Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Cupcake and the Rook's Dilemma

One of Cupcake’s favorite literary characters is in Dostoevsky’s “The Possessed.” The character, Kirilov, is a man who never sleeps. This is because he knows that some day he’ll kill himself. Until then, he stays awake, so he can live as much as possible.

Cupcake enjoys this irony. This isn’t because Cupcake is suicidal. (Cupcake makes no judgment about suicide; she’s certain there are times when it’s the most reasonable solution. In Cupcake’s opinion, suicide is a far less heinous way to squirm out of your problems than telling untruths, or, say, bulimia.)

Cupcake likes Kirilov because she understands being caught in the middle. As faithful readers of this blog know, Cupcake’s perspicacity has at times confused her.

Her first year of college, Cupcake went to Hampshire College, a “hippy” school. At that time, Hampshire’s student population was so predisposed towards the radical that wearing matching socks was seen as hyper-conservative. There, Cupcake didn’t fit in. She discovered that she was one of the most shockingly moderate students. (This largely because it’s Cupcake’s practice to buy dozens of the same socks. No matter how she shuffled them in her drawer, they always matched.)

Cupcake’s second year, she went to a Jesuit college in Rome. There, Cupcake still didn’t fit in, discovering herself to be one of the most radically left-wing students. (She believed abortion was a personal choice; she still does.)

Mind you, Cupcake didn’t modify her behavior in any way. She’s simply never managed to fit in, which is why she tries so damn hard to be invisible. (It never works.)

In The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster (a Hampshire professor, at least at that time) created characters who were “World’s Shortest Tall Man,” and “World’s Tallest Midget.”
Cupcake liked those literary characters a lot, too. She understood.

So now, Cupcake is in a quandary.

Cupcake prides herself on her realistic outlook on life. But there are some aspects of Cupcake’s personality that defy logic. (Cupcake presumes her readers will agree that that realism is primarily logical.) These aspects often pertain to affection felt for people who’ve done nothing to “deserve” her affections. (See Winding Roads of the Heart, posting from November '05. I think. It's somewhere.)

Cupcake knows that a sure way to a confusing life is to change who you are all the time. As a playwright, Cupcake knows that Consistent Character Choices are crucial. And even though she is consistent, Cupcake is still often confused.

Like— in this particular case, Cupcake’s personal values mandate that she recognize and value another person, because person’s personality and values represent everything she's ever valued. Her choices in behavior are limited, as they must represent her values. Cupcake strives to enact her own ideals in all areas of her life. But in this area specifically, because it's all ABOUT values, she must behave according to Who She Is. To behave otherwise would be to make a Rook move in a diagonal line like a Bishop, or an L-shape like a Knight.

But by virtue of acting within the construct of her own personality, in a certain aspect of her life (which Cupcake demurs to confide to you), she’s screwed.

Someone has her over a barrel, or a desk, perhaps, like at the end of Secretary where the girl can’t move because she can’t disobey James Spader. She just can’t, because if she does, she won’t be herself. And then all hell will break loose and chessboards everywhere will churn with chaos and she’ll find that she IS suicidal or she might as well be because she’s simply no longer herself and she has no respect for herself and the sun will rise in the west and nothing will matter any more.

Or something like that.

Look, it's not that she's afraid of change. Cupcake’s not a coward. Cupcake was once mugged. Her companion was screaming so loudly that Cupcake couldn’t hear the mugger’s demands. So she walked closer to him, put her hand on his arm in a friendly way, and said, “I’m so sorry- - I can’t hear you. What is it you want? My whole purse or just my wallet?”

This caused the mugger to jump in terror, drop his knife, and run away.

Cupcake once stood on the deck of a burning tour bus which was about to explode and patiently assisted a handicapped passenger out of the lavatory. She felt only annoyance that the diesel fumes were so obnoxious.

Cupcake’s no chicken.

But she can only move with a certain range of motions, and that limitation is holding her in a holding pattern. Which is she supposes what limitations are supposed to do. Usually, that's just the way the game is played. In this case, it means that she's unable to move at all. Like a Rook blocked into its corner, she has no choices.

It's very hard for a smart girl like Cupcake to admit this. She's used to being able to figure something out. In this case, it seems like she just has to sit there and acknowledge that the game is over. But she can't leave the board.

Still. Maybe there’s some bright positive aspect to this that Cupcake hasn’t recognized yet. Sometimes perspicacity requires processing time. In this case she’s been processing for a good 90 days, but it’s not like there’s any urgency. Cupcake has the rest of her life to ponder this matter, and even though she has no plans to kill herself, she doesn’t sleep much anyway. So like Kirilov, she’s got extra time.

Cupcake must act like Cupcake acts, the way a Rook must act like a Rook. (Perhaps that’s what the crows were trying to tell her.)

I suppose when the game is over, the Rook can move any damn way it likes. But then it’s usually put away into a box, not left on the board.

