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Pizza Hut or Bust(ed face)

“Real Love is a Sphere,” Jedd Evan texts to me, haiku-style, today.  “The center is everywhere/Circumference, nowhere.”   I’m inclined to agree with him. This is a man who fashioned a bed out of three stacked air mattresses duct-taped to one another and thinks a viable meal is warm Ragu straight out of the saucepot, consumed while huddled over the stove armed with a plastic ladle.  While some girls would insist on a bed frame and some actual dishes, I find him rife with illimitable charm.

We had been planning a trip to the Pizza Hut buffet for several weeks, and we had finally agreed on a date and time.  We were to get up at 9am on Tuesday and run our bank, post office, grocery and hardware store errands in backwards order all the way down Franklin Street. This would put us at Pizza Hut at 1pm, giving us one precious hour to turboload at the Buffet.  Of course, we didn’t actually wake up until 12:45, so we just piled into the car in our pajamas and sped off.   It was raining so hard I couldn’t see ten feet past the windshield.   After a few blocks, I realized I had left my instant coffee on the roof, so in my sleepy rainy brain haze, I slammed on the brakes in the middle of the street and Jedd jumped out to retrieve it.  In his haste to get back into his seat, he opened the door into his face, and a 2-inch gash immediately formed above his right eye.

He produced an old, dusty roll of paper towels from the back seat and used some to stop the bleeding while I drove erratically, hyperventilating with terror and concern.  He clearly needed stitches.  My panic almost propelled me into a tree and several other cars in the vicious storm.

“We HAVE to go home you are BLEEDING,” I gasped.

“NO!! TO PIZZA HUBUFFAY,” he slurred, pressing on the paper towel that was quickly becoming saturated with his blood and what I imagined to be bits of his brilliant brain matter.

“NO.  WE ARE GOING TO THE HOSPITAL!”

“NOOOO I AM FINE I’M APPLYING PRESSURE!”

“FINE THEN!  SCREW PIZZA HUT, WE ARE GOING to BUY SOME THINGS TO CLEAN YOU,” I said, heading to the store next to the Pizza Hut, and though I tried to slip past it, hoping the rain would shield it from my now-half-blind patient, he saw it anyway.

“THAT IS TH’ PIZZAHUBUFFAY GO THERE IT IS 1:17,” he yelled, demonstrating his unflagging devotion to soggy breadsticks and cheese from a ten gallon bucket.

“NO we are going to the FIRST AID AISLE of the ROSE’S,” yet while I was admonishing him for his inability to prioritize, I was simultaneously turning into the Pizza Hut parking lot because I really just want him to have what he wants at all times.

Before I even removed the key from the ignition, he had exited the vehicle and bounded up to the door of the Pizza Hut, already soaking wet and holding this ridiculous paper towel to his head to keep his brains in.  I thought I was going to cry.  I followed him into the restaurant only to face a cold, empty, decidedly pizza-free stainless steel buffet.

“Where, we. . .um. . .we need the Lunch Buffet?” He said, on the verge of tears.

“Oh we don’t do no buffet no more,” some giant, beleaguered woman nonchalantly offered over her shoulder as she lumbered over to the lone table of patrons in the corner of the grimy dining room.  With my two working eyes, I glared at my retreating archnemesis, and her enormous tent of a uniform shirt whose color exactly matched the burnt orange countertops. With his one working eye, Jedd Evan blinked at the space where the buffet would have been.

I ushered him back to the car and we headed to the Rose’s, which is sort of a poor-man’s discount K-Mart, if the K-Mart was built in a shanty, super-trashy, in a perpetual state of final clearance, staffed with a combination of dubiously-behaving socially-retarded teenagers and middle-aged, divorced, obese women with teased hair, and sold plus-size underwears out of a giant bin for one dollar, tax included.  I love Rose’s and I constantly find excuses to go there, and what’s more, there was a Chic-Fil-A next to it.  Score.

I deposited Jedd Evan in the first aid aisle and went off to the clothing section in search of a hoodie.  I located a gray one for six dollars and headed back to retrieve my patient.  I found him calmly surveying the shampoo situation while he folded his bloody paper towel into eighths and sixteenths and thirtyseconds.  He was manning a basket full of canned soup, Band-Aids, Peroxide, A-1 Sauce, tiny superglue, more canned soup, a pack of t-shirts, an air freshener shaped like a tree, a stack of metal forks, and a small area rug.  This was not supposed to be a shopping trip.  This was supposed to be a hospital proxy.

