I always thought it would be a suicide note; some sad lipstick smudge on a cocktail napkin folded into illegibility and probably stained with histrionic nicotine sighs of discontent left in an ashtray next to a burning bed. There would be the sirens of fire trucks crowing an off-key "Sympathy for the Devil" while housewives in housecoats barefooted their way around suburban crime scene tape in search of the nearest local news camera in which to mumble their eulogies: "He was so young." "I told him to lay off the bleach." "I never liked the guy. What drugs was he on, anyway? I never understood a word he wrote." I had grand designs on what the end would be — none of which included autoerotic asphyxiation via a Gucci belt in a closet full of sequined jackets, sadly — and I fully expected them to be realized in a dangling tear of paraffin tragedy, the last tangible drop from a candle burned at both ends. It was going to be a pretty mess strewn around a pile of ugly bones. Somebody would cry.
Instead, it's this. Ten years ago, a 28-year-old fueled by narcotic ambition and that sort of neurotic swish of verbose invincibility peculiar to broken vodka parcels sent to wrong addresses and tied with strings of dead human hair, was given a place to chronicle his weekly wild-eyed whimsy. I was on my way out the door, having spent a couple of years toiling around in the Weekly's classified sales department — just long enough to in fact realize what the death of salesman would be like — and was ready to move on to a new glossy upstart where my cold calls would surely become warmer. But during my sales tenure, I did the unthinkable and snuck little bits of music criticism and the odd feature into the editorial side of the book, even parlaying my two degrees of separation from Lou Pearlman's boyband gut into a cover story. The thought of my leaving gave then-editor Jeff Truesdell pause.
"We want to keep your voice in the paper," he said, fatefully. "What about a column?"
Ten years later, and I'm putting that column to bed. It's been a wild ride of mixed metaphors and syntax errors, chipped nails and cracked teeth. In its first incarnation as The B List, the column scraped the leathery skin of the celebrity industrial complex, twisting words around has-beens as a manner of self-serving pop cultural postmodernism. After four years of throwing cheap shots at Orlando's drip pan junket set (while drunk!), the column took a turn for the dark side, became "Blister" and set off on a journey of self-immolation that included crackheads, swingers, overdoses and, um, a run for mayor of Orlando. Mostly it was about nothing, but it was also somebody trying to wrap his over-processed head around that nothing and leave an Orlando-shaped mark. In the end, it didn't kill me (but it almost did!), so tonight, with the safety switch flipped off, I've decided to put Blister out of its misery. Cock, click …
Wait, what's that dreamy music? Could it be 10 years of my life flashing before my eyes in a distracted user's-dream staccato, nonsense piling up in a retrospective traffic jam of self-indulgence? Dammit. Well, here goes nothing.
Next to a dirty Q-tip discarded from a makeup tackle box turned upside down in midlevel hotel room was about the last place that I thought I'd find myself, but given the passage of brown shots at a Florida Mall-adjacent brass bar and some tag-a-long ambition, I was there, not knowing the journey was about to begin. You know who else was there? Fergie. Well, at that point in transitional 2000 she was Stacey Ferguson, a meth-addled, girl-band petal in the wilting Wild Orchid of the TransCon transom. We played slumber party and dished dirt on Britney until our voices went cheerleader hoarse. I thought the resulting mess was funny enough to write down when I got home, and submitted the recount as a mock-up of what The B List would be. Somehow, Fergie got a hold of it (I sent it around to few friends, too) and she was reportedly reduced to a fit of mascara tears that echoed around record company circles. There were ceases issued and desists drafted, even though the column was never meant to be published. That was when I should have quit.
But no, The B List would saunter along through porn-star-judged porn tryouts at Fairvilla Megastore ("The lube is under your chair. Whoever cums first wins") that would later land my shriveled prize on the Playboy Channel, mall tour antics with Beyoncé and her Children of Destiny ("Do I have any crumbs on my lips?" Beyoncé spat up a cookie), an awkward pedophilic cozying up to a little 14 year old named Aaron Carter ("Of course, y'know, I had a voice change, but I made it through," he caught a predator), a stab at delusion with Corey Feldman ("`My music` has been compared to Frank Zappa, it's been compared to Peter Gabriel, it's been compared to Pink Floyd," he chunked), vaginal monologues with Erin "Joanie" Moran ("vagina what?") and tanning with Belinda Carlisle ("I'm not a prisoner of success"). Sometimes it was boring (hello, Pat Benatar and her menopausal shift from headbands to head start programs) and sometimes it was surreal (Queen Noor at a bookstore! Dale Bozzio falling out of a hotel window!), but on a few special occasions it was far more than either.
Once, having secured a telephone interview with current Mars inhabitant, Jared Leto, I gushed and spewed and vomited all over myself. I was going to be talking to Jordan Catalano, the floppy-haired flap of flannel that for a good year made moist the evening portions of My So-Called Life. My nerves knotted into friendship bracelets while I looked all around the room for any sharp implement with which to write love on my arms. Then his publicist called. "You must, in no uncertain terms, never-not-ever-even-if-you-are-a-big-fag-with-a-joke-job come anywhere close to engaging Mr. Leto on anything other than his very serious music career," she warned. "Or else you will die." So when the time came to talk to Jordan — er, Jared — I was ready with my noose.
"So, Jordan. I tooooottalllly love your show," I must have bleated 47 times. "I mean, I don't understand why you were OK with swapping boiler room spit with Angela, but then not OK with, like, holding her hand. Did the Frozen Embryos have some ironic context, like that maybe you were unable to evolve from the selfish suckling of a fetus? Also, why did you make me gay?"
