Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Doggone it, people leave me nice voicemails.

I spent most of Sunday night sick with alcohol poisoning. ... OK, that's not true -- I just Googled "alcohol poisoning," and what I had was not as severe (no coma or aspirating my own barf). I was just doubled over on the floor and guzzling water until about 4 a.m., and it felt as if my liver hurt. I can tell you a little bit more about why I drank so much on a Sunday afternoon, probably in a future blog post. It had partly to do with the nude photo shoot I did that day, drinking so I'd feel loose in front of the camera instead of stiff. Drinking to make some of the more compelling id-reigned stuff rise to the surface, spill over the brim and make its presence evident, through my eyes and body language in the photos.

Right now, though, I want to tell you about something nice that I realized Sunday night while sitting in a sort of upright fetal position on my garishly printed IKEA rug, my contact lenses already taken out for the night (and my glasses by the bed in the next room) so I could only see within about a one-inch radius of my face, my mental focus likewise shortened, to the point that reading a book or articles on the Internet seemed an arduous prospect. So instead of doing what I might normally do with hours of downtime alone in my office room, I sat on the rug cleaning out old messages I'd saved on my cell phone. (This was partly because a friend had tried to leave a message earlier in the night and e-mailed me to say that my inbox was full.) 

Why would I do this -- why would I tell you that something significant happened on Sunday, some unholy Viking maelstrom of emotional and psychological currents, something that led me to the local ABC Store, where I purchased a fresh bottle of flavored vodka (after making such a show here of dumping out my old trunk booze), led me to drink more than one-third of it, on top of some wine offered to me at the photo shoot, and tell you that I spent the night writhing in cirrhosic pain on my IKEA rug... then abruptly switch gears, knowingly evade the subject, just to tell you about the saved messages on my cell phone? 

For one thing, this blog is an ongoing project. It's not a talk show on which we're going to solve all of my problems in an hour. And for another, it just so happened that listening to these messages was the perfect thing to do on a night when I could have easily beaten myself up for failing, for falling back on old self-defeating patterns and habits. Instead, I was struck by what an investigator or anyone listening to the messages would conclude about me based on the messages alone: 1) I have lived one hell of an interesting life filled with colorful and quirky characters; and 2) I am loved. Very much. By more people than I tend to remember on low days. These are the messages I chose to save.

* * * 

I knew the first few saved messages were lovely vocal postcards from a beloved sort-of ex. The first one was my favorite; it began with "Hello, gorgeous" and went on to sound like a Stuart Smalley affirmation tape: "You're an incredibly sexy, intriguing, wonderful woman..." It's from almost five years ago; when I heard it again on Sunday night and the robot-voiced lady gave me options, I hit "9" to save it again. The next few were from him as well, including one from when he had just returned to civilization (and cell coverage) from riding his motorcycle in "the backcountry" of Colorado, where he lives. The evolution of his tone in these messages follows the trajectory of our roughly one-year-long involvement: the messages sound infatuated and seductive at first (another message on there begins with his ebullient "Hi, gorgeous"); then still pleasant but more fraternal than enamored; perfunctory; a slight loss of patience in one of them; one in which he was yawning; polite confusion over some cryptic, desperate text message I'd sent; then the later post-break-up ones in which the tone was unmistakably platonic but also genuinely caring. I don't know why but I re-saved them all.

There's one from a quirky old guy I met during my nightly bayside wanderings when I lived in San Diego, who once rowed me on a dinghy to the boat he lived on -- a somewhat restored 1920s Canadian "rum runner" that was so ludicrously idiosyncratic that I worry people think I'm making it up. (One of the engine parts was from a carnival ride in Milwaukee, and he poured me some vodka in a coffee mug with a cherub on it.) He wore an "old rugged cross" on a bootstrap around his neck. He seems more like somebody I would invent than a real person. He plays a bit part in my self-mythology; I wrote a short prose piece about him called "He said it didn't matter" and pasted it at the end of another blog post, and on my fiction site. "Hi Christie, it's Robert... the goofy guy with a crush on you who was singing to you in [fake] Italian on the dinghy. Anyway, I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and hope you made it back to Virginia OK. Love you later."    

Next came a few messages from my friend Oliver, a driven and conspicuously muscled writer and onetime-wunderkind with a spare J.D. he just happened to obtain, who was then getting his PhD in Pittsburgh and is now married and a professor in Texas, and whose Moustache Club of America website I have contributed "funny-sad" batshit fiction to. I mostly saved his messages because they amuse me: "Chapman! I was just calling to shoot the shit." Oliver talks unlike anyone I've ever known, in a voice that's sort of "time-traveling Midwesterner from the 1920s with Asperger's." In one of them he told me that my most recent offering to his MCoA site was one of the most popular pieces, judging by Internet hits, in the history of the site. I saved maybe one or two of his messages for their comic rather than sentimental value. 

