The Book of Hope 9: The Creature Wakes
We ate at a seafood restaurant across the street from Lingo's (which wasn't very good), then walked home on the boardwalk. A swing-era novelty big band was on the bandstand playing singalong numbers like 'Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes' and 'On the Way to Cape May (I Fell in Love With You)'--you know, the kind of corny old songs the 'rents used to sing on long car drives. I can still remember my dad loudly belting out his fave:
"The rose of youth was dew empearl'd
But now it wiiiiiiithers in the blast!"
I can never hear that word 'blast' without shuddering, because he died from a glioblastoma. I guess that's the kind of weird word game the mind plays with you. After the band did a nice tribute to the armed forces, we went and got double-chocolate ice-cream (which was very good) at the 'Royal Treat'. The weather had finally improved, and it was a lovely night with a full moon high in the sky--as Kerry said, you half expected to see the silhouette of a werewolf against the glittering waves, stalking the screaming kids on the darkened sand dunes running around in their glow-worm necklaces and bracelets. There was, as she put it, "magic in the air."
It sure was in the air when we got home--or at least the stink of the little burning man still was, anyway. Luckily, it was cool enough to leave all the windows open, and the wind blew through them, rattling all the blinds and smelling of ocean. I can't remember what we did next, watched TV, finished off the wine from the night before, argued about something maybe, but I do remember that the three of them were still acting kind of strange. Tired and still hungover, they said when I asked, so we all decided to go to bed a little early so we could hit the beach the next morning just in case the sun actually came out. My bedroom was the only one on the second floor (you can see the door of it behind me down a little hall in the photo of the fireplace in Chapter 1), but you know how it is, when you're sleeping in a strange place everything stays unfamiliar to you for awhile. So while I was fumbling around on the wall for a lightswitch that wasn't there, my eyes adjusted to the bright moonlight that was flooding the room. And I saw there was a man in my bed. Just sitting there propped up against the pillows, wearing a bathrobe...
So after I screamed the house down, Kerry, Jo, and Chris suddenly showed up laughing their asses off at me, and finally one of them turned on the bedside lamp. The 'man' in my bed was a life-sized dummy. His name was 'Safe-T-Man' (here's where you can buy one, if you're interested: http://www.asontv.com/products/849840117.html) and they had bought him that afternoon at a local yard sale, then blown him up with a little air compressor, dressed him in Kerry's robe and socks and arranged him in my bed as part of the 'occult ceremony' gag. See, he was supposed to be the 'Frankenstein's monster' they had brought to life. And really, except for the inflatable parts, his head and hands were actually amazingly lifelike--Kerry had even peroxided the sides of his hair to make him look like he was greying. Here's a picture of what he looks like dressed up in castoff clothes:
So why am I making such a big deal about Safe-T-Man? Well, it's embarrassing, but after I got over the shock, I sort of found him comforting to have around. Not in any sexual way or whatever--though there are tons of versions of inflatable men you can buy online with correct anatomical parts and stuff for parties or if you're gay or just a perv--but just because it felt so, I dunno, safe to have him sitting there when I came home at night. Or in the car with us when we drove back later that week. And I'm not the only woman who feels this way, either, apparently there's a kind of cult that's built up around him, sort of like Barbie dolls when I was a kid. I'm serious. Just run some searches online and you'll find articles written about him, fiction (http://www.stim.com/Stim-x/7.3/SafetyMan/safetyman-07.3.html)--even poetry (http://www.poemtree.com/poems/SafeTMan.htm)!!! I guess it makes me sound pretty lonely and pathetic that I would take an inflatable dummy seriously enough even to Google him. OK, I guess I was. But I'd sort of reached the point in my life when I was beginning to wonder if Safe-T-Man was gonna be the most compatible guy I'd ever meet. He was already the lowest-maintenance.
The rest of that week went by way too fast, like it almost always does at the beach, even when the weather sucks. Though not for Jo, poor thing, who got food poisoning from the seafood we'd had that night and was humping the toilet for the next 24 hours. I had even warned her to stick to the mussels, because they smelled fresh to me (I have this embarrassingly acute sense of smell), but for some reason, people never believe a word I say. I bet you don't, either. But I'm compulsively honest--which means everybody usually assumes the opposite of what I say is the truth. Dad called it the 'Cassandra complex', and used to tease me that I was born that way, prophesying from the womb. Which I guess would make him King Priam--I can see the Mothership's resemblance to Hecuba, for sure! The next morning was still cool and overcast--I'll try to upload some pix of it now that Kerry has given me permission to display her photos (that only leaves Jo. Come on girl, get your butt online!) Because really for a few days it looked like the end of the world outside. But gradually it brightened and warmed up--pretty much just in time for us to leave. On Thursday night, we baked a cake and celebrated Jo's birthday--the photo at the very top was taken as Chris and Kerry brought it to her 'sick-couch' (luckily she was well enough to eat some). On Friday night the other three went down to Dewey Beach to 'get wasted and hook up with some man candy', but I stayed home with Safe-T-Man and started to seriously write my book. I know, pathetic. However, in my defense, Kerry ended up spending the night at some guy's place, which she discovered is referred to by them as a 'drag-back', and the next morning because it was a group house rental he tried to charge her for taking a shower! I am so not kidding! Safe-T-Man starting to look good to you, too?
