Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Doppelgangry

On an average day, there are a great many things that I am afraid of. That there are bugs crawling on me, that there is a stain on my butt I can't see, that I will fall onto the subway tracks, that someone is waiting in the dark at the end of the hallway, that I will trip and break all of my teeth; these but scratch the surface of the things that terrify me on a regular basis.

I admit that I am crazy, but only if you, scoffer, admit that the world is gross and unpredictable.

Just this afternoon, for instance, I sat down on a bench in Madison Square Park to drink my coffee and read my book. A man sat down entirely too close to me, considering I was on an an empty bench. Then he flossed his teeth. This was a fear I didn't realize I had, that the wet floss of a stranger might touch my leg, or worse, that some undigested tidbit might flick out of his mouth and onto my face.

See? I may be insane, but people are basically gross at heart.

I know that most of the things that I'm afraid of are irrational, but this morning on the subway I was pretty sure one of my worst nightmares was coming true. I was sitting on the 6, reading Moby Dick, and a hippie-looking older woman got on at Bleecker Street. A fifth-grade art teacher type. Carrying a tote bag. Wearing reading glasses on the end of her nose. Then, at Astor Place, the same exact woman got on the train. Art teacher, tote bag, glasses. Sat down across from the original woman. A man sitting next to her did a double take, the women glanced at each other, and continued reading their respective books.

The most frightening episode of the Twilight Zone I ever saw was the one where a girl travelling alone is waiting in a bus station on a rainy night. Her suitcase goes missing, she finds it across the room already checked. She goes to the bathroom to wash her face and the cleaning lady insists she's already been there. Her bus finally arrives after a series of inexplicable and increasingly eerie occurrences, but when she goes to board she finds a woman sitting in her seat who looks exactly like her. Except she's got this diabolical, creepy-as-fuck look on her face.

This majorly fucked me up as a kid.

I sat still until my stop, at which point I basically bolted off the train as fast as I could without arousing suspicion I'd left a bomb on board. I was afraid to even breathe. I was doubly scared to look up from my book, because, obviously, if I were to do so I would just find them both staring at me, and after one pregnant moment that contained more menace than I thought existed in the world they would attack, and no one on the train would say a thing, and they would throw my remains off the car at Union Square, and then at 23rd street a girl who looked just like me would get on, sit in my seat, and start reading from my slightly bloody hardcover.

Obviously.

I guess it's supremely narcissistic to have your number one irrational fear be that you will replaced by someone who looks just like you. If I think about it, I'm sure I can come up with something more justifiably frightening than not getting credit for being me.

Like, for example, having a horse and twin babies in your care, and watching them eat poisonous berries because they want to die, a la my dream last night.

Never said I wasn't crazy (please refer to paragraphs two and four).

But perhaps I should cease watching "When A Stranger Calls" right before bed. And, also, being crazy.

Sign of the Times

A lot of my favorite time-killing sites are blocked at my new job, so I tend to spend most of my lunch hour reading basically every word published in the New York Times. I'’m completely at the mercy of news cycles for my entertainment. So far it hasn'’t been bad; John Mark Karr, the Lieberman/Lamott race in Connecticut, and the recent NYT manatee fixation (last year autism, this year the noble sea cow) have all piqued my weird interests enough to get me to the bottom of a Venti House Blend without passing out from boredom.

Because I do nothing besides read the newspaper from cover to digital cover, I come across quite a few more AP articles and Reuters bulletins that I probably wouldn'’t have noticed before. These are the kind of stories only linked to for a few minutes until they're replaced by the latest news from the US Open or whatever it is going on right now.

Like, for example, the FBI Most Wanted polygamist Mormon fundamentalist was caught when a state trooper pulled over his bright red Escalade. Presumably for "ridin' dirty."

Or that the FDA just announced that they were starting a panel to oversee the "“body parts industry."

My favorite kinds of news stories aren't in depth investigations of really fascinating topics, or shocking, revelatory scoops that make the front page. The stuff I most like to read is the filler, the little crap picked up off the wire with a few sketchy details meant to drive up the word count, but which just make everything more confusing. Two hundred words on the person with the head in their carry-on duffle bag. That's all I need to get through the day.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Coffee Talk

While logged in on my computer, the IT guy at work mentioned a news segment he watched about caffeinated pantyhose. A quick search by a cube-neighbor turned up several sites selling lingerie promised to render your bottom half firm, supple, youthful and fat free by leaching caffeine directly into your leg veins.

