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There is a reason that everyone you know will freak out when you hold their cell phone for too long, or swipe past what pictures you were supposed to see. The contents of cell phones are basically a microcosm of what a person’s life is like – the good, the skanky, and the bad. That’s what I typically try to keep in mind.
Having said that, text message strings are a lot like hotel rooms. They’re temporary, relatively easy to clean out, and progressively get more exasperating, smarmy, and damp the longer that they stay.
To make my case, let’s go through some recent chains on my own personal cell phone. Since you’re only getting what I provide, I have the control. No unfortunate faux pas’ here.
Checking In: Savannah (Friend)
Room One: Biker Chick or Pet Hoarder
Savannah’s two frequent requests are for me to buy her either a motorcycle, pet ferret, or both.
Me: “I NEED THIS DONE BY THIS WEEKEND; CAN YOU DO IT?”
For as long as I can remember, all of our text communications are in all caps. We like to play a dysfunctional couple. One that hurls empty wine bottles at each other, tries to hit each other with the car, attempts to drown the other in the pool, or poisons the other’s tea gradually.
Her: “BUY ME A MOTORCYCLE.” (Or alternatively,) “BUY ME A FERRET.”
“YOU WOULDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH IT IF YOU HAD IT.” I frequently respond.
“YOU CAN WRITE THE MOTORCYCLE OFF ON TAXES. I’LL DRESS AS A CLOWN AND PUT A STREAMER BEHIND TO BLOW IN THE AIR AS I DRIVE.” She responds on the motorcycle chain.
Me: “IT WON’T HELP IF YOU’RE GOING 20MPH IN TRAFFIC.”
If the topic of the day is ferret ownership, I’ll respond “IT WOULD BITE.”
“NOT IF YOU BUY A NICE FERRET.”
Me: “HOW WILL YOU KNOW?”
“BECAUSE YOU’LL HAVE IT FIRST BEFORE YOU GIVE IT TO ME.” Classic.
This persists even after Savannah’s mom confirmed that ferrets do bite. She knows this since she purchased one from a Kannapolis pet store in the 1970’s – it bit her so much that she returned it within a week.
“I’d bop it on the nose.” Savannah says indignantly to this story.
Room Two: Spoiled
On a trip to Savannah, Georgia in December of 2016, Savannah and I ate at a tearoom run by SCAD in the downtown tourist district. “I want this.” Savannah said, popping a black cherry tartlet pie into her mouth, chased by a long sip of earl grey. “Buy it for me.” I shrug her off.
A process of events fell, good for another story on another day, leading to me know possessing four coffin-sized storage bins filled with teapots, tea strainers, three-tiered serving dishes, plates, silverware, ramakins, napkins, menus, etc. – a restaurant in boxes.
The first tea comes, and Savannah goes to church that day, missing the first service. She arrives late in the second service, enters the dining room, and takes around ten photos. As we finished that afternoon, after cleaning up and locking up the hall we rented, Savannah noticed a football-sized, fuzzy gray rabbit chewing dandelions at the edge of the parking lot.
She took at least thirty photos.
A day later, from me – “I HAVE MORE RABBIT PHOTOS THAN I DO OF PEOPLE DRINKING TEA.”
Checking In: Ethan (Significant Other)
Room One: The Horrors of 3AM
Just as I was putting the wraps on a new story, I received a message from Door Is A Jar, a literary journal in the U.K. “Thank you for sending us “The Horrors of 3AM”. We love it and would like to publish it in Door Is A Jar. We just released Issue 10 Spring 2019, so your piece will be part of Issue 11 Summer 2019, which is scheduled to come out early July. Please feel free to share this good news with your family and friends.”
The particular story, on sharing a bed with Ethan and being frequently tormented through the night by his sleeping habits, had finally come full circle – this story being the first time my life with him has been mentioned in a creative piece, I took a photo of the email and texted it over to him.
I expected something akin to “Wow, congratulations! I’m so proud of you!” I received a text in response around twenty minutes later.
