I am not myself these da.., p.14

I Am Not Myself These Days, page 14


I Am Not Myself These Days

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  Laura and I have been given the best assignment in the agency. An antidrug campaign for ABC Television. If we can sell an idea it’ll mean at least a month in LA producing spots with celebrities from the network. Unfortunately we have only a week left to come up with something. I was supposed to be thinking about it while I was in Japan.

  “Maybe I’ll just come to your place and we can work tonight,” Laura offers.

  “I can’t, I’ve got to do Aqua.”

  “Great. Another wasted day tomorrow. If we get fired, I’m stealing Jack’s cash,” Laura says.

  “Fifty-fifty. Deal.”

  I can hear the salsa music playing as I get off the elevator in my building. Joy and fear well up inside me in equal portions.

  When I reach the door, I hear the vacuum running inside. I step inside and see Jack at the far end of the apartment vacuuming the living room. He’s naked and his back is turned toward me.

  I stand just inside the door and watch him. He’s singing along with Celia Cruz and pushing the vacuum wand back and forth along the parquet. I remember the day I moved in. After all my boxes were safely in the apartment, he started playing this CD as loud as it would go. The salsa mixed with the heavy summer air coming in through the windows, and he grabbed me and we danced around the piles of boxes and furniture.

  “Hey!” Jack shouts, noticing me in the reflection of the bay window. He turns around with a wide grin on his face. “You’re home!”

  I have no idea what to do. Absolutely none. I don’t even know what I’m feeling. I freeze. To buy a little time I start taking off my jean jacket. Still nothing comes to me. I try to dredge up the excitement I felt two days ago in the cab on the way home from the airport. Nothing. I try to remember the waves of anger I felt over the last two days. Nothing. By the time I’m reaching for a hanger, I’m completely empty.

  Jack’s turned the vacuum off and is walking toward me.

  “When’d you get home? I thought you came home tomorrow,” he says.

  “I got home two days ago.”

  Jack throws both his arms around me and lifts me up off the floor.

  “Where were you?” I ask.

  “Huge party. Huge. Eight straight days. Twenty thousand.”

  “Your beeper was here.”

  “I know, we had to move everyone here for a while after the guy got kicked out of his hotel. He was still paying, so we didn’t want to end it.”

  It’s a simple explanation. The same one I’d come up with in my head several times over the last two days. Exactly what I’d expected. Big party, then Jack, Ryan, Grey, and the other escorts go hide out a few days to recover. Why am I such a paranoid freak? I make fun of people like me.

  “How was geisha boy? Are you a superstar?” Jack asks.

  “Pletty goldfish rady big hit,” I say. “They were already talking about me coming back.”

  “Not too soon,” Jack says.

  “Don’t worry. Me have prenty full of dirty rittle Japanese businessmen.” I head into the bedroom.

  “Where are you going?”

  “Aqua’s on tonight. Barracuda.”

  “Shit. I was going to take you to dinner,” Jack says.

  “No dice. I’ve been gone from New York the equivalent of four years in drag-queen time. Gotta work on my comeback tour. Bring me a vodka and we can talk while I get ready.”

  That first night I was home from Japan I’d put the apartment back together with Germanic precision. Everything tucked into the drawer or closet it belonged in. But I hadn’t unpacked Aqua. Her three big bags were shoved under the bed, repacked in the same mess that I left them in after I had to explain them at customs coming in.

  Jack watches me pull her out. I restyle the wigs and smooth out the costume I need for tonight. Slowly I feel myself coming back. It hurts a little. Like when I would come in from sledding in the below-zero Wisconsin winters. Mom would make us sit in a lukewarm tub as we slowly came back to room temperature so our feet and hands wouldn’t burn unbearably as the blood returned to them.

  When I’m in the shower shaving my legs, Jack comes in and straddles on the side of the tub, watching me. I tell him about the TV show, the wedding, eating salty fish for breakfast in my modular hotel room. I tell him about the hostess bar, cute little Toshi, and the kept girls. I start to tell him about Mr. Hatsumoto, but stop. I can’t remember enough.

