Jun 29, 2007

The Mittens Affair

I'm reposting something I posted a long time ago, because (1) I'm lazy, (2) I have to work, (3) I'm too tired to come up with anything original, and (4), because I ran into the subject of the subsequent post yesterday. I was eating lunch in the courtyard--with my hands, because I'm a disgusting, uncivilized creature--and someone blond and bearded walked toward me.

He waved. "Hi--is that you, Penitent?" he said.


"Do you remember me? From a long, long time ago? Anyway, I just wanted to say hi. I just graduated, and I thought it was so strange that I saw you right before leaving."

Oh, yeah--suddenly, I recognized him:


There was a particular period of time near the beginning of my Junior year, when I worked in the Media center of the University Library, during which all the University's forces of Disquiet seemed to be assaulting me at once. There was the shadowy character who derived some enjoyment from speaking to me in affected foreign accents and thereby pretending to be different people in turn; there was the persistent Argentine law student and the desperate Ph.D. candidate in Electrical Engineering, and there was the day that two separate people asked to watch Home Alone within one minute of each other.

But certainly the most memorable of these incidents was the one involving the Nightmare on Elm Street boxed set, a freshman studying philosophy, and a pair of mittens.

Every night I worked for a couple of weeks, a gang of three geeky-looking boys had been coming into the Media department asking for successive installments in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. One was tall and pale, dressed all in black, with white-blond hair and blond eyelashes. The other two were smaller and dark-haired; one wore thick-rimmed, black-framed glasses. Since I found it notable that anyone would care to watch all six of these movies, I began to recognize the boys and chuckled to myself every time they left with yet another Freddy Kreuger movie.

One night, as I handed Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare over the counter to the boys, I was met with a fit of hysterical giggling that I couldn't explain, but I had the distinct feeling that it had something to do with me. I narrowed my eyes at the boys as I asked for an ID card, but their giggling didn't stop. They left with the movie and I continued about my business (probably: working a crossword puzzle clipped from the student newspaper), but at some point I looked up and noticed that one of the little bastards, the tall blond one, was skulking about suspiciously and with no apparent purpose.

"Do you need anything?" I asked rudely in that brusque tone I had cultivated exclusively for library clientele.

The guy moved up to the counter. "I have a question," he asked.


"Do you like mittens?"

This was not a question I had expected. I blinked.


"Do you, like, mittens?" His tone was matter-of-fact, as though he were repeating a routine query that I was so deaf as to mishear.

"I...I don't think I have any particularly strong feelings about mittens, one way or the other," I finally said, extremely wary.

The strange boy nodded. "Okay," he said, and, evidently satisfied, walked out and away.


He returned, though, over the following weeks: sometimes alone, sometimes snickering with his conspirators. "So, have you thought about it: do you like mittens?" he persisted. I began to expect his visit. Often he would come in without his friends and, apparently, without intending to check out DVDs at all.

One night I took note of the name on his ID card and searched for him in the University directory. Therein I made the discovery that he was a freshman, a philosophy major, and a resident of a dormitory in which my acquaintance "Laura" worked as a Resident Assistant. The next time I saw Laura I told her about her resident's strange behavior and asked if she could provide an explanation.

"He's a little weird," she said. "Maybe he likes you."

She informed Mittens Boy of our little discussion. Mittens Boy, in turn, told me that she had told him. I told Laura that Mittens Boy had told me that she had told him. So it goes.


A lull in the Mittens Affair. And breaking the lull: a party at the co-op in which I lived for three of the four years of my undergraduate career.

It was a good party, I think, or at least a decent one. The party itself, though, is irrelevant to the story at hand. What is not irrelevant is what followed the party--I returned to my room only to find, resting atop my pillow, a pair of blue woolen mittens.

I was actually afraid. To this point I had presumed Mittens Boy to be essentially harmless: a little quirky, perhaps a little creepy, but not worrisomely so. Breaking into my room, though? I felt a bit discomposed. Running to find Laura, I brought her so she could see the unwanted gift. "Did you tell Mittens Boy where to find me?" I asked.

She thought the whole thing was very funny. (I admit that, abstractly, it was.) She claimed no part in the prank. "You keeping the mittens?" she wanted to know. "They're nice mittens."

