Jun 282012
 
Back in the year 2000 P.H. (Pre-Henry), I was in the throes of dangerous encounters of the internet kind. I lived for the exhilaration of placing personal ads, even though I had a boyfriend, and cruising chat rooms for strangers to invite to upcoming parties. For as anti-social as I am now, I was precariously social back then. I loved having parties and watching my friends who I had met in traditional ways—like say, high school—mingle with the strangers I invited in from the street. It was always a good time (for me); kind of like being a puppet master.

On one particular occasion, I had met a few seemingly nice guys who answered one of my ads, and after emailing back and forth for a week or two, I divulged my phone number to those who piqued my interest. Steve was the first one to call.

We talked for hours that night and I sincerely thought he was great; we had a lot of things in common, we were both weird, and he seemed to not mind that I wasn’t looking for a date—but a friend. Then he got another call and promised to call me back in a half hour.

True to his word, my phone rang within a half hour. I noticed that the call came up blocked, but I answered it anyway. But after I said “Hello?” I was quickly annoyed.

“Uuuunnnh, hellllloooooo? Thisss is unnnhhhhhh Thteeeeeevveeee [slurpy intake].”

It may have been cute for a second, but after several minutes of me trying to carry on a conversation with him, I couldn’t get him to break out of this character.

“Look, call me back when you’re not going to talk like a retard,” I said. Sure, we had hit it off with alarming speed, but it was still soon for him to be prank calling me, I thought. Phone-sex on the first call is OK, but emulating Corky should be reserved for later encounters.

Steve called back a few minutes later and acted like nothing had happened. “Oh good, I see you’re speaking normally again,” I said with relief.

“What are you talking about?” he asked. And over and over again he gave me his pathetic denial. “I swear, I was talking to my sister this whole time.”

I started to get pissed off and then I realized, how typical. You think you meet someone good and then it quickly dissolves into a bucket of shit. But then something clicked in my mind and I urged him to recount his personal ad pertinents to me. And so he went through the details of where he lives, how old he is, and what he does for a living, adding in various hobbies and musical tastes along the way.

This is when it dawned on me that there was another Steve who answered my ad. Another Steve who had my phone number. And that particular Steve had mentioned in his emails to me that he was in a wheelchair. Because I’m presumptuous, I had imagined that he was in some sort of accident, and not handicapped because of some disease or infliction on his nervous system. Furthermore, what is that particular Steve really was retarded?

I quickly apologized to Steve #1 for accusing him of prank-calling me.

Steve #2 called me the next evening and I fumbled through a nervous apology to him too, begging him to forgive me for calling him retarded. He laughed, but he could have been crying; I couldn’t tell. I struggled through an awkward phone conversation with him, not really knowing what to say and being unable to interpret some of his responses; he had a very slow and thick slur. When he invited me out to dinner, I didn’t have the heart to say no. I had called him a retard, for Christ’s sake! The least I could do was grant him a dinner date. Would it be wrong to accept a free meal from a guy after I called him retarded? Not in my world.

But I wasn’t going by myself. I dragged my friend Keri along with me.

***

We arrived at Eat n’ Park and Steve was waiting inside with his dad. We all shook hands and introduced ourselves, all the while Keri tossed me sidelong glances. (I may or may not have filled her in on the extremity of Steve’s condition.) And then Steve’s dad said, “OK kids, you all have fun. Bye!” And he left.

He’s leaving?! I panicked inwardly. Steve was very crippled: he had a face that kept wanting to tuck itself into his chest, arthritic and gnarled hands, and arms that didn’t want to straighten. You leave me to my own devices with someone who has special needs and that’s as good as tucking a homemade bomb into my stretched out hands. I can’t even take care of myself. My napkin is shredded and twisted and saturated with ketchup before I’m even a quarter of the way through a meal.

So who was going to help Steve get to the table? Who was going to make sure he didn’t spill his Coke?

The three of us convened in a cumbersome huddle, looking stupidly at one another, before I finally snapped out of it. I took his wheelchair by the handles and began pushing him toward our booth. As I tried to position him as comfortably close to the end of the table as possible, I repeatedly banged his legs against the booth. I looked down to apologize, but he had his face upturned toward me, plastered with a puppyish grin.

While waiting for the food, small talk was made and we learned that Steve had some terrible nerve condition that was akin to cerebral palsy, and while it had no bearing on his mentality, it did impair his speech. He told us tales of his assisted living complex and started one about his imminent feet amputations, just as our food was slid onto the table. Yummy.

I watched in horror as Steve painfully tried to maneuver his hands around his burger, like lobster claws. He would occasionally use one hand to latch onto the sleeve of the opposite arm in an attempt to hoist the sandwich up to his mouth. I was frozen. What was the protocol here? Do I cut the burger into bite-sized morsels for him, or physically lift the burger to his awaiting chops? I felt like people at surrounding tables were watching in full-fledged “What will she do?” anticipation. I cast a desperate glance at Keri, who gave me a nonchalant “He’s your friend” shrug. So I dipped my napkin in water and dabbed at the ketchup and mustard smudges around his mouth before they became crusty.

