Saturday, February 8, 2020
I bought this pair of Dickies briefs over 15 years ago, at a store near my apartment on 26th Street & Third Avenue in Manhattan. I think I bought two packages of three pairs each, six briefs in all. I believe this is the last pair of those that remains, and this fact saddens me. But that's okay! And no shame on Dickies. Clearly, someone who hangs on to briefs even when the briefs have little left of the qualities that make a piece of fabric into a brief--an item that can nestle, conceal, tease--that person is the one at fault, not the manufacturer of said item.
Dickies immediately discontinued this style of briefs as soon as I made my purchase, of course, almost as though some representative of theirs was observing me buying it through a two-way mirror and, alarmed that I would now act as a kind of unpaid ambassador for their brief underwear line, shut the whole thing down. Though I believe they still manufacture underwear, Dickies apparently feels there is more of a future for them today in boxer briefs, or the dreaded "Union suit." So my searches on Ebay for a stray, unopened package of these black briefs are frustrating and futile. Who buys Union suits, anyway--too scratchy! The measurements are off, and lead to walking with a slouch! Much less a boxer brief, which envelope and cover the region in question with no mystery...no chance for a stray, errant ball to escape and bob about dumbly...certainly no odd gym-time bulge down a left leg in sweat pants.
(I remember once walking up Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village with, I believe, Kristin. Almost as an afterthought, I pulled a single ball out of my zipper and walked along like that for about a block. I then went to Pieces--the bar, silly!--and delighted the patrons there with it. The few people who noticed laughed and laughed, and no one thought to call the police. Or maybe they did? But then, I never stayed long enough at Pieces for the police to arrive. This is one way that getting older and slower has led to more frequent awkward contact with authority figures, but that is to be expected when one is free! Free as a bird, as is Nelly Furtado, and certainly as I am still, to this day).
I wish that underwear made by Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger called to me in a lazily dirty way as the Dickies brand did. There is no double entendre to be displayed by choosing Papi. The most recent time I had to buy briefs, I went to Target and purchased a pack of their in-house brief brand, Goodfellow. I could at least think, well, maybe someone will think I'm not referring to myself as the fellow, but something else entirely... I cut corners with my double entendres these days. I want to reveal myself in briefs to someone who can at least meet the double entendre halfway, who can at least provide one damned entendre! I don't think I'll find such a someone in Nashville. (Certainly not with Dave, who I recently released of my own accord and who then twisted around in mid-air and released me, too, which I was proud of him for doing, even though it still stings a little. I have aged out, as they say, of certain relationships, even though the youth apparently still have yet to understand that).
Anyway. As many people know, I would rather cull an item than collect one, even a lover, and these briefs are now culled. I'll work on the rest of my garments over the next few weeks, and then hopefully I will board a plane, fall asleep, and open my eyes and find myself in Queens, with merely a box, a bag, and a backpack to show for my life. That is my plan. I don't know how decisions about what to discontinue and what to continue are made, but then again, if no one ever tells you, how are you supposed to know?
Monday, March 18, 2019
A recent revelation among the various NPR shows I never miss these days has been “Here and Now,” a show that I believe is distributed by American Public Media, and which is not among the best-known or best-loved NPR shows. That’s truly your loss, because “Here and Now” is not the stodgy old curmudgeon of a talker that you may assume it is. It is many things to many different people, and, according to its website, reaches five million listeners a week on 450 radio stations. To me, it is a fount of “information porn” that tickles me as I drive to and from the gym or deliver food for Postmates while I attempt to eke out a meager existence in the surprisingly hardscrabble realm that is Midtown Nashville.
When I was a book publicist, it was part of my job to book my authors onto programs like “Here and Now,” but I rarely actually listened to the shows myself. I rarely consumed any media at all, other than my own moldering iPhone playlist, only recently rejuvenated with—wait for it—cuts by Sufjan Stevens and the Noisettes, among other artists who I really should have heard of ten years ago. No, I never watched “TODAY” or “Ellen” or “Meet the Press.” Once I pitched a book that contained newly discovered slave narratives to noted battleaxe Jackie Levin at the “TODAY” show for Al Roker’s book club, only to have her respond, “Really, Gregory? For Al Roker’s Book Club FOR KIDS???” I was mortified by that error on my part, but who cares in the end? Eventually, Al Roker and Jackie Levin will be just a bunch of dust, like Madonna’s mother in “Truth or Dare”—as will we all.
