Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Scurge of My Life - Part 2

Back to the story.
This was not the first time that I had seen la cucaracha in my apartment. Unfortunately for me it was the second.
Flashback to 3 weeks after I’ve moved into my apartment. I have no furniture, very few possessions, but I am living in an apartment that I own. It is painted wonderful colors and I feel a comfort in it. I move through my apartment as master of my domain, king of the castle. I walk into the kitchen to the utter shock of seeing a cucaracha the size of a Hyundai on my kitchen counter. My arms instinctively shoot into my sides as though I just touched a scalding iron and I say aloud, “OOO GROSS!”
I am a statue of fear. If I were a sculpture my title would be “The Willies,” because that is what I have. I am frozen until la cucaracha makes a run for it. Then I REALLY lose my shit. I run for a weapon.
I grab my dust mop with the 5 foot retractable handle (macho right?) and by this time this son of a bitch has run behind a dish. I’ve never seen another creature run this fast. He is not a cucaracha, he is the Flash. If there were a cucaracholympics he would win all of the medals. He is a tremendous athlete. He is Usain Bolt. He is the Michael Phelps of gross.
I can’t see the hidden beast, so I smack the counter with my mop. He darts out and runs toward me. I almost fall down backwards over myself trying to get away. He is charging at me. I grab a new weapon because I can’t kill him with a dust mop, I can only… dust him. He runs onto the floor. I grab my slipper (also very macho) and I raise it above my head as I imagine Moses held the 10 commandments above his head. (In a lot of ways I am like Moses, here to bring the commandments to this creature. Commandment number 1, thou shall not crawl on my kitchen counter. Commandment number 2, DIE you sonovabitch!)
I bring the slipper of justice down like I’m trying to ring the bell with a sledgehammer at a carnival game. BAM! The cucaracha has died a gruesome death. I am victorious. But now it is a bitter sweet victory, I have a permanent case of paranoid schizophrenia.
Here is what it is like to have seen la cucaracha in your apartment. You don’t trust anything. You want to glue everything closed, shut, sealed up completely. Nowhere is safe. You open every door with an 8 foot stick. You don’t get down on your knees for any reason because that might bring you within striking distance of la cucaracha. And lord knows that based on the size of these things, they probably carry switch blades and pepper spray. You want to dress in full medieval renaissance jousting armor.
I deduce that my intruder entered through the pipes under my sink. Keep in mind the fact that my kitchen is the size of a phone booth. It is claustrophobic to begin with. Add in the threat of foreign beasts, and it becomes suffocating. The last thing I want to do is spend more than 3 consecutive seconds in this room.
So I go to Home Depot (which is its' own kind of hell) and buy an expanding foam to fill up the cracks. Before I can even enter my kitchen I smack the walls and shout to alert any unwanted guests that I am coming hoping they won’t jump out at me.
I am on my hands in the cabinets under my sink and knees filling cracks with expanding stuff and then covering that with 4 layers of duct tape. The whole time my heart is pounding and I am literally dripping sweat. My head is on a constant swivel. Where is he? Where does he come from? Is he close? Oh my god I want out of this kitchen, GET ME OUT OF THIS KITCHEN!
This security system I am creating just seems useless. He’s so tiny yet so large. I have no idea how to stop him.
In fact, I would rather see a tiger in my apartment. A fully grown Bengal tiger with teeth and claws. Even if I walked into my apartment wearing a suit made entirely of antelope meat, and there was a tiger perched on my couch I would be less afraid than seeing la cucaracha in the middle of my living room. Because a tiger, you know “oh ok, this tiger is going to kill me, that’s fine.” With la cucaracha, all you know is you will be creeped out for as long as you are alive. Oh la cucaracha is cunning.
So flash forward to present day. I am standing over my tub with a twitching Barry Bonds. I contemplate letting him just slowly die until morning. But then I imagine the god awful thought of waking up the next morning and finding the tub empty and the panic that would follow. I can’t even imagine what I’d do. Actually I do know, I would set my apartment on fire and leave the country.
So I must assassinate Barry Bonds. But no hand to hand combat. I go and get my swiffer mop. And from 4 feet away I precisely and violently attempt to sever him in half.
I do not sever him, I only crush him some.
And he twitches some more.
And I cry.
I stab him about… 39 more times. He never REALLY stops twitching. So I grab a dust pan and sweep him into it while swearing and shivering like the weenie that I am. It takes me another 4 minutes to get him into the dustpan because I don't want to accidentally fling him at myself and suffer a heart attack. After I succeed in corralling him, I walk with him at arms length to bedroom where I promptly throw him out my 6th story window. My pulse drops, my body relaxes. The scoreboard is Richard 2, Cucarachas 0.
And yet, I do not feel like I have won because this always happens just when you’re feeling safe. But now I can never feel safe. In my daily life, I am very paranoid of bugs. If a leaf lands on my neck, I freak out. Loose thread in my shirt? I shriek like a girl. My blood pressure has been permanently elevated to record setting heights.
Alas I can do nothing for now, so if you’ll excuse me I have to return to the fortress of solitude. Otherwise known as a thin jersey sheet hiding a very terrified 25 year old boy in a queen sized bed. God I wish I were a man.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Scurge of My Life - Part 1

