Hello, World! My name is Arlene, and I am an Unruly House Honkey. I open packages with my teeth. I can’t screw tops on jars. I fling macaroni on the ceiling when I cook. And once, I dyed my hair purple, at a place where I was a house guest, and left a permanent purple ring in their bathtub.
Just as a fox kills, a fish swims, and a bird flies–I destroy everything in my house, and in other people’s houses too. It is my nature. I am an Unruly House Honkey.
However, I am happy to report that, in the past four years, I have made vast improvements in how I take care of my home, and body. Due to a series of tragic circumstances, combined with a gnawing, persistent awareness that something was deeply out of balance in how I took care of myself, I finally reached out to my two most anal retentive friends to get intensive counseling on matters such as: How do I load a dishwasher properly? What is a napkin for? Why does my bedroom smell like scrotum cheese all the time? Etc etc.
This series of adventure stories details the adventures of how I crawled out of my own primordial slime, and gave birth to myself in the form of a somewhat responsible, vaguely cleanly adult. Some of the things I tell you may be too grisly to imagine a grown-ass woman doing. Forreals? She did that? But yes child, the stories are all true. My hope is, by laying myself completely bare…stain by stain, rip by rip, and spill by spill, I may inspire others who live as I did, to make their own brave journeys through the land of mops and buckets.
“Once upon a time, your mommy and I went to the zoo. As we were walking along, we heard a noise in a garbage can. When we opened up the lid, we saw a little baby gorilla inside! She was all covered in garbage. Her mommy gorilla had abandoned her. So, we fished her out, and took her home, gave her a bath, and called her Arlene.”
This was the actual story my parents told me, about how I came to be. Not the stork. Not “Mommie and daddy loved eachother and then BAM a little sweet angel was born” No sir, I was a monkey found in a garbage can. The story was told so often, that my little sister’s first sentence was “Een a monkey!”
Incidentally, only a few weeks ago, my mother forwarded me a news article
Yes. Believe it or not, a baby gorilla named Arlene was indeed born at Como Zoo! 39 years after they supposedly found me in the garbage can. ( I don’t know about you, but that’s some quantum leap shit, right there.)
Anyway. Like a self fulfilling prophecy, I grew up in a feral, ape-like state, surrounded by a cloud of cat hairs and wheaties crumbs, humping dirt clods and chewing on rhubarbs plucked out of the neighbors garden.
My physical body existed, only in so far as I could fling it across a field or hoist it up a wall. Unlike other nerds and dorks who could barely lift a pencil, I was athletic, daring, with whip-sharp reflexes. This, combined with no concept whatsoever of danger, led me to some interesting places.
“What kind of creature is that, climbing the wall of the school? Is it a Chupacabra? Good god, is it urinating? Should we call the ASPCA?” A concerned parent might say.
“Nah, that’s just our daughter.” My parents would tell them, taking a deep drag off a joint. “And, she’s actually a monkey. We found her at Como Zoo in a garbage can.”
The physical world existed only as a means to achieving my schemes and visions. If I wanted to take bite out of the blue cheese moon, I’d just shamble up tree and stick out my tongue. If I wanted to build an amusement park for the cats, I’d tip some chairs over, and fill a laundry basket with crumpled toilet paper. And, if I wanted romantic moments with my childhood crush Gary Coleman (From Diff’rnt Strokes, kids) , I would make out with a brown pillow we had in our living room.
I sometimes look at photos of myself as a kid, and wonder why I wasn’t beat up more, or given more wedgies. I had a klingon forehead, crooked teeth, a snarl of yellow hair, chronic impetigo, and I avoided dressing myself at all, unless I absolutely had to:
Yet, despite my grimy appearance, I was somehow able to make friends quickly, even though we moved from town to town every year like a gypsy caravan. I think it’s because I presented exciting alternatives to stupid kids games. Also, I always had expired Halloween candy from my grandmas house, to offer as a bribe.
“Let’s not play dolls,” I’d say. “Dolls are stupid and boring. Let’s stage a protest so we can get longer recess hours! Then we can play all day!”
“Here’s some markers and poster board, and some rock hard peanut butter taffies. Let’s make some signs.”
When I wasn’t out trying to force other children to do my bidding, I was alone, with books. Fat, weird, creepy books. My parents were hippies, and allowed me unlimited access to our vast library. My dad was a poet, with a collection of classics–from Salinger, to Steinbeck. My mother had an interest in medical tragedies and occult phenomena. I spent hours alone with books like “Death Be not Proud” –about a dude who dies of a brain tumor. “Joni” –about this chick who has a paralyzing diving accident and learns to paint with her mouth. “Helter Skelter” –which kicked off my life-long obsession with the Manson Family, and “Seth Speaks”–stories about a woman who channels a spirit that delivers new age messages about astral travel. By the time I was about seven, I was reading at a high-school level, and my mind was swimming with death, disease, and astral time travel, along with a growing desire to take over the world in some way, shape or form.
As I entered my 20’s and grew more exposed to “the real world” of asshole bosses, late busses, bills, bedbugs, rent checks, and dirty dishes, I continued to disappear further and further into the darker parts my imagination. I wrote shitty goth poetry. I plunked out songs on my mandolin about fisting. I psyched myself into an open mic or two. Somehow, I managed to show up at whichever lowlife admin job I had at the time, to pay the rent you see, but I’d always spend my days gnashing my teeth at my desk, and dreaming of that fairy godmother moment when some rich, powerful benefactor would take me aside and say “You…YOU! You are the one we’ve been looking for. The voice. The vision. The character! Here’s a bunch of money to get you started, and we’ve got you booked for a world tour starting tomorrow so make sure to get your beauty rest tonight. Get ready to take over the world!”
