[Somewhere between five minutes and three weeks later…]
Customer: “Did he have weird fetishes that you couldn’t deal with?”
Me: [still impassive, but with a noticeable facial tic] “It just didn’t work out.”
Customer: “Wait, was it you? Were you the one with weird fetishes?”
Me: “It… just… didn’t… work… out.”
I don’t know if he ran out of probable causes, or if he got uncomfortable when I started visibly twitching, but he eventually accepted defeat and wandered away, leaving me with my scruples and serenity intact. Although I was ringing up another customer an hour or so later and couldn’t figure out why the lube he was buying was so cold to the touch, then glanced down and realized I was trying to scan his beer.
Apparently, my first trek up the moral high road took a heftier emotional toll than anticipated.
PS: I told my sponsor this story, and he was like, “You deserve a medal for not bending. But you also missed the opportunity to say that you broke up because he has the clap. Medal revoked.” And that’s fine. I’ve always been more of a participation ribbon kind of guy anyway.
At the beginning of most 12-Step meetings, the chairperson asks, “Is this anyone’s first meeting ever, anytime, anywhere?” Every so often, somebody nervously raises a hand. “WELCOME!!!” shouts everyone else. Should the newcomer not immediately have a stroke, the chair usually announces that the discussion topic will be the First Step: “We admitted we were powerless over [our drug of choice/destructive behavior/This Is Us], and that our lives had become unmanageable.”
The point of a First Step meeting is for people who have been around awhile to explain how they ended up in recovery, and how their lives have improved since that time. In reality, though, things quickly deteriorate into what I’ve come to call a Dead Hooker meeting — that is, people skip right past the messages of hope in favor of the lurid details of their addictions:
“So there I was, in a cheap motel room with a dead hooker.” [dramatic pause] “And that’s when I realized I might have a problem.” [hold for applause]
There is very little one can do once a meeting has gone full metal Hooker, other than grind one’s teeth and pray the newcomer doesn’t bail halfway through to go find an opium den. Occasionally, in a valiant attempt to avoid this phenomenon, the chair will pitch a different topic relevant to the newly sober, my personal favorite being, “Why did you go to your second meeting? What brought you back?” I don’t have quantifiable statistics in front of me, but I’m going to say this tactic has about a 60/40 success rate.
Believing themselves to be warded against exaggerated horror stories, people will talk about the warm, nonjudgmental attitudes they encountered, and the optimism that grew out of that. Unfortunately, there are a lot of hardline traditionalists out there who can’t handle even the slightest of deviations, and when called on to share, they will wrestle away control and steer the meeting straight back to Hookerville (pop. -1):
“I appreciate your topic, but I think it’s also very important that we talk about the First Step. In my case, family members had been trying to reach me for days, but I’d lost my phone after blacking out at a Tijuana donkey show… with dead hookers everywhere.”
It’s great that those of us in recovery have a safe place to tell these tales, and it’s a lot of fun to be able to laugh at some of the bigger mangles — we laugh, because most of us have gone through the same awful struggles and survived. And that’s the important part of our narratives, the part that often gets lost in the grime. We survived. And we’re not doing anyone any favors if we only focus on what we survived instead of how we survived it.
With that put to bed, I should mention that a spoonful of Hooker, shared specifically at a newcomer’s prompting, does help the boozelessness go down. Recently, while I was helping clean up after a meeting, a guy I’d never seen before came over and said hello, then admitted it was his first meeting. He was too freaked out to say anything earlier, but he’d heard a lot of good things, even if he wasn’t sure he could stay sober himself.
“Dude, seriously, I used to come to this meeting drunk,” I replied. “If I can stay sober, trust me, anyone can.”
The new guy looked at me warily, as if I’d just extolled the amenities of our marvelous jungle compound and asked if he’d care for some Flavor-Aid. So I hollered to my friend B., waved him over and was all, “In your own words, please recount how big of a train wreck I was when I first showed up here.”
