The morning began like most, with lots of noise from my upstairs neighbor, followed by an avalanche of emotions. Currently at the top of the hit parade is loneliness, aching loneliness, followed closely by paralyzing fear and raw frustration. And this thought, this gnawing thought, that I push away, and then inexplicably, Pam. Why the hell am I thinking about Pam? She hasn’t been in touch since before the year 2000. She wanted this carved wooden penguin so much when we were married. Then she calls, trying to get me to take it, as if I ever wanted this carved wooden penguin, and then she’s like offended that I don’t like want to like take it from her?
And then this thought, this gnawing thought, that I’ve finally got on God’s last nerve. That my self-centered laziness and bumbling had somehow thrown askew His Cosmic Plan for the Universe, causing it to misfire like a bad Rube Goldberg invention where the candle doesn’t light up and burn the rope to drop the straw on the camel so he will kick over the basket of marbles into the … damn it, He told us not to put our candle under a bushel and I went and put mine there anyway and now the whole freaking Universe is the cesspool.
“God hates you,” says this gnawing thought.
I don’t answer it. Not because I agree with it. Because I’ve learned it’s a waste of time to debate any gnawing thought. You don’t argue with a telemarketer, you hang up on him. I rolled out of bed and drank an orange rockstar.
Yesterday, my sister forwarded to me a spam chain mail asking me to make two wishes. She’s a very intelligent woman, smarter than me, but you know some people just love those spam chain emails. My wishes were for (1) a friend, a female friend, and (2) to stop hating myself so much.
Don’t worry, I didn’t forward it to anyone!
Today, I had a lot of errands on my list of things to do. I wasted most of the week playing this really fun computer game called Chocolatier where you travel all over the world buying ingredients to make truffles and infusions and stuff. But it’s Friday and, well, ever notice how some things just work themselves out while you sit around all week playing video games? Me neither. I suspect they actually don’t.
It was raining when I got out of the Post Office. Not enough to get drenched, just enough to be annoying and distract me and I took a wrong turn down one block because I forgot I had to go to Staples. Then after I got out of Staples, which is a heck of a walk from the Post Office, which is a hell of a walk from my place, I took another wrong turn down another block because I forgot I had to go to the bank. Then when I got to the bank I forgot they mailed me a new card and a new pin number so the machine wasn’t accepting my old pin number so I couldn’t get any cash.
This was not going to be an auspicious shopping spree. I still had to get to the pet shop in the mall and buy a dog brush. A few years ago a very wise crossdresser told me to buy a dog brush instead of a wig brush, because a wig brush is basically a dog brush that cost five or ten dollars more.
So this basically is the mental state I’m in when I’m crossing the mall on my way to the pet shop when this absolutely drop dead beautiful foxy young lady said hello to me. She had long dark hair, dark eyes, very Mediterranean. And probably young enough to be my daughter.
“Are you married?” she asked me.
My dear blog-reading friends, believe me when I say I am the invisible man of New Jersey. The last time a foxy young lady like this asked me if I was married was, never.
I told her no, and she followed up with, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
Honest to God, I cannot emphasize enough how alien this experience was in terms of my previous 48 years of experience on this planet. I stared at her stupidly and finally gave her the truth.
She smiled. “I am Israeli,” she said. “From Israel. You … are spanish?” From her accent I guessed she was still learning to speak english.
“No, I’m American. From America.” When she didn’t immediately reply, I added, “I love Israel.”
She smiled, “You do? Come with me.”
It turned out she worked at this little mall kiosk right across from Claire’s. Two other really pretty women were there too.
They were selling hand creams and other lotions. “Let me see your hands,” the first woman said. “Oh, look at your nails!” She gave me a big smile. I’m sort of proud of my fingernails. They are long, and only two of them broke off. The others are nice and long. As she picked up a little buffing brush, one of the other ladies approached me. She had long blonde hair pulled back in a very regal hairstyle. Her complexion was fairer, she might have been slightly older (but still younger than me) and her english was worse. She had on a very pretty silvery gray tube top.
“Are you married?” she asked me.
“No!” the other woman answered, still working on my fingernails.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
I waited for the other woman to answer. For some reason, she expected me to handle this one. “Tell her,” I said.
“No, he doesn’t.”
There are a couple of ways to make sense of this conversation. (1) The salesladies are trained to ask these questions to determine if a male might be interested in purchasing a gift for the lady in his life, or (2) marrying an American provides a pathway to American citizenship.
Or (3) God has a wild and wacky sense of humor.
I’m already leaning toward (3), although (all of the above) is also an option, when the blonde asks, “Are you spanish?”
This puts (1) out of the running, pumps up (2), but my money’s still on (3).
“American!” said the first lady.
“I was born in New York, my mother and father were born in New York, and my grandparents were born in New York. I’m American.”
“Look at your nails now! They look like they have polish, hm?”
I forgot about my nails. Holy crow, they did look polished, only you can take polish off.
“Now we add the cuticle oil …” said the first lady.
I was going to say something, when the blonde asked me. “Am I gorgeous?”
Now is the part where I began to seriously doubt whether I was correctly interpreting her accent, which was heavy, and I usually have major league problems with accents anyway.
When staring at her stupidly didn’t seem to work, I answered, “You’re very beautiful.”
“No, say I am gorgeous! Say it to the camera!” She gestured toward the totally open, cameraless area.
It took me a second to realize she was kidding.
About the camera, anyway. “Yes, you are gorgeous,” I told her.
“Am I crazy?”
“Um … no?” I said hopefully.
