ignorant: (adj) lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated
stupid: (adj) lacking intelligence or common sense; can’t be fixed
dumb-ass: (adj) see stupid
- Oxford Dictionary
A couple of weeks ago, while celebrating my 1,000th subscriber, I hosted a contest in which my readers could post topics for me to write about. Though many intriguing suggestions were submitted, the clever and insightful blogger, Wandering Voiceless captured my interest by proposing that I pen a tutorial on “How to Deal With Stupid People When They Don’t Know They’re Stupid.”
Initially, I was puzzled. Are there stupid people who know that they’re stupid? You know, ones who don’t wake up one morning and say to themselves, “I shouldn’t run for President just because Pa did it; I’m a dumb-ass.” If so, I’d like to photograph them and, perhaps, write an entire book – a tome, if you will – dissecting the psyche of the stupid animal who possesses the self-awareness to recognize just how stupid it is. For years, I’d always assumed that, by definition, stupid people are clueless to the fact that they’re stupid. That’s what makes them stupid as opposed to ignorant, a condition which can be cured with information and a few episodes of The Rachel Maddow Show. And, as my grandmother never actually said, but it sounds folksy to say, “You can’t fix stupid.”
Case in point, the other evening my hubby and I were meandering around downtown investigating every nook and cranny of the most historic section of the city that we have recently decided to call home. A serial photographer, I was snapping away at the most banal things: chained doors, abandoned fast food bags crumpled in the dying light that seeped through an abandoned, spiderweb-draped shop window, local street art, and a turn of the century building constructed of coquina stone. A few yards ahead of me, a car pulled up and parked on the side of the road.
Since we were standing directly across the street from a small, fenced park where the homeless tend to accumulate on its shaded benches during the day (known by locals as the Hobo Gardens), I hesitated, curious if the vehicle owner was the as-yet-unseen person who chases the vagrants from their zoo-like existence in this little corner of respite, before locking the gates each night. God forbid, a transient dude should fall asleep on one of the benches. In the dark. I mean, it’s not like the City didn’t give him all day to catch up on his sleep. And I’m pretty sure they provided him with lavender-scented eye masks to block out the searing brightness of the sun. But like most urban outdoorsmen, he’d probably wasted his daylight hours in conversation with his homeless buddies or weaving dead palm fronds into rosebuds to sell to the tourists.
Allowing an intinerant to enter into REM sleep at night in an unlocked park that is entirely avoided by non-housing challenged locals during the day would certainly be a travesty. Clearly, the highest and best use of such a space is to snap a Master lock on it and force the drifters to wander the streets as shadowy figures who can then be enjoyed by downtown bar patrons. After all, when you’ve just finished off a few yards of Guinness, what better than to take a swing or two at a ragged, old man with spittle in the corner of his mouth who is enjoying a conversation with the three other voices in his head? Big fun, I say.
Moreover, by forcing the homeless to roam the darkened streets, our city is providing a once-in-a-lifetime adrenaline rush for many of the tourists visiting from places like Dubuque and Wichita and Billings, who rarely are assaulted by a request for spare change accompanied by the aroma of cough syrup mixed with the eau de parfum of general stankiness. In fact, it is said that many visitors return home with gallant tales of near death experiences which invariably involved the tourist tossing bills or coins at the bare feet of a transient – who, as per their description, was likely black, male, 8 to 9 feet tall, angry and foaming at the mouth – then running as the drifter chased them down a back alley, pounding his chest and bellowing, “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum, I smell the blood of a Caucasian man.” Hey, moments like this are what vacation memories are made of.
I began to wonder what a person would say in order to extricate the vagrants from their little Garden of Not Eatin’. Dragging a billy club along the fence, would the Evictor-in-Chief evoke the memory of every prison movie ever made before sneering, “Git yer bum asses up and moving. This ain’t no Holiday fuckin’ Inn.” And he’d be right. The park is much nicer than a Holiday Inn.
Or would he approach the men and their assorted knapsacks and overflowing plastic bags with fear in his eyes, but the law on his side? “C’mon guys. You know, it ain’t up to me. Look, don’t make me pull out my cell phone. I’ve got 911 on speed dial.” When they ignore him, does he whip the flip phone out of his pocket, point it at them threateningly and say, “The safety’s not on. And once I dial the cops, that call will be recorded for quality assurance.”
Perhaps he’s read about Pavlov’s dog and has trained the park’s transients to simply haul their aching bones up at the rattle of his chains and lumber towards him, drooling like a lesbian at a sorority pajama party, their hands extended in anticipation of the small bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 he gives each one as they exit Vagrant Village. Regardless, this is a person tasked with a stupid job by stupid senior government employees who are told what to do by stupid politicians who think that locking up a lovely park at night makes my community better and safer. And I doubt any of the parties involved have a clue that they’re stupid.
However, after taking several more photos, no one emerged from the parked car. My husband strolled away to examine the old lettering on the side of a building, leaving me standing alone on the sidewalk. As I rounded the corner of the building, a young man wearing a knitted winter cap in 85 degree weather (I’m Stupid Clue #1), a tee shirt and plaid grandpa shorts hung so low the most experienced limbo dancer couldn’t squeeze between their hem and the asphalt (I’m Stupid Clue #2) jumped out of the car, skate board in hand, and began serenading me in a brash, intoxicated voice. “How can I get just one fuck? How can I get just one fuck? I guess it’s got somethin’ to do with luck…” (I’m Stupid Clue #3)
At this point he leaned towards me, dropped his skateboard and stretched out his arms, as though he was preparing to lunge at me, but I deftly sidestepped him, turned around and crooned, “But I waited my whole life for just one…,” before spinning back around and walking away. Behind me, I could hear his friends howling with laughter. The woman whom skater boy had figured was so white-bread that she’d shrink from him like a penis at the sight of a butcher knife could not only finish the lyrics to his crappy rendition of the Femmes’ “Add It Up,” but clearly wasn’t intimidated by the miniscule lump in his Scooby Doo boxers, either. Hell, that song had been my mantra when this kid’s mother was still smoking pot and giving out free hand jobs under the high school bleachers. I was tempted to return and inform him that until a decade ago, I’d regularly worn combat boots, but then I remembered my niece’s response when I’d told her the same thing in an effort to prove how cool I had been in my youth.