In moments of utter discomfort, I don’t cry or sweat or swear; I laugh. And I laugh good and hard too. Of course, I’m smart enough to know that laughing at a handicapped man who has burger shrapnel all over his lap and face could be perceived as cruel and uncouth. It’s not that I found his condition to be a side-splitter, but I wanted to mask my trepidation and discomfort with laughter. So I started to make fun of Keri, and brutally so. This caused Steve to laugh and snort and spray our table with his half-swallowed sips of Coke. It went something like this:

“Hey Keri, remember when you were playing Truth or Dare—”
“Shut it, Erin.”
“—and you had to put that pickle—”
“That’s enough, Erin! OK!”

And so the evening advanced, with me ruminating over all of Keri’s past relationship foibles and peccadillos, while she hunkered down in her side of the booth, glowering at me. I knew I would have to deal with her wrath later, but it would be worth it; our night had regained normalcy. As much normalcy as it ever was going to achieve when one guy is in a wheelchair and the other two girls are like, “OMG he’s in a wheelchair.”

And then it was time to leave. And so did normalcy.

“Hey Keri, why don’t I give you a chance to push his chair?” I offered with faux-sincerity.

“Oh, thanks Erin, but really, I know how much you enjoyed it.”

“I would never be that selfish, Keri. Now hurry up and take those handles before I change my mind!”

She glared at me as she began to pull Steve away from the table. As she started down the aisle between the other diners, Steve began exuding a monotone moan.

“Uuuuuuunnnnnnnnnhhhhhh. Ooooooooooowwwwwwwwww uuunnnngggghhhh.”

Keri kept pushing his wheelchair along even though it was obvious something was catching. Steve was lurching forward as Keri was violently throwing herself against the back of the chair. “Why won’t this fucking chair roll?” she cursed.

I bent down and looked under the chair. “Jesus Christ, Keri, you’re wheeling it over his foot!” There it was, one limp leg bent back like it was made of rubber, with the foot hooked around a wheel.

Even after nearly receiving one of his amputations early, Steve paid for both Keri and me and said that he still wanted to hang out with me again. He invited me to his apartment. Again, I brought buffer, this time in the form of Janna.

We sat in my car in the parking lot outside of his building, and I concocted a plan. I liked Steve, I really did, but it was hard for me to be around him because I don’t have compassion programmed into me anywhere. I try to reach out and it comes off as forced and robotic. So I decided that I would have my boyfriend Jeff call Janna’s cell phone in approximately one half hour to forty-five minutes. We would then pretend like it was one of our friends with a dire vehicular emergency and therefore we would have to cut the visit short.

Steve had requested a lunch of Taco Bell. I tried to talk him out of it because I could only imagine the mess factor borne from the pairing of Steve and tacos, but the prospect of seven layer burrito got the best of me and so Janna and I arrived at his door with bags of steaming quasi-Mexican heartburn.

We sat around his dining room table and began to eat. I thought I would have been slightly desensified during the sequel to Steve’s dining skills, but it was still just as excruciating to witness. Janna sat with her burrito mid-air as she watched Steve repeatedly fashion a shovel from his hand and scoop up the fallen contents of his taco. Over and over again, he would attempt to take a bite and then plop, the taco’s intestines would come plummeting back to the table. I quickly went through my arsenal of napkins as I plucked stray lettuce shreds from his glasses and mopped up tiny pools of fire sauce from the floor around his seat.

By the time he managed to down one bite, I was just as caked with meat and beans as he was. It was like we had bear-hugged around a burrito. For the first time in my life, I was unable to finish my Taco Bell.

It’s just food, I reminded myself. It’s not even regurgitated. It’s cool; he can’t help it, I thought over and over again. But I had a rising lump of burrito in my throat and every time I looked in his direction, at the cheese dangling from his gnashing lips and the slivers of taco shell sticking to his chin, the lump threatened to re-acquaint itself with the world. I felt so ashamed that I couldn’t bring myself to help this poor man eat his taco.

Just as Janna was on the verge of the tears from intaking this harsh slice of life, her cell phone rang from within her purse.

“Oh! That is my….cell phone. No one…..ever calls me….on my….cell phone. I wonder…who it could….be,” she said in a foreign and mechanical voice akin to a computerized operator. I glanced behind me, trying to find the cue card she was reading from. Fuck, Janna — he’s handicapped, not retarded.

(Don’t worry, Janna aspires to be a teacher, not a Hollywood starlet.)

And so we told Steve that Keri had gone and broken down somewhere and we had to go help her. You know, me and my tow truck.

“Ooohhhh. Keri. The one who puuuuut the piccckkkle—-”

“Yep, that’s the one! That’s Keri!” And we laughed and talked of her big boobs for a few minutes before Janna and I grabbed our jackets and flew out the door.

And on the way home, I felt so riddled with guilt. I can remember crying about it when I was alone. This guy was so sweet and nice, but it was hard as hell for me to be around him.

However, not able to say no, I attended his New Year’s Eve party a few weeks later. I brought Janna and two other friends and it wasn’t so bad because some of his friends from his complex. That was fun, walking into his apartment and being greeted by a collective round of, “Uuuunnnnnhhh”s. To keep from laughing in their faces out of nervousness, I equated them with zombies. Because zombies are no laughing matter; zombies are scary. And then I comforted myself and dulled the awkwardness by hovering around the spread of food, where I could be found devouring mass quantities of Russian tea cakes.

