Miami shut-in

She hasn’t set foot outside her seaside condo in eight years. She cannot think of a compelling enough reason to leave. The delivery guy drops the food outside the door. She’s had pretty good luck with the hurricanes, and has enjoyed a long spell of adequate health. The ocean is there whether or not she puts her feet in it. Plus she has a flatscreen TV and two floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the beach and approximately seven places to sit, including the bed and the toilet, though she dislikes the yellow armchair that can never seem to swivel the right way when she’s reading old magazines.

Eight years ago, when she first moved to South Florida to finish her book, she had every intention of exploring the local terrain. But in order to get in and out she had to ride the elevator with various combinations of strangers who lived inside her building. Riding the elevator with other people was an intolerable situation. When she pushed her own button and stared straight ahead she felt ashamed of her misanthropic tendencies. But when she made small talk, it always petered out before her floor (the 80th), and then she and her neighbors were just standing there watching the floors tick by in awkward silence. It was enough to rip your guts out. And she wouldn’t dream of taking the stairs because when she tallied up the number of times she might get assaulted in the dark stairwell over the course of 80 stories, she didn’t like her odds.

The plan was to be in South Florida for three months before returning to the Land of Winter. But after a few weeks went by she realized that climates and landscapes mattered much less to her than the quality of her apartment, and the television set in her Miami condo was a full third bigger than her flatscreen in the Land of Winter, so she settled in.

And now she sits. Sometimes at the kitchen table. Sometimes in the abominable yellow chair. Sometimes she wishes she could go to a pet store and buy a turtle terrarium, but then she thinks of putting on sandals and riding the elevator, and she stays where she is. Her book used to be about life, but now it is about dog food ads and funny things she finds on the internet. Anyone who thinks shut-ins don’t have a sense of humor is dead wrong. She finds it hilarious, just goddamn hilarious, to stand at her window and wave and wave at the ocean, like it’s a boat that is sailing away.

A word on public toilets

I once stood in a bathroom line for 25 minutes at a Starbucks near Central Park, only to have a European woman barge in front of me holding her child’s hand when I was next to go. “My little girl she has to tinkle,” the woman said. “She will wet her pants. Please can we go first?” I gave them my coveted spot, and I’m pretty sure they both used the toilet while they were in there. Or perhaps just the woman used the toilet because the kid had no bladder urgency whatsoever and had only been classically trained in the peepee dance.

Imagine giving a $5 bill to a homeless woman on the street because she’s holding a baby in her lap and the baby’s face is all grubby and sad, and you assume that your $5 will buy the baby some medicine for her drippy nose, then you find out later that the homeless woman actually lives in a penthouse apartment in Tribeca and earlier that day she’d smudged expensive chocolate into her baby’s cheeks right before bundling them both into rags for the sole purpose of extorting $5 of sympathy money out of you. Well, I would think better of that woman than someone who cuts in front of me in the bathroom line of a Manhattan Starbucks falsely using her child’s bladder as an excuse. She might as well flush all my good will down the toilet with her five lunchtime martinis.

That is a lengthy preamble to my point: anyone familiar with New York City knows how precious a commodity a commode can be when you’re walking around, which is most of the time. I have bought unnecessary cups of coffee, bottles of water, and once even a cheeseburger to earn the exalted privilege of using a Manhattan business’s restroom. There are no public johns anywhere. It really sucks. And if you do manage to find one, it’s probably disgusting because Lavatory Grinches steal the toilet paper, soap, and toilet seats. If they could steal the water out of the bowl, they’d probably do that, too. The real reason that native New Yorkers don’t watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve in Time’s Square isn’t because it’s cold outside and the whole thing is kind of dumb, but because they know that if they have to pee at any point during the evening, they will never be able to thanks to Manhattan’s egregious restroom deficit.

Which brings me to Miami. [OMG a white sailboat is passing by right now OMG] I took a jog along a beach trail this morning and counted no less than seven public restrooms. And I don’t tend to jog very far. In Miami, toilets are everywhere for the taking. They’re so prolific that not once in my first week here have I ever felt the need to urinate. It’s as if the bathrooms come to ME, saying, “In five minutes you might have to pee, so why don’t you take a load off now as a preemptive measure?” and I’m like, “Thanks, I think I’ll take you up on that,” and then it turns out I DID have to pee, but it just wasn’t urgent yet because the nerve pathways between my bladder and my brain are so retarded (until they’re not), but that’s okay because the bathrooms here totally bypass those nerve pathways and sense my body’s yearnings before cognition. And they’re really nice bathrooms! Only once have I gotten the sense that I was interrupting gay beach sex when I arrived to do my business. The hand dryers are modern, the TP is fully stocked, you look tan and beautiful in the mirror, and after you pee you kind of want to hang out until you have to pee again. But you don’t because you know that the next sunlit bathroom will be even better. I’ve never seen so many doors marked WOMEN in my entire life.

I can’t get over how different this is from New York. The palm trees and the blue-green ocean and the short pants are all wonderful, of course, but I could also see them on a Jumbotron in Times Square. If I looked hard enough, I might find an authentic Cuban sandwich in Manhattan. But the wealth of public restrooms is what distinguishes this city from its northern rivals. That and Gloria Estefan. But she has no need for brick and mortar facilities. She just uses the ocean, like a starfish.