Me: Of course, I know who Jack White is. I used to wear combat boots practically every day of my life.
My Niece: (incredulously) Why?
Okay, now who’s stupid? It was a momentary lapse, I swear.
When I found my husband a moment later inspecting a chunk of exposed coquina shell, he asked, “What was that about?”
Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “Just some stupid ass serenading me in the street.” It was obvious that the aforementioned stupid ass didn’t think he was stupid. He and his friends, I’d surmised, found him to be amusing, much in the way my orange tabby finds rubber bands endlessly entertaining. And my cat is stupid. We love him, but he’s a dumb ass. Everyone knows it…except for him. Just last night, while our other two felines – both infinitely more intelligent than our short bus kitty – were hanging out by the water bowls, one of them rolled her eyes and exhaled a deep purr before saying, “I caught Dumb Ass eating one of the fake plants. Again. I mean, there’s fresh fucking basil growing in a pot in the living room window and he’s chewing on a plastic cactus.”
“Well, at least he didn’t keep you awake last night licking the outside of the kitty litter bag,” the other cat replied, twitching his whiskers. “If he pulls that shit again, I am so gonna bite him on the nape of the neck and dominate his ass. Fucking retard.”
Considering that the plastic cactus in question has more bite marks than all the characters in The Twilight Saga combined, it’s apparent that stupid isn’t an affliction that can be easily cured. Trial and error has zero impact on those impacted by this disease.
As I thought about the subject of stupidity even further, I began to realize that stupid people not only fail to recognize their own stupidity, but they assume that everyone else is stupid. For example, yesterday afternoon, I’d traveled to the beachside town where we’d lived until recently for a doctor’s appointment. After having lunch with a friend of mine, I’d stepped out into the bright afternoon sunshine, smart phone in my hand. For those of you who’ve read my most recent post, you may recall that my husband and I recently met a couple from Atlanta who chose to move to this particular beachside town because they believed it to be so safe. For the record, they also turned out to be pretty stupid.
I’d just made it to my car, when I was accosted by a hysterical woman with bleached blonde hair, smudged makeup, wearing hootchie mama shorts and a tank top sans bra stretched across her ample bosom, accompanied by a disheveled, tattooed, middle-aged man who smelled like a Mexican restaurant dumpster in mid-summer on the last day of a long, holiday weekend. “I just lost my iPhone!” the woman screeched, pointing a dirty fingernail in my direction. “I have to use your phone to call it.”
This was one of those moments in life in which I wished I’d had the time to order a coffee and sit down to ponder all the reasons why my phone would never, ever be released into the custody of Ms. Hootchie Mama Hot Pants. However, as the ho-with-no-phone was demanding the use of mine asap, I only had time to consider a few:
1) iPhones are expensive, but the color of this chick’s brittle tresses appeared to have been achieved by soaking the bottom ¾ of her hair in a sink filled with Clorox;
2) Neither of these folks looked like Mac users, though I was pretty sure they were using something that began with the letter M;
3) If Tits Mountain was to be believed, she’d already lost one phone. Why in the hell would I trust her with mine? Let her start with something small. Something no one would miss if it were misplaced. Like an infant.
“I’ll call it for you,” I replied, as my fingers curled themselves tightly around my phone. “What’s your number?” Tits Mountain’s face drew a blank.
“Okay, I’ll run over there and listen for it,” she finally said, trotting across the street and stopping at the corner. Her friend reached out his grimy, crusted hands, seemingly very anxious to hold my phone – as if it would make the iPhone reappear or, even better, turn into a naked breast.
“The number?” I repeated. Again, the man reached for my cell, his index finger actually stroking its corner this time. Clearly, he believed that his touch would magically relax my iron-clad grasp on my Android. Like I said before, not only do stupid people not know that they’re stupid, they think everyone else is stupid. However, the chances of me allowing him to dial a single digit on my phone at that moment was up there with the odds of Tori Spelling winning a Pulitzer for her 17th memoir entitled, MasturbaTORI. Taking a step away from him and the pervasive stench of rotting refried beans, I waited patiently. Finally, the man rattled off a seven numbers.
As the phone began to ring, Mr. Grabby Hands leaned towards me, greedily eyeing my phone, his fingers twitching like an amateur poker player’s eye. Ms. Hootchie Mama Hot Pants watched from across the street as I lifted my cell to my ear, then she proceeded to run around in several small circles on the sidewalk – not unlike a dog locating the best patch of grass upon which to squat and poo – before throwing up her hands in frustration and dashing back across the street towards us. Apparently, she believed – or wanted me to – that she’d lost her iPhone somewhere in the four foot radius of that particular corner. I mean, you never know. Perhaps she had an invisibility app on her iPhone? Maybe she was beta testing the iPhone 5 for Apple and the new phone was so slim, it was possible to lose it in a hairline crack in the sidewalk? I almost asked her, “Where was the last place you saw it?” but I had the feeling the answer would involve a motel that charged by the half hour or the discarded mattress lying next to the dumpster behind Mi Pueblo Restaurante.
