That’s What Friends Are For

In which Citizen Jim arrives to distract Chicken Sheets from the melancholy of midlife and the indignity of menopause.

It was my day off after working the weekend. I started my morning with a long, ugly cry.

Should I blame menopause, since I’d been a hostage to hot flashes and my emotions and an inability to think in a straight line for going on two years? The most recent blow delivered me was the decline in my libido—something that cultural mythology and Astrology 101 had always led me to believe could never, ever happen to a lesbian who was also a Scorpio, no matter how old and hormonally imbalanced she was.

I kind of wanted to blame social media: I wouldn’t have started crying if I hadn’t read a blog post by some English bloke I follow on Twitter. But it wasn’t fair to denounce @LostCertainties. The poor guy was just writing about watching Johnny Marr play a festival venue in London (and making palpable the brain-tingling experience of hearing Marr play—as said “Rubber Ring”-inspired blog post title goes—“the songs that saved your life”).

It wasn’t my Twitter buddy’s fault that I developed a case of the vapors regarding Morrissey and the horrible adolescence I’ve often felt I survived only because of Morrissey—the thought of whom now made me feel sad and cheated and nearly as damaged as I used to think I would have been had I not sought the gloomy comfort of The Smiths to keep me sane as a teenager.

“For the love of Jesus and His Bossy Mother, will you shut up and open the front door!”

I lifted the shade on the window beside my desk and there stood Citizen Jim. He was wearing a Bernie Sanders t-shirt and a trucker hat that said “Got Brexit?” His shirt front was dotted with the names Varela, Lavagna, and Zamora—all campaign buttons for upcoming South American elections. It was bewildering.

I started to wave but Citizen Jim was mad as hell. He slapped the glass of the window and said, “Let me in!”

As soon as I opened the front door, Citizen Jim snatched my earphones off my head and shook them near my face. “Noise-cancelling, over-the-ear headphones? So this is why you haven’t answered the door?”

“I didn’t know you were out there,” I said.

“Yeah. Well. If you hadn’t been jamming out to whatever God awful crap they’re suggesting for you on Spotify these days, I wouldn’t’ve been banging on the door for half an hour!” he said. “I sent you a play list months ago. That’s what you should be listening to!”

I hung my head. “I’m sorry. I forgot,” I said.

He lifted my headphones over his head and brought them to rest around his neck. “Don’t you ever put these back on your head, or I won’t be responsible for what I do to them!”

It was starting to seem as though he’d been wanting wireless headphones but couldn’t convince his wife to let him buy a pair. I knew I probably wouldn’t be getting my headphones back. I didn’t even care, because I love Citizen Jim with all my heart and only want him to be happy.

As soon as I got close enough to hug him, he shoved me away and walked into my kitchen. I followed behind him.

“I’m glad you came to visit me,” I said. “I’ve been feeling kind of low.”

“I don’t want to hear about it,” he said, covering his ears with my headphones. “I got problems of my own.”

“What’s the matter, Precious Lamb?” I asked.

“It’s the middle of August and I still haven’t been able to pull my Halloween costume together,” he said.

I frowned. “I hate to hear that.”

“Yeah, well, it was easy finding the parrot suit for me to wear, but it’s turned out to be a little harder to find a pirate costume for Igor,” he said.

Igor was his cat.

“I’m sure you’ll figure out his costume,” I said.

“Oh you do, do you?” he asked.

It’s never good when he asks this question in the tone of voice he was using. I tensed up. “I guess,” I said, trying to shrug, but I was too tense to manage it.

He made a fist and shook it in my direction. “I wish you’d been that unsure of yourself when you decided you didn’t need to tell me about that concert last month in Biloxi,” he said.

“What concert?” I asked.

“Don’t act like you have no idea what I’m talking about,” he said.

“But I really don’t have any idea what you’re talking about,” I said.

“Do you think I’m stupid? You knew Howard Jones was performing at the IP Casino on July 20,” he said.

“No I didn’t,” I said. “And even if I did, why would I think I needed to tell you?”

“Because you know my young wife loves the 80s music!” he yelled. “And it doesn’t get more 80s than Howard Freaking Jones!”

I definitely differed with him on this point, but now he was flaring his nostrils. He also had too many veins sticking out on his neck to argue with him.

“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” I said.

“Yeah, right. Whatever,” he said. “Anyway, my wife found out about that Howard Jones show after the fact and now she refuses to take me to Vegas this fall so I can see Dionne Warwick at Caesar’s Palace.”

“I didn’t know you liked Dionne Warwick,” I said.

Citizen Jim put a hairy paw on my shoulder and shook his head. “I know I can’t expect you to know all the secret chambers of my big, beautiful heart,” he said, “but rest assured there’s a sunlit room in my soul filled with Burt Bacharach arrangements and psychic friends—I go there on the regular to loves me some Dionne Warwick.”

I raised my eyebrows and stuck out my bottom lip, nodding my head. I wasn’t sure what I could say that wouldn’t set him off again.

Then I thought that maybe setting him off was what I needed to do. If I’ve learned anything from Citizen Jim it’s that being subjected to psychological torture by someone you love is a great distraction from misery. I was so confused and terrified by this latest misstep I’d made (without realizing I was making it) that my crying jag from the morning was long forgotten.

I smirked and gave him a playful jab on the arm. “You know, I saw Howard Jones at the Fairmont State College Feaster Center in 1985,” I said.

“Yes, I know,” said Citizen Jim, rolling his eyes. “But you really only went to see the opening act.”

“That’s right. It was Marshall Crenshaw,” I said.

“I know! I know!” Citizen Jim shouted. “What I don’t know is why you always have to make sure you add the part about Marshall Crenshaw.”

I shrugged.

“It could be because you’re a pretentious asshole who doesn’t want anyone to think you actually liked ‘New Song,’ even though you had the Human’s Lib album on cassette and played the hell out of it,” Citizen Jim said.

I glared at him. “My tastes changed for the better after I started listening to U92,” I said, referring to the radio station based at West Virginia University.

“Ha! Still a pretentious asshole 34 years later!” Citizen Jim laughed. “Except now you listen to songs called ‘Patience’ by a band named Tame Impala instead of songs called ‘Patience’ by a guy named Lloyd Cole.”

That wasn’t completely true. “I still listen to Lloyd Cole,” I said. “I love his new album.”

I could never love Lloyd Cole’s new album as much as I love Citizen Jim. I knew that he knew this. Still, I ducked fast before he could take a swing at me.