  By the time I’m heading out the door we’ve totally reimagined out lives with me as Japanese celebrity sensation and Jack opening an escort service to cater to the multitude of Japanese business tycoons who no doubt crave a little humiliation.

  “Leave me a note if you get a call, okay?” I say, kissing Jack and closing the door.


  It’s just the TV,” I tell my mother on the phone. “Hang on a sec.”

  I cover the mouthpiece and throw up again in the toilet. I find the idea of trying to throw up as quietly as possible kind of funny.

  “Why don’t you turn it down?” she asks.

  “Jack’s got some people over; they’re watching a movie.”

  Every word that comes out of my cotton-filled mouth requires Herculean effort.

  “How was LA? Who did you meet?” she asked. My mother’s voice has always sounded like an eight-year-old girl’s on the phone.

  “Drew Carey, Bob Saget, a bunch of people. I don’t know,” I say.

  “Anybody on my soap?”

  “I told you, it’s a campaign for ABC. Your soap is on CBS.”

  “Did I do something wrong? Are you mad at me?”

  I consider letting loose with the litany I’ve collected of things she’s done wrong over the years, but hold back. I wouldn’t be able to make it halfway through without vomiting, and I want to save it for a time when I’m a little more oratorically suave. Besides, they’re mostly pretty petty transgressions, anyway.

  “No, I’m not mad. We’re just in the middle of the movie. It’s at a good part,” I say.

  “Well, I can tell you don’t want to talk, so go back to your movie. Say hi to Jack.”

  “I will.”

  After I hang up I decide to lie on the bathroom tile just a little longer. I’m relatively certain I’m not expected anyplace, and right now the less I move the less I hurl. It’s about the most complex equation I can deduce about my current situation.

  I have no idea what’s going on in the living room, except that it’s loud and there’s more than one person. Why must mornings always be such a puzzle?

  It must be Saturday, since Mom always calls at the beginning of the weekend. I know I got back from LA on the redeye last night. We filmed celebrities making little fifteen-second antidrug speeches on a sound stage in Ventura the entire previous week. It was like school picture day. One by one they would arrive, get made up, sit in front of a backdrop, and blather on about how drugs are bad, they fuck up your schoolwork, mess up your family, blah, blah, blah. One of them even showed up sky-high. We couldn’t use anything we shot of him.

  Laura and I spent our nights partying at the Skybar. I brought Aqua with me just for fun, and the second-to-last night we were there we invited the client out with me in drag. She was young, and we thought she could handle a little fun.

  When the news reached the agency back in New York, they freaked. Apparently, there’s a fine line between being creatively interesting and potentially client-threatening. News to me. Two of the partners wanted me to come home immediately. Which I would have, had they been able to find me.

  Laura, the client, and I stayed out the entire night and went straight to the shoot the next morning, me still in drag. My plan was to go to the wardrobe truck and find suitable clothes for the day, but when the director saw me he wanted me to shoot a spoof spot for the campaign. When any drag queen is faced with a camera, we become powerless to stop ourselves. Any resulting catastrophe can hardly be blamed on me.

  The difficult part of improvising an antidrug spot when one is still completely smashed is coming up with o
ne’s motivation. After a few insincere attempts I came up with this:

  Look at me. I’m beautiful and you know it.

  Using a whole bunch of drugs didn’t get me to where I am. Using the right bunch of drugs did. Kids, be responsible. Know your junk and talk to your dealer.

  This message brought to you by:

  ABC TV. Trying Really Hard to Care.

  Now it’s not like they’re going to air it or anything, so I’m really not sure what the resulting fuss is about. By the afternoon when we all sobered up, the client didn’t think it was that funny anymore and begged us not to tell anyone back in New York. Unfortunately, Laura and I had been on our cell phones all morning telling everyone we knew.

