Thursday, January 06, 2005

Charlie & Buttercup

When I was 9 years old, I had a pet chicken. His name was Charlie.

Charlie T. Chicken.

The 'T' was for 'The.' Just like Smokey Bear's middle name. I thought it was very clever.

Charlie The Chicken used to chase the children of our trailer park if they ventured anywhere near our yard. You see, Charlie hated feet. Kids' feet, to be more precise.

Charlie would erupt from his sentry post under our front steps in a furious explosion of brown feathers and machine-gun pecking, as terrified toddlers screamed and attempted to bat Charlie away from their offending toes. Next door or across the street, mothers would wearily pull themselves away from their washlines or their 'stories' and yell at me.

"Joey, you GIT that dang bird offa my Ellen!"

And I'd put down the bullfrog that I'd been attempting to feed bits of my Moon Pie, and go shoo Charlie back under the front porch. Charlie never went after MY toes. That bird knew where HIS seed was scattered.

My sister, age 7, was insanely jealous of Charlie. She begged my mother for her own pet at every opportunity. Mom would scarcely turn her head away from the sink

"You already have a pet, honey. You have Bridgette." she'd say with finality.

Even a 7-year-old saw through that old trick.

"Moh-om!" Janet would plead. (Always with the hyphen when she was whining.)

"Don't be stupid! Bridgette is our dog. I want my OWN pet!"

From the back bedroom of the trailer my father would bellow, "I had better NOT have just heard you call your mother STUPID!"

Janet already knew better than to tempt the back of my dad's hand, or more commonly, a flying copy of the TV Guide. She'd pout and stomp off outside.

Then, to add fuel to the whining fire, Janet's best friend Amber got a hamster for her birthday. Amber named her hamster Crimson. But not because of its sinister beady red eyes. Crimson was named after Amber's favorite song, "Crimson And Clover" by Tommy James & The Shondells.

That's when Janet decided that she absolutely had to have a hamster. And her hamster was going to be named after her favorite song, "Build Me Up Buttercup", by The Foundations. And just to annoy me, she ripped off MY pet name, saying her hamster would be 'Buttercup The Hamster.'

"Mom, are we going to go get Buttercup The Hamster today?"

What a wily child she was. Naming her pet before she even got it, personalizing it, giving it an identity, a presence in the household it had not yet seen. I think hostage negotiators do the same thing with kidnappers.

"Mom, it's really cold today. Do you think it might be too cold at the store where Buttercup The Hamster is?"

Mom would just give her a flat look.

"Go feed YOUR dog."

But finally, as we knew she would, Mom caved. On a Saturday afternoon, the day before Janet's 8th birthday, she picked me up from Little League and we went hamster shopping.

There were no pet stores in tiny Newport, North Carolina. We'd gotten Charlie at the local feed store, where their primary sales items were cow and chicken related. So Mom and I drove to nearby Morehead City, where they had two department stores, K-Mart and Roses.

Both K-Mart and Roses had small pet departments located in the rear of their stores, buried behind the gardening supplies and lawn chairs. You could usually find parakeets, tropical fish, hamsters, turtles and snakes. All caged in 20-gallon aquariums. All in a state of manic escape attempts, or listless why-bother-ness.

It used to depress me immensely to watch the hampsters. They'd all be in position at the edges of the aquarium, each of them furiously, desperately, endlessly pawing at the glass. It bothered me that they never realized that they weren't actually making any progress. One time I leaned over and shouted into the hamster aquarium.

"YOU'RE NEVER GETTING OUT!"

The hamsters paid me no mind, and the mothers nearby worriedly herded their kids away from me.

Mom first drove us to Roses. But since Janet's birthday fell close to Easter, Roses had no hamsters but lots of rabbits. The rabbits were darn cute and Mom was leaning towards getting one until I pointed out that 'Buttercup The Hamster' would be a awfully dumb name for a rabbit.

Over at K-Mart, there were only four hamsters for sale. I pointed at the one running in the wheel. "What about that one?"

Mom bent over and wrinkled her nose. "He looks mean, he probably bites."

"Mom, hamsters can't look mean. They don't have expressions."

