Cockroaches, part 2: Bugpocalypse

My ten months in that apartment were filled with way too many cockroach encounters to count; let’s just say that I probably did irreparable damage to my lungs by spraying Raid around my bed every night just to try to keep them away.

The Raid worked most of the time; it didn’t always kill the roaches, but it at the very least flipped them over on their back, which made it easier to sweep them out the door.

One night in particular, though, the Raid failed me.

It was August 27, 2015, and I was doing what I had done basically every night since Maggie and I had moved in about two months earlier: sitting in my bed, back against the wall, computer on my lap, scrolling through Facebook or Twitter or Buzzfeed and/or whatever else. My bed in this apartment was just a mattress on the floor, so when I sat upright, the windowsill lined up basically with the back of my neck. Somewhere between midnight and 1am, I felt something tickle the back of my neck. With a plethora of cockroach sightings and killings already under my belt in that apartment, my mind immediately thought the worst. I hesitated to reach back, but when I did, I felt nothing but the cord hanging from the blinds.

I breathed a sigh of relief and carried on with internet scrolling. Less than five minute later, I felt it again. I jumped a little, but basically ignored the tickle of the cord. Mistake. This time what I thought was the cord from the blinds crawled around from the back of my neck, across my shoulder and down onto my chest. As usual, I was wearing a low-cut tank top, so this was flesh-to-insect contact. Yes, a cockroach was crawling across my body. ACROSS MY BODY. Not on my floor, not on my counter. ON MY BODY.

A calm person would have probably stood, let the bug fall, and then killed it. I am not a calm person. Upon realizing what was touching me, I immediately swatted it, sending it flying across the room into the dense ground covering of clothes that I keep year-round on my floor.

I panicked for about thirty seconds and then considered my options: I could no longer see the cockroach that just invaded my personal space, so I could just go on about my life like nothing happened; I could set out on a search for the offender that would probably require a search party and at least half the cast of Criminal Minds; or I could leave my life and all my things behind and never return.

I opted for the second option, but when Shemar Moore didn’t answer my text, I realized I was on my own. It was pretty late and Maggie had been asleep in her room for a few hours at this point, so I had to be quiet. I crept out of my room and into the kitchen to arm myself with the longest broom I could find. But first, I needed at least two cans of Raid.

I rounded the corner into our miniature kitchen (we only had half of a stove) to grab the Raid out of the cabinet underneath the sink, when my heart sank again. There, sitting in front of the refrigerator, posted up like he was ready to tear down a city, was a camel cricket the size of a newborn baby.

If you’ve never seen a camel cricket, please don’t Google it. I’ve been telling this story for years and, since no one had ever heard the term “camel cricket” before, I was beginning to think I made up the term and this creature was really something else completely. I wanted to make sure that all future reenactments and tellings of this epic are accurate, so I sucked it up and googled “camel cricket.” The second the image page loaded, I exited out and proceeded to gag. I was right. This beast in my kitchen was in fact a camel cricket. If you really want to see what a camel cricket looks like but are prone to retching at the sight of any bug, just watch the 2014 version of Godzilla. In this version of the monster movie, our favorite giant lizard is battling some distance relative, a gigantic winged creature referred to as “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism,” or MUTO. I was disgusted by them when I saw the movie, but watching them on TV was nothing compared to knowing that I had been sharing a home with one for God knows who long.

camel cricket
This is EXACTLY what was living in my kitchen

Upon seeing the MUTO, my priorities immediately changed. I slowly backed away from the creature, never breaking eye contact. I made my way into the pantry, grabbed the broom and inched close enough to attempt an offensive attack. After one or two hits and maybe three or four screams, MUTO was dead. I managed to stay as far away from the carcass as possible as I inched it out the doorway with the broom. There was no way I was going to bend down and pick that thing up to dispose of it.

So, MUTO conquered. Back to Priority One: Bedroom Cockroach.

I went into my bedroom, feeling a little strong coming off of the victory in the kitchen, but still very scared of what was hiding in my room. For some reason, the idea of picking up a pile of clothes – my most prized possessions – and finding a cockroach stowed away was almost as appalling to me as having a cockroach crawl across my body. Almost.

But I had to do it. I went into my room, armed with a broom (I never found the Raid) and started hesitantly pushing clothes around. A few times, Bedroom Cockroach made an appearance, only to scurry to another pile of clothes.

Yes, I keep several, separate, piles of clothes on my bedroom floor at all times. There’s the dirty clothes pile, which is just an overflow from the laundry basket, then there’s the jackets and jeans that I’ve worn but aren’t dirty enough to be put in the dirty clothes pile, and then of course the pile full of other things that I try on and ultimately decide against, but am too lazy to hang back up. On the rare occasion what I completely clean my room, there’s usually still a pile left on the ground: the pile of things that just won’t fit in my closet because I ran out of hangers or because I don’t want to put too much weight on the hanging bar and make it fall to the ground (for a fourth time).

As Bedroom Cockroach made his way from the dirty clothes pile to the not-good-enough-to-wear-that-week pile, I was sure I was outsmarting him. This chase wasn’t going to last much longer.  I was right behind him when he ran under the edge of the clothes, and he went running again when I pushed them to the side. But the strange thing was that he wasn’t running away from me like he had been all night. He ran toward me; obviously, I was standing off of the ground, so he ran under me and under the bed. As I stepped down to corner him under the mattress, I glanced back at where he was running from. I’m not sure cockroaches have brains, but I’m pretty sure they all share the instinct to run away from the broom that is trying to crush them. So him running toward me seemed very strange.

As I looked back at the clothes, his actions made more sense. I was no longer the only threat in the room. There stood, looming over the room, was a camel cricket at least twice the size as the first, and much bigger than Bedroom Cockroach. Here I was again, in a stare-down with yet another Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, not sure I could come out on top.

The way MUTO2 was positioned, it was very close to the clothes on the floor, but also very close to the bookshelf where I kept my clothes before they make it to the ground. I didn’t want to smash him into my clothes, but if I struck too far away from the clothes, I ran the risk of hitting the shelf and missing MUTO2 completely. As all these things are running through my head, I fixated on the idea that I could possibly miss if I swung my broom less than accurately. I pictured monster barely dodging my broom, letting out a roar that would shake the windows, then launching toward my face, wings sprawled, claws out. I wasn’t actually sure how high these things could jump, but anything that looks like it came from a sci-fi movie should never be underestimated.

I raised the broom over my head a few feeble times, not quite ready to attack. After what seemed like half an hour of staring down Godzilla’s nemesis, I realized that the longer I waited, the longer it had to act. This was it. I had to do it.

“Al,” I said to myself. “This is it. You’ve only got one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime…”

I swung the broom so hard that I was sure I put a crack in the earth; it happened so fast that I could barely see any connection between the broom and MUTO2, and at some point I started screaming.

The good news was that I didn’t yet have a camel cricket latched onto my face. The bad news was that MUTO2 was nowhere to be seen.

Some combination of the sound of the broom hitting the floor and me screaming managed to finally wake Maggie.

“Al?” She said feebly from behind her closed door. “What’s going on?”

I begged her to come out and help me. Not only was MUTO2 missing in action, but Bedroom Cockroach was still on the loose. I was losing this battle and they were probably calling in reinforcements.
“No. I’m naked,” she said.

“I don’t care! Please help!” Eventually I convinced her that I wasn’t going to shut up until she came out to help me. I broke down for her the events of the night so far. The most pressing issue was clearly the camel cricket: was it alive and hiding? Plotting its next attack? Or dead and smashed into a million pieces?

I was NOT about to get up close and personal with its hiding place to investigate, but from far away, I saw something that gave me a little hope.

“Is that a cricket leg or a string?” After a few minutes of coaxing Maggie to go up and check, we determined that it was almost positively a camel cricket appendage lost in the strike. I pretended I was following her to the place where the cricket was last seen, but I never planned on going any further than the doorway until it was confirmed that the monster was dead and removed.

