Oil. Black gold. Texas jitterbug juice. It seems like in today’s society, all of us are greatly effected in almost invisible ways by this sludge, whether it makes us yell at coworkers because, “The price of gas went up another 4 cents! It used to be cheaper than cola in my day! Grumble grumble gr!” or simply because we can’t live without imported mangoes year round. But for some of us, the effect isn’t just in the back of our heads; it is always palpable. One of these places where the entire landscape has been changed drastically because of recently accessible oil is in eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
Otherwise known as Murder Alley.
Murder Alley is a term my friend, Hannah, and I invented right before we were embarking on a road trip through the region. See, it turns out that when an oil boom starts, a lot of young men with few or no family ties go where the money is. This influx of young men means there will be a lack of women, children, and elderly permanent citizens who actually care about establishing a community. It’s basically like the cast of Animal House, only replace John Belushi with a disgruntled guy that works out all day and has no real incentive to be decent.
And thus we have the term Murder Alley (alternatively, you could call it Rape Lane, Arson Road, or Pushing-Old-Ladies-Down-Wells Boulevard).
As you could guess, my friend and I were super excited to go through there.
I was going to visit my then boyfriend in Fargo-Moorhead (Moorhead is the town in Minnesota that’s basically integrated into Fargo) — because long distance relations were in vogue back then, and I always stay trendy — and my friend was visiting family in Bismarck, so we both had great conviction when we embarked on this journey. We had a plan: we’d drive for nine or so hours, I’d drop her off, and then I’d complete the last two or three hours alone. Nothing could go wrong!
Unfortunately, apparently there was nothing good on cable that day, so God/Gaia/His Supreme Lord Spaghetti Monster decided it wouldn’t be that simple.
Five hours into the trip, we entered the outskirts of this aforementioned Murder Alley when my oil light mysteriously came on. My friend and I pulled over off the side of the road, which happened to be next to a dead end running perpendicular to the highway. Because we had left after work, it was already pitch black by then. Stars illuminated the sprawling plains eastern Montana and North Dakota are so famous for, a chill immediately hitting us as we exited the car. Hannah and I bundled up against the brisk Montana winter air and went out to check the oil level, but as I took out the dipstick Hannah whispered something.
“Greg,” Hannah quietly muttered next to me, warily looking behind us.
“Hrm?” I asked nonchalantly, focused on getting this done with as soon as possible.
Out of the corner of my sight I noticed her eyes wide as small cookies (which are, you know, wider than most eyes). “There’s a car there.”
I turned around, confused, when I saw it: forty feet from us, dimly illuminated by my headlights, was a dark car. No one stirred within it, no noise coming from the ghostly vehicle. In a time when you hear rumors of uncouth people feigning help only for their scraggly gang buddies to lunge out at potential helpers and steal their vehicles, seeing this deserted car off the side of the street seemed like an omen of doom — especially in a place we’d jokingly said would result in our untimely deaths. So Hannah and I did the only natural thing and pissed ourselves.
“Fuck shit!” I yelled as I put the dipstick back in and closed the hood, bolting back into the driver’s seat. Hannah was already in the passenger’s side, having deftly translated my exclamation of terror into its intended signal to flee.
We drove off back into the highway, catching our breath and trying to avoid cardiac arrest, when I noticed an acrid smell in the air.
“Do you smell that?” I asked my companion.
“Uhh, yeah,” she weakly said, her adrenaline beginning to pump again after it’s 4 second reprieve.
Before we could exchange anymore commentary, I noticed something else: ebony smoke, billowing forth from the front of my car. Quickly following this succession of terrible smell and terrible sight was a terrible sound, as my car’s engine imitated a dying hoard of kittens, a series of hissing mewls and grunts escaping its metal maw. The car stopped accelerating and I pulled off the side urgently, Hannah yelling a string of expletives rivaled only by Game of Thrones dialogue.
On account of the smoke, potential burning, and barely-avoided dismemberment, we forewent leaving our seats and checking the hood once more, opting instead to simply call a truck to take us to the nearest town (or maybe it’s more appropriate to call it a village), Glendive. Then we waited.