I feel qualified to comment on the efficacy of this particular weight loss method because I've once again swapped lunch for coffee, which has so far made none of me firm, supple, youthful, or fat free. It has made me briefly nervous, hungry, irritable and exactly as overweight, followed by a much longer period of being tired, hungry, irritable and exactly as overweight. I am all but injecting the stuff directly into my veins and detect no benefit beyond frequent urination, which is a benefit only in that I do not have to sit at my desk while I do it. It is difficult, therefore, to believe that cappucinhose are a viable path to hotness. Especially at two hundred smackers a pair.

I'm not saying I wouldn't present you with the entire contents of my wallet if you could show me one shred of scientific evidence that caffeine pantyhose worked. I'd get a whole bodysuit made out of that shit and walk around like the world's most committed bank robber. I'd one-up you and build myself a plastic bubble filled with French roast.

I spent a while yesterday researching colleges for my brother, who was supposed to be visiting potential schools all summer. He' s opted to employ the very adventurous tactic of doing absolutely nothing about his impending graduation. I spent my entire junior year memorizing the Princeton Review college guide. College searching, for me, was much more than just picking the place where I'd get a degree. The brochures that came in bunches to my mailbox were catalogs of different identities, and accordingly, I was shopping for the best possible version of me I could imagine. Listen to Counting Crows at the prepster college upstate? Dark tortoiseshell glasses at NYU or tie-dye in Maine?

Despite the fact that I'm doing it for someone else, looking through college admissions material again got my heart going like I'm at the end of an advent calendar. All the deadlines combined with all the endless choice leaves me with this sense that I've reached the end of a countdown, but don't know what happens when time runs out.

Maybe there's something wired wrong in my brain. I can't ever remember how old I am, and I'm not entirely convinced that just because I didn't live one of my many alternate realities doesn't mean that it won't happen at some point. I mean, I'm pretty sure I won't wake up tomorrow sixteen again and decide to send an application to Oxford instead of Oberlin and major in medieval art restoration.

Pretty sure.

At one point all of my many imagined outcomes were equally correct, and there's some fold in my cerebrum in which the unlived ones haven't yet been ruled out. Maybe it's because for each me I tried on I unraveled a whole life that always culminated in finding an imaginary, complementary boyfriend. He took many shapes and sizes, tailored to the version of my life I'd taken into the dressing room that time. My real reality has never once produced such a guy, which is why it's hard to give up on the permutations that provided me my (however fictional) other half, whether he was playing lacrosse or carrying tiny espressos back to our table in a coffee shop in the Village.

And maybe it's also why I can't let go of this whole caffeine diet.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

People Are Strange When You're a Stranger

When I was a kid in elementary school, my bus stop was the driveway across the street from my house. My mom booted me out the door to wait for Mohansic Elementary #7, followed by Crompond Elementary #5, then Mildred E. Strang #11. I stood at the edge of the Snow's driveway, eyes still puffy, pancake crumbs shellacked to my face with syrup, and waited for the snore of diesel engine I could hear coming up the next block long before I saw headlights sweep around the corner.

Usually the routine was painful, but simple. Mom bellowed up the stairs, I didn't get up. Mom shrieked like a banshee again ten minutes later, I put on my clothes. I came downstairs and ate my microwave pancake, until middle school when this step was aborted because it was unspeakably lame to eat breakfast. I gathered the homework I pretended I'd done the night before, shoved everything into my backpack, put on a motherfucking stupid HAT if it was motherfucking stupid WINTER, and Mom shoved me outside.

After I crossed the lawn, then the street, I hit my mark on the big crack in the Snow's driveway and I was at school. It didn't matter that on warm spring mornings, when the windows to my house were open, I was close enough to home that I could still hear the TV in my living room. The driveway belonged to the world of school, the house to the world of home, and the crack was the equator between the two.

The times I forgot something and had to run back before the bus came felt supremely weird, like sticking your soapy finger in a bubble you've blown without popping it. I barged back into the house, frantic to find my gym pants, and often found my mother sitting in a different spot, watching a different channel (Mom watches Regis?), eating toast (We have marmalade?) and I was a visitor in a place I lived five minutes earlier. It always felt like a weird rewrite of my morning, not a comforting rerun, until I ran out the door again.

I still get that feeling occasionally, like when I come home from work earlier than expected, or I spot my brother walking through Grand Central before he sees me. Everyone I know is a stranger when I'm not around, and every place I know contains a disappearing island I can only visit for a few seconds at a time.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Luckraking

I think my luck may have indeed taken sharp left into Charmedville.

