprinkles by color (after about 1 minute with those little fuckers my two suggestions - and I bet you can figure out which one was agreed upon - were 1) to claim that our strength as a sisterhood came from our differences & it was wrong to sort them; or 2) to just soak them in water until they all turned white (keep in mind the Italian American from Jersey was their 1 sop to diversity)).
But to bring this indulgence of - what’s the opposite of nostalgia? whatever that is - full circle, the one truly terrible hazing ritual was that for eight hours a day for 3 days straight, “It Wasn’t Me,” by none other than motherfucking Shaggy, was played on repeat in that little upper-middle-class hazing-garret, at full volume, and that trial above all other trials has crept into my bones, so that thirteen years later, when the hook creeps past bodegas and the dead basil plant in my window and shudders in my ears, I draw my fur blanket closer around my shoulders and narrow my eyes and think to myself, “that wasn’t you.”
When you’re walking the last leg home from work and it’s late, maybe not unforgivably late but four-digits-firmly on the clock-late, and the fifty-whatever degree air feels marvelous, almost indecent on your bare neck, but also kind of malevolent in the way that a a candyvan or a good-sir-my-uncle-needs-to-transfer-4745885-dollars email feels malevolent, and you walk with delicious amble up to your building and lying right beneath the keypad is a stick, a three-pronged branch shaped just like a capital T, and even though the sidewalk is littered with the snowgummed detritus of a melting March, dogshit and cans and brownpasted Christmas tree needles, this fucking stick just hanging out alone in front of your building somehow feels the most malevolent of all. And you press in your code like always and enter the bright lobby and you remember for the first time in decades how your mother once told the creepy gradeskipped kids down the block that there was a terrible alien race called the Twinkletoes who looked just like normal humans but were physiologically incapable of keeping their socks all the way on their feet, so that there was always this awful flipper of sock past the end of the foot, and what that limp empty space might contain was not to be discussed, and - most importantly! - you would know if the Twinkletoes were after you because they’d leave sticks shaped like capital Ts to hound your path, and by god she meant well, your mother full of stories, but they weren’t allowed to play with us for the rest of the summer anyway and as you get in the elevator you aren’t sure what you’re still disturbed about, the reminder of someone else’s enforcéd overly literal childhood or the idea that even now, as an overly-literal-scientist-adult, the Twinkletoes might still be waiting, there in the warmish air, strewing your walk in branches like capital T’s, waiting to get you at last.
Dear Lab Members,
Please let us know if you use guillotines. For those that do have guillotines we will be reaching out to those labs to arrange for annual servicing/ sharpening of the guillotines. If the labs have submitted their guillotines for sharpening then we are requesting that they inform us of the last date their guillotine was sharpened so that we can maintain this date in our records.
—Campus-wide email, though sadly not from firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking for a photo to accompany a theoretically upcoming super-secret (not secret at all) essay, I found this thing that I wrote when I was oooohh 22? and wading through the end of a semi-requited very-chaste love affair? and which I decided to post here as a rare glimpse into the nascent psyche of the mollycule. I mean, if Kristen Stewart can release a poem I can handle a 9 year old blogpost.
Also, for reference: Lord Percival is my taxidermied weasel I have had him for a decade I love him.
“Pass the Corbusier: I have not yet met my housemates. I heard them on the stairs. I meant to report the snatch of conversation but all I can think of is the phrase “Aw, fuck around, fuck around, lady. Bus’s already ten minutes late.”
That is almost certainly not what they said.
I can spend three minutes looking at the carbonation rising in my vodka tonic, but only ten seconds looking at the condensation reflected upon its surface while drinking. My teeth become cold.
I made no comment. What should I resent?
There are many things.
It is too easy to charm people, and too difficult to keep the ones you want.
People swim out of the past like carp lazily rising to the surface of the pond and vie for my attention with the ripples from their long-whiskered mouths, but my gaze is fixed upon the reflection of a cloud that looks like a fish. I can spend hours looking at it, and my teeth remain at ambient temperature, though they grind slightly in frustration.
I think Lord Percival is lonely. He has the advantage of a fierce facial rictus and painted teeth. I look at him and think, oh Percival, I know. I know.
We all live in curio cabinets of our own devising.
Mine contains more squid than do those of many people. Noses are pressed against the glass but the one with the key is busy stocking other cabinets, ones with fewer squid and more handbags.
My teeth are not painted, but soon, four of them will be removed. While under anaesthesia, I will dream of fish shaped like clouds and subsequently will reveal these dreams to my mother, who will sit beside me.