We waited in my car for three hours, and it was quite apparent that, with my car’s engine going super nova, that we wouldn’t reach North Dakota anytime soon, much less our destinations past Murder Alley. So when the truck came, with a jovial, stereotypically small town driver, we had him take us to a hotel that still used faxes as their primary form of electronic communications. We restlessly fell asleep, ready to spring awake and defend ourselves from rapscallions at any moment.
The next morning we waited as Hannah’s father came for us, and Murder Alley was almost behind us by midday. But when we finally got to Bismarck, I looked for another way to Fargo, only to discover the buses between Bismarck and Fargo were cancelled due to one of the blizzards so common in the area.
It seemed like I was doomed to fail, and my entire trip had been in vain. In fact, not only had I inadvertently blown up my mom’s car’s engine, but I was now almost-certainly stranded in Bismarck as the sixth wheel in my friend’s family get together. There remained one chance at salvation, though: two friends who lived in Fargo-Moorhead. I pleaded with them, begged them, to come and bring me back to Fargo, despite the danger. Ah yes, infatuation truly makes people super smart and selfless.
They acquiesced, persuaded by my pitiful cries and offer to buy them dinner at a North Dakota staple, Space Aliens — basically Pizza Palace from Toy Story. After dinner, we set off into the raging blizzard, and I look back thankfully that I was blinded by love’s rosy shades, ’cause otherwise I would’ve been blind with pure terror.
If you desperately need to make a bowel movement, I suggest you drive through a blizzard in North Dakota. There are few times of extended horror that match driving in a North Dakota blizzard, where spectral semis appear next to you as you glide down the highway, only becoming visible as you get so close you could reach out and touch them. The flat plains of North Dakota turn into a never ending, time-sucking vortex during a storm, where the road seems to continue on and on forever. There are no turns, no stops, just a line that, after hours of silent snowfall, seems to extend infinitely.
We managed to arrive in Fargo safely, and I was dropped off in front of my boyfriend’s door. There was a moment of tired ecstasy; despite the blizzard, and the car engine melting, and the ever present danger of being taken prisoner by maligned miners, I had gotten to where I needed to. Soon I would be in the arms of my love. I had escaped Murder Alley!
He broke up with me as soon as I saw him.
I walked down the street in Clinton Hill, my hopes low. My stomach gurgled familiarly, demanding ice cream in penance for putting my psyche through such torture. The light was fading as the sun set, twilight silence engulfing the neighborhood where neither man nor beast seemed to be awake. I studied the buildings and the streets with attentive disinterest, the same way you might look at that thousand dollar dessert in Manhattan, knowing it was probably delicious but that you would never taste it unless you seduced a rich widow. And in the back of my mind, I remembered being in this same position one year ago.
I strolled across the south side of Prospect Park, enjoying the view of autumnal leaves cascading around me. I was on my way to Sunset Terrace to view a three bedroom. The meeting was in a half hour, so I might arrive a bit early, but I knew it’d offer me the perfect opportunity to surround what was, I hoped, to be my future neighborhood.
I casually took my phone from my pocket, completing another neurotic check to make sure I had the right address and time. As I searched for the email, a new one from the very man I was about to meet loaded. Confused, I opened it hastily.
The message was brief: “Hey Greg, we found someone to fill the room. Good luck!”
Well, crap. I turned around.
As I turned the corned I quickly saw the building I was heading towards. A young man in his 20’s was adjusting the blinds as I peered up, and our eyes met for a moment. He waved like he knew me as more than someone answering a Craigslist ad, and I waved gingerly back, knowing if I let myself feel any form of enthusiasm my hopes and dreams will be as crushed as when I discovered Santa was a farce.
Moving to the door, I pressed the buzzer. I bit my lower lip in nervousness like a teenage girl who had been asked to prom by the most popular boy in school but suspected it was just a ruse to get covered in pigs’ blood.
A few moments later, the door opened to the the same friendly man from before. “Hey, Greg? Nice to meet you.”
As I walked up the stairs to the house in Astoria, I began dialing the number I was given. As it rang a girl went to the window and looked at me briefly, before turning around. Through the glass I could hear a muffled, “Shit! He’s here already!” Then she fled from my view as I stood, baffled.
