As it has been all weekend, it is an awfully beautiful day outside here in the Washington DC suburbs. For starters, it looks like autumn because of the fall foliage lighting up the day even more with its shades of gold and maroon. And, for one day over the weekend, it felt like autumn: crisp and a little bit breezy, just enough that I wore a turtleneck to church. But for the other days, like today, it’s warm both outside and in. This morning, I even wore shorts to check the mail.
Now, I’m back inside — not necessarily in the house, but I’m in Our Ballpark. It’s a summery night, cool enough for jeans but warm enough for t-shirts. The Avatar is wearing a gray v-neck. He seems to have a lot of those kinds of shirts. When he’s not in uniform, that’s most often what I see him wearing. Tonight, I told him to take off his customary beanie, a woolen black thing with no logo and no character — something he could have picked up anywhere. But that’s not the reason why I told him to remove it. I want him to show off that beautiful mane of his, and besides, the beanie makes him remind me too much of Jimbo from The Simpsons (even though Jimbo’s cap is, actually, purple… and I wonder if that’s ever become a comic point on the show).
"All right, look at this," I say, nodding toward the scoreboard monitor. "This is the screen you see when you log onto Tumblr. It’s called the dashboard."
The Avatar leans forward in his seat, peering intently at the scoreboard monitor.
"What are the little icons on the left side?" he asks.
I explain that the top one, the one with the picture of the black lab, indicates my account.
"Sarka," the Avatar says, except he mispronounces it: "Sar-ka."
"No, no," I correct him. "Shar-ka.”
I have successfully rolled my ‘R’. This is an incredible feat for me because it’s usually very difficult for me to achieve. In fact, it’s not technically necessary to roll your ‘R’ for ‘Sarka’, which is a Czech name and, as far as I know, Czechs don’t roll their ‘R’s. The reason why you do in this instance is because Sarka isn’t actually my dog. She belongs to Livvy, who was born in the Czech Republic but studied abroad in Mexico for about a year. Now they both live in Chicago, where Livvy was raised. But when Livvy and I were roommates, oh, man: did I fall in love with that dog! That was when I was still running daily, and Livvy and I rented this great house in the Outer Richmond over by Ocean Beach. I know that most dogs love to run, that it’s in their nature, but man: Sarka loved to run. I was always so inspired by how that little lady never seemed to tire, how she always kept that tongue stuck out through what I swear was a smile on her snout. Whenever Livvy was away, I’d feed Sarka, pick up after her shit — the first week I spent doing all that, especially that last thing, I knew that I was Sarka’s adopted daddy. I just had to be.
"You should go to Chicago," the Avatar says. His voice is warm, and in it I am comforted by the reverberation of sincere empathy. "You really miss them."
But my response is cynical, dejected: “I don’t have money to go to Chicago. I barely had enough money to go back home for the holidays.”
The Avatar ducks his head and gazes at the ground with neutral regard. Reassuringly, I reach for his shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze. “So, the other icons underneath mine are all the blogs that I subscribe to. Or, in Tumblr parlance, I ‘follow’.”
The one with Bart Simpson writing on a chalkboard is for a blog called popculturebrain. It’s about, well, you guessed it: pop culture, and you know that I’m kind of a pop culture whore.
"But at least you’re not an actual whore," the Avatar quips.
"I think slutty, but I don’t really have the courage to be slutty,” I tell him.
What I don’t tell him is that, lately, my life has been like that Golden Girls episode where Rose confesses to being aroused by weddings, and the timing couldn’t be worse: not only have she and the girls been invited to a wedding, but her boyfriend Miles is out of town. Although she goes to the wedding and is unable to avoid her fate, she doesn’t want to sleep with anyone except the man she’s committed to being with. When it looks like she’s about to go home with another man, what really happens is that the man drives her to the airport so that she can fly out to be with Miles.
I don’t tell this to the Avatar because, hey, what if he thinks The Golden Girls is stupid? If I ever found that out in real life, I might be crushed, for a little while. Well, for a long while…
"The next blog," I continue out loud, "is called lgbtlaughs. I… uh, I don’t exactly know how to explain it, so I’ll just recite, verbatim, the little summary on the blog. Ready?”
The Avatar grins in amusement at my uncertainty, and perhaps the prospect of my reciting something word for word, but he nods his assent.
"Okay," I say, taking a rather melodramatic breath. I shut my eyes, and then as soon as the words are in my head I quote: “‘Humour is a powerful social tool.’"
Not every gay joke comes from disgust and panic on the recent comedy scene; it often comes from highlighting stereotypes, good-natured playing on these, but also - and probably most powerfully - taking the complete and utter piss out of people’s prejudices and intolerances.
Upon completion of my little recital, I flash him a toothy smile and sit squarely at the edge of my seat as if I am much younger and energetically seeking his approval.
The Avatar, still smiling, nods patiently.
"That…" he ventures. "That sounds kinda cool."
"I thought you might say that," I turn away muttering.
"Nothing," I hurriedly say to him, now flashing him that same toothy grin with just a little more absurdity.
Quickly bringing myself into a little more composure, I tell him, “The reason why I’m showing you this is because of that little thing on the corner called the Radar. Actually, I don’t quite know how to explain the Radar, either. I mean, I understand the concept, but putting it into words…”
After a little bit of thought, I say quickly, “I guess the Radar shows all the most popular photos on Tumblr, all the ones that have been liked and re-blogged the most.”
"Re-blog?" the Avatar skeptically asks. "Is that like… re-gifting?"
He seems to understand more when I explain the concept of re-blogging, which is essentially the whole Tumblr premise, but all he says is a careful, “Okay.”
"So, that picture on the Radar is what I really wanted to mention," I tell him. "When I saw it, I thought it was cool and futuristic-looking."
The Avatar nods. “It is cool and futuristic-looking.”
"Exactly, and it reminded me of the book I was writing. The one with the chapters I posted at the beginning of my blog back in the spring. I saw that picture and I thought to myself that that was exactly how I was writing San Francisco in my book — not the real San Francisco, but the one in my head. Here. In Our Ballpark. In my book, there’s an entire world outside of here, Tim. But for the purpose of this blog, I just keep things here, in Our Ballpark. To tell you the truth, as time went on, and I wasn’t so interested in getting the book published anymore, I wasn’t really into the idea of this weird, futuristic, alternate-reality San Francisco anymore, either. And then I saw this picture and it all came back to me: how I’d spent so much time writing that book, and not only the time I put into writing that book, but the time around that book. I just keep thinking about how hard a year 2010 was for me, and I had started that book in 2009, and things just seemed so much better…”
I trail off when the sadness of the words catches up to me and I suddenly have a hard time breathing. I have to look down at the ground and press my lips together. These mannerisms are my body’s physical ways of fighting mental demons.
"But anyway," I say, after giving myself that moment, "so, I clicked on the picture. And guess what? It’s actually Dubai, one of the places in the world I’ve always wanted to see.”
"Really?" the Avatar says. I’m so intent on explaining the picture that I ignore the heightened curiosity in his voice. Vaguely, I’m wondering to myself if he’d ever use, or already did use, his major league salary on something like a vacation to someplace exotic and exciting like Dubai. At least I know that he hasn’t yet been to the Philippines, because I keep pretty decent tabs on Philippine media, and they’d so totally be all over him if he went over there…
"Yeah, but you know what the picture’s called?" I excitedly proffer. Relaxing into my seat, I stare at the scoreboard monitor and wait until the Avatar is doing the same, and even then I allow a deliberate pause.
“Amongst Giants,” I tell him.