Whip-Smart: Post-Grad, This L.O.V.E., Part Two

Whip-Smart: This L.O.V.E., Part Two
“Ooooh mister wait until you see
What I'm gonna be
I've got a plan, a demand and it just began
And if you're right, you'll agree
Here's coming a better version of me”
Fiona Apple, “Better Version of Me”

There were many signs that my life had made a drastic change since moving back to La Crosse after graduating from River Falls but no moment quite summed up my change than recently standing in the kitchen with my mother as she instructed me in the preparation of a quick-and-easy meal. My mother had taken it on herself to enroll me in a cooking class with her being the teacher and me being her lone pupil. She had shown up to our home in La Crosse completely stocked with all the necessary ingredients, even wrapping two eggs in several sheets of Brawny in case we didn’t have eggs. Some people would call this going overboard but my mother being the kind of woman who would make a Bingo game out of her son’s middle name and distribute prizes for winning at his graduation party this was, in comparison, remarkably low key.

“Three tablespoons of rum,” my mother told me in a deadly serious tone of voice.

The irony of holding a bottle of Bacardi in my hand was not lost on me as a few months ago I would have been pouring rum down my throat while gliding around a packed bar. Now I was pouring it into a bowl to let some raisins to soak.

As I followed her instructions, my mother added, “Isn’t this fun?”

“Incredibly,” I replied dryly.

“And tomorrow,” she exclaimed, “we make meatloaf!”

I smiled a bit. As she turned around to check her recipe book, I threw back a quick swig of rum, proving you can take the person out of the bar scene but you can’t always take the bar scene out of the person.
After many sporting events, commentators sit around with footage of the game and discuss in sometimes excruciating detail all the particulars of the even from the refereeing to the big plays to what’s ahead for both teams in the next games. In the game of dating, my friends and I often times, also in excruciating detail, discuss what happened on a date, everything from the choice of restaurant/bar to the moves made by each person to what’s ahead for both people on the next possible dates. What we lacked in objective footage and telestrators, we more than made up in detailed observations and neurotic nitpicking.

The day after my date thing with Denton I got a jubilant instant message from my friend Carmen, an easily excitable undergraduate who asked me how my date went. I confessed to her that it went well, whatever it was since I was not quite sure whether it had been a date or not in retrospect. Determined to figure this out, Carmen asked me to list off evidence to figure out this out.

On the date side, Denton had picked me up and had paid for my vodka sour at the bar. On the not a date side, when we got to his apartment he had made himself a snack of toast and sardines, one of the few foods that almost always preclude any sort of kissing after consumption. On the date side, he did immediately wash his mouth out to try to get the smell out and when he drove me home he put on my coat for me. On the not a date side, he didn’t try to kiss me goodnight or anything yet on the date side he expressed interest on seeing me again. As I finished writing all these details of the date to Carmen, I realized that I was now more confused than I had been to begin with and vowed to limit this type of Monday morning dating quarterbacking.

A few days later, I was working on my résumé when I got an instant message from Gavin about his boyfriend Austin. Since they had started dating, Gavin had slowly been able to adjust to some of Austin’s interests like his love of country music, his Republican political views, and had even briefly toyed with the idea of doing a sextape with him. Yet Gavin reached a breaking point where he felt he needed to stand up for himself before he drowned in a sea of cowboy hats and right wing beliefs.

His big stand came in the form of absolutely refusing to go to a Toby Keith concert. Admittedly not the most important issue to be making a stand about, but Gavin felt that this was his moment to make it clear that his Lil Kim/Mary J Blige loving self was not about to go to any concert where he’d hear about a boot in the ass. Yet his protest did have some shades of diplomacy.

“I mean, I did offer him 80 dollars to pay for the other ticket so he wouldn’t lose any money,” Gavin wrote. “And I tried to explain to him that if I went I’d get into some fight with some dumb redneck.”

“That’s lovely,” I typed back. “Random question, you’re not going through with the sextape are you?”

