Sex and the Sopranos IV

The men Samantha Jones slept with on 'Sex and the City,' ranked | Revelist

Pinocchio e La Favolosa

After so much blood and gore and fecal matter, I was relieved when Samantha said she had a sweet story to share with me, one she promised would be dolce, dolce, Dolce.

This time, we met for Aperol spritzes in the West Village at Bar Pisellino…which is Italian slang for penis.

“Really?” I asked when I found Samantha waiting for me at the bar, cocktail already in hand, “Con te Partiro” blaring over the speaker system. “You couldn’t have picked a bar with a more obvious name?”

“Oh, honey, it’s just good PR. They know their audience. Best Aperol spritz in the city AND the name translates to ding-a-ling? Welcome to the cougar den.”

“Well ring-a-ding-ding,” I drawled as I looked around the room, indeed full of women of a certain age and promiscuity. One walked up to us wearing the most fabulous Dolce dress, strapless and turquoise. “Ciao.”

“Fendi?” I asked, petting her handbag and speaking my love language: Italian fashion design.

“Never!” The woman spit on the floor. “Roma has a war with us.”

“Carrie, this is Annalisa.”

I endured European air kisses. “Have we met before?”

“Bella, no, your column is about disposable men, remember? I come from Napoli and am such a, come si dice, favolosa character that I simply had to manifest in your little stories.”

“She’s like a cross between your friend Amalita and my friend Claire Ann,” Samantha said. “But so much more fabulous. Plus, she knows what it’s like to be a woman boss in the full Madonna-whore equation.”

I suddenly felt jealous of Annalisa. “Samantha, are we breaking up?”

“It can’t hurt to start seeing other people.” Samantha sipped her cocktail. “You never know what the future may bring.”

And just like that, I had to picture my world without Samantha.

“Annalisa and I have a mutual friend,” Samantha was saying. “Do you remember my short little lover, Jeff? The big dick with a little man attached?”

I did remember. Jeff had picked up Samantha with his charm and business acumen while seated at a bar, and it was only when he stood up to leave, having secured a date with Sam, that she realized he could only reach her nipples. He cracked her when he joked that she must shop at the Big & Tall Whore Store.

“You made it work with him for two weeks and then he just disappeared without explanation?”

“I get bored.” Samantha waved away the question. “Annalisa has informed me that Jeff was a real-life Pinocchio!”

“I’m going to need some details.” I leaned forward conspiratorially. “Did his pisellino grow a few inches every time he told a lie? If that was the case, all men should suffer the same affliction.”

“Sweetie, trust me, he needed no help in that department. And there is such a thing as too big, even for me.” I remembered: Mr. Too Big. If a woman of Samantha’s talents had given up, I worried about the poor guy ever getting laid.

“This man, Jeff, the tiny one, he is working as a waiter in my favorite restaurant,” Annalisa explained. She lit a Monopolio di Stato cigarette and began waving it around.

I had to ask: “Can we smoke in here?”

“I dabble in la stregheria, come si dice, witchcraft, like all women,” Annalisa said, ignoring my question and talking loudly with her hands. “Sibyls, curses with toenail clippings, herb gardens, psychic powers, animal familiars, yes?”

“Capeche,” I nodded, afraid to say anything else.

“This Goffredo, Jeff, he is such a good waiter while we are entertaining some Americans visiting from the other side. They make fun of the food and think we do not notice, ask for macaroni with gravy, worse than classless Germans. So I say he needs a vacation, I can send him anywhere he wants for two weeks. He tells me he always wished to be a big shot on Wall Street when he grew up.”

“So you made him a real boy,” I nodded.

“Who had to shop in the boy’s department at Bloomingdale’s,” Samantha added.

“This, he did not care about,” Annalisa shrugged. “He wants only to meet a beautiful woman and make love to her for the entire fortnight.”

I raised a questioning eyebrow at Samantha. She nodded in confirmation.

I couldn’t help but wonder: could Annalisa put a spell on me, too? If we all fantasize about living la dolce vita in Neapolitan novels or Tuscan villas, why are so many of us still stuck in the daily grind of the city? Without his strings to hold him down, Jeff had made his dreams come true, in the form of Samantha. Why couldn’t I?

Annalisa swished her Dolce into the kitchen, the staff too stunned to stop her.

“Let’s hope she doesn’t drop ashes in the moozadell,” I quipped.

Samantha lowered her voice: “Wouldn’t matter. She is acting boss of the crime family back in Naples.”

“The don is a Donatella?”

“Everyone thinks her husband is in charge, but she runs things while he serves a life sentence.”

“So the godfather is a fairy godmother, flitting around, granting wishes on stars.”

“Oh, honey, I am going to miss your little jokes.”

“Samantha…” I teared up.

“Let’s just make the most of the time we have left together, shall we?” Samantha soothed.

Annalisa emerged from the kitchen, heavy appetizers plated in both hands. “Mangiamo!”

Sex and the Sopranos III

Quick reminder and spoiler alert: this is a series of short stories connecting the shared actors between Sex and the City and The Sopranos…and, when I absolutely can’t help myself, another character that actor has played. These will probably only make sense if you have seen both shows…or in this case, all three.

Headhunted

Not long after I learned that I had accidentally set Miranda up on a date with a ghost, Samantha shared some equally disturbing news over sips of sake at the Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill on Columbus Circle.

“Do you remember my assistant Matt?”

“The rude guy you fired and then fucked on the front desk?”

“That’s the one. Did you ever actually meet Matt?”

“I can’t say I had the pleasure. Why?”

“Well, it seems no one did.”

“How did you hire him?”

“I was literally on the phone with Mitch, my headhunter, when Matt walked into my office. I just assumed Mitch had sent him and hired him on the spot.”

“Did you check out his references?”

“I checked out his pecs,” Samantha purred, “and honey, they were excellent.”

“Wait, didn’t this guy insult like half your client list over the phone?”

“That’s the thing. It was always just me and him, two alpha dogs in heat, caged inside an office suite. No one else ever saw him. He had horrible phone etiquette, even told some wannabe music promoter from Jersey that her parties sucked, but my career never suffered.”

“You have had some terrible assistants,” I nodded, thinking of Nina G. and the one whose leisurely lunch break allowed me to walk in on Samantha blowing the Worldwide Express guy. “I never understood why you kept him around for a whole week.”

Samantha inspected her flower cocktail ring. “He called me a boo-yah hottie and said he wanted to make sure I got the respect I deserved without having to get my nails dirty.”

“That reminds me: I still owe you a manicure for that time you fished out my diaphragm.”

“Oh, honey, I wrote that off a long time ago. We all know how terrible you are with money.”

“I am not.”

“Please. Have you paid Charlotte back for the down payment on your apartment?”

“I dedicated my book to her!”

Samantha smirked. “Did you pay her back?”

“She put me on a payment plan,” I said quietly.

“And I’m obviously paying for drinks and those secret-menu appetizers tonight. May I continue?” Samantha looked out across the rooftop bar toward the park. “He was always talking about someone named Matthew Bevilaqua, and maybe I wasn’t paying attention because I thought his own name was Matt, but it was actually Sean Gismonte. Matt Bevilaqua was his roommate and partner back in Jersey.”

“Were they gay?”

“That was definitely implied, but he was able to perform when I wanted him to, so no complaints there.”

“Good for you.”

“He did tell me they spent a lot of time hanging out in their underwear together, though, and Matt called him Jizz,” Samantha looked momentarily pensive. “You know, short for Gismonte?”

“If you say so.”