There is an enemy among us. He is a patient and dangerous combatant. He knows not the meaning of the word quit. He will not cease. He will come forth with all the anger and the fury he can muster. He is deadly, he is terrifying. He is… La Cucaracha.
It was a slightly cooler than average summer night in Queens, NY. With windows open the breeze is relaxing and cleansing. I am mulling around my apartment shirtless and barefoot as any man is allowed to do in his own home. I watched some Olympic diving, listened to a record entitled “The Best of Bread” and I was feeling okay. I have nothing on my mind but the sheer fabulosity of my life. I walked from my living room into my bathroom and my heart stops because what do I see in the bathtub but a god damn tyrannosaurus rex.
And this isn’t some sort of petite dainty bug. This is a bug that has been to the gym. He is massive. This creeper is so big I swear he is on steroids. There is no way he got as big as he did eating trash and pipe mold. No, this bug has been juicing. In fact I started to refer to him as Barry Bonds.
I am frozen. I am petrified. I can’t think of a single good idea. Never mind the fact I am 37 times bigger than the Barry Bonds in my bathtub, and weigh a trillion times more, I am still terrified. And something about being without a shirt makes me feel even more vulnerable. Barry Bonds is lying on his back in my bathtub. He looks a little bit like he is relaxing, with his too many legs in the air. Like he’s saying “Ah yes, this tub will do.” But my better judgment tells me he is at least wounded, so I have a chance to defeat him.
My weapon of choice is not one of violence or physical force. No, this calls for chemical warfare. I go to my closet and grab a bottle full of borax, a known cucaracha killer… and I pour it on him. Not a spoon-full or a heaving spoon-full, I bury him. Die! Dehydrate! Suffocate!
And do you know how Barry Bonds responds? HE FRIGGING KICKS HIS LEGS! As if to say “Oo hehe that tickles you silly topless giant!” Every hair on my body stands up and I shiver. I am so far beyond grossed out I can’t even handle it.
I throw more borax on him. And then I do a lap around my apartment putting it everywhere. There is no crack or crevice I do not investigate. The way I was throwing borax around my apartment you would have thought I was fumigating for Jabberwockies.
I went from relaxed and mellow on a cool summer night to a constant state of alert. The casa of cool breezes had been infiltrated by the KGB. Killer Gross Bugs. They had sent forth a scout and he had reached the inner sanctum of my…sanctum. What was I going to do? How would I fend them off? They had found my favorite room to be naked in.
The whole scenario makes me so paranoid. I can never relax. Every piece of dust becomes an ant. Every fuzz becomes a baboon with a shotgun. Nothing makes sense. Everything is a bug. There is no thing in your apartment that could not be a bug. This is not the cold war. This is the Vietcong, the French and Indian war, Sparta. It is every horrible terrible gross bloody destructive epic battle in history taking place 1 soldier at a time… in my bathtub. It is hell.
The cucaracha does not fall for those tiny little “Raid” traps. When I first moved in I put down about… 92 as a preemptive strike. You know those commercials where the cartoon bugs see the traps and spontaneously explode? Not true. Barry Bonds is no cartoon. In fact Barry Bonds is so enormous that there is no way he could fit in those traps. He probably uses those traps as toilets before he goes to wreak havoc on the rest of my apartment. This makes me sad, I could have had put out 92 ham sandwiches in my apartment. Do you know why? Because those don’t kill the cucaracha either!
So there I am shirtless in the bathroom. I have no restitution. I have no power over this gross piece of grossness. All I can do is stare at it with as much hate and sweat as I can muster. That doesn’t make me feel any better. So I call Barry Bonds an asshole. That doesn’t make me feel any better either. I’m paralyzed. This upside down KGB agent is ruining my night.
Lord knows I’m not going to sleep now. I’m going to lay in bed with karate type alertness and the sheet pulled up to my nostrils, as though it is some impenetrable force field against the cucaracha. Like somehow, if no skin is exposed, I will be safe.
How can I be safe? This 12 legged trash eater has survived millions of years. MILLIONS. Some people think that dinosaurs turned to birds. I don’t think so. I think they just shrunk down infinitely until they became cucarachas and that’s why their still alive. They are highly evolved. Do you know they can live for a month without food? I can’t make it until noon without a snack, and this guy could have ruined lives all over the city by then.
I hate you cucaracha, do you know that? I HATE YOU!
To Be Continued…

