When I was eighteen, I moved to Toronto with the goal of meeting remarkable people and becoming famous for my personal qualities. I lived with two guys roughly my age who, I felt, had a lot to gain from the bright light of my natural fabulosity.
One roommate was a short, angry actor from Calgary who stayed mostly in his room, shouting at his furniture. He had cast his larger possessions in a series of David Mamet plays. If you opened his door quickly you might catch him interrogating his bedside table or calling his lamp a "cock-sucking dyke."
My other roommate was from a nearby suburb. He was a tall, worried waiter who stayed mostly at his mother's house. He was hiding from his girlfriend, a painter of shoes and hoarder of found objects named Fiona. We called her Spooky. She came over and spooked around our place, making mobiles out of our silverware and leaving political statements in lipstick on the mirror in the bathroom. We were unable to stop her. She was an artist and we were too cool to ask her not to hammer our kettle into the shape of a skull or nail our underwear to the stairs. We feared her artwork, but we feared the way she looked at us even more. She rarely spoke. She just hung around staring at us like we were amusing little animals at the zoo. Although she was technically roommate number two's girlfriend, she tended to treat all three of us with equal disdain. One night number two had confessed that their relationship had become platonic. In fact, it turned out that he and Spooky had had real sex only once during which she had quoted some terrifying passage from Michel Foucault that had it made it impossible for him to have an erection while she was anywhere in the neighborhood. He asked that we never leave him alone with her. This was easily accomplished as we all worked at the same diner just a few blocks from our apartment. We walked to work and came home together almost everyday. I usually walked a few paces ahead or behind, in order to conserve my fabulosity.
Fiona said she worked for the Toronto Transit Commission, doing maintenance work down in the subway tunnels among the rats and the scary old men who favor that kind of subterranean existence. She had the grimy orange jumpsuit with the reflective strips. She wore it every day. When she went to clubs she accessorized with headgear that supported a small but blinding battery-powered disc of light that seemed to shine directly out of her forehead.
Later, when I began to discreetly follow her around the city, I learned that in reality she was a cocktail waitress at the Royal York Hotel. I was watching from across the street one day when she came out of the employees' entrance, stunned with fatigue. When she bumped into some fat guy in a suit I actually saw her apologize. I followed her to her apartment. She came out about an hour later, wearing the orange jumpsuit and looking refreshed. Then she took a cab over to our house and immediately resumed worked on a mural she had started the previous week on our front door. The three of us were represented there, nude and grotesquely caricatured. Each of us had been supplied with a long, thin penis that twisted around the other two figures. Although she annoyed me a great deal, I strongly suspected that she was one of the remarkable individuals that I had come to Toronto to meet. However, now that I had met her I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with her. Months after our first meeting, I had not progressed much beyond chain-smoking and trying to look like I was on the verge of some devastating sarcasm. Nevertheless, I felt I was nearing a state of coolness sufficient to take her on. I was growing my hair out in a Harpo Marx-style afro full of tangles and twigs. I was swinging the coffee pot at work with androgynous style, and saying hi to unpublished poets on their twentieth re-fill.
Our relationship changed one late afternoon in July. I had gone to the store alone. Roommate one had been busy berating a new clock radio to whom he had given the role of Fletch from American Buffalo. Two was with his mom in Scarborough.
As I came up the stairs Fiona did what she always did: she looked up from her mural and stared at me from the top of the landing without blinking. I did what I always did: I shrunk into myself, mumbled a greeting, and hurried into the apartment. However, as I pushed open the door, and tried to act casual about the smear of paint on my hand, I vowed that one day I would get even. I was new to the city. I was easily spooked. But that was going to change. I vowed that one day I would mock her, maybe even to her face, but at least to some guys in a bar. I was going to make fun of her and then I was going to dismiss her whole persona as tenth-rate melodrama. So now I knew why I wanted to meet cool people in Toronto. I wanted to crush them. I wanted to ridicule them and then forget all about them.
Upon entering my room, I did what I usually did to unwind after any sort of harrowing social crisis: I put an Iggy Pop tape into my stereo, lit a cigarette, took off my pants, and began to masturbate. Social anxiety made me horny. If I had been permitted to masturbate in public, I would have been much more at ease with human society. People say that smoking gives them something to do with their hands, but really it only gives you something to do with one hand. Drinking is good, but you are usually expected to put the glass down from time to time.
