Unsubscribe by Ray Ogar
>>> COPYRIGHT 2004
This is the first night the evil rope went missing, the snake, the rolled up, hunter-green, laminated garden hose that entangles the taught skinned, pubescent tree in Anthony’s front yard.
So, I am lost.
Each house on Sandelford Street looks exactly alike.
Each house conforms.
Each house is an Internet hyperlink pointing to someone’s interior.
Granted there are subtle differences, perhaps as little as 256 shades of gray, but I only ever knew Anthony’s house because of the sickly, skin peeled hose that sat in his front yard (the hose it is now removed due to a home owner’s association letter of complaint filed by a neighbor offended by the desiccated watering tool).
So, I have to use my cell phone.
I dial the number using the pill shaped buttons that I know are designed for a blind person to use as well. There is slight contrast between the button shapes so you can distinguish what the numbers are with your eyes closed—I find this odd because when you learn to 10-key (as it is called in the retail industry) all the buttons on a calculator are the same shape except for a tiny bump on the #5 key.
I feel like I am hovering outside the wrong house.
Do the neighbors think I am stalking?
I feel my car makes too much noise because of the loosely installed rear passenger window (a repair from when my car was broken into a while back). I know I am being hypersensitive. The radio is off. None of the usual walls of bass push through the car’s interior. The band Junior Boys is not currently playing through the one good speaker in the front left of my dashboard. Normally I only let the future of sound inhabit my car’s interior.
It is just quiet now.
I wait a moment and Anthony finally rings me on my cell.
Where are you?
In the front yard. Almost driving through yours or a neighbor’s front window.
18903, I couldn’t remember his street address and I hear the TV show Desperate Housewives playing in the background behind Anthony.
When I realize what he is watching I actually guess which house is his because of the way the light shines from the front window. The shape of lights through the blinds suggests hyperreal drama, garish color and the spectacle of a wannabe reality. I pull into the driveway to the left of this house (previously I pulled into the right-hand driveway, later angered at the bad design of a neighborhood that not only has houses too close together but no distinguishing ornament for me to determine which driveway belongs to which house).
Out of the car.
My cell phone is closed. Its glow emanates from my pocket for a few seconds, I have it set to a 60 second delay which sometimes I use as a faux flashlight to find my keys.
Popped balloons of a Disney character lay like used condoms in the corner of the front porch. Streamer tatters stick to the wall on one side of the door and I sense I am here for more than a visit.
Perhaps he will ask me to help clean up after some party he had the night before that only a select group of friends were invited to.
I was out of town.
This was known information.
I always knew I would not be invited.
The door opens and I feel the previous evening rush past me into the front yard.
The smell of Vodka turned to turpentine.
Rum coaxed through the urinary track.
Loosely attached fatty acids.
Badly baked sugars burned by a tea kettle.
And the quick rot of mostly starchy foods through a lower bowel.
Anthony ushers me in and I wish I had a SARS mask.
Do I gag now?
Or ask if I can go to the bathroom? Nicely?
Have I entered an art installation?
I see mostly dark glass and colorful labels.
Do I exaggerate when I say I see the front room filled with 2000 bottles neatly stacked like a mound from one of Gregory Crewdson’s spectacularly staged photographs?
This is media clutter.
I feel like I am in a television or web space where hundreds of commercials are vying for my attention. All I can think about is where is the MAC OS X menu bar at the bottom of the screen so I can start dragging and dropping this stuff into the little digitized trash can.
I do not have any reflection time though because Anthony ushers me into another room.
We are now at the back of the house and a new space for me to cringe through, the kitchen.
Quickly I realize the stove’s gas jet is on. And now I know why Anthony’s eyes look so sullen and puffy. I turn the jet off and feign indifference, though all I can imagine is the house inflating like a tick, me accidentally scuffing my rubber soled shoes on the carpet, and that static electricity would be my legacy.
But Anthony continues to push me further through the house. A door more like a baroque picture frame actually accents a view of the back yard. Its glass fills the doorway from top to bottom. And then I see Anthony’s new object of joy, a hot tub.
