Monday, April 8, 2013

I didn't really mind Torrance, your stereotypically bland Southern California town. I moved there to be close to work and quickly realized that was its only asset: it was close to a lot of things. It was halfway between the Asian restaurants and markets of Gardena and the biking and volleyball at Redondo Beach. Torrance itself, though, consisted of a huge, anonymous shopping mall and a ten-block long Exxon/Mobil refinery, and when the latter exploded before the former I decided it was time to get out.

I took a survey of my friends and Hollywood emerged as a favorite. No longer was it just the default destination for runaways: no, somebody'd paved the rough streets with glitz and glamour and the star-studded privileged class had reappeared. It was like a bizarro version of that Field of Dreams "If you build it" thing, where Mario Lopez is the guy you want.

I scoured the classified ads and soon found myself wandering through Hollywood real estate. There were high-ceilinged apartments with more crown molding than floor space on Crescent Heights. There were overpriced Spanish duplexes just off Fountain. There were low-slung courtyard apartments south of Melrose. It was at one of those where I spotted an algae-green pool through the locked wrought iron gate, and I would have turned tail and run if I hadn't had an appointment with its owner, Ralph. A gruff, sixtyish man, Ralph clearly didn't go to any trouble with either grooming or dressing so I wasn't surprised that he didn't try to push the place. He said, "There's the bedroom," "there's the living room," "there's the bathroom," and "there's the dumpster for trash." If forced to differentiate between these locations I'd say the latter had better light and a fresher smell.

After five minutes I figured I'd met the requirements of etiquette and I thanked Ralph for showing me around. "Oh, there's one other thing you should know," he added. "I don't want to scare you away, since you really seem to like the place, but that apartment has a gay ghost."

Those two words opened a floodgate in my head. A gay ghost? I didn't know how one could be sure they had any sort of ghost at all, let alone a homosexual one. Did it rearrange your underwear drawer? Did it waft through your premises with the scent of expensive cologne? Did it leave your J├Ągermeister untouched while guzzling your Absolut?

I asked Ralph to take me back to the apartment. It could work, I thought. With a coat of paint, new curtains, and a few dozen air fresheners, I could make a nice home for Nathaniel and me. Yes, I'd already named the ghost Nathaniel. I don't know why. Most ghosts date from Victorian times, I thought, though this building was clearly constructed in the Sparkly Stucco Age. I think it's common knowledge that ghosts have exotic names: when guys with names like Bob pass away, they usually don't have the verve to come back.

As I signed the lease my hands were shaking. Sure, the rent was a little high, but I didn't quibble. I'd rather have a gay ghost than attractive bathroom tile, or uncracked fluorescent lighting, or unstained carpeting, or a screen door with jagged holes a bald eagle could fly through. A gay ghost was dancing in my head, which means shirts are off and there's amyl.

A couple of days after I moved in I thought I caught evidence of Nat. It was subtle: a kitchen drawer was slightly open, and the clothes in my closet were smashed up against one end. I started taking mental pictures of the apartment before I left for work so I'd know if anything had moved. Probably every other day I detected small discrepancies, but rather than being scary they excited me. I felt giddy. His invisibility made Nat the perfect roommate: I could pretend he was handsome and charming and even had a crush on me but knew he'd never hit on my boyfriend.

As the weeks went by, I started to feel frustrated. I wanted our relationship to move forward. I analyzed Nat's actions to see if maybe he was trying to communicate with me. The pillows on my couch were rearranged: was he giving me tips on decorating? A jar of Jif worked its way to the front of the fridge: was he making a thoughtful point about my diet? We had so much in common, being elusive, attractive, romantic figures. My heart ached as I longed to forge a stronger connection. Laying in my bed late at night, I just couldn't keep my eyes closed. I wanted to spot a fleeting shadow, feel his presence, be engulfed in a wave of woodsy cologne. Once or twice I might have called out and begged him to materialize before I eventually fell asleep.

And then one day my boss was sick so I left work early. I swung open my front door and spotted a surprised Ralph leaping up off of my couch. He held a can of Coors in one hand and flattened his disheveled hair with the other. "I wasn't expecting you back so early," he barked as he ducked out of my front door.

I was aghast. I was horrified. I felt violated. I had half a mind to pack up my stuff and get out. No matter how bad I felt, though, I couldn't. I pushed the incident to the back of my mind and never thought about it again.

When people ask me about my last boyfriend, I automatically think back to Nat. I remember like it was yesterday. Because maybe we didn't exactly hang out together, or communicate using words, but that's proved a workable strategy for Oprah and Stedman, or Dolly Parton and her man. I'm definitely reluctant to talk about it. I mean, I won't date actors, so it was pretty insane to get involved with a ghost. Sometimes I just say my brain was off-duty and my heart bears the scars. Sometimes I include a few more details. But I never, ever mention Ralph, and I'll never forgive him as long as I live. Because I don't know what he did that day, but my gay ghost never came back.


Yet Another Steve said...

This is a truly heart-warming tale of love gone awry.

chamblee54 said...

There is a reason why they call it Ralph.