“So when I submitted all his I-9 information—because I am, after all, the sole proprietor of my own PR firm, Samantha Jones Public Relations—I got a call from my accountant that the information he provided was wrong.”

“Because his name was Sean Gismonte and not Matthew Bevilaqua?”

“Because he was dead.”

Now I was getting scared. I couldn’t help but wonder: are we so desperate for a decent date that we have started to unearth the undead? First Miranda and now Samantha had experienced this strange new phenomenon. Is the island of Manhattan in such short supply of suitable men that we have to import the recently deceased from New Jersey?

By the time Samantha had straightened all this out with her accountant and Mitch the headhunter, Matt/Sean had long since ghosted her. Sam learned that Sean Gismonte had been mentored into the DiMeo crime family by none other than Christopher Moltisanti, friend of Samantha’s tantric celibacy guru Brendan “Siddhartha” Filone (RIP). Both Sean and Matt had their stockbroker’s license and once beat the shit out of a fellow cold-caller.

“Three months before he walked into my office, an assassination attempt gone wrong resulted in a gunfight that left Moltisanti alive but in a coma. Jizz was found shot through the head.”

“Talk about bad head,” I opined, but Samantha gave me a withering glance.

“He was still strapped into his seatbelt, hanging out the passenger side of what was presumably his best friend’s ride,” Samantha nodded knowingly. “But the driver fled the scene.”

“Obviously Bevilaqua?”

“He said Matthew Bevilaqua always made him do the talking, which might be why he was so verbose working my phone lines. He also brought me a bunch of stockings as gifts; said he had loads of them.” Samantha took a deep breath. “And speaking of loads, the strangest thing happened after I fired and fucked him.”

“Something weird happened after you had sex with the ghost who worked as your assistant?”

“He squatted right in the corner of my office and…defecated.”

And just like that, I learned that Samantha could literally fuck the shit out of a man.

I stared at her for a moment. I had to admit, I was a little impressed, if also completely disgusted. “Is this a new fetish?” I finally asked her.

“Could be adrenaline? Irritable bowel syndrome? Who the fuck cares? All I know is I had to recarpet my office and find a new assistant.” Samantha drained her sake and poured us both another.

“So where is he now? Still floating around doing his unfinished business on other people’s floors?”

“My guess is he gigged as a plumber and joined the Fatberg Five, that task force that dislodges calcified waste from the sewers, before disappearing on his honeymoon to Italy.”

It sounded like Matt/Sean found his calling in the afterlife. I was tempted to make a bunch of body-waste puns, like when I dated that politician who wanted me to pee on him, but I was too stunned to utter a single quip that would glibly summarize my friend’s headhunting sexcapade.

Neither of us had much of an appetite when the waitress arrived with our pu pu platter.

(Younger 5.12)

Sex and the Sopranos II

The Freak Assassin

A wise woman once said: “I believe there is a curse put on the head of anyone who tries to fix up their friends.”

That woman was me, in 1998, after I set Miranda up on a date with a grown man named Skipper, who would be in and out of our lives for two years before disappearing entirely. I must not have learned my lesson, because in 1999 I once again set Miranda up on a date, this time with a guy who turned out to be the biggest freak in all of Manhattan.

Luke was a friend of Ben, the fellow journalist I met-cute in front of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Ben unceremoniously dumped me when, in pursuit of the freakish truth, I ransacked his studio apartment and uncovered a wooden box containing his childhood collection of merit badges. Ever the boy scout, Ben got in touch again recently to share some strange goings-on.

“I wanted to reach out to you because you’re the only person I ever introduced to Luke,” Ben said over the phone. Intrigued, I arranged to meet Ben back at the carousel where we last saw Luke. The double-date had taken a turn for the worse somewhere around the Häagen-Dazs cart, and even though a guy buying her junk food was usually on the expressway to Miranda’s heart, she evoked our “I have to feed my cat” bad-date code. When I selfishly tried to argue, she reiterated that she was leaving to feed Fatty, and Luke uttered, “Cat people: all freaks.”

“The man hasn’t left Manhattan in a decade,” Miranda hissed at me. “And by the way, if Luke’s a freak, Ben is bound to be a freak too.” Then off she went to feed Fatty, eating her frozen consolation prize and once again regretting that she had allowed me to set her up.

“The thing is, she was right,” Ben said as we retread our brief history together over those same Häagen-Dazs bars in the park. “Luke is more than a freak—he is a freaking ghost!”

“Excuse me?” I shouted, startling the children on the merry-go-round.

As Ben explained it, he only knew Luke from the park, where Luke liked to heckle Ben’s weekend soccer team. “We were really bad,” Ben admitted, “but this jackass in a black leather jacket would just mock us from the sidelines.”

“He never wanted to play?”

“He was always wearing that jacket,” Ben shook his head. “Anyway, it never occurred to me that I only knew this guy within the confines of the park, and I thought nothing of it when he suggested we meet here for our double date.”

“So when he said he hadn’t left Manhattan in over ten years…”

“It was a promise he had made to his mother, that he would never go back to Jersey and get mixed up in his father’s business. His father was a guy named Donato Paduana, who used to do murders for hire in the 80s until someone got the jump on him. Anyway, little Luca kept his promise and moved here after college.”

“And he didn’t leave for ten whole years?”

“Not until a friend of his father’s offered him a crazy amount of money to kill some guy real high up.”

“How high?”

“Like, this guy was nephew of the acting boss at the time.”

“Who ordered the hit?” I was quite pleased with my mastery of mob-talk, but Ben looked scared.

“The acting boss himself, the uncle, plus—get this—the guy’s own mother wanted him popped.”

“No!”

“So the guy you and I know as Luke is actually little Luca Donato Paduana. He went by Donnie back in Jersey where everyone knew his dad, Donato, and even though Donnie promised his mother to never try to fill his father’s cement shoes, he took the assignment. He was going to do this one job, just one, and even tried to farm it out to some subcontractors, but everything got snarled. So he caught a bus to Jersey, got lost driving around Newark in his old Pontiac from high school—because he hadn’t left the island or driven a car in ten years—and got himself shot in the head.”

“When was this?”

“March of 1999.”

“But we went on our double-date like three months after that.” I had done my due diligence and checked my past columns to verify dates.

“Right, and I had known him almost three months when I introduced him to you and Miranda. But he was already dead! I finally put two and two together when I realized the dude had never aged…or changed clothes.”

“At least a black leather jacket is a timeless style choice.”

“Donnie, aka Little Luca, promised his mother he would stay out of the family business while they were having lunch at Tavern on the Green, so now he’s doomed to wander Central Park forever with his unfinished business.”

“He’s still here?” I yelped again.

“He was supposed to shoot that mafia boss.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“I know. Nobody can. That’s why I am here, Carrie, to make sure you remember him and can vouch that I am not losing my mind.”

“Ben, you were one of the sanest guys I have ever dated.”

“Do you think Miranda would verify that she saw him too?”

“Eh—”

“Please, Carrie, you know the Times requires two independent sources to fact-check.”

“Oh, you’re at The New York Times now?”

“Well, yeah—I’m a real journalist. I was editing that hip political magazine when we met, remember?”

“I’m remembering why we broke up…you’re kind of smug.”

“We were a non-couple, so we couldn’t break up. You turned into a freak right after we slept together.”

“And now you’re asking me to call my friend Miranda to meet a ghost for ice cream so you can write about it in the paper of record? I was wrong Ben; you are a freak!” I stomped off holding the Häagen-Dazs bar he had bought me as a bribe.

