Thursday, October 30, 2008

You Tell Me What This Means

What the hell is going on this week? It was 94 in L.A. two days ago. Now it's just warm and it rained for 2 minutes this morning before the sun came back out, made the street steam, and then increased the humidity to 100%. My mother told me she's playing Euchre online but doesn't like that "people are looking at her." Then she told me we were not exchanging gifts for Christmas. Um, OK. Others are flailing in some kind of stupor--boyfriends coming or going; election hell; general ennui. I managed to give myself the largest bruise I've ever had, that makes it look like someone spilled a cup of blood under my skin. Then there was today on my lunch break: parking near the park on 3rd and Gardner to zip to the Grave (aka The Grove, a hideous mall) to go to the Apple Store to look at my iPod--which incidentally my computer has decided does not exist and will not recognize. (Did I mention too that my garage door is haunted and now just opens and closes of its own accord and that my car alarm has taken to going off for no reason? Add that to the list). So, there I am, parking, and out of a Jeep Cherokee across the street is a really attractive man in expensive jeans, boots, and a knit cap, with no shirt on. He walks into the park, a jockstrap showing above his waistband, clearly showing off his chiseled torso. OK.... I am still on the phone with my mother, walking some distance behind him, and off he goes to do...tricep dips on some bars in the park. Fine. Whatever. Into the mall I go, emerging by the patch of grass and fountain in the middle of the complex, where three people who look like a cross between clowns and Pippi Longstocking are dancing and singing to a crowd of think...I am too distracted by clown noses, red, orange, and yellow wigs, white face makeup, and horrible sing-songy, vaguely carnivalesque music. I dart into the Apple store, where I learn my iPod is gaslighting me. There's nothing wrong with it. Fine. Back out into the mall to walk to the car, and now the dancing fountain is swaying to "Last Dance" by Donna Summer, adjacent to the Pippi Clowns, who are angry and have started singing louder and LOUDER to drown it out, plastic smiles riveted to their hideously made-up faces. I almost run through Nordstrom to get out, out, out...only to have to cross the park again, where tricep dips are still happening. It's now 80+ degrees, humid, and may..or may not... rain again. I jump in the car and sit for a moment, wondering if this is how people become agoraphobic. I can't get home fast enough. Where my power is now Oh, wait, now it's back on! So. Um. Back to work.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wardrobe Malfunction

I need a new wardrobe.


And if you know me, I am guessing you never thought you'd hear that sentence coming from my mouth...or fingers.

The truth of the matter, however, is that I own too many clothes that fit like garbage bags. Once upon a time, that would have brought me great comfort. When you grow up rail-thin and every person in your family and neighborhood constantly tells you how skinny you are and you have, oh, a ton of other subtle psychological issues that need attending to, well ... you kind of naturally gravitate toward wearing things like giant windbreakers, baggy jeans, big sweatshirts, overalls, and really long flannel shirts. (OK, the flannel shirts probably came from a weird hybrid of growing up in Oregon and loving Boy George in 1983, but still.)

I could continue to blame the '80s--as I like to do for so many other things that have afflicted me--but the truth of the matter is that it only comes down to self-esteem. And until recently the baggy clothes never seemed to be an issue. It's not like anyone pulled me aside to say, "You know, Mikel, we're concerned about the size of your clothes in relation to your body." They were too busy dealing with me having a retort for everything they said.

The baggy clothes phenomenon probably reached its apex in college, when I spent far too much time being dressed against the cold of Vermont and for the dirt of the ceramics studio. Plus, I tended to buy everything second-hand, so I took what I could get. Yet, even after college, the clothes followed me--through low-paying jobs in New York and L.A. I couldn't really shake them. Nor did I want to. Baggy simply equaled comfort.

The older I get, however, I more I see that clothes that don't fit me do me absolutely no favors. I first noticed it back at my 10-year high-school reunion, when a few people whom I had thought were really exceptional physical specimens were starting to look a little...not so exceptional. I reassessed my vintage polyester shirts that were maybe a size too large and thought, "You know, I could probably do better."

I am inherently lazy when it comes to clothes. I don't want to work at it. Yet, it also helps I'd gained some weight in the last 10 years. Not like Oprah kind of weight. Just that kind of healthy, getting older kind of weight. So instead of looking like I have had mono for two years, I look like I actually eat food.

These days, I am in the midst of developing muscles in my shoulders and arms as a byproduct of trapeze work. The noticeable result is that things just fit differently. I am still skinny-ish, mind you. But I'm also not 11, socially awkward, and worried I'm gonna get my ass kicked on a daily basis. Imagine.

So, suddenly there I am one night, staring at a closet full of clothes from five, even 10, years ago, and wondering who bought them. Do I need that XL t-shirt? Why do I have a dress shirt in the wrong size? Why did I buy those Levi's that make my thighs swim in denim? What is with these giant sweaters?

When I wear a pair of pants that fit correctly, people now notice. They ask me where I bought them. No one points a finger and says, "God, you're SO skinny" before hissing at me a la "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." And then I realize, "Ah, yes. I don't hate my body anymore." How nice to learn that before it begins to fall apart.

Last week, I dreamed I set fire to a giant pile of my clothing. Which, for the record, I would never do. I'd obviously give it all to a thrift store...and let some 20-year-old skinny gay boy buy all the pieces. But now what? Expend hours upon hours of hunting for that non-stained, fitted shirt at a vintage shop? Go to Target and buy all the large boys' clothing that fits me perfectly? Resort to wearing high-water pants because the waist size is perfect? Resolve to only wear one pair of pants and a nice t-shirt for the rest of my life? Bribe Ryan to re-sew all of my clothes so they actually fit me? Maybe I can run for vice president and get personal shoppers? It seems arduous, no matter what.