I waited five minutes in the dark, confused by what had happened, a constant inner monologue about whether I should leave or not. As I began walking down the stairs in bafflement, the door opened. The same girl I had seen earlier greeted me. “Oh, hi, Greg? I’m sorry, I just noticed your call, my phone was off…”
She showed me the room, her words slurred and her footing wobbly, as three of her friends stood awkwardly in the kitchen, their voices a whisper as if they were afraid I was keeping track of what they were saying. As she took me back down the stairs into the living room she turned to me briefly and sputtered, “Okay, I have a confession; I’m a little wasted.”
Well, no duh.
“That’s fine,” I simply said. She stammered a bit more and introduced me to her friends who were also sloshed, and I feigned interest while mostly questioning my ability to get into these situations.
She turns to me and starts talking about the other guy who would be living there, and I feign interest as I prefer to actually meet someone. In her drunken stupor she insists on showing me his room even though he’s gone, and I appease her, fearing the wrath of a drunken event planner scorned.
She knocks on her roommate’s door briefly before opening the door. “Oops,” she happily stutters, a hiccup almost escaping her lips. She quickly closes the door of the other man who lives there and turns to me once more. “They’re in there.” I can only imagine what she saw.
At that point, I politely flee. A day later she offered me the place, but I decide I’d rather not live with the woman who seems to regularly get drunk on Tuesday and the guy who I first encountered when I almost walked in on him and his girlfriend.
“This is Phoebe, the other roommate,” the man explains as we enter the apartment on the second door, gesturing to a woman in her late 20’s eating a huge sandwich. She waves to me, her mouth full of meat and cheese.
The man, Josh, shows me my room, the bathroom, the living room, before we sit down with Phoebe. Everything is gorgeous, and, with the exception of my room being a bit small and lacking windows, it’s perfect. So perfect that I knew that, in the shadows, there must be something sinister lurking. There always is.
I sat in the apartment in Carroll Gardens, my legs going numb. The man on the couch with me continued talking, changing subjects like a stereotypical teenage girl debating what to wear. Four others stood in the room, too, listening to him talk, barely saying a word as they couldn’t keep up with his word diarrhea. Half of what he said wasn’t about the apartment or himself at all, but rather things like the pros and cons of Trader Joe’s or the effects of Celiac Disease.
As we were leaving, he somberly said, “What I’m looking for in a roommate is someone who is clean, nice, and, mostly, someone who can put up with my shit.” I turned without saying a word, knowing that I had no desire to handle anyone else’s shit.
Phoebe, Josh and I talked for 20 minutes — which might be about as much bonding as I did with my previous roommate after 3 months. Despite my gloomy nature at this process and the impending sense of doom I generally felt, I was actually hopeful.
We parted ways, both sides making it clear that we were interested in — to use as sterile of terms possible — interested in proceeding with this venture. I walked out the door, my heart uplifted at the prospect of living with sane people in a neighborhood I liked and an apartment that wasn’t haunted. I would hear back from them that night, they had said.
I waited for an email from the man in Prospect Heights, and when I opened it I was a little despondent; he said everyone he had shown had loved the apartment and a bidding war had erupted. But then, the silver lining; he had liked me more than any of them and would be happy to have me be his roommate if I would simply pay him $300 more per month than he had originally said I would.
I tensed, my reptilian brain slithering about, debating what to do. “$300 is a lot of money! … But it’s in Prospect Heights. But $300 is a lot of money! But he seemed cool. But $300 is a lot and this is probably me being a sucker. BUT I LIKE THE APARTMENT!”
In the end, I took the apartment, and my hunch that I had been a sucker was consistently reaffirmed. But that was coming to an end.
The email arrived 3 hours and 20 minutes after I had left. As it loaded my brain was in turmoil, a mix of fear, hope, hunger, anger, happiness, and zestiness clouding my thoughts.
The email started nicely enough, saying the pair had enjoyed meeting me and would like to have me as their new roommate but — at that word my stomach always lurches — their current roommate had decided to stay.
My head did a free fall onto the desk, my brain turning into a puddle of mush and seeping out of my ears, pooling into a formless mass in front of my face. After so many terrible run-ins I thought I had finally found freedom, only to be gunned down all the same.
And that’s why looking for an apartment makes me want ice cream.
This is a story of my experience working in the sponsor area of the Komen Greater NYC’s Race for the Cure. 110%. No embellishment. NOPE!