I couldn’t help but wonder: if a journalist from The New York Times was asking me to call up my friend so we could all wait for the ghost of bad dates past in Central Park, was journalism well and truly dead? If even the stately Gray Lady of newspapers has to resort to cheap parlor tricks and stories about the occult to resuscitate circulation rates, maybe my unfinished business would be the stories I would never get to write when my newspaper folded.

She already believed any date I set her up on was cursed, so I never mentioned anything to Miranda about Luke’s curse. I suppose she can just read about it here, in my lowly sex column, like everyone else.

And just like that, I scooped The New York Times.

Sex and the Sopranos I

I just watched The Sopranos all the way through for the first time, an undertaking that consisted of me yelling, through a mouthful of pasta, “That guy was on Sex and the City!” every other episode.

A fictionalized Michiko Kakutani, a real-life book reviewer for The New York Times, once wrote in a fictional review of Carrie Bradshaw’s fictional nonfiction book: “All in all, I enjoyed spending time in Ms. Bradshaw’s sharp, funny, finely drawn world, where single women rule and the men are disposable.” Indeed, men are disposable in both shows, although The Sopranos’ waste-management systems make sure most of those men are literally disposed of, while Sex and the City just regulates the cast-offs to the Island of Misfit Toys, aka the parts of Manhattan we never see in the show.

Written in the voice of Our Lady of the Voiceover and Patron Saint of Working from Home, Ms. Carrie Bradshaw, I present to you: Sex and the Sopranos, a column in The New York Star. I will have one for you every week of the summer, posting at 8pm each Sunday (real ones know why).

Samantha, Siddhartha, and Brendan

Remember that week Samantha was celibate? I do. We all do, what with the way she bitched and moaned about it.

Her latest boy toy, Siddhartha, was a voluntary celibate she met in our yoga class, hitting on him as he assisted opening her goddess pose while I lay on the mat next to her. They had tea at Tofu or Not Tofu, then practiced brachmacharya (or tantric non-sex) together for a few days until, somewhere between plow pose and horny warrior, Samantha cracked. She took home the first person in the room to agree to her proposition “Want to fuck?” (I, thankfully, skipped yoga that day.) Samantha left Siddhartha sweating bullets of lust down his chiseled cheekbone.

It turns out his name was not really Siddhartha. I know, I am as shocked as you! His real name was Brendan Filone, and he had traveled a long way to Manhattan: through the Lincoln Tunnel from the exotic land of New Jersey. His three-year stint into the celibacy experiment preceded and belied a much darker history of guns, violence, and an actual pork store in the Newark suburbs. His willpower was no match for the power of Samantha’s tantric tantrum, so seeing her run out of the yoga studio to enjoy meaningless sex was too much for Siddhartha. He first broke his vow of celibacy…and then he broke his vow of nonviolence.

Shedding the robes of Siddhartha, Brendan emerged and returned full-force to his life in the New Jersey underworld. He took up with a childhood friend, Christopher Moltisanti, and the two engaged in some sort of rogue operation where they held up delivery trucks at gunpoint. Now, no one appreciates fine Milanese craftsmanship more than I do, but stealing an entire truckload of Italian suits is taking the love of fashion a step too far.

Not long after, Brendan was found shot dead in his bathtub, the water in the tub diluted with blood. Brendan’s last cigarette floated in the tub with him for days, with that same Chinese character tattoo on his forearm resting just above the water’s surface. And just like that, both Siddhartha and Brendan ceased to exist.

Samantha expressed no remorse when learning of the death. “As far as I am concerned, a man who refuses to have sex with me simply does not exist—whatever name he goes by.” She said I could quote her on that.

I couldn’t help but wonder: With our sex lives comprising so much of our actual lives, is taking a vow of celibacy signing our own death warrant? Did Brendan die in that apartment bathtub, by the gun of a killer who has never been caught, or did he really die the day he changed his name to Siddhartha and willingly gave up sex? Sure, Sting tells us tantric sex is better than regular sex, and surely it’s better than no sex at all, but at what cost? In a city that never sleeps, is celibacy the big sleep?

Corpus: Part V

“He looked at the withered, faded little flower.
Only he understood that its meaning was a sad heart as well.”
–“The Red Rose of San José” from In the Shadow of the Alamo

Como la flor
Con tanto amor
Me diste tú, se marchito
Me marcho hoy, yo sé perder
Pero a-ah-ay
Cómo me duele
–“Como la flor” from Amor Prohibido

Part V available by request.

SJP Sample Sale

This happened exactly one year ago…

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I’d probably just started my drive to Houston in earnest when the Notre-Dame fire started. Blissfully unaware, I drove for three hours, listening to Spotify and Audible and occasionally stopping for a bite to eat or a bathroom break. I was in a Mediterranean grocery store near my motel, standing around for 20 minutes as the in-store deli worker fired up my falafel, apparently from scratch, and scrolling through Instagram on my phone.

The reactions were of the breast-beating, teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling variety, and I braced myself to dig into the news of the latest terrorist attack. A fire. Notre-Dame was on fire. No one was dead, but a firefighter was seriously injured. Centuries worth of art and relickery might or might not have survived.

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My reaction was one of anger—anger at the self-absorbed nature of the “global” citizenry. I don’t remember anyone having this reaction when artifacts in Syria were destroyed, and that wasn’t an accident. I was sick of basic bitches, which was unfortunate, considering where I was headed.

It was in this state that I arrived at the Bayou City Events Center on Tuesday morning. I had left the motel around 7:35, passing the events center around 7:45. From my vantage point on the bridge, I could see people were already lining up outside. I knew that would be the smart play, the fangirl solidarity and priority admission worth the killed hour. I could even bring a book. #butfirstcoffee

I found the nearest Starbucks, a corner lot on Buffalo Bayou and Main Street so congested that the drive-through backed two cars deep into the road. It was the scariest thing I had seen in Houston on this trip. I made it back to the event center by 8:20 and sat in the car, refusing to take part in the queue. So basic. I lasted until about 8:30 before I joined the growing line out front. These were, after all, my sisters.

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My segment of the line shared some self-aware laughter as we converged on the end of the line and took our respective places in an orderly fashion. A woman wearing yoga pants explained how sample sales worked (she lived in New York). I gave a pair of the pantyhose booties I’d brought to the woman behind me, Size Ten. Occasionally an overdressed, painstakingly coiffed basic bitch would roll through and have to join the line just like the rest of us. A young mother approached with a baby in a pouch, and someone sniped “That’s ambitious.” But mostly, we were a diverse, normal group of women (with about three men sprinkled in).

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I’d joined the line just in time, as SJP staff in MD Anderson t-shirts began handing out tickets for admission. It turned out I was the second person to receive a number 3. A Wendy Davis lookalike walked up in jeans and a starched white button-down, and the SJP girls started cooing, “It’s Gina! She’s wearing Gina!” They were, of course, talking about the shoes, a pair of ridiculously impractical black strappy stiletto booties.

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The SJP girls walked back in, assuring us we would be in the first wave. One resembled SJP in stature but wore hipster glasses and painstakingly effortless waves. The other was fresh-faced and ponytailed, giving off the vibe if not the exact resemblance of Sutton from The Bold Type.

About this time, the media started showing up, walking the line while filming and extolling us to chant SJP! SJP! My segment of the line hid our faces behind sunglasses and a white Dodge van parked at the curb. “Come on, again? Some of us our supposed to be at work…”

Finally, we were in. At almost nine o’clock sharp, we walked through the doors. Find your size, find your table, prices on the projected screens at either end of the back wall.