Sunday morning, after we had all gone for one last sad walk along the beach and said our goodbyes (naturally the weather was now perfect!), I installed Christina and Safe-T-Man in the Sentra and we took off. "I think I'll name him 'Leminkainen'," I told her. "After the Finnish god of love."
"You and your Finnish mythology," she said. "At least he is silent like a Finn. Finnish men only speak when they are drunk."
"What about Swedish guys? You're always complaining about them."
"Yes, that's true for the older ones--like my father. But the modern generation are as emotional as Italians compared to the Finns."
So I was like, "Well, the Mothership is part-Finnish, like Jessica Lange. I guess that explains my obsession with the Kalevala."
But then Chris was like, "Nobody in Finland cares about the Kalevala anymore, except on role-playing MUDs. They learn about it in high school still, I think, but to them it is boring. Besides it isn't really so authentic as the Estonian version, you know, because that one wasn't just made up from old songs and stories--so it has more structure, like a fairy-tale."
"Thanks!" I said. I was impressed. I guess I thought she'd lost interest in all that stuff. "I'll check it out at the Library of Congress next week."
We did a drive-by back to DC through Delaware, which, I explained to Christina, had originally been settled by Swedes (that's why there are Swedish flags all over Rehoboth). In high school, I always used to get lost taking Route 404 and inevitably would end up taking some long crazy tour of spooky rural ghettoes, but now the highway is much better marked, and everything's been gentrified anyway. So instead of little roadside markets selling fresh peaches and corn, all you pass now are Burger Kings and huge farmlands growing sod-grass for all the local housing construction. Chris had brought along some CDs to play and hooked me up with Rammstein and Melotron (which I liked, since I speak fluent German) and Covenant and Nightwing (which I didn't so much.)
The Mothership didn't much take to Leminkainen, either, in spite of his Finnish name. A few days after Chris flew back home, she bitched me out because I had him sitting in the old wooden rocking-chair in my bedroom. She was all like, "'I let out a little yelp every time I walk in this room, Hope. I keep thinking a strange man is sitting here, and it's about to give me some kind of heart attack. Besides, it's not normal for you to keep a big doll in your bedroom who resembles your father. It's disturbing.'
"Huh? What are you talking about, Mom? He doesn't look like Dad!"
"Oh for Heaven's sake--you've even dressed him in some of your father's old clothes! And while you're at it, do something about your hair." The Mothership was obsessed with my hair--sometimes she would start trimming it or messing around with it in front of company (though that wasn't as bad as poking at my zits!). But where the dummy was concerned, she was just projecting--which to be fair, seems to be what most women do with Safe-T-Man, judging from the websites. You know, inventing an imaginary set of qualities and assuming they're there inside a man's suit of clothes--or his black T-shirt-- just because you want them to be. I'd sort of been doing it myself, I guess. And when you think about it, we do that a lot with real guys, too. I certainly did with William. So I deflated poor Leminkainen and put him in the closet. Which is pretty much the fate the Mothership would wish on any man living in her house. How she raised two fairly normal sons is beyond me.
But just a few days after that something happened that made me forget all about William and Safe-T-Man and even my trip to Finland for awhile. I met a guy. And he was cute--he looked kind of like Leo DiCaprio but with black hair and big brown eyes--and he was nice, and most important of all, he was like my age.
Actually, I'd kinda sorta been seeing him around ever since I'd moved back from Chicago, because he went to my gym. He never seemed to swim or do crunches--or take off the big black 'Danger Mouse' T-shirt he always wore, but he spent a lot of time on the running machines and looked pretty fit. Plus he always had a really sweet look on his face. That's what I noticed most about him. Then the day after the convo with the Mothership and the banishment of Leminkainen (in the myth he is banished from Finland, so goes off and lives for years on a magical island across the ocean where he has sex with hundreds of women, which beats a closet), I ran into him at Magruder's. Literally, because I actually hit him with my shopping cart, like in a French comedy where the two lovers 'meet cute'.
"Oh, you shop here too?" I said, turning my usual fire hydrant red. Doh!
"Uh, no, actually, I work here," he said, with that sweet smile of his. "Part-time. Sometimes."
I decided to go all witty and charming on him. "Oh," I said, showing him no mercy. Devastating, huh? This is why men drink champagne from my slippers.
"Hi, I'm Hope," I said. (Hey, give me some credit--at least I got that right!)