Maggie poked around with the broom to try to find the carcass; each time she pushed a piece of clothing and another shifted or fell, she screamed, then I screamed. I’m starting to wonder why none of our neighbors came to the door to make sure we were OK.

After a few minutes of searching and screaming, Maggie found the body and I ran straight into the bathroom and closed the door while she disposed of it.

Feeling successful, Maggie was set to go back to bed. But that wasn’t the end. Bedroom Cockroach was still on the run and, by this time, had plenty of time to plan an escape route and/or attack plan. Although it was at least 2am at this point, I managed to get her to stay awake and help.

We cautiously pushed around the clothes on the floor, but Bedroom Cockroach was nowhere to be found.

“It’s gone,” Maggie kept saying. “I’m going to bed.”

“It is NOT gone!” I insisted.

Every time we found Bedroom Cockroach and lost him again in the dense forest of clothes, Maggie tried to convince me to give up. I suppose it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea to just go to bed, but there were a few things on my mind that I just couldn’t shake:

  1. How am I to be expected to sleep in a room where a predator, who had recently invaded my personal space, still lurks? Clearly he had no problem coming into my bed when I was awake, so what’s stopping him from crawling all over my body while I sleep?
  2. OK, say he doesn’t crawl all over my body while I’m asleep. Say I manage to fall asleep despite my constant feelings of fear and dread. Say I wake up in the morning, totally rested, not having been woken up by terrible nightmares featuring Bedroom Cockroach himself. Fine. BUT what about that morning when I woke up to get ready for work? What about my daily routine of tearing through piles of clothes looking for a flannel and jeans to wear that day? Would he be hiding under there waiting for me? Would he be inside of my favorite red and black buffalo plaid shirt and crawl out onto my hand while I was driving and cause me to wreck my car, injuring myself and possibly others?

I couldn’t take that chance.

“I’m not sleeping until this thing is dead,” I told Maggie. “And you’re not either.”

Because she’s such a great friend, she stayed up with me. We chased Bedroom Cockroach from pile to pile of clothes, Maggie swinging the broom and me acting like I was going to help from 10 feet away with a single shoe in my hand. Finally, around 3am, Bedroom Cockroach made the mistake of running through an open space on the floor (one of very few). We launched into action, both managing to land a hit on him. We mostly hit each other, though, so neither of us ended up fully hitting the pest.

We lost him again and, again, Maggie tried “OK now he’s really gone. That’s it.”

I still wasn’t giving up. After only a few more minutes of pushing socks and underwear around, he emerged. He crawled, wounded and desperate, from the pile of clothes toward the bed, where all this began. He had probably been living there for days before he made and appearance on my chest, so I can only assume he was making his way there to take his last breaths.

But we weren’t going to give him that pleasure.

With one soft hit with Maggie’s broom, he was dead. Crushed, lifeless, on the floor. I took absolutely no time to celebrate, because I knew what was coming next: the cleanup. As Maggie left the room to get something to wrap the carcass in, I followed her out then ran to the bathroom and locked myself in until she assured me that the house was cockroach-free (at least, as far as we knew).

cockroach13cockroach14

Even with Bedroom Cockroach vanquished, I wasn’t comfortable sleeping in that room. Maggie was feeling a little burst of energy from all the excitement, so we went into the living room and turned on Broad City. I ended up going back to bed close to 5am, after picking up a drunk friend from a frat party just because I happened to still be awake. After all of this, he should be thankful for Bedroom Cockroach or else he would have been walking through campus barefoot all night.

I wish I could say that this was my last encounter with cockroaches in that apartment, but it was just the beginning. We won the battle, but the next ten months were riddled with a bloody war with casualties on both sides.

The few places I’ve lived since leaving that apartment in early 2016 have been surprisingly cockroach-free. But the memory of Bugpocolypse 2015 lives on; every time a piece of lint flutters onto the ground, every time a slight breeze moves something that catches my attention out of the corner of my eye, I go into panic mode for a second.

Cockroaches, part 1

I’ve lived in a few different places so far in my life. Not a lot of places, but a few. My first venture out of the house where I grew up was into a newly renovated college dorm. It had shiny new floors, sturdy beds, central air conditioning and a semi-private bathroom. I didn’t spend much time thinking about the future at that point in my life, but I definitely had no idea that the future of my housing situation would forever pale in comparison.

My sophomore year of college wasn’t much worse. I moved to a different dorm with larger rooms but older facilities.  There was no elevator, window-unit ACs and radiators that I never fully figured out how to use, and paint that chipped off the walls and fell into my bed, revealing the asbestos-filled underlying structure. But it was fine.

As the end of my second year in a dorm approached, I was counting down the days until I had my own apartment: more importantly, my own bedroom and bathroom. Sure, my friends and I signed a lease in the apartment complex that had the worst reputation in Chapel Hill since at least the 1980s, but I wasn’t worried. It had a shorter walk to campus than any other apartment complex, and, with four people sharing a 3-bedroom, our rent was basically nothing.

The floors in Townhouse 6H were warped and slanted toward the center of every room; there was rarely hot water; the internet never worked; each room had a ten degree temperature difference from the one beside it; and we were pretty sure we had a ghost living there who constantly opened all the cabinets in the kitchen, but it was our home. Those two years in Townhouse were two of the best years of my life so far and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

There was one thing, though, that made me contemplate leaving Townhouse and never going back.

Every time I got into my ridiculously small shower (after waiting 20 minutes for the water to get hot), I was joined by not one, not two, but an entire family of cockroaches: very clearly a mother, father, two and a half children and what I can only assume is a live-in mother-in-law.

I’m not sure why me being in the shower coaxed them to come out every time – maybe it was their idea of some sort of tropical vacation into a steamy rainforest or something – but it never failed.

Now, let’s get one thing straight while we’re still in the beginning of this story: I do not fuck with bugs. Of any kind. I think they’re rude for thinking they can hang out anywhere humans hang out without being invited and they have got some damn nerve to exist and travel in such large numbers.

Typically, I make someone around me kill any bug that comes near me. And there lay the problem with my shower visitors: I was the only one around. Unfortunately, I almost always shower alone. Even if I hadn’t been painfully single, there was only room for one person in that shower, so I was always going to be on my own to face Mr. and Mrs. Roach. Most of the time, I was quick enough to smash one or two of them with my shampoo bottle before the others ran back into the small crack in the grout where they came from.

Killing a bug is never the end of the terror for me, because there’s still a carcass to be disposed of. Usually I gag the entre time as I find a way to simultaneously be as far away from the deceased bug as possible while also moving it to a trash can or incinerator or whatever receptacle is closest. This is the one and only positive thing about my daily shower battles with the cockroaches: all it took was a swift sweep of the murder weapon to push the departed down the drain. On one occasion, the drunk uncle that they brought on vacation with them was too large to fit through the openings in the drain cover, but I managed to take care of that too (after a few minutes of screaming for my roommate to come help, to no avail).

One night during the summer before senior year, my roommate (I’ll leave her name out, but let’s call her Krazy) and I were getting ready to go out just like we did every other Tuesday night. She was in her room changing into her fourth outfit possibility while I was going into the kitchen, T Pain blaring from the speaker on my phone, to take the first of many shots of Aristocrat vodka to be taken that night.

As I was standing there dancing alone, shot glass in hand, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Just a quick movement on the corner of the counter where our dishes rested in the drying rack. I was hesitant to turn and look, fearing the worst. When I finally turned my gaze, there he was: a cockroach the size of a small dog. He and I made eye contact as he waltzed slowly out onto the open counter on two feet and posted up on the corner and lit a cigarette. If there’s something I hate more than seeing cockroaches, it’s seeing cockroaches walk leisurely around MY HOME like they pay rent.

cockroach1
Of course, I had to document the entire debacle.

I hope for your sakes that those of you reading this have never experienced a cockroach up close; and for those of you who have been so unfortunate, I really hope you’ve only seen them running full speed. A relaxed cockroach is an image you can never burn from your memory.