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Almost immediately, I found what I’d come for: Ursula, a d’Orsay stiletto in a sparkling green labeled Meteor. Ursula had launched in the Summer of 2017, when I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude at rehearsals for a community theatre production of The Little Mermaid. Ursula was, of course, the villain of the musical, but Úrsula was also the name of the matriarch of the Buendía family. It felt like fate, back in the summer of 2017. I’d gotten so far as to place SJP’s Ursula in the website’s digital shopping cart, but ultimately couldn’t justify the price tag.

 

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Today, though, was different. The prices were ridiculously low. A woman next to me asked how we were supposed to know the price, and when I pointed to the screen where the price list was cycling through promo photos of SJP with the shoes, she spoke into her phone: “Yeah, nothing is more than $125.” Not only were the discounts impressive, but the cause was altruistic.

It was about that time that I overheard a woman tell a reporter that she was not only picking up some things for herself but buying for her mother and sister as well.

Ah, shit.

One of my dad’s favorite stories to tell of my childhood involves a trip to the candy store. I assume it was the 7-11 near the house we lived in while I was growing up, but in reality it could have been any convenience store in North Austin, as “candy store” served as a generic name for all gas stations until we were old enough to care about the other provisions on offer. One of Dad’s old roughneck/wildcatter/poker buddies was with us, and when I panicked, exclaimed “I have to get something for Megan!” and ran back to the candy aisle, my dad swears he saw a tear roll down his friend’s weathered face while he declared it the sweetest thing he had ever seen.

Family myths are chimeric, and this story manifests new details every time my dad tells it. I, for one, have no memory of the alleged incident, but since I don’t believe in pure, selfless altruism, I know something else motivated me to run back to the candy aisle that day. There’s no telling. Regardless, Megan got candy that day, and she would get a pair of shoes on this day. I texted for size and if she even wore heels (she’s about 5’9”, introduced in my high school Spanish video project as “mas alta que me”). I plucked, I gathered, and, on a whim, I picked up another pair of the meteor-green Ursulas.

Clearly, I’d stacked the deck, but when the response came, it was, “Omg, I love the green!”

I kept going back, looking for Cherry in a size 6. The size 5 was way too small, the 7 wearable but not worth the expense for an ill-fitting shoe. I was pushing my time limit and knew I would eventually have to go, so I did one more pass of the tables and found another pair of Ursulas. Except, something was different. These Ursulas had no heel. She looked more like a ballet flat with a peep toe. I checked the sole, and there seemed to be some sort of trial fitting. A prototype? They broke the mold when they made her? Regardless, she was perfect for my mom.

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So now I had three pairs of Ursulas, an emerald-green ballet flat, and a fierce pair of gold booties. It was time to go. I got in line, which only stretched three-quarters of the way to the back of the room. Shortly after I joined the line, a lone gentleman queued behind me, and as we got to talking, I learned that Brandon was shopping for his wife, who worked at MD Anderson, and his mother. I approved of his purchases, including a handbag for his mother that still sported an original price tag for $1790!!! “Normally, you should remove the price tag from a gift, but you want to leave that one because your mother is going to be so proud of you,” I told him.

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For my part, I was going back and forth about the bag, and here Brandon was extremely helpful. He pointed out the canvas SJP bags, which were only $50 and, better yet, matched the pencil bag I’d received as a pre-order gift from SJP’s publishing imprint. They were also plentiful, piled high on folding tables around the room, all of which I had some how missed in my beeline for the shoes. I left Brandon holding my place in line and walked toward what I thought was the closest table of canvas bags.

And there she was.

SJP walked out of a side door, then started the way I had just come. I ran back to Brandon, his phone already aimed and ready, and took my place in the screaming mob.

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She stood behind a table piled high with canvas bags (yet another table I had somehow not seen, closer than the one I had been heading toward) and giggled at the crowd. She thanked us for helping to fight cancer, then emphatically shouted: “Now go shop more!” As much as I love SJP, I was too shopped-out to obey, so I stayed in line with Brandon as SJP worked the floor.

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This is before I put back the purse and the Cherry flip flops, which would have perfectly matched my black-and-white-with-cherries Bitten by SJP top, unlike the Bitten by SJP brown linen blazer I wore so as to meet SJP whilst draped head to toe in Bitten by SJP (her previous fashion line).

It was like watching a school of fish avoiding a predator, except the opposite. Everywhere she went, a sea of women followed, ebbing and flowing around her tiny person. We couldn’t even see her, just the effect she was having on the room. I learned later that she had declined to talk to media, so the TV cameras and reporters were swept along with the tide.

From where we stood, Brandon and I watched the crowd and compared SJP photos, texting each other copies of the best. “She’s still here,” he said, seeing my obvious anxiety. “She’s waiting for Mandy.”

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One of my favorite visuals of the day–if only the photo were clearer.

I arrived at the register and paid for my shoes, requesting a few extra SJP shoe bags for good measure. I will never tell anyone how much I spent, but I can reveal the amount was exactly $100 higher than the absolute limit I had given myself before walking in the door. And this was after I traded the leather handbag for the canvas tote! I still spent less than the cost of golf clubs, anything with a motor, and, honestly, the original cost of the trenchcoat (if we include tax, which we did not as all the money was going to MD Anderson).

I took my giant white shopping bag, which was marked PAID in red Sharpie, and stood in the middle of the ballroom. I am pleased to report that, although it would have been terribly easy to slip another pair or five in my bag, the thought did not occur to me until a full 24 hours later. Besides, who steals from a charity sale? I was late, so late, and needed to leave…but I wanted to meet SJP. Brandon walked up behind me and said, “C’mon.” So I blame him for what happened next.

We approached what appeared to be an SJP fashion consultation, and in a shocking turn of events, got there just in time to hear her tell a woman: “I’m not a stylist; I can’t tell you what to buy.” SJP! Refusing to give fashion advice! It was refreshing. The crowd tightened, and the woman with the baby somehow got between me and SJP. Well, great, I thought, there goes any chance of meeting my hero…this woman clearly has the trump card.

SJP had been “working the floor” for a full ten minutes before Brandon and I followed her out there, but the moment we arrived seemed to be the moment she’d had enough. She ducked and dodged, I swear looking right at me once, and said something to one of the TV cameramen and then something to Sutton. Sutton politely asked me to stop taking photos because SJP was feeling a little overwhelmed. She quickly made her exit.

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Her shoes.

I did learn later that the problem was the news camera—it wasn’t supposed to be on her. You can see the moment at the 1:50 mark in this news clip. She’d asked not to be filmed.

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Possibly my sister’s greatest one-liner ever.

But in the moment, it felt dirty, like we’d failed to treat her like a human. Oh, God, it was my outfit, wasn’t it—I looked like a stalker in ill-fitting celebrity skin. I’d completely forgotten about the pencil bag I’d wanted her to sign, so it may be for the best that it was still in my purse. Maybe it was my giant shopping bag. Or any of the fifty people in her immediate vicinity. That had to have been terrifying. Disappointed and a bit shamed, Brandon and I parted ways in the parking lot.

That night, I met some friends at a booksigning. Of course I wore my new booties, golden trophies of my conquest. One of my friends, not understanding the difference between a designer sample sale and the end-of-year clearance at the local department store, scoffed at my adventure: “That is the most basic shit.”

Worth it.

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Stories About Tigers

I finished Tiger King over the weekend, despite initial misgivings about getting sucked into even more TV that makes fun of white trash. I was compelled by the way we as viewers kept sinking through deeper layers of muck—it’s an impressive feat of storytelling. This isn’t a dissection of Tiger King as art, a diatribe on what it says about our socially distant society, or a theory about what actually happened (though I have taken my own cheap shots elsewhere). Instead, I want to look at the story that kept pacing the periphery of the cage that is my mind while I watched those big cats in captivity.

