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Gary Socquet GARY SOCQUET has been an amateur life coach and barstool philosopher for more than thirty-five years. He lives in Waterville, Maine, where sometimes he paints houses. He is currently at work on his first novel.

Recent Work By Gary Socquet

The year America turned two-hundred years old, my family quite suddenly slid about half a century backwards, to a time before indoor plumbing and universal electric service. Those things still existed for most other people–for everyone else I knew, in fact–but not for us. We lost the only home I’d ever known, half of a modest duplex on our little burgh’s Main Street, the rent for which, though only twelve dollars a week, had become somehow unmanageable. Grudgingly my grandfather (who hated my father for derailing the fortunes of his, my grandfather’s, oldest and most promising daughter) signed over, for the sum of one dollar, the deed to a sixteen-acre plot of land on a lonely dirt road, and a month after the great American Bicentennial celebration died down, my parents boxed up most of what we owned and stored it somewhere it would never be seen again, loaded the remaining absolute necessities into the back of my uncle’s truck, and veered off into the American Dark Ages.

I am not innately funny. I am, in fact, a very solemn, somber, pensive man trapped in a funny man’s body. In much the same fashion, I am not a fat guy: I’m a little heavy because I am way out of shape, but in reality I am a skinny guy in a plumpish guy’s body. I have the pictures to prove it.

Buried deep in the heart of every comedian lies the barely faded memory of a bygone dead puppy. With the preeminent geniuses of comedy, the likes of Bruce and Pryor and Carlin and Hicks and so on, that puppy didn’t just die, it was tossed into a pot to be boiled up like the pet rabbit in Fatal Attraction, while the young child version of that future funny man was forced to watch. With any given story, comedy is indeed tragedy plus time; a comedic sensibility is born of accumulated incredulousness. One becomes a comedian the day he ceases to wonder why a thing just happened, and instead observes, “Wow, that was fucked up.”

A little over a year ago, I wrote a pretty awful suicide note that, for a variety of reasons, it turned out I couldn’t use. A few days later I wrote a much more eloquent reflection on that note and on the night it was written. I considered how shamefully glib I had been in addressing my closest friends. I recognized that, as I was attempting to put the final touches on what I thought were my soon to be infamous last words, the sun had risen, meaning I had run out of time: I claimed an unwillingness to kill myself during daylight hours, suggesting that two or three in the morning would be the ideal time to do the deed because anyone who might possibly have prevented it would be deep in sleep. I went on to admit that I’ve never been comfortable even hearing about knife wounds, let alone inflicting one on myself, but a knife was all I had. “In the end, I just couldn’t run a sharp blade along my wrist,” I wrote. “I can’t tie a noose, can’t afford drugs, don’t own a gun. And I don’t cook with gas.” Those were my utterly appalling reasons for not killing myself. That night.

A few weeks later, on a Sunday afternoon in November, I spent most of the little money I had on beer and cigarettes, a bag of Munchos and a pound of M&Ms, and I settled in for what turned out to be a thirty-hour drinking-sobbing-loud-music-smashing-shit binge that culminated in me sending an email I don’t remember to one of my best friends, asking him to take care of something for me when I was gone. Sometime later, two best friends arrived, took away the knife, and loaded me into the truck.

I spent the night in the emergency room, primarily because I was still far too drunk to be let loose in a psych ward, but also because it took some time to find an empty bed – as seems to so often be the case, those wards were overflowing. My friends stayed with me the first few hours. They each took a turn in a room down the hall with the crisis worker, telling her all the pertinent stories. They offered me reassuring thoughts, promised this was the right thing for me to do, told me I was going to be okay. They could just as well have been telling me I’d been voted Homecoming Queen: by then I’d taken up semi-permanent residence in the rabbit hole and at that sad hour I was busy contemplating the drapes. I was too desperately sad and too ashamed to absorb anything save the fact that I was in a bad place and it was about to get much worse before there was any hope of it getting even marginally better. They recognized that, my buddies Peaches and Hank. They understand me in a fundamental way, the true me, not the distorted version of me they found in my apartment that night, the version they had watched drag his ass around for months, a version which, looking back, is entirely unrecognizable to me now. Regardless of how hard I had made it for them to be my friends those miserable months, they get me, which is why, when I left the hospital room once to use the bathroom, Hank climbed into my vacated bed and struck a pose, Peaches snapped a picture with his phone, and sometime later Peaches posted the photo to Facebook with the caption, “I don’t think he’s going to make it.” It would be one of the first things I’d see when I flipped open my laptop after I got sprung from the psych ward, and even in my ongoing black fugue I laughed so hard I almost cried. I also noted the one comment accompanying the picture, from my friend Edge: “Uh-oh. Where’s Gary?”

Indeed, where was Gary?

Generally speaking, I was lost. The final straw for me was a girl – and I almost literally mean a girl, she’s seventeen years my junior (don’t worry, I’m easily old enough to be your cool uncle) – but it’s neither fair nor reasonable to say it was because of the girl. She’s not to blame for me ending up in the hospital. Saying any of that was her fault would be the same as if I wrecked my car and blamed it on the telephone pole around which it was wrapped: I was the one in motion, sir, not the pole. She was young and careless, I was old and foolish, but more than that, I had spent the previous two years dropping the ingredients of my life into a stew pot, seasoning the mix with self-pity and a burgeoning sense of worthlessness, and leaving it over a low heat to simmer. This is never a good idea, but in my case, I don’t really even cook – I’m generally hapless in the kitchen unless you need a pickle jar opened or want to have mildly adventuresome sex – so there was no way this could possibly end well.

