Betsy Shebang - Column for 3/12

Chapter 2

I haven’t written in my journal in two months. Yesterday was Sunday and I had all day to work on the screenplay, so instead I spent seven hours recording a new outgoing message for my answering machine. Starts out with Terry Gross interviewing me about my success, then goes into the usual answering machine stuff except the words are sampled out of TV commercials. It's a kind of metaphor of the way we are all made up of reguritated bits of the shit we are fed, I now understand. I'm not sure how much of that comes across on the tape.

For the last three weeks I've eaten nothing but burritos and cereal and I haven't even noticed until now. Every morning in the shower I see the seven empty shampoo bottles and I tell myself I'm going to throw them away when I get out of the shower. Then I’m done with the shower, and I don't know what happens; I turn off the water, step out of the shower, do morning stuff and suddenly I'm at work and I don't think about the shampoo bottles until the next time I'm in the shower, when I tell myself I’m going to throw them away when I get out of the shower. The shower is still full of empty shampoo bottles. Today I forgot my lunch at home. I always forget my lunch at home. If I pull it out of the fridge, I leave it on the counter. Everything gets done exactly the same way every day, like I'm a robot. I wake up at home or on the bus and it feels like someone else has been making my decisions, or not making them; I’m not even sure there’s a difference. It’s like my life's just happening without me.

Note: buy shampoo.

My only consistent passion in life is the lust I harbor for my housemate Peggy. She wore a bathrobe and a towel-beehive thing on her head a few days ago and she came into my room for something. I couldn't fucking stand it. I want to spread her legs open and lick my way home. I can't believe that skin on her legs stretches all over her body. I want proof.

She has one brown sun dress she wears fully half the time she's wearing clothes, usually with a black lace bra that stretches away from her flesh to accommodate the weight of her breasts. Unnggggah. Reduces me to kibble. Fuck me please, Peggy. Fuck me fuck me fuck me. I am pathetic. I am nothing. A lifetime, wasted. All my accomplishments could fit into that space between her burdened bra strap and her breasts. She's actually close to thirty, you know, but she acts like she's in college. I can't stand women who act immature but always make responsible life-changing decisions. They make me feel even more confused and directionless than I already am.

I think I’m hungry; that would explain my, Peggy’s bra clings to the sides of her breasts like a glorious, still-wet oil painting spread over her skin that I glimpse only a half-inch at a time and only on warm days. I'm not in love with her. I haven't been in love since I dated Daphne six years ago, and by the time I'd fallen in love with Daphne we'd been broken up for four months and she was pregnant by somebody who owned a house. My interest in Peggy is different. Shallow. Exciting. Irresponsible. It's exactly the kind of pointless thrill ride I've spent my life avoiding.

Last night – I think it was, I lose track - Peggy knocked on the door of my room, and when she walked in she wore a skirt that she was sewing as she spoke to me, which was just perverse. It was like a dare, like she was searching for something to do while she spoke to me that wouldn't make me want to fuck her, and she failed perfectly. I felt like a rapist, just looking at her sewing her skirt while she tried to remember what she'd come in to tell me.

"Hi," she said, "Uh - if a male voice calls, I'm not here, ok?

"Where are you?" I wasn't trying to be a wiseass. I didn't want my cover story to make things more complicated for her.

"I gave my number to this creepy guy at the show last night, so if he calls, tell him I'm out - or better yet, I don't live here. It's the wrong number."

"You don't live here."


"Do I know who you are?"

"You have no idea who I am."

The phone rang. Peggy's head jerked down into her shoulders. "Oh, God - that's probably him."

"Why'd you give him this number?"

"I know, it was stupid. Don't let the machine get it. It has my voice on it."

The phone rang again.

"Are you gonna answer it?"

"So how do I ask who it is, without implying that you live here?"

She picked up the receiver and handed it to me. "This is Toby. Oh. Wrong number, sorry." I hung it up.

"Was that him?"

"I hope so." I moved back toward my desk, wondering if she’d seen me glancing at the curve of her clinging blouse as I turned away from her. I'm sick of her, really.

"How do you know that was him?"

"You said ‘a male voice’. You want me to ask him how he met you before I tell him I don't know who you are?"

"Oh, God - what if it was Ted?"

"It wasn't Ted."

"Okay - I gotta run. Thanks." She walked out.

I’m really sick of Peggy. She’s like the fantastic dessert that’s been in the refrigerator too long. There comes a time when you just want to use the space for other things.

I want to belong in the same place I live. I just want to feel like a fucking grownup. I want to feel like I’m not wasting all my time.

I've taken to locking myself in the handicap restroom at work and trying to sleep. Sometimes I'll listen to Enya on my walkman and try to imagine I'm at a spa, lying naked by the hot tub, waiting for my massage. Today I didn't even lock the door. I almost hoped I'd get caught and fired. I want to be fired but I refuse to quit.

Some days I just want somebody to find me dead. I fantasize about it before I go to sleep. I fantasize about it instead of going to sleep. I don’t want my corpse to be recovered; the burden must be purely emotional. I want my body to vanish conclusively into history so the people who discover that I’m gone can agonize over my tragedy without resenting the awful cleanup.

