A is for aardvark. Aardvarks eat ants, and they have long noses. My nose isn't long, but it's fat. It's like a big jack-o-lantern triangle that's been slapped haphazardly onto my face. Which is why no one finds me attractive. Also because of my stooped shoulders and my lazy eye. And because I eat ants.
B is for boy. It's also for girl, because I don't want to be sexist. If I like girls "that way" but not boys, does that make me sexist? Or reverse-sexist? What IS the reverse of sexist, anyway? Sexy? If I like girls "that way," does it mean I'm sexy? Is that why girls are scared of me? Because I'm too sexy? Even with my fat nose? [See "A is for Aardvark."]
C is for cookie. Here's a good recipe for cookies: go to the store and buy some. Don't bother putting them on a fancy plate. Just rip open the package like a man and chow down! You'll be surprised at how many you can eat. You'll finish one and say, "Okay, that's it. I mean, I don't want to get fat or anything," but then you'll think, "One more can't hurt." And then, before you know it, you'll finish the whole pack. And you won't go to the gym, because you'll think, "Hell, I've already ruined today. I'll get back to my diet and exercise routine tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'll have some ice cream." By "you" I mean "me."
D is for dad. My dad never gave me enough attention, so I acted out in the most cliche ways, like stealing hood ornaments and TPing people's houses. Let's face it: I'm not an original thinker. Paradoxically, this is because I keep trying to have original thoughts -- so that I can impress my dad. I guess my personality never really developed. I'm like this adjunct to my dad that he refuses to acknowledge. Of course, now that I'm older, I can see that my dad is an adjunct to HIS dad that HIS dad refuses to acknowledge. And yes, I DO plan to have kids.
E is for energy. Which apparently is equal to mass times the speed of light squared. Do you understand the Theory of Relativity? You should use it as a benchmark for your level of intelligence. No matter what you've accomplished, no matter how high you scored on standardized tests, no matter how much you earn or how many birthday presents you get, if you don't understand the Theory of Relativity, you're basically stupid. Sure, I'm raising an arbitrarily high bar, but I say, "Why not aim high?" I also say, "Why not eat a little humble pie?" [See "C is for cookie."] And if you do understand the Theory of Relativity, don't rest on your laurels. Aim higher. See if you can figure out a way to unify the fields. Somebody has to.
F is for frog. I feel hope whenever I read one of those stories in which a beautiful princess kisses a frog, and then the frog turns into a handsome prince. Which is why I keep kissing frogs. I hope they turn into princes, because a prince can talk and I want to ask him a question. I want to ask him, "Do you ever feel insecure in your marriage to the beautiful princess? I mean, she obviously wouldn't have married you back when you were a frog, and if you ever turn back into a frog again, you're pretty much toast. And aren't you still a frog on the inside? Don't you feel like the princess is attracted to you for superficial reasons? I mean, I know you're a handsome prince and everything, but you can't erase the fact that you were born so much uglier than your wife. Can beautiful women be attracted to ugly men?" Do you think the prince would actually give this some thought and answer me truthfully, or would he just mumble, "good question, good question," and pat me on the head. I couldn't bear being treated like a peasant by a prince who was once a frog! Also, would there be awkwardness because I once kissed him and we're both guys?
G is for Google. I tried searching for myself the other day, and I discovered a link to a really embarrassing remark I once wrote. I wrote it in 1989 and posted it without thinking. Now it's online to haunt me. And anyone who googles me can find it. I don't want to tell you what it says; It's too humiliating. Oh, okay. It says, "Sometimes I steal money from people who invite me over for dinner." Look, that was in the 80s. Who didn't steal back then? I'm mostly over it. Sure, if I see some spare change lying around on the top of someone's microwave or peeking out from under their sofa, I might pocket it. Are you saying you wouldn't? In the early 90s, when most people didn't know how to go online or do a web search, I never noticed my comment having any adverse affects. Now no one ever invites me to dinner parties.
H is for hermit. Sometimes I lock myself in my room. I'm perfectly happy being alone, as-long-as I have access to diet Coke, cheese sandwiches, a television and some lubricant. The only problem is I get these racing thoughts. I start imagining things I should have said to people or things I should say to people or things I want people to say to me. So I'm alone but I'm not alone. All my thoughts are turned outward, to an imagined social life. I wonder if this is because I've never tried being a hermit for long enough. Maybe after a few years, you completely stop thinking about other people. Maybe this is easier without television. But then how would I watch CNN?