Percival will remain in his cabinet during this time. He will resent me for this, but he does not understand if I were to let him out, he would remain within a cabinet, this one more complex, more filled with regrets and with squid. One day, he will understand, though his teeth will remain painted and in a fierce rictus.
The bus is now fifteen minutes late, and I am waiting still. I am duly fucking around, but it is only so long before this becomes unbearable.
The lime in my vodka tonic once grew on some implacable tree. This tree is now included in my cabinet, if only in theory. I have many drawers for theory, but only the key is real.
If everything is permitted, nothing is true.
Or so they say.
Update: I am still fucking around, fucking around. Time stretches like cello strings around the pegs. I am beginning to wonder whether the bus must also be consigned to the drawers of theory. In that case, I can only wait for the key. Wait, wait here, with my unpainted teeth of which there will soon be n minus 4 and my vodka tonic.
The fish are now bumping against my ankles and the cloud-fish will not relinquish the non-cloud-key. I wasn’t expecting him to.
Nor was Percival. For all his sculpture, he is wise. Wise, there in his cabinet with the abstract of the lime tree. (I have given it to him, he might find it a small comfort in the night. It offers me little, so I will give him a shot with it. We are both just fucking around, after all.)
Twenty minutes late.
I would like to give up hope, (because I do not hope), but in its drawers the cabinet lists hope. Clearly. Drawer 35 Section 2: Hope; preceded by Section 1: Cartography; followed by Section 3: That Look He Gives You When You Are Wrong, Wrong As A Stick, But Too Excited For Him To Correct You.
Drawer 14 Section 5: Invertebrate Biology (Subsection 17: Propidium iodide staining). Drawer 14 Section 6: Trees (missing, of course, the entry of the lime tree, which I haven given to Percival). Section 7: Resentment. Section 8: Keys And Those Who Possess Them.
I have yet to assign a drawer to “Fucking around”. It may encompass all other drawers.
The long-whiskered noses are more insistent upon the glass. I attribute this to Charming, mentioned above. I hear a click but it is only a notice on the tall, black board that proclaims “The bus will arrive in …” and here the board becomes illegible. It is dangerous to assign all clicks to imagined keys in our locks.
Drawer 56 Section 11: The Danger of Assigning All Audible Clicks to the Actions of Faraway Keys. Section 12: Thinking Of The Key, Each Confirms His Prison. Section 13: Aetherial Rumors and Other Methods for Revival. Section 14: Despair. Section 15: Phylogenetics.
My teeth bite my lip. I am sick, sick to death of fucking around. The teeth are not painted and they, at least, are not fucking around. The bus has already come, and we have missed it.”
You know how you can still go into certain types of dive bars, mostly in the East Village or Alphabet City, the sort where there’s a scarred, cigarette-pocked pool table tucked somewhere in the back where certain shots will make you angle your cue impossibly vertical so you won’t hit the wall, and the bathroom is a scaly palimpsest, 14 peeling layers of paint and marker and stickers, the toilet usually gently overflowing and leaving a dank scummy layer of toilet-paper-mâché on the floor? And the lightbulb in the bathroom is a dim blue, a blue you heard or read at some point was to discourage junkies from shooting up in the bathroom because it makes it impossible to see your veins, and you hover quadtremblingly above the chipped and perennially damp seat and marvel at the way that the basilic vein, normally so prominent in the white crook of your elbow, phlebotomist’s joy, has disappeared? The bathroom of the Mexican restaurant I went to tonight did that for lipstick. I leaned into the mirror, felt-tipping a deep magenta lipstain onto my mouth, and I couldn’t see it. I gave it another couple of strokes, depending primarily on memory and tequila-fueled optimism, then went out and related the above information to D. “Do I look like a clown?” He was at first faintly worried that I knew about the veins-thing, and then said that I looked beautiful. I wondered briefly if that was a tactful way of answering “yes”.
The candles glimmered off of the nacreous pistol trembling in Allana Nightshade’s hand. Creighton eased back onto the couch, holding her hands gingerly in the air, although she looked more like she was protecting a wet manicure than offering surrender. As she waited for Allana to speak, she idly mused that she’d never been held at gunpoint before. Knifepoint, yes; fangpoint, definitely, but never gunpoint. Oddly pleased by this addition to her repertoire, she leaned forward to fetch her glass. Allana’s squeak was echoed by an ominous clicking sound.
"Easy there, all I’m going for is the armagnac." She took a bracing sip. "Is that thing safe? Based on the inlay and the miquelet lock I’d say it was Napoleonic war era." Uncertainty crept over Allana’s face like a black cat. Creighton improvised wildly, shrugging on her inner Oxonian don like a gown. "Civilized nations ditched that model for the flintlock not long after yours was made. They had a rather nasty tendency of blowing up while you were holding them. Bad for armies. Own goal sort of thing."