I dreamed about Eugene again last night. He was angry at me. About everything. He was angry at me because I can't sleep. He went around my room pulling things off the shelves onto the floor. He was angry at me because I hated my job and wouldn't do anything about it. He was angry that I've been writing the same screenplay for seven years. I haven’t seen Eugene in at least ten years. I don’t know how he feels. I don't blame him for hating me.

It was late evening when Peggy knocked again and walked straight into my room, stepping up to my chair and standing next to me, her torso breathing steadily twelve inches from my face. She put her hands together behind her, resting on the edge of my desk, and leaned her beautiful shape against them. I couldn't tell what was different, but each curve of her body was somehow sharper, more clearly defined than I'd seen them before. I'd never seen her wearing so little.

"Toby?" she said.


“Did anybody call for me when I was out?”

No, nobody called for you.





“Can I hang out in here for a while?”


She wandered into the center of the room, swung her hands around in front of her, and in slow motion sat down on my bed. She was wearing a kind of nightie thing, like her brown dress but it was black and slippery and covered a lot less of her.

"I like that thing you're wearing."

"This?" she asked. Not like she was teasing, but like she was curious if that's what I meant. She smiled.

" Toby short for anything?" she asked.

"It's short for "Toby Determined at a later date."

"Toby, you are so funny" she got up and walked toward me.

"On a good day," I said. This conversation was weird, but normal. I felt like suddenly I'd learned to juggle torches. I was good at it.

"Aren't you warm?" she asked. She reached for the bottom of my shirt and lifted it from my waist, a rush of cold air striking my skin. The shirt pulled inside out, my face hidden inside. I slowly lifted my arms. "Yeah, I'm kinda warm" I said.

"You look warm" she said.

I did look warm. I felt warm. My face felt warm, nuzzled inside my shirt. "Yeah," I said, through my shirt.

"It's very warm." The fabric swept warmly against my face as she raised her hands higher and higher. I could feel her wet mouth on my chest. She was flexible. It was very warm. Her words were making less sense now as her tongue was occupied with my nipples. I had no fucking clue my nipples could be so sensitive. I felt like a nursing mother who keeps having children just so she can nurse. I felt like I was the dry river of life being coaxed back to wet flowing life. Her voice rippled like it was underwater, like we were together in a flood of some abstract hunger that would never be fulfilled. " ate...fuh billing...dial six two five...for accounts receivable, dial four eight nine...” God dammit.

I didn't even remember picking up the phone. It felt like yesterday morning that I'd last come to work. I sat up in my cubicle again, in a hurry to do whatever I was supposed to already be doing. A line of angry post-its blocked the navigation bar on my computer, so as to irritate me into noticing them. I read “Susan, 11 am” on one and dashed out of my cubicle, racing to tuck in my shirt and strangely disappointed to find it already tucked in. Susan told me to close the door. “How are you feeling?” she asked, sounding somehow maternal and flirtatious and genuine at the same time. I like that she’s a human being surrounded by windup idiots who talk about work on their lunch breaks and discuss clothes and diets when they should be doing their jobs. She takes her work seriously, and she likes it when I’m a wiseass. She thinks it’s rebellious of me, which I think allows her to think she’s getting away with something herself. I get along very well with women I don’t want to sleep with, provided I know they’d sleep with me if they had the chance and they know for certain they won’t.

“Suffering quietly. How are you?”

“I’ll pull through. Listen, something’s going on here, I gotta tell you about it: George and Jean were so impressed with the way you handled their calendar issue that they called HR to get you a certificate of commendation for good customer service. I agreed – it was very well done. If you were a full-time employee, you’d be getting a day of vacation.”


She nodded, grimly. “Well, not so fast. As you know, the re-organization came with a wave of layoffs on Friday. Now, normally, it would not be appropriate to hang onto a temp after a wave of layoffs.”

“I’ve been wondering about that.”

“I’d convinced Bryce we should hang onto you because of your work with the database. Since Sandra left, you’re our expert.”

“Uh huh.”

“The problem is, when George and Jean found out you were a temp, they had a fit that we were holding onto you after the layoffs, ‘cause Bill was coming down on them.”


“Now, one thing I haven’t told you. With the re-org, I’m going up to the tenth floor.”

“And what does that mean?”

“That means you’ll be reporting to Bryce now.”

I struggled to convey a sufficiently inaccurate enthusiasm. I hadn’t yet found the words when she continued.

“Now hang in there. Listen, I know Bryce is not the most soft-spoken guy in the world, but he’s in a bit of a pinch right now.”

“Over what?”

“Over you. He knows the department needs you, but he’s got George and Jean on his back about the hiring freeze.”

My responses were getting slower. “Uh huh.”

“Now, to appease everybody, Bryce has agreed to keep you on, provided you wind up doing what Tamara was doing before the layoffs.”

“Instead of what I have been doing?"

"In addition to what you have been doing."


"I'm sorry to drop all this on you at once. I figured you could handle it."

"Well, you know, I'm only here for a limited time, preparing a report for the government of my home world, so I'll…uh …do…performance for…uh…" My brain was hydroplaning. There was no fear, only a sudden reversion to infancy. Anyway, the words stopped. I decided to nod instead.

"Couldn't do it without you, Toby."

"All right." I thought I was going to say something smarter.

Copyright 2002 Betsy Shebang

Columns by Betsy Shebang