I told Ryan last week I needed him to come stand in my closet with me and look at my clothes. I imagine a "work scene"--again, like in an '80s teen flick--in which I try on every article and he frowns, smiles, or claps with an affirmed "That looks good!" The man knows his clothes, after all. Or maybe I'll invite a whole bunch of people over for the baggy runway show, in which I model everything that no longer fits...physically or psychologically. Call it shallow catharsis if you like. I need to go choose the right song for the scene.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Self-Discography #6: "Heaven or Las Vegas" by Cocteau Twins

The problem was that, as a teenager, I believed I was devoid of emotion. In my journals from the last couple of years of high school, I would wonder what was wrong with me, why I couldn't open up; why I could not express myself authentically; why I couldn't let rip an ear-splitting scream of frustration.

What people saw without my realizing it was my face contorting into various expressions, and they heard my words conveying with an amazing clarity exactly what I thought and felt. And yet...I still believed there had to be a better way. Leave it to a perfectionist to try and figure out a more "efficient" way of expressing what he feels.

Which is why I could have cared less when I first heard the Cocteau Twins. It sounded so mushy...spangly...muted...airy...twee. The vocals trilled all over the place and the guitars seemed as if they were all mashed together with no room to make out the chords properly. It was just one more thing the goth kids were playing so they could sway and quasi-dance to it and then talk about how alternative they were, so far outside the mainstream.

Besides, I was already leaning more folk at this point--my ears seemingly wanting the more literal heartbreak conveyed by Natalie Merchant and Tracy Chapman. I didn't have the patience to navigate through this aural Jell-O.

One night, however, as I sat huddled in my basement, again trying to articulate with ballpoint pen why it was I felt so inarticulate, Dave Kendall was on MTV's "120 Minutes" blathering on and on in his annoying way about the Cocteau Twins, and just as I was about to turn it off, the soaring intro of "Iceblink Luck" ushered in this wave of musical warmth. I was (and remain) a sucker for a slightly left-of-center pop song,
and this was simply one of the most beautiful--the guitars crisp, the bass perfectly nimble, anchoring it all for Elizabeth Fraser's no longer pixie-ish voice. It swooped low and settled in a beautiful mid-range.

To the goth devotees of the Twins, I would later learn, this song was betrayal. To me, it was like receiving the most beautiful invitation to a party. I put down my pen and closed the journal. I had almost no idea what she was saying. The only words that came through? "...that will burn this whole madhouse down."


I was sitting on the hood of my stepfather's truck in western Nebraska. The air was thick with heat and humidity, but a gusty, westerly wind was kicking up as a phalanx of thunderstorms marched down off the slopes of the Rockies, advancing across the rolling prairie.

I'd been driving for two days already, leaving Portland on a broiling August afternoon to head toward Vermont, where I would attend a college I'd never seen. I was driving the 3,000 miles alone. My mother was panicked; my stepfather, predictably, said little. He just looked at my mother and stated, "He'll be fine."

I'd desperately wanted to leave Portland. I wanted to leave two years of confusion, frustration, and exhaustion that mixed my coming-out, trying to finish school, and deal with my family. Even over the summer--when I thought I'd left most of this behind--I'd been obsessed with a boy who worked at a cafe near the movie theater where I worked. And in predictable Portland gay boy fashion, he'd expressed interest, played hard to get, apologized, and then did it all over again. I'd tormented myself enough in my journal, word after word running in circles that annoyed even me, detailing, outlining, explaining every little aspect of it all. You know, in case I wasn't actually expressing myself clearly.

And when I'd finally hit the interstate, I realized those words were gone. I rolled down the truck windows into 100 degree heat and let "Heaven or Las Vegas" play as loudly as I could. There were words here, but they weren't really words that conveyed accusations or questions; they were not hard facts. They were emotions, suggestions, hints at a new feeling that could replace the spirals of letters that had seemingly gotten me nowhere over the last four years. From the all-enveloping warmth of "Cherry-Coloured Funk"--which I insisted on listening to as the sun set behind me--to the mournful "Road, River, and Rail," I found myself coming back to the cassette every other hour. And when, at night, I tried to write about all that I was seeing from the driver's seat, the words seemed to shrink in number, their meaning becoming slight.

By the time I made it to western Nebraska two days later and saw, for the first time, the desolate beauty of a sea of tall grasses spreading across the visible landscape, my shoulders had begun to drop from my ears. I felt happily empty, in fact. I had no tears of self-pity. I had no words of recrimination. I had no words at all.

I'd pulled over, taking an obviously little-used exit off the interstate and followed the state highway south for a ways before pulling over on the side of the road.

Leaving the stereo on, I'd walked down the highway shoulder, Elizabeth Fraser's voice mixing with the rising wind. Off in the distance, tendrils of rain reached the ground. Lightning flickered in the dark anvil-shaped cloud. I came back to the truck and leaned back against the windshield, my leg splayed down the hood. I strained to hear any words in the music of the album's last and most musically obtuse song, "Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires," which began with distorted guitar in the background of a baroque piano line and erupted into a regal shower of non-words that seemed to express that everything was, as my stepfather would say, fine.

To my surprise, a cloud had grown out of the bottom of the thunderstorm out there on the prairie. A thin tornado. I wondered if I should leave, but it seemed far enough away. The sound of the wind in the grass seemed to carry away the last strains of the song coming from the stereo behind me. For the first time in what felt like years, I was--happily, contentedly--alone.