I told her she could have them.


Some time later, yet another night in the basement of the library, Mittens Boy stood in line behind the counter. When he came to the front he was smirking.


"I heard some creep broke into your room and left a pair of mittens on your bed," he said.

"It's true," I responded. "What kind of a creep would do something like that? Someone really fucking creepy, that's for sure."

He laughed.

"You are very creepy," I insisted redundantly.

He laughed again, and left.

I went to Florence soon thereafter, and didn't see much of Mittens Boy after that.

Jun 26, 2007

An Interlude for Navel-Gazing and Self-Diagnosis

Here I interrupt the scheduled programming (proceeding apace, as it was) to explain my absence.

True, there's been work. Lots of tedious, tedious work.

It's also true that M. has exercised eminent domain on my laptop for the sacred, o'erweening cause of Making Party Flyers On Photoshop.

But mostly, there's been the crazy.

A few weeks ago, for instance, the left side of my torso was going through spells of numbness. I convinced myself I had either a brain tumor or Huntington's Disease, wondered how I'd react when the doctor gave me the news--wondered how I ought to spend the last few months/years of my life. The numbness is mostly gone now; I believe the correct diagnosis is "crazy."

Not enough? My existing pathologies are getting worse. Social anxiety rules my life, more or less. Increasingly these days, I think of the bewildering array of people I might encounter Out There and decide I'm better off staying home. And away from the phone. Away from the email account. Away from the blog, even.

The social anxiety is clear. Upon reading the DSM-IV criteria for Avoidant Personality Disorder, it's pretty clear I have that, too-- I think I satisfy every criterion. That's not new, though; all that's new is my self-diagnosis. But since I'm already self-diagnosing, I think I'm moderately depressed as well. And this is new.

I kind of hate fun these days. Isn't that what depression is? "Let us go to a mind-bogglingly fun event," says M. "Holy God, I'd rather die," says I. "Let us be friends," writes potentially cool burlesque dancer in an email. "Eh," says I, and ignore it. Old friends write me emails and I've ignored every one. I think my job is hugely responsible for my unhappiness, but inertia keeps me from looking for another. I paid hundreds of dollars for an online class but haven't had the motivation to fax in the first homework assigment, even though I've completed it. For at least six months I've been wearing borrowed contact lenses with mildly incorrect prescriptions because it's too much trouble to make myself an appointment. The list goes on and on.

One frustrating trouble with social anxiety is that it's a huge obstacle to seeking treatment for itself. "It's easy to find a good, affordable therapist," my friend Zoe told me. "Just call around, and negotiate for prices." Negotiate for prices? If I could do such a thing, I wouldn't need the treatment to begin with.

I need a therapist, I probably need drugs, and I certainly need a new job. These are requisite for not feeling like crap, I think.

Then, there's the boyfriend. Dating (and living with) a workaholic statistician has been hard; dating with a workaholic statistician who is also a Ph.D. student may prove even harder. Yet I cannot imagine that either scenario could bring me any closer to madness than the experience of living with that very same workaholic while he's on a six-month rampage of wanton irresponsibility. And what makes it especially pernicious to this melancholic, perenially exhausted social retard has been the dedication with which he pursues his goal of being manically irresponsible. This is not someone who takes partying lightly. Partying is a serious affair, something to monopolize his (and my?) time and money. I daresay I am not built for this, and Depressive Penitent in particular is built for just its opposite. Depressive Penitent wants to sit in a chair with a glass of wine and some Borges stories. She wants to watch hours and hours of Nick Cave videos with big headphones blocking out all the ambient noises. If she must leave her apartment, she'd prefer to make her way to a good friend's place and sip Belgian beer while watching something directed by Kurosawa or Werner Herzog. Hell, she'd be reasonably content studying calculus. But raucous hipster parties populated by tactically bisexual, strategically anorexic fashion girls with enough black or blond hair dye to muddy the whole Pacific? A million times, no! In reality, though, it's been more like: a million times.

I have the pictures to prove it, but uploading them would be too exhausting.