B. looked New Guy up and down with a critical eye. “Well, you’re sober,” he said. “So you’re already ahead of Thomas.”
There was a moment of silence as New Guy stared at me, then B., then back at me again. Finally, he spoke:
“I… am… so hungover right now.”
And then all three of us laughed our asses off.
And really, that’s when things work out best: When the newbie sees people with their shit (mostly) together, who can truthfully say, We know where you’re coming from, but you don’t have to go back there; you can stay here with us if you want to. And sometimes they do, and they stick around and get better. And that is awesome. It is miraculous. It is worth its weight in dead hookers.
Customer: [holding up a bottle of lube] “Do you carry this, except as a lube?”
Me: “Um… pardon me?”
Customer: “I’m looking for this product, except lube.”
Me: “That is lube.”
Customer: “It is?” [He stares at the container in his hand, eventually noticing the bright red “Silicone Lubricant” decal that runs its entire length.] “Oh, hey! This is lube!”
Part of me is desperate to know what he actually thought was in the bottle (Antifreeze? Silly String? Crystal Pepsi?), but the rest of me is just glad he didn’t think it was flammable, like the last time this happened.
Unless he thought it was lighter fluid. Or lamp oil. Or a prêt-à-porter Molotov cocktail.
Something tells me I’m going to be printing out some very inane warning labels in the near future.
Rok: “One of our suppliers sent them as free samples.”
Me: “Huh. They’re really kind of cool…”
Rok: “And they’re not bad quality, but…”
Me: “… the debossing is left-to-right instead of right-to-left.”
Me: “If you spanked someone with this one, their butt would read, ‘ox ox.’ It’s like a bad translation of ‘oxen.'”
Rock: “And this one would read, ‘tuls.'”
Me: “And if you used that one with your right hand, it would be upside-down, too. That seems ill-conceived. Although the ox-ox one would work correctly if you were left-handed.”
Me: “Hey, wait a minute. I’m left-handed! You’re coming home with me, lil’ fella!”
And then I stole the paddle and ran away. Although it technically wasn’t employee theft, because it was free to begin with, and also because Rok said I could have it. Which was very magnanimous of him, considering all the other shit I’ve stolen over the past year.
[Note to Rok: KIDDING. I totally only steal from customers.]
I keep most of my paddles in a black, canvas tool bag I found at an Army surplus store, but I’m going to keep the Ox Ox in my back pocket, so that the next time someone tells me to kiss their ass (which honestly happens more often than you’d think), I can be all, “Well, if you insist…” And then merriment will ensue.
Yeah, I like this plan. I’m apparently a much better strategist than whoever designed the Tulsarizer.
Last night’s Facets of Leather was all about preparing for the interview portion of IML. We asked our listeners to send in challenging and/or wildly inappropriate questions for me to answer with poise and grace, and my God, you did not disappoint. However, before anyone listens to the full episode, I need to issue a few apologies.
To our producer: I’m sorry I said “shit” during the live broadcast, but in my defense, Robert was trying to make me solve math problems. There are reasons why I was a Liberal Arts major, and math is them.
To the hosts of the Zydeco show that comes on right after us: Had I known you were already in the production booth, I would never have barged out of the studio loudly explaining to Robert that the average velocity of human ejaculate is 31 miles an hour. I don’t even know why I know that. But hey, knowledge is power, and you, my friends, are now superheroes.
To Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Regardless of our differing opinions in the field of astrophysics, I should not have announced to the world that your mom thought Pluto was big enough. That was unnecessary. Much like the arbitrary classification of dwarf planets.
Okay, enough with amends. Who wants to hear a song we didn’t get a chance to play on the show, and which is also completely unrelated to the breakup I went through last week? I know I do.
Once upon a time, I decided to do some light decorating and ordered a print from the astounding and relevant artist Jennifer Cox. When it arrived, I put it in a frame, and I placed it on my desk.
So that’s basically what happened, with a few key details edited out. Following is the full story (melodramatically rendered in present tense), which provides an excellent example of how my Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder works.