But I am alive today. And “Here and Now” makes me feel young! Young again! Because surely I am younger than host Robin Young—who has been around the block, as they say—if not her younger co-host Jeremy Hobson. But also because sometimes—and I hesitate to even say this—it awakens the part of myself that I thought time had safely encased in amber. Encased, even, in reinforced amber, and of course the part of myself that I am referring to is my libido. Yes, sometimes when I am listening to “Here and Now,” it’s not just my brain that’s the active participant in the equation. Sometimes, a horridly familiar frisson of longing will coil itself up languorously from my groin, travel up my scoliotic spine, and end up in my mouth, expressing itself in a dripping rictus of desire.
Take today. After leaving the gym, I unsuspectingly turned on “Here and Now” after leaving the gym, only to hear an interview with one Mr. Pat Flanagan, who apparently likes butterflies so much he has become an expert on same, out west there in San Diego. In case you didn’t know it, butterflies are currently swarming through California on some sort of mysterious migration, the purpose of which only they themselves are privy to. From what I can gather, it has become a veritable butterfly reckoning in California, with innocent San Diegoans accidentally breathing the clouds of creatures in and choking to death, or people slipping on butterfly wings and falling to their deaths into Swan Canyon, or butterflies swooping down and stealing the beauty of Sacramento’s flora, which is rightfully humans’ to enjoy! Or whatever they’re doing.
Anyway, Pat Flanagan’s voice immediately awoke in me a great, terrifying desire. To say that he has a sexy voice would be a grave understatement, and I hope you would have empathized with me as Mr. Flanagan discussed “painted ladies,” and “inches of rain” on Valentine’s Day, and “wet weather,” amongst other things, and my body, well, responded. I was taken back to Los Angeles itself on the day last July that I started driving to Nashville, and a voice came on the air on “AirTalk With Larry Mantle” that made me want to check into a hotel and “enjoy myself” immediately. It was some expert on some topic—I don’t even remember what, now. And I know, I know, if I were to have googled the face that the voice belonged to, my desire would have immediately been quashed. But that is the secret behind NPR’s vise grip on my fantasy life. It is only a fantasy, and no one on the radio is good-looking in real life. Except in a lopsided-facial-features kind of way like Ari Shapiro, who will always be forever “filling in” for someone, ad infinitum, forever.
Today, after much meaningless banter, young Jeremy Hobson stopped trying to impress listeners with his lazily thought-out lines of questioning, and finally thanked the great Pat Flanagan for joining the show. There was a great, pregnant pause—you could almost picture listeners licking their lips in anticipation—after which Flanagan, ever the inveigler, responded in a dry, sultry voice: “THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.”
Listen for yourself, if you don’t believe me:
Saturday, March 9, 2019
I lost two scarves this winter, but I found one of them last week. I had apparently left it at Alia’s house, and so of course I immediately lashed out and accused her of deliberately stealing it from me. She hadn’t, but you must admit it’s odd for someone to find some article of clothing of their friend’s at their house, but not let the friend know. I had to come upon it by accident in her living room, for chrissakes.
I find it a little bit odd to lose things like scarves. Since leaving New York and moving first to Los Angeles and then to Nashville, I have lost many items—wallets, iPhones, keys, hats, scarves. I suppose I left them in bars or in cabs, and probably when I was more than a little drunk—it takes some effort to leave behind a scarf when it’s cold, or an iPhone when one is usually glued to one’s iPhone. Only once in my life—and this was way before I moved—have I suspected that a scarf had been actually stolen from me, and I don’t remember why I suspected that. I think it may have been because it was in my apartment before a random trick came over, and then after that, I couldn’t find it. It was beautiful—red and blue and white, and I vividly remember getting it at the Warehouse Sale and putting it on my desk at work at Harcourt, where Andrea saw it and complimented me on it, and I blushed and said, “tee-hee!” because of my odd crush on her. Now it’s gone. I still feel the loss of that scarf.
I still feel the loss of Harcourt, too. That was my favorite job ever, with my craziest boss ever, Jennifer. When I first started working for her, in 2005, I was trying a new persona on: Normal Gregory—newly and secretly sober from alcohol and trying to fit in in an office setting, instead of not fitting in—at Sotheby’s, Lehman Brothers, Worm Capital, Capital Z, and MultiPlan, for example—where I was the weird secretary who just didn’t know his place. Jennifer seemed unsatisfied with Normal Gregory, or perhaps she saw through him, because she coaxed Crazy Gregory (Normal Gregory) out of his hiding place—nay, demanded his presence—until finally it was Crazy Gregory working there in all his glory, and not at all the Gregory I had intended to be.
