Once Bitten, One Million Times Shy

I suffer from debilitating shyness.  I know this is confusing to people who used to jam into dirty clubs and watch me hold court onstage over a room of sweaty drunk people, but what you were witnessing was a stunning display of acting.  I never started a single show in nearly ten years without a broken record playing in my head, screaming, “You cannot do this.  People are looking at you.  Run out of the building right now and never look back.  RUN!”

Thankfully, right when I was juuust about to fake a stomach cramp to get the hell out of there, the drums would start.  I would focus solely on the drums (because they were the only thing that was ever on time in that band (zing!)) and then, somehow, I would manage to make it through the set without nerve-vomiting on someone.  The other trick was to pick out one person in the crowd, and taunt them relentlessly the entire time.  That way my brain only had one thing to focus on, instead of focusing on a pile of people who were staring at me.  If I didn’t always have one exterior thing to focus on, I would have most certainly lost my shit and made a break for the closest exit.  It was like a miracle every time I pulled off a show without running out of the room in terror.

I never got used to it, but I found ways to deal with it.  Aside from focusing on one thing, I will tell you this much:  Drinks help.  I realize “drinks help” are the kind of words that eventually bite you in the ass when you wake up all dead and bloated at 27 and teenagers swarm your grave site every year on the anniversary of your death to give each other handjobs on top of your headstone, but I’m 41 now, so I no longer have to worry about anybody making blacklight wall tapestries of my face when I overdose on something in a bathtub.  People only make bad art of your face when you die in your 20s.  Nobody is going to print my face on a flag with the words “The Lizard King” printed under it.  Pressure’s off there!  So have a drink – it’ll loosen you up.

It also helps to pretend that you are not you.  I never, ever acknowledged to myself that that was me standing up there.  It was always someone who was playing a much cooler and confident version of me, but certainly, most definitely, not me.  The person up there is not the same person who hangs up on the pizza guy when he answers the phone when they realize they aren’t emotionally ready to talk to a stranger on the phone.  Definitely not the same person whose hands shake when they have to say “Two adults, please” to the movie theater box office person.  Absolutely not the person who has actually hidden under their desk to avoid having to speak to a customer.  If that person were the same person who climbed up on that stage on any given night, that person would have fainted every time.

I get that some people are just totally cool to be the center of attention – and here’s the thing – I totally am.  I adore being the center of attention, so long as you’re not looking at me, listening to me, or even thinking about me.  Because if I fully realize you are looking at me, or listening to me, or even thinking about me – it will freak me the fuck out.  Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking about you reading it, and it’s freaking me the fuck out.

I get why this may be news to you.  Because while I am terrified of people I don’t know, I am capable of putting on a very convincing display when push comes to shove, because at the end of the day I’d rather be secretly terrified by staying in the room than be publicly humiliated by running out of it like a lunatic baby.  I make deals with myself constantly to just be able to stay in the room.  “If you stay in this room right now and keep talking to these strangers, later on I will let you hide in a bathroom stall!”  “If you stay in this room, you can watch two episodes of The Love Boat by yourself when you get home!”  I’m like the Monty Hall of Social Anxiety, but with considerably shakier hands.

That’s why I can’t really blame you (but I still will) for those times when you invite me out to dinner with you, and I show up expecting a relaxed evening of one-on-one conversation, but you had failed to mention you were bringing along ten people I have never met before in my life.  Springing a table of strangers on me makes me wish a sinkhole would open in the ground right under me and swallow me up in it so I can get away.  My palms are starting to sweat just thinking about it.

Keeping up the false appearance of being an extrovert is hard work on a regular day, but it takes a hell of a lot of mental agility to keep the sham going with a table full of people I’ve never met.  I am so mentally and emotionally exhausted after these types of encounters that I feel like a wrung-out rag when I get home, and it takes a full day of hermiting to feel okay again.

Here’s the thing – I like you.  I want to spend time with you.  I can put aside my issues with you looking at me, listening to me, and even thinking about me, because the exchange of your friendship and spending time with you is worth it to me.  I’ve run the cost-benefit analysis on it, and it’s a win.  But with ten strangers staring at me, you have completely thrown off said cost-benefit analysis.

Now instead of spending time with you, the person I know and like, I get to spend the evening really struggling to make small talk with people I’ll never see again, or worse, be forced to endure a one-sided conversation with your cousin who wants to educate me on how he became a Buddhist after he saw The Matrix, and I’m supposed to just sit there with a straight face and not punt a cantaloupe right into his frameless sunglasses.