More specifically, by the time Edge’s question appeared on Facebook, I was strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance that carried me an hour southwest to the nearest hospital with an available bed. My shoes and belt, cigarettes, lighter, a fistful of cash and my down jacket were stuffed in a plastic bag, which one of the ambulance attendants passed to the admitting tech when they deposited me on the business side of a set of doors that locked automatically behind them the instant they departed. I was interviewed and probed and prodded and wrist-banded and, eventually, shown to my room. And then I was watched. I don’t know if it could be called my official status in the first twenty-four hours after I arrived on Ward A3, but it comprised the admitting tech’s parting words to me before she relinquished me to my unadorned room: I was on CVO, “constant visual observation.” It makes a certain kind of sense, considering I’d arrived there on the heels of trying to kill myself, but at the same time, unless I decided to either drown myself in the toilet or brain myself (to death, which I’m not sure is possible) by smacking my head repeatedly against the floor, there was absolutely nothing within reach that matched my imagination’s capacity to do myself the ultimate harm. But I’d brought this on myself, which meant that if they told me I’d have company every time I took a pee, I had no standing to get either bashful or indignant.

We’ve all read this book or seen the movie: it is, to varying degrees, the Cuckoo’s Nest. The nurses and techs were efficient and appropriately solicitous, if at times a bit overbearing as they saw fit. The doctors had slightly less personality than a watermelon rind. There was a smirking, edgy twenty-year old kid with pure psychotic eyes; a woman in her sixties who sobbed nonstop for two days, then proceeded to do laps around the ward in a Thorazine shuffle; a painfully beautiful young woman whose johnny kept sliding off her shoulder, revealing a long, thin neck that would have been lovely without the burn scars; and a very old man, my roommate the first night on the ward, who croaked a chant half the night: “I pray, I pray, I shall return.” The feel and sight and smell of the place can only be described as that of errant but earnest futility, a cluster of adhesive bandages cross-hatched on the scalp in the general vicinity of a brain hemorrhage. If all those aching skulls could simply be cracked and an atlas of maps could be drawn, designating the streets and boulevards and avenues and cul-de-sacs of fear and ecstasy and shame and joy and forgetting and faith and remorse . . . in which case, there would be no need for Ward A3. Instead, there is a tremendous need, and yet they are little more than the sanitary corridors of a place we go to be reminded of the many ways language can and will fail us when we desperately need it to access the very essence of what it is to be human and therefore at least a tiny bit fragile.

The failure of language that intrigued me most was the recurring question that fell from the lips of every staff person there so consistently it was as though they had just stepped out of a pep-rally type meeting in which they were reminded to keep asking: “Do you feel safe?” The first time the question was put to me, I cocked an eyebrow and hesitated for a few extra long beats because, honestly, it puzzled me. I realize it’s intended to be a purely simple, straightforward question, but the potential nuance felt inescapable. I wanted the question rephrased. Do I feel safe? No fucking way. Do I feel like I’m out of options? You bet your ass I do.

I behaved myself from the moment I arrived on the ward, but for the wrong reasons: I didn’t toe the line so I’d get better, I did it because I wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as possible, and I understood immediately that good boys get to go home and bad boys should have their mail forwarded. As miserable as I’d made my life, as soon as I gave it away I wanted it back, or parts of it, anyway. I wanted cigarettes. I wanted my laptop and my iPod and my idiot-phone, in spite of the fact that it had by then taken to giving me nothing but bad news. I kind of wanted a drink, but that was less a driving impulse than a habitual inclination. I desperately wanted my shoes and my belt. If you’ve never spent any time shuffling around a psych ward in no-slip socks with your pants falling down, I can tell you right now, you’re not missing anything splendid. They did offer me a pair of hospital-issue pajamas, but I’d already made up my mind where I wanted the indignity to taper off, and that point fell just shy of those jammies.

One thing you should know about me is that I’m really bad at getting a haircut. When a hairstylist asks me, “So what are we doing today?” I invariably start to babble, and then I tell her to surprise me. A little crazy, I guess, but if you’ve seen my picture, you’d be right to guess my vanity doesn’t reside in my looks. I am, as it turns out, equally incompetent when dealing with doctors. There’s something about the forced intimacy of strangers for hire that knocks me off balance in an unexpected way – unexpected because I’m not generally shy. I’m not a good patient under any circumstances, but if I have to see a doctor for something below the skin, something that isn’t as glaringly obvious as a broken bone or a steadily bleeding flesh wound, I always feel like I have to talk him into it. Pretty soon I’m talking way too much and even I’m growing less convinced. It turns out actually saying, “I tried to kill myself,” sounds as unconvincing, out of context, as saying, “I love you.” No matter the truth of how you feel, it just sounds lame. So eventually I tried a different tack: I told him I’d given up. That did the trick because there were concrete, meaningful things I’d given up: I’d stopped paying my mortgage, stopped looking for a job, stopped writing, stopped doing pretty much everything except drinking, smoking, listening to loud music and punching holes in my own walls. “Okay,” the doctor said, “let’s get you better.”

Except that wasn’t exactly my plan. My plan was simply to get out of there. While getting better sounded terrific, doing so in that place was incomprehensible to me. It just wasn’t going to happen, and so instead of accepting what those fine professional healers offered, I launched my version of a psych ward charm offensive: in a remarkably short time I became the best behaved, least suicidal person any of them had ever seen inside those four walls. It was shameful and unwise, but what can I say, I’m a great interview.

