The mystery of the stink

The rain and a recurring urge to vomit kept me home today. I'd hoped to delve deep into sleep, but instead — there's company coming. 

I'm the unofficial maid here. Everyone who lives here is a slob, except maybe Cy, so the filth and rot tends to accumulate until someone's invited over. When that happens, I must emerge from my own filthy room to become Mr Clean-Up.

I get paid $5 an hour for being the housekeeper, but being sort of out of sorts, maybe I was only worth $4.50 today. 

Cleaning this house is a frustration, because it's a huge flat, with eight or nine bedrooms, but there's noplace to put anything. Most of the rooms are occupied, and the 'empty' rooms are all stuffed with stuff and junk and whatnot. Mostly whatnot. So "cleaning up" mostly means moving piles of assorted but mostly unsorted stuff from one place to another.

From the kitchen table, for example, into a box I dropped coupons, pens, old mail, unpaid bills, gadgets and geegaws, scarves and socks, books and magazines and catalogs, clothespins and hairpins and stickpins and a bowling pin, scissors, chalk, ribbons, Batman memorabilia, a 1991 calendar, three baseball caps, a canned ham, chattering teeth, Christmas lights, a comb and two brushes, Scotch & masking & wrapping & duct tapes, a full-size sledgehammer, two calculators, some empty tin cans, doggie toys and kitty toys and kiddie toys and toys from cereal boxes, newspaper clippings and scribbled notes that might be important to someone, and a whole lot of et cetera.

Actually, I needed two cardboard boxes. On each I wrote, "From the kitchen table, 12/29," and on the fridge I left a note: "Everything from the kitchen table is in the room with the red door."

That's how I blitzed through the kitchen, living room, hallways, and the thousand steps up from the street.

And as I washed the dishes, they assaulted me with a tremendous stench. The sink was piled a foot and a half high with plates and pots and silverware et al, but much of the al wasn't et, so unclassified life forms and interesting odors were waiting to be washed away. Sponging and scraping and scrubbing, I kept thinking that the next bowl, the next pan must be the source of the stink, but no, and deeper I delved under the suds. 

I'd been nauseous all morning, fighting whatever vicious virus was having its way with me. Yesterday I could put off the retching long enough to leisurely walk down the hall to the toilet, but today, washing the dishes and inhaling that smell, twice I rushed down the hall, and the third time I didn't make it. The barf wouldn't wait, and I puked right into the sink. Most of the dishes were clean by then, and out of the line of fire, but wiping away my vomit finally solved the mystery of the stink:

It came from under the rubber mat that covers the bottom of the sink. Untold eons of accumulated griz was there, green and slippery and undoubtedly toxic. Twice more I threw up as I hacked at the growth, and even the scent of my own pink and white regurgitation was like sweet perfume to the odor of whatever I'd discovered under the mat.

When that sickening stuff had been washed down the sink, and the mat had been scoured, the sponge trashed, my hands washed, and the drain Lysoled, the kitchen smelled like… a kitchen.

And maybe whatever'd been living under the mat was what had made me sick, because after that there was no puking, and I started to feel rather like myself.

Got the rest of the kitchen nominally clean, then swept and mopped, cleaned the cats' litter boxes, and removed some free-range cat turd from the couch and under the phone stand.

When the dishes had dried I tried putting them away, but with all the plates clean at the same time, no shelf space remained, so several plates got stashed in another cabinet, with the rice and cleaning stuff.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Josh phoned while I was vacuuming the hairy hallway and stairs. We'd planned to see a newly-restored 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey at a Castro matinee tomorrow night, but since it was raining all day he knew I wouldn't be selling fish, and he thought tonight might be better.

"It'll cost two dollars more tonight than at a matinee," I complained, but I talked myself into it. I wanted to celebrate not feeling barfy any more.

Josh asked me to invite Jay along, subtly confirming my suspicion that he has a boner for her. So I called her, and she said yes, and yes, I did warn both of them that I might still be contagious, but they didn't care.

In an hour, we met at the BART station, and the three of us rode together into San Francisco.

Jay said she'd never seen the movie before, but she knew it was science fiction so she'd worn an all-plastic get-up that she said she'd worn to a costume party at Halloween. It looked vaguely Rocky Horror — a white plastic or vinyl blouse with big protruding collar, and black but sparkly pants, and ruby high heels borrowed from Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. It was cute and crazy and certainly got Josh's attention, as if he needed his attention further gotten. 

In Frisco we took a K L or M to the Castro, paid our way into the theater, and Jay excused herself to the ladies' room.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Here comes a moment that meant little to me at the time: Josh and I stood at the auditorium door and asked each other where we'd like to sit. We were among the earliest arrivals, and had our pick of seats, anywhere in the very large theater.

Almost always I go to the movies alone, and by habit I'll take a seat very close to the screen, and off to one side. It lets the movie flood over my eyeballs, and also gives me some space away from everyone else.

Josh said he prefers a seat about halfway back and in the center of the row, and I didn't think twice about acquiescing on such a trivial thing. Who cares, right?

Well, it turns out that I care. I'd forgotten why I prefer the seats I prefer.

See, most people want to sit in the same seats Josh likes, so as the theater filled for the Friday night 7:00 show, the three of us were more and more surrounded. By the time the chubby dorky organist made "Thus Spake Zarathustra" into a tune you could roller-skate to, every seat in our row was taken, and every seat in every row all around us.

I don't mind crowds, from a distance. I never want to be part of a crowd, though. Crowds are full of people, and people annoy me. They talk, when I'm trying to watch a movie. Maybe they simply breathe too loud.