“I just poured Chex Mix crumbs down my nose.”
An appropriate enough response.
Room Two: Casual Drugs
One afternoon as I worked on this story, my phone lights up with a text message from Ethan. “Mom and I were talking about the methhead next door.”
I don’t put much thought into this one, responding with “which one?”
Room Three: The Convenience Store
I’ve always described Ethan’s mom as a Roseanne Barr type of character – not the woman in the real world, but the woman in the hit TV series that I often watched reruns of on the WE Network while I was in college, playing SimCity while it was on.
“Mom went in the gas station and yelled that them!” Was the single text I received from Ethan during the middle of one rainy afternoon.
“What do you mean? Did they do something to her?” I texted back, wondering what was going on this time.
“No, but she’s promised every time she’s near there she’s going to go over there and yell at them.” Ethan responds.
When Ethan and I first met, on Tinder, badly enough, he worked a minimum wage job at a local-level chain of convenience store popular with wineos and early-morning landscapers. The manager was frequently a mix between insane and motherly, like Joan Crawford without the money. Ethan left a few months later. This is the convince store that she harrases.
“Where’s that bitch (name redacted), where is she!?”
Room Four: The Dog Days of Writing
Ethan often tells me “I can’t believe the number of things you get done when you spend half of your time watching brain-altering trash videos on YouTube.” I can’t help to agree with him on most occasions.
One of the most popular videos to be passed around the circle most recently is a clip from a mystery show on Bravo! – a popular reality show channel here in the U.S. and Canada, that at one time aired creative arts programming but switched to the much more popular reality show re-run format – not to be confused with other channels like it, such as The History Channel.
The clip centers around a small, unnamed chihuahua-like dog, opening right after it has been an unnamed businessman who was strolling through a park.
“I told you not to come near the dog!!!” Shouts a clearly Hispanic woman from a blue rambler parked in a parking spot by a row of palm trees.
“I didn’t come near the dog; it ran up to me!” Shouts the businessman in return, hiking up his black pinstripe pants to reveal a small tooth wound high on his leg, in the crotch region. “If the dog is running around biting people there’s something wrong with the dog!”
After a few more shouts of argument, the camera moves to the rambler for an interview with the dog owner. “The dog – he bite me – he bite me in the vagina.”
Fast forward to a visit at Ethan’s – after the dogs have finished barking at me for the 4,000th time, I look at Monkey – the smallest of the two dogs, a long-haired chihuahua with the IQ of a table leg, and a brain the size of a small tangerine.
I look at Ethan’s mom. “You better watch this one. He’ll bite your vagina.”
I’m now tired of the video in question after watching it ten times in a row. I’m moving on to the eternal favorite, Beyonce Clown.
Room Five: Love Letters
A link to James Joyce’s “Dirty Little Fuckbird” love letters. On the same level as Ulysses.
I’m reminded of one of our early dates to the Carolina Renaissance Festival. Having just bought an $8 mushroom sandwich, Ethan and I found a wooden bench in a foul-smelling muddy area by a performance stage for me to sit and eat it. Two women dressed as street-wenches were yelling out at passersby. The younger of the two stood directly behind us.
“WATCH OUT! HE’S 16! HE’S 16! IT WAS A FAKE ID!” She yells out at a couple, the man being rather baby-faced. I was laughing appreciatively, as it was a well-conceived and executed joke.
The young wench passes us, moving further into the crowd, but looks back at Ethan and I. “Oh wow, you’re lucky!” She calls to Ethan. “Gingerbiscuit is my favorite flavor too!” She motions along her cheek, pointing out my red beard.
Room Six: Time Waster
I’ve been on YouTube watching Lucas Cruikshank’s videos, blogs about his life, and a few others including trying out Japanese dollar store products, hiring a clown for a day, and an experiment where he curses at a jar of cooked rice daily to see if it molds faster than the jar he compliments. Many of you will know him from playing the character Fred on YouTube and Nickelodeon for many years.