Allana’s eyes got even wider and she flung the firearm onto the coffee table. Creighton picked it up and examined it. “Did you know that Louis gave you an unloaded pistol? Chekhov would be so mad.”
An hour later, dawn was turning the drapes a sooty gold and Creighton had managed to convince Allana that she was, at the very least, not an active threat for the moment. Brandied tea had been swapped out in favor of Irish coffee, and Creighton had unearthed some faintly stale croissants. All in all, a very civilized standoff.
"So, you’re seriously a vampire hunter? Like, Buffy?"
"Well, sort of." Creighton ran her hand through auburn hair with a deep violet underlayer, assuring herself that fright hadn’t given her blonde-highlighted 90’s bangs. "Except Google instead of Giles, Yale instead of Sunnydale, and contrary to any rumors you may have heard I have never schtupped a big bad."
"So, you’re really not into Gabriel?"
"My dear," Creighton drawled, "not to cast aspersions upon your recent folie d’amour, but the female authors on his bookshelf begin with Ayn Rand and end with Ann Coulter. I have literally never seen so many Raymond Carver anthologies in one place in my entire life. Give me some credit - I was just trying to figure out what he was up to.”
"I bet you would say that even if you were in love with him!" Her face took on a confused cunning. "How do I know you’re not lying to me?"
"It’s seven am," Creighton groaned. "I prefer never to see this hour, coming or going. Believe me or not, Ripley. You call Gabriel and Louis and get them to come over here somehow so we can sort this out. I’m going to take a nap."
Anybody standing outside of Creighton’s building that Saturday morning would have been excused for thinking that she was hosting a Druidic cult meeting, as not one but two separate figures cloaked in hooded grey emerged from town cars and muttered in incomprehensible languages while taking an inordinately long time to figure out how the buzzer worked. Eventually the door cicada’ed and they swept in, elbowing each other over who got precedence.
"Good morning, gentlemen," Creighton opened her door with a flourish. She had changed out of the cashmere onesie into a vampire negotiating outfit: black velvet blazer with brass buttons, pencil skirt, and lace-up black boots with chunky heels were finished with a severe topknot and plum lipstick. "I appreciate you coming out in daylight. Anyone need coffee? Pig’s blood? Sunscreen?"
"Let us just get down to the business," Louis hissed, vicious, eyes scanning her boot to hair and flicking coldly away. She tamped down a pang and blinked away glassiness.
"Good morning," Gabriel said, more gracious, although his eyes, too, chilled as he looked through the apartment and saw a single bouquet of chrysanthemums on the kitchen island. Creighton smugly pictured the trash chute choked with lilies. "Allana," he sketched a bow. "Creighton." She froze.
"Uh, who?" Gabriel flicked a ConEd bill filched from the letterbin, prominently addressed to one Dr. Creighton Crossley.
"Do not insult me. I knew who you were all along." He let the silence stretch to a sharp point and then laughed. "Don’t fret, pet. I found it adorable that you thought to fool me." Creighton narrowed her eyes; she hated adorable.
"You got me," squaring her shoulders, thankful for the extra 3 inches of height her lug heel offered. "And as long as we’re being honest? I know all about your minion-pimping. Do you really think that I - that Louis, for that matter - would let you get away with being the vampiric Heidi Fleiss of New York academe?”
"Louis?" Gabriel shook his head avuncularly. "Your darling Louis knows. In fact, he is on the waiting list."
From the curb it looks like any other cab, yellow bodied and salt-grimed, mid-2000s silhouette. The light on the roof promises nothing beyond four wheels spinning at two-fifty a mile. You stretch out your arm and it sharkcruises to sidewalk, sudden stop. You give the driver the address; “I’m gonna take the FDR,” not quite a question or a statement. “Okay,” you say, covering all the bases.
You don’t notice at first, getting what you expected: coconut waft from one of those yellow air fresheners shaped like a child’s tree outline, smoothworn plastic cradling your coat. Queens slides down your left shoulder, glinting off the river. Slender women prate mutely on TaxiTV. One looks familiar. “Is that Katharine Hepburn?” Your driver shrugs knowingly.
It’s beginning to smell different, ambergris and honey. You relax further into the seat. It feels like your father driving you home from ballet class, snow warpdriving the windshield and the heater up high. It feels impossible that you’ve ever had to get home on your own, footpower and transfer scheming. Outside the windows, the bridges spangle like French can-can dancers. You lazyeye through the glass, absolved of motion, accepting the bright baubles of the city as your due.