I got a cat around this time. His name was the Colonel, and it took him a looooong time to get used to me. I used to walk the three blocks from my apartment to Harcourt trying to hold my head up high, my hands bloodied from scratches from the Colonel. All I wanted was to pet that cat, but clearly the Colonel felt that that wasn’t meant to be. When Jennifer found out I had a cat, she immediately found it necessary to disparage all cats—cats everywhere!—as disgusting creatures, which confused me. Then she revealed that she was allergic to cats, which I guess sort of excuses it. I was quick to inform her that I, too, was allergic to cats, and that when I first got the Colonel, it was as though I had put on a scarf made of flames!
How did I do it back then? Be sober, I mean. I was sober all throughout my time at Harcourt, then all throughout my time at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, after the merger, and then well into my tenure at HarperCollins. I had been sober for six years when I finally drank again. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my sobriety then coincided with a gradual uptick in a grand, white-hot rage inside me that got fiercer and hotter the longer I remained sober. I would go to my AA meetings and share and help people and tell my story at detoxes and prisons—but all the while I was seething inside, without even knowing it. I didn’t know how to identify the feeling of anger, and finally the great, unseen anger within me turned inward, and became a depression unlike anything I’d experienced up until then. I had a crazy thought, then—I don’t know how to recover from this depression, but I know how to recover from alcoholism. So I drank. But then the depression changed shape again, and went to the complete opposite end of some sort of spectrum within me, becoming a horrible panic of a high that I experienced as a furnace-like heat within my chest, all the time. I was vibrating with a fight-or-flight terror for weeks, and then I went to a psychiatrist. She gave me a word for what I was feeling—bipolar disorder—and then at least I could search with her for the medication or medications that would give me some relief from it. (And I’ve since come to the conclusion that I’m bipolar in the same way that most people are bipolar).
Many people know that I just got sober again. Although I’m not feeling angry right now, I know that I must carefully monitor my feelings and become alert to any hint of the anger I felt before. I know what it feels like now. I know, it probably would surprise my friends to know how angry I can become. When I am Angry Gregory, I get banned for life from things—as I now am banned for life from Uber, from Hertz car rental, from the Beverly Center. If I allow my anger to take over my life, I might drink again, and I mustn’t drink. I simply mustn’t. Tonight, when I get in my little car and motor down West End Avenue at night with the window open, freezing and smoking cigarettes, the Oxcarbazepine I take twice a day courses through my bloodstream like an electrical hum, steadies my breathing, and protects me from my environment, and my environment from me. Scarves do that too.
Sunday, March 3, 2019
About a week before Valentine’s Day, I texted Dave a message asking if he would be available that evening to hang. Because I know guys, and I know what they like, I decided to make my text a little dirty…because no matter where you are in the world, or whatever has just happened to you or anyone you love, that’s what guys like. I will spare you the actual text of my ill-advised text, but I will tell you that, whatever it said, Dave has since been keeping his own counsel.
I am used to this pattern. Since my late 30s, whenever I’ve expressed interest in a fellow, he has immediately disappeared, sometimes never to be seen again. Sometimes this happens after the fellow has been pursuing me but I’ve been cool to him. No matter what the context—if I show a little interest, the relationship, such as it is, usually goes poof. I remember relating this troubling fact once to Tommy, a bartender I had a crush on at Woody’s bar on the Lower East Side. “Yes,” I explained, “in my 20s I dumped everyone. Now everyone dumps me.” Tommy mused on this for a few seconds, then replied, “that’s sad,” and moved to another part of the bar—leaving me to think about whether it really was a good idea to share this with someone I had a crush on. Still, I spoke the truth. Matty, for example, had recently indicated to me that we were never boyfriends, that I was just someone he “hung out with.” Oscar, similarly, said that we never broke up because we were never together. And the rest? Who knows how they’ve repositioned our affairs in their minds and histories. Matty, Joshie, Kevin, [name forgotten], Marjan, Oscar, Elias. None lasted more than four months. The last three of them I wasn’t looking for. In fact, I’d abandoned the idea of being in love after [name forgotten], who is in all likelihood dead by now. I feel like Marjan, Oscar, and Elias all tricked me into considering loving them, by casually making themselves convenient to me over a period of time, while I innocently went with them to parties or spent the night, while my inner lovingness slowly and painfully pried itself open to them, against my wishes and certainly unbeknownst to me. It gives me grim satisfaction to say that I only fell fully in love with one of them, though, and that so far, that’s the only time I’ve ever been in love.
