Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chapter 58: Unconverted Soul Parts 2 & 3


A Girl of Substance 
One night early this year, Friend’s Pub was roaring with patrons, beer was flowing over the bar, and the band was still rocking the night with a cover of Europe after our midnight count down. This was the second New Year’s Eve party I’d been hired to dance as entertainment. The first was back in Kansas and I was only nineteen and shy at the time. Now I was twenty-three and tipsy with an hour drive home. I had only been drunk one time in my life and was thankful that right now I was just a little dizzy. I could walk a straight line from the bar to the exit, but the world was on a slow see-saw. My stomach was empty of food and yet I felt a bit queasy. I needed to get away from the people.
“Hey, so I loved your show. Do you want my son’s phone number?” an old man with a cigarette between his fingers that was dripping ashes into his plastic cup asks me. “He’s a great kid,” he reassures me as if I was about to say no. Jennifer appears in her costume and veil wrap taking me away.
“You look tired.” She’s not even tipsy. “Can you drive home? I could take you as far as Houston and Hannah could drive your car.”
My car is old and is a special needs-mobile. “No, thanks, I got this,” I saw through squinting eyes. “I’ve been worse before.”
Jennifer smiled. We gathered the rest of our New Year’s party and headed out the door. Popped balloons were sticking to my feet and sparkles clung to my sweaty hair. The night air was cool and relaxing on my hot, enflamed face. I hugged the other girls goodbye and concentrated as hard as I could on walking a straight line to my car and getting in without hitting my head.
I felt fine until I was almost on to the highway out of Friendswood. The alcohol must had discovered I had nothing else in my belly because I felt it take a hold of my guts and my head spun like a yoyo—up and down and round and round. My first thought: Hypocrite.
I have hated drunk driving for as long as I can remember. Alcoholism runs in the family and my parents have done all they can to stomp it out of themselves and their children. After my uncle got divorced a few years ago, it was only six months later that he was in a twelve step program and getting weekly phone calls from family members to see how he was doing. My mom even offered to have him come and visit us for a while.
When I first moved to Texas, the boy I’d had a crush on for a year at my old job decided to call me and let me know he had broken up with his girlfriend. We quickly hit off an excited long distance relationship. My morals and his lack of them clashed almost instantly. He wanted to talk about a porn site and I didn’t. He harassed me about what I liked during sex and I didn’t want to say anything.   
I was twenty at the time and had only been drunk once before at an after party for a play I was in. I had hated that experience and that was really the one that made me decide drinking ounces of tequila on an empty stomach were not a good idea. It also showed me the technique of getting sleepy from alcohol when there is nothing in your stomach to cushion the blow. One night our online web camera conversation was late because he had stayed out with friends. He called my computer after midnight and was so drunk I swore I could smell it through the screen. I chided him.
“I’m tired and you need to sleep. You’re going to be so hung-over tomorrow.” I pretended to be typing so that maybe he’d want to hang up. He didn’t move for a moment then in a second he stood up and flashed me over the camera. I didn’t move. Somehow my face stayed neutral. My great fa├žade was perfect. He sat down and sighed.
“I know you’re not looking at the camera window,” he said and was smiling for some reason.
“How?” No sudden emotions.
“I just flashed you and you didn’t say anything.”
I had a second to think. Tell him you did see and laugh it off, or tell him and chide him some more about disrespect and how disturbing that was, or lie.
“Sorry I missed it,” I said in a monotone. He was too drunk to hear my anger any way. The story teller went to bed angry that night.   
Weather the breakup happened because I was having to put aside my morals and act like I didn’t mind everything he was doing and saying over the next few weeks or me tired of living a lie is in the cold case unit. I just know I was tired of talking about sex and pretending it didn’t bother me. Tired of him calling when he was drunk. It was a strange relationship. I hated the things he did but I lied about minding it all the time. And here’s the best part. On my 21st birthday, he was the one I texted to let know that on my way home from work I had bought a Mike’s Hard Lemonade to enjoy later. On the drive home. I don’t know if that was out of spite or to let him know that I wasn’t the pious girl I made him think he was dating. He called me out on my hypocrisy unlike Dr. Lanyon not saying anything about Jekyll when he transformed in to Hyde right in front of him. No, he just shriveled up and died from the shock. How could the good doctor be Hyde?     