I wasn’t purely a model citizen. But for one group session, I avoided all gatherings other than meal times. The one group session I did attend began with one of the techs passing out stubby pencils and slips of paper on which there was a line for our names and two more lines for us to write our “Goal for Today.” I’ve attended a lot of corporate team-building programs over the years, and this holdover from first grade has always struck me as the worst sort of condescending bullshit imaginable. In other words, I hate it a lot. But there I was, determined to be a good boy, which meant I had to play the game as it was being presented to me. So I scribbled my “Goal for Today,” and at the end of the session when the tech said, “One more person – Gary, we haven’t heard from you,” I cleared my throat, lowered my eyes and read, “My Goal for Today . . . is to be more goal oriented.” Even as the murmurs spread around me – “Wow. Yeah. That’s good. Good job.” – I felt my scrunched up little heart sing for the first time in what seemed like four days past forever. And I wanted out of there all the more because I’d just rolled out my A-material and, of course, nobody laughed.

And so I conned the doctors, conned the nurses, conned every staff person with whom I came into contact: I conned my way out of the hospital, knowing full well I still wanted to die, and with a faint inkling that what I’d imagined was the hard part – giving in and letting someone take me to the hospital – would in truth prove to be no more difficult than tying my shoes when compared to trying to get my shit together out in the real world.

One supremely good thing did come out of the experience of being there, though. In the hallway outside my room sat the phone on which patients could take calls that were put through from the nurses’ station. I must have listened to the near side of forty or fifty phone calls while I was on Ward A3. With slight variations, every single call went like this: a conventional greeting, followed by predictable responses to what appeared to be small-talk on the other end, and culminating in words separated by sobs before the person gently replaced the receiver and continued to sit there in the hallway, plainly visible from every angle (including where I lay on my bed just twelve feet away), silent tears streaming down his or her cheeks. Honestly, I didn’t want to see or hear any of that, ever. And yet I lay there transfixed. The day you know you’re going to go on living is the day you realize your pain is not only not unique – it is, in fact, the most obvious kind of ordinary – but it is also not the worst thing that ever happened to anyone.

I was up very early my last morning on the ward. The nurse who got my meds from the dispensary asked if I wanted a nicotine patch or if I’d be smoking as soon I left the hospital. “Actually,” I replied, “I’d like a nicotine patch, and I’ll be smoking the second I get out of here.” When she suggested I consider giving them up, I smiled at her and said, “Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure smoking isn’t what’s going to kill me.” Yeah, I said that. My GAF (“Global Assessment of Functioning,” in case you were wondering) at discharge was a 50, meaning I was, as far as they could tell, no more than average super-depressed: I’d managed to share deep thoughts in coherent sentences, which indicated I was as close to high-functioning as I needed to be to walk out of there. Sometime late morning Peaches rolled in, the tech handed me my bag of goodies, and I left without saying goodbye.

There are loads of suicide related statistics available for consumption, but they are mere statistics and we all know those are the most insidious of lies. For instance, what does it tell you that women attempt suicide three times more often than men, but for every suicide attempt men are four times more likely to pull it off than women? Statistics: they sketch the outlines of a picture, but they don’t tell a story. Depending on your perspective, they either confirm or defy what you already thought you knew. The concept and study of statistics evolved, I imagine, from the same impulse that created man’s gods: as a comfort in a too often disconcerting world. I’d call that awfully cold comfort to the friends and loved ones left behind.

In the epigram to his book Gargantua, Rabelais said, “I’d rather write about laughing than crying,/For laughter makes men human, and courageous.” I’m not writing this because I want to share my life story – I’m writing it precisely because it is not my life story, although had things turned out differently it very well may have been, in which case somebody else would be telling it, and that would be very disappointing to me because, under the circumstances, that person might have forgotten to find something to laugh about. That would have been a genuine shame.

I spent a very long time kicking myself for all of it, but especially for what I did to the people who care most about me. I put my two best friends in the position of having to sit in a small room with a relative stranger and tell her in excruciating detail every dark, dangerous, humiliating thing they’d watched me do over the previous few months. To their credit, they stole a moment that terrible night and created an ounce of levity, and for that in particular they’ll always have my unqualified respect. What I put them through is a shitty thing to do to people who love you. But do you know what’s worse than doing that to your friends? Not giving them the option.

 

As promised, here is the follow-up to the Top Ten Ways to Go (which you can read here). The first list is useful; this list is essential. Be aware.

 

Top Ten Ways Not to Go

Number 10: Choking on vomit

I think choking to death on anything would suck: you can’t breathe, your eyes are bulging, you’re swinging your arms and half bent over. It’s an awful spectacle. But vomit, jeez. And yes, I mean your own vomit, I’m not being Spinal Tap cute here. I’m talking about that late night pass-out moment at the end of what had been a thoroughly righteous ten hours of moveable feast, right up to the point when your body makes the unfortunate choice of deciding it doesn’t want ribs and baked beans and bourbon and ibuprofen swirling around in its belly any more and gives not the least little fuck about the fact that you are flat on your back and breathing through your mouth. Um, hurl.

 

Number 9: Listening to the band Bread

. . . on repeat. Okay, who hasn’t had the experience of a new-ish friend scrolling through your iTunes library, pausing, looking you in the eye and asking, “Bread? Seriously?” Yeah, motherfucker, Bread. Seriously. I confess, I’m a risk-taker, a tempter of Fate. I wave my private parts at Death on a regular basis: I listen to Bread all the time. Sometimes I put on some Bread when I climb into bed, and I start my prayers, “If I should die before I wake,” and then I chuckle, roll over and fall asleep. Take that, Grim Reaper.

 

Number 8: Getting your ass stomped to death by a gang of midgets

Just picture the last thought that would go through your mind. That is all.