Plus I'm fat and have arms, and without even trying I tend to squish anyone who sits next to me. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

The lights dimmed, the show started, and all through the ape sequence, I was uncomfortable. Too tightly jammed in between everyone else. I thought about whispering to Josh and Jay that we should move to some empty seats in the front and to the side, but screw it. What's that line from Casablanca? "Play it, Sam. If they can stand it, so can I."

So I sat there and standed it, but the movie was in outer space before I'd grown accustomed to all the nearby whisperers, wheezers, sneezers, gigglers, talkers, and overly-loud popcorn chewers. At least there were no crying babies, nobody was making out, nobody was bumping the back of my seat, and there was nobody nearby who reeked of tobacco or perspiration or perfume.

During the movie's meeting before the mission, I noticed a lot of crinkling, and it was coming from Jay, right beside me. Her crazy outfit had looked cool on the subway, and she'd thoughtfully removed the enormous collar so that it didn't poke me, and so people behind us could see the movie, but her costume was all plastic. It crinkled every time she moved in her seat. Loudly. 

After a while I got used to the crinkling like I'd gotten used to the crowd, but as the HAL 9000 watched us watching it, one of the heads blocking a corner of the screen turned around to scold Jay for taking too long to rip the cellophane wrap from a box of Dots or whatever.

It wasn't cellophane, of course; it was Jay herself wrapped in plastic, scratching her arm or reaching for her soda. She could breathe without making noise, but any movement more than that was audible.

The head in front of me tilted to the head beside him to whisper something, and I'm sure it was about Jay's crinkles. I had a withering remark ready if either of them had complained again, or it would've been easy to clunk their heads together, but HAL refused to open the pod bay doors, and nobody said anything more about the crinkling.

The people in front of us were maybe right to be annoyed at the noise, though. Jay's outfit wasn't theater-appropriate, but it was an accident and she's my friend. And anyway, their heads were in my way, and that was a more constant annoyance than Jay's occasional crinkles.

As HAL sang "Daisy," I was thinking, Jeez, if we were where I usually sit, closer to the front and off to the side, there'd be nobody within half a dozen seats in any direction. No heads in front of me. Ample elbow room. Far enough from the crowd that we wouldn't hear people whispering and sneezing, and they wouldn't hear Jay's outfit. 

Having been sick but never napped, I was tired, and being in such close proximity to hundreds of humans it was very warm just from body heat. I came close to nodding off during the dance of colors past Jupiter.

That's where the movie drags, and if Kubrick would've chopped about five minutes out of the light show he'd have had an even better film.

When we reached the interstellar retirement home, though, I was wide awake for the movie's big payoff, which never disappoints me. 

The usual knock on Space Odyssey is that the humans aren't very human. All the people in the movie are detached and dull, and the computer is the film's only memorable character.

But I disagree with that critical assessment. The humans in the movie are very human, absolutely human. Like almost all people, they're uninteresting and artificial, but unlike almost all movies, the people in 2001 are not souped up with drama and issues and conflict and character quirks to make them more interesting than ordinary humans.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It was only 9:30 when we left the theater, but Muni is run by idiots, so the metro was locked. "STATION CLOSED. BOARD BUSES ON MARKET STREET." Ah, ya sons of—

So we came back up the stairs, and waited for a bus on the surface, in a light but constant drizzle. After a few minutes in the wet, Josh said, "Enough of this," and flagged a passing cab. I wished he hadn't and I complained about it, but, OK.

The three of us got in, me in the front and Josh and Jay in the back, and the cigarette never fell from the driver's lips as he told us taxi tales I didn't want to hear, all the way toward Civic Center.

Between the two boxes of black Red Vines I'd eaten at the movie and the tobacco stink in the cab, a surge of vomit welled up inside me. I wanted to lean over and pour some puke on the driver's lap, but I didn't, and began feeling better again once we'd stepped out and into some genuine air.

BARTing home, Josh and Jay sat opposite a drunk hooker, and Jay being Jay she's always sociable, so the three of them became embroiled in conversation. I said a few things too, but mostly I looked out the window at concrete whizzing past.

Josh got off at 12th Street to take a different train, and I got off at Ashby for the short walk home. Jay stayed aboard for Berkeley, but her new friend wasn't headed there or beyond. She was just so plastered she didn't know where she was. 

I was half asleep and two-thirds grumpy by the time I got home. It was a great movie, and always is, every time I've seen it, but I'm anti-social, so an evening with two people is draining. Add in the crowd, and then the taxi, and then a conversation with a strange stranger on the train, after one quick puke in the bathroom at home, I didn't have anything left in me. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Now the day's all typed up, but let me add this: What an ass that Doug Holland is.

I've lived alone for twenty years, doing what I want when I want with who I want, which is usually alone. Having few friends means making few compromises, and I'm so frickin' not-just stuck but cemented in my ways that I get a bit bent about not having my usual seat at the movies, or someone else spending ten bucks on a taxi when I'd rather wait for a bus, or having to talk to a perfectly pleasant drunk prostitute on the train.

If I hate compromising on such tiny things, how am I ever going to be somebody's friend when there's a disagreement over something that matters? How am I supposed to live with Sarah-Katherine, or with any woman who'd be willing to have me around, if I don't want to yield on even the tiniest things?

Sure, I could tell myself it's the flu or whatever I've been fighting. Barfed about eleven times today, and I can smell that some of it's drying in my beard.

I know myself well enough, though, to know that I'd be a selfish ass even if I was healthy. Maybe even more of an ass.

From Pathetic Life #19
Friday, Dec. 29, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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