I don’t generally like reading or writing little autobiographical musings about past relationships – these stories are usually so “So what?” to me, and are also usually written in the David Sedaris-style narrative that only David Sedaris should use. However, I'm writing a piece like that right here, right now, because lately I’ve started going to a video store in South Pasadena, and it’s a place that I used to go to with an old friend I’ll call Max -- it’s made me think fleetingly about the time I spent with him, which was the saddest phase of my social life. Anyway, this is more of a Shaggy Dog story.
Max and I hung out for a month or so after I was done with my short outpatient stint at a mental hospital, where I’d met him but almost always managed to avoid conversation. He was the tedious type of emotionally fragile, like Norman Bates in Psycho, someone whose long stories you have to listen to because you don’t want your hostility to be the reason they kill themselves. Naturally, I preferred the attractive type of emotional fragility, like Marion Crane in Psycho, a beautiful criminal who keeps her secrets.
Speaking of Hitchcock movies, one of the saddest things we ever did together was watching this short art film he’d made – it was a loop of three seconds of footage from a Hitchcock movie in which James Stewart slaps a woman in the face and her blond hair sweeps beautifully around as her head recoils from the impact of his hand. These three seconds of footage were repeated at least 30 times in a row. It was a cool little film he’d made, but horrible to watch. It wasn’t some passive aggressive intimation of male frustration, like it sounds. It was clear he identified with the slapped woman. I think the Stewart character who was slapping her represented Max’s dad or something. I don’t know what his technical diagnosis was, but I know he was a serious guy who tried and failed at levity, a smart guy whose parents still treated him like an underachiever. He was painfully skinny. He was not ugly or square, though to me he seemed both those things; he liked a lot of the same bands I do, and Eightball comics, but it wasn’t fun to talk about these things with him. It was just a drag.
|"Rear Window" (1954)|
I gave him my telephone number when he asked for it on my last day at the hospital, and when he called that night, my stomach sank at the realization that I was already involved in the situation I’d hoped to avoid, that of being a girl he liked. The first time we talked I let him know that I would become extremely uncomfortable if I ever got the feeling he was trying to get me romantically interested in him. I said I knew he had a crush on me and that I didn’t like that feeling, but that as long as he had no expectations of reciprocity, it’d be nice to hang out as friends. I always used to get glommed on to by sad people who burdened me with their sadness, without giving me the gift of being funny or inexplicably hopeful in return, so if I sound too mean towards him, I hope it doesn’t sound like mockery, because I did take him seriously. I just feel resentment towards his dragging me down in the quicksand of despondency I’m always trying to sidestep.
Despite the tone of this first conversation, and my immediate follow up email letting him know that I was very serious about things being completely platonic, the first time we hung out would have been a perfect date for someone who like doing expensive things in South Pasadena. We saw a movie about a loser winning the girl, then we had gelato, and went to a fancy Italian restaurant where the waitstaff knew and loved him.
I didn’t like this type of thing, though. I liked to go out drinking at night and spend my days off at home alone watching movies and eating cereal or ice cream. Before me, he’d tried dating another crazy girl who was more suited to this type of date, and they both came from wealthy old South Pasadena families, and I thought he should have kept trying with her. It was useless though because this other girl, who I only knew her as a blond mouth-breather who drooled after her treatments, was in fact a young woman whose dad forced these treatments on her. Max knew her as a woman it was too hard to get along with, not because of her drooling quietness, but because of her anguished rage and paranoia in the times leading up to the treatments.
After that first time, Max and I only hung out a few more times, at his grandfather’s house where he was living. Each visit felt interminable though, and they were all filled with a combination of things I love and hate. Like one time, when we ate grilled cheese sandwiches made from a sandwich press that toasted Hello Kitty’s face on the bread – so cute! But while we ate these great sandwiches, we had to watch this Gus Van Sant movie, Elephant, about the fucking Columbine High School Massacre, and all these kids getting their heads shot off as they walk unassumingly to their lockers or the school library.
I was glad the way things ended, because it’d been his decision. He saw hickies on my neck from my now-husband one time and told me he didn’t think we should keep hanging out.
When I was a kid, mom usually took me trick or treating in South Pasadena, because it was her theory that rich people gave better candy, and also, some scenes from the original Halloween movie (1978) had been shot in that part of town, adding the importance of cinematic history to our walk up and down the streets. She was always drunk on Halloween though, and one time when we were doing our Halloween night South Pasadena route, she decided to stop at the house of her recently deceased boyfriend’s parents, unannounced and with two preteens dressed like Rocky Horror characters (me and my friend Andrea) in tow. The dead man’s parents opened the door to a mixture of ‘trick or treat’ and mom’s half apology for stopping by unannounced. They were rich and nice and bereft of joy. I think their son may have mentioned me to them once or twice because there was some kind recognition of my identity when I said hello. I’m sure I didn’t think to say anything about being sorry for their loss, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t ask for candy. Me and Andrea were going to our first midnight screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show later that night so I had a case of nerves that made everything else that night seem muted.