I’m sorry I’m not sorry I now live in Miami

I’ve temporarily relocated to Miami, and I want to write about all the ways in which this place is paradise, but meanwhile my friends and family members are actively catching hypothermia in climates north of here, so I can’t describe paradise without sounding like I’m gloating, but on the other hand I kind of want to gloat because I can see green ocean and palm trees from the balcony of my condo, and because it’s 80 degrees and at any moment I could go swimming with the local dolphins, and I don’t think you should resent me for my change in fortune because it’s entirely possible that I froze to death a few weeks ago in Brooklyn and am now enjoying a sunny afterlife in a place masquerading as Miami, and most people would rather be cold and alive than warm and dead, so if it makes you feel any better we can all operate under the assumption that I’m deceased, or that these palm trees are fake, or that soon this entire metropolis will be underwater, and then everyone in South Florida will have to relocate to the island of Kokomo, which I found out recently doesn’t exist.

A few of Miami’s key (get it?!) elements:

1) Donald Trump

Once upon a time Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump gazed across a pristine white beach where Floridian children were playing with sea turtles and listening to the hallowed voice of the ocean through an abundance of conch shells. “I would like to erect forty thousand condos here,” Trump pronounced, “and their foundations will be strong with the crushed bones of blissful children. And I will also sell sea turtles in vending machines down by the seashore.” Two decades later Trump’s dreams have been realized. When M and I drive up or down A1A, Vanilla Ice’s beachfront avenue, the view goes like this: Trump condo, ocean, Trump condo, ocean, Trump condo, Trump condo, Trump condo, ocean, Tony Roma’s. Every evening M and I stand on our balcony and watch hundreds of ominous black vultures circle the rooftops of Trump’s extensive skyline. We think Trump commands these birds like a storybook witch. He hovers on his penthouse balcony with arms raised to the sky, calling to his pretties. But I’m sure the lobbies of his condos are quite nice. I know at least one of them has a waterfall.

2) colossal fishing boats

Every weekend a fleet of colossal fishing boats emerges from Biscayne Bay and takes to the Atlantic. These boats are usually stark white and about 20 stories high. Some of them have colorful, curly slides on their decks, which must be the chutes down which the fishermen send their catch at the end of the day. The fish spiral down into the boats’  chlorinated aquariums where they can be kept alive until they go to market. A massive crew of sailors and deep sea anglers—mostly hailing from Chicago, mostly wearing flip flops, mostly drunk and bloated—keep the boats on course in the Caribbean’s prime fishing grounds. These working fleets might strike you as old-fashioned, but many people in Florida still depend on traditional fishing boats for their livelihoods, and to feed their families, so they continue to take to the sea blaring ancient maritime Disney music.

3) nudie beach

To be frank, the primary reason I chose to rent our particular condo is because it’s directly across the street from the biggest public nudie beach in America. This means that if I veer left when walking toward the ocean, I encounter white lifeguard stands and the bathing-suited denizens of Trump’s condos, but if I veer right, I encounter pink lifeguard stands that herald all the pink, untoned flesh to come. I’m not talking about topless sunbathing either, which is a rampant and delightful custom in South Florida. I am talking about naked penises that look as if they were shrunk by evil shamans and I’m talking about jelly rolls that could have been liposuctioned from a herd of manatees. I love it all so much.

4) weird birds

M and I are determined to become ornithologists while we’re here, but only if we can juggle the binoculars and our wine glasses at the same time. This place is full of weird birds that chose to migrate south for the winter just like us. If we’re not being captivated by Trump’s avian minions, we’re watching pelicans fart in trees at the marina, or speculating about what makes the giant flocks of starlings vacate the telephone wires all at once. My favorite bird by far, however, is the one that lives in the parking lot of the shopping center where we ate Cuban sandwiches yesterday. Food was scarce because we weren’t sharing, so the bird snatched up a packet of Splenda and proceeded to jump from one car hood to another pecking wildly at the sugar, playing keep-away with the rest of the birds, and generally enjoying a decadent lunch. I never knew that birds liked artificial sweetener, but now I will be sure to bring some Equal when I go to feed the ducks.

5) tennis

I insisted on bringing our tennis rackets to Florida because I want to improve my hand-eye coordination. My mom gets beamed by every ball I throw at her and I really don’t want to end up like that. This morning M and I went to the condo’s tennis courts for the first time. We were feeling cocky because last spring we played a few matches at the only court in Brooklyn that didn’t shake us down for expensive permits and tennis decrees from the mayor and such. The court belonged to the Marcy Projects and its net was a chain link fence. Much like Jay-Z honed his rapping skills and street smarts at the same housing project, M and I both assumed that we had improved our tennis game by playing in the ‘hood. But we were not prepared for the vigorous competition of Florida retirees. Ten minutes after we arrived at the court this morning, two elderly men challenged us to a doubles match. It was a brutal defeat. I hadn’t known you were supposed to hit the ball hard, or straight across the net, or within the white lines. I’d thought tennis was a game played with gentle lobs and a lot of flirtatious teasing, but suddenly a gray-haired Austrian man was shouting “Forty-love!” and whacking balls toward my floppy sunhat. The Marcy Projects tennis court had not been the elite training ground I’d thought it to be. Those facilities will probably not host the U.S. Open anytime soon. Though if they do the security costs will be minimal because the neighborhood already boasts a strong police presence.

