Monday, May 30, 2011

Death by Relaxation

Just recently I sent a letter to a friend of mine overseas. I know, I know--I send letters to people. I'm such a softy for pen and paper and stamps and starting monologues off with "Dearest" and ending them with "Love." The world could be going to hell in a hand basket and my first thought would be to find a more upbeat radio channel. But anyway, on the back of this particular envelope, I taped the following Baby Blues comic strip:

In case you can't see it (as your eyes have smoked over due to backyard barbecues and summer sweat sneaking down your brow), click on it. But if you're looking for a transcript, the first panel says: "I'm going to the kitchen to get some crackers..." The second: "...WHILE BALANCING THE STEPSTOOL ON TWO SKATEBOARDS AND A BANANA PEEL!!!" The third: "Boredom is for the boring!" "Tell the gang at the emergency room I said hi."

I picked it because I wanted to send this person a summer comic, from one workaholic to another. He's going to Cambridge University and has exams coming up. Summers are scary for students like us. We work through fall, with the leaves changing from green to technicolor, and we trudge through spring, replacing our winter coats with summer shorts (although in Florida our passage of time is basically switching from flip flops to tennis shoes and back again). But then summer arrives and all of a sudden we're supposed to do nothing.



Do you know what nothing translates to for a workaholic?

Auto maintenance, house repair, storage cleaning, calling distant relatives, volunteering, varnishing the furniture, deleting unnecessary files off the computer, birthday shopping, christmas shopping, any activity that will get you ahead in the fall, trying that new recipe your coworker gave you (you forgot that you were supposed to be an excellent chef!), going to a yoga class, clearing out the email inbox, reading the latest best seller, organizing a committee, revamping the wardrobe, double checking the budget...

...sleeping (if it's not on the task list, it will not happen)...

...trying out a new skin cream, organizing the organizer/calendar, clipping coupons, re-accessing life goals, watching CNN, HBO, QVC, ABC, MSNBC, TMC--while wondering to yourself why you don't have Tivo...or a secretary--and of course, questioning if you're really doing your part to try to save the planet. You gas guzzler, you.

As Americans, we're raised with this Puritanical sense of right and wrong. We grew up with the rags-to-riches mentality floating around in the back of our minds; if we just worked a little bit harder, for a little bit longer, we could become successful. Just look at Rockefeller, or Donald Trump, or Madonna. Maybe even Oprah, if you're feeling particularly generous. Working hard will get us so very far, but, in the attempt to make it to one of the top tiers--in our thrill of the chase--what if we're all working ourselves just a little too hard?

It occurred to me over the three day weekend that while I know how to change my oil, fix a runny toilet, and catalogue the difference between anaphoras and caesuras, I really don't know how to take a vacation. I tried to imagine myself going away, leaving my life behind me for a day or two. Would I relax? Would I focus on the here and now and not on what I could have been doing had I stayed at home?

Should I have chosen a Cathy comic instead of a Baby Blues one?

(R.I.P. Cathy comics)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Seduction by Goldfish

It's completely normal to read about men who dress up in drag, complete with live goldfish swimming around in their plastic boobs, right?

Sounds normal to me. Sound normal to you?

I'm actually quite shocked at the amount of books I read before I stumbled upon the memoir category. I don't think I touched a single memoir (especially not if it was leisure reading) until graduate school. "Memoir" was synonymous with "biography," which in turn was synonymous with "old but politically important dead guy who may/may not have had venereal disease." The venereal disease was always the selling point (not to name names, Communist leader Mao Zedong). People's parents are born, they are born, they do great things, they die, a book is written. Not a record I want to reread on a Saturday afternoon. But every once in a while, someone does something interesting instead of great. In Josh Kilmer-Purcell's case, it was get perpetually trashed, dress up in drag, and date a drugged up male escort in his memoir I Am Not Myself These Days.

All of a sudden, Saturday afternoon just got a little bit more scandalous, am I right?