When I have a tough week, want to quite all three of my jobs, and drop out of school, I stop by the gas station on the way home and buy a six pack of Heineken. I plan too. I make sure not to eat too much at dinner so that when I guzzle down the yellow, fizzy beer, it hits me hard and fast. Fortunately, I’m a light weight and can be asleep within minutes of finishing a fast bottle. The next morning I wake up with an innocent smile, acting as though I had not committed the sin I preach against.
Marijuana is also part of the substance umbrella. When I moved to Texas, I was surprised to find that at least half of the people I knew smoked it “socially” as they say. Some did it on a regular basis. I was shocked to know that nearly everyone I worked with was a smoker. I was at work one day when my coworker told me something interesting. At that time, I didn’t know if I had a bigger crush on Andrew with his guitar band and music tattoos, or Kira and her many-colored-flame hair. We were working in a specialty store in the mall called Nomads at the time. African and Venetian masks covered the walls; hookahs, incense, statues of Ra, dragons, and Beatles figures covered the shelves. On the doors hung Woodstock and Bob Marley posters. The air was close, humid, and never had just one scent.
I was cleaning out the smelly hermit crab aquarium as Andrew spoke to me from behind the dirty register.
“Don’t hate it, dude. It can be used as medicine,” he said in his melodic 90s surfer voice. “For, like, people with cancer and pain and shit.”
“My best friend has Lupus,” I told him. “I wonder if that would do any good for her. She’s thought about it but was afraid what it would do when mixed with other meds. I don’t recommend it. Besides, not like I can ship it to her.”
That’s when he told me how easy it was so ship marijuana through the mail. All you have to do is get a large candle (unscented since marijuana, like chocolate, picks up the flavor of things it’s around), cut the bottom off and hollow it out. Then you put the dried plant inside and re-melt the bottom of the candle on. Candle wax is air tight so no scent escapes, making it pass any inspection that might befall it. I actually considered this for a day or two. After all, my friend was suffering. I am innocent of hypocrisy here! Scientists have written that hypocrisy must be self-serving. But I still had the guilt. What does that mean?
Despite what my pot smoking friends say, cannabis is still not an accepted medical drug and isn’t used in hospitals. The CSA has looked into the plant being used but it has always lost its race to be accepted. The bottom line is that it lacks the safety and reliability that scientists look for in a medical drug. Like hypocrisy, pot wants to be perceived more moral than it is. Like me. I don’t smoke marijuana, but I love drinking and then smoking hookah until I’m buzzed and goofy.     
I’m a hypocrite and I’m trying to kick the habit. In the meantime, I am searching high and low for a fresh, hardback copy of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
A Magician
I’ve been a smooth cheater since I was old enough to play games with my older brothers. There were three of them and I was the youngest at the time. I had to find a way to survive in the gaming world against them. We played a strange game with giant dice that you had to tweak with your finger to make roll across a big black board with cells etched into it. Whoever got all of their giant dice to the other side first, won. I had weak, tiny hands with short fat fingers. To win this game, I employed the easy Was-That-Mom-look over the shoulder and when my brother looked, I pushed my die one more cell up. This didn’t always work so I’d want to change games. But no matter what, I always lost. To make it worse, my third brother would always do a little victory dance when he won. And sometimes he asked to play with me just because he was sure of victory every time! I apologize, I’m justifying again.  