When it became clear to Dumb and Dumber that the phone would have to be extracted from my hand with the Jaws of Life, they quickly dropped the charade, half-heartedly thanking me for my help. Within seconds, they approached a group dining outside – not more than three yards away – who, having just witnessed the World’s Lamest Scammers Ever Getting Hosed, picked up their steak knives and shook their heads. After unsuccessfully hitting up two biker types on the sidewalk with the same story, the couple finally admitted defeat. As I drove off, I passed them strolling hand-in-hand down the street – headed in the opposite direction of the corner where the alleged iPhone had been lost.
I couldn’t decide what was worse: that these grifters thought that I would fall for their scam, or that they continued to press forward with the hope that others in the immediate vicinity would not see through a story as transparent as a cheap dry-cleaning bag? Clearly, these were stupid people who thought everyone else was more stupider and, like George Dubbya, figured that we would misunderestimate them too.
So as it stands, I have failed Wandering Voiceless because there is no tutorial for dealing with the stupid. There are things in this life that are simply immutable. Sarah Jessica Parker will never have a petite, up-turned nose. Anderson Cooper will never marry…a woman. Kim Jong-un is never going to appear on the cover of Playgirl.
What you can’t change, you must accept. So stop sending dictionaries to New Jersey Real Housewife, Teresa “Ingrediences” Giudice. Don’t waste your time arguing with Trump about the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate. Desist with the petitions to have Ann Coulter lobotomized.
Unless Stupid is the name of your new puppy, you can’t fix stupid.
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I am a tithing member of the Church of the Holy Crock Pot. Though I dutifully praise the Crock Pot’s glories on a regular basis, take it to all the best potlucks, and actively witness to others about how the power of the Crock Pot has changed my life, it occasionally lets me down. This was the case a few months ago when I was cooking a pot roast in the depths of my early 1990s era Crock Pot. The kind with three settings: Off, Low and Scorchingly Fucking Hot. It was a housewarming gift from my mother when I moved into my very first apartment – the one with mauve carpeting.
For readers under the age of 25, let me explain that mauve is a horrid color that infiltrated the décor of the late 1980s and early 1990s, much in the same way that a CIA mole recently infiltrated al Qaeda’s plot to detonate an underwear bomb during a US-bound flight. Except mauve didn’t have good intentions. Often accompanied by its evil cohorts, peach and sea foam green, it permanently damaged the retinal cones of senior citizens and Floridian condominium owners, forever impairing their vision and, thereby, reducing their decorating choices to creamy pastels, shell motifs and stucco.
Despite my devout Crock Pot cookbook study sessions every Wednesday night, one cannot expect the Holy Crock Pot to simply reveal the secrets of the universe to just anyone. Particularly when that universe involves pot roast. That evening, I’d clearly misinterpreted the scriptures in The Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook concerning the preparation of the sacred, potted calf, letting it simmer on Low, when it should have been bubbling away on Scorchingly Fucking Hot. With dinner not in our immediate future, Matt and I headed to a local restaurant with a great bar for a few cocktails.
As we slid into a booth in the bar, we noticed that seated to our left was a well-dressed gentleman accompanied by a woman who’d likely been a blonde bombshell twenty years earlier, but was now just clinging to her svelte figure by a thread on her leopard print blouse. As we sipped our drinks and pondered the appetizer menu, Matt and I couldn’t help but overhear our neighbors discussing their new waterfront condo and raving about how much culture they’d discovered in our seaside town. Yes, it’s true. In our little city, you can’t throw a stone without hitting an art gallery specializing in oversized paintings of a beachy sunsets that will perfectly match your sea foam-colored sofa and table lamps with sea shell-filled glass bases.
And then I saw her. Megan.
Memories of gatherings filled with hippie types came crashing back like a teenager returning home in his father’s purloined car after a keg party. I’d eaten my first piece of sushi whilst swinging in Megan’s Sky Air chair. I’d cheered her on as she’d scaled the interior stone walls of the infamous Generic College hangout, Coblin House, in order to reach the second floor, where she’d proceeded to dance barefoot on a slim plank of wood that framed the opening to the loft – even though the fall could have killed her. My date to Megan’s wedding was our mutual best friend, Todd, who had handed me tissues throughout the reception held on a boat cruising up and down the bay. And as soon as all of Megan and Jarrod’s elderly relatives had returned to their hotel rooms, we had converged upon their rickety wooden house that squatted on the edge of an orange grove for the real reception – a blowout that extended until dawn and didn’t officially end until the last drunken guest had awakened from his supine position on the dining room floor, and mumbled “Congratu-fucking-lations!” before stumbling out the door – and into my car. As vodka and I hadn’t yet been introduced formally, I’d driven a lot of people home that day.
And here she was. I hadn’t seen Megan in close to a decade. She was sitting with a short-haired man dressed in linen who resembled Val Kilmer. Where was skinny, long-haired, goateed Jarrod? Had they divorced? Quickly, I glanced at her ring finger to find her sparkler still in place. Was she having an affair with this man? For a few moments, I studied her body language. Always a flirt, Megan was leaning forward, smiling, laughing that husky laugh. For chrissakes, her pupils were dilated. She was into this guy. For a minute, I was filled with a loyal rage. How could she do this to poor Jarrod? He’d always been the Ethel to her grape-stomping, Vitametavegamin-swilling, Harpo Marx-imitating Lucy. Not a Ricky. Ricky would have demanded some “splainin’,” but Jarrod had always gone along with Megan’s antics because she was a light that couldn’t be dimmed. A flame that couldn’t be ‘splained. Was it any surprise that her favorite color was yellow and her preferred blooms were sunflowers? Megan glowed…and we all basked in her radiance and felt the better for it.