I was alone with this giant, so I had no idea what to do. He was still a few feet away from me, but there was nothing within my reach to crush him with or to just throw at him. Plus, there were dishes all around, so any stray swing could cause severe damage. I made the coward’s decision and immediately ran to Krazy’s room.

“Krazy!” I screamed. “You have GOT to come in here! Help!”

I’m sure she knew what was coming, but she still asked. I knew if I told her that a bug the size of a party-size bag of Doritos was setting up camp in our kitchen, she wouldn’t come to help. After a few minutes of insisting that she “just COME,” I told her. We ultimately agreed that two of us against the cockroach was a better idea than just one, then crept up to the kitchen doorway. We peered into the room and saw no sign of the freeloader, so we stepped in cautiously.

Presumably smelling our fear, the previously chill cockroach made an aggressive appearance, sending us screaming and running out of the room. The screaming continued down the hallway and back into Krazy’s room, where we closed the door and agreed to stay in there and pretend nothing happened.

Only about a minute later, I got a call from our friend Aly, who was at our front door ready to go out. I ran past the kitchen to the door to let her in and she asked, eyes half-closed “were y’all just screaming? I could hear it when I was walking over.”

After I told her what happened, she didn’t skip a beat; she took off her sandal, sauntered into the kitchen, found and killed the cockroach in less than thirty seconds.  She came back into Krazy’s room where we were still hiding and we just looked at her, mouths open with surprise and disgust.

“Whatever, dude,” she said in her typical surfer-girl affect. We went on with the night and eventually our lives like nothing had happened, but I still feel like I owe a large debt to Aly.

 

Shortly after the kitchen cockroach debacle, maintenance at Townhouse finally did something about all the complaints. I’m sure they were coming from everyone in the complex, but I doubt anyone complained as much as we did. That is what we do best and most, after all: complain.

Senior year started out pretty bug-free; the only interaction worth noting wasn’t even at my apartment. I was at a friend’s house getting ready to go out (if you’re sensing a common theme here, you’re not wrong), listening to Katy Perry’s newest song, when I saw what I thought was a small bug crawling out of the bathroom toward us. As it came into clearer view, I realized that it was not a small bug, but a medium-sized cockroach, which is still too big. It was making a beeline for us, so I had to act fast. Without speaking a word or making a sound, I planted my hands on Maggie’s shoulders and pushed her while I jumped back in the opposite direction. She stumbled back, caught her balance, and just stared at me in confusion. I immediately realized that simply telling her that a giant bug was running towards us probably would have been just as effective, or even more effective since she could’ve jumped into action and done something about it. Instead, there we were, standing five feet apart, staring at each other, and the cockroach had already found another hiding place.

Maggie forgave me for assaulting her when I told her that it was basically a matter of life and death, and then we got back to Katy Perry and forgot about the cockroach. Out of sight, out of mind.

Not too long later, it made an appearance again and, true to form, I threw Maggie into action and then immediately jumped into a chair. This fight was a slightly longer and louder one than the one between Aly and Kitchen-Cockroach back home, but ultimately Maggie came out the victor. All I did to help was video her screaming and post it on Instagram.

After Townhouse, I moved to an apartment in Key West that was filled with cigarettes and other unknown drugs that our deadbeat roommates cycled through the doors, but there weren’t many bugs. I think Key West is too hot for even Satan’s messengers.

When I moved back to North Carolina, I moved into house with a college friend and her roommates. I didn’t see a single bug in that house in the six months that I lived there. My room was consistently 42 degrees even into the summer, the doors were difficult to open and a squirrel once died in our chimney, but at least there were no bugs.

After that house, I moved into another apartment in Chapel Hill that rivals Townhouse in terms of quality. Glen Lennox had also been a Chapel Hill staple since long before I was born, had warped floors and plumbing problems. The main difference is that instead of college students, we were surrounded by families with children and pets. The main similarity, though, lie within the walls…

Moped Misery

 

One thing you’re bound to notice when you visit Key West – or move there blindly a week after graduating college – is that the town is filled with scooters. They’re zipping down every road and every corner has designated scooter parking. The scooters in Key West are a lot like the people: a lot of them are barely holding on to their parts and can usually be found lying on the side of the road; there are some that are decent-looking and somewhat reliable; a select few are shiny and new, but they don’t stay that way for very long.

Since I moved to Key West with very little money, it seemed like having a scooter of my own was completely out of the question. I paid $200 for a bike (twice) and already that was too expensive for me. But I basically won the transportation jackpot during my second week there when Lenzie acquired a brand new pink scooter. Sure, it wasn’t mine and Lenzie and I rarely spent time together because of our work schedules, but at least we had a scooter in the family. It felt like we were moving up in the world and moving up fast.

scooter

 

There was a catch, though. Lenzie was borrowing this scooter five days a week from a friend of a friend in exchange for cleaning this woman’s house once a week (a job which basically consisted of lint rolling an inch-thick layer of dog hair off of every surface in the place). She lucked into this arrangement one night when she was out at dinner with a group of people and mentioned in passing that she was biking four miles from our apartment to her job every day. This lady only used her scooter on weekends, so she was happy to share with Lenzie.

The only thing equally as terrifying as riding in a car with Lenzie driving is riding on the back of a scooter that Lenzie is driving. There is one thing and one thing only more terrifying than both of these things, and that is riding on the back of a jet ski that Lenzie is driving. But that’s a story for another day.

Lenzie has never driven a vehicle without attempting to make it go its top speed at all times and, even though the top speed of this scooter was only 40mph, the wind in my face and Lenzie’s hair in my mouth made it feel more like 100mph. Lenzie’s lack of patience also led to a lot of fear that my elbow or knee would be caught on a passing car as she made her own lane in between moving traffic whenever she saw fit.

One more thing that frightened me about Lenzie’s scooter driving was her tendency to make very tight 3-point turns. When she was backing out of a parking spot, instead of backing completely into the lane where she would be driving and simply pulling away in a straight line, she would only turn slightly and have to take a half-moon turn as her first forward motion to avoid hitting whatever she was parked beside.

This last thing didn’t scare me too much, though, because it usually didn’t affect me. Balancing a person on the back of a scooter while you’re driving is already difficult, but when you’re not using the gas and pushing the whole thing on your toes (that’s how you “reverse” on a scooter), it’s nearly impossible. So when I was riding anywhere with Lenzie, I would let her back out and get into position before I would get on behind her.

About a week into Lenzie’s scooter timeshare, she and I were at a bar with a 50-year-old man who was obsessed with me and his 30-year-old friend that he was trying to set up with Lenzie when our friends called and invited us to dinner later that night. After happy hour was over, we said our goodbyes to these strange men and made our way around the corner where Lenzie’s scooter was parked. Surprisingly enough, we left this happy hour – where someone else had been buying us drinks – pretty sober (at least relative to how I’ve walked out of every single other happy hour since then). But something was clouding our judgement just enough for us to forget about our scooter-mounting routine.

We approached her hot pink scooter, the cutest one by far in the row of 10 scooters it was parked in, and hopped right on. Lenzie pushed us back on her toes, barely turning, then cranked the engine and hit the ignition. Almost in slow motion, we lurched forward and she commenced her signature half-moon turn maneuver, this time tighter than ever. I saw it coming, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt; she had been doing this every day and, as far as I know, hadn’t hit anything yet. I should have jumped off when my fear kicked in.

The next thing I remember after feeling the front of our scooter T-bone the scooter next to ours was spitting a wad of Lenzie’s hair out of my mouth as we lay face-first on top of our scooter and the neighboring three on the ground.

As I was pushing myself off of Lenzie’s back, I fully realized what happened. Still in slow motion, I spun my head around as far as possible to both sides to see if anyone else saw what happened. There was a man standing outside of the restaurant where we’d parked, but he didn’t seem to care. I knew though that the owners of the scooters we toppled over like dominos were sitting inside that very restaurant, probably sitting by the open window where they could definitely hear the commotion of a multi-scooter, multi-human pile up.