As kids we loved to sit upstairs by the TV on the long, brown, shag carpet and play poker. My brother Stephen had gotten an old set of chips and yellowing cards from a garage sale all neatly stacked into a round chip holder that spun on its base. The game was fun and I loved the old cards, but I was sick of losing. My five-year-old brain could not figure out how I never won and how the other three did. A brilliant idea came into my head one day: I’d mark the cards! I casually picked my nose and subtly smeared the backs of all the clubs I’d need for a royal flush as we played. Now I could see my cards (we played where you could trade in more than once). Whenever I didn’t get what I needed, I folded. No doubt throwing away some good hands. This method was too tedious and rarely worked. I needed something else.
My mom took me to the library for a research report on Mexican holidays one summer and I took a detour to find books on magic tricks. An old book that smelled sweet and dusty like my neighbor’s house showed me how to remove cards from the deck while shuffling. Another that was fat with illustrations showed me how to place my pinky in the deck to mark where a card that I wanted to draw was. There were a lot of tricks I wanted to learn, but I stuck to the ones that would help me win poker. With my new arsenal of sleight of hand, I asked to play poker more and more until I could move cards flawlessly.
I quickly learned that the card tricks and the subtle hand movements could be used in other games as well. Clue and Monopoly were suddenly easy wins for me. I’d lift some money from the bank, sneak an extra house onto Boardwalk, or make it so that I knew exactly what room and character were in the file in the middle of the Clue board. At last I was a winner.
Then we started to play video games. Those were harder to cheat at. I would try to hide pumping up my characters hit points in Street Fighter but the game made a noise every time you hit a button. However, one day I found out that my brother had been punching in a secret code in Battle Toads or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to give him extra hit points. And when he’d accidently hit me, killing my character, it wasn’t really an accident. He was cheating to get ahead in the game and get the extra points at the end. I was furious. How dare he cheat to make me fall behind! I’d throw a fit and run into my room to be alone. No doubt to plot how to cheat better the next time.           
Contempt for people who were bad at cheating was something I didn’t realize I had as a child until recently. I was at a friend’s house (let’s call her Nelly) and we were playing board games. I think it was a “Strawberry Shortcake and Friends” game. Hideous, pink, and covered in drawings of smiling suns and flowers. It was simple: you rolled the dice, moved the spaces, something about cards, and that ended your turn. Nelly would roll, move her piece, then stop, pick her piece up off the board and say, “Now wait, where was I? Oh yes!” then place her piece right on a card space. She did that because it helped you win. It only took me two turns to figure out she lifted her piece up to count backwards from the card place to land there and act like it was her real destination. I didn’t have to know the dice read something different!
She won and I was furious. As furious as a ten year old can be over losing a board game. When her mom asked me later what we had done all afternoon I said we had played the game.
“Oh yeah, Nelly played that with me yesterday,” she said.
“Who won?” I asked, feeling the venom leak from my teeth.
“Nelly did,” her mom said brightly as if it was something to be proud of. I scoffed.
I was not angry that I had lost. I was angry that her cheating was so bad I could spot it without trying. As I dwelled on the loss, I became appalled that one of my closest friends had cheated while playing with me. How could she do that? I’d never cheat against a friend. Would I? With humans, can we ever tell?
My morals are necessary for hypocrisy. If you don’t have morals, you can’t be a hypocrite. But then you’re a psychopath. I don’t know what I’ve learned from torturing myself without questioning the morals that were drilled in to my head as a child. I truly believe in Dr. Jekyll’s work. If I had a chance, I might sell my soul like Dorian Gray. Live like Dorian: Do whatever you want and get away with it. Live like Jekyll: Be the hypocrite so you may teach others how to lead better lives. You want to better the human race. These books are classics so that must mean that the human race hasn’t forgotten that it knows some right from wrong. Are we still forced to be Jekyll and try to understand it for ourselves? Be the hypocrite?
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 Now that that's over and that Summer is almost here (just a week away or so!) then I will hopefully be able to focus on more fun and personal things. I wanted this blog to be fun at first, then I wanted it to be all deep and academic. But I think I'll just write what I want despite the eyes that read. I hope it is inspiring, entertaining, and thought provoking all at once.