His family was also there. Great, meeting the family on the third date? I better break this thing off before we end up betrothed, I thought to myself in a panic. But not before I eat some more cookies.

One of the more mentally-incapacitated of the bunch took a liking to Janna and that made for some good memories.

That was the last time I saw Steve. Things took a turn for the worst when he began sending me e-cards filled with animated roses and cupids. And then on one occasion, we had mixed our signals and I ended up meeting him one night at the wrong place, causing him to believe I had stood him up. He called me that night, bawling like a maniac on the phone (at least, I think he was crying. Sometimes when retarded people, or people who sound retarded, cry, it can be mistaken for laughter. I know this because I watched “Life Goes On.”) and accusing me of hating him.

For as cold and icy as I am, that broke my fucking heart. I had a quick glimpse of what it must feel like for a mother to unintentionally make her child cry. I couldn’t do it anymore.

I became the dick who stopped returning the handicapped man’s emails.

Mar 122010
 

giacomo

After exchanging several friendly messages through the personals, Giacomo suggested we meet. I wasn’t opposed to this: I had just broken up with my boyfriend Jeff (for the first time) and Giacomo was in a band.

“If it would make you feel more comfortable, why don’t you have a get together or something so your friends can be there,” Giacomo suggested, unaware that he was dealing with a girl who picked up hitch hikers as a weeknight hobby and made friends by inviting people in off the street. But who am I to turn down the opportunity to throw a party?

giacomo2

Like all my parties back then, I spent more time focusing on food pairings when I should have been considering the opposing personality types that made up my guest list. But like an asshole,  I invited Jeff, the guy I had JUST broken up with; Justin, the boy who broke my heart in my high school; Brian, the priest-in-training; Lisa,  the Christian who didn’t believe in Catholic ideologies; Cinn, the antagonizing Athiest; and a smattering of neutral personalities to make up the audience for when things eventually became heated.

giacomo3

Things went well at first. Giacomo arrived and I felt an immediate ease around him. There were no romantic sparks, but I felt that at the very least we could possibly be friends. Plus, he carried a toothbrush with him, and you know what they say about men with good oral hygiene.

But then Cinn arrived. And the thing with Cinn is that she doesn’t just demand attention, she COMMANDS it. So here she comes, breezing through the door with her shocking red spikes and faux-goth persona, interrupting conversation with her callous commentary. I think Janna was the only person she liked and everyone else immediately fell under her scrutiny. My ex-boyfriend Jeff was extremely intimidated by her, and he sunk down against me on the couch.

Cinn took a seat next to Lisa, who had yet to meet her. It was like spying on an angel and a devil, sitting together in a waiting room. I began to worry.

The subject of tattoos came up, and I had recently gotten the start of a large sun on my mid-to-lower back. When Giacomo asked to see it, I rose from the couch and began drawing my shirt up slightly. I was wearing a pink ankle-length skirt, fitted around the top. From across the room, Cinn heckled, “Suck it in, Erin!”

I was humiliated.

Devastated.

Crushed.

The sad part is that I wasn’t even fat then; but when you’re a fat kid – even if that moment of your childhood is a fleeting window – you carry that chip with you. And that chip is double-fried in saturated fat, salted, and layered with ten strips of bacon. My face still gets flushed when I think of that moment. It will probably never stop hurting and the lucidity will likely never dull. The memory of it will forever outshine some of the best moments in my life thus far.

It shut me up. It shut the entire room up. Cinn was left to laugh alone in her chair while everyone else tugged at their collars awkwardly. Jeff reached over and squeezed my hand.  Eventually conversation resumed.

My ego was still smartin’ but I had a new guest to entertain. I tried to focus on immersing him into the dysfunctional circus that was my social circle, when I began picking up on a conversation from across the room that seemed to be steadily increasing in volume and tension.

A religious debate. Of course! What good is a party without people screaming over top of mini quiches and shrimp cocktail about Confession. Somehow, Cinn and Lisa had joined forces and were attacking Brian about the right and wrong ways to seek God’s forgiveness and I’m sitting there thinking, “Cinn doesn’t even BELIEVE in God, why is she doing this?” Cinn and Brian had never gotten along. From the very beginning of my friendship with Cinn, when she fooled me into believing she had a brain tumor (oh, is THAT a story for a rainy day!), Brian was 100% against it. “I just think it’s weird that you met her in some creepy gothic chatroom and that she has an expiration date on her life that’s fast approaching,” he explained one day, which of course made me want to meet her all the more. Brian’s instincts have pretty much been spot-on about everyone who has touched my life in one way or another, but taking his advice would be too easy, and I prefer long, drawn-out, painful bouts of drama.

So no, Brian and Cinn were never able to sit in the same room, breathing the same air, without firing verbal cannons at one another.

Cinn had backed Brian up against a wall with her religious crusade, insistent on tripping him up so she could accuse him of being a bad seminarian, a heathen, I don’t fucking know. But it was working, and he was getting visibly upset that she wouldn’t leave him alone, and every one in the room was silent and bristling uncomfortably.

