In high school biology, there's a pretty compelling unit about mimicry and camouflage. You learn about dead-leaf butterflies, which look exactly like brown winter leaves on the forest floor; and foureye butterfly fish, who have big black spots on their back to make them look like they have the menacing eyes of a much larger fish. When I taught high school biology a few years ago, I was impressed by how taken the students were with this material: they loved looking at pictures of decorator crabs, trying to figure out where the environment ended and the animal began. I remember being just as transfixed myself when I was in high school. I think this is because camouflage -- disguise -- is so relatable. We all do it. We pretend to be people we're not all the time in order to survive. Dating back to tales of the Trojan Horse (and probably even farther back than that), humans have told countless stories of disguise. It's a unique brand of trickery that we all seem to engage in; and that we simultaneously feel horrified by when we discover it in others. Maybe that's why we have a whole holiday where you're allowed to be someone else for the entire day (and shamelessly beg for candy while you're at it).
You: Bright orange hair, bright orange backpack. You came into the Pop Shop Thrift Store on Dauphine this afternoon and accidentally purchased my shoes. I couldn't help but notice your GIANT orange backpack, which you were clearly carrying many precious things inside of. Apparently, you debated about the shoes, as they were speckled with bleach stains. You stood at the counter and colored them in with a black sharpie as you chatted with Ms. Jane before buying them for five dollars. Unfortunately, they were my nearly brand new sixty dollar Vans, and only had bleach stains on them from cleaning my new apartment, which was infested with all sorts of evil black mold. They were my ONLY pair of shoes, and I would desperately love to be reunited with them.
I guess the first time I decided I needed to talk to somebody about my crushing mental illness was right before Game of Thrones: Season 3 came out. I remember it because my wife and I were binge-watching Season 2 one lazy Sunday and all I could think about was that I needed to put a gun in my mouth. It’s not that I wanted to die. I didn't want to kill myself but I got the distinct feeling that I didn't deserve to live.
I guess my dark thoughts started out pretty innocently:
* I hope someone runs a red light and takes me out. I'm technically worth more dead than alive, but really even my life insurance policy is mediocre.
* Since nobody is driving recklessly into me, maybe I need to just run myself off the road and make it look like an accident.
* Turns out I'm too much of a pussy to kill myself in a car accident. I wonder how much a shotgun costs? Maybe I could pay somebody on the Internet.
When my brothers and I were growing up, we had very few rules. This was not because we were spoiled or neglected so much as my parents were crafty enough to articulate a catch-all guide to our upbringing.
“Use good common sense.”
Though I will contest it to the grave, I was told that it was not good common sense to booby trap the house for the babysitter even though she didn’t let us watch the end of "Hocus Pocus."
It was not good common sense to force Will, the youngest, to tumble off a tower of milk crates when a car passed our lemonade stand to garner sympathy purchases.
As a young boy, rain dance choreography, spastic and flailing, became my best effort to prevent Mom’s beach-day trips. I was an only child at the time I lived with Mom in a small apartment next to a 24-hour carwash and near the white-white-white sand beaches of Florida’s west coast.
In the area where I grew up, no matter the neighborhood, people always lived near a beach, but only the wealthiest people lived on it. For me, a bridge, called a “causeway,” marked the distinction. In a time void of causeway-distinctions, when the beach belonged to everyone, Mom as a teenager had claimed the beach. Years after her cheerleading squad days, she still knew the best spot -- a private, luxurious stretch of beach where only the richest people obtained legitimate access.
I am a quality engineer working for a GM service parts supplier. These days, most of what a quality engineer does takes place in Excel. It is rather dry, does not allow for a lot of flexibility, and does not provide much excitement. Some days I feel like I am making a difference for my company, and maybe even having a small impact on the industry in general. Most days, I feel like I am stuck in one of those positions fabricated by the generation before mine just so there would be more jobs. A computer could do 90 percent of my job, and probably should. Most days, that feeling rolls around in my head until I feel like no one would be surprised if I was depressed.
At the present time, it’s unclear whether or not the American Grease Monkey (A.G.M) is from the Old World or the New One. For when asked to clarify, he only spit into his hands, slicked back his hair, and flicked a lit cigarette towards the press.
The A.G.M has an impeccable sense of smell. On his walk to work, he detects sourdough rising from Boudin, ripe skin of pop-up market bananas, wet fish hawked hand over hand, dried crust of old shit clinging to the homeless. He holds the whole morning in his lungs.
He is a simple animal. He never thinks of anything larger than what could fit in the pocket of his hairy palm.
The weekend before Halloween, I go alone to a warehouse party where someone I know is DJing. I step inside a dark cavern filled with next year’s paper-maché Mardi Gras creations and go straight for the bar.
This party is an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink free-for-all, costumed throngs surrounding the food tables and long lines snaking from the bar. I don’t eat. I avoid eating in public.
I get to the front of the bar and ask for a rum and Coke. I drain it, standing by the side of an enormous, leering jester, and get another one. I don’t tip, because I don’t have any cash, because the party was supposed to be free.