The participants came in hordes, ravenous after their run. They flocked about each table, gobbling up Tropicana from the north all the way to Skim Plus in the south, leaving not one cluster of Honey Bunches of Oats in their wake. Sometimes, they made the trek through multiple times, sating their appetites and filling their bags with epic loot.
I stood in the middle of the chaos. Not even my zipties — useless and unfamiliar to most of these people — were safe from the out pour of runners gaining their second wind.
During one brief respite of calm, I went to the privy, leaving my beautiful, blonde, Bond-girl of a coworker in charge of our tent, the Sponsor Concierge Table. When I returned, my bombastic companion greeted me, flustered, her bosoms heaving in a way I thoroughly noted but ignored.
“Greg,” she hissed, “This woman asked me to watch her bags!” Her voice was sultry and smooth, a slight drawl left from her southern roots that could lilt any man into a stupor unless he liked dudes like I do.
I looked at where she motioned and, indeed, saw three bags: a purse flanked by two Duane Reade bags that had been supplied for sponsor items. I knew enough to never look through a woman’s purse, lest I come across a hidden sand-snake or tampon, but I peered inside the two bags she had gotten from us and discovered a mess of food, including at least twenty bananas.
I pivoted to face my lustrous cohort once more, taking off my glasses in a dramatic way Laura Roslin would’ve been proud of. “I think she took this all from us.”
Before more needless exposition occurred, the woman in question waddled towards her bags. She was a mango shaped Asian woman in her 40’s. As she passed me and my partner, doing her best to ignore our presence, I questioned her, my voice strong and powerful like a Tahitian monsoon; “Ma’am, did you actually participate in the race.”
She looked at me furtively. Then she began priming her hoard for quick transport.
So that’s your game, wench? “Ma’am, did you actually participate in the race?” I repeated, my voice steely and cool, like the Terminator’s without that indiscernible accent. Again, she looked at me, a veneer of sweat forming on her bushy eyebrows.
I tried once more, putting on my friendliest intimidation face. “Ma’am, are you involved in the race at all?”
She knew she couldn’t ignore me any longer, so she finally responded. She looked at me, eyes glazed in fake confusion, and waved behind her. With a thick Chinese accent she uttered one word: “Husband.” I looked at her, my brow raising in a face that clearly illustrated What the frack she talkin’ about? Again, she gestured behind herself in a vague way and said, slightly more confidently, “Husband,” before meandering off as if in a stupor.
I regarded my companion. “Well, I guess she didn’t speak English very well.”
My sexy, voluptuous comrade looked at me gravely. “When she asked me to watch her bag she spoke English fine.”
I had been conned. That day I was had, grifted by the classic, “Take two or three bags worth of free stuff and then pretend I can’t speak English,” and had been powerless to stop it.
But I promise you this, Three Bag Lady: next year it’ll be different.
This isn’t awkward. This isn’t awkward. It isn’t awkward! I kept repeating the phrase to myself, the thoughts becoming louder and louder until my ears almost hurt, as my parents and my friends sat in our living room, eating sausages and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol (NOTE: for my family, one drink is excessive). I tried my hardest to will the not-awkwardness into reality, but — just like when I tried to will being Tina Fey’s long lost son to be true — nothing happened.
Outside, snow fell, blanketing our home, and making the scenery perfect for the day: it was Christmas Eve.
As we sat, chatting and imbibing, the lack of someone’s presence was easily noted. We pretended it wasn’t an issue, that there was nothing amiss, but we all knew the terrible truth; my brother should’ve been there. But he wasn’t.
I can’t believe this happened. That jerk. If only I had said something else. Oh, this terrible!… Oh well, I thought, mentally going through all five stages of grief in under 3 seconds.
My dad began to joke about something with my friend’s mother. What did he say? I don’t know, I was too distracted, but, knowing them, it probably involved feces, The Bachelorette, or blowing up fruit, because we are classy people.
A few minutes more passed, and then I heard footsteps coming upstairs. I looked expectantly, and it was him: the prodigal brother. He had returned, after 30 horrible minutes of uncertainty.
The last fateful time I had seen my brother was, as said, half an hour before. Upon seeing him I made an inquiry about the one request I had given him for the evening, and it set him fuming.
“What? You were serious!?” His arms came up like a comic book character, showing his frustration and disbelief.
“Um…. Yes.” I looked at him simply, perplexed at his confusion and shocked at such a dire reaction.
