In which Citizen Jim arrives in full costume to make sure Chicken Sheets knows it’s Pride Week, and to make sure she’s “still queer.”
All I did was fret on Saturday because I knew the next Saturday and Sunday I would be on the schedule to work.
Thinking about the word “schedule” made me happy for the word “rota,” a British term I’d only recently been made aware of, and which I guess is short for “rotation.”
As soon as I wished I could call the work schedule the “work rota,” I started thinking about how my former boyfriend Jeff used to say the word “schedule” with the “shhhh” sound at the beginning because he desperately wanted to be English, which he kind of was because his grandparents came to America from Derbyshire.
Thinking about Derbyshire made me smile at the thought of Delia Derbyshire before I started to think about Lloyd Cole, who I’m pretty sure is from Derbyshire, and this reminded me how happy I was that Lloyd had a new album coming out on July 29 [Ed. Note: I found later I had the date wrong: so what?], which made me remember waking up at four in the morning on July 29 in 1981 during the summer vacation between sixth and seventh grade so I could watch the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
That made me think about summer vacation from school and how much I wish we had a two-month break from work each summer, which brought me back to dreading the fact that I would have to work on Saturday and Sunday of the upcoming week. God knows I love hanging out with those old people, but I think I love hanging out with them more Monday through Friday with Saturday and Sunday to recover from all that hanging out.
My thoughts went on like that for quite some time, the hundred hands of my brain reaching out and grasping at and letting go of each white-hot rung of the elaborate set of monkey bars that took up the majority of my headspace.
But then I heard the tiny bell affixed to the gate on my fence in the yard and knew that someone had entered the fenced-in area and that now I had a visitor who might maybe distract me from all these distractions. I went to the door and opened it wide, smiling at whomever I might find standing there getting ready to knock.
“Wow! You look a little crazy today!” said Citizen Jim when our eyes met.
The curve of my smile straightened out, then each side dipped down in response to Citizen Jim’s saying that I looked crazy. “You’ve got a lot of nerve saying that,” I told him. “I can’t even comprehend you right now.”
His shirt was gold lamé, tied at the midriff. He was wearing hot pink bicycle shorts with purple and green tube socks and a pair of white Chuck Taylor Converse shoes covered in red, blue, orange, yellow, green, and purple glitter. The ensemble was literally topped off with a rainbow wig he probably got from the bargain bin at Big Lots the previous Halloween.
“What? You don’t like my outfit?” he asked. “Frankly, I’m a little surprised, all things considered.”
“All things considered? What things?”
“You know! Queer things,” he said. “You’re still queer, right? In spite of everything?”
I stared at him without blinking for something like twenty seconds. “My God,” I finally said. “Yes, in spite of everything I’m still queer.”
“I mean, you do know it’s June, right? It’s time for Pride,” he said.
“But you aren’t gay,” I said.
“I know! And I’m proud of it!” he said. “No offense, but I just don’t see why you people want to march around the town square playing Sister Sledge and Gloria Gaynor on your boom boxes when your future looks so bleak.”
He was right, I supposed, while I also supposed things had changed about gay pride parades since the first one I ever marched in during the summer of 1992.
“Shut up,” I said, then stepped aside to clear a path for him. “And come in. It’s too hot to stand out here.”
We went inside and he sat down. “Now tell me why you look so crazy today,” he said.
I repeated the once-over I’d given him earlier and shook my head. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’m just a little scattered is all.”
“I’d like to say that surprises me, but,” he said. “You know what you need to do? To calm down and chill out?”
“Get hold of some Xanax?” I said, sitting in the chair beside him and putting up my feet on an ottoman. “Pop some valium? Smoke some weed? Drink myself into pervasive oblivion (…and the clock ticks on!)?”
“Stop it! This is serious! You’re getting too old for all that low-grade ADD bullshit,” said Citizen Jim. “And we need to hurry things up because this story is getting to be way too long and I’m starting to lose interest in it.”
“I know,” I said. “But let me guess: you’re going to suggest I go badger watching, right?”
Citizen Jim’s mouth hung open and he went pale. I expected him to fall out of his chair in a spell of fainting. “How did you? What the—” he started, blinking his eyes so rapidly I thought his eyelashes might fall off. “There’s no way you could have known that—unless you really are a witch! I knew it!”
I rolled my eyes. “Why do you always forget who’s writing these stories? I know that’s what you came to tell me because of the conversation I had with Mary Beth during our web chat this morning.”
Citizen Jim settled back in his chair and nodded. “Go on,” he said. “What else was I going to tell you?”
“Oh, something about how you maybe watched a reality show on TV called ‘The Great Parolee Prostitutes of Belvoir Slap-Off’ and in one episode the girls went out in the woods to practice their archery and do some trust exercises but ended up looking for badgers and becoming one with nature even though they only managed to spot some short-legged deer, a field mouse, and a pheasant.”
“Wow. You were so close,” he said, holding his index finger a quarter-inch from his thumb and squinting at me through the gap. “But you forgot the most important thing.”
I wasn’t sure how he knew I had forgotten the most important thing in my own story, but stranger things happen every day. “What did I forget?”
“Gah, I can’t believe you, of all people, author of more than 120 Citizen Jim stories, would forget to mention a crow arguing with itself for fifteen minutes!”
I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten it, either. Citizen Jim was right. But I wasn’t about to let him know that.
As he was leaving, Citizen Jim said, “Hang on. I have a joke.”
“You are a joke,” I said. He didn’t immediately slap me and he’d be gone soon enough, so I wasn’t worried about it.
“So a coyote and two badgers walk into a pub,” he said.
After a few seconds, I said, “Okay? A coyote and two badgers walk into a bar?”
“No, they walk into a pub,” he said. “This joke takes place in the Midlands.”
“Okay. Two badgers and a coyote walk into a pub in the Midlands. And?”
“That’s the joke,” said Citizen Jim. “Two coyotes might hang out with one badger, but two badgers would never hang out with one coyote. Look it up on the Google, jackass!”
“No, you look it up: there are no coyotes in England!”
I slammed the door in his face and got the song “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers stuck in my head, and that started my brain into a spiral of regret that I never became a disc jockey like I wanted when I was in high school in the 80s, especially since that job opportunity hardly exists these days.
Then I started fretting about being on next weekend’s work schedule and then started wondering why I could never get the hang of calling Jeff, my old boyfriend, “Ian” like he wanted and like everyone else did.
And I finally admitted to myself that, yes, I needed to see some badgers in the best-worst way.