The Lifeguard is a terrible movie. Let’s get that out of the way right now. I do not recommend that you watch it, ever, and the 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes will back me up. Do not get this movie confused with Sam Elliott’s star-making turn in 1976’s Lifeguard, which I’m told is sex on a stick and have added to my “To Watch” list. which I watched last night and now must admit has a VERY similar and, as much as I hate this word, problematic plot. Mea culpa. No, the lifeguard I’m talking about is the 2013 indie film starring Kristen Bell.

Look, I worship Kristen Bell. One of my biggest worries during quarantine is that the Veronica Mars Kickstarter poster of her oversized face that hangs in my office resembles what we in the trade call “a crazy-ass murderer wall,” looming over my shoulder in all Zoom meetings and online yoga classes. After falling in love with Bell as a “teen” through three seasons of network-television-appropriate pixie spy magic, her very human and completely natural sexuality was an adjustment. On top of the scenes with Russell Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Season Four’s romp with Max Greenfield, her sex positivity in husband Dax Shepherd’s podcast and their shared social media presence have forced me to view her as a grown woman.

Still, the sex depicted in The Lifeguard is so bad, I think it might be illegal to watch. The premise of the film is that an overachiever has a quarter-life crisis, moves back home to resume her old summer job, and has a tryst with a teenage boy. It’s as bad as it sounds. I get what the movie was trying to do, a la Blanche duBois, but it just doesn’t work. It reminded me of Notes on a Scandal, which I thought was a pretty good book, but even Cate Blanchett and Dame Judy couldn’t save the movie. It’s one thing to read about statutory rape involving female predators; it’s quite another to see it simulated on screen. I honestly believe this film could have tanked the career of lesser actresses, and the fact that K. Bell signed on for this project—released the same year as Frozen—is the only reason it 1) showed up on my radar and 2) keeps crossing my mind.

This is difficult to write about without going back to watch the movie, which I refuse to do, even in the name of research (it’s that bad), but I distinctly remember the metaphor that threaded throughout the film. Leigh leaves her job as a journalist in New York because the article she had worked so hard on, the one that was supposed to be her big break, had been killed. That story was about a pet tiger kept captive in an NYC apartment. I don’t remember what happened to the tiger, but there’s a scene about midway through when Leigh is showing her underage loverboy the photos of the clawmarks the tiger had left on the windowsill. It’s heart-wrenching, but the urban tiger as a metaphor for the primal urges of a gifted child going off the rails as an adult is a bit ham-fisted.

In the end, and I’m going to spoil the movie (you weren’t seriously planning to watch it, were you?) Leigh’s story about the tiger gets resurrected and published to great acclaim. She leaves town after apologizing to everyone, including her childhood friend WHO IS PRINCIPAL OF THE LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL AND WAS COMPLICIT IN THE STATUTORY RAPE. The funniest line in the whole movie (probably unintentionally so) comes when Leigh apologizes to the single father of her underage boyfriend, into whose house she had been sneaking at night to crawl into bed with a teenager. He says something like: “My son was getting laid; I don’t give a shit.” And that, really and truly, is the moral of that story.

Here’s a palate cleanser. You’re welcome.

Update: OK, now I have to address the double standard because I watched the Sam Elliott Lifeguard last night, and it also contains “illegal sex” with a minor (although off-screen). To bring balance back to the force, here is the tiger-in-captivity scene I’m thinking of, in which Kristen Bell is very good. It also shows the different attitudes toward tiger ownership and how I misremembered a few details:

Corpus: Part III

“He was an oblivion seeker, a fucking lotus eater. I never wanted that. I was the kind of drug addict that just wanted to be comfortable in my skin.”
–Courtney Love

If I looked around my collection of friends after six weeks in Corpus Christi, I had to admit that the effort had been lacking on my part. I could possibly count Natalia, the specter of Elena, and the guy walking next to me on the sidewalk, whose name I still did not know.

As I debated whether to swallow my pride and ask, he opened the door for me and, together, we stepped into the lobby of the bank. Almost immediately, the woman at the desk just inside the door perked up and called out, “Welcome, Mr. Rodriguez! How can we help you today?”

Mr. Rodriguez, whose tattoos swirled above his collar and down past the ends of his sleeves, extended an ink-covered wrist to quickly shake the hand the woman offered as she walked around her desk to greet him. I glanced around the lobby, making sure Mr. Rodriguez noticed my get-a-load-of-this-guy facial commentary, and clocked a security guard with his back against the opposite wall.

“I need to move some money around for payroll,” Mr. Rodriguez was saying. “A few of the guys asked for advances on their paychecks. Valentine’s Day.” He shrugged.

The suit smiled, utterly charmed, and walked with Mr. Rodriguez to the teller line. “And what are you plans?” she asked, almost imperceptibly cutting her eyes at me.

“I’m not sure yet,” Mr. Rodriguez said casually, and she smiled before walking away.

“Mr. Rodriguez?” I teased almost the second she was out of earshot.

“Nick,” he said. “My name is Nick. Not that you asked.”

“You just made all that up on the fly, didn’t you? About moving money around?”

“You could’ve done the same.”

“Finance people freak me out.”

“Why, because they’re all a bunch of whores?” Before I could say anything, he moved up to the teller who had just become available, calling her by name (Bernice), making a big production out of not having filled out any forms as he pulled a stack of bills from his wallet. I took my cue to wander around, surreptitiously surveying the building’s interior.

There wasn’t much to see. I knew the building had been completely gutted in the seventies, which was one of the worst times for anyone to undergo a makeover. Still, Clara Driscoll had died here, twenty stories above my head in the penthouse, and I half-expected to find something. A plaque or a portrait or one of those commemorative stars for the State of Texas. It seemed strange to have stumbled across one in Austin, but here, where I had specifically came looking, there seemed to be no trace of Clara.

I was fidgeting with annoyance when I noticed the security guard checking me out. He wasn’t even very subtle about it, so I looked right back, which he seemed to like. I would guess he was in his forties, responsible enough to be allowed to carry a gun, but not much else going on between the ears.

I completed my revolution around the lobby and returned to the teller cages just as Mr. Rodriguez finished his banking business. As far as I could tell, he’d simply moved money in a big circle through a series of transactions, but both he and the teller appeared to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

“Did you want to speak to Bernice about opening an account here?” Nick leveled eyes with me, but I shook my head.

“Not today. I might come back another time, but we should get going if you’re going to change before dinner.”

“You almost had me with that one,” Nick said under his breath as we exited the lobby, waving goodbye to the suit at the desk.

“Well, why not?” I said. “It’s the least I could do after being accompanied to the bank by Mr. Rodriguez himself.”

“Man, it’s Valentine’s Day. Do you know how packed everything is going to be?”

“So let’s go to some hole in the wall, somewhere no one would think of for Valentine’s.”

“My cousins have a restaurant down the beach. Do you feel like going for a drive?”

“Sure, but we’re taking my car this time.”

 

We wound up sharing Valentine’s Dinner at a beachside cantina. He waited the obligatory three days before calling me at work on a Friday, and we made plans for Saturday. He wound up staying over at my place that night, after earning Buffy’s approval, and once more the following week. The next Friday, I had committed to seeing a friend in Austin for her birthday, though by then I preferred Corpus over Austin. I made arrangements for Natalia to feed Buffy and stopped by the tattoo shop on my way out of town that afternoon. He presented me with the most serious signpost of our fledgling relationship thus far: a mix tape.