I is for igloo. You know, I was in this coffee shop the other day, reading a paperback copy of "Ethan Frome," and I looked across the room from me, and there was this pretty girl also reading a paperback copy of "Ethan Frome." What are the chances? And I thought I could capitalize on this coincidence by striking up a conversation about our shared tastes in literature. Only I couldn't catch her eye. She was engrossed in her book and refused to look up. So I kept making these coughing noises and clearing my throat, hoping this would distract her, but it didn't work. Man! She was really enjoying "Ethan Frome." Finally, this guy by the door accidentally kicked the umbrella stand. It made a racket she looked up. I grasped the opportunity and stared right into her eyes. And she noticed me staring at her. When I saw that she noticed, I pushed my head forward, indicating her book. Then I inclined my head towards my book, trying to get her to see the connection. She just sort of smirked and went back to "Ethan Frome." I figured I blew it with her. I searched the room for other girls I could flirt with, but no one else was reading "Ethan Frome." Typical!
J is for January. I just realized that my last paragraph had nothing to do with igloos. So I'm thinking maybe I should write about igloos now. Or maybe I should just cut my losses and move on to January, or I could combine January and igloos into one paragraph -- they both call to mind images of coldness and winter. But I'm sort of distracted, because I'm still thinking about that girl in the coffee shop. She was wearing a miniskirt and thigh-high stockings and frankly who wouldn't be distracted by her? Do you think I should have asked for her phone number? Would that have come across as desperate? Maybe I should post one of those "missed connections" ads on Craigslist: saw you in the coffee shop reading "Ethan Frome." We exchanged a meaningful glance. Let's exchange more. Yours truly, Not The Umbrella Stand Guy.
K is for king. Just for one day, I'd like to be king. Just to see what it's like. I'd like to order people around without suffering any consequences. (I don't want them to despise me for ordering them around. I want them to just accept it -- as my Divine Right.) Here are some of the things I'd order: no whistling, 'cause it gives me a headache; I get to eat as much cake as I want without gaining weight; somebody else has to finish this alphabet for me. Here are some gifts I would bestow: every day is Casual Friday, except for Friday, which is Cake Wednesday; always free samples in the cheese isle; everyone gets slaves but no one has to be a slave; the alphabet ends at K.
L is for love. I love you. There, I've admitted it! I hope this doesn't lead to embarrassed silences and eyes cast downward at our place-mats. Can't we pretend I never said it and just be friends. And can't I occasionally lay my hand on your thigh, just as a friendly gesture? I mean, does it really hurt you to have a hand on your thigh? Think of it as a gift that you're giving me. It doesn't cost you anything and it affords me such great pleasure. It's almost stupid not to let me play with your boobs -- I mean lay my hand on your thigh. Did you know that in France friends kiss each other on the lips?
M is for money. Do you have a financial advisor? If not, I can be one for you. I'll tell you to buy low and sell hight, or vice versa. I don't know anything about money, but I know what I like. Ah yes, I have expensive tastes. When you see the bench in my foyer, you'll think "money well spent!" And when was the last time you saw me without a carnation in my lapel? For that matter, when was the last time you saw me without a lapel? But I don't speak of money, because one doesn't.
N is for nobody. I am very small. I'm so small I can fit into a little box that you can shove somewhere without thinking -- maybe on some dusty shelf in your closet, way up high and behind the linens. I want to be noticed for my smallness. I want you to be irritated by my unstoppable self-degradation, by my unflappable self-denial. It fills the room and weighs you down, yet if you accuse me of self-aggrandizement I can stare at you wide-eyed and say, "What are you talking about? I'm a worthless sack of shit!" Don't you know the paradox of the small penis? It's also a large penis.