“No,” he replied. “It didn’t feel right.”

“Like going to a Toby Keith concert?” I added.

“Pretty much,” Gavin said. “He wanted me to be all excited that he was going to the concert and he’s still not happy I’m not going. He talks about how couples do stuff all the time that one person doesn’t enjoy but does for the benefit of the other.”

“Good point,” I remarked.

“But if you’re always sacrificing yourself for the benefit of the other you lose everything that makes you an individual and the reason why the other person was attracted to you,” Gavin continued.

“You’ll just have to find a happy medium between your American Eagle/ghetto music self and his Thank God I’m a Country Boy self,” I typed. “Which I guess would be Tim McGraw and Nelly’s song ‘Over and Over.’”
My father sits in the family room. The shades are open. The television is on, tuned to CNN. He’s having his usual snack of peach yogurt. As I come passing through the room, he asks me if I want to watch the Super Bowl with him. At first I say something dismissive about it and keep walking.

“It’s sad that Jack is in the home,” he says in his soft-spoken voice as his eyes look over the television and across the street and look at the white house across from our home.

Jack is an elderly man that befriended my parents when they first moved to the neighborhood in the early ‘80s. When his wife died a decade or so ago, we had him over for dinner at least once a week; my father and Jack would sit around the table, having the identical conversation each week. Now Jack’s house for sale and he lives in a retirement home because he has Alzheimer’s. My father goes and visits him weekly, taking him on drives. With Jack in the home, my dad won’t have anybody to watch the game with.

“You know,” I say as I come back in the room. “I can’t possibly watch the Super Bowl without those mini pigs in a blanket. You should buy some crescent rolls and Lil Smokies.” I walk out the family room, pause and turn and come back in. “And Fanta. Orange Fanta.”
“Do you know when your people are gay?” Campbell typed to me.

Another person might’ve been offended by the political incorrectness of Campbell's question to me. I, on the other hand, knew that this was his stab at political correctness.

“I don’t really have radar for that,” I replied.

He told me that some guy had caught his eye and he was quite interested in him. Somehow I didn’t just log off from the conversation but instead sat and tried to advise him.

Campbell was usually his best caricature, all attitude and pouty indifference to everybody around him. Friend, foe, and a one time partner in pleasure, I vacillated between quiet admirations of his aesthetic qualities and loud admonishment of his ugly behavior. Yet, no matter how much I detested him, I always found myself trying to win his regard and it was a behavior I was trying to curb if only to stop the exasperated question from my friends.

“You gave him advice about his love life?” Gavin said, understandably perplexed.

“I know,” I said. “I’m retarded. I still watch The OC for God’s sake.” I paused for a moment. “If I knew how Denton felt, I’d be able to move forward.”

I stopped typing, rereading my statement. I scrunched up my nose in disgust at the codependency of it. I had for so long let my masochistic relationship with Campbell define me and now I was setting myself up to let my dealings with Denton do the same thing. I resolved right then to stop defining myself by the adjacent man but define myself through my own hopes, fears, and neurotic spaz attacks.
Super Bowl Sunday and I was in the kitchen, rolling Lil Smokies in bits of crescent rolls as my dad sat in the family room, drinking a beer and watching the halftime show. It may not have been the quick-and-easy meal that my mother was trying to teach me to master, but at least I was making some sort of progress as I slid a tray into the oven. I washed my hands and stared out across the street at the “For Sale” sign on the front lawn of Jack’s little white house. I let out a sigh and went back to my mini pigs in a blanket preparation.

A philosopher once said, “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” As I gathered up the fresh out of the oven snacks and joined my father in the family room, I determined that I was in the process of the next big leap, the next big reinvention of sorts. Though the old remnants of me would always be there, it was nice to welcome the new ideas, the new surroundings, and all the new possibilities of being in La Crosse. And there is nothing quite as intoxicating as the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How horribly sad and yet uplifting at the end.

You and I would be having words right now if you hadn't put Timmy's name first. Good job!

And I still adore your mother.

B :)