It’s always hard to find your niche.
And as Andy and I traverse this big, crazy city, we’re trying to strike a balance between professional and personal–that lovely dynamic that, if just slightly off, can throw a big heap of shit into a Vornado blowing our way.
Still, we try.
And know that we’ll figure out what to do and what not to do. Where to go and where to avoid. Who we are and who we want to be.
And as I’m literally flipping back through chapters of my life, I’m stumbling upon some pretty interesting reminders of what was important then, and how I made light of missing the mark more than once.
Because, at some point, we’re all throwing darts in the dark.
And sometimes, we hit the bullseye.
Excerpt from The Graduate School Diaries, 2006-2007
Crying in the dark, I suddenly realize the only way I’ll make it through the last hundred pages of Dialectic of Enlightenment is if I have a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels close at hand.
Otherwise, I’ll gouge out my eyes.
The occasional, inspirational I can do it! just isn’t helping me sift through the hundreds upon hundreds of pages of seminar reading tonight.
I need help.
Especially after catching my reflection in my Art Deco vanity’s mirror.
Coupled with Droopy-like bags under my eyes, my haphazardly grown stubble complements my stained sweatshirt, grey sweatpants, and the pièce de résistance: a sock-flip-flop combo.
I epitomize Graduate Student on the Edge.
Skittering from my room like a roach from Raid, I grab my keys and sprint out to my frost-covered car. I can almost taste the salty-sweetness.
But as my windshield defrosts, a terrifying thought crosses my mind: What if someone sees me?
My stomach dismisses such nonsense with a wave of a phantom hand, and I reassure myself that the chances of seeing anyone cute or interesting at Harris Teeter at 10:00 on a Saturday night are slim to none.
Slim to none.
Driving the short distance, I turn on NPR and listen to The Nutcracker Waltz ooze out of the speakers. Its holiday-tinged jingle always makes me think of sweet things. Especially chocolate.
I accelerate, make a few turns, then pull into a space.
The parking lot is a bit more crowded than I thought it’d be. Still, my sweet tooth is horribly controlling.
“Go on, they’re all at China Buffet. You know you want those pretzels,” it sings from the back of my mouth.
And immediately regret my decision.
The entrance doors close behind me.
And I’m left, dumbfounded. (And talking to myself.)
When in the hell did Saturday night become Mo Night at Harris Teeter?
Flushed with shame and sweat, I dart behind a shelf of baguettes. From there, I watch in agony as droves of gay men and their painfully attractive partners sashay to and fro, gingerly dropping Silk, Kashi cereal, and vegetables into their carts.
The only thing that’d be gayer would be a gaggle of them exchanging guffaws and laughing at Mother’s Day cards.
“Look at this one! Mom will just love it!”
Then, like realizing you’re wearing hot dog shoes at a weiner dog convention, it hits me: Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.
I panic. At any moment the Fab Five will pop out from behind an apple bin and immediately revoke my gay card. Unable to speak, Carson will point to my clothes and collapse into Kyan’s chest.
But I can’t stay behind the baguettes forever. I take a breath and step out into full view.
“Get this Party Started” doesn’t skip off track, and no one drops their Rice Dream.
I charge for the pretzels, all the while quietly humming “Beautiful”—the beginning’s “don’t look at me” line being painfully poignant.
But as I mentally belt out “I AM BEAUTIFUL, NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY!” and pass a cabbage display, he turns the corner and comes right toward me: He who rides the bus and to whom I never work up the gumption to speak.
My heart lifts when there’s visible, momentary recognition on his part. But my cat lady attire contorts his smile into a grimace. He looks away.
My face burns as bright as Rudolph’s goddamned nose.
My pretzel order doubles. Almost there.
By the time I see the Buy One, Get One Free! sticker beneath the pretzels, I don’t give a damn and scream a little. Because, by now, I’ve acknowledged that I might as well have a sign plastered to my forehead reading, “Desperate? So am I! Grab a bag!”
While I stand on my tip-toes to pilfer the last few bags from the top row, I can only think about running to the nearest self-checkout.
But then I realize I have to get a Mother’s Day card.
Detouring a few aisles over, I scan the selection. I channel my inner magpie, reach for the brightest, most metallic card possible and cringe at the oh-so-perfect, saccharine sentiment inside. With the Technicolor Raincoat Card and two massive pretzel bags now in-hand, I head to the registers.
But then, like some well-orchestrated ballet version of musical chairs, all of the gorgeous couples begin making their way to the checkout counters en masse.
Must. Go. Now!
After scanning my spoils, I halfway expect the receipt to print out an extra message next to my VIC Card Savings that reads: “Pathetic. Good luck with all that.”
But I have no time for such an automated dis. Asparagus, extra-virgin olive oil, salmon steaks, and Tofuti-Cuties are being scanned on neighboring registers.
More importantly, I begin to feel the stares, hear what sound like gasps from the gays who’ve nearly lost hold of their Edamame Crisps upon seeing me there alone—fluorescent Mother’s Day card in one hand, two bags of chocolate-covered pretzels in the other.
I snatch my receipt and retreat to the welcoming, nonjudgmental darkness outside.
I don’t bother turning on my apartment lights, and rip into both bags, smothering my sorrows with enough sodium to make a salt-lick block blush.
Still, it’s hard not to wax philosophical in moments like these. So I ask myself, Should I take Mo Night as a sign that the Culture Industry works in mysterious ways, to perpetuate stereotypes and alienate others?
Instead, I resolve never to go hungry again, provided that, next time, I’ll shave, rest up, and wear something suitable when I venture back there.
Where the homosexuals roam.
Where I want to be.