 

Number 7: Wearing skinny jeans

Guys, I don’t know who is going around telling you those pants look good on you, but whoever it is, punch that person in the face because she or he is a filthy liar. Nobody looks good in skinny jeans. Everybody who wears skinny jeans looks like an asshole, and you know what they say: if it walks like a duck . . . which you do, in your skinny jeans. It is a horrible way to go through even a brief period of your life, and a worse state to be in at the very end. Don’t take that chance.

 

Number 6: Making flan

Statistically, this is extremely rare. Don’t be the one who skews those numbers.

 

Number 5: Thrill-seeking

By comparison, this is statistically quite common: skydivers’ shoots don’t open, parasailors crash into waterfront high-rises, world-class skiers go off marked trails and crash into trees bearing signs that say “Don’t ski here” (which I realize is technically ironic, but come on). If you’re so remarkably stupid that you need a regular fix of this kind, go with God. And tell him I say hello.

 

Number 4: Suicide

Unless you write the most profound suicide note ever – and you won’t – don’t do it. I write pretty good, and I couldn’t pull it off, so do yourself a solid and don’t go there. Stick around, make fun of people, eat weird foods, find out if Ryan Gosling will finally be named People’s sexiest man alive.

 

Number 3: Being named People’s sexiest man alive

. . . and having the magazine come out two days after you’re dead. Gross. Ironic and gross.

 

Number 2: Fucked to death in all the wrong ways

I don’t just mean the obvious bad fucking, like unwanted prison sex. I’m thinking more about those relationships we’ve all had that have run their course and grown stale, but you keep going through the motions, even going so far as to have the expected amount of bland, uninspired sex, and while you’re doing it, the thought crosses your mind, “God, what if this is the last person I ever have sex with. Like, what if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, or . . .” and then you die. Bad fucked to death.

 

Number 1: Cast into the sea

Getting beaten up and thrown off the back of your yacht in the middle of the night by your drunken-ass jealous hack-actor husband because he thinks you’re banging Christopher Walken: that should never happen (again).

 

A few years ago, right around this time, in fact, a friend of mine drowned. It was as terrible a day for those who cared about him as you would imagine. I won’t get into the details of his death or the hours spent that afternoon, frantically at first, then solemnly, trying to find him, or recover his body: that too was as awful as you think. He was a funny, cheerful, fundamentally goofy guy, quick to laugh, especially at his own folly. That’s how I remember him, and so in that spirit, I want to talk about something else.

At work two days after it happened, a coworker overheard me telling my friend Chris about it, and she said, “I’ve heard drowning is the best way to go. Very peaceful.”

I had no immediate reaction to that statement: in a sense I was far away and barely heard her, for one thing, but for another, I don’t tend to jump on inane comments right away because my inner voice is too busy tossing it around: Did she really just say that? What the fuck does that mean? Why do people say shit like that? Heard from whom? Is she communing with the souls of the dead, polling them on their particular death experiences? Even if she does have access to the dead, what can they really tell her? None of them have any frame of reference for comparison. It’s not like the guy who was shot in the head has any basis for believing he had it worse than the guy who was burned alive. Seriously, what the fuck?

Seriously, this is what was going on in my head, and by the time that monologue came to a close, my coworker had walked away so I couldn’t ask her. Probably for the best, she would have misunderstood and gotten all butt-hurt. Is there a word for the way people who actually believe the nonsense they pull out of their asses get bent out of shape when you call them on it? I’m drawing a blank.

But I don’t want to be mean: I want to be better than that. And so I decided to take what she offered and make something of it, and here’s what I came up with: my Top Ten Ways to Go. And if you’re reading this and you happen to actually be dead, don’t bother telling me I got it all wrong: life is for the living, gang, and you had your chance.

TOP TEN WAYS TO GO

Number 10: Extreme old age
This is actually a Woody Allen joke, but I’m going to steal it because, in my forty-plus years on the planet, I have yet to encounter as many as five people who have seen that movie, and I’m only outing myself as a poacher as a courtesy to the memory of Woody when he was, you know, good. This way-to-go comes with a big caveat: it only applies when facing execution and being given the choice of how you want to die (does not apply to firing squads – see below), i.e., if you’re on death row in, say, Texas or Georgia – although, would you really want to grow old in either of those places? Personally, I would rather not.

Number 9: Any death that is so uncanny people are still talking about it years later
Houdini got punched in the stomach (bad timing, poor communication: the word “No” can sound a lot like “Now” when you have a bit of a Hungarian accent), Isadora Duncan was dragged out of a moving car when her signature scarf got tangled in the car’s wheels (allegedly her chauffeur thought she was doing an interpretive dance), Steve Irwin managed to prove his point about the precision with which a stingray can strike (Crikey, mate!), Elvis died on the can (crap). I’ll remember you all, always.

Number 8: Firing squad
Yeah, I said it. Look, if you find yourself standing in front of a firing squad, chances are you did something notoriously cool to get there. So pat yourself on the back, smoke one last Gauloises, and tell ’em to stick that blindfold up their fat fascist asses, cuz you’re the kind of dude who wants to see it coming. Fuck yeah.

Number 7: Bacon coma
Do I need to explain this? You eat bacon, and it makes you happy, so you keep eating bacon, and your body is so thoroughly overjoyed by this bounty of awesomeness that it just stops: because it knows there will never be a day that’s better than this. If you’re in a hurry, go with the bacon appetizer at Peter Luger’s Steakhouse: it’ll cost you a little more, but it will get the job done fast, and you’ll be dead anyway, so what are you holding onto your money for?