And now, while you manage your long underwear situation up north, I must excuse myself to go perve on the nudists. Adios, amigos.

Four unwanted pregnancies

1)

He hadn’t planned on getting pregnant. He always wore a condom, sometimes two. But when his habitual hangover queasiness extended into Sober Week, and the smells of car exhaust and Indian spices nearly brought him to his knees, he began to wonder. Could I be knocked up? The last time this happened he’d been a freshman in college and his girlfriend had been adamant that they weren’t ready. She’d offered to pay for it, which was a nice gesture. He’d always sort of regretted the abortion, but in his heart of hearts he knew she’d been right. And now, 20 years later, he still wasn’t ready. Would he ever be ready? He had two roommates, one of whom refused to turn down his music. He was supposed to go scuba diving in April, which meant bathing suits. He didn’t even know which of last month’s Tinder dates had gotten him pregnant. But he suspected it was the narcissistic, angular girl who’d just left for Europe on a four-month tour with her synth pop band, because wasn’t that always how his cookie crumbled?

2)

She was pretty sure this one was immaculate. The other two were straight-up love children, but here she felt that the devil himself had cast his semen into her. Not cool, man, she mumbled while stuffing peanut butter sandwiches into her bastards’ lunch bags. Not cool at all. The trouble with immaculate conception was the lack of child support payments. If the father were a player or even an administrator with Major League Baseball then she might consider keeping the child, just for the sake of her family as a whole. But no one was more of a deadbeat in financial matters than a divinity. You made a grave mistake, she said, looking at the cracks in the ceiling, of not giving this one to a virgin. I know my way around Planned Parenthood.

3)

Kay sat in the car outside the clinic debating whether or not to go through with her appointment. Her best friend Lonna sat beside her, credit card in hand. When you can’t afford the abortion, said Kay, is that a sign for or against having the kid? Probably against, said Lonna. Unless God is trying to prevent me from killing his creation, said Kay. You mean the creation of you and a hipster butcher and a dozen pickle back shots and two slow songs, said Lonna. Whoa, Lonna, said Kay, pressing her face against the car window, smearing the glass with her tears. Is that Adam from Girls? Walking by with that blonde chick? Holy shit it is, said Lonna. I guess that’s what happens when you put a Planned Parenthood in Downtown Brooklyn. Do you think it’s a sign? said Kay. A sign of what? said Lonna. A sign that my life is finally as rich in urban female drama as Hannah Horvath’s? Is that something you aspire to? said Lonna. Kay opened the car door so she could take a last, wistful look at Adam’s back. Let’s hurry up and get this appointment over with so I can start writing my novel.

4)

She was very short, about four feet tall, and she worried that her offspring would be short as well. Her lover had been of normal stature, but she suspected that these things tracked the female gene pool. Her kid would never outgrow his or her children’s clothes. She’d always have to buy socks with rainbows and cartoons on them. There was nothing inherently wrong with being short, but this was a tall person’s world. If only she could have sex with a giant and split the difference. Sadly there was no way she was going to give birth to someone her own size if she had a choice in the matter. She could barely reach the counter to fill out the form. She patted her belly, which was the same height as her obstetrician’s knees. It’s for your own good, she said. After the procedure, she would console herself by getting a puppy and a few outfits to go with it. It’s going to be all right, she thought, imagining all the dog apparel she could choose from.

Baby Truman Show

I’m watching him in the video monitor, but naturally he doesn’t know he’s being watched. The second you put this kid down for nap, he starts his calisthenics routine. He’s up. He’s down. He’s spinning in circles with his fists full of binkies. He’s like a chubby Gold’s Gym instructor who works out in a potato sack. This potato (a.k.a “sleep”) sack restricts the kid’s leg movements, but he’s still able to bunny hop from one side of the crib to the other. He sings the ABC song in his trademark slur. He halfheartedly calls for his grandmother, but only because he likes the sound of her name. I think about pressing the Talk button on the monitor and saying, “This is the voice of God. Stop squirming around, peepee pants.” But to this kid, God is just another adult who will have to retrieve his binkie if he throws it over the side of the crib in order to evade his nap. So the gods do not interfere with this child and his deranged projects behind bars. In thirty minutes, when the kid’s body finally goes still in the monitor, I sit and watch the lump.

The television commercial from hell

Yesterday I was rolled up in a blanket watching a mildly entertaining television program when this marketing atrocity came on the air. It started off like a prescription drug commercial or something. A white, middle-aged professional walks hand in hand with his smiling eight- or nine-year-old daughter through an affluent, suburban neighborhood. She might have a backpack on. Maybe she’s got a bow in her hair. In any case it’s a pleasant father/daughter bonding stroll, perhaps to catch the school bus, UNTIL the adolescent boys in the neighborhood catch sight of this nine-year-old girl and are suddenly whipped into a sexual frenzy. They start shaking and salivating. They’re losing their GD minds over this girl. They can’t resist chasing after her—while she’s with her father, mind you—and telling her how horny they are over the picket fence line.