The moment we locked eyes, her lips spread into a brilliant smile. Within seconds, I was up and we were embracing one another, jibber-jabbering about how long it had been. Clueless as to why I’d bounded over to hug a woman he’d never met, Matt stayed planted in his seat, until I loudly announced that I was married and urged him to rise and meet Megan. Still slim and casually elegant, she wrapped her arms around my husband, her long golden waves shimmering in the warm hue of the bar lights. My slender figure was petulantly hiding back in 2005, mocking my
chubba wubba voluptuous curves from the space time continuum. To make matters worse, I was growing out a pixie cut that was in desperate need of a trim and, instead of it drawing comparisons to Audrey Hepburn from the restaurant patrons, my hair was likely spurring sudden, subliminal desires to order the smoked mullet.
Once Megan released my husband, she gestured to Val Kilmer and chimed, “Matt, meet my husband, Jarrod.”
What? I gave the imposter-posing-as-Jarrod the once over, resisting the urge to blurt out, “ Look, Iceman…I loved you in Real Genius, but I can’t allow you to turn my Megan into a Jezebel.”
But as I studied his strong square jaw line and soft brown eyes, the Jarrod I remembered began to emerge – a hippie trapped in the body of a washed-up actor. Fortunately, it wasn’t the bloated Val Kilmer of late, but neither was it the shirtless, volleyball-playing fighter pilot whose photo had adorned many a dorm room wall. The worst part was that Jarrod didn’t recognize me either. Fuuuuuuuuuck!
“Jarrod, it’s me, Cristy.”
Without a flicker of recognition in his eyes, Jarrod nodded. “Umm. Yeah. Of course. You changed your hair, didn’t you?”
Yeah, but at least no one mistakes me for Molly Ringwald. “I was blonde the last time you saw me.”
“Oh yeah. That’s it,” he said, with a smile. That and the fat suit you’re wearing.
By then, the condo purchasers had become enraptured with our conversation…listening to every word while carefully staring off in the distance, but not so far away as to eclipse our presence in their peripheral vision. Once Megan returned her attention to me, she immediately asked about my writing. When I admitted that I had recently completed my first novel and was penning a humor blog, she broadcasted to the entire bar that I was a great writer, an introduction that could result in only one thing. Utter humiliation. The minute I revealed – to bar patrons who were complete strangers – that my novel wasn’t actually published and that I was looking for an agent, their interest level in me dropped faster than a toddler down a well. A dry well. I’m pretty sure I heard a thud as their enthusiasm hit the dirt like a skull.
As Megan and I swapped stories about the last decade, Matt began chit-chatting with our bar neighbors. Within moments, they were sharing inside jokes and laughing together as though they were frat buddies who’d hijacked the mascot of their school’s biggest competitor back in the day. Meanwhile, I began to get the impression that Megan’s life had not turned out the way she’d expected. A teacher for many years, she told me she’d quit her beloved profession and was answering phones part-time at a friend’s business. When I asked what precipitated her decision, Megan squirmed noticeably and offered a euphemism to the effect of, “Oh, I just needed a change.” She expressed an interest in writing. I encouraged her to keep at it and offered to read anything she was working on if she felt like sharing.
But then Megan began doing the things that Megan always eventually did. Compete. Complain. And charm the socks off everyone in the room…except for the people who know her.
“What happened to my glass of wine? It was right here. I wasn’t done,” Megan announced to the room in general. Waving the waitress over, she whined, “I had a full glass of wine sitting right here. Did you take it?” When our server denied responsibility, Megan refused to drop the issue – like a dog with a mouthful of stuffed, squeaking, faux dead duck. I swear she even shook her head from side to side vigorously – as if to break the waitress’ neck with the ferocity of her convictions. ”Yes, you did. The glass was full. I’d only had a sip, ” she insisted, the alcohol on her breath strong enough to sanitize the road rash on the butt of a man whose scooter had collided with a fertilizer truck. “You need to bring me another one immediately.”
I was reminded that one of the reasons we basked in Megan’s glow so willingly was that the rest of the time in her presence could be like Juneau in the dead of winter. I wrapped my cardigan around me a little more tightly. Despite the fact that it was Megan and Jarrod’s wedding anniversary, our golden girl couldn’t resist an audience. So as she entertained our bar neighbors with a slew of stories I’d never heard about motherhood, dancing and cotillion, any hopes I may have had of sharing a meaningful conversation with her were dashed. Megan was driving this car, pedal to the metal, and we were passengers clinging to door handles just hoping she’d slow down before she ordered us to jump. Within minutes of meeting these people, Megan was throwing out invitations to Dexter-themed parties to come. And discussing country clubs. And yacht cleaners.
Country clubs? Yachts? What happened to the barefoot Megan who always had a daisy tucked into her hair?
And then Megan steered the conversation back to just the two of us. And Todd. Oh. Dear. God. We have a decade to catch up on and this is what she wants to talk about. ”Whatever happened to Todd, Cristy? I haven’t heard from him in years.”
I know, I thought. If she had, she would know that Todd had gotten engaged. And married. She’d know that Todd had moved out to the West Coast and was working on his graduate degree. “You know, Todd,” I responded lightheartedly, not wanting to be the bearer of tidings that would likely piss her off. “He’s so bad about staying in touch.”
“Haven’t you heard from him?” she asked. I nodded weakly, admitting I had. “Oh. Well, I’ve left messages. I even called his mother and…nothing.” My smile was toothless and pained as if it had been painted on by an artist with Asperger Syndrome. Even I knew a call to Todd’s mother usually accomplished…well, nothing. In fact, for years, she called me for updates about her son. “Well? Where is he?” Megan demanded.
“Oregon. He’s in Oregon.”
“Why?” she persisted. “What’s he doing out there?”
Freezing his ass off. Carrying an umbrella. Gradually turning translucent. Getting all the really “in-jokes” on Portlandia. “He’s in school. He’s working on his graduate degree. He’s doing really well.” C’mon, just say you’re happy for him and drop the fucking duck.