I ran out of work this evening directly onto a 6 train, and from there immediately onto a Q. I even enjoyed a bizarre musical interlude on my walk between the two--this panflute/bongo ensemble was playing sort of an Andean rendition of "“More Than a Woman"” by the Bee Gees. Better still, I found a seat, albeit a cramped one, between two dudes. I perched my tuchas on the edge, turned up my iPod, looked up to survey the car for crazies, celebrities and lookers, and spotted a unicorn.

Well, a metaphorical unicorn. A personal unicorn. This guy that I met once for about two hours, about two years ago. He was the friend of an acquaintance, and she was one of those girls with so many attractive male friends that none of them seem particularly remarkable to her. She would introduce me to some dazzling, freakish, possibly genetically engineered specimen of the male gender. While I left a trail of drool behind me like a lovesick snail, she would shake her head and insist he was a nerd. "You like HIM?" she would ask, as if I had just confessed my deep attraction to Larry King.

But yes, I totally liked HIM, which I felt was reasonable considering he had a perfect face, and a great sense of humor, and an enviable and fascinating job, and was also really nice, and funny too, if just a little bit preppy. I think I said one word to him, which was my name. Even so, he made such an impression I've probably thought about him once a month since then.

Sick, yes. But I'm hoping in a way that makes me seem innocent and romantic, not obsessive and pathological.

Anyway, iPod on, crammed between two napping businessmen, I look up and he's standing across the way. The best thing about wearing headphones is that you've basically got a free pass to eavesdrop. I turned down the volume. He'’d gotten scruffier since the first time I met him, which means he was now entirely perfect. He needed a haircut, his plaid shirt was wrinkly, and he wasn'’t wearing any socks. He was talking to his companion about wanting to eat pizza and sit on the beach.

Most of the time seeing a really good-looking guy is like a punch to the chest. There's nothing more I want to do than sit next to him, talk to him, hold his hand, tackle him to the ground, whatever, but I'’m not going to do any of those things. He is a stranger, and I am not a felon. The second passes, the station nears, and my chance to ogle to the David of the D train (or whoever it is tickling my funny bone) is over. And it sucks.

But this guy, this was like seeing a fucking leprechaun. A big sexy leprechaun I spotted two years ago and I'’ve been looking for since. It's hard to feel sad about not getting up on a guy like that when I consider how lucky I am just to lay eyes on him twice in my life. Pathetically lucky, but happily pathetic. Guys like that one are mythical to me, and I guess I'd prefer to keep it that way. I'd rather have miraculous sightings than painful extended pinings.

Although.

If I could just kick this luck thing into high gear, perhaps I could line up some serious making out.

In which case, if you need me, I'’ll be in Central Park on my hands and knees looking for four leaf clovers.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Shit Out of Luck

I wouldn't say that I'm superstitious, at least not in the knock on wood, salt over your shoulder way. I suppose I believe in luck. I'm not opposed to the supernatural. Neither of those, though, are quite the same as believing you're cursed for seven years if you drop your compact on the sidewalk.

Last week I was assaulted by a bad omen. It was a vicious hexing of fairy tale proportions. It happened late one night last week, when I was walking slightly behind Brad up to the door of our building. He hit the steps without incident. When I got to the garbage cans just to the right of our stoop, a black cat cut right across my path and, not content to simply doom me and leave, sat on the curb and gave me the evil eye until I got inside. That's the kind of superstition it's hard to dismiss--the kind with a pulse and a palpable desire to see you flattened by a dump truck.

The cat hangs out in front of my building now. My super insists it's a sweet kitten made skittish by a run-in with a garbage truck. I have my doubts about this. It's always around when I'm by myself, either taking out the garbage or walking home from work, always sitting there like a creep, occasionally in the shadows, with its two laser eyes focused right on a major artery.

I was feeling pretty doomed all week. I found twenty dollars!...and then had to return it to the people who'd obviously dropped it unawares. I got to go home early on Friday!...because I was sick and had a disgusting, annoying cough.

It wasn't until this morning that I think I found the antidote to a black cat hexing. What black cat in your path is to evil, dog with a cone is to good. On the way back from Starbucks I passed a weird old lady walking an enormous Alaskan husky, with an even more enormous plastic cone circled around its stupid, pissed off head. There is nothing more pathetically funny than a dog in a cone, walking around like the world's hairiest satellite dish, if that satellite dish wanted nothing more than to lick its own ass.

It remains to be seen if my luck changes. Things may be looking up already; Jenny 8. says there's a manatee in the Hudson, and that's pretty great. But at least I'm armed with some kind of mental amulet if Creep the cat is waiting for me outside my door. Or, like, in my bed with a fucking shiv.
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