Then he was like, "Actually, this is just a day gig for me--I really play drums in a band: 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. And vocals." I guess I looked pretty blank (to be honest I thought he was talking about some kind of store promotion), because he said it again. "'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. That's the name of my band? You should come hear us sometime." And so, of course, that gave him the perfect excuse to come up to me at the gym that Friday and ask me to be his guest at some set they were playing downtown that night. Which I did. Then the next night we went clubbing on U Street with his almost totally silent friends (maybe they were Finns--if so, they didn't drink enough beer), then the following weekend he asked me out on something that was almost like a real date which featured a real meal at an actual restaurant ('Thaiphoon'). And for all that week in between it felt so utterly, deliciously, wishfully thinkingly cool to feel like I had a chance at a real actual relationship, that I started to think maybe I was crazy to go off to Finland for six weeks (two to be spent with Chris in Sweden). I mean, if anything was gonna kill the natural progression of things, that would certainly be it. Maybe I should cancel. Maybe this whole Finnish mythology thing was just an infantile fixation. This at least was what was going through what I laughingly call my brain when we were on our way from Thaiphoon to his place near Logan Circle. When I say 'his', of course, I mean his group house.
'Group house' should have been my first warning signal.
And then came the second. We were sitting on his sofa (OK, duvet, it probably folded out to be his bed, like Quagmire's on Family Guy) and suddenly he was like, "Wanna see my tattoos?" And, still smiling, he took off his 'Danger Mouse' T-shirt. Underneath, he was completely covered in elaborate scrolling depictions of dragons and warriors and elfin script and stuff--it was pretty much like an ink and flesh-colored illustration from The Lord of the Rings. It made my eyes water to look at it. I guess he must have noticed the glazed look, because he said, "Don't worry, it was a joke. I'm into ironism."
"You know, like retro fashions, old TV shows. Even the name of our band is ironic. It's a quote--you think we'd be serious about something as huge as that?"
So I was like, "Oh, I see. So you were being ironic when you asked me if I wanted to see your tattoos..." Then I tried to explain--as unpedantically and non-harshly as I possibly could, I swear!--the principle of Occam's Razor to him. "So the only way you could have been being ironic is either A. if you hadn't taken your shirt off, or B. if you had actually had no tattoos."
"Whatever," Daniel said. "I use a Norelco." So now was he being ironic? I couldn't tell. But hey, he was still really lovely (even with his shirt off, though he was kind of pudgy) and still looked like DiCaprio, so I decided to forget all about logic--and razors. I realize that I'm usually, as Jo kindly puts it, a 'boring, silly twit', but I was determined that tonight there was truly gonna be a new Hope. Unfortunately, the third warning signal chose that moment to go off--in the form of a piercing Nirvana ringtone riff from his pocket. He pulled his cell-phone out, flipped it open, and then the smile that had remained plastered to his face all evening disappeared at last. "Hey, I gotta take this," he said and put his shirt back on. So I figured, OK, ex-girlfriend. Or maybe not so ex, who knew? But I wasn't gonna freak about it. After all, he'd put his shirt back on to talk to her. And I certainly wasn't gonna follow him around and eavesdrop or anything, either.
But as it turned out, I didn't need to. Because he didn't actually leave the room, he just walked over the dining alcove, which was furnished with stacks of dusty electronic equipment and an expensive-looking set of drums, and stood sort of hunched over with his back to me, as if I were deaf or something and therefore couldn't read his lips. His voice sounded pretty strange, too, like he was choking with anger but like trying to keep it down so I wouldn't overhear him--but since I obviously could, this made no sense at all either. And I can only describe his tone as 'intimate'--it was obviously someone he was comfortable enough with to be really p-ssed off at. Because he was all like, "I can't believe you're doing this--you know how important it is to me. You said you'd support me!"
Then a moment later: "We agreed you'd help me take a year off to pursue my dream!" Who was he talking to? His wife? "Because it happened again, that's why! Look you said you'd help me out by getting me on a really good plan--then last night I find out I'm like totally blocked! We had an agreement!" Was this about health insurance? Was he talking about COBRA payments after a divorce or something? Because by now he was having an eye-bulging, purple-faced fit like a cartoon character, actually screaming into his cell. However, his next words revealed all: "Look, Mom, I am basically phoneless here! Is that what you want? Because the calling plan you bought for me sucks! Sure I can call you, but I have basically zero long-distance minutes left over for any of my friends! So actually I have no phone at all in real terms! I have no phone! Is that what you want???"
While I listened to all this--like it was possible not to, even if I'd run out of his house with my hands over my ears--a number of thoughts crossed my mind. First, here was a guy who was actually a few years older than me--at the restaurant he'd told me he'd just had his 30th birthday a few weeks before--but was still a total mama's boy. Second, it was high time I started apartment-hunting for September so I could get the hell out of the Mothership's house and start acting my own age. Because there's such a thing as a 'mama's girl', too, and I didn't want to turn into one. And third, I was so going to Finland! After all, what could be more pathetic than hanging around DC just on the off-chance of drifting into some kind of undefined on again-off again relationship with a whiney, passive-aggressive big baby like Daniel?
Which was pretty ironic, too, as things turned out...