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Houseplants
--Excerpted from So Many Ways to Sleep Badly (City Lights, Fall/Winter 2008).


The sky is pink and moist, branches are shaking but if I listen hard enough I can hear this guy’s teeth going clack-clack-a-clack. He lives in Burlingame, drove up here ‘cause he’s tweaked—and for me, of course—standing in the dark, waiting to unzip his pants. In yoga, the carpet smells rotten like an armpit filled with dark green mold, the instructor shouts KILL KILL KILL. Sure, it’s yoga, but it’s bikram yoga, they turn the heat up to 120 degrees and the instructors wear microphones like Janet Jackson.

Afterwards, I’m waiting for the shower and some guy steps out with a dick like a bowling pin, Rolling Pin Donuts—sending me back and forth from Collingwood Park to Dolores Beach with no luck either way, it’s too late at night for cruising. But Rolling Pin’s been gone for years, what gentrification does to an already gentrified neighborhood.

The shower is cold enough that maybe I’ll stop sweating, outside there’s a guy I’d kill for, maybe I already killed for him but it got me nowhere. Either he’s Italian and plucked or French and radiated, but cute faggots can’t talk to cute straightboys in locker rooms, so I’m just studying the curve of his spine and all that’s around it.
He’s one of those guys I hate to want, end up hating myself but downstairs I catch him eyeing my abs, fieldgoal. Mostly, though, in this world where everything’s wrong, the women are eyeing me and I’m salivating over Mr. Buff ‘n Tough: fancy yellow sneakers, overdyed jeans too loose at the ass, powder blue vintage t-shirt—my favorite color—and then the kicker is the runway hairstyle halfway between mod and ‘50s ‘cause of the part.

Outside, I’m so high from yoga that the stoplights are telling me things and the buildings are extra-sharp against the dark sky, nighttime breeze and the tweakers are staring at me. If there were mats out here, I’d somersault all the way home. Instead, I go to Scottie’s house to look at photos. He lives on the seventh floor of a six-story building, his apartment was once a speak-easy. He took the photos on his roof, but with the topiary bushes I look like I’m in an English garden—well, there’s the Trans-America pyramid in the background, so okay it’s Egypt. Or Vegas, Shirley Temple’s still alive! Singing Britney Spears covers in a room so smoky you can hardly see her hair.

Chrissie calls from Ryan’s house, reading a feng shui book while Ryan’s out doing ebay errands. Who’s Ryan? The boy Chrissie met three days ago—party play poppers porn. Selling everything off for better feng shui, okay. Chrissie says I’m 27 I need to figure out what I’m doing with my life. Honey you’re 29. Magdalena says Chrissie’s 30, but Chrissie says it’s the drugs.

This happens every day: I think about cocktails until I can’t think anymore, then I think some more and finally I think well maybe just one. But one’s too many because cocktails open up my nose for line after terrible white line—vacuum cleaner, Colombian cartel, I could put up a Missing Nose poster, but what would be the reward? Everyday I wonder when I’m getting the goddamn thinking-but-not-drinking prize, the announcer shakes my hand until my wrist falls off, oops—well here’s some more money to fix that. But who’s killing my houseplants?

Chrissie’s doing more ebay errands, a photo crew over the house to take pictures of the merchandise: bloody noses and cuts and bruises, no sores ‘cause they’re just not as marketable. Chrissie’s taking the power back from the corporations—she’s gonna make a fortune off her own misery. But why do I go to the Power Exchange? The best part is the ride home, cab driver says well at least you’re smiling. Plus, the woman at the entry desk all frisky—still actually enjoying her drugs, but it won’t be long, honey, it won’t be long. Ping-pong, beer bong—same old song—flip-flops on an escalator—come rain or come-stain.

At yoga, I concentrate so hard on one guy’s freckle that I build a house there: Park Place, Boardwalk—why can’t I remember any of the other properties? My sister and I always claimed to like the yellow ones better, we wanted to be rich but not too rich. Chrissie wants to go to a vegan potluck, but what kind of people will be there? Vegans, she says.

The problem is when it’s pouring out and I jump into a cab, get inside and the entire cab smells like the driver’s breath. What is wrong with his liver? But rain is so much better when you’re in a car, the pretty patterns on the windows, neon through mist and oh—these comfortable seats. Though I’m worried that sex will never again change my life.

Gina says I’m listening to music she’d dance naked to, as a joke. The elevator up to my apartment is so slow, motor struggling against all that fucking gravity. Get me some full-spectrum lightbulbs!

Living in a bubble—Hubble Telescope—who are all these people? At first I catch each cockroach between a glass and a sheet of paper, runaway floor, swoop and out the window. But there are always more, flushing them down the drain—I’ll do anything to avoid bloodshed. But soon I see them crawling out of my speakers and unfurling dangerous flags, one of them grows so big it takes up half the kitchen, excuse me I need to do the dishes.

Needless to say, I’m back out in the rain. A trick who surprises me, I could suck on his armpits all night, though would that give me strange wrinkles? After a good trick, there’s always a tough one—this couple with neck problems: they look like two versions of the old English schoolteacher plus Fabio.

Then there’s the trick who leaves me standing outside his house in the freezing cold, the house is sealed like a fortress: a neo-Orientalist masterpiece, with a huge door made out of an entire cherry tree. How many times can I ring the bell? Waiting for a cab to rescue me, I dream my revenge. Turning that house into Pick-Up Sticks in a tornado, but wait—she’s no Dorothy. She may be nelly, but she sure doesn’t go to my church, Mary.

Cold is so relative. Here it’s fifty degrees out and I’ve got on a wool coat, scarf, and mittens but I’m ice. Some guy walks by in a t-shirt—what a crazy bitch! I’d sell my match-box cars for her cha-chas. Leave it to me to take the Mission bus in rush-hour, fifteen minutes and we’ve only gone four blocks. Stalled in front of the Sony Metreon, I’m an economic downturn waiting to happen.

The ringer on my phone mixes so well with the music that I decide to let it sing. Frankie Bones is bringing me everything I’ve ever needed—oh these bleeps and clanks, that hard hard bass, the building frog sound and I am so far into the ceiling I can’t even tell there’s a floor. The frog runs into a toy car horn, I can hardly breathe and oh all that pounding bass, windshield wipers, rattlesnake—oh faster faster and higher and this is the steadiness. Where I forget about everything else, all there is in my life is that horn, oh that muted twisted horn, that Merlin melody child’s piano in a wind tunnel—don’t ever fucking, never fucking leave me.

Here comes the melody, rushing into a chain-link fence, shake that fence! Oh shake it shake it SHAKE it! It’s all about the finger piano swing song in the background, and no way is that a broken air-raid siren turning into a trumpet and giving steam heat radiator whistle, six miles high and then what on earth? It’s just everything speaking back and then in and then out, here comes the march and where oh where could we possibly go from here? All that I need is in the vocal: put your head in the speaker. Come closer.

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