Do you know how hard it is to stop thinking about punting a cantaloupe into someone’s face after you’ve fully formed the picture in your mind?  It’s not just the picture, either.  I’m imagining the hollow plonky-thump noise that it would make, and it’s the most satisfying thing I’ve heard since that time Steve Bannon said, “I’m going to unshackle you from the hot tub rail. You’re free to go.  Sorry I thought you were a teenage boy.”

I mean, I get it.  You people are natural extroverts.  I am not.  Mine is accomplished through Photoshop and trick mirrors and shit.

Por Favor No Molestes a Mi Perro

We were leaving Mellow Mushroom a few weeks ago following a particularly successful happy hour, which means I was filled to the brim with discount meatballs and Crown Royal.  (It’s a fantastic happy hour, by the way.  7 days a week, 3:00 to 7:00.  Get the Meatball Trio.)  As we walked outside, a woman was standing on the sidewalk nearby waiting for a table, with the cutest, roundest little fat sausage of a French Bulldog on a leash.  My heart!

Now, even in a sober moment, I would have been swooning over this stubby little character, but being that I am a drunk of the friendly (slutty) variety, and I have much, much love for dogs, I was all over that dog like a flea dip.

I asked if it was okay to pet Frenchie, because I’m not an asshole, and owner lady said, “Of course!”.  So I began petting Frenchie, while secretly plotting how I was going to push owner lady out into traffic and run away with Frenchie (not really) (yes, really) (noooo, kidding!) (not really kidding).  You should have seen this dog.  Trust me – it would have been a justifiable dognapping.  This dog was totally into it, too.  He dog-smiled at me and I turned into well-accessorized goo.  And nobody else saw it happen, but he totally whispered, “You complete me.”

I started my friendly dog interrogation on her, what’s his name, how old is he, is he some kind of toy variety because he looks so much smaller, etc.  The usual questions.  I’ve had the privilege of caring for cute dogs before (R.I.P. Tallulah Joy, best Boston Terrier in the world), I know it can get tiring to answer the same questions over and over, but that’s just the price you have to pay for having a cute dog.  And I gotta tell you, there are worse things in the world than having a cute dog that people want to hang out with.

Beyond letting me pet Frenchie one time, the owner lady was pretty cold and seemed mostly annoyed by me, eventually turning away and pretending I wasn’t there.  How rude!

As I walked away, feeling lowly and rejected, something horrific happened.  I thought the thoughts.  The worst thoughts of all.  The kind of thoughts that force you to take a good, hard look at who you really are and what kind of screwed up entitlement issues you have.  I honestly hesitate to share them with you, because you will be like, “Ohhhhh snap, RAPIST!”

So here it is.

I thought, “Well, why did you bring this cute dog out if you didn’t want people to love on it?  I mean, have you seen your dog, lady?  How can I be expected to look at your dog and control myself?  You and your cute dog are asking for it.”

I know.  Sound familiar?

It really struck me given how many, I don’t know, dozens (hundreds) of times in my life men felt it was perfectly fine to walk up to me and start groping me and interrogating me about my name, where I’m from, because I was dolled up for the night and they felt entitled to help themselves to my body.  Now I was one of those lecherous men.  I was the one making unwelcome advances towards a stranger.

I was a pervert.  A dog pervert.

I guess at least the difference between me perving on that dog, and dewdz perving on me, is that when I got the cold shoulder from owner lady, I walked away and didn’t call her the c-word or anything, you know, the way dewdz do when they walk away, nor did I spin around and shoot or stab her for rejecting my advances, so I guess I’ve got that going for me.

But, seriously, you should have seen this dog!

Oh My God Becky

I was banned by Becky’s mom.  It’s a real lady-and-the-tramp story, only instead of the tramp being a ratty stray dog, the tramp was an actual tramp, and that tramp was me.

Becky and I were best friends in the eighth grade.  The kind of best friends that were attached at the hip, the kind who spent every waking moment together.  We were so like-minded, it was as if we actually shared a brain.  The only differences between us were that Becky came from the right side of the tracks, had well-employed parents who were actually married, and a college fund.  She also typically wore clothes that didn’t come from the “Li’l Whore” section at Kmart.  Becky’s mom used to look at me when I walked into her house like I was a sore-encrusted pit bull with hepatitis.  She was not a fan.

