A gay walks into a bakery

It is a pleasant spring day when a gay walks into a bakery.

The gay, a woman gay, holds a gun in her hand (the narrator of this story cannot tell you what kind of gun, because the narrator doesn’t know the difference between any of them).

The gay approaches the baker. The baker is behind the counter and is vaguely pissed that he has to work the cash register today and deal with customers.

“Hey!” says the gay, to the baker. “I want a gay wedding cake! And I want it to be really really gay!”

The gay waves the gun around, like gays do when they are in bakeries.

The baker looks at the gun and then looks at the gay.

“This is an unexpected event,” says the baker. “I have never been forced to bake a cake at gunpoint. You could have just asked nicely and paid the deposit.”

“Oh,” says the gay. She looks at the gun. She looks at the baker. “You mean that this thingCake about gays pointing guns at bakers and demanding cakes isn’t really a thing that’s happening?”

“Indeed, no one is holding us bakers at gunpoint,” says the baker. “If you simply provide me with money, I will provide you with a tasteful and elegant wedding cake with two brides atop it. It’s called commerce, and it’s what normal businesspeople do.”

The gay puts the gun in her holster or pocket or wherever you put guns. She reaches into her back pocket (not the one with the gun, if the gun goes into a pocket) and pulls out a Visa.

“So you will just take my money, and stack several layers of cake and frosting together, without giving me a hard time?” asks the gay.

“Yes,” the baker says. “I am a normal person and really don’t give a shit if you’re gay. Also, you need a cake, and I am a baker. Cakes are sort of in my wheelhouse.”

Then he snatches the Visa from her hand. He runs the card and promises to make a cake. The transaction does not make him gay.

Fin.

How to survive a trip to Jiffy Lube

Getting to Jiffy Lube is easy. You just drive to it. When you arrive, you just stop your car kind of in front of the garage doors and wait for a guy to come out. He* will say, “Welcome to Jiffy Lube. There is coffee inside. Give me your keys.” You will be grateful for the coffee and to yourself, for being such a responsible adult that you are getting your oil changed only 1,500 miles after you were supposed to.

The waiting room smells like Jiffy Lube. You pump some coffee into a paper cup and fish a book from your purse. A Toni Morrison has been living there for longer than you’d care to admit, so you are pleased to have the chance to knock out a chapter. You sip your coffee, crack open the book, and get comfortable in your distressed leather chair.

“Excuse me, miss? Can you talk for a minute?”

It’s the friendly man who took your keys. Does he look worried? Is he about to tell you that your car has two weeks to live? No. He only wants to know which kind of oil change you want: the regular one, or the premium one that entitles you to free fluid top-offs between changes. Opt for the premium one. You have seen the puddles your car leaves; you’ll make the $10 back in no time. Also, they will vacuum the floors.

This is the only time you should say yes at Jiffy Lube. Yes to more fluids; yes to vacuuming.

You pick up your book again and work to remember what is going on with Violet and Joe.

“Excuse me, miss? Will you come with me a minute? We need to get you updated in the computer.”

Well, Jiffy Lube sure is speedy today. You follow the friendly man into the garage, where there is a computer kiosk between your car and another one. The friendly man begins asking you questions. Mostly they are easy: “Do you still live at this address?” Yes, you sure do. But these easy questions are just the lead-ins. This is going to be like a newspaper interview. They start with the easy stuff, build trust, and then go for the kill. The friendly man is about to ask increasingly blearingly complicated questions to confuse you into saying yes. You know this because, when you were 23, you were a reporter asking a lot of hard-hitting questions about charitable spaghetti dinners.

“The manufacturer suggests getting an oil filter change every tenth of a mile. Would you like an oil filter change?”

Just say no to this. You got a new oil filter once, and surely that is enough.

“I see that there’s a little bit of wear on your tires right here,” says the friendly man, pointing at a tire-looking spot on your tire. “Would you like to have your tires rotated, to improve their lifespan?”

Say no to this, too. Each time you drive, your tires rotate. You’ve got this.

Study the computer screen that changes with each question. There are visualizations that represent your mileage timeline, and each new screen has alarming red arrows pointing at your current mileage situation. Do not be alarmed. They are just arrows with red coloring. Continue to decline each offer that promises to make your car run better.

You return to the waiting room and refill your coffee. You sit down and open up your book again.

“Miss, your car is ready. I’ll get you taken care of right here.”

Already? You find your debit card and pay. When asked to rate your service, you circle ‘excellent’ on the receipt, not just because the friendly guy is watching but also because he was very friendly, and the coffee was good.