At this point the burrito that is my body has gone completely frozen. Is this commercial really sexualizing a young girl? But it gets worse. Through some miracle of our digital age, the girl’s body morphs into that of a labrador puppy. On a leash. Because this whole time—joke’s on us—the father has actually been walking his female puppy, not his human daughter. And the young neighborhood rapists who were harassing the father’s human daughter actually wanted to have sex with the father’s puppy, who is apparently in heat and giving off all kinds of lustful signals. Because the rapists were also dogs, all along. And then the advertising geniuses behind this blizzard of bad ideas arrive at their triumphant message: spay your pets.

I don’t know why I should object to this commercial because it hits all the notes that usually wield a positive influence on my decisions: pedophilia, bestiality, slut-shaming, and sexism. Consider the lesson learned. If I ever have a daughter I’m going to make damn sure she doesn’t walk to school wearing some revealing cardigan sweater that might provoke the carnal appetites of neighborhood males following their instincts. My little girl can’t help being sexy as hell, but I can at least put a leash on her and sew her vagina shut. That is how things work in the animal kingdom. Spay your pets, people.

I wrote a young adult novel under a pen name and this is what I learned

A year and a half ago I signed a contract with Penguin to write a young adult novel. I chose to write the YA novel under a fake name so as to reserve my own illustrious name for the thousands of stories about sex, death, and misery that I planned to write for masochistic grownups in the future. My pseudonym—let’s call her W-2—has been trying to build a fan following in advance of her January 2015 debut by Tweeting about her boyfriend and responding warmly to teen bloggers who read the galley and pronounced it either “amazeballs” or “awesomesauce.” W-2 has sort of taken on a life of her own, which I guess is the point.

The author John Banville, who won the Man Booker Prize for his 2005 novel The Sea, also happens to write noir detective novels under the name of Benjamin Black. “If I’m Benjamin Black,” Banville once said, “I can write up to two and a half thousand words a day. As John Banville, if I write two hundred words a day I am very, very happy.” He prefers his crime fiction to his dense and poetic literary novels that tussle more with human consciousness than with bad guys. “My Banville books are attempts to be works of art,” he told The Guardian, “but because perfection can never be achieved they always ultimately fail. So when I look at my Banville books all I see are the flaws, the faults, the failures, places where I should have kept going to make a sentence better.” Literary fiction seems more about achieving an esoteric ideal (the Great American Novel, for instance), while genre fiction (crime, romance, YA) seems more about connecting with an audience. They’re almost different forms of media altogether.

In a 2011 Slate article, Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix wrote about their experience co-authoring the YA novel The Magnolia League. “[R]eaders in Y.A. don’t care about rumination,” they wrote. “They don’t want you to pore over your sentences trying to find the perfect turn of phrase that evokes the exact color of the shag carpeting in your living room when your dad walked out on your mom one autumn afternoon in 1973. They want you to tell a story.” Crouch apparently had trouble letting go of her “M.F.A. background where the rule was that good writing requires rumination, pain, and the slow loss of your best years” and embracing the “insane pace” of writing YA. This was similar to my experience. I wrote three distinct drafts of my YA novel in nine months. That’s a book every three months, which is a timetable that even Grisham doesn’t maintain. Psychologically, it was grueling. By the end of the process I felt like the worst writer in the world. But that’s only because I was thinking about it all wrong.

For the past year, when I’m at a party or something and am asked what I do for a living, I say I’m a writer. Then my boyfriend (who two-times me with W-2—the bastard) usually pipes up that I wrote a YA novel and it comes out in January and it’s going to be a big deal, etc. Though I think it’s sweet that my cheating boyfriend likes to boast about me and my future millions (sometimes he even seems to think I have a movie deal on par with The Hunger Games), I always feel sheepish when my YA book is made public like this. I thought it was because I’m somewhat insecure and I tend to downplay my accomplishments. “It’s nothing,” I’d say to counter his brags. “Just some silly kids’ book I wrote under a pseudonym.” This response left me feeling that I was betraying my novel (and how hard I had worked), and that I needed to be a better advocate for myself.

But now I don’t think it was my dismal self-esteem making me respond in such a way. I actually like the story and the characters and the message of the book. A lot. The trouble is I didn’t write it. W-2 is entirely responsible. She’s more interested in things like plot, paragraphing, following an outline, hitting the right emotional beats at the right time, getting those pages turned, etc. She doesn’t tear her hair out when a cliche sneaks into her work. She’s cool and she’s crazy about teen readers and she’ll be positively thrilled to sign your copy of her book, come January. But if I try to identify with her, I start feeling low. My whole sense of self is called into question. Being a writer is integral to who I am. But I can’t write just anything and still own that sense of “being a writer.” I can only write the stuff that comes from that rock-bottom place that would make most teenagers (and many adults) say, “WTF?” It’s nice to have met my alter ego and I will enjoy tagging along with her on book tour, but it’s like Banville said about himself and Benjamin Black: “They are two completely different writers who have two completely different processes.” In order for me to conserve my sense of self as Some Kind of Artist, I have to divorce my meager talents from W-2’s. It’s not a question of highbrow versus lowbrow or young versus old or whatever. The categories are too fluid for that. It’s a matter of “THIS IS WHO I AM” versus “This is something I wrote.” Thinking in these absolutes seems to help me. Creative desolation only strikes when I don’t know who is writing.

