Thursday, May 27, 2010


If this was a short story, it would matter who I was or why I was on the train; where I was coming from and going to and what was in my bag; what was playing in my headphones; whether I was a little cold or a little hot and what I was wearing and how the weather was above ground at that moment. The difference between doing what I'm doing and telling a story is purpose. There's recording, which is selfish at its heart, and then there's communicating, which is selfishness with at least a varnish of altruism about making someone else in the world feel understood.

I was on the train just now. I took two; I was on the second but still less than halfway home. A kid got on a few stops after me with an African drum tied around his chest. When I say kid, I mean that he was sixteen or seventeen years old. When the doors closed he began to drum, and then by the time we were completely in the tunnel he started to sing, or shout, or kind of holler along with his drumming.

Three hours outside of work and having left pizza with friends because I was feeling too tired to manage the even the eating of pizza in a way that could convince people I wanted to be with them, the drum was loud. It was really loud. The hollering was louder. First I turned up the music in my headphones until it was distorted. Then I turned it down entirely because the drummer couldn't be drowned out. The sighs exhaled throughout the car could’ve inflated a Thanksgiving Parade balloon. A girl across the aisle was eager to make WTF-amiright eye contact and I couldn’t decide whether or not to engage in it because as much as I hated the presumption of this guy and his drum and his hollering at a time of the day when quiet is one of those gifts we all give a stranger, I didn’t actually hate the drumming. The way the low hits felt like someone dragging a thumbnail along the inside of my spine was nice.

But I did kind of end up giving in, at least a little, because I wouldn’t look at the girl directly but I closed my eyes in a way that might make her think we were partners in hate. The kid eventually stopped drumming. The girl across the way, she gave him a dollar.

And this is the kind of familiar tension that I both know and can’t stand—this drummer, he might be sincere but he is in the business of making himself look even more so for money, and I pretend to hate what he’s doing to avoid giving him any, even though in all honesty I am moved against my will and don’t have anything to give him anyway because it’s the day before payday and my checking account is in the single digits checking, and in the middle of it all there's the jaded one-upmanship with the girl across the way.

What I actually hate, the thing that sits right at the heart of it, is that I can’t even tell what I like and don’t like anymore because I’m so used to thinking about what I can have and what I can’t.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ruby Lips Above the Water / Blowing Bubbles Soft and Fine

The first time I wore lipstick I'd applied myself (I do not count the time my mother hastily applied a bit of hers backstage at my one and only dance recital when she realized all the other seven-year-olds were slathered from eyebrows to chin with pancake white and blue eyeshadow) was before a canteen in the eighth grade. It was gold. I'd definitely gotten it for free, probably in a goody bag after a birthday party. It made me look like an alien. An alien in a "ZERO" shirt. An alien in JNCOs, too, I think. An alien who did not grasp the idea of dressing like a human female and instead disguised herself as a boy that human female might theoretically want to dance with.

Anyway, yeah, I generally avoided the whole lipstick thing thereafter. In college I would occasionally buy a tube of what I thought was a kind of nice-ish pink but turned out to be the exact same weird magenta color I accidentally bought every fucking time, which was immediately banished to the basket of discarded identical bad lipsticks. No, scratch that, I owned red, too. Because I wore it one time. When I was doing laundry in my pajamas. And walked into a boy I had a crush on, who always managed to see me doing something embarrassing, like singing Cyndi Lauper very loudly to myself in an empty classroom. Or doing my laundry in Lucille Ball lipstick and rubber duckie pajamas.

Somewhere in the last year, though, I bought a 99-cent tube of violently red lipstick and it is about to become the first I've ever used up. It doesn't look any better than it ever did, nor have I learned to get through the day without smearing it at least partially onto my chin and having to wipe it off vigorously with a piece of toilet paper, nor have I been invited to a rash of events that would warrant flamboyant dolling-up. I'm wearing it right now, in fact, with my least favorite pair of jeans and a cardigan that is so beyond dirty I would feel okay using it to clean up a medium-sized coffee spill at my desk.

I haven't got a single glamorous bone in my body. Instead, some tangle of neurons in my brain is deeply dedicated to the ridiculous. There aren't many women in my life who wear real makeup every day, but those who do say cosmetics make them feel pretty and properly dressed up. As it turns out, I'm not nearly as interested in feeling dressed up as I am in feeling dressed up as. Why go to a work meeting merely looking as presentable as possible when I could go as a Robert Palmer girl?

Costumery is generally frowned upon in the cube world; Halloween might see a pair of cat ears or two, but a tiara on a generic Thursday would not fly no matter how desperately one needs to be wearing a tiara. On the flip side, costumery is also kind of de rigueur if you're me. I feel about as at home in businesswear (on the occasions when I actually have to wear it) as I do dressed as a cowgirl. Red lipstick--it's an inoffensive and nonspecific anachronism, a way to lodge a complaint against the (realistically inoffensive and) nonspecific daily grind.

I have felt like I was disappearing on the subway on my way to work more than once. The proof that highlighting your talking hole with some cheap red makeup has medicinal value is the fact that this tube is almost gone, but I'm very much still here.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

One Good Line to a Country Song I Will Never Write

My heart is like a double-yolked egg--
You crack it open and then you're afraid
Of just how much yellow you find.
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