Number 6: On a high note
I used to have these fantasies when I was a kid, before my favorite team, the Red Sox, had won a championship in my lifetime. I pictured myself digging in against a quintessentially great post-season pitcher like Orel Hershiser or Jack Morris, it’s the seventh game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, two outs, we’re down by a run and the slowest, fattest guy to ever step on a diamond is our runner at first (we’ve blown through our whole roster playing catch-up since the second inning, because we’re the Red Sox and we’ve made a legacy out of shitting in our own hats), but no worries, because I take an 0-2 pitch in on my hands and muscle it up and over the Green Monster and, for the first time since 1918, the SOX ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS! I round the bases as the stands collapse under the weight of drunken, blissful tears, and as my toe touches homeplate and my teammates mob me, zing, I’m dead. And, as any Red Sox fan will tell you, I go straight to heaven (God, it turns out, fucking hates the Yankees, as he should). These days of course the Red Sox win all the time, so if I want to go out on this particular high note, I’m going to have to move to someplace like Cleveland or Milwaukee. If that’s the case, I think I’d rather just die some regular crappy way.

Number 5: Wearing clean underwear
I say this in part to satisfy my mom’s gravest lifelong concern, but also because wouldn’t it be pretty fantastic to be the first person in the history of undergarments to actually show up at the morgue in pristine undies? That would be one for the books, people.

Number 4: Laughing
Last week I was at the bar with my friends Chili and Smurfette, and as our waitress was walking away (Smurfette and I both kind of have a thing for her, but not Chili, because he’s Smurfette’s boyfriend, and he only has a thing for Smurfette because he’s not an idiot) I said, “Gosh, she’s so great, always so nice to me and stuff. Still, she’d never go out with me,” to which Smurfette replied, “Actually, I bet she would, she has terrible taste in men.” Smurfette gets on a roll every once in a while, and for days at a time the things that come out of her mouth that she intends to sound like encouragement actually sound like insults – just exactly like insults, and the only way you know they’re not insults is that she immediately dies laughing. Each time it happens I believe for a few seconds that she actually is dead because her eyes get very big like she’s looking into a not too distant light and she loses the power of speech. It’s like she’s having a caustic wit-induced stroke. I don’t want Smurfette to ever die, but I wouldn’t mind going out that way.

Number 3: In clown makeup
This is mostly for the sake of the first responders who find you. Think about their lives, climbing six flights of stairs to dirty, cramped apartments where they bag and tag stiffs who’ve been left to air out for three or four days before somebody realizes that’s not bad Indian food they’re smelling. They open the door, and there you are in suspenders and giant clown shoes, your face all made up in a big sloppy grin, red ball on your nose, spray seltzer bottle still clutched in your lifeless hand. Remember the clown’s credo: Always leave ’em laughing.

Number 2: Fulfilling a promise
Say you’re dating someone you know has one foot out the door, and you say, “I don’t know what I’d do if you ever left me – I’d probably die.” And of course she leaves, and then you die. Imagine the possibilities. Your mother would spit in her face. All your friends would hate her. They’d run into her on the street and be like, “Hey, have you seen Steve? Oh, wait, that’s right, he’d dead. He died because you left him.” Revenge is a dish best served at my wake.

And the Number 1 Way to Go: Fucked to death
Obviously. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not saying you have a heart attack or the other person inadvertently chokes you out. No, you’re just fucking, and it’s the best fucking two people have ever – ever – engaged in, and you both do your thing, and the second it’s over, you die. It’s essential, though, that only one of you dies, because the other one has to walk the earth telling your story. Your legend must not die with you in that Motel 6.

Tune in next time when I’ll be offering up my Top Ten Ways Not To Go. Some of you are going to want to pay very close attention to that list.

Dear Bear

By Gary Socquet

Letters

So people call me Garebear (Bear for short) not because it rhymes (that would be lame, and my friends are not lame) but because I’m actually half bear, on my mother’s side. A few years back I started an advice column for the lovelorn: as it turns out, you learn a lot about making relationships work when one of your parents is a bear. And, well, I just like to feel useful. I think you’ll see what I mean. Let’s dig into the mailbag, shall we?

Dear Bear:
My boyfriend is my best friend, he’s smart and funny and sexy, but he’s not a giver: he never considers my feelings, never asks me how my day was, and in five years he’s never once told me I look pretty. What should I do, Bear?

–Unappreciated

 

Dear Unappreciated:

Are you pretty? Is it possible one of the qualities you left off the list of his many fine traits is “honest?” Have you ever considered the possibility that he’s just taking pity on you? I mean, you call him your best friend, but it doesn’t even sound as though he likes you all that much. You’re clearly very needy, you have limited self-esteem, and at this point the jury is still out on your looks – although, honestly, if he’s never once in five years said you look pretty, well, do the math. And count your blessings.

 

Dear Bear:

All my girlfriend ever wants to do is have sex: first thing when we wake up, in the evenings while I’m trying to watch Jim Lehrer, sometimes she even shows up at my office in the middle of the day and tries to get me to do it with her on my desk. What should I do?

–All-Whoopied-Out

 

Dear Whoopied:

Hmmm. This is a tough one. Well, let’s start with first thing in the morning: the alarm goes off, you open your eyes, rub the sleepies out, turn your head, and there she is, giving you the hungry look. Am I right? Okay, here’s what you do: roll over, and have sex with her. Got that? Okay, moving on: you’re watching Jim Lehrer, he’s talking about a squabble in Congress, or the situation in Afghanistan, and she climbs into your lap and starts rubbing herself all over you – sound about right? Here’s the plan: position her exactly in the line of sight between you and Jim Lehrer’s face . . . and have sex with her. Now to the nooners: she steps into your office, locks the door behind her, sidles around your desk, puts one high-heeled shoe up on your leg, lifts her skirt to show you she’s not wearing any panties – am I close? This one’s the toughest yet, but I think the answer is coming to me . . . yeah, here it is: give her my number. Loser.