“I thought you were joking!”
“Um… No.” Again, I looked him up and down, one eyebrow raised in skepticism at this reaction. I saw the steam building up inside his body with nowhere for it to escape except through his mouth in loud bursts of frustration.
“You can’t do this! You can’t be serious! Greg, this is Christmas Eve, you can’t take over!” He bellowed all this at me, his indignation matched only by his incredible rate of speech.
My dad, hearing this (not unusual) level of volume and passion from my brother’s voice hurried over to resolve the conflict. Ah, my father, always the mediator; I knew I could rely on him. “What’s going on?” he asked, his voice serene as two sleeping kittens.
“Greg was serious earlier!”
My dad simply laughed. “Hah, no he wasn’t! Greg, you were joking, right?”
I looked at them both plainly, aghast at this turn of events. “Um… Nooo?”
Then my dad’s face, generally calm and kind, changed, as he too was filled with anger. “Greg, you can’t tell me what to do in my own house! I dress like this for meetings and I won’t let you tell me what to wear in my own house!”
My brother pointed one finger at me and poked me squarely in my chest, basically bowling me over because he was in good physical condition and I have the physique of a pudding cup. “Greg, you’re a Christmas dictator.” He decided he could no longer look at someone as atrocious as Kim Jong Un and went downstairs in a huff, never to be seen again (for 30 awkward minutes). My father called to him to come back, but his words fell on deaf ears. He looked at me once more, angry that I would make a request that so thoroughly destroyed our family, before returning to his work getting dinner ready.
All I could think about was the previous day’s phone call that sent this whole thing into motion.
“Hey Greg, can I bring anything tomorrow?”
“No, I’ve got the food covered. I was just wondering if you could wear something other than jeans so it’s a bit nicer.”
“Hah, right, okay. See you then.”
Yesterday I watched Pretty in Pink for the first time. I felt like I had to make a post about it — specifically, how I don’t get Hollywood depictions of high school. Or maybe I just don’t get anyone’s portrayal of high school because, deep down, I am an old person.
In Pretty in Pink, as with so many movies, there seem to be two categories everyone falls into: the popular, rich kids/jocks and everyone else. While the popular kids thrive in high school, the other groups — whether they be the nerds, the outcasts, the goths, the stoners, or the spastic creepy stalker guys (I’m looking at you, Jon Cryer) — lament high school and view it’s end as the beginning of their real lives. In fact, the de facto law in these movies is that the more a character likes high school the less you should care about them, and the more you should assume they will become unsuccessful, unfulfilled, and alcoholic after.
Because that’s how real life works, you know!
Whether it be in Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Easy A, or any other teenage movie, everyone is amazingly polarized in high school; they either despise it or despise the fact that one day it will end. But, and maybe I am the only person in the world who felt this way, I was incredibly apathetic about high school.
In fact, my high school experience is most accurately described as boring as hell.
I didn’t really have any love interests in high school, to start. No guy or girl holding a boombox outside my window — which is probably okay, because that might’ve made me roll my eyes so hard they got stuck. While love was indeed on my mind in high school, I had a perpetual haze of awkwardness that prevented anyone from actually realizing I was indeed capable of romantic feelings.
Secondly, I didn’t really belong to a clique: I was far from popular, but I was also not entirely unpopular. There were many people that didn’t like me, but they never harangued me for it, probably because they could sense that I would only have flatly stared at them for saying anything of that nature. As far as being noticed goes, I actually had a lot of people know my name and approach me after high school, which is generally pretty awkward because the conversation goes a little something like:
Some Person: Oh! Greg, it’s you!!
Me: (flailing about, looking for Some Person) Huh? Yes?
Some Person: (making to shake my hand or hug me) It’s so great to see you! You look so good, you’ve lost weight!
Me: Oh, yes, hi… You!
And then I pretend I know who they are.
Really, it just comes down to the fact that my high school was not nearly as interesting as the high schools in this movie. Unlike in Ferris Bueller, we didn’t have a Dean of Students who obsessively tracked kids he suspected of playing hooky. There were no students being picked up and put in dumpsters or being taped to walls. And am I alone in that, unlike multiple times in Pretty in Pink, no student was able to just start smoking a cigarette in the middle of school without any teacher noticing or caring?
