HOW TO BE STOOD UP
by Jillian Eugenios
She’s a model. You have never met a model before, let alone dated one.
You meet at a party. It’s the closing of a play. It was your job to do the light projections.
Issue #110 soundtrack: Party Nails "No Pressure"
The play is about a woman who gets lost everywhere she goes because she suffers from a neurological disorder that affects her memory of space and time. The woman has to draw maps so that she knows how to get to work, the grocery store, the doctor. She wanders the stage the entire show, trying to get home, because that’s the map she’s lost.
To get home she follows the other maps, and asks if anyone knows her address. She has friends and family, but she is embarrassed to call them and ask for help. She resolves to find her way on her own, as if she is on a treasure hunt.
“Do you know where I live?” she asks the man where she gets her shoes soled.
He does not. She shows him her maps. They are in a large binder. She opens it for him like she is trying to sell him something. Every time she opens her binder, a ray of light shoots out, as if it has a spotlight inside it. You made that happen.
“I want it to look like every time she opens her binder, God is coming out of it,” Claire, the director of the play, who is also the writer, said to you.
The man at the shoe repair shop suggests to the woman that she go ask at the grocery store, because people usually go to the one closest to their house, and maybe the staff there will recognize her. He adds that the map she has isn’t a very good one, and draws her a new map on the back of a receipt.
She thanks him and adds it to her binder.
The projections light up the walls around the stage and turn into different scenes as the woman moves through the play. At first everything looks normal -- just your regular shops, bus stops and crowds -- but as the play continues the projections become more abstract, and darker.
“Scare the audience,” Claire told you. You study the faces in the audience every night, trying to determine if they are scared. Some of them seem interested, but not necessarily afraid. Night after night, you wonder if you’ve failed.
“Just ask someone how they feel,” says your roommate, Shaw. She is a flight attendant, and is comfortable asking strangers questions.
“No, I can’t do that,” you say.
Nobody reviewed the play, so you don’t know if it’s any good, or if a critic would like your trick with the binder.
You don’t know many people at the party so you go and sit alone in the dressing room behind the stage. There are some bottles of wine, and you hold them to the light. All empty. The only thing left is some red wine in a coffee mug.
You sit at the mirror, with its classic light bulbs on the sides, and look at yourself. Your roots are coming in, silver against brown. Your mother, who blames your dad’s side for the gray, has recently sent you prenatal vitamins because she thinks your hair is also thinning and she read prenatal vitamins help. You don’t take them, but they are in your medicine cabinet, and every time you open it a happy woman cradling a baby is smiling at you.
“I hate that woman,” Shaw said when she saw it. You do too, but neither of you throw the box out.
The first time you see the model it is her reflection in the mirror. She has blonde hair, no gray. She looks at you, and you feel a warm eruption in your chest. It catches you off guard because you’ve never felt like that around another woman. It just hits you, and, suddenly, there it is, lodged in your heart.
“Booze gone?” she asks. You whirl around. She is tall. You hope she didn’t catch you examining your roots. She’s so tall she takes up all of the space in front of you, and the light from the stage is behind her, through the door, and you catch the shadows jumping from her shoulders. She is wearing all black, and something that looks like a cape, but you aren’t sure if it is.
You want to give her something.
“You can have some of my wine,” you say. You hold the mug out to her. She takes it, gives it a sip. You hope there isn’t something gross in there.
“What are you doing back here?” she asks.
She cradles the mug in both hands, like it’s a hot cup of coffee. You imagine her on the porch of a cabin in the woods, in a cable knit sweater, her hair a mess.
“Hiding,” you say. You hope this sounds mysterious. But she doesn’t ask what -- or who -- you’re hiding from.
“What do you do?” She gestures around the dressing room. “Actress?”
You’re reminded of your friend, who hates it when people ask, “What do you do?” Instead, he asks, “What are you passionate about?” This friend has also stopped wearing underwear and socks, because he says he wants less between himself and the world.
“I’m a visual artist,” you say. This is a new line you’re trying out. Before you would say “projector artist” or “I do lights,” but your friend Millie, an actual actress, said visual artist sounds better.
“More marketable,” she said.
Millie made you a greeting card when you moved to New York eight years ago. She wrote, “Let’s make lots of money and sleep with beautiful people.” Neither of these things have happened to you. Millie has done better. She has a boyfriend who has been in national commercials.