I stood up and left. Left my own apartment, while my own party was going on. I bolted out the door, flung myself in the front seat of my good old Eagle Talon, and bawled against the steering wheel. Sure I was 19 years old, but you better believe I’d take the same route if it happened again tonight.

Cinn came out to do what she does best: cleaning up the mess she made in a way that made me forget she made the mess in the first place and instead was a really great friend who just took care of me. Except I wouldn’t unlock the door. I asked her to please leave, which sounds much less polite when it comes out as a hysterical shriek and served on a platter of obscenities and death threats.

Jeff came out next. For him, I unlocked the door. We sat together in the dark, listening to synthpop, until my breathing lost the I’ve-just-been-crying stutter and I felt calm enough to go back inside and face the music.

I felt guilty about leaving Giacomo in there with all the flared tempers and awkward silences, but was pleased to see that he was doing card tricks for everyone. With Cinn gone, everyone was able to relax, enjoy the food, and get to know Giacomo, who ended up being a really cool guy. Before he left, he said, “Let’s do this again soon, just maybe without that red-haired chick.”

I agreed, and I genuinely meant it, but the trauma of that night got the best of me and I never did meet up with Giacomo again.

Nor did I ever wear that pink skirt again.

Jan 272010
 

lesbianblinddate

Really, no one flinched when I told them I was going on a date with a lesbian.

Sure, I got several memos reminding me that I wasn’t gay, but that didn’t deter me. Because the fact was, I just wasn’t meeting any cool guys. Not that I was looking for any, really, but more that I was addicted to the thrill of blind dates. My personal ad even said, in large font, that I was just looking for casual encounters, something to bud into a friendship. And then I would go on for a paragraph swearing that I wasn’t a whore. And I wasn’t. I never went home with any of those dates. I just honestly lived for the opportunity to meet new people.

My friend Brian, upon perusing my ad (which actually started as a joke), deadpanned, “Oh yeah, you won’t get KILLED or anything. Have fun with that, weirdo.”

But the guys I was meeting were all vapid, bore me with football talk, and wanted to get into my pants. (Well, I was shocked!) So I decided it was time to switch things up and try my hand at a girl date.

And that’s how I found myself meeting Wendy and her friend Ron at Eat n’ Park.

Wendy was vapid, wore an offensively large Dallas Cowboys belt buckle and wanted to get into my pants.

I found myself in a silent prayer, thanking God for sending Ron with her.

During our meal (I had grilled cheese, that much I know), Wendy sat across from me and failed in her attempt to seduce me with her eyes. Instead, she just looked drowsy from psych meds. I was a bit let down that Wendy didn’t seem much involved in the conversation, or in getting to know me. At all. Unless it involved the exchanging of bra sizes and saliva. I was content chatting casually and comfortably with Ron while demolishing my grilled cheese (which he paid for and I can’t remember if I said thanks) and ignoring the salacious stares and ribald posturings belching from the Wendy Zone.

Toward the end of the meal, Wendy had been silently dragging her spoon across her sundae, presumably bored with the conversation topics which did not include:

  • belt buckles and where to buy them the biggest
  • ecru work shirts and the women who wear them
  • the perils of dating outside of your sexual orientation

But suddenly, she looked up at  me, and with those weird drowsy eyes, drawled, “I like whipped cream…and cherries.”

And then she licked her lips. And her eyes flittered down a little and I found myself hugging my boobs protectively, trying not to pee.

That night, while retelling the details to my friends, I felt so violated. So objectified!

“Well, was she hot?” I was undoubtedly asked.

“No!” I yelled.

“If she were, would you have—?”

“Maybe! But she wasn’t. It’s OK, I gave her no inclination that we’d be seeing each other again. Plus, she lives an hour away.”  

Until the next day, when the phone calls began. Oh, the phone calls! Her primary job became calling me. In fact, I’m pretty sure she quit her actual job to make this so.

“So, I’m thinking of moving back to Pittsburgh,” was what I was presented with one day, with all the pleasure and joy of getting slapped in the face with a dead fish. “Ron said I could move in with him again.” And then, “I think I’m falling in love with you.”

“Ron’s cool,” I said, at a loss for how to address her proclamation, and feeling a strong urge to peek out the blinds and make sure she wasn’t squatting behind a tree.

“Hey, what’s that song you have in your email?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s ‘Question of Lust’ by Depeche Mode,” I offered reluctantly. Why did she want to know? Was she going to give it to the DJ she already hired to play at our wedding reception, oh my God what I have done?

“I love it,” she slurred in her own warped version of sexiness. ” I play it all the time and I made my whole family listen to it.” When I said nothing, she went on to add the AWESOME admittance of, “They know all about you.”

I went on to handle Wendy the same way I handle the gas men: ignore the assholes until they go away. She called me for months. Hands down she was the toughest blind date to shake. Probably she’s forgotten about me by now, but I’m still cursed with her memory every time I hear that damn Depeche Mode song (which used to be my favorite!).

I’m not even sure Wendy was her name. I had written “Ron and the lesbian” beneath their picture in my photo album.

Now that I think about it, maybe it was Michelle.