I don’t think I texted Dave because I want to love him, or because Valentine’s Day was nigh. I have never been that emotionally invested in Valentine’s Day, and to this day, I’ve only ever happened to be dating someone on Valentine’s Day two times in my life. Joshie and Shawn. For Joshie, I did some reconnaissance the week before the date, and selected a fancy restaurant that I could afford, and made a reservation for the two of us. When we got there, I realized that they had changed the menu just for Valentine’s Day, and that everything was twice the price I had initially observed. So I spent that Valentine’s Day dinner in a heightened state of alarm, wondering if my card would be declined at the end of the dinner. For Shawn, I simply went with him to the Food Bar on 8th Avenue, where he unwisely issued me an ultimatum—he would stop dating me if I didn’t have sex with him that evening. It made me a little wistful to have to react this way, but I responded by literally waving goodbye to him and paying the check and leaving.
No, with Dave, I think that, in a best-case scenario, I am merely bored and wishing to flesh out a minor dalliance with next-level romanticization. In a worst-case scenario, I am attempting to “groom” a very young man by alternately giving him attention (which he ignores, but which young people are starving for, believe me, and can’t live without) and ignoring him completely. It’s Dave’s fault. When I text him, he ignores me, but when he texts me, I feel that because of my advanced age, I must make myself available and get in the shower and show up. Who knows when the next sexy time will be for me? I only sent him the dirty text because he had texted me some personal stuff in our previous text conversation, and I felt that because he seemed to be warming to me on a personal level, my “grooming” might have taken root enough that an actual relationship between ourselves had begun. No, my dirty text showed me that this is the lot a 46-year-old chooses for himself when the 46-year-old decides to play “Space Invaders” with someone half his age. I must wait for him to summon me, and when I am summoned, I must go.
At outpatient rehab the other evening, I shared with the group that I am happy. I am. I have felt happy and totally at peace for a couple of weeks now. As I indicated in rehab, it feels like being in love, but without the other person there to mess it all up. I wouldn’t have known to ask for this feeling, even in prayer, because I never knew that it existed. To have gone from a memory-impaired, throwing-up-blood-regularly, pooping-yellow-poop-type drunk to being able to identify a feeling of peace within myself, much less welcome it—is nothing short of a miracle. I used to wake up on Saturday mornings so hungover and depressed that I would immediately start drinking tequila until I passed out, so as not to have to be conscious, the weekend stretching out before me. I would wake up a few hours later and drink some more tequila, and then again and then again and again, until it was morning on Monday and I would wake up, throw up blood, and then drive to work, totally insane. Now I usually am in bed by 7 pm, in love but not needing to share it with a lover, happy. I have 32 days sober. I haven’t thrown up in weeks.
Sometimes Paula tells me that what she really wants for me is for me to find a person to love and to spend my life with, like what she has found with Luther. While this sort of arrangement would probably make things like affording an apartment easier, the thought of being in a relationship fills me with horror. Imagine having to make room for another person in my life, at this stage? To plug him inside holes in my calendar, or clear the ashtray, candy, and/or pills from my bed to make room for another person. To be in winter in New York City, walking beside someone towards my apartment, knowing that very soon I would be freezing cold and naked—or, even worse, wet and cold and naked, if I showered—and that I would have to be, in order to satisfy someone else’s desires. Men have unlimited horniness, and I don’t like the cold.
This Valentine’s Day, I watched with bemusement as a few of my friends texted me, “Happy Valentine’s Day!!!” and I tactfully didn’t reveal my own ambivalence toward the day. What else happened that day? That morning, I was awoken by a horrible attack of heartburn (my last one to date—yay). Mitch McConnell announced that Trump would be invoking a state of emergency of some sort. Dave did not summon me. Lori told me her new dog was named “Gem.” The day before, I’d received both my first unemployment check (finally) and my first food stamps (ibid). Alia told me about a dog that had been rescued in the UK recently who was born with two mouths. She also told me about her latest plan to torture her own dog—to spray a foul-tasting chemical onto her dog’s paws to keep him from licking his own feet. So many things happened that day, just as so many things have happened in my life. So many things have happened to me that, sometimes, even for me to look back upon my life is exhausting. Still, tonight I am content. Tonight, I choo-choo-choose peace.