But Megan’s competitive streak had reared it’s angel-faced head because I had the audacity to know something about Todd – a person she still considered her best friend despite the fact that they hadn’t spoken in a decade – that she didn’t know. “Why did he have to go to school out there?”
Because his wife is a huge Pink Martini fan and wanted to live closer to the band. Because that’s what people do…they move away. Because he’s not your minion, Megan. “That’s where he and his girlfriend moved.” It was only a little lie. Not really one at all. After all, Todd and Raina were only engaged when they moved out there. I mean, technically, Raina was just a girlfriend with an uber nice ring on her left hand.
“He’s got a girlfriend?” Megan hissed. And that’s when I realized it. Her claim upon Todd was as real in her mind as a forty-niner’s staked claim to a vein of gold in California. This was jealousy, plain and simple. And suddenly, it occurred to me that this conversation was never meant to be about catching up on our lives. It was an intelligence gathering mission about Todd.
“Ummm. Nooooo. Not anymore.” Though the terms girlfriend and fiance could easily be considered interchangeable, this was not the case with the word wife.
Megan’s face suddenly brightened. “Oh. So he’s single, then?” I prayed that Val Kilmer wasn’t overhearing this bit of the conversation.
Erm. Fuck it. My thighs were aching from dancing around the truth for the past few minutes. She needed to know the facts. And I needed to order another martini. Hopefully, she’d then move on to less stressful topics like tsunamis and waterboarding. “No, Megan. He’s married. He got married a couple of years ago.”
Though the conversations around us continued unhindered, the silence in the eight inches or so between our heads was deafening. Finally, Megan asked, “Why didn’t he call me?”
“I don’t know.” I didn’t know. The disintegration of Megan and Todd’s friendship had never been discussed. And I hadn’t asked. It was none of my business. “Maybe he didn’t have your number?” I suggested weakly. Maybe he found out that you are a possessive psycho friend prone to interrogating the innocent.
Megan insisted that her number hadn’t changed. “We haven’t even moved. He knew how to find me,” she spit, as though I had assumed the role of Todd’s personal correspondence assistant and should share in the responsibility of this faux pas. “Well, did you go?” Megan’s halo of blonde hair suddenly began to singe my corneas like an interrogation spotlight.
Awkward. If I tell the truth, she’ll be hurt and I’ll feel like a bitch. If I lie, Megan will eventually find out, and then I’ll be a lying bitch. I can’t win. “Yes, Megan. I was one of his best men.” Her face fell. Then her nostrils flared as the realization hit her that I had been a member of the wedding party. Which meant I must have been in on the conspiracy to keep her off the guest list. And I probably knew who shot Kennedy and if astronauts really landed on the moon. ”Look, I don’t know what happened between you two–”
“I know what happened,” she interrupted. Then, leaning in even closer, she whispered, “You know, Todd was always in love with me.”
Of course, he was, I wanted to say. Because it’s all about you, Megan. At that moment, I realized I couldn’t remember ever spending any time alone with Megan. Just the two of us. No lunch dates. No girls’ night out. In fact, every time we were together, we were usually surrounded by her friends – friends who were typically straight, single men. Men who basked in her glory. I hadn’t just told Megan that Todd’s life had changed drastically without her
permission input; I’d confirmed that he was no longer one of her back-up dancers. Someone else had captured his attention. Permanently. And he was happy. Really happy.
And who knows, maybe Todd had been in love with Megan eons ago. I was once a size 4 and strutted my stuff in a fashion show that aired on MTV. That and $14.50 will get you a mochaccino at Starbucks. “And now he’s in love with Raina,” I said firmly. “She’s his best friend now. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” And I meant that. I’d included those words in my best man’s speech that romantic evening in New York.
Megan abruptly ended our conversation and returned her attention to our condo-buying acquaintances. It turned out that the couple were from Atlanta and had firm views on the MARTA, Atlanta’s public transportation system. “You know what MARTA stands for, don’t you?” the aging bombshell asked us with a wink.
Oh. Dear. God. How did Matt and I meander into a bar that could provide not one, but two really uncomfortable moments in less than a half hour? Give her the benefit of the doubt, Cristy. Maybe they’ve come up with something that isn’t incredibly trite and racist. “No. What?” I asked, my eyebrow cocked in warning. Don’t fuck with the eyebrow.
Tittering, the cougar whispered loudly enough for people in Georgia to hear, “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
Oh, no she didn’t! Then I heard Megan giggling. Since when do hippies laugh at unimaginative racist acronyms? “Really?” I said through gritted teeth. “Funny, but the last time I rode the MARTA, I didn’t notice many black people on it. And the people I did notice looked like commuters and students. But then, Atlanta’s African Americans are some of the most educated and wealthiest people in the country. I’d imagine that most of them don’t need to take public transportation.”
The woman pursed her lips. “Well, the MARTA’s gotten really bad lately.”
“In the last five years?” I asked. Maybe they’d switched to really uncomfortable seats. Or worse, maybe they’d begun playing Muzak over the loud speakers.
“Oh, yes. It’s bad. Our friend won’t let his college student son ride on it.” I resisted the urge to ask her if their friend also believed in the Mayan calendar and had a basement stocked with automatic weapons, canned goods and bottled water in preparation for the end of the world. “In fact, we avoid the downtown area altogether.”
Stifling my laughter, I replied, “Heck, the last time I was in Atlanta, I used to power walk from my hotel downtown all the way to Olympic Park. It seemed perfectly safe to me.” My husband just sat there, stone-faced. He has little tolerance for racists, and even less for pussies.
Megan suddenly chimed in. “You’re brave. I can tell; you’re fearless.” Without a hint of irony.
