Monday, May 14, 2012

2nd Star From the Right & Straight On 'til That Really Ugly Building

When I first moved out of my parents' house, I moved into an apartment in San Marcos with my best friend Isaac, and we dubbed it Neverland.  Two years later he moved out and was replaced by another friend, Matt.  Two years after that HE moved out, and I negotiated a cut-rate rent deal to continue living alone in the two-bedroom apartment for another four years. Here are some disparate anecdotes culled from life in my old apartment, none of which are quite enough to be blog entry topics by themselves.

For the first month or two of living in the apartment, Isaac and I had no living room furniture to speak of.  We had his TV sitting on a squat little VHS carrying case, and a halogen lamp.  We ate our meals while either sitting on the floor or standing at the kitchen counter.  We were easily the two lamest "men" in North America.

Then Isaac's mom bought us what came to be known as The Gay Chairs, for reasons which would be obvious if you ever got a glance at them, and we almost immediately went back to wishing we were sitting on the floor again.

This, but in denim, and painted in a way that makes you question things about yourself that you'd rather leave unexamined.
In retrospect I have no idea why we dubbed them The Gay Chairs, as I've never met a gay man so lacking in style as to entertain the idea of owning one of these monstrosities.

They were just awful.  Puff-painted denim stretched corner to corner across a four-peaked black wire  frame (called "butterfly" by people who hate actual butterflies), with nowhere to rest your arms and no way to recline in any position that didn't leave your neck muscles fully responsible for the position of your head at all times, and NO FUCKING WAY FOR A GALOOT MY SIZE TO GET OUT OF THEM no matter what acrobatics one was prepared to perform.

"What am I supposed to do, a scissor-kick?"
We made friends with our downstairs neighbor, Gurch, who gave us the shittier of his two couches mainly to shut up our incessant pissing and moaning about The Gay Chairs; I'm pretty sure Gurch built this couch himself, as it was pretty much just a couple of random cushions thrown over a planks-and-two-by-fours skeleton that vaguely resembled a couch.

"I knew I shouldn't have etched-a-sketch of how I wanted it to look."
But it wasn't the floor, and (more importantly) it wasn't The Gay Chairs, so we welcomed it right up until Matt moved in and brought an actual couch with him.

Rudely cramming The Gay Chairs into the Dumpster at Neverland was one of the most cathartic experiences of my twenties and, given the chairs' nickname, perhaps my first attempt at a hate crime.


One night a game of Beyond Balderdash broke out (on a night that Isaac and his lovely wife Amy had just met and started hanging out, which lets me pretend I had something to do with their getting together) during a drink-enhanced get-together.  For the uninitiated, the game plays out via one person drawing a card with an obscure word on it, reads it aloud, then everyone else writes down what the word might mean. All responses are collected, and the card-drawer reads all of the definitions, including the real one.  You get a point if you're able to guess the right definition, AND you get a point if someone else thinks the answer you submitted is the real definition by picking it themselves.  

It is due to Beyond Balderdash that we formally inducted "soushumber" into our lexicon with the lofty and dignified definition "ball sores," among so many other unjustly maligned words.  Does "soushumber" mean "ball sores"?  Likely not. Google image search returns pictures of some flowers, some pears, and some children lying around eating chocolate.  How those three things could all be incorporated into the real meaning of "soushumber" terrifies me, so I'm sticking with the comparatively far less sinister sounding "ball sores." Adjust your inner thesauri accordingly.

Pictured: Soushumber, possibly.

Neverland distinguished itself in part due to its vast and varied cast of supporting characters who made up the periphery of our world thanks to the surrounding apartments in our building.  Like Just Chillin,' who unfailingly answered every friendly "how's it goin'" and "what's up" with his soon-to-be-nickname.  Every time.  For two years.  Or Ricky Nicky Picky Shitty, named for Matt's inability to remember his name, whose voice dropped a scientifically remarkable seventeen octaves within about three months as he hit puberty and suddenly spoke with a voice that was so deep it vibrated my tee-shirt if I was standing directly in front of him.  Or Heath Ledger, who wasn't actually Heath Ledger but looked enough like him that we eventually just stopped pretending we knew his real name even to his face, and he didn't seem to mind since he was constantly neck deep in ridiculously hot women since he was so fucking good-looking.  Or Sue, the live-in manager who was the inspiration for perhaps the most stomach-unsettling image I have ever rendered in Microsoft Paint.
Yeah, no way am I linking to it. Sorry.
Or The Tetherball Jesus League, consisting largely of assumedly homeless street urchins and several plastic Jesus sculptures posed in a loose circle around a tetherball pole mounted in what was the pool, in the middle of the parking lot. 