“What do you do?” you ask. What are you passionate about?
“I’m a model,” she says. No one has ever said this to you before.
You don’t know anything about fashion and you don’t know what your next question should be. Your pants are secondhand and cost $12. Aware of this, you cross your legs, and wish you had worn the black dress you had on first, that cost $100. That dress is so tight you have to wear special underwear with it. You wonder if the model is famous, and you suddenly can’t remember what one model looks like, except for the German one.
“Are you German?” you ask. She laughs.
“No,” she says, and looks at you.
You look down. Why did you ask that?
Claire saves you. There she is, peering into the dressing room from the stage. “Conrad,” she says, “beer run.” Claire insists on calling you by your full name, instead of what everyone else calls you, which is Connie. You hate that the model heard your full name.
Later, you’re in the theater seats with the beer, the model, the actress from the play and Claire. Most of the party has moved on, but you stayed, hoping the model would look at you some more.
Claire has a new play she’s working on. Everyone looks at Claire when she talks. She is very pretty. Her pants definitely cost more than $12, or even $100.
“It’s about a woman who is the opposite of a hoarder,” she says. “She throws everything away. She would rather buy a thing and use it once, throw it away and then buy it again than have it in her house.”
Claire loves people with disorders. It does not seem to bother her that no one who matters cared about her lost woman show.
In Claire’s new play, the character is constantly buying and throwing away essentials -- toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant. Her house is spartan, because everything has ended up in the trash, so she starts going to her friend’s houses and slowly taking their things and throwing them away. Sometimes she sells the items to support her habit, which gets expensive.
“The character likes really nice shampoo,” Claire says, laughing. “She’s like a drug addict kind of. It’s like the behavior of a drug addict, but an addiction to throwing out stuff.”
Claire says it’s a real disorder. “I looked it up.” The model says she thinks she’s heard of it. As she listened to Claire, she was stroking the actress’ arm. You aren’t sure if they are a couple.
The actress, Georgia, is from the South. You wonder if she knows that her name means farmer. You know this because your mother is an onomatologist, a person who studies names. More often than not, you can tell someone what their name means without having to look it up.
Your name means strength. It’s also a last name, and a boys’ name. Your mother says she did this to challenge you.
“I wasn’t about to name you something easy, like Jennifer or Sarah,” she has said to you, many times. “We’re fighters in our family.”
Your mother was born Lucille but she renamed herself Elsbeth when she was old enough to change it. People constantly think her name is Elizabeth and that they just haven’t heard it right.
Georgia looks nothing like a farmer, or even someone familiar with dirt and sweat. You also just realized she hasn’t said anything about your lights, but you have complimented her acting, even though you don’t think she’s very good. Millie is much better.
Claire doesn’t mention if she’s going to need light projections for this new play.
You hear Millie’s voice in your head. She would say you should send over lighting ideas the very next day, to show you are motivated. Claire pays -- and pays well, there’s family money -- so you definitely should. But you can’t think of one idea for the lighting.
You do think of the bags and bags of clothes in your closet that you’ve been meaning to donate.
Once, you saw that show about hoarders. A man had a beautiful Victorian home in San Francisco and he filled it with garbage. On the show, there is an intervention, and then people in hazmat suits start taking everything out and putting it into dumpsters.
The hoarder guy seems to handle it okay, but then, a worker wheels out a wheelbarrow and inside is a cracked fish tank, big enough for several big fish or eels. The hoarder runs to the wheelbarrow and throws himself over the fish tank.
He cries, and tries to hold the tank to his chest, but he can’t fit his arms around the whole thing. If only he could keep his broken fish tank they can throw away everything else.
“Just please,” he says, “let me keep this one thing.”
He isn’t allowed to keep it. He wails as it crashes into the dumpster, breaking into pieces. There is a voice-over of the show’s therapist, who says hoarders need to know that they can’t keep anything.
In the next shot, the man is sitting under a tree, his face pale and vacant. You wish you knew him. You would send him a fish tank. Cracked, too, if that’s how he wanted it. You would find out how to crack it without destroying it, and you would give it to him.
You have a cigarette outside before leaving the party. The model comes out, alone. She sits next to you.
“Hi,” she says. She smiles. When you smile back, she looks down.
“I love you,” she says. Her eyes are fixed on the ground.