Huh? Me? Walking around a city in broad daylight hardly constitutes brave. This was not the Megan I knew. For years, I’d admired her free spirit. Her willingness to dance on a strip of plywood ten feet above the ground without a care. Hell, a few minutes earlier, she was inviting absolute strangers to visit her home for a serial-killer themed party. But they were white. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t take the MARTA, Megan?”
“It’s not like New York, Cristy.”
Damn straight, it’s not. It’s a hell of a lot safer than New York. What was she trying to say? The population is, erm, darker in Atlanta than it is in New York City? “Okay, how about D.C.? You’d ride the Metro in D.C., right?” She couldn’t say no to that. Matt and I had just visited D.C. a year earlier. While my husband attended a conference, I’d ridden the Metro all over town and walked the streets alone…with only my lip gloss for protection.
All four of them – even Jarrod – just stared at me uncomfortably. Matt’s silence, however, was brought about by pure shock. He hadn’t been surrounded by so many pussies since he visited a strip club in college.
“You forget,” Megan said, viewing my furrowed brow and slack jaw, “that I was agoraphobic for two years. Jarrod and me – we got mugged in Tampa.”
“Really? I’m sorry to hear that, but I don’t think I knew you then.” Agoraphobic? Next thing, she’ll be telling me that she hoards newspapers, magazines and those little plastic round things that you pull off milk cartons.
“I think you did,” Megan insisted.
No, I’d remember knowing that someone is agoraphobic. I mean, how would I even meet that person? I’d have had to just go knocking on random doors and asking people, “Do you leave the house? No? Great, wanna hang out? I’ll bring Chinese take-out.”
The Atlanta couple was terrified of Tampa, hence their decision to buy a condo with 24-hour security in our safe little corner of Florida (which actually has a higher crime rate than Tampa…but let’s not allow silly things like facts and statistics to mar the absurdness of this story). They related a tale about driving to visit a particular business in Tampa. Supposedly, as they drove into the neighborhood where the business was located, white men wearing neon orange vests waved them on – away from their destination. Raising their eyebrows, the couple gave us all a meaningful stare. One that puzzled the fuck out of me.
“So who were they? Construction workers redirecting you towards a detour?” I asked hesitantly. The woman shook her head.
“No! They were telling us to move along because we didn’t belong there in the ghetto,” the woman declared. Her boyfriend nodded his head solemnly in agreement. Clearly, fear and stupidity are bedfellows. ”And when we finally got to the right place, all the brothers were eyeing our hubcaps.”
Did she really just refer to African American men as brothers? “What do you drive?”
“A Honda. It’s a hybrid.”
As a hybrid owner myself, I notice that a lot of people eye my car. Some of them happen to be black. And, yet, my hubcaps have never been stolen. “Did it occur to you that the brothers, as you call them, might have just been wondering what kind of mileage your hybrid gets and whether or not it’s worth it?” Or maybe they were thinking, “Check out the cougar! If you whistle in the vicinity of her cleavage, I bet you’ll hear an echo.”
The couple exchanged glances that said, “These poor people are so naive.” The look on Megan’s face made it clear that she thought that Matt and I were probably paying the brothers for protection – and that’s why we’d never been mugged.
I couldn’t take another minute of this conversation. Downing my martini, I racked my brain thinking of an excuse to leave…immediately. The Holy Crock Pot turned out to be my savior. “Oh, honey! We’ve gotta go,” I exclaimed, slapping my forehead with the heel of my palm. “I nearly forgot about the pot roast.”
That night, the Holy Crock Pot had shared its divine wisdom with me. It had removed me from the confines of my home and my comfortable friendships with people who share my values – and placed me in the presence of people who no longer did. As much as I sometimes long for those carefree days of staying up all night reading poetry, playing drums, and discussing philosophers I really didn’t understand with Megan and other friends, I realize that I can never go back to those days. Or to high-waisted jeans. Make that any jeans that don’t include the word stretch somewhere on the tag.
Why? Because I’ve changed. I understand those philosophers now. Okay, I might have thrown away the books by the ones who bored me – which would have been most of them. Regardless, I stopped searching for who I was to become and simply became that person. A person who will sit next to a Muslim on a plane just as comfortably as I would sit next to a white woman – unless that white woman has a screaming infant in her lap. I’ll take being sandwiched between an overweight Muslim dude using a seat belt extender and a loquacious Born Again from Branson, Missouri on a non-stop international flight - riding in coach - to avoid that particular form of torture.
I became a person who doesn’t make the following announcement to every Indian customer service rep I encounter on the phone: If this call is being recorded, I want it known that these jobs need to go to Americans. You don’t deserve these jobs. You hear me! (Yes, I once had a boss who instructed me to do this. I refused. She, in turn, refused to believe that most of the customer service reps in India actually have graduate degrees – which they do.) I’m a person who doesn’t tighten her grip on her purse strap because someone darker than a latte is walking behind her on the sidewalk. A person who doesn’t believe in gay and lesbian rights, but in human rights – for all people. Because gays and lesbians are humans, first. And Kathy Griffin fans, second. A person who rejects fearmongering disguised as patriotism. Yes, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA – I’m talking to you. Obama’s not going to take away your precious Second Amendment – or your storeroom filled with freeze-dried astronaut food and gold bullion.
I know. I know. How mighty white of me to establish what an open-minded, perfect human specimen I am. But this is how I roll, and it’s how I rolled 20 years ago. But being mugged – and the fear that came with that act of violence – apparently caused Megan to just roll over, pull the bedspread over her head and hide. She didn’t evolve into the person I’d expected. If anything, she’d devolved into a person with irrational fears, still clinging to her youth as it’s wretched from her grasp – man by man. And fear is the basis of racism. Fear fuels the hatred that inspires acts of bigotry. How do I know this? Because one of the most respected entities in the universe said so: Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. - Yoda, Grand Jedi Master and yoga aficionado. You don’t argue with the owner of a lightsaber. No, the one you bought at Comic-Con doesn’t count.