Jan 192010
 

My first internet boyfriend was wrangled back in the fall of ’98. His name was Misfit and we met in a now-defunct goth chat room called Darkchat (where my nickname “Ruby” flourished to the point where it’s now hard to shake, and no, I was never really “goth”). Misfit and I became soon embroiled in a hot-and-heavy phone relationship, even watching Sleepless In Seattle together while cradling the receivers between shoulders and ears. He asked me to come to San Diego to spend Christmas with him, and I went through great lengths to make it happen. My mom thought it was cute (she was secretly hoping that he would see to my demise, I’m sure), and promised to help me get a plane ticket. Then I called him one night and heard the giggling of a horny female from within his dorm room.

My internet lust did not die with Misfit; there were plenty more faceless nicknames scattered around the world for me to fall for, like Fade who was in his twenties and admittedly never had a girlfriend; and Darq, the adrogynous Brian Molko wannabe from England who would send me angry ICQ messages if I wasn’t home when he would call. Each time I met someone new, I’d break up with my boyfriend Jeff. He was the most lenient boyfriend I ever had. Probably because he wasn’t very threatened by some dude who lived a thousand miles away and knew I’d be back after the initial white horses and rainbows of it all fizzled.

Until October of 1999, when Narcissus from Vancouver and I realized that after a year of chatting in Darkchat and over ICQ, we were soul mates. His real name was Gordon and I charged ludicrous amounts of calling cards to my mom’s company gas card. My friends Jon and Justin, who were always with me back then,  hated Gordon because he had a knack for calling at inopportune times. Like when we would all be engaged in dead baby hypotheticals or watching my friend Jon model wigs.

But he’s my soul mate, I’d remind everyone as I kicked them out of my house so I could call Gordon.

Through all the mix tape swaps and late night phone sessions, Jeff toughed it out. He’d sit there and listen to me gush about how educated and refined Gordon was, and how someday I was going to bear his child and we would raise it on love, chatroom etiquette and The Cure.

But then a pivotal moment occurred:

Gordon was flying to Pittsburgh.

He had arranged a flight in December with the intent of shacking up with me for two weeks. It was going to be perfect — we would obviously fall even more madly in love and then I would go back to Vancouver with him and we would get married and live in a big house filled with coffins and pictures of Robert Smith and it was going to be all so very perfect.

Jeff cried.

Jon and Justin vehemently vetoed this plan and begged me not to get my hopes up, that he could arrive and all illusions could shatter. But he’s my Gordon, I argued. There ARE no illusions, just buckets and barrels of twinkling True Love.  

I was subsequently mocked every time Gordon would call in their presence. But one evening, my friend Justin could bear it no longer and reluctantly crossed over to my side. “Let me say hello to him,” he asked. After making him promise to be nice, I passed him the phone.

“Hey Gordon, how’s it going?” The air hung heavy as Jon and I waited expectantly for Justin to wrap it up. “Yeah? Well fuck you too!” Justin slammed down the phone and yelled, “Your friend’s an asshole, Erin!”

Gordon had replied to Justin’s greeting with a “Fuck all.” This was a new phrase for Jon and Justin, and no matter how hard I tried to explain what it meant, they assumed I was trying to cover for Gordon, and that clearly it was the Canadian way to say that he wanted to kill Justin’s mother and rape his sister. They took offense and set off on the war path. Plans were made to drop by while he was visiting, and parade around my house in “Fuck Canada” t-shirts while mocking the dialect. I even heard whispering about a maple leaf burning.They were going to hold this against the entire country.

I eventually got them to cease fire and they agreed that they would be civil when he arrived. I had two weeks left to prep them, reminding them of sensitive subjects and other sore spots to avoid.

“His brother died of AIDs, so don’t make any AIDs jokes,” I warned.

Jon was appalled by this. “How often do we tell AIDs jokes? I don’t even know any!” Still, I feared that he would go home and start putting together an act.

Finally, Gordon’s arrival date was upon us, and I rushed to the airport. I couldn’t wait to run my fingers through his coal black 80s retro hair, and oh how I hoped he would be wearing the military jacket that I had seen him in in one of the pictures he emailed me.

I leaned up against a wall and waited as a stream of passengers poured off his flight. I saw a young, tall guy with a long gray pea coat and wobbly red head approaching. We made eye contact, but I quickly pulled away. Weirdo, I thought. I looked past him, waiting expectantly for Gordon, when I realized Big Red was still staring at me and smiling goofily.

He was Gordon.

But where was the shiny blue-black hair that flopped so precisely over his left eye? Where were the big black stompy boots? What I saw in front of me was a walking ad for Banana Republic.

I wanted to run but my feet were frozen to the ground. I had never in my life seen a pate that enormous. Even when he came to a complete stop before me, his head was still jiggling around on his shoulders. Biggest head ever. How was it even possible for a neck to support a head that large without some sort of brace, I wondered. I tried my hardest not to stare, but my eyes kept wanting a tour of that globular cranium.

We exchanged pleasantries and Gordon moved in for a kiss. “Oh, hey now. Ha-ha! Let’s go get your luggage first!” I pulled away much too quickly, with my hands out like a shield, even; but he didn’t seem fazed.