What to do? What to do.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

August strikes again


August 24, 2006, Jersey City, NJ

Died: BUNNY, Clover- Age 8, of cardiac arrest while undergoing massage therapy on the floor of the bathroom. Clover was in debilitated condition due to a prolonged battle with either cancer or a chronic urinary tract infection. At the time of her death she was also experiencing severe constipation, which sometimes responds to gentle abdominal massage.

Though perhaps best known for her critically acclaimed performance as "The Rabbit" in The Effect Of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds during its short 2004 run on 42nd Street, Clover's life in retirement proved that her sass, intelligence and philosophical outlook made her a star in any environment.

Clover died in the arms of her care-taker and friend, Cupcake, who was administering the well-intentioned but apparently fatal massage. (The case is currently under investigation, but police officials comment that there is no suspicion of foul play at this time.)

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Rabbit Society. Or you can just send happy thoughts to Clover as she hops through the Other Meadow.

She will be sorely missed.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cupcake and the Dog in The Elevator

One day, on her way to visit a friend in a Manhattan apartment building, Cupcake was standing in an elevator awaiting take-off. She saw a woman and a dog approach the elevator. The woman stepped in normally, but the dog stopped and looked at the elevator warily, growling a little.

"Come on, sweetie," the owner cajoled, giving a little tug on the leash.

Uneasily, the dog stepped over the metal crevice and moved into the elevator, his eyes intent on watching the doors. He came and stood beside his owner, glaring at the doors. When they closed, he quietly growled again. He leaned against his owner, who bent down and gave him an encouraging pat.

"The doors closed on him once when he was a puppy," the owner explained to Cupcake. "He wasn't hurt, but since then he's never quite trusted the elevator."

Cupcake's friend's floor arrived before the dog got off, so she did see his negotition of that necessity.

As Cupcake walked down the hall to her friend's apartment, she felt bad for the dog. Afraid of elevators, it nevertheless must ride in one several times every day. Cupcake hoped for the dog's sake that one day the owner would move to a house in the suburbs with a big yard. Or at least to a lower floor.

But then Cupcake's friend opened the door, and there was much merriment, and Cupcake forgot about the whole thing until August rolled around.

That's because Cupcake feels about August the way the dog felt about elevators. She doesn't quite trust it. August has caught Cupcake in its metal jaws more than once. Always, they've been completely impersonal attacks. She can't really BLAME August. And yet she finds that when it rolls around, she is slightly uncomfortable, and wishes that, now and then, to help her endure the ordeal, God would reach down and give her a reassuring pat.

Cupcake's friend, the Renowned Psychic, says that regardless of what day calendars begin on, the actual New Year is September first. The Renowned Psychic points out that starting a new school year sticks with you, after 12 years of programming. And Cupcake agrees with her. This is partly because Cupcake used to be a realtor in Boston, where all leases run from September 1 through August 31. The Saturday and Sunday nearest those dates are called "U-Haul Weekend", and traffic moves even worse than usual as every block is impeded by double-parked vehicles with mattresses strapped to the top.

But Cupcake also reckons that it makes sense because, if school starts on September 1, it makes August like a giant Sunday night. And Sunday nights before school, Cupcake recalls, are the anxious hours when one jams in all the homework that one ought to have done over the weekend, but one has happily neglected.

However, it's not because she's scrambling to repay social order and approach justice that Cupcake distrusts August. It's that more often than not it's been a month where dogs die, or lovers make Exits Unexpected, or Cupcake realizes that her job is Beyond Bearable, or checks bounce, or meter maids go on writing frenzies, or nails break, or other dogs run away and are eaten by coyotes, or Cupcake has to admit that something she thought was a harmless little prank actually had evolved to something not particularly sensible (or sane) and potentially hurtful to someone she cared about, or mentors turn traitors, or--- damn, you name it.

Just thinking about various Augusts in her history makes Cupcake bare her teeth and brace herself for attack.

This August (so far) has been skipping by, innocent and unblemished by unpleasantness. But Cupcake nevertheless is uneasy. Her days have been passing happily-- and yet intensely, as though there's unheard background music hinting at ominousness to come.

Cupcake believes in emotional echoes. She understands it to be natural that she would remember, consciously or un, last year's death-vigil over her most beloved dog, and tearful nights post revelation of duplicity to her beloved friend. And other years, of despair that was the sickness unto death, and lovers who seemed abducted by aliens and replaced by heartless replicants, and long walks down country lanes calling helplessly and hopelessly for the little deaf one-eyed geriatric dog who had last been seen outside around the same time the coyote pack ran through howling like something out of Hitchcock--

So just now Cupcake's not much in a mood for writing. She anticipates that she'll return, happy as a package of newly-sharpened #2 pencils, as soon as September 1 rolls around.