We follow Kilmer-Purcell through his day job at an advertising firm, and his nights as drag queen "Aquadisiac" (or Aqua for short) in the gutter laden gem that is New York City, equipped the entire way with caustic wit and a large glass of vodka on the rocks.

I think it's a little presumptuous on his part to think that I would want to talk to him anyway. I mean, sure, I went home with him, probably slept with him, ate breakfast with him, and wore his clothes to work the next day. None of this I see as necessarily flirtatious on my part. All in a night's work as far as I'm concerned. But there's something flirty/sexy about his voice that's appealing to my inner-romantic comedy actress. Then again, maybe it's just his penthouse apartment I'm hearing. My inner-gold digger frequently beats the crap out of my inner-Meg Ryan.

Instead of beginning at conception and ending at death (of either Kilmer-Purcell or his alter-egtress Aqua), the piece covers the span of time in which Kilmer-Purcell dates Jack, an escort who at times would bring his work home with him, leaving Aqua to come home at 4 or 5 in the morning after doing a round of shows at the nightclubs and finding a middle aged man hogtied in the foyer, or a trio of men having an orgy on the couch.

They say love is a many splendored thing. Whether that's a diamond these days or shattered glass, you'd have to tell me.

What makes this an interesting read is Kilmer-Purcell's treatment of the surreal quality of his life. He's not shocked by the crack den in the kitchen, but he is disturbed by the acrid smell of the fumes. He's not surprised at coming to in a train with his left boot and purse missing, but he is incredibly tense at the prospect of hosting his mother while she's in town on vacation. He grapples constantly with the balance of his current "abnormal" life and the respectable extra-credit student he was raised to be. He just wants to say the right thing. Maybe this is what makes his memoir so relatable.

It's pretty awesome.


Also, the TV station Bravo has announced that they're going to be turning this novel into a television series, so look for that to come out.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Blood is a Big Expense

I loaned some kid $25 today.

I'm not really sure how it happened. I mean, I remember hearing about Kiva years ago and brushing it off. I remember a professor at school mentioning how she had just re-loaned the same $25 to three different women in developing countries. I remember thinking that it wouldn't kill me if I coughed up some cash to help someone out in a business venture, especially if I just end up getting the money back.

But after that things got a little hazy.

I went to their website, I registered, I poked around their "About" and "Community" sections, I went shopping in their gift store (I mean seriously, I'd consider toting around a bag that said "Wanna Help Buy a Goat?"). I started hunting for my first lendee. I clicked on South America on their world map. (It was a Risk factor. As in, the game of Risk--I always ended up staying on the board because South America just seemed so in-the-corner that no one ever fought me for it.) And up popped Emmanuel.

Emmanuel is this 19 year old kid in Ecuador who opened up a grocery store with his mom, and is aiming to expand the shop to include rice, sugar, and oil. Next to his bio was his picture, standing outside of his shop. Simple, nice looking kid. Non-threatening.

Last night I was telling a friend and potential colleague the horror stories I heard about teaching college students. "It's hard when you look young, but especially so if you're a woman," is what I heard. I told her about how the guys can make sexual advances, and that she had better come prepared, I warned, as her boyfriend who was sitting right next to her clung to my every word, and seemed to have carefully wrapped his hand around her wrist.

But truthfully, most teenagers are like puppies: all energy and no attention span. Things come and go for them in leaps and bounds. It's scary to think that just a few years ago I was that energetic, that full of hormones. It's scary to think that if I wasn't in graduate school, working, and starting a volunteering repertoire in my "off" time, I would still be that energetic. If I take a vacation, I'm pretty sure I'd revert straight back to that high energy state, like a perm on a hot summer day. Somehow I looked at this kid's picture and in the back of my mind my id said "me. That's me," and the next thing I knew, I was lending him $25.

I was lending me $25. Does that, on some account, make me selfish? Or more so like a faint and distant fairy godfather granting secret wishes and unlocking dust covered doors?

Will I get to whisper Italian truisms and talk with my hands while I'm taking care of business?