So as you go about your day, allowing your fears or your past to guide your decisions, consider the rhetorical question posed so succinctly by my sage Blogging Bestie, Stacie Chadwick in a recent post: ”When did taking the road less traveled morph into plotting the easiest path?”
And then answer this question in your comments below: When did taking the road less traveled morph into hailing a cab because you’re too afraid to take the subway?
As always, names have been changed to protect the innocent and the assholes.
I am a sucker for a bargain. Every week, I hit the BOGOs (Buy One Get One Free deals – though they really should be called BOGOFs, considering the free portion of the deal is the most important) at my local grocery store, stocking up on olive oil, tea bags, lactose-free vanilla ice cream and A1 Steak Sauce. Okay, in the latter case, it’s more like Buy Seven Get Seven Free, but let’s not squabble over details. Regardless of my penchant for a deal, I pride myself on not purchasing crap we don’t use – which is why our pantry is not stocked with forty-four cans of green beans (Good lord, they can’t give those things away. They’re on sale every single week.) and why Mrs. Paul Fish Sticks remain in the freezer section at the store.
However, there’s something about Amazon.com’s $5 magazine sale that is simply mesmerizing. I love magazines – and for a time, my addiction to periodicals was becoming something of a financial burden, but less harmful to my esophagus than my issues with A1 Steak Sauce. I’d stock up as I waited in the grocery line, carefully stacking not one, not two, not three, but four trash magazines about celebrities and their silly little lives on top of my BOGO cans of diced tomatoes. At anywhere from $2.95 to $3.99 a pop, I easily spent ten to fifteen bucks a week just so I could keep up with who Justin Bieber was dating; whether or not Kim Kardashian’s right ass cheek had suddenly deflated – as I fully expect it will one day; and what species of monkey Snooki is and how I can expedite its extinction.
In this pop culture obsessed era, I can’t possibly keep up with the times any other way since I refuse to watch most tawdry reality programming on television and I don’t own a teenager. If I’d had the sense to purchase a child at the appropriate time, I’d have a serf at my beck and call who would not only be completely prepared to report to me a summary of this week’s Gossip Girl episode and the name of Katy Perry’s latest hit song on demand, but could also explain to me the allure of Chris Brown and why Rihanna continues to associate with him. Is she coming out with a new makeup line that includes eye shadow shades called “Bruise” and “Welt”? What? Too soon?
Were I a complete simpleton, life would be much less expensive because I would stop after snapping up my regular copies of Us Weekly and Life and Style. But I’ve got to have my Vanity Fair, Wired, The Atlantic, Time, Discover and a wide variety of other periodicals that my husband and I inhale the way a college philosophy major sucks up the smoke from the mouth of a bong. Then Amazon.com came into my life – and with it, emails advertising its innocuous $5 magazine sale. For the price of five copies of People, I could enjoy an entire year of Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic, Popular Science and Woman’s Day. Twelve whole months! But I didn’t stop at four magazines, I clicked the subscribe button again and again, each time mentally figuring my savings. I could read The New Yorker for less than eleven cents per issue; I’d finally have the opportunity to bury myself in the short stories I’d always aspired to write, and read reviews about plays and concerts and gallery showings I’d never be able to attend since I live over a thousand miles away in Florida. How sophisticated I would become – something a free gallon of Breyers had never done for me. And this is where we arrive at the nexus of my problem, otherwise known as Cosmopolitan.
As a twenty-something, upwardly-mobile young woman, Cosmo had been my bible, teaching me everything from how to build abs strong enough to weather a nuclear blast to how to select the perfect jeans for my arachnid-longish legs to how to perform fellatio with warm honey in my mouth without gagging. Okay, I only actually mastered the second item on that list, much to my husband’s chagrin. As I hit my mid-thirties, I discovered that there’s really only about a hundred sex tips out there and that the magazine recycles them, in the same way I pull out that dress I wore to the office Christmas party three years ago and wear it again – to this year’s party – hoping my husband’s co-workers were too drunk to remember that particular chartreuse number. I no longer care to know “What Men Really Think,” only what my husband really thinks when I ask him if I look fat in said chartreuse cocktail dress. Fully capable of achieving an orgasm, selecting a nail polish color without consulting an expert, and extremely competent at flat-ironing my own hair, Cosmo has lost its strange spiritual and maternal hold on me. Yes, I’m all grown up.
Yet, there I was, tempted by the opportunity to again peruse its glossy pages for a mere forty-two cents a month. I couldn’t buy a single can of diced tomatoes for that price. Perhaps there were new ways to remove bikini hair painlessly or a revolutionary naughty move I could try out with my hubby that didn’t involve sticky food products, electronics or furry handcuffs. I could be missing out. So unlike the fish sticks, I stuck a year’s worth of Cosmopolitan – the veritable whore of all women’s magazines – into my virtual grocery cart, paid for it with my debit card and awaited its arrival.
And so it came. Sealed in clear plastic lest the mailman drool over (or worse…ugh) the inevitable display of cleavage on the front cover – a marketing strategy that never quite made sense to me unless the publisher was secretly targeting lesbians and men – I opened it with the hope that something had changed in the decade since I’d read this particular rag religiously. But nothing had. With the sheer exception of Selena Gomez’s ample bosom gracing the cover instead of Cindy Crawford’s, not much was different – the layout, the general content, the sex tips, the platform sandals, the emaciated models – all the same. Except for one thing. The advertisements – which had gotten even worse.
I know. Before you say it – how could advertisements get worse? Especially in the pages of Cosmo. Well, they can. Or, more accurately put, manufacturers seem to have given up when it comes to lower-rent magazine ads – and the products they represent. In fact, they can’t be bothered to even give the product a decent name.