When we approached the check-out, the cashier immediately identified a problem with Jedd Evan’s face and offered the Rose’s fitting rooms as a substitute triage.  He selected his tools from the pile.  Band-Aids, check.  Peroxide, check.  Superglue, check.  Wait.  WHAT?  But he was already gone.  I really took issue with the inclusion of Superglue in his surgical repertoire, but I was silent as I watched him head for the fitting rooms.

But he did not go to the fitting rooms.  No.  Instead, he plopped down in the middle of the Homewares section and used Rose’s collection of $5 full-length plastic-framed mirrors as a suitable place to fix himself.  Almost immediately, the intercom crackled with a plea for security to tend to “Section E, Area 4, Code Blue,” which I could only interpret as the code for, “A Wet, Bleeding Man is Currently Repairing his Gaping Head Wound with Our Discount Adhesives in Bedroom Décor.”

With a resigned sigh I settled into an armchair, its “Final Sale” tag digging into my forearm, and waited.  He emerged, smiling and bandaged, and we still managed to have a nice lunch at the Chik-Fil-A. It’s amazing how good waffle fries taste after a brush with death.

Though I really did not want his wound to become infected and cause him more, very expensive trouble, I knew it was the only way my panic and alarm would be justified.  But I, too, am wrong every once in a great while.  In under 24 hours, his head looked perfectly fine, the gash reduced to a scab under an inch long.  Apparently Superglue is okay to use in lieu of actual medical attention, and he knew it.  Real love is a sphere, he said, and he’s right.  My instinct to protect him did not allow me to trust his guerilla medicine.  I should just focus on finding other ways to show I care, so I suppose my next move is to track down a Pizza Hut with an actual buffet.

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Party Girl.

I choose to fancy myself a successful mingler, much like I choose to remember that I’m terrific at bicycle riding.  Since I rarely perform either of those simple tasks, it is not difficult for me to convince myself I am good at them.

 

The last time I hoisted myself onto a bicycle, it was my old roommate’s, and I quickly realized with horror that the last bike I owned only had two speeds:  However Fast I Can Pedal and Stopped.  And to stop this bike from 1986, I only had stop moving and the training wheels did all the work.  But there were levers and cranks and buttons and baubles on this modern, more threatening bicycle, and since I possessed knowledge of none of their functions, I ate asphalt in under 90 seconds.

 

Something very similar happened to me at the party I just attended.

 

I’m going to share a phenomenon I have experienced since buying the bar.  I rarely get invited to parties, and it’s because everyone hilariously assumes I’m already going to other parties.  Every Monday, customers ask me “how the parties were this weekend,” and they look alarmed when I say that I spent my weekend watching reality TV and trying to find the source of the eight fruit flies in my bathroom.  Why are they there?  There’s no food in there.  I don’t keep food in there.

 

I live on the end of a very short, largely unoccupied, dead end street, and three days ago I realized that four of my bar regulars have lived two doors down from me for five months.  How did we never notice that?  This is an adorable group of young friends whose presence I always appreciate at the bar.  They are intelligent and talented and respectful.   So when they announced on Facebook that they were having a party, and I was invited, because everyone on Facebook is invited, I started a countdown to my evening of social finesse. On the night of the party, after overcoming a minor sartorial crisis, Jedd Evan and I stuffed our coat pockets with leftover beers and headed over.

 

Minutes later I found myself standing in a room full of Zog’s regulars, and MY turf was nowhere to be found.  Standing in my own bar imparts me with a certain confidence I’m always sure will translate into real life should my participation be required in a social capacity other than hostess, but it never does.

 

I’m very good at the bar.  I’m quick and funny and I use poly-syllabic words and I treat my friends to good stories and charm dollars easily out of people I don’t know.  I can tell jokes and recount tales and issue advice and do creative things.  But when I’m not on my own turf I forget how to be a functional person.