I find the artwork while browsing around on Etsy and note that it comes in three different sizes. I print out black-and-white copies of each size and tape them to various walls a) to see if the design will go with the rest of the décor around my apartment, and b) to determine which size will be the most aesthetically pleasing. I also print out copies of a different illustration by the same artist, because while I’m not buying it right at this moment, I might eventually, and I need to make sure the two pieces will complement each other.
After an epic internal struggle, I settle on the 5 x 7 size and make the purchase.
The print arrives at my office. I open the package and prop the print on my desk to see if I want to keep it there instead of taking it home — after all, Thoth is associated with Hermes, who is associated with Mercury, which is the ruling planet of notaries, and most of my notary stuff stays at my day job. I finally decide it would look better in the apartment, where I remember I have a cool, multicolored picture frame. I locate the frame that afternoon, take it apart, dust it and rinse it off, wash the glass separately, towel it all off vigorously and let it air-dry overnight (don’t want any errant water droplets ruining everything).
The following morning, I reassemble the frame and insert the print, and then spend forty-five minutes rearranging the tchotchkes on my writing desk to properly fit it in. (I want it next to my St. Expedite statue, but then I would have to move a regular jar candle to a space between two seven-day candles, which is unacceptable.) So I finally get everything set exactly, and it looks great! Except…
The yellow and green corners are at the top of the frame, and while the yellow doesn’t look bad, the green clashes with Thoth’s nemes. Granted, this could be easily remedied by turning the frame upside down so that the red and blue corners are up top, but (and here’s the crux of the matter), whoever designed the frame intended for the yellow and green corners to be at the top, and therefore turning it upside down might destroy the universe. WE CAN’T TAKE THAT CHANCE.
I make it about a day and a half before I can’t stand it anymore and run to the drugstore down the street to pick up a plain, black frame. So now Thoth is on display again, just with no extra embellishments to distract the eye or drive me insane. All is well. Except…
The new frame is black metal, and all the other frames in my living room are black wood. I try to accept this, guys; I really, really do. But a few days later I cave and take the print and both of the frames to work with me, thinking that this whole situation would be a lot easier to resolve if all I had to do was find a hobbit to help me get rid of a damn ring.
So I’m up at the office the next day, and the first thing I notice is that the multicolored frame looks pretty awesome with the David Cowles caricatures across from my desk. I take Thoth out of the metal frame and put him back in the wooden one, and… ye Gods but that green corner is going to give me a seizure.
I know what has to be done.
Gritting my teeth, I pull Thoth out of the frame one final time, rotate the frame so that the red and blue corners are at the top, and put everything back together. The universe in fact does not explode, which is a pleasant surprise, but also, the color combo is now pretty much perfect. You know the relief that overwhelms you when you dislodge a popcorn kernel from between your teeth? It feels just like that, except the popcorn dislodged from my frontal lobe.
There is a brief moment of panic when I realize that the Thoth print plus the Erté Queen of the Night greeting card next to my computer might equal an unbalanced number of framed items, but I only have to spend about fifteen minutes repeatedly removing and replacing each piece individually before I decide both can stay.
So… yeah. That’s what it’s like in my head. No-brainer, throw-away tasks turn into millstones: One second I’m trying to choose a picture frame, and the next I’m in Ancient Greek hell, pushing an uncooperative boulder up a hill. The upside is that I know OCPD is just a vestige of my treated panic disorder, and if the worst thing that happens to me on any given day is that I compulsively move a doodad across a shelf in half-centimeter intervals versus endure eight to ten hours of anxiety attacks, then I’m probably doing okay. I may have to tell myself over and over that I am okay, but the reality is I really am, regardless of anything I can’t control, or that isn’t in order, or that gets reshuffled against my wishes.
I am okay.
PS: Shortly after I wrote this, a tech guy walked into my office with a new computer (my last one pulled an Old Yeller and had to be taken out behind the barn), and the first thing he said was, “I’m going to have to move some of this stuff on your desk.” I screamed internally for only a couple of beats before replying: “Oh, that’s fine, move anything you need to. It’s not a big deal.”
And it’s not a big deal. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a big deal.