 

Dear Bear:

I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost two years now, and I really love him, but lately he’s been working super long hours and I’ve been spending a lot of time with his best friend (we both miss having him around so much), and, well, I’ve started to develop feelings for the friend. I don’t know what I should do!! ;-)

–Helen of Troy

 

Dear – wow, Helen of Troy? really?:

Well, let’s see. A couple things come right to mind: first, it’s natural for the bonds of a relationship to be strained when circumstances change, particularly when those changes lead to what seem like satisfying short-term distractions; also, try not to be such a giant whore. That almost always makes things better. (Did you really just emoticon wink at me?) Good luck, Helen!

 

Dear Bear:

I’ve been with the same woman for seven years, and I’ve always thought things were fine, you know? But lately she’s been dropping all these none too subtle hints about making it official, if you know what I mean. I just don’t know, you know? I mean, she’s great and all that, got a great body and a good job, but I don’t know if I want to put myself in that position, you know? Like, the only woman I ever get to sleep with, forever after? Help me out, buddy?

–Jets Fan

 

Dear “Buddy”:

Yeah, I get this question a lot. It’s a real pickle. “She’s great and all that, got a great body and a good job” – I hear ya. Who wants that? I suggest a two-pronged approach: first – and it’s absolutely essential that you take these steps in the proper order – first, get your fat, stupid, Jets-loving head out of your ass, and second, get your fat, stupid, Jets-loving ass out of her life. Seriously, if she doesn’t realize she could do better than you, at least be decent enough to give her a chance to find that out. It makes me sick to think you might be the last guy she ever gets to sleep with – there, I threw up in my mouth just thinking about it. Be a mensch for once in your life and get the fuck out. Buddy.

Ah, that was nice. It feels so good to help. Now for my favorite part – here’s a letter from someone who recently came to me for some advice. Let’s see how he’s doing.

 

Dear Bear:

I’m following up to let you know I took your advice and talked to that girl at work I like. You were right – it was so easy! Turns out she got a new pair of glasses and she was asking people in the break room what they thought, and I said, “They’re librarian hot.” (No pun intended.) What’s my next move, Love Doctor?
(name withheld for obvious reasons)

 

Dear Scott:

Guh. Please tell me you didn’t . . . Okay. Shit. Okay. Your next move . . . your next move. Okay, here’s the thing: “no pun intended” is not an idiom. It means exactly what it means. It is intended to follow an unintentional play on words, like when you’re in a meeting and somebody asks the fat guy to “weigh in” on the topic. So I’d say your next move should be to tell her in no uncertain terms how much you love her boobs, and then say, “No pun intended.” Get it, Scott?

(I’m not going to lie to you, people: sometimes I wish I were all bear.)

 

As I’m sure most of you are aware by now, I am a bit of an amateur this and that, sort of a modern renaissance dude of all trades, a dabbler in things worth knowing a very little bit about. I’ve been doing astrological charts for close friends and assorted enemies for many years. I actually got a woman to sleep with me once by doing her chart. Our daughter is now sixteen, so don’t tell me astrology is horseshit, pal. Anyway, my dear friend Christy, who has long benefited from my sage vision, finally managed to talk me into taking the gig global, maybe even viral. I hope you all find some meaning and wonder in what you’re about to read. And as always, my horoscopes come with a one-hundred percent satisfaction guarantee. If I miss the mark even a little, shout my way. And I’ll give you Christy’s number.

ARIES (Mar. 21–Apr. 19): Adventure is in store for you, Aries. Steal some time just for you: take a day-trip to a favorite out of the way spot, or visit a museum, or eat something you never knew people actually eat, like lamb penis or potted meat. Many will try to steer you, as they always do, but don’t heed their advice: plot your own course. Remember: you’re the driver. Please also remember that you are quite possibly the worst driver on the face of the planet, being easily distracted and almost blind in one eye, as you are. That’s probably where the adventure will come in. Make sure your insurance is current.

TAURUS (Apr. 20–May 20): Hey Taurus, guess what? You’re going to get laid next week. Like, a ton! Seriously, you’ll just be walking down the street, waiting in line at the ATM, making a sandwich, whatever, and before you know it, bam, you’re getting busy. There’s some other stuff about investment opportunities and reciprocating friends’ generosity and sticking close to home, but you don’t need to hear any of that crap. Spend a little extra time in the shower this week, scrub low and hard, and then get out there and get fucking. And hey, let us know how it goes, okay? I love hearing from my readers.

GEMINI (May 21–Jun. 20): I see you spending a lot of extra time on your homework this week. And swearing off boys until you’re out of high school. And never ever ever listening to that fucking “Pumped Up Kicks” song again – seriously, it’s like Soylent Green. You’ve been warned. (For those Geminis who are not my daughter, carry on. But avoid brown liquor. And taxis.)

CANCER (Jun. 21–Jul. 22): I never know what to say to you guys. I’m just not comfortable with your sign’s name. I’m not much more comfortable referring to you as “Crabs.” It’s not your fault, just shitty luck, I guess. So, um, I’m sorry, I’ve got nothing for you. But, you know, good luck with everything. Hope you don’t . . . get it. Get either. Sorry. Oh, wait: lose fifteen pounds, get some exercise, and don’t drink so much. There. You’re welcome.