And so I spent the next forty minutes trying to ward off any public displays of affection that he mercilessly flung my way. I finally acquiesced and allowed for one quick, impersonal hug before we got into my car. I had to try not to cry into the breast of his coat.

Jon wanted to come over to meet him that night, so I called him as soon as we arrived home and insisted that Gordon was really tired and not up for a visit, because really I was entirely too embarrassed. I could just hear all the “told you so”s. Could TASTE them, even. “No, I’m quite fine. Tell Jon to bring his jolly ass over!” He really said that. Jolly ass.

“In-person Gordon” evidently liked to speak with a faux-British accent. I would also find that he would slip over into a Scottish brogue as well, all the while never omitting the “eh”s and “aboot”s. He was an accent mutt. I could not allow Jon to witness the monstrosity on my couch. I would never hear the end of it.

Through my patented gritted, toothy smile, I hastily suggested that we order food. If he’s eating, maybe he won’t talk, I prayed. Gordon insisted on placing the order, which turned into a condescending, one-sided shouting match with the pizza place through the phone.

“Hey, we’re Americans, not deaf,” I reminded him when he hung up.

While we ate our pizza, Gordon began asking me about what I had planned for his visit. Nothing that we can do now, I thought, as I glanced at his quaking head. There was no way any of my guy friends were going to be hanging out with him. I would be teased for the rest of my life. I wasn’t sure I could risk ANY of my friends meeting him, to be frank. He was a giant, bobble-headed manifestation of my naivete and Internet love abuse.

Two weeks of this oaf hulking around my house — could I stand it? All those marathon phone calls had left us with little to say to each other. How was that possible? We were supposed to have everything in common.

Gordon needed cigarettes and suggested that I take him to my favorite gas station that I had told him about in one of our many all-night phone sessions, the gas station where hundreds of my mom’s company dollars were spent each month on groceries, toiletries, and Slushies. I began to resist until I figured that it was late at night and the only person there would be the night employee, my buddy Mitul. We had a love-hate relationship, but he wouldn’t say anything about Gordon.

As Gordon roamed the aisles in search of American goods, I stood at the counter with Mitul. Maybe I was just paranoid and reaching to find flaws in Gordon. I bet no one else will even notice his head size.

“That the Canadian you in love wit’?” Mitul asked in his thick Indian staccato. I rolled my eyes and shrugged, prompting Mitul to bust out with a laughter-coated, “Erin’s goofin’ wit’ Big Head!” For two years I endured this mockery from my supposed friend Mitul. Two years. If Mitul was able to see past the language barrier to make fun of the situation, then there was absolutely no way I could bring him around anyone else. They’d collect enough fodder for the biggest, bloodiest roast of Erin of all time.

Later that night, Gordon was leafing through my photo albums, while simultaneously bitching about how horrible American cigarettes are. I was trying to show him high school pictures of my friends and me, but he insisted that he just wanted to see Jeff and the other guys I hung out with; I watched as the flesh covering his over-sized skull grew redder and redder. Someone was jealous. To curb any impending outbursts and awkward trust conversations (because clearly I must have been fucking every friend with a penis), I grabbed a new photo album from the pile and flipped to a random page, trying to change the subject.

“Oh, and this one right here? That’s Tex. It’s a bad picture of him. Doesn’t he look like an AIDs patient?” Several decades of silence passed and I slapped my hand over my mouth. All that rehearsing and pre-damage control I practiced with my friends, and I end up being the idiot who makes light of AIDs.

“My brother died of AIDs,” Gordon said, the weight of his enormous head causing him to hang it. And he cried.

Not knowing what else to do, I gifted him with pity sex. Yeah, that’s right, Erin goofed with Big Head. I was going through a dangerous “sex is the answer” phase, OK? I was YOUNG.

(Henry wishes I was still in that phase.)

And that was awkward, I have to say. I didn’t want to touch him, but a few times I slipped and placed my hands on his head, causing me to experience internal vomiting. I took a hot shower afterward, locking the bathroom door to curb any attempts for him to join me. I was afraid that the soap suds would be unable to penetrate the smarmy pretentiousness that I was so sure had coated my flesh, so I scrubbed myself raw.

(I’m shuddering right now, at the memory.)

The next morning, I called my friend Keri and begged her to come over. She’s the one who took me to the hospital when I had a condom lost inside me, so I figured if anyone would be blase about the situation, it’d be her. “I don’t want to be left alone with him. I might say more stupid things and be forced to have more Big Head sex!” Keri agreed to be my buffer and came right over.

“Where is he?” she asked, looking around the room, as if anyone’s eyes would not immediately be drawn to the mother whompin’ head, like flies to a carcass.

“He’s engaging in a shower,” I answered with air quotes, imitating his phony accent.

We sat on the couch and I purged and ranted as long as his shower enabled me to, until he made his grand entrance down the steps.

Wearing nothing but a towel.

He nodded at Keri while he walked across the room, slapping his big feet against the floor, and spraying droplets of water in his wake. He stooped down in front of us and rummaged through his suitcase, which he had left laying open in the middle of the room. He stood up with his chosen wardrobe for the day, and nodded again at Keri and me, before retreating back to the bathroom.