O is for Olivier. The world's greatest actor. Who was better at Shakespeare, Olivier or Gielgud? Gielgud stressed the mechanics, meter and precision of language; Olivier stressed the emotion. When you tell me to stop using things you said in the past against you, I try to be like Gielgud. I try to calmly and logically explain to you that I can't discount the past. If I did, then how could I ever take anything you said seriously? I'd have to discount that time you told me you wanted to sink into the ocean of my eyes. Is that what you want? Sometimes I act like Olivier. I lash out at you. I say, "I see. It's fine when you blame me for that one time I yanked the glasses off your face, flung them to the floor and stomped up and down on them, but the moment I bring up the smallest thing YOU did to ME, I'm the bad guy. Fine. I get it." And I storm out of the room and shack up with the first "ho" I meet at the strip club. Believe me, I know this is childish. You don't have to tell you it's childish. We're in agreement on that point. So are we okay, now? Can we just eat dinner?
P is for penguin. Penguins mate for life. They can't fly. Thanks to the invention of the airplane, people CAN fly. So they don't have to mate for life. Even before the plane, sailors had a girl in every port. On the other hand, I have many ports without girls (so to speak). I also can't afford a plane ticket right now. Anyway, where would I go? Everywhere is the same as here. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush -- even if you're holding a pigeon and the two in the bush are penguins. The penguins are mated for life, so you'll just be a fifth wheel to them. Whereas at least you have a chance with the pigeon.
Q is for quicksand. Lately I've felt that various events have been dragging me down. For instance I'm burnt out in my job. At first I thrilled to the nuance, but -- honestly -- how different can one bottle cap be from another? I look down the assembly line, and all I see is a blur. And I worry that this apathy is bleeding into other areas of my life. For instance, I had this steak at Peter Lugers, and I found myself thinking of that Peggy Lee song, "Is That All There Is?" What I feel I need is some great upheaval. I need to be jostled. I need to be slapped in the face by an unknown hand. I need someone to pull the sidewalk out from under me. But I worry that I'd just hit the dirt under the sidewalk. Or maybe a sewer pipe. What I'd really like to do is go on a quest, like Frodo Baggins. Only without elves.
R is for rust. Want to think about something odd? Imagine licking an old rusty hinge. Feel the metal shards scrape against your tongue. Maybe you'd rather not. Maybe you're pissed that I planted such a nasty picture in your brain. Believe me, brother, it could have been worse. I could have suggested you lick a piece of sponge cake that you'd rubbed in a urinal.
S is for soup. As in "Here we are: in the soup." No one likes to wrestle with disaster, but there is some solace to the recognition that you are, in fact, "in the soup." It's the solace of location. Surely it's better to know that you're in hell than to be lost in a mysterious world filled with pain and fire. Once you know where you are, you can start making plans. "Yup, I'm in hell now. My aunt Emily must be here too. She was a really bad person. I'll go look for her. She used to make really good casseroles."
T is for tiddlywinks. The younger generation is going to read this and accuse me of making up a word. We'll patiently explain to them that back before computers wiped your bottom for you, there was a game called tiddlywinks. Back then, people browsed in actual bookstores and returned their VHS tapes three days late to Blockbuster. Back then, your mother and I loved each other. She was such a pretty girl when I met her, with a waste as thin as your arm. We used to dance to The Jive Five and stay up late to watch meteor showers. You were nothing but a gleam in my eye. Where did it all go? How did everything turn dark and predatory? [See "Q is for quicksand."] Is there any way we can turn back the clock? What I wouldn't give for a second chance. What I'd really like is a way to go back to the 70s and take Netflix with me.
U is for uncle. Are you ready to say "uncle"? Do I have to pin your OTHER arm to the floor? My, my you're a stubborn little hobbit. And you're cute too. It's hard not to take advantage of you there, pinned under me. But I'm a professional. There's pleasure and there's business. Maybe I'll meet you after work for coffee and we'll take if from there. But right now we have to discuss that money you owe my employers. You should have just paid up when you were supposed to. Now look where we are! Why are you making this so difficult? You KNOW you can't win. You think I want your death on my conscience. I may not look like it, but I'm a gentle man on the inside. God fearing, churchgoing. If you promise not to run, I'll let you up so that you can look at this photo of my wife and kids. I always carry it with me. They're not really MY wife and kids. They're the wife and kids of this other guy who refused to pay up. I had to "have a talk" with him. He didn't listen, so now I have his photo. They're the wife and kids I'd like to have if I didn't have to move around so much. Oh God I'm lonely.