On Friday M. is throwing another party. It should be a big one, but we'll see. This time M. will be a tactical bisexual, and for the night I'll be officially disowned. The bar prefers gay DJs, see. Couples are no fun anyway. He won't be pretending to be bisexual, at any rate: he is bisexual. Or was. Or is. Or was. I don't know, it's so dizzying; if only I got the sense that anything was real. I'm not mad, or I am, or I'm not. Who knows? Not I, certainly.

I do intend to come back and write about my trip east. It was absurd, really, and was responsible either for driving me batshit insane or for helpfully convincing me that I had already gone batshit insane. Either way, interesting!

Don't worry, though, it's all relative. What's insane for me may be a fucking success story for some folk. Besides, I'm drinking lots of German beer as I type and it's making me frightfully dour.

Jun 8, 2007

Eastward Part 1: An Accidental Afternoon

Our vacation began, as you can probably guess, with a hangover, three hours of sleep between the two of us, and one rather large mishap. We made the best of it, though.

The shuttle came for us at 3:50AM. We'd been awake for about 20 minutes, horrified to find ourselves still drunk and in the early stages of hung over. We sloppily finished packing (forgetting items like toothbrushes, of course), dressed (also sloppily), staggered outside, and, zombie-like, handed our suitcases to the driver.

When the driver dropped us off at the airport, he asked, "where are you going?"

"DC," one of us mumbled.

His smile twisted into a grimace. He shivered and spat, "I hate that city. A hellhole. Absolute worst place in the world." Then we tipped him, and he wished us a good trip to said hellhole.

No restaurants were open in the airport, M. was surly, and everything befuddled us. Yet somehow, we managed to maneuver through the lines, find coffee, and board our plane for Salt Lake City. I hate flying, but this flight was genuinely pleasant. There was nary a jot of turbulence; the sky was vast and clear. The long, slow descent into the airport, over the lake with all its salt and botulism, was like landing on another planet. In a good way.

Hungry and with some time to kill, we sat down for some pizza and a beer. Unfortunately, our exhaustion was such that we saw no problem with watching the clock on M.'s laptop, still stuck in Pacific time. So we missed our connecting flight. It turned out that the next plane for DC was leaving in seven hours.

But as I said, we made the most of it. At an airport bar, we downed several of these beers before deciding to take advantage of a free tour of the Temple Square courtesy of Utah, Salt Lake City, and the Mormon Church. A kindly old couple drove us there, telling us about their time as missionaries in Pakistan many decades ago. They dropped us off in front of the Temple Square, where our tour guides, two awkward, nauseatingly friendly twenty-year-old girls dressed like latter-day Puritans, met us and introduced themselves. One of them was East Asian and spoke very limited English. The other was gangly, long-haired, and slightly bucktoothed--a prototypical American country girl.

"So, you're traveling together?" she asked.


"How nice! Are you friends, or are you brother and sister?"

We looked at each other. "I guess we are friends."

It was a short guided tour past dioramas and through the Tabernacle Choir space, but above all it was evangelism. We sat in a room that was like a planetarium where a gigantic white Jesus statue boomed, from a speaker somewhere, that he is the center of the Universe. As we walked around, the tour guides got their evangelism on, hard-core.

"Do you have a Book of Mormon?" one girl asked M.

"I probably have one somewhere," he said. "My dad's side of the family is Mormon."

"Have you read it?"

"I've looked at it."

"Well, promise me you'll read it, and then you'll see that it contains truth."

We actually did want to see the house of Brigham Young, M.'s ancestor, as well as the genealogy library, but there was no time. We went back to the street, where a van picked us up, along with a lesbian couple. They looked shellshocked, and were.

We introduced ourselves, and it turned out that, remarkably, they came from our city. From our very own neighborhood. In fact, they lived on our street, only a few blocks away.

"This shit is scary," the chubby one whispered, all wide-eyed. "We couldn't stand it. We went to the closest bar. It was in a hotel. We had drink quotas." She seemed legitimately surprised and horrified, like someone who walked into an ice cream store and found instead the Heart of Darkness. Did they not know where they were? M. and I had every expectation of being evangelized to. That girl was not the world's brightest bulb, but her girlfriend seemed all right.

At the airport we sat down for another meal and a beer, and, believe it or not, we almost missed our flight again. But the airline bent their rules for us, and soon we were on our way to DC.