"I can just tell." She pointed at the two that were scratching at the glass. "What about one of those?"

Just then one of the two leapt onto the other's back and began fucking it. I wanted to die. Just die. Mom stood up straight and looked into her purse. Trying to divert my mother's attention, I pointed at the fourth hamster, "That one looks good!"

Hamster #4 was a huge slovenly creature and was lying on its back, scarcely moving.

Mom frowned, "Ugh, that one looks like it's half-dead. Janet wouldn't have much fun with THAT!"

She checked her watch. "OK, let's go back to Roses and get a rabbit. It'll have to do."

At the door of K-Mart we could see dark thunderstorms gathering on the horizon. Mom hated to drive in the rain. She looked down at me.

"Let's go back and get the fat one."

We raced home, barely ahead of the thunderstorm, with Hamster #4, the soon to be 'Buttercup.' We hid the cage in my bedroom closet, and in the middle of the night Mom slipped it into Janet's room and left it on her dresser.

At 6AM, we all awoke to bloodcurdling screams. It was Janet.

Mom and I raced into Janet's room. She was standing on her bed pointing at the cage, screaming over and over. These were not screams of joy. I peered into Buttercup's cage.

During the night, 'fat' Hampster #4 had given birth to approximately 67 babies. Actually, we couldn't tell HOW many babies there were, because the entire cage, from end to end, was strewn with the bloody half-eaten corpses of Buttercup's progeny. She must have been birthing and gnawing continuously through the dark night. The amount of hamster blood was only equaled by the spectacular array of discarded parts. Buttercup had eaten relentlessy but randomly, leaving a head here, a leg or two there.

Buttercup was sitting in a corner of the cage, chewing and staring at us with her red murderous eyes. And she STILL looked hungry.

Mom threw a towel over the cage and rushed it out the room. Janet sat on the edge on her bed sobbing.

Down at the feed store, Mom gave Buttercup away to some kid, gory cage and all. She came back with a baby duck, the sight of which dried Janet's eyes immediately. She named him 'Dudley The Duck', after her favorite cartoon "Dudley Do-Right."

For awhile, Dudley The Duck lived under the front porch with Charlie The Chicken. Later however, Dudley decided he really preferred to roost on the top of Dad's Buick.

Roost and crap, that is. The amount of disgusting watery crap a single duck can create is really mind-boggling. My dad's famous talent for cursing was sorely tested by that duck.

Dudley The Duck did not survive Christmas dinner.

Under the tree, Santa left Janet a kitten.



Monday, January 03, 2005

All right. FINE. Here. (Updated)

Faithful readers: I've been getting a steady stream of emails from you asking for various details about my life. While your interest is quite flattering, the common thread to these letters is that while my stories are enjoyable, I seem to be an observer in life, rather than a participant, and that you don't feel you "know" me. That's a pretty fair criticism, one that is more accurate than I normally feel comfortable in admitting. To counter that perception, I hereby succumb to the most tired and cliched of blogospheric memes.

1. I was born in a Marine Corp hospital in North Carolina.

2. My first car, my high school graduation present from my father, was a used Pontiac LeMans. I superglued a green shag carpet to the dashboard. The first night I took it to a gay bar, someone smashed the window and stole my 8-track player.

3. I was circumcised at age 6. I remember the operation vividly.

4. My final year in Little League, my team went 17-1. Guess who cost the team a perfect season?

5. The first 45rpm record I bought was "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon, in 1973.

6. I had white-blond hair until I was about 10 years old. I was a 'towhead'. I was frequently told that I looked like Opie Taylor from the Andy Griffith Show.

7. The first concert I attended was KC & The Sunshine Band, at Disney World. I ended up seeing them at least a dozen times over the next few years.

8. My first plane flight was at age 22. I flew from Orlando to Washington DC to see a guy I had met on spring break in Fort Lauderdale. I'm still friends with that guy.