I braced myself for a rush of people coming to yell at us, and I looked down at Lenzie, ready to blame her in a heartbeat. In the 30 seconds that I took to look around, Lenzie had managed to come back from the fear-induced blackout that her body forces upon her as a defense mechanism and was also taking in the situation.

She planted her hands on the pavement and attempted to push herself up, but she didn’t get far. Her summery tank top with its deep V neck was tangled into a mess around the handle bars, basically tying her to the ground. As if this situation wasn’t already embarrassing enough, her typical strapless bikini top that she consistently wears as a bra now that she lives in the Caribbean was also caught on the handle bar, and it stayed there when she pushed her body up and away from the scooter. We may have ruined our day, but Lenzie’s boobs definitely made the days of the five hobos that were hanging out at the nearby marina that day.

Once we got her shirt off of the scooter and her boobs back in her shirt, Lenzie immediately started scheming.

“Al, this is a secret,” she said as I picked up all the other scooters off the ground, blood running down my legs.

The scooter wouldn’t start and one of the mirrors was completely broken off, so I didn’t see how we could keep the fact that we just wrecked a scooter that we didn’t own a secret, especially since the person who actually did own it was expecting us to meet her for dinner within the next half hour.

As we walked to meet our friends just a few blocks away, Lenzie pushing the scooter, we came up with our cover story. We were afraid to tell them that both of us were on the scooter because that already made it sound like we were being reckless, so here’s the entire story as our friends heard it:

I was standing a few feet away from the scooter parking with my back turned to Lenzie, watching the hobos try to get their three-legged dog to chase the chickens that were passing through the patio of the nearby restaurant. As previously practiced, I was going to get on the back of the scooter once she was clear of any obstacles. As she backed out of the parking spot, the car that was parked in the spot directly beside the scooter parking also pulled out of its spot, the careless driver failing to take in his surroundings. Since he was just leaving a parking spot, he wasn’t going very fast, but fast enough to send Lenzie over the handlebars and her boobs out of her shirt. By the time I turned around to see if Lenzie was ready for me yet, she was already on the ground and the driver of the car was checking to make sure she was OK. She was, so we just all agreed to move on with our days.

I don’t know if y’all are familiar with the shape of a scooter, but the bulk of its weight is in the back, where a passenger would sit if he were riding along. Since I was not on the scooter in this story that Lenzie concocted, there was no explanation for my limp and bloody shins that were caused by the entire scooter falling on top of me. I had to wipe up the blood before we saw our friends and just pretend like I wasn’t hurt at all. I knew that keeping our reputation and keeping the scooter was more important than my minor injuries, so I decided not to be bitter about Lenzie getting all the sympathy for being hurt.

Lenzie was relieved to find out that the mirror was an easy replacement and that the scooter would start again after a little time. Our friends continued to believe that Lenzie was hit by a car and occasionally asked why we didn’t report the accident or at least hold the car driver responsible, but one the scooter was fixed, this whole debacle was basically behind us.

In the next few months, Lenzie bought that scooter for herself, then it proceeded to get towed, stolen, dumped in the salt pond and rebuilt, only to sit in the parking lot outside Lenzie’s new apartment for years after I moved away. I’ll leave those stories for her to tell.

I spent the next few months occasionally riding on the back of Lenzie’s scooter, but mostly riding my bike and in very expensive taxis. When I got off work at the hotel around the corner from our apartment on a Friday night at 8pm, I would debate whether the 4-mile bike ride and inevitable layer of sweat was worth it just to get some drinks basically by myself. I was still young and hopeful back then, so usually I decided that it was worth it. I always regretted that choice around midnight when I had to stop drinking in order to sober up enough to bike home a few hours later. Being tipsy and riding a bike isn’t necessarily the most dangerous thing, but I was not about to lose another bike to a vodka-cranberry-induced blackout. On rare occasions, I couldn’t pass up free drinks being handed to me by older men who were trying to impress me (or by Lenzie, who was my bartender of choice for obvious reasons), so I kept drinking into the night and had to pay $25 plus tip for a cab to take me and my bike back home.

Right as I was beginning to master the bike ride from my apartment to my favorite bars – which routes were the shortest, had the most shade, the best breezes – I was over it. Biking downtown wasn’t as difficult as it had been a few months before, but the time commitment was wearing on my nerves. But there was no end in sight. I had moved to Key West months before with no money, so all the money I had been earning at work was going straight to credit card bills and to Lenzie, who paid our first month’s rent and security deposit. Once I got a little caught up on my credit cards and paid Lenzie back, it still seemed like the possibility of upgrading from a bike to a scooter was just out of reach. I was going to be stuck at my boring job forever just because it was the only place I could ride my bike to every day.

But after a lot of soul searching and Craigslist searching, I made a decision. I was going to get a scooter for myself. I didn’t care if it was cute or even reliable. I found an ad asking for $400 for a scooter that only kick-started and I was determined. I emptied out my bank account, met up with a little gay man who only had three teeth and 4 dogs, and purchased a scooter.

I didn’t really know how to drive it and the headlights didn’t work, but I was probably happier that day than I had ever been before. I drove it straight home and started looking for new jobs online. Since I was significantly more mobile now, I could tear myself away from the hotel front desk and the awful uniform that they made me wear and take myself downtown every day for a job that I would actually enjoy. Or, if I couldn’t find a job that I would enjoy, at least I could find one that was closer to bars.

Sometime after I found a new job and had given notice to the hotel, I scooted myself downtown for a night out. In the few weeks that I had been travelling on scooter, I used the same method for getting home as I had with my bike: sober up for an hour or two before leaving the bar. Something happened this particular night that made me forget my own rule and, around 3am I hopped on my scooter outside of the gay bar. As soon as I hit the throttle, my body was on the ground and my scooter was several yards away. I looked around to make sure no one had seen what just happened, then got back on the scooter to try again. This time I made it all the way to the corner, but as soon as I started to turn, the scooter flew out from under me. This time I didn’t have time to pick myself up off the ground; before I knew it, I was being hoisted up by the back of my shirt and thrown into a cab. I caught a quick glimpse of my savior before the cab door closed: Mah Jong, a drag queen who was well over 70 years old.

The next time I went back to that bar, I thanked Mah Jong for not letting me get back on my scooter; she acted like she didn’t know what I was talking about, then gave me a wink before walking away. In the hundreds of times I’ve been back to see drag shows at that bar in the years since that incident, I always made sure to avoid eye contact with Mah Jong. Mostly because I’m still embarrassed, but also because her act always sucks and I didn’t want to have to tip her.

The transportation tables slightly turned in September of that year when Lenzie’s scooter was stolen and later found in a pond. After a ridiculous day of driving up and down Highway 1 in a U-Haul, Lenzie’s scooter spent a while in the shop, so now it was my turn to drive her around like she had done for me for so long before.

One afternoon after a morning of rain, I scooted Lenzie down to the shop to check on the progress of her scooter. We had a date with our best friends for dinner later that night, but, as usual, Lenzie wanted a mid-afternoon meal beforehand. On our way home to get ready, she leaned in close to me from her spot on the back of my scooter and asked if I would stop at Wendy’s to get a baked potato, our favorite snack. I was happy to oblige and, right as we set eye on the Wendy’s, Lenzie leaned up to my ear again.

“You know who has really good baked potatoes? OUTBACK.” Key West’s Outback Steakhouse was in the same shopping center as the Wendy’s, so it wouldn’t have been out of our way to just go there instead, but I thought that was ridiculous.

“NO,” I said. “I am not going to Outback an hour before we go to dinner! We’re going to Wendy’s.”

“But Outback’s potatoes…”

That was all Lenzie could get out before my brain went into panic mode. As I began to turn into the parking lot of the Wendy’s-Outback-Rainbow-Publix-Sears shopping center, I felt the back tire of my scooter slip sideways on a patch of oil left behind by the perpetual construction on that particular strip of highway. Suddenly, Lenzie’s rambling about potato toppings faded out of my mind and all I could do was focus on steadying us. We straightened up in an instant and I was relieved as I left panic-mode, snapped out of slow motion and back into real life.