Becky and I would stroll through the mall every weekend, identical from the neck up with blonde hair and matching purple Oakley Frogskins sunglasses, but from the neck down with her decked out in reasonably fitted acidwashed jeans and a tucked-in t-shirt with the sleeves rolled, and me wearing a Motley Crue half-shirt paired with a spandex miniskirt the size of a postage stamp, an armload of silver bracelets, and, always, big white Nike hightop sneakers, and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.

(Although I had never even kissed a boy at that point in my life, I was trying to create the illusion that I was one of those dangerous, fast women.  The kind of woman who would get it on with you in a stolen car speeding down the highway when, in truth, my first boyfriend had broken up with me that year because I had been too frightened to French kiss him.  That made for one awkward bar mitzvah for that guy.)

The summer before ninth grade, my sister and her boyfriend-of-the-month invited us to go a water park in Fort Lauderdale.  Becky’s mom asked me if my mom was going to be there to supervise, and I felt so bad for Becky that her mom was so lame.  Supervision?!  Jesus, we were 13, what the hell did we need supervision for in Fort Lauderdale in the 80s? :\

I told Becky’s mom that, yes, of course my mom would be there!  Duh!  It’s certainly not like I was raised mostly feral if that’s what you’re thinking, Becky’s mom!  I was raised mostly feral, btw.

When we pulled up into Becky’s driveway to pick her up, her mom spied out the window and saw that my mom was nowhere to be seen in the car.  She didn’t say anything at the time, and Becky and I had an amazingly awesome day at the water park, but when Becky got home, her mom banned me from their house for lying to her, and told Becky that I was a bad influence and that she wasn’t allowed to be friends with me anymore.  Becky delivered the news to me from the phone in her kitchen, and told me that her mom was standing in front of her to make sure that Becky had told me, in no uncertain terms, that our friendship was finished.  Her mom had finally found a definitive charge with which to throw me out of Becky’s life:  A lie about the water park.

Far from devastated, a rebel, I laughed and said, “Whatever, it’s not like she can follow us around school to make sure we’re not talking!”  Little did I know, once we entered high school the following month, it wouldn’t be Becky’s mom that ended our friendship.

Becky started spending time with a super gross crowd in ninth grade.  You know, all the Jennifers and Kellys and Lisas, with their perfect tans and rich daddies.  The popular girls.  The mean girls.  The kind of girls we used to make fun of for being so shitty and plastic.

Becky had become particularly close to the worst of the bunch, a girl I named “Bitchface”, and started pretending that she didn’t see me when she and Bitchface would walk past me in the hallway at school.  Becky’s mom adored Bitchface, and encouraged their friendship, thankful that I seemed to be out of the picture for good.

Bitchface was the kind of popular mean girl who wasn’t satisfied with just dominating girls, she would make them change who they were in order for her to even consider being friends with them.  She told Becky that “Becky” was a stupid name, and that from now on, her name would be “Becca”.  She told Becca that she had to run for something in the way of class officer, because anyone who was anyone had a title.  It didn’t take long before Becca sat me down in the cafeteria courtyard to tell me that it was “too hard” for her to be friends with both me and Bitchface, so obviously, I was the one who had to go.  Besides, she reminded me that her mom didn’t want her hanging around with me anyway.

A month later, scorned from being so mercilessly dumped by my BFF, on the day Becca walked up to the podium in the gym to give her campaign speech for class secretary, and before she could even speak, I yelled from the bleachers, “You SUCK!”.  She shot a look at me, I shot her one back, and then she started her speech.  It was the last interaction we ever had.

High school went on, Becca and Bitchface best-friending it up and being shitty assholes like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, and I became best friends with a quality human being named Anne, who is still my best friend 27 years later.  Despite my slutty clothes and wrong side of the tracks address, I did not become a criminal.  Not even a speeding ticket!

A couple months ago, I was bored and had some time to kill, so I decided to do some digging online to see what Bitchface was up to these days.  As it turns out, Bitchface has a rap sheet a mile long, and was most recently arrested for both prostitution and possession of crack cocaine.

That’s right.  Let me string those items together for you, just in case you missed it:  Bitchface grew up to be a crack whore.

It’s a good thing Becky stopped hanging around with me, seeing as I was such a bad influence and all.

This is all really just a very long and convoluted way for me to say fuck you, Becky’s mom.