He opens the door.
We walk along the partially stoned path.
Shrubs more like cleanly groomed spiders touch my ankles.
Accent lights that weren’t there two months ago ask me to believe they are affecting some truth-telling about this fabricated scene.
Anthony stops at the tub.
What looks to be Christmas lights, but which could just as easily be the evolved running lights from a SUV trace the outside of the water bath. Various lights submerged in the watery foam make me think an H2 is in its death throes (if only I was the one holding its entire body under water). Anthony presses a button and the sickly sweet crooning of Celine Dion crescendos from the speakers along the tub’s inner shelving. For a moment, I feel like the specter of every diva from Dietrich to Tina Turner is going to manifest in the mist rising above the hot tub’s whirlpool.
And I finally do become sick to my stomach.
Perhaps it is the gag reflex or the scratchy, left, inner elbow I get around high run copies of manufactured kitsch.
Isn’t this great?
I got this a week ago. (pointing to the tub)
Man, you missed a great party.
You should see the party pictures I took with my cell phone.
Did you know it costs twenty-five cents to send an image over my phone?
Would you like a drink?
Everyone left around six this morning.
I haven’t had time to clean up.
I might go back to bed.
I think my dog ran away.
Can you help me look for him?
And I of course say yes, because this gives me opportunity to escape.
We walk through the newly primed wooden gate (a carpenter friend of Anthony’s will be over later to complete the painting despite the mess).
My car sits alone in the driveway and it becomes my avenue, my back alley, my eject button. Though I refuse to specifically look at Anthony’s house, being between the two buildings, their two-story stature together ridicules me like goliaths.
We get in my car.
The remaining broken speakers in the dashboard fuzz a moment. They recognize that the engine ignites and so push tiny bits of white noise into the car while their sister speaker actually plays organized sound.
Anthony’s points down the street and I feel queasy in the daylight vertigo of domestic self-similarity. If I could I would drive blind, but various children enact mutual rights of passage on each other, practicing the belief that they are aging faster than their biology allows them.
Rows of SUVS.
One garage is converted into an extra living space.
One garage is a sports bar.
One garage is open so I see a refurbished car that never drives on the street.
One garage is a sewing shack holding thousands of spools of thread along a pegboard wall.
Clusters of mailboxes drop behind us. They seem to create the perception of a communal meeting place though I have watched neighbors wait at their windows to see when and if someone is done checking their mail, so they can scurry to the boxes in privacy.
Since I don’t know the area, Anthony points me across several commercial streets.
It easily all becomes a video game environment to me.
The newness and slick architecture of metal paint and neon. I try to imagine when the next wave of gentrification will take place in this area. If it will simply become another piece of the conurb that extends from downtown Houston.
Am I in Tokyo?
Billboards like Internet pop-up ads.
Real world lights more like RGB color swatches.
Ten more minutes and Anthony points to a tanning salon.
The shop sits like a small portal in the badly articulated mall-space. Its lighting more like the burnt orange glow that just barely warms the chicken at the local KFC restaurant. I imagine its daytime coffin’s slowly baking cancer and Botox into the sunshine vampires that walk so easily inside. I see a thrice bred mut with refined cornrows of hair. As it pees on one of the two potted palm trees near the storefront, I understand this oddly manicured sausage is Anthony’s dog.
I pull up.
Anthony whistles low with two fingers between partially separated lips.
The sound is pure tone and escalates to a piercing shriek.
As Anthony fully opens the car door, his dog jumps to his lap and I realize I am even more lost than ever.
This is not someone I want to know.
Early High school alliances.
Subsisting on the same friends.
Our mutual love for WWII bunker architecture.
And the sometimes-casual dislike for certain political figures is all we ever had in common.
I quickly drive Anthony back to his house.
And I back out my car.
I rub my cell phone.
And I delete his phone number.
I also put up a caller block on my cell.
And wholly unsubscribe from our attempt at friendship.