“If only I just had time!” I’d whine to myself, or anyone who would listen. “If I didn’t always have to go to my shitty office jobs, I would certainly become a famous artist, I am sure of it. I just need, like, a year sabbatical to focus exclusively on my art-that’s all I need to make it”
And then, in 2009, the economy crashed, the heavens opened up, and I finally got what I wished for—I was laid off from my admin job, and suddenly on a one year course of unemployment checks. Tossing a gleeful smile to the sky, I immediately set to work doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and breathing ART.
It was a wild, and wooly year!
For instance, I did things like…
Randomly joined a 4th of july parade in Lafayette, dressed as Charles Manson:
Started a comedy consulting company! Hung up fliers, and then defaced them.
Sexually propositioned Spammers
Shot music videos with my parents!
Then, in 2010 the first of a series of tragic disappointments befell me.
In the summer of 2010, my last round of unemployment checks was sadly, not approved. Those magical checks I received every other week for writing rap songs about balls, were suddenly yanked away. Fuuuuuuuck! Well, as luck would have it, I found a job in the nick of time. It was in the shittiest (literally) part of San Francisco, and involved intensive case management and legal assistance for disabled folks–most of whom were homeless and in deteriorating states of lucidity. It was the site of my own personal crucifixion and rebirth. But I didn’t know that yet. All I knew was the place reeked of donuts and ball sweat, tweakers were yelling at me, and I was filled with a deep bitterness that I’d “failed” in my 1 year mission to save myself from the 9-5 office slave meat grind by making a living as an artist. I DID NOT WANT TO BE THERE.
As my day job demands grew more and more intense, I doggedly tried to keep up with performances, blogs, and videos. But it was a struggle! I was losing ground fast, and unravelling mentally.
And then, one by one, all of my tools began to break. My video camera stopped working. My computer started sputtering out. My microphones, and instruments, one by one, all began to explode, or fritz out, in a conspiracy, it seemed, to push me over the edge.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have to funds to purchase new tools. And so, I was left with nothing to do but to sit and look at my surroundings, feeling a sense of doom and helplessness swallowing me whole.
“Fuck! Why do I always trip on this fucking cord in my room?” I’d shout, to nobody, and then burst into tears.
A little creaky, often ignored voice responded, “Because, honey child, you always leave it dangling there. You’ve never paid attention to your surroundings.”
“Shut up, stupid voice.” I said.
“I’m just saying…”
Hobo City II
One night, during my days of dark fury, I watched a documentary about a group of hobos living underneath the new york subway system. I probably shouldn’t have been watching something that reminded me of my day job, but I felt compelled to watch anyway.
What struck me the most about the documentary, was the care and attention the hobos gave to their surroundings. They would methodically sweep their cardboard floors. Gently fold their motheaten garments. They even put their crack-pipes away in special handcrafted boxes. Little zen masters, each one of them!
And then, I looked around my room. Moldy coffee mugs. Crumpled kleenexes. Piles of napkins with stoner shit scribbled on them. A string of broken christmas lights draped crookedly across my window. Here I was, a gainfully employed woman living in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Oakland, and the hobos under the subway system lived with more dignity than me.
I was the hobo–not them. I was living like a hobo in my own fucking house.
In the midst of this encroaching doom, a small light opened up. My roommate Graham announced he was moving out, leaving the front larger room, suddenly free. I’d always daydreamed about taking over the larger room. I’d have private door access, and a whole yard to myself, where I could sit on an Adirondack chair, scribbling into my notebooks, and throwing beer cans at youths.
However, this meant selling my current bedroom to a prospective new tenant.
So, I placed an ad on Craigslist, and scheduled a slew of interviews.
One by one, I watched these complete strangers enter my room, and then watched each one of them slowly back away, adopting the facial expression of someone who has been shown a mysterious crotch rash.
“What do you think of this one, sonny? Sort of a mandala pattern, no? And creeping right up into my anus. Think it has any mystical significance, at all? Hey where are you going?”
Could it be my bedroom was, in fact, grossing people out??? I thought I did a good job of covering up the ink-stains on the bedspread (note: ink stains are NOT skid marks), and I burned some nag champa to get rid of the cheesy smells. I even swept! I tried, good lord. I “tried”.
Ontop of this, I hadn’t had a naked dude in my bedroom for a few years, and without any creative outlet to channel my sexual frustration into, I was in a heightened state of heat. Of course, I realized, I could just go out, hoist my cans onto the bar, look friendly, and take some guy home to defile. However, sadly it seemed I wasn’t even capable of executing the FANTASY of doing that. It was like my brain was sending a signal to a vagina that was actually now dwelling in another dimension. A sad, furry triangle, blowing past satellites and dwarf stars, like a cosmic tumbleweed.
And so, one day, I got real sloshed, and just spilled everything to my friend Adriana. About my dead computer, about my broken camera, about the hobos under the subway, the craigslist strangers and my tumbleweed vagina.
“Would you like me to help you, honky?” she asked. “I have mad homesteading skills you know.”
“Yes. Yes, I think I do. I do need some help. I need to change somehow…”
“Okay. I can help you. The first thing we’re going to do, is purge your closet.”
“Why my closet?”
“Because, when you hold on to things you don’t need anymore, nothing new and positive can come into your life. It’s a good place to start.
“If you say so.”
“Clear your calendar Saturday, and get us some whiskey. We’re gonna purge, baby.”