So I’m going to keep doing what I do and maybe W-2 will keep doing what she does (or maybe she’ll take some time off to backpack Europe with my boyfriend), but never again will I confuse the two writers. Meanwhile I can learn a lesson from the teen audiences that W-2 wants to reach. As Crouch and Hendrix point out, these young readers are “still fresh and unjaded.” They’re loyal and excited and communicative and they just want something honest to hold onto. They’re the main reason Crouch turned from the elitist world of literary fiction to YA. But it seems to me that instead of writing YA in order to connect with that tremendous audience (and its allowance money), we intermittently sophisticated grownup authors who actually enjoy describing “the exact color of the shag carpeting” should strive to treat our own and each other’s work with a comparable level of freewheeling enthusiasm. Or at least that’s the only way I can foresee Hollywood turning my Great American Novel into a four-part movie trilogy. Fingers crossed.

Girl power

You’re becoming too much of a celebrity. Cloistered and out of touch. All your shoes are unattainably expensive. You have the physical dimensions of a fruitatarian fashion model. You own houses in places that would have fallen into the sea ten years ago if money hadn’t intervened. And the boys are no longer on your side.

Why not? My stylist has been lowering the necklines of all my formal gowns.

You have a reputation for being a prude.

That’s hurtful. You know I have always been a closed system. It’s just how I operate as an artist.

That works for novelists and schizophrenics, but if you want to remain a power player in the music industry, you need to make some changes in your lifestyle before consumers turn on you.

But I surprise and delight my fans all the time by showing up unexpectedly at their Bat Mitzvahs and baking them cookies and things.

True, but it’s like watching a baby snow leopard leave her zoo enclosure and pretend to enjoy a shopping spree at Wal-Mart. It just looks off. And creepy. It doesn’t help that you lack friends in real life.

But I have lots of friends in real life.

Who?

My mom. My dad. The attractive Latin woman who does my hair. Sometimes my fellow celebrities and I exchange mutual admiration on Twitter. I always sign glossy photos with “xoxo.”

But female friends go shopping for makeup together and they have secrets and sleepovers and they take hilarious selfies and have inside jokes and defend each other against evil boys. Your fans need to feel that you’re best friend material. If you’re best friend material, then they can potentially squeeze in there. If you’re a hothouse flower, then you’re just another millionaire idol, and idols fall every day.

Of course I’m best friend material. I just haven’t met anyone who really gets me yet. Someone who shares my drive and ambition. People should be allowed to communicate through personal websites and music videos. That’s what Bey and I do.

Would you feel comfortable calling her Bey in person?

No.

Here’s the thing. From an outsider’s point of view, your world is becoming more rarefied by the minute. You’re transitioning from being an earnest, vulnerable young woman with relationship problems into an omnipotent robot with a hundred burned bridges and twice as many tubes of red lipstick. So I brainstormed this list of famous women who are considered sincere and down-to-earth—and who maintain loyal fan bases within the blogosphere. If you can be seen disporting with these women on social media and if you mention them enough in magazine interviews, noncompetitively, people will forget that you’re a snow leopard and an emotionally stunted former child star and they’ll want to buy your next album.

I’ll do whatever you say. You’re my best friend.

I’m your 63-year-old male publicist.

But you sent me that Dean & Deluca gift basket.

Please don’t make me wear sneakers.

You can still wear your Louboutins. Just get photographed tripping in them every now and again. Clumsy girls scream “relatable.”

What are you doing now? Do you want to go for a drive in my Town Car? Do you want to come over and watch Dance Moms?

I thought we talked about this.

You’re right. I’m sorry. Just give me the list.

“Incubation Period”

“Tighten up, Felicia,” says Felicia. “Two more houses and you’re done.” She wrings the sweat from her bandit mask then stuffs it into the pocket of her stretchy jeans. How long has her fly been down? “These stretchy jeans came straight from hell,” says Felicia, zipping up. She leans over a blue mailbox, murmuring ad jingles and trying not to vomit, as the shortie princesses pass by with their parents.

“What are you supposed to be?” asks a preteen gremlin in a surgical mask. “A fat old lady?”

“Fuck off,” says Felicia. “Halloween is for everybody.” She’s got thirty years and seventy pounds on the gremlin, making her infinitely better at trick-or-treating. His plastic bag barely bulges, while her flannel pillowcase is almost at capacity. She peers into its gaping maw and begins to salivate, which induces a coughing fit. “You will feast tonight, Felicia,” says Felicia, when she catches her breath. Precisely once a year everything goes right for her.

Rich neighborhoods are known for the superior quality of their candy giveaways. Five city blocks of Georgetown will net Felicia enough booty to take her through November. Sours are her favorite. If it doesn’t make her mouth pucker into a butthole, it’s barely worth opening. No to caramel apples. No to toothbrushes. Yes to Jolly Ranchers, but predominantly greens. No to things that taste like coconut. Her stomach is killing her so she sucks down a WarHead’s bitter medicine.

A solitary witch skips by wearing goggles and holding a plastic pumpkin bucket. The bottom hem of the girl’s black gown collects more filth than the bristles of her broomstick. Felicia tails the witch to the next townhouse, the kind you live in if you’re a United States senator. They make their way up the stairs through the warm gauntlet of jack o’ lanterns. “Go ahead and do the bell if you want,” says Felicia, feeling weak in the jeans, and the witch rises gratefully to her tiptoes.