REALLY good at tetherball, even moreso when there's six of him.

Or The Domestic Violence Theatre, which housed its repertory company in the apartment next door and entertained us nightly with shrieking and smashing and other horrible things that had us on the phone with the police on a distressingly regular basis before finally helping to get that delightful family evicted.  Or the man I finally just started referring to as I'm A Hillbilly And I'm Screamin'!, since that's all he ever seemed to do, and mocking him was my one way to keep from throwing cups of my own urine down at him from the balcony.

The pool, as it was, is a burgeoning garden now (and the home arena of the Tetherball Jesus League) after having been drained and filled with dirt following countless complaints to management about its filth and mephitis.  But those of us who'd been there awhile know of the horrors it once held, like it was an occasionally-chlorine-filled portal to Hell. 
Let me do you a favor. If you're eating right now, stop.
We were there to see the landlord hire a cleaning crew to dredge the colloidal mixture that filled the pool.  We saw as they first pulled a dead squirrel, and then a DIRTY FUCKING DIAPER from the depths where they couldn't be seen through the hideous congealed surface of the water.  Oh yes.  We were there.  And what we saw, we cannot un-see.  Try as we might.

I tried to warn you.
…it should be noted that, a year or so after this horrible and unforgettable day, and despite his having been there to see the dredging as it happened, Isaac swam in the pool at five in the morning during a drunken moment with some friends.  This, at the very least, explains his easily visible soushumbers any time he wears shorts.  On some level I will always be awaiting his apology.


There really can't be enough said about the paint job on the building.  Honestly.  If you live in San Marcos and haven't seen it, I strongly suggest you take a drive to Jackson Lane and check out the Courtyard apartments for a rich and heady laugh that will eventually fade into a deep and searing empathy for all who must reside there.

(2012 UPDATE! They repainted the building. It looks normal now. I guess they were waiting for me to move out. Disregard this point of complaint, but still feel bad for me since it was as ugly as described throughout my time living there)

Since moving in I have referred to it as a Taco Cabana that the owners decided to lease out at the last minute, and that's a fair descriptor for the color scheme they opted to put on the walls, awnings and railings of the complex.  Isaac used to tell people that our building was a paint-related outreach program funded by Home for the Blind.  

Great job, boys! Let's lease this fucker!
When we signed the lease after having been shown the property once, the lady who walked us through the leasing paperwork asked if we'd seen the new paint job.  Our eyes filled with hope as we dared to dream that the owners had undone their atrocity, only to have her wince and tell us that the avocado-and-fresh-vomit-and-maybe-some-tan paint job we'd seen WAS the new paint job, and thus that there was no such thing as a loving God who wanted good things for us.


I once put together an ill-advised application to be on the reality game show Survivor back when it was still a ratings juggernaut, and got to use the apartment briefly in shooting my three-minute audition tape that consisted of me addressing the camera and describing calmly why I was an ideal contestant for their show, as I bludgeoned a mime to death and disposed of his body in a nearby creekbed.  

It was a public service as much as an audition.
Everyone to whom I've shown the video has laughed hysterically at it and berated CBS for not liking it more; given Domestic Violence Theatre, I cannot say with confidence that mine was the first mime pummeled with a frying pan in that building.  But it was fun.


It's time I told you all about the Babe Off, a shameful contest that I'm actually cringing while describing for you.  Essentially, out of boredom, I put together a March Madness style bracket of celebrity women, and Matt and Isaac and I each cast votes, round by round, as 128 women became 64 became 32 became 16 became 8 became 4 became 2… became the BabeOff champion.