Sunday, August 17, 2008

You Get What You Don't Pay For

I decided to buy a home entertainment center for my apartment. I am trying to become a man and this seems like an important step in doing so. I’ve actually had a television for the last month but I have been too lazy to go get the cord to get reception. And since the Olympics were coming up I figured it would be cool to watch the Olympics in surround sound.

I needed assistance in my purchase. I selected a store called PC Richard. I figured since my name is Richard, surely a store called Richard would mean great things. Actually what it means is the people in that store know about as much about electronics as I do. Which is to say they know nothing about electronics.

I flag down a gentleman who seems only too eager to be of assistance as he pushes past another man eating a chocolate ice cream cone to help me. This should have been my first sign that this guy was clueless. Guy (whose name I didn’t catch because I couldn’t take my eyes off the baffled look on his face) really does not know how to help me.

We are staring at a wall of multiple entertainment systems, none of which are in my price range. None of them look new. In fact, a few of them look broken. After some back and forth, it is obvious Guy couldn’t tell the difference between a subwoofer and a Subaru.

Guy goes over to talk to another employee who is standing behind some HD TV blasting Shrek II. I can’t hear what he is saying but I imagine he is repeating all of the questions I just asked him. He is speaking for a minute before the other employee responds and says a bunch of stuff to him. Guy, then turns to me and says, “Oh… get it?”

Do I get what? I’m standing in front of a 94 inch TV with a giant green ogre screaming a Scottish accent through my brain. What the hell could I possibly get except that? So I nudge past Guy to the wizard behind the TV so he can tell me what I need to know. He knows things, and tells Guy to bring me back to the wall of broken toys. So we go there, stare at stuff, and I tell him it’s all too expensive. (I don’t tell him the truth which is that I wouldn’t trust this guy to sell me a jelly donut)

He asks me if there is anything else I need. Reluctantly, I decide to tell him that I need a cable to plug into the wall so I can get reception in my TV. Again, he’s baffled. I thought that sentence was pretty clear. Not so much. I have to explain it to him 3 more times, each time using a different combination of hand motions and nouns that I don’t know the meaning of because I know nothing about electronics. And apparently, this guy only speaks English, he doesn’t comprehend it.

He finally brings me to the area where the cables are and shows me a black 50 foot cable for 19 dollars and a white 50 foot cable for 16 dollars. I ask him what the difference is. He tells me it’s just probably mislabeled. Yea right. I really trust you. For all I know I’ll buy the cheaper one and bring it home only to find out it’s a dynamite fuse and I’ll blow my apartment all the way to wherever the hell Shrek lives.

So I tell Guy, there must be some differentiating factor as there is a 3 dollar difference. It’s in black and white… literally. So Guy stares at the packages for a minute and then says to me, “Umm, you can ask Ron… do you know Ron?”

Do I know Ron? Oh yea Ron, of course, we go way back. We actually go bowling on Tuesday nights. NO I don’t frigging know Ron. Do you know why? Because this isn’t god damn Cheers!

If it was, your name would be Woody, I’d have a beer in my hand, and Dr Frasier Crane would pipe up and answer all of my questions.

So I point to a man on the floor plugging cables into a TV. I think since he hasn’t electrocuted himself yet, maybe he is intelligent. So I ask Guy, “Is this Ron?” Guy responds, “Oh…uh… sure you can ask him.”

