Hi. Hello. I’m Ethel Merman and I’m Hiding.
Psst. Hey, buddy. Hey, you.
I’m over here.
I’m at this desk. I’m in that car. I’m in my underwear. I’m in yours. (I wish.)
I’m all over the place, like the blackberries I sneezed out yesterday morning at breakfast. Splatter-patterns. Rorscach tests. Jackie O’s pink berber dress. Everything is everywhere.
All the time.
I’m at a conference and I’m being housed in a college dorm. It’s a quad. I’ve never lived in a quad before; I was hoping that I’d escaped the suffocating emergency of living with three other people whom I don’t know and do not, but here we are. In New Hampshire. In a dorm.
I am thirty-eight and I do not want to be in a dorm. A quad. Four. 4. Foursome. Forty. I will be forty soon. Forty, Morty. You’re forty. You’re funny. You’re fucked.
The residence coordinator let in one of the other quadridents and gave him the same schpiel he gave to me. Here’s your key card. Here’s the punch code. Here’s the Wi-Fi. This is where the kitchen is. This is where the idiot in the glasses is hiding and pretending he can’t hear everything that’s going on just outside his door and hollow walls. This is where he is sitting in his chair making sure his computer sounds are muted and his phone is on silent and he is breathing quietly so he doesn’t have to interact even though this is a conference for fuck’s sake and the entire point of the goddamned thing is to interact.
Show’em whatchu got.
Show’em whatchu know, slugger. Sport! Champ! Guv’nah! Kid! Boy! Dumkoff! Dumbfuck!
Do you know anything?
Yes. You know how to hide.
But, do I, though? The residence coordinator leaves and I last about seven agonizing minutes holding in my breath and my farts until one escapes out my walnut-clenched asshole and I shrug and say to myself, “Well, I’m sure he fucking heard that, might as well go say hello.” So I exit my room and I say hello.
I mean. I’m Gabriel. Where are you?
I mean, how are you?
Who are you? Who the fuck are you? What are you doing here? What am I doing here? What is going to happen to all of us over the course of these few days? Is anyone going to get angry with anyone? With me, specifically? Is anybody going to sleep with anyone else? (There are condoms in the Bookstore; several varieties!) Who’s going to make a mistake? Say the wrong thing? Try to use the bathroom at the same time as somebody else? Where will we go wrong? How will I go bad?
I want to ask my new friend, who looks not unlike Barton Fink (wait, I thought I looked not unlike Barton Fink) all of these things but, instead, I ask him where he’s from.
He asks me. I answer, because I can’t not. Because I have to. These are the things you have to do when you’re Barton Fink and he’s Barton Fink and he’s in a t-shirt and shorts and you’re in a collared shirt, necktie, and pants that are too short but it’s okay because you’re wearing fun taco socks and, hey, if you’re wearing what are basically fucking capri pants, you might as well have on cute socks, right?
I have had all I can take of this social interaction, this tête-à-tête, s’il vous plaît, so I scurry back to my room like the little Barton Rat Fink that I am and I shut the door and I stick my headphones in my ear and I clench up my walnut asshole and I start writing because that’s how I can hide and come out like Ethel Rat Fink Merman all at the same time.
I’ll be swell. Great. Behind this screen. Right here. You’re swell and great behind your screen, too, I’m sure. Let’s hide together.
Ethel Merman hid away from the world after she started falling apart in 1983 and was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her family hid her from public view and concealed the true nature of her condition because, well, because. That’s what some people do when there is cancer all over the brain. Some people make GoFundMe pages and post about it on Facebook. Some people do their battle in public; bagpipes, drums, redcoats and all. Some go underground far before —
I didn’t mean it like that.
How do you hide someone like Ethel Merman? Someone to whom the spotlight naturally gravitates, someone who was born to be center stage? I really want to know, because I want to disappear. No more questions, please. Not today. Tomorrow doesn’t look good either.
No interactions for Mr. Nathan. No dorm rooms. No plenary sessions. No toll booth operators or supermarket cashiers.
He is hiding, you see, in the one place where he couldn’t hide: a college dorm room.
It’s 1998. Time for college. Immediately, they seize upon me because I am thin, because I wear glasses, because I tuck in my shirt. Because I am that kind of Jewish; the nebbish, the thinker, the worrier, the victim. It is relentless, and it is in the place where I live. I think about suicide every day, in between classes, in between staring at my classmates’ asses in their pajama pants, in between shitty meals. In between. Some people do their battles in public, some go underground.
It’s 20 years later. The room is stifling. The wood on the bed and the desk-with-the-built-in-hutch is a lighter wood than what existed in my freshman year hellhole. Lighter wood. More outlets. A wireless router. And the only bully around for me to deal with this time is me.