Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Big Angry Bear

Maybe it was because our familiarity with one another bordered on us being sheep clones, but Beth had a way of opening a lock in such a manner that I, several rooms away at the other end of the apartment, knew exactly what kind of mood I was in for. It's not that she slammed the door nor made a wild, dramatic entrance--she was simply capable, on occasion, of emitting a force of pure negativity that would come whooshing down the hall like a poltergeist and envelop anyone who happened to be there. Just a shred more intensity and plates would have been flying off the shelves.

This ability had its useful moments. A co-worker was having an affair and she and her new girlfriend were visiting. But the woman also had a new wife of two whole weeks; an ex-stripper crackhead who liked to throw down. Could this girl pick 'em or what? The wife, a bone skinny ho with Mr. Ed's teeth, came stomping into our apartment without knocking or ringing the bell, clearly on a thirst for blood and screaming the woman's name. Crackhead or not, she probably had a point. But morality is the first thing to go in the face of potential bodily harm and I quickly hustled the affairette into my bedroom and hid there with her.

Beth did that trick of hers where she puffs herself up, spewing attitude like pepper spray, and appears three times physically larger than she actually is.
She met the woman in the hallway, yelling, her formidable presence filling every square inch of space.

"What are you doing in my house?"
"That girl o mine she--"
"Bitch think she--"
"GET OUT!!!" Beth screamed, opening her full reserve of hostile vibes. It was like being at an exorcism. The slut slunk away on command as though cast into a herd of swine.

A burglar was later given the same treatment, Beth catching him in the act and with the same result. So, see, having a woman like this around can be a very handy thing to have on hand.

The trouble was that people who didn't know her would see Beth having a full-scale meltdown over cigarette smoke and come away with the impression she was like that all the time. She wasn't. Her positive emotions were just as extreme and she could make opening a can of tuna seem like you were at a party. But I tend to hang with timid people and most of them were scared of her. A few started calling her The Big Angry Bear. Just not to her face.

"How can you live with that?" they'd ask.
"Well, she can be a lot of fun."
"Dude, I saw her shame and practically castrate you just because you left a Twinkie wrapper on the coffee table. Why would you put up with that?"
"Because she didn't find the six others stuffed behind the couch."

Beth was also good for crowd control. We had a come-as-your-sexual-fantasy party at our place and some drama went down we didn't count on. Tor and his wife, Krista, came and she had dressed as a dominatrix. This would have been ok were it not for the fact that another friend, Joe, used Krista's prop whip to good-naturedly swat her on the ass. It was not a come on--hell, Joe was sitting right next to his own wife when he did it--but Krista used the incident as an excuse to act as though Joe had seared her buttocks with a curling iron while sticking his tongue in her ear. Tor fumed with righteous indignation as though every living man shared his sensibilities and Joe was simply another in a line of thousands wanting to make it with a braying hyena playing dress-up in a leather corset. It was an odd bit of role reversal as Joe and Julie, the suburban couple, saw the whole thing as a silly stunt while Tor, who had spent his entire adult life doing his best to present himself as a pansexual, anything goes, libertine, started thundering like an evangelist about the lapse of morality and disrespect for the institution of marriage he'd just witnessed.

I did not see it, but Joe tells me that Tor pulled him into the bathroom and tried to pick a fight. Tor was a slight, kittenish man and Joe was twice his size and a karate instructor, but it didn't deter Tor from trying to come off like Walker, Texas Ranger. "Fucking posturing, Banty rooster," is how Joe describes it. "I could have put him in a coma using just my thumb." He could have, too. But knowing Joe, he probably egged Tor on just for the entertainment value. I could hear Tor shouting from the other end of the apartment.

"How dare you?" Tor screamed.