Now that your car has oil in it again, you’re free to drive off, secure in the knowledge that free top-offs await you for the next 3,000 miles. Still, you experience momentary disappointment. You don’t know any more about what’s going on with Violet and Joe, for the book has gone back into your purse. And there it will wait until the next time you have to wait for something, and the something arrives a little too jiffily.

* Are there women who work at Jiffy Lube, ever?

Ghosts from places where I have lived

Today’s ghosts come to you from a laundry room, a simultaneously dull and raucous location in which to spend one’s afterlife. These ghosts, in contrast to Roberta Steel’s, have no official documentation. They only have a note pinned to the wall:

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Has anyone noticed that
There are several ghosts
who watch the clothes
toss and tumble in here
from the old Bemis days
Warehouse workers
and artists
and one hooker

The note appeared in my building’s laundry room more than a year ago. Though, sadly, the note has since disappeared, I’ve read it many times while waiting out the last of the spin cycle. I like that the ghost query is written like a poem in longhand, under another poem that is typed. I like that the Argentinian bill underneath adds another layer of mystery. What do the pesos have to do with the laundry room ghosts, or the librarian in the first poem?

Most of all, I love the simple affirmation that someone has written next to the ghost poem: yes.

I haven’t met the ghosts who must endure the clanging of change tossing around in the washer or the dryer’s high-pitched whirr. But each time I collect a set of clean and warm sheets, I am grateful to the warehouse workers and artists and one hooker who kept watch over them: for their hell, my comfort.

Ghost stories from towns where I have lived

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This might become a series, or maybe not.

The most famous ghost in Maryville, MO, belongs to Roberta Steel. Roberta was a student at my alma mater, Northwest Missouri State University, back in the early ’50s. According to the NWMSU website, Roberta died one-and-a-half years (!) after sustaining injuries caused by an explosion near her residence hall. The hall was rebuilt after the fire and named for her. Naturally, there are ghost stories.

Roberta’s legend is well-documented. She has haunted so much and so well, the school officially acknowledges her on its website. NWMSU’s party line is that Roberta’s “gentle, loving spirit is said to playfully haunt the building that honors her memory.” Her existence – both corporeal and spiritual – has been recorded in yearbooks. Each year, a new wave of freshmen hears about her ghost; a few of them become obsessed with it. Some freshmen even go on to work for student publications, using the veil of journalism to creep around and ask inane questions for “this story I’m working on.”

According to women who lived in Roberta Hall, Roberta is kind of a pain in the ass. If she has a gentle, loving spirit, it is one that is puzzlingly expressed by throwing shit at one’s head while sleeping. She has also locked girls in their bedrooms, and had a hell of a good time with light switches.*

As a student, I got a thrill out of hearing these stories. However, as a non-Greek student, I was not allowed to live in the sorority-only Roberta Hall. It seemed a huge injustice. I wanted a Roberta encounter of my own. I wanted to get so accustomed to her hijinks that I got bored with them. Such things happen, apparently. According to one account, it is possible to wake up to her dancing in the middle of one’s dorm room, recognize that she is not your roommate but the usual ghost, roll over, and go back to sleep.

Even if Roberta wanted to move on from her campus limbo, would we let her? I don’t know anything about being a ghost, but I think I’d get bored with decades of hanging around the same dorm and dropping pencils on the floor. I would make whatever peace was to be made and get the hell out of there. But Roberta, one August after another, must deal with nosy students. Everyone wants to experience her. Everyone wants a tube of lipstick thrown at their head by an invisible hand. No one wants to let her go. And so Roberta remains a forever-student, the one who stays on campus and never gets around to graduating.

* Disclaimer: These stories were told to me [redacted] years ago, and probably over beers

Maybe you would like some things to read?

I’ve ignored my blog for awhile, but I’m back. Maybe. Sorry I am offering nothing original with the following links post. Perhaps you will like the original things other people wrote, and that I am linking to?

Today, the Internet cared about a Twitter thing called @Horse_ebooks. The feed has contained vaguely poetic bits, links, hints at wisdom, and I don’t know what all else. (I still have not looked at the feed.) The kicker is, people have been reading these tweets for awhile now, years maybe, not knowing whether the feed was coming from a spambot or an artist. Susan Orlean cleared it up today with a New Yorker blog post: an artist took over a spam account.

Or something. There are times when I just cannot be bothered to understand something happening in pop (cult?) culture, and this is one of them. I feel a little like this writer’s mom, when he tried to explain the Horse_ebooks thing to her:

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Really, the whole point of including this thing about Horse_ebooks was so I could include that screen grab and link to Seth Rosenthal’s interview with his mom.