“…they have this butter…”

Barely a second later, Lenzie’s voice was gone again as I felt us fishtail a second time. I was sure I could catch myself again, but this time it wasn’t as easy. As the world around me moved in slow motion again, I felt the scooter slipping out from under us. This is it, I thought. Our last words are going to be about baked potatoes. After this thought, I was at peace with our evident death.

Sometime later, I opened my eyes to sharp pain all over the right side of my body. I looked around and saw a car with its hazard lights on in front of me, my scooter on the ground beside me and Lenzie on the ground behind me. I wasn’t in too much pain, so I started to laugh, thinking Lenzie would join in. As my eyes made their way up from the scooter to Lenzie’s face, I stopped laughing. There she was, my best friend, lying motionless on the ground, mouth open, tongue out. I had really killed Lenzie.

Before I could process any further, I heard a voice over top of me and, instead of God coming to collect us, it was a pregnant woman asking if we were OK. Something about this woman’s voice shook Lenzie back to life. I was almost in a sitting position by the time her eyes opened, and when we made eye contact, she seemed to understand immediately what happened. All she said was “uuuhhhhh…”

I pulled her up off the ground, shooed the pregnant lady away and put us back onto the scooter, which was miraculously still running. The discussion wasn’t long, but we ultimately agreed that potatoes could wait. We weren’t sure, but we assumed that we didn’t have any bandages or anything to clean our wounds with at home, so we went into Publix. We limped slowly through the aisles, covered in blood and moaning in pain and found some first aid supplies. We made it all the way through the store, through check-out and out the door looking exactly like zombies and didn’t get a single “are you OK?” from any of the staring people surrounding us.

The next few days at work were exactly the opposite: every person walking past me asked what happened when they saw my bloody arm and legs. When I told them I crashed my scooter, their first question was never “are you OK?” but almost always “How drunk were you?” And I had to answer that question with a phrase that I’m considering getting tattooed on my body because of how often I have to say it:

“I’m not drunk all the time, y’all.”

Dating without Expiating, LA: Richard

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook asking for stories of bad dates. I knew this was my time to shine since storytelling is (obviously) one of my favorite things to do. Especially when those stories are mostly negative and completely humorous. I tried and tried to think about the worst date I had been on and, to my surprise, none of them were that bad. Honestly, I haven’t been on many dates, and the ones I have been on have mostly been mediocre. I settled on a story of what I considered my “worst” date, a date that was bad because I made it that way. But thinking about all the boys that I have been on dates with got me thinking about something new: a date series.
So here it is: I’m going to take all you readers (all three of you) on a journey through my dating life, bad and good, starting in 2012. I have a surprisingly detailed memory when I really set my mind to it, so these stories will likely be a lot more drawn out than they need to be. Hopefully it’s somewhat entertaining.

Dating without Expiating LA: Richard

expiate (v.): to do something as a way to show that you are sorry about doing something bad

The same night that I matched with Cale, I began a conversation with another boy, Richard.

This conversation was much different. I started off by telling him that I sometimes attempt to be a writer, but I was feeling unmotivated lately.

“Well soon you’ll be able to write about our perfect first date that leads to a whirlwind romance and ultimately culminates in me breaking your heart. So that’ll be fun,” he said.

Immediately I knew I had found someone special, or at least interesting, which is most important. We went on to discuss how we would make our first date terrible and who would ultimately be the one to ruin it. I kind of got the sense at some points that he wasn’t kidding, which made me even more interested in him. Either he was smooth enough to carry on a completely ridiculous conversation without missing a beat, or he was a sadist. I liked both options.

Richard grew up “in” LA (more like LA-adjacent) and was going to some design school learning to design cars. The fact that he was a “womb-to-tomb Angeleno” (his words) could definitely be used to my advantage. I had been in LA less than a week and my roommate was mostly working so I didn’t really have anyone to show me around. I was determined to not mess this one up in the hopes of at least getting a tour out of it.

As the Tinder conversation continued, he kept bringing up the date that we were eventually going to go on and subsequently ruin somehow. He was thrown when I told him I don’t drink coffee or eat sushi – respectfully so, since those are LA’s two favorite things, especially for a first date. The date conversation continued, seemingly as a joke. At this point I didn’t know if he actually wanted to go on a date with me or if we were going to continue this joke forever. We eventually made our way into picking a day and time for our “disaster date.”

I ended the conversation on Tinder as I normally do: a detailed description of a ritual sacrifice and my phone number. The date was set for Thursday of that week.

richard

On Wednesday, if you recall, I spent the night with Cale. I liked Cale so much that I considered canceling with Richard for later that night. But then I remembered that if something seems too good to be true, it is, so I might as well keep my options open. I also really liked the possibility of the date with Richard going well and eventually dating two guys at once. Delusions like these are why I should wear an ID bracelet that says “don’t get your hopes up, Jack.”

After pestering me to pick a place for our date and getting nothing from me because I had literally lived in LA for 4 days, Richard planned for us to go to a rooftop bar in Downtown LA.  I had him pick me up from my apartment because I was scared to drive and park downtown and also because I like feeling like a princess.

As my pickup time approached, I managed my time poorly, as usual. After I took a long shower while listening to Taylor Swift and dried and styled my hair, I had about ten minutes to pick out an outfit. I have a knack for just throwing outfits together, but it only works when the “I’m too cool to give a fuck if I’m underdressed” vibe is appropriate. Usually I think it is, mostly because I’m too cool to give a fuck, but this time it wasn’t. This was a first date and the place we were going sounded pretty fancy.

This was in early October, so the temperature in Southern California was a consistent 95 degrees; I texted Richard to ask if I could wear cut-off shorts and a tank-top, my go-to summer look. He basically said “um, maybe you should try to step it up a bit. Maybe we’ll go to a trailer park on our second date.”

So I found some shorts that were still inappropriately short (I wasn’t going to go off-brand just for some boy who’s taking me to a fancy rooftop bar), but not shredded or frayed and threw a button-up over my tank-top. I had just slid on a pair of white sneakers with a watercolor flow print when he texted saying he was outside my building.

Side note: why do boys not come to the door anymore? I live with a 25 year old struggling stand-up comedian, not my large bulking father with a collection of shotguns. Is picking your date up at the door really a part of the “chivalry” that everyone says is dead? Or do they not teach young boys to do that outside of the South? Maybe it’s an LA thing because finding a place to park for two minutes while you go ring the doorbell would add another 15 minutes to your travel time.

I took one last glance in the mirror before I headed out and really felt that something was off. I was wearing three different shades of blue and two clashing prints overtop of one another, but I really felt those were working for me. I figured it out as Richard sat outside waiting in his car: the addition of the collared button-up shirt made the whole look a little too preppy for me. And by “a little too preppy,” I mean only a little preppy, which is too much for me. It was too late to change the whole look and I almost cried when I realized I didn’t really have any other option. I only own tank-tops and he’d already shot that down, so my only option was the button-up.

Then it hit me: the shoes. I was and still am absolutely in love with the shoes, but they’ve never been very “me.” I ditched them and threw on my combat boots and I finally felt like myself again. I ran out the door hoping that I didn’t look too weird, but knew that it was better this way. He should know now.

I got into his tiny car and was sort of surprised when I got a look at him. It wasn’t that he didn’t look like his Tinder pictures, it was just that I had forgotten what his Tinder pictures looked like. I had been so obsessed with Cale for the past 18 hours that I couldn’t remember what any other boy looked like. Ultimately it was OK because he was cute.

Instead of making small talk in the car, he demanded that I tell him a secret. I’ve made it a policy to keep all my friends’ secrets but never hold any of my own, so that wasn’t going to be an easy task. Plus, who tells a secret on a first date? Me. I told him my one and only secret that no one – outside of the full bar of people who witnessed it happen – will ever know. When I become famous and he ultimately talks to tabloids about me, he better not tell them.