Case in point: Dolce & Gabbana’s fragrance, light blue. Dominating the back cover of Cosmo in a full page, color ad – generally one of the most expensive placements a sponsor can purchase – the promotion insulted me with both the female model’s wide-angled, white bikini-clad crotch shot, and Dolce & Gabbana’s failure to even try when it came to selecting a moniker for its over-priced eau de toilette. I mean, really. Light blue? That’s the best they could come up with? Were azure, aquamarine, beryl, turquoise, teal, sea, sapphire, ice, cerulean, topaz, ocean, daffodil, pale, Prussian, smoky, baby, royal, indigo, cobalt, ultramarine, cornflower, berry, sky, periwinkle, wisteria, violet, steel, electric, powder, cyan, midnight and Persian really already taken? It’s as though D&G’s marketing department decided to pull an April Fool’s Day prank on its designers and said, “Hey, let’s tell ‘em the focus groups LOVED the name light blue! We’ll say it test-marketed off the charts. It’ll be payback for last year’s crappy Christmas bonus. Italian bastards!”
Naming a perfume light blue is worse than just calling it blue. At least, blue is simple. In fact, it’s elegant in its purity and restraint. It’s evocative. It could be a color. It could be an emotion. It could be part of a French curse. Perhaps that’s why Chanel called one of its fragrances, Bleu de Chanel. (Don’t even try to argue with Coco or her company – even though she’s dead, her pearls and taste live on.) However, by prefacing blue with something as utterly dull as the word light, D&G effectively spit in our collective female faces, then said in a withering Italian accent, “You just weren’t worth the effort. We couldn’t be bothered to come up with something memorable or interesting or elegant, you silly readers of American slut magazines. In fact, we’re not even going to bother capitalizing the name. Vaffanculo!”
Now, I wouldn’t expect Wired or National Geographic to advertise perfume, so I turned to my trusty copy of Vanity Fair, the bastion of expensive advertising. Sure enough, D&G didn’t dare run an ad for light blue in VF’s pages. Why advertise their unimaginatively-named toilet water in a magazine read by people for whom sapphire and Tiffany blue are the norm? (What? I have sapphires. They’re my birthstone.) Possessing higher expectations than the average Cosmo disciple, VF readers have paid top dollar over the years for the likes of wordsmithing by Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie, Dorothy Parker, Clare Booth Luce, Langston Hughes, A. Scott Berg, Dominick Dunne and Sebastian Junger. Somehow, I just don’t see Rushdie ever penning an column for Cosmo entitled, “Little Black Dresses That Will Garner You Death Threats” or Berg authoring an in-depth profile on Charles Lindbergh’s “Top Ten Sexual Positions Bound To Drive Your Man Airborne.” Nope. They have higher standards and – at 43 – I probably should as well.
But I was conned by the promise of a $5 bargain. Sucked into the frigid, air-conditioned pages of a glittering casino-like magazine splashed with bright, gaudy colors; tantalizing words like sex and orgasm and shoes and pedicure and handbag flashing at me like a strobe light above a one-armed bandit; and a veritable smorgasbord – an all-you-can-eat buffet, if you will – of information about understanding and pleasing the complex species known as Man, and how to look skinny, fashionable and youthful while doing it. And now, I’m paying for it. Five whole bucks – and I’m forced to look at the perfectly-waxed crotch of an anorexic, spray-tanned model wearing a white bikini (Hello! Always a mistake – I don’t care if they’re supposedly lined.) while being embraced by an equally-bronzed male model who stares at me mockingly while hocking a woman’s perfume that doesn’t have the decency to don an appropriately vivid and eloquent name in the same manner that one dons a robe before answering an early-morning knock at the door.
Before I completed my character assassination of D&G’s lame ass branding (How’s that for eloquent?), I figured I should see if any other designers, pseudo-celebrities or perfumeries put as little time and effort into naming their fragrances. Perhaps this isn’t indicative of disrespect for the Cosmo-level clientele on behalf of the perfume industry; perhaps the people who make “stink-um,” as my grandmother used to call it, are just lazy by nature. My research uncovered a vast spectrum in the fragrance-naming game, but here are a few of my favorites:
Cumming by Alan Cumming
Funeral Home by Demeter Fragrance Library
Full Choke by Francesco Smalto
Solar Donkey Power by Henrik Vibskov
McGraw Southern Blend by Tim McGraw
Of course, my taste leans towards the gutter and the latter sounds like a whiskey I’d buy if I drank whiskey. That said, even
morons celebrities like Paris Hilton put more thought into their perfume branding than D&G. Though Heiress, Can Can, and Fairy Dust aren’t names that reek of elegance or imagination, at least they smell of some level of effort, however small. And how embarrassing is that? Yes, Dolce & Gabanna, Paris Hilton did a better job at something than you – and it didn’t involve wearing an uber short dress, carrying an accessory animal, being talentless, or shrieking, “So hot!” when prompted.
And with that, I am cancelling my subscription to Cosmopolitan, folks. My aging heart can’t handle the rage that burns in me when insulted by fragrance ads aimed at vapid college students who think cunnilingus is the latin word for clever. Or worse, a sexually-transmitted disease. Bargain or no bargain, I can’t afford to believe there are more sexual tricks than I already know – or am sufficiently-flexible to perform upon request. Fashion has already been restricted to black, basic black, slimming back, lacy black, sparkly black, sexy low-cut black, clingy black, black Spanx and the jeans that Cosmo taught me years ago I could wear without looking ridiculously pear-shaped. And I understand my man – at least enough to know that my roasted rosemary chicken served up with steamed asparagus makes him deliriously happy and that he really appreciates it if I put the television timer on before we fall asleep at night. He’s my real bargain – and there’s not another one like him to get for free if I tried.