  By the time we got on the plane home that night the client had turned a little chilly toward us. Luckily, before we checked out of the hotel, Laura and I had collected our entire minibars to keep us company on the flight home.

  I got home from LaGuardia at six forty-five in the morning and walked into our apartment in the middle of another party. They’ve been happening with increasing frequency during the past month. One client in particular wants to party two or three nights a week. Tired of getting kicked out of hotels, the group now meets at our place. Our kitchen gets turned into a crack lab, with freshly cooked rocks drying on a plate on the counter. Jack makes them smoke in there too, as a courtesy to me. I have never tried crack, and it doesn’t really interest me. Even though his clients and escort friends are all well-heeled, I still have an image of crack as being the drug of choice for the South Bronx set. Anyway, I’m still perfectly content with my booze and very occasional sniff of old-school powdered coke. And maybe a little weed. Just an old-fashioned guy, I guess.

  I use the handles on the cabinet under the sink to pull myself upright. Slowly standing, I give myself a quick once-over in the mirror. At least I got most of the way out of Aqua last night before passing out. I grab the phone and head out into the apartment.

  Three guys are fucking on the floor near the living room windows. I watch them. They’re oblivious to me standing twenty feet away. I’m jealous. Jack and I have only had sex once since I got back from Japan. They shift positions stiffly, mechanically; they’ve probably been fucking all night. I’ve learned that about crack from Jack. He says it makes people want to fuck for hours, mostly just to expend the nervous energy.

  I walk into the kitchen to hang up the phone. Jack is there with an escort named Trey whom I met at my birthday party. I’m not that fond of Trey, for no particular reason. He just reminds me of that kid in high school who was always called in to the principal’s office for questioning no matter what the crime. He could start a second profession as an extra in police lineups.

  “Hey,” I say.

  “Hey,” Jack says. I can’t tell if he’s high.

  “Where’s the client?”

  “He’s gone. He left last night. How was the show?”

  “I don’t remember. I’ll wait for the reviews,” I answer. “Can I turn down the stereo?”

  “Sure. Go ahead.”

  Back in the living room I turn off the music completely. The fucking trio doesn’t even pause. This is the part of the day when I’m most uncomfortable. I’m too sick to go out and do anything, and don’t really have anything I want to do anyway. I don’t have a show tonight. I have nothing to get ready for. I don’t really feel like watching TV. I have no hobby. Except for drinking.

  I start to wonder what the people all around me do on days like today. I live in a box in the sky with boxes identical to mine on all sides, and forty stories of identical boxes below me.

  What do all those boxed people do on Saturdays? Do they go to movies? Museums? Do they walk their dogs? I see people with dogs on the street all the time. Why don’t we have a dog? I used to go to brunch. Are people going to brunch right now? Or does everyone wake up as trashed as me and find their spouse in their luxury kitchen with whores and crack? I want to peel up the floorboards and peer down at them. Get some ideas.

  The thought of standing here all day simply waiting for the next throwing-up episode starts to crush me.

  I throw on a pair of sweatpants and my down jacket and head for the door.

  “Where you going?” Jack yells from the kitchen.

  “Out to walk the dog,” I say.

  I walk the streets the entire afternoon, trying to unravel the mystery of Saturdays. I head down Madison Avenue, staring at couples, trying to see what’s in their shopping bags. I see people eating in windows, getting into cabs. It’s all I can do to stop myself from running up to them and asking, “What are you doing today? Where are you going? Can I join you?”

  I try Laura on her cell. Maybe she wants something to eat. I’m sure she’s home, but after this crazed past week in LA she probably sees my number on her caller ID and she doesn’t pick up. I stop in a diner near Twenty-fourth Street and order a tuna melt but have to leave halfway through because I can’t keep any of it down.

  I keep walking. Down Madison to Twenty-third. People coming out of a movie. I follow two women down Park Avenue and try to listen to their conversation. One of the women is debating with the other whether or not she should start trying to get pregnant. At Fourteenth Street I run into the farmers’ market. Hundreds of people are picking their way from stall to stall, inspecting apples and squash and onions and other things that remind me of the garden I had growing up.