What? Oh I don’t care. I talk to floor employee. Floor employee tells me the cables are exactly the same. I ask why the price difference. He ponders that for a second and says it must be a mistake. I don’t trust him either.

I go back to the first non-idiot employee who helped me. He reads both packages and tells me it’s probably just a pricing difference. Him I believe. Third times a charm.

So I take my package to the counter and the nice lady rings me up. She tells me the price is $18.50. I count my dollars, “Ah hell I don’t have enough I have to use my card” I said. She asks me how much I have, I tell her 16 dollars, she scrunches her face, looks at her register and asks me if I have a quarter. I give her one. She lets me have my cable for $16.25. SCORE!

I take the cable home, unroll it, go to plug it in and realize… I don’t have the correct adapter. So I just threw it on the floor and stared out the window instead. I think I’ll just pretend to have TV instead. And that way I don’t even have to pay for cable. Brilliant.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spoon Man

How much is too much? Is there such a thing as adequately prepared? Do we really need to be ready to handle all situations that may arise, or is that a completely unfathomable existence? I thought about all of these existential questions as I stood in my kitchen in my underwear looking in my utensil drawer.

I have too many spoons in my apartment, way too many. I actually don’t even know how many I have. It wasn’t my idea to have all of these spoons. I inherited all of my parent’s dishware and cutlery when they sold the house. I am grateful for this because I had no desire to spend any money on kitchen supplies. If it were up to me I’d probably be using plastic ware I stole from a McDonald’s.

However I come from a family of 4 people that entertained large groups quite regularly. We often needed spoons (and forks and knives) in great numbers. We owned a dishwasher and a set of formal silver. We had a dining room that held over a dozen people on more than one occasion. We used our flatware quite frequently.

But I live alone. I have no dishwasher. I barely have a kitchen. I most certainly don’t have a dining room table, and I actually don’t even have a kitchen table. And on top of that all I have like… four friends. My life is simple and quiet. There is no need for me to have an entire drawer full of spoons.

I can’t even hold onto them for an emergency. What emergency could possibly require a drawer full of spoons? Some sort of horrible oatmeal disaster that strikes my apartment? I don’t know any of my neighbors, so it’s unlikely any of them would come banging on my door in a time of need;

“I’m having a gazpacho party and I’m completely unprepared! Can I borrow 38 spoons?”

Not so much.

Aristotle once said, “Show me his spoons, and the man I shall know.” Okay actually I just made that up. If owning spoons was an indicator of some sort of social standing I should be beating the women off with a stick (or a serving spoon as it were). But this is not the case. My spoons contribute nothing to my social standing.

Seeing as my kitchen is smaller than most elevators, I really don’t know how I could find use for more than one cutting board, but alas, I have three. I don’t have that much to cut. And I may be revealing too much yet again, but sometimes if I make myself a piece of chicken for dinner, I don’t feel the need to slice it up on the cutting board. I just put it on the fork and take bites out of it like a chicken lollipop. Mmm chicken lollipop.

My parents also bestowed upon me 10 cereal bowls. Now I like cereal, I might even eat it every single day. But 10 bowls? I don’t even have a dishwasher. So I can only use so many cereal bowls without hand washing them before they start getting stacked up in my sink like the Leaning Tower of Gross.

And don’t even get me started on pots and pans. Pending I start getting really interested in pan art, or join the cast of STOMP I don’t think I’m going to use most of them. I have been in this apartment almost four months and I have used two different pans. I tried to use a third this past weekend and burnt four DIFFERENT pieces of chicken. I’m a two-pan man. That’s just the type of guy I am.

Come to think of it, and this isn’t even an exaggeration, I just counted and I have nearly 70 glasses in my apartment. That one I can’t even blame on my parents. That was my own doing. After bartending for over three years, I have acquired quite a diverse array of glassware, most of which I will never use.

If this writing thing doesn’t work out, I could always be one of those guys in Central Park who plays songs on glasses half-filled with water. Making glasses “sing” is what I believe the technical term is. But the market for glassware music these days is extremely competitive. And I’m just not that committed to it.

But what super cedes all of these eating implements as the most ridiculous thing, is that I am afraid to get rid of any of them. A fork saved is a fork earned? Maybe. But I think I hate the idea of throwing out something perfectly useful. I hate being wasteful, and as I am so spoiled as to have way too many eating tools, perhaps I should just be grateful. Ask not what your knife drawer can do for you; ask what you can do for your knife drawer.