Until then, she is growling warily, stepping over cracks, leaning against what reassuring knees she can find, and knowing that next year, she'll have to go through August yet again.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cupcake's Theory of Disposable Men; or, why Cupcake likes having one of those little look-out peepholes in her front door

Among Cupcake’s circle of acquaintances is a Renowned Psychic. For the sake of discretion, Cupcake withholds this person's name. Her friend enjoys celebrity, but also finds it ennervating.

Recently, this Renowned Psychic (whose social conversation is usually not dripping with predictions) said to Cupcake, “You know, someone is coming for you.”

Cupcake stared at her in horror.

“No, no, Cupcake—“ said the Renowned Psychic. “Not the IRS or Homeland Security. This will be a good thing.”

Mollified, Cupcake considered the possibilies.

”Could it be UPS?” she asked. (Cupcake is both a cautious optimist and an Ebay shopper.)

“No, it's a man. A romantic partner. You’ll be in a relationship in the next few months.”

Cupcake’s heart sank.

“But—but--how can we stop it?” she spluttered. But the Renowned Psychic had smiled a mysterious smile and floated away like Glinda the Good.

Cupcake’s been carrying this prediction around like a hair shirt she refuses to put on. She rejects it outright. It ain’t possible. She don’t want it. Take that cup away from Cupcake, for she doesn’t wish to drink its poison.

See, Cupcake prefers to work in the model that reflects her Theory of Disposable Men.

It’s a brilliant scheme. It came to her in the bathtub, that venue of discovery lauded by Archimedes and Napoleon alike.

Here's how she came upon it:

Cupcake was shaving her legs. But she kept nicking herself.

She looked at her razor. She realized that, although she had plenty more razors in the cupboard, she’d been using the same one for weeks. And it was dull.

Cupcake started to throw the razor away. But she felt a pang of loss. She and the razor had taken so very many baths together; they’d shared months of intimacy. She felt attached to the razor, even though it kept wounding her.

Cupcake loved this razor. Even though her legs were hacked and bleeding and she had more razors in reserve, she hated to see the little fellow go.

Suddenly, an understanding of the futile brutality of codependence dawned in Cupcake’s mind.

And with a whoop of recognition, Cupcake yelled, “Eureka!” She leapt from the tub, tossed the has-been razor into the garbage, and grabbed a shiny new one off the shelf.

As she continued shaving, she marveled at the smooth, close swipes, the easy path through stubble, and the lack of new blood. By the time she emerged from the bathtub, Cupcake had devised the Theory of Disposable Men.

Which is this:

Men, thought Cupcake, are like razors. They work best if you don’t keep them around for too long.

Oh, they’re useful. But after a few uses, they should be tossed. And why not? There’s plenty more where that one came from.

When a girl keeps one around too long, she reflected, it becomes dull. And then bad things happen, and a girl can get hurt.

This realization opened a whole new world for Cupcake.

She moved forward through a rather happy decade in this frame of mind.

But then, despite her satisfaction with a dispassionate status quo, a bad thing happened anyway.

One sleepless night, Cupcake drove to a nearby the 24-hour Walgreens. The razors were kept in a locked plastic case. (Cupcake lives in the Ghetto, so many stores take precautions with easy-to-lift items.) Having been informed by an unapologetic staff person that the previous shift’s manager had accidentally gone home with the keys, Cupcake resigned herself to not buying new razors that night.

But wheeling her cart through the aisles, she discovered a lone package of razors left on a display of flip-flops. So she put it in her cart and bought it. Having many purchases, she didn’t notice the suspicious expense of those razors when the cashier rang everything up. She just paid and went home.

When she went to open the razors, however, Cupcake learned that it was not razors (plural) but razor (singular). The package held an expensive, nice NON-disposable razor, along with several replacement blades. This gave her momentary pause. But she figured, heck, she could still throw it away if she wanted.

The first pass that high-quality razor made over her shin, though, made Cupcake aware that there was a reason this was a NON-disposable razor. It was GOOD. It was better than the disposable ones. It was WORTH KEEPING.

So I’ll cut to the chase.

Having spent a decade or so going through razors, men, and condoms with a callousness that would do the Bush administration proud, Cupcake had grown attached to her dispassion. She wasn’t in love with it (and that was entirely the point)-—but it was a steady gig.

And then one dark unfortunate night, Cupcake met a man who, like the superior razor, was a cut about what she was used to. Someone WORTH KEEPING.

In both of these cases, Cupcake still is puzzling it out.

Cupcake lost the NON-disposable razor. She was sort of relieved, because the replacement cartridges were expensive. And she lost the NON-disposable man, too.

In neither case is she entirely sure what happened.

But the thing is this.

The Renowned Psychic says that Love is coming for Cupcake, and this does not make her happy. She would rather have heard it was the Grim Reaper. (Or at least the IRS or Homeland Security.) She repeats to herself, almost hourly, her own belief that the Renowned Psychic is wrong. Because she’s pretty sure that unless it IS the UPS man, when he rings the bell, she won’t let him in.

It’s safer that way.