I know.
Which meant… well, who can say?  We didn't really set guidelines other than "vote for your favorite," which didn't necessarily mean "who you want to sleep with more" even if it usually did.  Some of the match-ups came down to subjective criteria regarding who would be more fun to hang out with, or who is so repugnant that they must always be voted against on principle, and so on.

Sadly, we did four BabeOff tournaments, each growing in scale of both the celebrity ladies numbered therein and the number of judges casting ballots.  By its peak, in BabeOff 3, I was the stat master breaking down nine different ballots for a tournament that began with a mindboggling FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY women in an endless parade of "best of nine" voting matchups.  The results are interesting from an anthropological standpoint, as evidence of how our tastes have changed over the years; the first BabeOff, voted on by just the three Neverland fellows, elected Britney Spears as BabeOff champion back in 2001, when she was at the height of her power, edging out Faith Hill in a 2-1 vote.  Safe to say that THAT wouldn't have turned out the same way today.

Who can say for sure, though?
The subsequent champion crowns went to Katherine Heigl (who at that time was my long-time celebrity crush AND the crush of another judge, which helped her chances in the best-of-five matchups) in BabeOff 2, Catherine Zeta-Jones in BabeOff 3, and Natalie Portman (over Britney Spears in the final match) in BabeOff 4.  By that point eleven different people had served as judges, from close friends to coworkers who'd heard about the contest and thought it sounded like fun (and, to deflect the cries of misogyny, I point out that two of those enthusiastic eleven judges were women themselves, strategizing and watching their favorites advance or fall out).

Isaac summed it up best, after Matt and I had gotten into a testy email exchange about some possibly tampered results of one matchup: "Guys, calm down.  You're arguing about the results of a contest about who we want to fuck most, which embarrasses us every time we tell someone about it."

Just about sums it up.

"Oh no. He just asked what I've been up to lately. Now I must tell him."

We eventually just ended up calling it The Shaft, despite that it sounded like we kept some poor man's penis in our kitchen.

I worked as video manager at hastings, and thus came home with an ever-interesting yield of free tchotchkes and posters and lobby card paraphernalia related to whatever films were en route to the VHS and DVD markets.

Of wildly varying quality.
As the execrable Sam Jackson remake of Shaft was nearing release, I received a bunch of crap associated with the film, most of which couldn't be utilized in the store and was earmarked for the dumpster.  One thing that didn't get round-filed, though, was the little "shelf topper" that was supposed to be secured to the front lip of a video display shelf, at eye level, such that someone would walk up to it and see Sam Jackson's face and the font reading "Shaft: Still the Man" and be compelled to push the tiny red button beneath Sam Jackson's scowling mug.

Like this, except not hastily mocked-up with Google and Microsoft Paint.
I only had to press this button once to know that this shelf topper was not going to be utilized in hastings, but in my apartment.

Pressing the button unleashed a tinny, shoddily-recorded snippet from Isaac Hays' iconic "Theme From Shaft," massaging one's cochlea with a shrill and instant "Whooo is the man…"  The clip was only about eight seconds long, just long enough to censor out the "Damn right" at the end of the line right before fade out.

"I make nine cents every time he presses it!"
The Shaft ended up attached to the front of our oven hood at Neverland, and Isaac and I had an unspoken code of honor attached to it.  No matter what either of us was doing, be it dishwashing, dining or surgery, if one of us pressed the little red button at any point, both of us were required to break into a soulful*, seductive**, enchantingly*** liquid**** bit of Anglo***** funk dancing that could comprise whatever interpretive moves we each wanted to bring to the table each time, as long as we punctuated the final refrain of "SHAFT!" by turning and pointing one index finger at each other in a knowing and cool manner, which is a phrase I would mock more had I not just used every one of my allotted asterisks for this paragraph.  We reinvented 'jazzy' on a daily basis, and 'possibly autistic' on at least an hourly one.

(*not remotely soulful)
(**no.  Absolutely not)
(***you've gotta be fucking kidding me)
(****no idea what this even means)
(*****okay, that's actually accurate)

Wants these motherfuckin' losers off his motherfuckin' shelf topper.

(originally posted to myspace May 2008)

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