We got downtown and found a parking space and when he stepped out of the car, I was relieved to see that he was also wearing shorts and combat boots. His were Doc Martens and I got mine half-off at Rack Room and the laces have several knots in them where they’ve broken and I’ve tied them together, but basically we were on the same page.

When we made it to the roof of the Ace Hotel, he paid for our first round of drinks and we found some seats outside by the pool. (Yeah.)

I had to take a moment to look at the view of Downtown and the rest of LA, which I thought was a very normal thing to do for someone who just arrived. He didn’t quite get what I was doing, so I had to cut my viewing time short and refrain from walking to all the other sides of the building to take in all the views.

I did a lot of talking on this date, as I normally do, mostly about my best friend and all the things I adore about her. I got so used to her going on dates with me in college that I think I formed a subconscious need for her to be somewhat present on every date.

I also made a lot of jokes about how much I hate life and how I wished every day that a plane engine would crash into my house, killing me on impact. Over the past few years, I’ve managed to remove most of the emotion from my voice and face, so the more I joked, the more I probably seemed serious. I could tell with every passing minute that what I was doing was wrong and he was probably going to end the date early and just pass me off to a police officer on the street to either take me home or to a mental hospital.

I managed to make it until about midnight before he needed to leave. When we got back to his car, it really hit me again how awful I was and I overcompensated by asking every small-talk question I could think of on the ride home. He hugged me when I got out of the car at my apartment; there was no attempt at a kiss or mention of a second date.

Knowing that I had ruined that date didn’t bother me too much. At this point I had no idea Cale was going to ghost on me so soon, especially after we’d made semi-concrete plans to see each other again, so I had my obsession with him on the backburner to get me through the pain of a ruined date.

Also, Richard and I had promised each other a disastrous date, so basically I delivered.

The next night I got drunk and went out with my roommate and, of course, texted Cale. At some point early in the night he told me he was going to bed, but I needed attention so I texted Richard. I found a funny picture that said “I avoca-don’t want to be alive” online while I was in line for the bathroom, so I sent it to him hoping that it would break the ice. Or at least confirm that I had been joking when I talked about dying for four hours straight.

 

avocadont

To my surprise, he responded. It was something normal and not along the lines of “please never contact me again,” so I was feeling good.  Before I blacked out, he made a comment about how attractive he thought I was and I was baffled because I genuinely thought he wasn’t interested. I was too drunk to play it cool, so I told him I was baffled. Another good move.

The next day, I realized that I had texted him one more time post-blackout, something that made absolutely no sense. I texted him to apologize and it led to a nice conversation. Maybe I will get to juggle two boys at once, I thought. I should never listen to myself. Don’t get your hopes up, Jack.

richard
This was a drunken attempt to apologize for something else I said; I’ve always been too afraid to scroll up and see what that was.

The next day, Cale stopped responding to my texts. For a while I kind of hoped that he was hospitalized for being attacked by a Hillary Clinton supporter and was going to text me in a week once he’d been discharged. That didn’t happen, so I wasn’t juggling two guys. But on the plus side, I did get to juggle Richard (he’s a handful).

School kept Richard pretty busy, so I didn’t see him much. We texted every day, though, which is good enough for me. I didn’t realize I could simultaneously get attention and be alone in my bedroom, but there was a way and this was it.

The second time I saw him was about two weeks later, on Halloween. I met up with him and a few of his friends on Santa Monica and we had a grand time. I don’t know when I managed to get as drunk as I was, since I hadn’t had time to drink all that much, but my memory of being with his friends is only about 20% there. Once my roommate finally made it out, I arranged for him to come meet me and Richard wherever it was that we were standing. Richard’s friends decided to leave, but he stayed with me, which is a lot sweeter than I realized in that moment.

In the few minutes between his friends leaving and my roommate arriving, I did something that I’m almost too embarrassed to write. Something I’ve never done and never plan to do again. We had been inching closer and closer to each other in the few hours that we were together, but the moment never really came, so I decided to make the moment while I had a chance.

“Hey…” I interrupted him. “Can I kiss you?”

Luckily he did not laugh in my face; he just nodded and puckered up for the shortest kiss of my life. I felt like an idiot. He told me the next day that he thought it was cute and that he immediately texted his friend about it when I wasn’t paying attention. That still doesn’t make me feel much better about it.

Richard and I made our way to a bar with my roommate and his boyfriend du jour and ended up making out and dancing all night with what I thought was a group of strangers*. Over the course of the night, my roommate nearly got into a fight with one of these strangers and I tried to convince Richard to steal something from them. I found out about a week later that they were not strangers, but actually good friends of Richards, which is why he wouldn’t steal from them.

*We only danced with the strangers, not made out with them.

After being at the bar for about half an hour, we stopped dancing for a minute and were approached by a lesbian couple. “Are you two dating?” one of them asked.

It’s very rare that I’m speechless, but I honestly had no idea what to say in that moment. The sane answer was “no, not exactly” or something vague like that. I looked at Richard to see if he was as confused as I was, but he wasn’t.

“Yeah!”

Apparently we were dating.

Once we left the bar, I walked hand-in-hand with Richard for about 4 miles until we reached his car elsewhere in West Hollywood and he drove me home.

Over the next week or so, we continued to text, but the mood changed. He was snarky more often than he was flirty and sometimes it seemed inconvenient for me to be talking to him. Almost everything I said to him was made into a joke, or he would just find a way to poke fun at me. I convinced myself for a while that it was just his sense of humor and that he really was flirting, but it got old fast.

I never really analyzed my feelings for him to see if putting up with his bratty-ness was worth it, and I just continued to go along with it. I had someone paying me some attention, after all, even if it was forced and occasionally just mean.

About a week after Halloween, we found a time to hang out and he took me to In N Out Burger, which I pretended to like because it seems like life in LA depends on it. I mean, it was fine, but clearly no one from LA has ever been to the East Coast, home of Cook Out. But Richard swore In N Out was then end-all-be-all of fast food, mostly because it was LA-based. Actually, he was absolutely obsessed with LA in all aspects. On our first date and in the weeks after, I talked about all the places I wanted to see and live in the future and he scoffed at every one of them. “It’s just not LA,” he would say.

That date was awkward – a lot of forced conversation that was almost entirely prompted by me. He apologized, saying that he was just tired from a long week at school and I believed him. I told myself that if he really didn’t want to be doing this anymore, he wouldn’t have agreed to see me again.

So that thought held me over for the next week or so of snarky texts from him. Turns out I was right for once, because once he decided he didn’t want to be doing it anymore, I didn’t see him again.

It was a Friday and we were in the middle of a completely normal text conversation; actually it was slightly abnormal because it was relatively light-hearted compared to the conversations we’d shared in the weeks prior. I asked him if he wanted to hang out that Sunday because I had the day off. No response. I’m guessing I just wasn’t LA enough.

 

To me, there’s nothing more despicable when it comes to dating than just ignoring a person instead of actually ending things. But I’ve learned over the past few years that it’s easiest to just let people go when they want to be let go. Almost every fiber of my being wanted to text him and tell him what a bratty jerk he was, but I knew that wouldn’t solve anything. It would probably even make him feel a little better about himself.

So I was doing pretty well pretending I was over him and unaffected by his general assholery, but then I came across an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I had been reading Anna Kendrick’s memoir, “Scrappy Little Nobody,” which focuses a lot on how difficult it is to live and date in LA. She provided me with the perfect “final” thing to say to Richard, so my last text to him is this:

richard3

I felt it was the least crazy thing to pull out of my basket of crazy things that I keep on hand for boys who reject me. As expected, he never responded.

Dating Without Expiating, LA: Cale

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook asking for stories of bad dates. I knew this was my time to shine since storytelling is (obviously) one of my favorite things to do. Especially when those stories are mostly negative and completely humorous. I tried and tried to think about the worst date I had been on and, to my surprise, none of them were that bad. Honestly, I haven’t been on many dates, and the ones I have been on have mostly been mediocre. I settled on a story of what I considered my “worst” date, a date that was bad because I made it that way. But thinking about all the boys that I have been on dates with got me thinking about something new: a date series.

