Jess and I used to play this game when she’d come over to the house that I rented in the neighborhood where every street shared the same name and circled through one another like a pit of snakes consuming whichever tail flicked closest to their mouths. The game required that we each put on a pair of sweatpants and run our fingers through each other’s waistbands. I kept the sweatpants in my closet in a sloppy stack where sometimes black widows attached themselves to the drawstrings. Once I picked up a crumpled pair from the floor and felt a sharp aching as I slid my foot through the leg hole. I ripped them off again and saw a wasp attached to the top skin of my ankle. I swatted it before it could fly away and it flailed onto the carpet with its wings bent up. If I hadn’t swatted it, then I wonder if it might have stung her too, if it might have delivered hypodermic jabs the size of hair follicles just above her collarbone. Then she could have gone home and explained to Tim for the hundredth time, “I swear, it isn’t a hickey. It’s a wasp sting.”
The Psychology of Infidelity
Does the guy who steals pie from the windowsill do it because he likes pie or because he likes stealing? Or better yet, does he do it because he’s hungry? All pie metaphors aside, I wanted to clobber anyone and everyone who so loftily proclaimed to me, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” as if being unfaithful could only ever be a mistake and never a choice, as if the tradition is the only thing that can be damaged.
Cosmic American Music
Jess and Tim had been separated for four months at this point and this was the last trip Jess and I would take together before the divorce was finalized. We would take many more after, of course, but this would be the last time I transported a connubial woman across statelines while she was still legally tied to another man. We went to Tampa.
We checked into a hostel by the name of Gram’s Place. It was a colorful compound of interconnected shacks and walkways that sloped up and over rooftops before winding down to the courtyard where the BYOB outdoor bar could be found jutting up against the pool. Of the residents, there were three of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys—Tootles, Nibs, and Slightly—and generations of red eyes prowling the backyard for the switch that turned on the “European minded” hot tub.
Our room was small. It was Rock & Roll. Inside of it, there was what my sixteen-year-old self had always referred to as an adult shower (a box of unfrosted glass with a level of transparency that was only hindered by accumulated steam from the flow of hot water or hot passion because my idea of the adult shower was one most likely sparked by the adolescent viewing of adult films). And the trip was very adult. Not in its level of sex appeal or nudity, but in the way that we wondered if what we were doing somehow reflected on just what type of people we were. And we wondered if that reflection was something pleasing or rotten or sleazy, whether or not what we were doing was somehow fogging up the glass with its twist of body parts and skin.
Because it was a hostel, we spent a lot of our time arguing in hushed tones. In the courtyard. In the communal kitchen in between guests traipsing sleepy-eyed to the fridge for more soy creamer. It seemed a fitting place for our last officially immoral hurrah, the hostel itself dedicated to the memory of Gram Parsons, the architect of Cosmic American Music, a blurring of genre and a blending of boundaries, a departure from habit and custom and convention. He invigorated rhythm and blues. He bastardized country. He fractured soul. Depending on who you asked, he either innovated or diluted the Rock ‘n Roll scene. His followers loved him deeply, deeply enough to name a hostel after him, and his critics, well, they thought he disrespected the classics, that he didn’t value tradition. His aesthetic was messy and I could appreciate that. In the same way the tabloids once engineered the portmanteau of “Brangelina” to describe the union of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Jess and I often referred to our origin story as Matt + Jess = Messy.