My experience with students was just as different as my experience in general. In movies, the popular kids all fit into two categories: rich or jocks. If they’re rich they’re morally reprehensible, and if they’re jocks they’re morally reprehensible AND they have no brains. In my high school there were people with money or who played sports and they happened to have morals AND brains, sometimes. Gasp! Shock! My high school was so iconoclastic! That, or high school movies are bullshit.
And on the subject of the people who aren’t popular — well, first off, my school never had a popular clique. Not really. We just had cliques of all sorts, and people were fine with interacting with each other regardless, though of course there was still some teenage drama — but on the subject of the “unpopular” kids, I think I need to point out that unpopular kids sometimes were jerks. In fact, often they were. And the ones that weren’t jerks weren’t always amazingly smart or kind, they were just kind of unpopular because, like me, they didn’t really care about stuff at that point. Most importantly when discussing these kids, I have to say; no one is really as witty as the witty, unpopular kids in these movies. Or that inventive. Even genius teenagers don’t have the emotional and mental maturity of, say, Ferris Bueller, because being a teenager is kind of like being insane, what with the hormonal bombardment your body is undergoing.
Watching movies like Pretty in Pink are always a confusing ordeal for me because the biggest message that comes across in them is that you should either love or hate high school (with, of course, some moments of the opposite feeling mixed in there regardless). If you love high school, you’re supposed to be worried — at least, in the minds of the writers — that after high school you’ll have already lived the best days of your life, and if you hated it you should be happy because the moment you go to college or get a real job, your life will dramatically improve and you will finally be able to figure out who you are as a person. Not only does that not sound at all like my experience, as someone who thought high school was generally “meh”, but it begs the question; isn’t that really depressing? Either way, high school is depicted as this defining period, where you either succeed but begin your downfall, or you struggle but can look forward to things vastly improving the moment it ends.
Am I the only one who didn’t really care about high school one way or another?
Ever since coming to New York, I can thoroughly say I’ve become more childlike. The other day as I unpacked my lunch – apples and peanut butter, slices of pepper and carrots, and Goldfish – that many of my meals have turned into what most kids would consider “snack time.”
I’ve often been compared to an old man because I get really excited at animals like buffleheads (see last post), dress poorly, and go to bed early, but all of these stereotypically elderly things are also stereotypical childish. Being grumpy? Yeah, kids do that well. Inability to dress oneself? Mhm. Going to bed earlier than intended because you got unexpectedly sleepy? Greg, you are basically eight.
Given my apparent reversion into elementary school, I would like to highlight some things I could do as I kid I would like to be able to do again:
Fit in cabinets
Eat bags of candy without feeling sick
Be encouraged to take daily naps
Talk to myself and have it be proof that I’m creative and not just proof of my impending insanity
Say inappropriate things and be told that it’s cute*
*Note: as a gay man you sort of get to do this. Like, when a gay man calls a woman a “Stupid b!#$*” it’s considered sassy, witty, and primetime sitcom fun!
In recent weeks my creativity has all been sapped by the labyrinthine trials of finding gainful (note: $$$!) employment. However, I still want to post, so this week I’m going to tell you about what might be the cutest thing ever: the bufflehead.
A bufflehead is kind of like a duck only more adorable. It has shorter feet and a giant head than a normal duck, and it’s just smaller in general. Basically, it’s the Welsh corgi of ducks. You can look at a duck and think, “oh, that’s pretty cute,” but when you look at a bufflehead, especially in person, you cannot possibly think — unless you are some cyborg, perhaps — “That is so cute! I must steal it!”
In fact, if you’re ever in a situation where you need to identify which person in a group is the sociopathic serial killer you only need to show them the bufflehead and see who doesn’t react.
Yes, I have thought about that scenario.
I saw the bufflehead at the Bronx Zoo and there was a baby monkey that was very cute, and my traveling companions attested it was the only animal cuter than the bufflehead. For awhile I said this was true, then I realized something that destroys that argument; baby monkeys turn into adult monkeys, but buffleheads are always adorable.
Yesterday I saw a book about unusual animal pairs, like the black bear and cat that became close friends. I’m 99% certain that if a bufflehead and a baby monkey were to befriend each other it would be so endearing and “aww”-inducing that human civilization would grind to a halt.