When the aliens came down to Earth, they immediately understood everything; How motors worked, how matter grew and eroded, the death of the ‘verandah.’ The only thing that puzzled them that day and night was, “Why is there laugh tracks on TV?” It couldn’t compute. Made their gadgets go ga – ga. It’s hard to explain laugh tracks to aliens. It’s so true it should be a cliché. But I digress which is something an alien never does. The only other thing the aliens didn’t understand is, Why were there so many lonely people? Why didn’t they simply ‘pair up’? Simply ‘get together’? They said they could understand one lonely person, like at a dance, hands folded, toe tapping, wanting to dance but smiling bravely at the rest, saying, “I’m fine. I’m not lonely I like to stand here alone… you guys go have fun. Go have children and holidays and warm backs to cuddle. I’m fine standing here.” The aliens understood one lonely human. But not an army of soups for one in the grocery check out. Not an army of ones renting ‘Failure to Launch’ or some other dull piece of shit every Friday at the video store. Sleeping alone in a ten year old shirt. Not an army of one’s brushing their hair for no one. The candleless birthdays. Those trying to keep practiced in love with a bird, or a dog, or by simply ‘remembering’. A million lights quietly shutting off. The aliens were almost deafened by the sound of pages being turned in the books read by the lonely. The aliens were almost deafened by the sounds of all those waking up to just a clock radio. “Why don’t they just get together?” asked the aliens. I just couldn’t explain it to them. “Don’t tell anyone we were here” Who do I have to tell? After they left I solved the mystery. The laugh track is for me. The laugh track is to remind us: We are not alone. Not in the universe but in this and every other city.
I live a life of quiet dignity. Which is to say I live alone, and unfucked. But, like most of you I’m sure, I’m as complicated as it comes. At night when I can’t sleep, I make lists in my head. “Number one, make a list Check mark. That was easy.” It’s like I’ve already succeeded! I find it numbs me to sleep on those nights I need numbing to sleep. Did I mention the unfucked thing? Other times I lie there and I think of practical jokes I might play on my cat. Wouldn’t Mr. Noodle be surprised if his bowl was on the top step?
Every morning I go into Starbucks. I move past the pretty half-shirt girls ordering complicated coffee drinks. I order tea. I’m already an outsider. I like to keep my interactions to a minimum. If I ordered a fancy coffee, everyone would look when they called out my name.
“Chandra! Neven! Marzipan!”… I hate drawing attention to myself. I pee at home. I can’t stand having to ask for the bathroom key. Why is the bathroom key dangling off that degrading length of wood anyway? Why would that piece of wood need to be so long? Are they contemplating some trouble in there? An ambush? Hoowah! Is it some kind of exclusive club? Hardly. Because I know, as we speak, a homeless guy is in there rotating his clothes.
I order tea. But at night, I imagine if I ordered a fancy coffee, what my Starbucks name would be. Corrindifer. Corrindifer breaks hearts with a glance. Her cat is not named, Mr. Noodle, her cat is named “Cocaine,” and not because he’s white in color, but because she actually does cocaine off of him. Corrindifer doesn’t wear panties, because she left them in some guys glove compartment. Corrindifer says things like, “Listen, are you going to suck my tits all night, or are you going to fuck me?” Honestly, I’m not sexy and I know it. I don’t really have one of those bodies. If a bit of my stomach does show, someone says “You might want to do something about that.”
But today I walked into Starbucks, and I was wearing, as fate would have it, my little sister’s jeans. Er, actually, she’s my older sister, she just seems younger because of all ‘the mistakes’. The jeans were a bit tight, they lifted and separated. They re-organized things and then brought them back together in the most kick ass way, I walked in and realized everyone was staring at me. Men looked up from the screenplays they were writing, and you know REALLY took a good long look. I must also say, and we don’t have time for this, but I have a very complicated relationship with my hair. And for reasons that are too long and technical to explain, it was the perfect combination of dirty, windswept, and spit-laden, that made it, dare I say “perfect”. I stood there the centre of attention being devoured by all those onlookers!
And I realized – I was the best looking girl in Starbucks today! When I got up to the counter – I ordered a drink of just foam. They wrote “Corrindifer” on the cup…
A guy comes to my door. “Have you seen my remote?” “What?” I say. “I’ve lost my remote and I can’t find it anywhere. I thought that somehow it, you know, got over here.” As he looks into middle distance I recognize him from trying not to ever make eye contact with him, know his name or memorize his face – he’s my neighbour. Some people think a stranger is a friend they haven’t met yet. I think a friend is an enemy that hasn’t betrayed you yet. “No I haven’t seen it…” “Great” he says, “Sorry to bother you.” And he goes to go but instead he just stands there. “Listen,” I say, “sometimes I lose my remote and I’ve accidentally put it in the fridge. Did you look in your fridge?” “Oh yah,” he says, “Several times and it’s not on the roof or in the furnace neither.” “Great,” I say even though nothing is.
I go back to what I’m doing. Which I think is nothing but it’s really important to me, and I have to get back to it, you know? And about an hour later I see this vague shape on my step so I do the manly thing. I crawl on my hands and knees toward the window …which is further complicated by the fact my dog thinks I’m finally going to play that game that she has been imagining. Okay. So I’m crawling and I get to the window, I open the blinds a crack and there is a big eye there. It’s the same guy, my neighbour, but I’m thinking, “ if he moved he wouldn’t be.” I open the door and he’s been rooting around in this plant I have on the doorstep for some reason. I act like I care about the plant. He says, “Do you know what function I miss the most?” “Gee let me guess, channel recall?” “No, ‘Sleep,’ ‘Sleep On’ See I can’t sleep because I can’t sleep without the TV. So I fall asleep and I have to wake up and turn it off and when I turn it off I can’t sleep and there is nothing.” “Did your wife, um, leave you?” “No,” he says, “but I’m in denial. And if she ever did leave, which she didn’t, then I know she would come back when I found my remote.” His eyes zoom in on my remote sitting on something called an ‘end table’. I think they call it that ’cause when you buy one, it’s the END of your youth. He says, “Is that my remote?” “No, that remote is MINE.” “I’m sure it is friend, I’m sure it is. Do you use YOUR remote?” “Yes, yes I do.” “Of course you do? We’re all the same aren’t we? We all have our needs. I bet you don’t think a remote can wreck your life, but it can. We’re all three bad breaks away from living in a cardboard fort.”
I close the door. I sit down, pick up my remote, feel the warmth, look at my sweet dog. I become, for an instant, exactly what the government wants me to be – “happy with what I have.” And I was. I go to pat my sweet dog’s stomach and the TV turns off. I pat it again and it turns back on. My dog just looks at me and burps. She burps the way only a dog that’s eaten a neighbour’s life can.