“I knew him back in the day when we were all fetuses.” I write to Ethan. “How old were you, then even?
“I was ten.” Ethan writes back. “I remember watching his videos when I was like nine or something. Do you think he still remembers you?”
“No way.” I write back.
Now ads for the HIV medication Biktarvy won’t stop playing whenever I’m on YouTube. The ad platform obviously thinks that I’m a whore. A physically sick whore.
Checking In: Lisa (“Adopted” Mom)
Room One: Pissing Away Money
Lisa typically dog sits four to five days out of the week to help pay the Jillani family bills, and the bills of our frequent dinners out to dish dirt on everyone else.
Lisa has always been very much an animal person, to the point that she gets upset in my presence if I eat a gyro sandwich (I suppose that it doesn’t help that I will often waggle the meat-speared fork in the air at her, going “Baa… Help me, Lisa, help me…”), and sees an animal death on television (even though we know there are entire unions, watchmen, and organizations to make sure that animals aren’t hurt on movie and television sets.)
“I’d love to have a dragon…” She’ll say dreamily while watching Game of Thrones.
Admittedly trying to get a bit of a rise, I’ll typically respond with “the dragon wouldn’t be a vegetarian, you know.”
She isn’t even a vegetarian herself.
Early one morning before I was up and at it – as I’m usually not up before 10am – Lisa texted me. “I was out walking this freaking dog. Saw a five-dollar bill on the ground, Beau pee’d on it before I could pick it up.”
After getting a good laugh and doing a double-take to ensure what I was reading was correct, I quipped back “that’s the most Lisa thing that I’ve heard all week.”
I immediately copied it to Ethan who responded back with “oh my god… Did she keep it? Is Beau another name for her husband???” – Ethan obviously on the term of beau usually meaning a young dandy determined to get into the underpants of their preferred sex, reserved for late Victorian or pre-turn of the century romance novellas. After that, the message made its way on to Savannah as well.
“It’s a dog she dog sits” I responded back in turn, then tossing my phone to the side to go and fetch a cup of coffee – I couldn’t handle much more without any caffeine yet.
“I BET MOTHER PICKED IT UP AND KEPT IT” Savannah had replied by the time I returned.
Later that day, when posed on the couch with Lisa, watching a new episode of Midsommer Murders, where we’re somewhere close to episode 6,360, I asked. “Did you keep that five-dollar bill that Beau pee’d on?”
“Of course I did! I just carried it out in front of me with two fingers until I could lay it out on the porch to dry.”
Room Two: AARP
Lisa has made me promise on multiple occasions to do two things.
- Not to let her sit in a nursing home that consistently smells like human urine. (Cats or small dogs, I’m not sure.)
- Make sure, that after she’s dead and gone, Savannah isn’t living in a lean-to with 25 cats and a few raccoons that she doesn’t realize have moved in – à la Grey Gardens.
I believe that this odd request has come from having to deal with her own aging mother, in and out of various courts, government institutions where robot-like employees play solitaire on Windows Vista computers, and nursing homes that make Holiday Inns look like places you’d actively want to stay at.
One of Lisa’s ongoing dreams has been to take her mom on a last vacation to the beach – presumably Myrtle Beach, a mecca for travelers looking for a place that you can find middle finger T-shirts, bongs, hermit crabs, gang violence, unsanitary ocean water, and inexpensive restaurants all within a ten minute radius of no matter where you are.
“With my luck-“ Lisa started one afternoon after I had asked about the state of the plan via text, “she’ll be like that little mentally challenged man on Little Britain and refuse to leave, just saying “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go. At that point I’ll just have to play bad daughter and make her go anyway.”
Room Three: Cats, Not the Musical.
“I’ve been spending all morning cleaning up cat pee.” Is what I’m greeted with on another morning. “The cat continuously keeps peeing anywhere BUT in the litter box. This morning that little pervert walked in while I was checking the CLEAN littler, squatted in the middle of the floor, and peed’ a human size puddle while looking at me. It took eight paper towels. EIGHT.”