LEO (Jul. 23–Aug. 22): Music will play an unexpected role in your life in the coming week. Professional musicians or dancers can expect to encounter a career-ending injury. Those who could never carry a tune will suddenly discover they have perfect pitch, which will annoy their friends but finally, finally please their mothers, and those who haven’t picked up an instrument since they were forced to learn the clarinet in the fifth grade will display idiot-savant grade talent on the first musical instrument their fingers touch (so be careful around, say, tubas, unless you’re into that sort of thing). As you can see, it all balances out, just as the universe intends.

VIRGO (Aug. 23–Sep. 22): We’ve had some times, haven’t we, Virgo? Yeah we have. You are, as we all know, the biggest collection of lousy assholes and cowards in the universe. You’re pretty and everyone is always giving you stuff and making excuses for you, and you shrug and say, “Hey, this is just who I am, man.” Too true, Virgo: that’s just who you are. Well, just to let you know, there is some retrograde thing happening and your moon is sorta tweaked right now, just a very minor ripple but it’s there, which means one of the many, many shitty things you’re going to do next week might possibly bite you on your oddly mannish Virgo ass. For once. I’d like to think even you would agree you have it coming, but we both know better, don’t we? Whatever. You already get away with so much, so what’s one brief inconvenience? Just bat your pretty eyes and remember: nothing’s your fault. Ever. Oh, and here’s some good news: you’re not pregnant. You know how I know that? No, the stars didn’t tell me. No, I know that because, as it turns out, you have to actually have sex to get pregnant. So, yay! Keep doing your thing, Virgo, and you’ll be just fine. Have a great week. Jerk.

LIBRA (Sep. 23–Oct. 22): Ah, Libra. Sweet, sweet Libra. You, my friend, are going to have an outstanding week. I don’t want to spoil it by giving away a lot of particulars, but I can tell you this: when you get home, I’m going to do that thing to you that you like, you know, that thing we do when we’re alone up in my office with the door locked, the one where you like to point out that everyone downstairs in the coffee shop probably just heard us. Well, they’re going to hear us, and I bet they spill their coffee. Like six or seven times.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23–Nov. 21): This is a favorable time for you to be making some changes. Start with your wardrobe. Seriously, buy just one pair of pants that fits you. Just one. And stop making references on Facebook to things nobody cares about. Julian Lennon lyrics? You’re quoting Julian Lennon lyrics? I’d want to hit you if they were John Lennon lyrics, but Julian? Come on, dude. And by the way, I swear to Christ if you LOL me one more time, I will remove the L and the O from your keyboard and shove them all the way up your ass. JK. (No I’m not.)

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22–Dec. 21): You’re coming into some money, Sag. You are almost certainly going to have to suck a dick to get it, but I think all things being equal, you’ll have no regrets. I mean, come on, when’s the last time you said no to sucking a dick anyway, even when there was no promise of a big payoff? The stars have spoken: get sucking, and get rich, beeyatch.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22–Jan. 19): Oh, Capricorn, what can I say? You are, quite simply, the man. Nothing much to report, just another outstanding week of kicking every ass and taking every name. Your always deep well of charm will be overflowing, with foreseeable consequences. Head on a swivel, tiger. I wish everyone could be you, Capricorn, my friend. And let me just say, I absolutely love your writing. I don’t know how you do it. The word genius gets thrown around a lot these days, but when it’s thrown at you, it just plain sticks. Keep it up, rock star. You’re an inspiration to us all.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20–Feb. 18): There are people in your life who will make some unreasonable demands on your time and resources next week, my groovy friend. Go with the flow, as you always do. Except also do this: change the inflection of your normal speech patterns. Let your voice rise at the end of a statement as though you’re asking a question, and emphasize the wrong syllables of common words. People will look at you funny but no one will say anything because, when they’re not sucking your life force, your friends are notoriously polite. It’ll take a little while, but eventually people will start to think there’s something wrong with you, and then they’ll start offering to do things for you for a change. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and nobody gets hurt. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

PISCES (Feb. 19–Mar. 20): You’re a fish, Pisces. A slimy, bottom-feeding, gill-breathing, pop-eyed fish. Remember when I promised to stuff you in the oven at your bakery if you didn’t stay away from my daughter? Well, I’m not going to do that, not next week. Still, be careful around hot surfaces. Because you never know. Just an astrological word to the wise, champ.

Tune in next week, kids, when I dole out free relationship advice, and tell you everything I think you need to know about dismantling bombs.

My last year of college I dated a charming pixie from the august, tree-lined burgh known as Winchester, Massachusetts. She was sweet and funny and doing her damnedest to feel slightly less middle-class, if only briefly. I sported a beard, drank too much and wrote pithy little stories about eating the rich. We were determinedly hip and sophisticated, which in those days meant we had to bear our souls utterly, immediately: in the span of a few short weeks we revealed everything, from past lovers to surgery scars, favorite movies to worst deeds (she claimed to have once stolen a car, but not really: it was her friend’s dad’s car, and all she did was park it two streets over). It was actually the first night we kissed (hours before the kiss itself) that we discovered we’d both been raised ostensibly Catholic. “Oh, yeah,” I told her, “Sunday school, First Communion, all the way through Confirmation.”

“You must have been adorable in your little altar boy outfit,” she suggested.

I raised an eyebrow and said, “I was never an altar boy.”

“Of course you were,” she insisted. “You had to be.”

I shook my head. “Nope. Definitely not. I’m sure I’d remember something like that.”

She pursed her lips but was too polite to be incredulous. Sometime after one in the morning when she finally leaned in and said, “C’mere, you,” I suspect she still held in her mind the sweet, saintly image of long-ago me bashfully performing my duties at the priest’s side. Which was fine with me, I was picturing her naked.