I was nearing the end of Loco Mosquito, the first song on Iggy's "Soldier" album and smoking my way through the desultory time between erections. My pants lay balled up next to me like some malodorous pet. These were long, dark minutes that drove me to consider bailing on my wild life. I thought about putting on my interesting pants and going uptown to write the foreign service exam. It just seemed that if I wasn't having any fun anymore I might as well join the diplomatic corps and travel around resolving various international conflicts. It was that or become the captain of some kind of fishing vessel, like a shrimp boat. I loved shrimp. I could decimate a tower of buffet-table shrimp in about five minutes. My parents, eager to find something to be proud of, used to tell stories to guests about my shrimp-eating abilities. My sister's life revolved mostly around piano and the Royal Conservatory. My parents would usually start off talking about her, mentioning recent awards and a grueling practice schedule. There would be a pause as attention swung toward me.
"The other night we went to Captain Hanover's Seafood Feast. You should have seen Jay here, they kept coming out with more shrimp and he just kept eating it. He definitely had them worried!"
So yeah, I was leaning towards a career working with my favorite crustaceans when a few moments later, I was saved from the seafaring life by a faint tingle in my penis. It was the first line of the song "Ambition" that got me going. It starts, "I'm the kind of girl..." and it always raised for me the possibility of a female Iggy: A wild shirtless blonde who would leave bruises on my pelvis and maybe introduce me to one of the Ramones. Just as I was nearing one of the five or six high points of my day, my door rattled and the knob began to turn with horror-movie slowness. I covered myself as best as I could just as the door opened and Fiona spooked in. She didn't say a word. Instead, she sang. She sang along with Iggy's song. She sang without irony or restraint. She sat down on the edge of my bed. She sang and she stared into my eyes, but this was the farthest thing from a serenade. She had me pinned. She was a schoolyard bully beating me up with my favorite song. She was beating me up with her brutal sincerity and I did not know what to do.
I considered throwing back the covers and showing her my hard-on. Ha! What a great (and gulp! exciting) rebuttal to all her weird, proud singing! It was totally the Iggy thing to do. As I reached for the edge of the floral duvet my mother had forced on me the day I had stormed out of the suburbs, I was suddenly restrained by the memory of a very non-Iggy moment in my life. Years ago, I had exposed myself to my neighbor while she was sunbathing in her backyard. She hadn't actually noticed me at first due to the density of the cedar hedge that separated our properties. I had whispered her name but she had been listening to her Walkman and didn't hear me.
"Karen!" I shouted, dislodging a flock of grackles from a nearby maple.
"Yeah?" she said, taking off her headphones with considerable irritation. She looked up and down the hedge, trying to figure out where my voice was coming from. I pushed my head through a tangle of branches and said, "How's it going?"
"All right. What do you want?"
"What are you doing?"
"I'm just...not wearing any pants," I said. She looked at me with sleepy contempt.
"I see," she said.
"You do? You can see me?" I said.
"No. I mean, like, 'I see.' Like, I understand what you are saying."
"Now what?" she said.
"I could come over there," I said.
"Yeah, and I could call the cops, you fucking perv," she said.
"Don't do that," I said. We stared at each other for a while longer and then I said, "Can we just forget this ever happened?"
"I'm sure as fuck going to try," she said. I put my Adidas shorts back on, ran back into the house and tried to lose myself in an episode of Family Ties. I thought Mallory was so hot.
The memory of that terrible day had been buried under hours and hours of television. I had really not thought of it again until that moment. What a horrible demented freak I was. Then my mood suddenly brightened as it occurred to me that I was no longer in the uptight suburbs. I was in the wild, pants-optional metropolis. My hand went for the duvet edge once again. And again, I was restrained by another gouging left hook from reality. I realized that if I pulled away the covers, it wouldn't be Iggy's dick that I would show her -- that rude truncheon -- but my own modest and polite little fellow. Yes, polite -- the word seemed to fit perfectly my uncircumcised medium sized gentleman of a penis. And there was something else too. I recalled that there was a tangle of blue lint on the tip of my little gentleman that afternoon. It was hard to know how she might interpret that. Or how others might interpret her interpretation. That was all I needed, for her to tell people that there was a "thing" on my dick and for that information to be passed along, until it became a Toronto-wide rumor that the counter boy at a certain trendy diner had enormous bleeding sores sprouting all over his groin area. And how would I ever get out of a thing like that? By shouting, "It was just some blue fuzz!" at every customer in the diner who looked at me sideways? There was no way I was going to show her my dick. But I had to do something because she was still singing and we were only about half way through the song.
I felt myself melting away. I had no move: no disdainfully raised eyebrow, no curl of the lip, no snide comment, no bitch slap with which to respond. Things became desperate and I hit the lowest point of my existence. I began to sing along in a vague, embarrassed murmur. "Oooh, aaah, ambition," I sang softly and then fell back into dejected silence.
When the song finally ended, Fiona leaned back on one arm and said, "Every year I sing that song just a little bit louder." There was a pause, a little gap in which someone cool would have inserted some blistering remark. After she left I lay there listening to the rest of the album, waiting for my little gentleman to stand up again.