I waited until I was truly on the road to pop the tape out of its case, which was duly decorated with Nick’s labyrinthine artwork. It began with the sound of a spinning radio dial, a familiar voice singing a song that faded into a male DJ speaking Spanish, a car struggling to start, then the song beginning in earnest with the count: “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro!”

I was discouraged that I couldn’t understand much beyond that, but Nick had explained to me that even the singer had to learn Spanish as an adult. “She trips up during interviews sometimes. Doesn’t stop her,” he told me not long after he found the CD in my apartment boombox. Our shared penchant for her music explained her outsized presence on the mix tape.

Friday night in Austin, I arrived at my friend’s apartment complex just in time to catch the group headed out for the night. I caught up with everyone and managed to be relatively responsible within the context. Teagan was a San Antonio acquaintance who had moved to Austin two years after me. We’d crossed paths on campus enough to keep in touch, though we spent more time together when we’d started dating bandmates. Her relationship had been much more serious than mine, but we saw each other frequently enough to have become friends in our own stead. We had similar tastes in men and music, after all. She assured me before I agreed to sleep on her couch that the person I most wanted to avoid would not be making appearance at her 21st birthday party.

And he didn’t. But when I chose to go out again the following night, I knew perfectly well I’d be running into him. The band of boyfriends had been the opening act for a local band gaining a following, and though I timed my arrival well after their set was through, I knew I could count on Alex to be skulking around the bar, picking girls off the edge of the crowd who recognized him from the stage. I told myself I wanted him to see how well I was doing, but really, I was a glutton for punishment. I watched him for a full minute before he felt my eyes on him, and I got a sliver of satisfaction from watching his double-take before I marched past him to the bathroom.

On cue, Alex was waiting for me when I came out. He cornered me in the dark hallway covered in posters, just drunk enough to be painfully honest. “At least let me buy you a drink,” he scrambled when all other attempts at conversation failed. “I owe you that much.”

I’d been avoiding his eyes, scanning the posters of upcoming gigs, when a familiar face peeked out from beneath a layer of SXSW listings. I walked away from him, midsentence in bullshit, and started excavating. There she was. She had played a show in Austin a week earlier. I kept digging until I had unearthed the whole poster, except for one missing corner, and pulled the whole thing off the wall.

“You a fan?” he said.

“You still here?” I replied, not taking my eyes off the poster as I skimmed the text one more time, making sure of the date, before rolling it up and sticking it down my pant leg, the short edge caught beneath my waistband as I started to walk away. Décor for my Corpus apartment, or maybe a gift for Nick.

“She’s playing Houston tomorrow night,” Alex said. I knew I shouldn’t, but I stopped to look over my shoulder. “The rodeo. My buddy works backstage every year.” He had me, and he knew it. I looked into his eyes for the first time in months, and we both smiled. “He could get us in.”

 

My “I’ll think about it” became taking him up on the drink, which became a few more drinks, which became leaving the bar with a group of his friends, which became doing lines of coke on a kitchen table belonging to one of the friends who was actually Alex’s dealer, which became a cab ride back to Teagan’s apartment to get my things for the 3 a.m. drive to Houston. Alex drove my car. He bared his soul to me on that drive, and if I had been in my right mind, I would have noticed that there was nothing to that soul. Laid bare, he had very little to offer, but when someone is that open and honest, you don’t leave the moment to take stock of what he is worth. You just appreciate the connection, the flattery of someone wanting to get in a car with you and drive three hours in the middle of the night, with nothing but your conversation and the entire envelope of drugs stuffed in his pocket for company.

He didn’t like the mix tape, and I hadn’t wanted the reminder of Nick, so I hid it in the console and tossed the concert poster into the backseat floorboard. Alex told me about moving his grandmother into a nursing home, how he was still in the house while the family decided whether or not to sell. I told him about my job at the mall, how I dug the beach life and had so many friends in Corpus. We talked a little about Clara—he’d been a history major, after all, once upon a time—but he didn’t know much of her story so the conversation was mostly one-sided, more like a lecture until he could jump in with facts about the Battle of the Alamo. I didn’t ask about his engagement.

By the time we hit the beltway, we were both crashing, despite the key bumps we’d been taking along the way, plus whatever pills he was on. He parked in a driveway and we slipped into the house without turning on the lights, first light rising high enough in the east to light our way. Dry-mouthed and fried, we each took two downers, and Alex tried to find something resembling sheets.

When I woke up, alone on the floor mattress, it was dark outside. I fumbled through a door or two before finding the bathroom, and immediately regretted turning on the light. The face in the mirror was not adventurous or passionate; it was scared shitless. I tiptoed into the kitchen, still not knowing if I was alone in the house, and found a clock on the stove. 9:23. And because it was dark outside, that meant PM. I’d slept through the concert, and I didn’t have a clue where I was. I looked through the panes on the door outside, but my car was nowhere to be seen. I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d had my keys since Austin.

I walked around the house like a ghost in a t-shirt and underwear. As it became clear that I was completely alone, the eeriness set in. Old lady tchotchkes lined every nook and cranny, with family photos full of people I had never met lining the walls. I retreated back to the room with the mattress on the floor, which was definitely his room, though it appeared to have once been a sewing nook. His stuff was everywhere, and as I grew angrier, I felt more and more justified in rifling through every square inch. I found his stash, fairly quickly: an entire shoebox in the top of the closet. And, under some t-shirts in a drawer, a framed photo of a girl.

I considered the girl first. Easily prettier than me, no contest, but he had claimed to not be about that. I cried for a few moments, then I got angry. I opened the shoebox and poured a generous amount of blow on to the picture frame, right on the girl’s smiling face. He and I had seen a movie together where a woman mistook heroin for cocaine, overdosing and getting stabbed with a shot of adrenaline in the heart, right above her bustier. I wasn’t that stupid. I knew which of the baggies was cocaine, and which was heroin. It was the nugget of black, tar-looking stuff. This I palmed, then found a credit card and a bill in my pocket to start racking up lines.

I had worked myself into a pretty powerful frenzy by the time it occurred to me to use the phone. Just after 10 p.m., I called the one Houston number I had memorized, dialing with my pinky, the one finger I hadn’t chewed down to the quick. “Hi, Mr. Wheaton,” I spoke quickly, too quickly, and much too brightly for this late on a Sunday night. “It’s Jessica’s old roommate. I’m trying to get ahold of her. I’m here in Houston and don’t have her new number on me.”

“It’s awfully late,” Jessica’s dad said, though he had no issue accepting that I would be calling for Jessica like this.

“I know, and I’m really sorry. We’re supposed to get together tomorrow, and I don’t want to flake out on her.” There. That did it. Completely in-character and believable. He forked over the number as I thanked him profusely.

The next call was more difficult, and I took another bump off the picture frame I’d started carrying around the old-lady house, sneering at the girl’s smiling face. The line rang three times, and when it picked up, the voice on the other end was the absolute worst outcome.

I signed. “Josh, it’s me. Please don’t hang up.”

“Oh, God. How did you get this number?”

“I called Jessica’s parents. Is she there?”

I heard a mumbled conversation on the other end that confirmed Jessica was there, but that was no guarantee I would be allowed to speak to her. The mumbled voices grew louder, then completely silent, and a few seconds later, Jessica’s voice came over the line. “You called my parents?”

“Jessica, hi, please don’t hang up. I’m in some trouble.”

“When are you not in trouble?”

“That’s a valid point, and I’ll explain everything, I just—I need you to come get me.”

“What does that even mean? I’m not coming to Austin.”

