A Man With a Towel Around His Waist Speaks
by Chris Arp
I’m about to take a shower and use shampoo.
I’m about to take a shower and use shampoo because I’m going to see my friend in two days, and two days of shampoo-less showering will get my hair to the sweet spot, where its natural oils add volume and create a sort of effortless sweep. I’m also about to shave, following the same logic. Then, when my friend sees me, he will fall a little bit in love with me, maybe.
My friend’s name is Donald Glover. He’s an actor slash screenwriter who has had a miracle year. He’s a star of the show “Community” on NBC; he filmed a popular standup special on Comedy Central, and, to top it off, he dropped a rap album under the name Childish Gambino. Oh, he also had a bit part in a studio film, and a larger role in an independent comedy. In one year.
Donald and I have been friends since we were five years old. We were both part of the mid-sized community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Stone Mountain, Georgia. As children, we both wore suits all the time. We had religious instruction while our parents knocked on doors throughout Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida. We were both aware of the coming apocalypse, and neither of us knew if we would make it. We both wanted to make it. We wanted each other to make it.
I haven’t seen him since we were seven, but we have a once-every-three-years email checkup routine, and he called me last week about getting drinks.
He called me. That’s important. He called me because in my last email to him, I lied about my job. I told him that I was working on a series of comedic one-acts about growing up as a Witness. I lied because I felt pressured by my love for Donald, a love that is nearly as old as I am, and I wanted to impress him. I did impress him, and now he wants to chat about a project that has received zero hours of thought.
My actual job title is Assistant Director of Oversight and Coordination, and I work for the third largest NGO distributing medication and personnel to HIV/AIDS clinics throughout sub-Saharan Africa. To be very brief: I run triage, determining which clinics receive what, based ideally on need, but more often on various contingencies like swamped roads, inebriated drivers, border conflicts, malfunctions in telecommunication systems, and so on.
I’m going to wear a dark blue linen shirt, which means I have to buy a dark blue linen shirt, which sucks, because you have to dry-clean linen. It’s like buying an extra errand. But they’re fucking worth it.
It is not probable that Donald knows that I’m a ‘mosexual. The idea that he found out that I am a ‘mosexual, then looked me up to affirm a love that he has hidden for 22 years is the kind of idea that is made up by me and not the kind that exists in the real world. Nor is he, as far as I know, interested in that direction. But there is something that I can offer him. Romantically. I just don’t know what it is, yet.
My first experience with HIV/AIDS was the HIV/AIDS that killed my Uncle Clifford. For years, my image of Uncle Clifford was of a withered vampire, like if Nosferatu wore an L.L.Bean fleece and an L.L.Bean hat, closed his eyes and sat in a wheel chair. But then my mother gave me a photo of him when he was 27 and hale and ironic and wise and self-effacing, leaning against the railing of the porch of our house in Georgia. This image has replaced the nastier one, thank God.
I’m aware that it’s impressive to hear that I am the Assistant Director of Oversight and Coordination of the third largest NGO in the Sub-Saharan HIV/AIDS beat. One of the great perks of the job (it doesn’t pay very much, you’d be surprised) is that I impress people. The other great perk is that I am a mid-sized cog in a machine that is making life better on the planet. Which is what I always wanted to be.
I am what I always wanted to be.
I’m going to pretend that I haven’t seen Donald’s standup special, which I’ve seen three times, and mostly love. I’m going to say that I am a semi-regular watcher of “Community,” but I’m going to save most of my praise for the rap album. The album is his worst output, but I get the sense that it is nearest and dearest to his heart. Plus, he wanted to be a singer when we were kids, so this could be a good segue to reminiscing, which is a potential conversation goldmine.
Okay. Here’s what I mean when I say that I have something to offer Donald: I will deliver it in the form of a Treatise, capital T, on ‘Mosexuality, capital M.
Being gay does not work the way people say it works. It is not loud, it is not proud, it is not anything at all, unfortunately. When I committed to gay (which sounds meaningless but is not meaningless), I expected things to happen. I expected life to become more loud, or more colorful, or more fun or dramatic or involved or serious or calm or anything, but none of this happened. It turned out that being gay was exactly being myself, which I had gotten used to by the time I was seven years old. This was a disappointment.
But the great good glory of committing to gay was that I was able to do the shit I wanted to do with the people that I wanted to do that shit with. And the fact that it was not glorious, that it did not go down in a montage, the fact that it was overly long and the fact that it did not move the plot forward, the very plotlessness of it, that was all part of it. I almost got carried away and said that was the best part. But it was not; no part was the best part. There is no best part. Gay is boring.
That’s how I know that it’s real.
End of Treatise.
How does this relate to Donald? I forgot. It does, though. Give me a second.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? Jehovah’s Witnesses...Knock, knock. Knock, knock. Knock, knock.
Donald made that up when he was six.
My worry is that Donald, despite his many talents, despite his incredible energy and sense of purpose (which he has always demonstrated, even as a five year old), my worry is that he will never have this kind of year again. I worry that his best, most exciting year is behind him. We’ve all seen talented people crumble over this. And I don’t want this to happen to Donald.
Life is not what we, all of us, thought it would be. But for Donald, it is. He is living his dream, the world is bending to his will. This is worrisome.
When we were five years old, Donald Glover and I both believed that Jesus Christ would arise, in the flesh, and that the world would crack, that lava would erupt from the cracks and roll through the streets of cities. We believed that everyone would burn and die and be pulled down to hell, where they would be tortured and scream until their tongues burst into flames. We believed that we would stand before Christ, in robes, and he would pick which ones of us would come with him.
You. You. Not you. You. Not you. Not you.
We were told this by our parents. We were told this by every adult we knew.
Neither of us believes this anymore. I was disfelloweshipped, or “shunned,” for reasons you might be able to guess, and gradually developed a conception of God that is difficult to define. But I will try: God is one day following the other, and it is appropriate that at the end of each day, we say “thank God.” It is a hazier conception, but the kind of conception that is more compatible with being an Assistant Director of Oversight and Coordination. A new image has replaced the old. Thank God.
I’m taking Donald to Angel Share. Is that acceptable? I know it’s not as hip as it used to be but A: fuck all that noise and B: the first time I went there I spent the entire time fantasizing about taking Donald. He would be all like “These drinks are delicious.” But, you know, funnier.
Donald is going to need someone who knows that life is much, much less than we thought it would be. That’s it. That’s the thing. And it’s not a thing for a friend to help you with, because the thing about friends, the beauty of friends, is that they can only burrow so deeply into you. I need to love my knowledge into him.
Which sounds crazy. Or at least silly. And it probably will never happen. And it maybe definitely will never happen. But I think that I would like to try.
And I am going to try.
© Chris Arp, 2012
Chris Arp is a writer from Brooklyn, New York City. Recently, he wrote the screenplay for the short film Gowanus 83, which won the Spirit Award for Narrative Short at the 2011 Brooklyn Film Festival. He is enrolling in NYU’s MFA program in fiction in the fall of 2012.
A Man With a Towel Around His Waist Speaks was read by Jonathan Harford on 2nd May 2012.