I ate rat poison once, when I was a toddler, and almost died. My dad was on the phone while my mom took a nap and wasn’t keeping an eye on me. I got his attention with a ring of blue rodent killer around my mouth and a huge grin on my face. Of course, I’m still here to tell the tale — no matter the possible brain damage — so it all turned out OK.
Almost everyone I’m close with, or once was, knows the rat poison story. Once or twice I’ve even begun telling it only to have someone mumble, “Yeah, we heard that one.” There might as well be an equation for calculating the best time in a new relationship to bust this one out: (number of drinks) + (number of awkward pauses or coy smiles) x (episodes of Entourage that have aired this season) = Time for Poison Story!
I’m tired of telling these stories. I could publish a book full of quirky anecdotes and facts that make me seem not only funny but compassionate, resilient, well-traveled, and, of course, cool. There’s my dad’s baboon attack, meeting Lyle Lovett, the best breasts in Key West, and who could forget my SUV’s recent run-in with a guy on a bike? Every time I’m getting to know someone new, I automatically revert back to these scripts because I know they sound good.
Right now, I’m a poet and columnist who loves hip-hop, is headed to grad school in Oregon to be a teaching assistant, and has been to Africa. I sound pretty awesome, if I say so myself. And yeah, it’s fun to just rattle off those facts to a dude at a bar, but what the hell does it all mean? I shit you not, a guy who didn’t seem interested in me at all once asked to spend the night after I told him that I wrote Blotter for the City Paper. While those things are parts of my life, if you asked my closest friends, they’d give you a very different rundown of who I am at the core.
Here’s what you won’t find out over a drink at A.C.’s: I take a lot of naps. I don’t recycle and don’t plan to. Pirating comics online has become one of my greatest recent joys. It costs about $200 every two months to keep my hair this color. I don’t really hate Urban Outfitters. I own three Nelly Furtado albums. I listen to them. I sleep with a stuffed koala. I can be lazy, wasteful, and insecure. When it comes to graduate school, I’m terrified. I’d love to change the world by teaching freshman comp, but I’m not even sure I know enough about literature to write my name on the chalkboard. I have nightmares about showing up to my first poetry workshop, being called a bumpkin, and getting laughed out of Oregon for not being familiar with Bukowski’s entire body of work.
I want a balance between these nervous confessions and the fun facts. I may be scared, but aren’t we all? Now that I realize how much of my small talk is made up of my scripted stories, I’m going to try to tone it down. I don’t think it’s necessary to read a laundry list of my faults to everyone who walks by, or to be an icy writer-type, either. And if I get insecure, maybe I can tell some of those stories to myself to remind me that I’ve got some things to bring to the table. I’ll fake it ’til I make it. And if I don’t make it, no one will know — unless, of course, he’s read this.