Soon after the Oliver messages comes a series of drunk-dials from my friend Zack, who sometimes regales my voicemail box with mildly scandalized stories about the inscrutable-to-him people he meets at bars near the condo his parents gave him in Raleigh, North Carolina. In one he provides me with another Stuart Smalley-type affirmation, slurred in a voice that sounds like when the geeky sit-com character gets sloshed and the studio audience finds it hilariously endearing: "I've had two hard ciders at the pub by my condo, mostly because my parents are coming tomorrow and I need to relieve some stress. [Deep, dramatic breath to indicate a confession is coming.] I thought you were pretty from the very first time I saw you in Lynchburg [Zack and I were co-workers at a daily newspaper in Lynchburg, Virginia]. You don't have to be in latex or going to goth clubs to prove anything. You're a beautiful, smart person, and I think you could be a successful writer if you showed your work to editors and publishers. You're an amazing person, and I'm so happy to know you. Oh, and you're way hotter than your sister. I thought that would make you smile." (My sister is an honest-to-God model who has done couture runway shows in New York City and everything, not a sometimes-"model" (with quotation marks) who poses nude in friends' basements; Zack tells me I'm hotter than she is when he's drunk because he worries that I'm jealous of her. I am, in fact, objectively not in any way more physically attractive than my sister, but I appreciate his efforts to boost my self-esteem.) 

Zack also left a message saying he thought I should record my own version of "that Friday song that's gone viral," but with lyrics about my life. At the time I was an editor for a national nonprofit patient-education organization that publishes information for parents of kids with asthma. His suggested lyrics included: "...gonna write about some asthma, gonna help some kids breathe... goin' to the goth club, puttin' on my black dress..."

There are a couple from my boyfriend -- one in which he relays some practical, meeting-up-later information but concludes the message on a winking note, by whispering, "P.S. I'm bringing clothes for tomorrow," (he was spending that night with me at what was then my place, a one-bedroom bachelorette pad in Fairfax); and another in which I can just barely hear him telling me, over the apparent drone of car wheels during what was probably a traffic-clogged commute home from work, a "World War II joke" but can't make out the punchline, only the "Ba-dum-bum" at the end. I re-saved both messages because they're adorable.

There's a beautiful message from a guy who loved me, who loves me still, saying that he was standing in a field alone, looking up at "the dark moon" and thinking about me, releasing "...all the love I've ever had... it's always been yours...", releasing it because I had chosen to be with my current boyfriend instead of him. "Goodbye, Christie, goodbye." I listened to it again Sunday night, for the first time in years maybe, and for that moment the world seemed to stop spinning. The message was a funeral. 

A guy named Christian, a sort of goth-hippie-raver dude I sometimes run into at clubs, is not on Facebook but I gave him my number at some point, so he calls to invite me to these huge, Fellini-esque parties held at out-of-the-way farmhouses and ranches, parties that feature things like fire spinners and multiple 60-pound pigs roasting on spits. In one of his messages, he sounds blasé about his next then-upcoming shindig -- "We'll have two DJs -- one that's more rave and one that's goth/industrial, fire spinners, blah blah blah fire pit." In another message, he mentions that he's going to "remove a chunk of the fence" between his and his neighbor's yards, the better to make room for bacchanalian shenanigans.

There's a Happy Birthday message from a group of friends who went to Dragon*Con in Atlanta, an event that is held every year right around my birthday (Labor Day weekend). My friend Andrew knew that I really wanted to go last year -- road trip and drunken revelry with geeky, costume-making pals all piled together at a hotel for the weekend! -- but that I hadn't planned or prepared (or saved up) for it early enough. So he made me feel included, Facebook-tagging me in a couple of photos he took -- one on the road, and another at a restaurant at which he and some pals ate fried cheese dipped in more cheese in my honor -- and orchestrated this wonderful group birthday call. 

There's also a Happy Birthday message from my mom, who every year loves to tell me about how -- as her first-ever child -- I was all she'd ever wanted and hoped and prayed for, and about how the day I was born was the happiest of her life, and that the night after I was born she was unable to sleep ("not one wink") due to sheer happiness. I have to say, it was bittersweet listening to my loving, conservative Christian mom say these things in an old voicemail -- while sitting on the floor reeling from too much vodka, having just come home from a nude photo shoot.

And there's one right after it in which my granny, who must have been visiting my parents, and my mom sing an oddly dirge-like Happy Birthday duet that's unintentionally reminiscent of the bit on Saturday Night Live when Tarzan, Tonto, and Frankenstein's monster sing Christmas songs

...Speaking of SNL, today at the current temp gig I had to call Al Franken's Congressional office to double-check his office-staff info. ("Is your chief of staff still X? Is your press secretary still...?" I'm doing this times 541 offices.). While on the phone with someone at his office, I had this blog-post draft open in another broswer tab, with the picture of Stuart Smalley (a Franken character from SNL) already inserted and everything. My life is interesting, full of love, and eerily synchronicitous at times. 

1 comment:

  1. If your phone has speakerphone, you can save the messages by playing them into a digital recorder so you don't have to keep going through them each time.* My android has an app that would do it if you don't have a recorder.

    *Although, I suppose this goes completely against the spirit of the post, that being able to dial in and listen to these is a nice thing

    Loved paragraph four, in which you describe finding yourself in a low spot, and choosing to focus on the light...and for the my-life-ain't-a-damned-sitcom bit - LOL!