This is something about Tor that is absolutely hysterical, although it is not wise to let him know you think so. When he is pushed into full-scale fury he will always trot out How dare you?, unaware this phrase has not been uttered convincingly by anyone since the turn of the original fin de sicle'. You expect him to follow up with Good day, sir! and stride out of the room in a huff. There is not a trace of self-referential humor when he does this--in fact it is a signal for quite the opposite. When these particular words escape Tor's lips he means business. Physical harm, inasmuch as he is capable of implementing, is not far behind. He can beat me up. So can seven year old girls. Anyone else, probably not, but Tor's unshakable faith in his magic words prevents him from seeing this. How dare you? is a logic puzzle that will render helpless any semblance of brute strength or cunning; the spoken words alone crippling in their profound and awesome power. Naturally, Tor's utter sincerity while invoking How dare you? is what makes it all the more amusing. Somehow, in his head, the utterance of these words are the zenith of expressing anger and he reserves it until long after a barrage of normal profanity and real world, this-century threats have proven ineffective. It is only when you have pushed him to the breaking point you will hear the deadly, confrontational triage of wordsmanship. How! Dare! You? is the final shake of the rattle before the pit viper, albeit a foppish one most likely wearing a cravat, lunges and sinks its poison fangs into your calf.

Beth wasn't having it. Fuck Tor and his Edwardian line of crap.

She forced her way into the bathroom and made it clear that she would mop the floor with both Tor and Joe if they didn't either shut up or leave right then. I'm thinking her chain mail bra was an added convincer, as she could have whirled it around her head and used it as a mace if need be.

No one heard a peep from the offended parties for the rest of the night. Karate instructor or not, Joe knew when he was bested.

She could pull some crazy, though. A group of bar friends had the idea one night to re-convene at our place and have a music jam. I arrived with Eddie, a mutual friend who had played drums in bands for decades. As soon as we walked inside he spotted and made a beeline for Beth's tall hand drum she'd bought at the Michigan Women's Music Festival.

"This is really cool," he said. We took it back to where I had my keyboard rig set up. He tapped out a beat, another friend cut loose on the guitar and I noodled on the synths in my usual, clueless fashion. Beth, who was a part of the plan, arrived late. She walked down the hall and into our music room and you would have thought she'd seen Eddie jerking off all over a baby.

"NOOOOO!" she howled, angry tears bursting from her face. "Bad! Bad! Wrong!" Clearly we could see that the target of her fury was Eddie but had no idea why.

"You fuck! You goddamn bastard! Bad! Bad! Wrong!" she screamed again, as though he'd soiled the carpet.

Her uber-lesbo, feminist sentiments blew a few circuits and went right into crazy town. "You are touching my drum! MY drum! Why are you touching my drum?"

Eddie looked confused, as though she'd gone off on him for breathing her air. We all did.

"Beth, I've been around drums since I was thirteen."

"You! Don't! Under! Staaaaaaaand!" she raged. She was right, we didn't.

"You asshole! A woman made that drum!"
"A woman probably made the toaster, but you're not all fucking precious about that. What the hell, Beth?" I always knew just what to say. To turn things up a couple notches.

"Beth, please," Eddie pleaded.
"It is MY drum! I know the woman who made it by hand herself!! I met her at the Michigan Women's Music Festival and you've no right to touch it!"
"I thought we were all coming over to play music..."
" I saw you!" Beth shouted. "A drum is a woman! You don't beat her! You play her!"

This little tidbit, I later learned, was lifted verbatim from the audiocassette the woman who made the drum thoughtfully included with her product so that purchasers might properly relate to it as a feminist totem rather than, you know, a musical instrument.

"A drum is a woman!" Beth repeated, hysterical.

"You know," I said, "I have scoured that thing from top to bottom and never found any genitalia. Can you show me just where on your instrument you can determine it's sex? Cause if my retro synthesizer is capable of getting a boner it would really make up for the lack of MIDI capability. If I could back into that fucker while playing some minor chords I think I'd be in heaven."

This is the sort of talk, to someone who views men in the same way certain people do the CIA when it comes to the Kennedy assasination, which simply cannot be endured. Beth ran, screaming and crying, into the backyard and wrapped her arms around a tree, no doubt re-living another moment from the Michigan Women's Music Festival. She sobbed and wailed so loudly I was sure someone would call the cops. Eddie went out there and tried to calm her down.

"Beth, what's going on? I told you, I've been playing drums for years."
"But you were playing MY drum!"
"OK, but other people have sat behind my kit. No big deal."
"That's because your drum set is part of the patriarchy! My drum is a woman!" she snapped.

But mostly made from a dead cow, which could seriously piss off a sizeable segment of people, I mean women, at your little gathering, Eddie probably thought but wisely did not say.