Keri sat rigidly, her eyes opened wide in horror. “That’s the biggest fucking head I’ve ever seen! Does he have some sort of condition? Why is it so big?”

“I don’t know. He’s very pretentious, do you think that’s why?” But then it came down to: “Is his head big because he’s pretentious, or is he pretentious because his head’s big?” For the fifth time since he arrived in Pittsburgh, I started to cry.

The three of us went to Denny’s for lunch, where Gordon proceeded to cut Keri off every time she tried to speak. He sat there and droned on and on about how great Canada is and what a poor country we live in here in America, and my god, this restaurant was terrible. And then he talked about British comedy and how rich his grandparents were, all while I stuffed my mouth with grilled cheese and stared out the window. Keri tried her hardest to make conversation, but he didn’t even attempt to feign interest, talking right over her as though she wasn’t even there (Kind of like how I do around Janna. But that’s different!), all the while twirling and flicking his scarf in his hands.

Yes, we know your scarf is cashmere, motherfucker. This is what I longed to scream while wrapping it tighter and tighter around his thick neck until it turned a pretty azure hue.

Keri left as soon as we returned back at my house. She couldn’t be paid to stay. I don’t even think she said goodbye.

“Would you care to join me in some viewing of ‘Fawlty Towers’?” Gordon invited as he procured a tape from his suitcase. With him? No. With someone else? Gladly. I politely declined so I wouldn’t have to sit with him, and busied myself with a magazine, figuring we could at least have some quiet time.

And then the simulated British tittering began. Not wanting to stick around long enough to hear him bust out with a “Chortle, chortle, that was a  jolly fine joke,” I played the headache card and excused myself, locking the bedroom door behind me. Laying in bed and wondering how the fuck I was going to survive two entire weeks of Bobble Head, I picked up the phone and called the one person who could rescue me.

Cinn arrived a short while later. I heard her knock and waited for Gordon to open the door. There was silence, and then I heard her knock three more times with increased impatience. I ran downstairs and realized that Gordon wasn’t even there.

“Where the hell is he?” Cinn demanded, pushing her way into the house. “Tell me what’s going on.”

I explained to her how he was rude to Keri and how he was being so negative about America (and I’m not even patriotic) and that I literally had nothing to say to him, and he was clingy, oh so clingy, and I couldn’t breathe and every time I closed my eyes, I pictured the butcher knife in the kitchen.  Cinn said there was little time and began to rummage through his suitcase.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I cried, pulling back the curtains to ensure he wasn’t on his way back from whereever he had disappeared.

Tossing aside his underwear and socks, she found his return flight intinery and called the airport. When she hung up, she assured me that he could be out of here and on a plane by morning, without losing his mother’s frequent flyer miles.

All that was left was for us to wait. Maybe he won’t come back at all, I hoped. Maybe he’ll get mugged or wooed by a carnival committee, that could happen, right Cinn?

When he eventually returned to my unwelcoming arms, and explained in his haughty British accent that he had “gone for a walk around the block,” Cinn took him by the arm and led him back outside. On the front porch, she sat him down and first chastised him for leaving the house without telling me, like he was a seven-year old who took a detour to the arcade instead of coming straight home after school. Then she explained to him that Erin was a little overwhelmed by the idea of him staying for two whole weeks, and frankly, she felt very uncomfortable to the point where it would be best to cut the trip short. How short, Gordon asked. Oh, like tonight, Cinn answered.

And so, with all the flair of a menopausal woman, he burst into the house, crying, and implored me to change my mind. I tried to be compassionate and told him that I just wasn’t ready, but when I was, I would come and visit him in Vancouver. This is all just moving too fast, I said dramatically. Do you still love me, he asked me through the tears. Of course, I lied.

He ate it up, like it was just another chapter in our perfect love story.

Cinn helped him book his flight and then spent a few more hours chaperoning us, ensuring that I wouldn’t succumb to more pity sex, and, you know, have to talk to him. But eventually, she had to leave. That left me with about five hours to kill.

“You know, you should probably get to the airport early,” I recommended. He asked me how early I was thinking and I said, “Oh, you should leave now, maybe.”

He asked me if I was ready to take him and after thinking it over for, oh, half a second, I explained to him that I would be too sad to go to the airport with him, and that he should just call a cab. And so I handed him the Yellow Pages. I hardly wanted him to slobber all over me at the airport, in front of people. It was bad enough he was doing it in the privacy of my house.

The hard part was next — trying to stay awake in the middle of the night, so that he wouldn’t miss his cab and/or his flight. I sat on the couch in a very annoyed and disgusted position, as he lay with his head in my lap, serenading me with Joy Division songs.

I’m not kidding. To this day, my skin crawls when I hear “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It’s not love tearing us apart, moron, it’s your watermelon-sized dome and accompanying ego. I couldn’t believe how much someone could differ in person. The Gordon I knew via the phone was sincere and sweet and funny. The Gordon who was snotting all over my lap was brash and arrogant and pretentious, and worst of all – rude to my friends. That’s intolerable.

Just as Gordon was humming the opening notes to track 5 of his Joy Division Sob Fest, I leapt off the couch.