I’m a 12-year-old boy with a greasy bowl cut wearing a goblin mask and a black shroud and clearly the oldest person trick or treating. My hands are dinosaur claws from a dilophosaurus costume I made my parents buy four years ago. I don’t have any friends and I’m accidentally scaring the shit out of every child and parent and dog walking by on a very busy Halloween night. I can hear myself breathing and my face is filled with wet breath and my acne is out of control. I’m too old to do this but I can’t force myself to stop and turn around and stay home. How is everyone seemingly under 6 six years old and why do I feel like a giant, and why is every child dressed like a ballerina or a doctor? Why is “doctor” a costume? My mask is brown with a long red tongue twirling out the mouth and looks like a demon performing oral sex on a dragon and my eyes are massive black holes. This is my only costume that isn’t a novelty Bill Clinton mask from 1996.
This is me. Sitting on the steps that lead down to the river.
Hours had passed since we first gathered at the little house in the Bywater. We had moved through a sea of color and familiar smiling faces, following the rainbow-streamered poles marking the start of St. Ann's parade, dancing to the brass band and stopping for a drinks at premeditated posts all the way down Royal Street. Every now and then I reached for the little velvet bag tied to my belt to make sure it was still there.
At some point, we had broken off and headed straight for the river. There's a few others here, scattered amongst the rocks and benches, seekers of something besides the frenetic crush of the Quarter for a time. We stepped cautiously in our costumes, gathering up stray bits of tulle and ribbon, careful not to slip on the slick, brown steps.
My first job out of college was working at Saturday Night Live. My Uncle Jack was an ex-cop that had become the most beloved security guard at the show. I had done some comedy in college, but never felt quite at home around comedy guys. They tended to be straight-laced and stoic, while I had carved out a niche as the quirky guy with big hair who introduced himself as “Billy Hot Chocolate.” But you don’t pass up any chance at SNL, so I moved across the country to New York, lived back with my mom and became a gopher on the show that had been my favorite since I was nine. The producer in charge of all of the commercial parodies interviewed me and asked what I would want to do at the show. I told him that I just wanted to come work for him and see what happened.
It was just after midnight on Sunday night, which meant it was all over. The iconic Ferris wheel was still spinning in the air, illuminating the desert with its array of bright-colored lights, but its cabins were empty.
The people, all 90,000 of them, were stretched out across the dusty festival pathway, walking away from the stages and the vendors and the three days of druggy fun they had just lived through. Everybody was exhausted and a little sad. This was the end of Coachella. Now it was back to the massive 20-acre campsite for a lousy night of sleep before returning to the real world the next morning.
There’s a picture of me on Easter my Dad took a long time ago; I’m sitting on a brick wall outside our house with my legs curled up beside me. I remember sitting like that so my thighs would look smaller. I thought it was something I could hide: if I sucked in my stomach and wore certain clothes and sat certain ways I could trick everyone into not noticing that there was fat on my body or, God forbid, that I was fat. I was kind of right because I was only 8 and everyone knows children can’t be fat. At least not bad fat, only cute fat. Also I wasn’t even cute fat! I was normal! And that’s a dangerous word but I was squarely in the 50th percentile for weight and height for my age group. N-o-r-m-a-l.
I associate the phrase “That’s never gonna happen to me” with tragedy.
I think of young ruffians driving fast and crashing their cars into oncoming traffic. Specifically, I think of a family van carrying not one but twenty adopted babies, each with a different ethnic background. It is agreed by the entire community that this accident is a tragedy. Everyone in the accident dies except one specific ruffian, the one that was clearly a good guy to begin with. He goes on to serve a life sentence, spending a lot of his time speaking to teens about not crashing into a family van with twenty ethnically diverse babies on board. The young ruffian thought, “That’s never gonna happen to me,” but it did. This is what “That’s never gonna happen to me” means to me. It always involves something the entire community agrees is a tragedy.
When I was in first grade, my friend and I lied to our classmates about taking guitar lessons together. We called it ‘guitars’. Throughout the week we would tell fairly elaborate tales of different things that had happened that weekend at ‘guitars’. I think it was the first time that my hidden mischievous side found a cohort outside of my family. I was an extremely shy kid, a tomboy, an accidental loner. By that point, I had already moved a few times and was pretty uncomfortable around new people. I idolized my brother and the Ninja Turtles more than anyone else. I longed to have a group of friends like I saw on TV shows. I wanted to be Zack Morris and rule the school. So, naturally, I would just confuse the kids in new classes with my unisex first name and short haircut.
I get that you think I’m adorable. I’m fluffy and yellow and you want to cuddle me like a swaddled infant. I know the Internet is HUGE right now, and you believe there’s a huge market in viral videos. But look: cats are my natural predators, and you have got to stop setting up photo shoots with me and cats. I don’t care how young they are. Just stop.
The best decision I ever made as a writer was to adopt a pen name, or more precisely, several pen names. Why would anyone ever want to write under his or her own name? A pen name is so flexible. Pen names do not have social security numbers or driver’s licenses. There is no registry, no governmental permission. A pen name can be a wisp; an evanescence. How perfect! You can write cringe-worthy prose for years, then cast off the old nom de plume and start fresh under a new pen name in a matter of moments. It is as easy as murdering a character in a story.
“Wear the dress,” my sister directed over Skype. I held the iPhone up to the mirror. The dress looked like a skirt and shirt; the top was ruffly like the adornments of a cake, and the bottom was a sleek pencil skirt.
“The question is, will it work?”
“Yeah, but take the cardigan off.”