New Year’s Past

“Jeremiah!” someone shouted. “Jeremiah Murphy!” 

That someone recognized me at this party didn’t surprise me. Of the many I’d attended over the course of the past six months, about a dozen folks could always be counted on to be seen mingling. Their presence was so reliable they were practically staff. And then there were the reoccurring guest stars who popped in here and there, but could hardly be described as committed. I belonged in the second category, but I liked to think of myself as an up-and-comer. In short, the voice could have belonged to anyone. 

What surprised me, though, was that I could hear it, crammed into this Brooklyn loft along with, by my count, about one hundred thousand hipsters, with the music cranked up to be heard over them all. I scanned the crowd until I located someone waving their arms over their head—the internationally recognized signal for “over here!” 

Space was at a premium that night, but the voice had managed to commandeer half of a pool table to use as a chair. She beckoned me with a pale finger, crossed her black-clad legs, and patted the space beside her. 

“Who’s that?” yelled Coral. 

“It’s—” 

“Go talk to her!” 

“What?” I wasn’t abandoning her, not when she knew only one other person here.  

“I’ll be fine!” she assured me. “I’ll just hang out with Rachel!” 

On hearing her name, my sister snapped out of whatever trance she was in. By far, this was the biggest New York party I’d dragged her to, and she was easy to overwhelm. I worried about leaving her alone, even if it was with someone I trusted as much as I trusted Coral. “What’s going on?” Rachel shouted. 

Coral leaned in close to her, and they exchanged a few words. 

“Go!” Rachel told me. 

By now, the gesture coming from the pool table that had once taken only a finger had grown into one that required a full arm. I sighed and obeyed. 

I handed her my plastic cup of beer and hopped up beside her. She turned to me, and her dark red lips said, “I’m surprised to see you here!” 

I’ve always been a sucker for blue eyes and dark hair; Marina’s eyes were very blue, and her hair very dark. And when you added to that pale skin that made her seem mysterious and a smattering of freckles on her tiny nose that made her girlish and cute, it was no wonder I had been so smitten when I’d first met her. 

“Why not?” I replied. “Everyone’s here.” 

“What?” She leaned her ear toward me. Her black sweater wasn’t designed to show much cleavage, but when someone as petite as she is was close to someone as tall as I, it didn’t behave as designed. 

Rather than wait for me to respond, she said, “I haven’t seen you in a long time!” 

That was five months ago in the middle of Fifth Avenue—her headed to the 33rd Street subway station, me headed to the PATH. 

“I know!” 

Her hand rested on my thigh. 

I closed my eyes and sighed. 

“Is that your girlfriend?” Marina asked, nodding her head to the reason her advances didn’t dry out my mouth and raise my pulse like they would have before.  

Across the room, my girlfriend took a sip from her beer to conceal her smirk. 

My eyes begged for help. 

Coral’s eyes said, “You’re on your own.” 

My eyes responded, “You’ll pay for this.” 

Rachel turned away from me so I wouldn’t see her laugh. I’d known her all twenty-one years of her life—there was no hiding that look from me. 

Marina’s fingers squeezed. “Does she know about us?” 

What was there to know about? A fascinating first date followed by a romantic kiss on a crosswalk followed by an e-mail telling me that it would never work? 

She looked at her watch and I looked at mine. Crap. It was New Years Eve of what would ultimately be the last carefree year of my life, and I had eight minutes to free myself to make out with the woman I was pretty sure I was falling for. 

Best Part of Waking Up

Coffee is something I’ve been drinking for well over twenty years, and it has always had many tastes to it. There is the really harsh sting of espresso (and Starbuck’s style), the weaker, watered-down American variety I prefer—almost like dessert. Overseas I have to order Americano, and even that is too strong, so I have to mix in milk and/or sugar. By itself, coffee feels light and oily. The milk thickens it. By itself, it’s not heavy, but with milk… 

I spoke to my thirteen-year-old niece on Skype today, discovering she was a coffee drinker. At thirteen. When I called her on it, she said she’s been on the stuff since twelve. The first time I drank coffee in earnest, I was fifteen, in a food court in Gallup, New Mexico, after pulling a New Year’s Eve all-nighter. I wasn’t drinking coffee for its taste, but strictly for function. As a child, I had to drown it with cream and sugar, but it was coffee. And so that’s when it kicked in: adulthood. My voice deepened; I walked taller; hair started to grow where it never had before. From that point on, I’ve never gone more than two days in a row without it. Because I am a man. 