  I pick up an acorn squash and decide to buy it. It’s reassuringly solid and heavy as it swings back and forth in its plastic bag, knocking against my leg as I walk on. Maple syrup. I used to love squash baked in the oven with maple syrup. I pick up a bottle and add it to my bag. Look at me. I’m shopping. Butter. I need some butter too.

  It’s almost six o’clock by the time I get home. I dread going inside. I half-expect the same robotic threesome to still be fucking in our living room. But they’re not. The apartment’s empty. It’s a wreck again. I can’t keep up, and Jack and I keep forgetting to call the cleaning woman.

  I’m too tired to bother with the squash, so I just take it out of the bag and set it on the counter. That’s enough for me, actually. Just looking at it there on the counter amid the piles of tin foil and burnt spoons and Brillo pads and glass pipes and baking soda and rubbing alcohol and the rest of the crack paraphernalia is soothing enough.

  Jack’s asleep in the bed. Without taking off my clothes I crawl into bed next to him. He’s hot, and sweaty, and oily. He’s frowning in his sleep. Jack crashes hard after a party, and then beats himself up for missing workouts or time with me and his friends.

  He wakes up fitfully as I crawl up closer to him. His skin tastes like crushed aspirin all the time now.

  “Hey, you,” he says groggily.

  I pick up the remote and turn on the TV.


  “Where you been?” he asks.

  “Grocery shopping,” I say, staring at the TV.


  We watch Sanford and Son for a while. Silently.



  “I think we should slow down our partying for a week or so.”

  “I know,” he says.

  “I’m tired.”

  “You’re drinking too much,” he says. He’s right. I’m now way past the point of it being a silly little vice.

  Sanford and Son ends and Andy Griffith comes on. Jack gives a halfhearted attempt to whistle along with the theme song.

  “Are you having problems with crack?” I ask him during the first commercial break.

  “Maybe a little,” he says.

  “I thought you faked smoking.”

  “I usually do. There was just that one big party while you were in Japan. It went on too long.”

  “You suck when you’re high,” I tell him.


  “Let’s take a week off. No rock. No calls. No booze. No Aqua,” I say.

  “Have you asked her?” Jack asks.
r />   “She’ll use the time to go to Mexico and get that abortion she always wanted,” I say.

  “Okay. A detox week.”

  When Andy Griffith goes off, I flip to a nature show. Snakes of the Amazon.

  “Everything’s cool?” Jack asks me.

  I think for a sec. No. Everything’s not that cool, really. But what other option do I have but to try for a week to make it cool again?

  “Yeah,” I say finally.


  I roll on my side and close my eyes.

  “We’re having squash tomorrow,” I say before drifting off to sleep.


  It’s a week of cactuses and hearts.

  Jack sends me to work every day with a note or little drawing in my pants pocket. The partners at the agency decide they aren’t mad at me anymore when one of the suits at ABC decides my spoof was hilarious. Someone at ABC who knows someone at CBS says there’s even a possibility Letterman might run it as a parody of the campaign.

  Jack spends his days working out and buying things for the apartment, and then meets me after work to have dinner with Ryan and Grey or Laura. Thursday he spends the entire day shopping at Mexican markets and putting together a three-course Mexican dinner for me. I know he’s just trying to stay busy to keep his mind off of getting high.

  I’m scraping leftover bits of enchilada off a plate into the trash when he comes into the kitchen and puts his arm around me.

  “You know, if we wanted we could move to Baja Peninsula tomorrow and get a place on the ocean,” he says.

  “Not enough work for drag queens. Or whores,” I say.

  I instantly regret using that word. It used to be a funny running joke, but this week it sounds dirty. Mean. Jack had gone the entire week without taking a single call simply because I asked him to. When we first started dating, he grilled me to make sure I had no problem with his career, and I assured him I thought it was cool.

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