My girlfriend and me, we’re very different people. She’s from the country; I’m from the city. At times our values collide, but mostly it’s a good set up. Opposites attract, and those differences, they tend to be complementary. She can repair a tractor engine; I can confidently relate a funny anecdote. It’s been a while between vaginas and I’m still learning things about her, about myself. We live together and the cohabitation is great.
But sometimes she just doesn’t understand me.
I was trying on a new tie the other night. We were going somewhere nice, somewhere fancy. Sydney has lots of those places, you know. Wear the right shoes, have the right hair, be the right sort of right. A marketing degree is preferable, and ties are as mandatory as shoes that point the way forward. So I’ve Windsor-knotted this black ‘n silver patterned thing around my neck and asked her, What do you think?
“I think it’s nice,” she chirped, alternately pulling up her tights and eyeing my style in our bedroom’s full-length mirror.
“Is that what you think?” I began, turning the other way. “Well if that is what you think, I have something to tell you.” Rustle rustle. “Something that may shock and discredit you.” Quaint hints of minute effort. “And that thing is as follows:” I faced her again, as a maestro. “I’m not wearing a tie at all.”
She stopped and blinked and didn’t even notice the kind of detail I’d just put into recreating Lionel Hutz’s classic courtroom farce as an off-the-cuff moment of non sequitur reality. Most importantly, she didn’t laugh. She didn’t laugh because, growing up, she had never been allowed to watch The Simpsons. Not once. The reference was as alien to her as someone not understanding it was to me.
The Simpsons would continue to drive a wedge between us.
Out with friends some weeks later, the bottles behind the bar glint under a perfect Saturday night hue and the smoke’s a hubbub of everyone. A guy we know keeps arching his back, screwing his face up, groaning occasionally into his gin and tonic. It’s common for guys to cradle gin and tonics in Sydney. It’s the right drink.
“What’s the matter?” she asks. She’s a nurturer, a pleaser.
“My back,” he says. “It’s killing me. I’m sleeping on a mattress on the floor right now.” His head wobbles into his drink. “New apartment.”
“Maybe you need a hammock,” someone suggests.
“Maybe I do,” he nods, his face a pensive Robert De Niro. “Where would I get one of those in this town?”
“Hammocks?” I start. “My goodness, what an idea.” I stand up. “Why didn’t I think of that? Hammocks! Man, there’s four places. There’s the Hammock Hut, that’s on third.” I point out the door. “There’s Hammocks-R-Us, that’s on third too. You got Put-Your-Butt-There.” My thumb crooks every which-way. “That’s on third. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot… matter of fact, they’re all in the same complex; it’s the hammock complex on third.”
Our circle roars with approval, the table next-door chuckles into their own gin and tonics. The guy with the bad back desperately in need of a hammock, he exclaims: “Oh, the hammock district!”
“That’s right,” I finish. Totally pleased with myself, I sit back down. The air still teems with residual giggling. Except for her. Her face is completely blank. She wiggles her drink in her hand uncomfortably, not sure if she should say it. But she does.
“I don’t get it.”
Silence. Someone swallows thickly, someone else looks awkwardly off to one side. Crossed legs bob up and down, not knowing what to do or where to turn. If you look at people’s eyes, they have become the Matrix; green lines of code scrolling frantically all over a vast network of present-company ejector seats, searching for a topic of conversation to fill this social Chernobyl she’s created by virtue of being from elsewhere.
Eventually, a girl mentions a recent Peep Toe shoe sale she attended. The ladies have somewhere to go. Then a guy says something, anything about the UFC. The men huddle around, thankful. Me and her, we’re on our own. Ostracized; cast out. The hubbub grows just loud enough to exclude us. Whatever we have to say no longer matters. I stare at her in disbelief, unreasonably mad.
“You’re so boring,” I tell her.
“I just want to go home,” she insists, uselessly rearranging the inside of her handbag.
That night, we have a massive fight. She doesn’t understand me. I’m not respectful of her upbringing. We have nothing in common; it’s over. It’s been over since day one, we just haven’t realized it yet. Screw you, screw me.
Then we’re screwing.
I hear that in the United States they’re making a channel that’s devoted entirely to playing reruns of The Simpsons, non-stop, all the time, hoo-ah. It’s that much of a cultural phenomenon it’s transcended phenomenon status and become de rigueur; a societal imperative, something expected of us. Like language and manners, we communicate in shared Gay for Moleman ad-libs and riff heartily on how Disco Stu doesn’t advertise. In the urban yard, I am Hank Scorpio. I sing snatches of his theme song when something cool happens, like when someone I don’t like contracts chlamydia.
He’ll sting you with his dreams of power and wealth.
Beware of Scorpio!
His twisted twin obsessions are his plot to rule the world
And his employees’ health.
He’ll welcome you into his lair,
Like the nobleman welcomes his guest.
With free dental care and a stock plan that helps you invest!
But beware of his generous pensions,
Plus three weeks paid vacation each year,
And on Fridays the lunchroom serves hot dogs and burgers and beer!
He loves German beer!
My girlfriend and me, we share an insincere disdain for overly buff men. When we see one, we both laugh. Neither of us led the other one to the conclusion that muscles equal mirth; it’s just a coincidence. In Sydney, Hollywood Rippling is the right shape; in our minds, it’s often so excessive it becomes comical. One day, we become embroiled in lines of identikit barbarians pouring out of their home away from home. A gym. It even says so, in big solid letters above the entrance.
“Gime? What’s a gime?” I ask her.
She looks at me like I’m touched, and leads me through the pair of automatic glass doors that are foggy with the merciless aesthetic car-chase of the patrons on the other side. She points at all the equipment, the dumbbells, the mirrors laden with curling biceps. If steroids have a smell, it smells like this place. Cum and sweat and steel with cum and sweat on it.
“Oh,” I say. “A gime.”
She starts to smirk, even though she doesn’t get the reference. Soon it’s a laugh.
I discovered to my joy, that it is togetherness, not pop-culture, that has no limits.