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Stop Looking at Me September 24, 2002

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
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My sleep patterns are off. I blame the painters. They’re here all day, so that when I wake up at a reasonable time of morning, open the blinds and let my sleepy eyes meet the gaze of a man with a paint hose in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and a Gatorade bottle tucked between his knees, I am sorely embarrassed. Yes, mortified enough to find four hours of sleep left in me. In the morning, the hose-powering generator emits a healthy hum of white noise, an electric lullaby. By afternoon, it’s spitting a forced chorus of hisses and growls. And the men are still there, drinking water out of Gatorade bottles, sitting on empty paint cans. Sometimes they walk by our back porch when one or more of us is in the living room. “Should I close the blinds?” I asked Adam one day last week. The painter wasn’t more than six feet away from us, touching up the trim around the sliding glass door.

“That’d be rude,” Adam countered. “Wait until he’s gone.”

So we sat in our pajamas and watched him, and he stood on the other side of the glass and watched us.

I’d really like them to be gone. The new shade of beige isn’t much different from the old shade of beige, anyway.

***

As Talia so eloquently put it, “It looks like someone puked on all the buildings.” She’s on break from art school and spends her days watching Comedy Central in her bedroom with all the lights off. When she emerges, it’s to smoke a few Marlboro Lights on the porch or to make tomato soup in the microwave, in the same stained Tupperware bowl. As my mother would say, she is “not my type.” Fair enough; I don’t smoke, I am a Creamy Tomato Soup snob, and I only watch Comedy Central for The Daily Show or the Saturday Night Live reruns with Phil Hartman. But Talia and I are in the same predicament: waiting for all the receptionists in Atlanta to catch the same cold, prompting the the temp agency to call us in. The phone does not ring. So at night, we go out.

Her art school friends are a mixed bunch of suburban wealth and failure: the thin, bearded Widespread Panic fan with an office job, the Walgreens employee, the 22-year-old mother of a toddler. The ringleader is Adam (heretoforth known as Adam2), a six-foot-six football fan with a growing-out buzzcut. He’s majoring in animation at the art school and his band once opened for Lonestar and Travis Tritt. He tries to be nonchalant about this.

The first night, all of them were at a sports bar for a football game involving two southern schools I cared little about. Adam2 won two hundred dollars, and I got a free plastic martini shaker for finishing my Long Island Iced Tea. I also discovered that Adam2 has connections with various concert promoters around the city; Talia and I were invited to Allman Brothers, Aerosmith, and Guns N’ Roses within one breath. The second night, Adam2 won only one hundred dollars from a Monday Night Football game involving two teams I cared even less about. We shot pool and I pocketed the other team’s 12-ball when no one but Talia was looking, then tried to claim it as a victory for my own team. The thin, bearded Widespread Panic fan seemed only vaguely sorry that he got stuck with me as his teammate. We were at a brewery on the edge of the Atlanta city limits, and Talia lamented about the lack of Bud Light. Neither she nor I paid for any drinks, and I felt guilty, yet also disappointingly sober after three rum and Cokes. I tried to make up for it by giving everyone some entertainment: singing along to “Only the Good Die Young” as it played on the jukebox, and dancing with my pool cue in the most accomplished display of letting my hair down I’ve managed ever since I moved back to the city.

Meanwhile, in my head, I was playing tricks on semantics. Hearing words echoed from many a friend or an online journal entry — you gotta let go, you gotta quit caring what everybody else thinks, you gotta reinvent yourself if that’s what it takes — and claiming that my situation was completely different. Days later, hearing Billy Joel recant the joys of sin on the radio while driving back from the grocery store, I realize it isn’t. Other people have taken situations far more desperate than mine and reinvented themselves in ways I could never imagine. I am not lost to hope, just lost in my own set of prescriptions for ridding myself of it.