“Trick-or-treat,” they both say when a statesman answers the door in a werewolf onesie. He seems surprised to see a middle-aged woman standing at eye level on his stoop, brandishing a pillowcase. Maybe he’s from the country. When he removes his merkin of a monster mask, Felicia feels intrigued by his presidential aura, but she’s disappointed that his candy bowl contains only Tootsie Rolls of pygmy stature. Felicia takes a healthy handful.

“Excuse me, ma’am…,” says the werewolf, likely preparing to make a speech of some kind, and that’s when Felicia pukes into his azalea bushes. The witch screams and makes a run for it. Fussy little snot. She probably gets free chocolate on Valentine’s Day, too.

“Listen,” says Felicia, when she’s finished spitting sugar over the railing. “I’m a little under the weather. Can I get a soda or something?” She feels feverish. Her forehead could definitely benefit from the Arctic roll of a cola can.

With a degree of hesitation the werewolf abandons his candy on the stoop for children of the rich to rifle through and escorts Felicia into his front hall. “Of course, of course,” he says, being neighborly even though Felicia had to ride three different buses to reach his neighborhood. “Please wait here for a minute.” Felicia waits by the coat rack for a quarter of a minute. When her guts cramp up again she moves to a velvety couch in the living room. Someone has taken the time to arrange decorative gourds in an autumnal crescent around the fireplace. One wall of the room is just pillars. A substantial jar of candy corn sits on the coffee table next to some news magazines. Felicia thinks she has a good chance of guessing just how many candy corns are in the jar because in grade school she once won a jellybean-counting contest that no one expected her to win.

She clings to her pillowcase, which now weighs the same as a bag of human skulls. She wipes her sweaty brow with the bandit mask in her pocket, then sneezes into the tassels of a throw pillow. An icy female voice carries from the next room. “…a grown woman begs you for treats then vomits on our doorstep and you roll out the red carpet? Meanwhile the rest of us are here trying to secure our nation’s borders and fight an epidemic.”

“You let in those Mormons the other day.”

“That’s different. Have you ever met a sick Mormon? Sick people don’t ride bicycles. Sick people do the exact opposite of that.” Felicia realizes that the wife thinks she has that deadly hemorrhaging virus that’s been going around the world. What a stupid idiot.

“Very well,” says the werewolf. “I’ll ask her to leave, or…”

“I just saved all our lives, Mark. You’re welcome in advance.” The werewolf rounds a white pillar rubbing something into his finger webbing that Felicia assumes to be hand sanitizer.

“We seem to be out of ginger ale,” says the werewolf. “Is there anyone I can call, or…?” Felicia’s coworker Macy Something lives near Dupont Circle, but she only has her email address. And one time Felicia caught Macy spitting in the French fry grease at work so she punched her in the boob.

Felicia bends double over her pillowcase, feeling nauseated and stressed out. So what if she is a woman of hearty appetites? It’s called living, and she only gets to do it one night a year. With her skull between her knees, she opens a Fun Size Snickers. “Maybe this act is part of your costume, or…?” says the werewolf. As if anyone is that committed. Felicia probably just contracted flu from one of those unclean superheroes on her Halloween beat and this has nothing to do with eating a Twizzler off a public toilet seat four days ago. A skinny, whorish wife appears in front of the fireplace, wearing yellow rubber gloves.

“Oh hello,” she says. “I was just washing some dishes.”

The Fun Size Snickers made Felicia feel less woozy, so she opens a miniature Reese’s. Peanut butter is her ticket out of this hellhole. If Felicia had a cat, she’d name it Peter Pan. But people keep refusing to give her their cats.

“Your house reminds me of Las Vegas,” says Felicia, who has seen a lot of television commercials about Las Vegas.

“I think you mean Tuscany,” says the wife.

“Only if you can make a good living there as a stripper,” says Felicia.

“Before you go,” says the wife, using a fire poker to nudge a gourd back into formation, “for I know you have a long night of adult trick-or-treating ahead of you, I’m curious to hear what you do for a living. Do you often travel on business to exotic locales? Or maybe you work at an international airport, or as an orderly in the infectious disease unit of a hospital?” Felicia in fact works in the food court at Dulles International Airport but she will not give this rangy woman the satisfaction of knowing that. Felicia is starting to feel like the only person in this townhouse without a flesh-eating virus.

A fluffy white cat jumps onto the couch and begins licking flecks of vomit from Felicia’s t-shirt. “Oh my god,” says the werewolf’s wife. Felicia loosens her sneaker laces and then curls up in a ball on the luxurious cushions. Her stomach is a fandango of assorted flavors.

“Let me just…,” says the werewolf, swiping the throw pillows that prevent his guest from relaxing into the full depths of the couch. Felicia sees that the only nearby vomit receptacle is her trick-or-treat bag, and that is just not happening. If worse comes to worse, she’d rather puke into the jar of candy corn.

“May I use your toilet?” she says, directing her question to the werewolf because he alone can act like a grown-up around bodily functions.

The wife looks momentarily panicked, then claps her rubber gloves together. “Mark,” she says with epiphanic zeal, “do you still keep that tarp in your gun closet?” She calls for Jack Junior upstairs while the werewolf reluctantly excuses himself from the room. Felicia gags, then finds herself holding a fun-sized pool of throw-up.