So here it is: I’m going to take all you readers (all three of you) on a journey through my dating life, bad and good, starting in 2012. I have a surprisingly detailed memory when I really set my mind to it, so these stories will likely be a lot more drawn out than they need to be. Hopefully it’s somewhat entertaining.

 

Dating Without Expiating, LA, part 1 of ?: Cale

expiate (v.): to do something as a way to show that you are sorry about doing something bad

My first two weeks in LA were nothing like I’d hoped they’d be, but exactly like I’d expected them to be. I left my apartment once a day at most, usually just to drive around for a few minutes to pretend I was “exploring.”

I realized very early on that I needed friends, but I knew before I even started the drive out here that I’m not very good at making friends. I can’t tell you the last time I made a friend on my own. But that’s what the internet is for, right?

I spent the beginning of my second week the same as I’d spent my first, but I was doing a lot of swiping right and left on Tinder. I had forgotten what it’s like to be in a new place where all the gays don’t know you and your reputation. I got a lot of matches and a few messages, but nothing promising early on. One night, though, I was drinking a bottle of wine (or two) and got to talking to a few guys. Some of the conversations died off, but two kept going strong: Cale and Richard.

Cale worked in PR and lived about a mile from me. His pictures seemed fun and he had a cute smile. He actually reminded me of a few guys I had dated before. Early in the conversation, I admitted that I didn’t have any friends (I’m really good at selling myself) and he offered to be my friend.

“I’ll even refrain from kissing you when we hang out. It will be an authentic friendship,” he said. This was the kind of friendship I was looking for and Cale made me realize it. The conversation turned from innocent conversation to innocent flirting. I was really feeling this guy. Or the wine. And the wine.

I decided to make the move and him my phone number and, as soon as I pressed send, I got a message from him. With his phone number. It was probably the cutest thing that has ever happened to me.

We texted a little more that night, then he went to sleep. Or I passed out. Who can be sure?

I texted him the next day, Wednesday, but didn’t get a response for a while. I thought it was over as soon as it started, but he did text me back a few hours later. Apparently there was some sort of “crisis” at his “job” that he was “responsible for.” He texted me as he left work and asked me to hang out.

Because of the nature of our Tinder-turned-texting conversations, I wasn’t sure how much to read into this request. Of course I jumped at the chance to hang out with someone other than my body pillow, so I hopped in the shower and put on a cute outfit.

He picked me up and we drove around for a while in downtown Culver City looking for parking and a cute restaurant. There wasn’t much conversation other than me forcing him to talk. So far, it was going great.

We ended up parking at his house and walking to a close-by chain restaurant, where I only ordered an appetizer and large glass of wine. The conversation at dinner was as sparse as it was in the car, except now he was talking about voting third party because he hated Hillary Clinton. I should’ve walked out right then, but he seemed intelligent enough to have formed a logical opinion. I quickly changed the subject and hoped it wouldn’t come up again.

He loosened up a little on the walk home when he admitted that he needed a cigarette. Apparently that’s what was holding him back, because the rest of the night was a lot less awkward.

When we got back to his apartment, I wasn’t sure what to do. We walked to his car instead of to the door, so I assumed he was taking me home. He asked me to help him take in his dry cleaning. Not very romantic. Maybe this was just a friend date.

While at his apartment, we exchanged stories about our college friends and for every hot mess story I told him, he managed to at least match it. Sure, my best friend is a psychotic mess with a passion for whiskey, but his best friend was in rehab. At some point during a lull in the conversation, he kissed me. So this was a date. Or something.

After we hooked up, we lay naked on his bed for a little bit talking about our tattoos. I smiled through the explanation of his several religious tattoos and managed, somehow, to keep myself from laughing. One of these tattoos was very large and took up his entire chest and said something biblical in Spanish. He doesn’t speak Spanish. He’s lucky I was desperate because otherwise I would’ve walked myself back to my house as soon as he told me about that.

All of a sudden it was 1:00AM. It didn’t really bother me because I had no job and nowhere to be for the foreseeable future, but he had to be at work in the morning. Instead of offering to take me home, he said “So I’m not saying you have to, and I’m not really asking, but… are you going to spend the night?”

That’s literally what he said. I don’t think I’ve ever been more confused by a boy. I taught myself long ago to never get my hopes up, so I decided that “are you going to spend the night?” was his way of saying “aren’t you ready to leave me alone?”

I probably didn’t say anything for a few minutes because I was panicking. After an intense sidebar between myself, my neediness and my anxiety, we all came to a clever retort: “well I would love to, but I can’t sleep in my contacts.” This was the perfect chance for him to definitively pick a side. If he didn’t want me to stay, he would say “oh that’s too bad. Good thing I’m already holding my keys. Let’s go.” Or he could have begged me to try to sleep in my contacts or just throw them away, because surely I had more at home (I did. Probably would’ve taken that route).

For once in my life, something went better than planned (I should’ve known it was too good to be true at this point): “I have a spare contact case,” he said. “You can use that.” So he wanted me to stay.

We stayed up a little later and slept in, even though he was supposed to be at work early. The conversation was good even though he mostly liked to talk about sports. He drove me home on his way to work and texted me when he got off that afternoon.

The next morning, I texted him and asked how the sports game he woke up early to see was going. No response. Never heard from him again.

For a while, I had to drive by his apartment every day on my way to and from work.  He’s lucky I never showed up at his door, especially on the night I was sitting at the light on his corner listening to Lemonade.

A month or so went by and I was steadily texting and occasionally seeing Richard, the other Tinder boy from the same night I matched with Cale, so driving by his apartment was the only time I really thought about him.

Except for the night of the election, when I wanted to show up at his door with a baseball bat.

My lifelong companion: glasses

Do you ever think about the fact that some people don’t have to wear glasses?

I don’t think it’s fair. Like, I wake up in the morning and if I really want to see the small print on pictures on the internet on my phone, I have to find my glasses. And if I want to lie sideways in bed and watch videos on my laptop, I can only stay in the same position for about 5 minutes because my arm starts to ache because I have to use it to prop my face up above the pillow so my glasses don’t get crooked and/or press painfully into my face.

And they’re so expensive. Like, I need to have glasses so I don’t kill other people when I drive, but I have to either 1. pay for insurance, or 2. pay for glasses; both options are quite the expense.

Also, after all this money that I’ve put into them – and basically putting my life and the lives of everyone around me into the hands of a doctor who judges what I need to see by giving me a very high intensity test where I’m forced to choose which of the 8 blurry images is the LEAST blurry and eventually I just cave and pick one because I get nervous – like, I still can’t see perfectly. Probably because I get so embarrassed when I can’t read the eye chart that I just settle for whatever only slightly helpful prescription is offered to me. Or possibly because, no matter how careful I am, no matter how many times I clean my glasses, I am ALWAYS looking through a fine film of dust, dirt, hairspray and eyelashes that have jumped ship.

This is a mystery that I just can’t wrap my head around. Every second of every day, my glasses are dirty. I’ve tried cleaning them with special cleaner and a microfiber cloth, I’ve rinsed them in the sink, I’ve wiped them with the bottom of stranger’s shirts – nothing helps. Even if they’re clean in my hands after wiping them, by the time they get to my face they’re filthy again. I guess the one and only positive thing about wearing glasses is that all that gunk is landing on them and not on my face. Sorry 20/20ers: your face is probably dirty and you should consider wearing goggles or something.

And in addition to all these MAJOR inconveniences, there are so many social repercussions for admitting that I can’t see without glasses. That was my first major mistake in life, I think: admitting that I need glasses. I had actually been struggling to see the board in all my classes for about two years by the time I was 14, but I didn’t think anything about it. I had – and still have – this delusion that no one can see perfectly and there was nothing strange about what I was experiencing. That was all until driver’s ed, when we individually had to take and pass a vision test in order to “pass” the class and move on to take the permit test come our 15th birthdays. One by one, the people who were sitting at my table in what was probably the ugliest library in the world disappeared to take the vision test; they weren’t nervous that they were going to fail the vision test and ultimately the entire class even though they were paying attention 80% of the time and all the material was basically common sense. They all returned calmly, without even the slightest bit of joy that they had passed this “important” test.