Checking In: Joe (Employee)
Room One: Bossed Around
I text Joe, one of our little destroyed vaudeville studio’s attractive leading men. “Did you get the email about the script reading date?” I ask. “Yes boss.” He responds three hours later. That’s the most I ever get, even though in person, he doesn’t hesitate to assist Savannah in further driving me toward Bellevue, a stained straitjacket, and full-frontal lobotomy. I’m 99% sure that I swiped right on Joe many years ago before we ever knew each other. We didn’t match.
Checking In: Kristianna (Friend)
Room One: The Quick Check-Out
You shouldn’t laugh at other people, that is true. It wouldn’t be kind or responsible to laugh at someone for not having a nose, or their skin color. However, it is completely fine to laugh at their bad decisions. A bad haircut, an unfortunate circumstance, a bad joke – especially if you don’t like the person.
This person, who I’ll name Jackopa, is a frequent shadow at the end of our barbs, for their bad choices, that are so frequent and recurring that they seem nearly on purpose. I’m updated on them like the CNN live news ticker.
At one point Jackopa had lied about being accepted into a prestigious New York acting school. We debated as if this would be true or not, coming from the person who consistently is turned down for roles like Man in Suit #10.
“You won’t believe this one, I’ll tell you at dinner. Jackopa got into an acting school.” Kristianna writes one Tuesday afternoon.
Two weeks after the time he should’ve started at the academy, he made an Instagram post claiming that he couldn’t afford to go, but accepted a role a Man in Suit #6 in a community theater production of Cats.
Room Two: Pet Lady
Kristianna has always loved pets, including her two previous dogs, which I’m relatively sure she would’ve taken a bullet for. One Saturday afternoon I receive a text message: “My mom let the neighbors bring her dogs over, and she didn’t shut the doors. One of the doors took a shit in her bedroom and it took three hours to find it!!!”
Checking In: Wil (Friend)
Room One: The Clan
One afternoon, in a moment of needing to steam like broccoli in a plastic freezer bag, I texted Wil about the complications of working on “The Wild Camper Family” – a children’s book about a group of kids that have been mysteriously orphaned, on the run from CPS. They find an abandoned camper on the Appalachian Trail and begin living there. This was Lisa’s idea, one that I dumbly signed onto, offering to “get the writing started”, as I have experience in accidentally writing for young audiences, with my stageplay authoring career.
“Why do I sign up for this shit? I’m ten pages in, and there’s no end in sight.” I write to him.
“I’m pretty sure that my grandma wrote a story about a magic camper.” Wil writes back. “Let me ask Kyle (his twin brother) and check.”
A few hours later, Wil texts back. “Semi-confirmed. He said that she wrote a story about our cousin Sarah having a magic flying toe. We aren’t sure about the camper, but I’m still pretty sure she did.”
“The magic toe!?” from my end.
“Kyle remembers it better than I do. Supposedly one afternoon when she was at Sarah’s her toe was having a muscle spasm or something, and she was inspired. The story was along the lines that her toe started spinning and caused her to fly up into a tree, and she didn’t know how to get down.”
Well, readers, that’s it. I’m cleaning out the backlog of text messages and deleting them. I leave my most beloved people open – Savannah, Ethan, Lisa, Kristianna, Wil. Their messages are worth keeping – something to read over when I’m writing a new essay or having a rough moment.
I guess there is a benefit to occasionally holding onto baggage.
With reviews such as "that was completely inappropriate" and "this is definitely comedy that lives in smart people's basements", Tim Starnes is a self-described "acquired taste." This still hasn't stopped him from becoming the playwright of over eight plays. Most recently he is branching out with a new string of essays around the zany "family" that surrounds him, the observations he makes every day, and the bizarre scenarios that tend to fall on him like a piano from a fifth story window.