9. I have never missed a flight.

10. I have never held a gun.

11. I have never held a baby.

12. I have never ridden a horse.

13. I have ridden a camel.

14. I have never gone scuba-diving.

15. I have never gone sky-diving.

16. I have gone muff-diving.

17. In 1989, at the Warsaw Ballroom in South Beach, I stepped on Madonna's foot. I was wearing steel-toed boots.

18. In high school I was the president of the German club and a member of the German Honor Society. I competed in statewide competitions for students of German. Today, my German vocabulary consists of less than 100 words.

19. The first time I attempted to speak Spanish to a stranger, I meant to say "I have a headache." What I actually said was "I have a pain in my purse."

20. My junior year in high school, I was nominated by President Gerald Ford to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. I did not attend.

21. I have never done drag. Not even for Halloween. And it bothers me that I have such self-image issues that I can't do something that truly silly, just for fun.

22. I haven't been in a fistfight since 8th grade, when school bully Ruben S. pushed me into a puddle during an assembly.

23. I fucked Ruben S. at an orgy in the mid '80s. He didn't remember me.

24. My car once got towed away from the Old Plantation, a gay disco in Tampa. At the tow-yard, I drunkenly called the tow-truck driver a 'cocksucker.' He punched me in the stomach.

25. In high school, my friends and I were obsessed with Monty Python. I spent much of my junior year shrieking in a mock-English female voice.

26. In 1990, my mother's Xmas gift to me was a Three Stooges video box set. A total of 12 episodes. And every one was a SHEMP. I looked at her and said, "You never loved me!"

27. Despite being completely gay, I have never watched an episode of "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer." And none of its spinoffs.

28. Despite being completely gay, I have never watched an episode of "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy."

29. Because I am completely gay, I have seen every episode of "The Simpsons." My favorite character is Ralph Wiggum.

30. During the "Wild Planet" tour, B-52's frontman Fred Schneider would hand out fake awards to audience members. At a show in Daytona Beach, I was given a trophy for "having survived the deadly bite of the coral snake!"

31. I have worked for a nightclub, a newspaper, a magazine, a theatre company, a television station, a radio station and a record company.

32. I am the eldest male in my family, and the family name ends HERE.

33. When commercial space flight becomes viable and affordable, I will be the first the sign up.

34. My dog, Edison, died in March 2004 at the age of 17. He was a mostly Corgi mixed-breed and I miss him everyday.

35. My first pet was an orange cat that I named Applesauce. Only I was too young to actually pronounce "Applesauce", so according to my mother, I called him "Bahbey-slops".

36. I like to give my friends nicknames. Usually they don't like this at first, but eventually they start signing their emails with my name for them.

37. In 1998, I fell down on Market Street in San Francisco and broke my hand and arm in six places. From what I could tell, I had tripped on a big pile of air that someone had carelessly left lying around.

38. While living in Florida, I ran over a racoon, an opossum, and a small alligator.

39. Sometimes I think I would rather run over a child than a dog.

40. I maybe be somewhat short, 5'8", but I've learned that in Central America I tower over the locals. TOWER, I tell you!

41. In 10th grade biology when my turn came to read aloud from our textbook, I mispronounced 'vagina' as 'vah-GEE-na'. The class roared and to this date, my embarrassment is so great that I try to never think about vaginas at all. Damn it! I just wrote 'vagina' two times. Fuck! I did it again!

42. If I am home, the tv is on. It feels like company.

43. Coffee smells like old people.

44. At the age of 9, I was turtle-hunting with a friend in a large field cluttered with derelict farming equipment. My friend held up one end of a large sheet of rusty metal while I kicked the grass underneath it for turtles. As I backed out from under the metal, my friend let it go too soon and the corner of it ripped down my leg. I got over 100 stitches. I've been told the scar is "sexy".

45. Star Jones is a complete cow.

46. I tend to dislike celebrities more often than I like them.

47. I tend to meet celebrities in elevators.

48. My favorite baseball team is the San Francisco Giants. The last entry in my 6th grade journal says: "Tomorrow Dad finds out where he is being assigned. Please God, let it be San Francisco because I LOVE WILLIE MAYS!"

49. I saw Willie Mays play once. He struck out three times.

50. Today, my heroes are Larry Kramer, Harvey Feirstein and Jimmy Carter.

I'll add to this list as more items occur to me. This is just a start, be afraid.