Then it was my turn. I was nervous. There was a chance that giving 70% of my attention to the mustached instructor – who dedicated himself to teaching youths how to drive as a personal vendetta to the truck driver that cut off his teenage daughter in traffic in the 80s, the state of North Carolina for having a cable barricade in the center of the interstate too high so that his daughter’s car passed right under it when she jerked the wheel after being cut off and went directly into oncoming traffic, and the highway patrolman who showed up at his door and delivered the news to Mustache and Mrs Mustache that their daughter “is dead” (which is the way police officers are instructed to inform families of a death, but Mustache did NOT think was appropriate or sensitive) – was all for nothing. I wasted two weeks of my summer in that library listening to Mustache cry and putting up with him yelling at me when I was laughing at my friend Callie making fun of a girl with a unibrow that was sitting at a different table because he thought I was laughing at him telling his traumatic story for the 13th time. All that time, all those bullshit lessons on what to do when four cars come to a 4-way stop at the same time, even though I was SURE that was never actually going to happen in real life (I’m pretty sure it only happens in LA and, even here, no one pays attention to those “rules,” you just do whatever you want and plan to blame the other person if you actually end up in a wreck): wasted. Because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to tell the difference between a blurry picture of a flower and a blurrier picture of a stop sign.

I was doing my best to mask any sign of fear while the guest speaker lectured about trains and had an emotional breakdown over how many cars he’d hit on the tracks when he was a conductor – “that’s not a car, that’s a COFFIN!” – but I couldn’t put off the test. I had to get up and go put my face in a small machine full of pictures that were probably not supposed to be blurry.

After the test, I walked back to my table and whispered the news to Callie: “I missed every single one.” This was it. I was never going to drive.

The next week, I went to the eye doctor and the week after that, I picked up my glasses: rectangular rimless. They were very chic and went oh so well with my shoulder-length hair, braces and black track jacket and baggy jeans that I wore every day.

Anyway, back to the social repercussions I mentioned a while ago: by admitting you need glasses and ultimately succumbing to the need, you’re agreeing to a life full of “can I try on your glasses?”, “Your vision isn’t even that bad. Or maybe I need glasses.”, and “Do these look good on me?”

I constantly look like the stereotypical nerd in an 80’s sitcom, pushing up my glasses by the middle bridge after they inevitably slide down my face.

Every decision I’ve made in the past ten years regarding glasses has been met with discussion from my peers. First it was getting glasses, then I got new frames senior year with thick plastic rims that brought a lot of comments, all positive. Then in college I got glasses that earned the label “something that a serial killer or pedophile from the 1970s would wear.” Now barely a week goes by that no one calls me Harry Potter.

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These wear my second pair of glasses. First pair not featured because I destroyed all pictures of myself from that time period.
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A customer once asked me why I went with the “really nerdy” look by choosing these glasses.
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They’re not perfectly round, OK?! Stop calling me Harry Potter. 

I don’t know what kind of frames I’ll get next, but no doubt they will come with comments from friends and strangers alike. Also without a doubt, when I finally make the decision in whatever hip, overpriced LA eyewear boutique I end up in in a few years, I will be making the decision from a very resentful place in my heart. I hate wearing glasses.

And don’t even get me started on contacts.

 

Dating Without Expiating, Entry 2: Zach

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook asking for stories of bad dates. I knew this was my time to shine since storytelling is (obviously) one of my favorite things to do. Especially when those stories are mostly negative and completely humorous. I tried and tried to think about the worst date I had been on and, to my surprise, none of them were that bad. Honestly, I haven’t been on many dates, and the ones I have been on have mostly been mediocre. I settled on a story of what I considered my “worst” date, a date that was bad because I made it that way. But thinking about all the boys that I have been on dates with got me thinking about something new: a date series.

So here it is: I’m going to take all you readers (all three of you) on a journey through my dating life, bad and good, starting in 2012. I have a surprisingly detailed memory when I really set my mind to it, so these stories will likely be a lot more drawn out than they need to be. Hopefully it’s somewhat entertaining.

Dating without Expiating, Entry 2: Zach

expiate (v.): to do something as a way to show that you are sorry about doing something bad

I didn’t know I was gay until I was 19. I was never “in the closet” and never “experimenting.” I basically hit the ground running. In between coming out and meeting my first boyfriend, Jason, I brought a lot of boys home from bars, invited over a countless number of guys from Grindr and hooked up with a few guys in bathrooms of parties.

At the beginning of junior year, I went to a party at the house of a friend-of-a-friend and spent most of the night talking to a guy I had been hitting on for a year, but was uninterested every time. He was “straight” or “had a girlfriend” or something. Whatever. At some point that night I met Zach, a cute freshman. That night – as with most others at that point in my life – I was bold, confident and, most importantly, drunk. After spending about thirty minutes sitting outside the house in the dirt talking to him I started to get cold. Not a surprise, considering I was barely wearing a shirt, as usual. I decided to go home and I also decided that he was going to come with me. I made him hold my hand all the way back to my apartment, then he spent the night. Nothing noteworthy happened.

I didn’t see Zach for a while after that. We texted occasionally, but it was definitely going nowhere. That is, until I saw him at another party at the same house about a month later; then it was going somewhere. Straight to the bathroom behind a locked door. After that, it went back to our normal interactions: liking photos on Facebook and the occasional “how have you been?” over Facebook messenger.

I met and started dating Jason a few months later, thus ending my slut phase that was really starting to ramp up. After a few months together, Jason dumped me because I was too needy but too unavailable at the same time. As expected, I couldn’t let go. I convinced myself that we were going to get back together any day, and I continued talking to him every day like he hadn’t told me he didn’t want to date me anymore. A month went by like this, then something happened that I was sure was going to lock Jason back in: Zach texted me.

“When are we going to go on a date?”

Like I said, texting Zach was never leading anywhere before. So my immediate response was going to be “…never?” I was just going to use this proposition to make Jason jealous and make him realize that he needed to hang onto me and lock me back down again before he lost me to the rest of the UNC gay community that I hadn’t hooked up with yet (there weren’t many left, honestly).

Like most of my bright ideas, this backfired.

“A boy asked me on a date. Do you think I should go?”

“Yeah.”

I spent a few hours telling Jason how much I hated him, then deleted his phone number. Then I set up a date and time to go on a date with Zach. Sure, texting after hooking up wasn’t going anywhere, but maybe an in-person interaction would be better.

Like most of my bright ideas, this too backfired.

The day that I was going on the date with Zach, the radio in my car stopped working. I should really start paying attention to signs from the universe. When one thing goes wrong in my life, no matter how small, things continue to go wrong for quite a while after.

I picked Zach up from his dorm with music playing from my phone sitting in the cup holder. We were at the restaurant that he picked for a total of about an hour. There was no more than thirty minutes of conversation during that hour. I was still very new to this whole “dating” thing, but I knew this was NOT how a date was supposed to go.  He did tell me what happens when you get stung by a scorpion, though, which is probably one of the most interesting things that I’ve ever learned on a date. He also told me about some type of giant spider, but I forgot the name of it and I’m way too afraid to google “giant spider” to find out just for the sake of this story.

I took him back to campus, where there was no lingering in the car to continue the conversation, no hug and definitely no kiss. I still feel bad for not, like, walking him to the door or something, but there was no parking available. I blame UNC.

Afterward, we went back to occasional Facebook messenger conversations. I saw him out at a bar a few months later and we spent the entire night making out and he shoved my hand into his pants. Not much changed. It’s clear we were meant to be drunk hook-up buddies and nothing more. I actually messaged him a few weeks ago when I saw on Facebook that we were moving to the same city. He never responded.

z
This was about two months after our date. This was the beginning and end of this conversation.