There is a disturbing silence and nothing is shaking anymore. The previously rattling nerves so often publicly dismissed as a hyperawareness — or the unstable cuteness of a cold Chihuahua — have been smoothed over like starched bedsheets with obsessively compulsive hospital corners. The darting eyes of electric observations now find themselves stilled, floating dead in a pool of white. Everything that was is not anymore; the lighter is without its flint, the mouth without its cigarette and the mind is now a chilled and swelling spaghetti without its sauce. So what happens now?
"I guess you're going to have to change your fabulous literary persona," comes a semi-anonymous poison fortune cookie from the social spiderweb of Facebook.
"Not really," my knuckles cramp. "I mean, you don't have to be drunk for everything to be a mess, right? You don't have to be trashed to be trash."
At least I hope not.
Rather than wallow in the vapors of 17 years of regulated alcoholic discomfort, punching holes in my Intervention frequent-buyer card and waiting for a dust grave, I figure the next best step on my halted journey into the abyss should probably involve some interaction apart from the slapping-together of metaphor sandwiches by my unraveling mind. My best friend from college, Amy, has popped into town for the weekend like a Bette Midler shadow of post-hospital convalescence, and I'm anxious to avoid the sort of side-eyed conversations peculiar to healthy gardeners and dead flowers. You'll be fine. How are you feeling? Fuck, fuck, fuck.
"I'm sorry I'm so boring," I fashion-show-flutter around the house, in and out of the slightly obnoxious casings of my former self. "I'm not wearing this. It's a little back-to-school Benetton, don't you think?"
The trouble is, I don't know what I'm wearing, because I don't know who I am anymore. Sure, there are bigger problems in the world than clashing "pop" colors tied together with a red belt, but the reconciliation of the post-pancreatitis grimace inside with a hobo/clown exterior is proving more difficult than the health-care crisis at the moment. Speaking of, I may have cancer, or at least that's what my mind is telling me in repeated stutters: "C-c-c-cancer," it chokes a little, removing the perfunctory "let's be sure" context from a doctor's sentence a few days ago and terming my endearment. "Well, that would be a more interesting way of explaining my hair loss and/or how I look in a hat!" I comedy-chemotherapied to my friend David that day, well aware that nothing — nothing — will ever be funny again.
Again, I hope not.
"Wow, time goes slowly when you're not drinking," Amy smacks me out of it, while somehow smacking me back into it.
We have tickets for chattersnatch Kathy Griffin's distract-a-gay late show at the Bob Carr, but that's not till 10 p.m. For now, the only palpable distractions are coming from Jane Fonda's collation confusion on a cable playback of Nine to Five.
"Yeah, we should probably do something."
That something, harmlessly enough, turns out to be a fashion party at Edgewater Drive boutique Dechoes Resale Emporium, where label whores go to die, or buy couture from the estate sales of other dead people.
"Billy!" store proprietor Kerri — all Annie-Potts-at-a-kids'-party -— saunters over with a plastic glass of wine. "So glad you could make it! Let's go back and get you a drink!"
"Erm, I can't drink."
"Just one? Come on!" Her face goes white.
And then there it is: the whole sad hospitalization press release punctuated with a pancreas, followed by the awkward slackening of a social line that comes with instant sobriety. "Well, um," fluster, fluster, flusters Kerri. "I love shoulder pads. I'm bringing back Dynasty!"
"Yay!" I can't do this anymore.
Fortunately, Kathy Griffin's "suck it!" soliloquies are just around the corner, and bound to take the onus off me for rattling off zings of trashy inappropriateness. Unfortunately, there's an extended wait to enter the theater, meaning that every shade of shirt-too-small gayness is left there to wash over me like a stereotype tsunami. Amy tries to assuage my panic with intermittent point-and-shoot close-up flashes, but that just makes me feel even more locked in. If there is indeed a cliff at the other end of the asymmetric pattern mess, may I be the first to leap off.
"Again, sorry I'm no fun." I'm starting to caption myself.
Griffin, it turns out, is, though. While much of her material crutches its way through the standard stand-up rigmarole of repetition as-seen-on-TV, her evil-eyed glee at taking the carbonated piss out of pop culture is unexpectedly contagious. Fox News is "porn for old people"; she can "speak gay and 'tard" and had a "very serious and genuine love relationship" with Levi Johnston ("I fucked him"); all that and a tasteless reference to Michael Vick hanging dogs "like his ancestors" swishes around into a secondhand toxicity that won't damage my entrails, but will, at least momentarily, tear down my wall of sulk. Also, thank God somebody else notices that Bravo's lapdog, Andy Cohen, has crossed eyes. It may not be funny forever, but it is right now. "You, too, Allah! Suck it!"
Walking to my car, an afterglow moment arises. There's a spring in my step and a bit of that nerve that's gotten me from point A to point B with minimal energy and suitable distraction. I can do this. I know I can.
"Oh, look, there's the Orlando Weekly building," a braided belt with fag-hag in tow observes behind me. "Isn't it funny that when I first moved back here I wanted to work there? And now I know that paper is trash."
I smile. Trash, maybe, but not email@example.com