“No, I’m in Houston. I—I came here with Alex, and now I’m stuck in this creepy old house and I don’t know where he is and he took my car…”

“You have got to be kidding me. Where are you?”

“I don’t really know…somewhere on the northside of Houston.”

“You’re going to need to be a little more specific. Is there a street sign you can look at?”

“I’m scared to go outside, Jessica!” I screamed into the phone.

“Hey! You called me, remember?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I mumbled. I heard more muffled conversation on the other end of the line.

“Whose house is it? Can you find a bill or some mail somewhere?”

“OK, yeah, great idea, let me look.”

“It was Josh’s idea.”

“Well, thank him for me,” I said as I dug around the desk where I had found the phone.

“She says thank you,” I heard her say on the other end of the phone, then louder into the receiver: “He says you can go fuck yourself.”

“OK! I found something.” I read the address to her, including the name of a town that wasn’t Houston. “Wait, that can’t be right.”

She scoffed, a patent Jessica sound. “You really have no idea how big Houston is, do you? Hold on a second, we’re looking at the map.”

“I really appreciate this, Jess.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I should just let you suffer, then maybe you’ll finally learn.”

“Thanks, Jess.” We waited a moment, listening to each other breathe while Josh did his dorky thing with the map. I tried to soften my shoulders, which had crawled up into my ears. “Buffy misses you.”

There was silence on the other line, then Jessica exhaled: “You…bitch.”

“I miss you, too.”

“Fuck, fine, I’ll come get you. I’ll be there in 45 minutes.”

“Forty-five?” I yelped.

“Yes, you’re halfway across town.”

“OK, just, please hurry. Jessica?”

“What?”

“Please don’t bring Josh.”

There was another argument on the other end of the phone, though this time Jessica didn’t bother to muffle the receiver, so I could hear every single thing Josh said about me, and then a door slam. Jessica sighed into the phone: “You better be out the door the second I pull up.”

“Yes, Mom.”

She hung up on me.

 

Forty-four minutes later, I saw the headlights pulling along the curb and was out the door before she had come to a complete stop. I’d showered and cleaned up all evidence of my presence in the house, leaving all the lights off and the door unlocked. I pulled on the door handle of Jessica’s car, also a graduation present but much more practical than mine, then banged on the window when I found the passenger side locked.

“OK, OK,” Jessica yelled at me as she automatically unlocked. Before I had even buckled the seatbelt, she started. “So, where’s Alex? What the hell is going on?”

“Can we please just go get some food? I’ll tell you everything, but I haven’t eaten in two days.”

“Hmm, I thought cokeheads didn’t need to eat.”

“Jessica, will you just lay off? Do you know how hard it was for me to call you?”

“Fine. Pancakes ok?”

“Perfect.”

We negotiated the late-night diner in silence, orders placed and a pot of coffee between us before we spoke in earnest. I told her everything, starting with Teagan’s birthday and ending with my wandering aimlessly around Alex’s grandma’s house, crying about his pretty fiancée and pilfering his stash.

“Why didn’t you let me bring Josh?” she asked. “If I’d known I was picking you up from a bonafide crack house, I would have brought some muscle.”

“Do you really think that would’ve gone well? Josh hates me.”

“He doesn’t hate you. He does hate Alex. You have to admit, you have been a complete train wreck when it comes to him.”

“No shit.”

“Josh saw all that. I didn’t want to pick between the two of you, but you didn’t make it easy. I mean, you fuck up everything you touch.”

“I know.”

“Why are you like this?”

“I don’t know,” I hung my head as the waitress placed plates in front of us: pancakes to absorb all the poison in my body, an omelet and fruit cup for Jessica.

“I’ve been doing really well,” I told her between bites. “I moved to Corpus Christi. I’m going to apply to grad school again.”

“Yeah, I heard,” Jessica nodded. “How did you get caught up with all this again?”

“Alex told me he could get us into this concert tonight at the rodeo.”

“Wait, what?”

“He has this friend who works the music gigs at the rodeo who was going to…”

“The Astrodome? He told you he would get you into the show at the Astrodome tonight?”

“Yeah, are you a fan of hers too?”

“No, but the closing show is a huge deal. Josh and I were watching the news when you called. Tonight was the biggest crowd the Astrodome has ever seen. There was no way Alex’s dumb ass was getting you into that show. Sorry.”

“But this guy, this friend of his, runs the hydraulics for the stage.”

“I’m sure he does. And I’m sure he brags about that to a lot of people, and I’m sure Alex truly believed it when he promised you backstage access to a sold-out show at the Astrodome. But it didn’t happen, did it?”

“I’ll never know,” I shrugged.

“Because he drugged you and let you sleep through it.” Jessica sat back in the booth, the prosecution resting her case.

“He didn’t drug me. I drugged myself,” I said, swirling soggy pancake through the syrup on my plate until it lost all structural integrity.

“Oh, well that’s much better.”

After I paid for our food, Jessica talked me through it as she drove. “You are leaving Houston tonight. Right now. That’s the only way I’ll be able to live with myself.”

When we got back to the house, just past midnight, I was relieved to see Cherry in the driveway. I looked at Jessica. “Five minutes,” she said. “If you are not out of the house and in that car in five minutes, I’m calling the cops on both of you.”

I buried my face in my hands and took a deep breath. “Right,” I said, then got out the car, slammed the door, and crossed the street before she could say anything else.

I checked the car window on the off chance that the keys were in the ignition, but the whole thing was locked up tight. Glancing back at Jessica’s idling car, I could hear music from inside the house. I forced myself up the porch steps and turned the knob. Luckily, the door opened, and I stepped into a small gathering.

“Where have you been?” Alex called from the couch. “The door was unlocked and I didn’t know where the hell you were.” He didn’t sound angry, but it was a definite show of dominance just to say the words.

I nodded. “Yeah, I could say the same.”

One of his friends started laughing, and Alex said something low enough to where I couldn’t hear, which made his friend start laughing more.

“Can I talk to you for a second?” I said, almost wishing I had taken Jessica up on her offer of mace.

Alex put down the bong and made a big show of dragging his feet, the slightest smirk dancing across his lips. He came around the couch and finally stood facing me.

“It’s been fun,” I said quietly, though his friends were pretending not to listen. “But I’ve got to go.”

I stepped forward and hooked my hands into his front pockets. I gave him a little peck on the cheek as I fished around in his jeans, then smiled when I found what I wanted. I pulled out my keys and quietly walked out the door, letting out a huge sigh of relief when I heard him crack a joke at my expense. I ran to the car, frantically clicking the unlock button on the key fob, and reversed out of the driveway and all the way down the street until I was parallel to Jessica.

“Follow me,” she mouthed, and I made a head-slapping “duh” motion in return. I trailed her out through increasing larger tributaries until we were flying down the highway in a two-car caravan. Eventually, she stuck her hand out the window and pointed up to one of the numerous overhead signs that read CORPUS CHRISTI. I flashed my bright lights at her in recognition of her condescending attack on my intelligence, and her pointed finger became one flipping me the bird. She drifted into the right-hand lane, and a mile or two later, exited the freeway. I blew her a kiss, though I knew she couldn’t see.

I fished around in my pocket, lifting my pelvis to the steering wheel to get my hand all the way in, and pulled out the plastic baggie of black tar heroin. I figured it had been the most expensive item, gram-for-gram, in Alex’s whole stash, the one that would cost him the most with the least amount of effort on my part. I placed the smuggled drugs in Cherry’s ashtray and snapped it shut. I fished the mix tape out of the console and popped it in, setting the cruise control to remind myself not to speed.