“You’re crazy!” the dark haired lady told her. My nails gleamed from the cuticle oil. “I wish my nails were like yours,” she told me.
The blonde played with my pony tail. “You have such long hair!”
“Yeah, well … “ I took off my hat and showed them what it looked like on top.
The blonde thumped me gently on the chest, “And why are you not married?”
“I was. Fourteen years ago. But it didn’t work out.”
“Fourteen years? A very long time.”
I thought it over, and agreed.
“Didn’t you want children?”
This can’t be in the training.
“Children are great but … well, we were arguing all the time, and we thought we might break up from the start. And why have children if you are going to break up?”
She nodded. “Come here, I want to show you something.” She opened a jar. “This is salt from the Dead Sea, in Israel. Put your hand out.”
She piled a tiny spoonful of salt onto the back of my hand. “Rub. Rub it in.”
It was like rubbing salt on your hands. “This is from a very special Sea. And it has olive oil too.” She spritzed my hands with water from a spray bottle to remove the salt.
“Feel how soft your hands are?” It was like I had been soaking my hands in lotion for a month, they were that soft. Then she squirted lotion on them. “You need this, after the salt scrub. Now sit down over here.”
I sat in the tall upholstered chair and she kind of bumped in between my legs. The third lady at the kiosk, probably the youngest of the three, passed over a tube of lotion, which the first lady took and squirted on the arms of the blonde. While they were lotioning themselves up, I chatted with the blonde. She was also from Israel, and had been in the country for three months. She told me a few words to say, but the only one I can remember is “dov,” which means “good” or “okay.” I got the idea that she liked Israel but the cost of living there was very high.
“It’s my birthday today,” the dark haired girl said with a smile.
“Happy birthday!” I said, and she gave me a hug.
“Okay, will you pay with cash or credit card?” asked the blonde. I handed her my credit card, but she wasn’t done with me yet.
Now I know this is not in the training manual. She slipped my credit card into her tube top.
I’ll say that again, because I can barely believe it myself, and shucks, I was there. She slipped my credit card into her tube top.
“You need this for shaving,” she said, opening a drawer in the kiosk. She brought me two tubes of lotion labeled “For Men.”
More lotion. I’m already buying enough lotion to float the Queen Mary.
I shook my head. “I don’t need that.”
“This is not Gillette,” the blonde told me. “You just use a little. Promise me you’ll use it.”
“Tell me how much it costs, then maybe I will promise.”
She worked it out, but with her accent being what it was, and my mind being on where my credit card still was … well, let’s just say I need more gingko biloba to be sharp enough for these situations.
“Your sales tax is so high!” she exclaimed as she worked out the tally. “Taxes! Bush, I guess! Damn Bush!”
Now this was going too far. All the other stuff was fine, but blaming the president for state sales tax? I had to set her straight.
“Listen, when George Bush became president, he mailed a check to everyone’s house. It was a tax refund. Jon Corzine is the governor here. Six months after he got in, the sales tax went up to seven percent.”
“Ohhh. Corzine? It’s too much to charge.”
“Just remember … democrats bad, republicans good.”
We all laughed at that.
Hell, if they stay in America, they’ll eventually make their own decision about all that. At least they got to meet one person who will stand up for republicans.
She handed me back my credit card. “Now give me your phone number,” said the blonde.
“You’re joking, right?”
“No, no no! I want your phone number! For me. I am serious!”
So I gave it to her.
“Your name is John?” She spelled it G-O-N.
I fixed it for her and asked for her name. “Emily,” she said.
“Emily,” I was expecting some kind of really long, impossible to remember, name, with lots of vowels and diphthongs and maybe two consonants.
“I am very smart,” she said.
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“No, I’m not dangerous. Not really.”
“A little dangerous?”
“No. Not dangerous.”
“Good. Because we have enough dangerous people around here.”
I came in the door lugging a dog brush, and a ton of groceries, and more lotion than some third world nations have ever seen. The phone rang.
It was Emily. “I gave you back the credit card receipt that you signed. I need that. That is mine, for my boss.”
I went through my pockets, my coat pockets and the bag from the kiosk before I found it in my wallet. “Yes, I have it here.”
Definitely not in the training manual. Do they have a training manual?
I did sort of feel like Superman when I walked back in and presented Emily with the receipt. Don’t ask me why. Only a total bastard would have left her hanging without the receipt after she spent so much time and attention on me.
I wished the dark haired girl a happy birthday again, and she gave me another hug.
“Do you know what else happened today?” I asked Emily. “October 26th. Fifteen years ago, I got married in my neighborhood church. The same church where I was an altar boy. All my family gathered together, and all my wife’s family gathered together. A very nice wedding. And it all went downhill from there.”
“You’re a very good man,” Emily told me. “I don’t think you believe me, but you are very good. I hope you will be a father. You need a woman, in your life, to be with you and take care of you. You really need a woman.”
I shrugged. “These things don’t happen for everybody.”
Emily thought this over. I really wish I knew her language, or she knew mine better, because the language barrier was frustrating us both. “I don’t know if you believe in God.”
“Yes, of course I do.”
“God wants good things for everybody, John. For all the people.”
And with that, she proceeded to sell me a very pricey tube of exfoliating gel and bottle of facial cleanser.
Fifteen years ago, it was raining. The car window was busted so we couldn’t roll it up. The guy in the wedding party who drove me there said almost nothing to me along the way. I think he was mad about something, but I drifted out of contact with him after that day, so I’m really not sure.
I remember waiting at the altar. The limo driver got lost on Queens Boulevard somewhere. Every time I turned around to see if Pam was there, someone in my family snapped a photo of me.