***

About a year ago, I took a freelance writing gig that required me to edit web copy for a content farm. I guess that’s what you’d call it. It was a site that regurgitated content from other sites, and it was (I assume) highly optimized to get search engine traffic. The site offered no services of any kind; it was solely link bait. My task was to ensure that certain keywords appeared X number of times on each page and to shine up the language enough that it no longer resembled robotspeak. In retrospect, I’m not sure why the site’s owner hired an editor. Who would actually read this SEO-addled, weird corner of the Internet? Who would think it was anything other than an advertising trap?

Maybe that gig is why I am not comprehending Horse_ebooks. Why would you want your work to look like something a spambot spit out?

***

The second-best thing about Twitter is @birdsrightsactivist.

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The first best was when #solidarityisforwhitewomen happened and white feminists (I am a white feminist) learned to shut up and listen to feminists of color. I mean, we listened for a minute. We’ll see how well it sticks.

***

Speaking of feminism, the delightfully wicked Mallory Ortberg at The Toast has some lullabies for misandrists. They’re perfect for bedtime. Sleep tight, sweet feminists.

***

P.S. Now that I think about it, I’m not so sure the Birds Rights Activist isn’t just Twitter dribble, either. That’s OK. No regrets.

On gray hair and dullards

plpIn seventh grade, I had a teacher all us jerk kids called “Skunk.” His dark hair was streaked with gray right in the front, giving him the stripe that inspired his nickname.

We called him Skunk to his face. While there was fondness behind the teasing, I would not have blamed my teacher for wanting to haul off and punch any one of us in the face.

What seventh graders don’t yet know is that one day, they will not be 12.

Karma patiently waits.

***

I look at myself in the mirror now. Though they are still few, my own gray hairs are really starting to pop. I’ve given up plucking them. It’s annoying, and that old saying about three more grays coming up in one’s place rings true.

My grays are springing forth from a concentrated area: in a patch above my left eye. You know what this means: I’m working up a skunk stripe.

***

Caitlin Moran, in her hilarious and strident book, How to Be a Woman, takes on gray hair as a feminist issue. She chooses not to dye, essentially because she objects to all the money and work that is demanded of women to look younger, hotter, and less real.

What a stripe!

Like my science teacher’s, Moran’s grays have rallied together to form a perfect stripe, streaking through a head of black hair. Unlike my science teacher, however, Moran wears her hair big and puffed up. It’s a glorious mane.

Her hair isn’t solely a feminist statement. It’s a cultural one as well. In an interview with Terry Gross, Moran notes that her gray stripe is just as much a nod to Morticia Adams as it is to Susan Sontag.

“And between those two vectors of culture, I lie,” Moran tells Gross.

***
Each time I visit my stylist, I tell her that next time I’ll get my hair colored. Yet with each time I say these words, I become more and more of a liar.

Secretly, I’m not sure that I want to dye away my little stripe. It’s kind of cool, and with time it could become seriously righteous. Since I’m trying to grow my hair long, I’m thinking that by the time it reaches my mid-back, I could have a badass tribute to Moran, Morticia, Sontag, and my science teacher. That, and every 6 to 8 weeks, I could avoid spending a shit-ton of money while sitting for hours in a salon chair.

Moran also makes the point that once you have some gray hair and a few lines, you’ve probably achieved a few bits of grown-up success. She writes:

“How odd, then, that as your face and body finally begin to display the signs (lines, softening, gray hairs) that you’ve entered the zone of kick-ass eminence and intolerance of dullards, there should be pressure for you to . . . totally remove them. Give the impression that, actually, you are still a bit gullible and incompetent, and totally open to being screwed over by someone a bit cleverer and older than you.”

I don’t think that baby-skin and perfectly colored hair screams gullibility, but I would be thrilled if my little gray stripe warded off dullards, like garlic against vampires.

***

My thirtysomething friends and I like to talk about how awesome we are, now that we are in our 30s. We frame our argument around the indisputable fact that being in your 20s might be a lot of fun, but it’s also a big cluster, and we are so much smarter now, and we have learned to suffer no fools.

We have entered the zone of kick-ass eminence. I can only assume that each decade going forward will enhance this eminence.

***

I wonder how irritating it was for my teacher to have been called Skunk, day after day, by a classroom of pubescent pukes. Did he think about coloring his hair, or was he impervious to the taunting, having entered his own zone of eminence?

I like to think – and hope for the sake of his sanity – that it was the latter.

***

At my next hair appointment, I’m not going to lie and say that I’d like to get it colored next time. Instead, I’m going to try something. I’m going to let my skinny gray streak get fat.

And once my hair gets long, reaching half-way down my back, I’m going to toss my glorious locks dramatically. Then I’m going to arch an eyebrow – the left one, sitting under the streak - and dare a dullard to cross my path.