“What the fuck, Mom?” says a teenager who was obviously interrupted halfway through applying full David Bowie makeup. He seems like the kind of kid who goes to bed every night with Starlight mints on his pillow.

“We need a hand real quick,” says the kid’s mother, “but try not to breathe.” Felicia breathes on everyone freely because she is a mammal. The werewolf returns and helps his wife spread a blue plastic sheet on the Oriental rug below the couch. “You’re doing it wrong,” she tells her husband.

“Take it easy, Jen,” says the werewolf.

“Ma’am,” says the wife to her houseguest, “would you mind rolling onto this tarp?” Felicia doesn’t want to walk to the bathroom, so she evacuates the couch with a thud. The family carries her to an upstairs bathtub like a fancy whale on its way to an aquarium.

Mother and son are responsible for the part of the tarp that holds Felicia’s bottom quarters, and the werewolf is responsible for the part with the head. As the latter backs everybody up the stairs, he gazes into Felicia’s eyes with a face that so much reminds her of nougat and caramel that she wants to take his Sugar Baby nose into her mouth and then just see where her instincts lead her. She can tell that he’s doing his very best not to jostle her in the tarp. Felicia wiggles around appreciatively, which loosens her stool.

Felicia sits on the toilet and listens to the werewolf conspire with a 911 operator outside the bathroom door. She briefly passes out with her stretchy jeans around her ankles, and is aware of having a small, fugue-state orgasm. “No room at the inn,” says the werewolf after he hangs up the phone.

“You’re kidding,” says the wife.

“Drunken robots and vampires and things have laid siege to all the ambulances. But they’re going to send a hazmat team.”

“Whatever you do,” the wife says, addressing whomever, “don’t touch your eyeballs.” This lady must hold her Junior League meetings at CDC headquarters.

“If I catch what she’s got and have to miss Suzie’s glam rock party I will be so pissed,” says JJ.

“No one’s missing any parties,” says the werewolf. “That’s the last thing we want.” He cracks the bathroom door and winks at Felicia as though there’s a private party in their future, one with bowls and bowls of complimentary refreshments. She waves a wad of toilet paper at him like a flirty handkerchief.

Ten minutes later Felicia’s body is arranged on the tarp in the front hall, the fly of her jeans left open to antagonize the wife. “Where’s my candy?” she asks the werewolf, but the doorbell rings before he can answer. Felicia’s body blocks the doorway, but when the three members of the hazmat team enter the townhouse, they step over her with ease. Two of the men sport convincing panda bear costumes under their yellow jumpsuits.

“Don’t tell me you’re trick-or-treating as well,” says the wife.

“Panda bears are immune to human fevers,” says one of the panda bears. “Which makes us doubly resistant.”

“Sir,” says the non-panda to the werewolf, “I’m going to need you to remove your costume.” After a brief struggle with the zipper, the werewolf costume drops to the walnut floorboards and the non-panda puts it on over his hazmat suit. The hairy mask barely fits over his respirator. The wife takes it upon herself to line up the eyes.

“Not bad,” she says.

“How many candy corns are in that jar?” says a panda, reconnoitering the ground floor.

“Four hundred twenty-nine,” says Felicia.

“By god she’s right,” says the husband. “I counted them myself.” Felicia wishes she could just dazzle people for a living. She feels delirious, but still manages to spot Jack Junior on the couch gobbling up candy from her pillowcase. That little weasel.

“Not the sours,” she moans.

“Is this tarp coming with us?” says the second panda.

“Please help yourself,” says the wife. “You can take the couch too.”

“It looks comfortable as shit,” says the hazmat werewolf, running his finger along the wife’s naked forearm—her skin so tight it gives off a glare—then snapping one of her rubber gloves like a middle school bra strap.

“What else you got?” says the first panda.

“I would be all right with your taking the rug, and the contaminated candy belonging to that doughy woman on the floor,” says the wife.

“Not this candy,” says Jack Junior, his teeth coated in chocolate film. Felicia wishes he were closer so she could try to have a nosebleed on him.

“Don’t eat that poison,” says the wife, fancying herself in charge of all the household’s most basic activities. Felicia’s butt toots in defiance.

“But Mom!”

“You can take my son as well,” says the wife. “He’s now infected.”

“Can do,” says the hazmat werewolf. “We’ll quarantine him along with the couch.”

“You’re very kind,” says the wife. Her gloved hand lingers in thanks on the werewolf’s furry bicep.

“Great,” says Jack Junior. “I guess I’ll just go back upstairs and remove the androgynous makeup it took me an hour to apply.”

“No, keep it on,” says the first panda. “We have a dedicated ward for kids like you.” He examines a pistol that he’s presumably stolen from the gun closet.

“That sounds wonderful,” says the wife. “Did you hear that, Jack Junior? Say, you gentlemen don’t have a ward for consenting adults, do you, hahaha?” The hazmat werewolf whispers something into her haircut. Felicia overhears “electrolytes” and “dick chlorine” and a word that could be either “serum” or “semen.” He wraps it up with “hemorrhaging organ,” and they both giggle.