“Oh my god, I didn’t even get a picture of you while you were here!” I realized. I went to grab my camera, leaving Gordon with a few seconds to wipe the tears from his eyes and blow his nose. I took his picture just as the cab pulled up the house. It’s disappointing how the true enormity of his head is camouflaged in this photo; my friends and I have lamented over this for years. But take my word for it — others saw it and cowered in its shadow.

He called me from the airport in hopes that I had changed my mind, as though the twenty minutes we had been apart would have made my heart swell with lonliness and regret. I assured him that nothing had changed. He said he still loved me. I tried not to puke.

Needless to say, we haven’t spoken since; and last I heard, he was in Ireland, so one can only imagine how incredible his accent collage is these days.

Jeff and I reunited, but there would be more boys down the line to break us up. You know, like our friend Henry.

Jul 252009
 

I used to place a lot of personal ads just for kicks  back in the day. My friends would be like, “Please to be stopping whoring yourself, you’re  going to get kilt.”

But it was FUN and THRILLING you guys. I used to love to  meet new people back then, and it would usually always be in a group setting.

This one time however, I got brave. I told some dude, “Hell yeah, come up to my love palace, let me interview you to be my friend.” (Because you see, I had a boyfran, I was just looking for a boy that was a fran.)

(Sorry, I’m distracted because the episode of Degrassi where the princifuck calls Claire a bitch is on and I had to stop to yell into the other room, “Can you BELIEVE that shit??”)

Anyway, this dude rolls up to my crib and suddenly I feel like maybe this guy could be dangerous, how the hell would I know, I don’t dole out criminal background checks. So I don’t answer when he rings the bell.

He knocks.

I still don’t answer.

He knocks harder.

I crouch down in the shadows of my living room.

He begins banging and yelling, “I know you’re in there! You invited me over! Let me in!”

I retreat to the bathroom and hide in the shower.

He lingers for awhile, probably rubbing one out on my patio, hollering about me being a bitch tease.

He starts dragging something across my bedroom window and it goes SKEET SKEET and sends corresponding chills up and down my vertebrae.

And then he killed me.

No, he totally didn’t.

Sometimes I really kick myself for not opening the door. He might have been holding a beautiful bouquet of perrenials in his Freddy Krueger hands.

Shit I wish I could remember that bastard’s name. I’d like to send him a Christmas card. Facebook him, even.



Jul 092008
 

I went through a short (five year) spell where I compulsively answered and posted personal ads for the sheer thrill of probable disaster. In the winter of 1999, a delightful man named Pete responded to one of my ads. After exchanging several cordial emails, I decided there was a fair chance he wasn’t keen on brandishing machetes, so I offered up my phone number.

He called me one night when my boyfriend Jeff was over. Jeff — yes, my boyfriend — was no stranger to my need to spread my wings of infidelity, so he busied himself with an episode of "Felicity" (the one where Brian Crackhouse raped the pink Power Ranger) while I carried on a merry conversation with Pete about all the various cereals we liked and how it was so hard to choose just one variety each morning.

Pete and I made plans to meet up one fine evening, and to be safe, I invited Janna over too. Because if he were to arrive wielding a chainsaw, at least I’d have a decoy. Minutes before Pete’s arrival, Janna called. "My mom won’t let me have the car because of the snow. I’m so sorry!" she whined, probably inwardly relieved that now she could stay home and watch PBS.

I tried to call Pete to cancel, but he had already left. I wondered about the possibility of him leaving the piano wire at home, on the kitchen counter, miles away from my vulnerable neck.

But he likes cereal so much, I pep-talked myself. It’s hard to imagine a serial killer enjoying a bowl of Apple Jacks, I assured myself, because that’s clearly grade A logic to apply.

When I opened the door for Pete, I was taken aback by his unexpected redneck visage. But once we got the handshaking out of the way, he settled down in a chair and conversation flowed freely. I was slightly irritated by his constant abbreviation for cigarette. "Let me light another ciggie," he’d announce, feeling the need to include me in his smoking schedule.

Then he pulled out a joint. I knew not to smoke it with him, because even when I’m with someone I’m supremely close to, my paranoia gets way out of control and of course every person in the tri-state area is vying to rape me. I want to sear my skin with a hot iron, leap from speeding vehicles, watch Olsen Twins videos.

So I did the rational thing in Erin’s World and joined him.

On TV, the news reports gave constant updates on the severe weather condition unraveling outside. I kept urging him to leave, and he would respond with obvious insinuations that he wanted to spend the night, which my marijuana-clouded mind translated as, "Imma treat ya like a pig, stuff an apple in yer mouth, and fuck ya silly from the bee-hind, you slutty broad. Who’s the cereal king now, ho?"

Oblivious to the pandemonium tap-dancing through my nervous system, he’d jiggle a cigarette between his fingers and say, "Just one more ciggie!" I sat on the couch, hunkered down among the pillows, arms protectively covering my boobs, legs bouncing with the verve and RPM of a bridge-dwelling paranoiac. I had cotton mouth and I wanted to go to bed. Maybe eat a PB&J.

He finally left after I completely closed off and started answering his questions with irate outbursts. I never heard from him again, which is a shame because we could have maybe made beautiful cereal together.