But that was Beth, and unexpected tantruming from out of left field was part of the package, just as living with me meant more conversations about 70's children's TV programming than any one human could bear to endure. I could see, from an outsider's view, how everyone who had witnessed Beth and I in similar screamo scenes might think we were headed for the evening news. Beth and I had many fierce, public, knock-down-drag-outs that probably made us seem like one of those horrible married couples who are too into verbal degradation to ever consider filing for divorce. But in reality, the relationship was more like siblings who'd grown up with one another and had the absolute freedom to go crazy on each other's ass within an inch of fratricide then say, "Hey, you wanna go get ice cream?"

She told me stories of a roommate she'd lived with who made insane demands and was forever coming up with new household rules. "You don't say?," I said, remembering last night's hour-long hissy about a thumb print on a mirror.

"No, this woman was nuts," Beth explained. "I went on vacation and had left a popcorn pan in the sink before I left. When I came back I found she had carried my pan down to the basement and left it there, saving it for me to wash when I got back!"

I filed this story away and then a truly marvelous thing happened: Beth left for a week's vacation in Florida. That alone would have been a truly marvelous thing in that I could blare the stereo, smoke in any room I felt like and rub my dick all over her goddamned drum just because it called to me and said it wanted it bad. But she'd also left a popcorn pan in the sink! I don't know if she has this little ritual before she goes on vacation where she thinks popping corn will keep the jet in the sky the next day or what, but finding that pan after she'd left made me laugh out loud. Of course I immediately carried it downstairs and left it in the basement, giggling about how funny it would be when she got back.

By the time she returned I'd forgotten about it. She went out that night and since I had to go to work the next morning I went to bed.

I was awakened by another example of her communicating her present condition through the way she opened the door. It was loud and clumsy, in very specific way. It meant only one thing: Beth was home and she was shitfaced.

I heard her stagger and stumble in the hall, talking out loud to herself. I smiled; it was like listening to an old-time radio show, assuming Fibber McGee and Molly were allowed to cut loose with a torrent of profanities. I heard her go into the kitchen, just on the other side of my bedroom, and start clattering through the cupboards.

"What the fuck?" she barked.

More clattering, although more frenzied. It sounded like she was tearing the place apart with her bare hands. "Where is my goddamned pan? Where is my motherfucking pan?"

I practically had my whole fist in my mouth to keep from busting out laughing. The more frustrated the sounds from the kitchen became, the more hilarious I found it.

"God damn it, I want my pan! Where's my pan? My pan! Where's my tit-fucking pan?"

A mental image of a mohawked lesbian, pleasuring herself by shoving the handle of a popcorn pan up and down between her breasts, came to life in widescreen, 3D technicolor. I'm amazed I didn't go into respiratory arrest.

Suddenly her angry self-talk became a full-fledged roar.


That was the one that put me over the edge. Like there still might be a smidgeon of justice left in the world, even though her precious pan was gone, if she still had the lid. But no, it was missing as well and all hope for humanity was doomed. I stuffed my face into my pillow and shook like I was having a seizure.

"All I wanted to do was make some goddamned popcorn and---"

Here she broke off. Silence for a few seconds. Just from the sound I could tell that the lightbulb had finally popped on in her head. She broke into a run, trotting down the hall, then Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! down the basement stairs.

"That motherfucker!" she shouted. I heard her storm back up the stairs, through the long hall and suddenly my bedroom door was yanked open. She fired the dirty pan from across the room where it whizzed so close to my head I could feel the breeze of its trajectory blow against my scalp (if it had actually made contact I'd be writing this with a felt tip pen gripped in my teeth.) The pan slammed against and bounced off the wall, crusty popcorn kernels raining down all over me. Ferociously, she slammed the door shut hard enough to crack the hinges.

I could have been killed, but I found it fucking hysterical. Tears of laughter drenched my pillow, which I pretty much had wrapped around my head to muffle my snorts. It occurred to me that she was probably doubly frustrated, now, since her special OCD pan, the only one in the house, to her mind, which could be used for popping corn was somewhere on my bed and she'd just screwed herself out of a snack. I think I finally got to sleep around three hours later, exhausted by manic giggling and the physical effort it took to conceal it.

The next morning I stumbled, sleepily, into the living room where Beth was sitting on the couch. She asked the only possible question that could have been raised after such an incident:

"You want some eggs to go with that pan?"

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