A month later I took her home to meet the parents. We had a fine time basking in the warm glow of my childhood hovel, swapping stories about the old days for the girl’s entertainment. After dinner, my mother pulled out the photo album. I sat across the room, indulging the ooh’s and aah’s, the unchecked laughter at me in my purple bell-bottoms (why is that funny? it’s not like I bought them for myself, I was five). Then came the moment when the girl grew suddenly silent and serious. Her eyes narrowed before she looked up at me and said, “I thought you told me you were never an altar boy.”

“Beg pardon?” I asked.

She turned the album my way, and sure enough, there I stood, eyes appropriately downcast, hands folded in front of me, and dressed in the traditional white surplice over an ankle-length black cassock.

“That appears to be me,” I assented.

“Of course you were an altar boy,” my mother chirped. She turned to the girl, “He’s probably repressed the memory because he hated it so much.”

Sure, Mom. That was probably it.

The sex abuse cases that rocked the Catholic foundations were still vague whispers at that point, certainly in our quiet jerkwater. It was 1990, and we had no reason to expect we were witnessing anything more than the sad but limited dismantling of what had been a long-standing bad joke about priests and little boys. The girl thought it was odd that I didn’t remember, but I doubt she suspected anything sinister had happened. Of course, generally speaking, we all know better now, and I’d be both surprised and disappointed if in the years hence that girl hasn’t at least once recounted to a friend that she dated a guy in college who was . . . “Well,” she would say, “the thing is, he doesn’t remember being an altar boy!” And we all know what that means.

Over the next twenty years I took a perverse pleasure, whenever the opportunity presented itself, in telling people I don’t remember being an altar boy. You can’t always direct the conclusions to which people will jump, but this happens to be one of the topics with which you easily can. “Oh my god, really?” Me (grinning): Weird, right? “Yeah, um . . . Oh my god!”

I’ve only been trumped in my fun once, and I should’ve known better. I was sitting at the bar with my best pal Peaches, an inveterate smartass and steadfast match to my wit, especially after I’d faced him one evening while he was chatting up a young woman and turned to me for confirmation when he announced to her, “Well, I’m not completely full of shit,” to which I replied, “No, but it wouldn’t take much to top you off.” Yeah, I had it coming. So there I sat, telling my little joke for perhaps the two-hundredth time, when Peaches pulled out his smart-ish phone and asked, “What was your priest’s name?” I thought nothing of it, rattled off the name, and went back to my amusement. A few minutes later he handed me his phone and said, “Read ’em and weep, altar boy.”

And there it was, a real story in a real newspaper, Father X implicated in Catholic sex abuse scandal, multiple confirmed incidents.

He was a regular Jack the Diddler.

“Where’s your messiah now, funny guy?” Peaches asked.

What could I do? We got drunk and had many laughs, mostly at my expense.

But I thought a lot about Father X after that. He was a bald, obese, painfully myopic old priest: he had to use a staggeringly thick magnifying glass to read scripture. That’s about all I remember about him, except a vague recollection of his Elmer-Fudd voice. I can, however, say with absolute certainty he never touched me, not even appropriately. I don’t think he ever even looked at me. Believe me when I say, I don’t repress anything. I can tell you what I had for breakfast my first day of kindergarten: half a grapefruit, for some unimaginable reason (hell of a time to try out a new food on me, Mom). I can tell you the last time I peed the bed: I was nine and tried to blame it on the cat (volume gave me away). Nothing has ever hurt so badly or shamed me so deeply that I’ve dug a hole in my psyche and buried it there. That ain’t me.

Which leads to what I think is a rather obvious question, given what we know: why not me? I mean, I was cute. I had a near-perfect little boy body, thin and lean and mostly hairless. The pipe-cleaners hanging from my shoulder sockets made it abundantly clear I wasn’t strong enough to fight back. I wasn’t the incessant talker I am now, so I’m sure I didn’t give the impression that I’d tattle. So what was wrong with me? Why didn’t you pick me, Father X?

I believe in the value of reflection, particularly in light of new information. I don’t wish to pin everything on Father X, but give the devil his due. Here I sit, a man in his early forties who has experienced a long and satisfying sex life with some truly delightful women. I don’t scratch shallow troughs in my skin with a knife, don’t wake up crying in the middle of the night, don’t hate my body (although I kind of should). I’m a lot of this and a whole lot of that, but goddamn if I’m not pretty fucking normal. Rejection, whatever form it takes, always comes with some cost.

Perhaps I should just get over it, but I confess, it has been on my mind constantly, so much so that during a recent trip through the family photo album with another excellent girl, something caught my eye and inspired what I consider to be a damned solid theory. Stretched out side by side in my narrow bed, we flipped slowly through the 1970s. There I was again as an altar boy, there in my fuzzy footie pajamas, there in my purple bell-bottoms, and a page later, a picture I had neither seen nor thought about in decades (because it was my sister’s birthday party and thus I wasn’t the focal point): there I stood in a pair of Lee jeans, back-to this time, and immediately the words I’ve heard a thousand or so times in my adult life from the mouths of friends and loved ones rang out in my head like the bells of Notre Dame: “Pull up your pants.” At this mild admonishment I invariably shrug and halfheartedly hitch, meantime explaining somewhat apologetically that I have no ass (it’s true, I have none). It wasn’t until the moment I saw myself from behind in that random Polaroid from more than thirty-five years ago that it finally hit me: I have never had an ass. And clarity washed over me like a rape shower.

I understand you now, Father X, and I forgive you your failure to trespass against me.

You, sir, were an ass-man.

Lucky me.