"I'm not talking about that," he fumed, before threatening to hang up. Two weeks later, after my verbal evisceration hit the streets, Leto shot me an e-mail — a personal e-mail from Jordan Catalano! — in which he called me "pathetic" and said that I would never get out of this town. The truth is a mating call, dear reader. We are now happily married.
My other wife, Cyndi Lauper, called in on a couple of occasions for The B List treatment, usually squeezing whatever mouthfarts of overstatement I was pushing into whatever the day-to-day musings are of what Cyndi Lauper does — eating peanut butter, kissing babies, snorting sequins. It would always end with me professing my love to her, and her pat response, "You don't live with me."
Yeah, but I thought I did, so I programmed her cell number into my cell phone. One night, as the 3 a.m. bacchanalia was subsiding at my hovel of an after-party apartment, somebody sat on my phone and it called La Lauper. I had no idea until a few minutes later when my phone lit up, the name spelled across the screen was "Cyndi Lauper."
"Who is this?" her Queens accent flared up.
I explained the whole hilarious situation into her smoldering silence, until she finally came back with a "don't ever do this again." I didn't.
On Feb. 26, 2004, under the cruel orders of editor Bob Whitby (who never really liked the press-on nail, cliff-scratch of The B List much, because he is both old and straight — and now leaving!), that iteration of the column was shown the door, only to be replaced by another iteration that would put me in direct danger to myself. He wanted a sexier, dirtier nightlife mash-up, one that preferably would include me drinking myself to death in a public act of readership-boosting tragedy. Initially, that's what he got.
The first Blister ran on March 4, 2004, and detailed an unintended adventure in crackhead-sitting that started out with me giving a hapless DJ a drunk drive and ended up with me playing accomplice to his ghetto drug deals, pipe sharing with Parramore grannies included. It would prove a tough act to follow, though, as in the ensuing months the death wish nature of narcotic embedding would trickle down my leg — stopping a couple of times at the requisite naughty spots (a swinger party that yielded this bit of friction wisdom from a skeezy promoter: "They go to a party and dance, and they don't have to worry about single guys coming up to them and rubbing on them") — before ultimately landing on the ground with my shame. That's where it would stay for six years.
Before long, Blister festered into what it was probably always meant to be, a dry (if wet) memoir that was on the surface about attending weekly "events" for the sake of scenery, but at its core an approximation of the depths one's head travels to when placed in a fishbowl of thematic distractions. Increasingly, Blister became a weekly suicide note for the going through of the motions, one peppered with references to politics, friends, my own tortured past and — on more than one occasion — the thin ice tiptoe of modern gay relationships.
Not coincidentally, I entered into my now 10-year-old marriage with Alan just after I started the column, so when the need arose to, say, get back at him, I at least had an outlet. Our trips to New Orleans played out like Tennessee Williams debauchery with the addition of rest area blowjobs. Our visits to Costa Rica, back when we were pretending to be rich, introduced the notion that we would become ex-pats living on the side of a volcano just waiting to be swallowed by hot gay lava. It was a tale of love.
Sometimes, though, it was just gross.
There was the time that my friend Taylor and I spent a whole evening — and column — in search of a ginger red pubic hair in various local bathroom stalls in order to honor St. Patrick's Day. The other time that the Sexy Savannah and I wiled away a whole evening in search of the connection between a tiny pink baby sock we found on Orange Avenue and the growing insanity of bald and barefoot Britney Spears. So many times something was made out of nothing, so many attempts to justify the downtown can-kick through the tumbleweeds and wallet chains, so many times trying to fortify mundanity with some literary embellishment.
Two years ago, the tone shifted to an entirely more personal drone and without knowing it, I let Blister become a coping mechanism for some rather serious events probably better left internalized. My friend Greg died from organ failure, followed only a month later by my former roommate — and frequent column inhabitant — Skotty. All of the sudden it felt disingenuous to write off the fabulous life — the drugs, the drinks, the very bad choices — as fodder for vicarious entertainment. I started to look inside, beneath the layers of emotional callouses and dull queer quippery, and found out that living on fumes wasn't quite the party it used to be.
Things got worse. Alan crashed his plane and almost died, his Georgia business burned down and all of the smashing and screaming took its toll on my head. Then it took its toll on my body. Turns out I wasn't immune to the bellybutton shots from the sixpack of a beefcake Jesus, and I ended up hospitalized for pancreatitis last August. There was talk of giving up the Blister then, but I didn't feel like I could give up two habits — chronic effusion and drinking myself to death — at the same time. So I soldiered on, only to have my dog be killed in an accident two months later. That was a column, too.
And that's where the sidewalk ends.
It's become clear that I've outgrown this hairshirt, that I don't have much more to say about the chafing of my toenails against the battered Kenneth Coles that carry me from bitchfest to bitchfest, or that one time when I tried to kill myself sliding face-first down a razorblade into and eighth grade dance garbage can to the soundtrack of Mr. Mister's "Kyrie." It's all been said before, and in a way I'm glad of it. That's half-a-million words I'll never get back. I don't need them anymore, not when there's the rest of my life to live.
For those who indulged me, thank you. For those who hated me, I love you and I know. And for everyone else who simply put up with that bleached twig of a clown with the rattling fingers and noun-verbing way back there behind the sex ads, I hope you'll find this cocktail napkin and I hope you can still make out what it says.
"This never happened. Goodnight. Love, Billy"
Editors note: For the record, Billy Manes is not dead. He's just melodramatic. He's still a staff writer for the Orlando Weekly.