 

I parked myself across from the fridge and started talking to two guys I knew and two guys I didn’t know.  Almost immediately, someone opened said fridge and I watched as a full gallon of milk freed itself in slow motion from the top shelf, burst open on the linoleum and spilled onto my flipflopped feet.  I made a couple of jokes about crying over it and silently congratulated myself amid their polite laughter.  Suddenly, the following sentence exited my mouth and I was forced to watch its painful trajectory as it barfed itself into the conversation:  “Hey three of you guys have glasses and guess what my old roommate just moved out and he left three giant bottles of contact solution do any of you guys ever use contacts do you guys want them because I can just go run home and get them.”  And then suddenly, propelled by my good intentions, I was sprinting the fifty yards back home in my milkfeet, wondering WHY THE HELL I just opted to distribute bottles of contact solution like party favors at an ophthalmology mixer, apropos of nothing.

 

I returned with the contact solution, distributed it to the bespectacled unwilling, and gave Jedd Evan the pre-opened, rejected one, which he employed as a conversational tool by using it to replace random objects around the room.  As in, he’d slyly leave the contact solution in place of the hot sauce in front of ten people chewing things that needed hot sauce.  Everyone laughed because he is funny, and good at parties.

 

Some guy came up and told me he liked all my earrings, so I immediately slapped my ear a few times in response.  Why did I do that? Then I talked a mile a minute about how you touch your own hair when someone notices you got a haircut, and I hit myself in the head a half dozen more times to illustrate my point.  No one said anything.  Or laughed.  But a few kids did rescue me by launching into a full Q&A about Zog’s, in which I took part for close to twenty minutes.  It was painful, and not because of them.  They were delightful.

 

It was me.

 

They asked legitimate questions, such as, “How does someone in their early 20s buy their own bar,” (I’m 30), “Do you feel bad kicking out drunk people,” (no), “Do you ever have to cut off your friends,” (I almost exclusively have to cut off my friends), and, “What does that ___________ tattoo mean?”  About halfway through this exchange, I realized I was being potty-mouthed and very boring and I could sort of see it on their poor faces. They had the look I get when I want to end a conversation I’m having with a social pariah but I don’t know how.  I felt so awful for them.

 

Abruptly, I released them from my small-talk grip by simply shrugging and saying, “Whatever,” thereby relinquishing my monopoly on the conversation, and instead of asking them questions about themselves, which is what you DO at a party, I just sort of shut up and stood there until they floated away.  I tried to interject witty remarks into other people’s conversations.  Here are some examples of things I ACTUALLY SAID:

 

“Oh, Elvis is still alive?  Wait.  Costello?”

 

“Yes, yes, I got all the milk out of my shoe.”

 

“My parents got divorced and that’s how come there’s a treadmill in my living room.”

 

After a while I just stopped saying anything.  What was heartbreaking was that no one was being even slightly rude to me.  All the dumb shit I was saying and all the awkwardness I introduced to the room—it all came from me.

 

But the sore, palpitating crux of shame came when, after being silent for a while while Jedd Evan performed beautifully with the group he was regaling on the other side of the party, I decided to step up to the girl Audrey and take her shoulder and lean in and whisper to her.  I said, “Audrey.  I don’t mean to be a downer but I never get invited to parties and I’m really nervous and I really don’t know how to talk to people.”  I don’t know why I did it.  I guess because I just needed to say it to someone but it’s really not the sort of thing you tell a virtual stranger at a neighborhood cookout.  It was time to go.

 

I went out on the porch with Jedd Evan and slumped in a chair next to a wool-vested, headless plastic human skeleton, a remnant of a Halloween party I hadn’t been invited to, and I clutched my tepid bottle of Fat Tire and stared into the street and tried to tell Jedd Evan funny stories while I thought about all the nice, welcoming people inside the house and how I’ve not had enough practice at parties and even though (or especially because) I’m almost a decade older than most of them, I’ll probably not get any better at this point, even with practice.

 

I’m probably just being paranoid.  But, see, the problem is that I’m thinking about it at all.  As Jedd Evan and I trudged home, we passed Rich’s house, and Rich is a bicycle mechanic in Carrboro.  I waved to him and then glanced over at my old roommate’s forgotten bike under my carport.  Maybe I’ll bring it in to Rich for a tune-up tomorrow and see if I can’t get the hang of it again.

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