You look at her. It’s dark outside, but her blonde hair glows.
The last time someone said that to you it was your older sister, who is the only person in your family who says that. She started saying it after she had kids.
“I love you, I love you, I love you,” the model is saying. She is looking down as she says it, and then you realize. She is looking at your shoes.
One of your nieces, the one who is seven and hugs strangers, wrote “I love you,” several times over, on the side of your left shoe, in the white part of the rubber. You told her she could, because you’ve had these shoes forever, and who notices old black Converses, anyway? The model does.
“My niece wrote that,” you say.
“That’s cute,” she says. She is stroking your arm, but you feel it in other places. “Nobody has ever written that on my shoes.”
Then she is gone, running into a cab with the farmer.
Later, home alone, you think about the model’s face. You touch the place on your arm where her fingers were.
You turn off the lights and click on your projector, which faces the largest, whitest wall in the living room of your apartment. This is your wall. Shaw has one too, at the opposite end of the room, and it is covered in photos from her travels.
You queue up one of your favorite projections from the computer that’s attached to the projector. You call this one The Universe, and you made it years ago but use it often, especially at parties after everyone has smoked something.
The background is dark blue and there are white dots everywhere, in different sizes, like stars. It takes up the entire wall. This projection animates, and turns in a circle, so it is like looking into a whirlpool. You sit on your couch and watch it turn, imagining it would be like this to float in space, spinning and spinning in an infinite pool of darkness and light.
The next day there’s an email waiting. It’s from the model, whose name is Ponie. There’s no last name, just Ponie. That can’t possibly be her real name, you think. And it’s spelled wrong, anyway, if it is. Your mother would never approve.
My Little Ponie, you think, and imagine her surrounded by plastic horses with fuschia manes and tails.
She wants to take you on an adventure. There is a date and time. It is in two days.
You write back immediately. What kind of adventure? You can make that date and time.
In the hours that it takes her to write back, you paint trash can lids and try not to look at your email. You paint the lids red, with white stars along the inside. You plan to cut holes in the tops for light bulbs. It is a birthday gift for your other sister, the one who also has a boys’ name. It’s going to be a chandalier.
You’ve never thought about dating a girl before. It’s always been men, and that’s been fine. Shaw slept with a girl once. It was in Brazil, and she didn’t like it.
“I got her stuff all over my hands,” Shaw said. She was sitting in front of your projector, whiskey in hand, as you tested different lights.
“I’m too clean for that,” she said. “Girls are all messy down there. You know what I mean.”
You nodded, and thought of yourself, and wondered if the men you’ve slept with thought of you as messy down there. You switched the light on Shaw’s face from red to blue so she went from looking scary to looking like a cartoon character.
“The Brazilian girl had good boobs though,” she said. “I wish I had her boobs.”
You think about Ponie, and that she probably has good boobs. Model boobs. You don’t think you would mind the girl mess.
You imagine telling your parents about Ponie. Not coming out, because you aren’t gay, but telling them you are dating a girl. You decide they will be accepting. You hope your sisters will be shocked.
When Ponie writes back she says to meet her in Little Italy, which is not anywhere near where you live. You’ve only been to that part of the city once, when your parents came to visit, and you went on a historical walking tour. The only thing you remember is that the guide said there aren’t any Italians in Little Italy anymore.
Ponie sends exact coordinates. Mulberry Street and Grand Street, northwest corner. She ignores your question about what kind of adventure it will be. You hope that it will involve something with the Mob, because you love those Mob shows.
Ponie is looking forward to seeing you, she says. “I hope you will write something on my shoes,” she writes.
You respond and say you don’t think she is ready for that yet.
Flirting with girls is so easy. You tell this to Millie.
“How do know it’s even a date?” Millie asks. You have called her the day of the date, to discuss outfit choices.
“It’s a date,” you say. “She touched my arm.”
“Is that supposed to be some kind of girl-on-girl code? I touched the arms of at least three girls today.”
Millie didn’t like your last boyfriend, who always asked where you were, and who you were with and was usually offended when it wasn’t with him. He was jealous of Millie.
“I’m a lesbian now,” you tell Millie.
“You are not,” she says. You can tell she is smiling. “Wear that one dress.”