If I tried to take 20 glasses to Goodwill, I’d probably smash them all before I got there. I just don’t care enough to put them on craigslist. I’ll most likely just develop the habit of being very careless so I get to use all of my glasses. And if I go to a Jewish wedding you can bet your ass I’m going to be prepared.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some spoons to wash.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Life Is a House

We will all say a million goodbyes in our lifetimes. We will say goodbye to places and things, jobs and possibilities. Some of them will be easier than others. However, the hardest thing is almost always saying goodbye to your firsts. Be it your first bicycle or your first love, something about it being the first makes it infinitely harder. It's as though that person or thing had some early intimate knowledge of who you were and are because they were there for the beginning.

I said goodbye to the home I grew up in last week. It was the first and only home my family ever knew. The place where a girl became a woman, a boy became a man, and a couple became a family — it was more than a childhood home. It was my family's home. And despite the fact that we no longer have keys to 24 Redwood Road, it will always be my family's home.

It took so long for my parents to sell the house that I honestly came to wonder if it was ever going to happen. I remember them putting the sign out on the lawn just as I was starting to look for my own apartment. It seemed scary and kind of unnerving that strangers would soon be walking through my house trying to decide if it lived up to their standards. I would sit on the couch avoiding eye contact as they walked through and made comments. But all I really wanted to do was scream "GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOUSE, YOU DON'T DESERVE IT!"

Our house had no flaws, only wonderments. It all seems kind of ironic considering I spent so much effort trying to leave it. Going across the country for college, and moving out just a couple of months ago. I try to put every aspect of my house into the context of my daily life. I think, whether or not realize it, I seek to recreate the type of feelings I got from experiencing my life through the different rooms in my house.

Saying goodbye to your childhood home feels a lot like saying goodbye to a vault. There are so many things that are locked up within the walls of that house, more than anybody could ever imagine.

It was the only constant that made it through family photos, sadness, cancer, Little League, puberty, Easter, remembered birthdays, forgotten birthdays, fires, floods, break-ins, sneak-outs, surprise parties, 3 a.m. phone calls, records, tapes, and DVDs. It saw blackouts, proms, and emotional breakdowns. It saw it all, absorbed it all. It never asked a single question and never refused a single request. It was a second skin, a blanket of love that I was constantly wrapped in. We all were.

Even now as I feel the heat behind my eyes, I didn't expect to feel the sense of loss that I did when I walked out of that house for the last time. I knew the day was coming when I would have to say goodbye.

It was like watching a dark cloud approaching from off in the distance. I knew it would arrive, but it was just a matter of when. But it didn't feel real. Kind of the way you know your mom is going to tell you that playtime is over and it’s time to get inside before it starts to rain. But as those weeks turned into days and the days turned into hours, I could feel the change. The ending came quick and startling, like those thunderstorms in the summer that flooded our lawns.

I tried to say goodbye to my home. As I did my last lap around the house, not knowing exactly what I was doing, I would point to spots around the house and try to recall a memory. I could have done it for weeks. But reliving a thousand memories there would not have made it easier to leave. Dare I say it would have made it infinitely more difficult?

I have this thing I do with cards people send me. After I’ve held on to them for a certain period of time, and before I throw them out, I kiss them. I’m not sure why I started doing it, but it felt wrong to throw something away without giving it some sort of affection, some sort of a thank-you.

So that’s what I did with my house. I walked around the house and kissed a wall in every room. Even as I write this I know it sounds ridiculous. It was just a thing, a pile of wood and stone and glass and paint. But I didn’t know how else to say goodbye.

I wanted that house to know that I loved it. That I was so grateful for every tear it had absorbed, for every scream it had ignored or acknowledged. That for as many things that I broke, scratched, scraped, or dented, whenever I felt broken, scratched, scraped or dented I could always find refuge in that house. I could always find sleep in that house. And I would never feel as loved, as absolutely cosmically loved as I did in that house.

And I suppose that is all any of us can ever hope for in our lives — to come from a place so absolutely saturated with love that anything less than that seems completely unsatisfactory. I know that I am lucky that two such wonderful people chose to create a beautiful family in a big white house on a quiet street in Suburbia. And as I do not get to play a part in the future of 24 Redwood Road, its past is forever locked up inside my heart, constantly reminding me of all that I have and all that I am lucky to be.