 

I don’t know how, but I dragged myself to work the next morning and made it through an entire day without passing out. Mondays were for markdowns, which were meditative if monotonous, and the only trouble I had was not falling asleep. I got home around four and fought to stay awake as I tried to win back Buffy’s trust. We were both lying on the bed, listening to the radio, when I became conscious of an increasingly audible set of footsteps. I could recognize that sound anywhere. I hoped against hope that the heavy footfalls weren’t coming for me, that somehow they would pass by and continue on to Natalia’s door instead. But no, here they were, stopped outside my apartment. The pound of a fist meeting door sent Buffy scurrying into her covered litterbox. I sat up, took a deep breath, and rose to cross the room. I paused at the threshold, know that the thing I feared most in this world was waiting on the other side. I turned the handle, swinging open the door.

“Hi, Dad.”

Pronto Toronto!

Last month, Hulu threatened to expire Being Erica, so I used the inversion ritual of Leap Day to binge as many episodes as I could and…nothing happened. March 1 came and went, and Being Erica was still available. Is still available—lucky you!

For the day that’s in it, we’ll start with the Irish influence. Erica’s Season Three foil and—spoiler—Season Four boyfriend is an honest-to-goodness Irishman. He eats blood pudding and colcannon (even if the “Dublin” scene is clearly just Toronto with cars driving on the wrong side of the road) and beats people up for a living…or used to. He refers to Dublin as home and has the accent, although his flashback scenes all take place in Toronto, and we never learn at which point in his life he moved.

If I had my druthers, Being Erica would be only three seasons, with each of her three love interests corresponding to a single season (with some overlap, of course, to keep things spicy) and none of the product placement or barrel-scraping soap-operatic storylines (the baby Barb gave up before Leo). In a way, though, its unpolished, imperfectly Canadian sensibilities make it more lovable and accessible, like star Erin Karpluk’s crooked smile.

A few delightful details about Erica. Her collection of five short stories, Streams of Consciousness, and her poem, “Snowflakes,” are both destined for the—heh—slush pile. Her novel in progress is called Little Feats. She has a Dirty Dancing-themed bat mitzvah, with her Uncle Ruby dressed as Patrick Swayze, and nobody puts Baby in a corner…because she is now a woman. She screams at a thug, “Don’t mess with the babysitter,” (a classic line from Adventures in Babysitting with the swear word substituted), though she’s not actually babysitting in that episode. In an alternate reality, she gets fired by sticky note, like Carrie Bradshaw getting dumped by Post-it. At the end of Season Two, she has a panic attack in Camel Pose, and it is a terrifying performance. Camel pose is a heart-opener, and this scene still haunts me. Her lesson in that episode’s time-travel therapy session takes her back to grad school: “It is your thesis, your degree, your life. Figure it out, Ms. Strange.” That one haunts me, too.

As with this year’s 30 Day Yoga Journey by Yoga With Adriene, I was apologizing to my boyfriend every time he came in the room because the theme music is so grating. The soundtrack songs aren’t great either, including the very prominent placement of a Canadian cover of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.” The music does improve once Sebastian Pigott (a Canadian Idol 7th runner-up) joins the cast. “Alien Like You” justifies how Erica speaks for all of us when she admits: “I have a crush on a damaged rock star from the future.” Girl. His name is Kai Booker, and in one alternate reality, best friend Judith reminds Erica that she used to want to want to “win a Booker [Prize].” Heh.

Erica makes a list of her regrets, so I jotted down a list as well. “There’s more, of course, but these are the ones that keep me up at night.” I got 21 without even trying. When I began my rewatch, I had also just started seeing a life coach and was in a cycle/return that has me reliving the lessons from 2003-2005. Erica doesn’t begin group therapy until Season Three, which was about how far I had gotten when my own life coaching moved into a group context. (Really, it’s a Brené Brown Daring Greatly reading group, but I’m getting the same level of inspiration out of it.) The group model is useful in therapy, creative structure, and life: start off solo, work to encompass others and their stories, then finally grow to a place of helping others. I’m currently audiobooking Postscript, the sequel to PS I Love You, and it uses the group model to add more stories and diversity to the same theme.

Since Canada seems to only have a total of six actors, there’s some overlap between Being Erica and a current favorite, Letterkenny. Mrs. McMurray is one of the therapy group members (a sex-crazed drug addict, if I remember correctly) and, the biggest shocker of all, Gae is Katie Atkins. (Sarah Gadon is one of the few actors I have seen outside of the context of the show; she was Robert Pattison’s girlfriend in Cosmopolis in 2012). Julianne once popped up as a ho in some shoot-em-up, prompting me to yell “Julianne, get your clothes on” at the screen while my boyfriend was trying to watch a movie, and she showed up again in Sharp Objects as one of Camille’s prissy high school buddies. As with all things Canadian, Drake manifests, and Erica gets to bury him alive in the second episode. There is also some time-traveling joke about Jenny (Paula Brancati) appearing on Degrassi, but I don’t know the show well enough to track it. At the start of Season Two, we are introduced to Tatiana Maslany, a few years before she gifted us the acting masterclass that is Orphan Black. Toward the end of that season is also when I realized Zach is the Dick Casablancas of the show—he starts off as a total creep in a small role, but after a while, you kind of enjoy the lightness his knuckle-dragging comedy brings.

Oh, man, Season Three. Let’s start with what’s problematic: Ivan and David, cutely named after the co-creators of the show, are a gay couple and co-owners of Goblins. Sadly, they seem to exist only as props. In the Pride episode, Ivan goes “10% straight” for long enough to feel up Julianne, while Erica takes centre stage during the parade as she dons a RAINBOW HEADDRESS AND GETS PULLED UP TO DANCE ON A FLOAT by a fairy who calls her Pocahontas. Yeah, no. And the product placement: a Ford Fiesta in magenta. Erica buys her own Ford in Season Four, so she no longer has to awkwardly borrow Julianne’s to shoehorn the product into scenes where it doesn’t belong. The car is joined by Tetley Infusions when Julianne decides to switch from her 9, 10:30, and 3 o’clock lattes.

Halfway through Season Three, future-Kai warns present-Erica that something happens in 2019 that makes it impossible for him to find her in the future. Um, internet archives? We learn in Season Four that the 2019 incident is a bombing at Union Station during which hundreds of people die. Erica, mid-existential freak-out, receives a visit from her 43-year-old self (2020 Erica, that is) to explain how in this new timeline, she knows about the bombing and avoids it. NEITHER ERICA MAKES ANY MENTION OF TRYING TO STOP IT ALTOGETHER because fuck everybody else, right? [Insert COVID-19 reference here.]

Also, future-Kai tells present-Adam that Ireland wins the World Cup in 2018. Why???

Finally, a moment to honor the most consistent presence in Erica’s life: lattes. Pronounced Canadianly: leah-tays. From the hazelnut-mocha-mint latte sample that sends Erica into anaphylactic shock and gets this whole time-travel therapy ball rolling to the sub-par lattes she makes as Julianne’s assistant to the latte Dr. Fred spills on the street to the endless vanilla lattes she orders from Kai to the free lattes Ivan and David offer to sweeten the rental agreement to, finally, the wedding dress in the precise color of Cosmic Latte…we enjoyed every single one of them with her.

I love this weird little show. A show somehow structured around time-travel therapy, set in the publishing industry, and flavored with two identities I got to understand a little better: Canadianism and Judaism. And thanks to the Hulu algorithm, we get to revisit our girl in 2020 to make sure she’s doing OK.