The Castle Doctrine: Gulf Edition

I had an experience today in the middle of the desert that underscored the differences between the culture in the Middle East and the US. Our Guest and I walked into a movie set from the 1970s that we had thought was abandoned. It turns out this was someone’s home, it was clear that we made the owner very uncomfortable. To compound matters, we knew only one word of his language. 

In the United States, we would have been informed of our mistake and shooed away, and there’s a pretty good chance there would have been a gun involved. This literally happened to me twenty years ago. And imagine how that would have gone had I not spoken the native language.  

Here, the man offered us tea, because that’s what you do. 

And that brings us to the second point. The only thing more rude than invading a person’s property and taking pictures in this part of the world is refusing tea when it’s offered.  

We drank the tea, said thank you, and waved awkwardly to each other on our way out. And then he locked the gate behind us. 

A Load of Crap

Every week I empty my cats’ litter boxes, and every week I’m confronted, not by the narcissistic, preening, sociopathic cuddle bunnies I’ve been living with for ten years, but by three vile ammonia factories. 

When we moved out to the Persian Gulf, the government set us up in a three-story house, despite our objections. We’re a couple who just left a thousand-square-foot apartment in DC, and we were cozy. But that’s not how the US government does things. So I’ve given these purring assholes a litterbox per floor, and I have to walk up and down the stairs, a bag of damp poop in my hands, tears in my eyes from the scent, just to maintain their comfort. 

They don’t say thank you. 

A Jolly Good Time

When you sucked on a Jolly Rancher long enough, they became this rubbery tongue depressor that changed the color of your mouth. They were not solid, like a butterscotch, which became a shard of sticky glass at the end. They were not chewy, like caramels, which fused your teeth together until saliva freed you, eventually. Name-brand Jolly Ranchers were something in between—a sticky miracle of science. 

You were not cool in the second grade if you didn’t have access to a Jolly Rancher at all times. I did not. I so, so, so desperately wanted that kind of connection, but my parents never bought them, and I never had the courage to ask. I knew the answer already, and I knew how irritated the mere request would make my father. 

Regarding the Slender Man Murder

Today I made the mistake of popping into the “trending” sidebar where it mentioned my imaginary friend, the Slender Man, and his culpability in a recent murder in Wisconsin, and I read the comments.  

If I had to tally up what I’ve seen so far, roughly 20 percent of the comments I read were defenses of Creepypasta (as in “I read Creepypasta/played D&D/watched the X-files/consumed horror in general since I was a baby, and I turned out okay!”); 15 percent were clumsy, ill-informed definitions of the Slender Man and Creepypasta; 3.75 percent were accurate and correct definitions of the Slender Man and Creepypasta; 1 percent were debates about whether it’s “Slender Man,” “Slender-Man,” “Slenderman,” or my preference, the “Slender Man”; and 60 percent is blame*.  

Fifty-five percent of those blamed the parents; 20 percent blamed liberals, 75 percent of whom were singled out as liberal Christians; 15 percent blamed the actual stabbers; 5 percent blamed video games (Minecraft being the biggest offender because of the Enderman character); 2 percent blamed Harry Potter; 2 percent blamed the Slender Man himself; and, in the biggest shock, only 1 percent blamed Barack Obama.  

“The way sin is justified these days, I will not be surprised if the liberal Christian will believe these two girls are victims.” 

Slenderman…. A demon quite possibly. A world deviod of God must find something to fill that place. In this case a fantasy character. … and a demonic entity that personifies it.” 

“Parents who use [the internet] as a babysitter are in for a RUDE AWAKENING!” 

As a man who loves the Slender Man, I’m not shocked or even disappointed about the narrative, nor am I defensive about the reputation of my beloved meme, or about Creepypasta in general. The latter is because I don’t think anybody not stupid is blaming these stories. Also, getting defensive would make me a huge hypocrite, in that I condemn with venom anyone whose first reaction to a shooting is to launch into NRA bumper-sticker slogans. 

The only thing that shocks me about this is that it hasn’t happened before. The only thing that disappoints me is that this has pushed out of the news cycle the actually important discussion of the dangers of misogyny and replaced it with an imaginary villain that doesn’t force us to look at ourselves. 

A twelve-year-old girl was stabbed nineteen times, and we will likely never understand why. I don’t know the circumstances or anything about the three children involved, and so, unlike 60 percent of the commenters I read (because I’m dumb) I can’t blame anyone. 

__________ 

* The remaining 0.25% is quoted below, verbatim,  because it’s AMAZING: 

XAVIER: How much do you bet Clinton is gonna use this as “proof that video games are bad for children”. Bitch video games taught me how to look a terrorist in the face and paint the walls with all his hopes and dreams.  

MEG: are you special ops?! Oh, you work in food service… who’s the bitch again, Xavier?