“Thanks for nothing,” Jack Junior tells Felicia. He kicks her in the sole of her sneaker as he marches out the front door. His father throws a small gourd at the back of his son’s head, but hits the stroller of a chubby spaceman who is way too young to be trick-or-treating.

“I’m leaving the cat,” says the wife. “Because she’s as good as dead. And I’m leaving you, Mark. Same reason.” Her husband stands there in his boxer shorts, looking unbothered. Felicia can’t wait until all the sick people clear out. She thinks that she and Mark have what it takes to be Surgeon General and First Lady. It’s been a long time since she blew her nose in front of anyone.

“I like Halloween more than Christmas and my birthday,” the second panda announces to his partners as he slips the husband’s leather wallet into the pocket of his hazmat suit. “There’s always so much mischief afoot.”

“I like epidemics more than plane crashes and animal extinctions combined,” says the first panda, cocking his new pistol. “Where to next?”

“To quarantine some sexy nurses and requisition a new microwave.”

These guys,” says the hazmat werewolf, pulling the wife into an embrace. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

“I’ll just grab my purse,” says the wife, grabbing her purse.

When the hazmat team, the son, the couch, the pillowcase, the rug, and the wife are gone, the husband drags the tarp toward the fireplace and opens a bottle of chilled pink wine. He and Felicia take turns drinking from the bottle and fondling Peter Pan. Felicia feels her heart melting from within. “As far as I’m concerned,” she says, “your whole family can just go fuck itself.” The husband makes a nest around Felicia with 429 candy corns, then begins licking the perspiration from her neck.

“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. “You’re so sweet inside.”

“No shit,” says Felicia. “That’s always been my way.”

An addendum to my roster of embarrassments

Because I always start out trying to be inspirational and end up being discouraging and overly ironic, I thought I would add a little something to my last post and not be so evasive this time.

For a long time I didn’t do my blog. I was embarrassed. I felt ashamed of what I’d already written and of what I might write. Strangers could see me in all my unbearable colors (i.e., earth tones). Worse still, friends and acquaintances could find me and scrutinize me through the aquarium glass of the Internet like I was some scaly, immobile thing in the Reptile House and they had to figure out if I was dead or not.

But that is all in the past. I no longer care what goes up and whether my visitors think I’m such a poor specimen that the snake handlers have forgotten to feed and water me. I am committed to busting loose. Here is what happened:

  • My friend A started an art project. Every day she forced herself to post one item of work online. One picture per day. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re sad or cranky or down on yourself, it’s everything. And now she has this badass portfolio that no one would ever guess she created with a gun to her head.
  • My friend X has kept a LiveJournal since 2006. She doesn’t publicize it, but it’s there and it’s wonderful. She’s been published in lots of prestigious journals, but writing something secret online every day makes her feel less lonely in her art. Right now I find her quiet URL to be the most powerful place on the Internet.
  • I read the book Show Your Work which basically told me to get over myself.
  • I let go of projected opinions. That snobby old writing professor is not looking over my shoulder, judging me for my attempt at online relatability. David Remnick is not sitting in his corner office at Conde Nast thinking, “I’d give her the fiction centerfold in the next issue if she weren’t such a blogger.” Nobody gives a shit. Besides, my mom’s opinion is the only one that matters.
  • I finally found my visitor stats, which indicated that no one was reading my website anyway.
  • Unemployment.
  • My therapist started working with me on being more assertive. Being assertive is not only about saying, “Hey buddy, it’s not okay that you’re stepping on my toes.” It’s also about saying, “Hey buddy, here are my toes tra-la-la-la-la and when I wiggle them the sparkle nail polish catches the light and yes I might have a mild case of athlete’s foot but only angels are immune to fungus.”
  • I realized how unhappy I was not participating in the world, even in a little, whispery way.
  • I’ve changed my mind about so many people. On too many occasions I’ve judged as I’m petrified of being judged myself. And yet I’ve often found my judgments to be wrong—or at least pliable. A writer I thought was a talentless hack eventually wins me over by her unapologetic hackiness. A novelist’s second novel makes me go back and read his first with new eyes. Someone on Facebook whose feeds I once found obnoxious starts posting about whales or something and I’m like, “Hey, this guy’s actually pretty cool.” So even if I annoy the shit out of someone one or one hundred times, there’s always a chance I can redeem myself later. If Gawker.com can eventually come around to Lena Dunham, a handful of people can eventually come around to me. (Gawker hasn’t done this yet but I imagine that one day maybe they will under duress from their advertisers.) The important thing is to keep making people sniff your fungus until they finally realize that they’d miss it if it disappeared. Never stop itching. Never buy the Tinactin.
  • Whatever I put online does not affect the sanctity of my work in progress, which will not see the light of day until it’s absolutely ready. In my novel I can indulge the perfectionism that would make blogging unthinkable. Whether I have a complete mental breakdown if that novel is ever published remains to be seen.

Finally, the only person I hurt when I’m in my hidey hole of embarrassment is myself. I like to write. I like to throw various foods on the wall—Twinkies, spaghetti, whole cabbages—to see what sticks. And in my limited time on this earth I’d like to be the party guest who tries to add to the conversation rather than run to the bathroom where I pretend to wash my hands for an hour. In the long run, being embarrassed is more embarrassing than doing embarrassing things.

Now if I could only stop crapping my pants.