V is for vanquish. Vanquish ALL your foes. All of them. Don't make the mistake of sparing the children. Children grow up. They bear grudges. When you're 87, you don't want to bump into a teenager carrying a box-cutter. But that's what's going to happen if you let sentiment cloud your judgement.
W is for wabbit. Do you think Elmer Fudd is gay? He's got to be, right? I have an excellent gaydar. I got it on ebay, but it was still in shrink-wrap, and it came with a two-year limited warranty. At first, I didn't like it because it would beep loudly and say, "Warning! Gay person in the vicinity. Return immediately to home base" whenever I passed anyone on the street with a light step or a limp wrist. But I forced myself to read the manual. There's this switch on the side that puts the thing in vibrate mode. Now I can avoid the fags without disturbing any fuss. I mean "avoid the homos." I don't want to offend anyone. I have no beef with guys who choose to be gay. Trust me, I would be gay in a New York minute if I thought it would help me get laid. But I just know I'd be that one guy wearing a track suit in the leather bar. People wouldn't laugh, because they're too polite, but they'd snigger behind their napkins.
X is for XML. XML facilitates the sharing of data across different systems. Say you're selling your bookshop. You can give me a list of your inventory, and you don't have to ask what kind of computer I have or whether I'm running Word or Excel. It doesn't matter, because every computer can interpret an XML document. Or at least that's the idea. That's the great promise of XML. But we should all remember the Tower of Babel. Sure, we'll start out with this universal language. But pretty soon people will splinter into isolated groups. And inevitably these groups will develop their own in-jokes and dialects. Soon there will be pidgin xmls and then full-out separate languages. And we'll need a United Nations of former xml speakers, and we'll have bad translations of novels, movies with ridiculous subtitles, wars and ethnic cleansings. You can call me a pessimist, but I say I'm a realist. History repeats itself and all roads lead to Rome. Meanwhile, we're living in a utopian bubble -- a brief period of tolerance when we all speak the same XML. We might as well enjoy it while it's here. My advice to you is this: hug your girl tight and whisper some XML into her ear. Wrap the mantle of love around your shoulders. It's not much to protect yourself with in the black night, when the tigers scratch at your door, but in the end, it's all you have.
Y is for yellow. When you and I both look at something yellow, do we see the same yellow? Or do you see mustard while I see jaundice? What do you see when you look at my wife? You'd better not be looking at her ass! What I want is this: I want you to notice that she's sexy without actually being turned on. And I want you to envy my catch without wondering how a nerd like me could have possibly landed such a hot babe. I want you to be jealous without resenting me. I want you to be open to the possibility of a threesome, but only when I'm ready. I may never be ready. On the other hand, if I invite you over tomorrow, bring some wine, because that's only polite. And remember, anything that goes on between you and my wife is just physical. You'll never forge the link with her that I have. Even if she leaves me for you, you'll never know her like I do. Because I read her diary.
Z is for zipper. It's funny to think that there was a time before zippers. And it's even funnier to think that back then, no one thought "this is the time before zippers." Which leads to the thought that in the future, people will look back at our time and think, "Wow! There was once a time before..." and yet we don't think of ourselves as living in a time before... But if we did, what would it be? What is it that we lack? Sure, sure, sure: a renewable energy source, nano-technology, Liz Taylor, etc. But those are obvious. What is it that we lack but don't know that we lack -- and will one day have? If I had to guess, I'd say a machine that forces people to love us. Those in remote posterity will shake their heads at us and say, "Can you imagine living back in those days when you had to worry about getting a girlfriend? And what about those guys whose wives left them! Do you know how lucky we are to be living in the age of forced-love machines!" Now, I have to admit that there are aspects of these machines that I don't understand, but that's natural since my mind can't comprehend the future. For instance, what happens if Bill and I both point our machines at Sally? Does she love both of us? Do the two machines cancel each other out and she goes for Brad, instead? Does she love Bill more than me, because he bought his machine from The Smarter Image whereas I bought a knock-off at Radio Shack. It seems like the denizens of the year 2087 are just as bad off as we are, filled with doubt and suspicion and cantankerous jealousy. But we know that can't be. Somehow they have worked out the kinks, or why would they look back at us with sad condescension?