You hang up, and go to your closet. You move the $100 black dress out of it, and hook it over the drawers of your dresser. There are some little bleach stains on the skirt. You take out a black marker and touch it up. Perfect.
You are at the corner 15 minutes early. When you get nervous you stamp your feet, like a horse, and that’s what you are doing now. You’ve worn boots because Millie said heels were too much.
30 minutes later, you think about what will happen if Ponie doesn’t show. You check your email on your phone. Nothing. She just wouldn’t not show, would she? You realize she doesn’t have your number. Maybe you got the day wrong, or the time. You check the email again. You did not.
Your nerves have made you start to sweat, and when you wipe your forehead makeup comes off on your fingers. Your rub your hands together.
You walk half a block to a convenience store and take as long as possible to buy a bottle of water. The woman behind the counter is young, and has very short hair. You wonder if she is a lesbian. You want to tell her you think you’re getting stood up, and ask if that has ever happened to her. Is this what girls do? You want to know.
On the walk back to the corner, you think, okay, if she’s there you will pretend you are arriving 25 minutes late and be very apologetic. You got held up at work! These clients! Artists are never on time! You didn’t have her number so couldn’t let her know.
Nobody is on the corner. Not even anyone trying to cross the street. It’s just you.
You sip your water, tap your toes. Wait. You watch a family across the street argue about which way is north. They go south.
Once it has been nearly an hour past the meeting time you know she isn’t coming. You let this sink in. As it does, you start to feel exposed, as if everyone knows, and they can all see you, standing there in your dress, The Girl Who Has Been Stood Up.
You peer down at the skirt of your dress. You can see the spots where you touched it up with the marker. Everyone can probably tell. Who are you fooling?
Underneath your dress, you are wrapped in the special underwear, which is nude spandex. You’re squeezed, a mouse trapped by a coiling boa constrictor. You stick your arm out, and decide to spend all the money you’ve budgeted for this date (who pays when two girls go out?) on one cab ride back home.
You spend the entire ride with your eyes closed, and feel very small. You think about what you will write her, and then decide you won’t ever speak to her again. But, if she writes you, you might write back, depending what she says.
When you walk in the door, your peel everything off and throw yourself on the couch, naked. Shaw would hate that you are doing this but you don’t care. You don’t know what to do now.
The room is silent. You check your email. Even if she wrote now, almost two hours late, and said she could meet, you would meet her. But there is nothing in your inbox but ads. You wonder if this was all a joke she and the farmer were playing on you.
Stretching from the couch you click on the projector, and queue up a piece you rarely use. It’s an animated drawing of a man sitting on a bench. You drew him. He is old and wearing a hat.
It was a commission that was never used because the artist couldn’t pay. You kept it, hoping to sell it to someone who needs a man on a bench. There’s something strange about this man, though, so he’s hard to sell.
The artist wanted the man to move, as he said it, “like a plant underneath the surface of the ocean, moving with the waves. The idea is that he can’t ever sit still, and even when he sits, his body ripples.” You didn’t ask why or what it was supposed to mean. You never do.
You click from your computer and the man is suddenly on your wall, waiting. You sit in the dark and watch him ripple on his bench.
You think about Claire’s play, and think of Ponie, and wonder why you care so much that she doesn’t care at all.
I love you, I love you, I love you.
You eye your shoes, which are across the room.
At the end of Claire’s play, the woman who can’t find her way becomes one of the projections. She is a tiny figure walking along a bridge that ends abruptly on the edge of a cliff. When she comes to the end she stops and looks out.
And then, the man from the shoe repair shop is there on the stage, and stands beneath the projection. He holds the binder out to her. This time, there is no light of God coming from it. The woman jumps off the bridge, falling into her collection of maps.
Everything goes dark.
There is a pause, and then the audience applauds.
Eliza Plumlee is an artist, writer, aspiring muralist, fruit connoisseur, language enthusiast, and world traveler. She currently is lives nowhere, but has a storage space in Portland, Oregon, and few boxes in her parents Tucson, Arizona garage. For more, visit the artist online at evidenceofbeing.com.
Party Nails is the pop incarnation of songwriter/performer Elana Belle Carroll. Veering off the dark electro path of her first NYC solo project Vernous, Party Nails takes the opposite path towards fun party times and lands sonically in a pop space somewhere between Haim, Charli XCX and Robyn. Visit Party Nails online at partynailsband.com.