By Seth Kushner
I like Banana Republic. I like how they display their items in just such a way as to cue me in to what’s “cool” and “in style.” I’m not one for digging through racks of clothing trying to figure out what I like. I also appreciate that everything there seems cut to fit thin guys like me. It’s a little pricey, (unless you can wait until your desired item might end up on the sale rack) but their stores are always very comfortable and artfully put together. I’m a sucker for that stuff.
I picked out a blue dress shirt and a pair of black Smithfield pants. Together they came to $130. More than I made that week. I was about to go out with Liza, and I needed to look good. She was 34 years old, and the oldest woman I’d been out with by far.
A week earlier, I was out with Stan and Kevin at Barrow Street Ale House, our favorite West Village haunt, and over beers, Stan was telling me about Liza, his coworker with whom he wanted to fix me up.
“I don’t want to tell you too much because you’ll get your hopes up and I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed,” Stan said.
“Tell me something,” I insisted.
“She’s incredibly hot, but she can be incredibly nerdy, and that’s the beauty.”
“Doesn’t that describe me too?”
“Uh, sure. Anyway, when I first met her, I was like ‘wow.’ She’s a WOMAN, not a girl.”
“A woman! That’s not for me. I don’t know if I can handle one of those.”
“Just don’t be as goofy as you are with us right now. You can be goofy with her, but you just have to get to know her.”
“How is she nerdy? Tell me that.”
“She loves cheesy horror movies and sci-fi…she’s into similar things that you’re into. I think there’s a good vibe there. It’s not necessarily a horrible match.”
“Who does she look like?”
“You really want to know?”
“I was thinking about it on the way over and I know exactly who she looks like.”
“You can say-a worse version of…”
“No, she’s a better version of…”
“Alright, just tell me.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“You just started to!”
“What if it doesn’t happen or if something goes wrong?”
“No matter what, I’m going to thank you for this because nothing else is going on.”
“I swear to god, maybe even a little better looking.”
“She has a better ass than Cameron Diaz.”
“Cameron Diaz has a pretty nice ass…”
“I swear to God it’s better. I’m not lying to you.”
“She’s not going to like me.”
“Once you two meet, I wash my hands and walk away. It’s up to you to make it work.”
“She’s not going to like me.”
“She’s kinda old, isn’t she 33?”
“She’s about to be 34.”
“She’ll see me as a little kid, no?”
“Hopefully not, you gotta look inside yourself.”
“She got crow’s feet, or what?”
“NO! When you meet her, you’re going to want to kiss me.
“It’s been fun listening to you two retards, but allow me to interject.” Kevin said. “Dude, you NEED to go shopping.”:
“Why, what’s wrong with my clothes?” I asked.
“Nothing, if you want to go out with skanks and trolls.”
“I think I dress okay.”
“You dress okay…but we’re talking about a successful older woman here.”
“You want to experience her better-than-Cameron Diaz-ass? You have to impress her. She needs to think you’re a successful working man, not a nerd sitting home reading Aint it Cool News all day. ”
“Okay, what do you suggest?”
“You’ve got to go to Banana Republic and get some nice black dress pants and a nice dress shirt. Gun metal gray.”
“Gun metal gray?”
“Yes, gun metal gray…that’s the color you should get.”
“He could wear a nice cotton blend sweater,” Stan said, rejoining the conversation.
“Yeah, I got that,” I said.
“NO. Gun metal gray…I’m telling you,” Kevin told me insistently. He must have said ‘gun metal gray’ eight times that night. I decided Kevin was right; a Batman T-shirt wasn’t going to cut it for Liza.
“Stop being a fairy and listen to me,” Kevin said.
I spoke with Liza on the phone a couple of times before we met. She was easy to talk to, but she sounded very “adult” and made me a bit nervous. We made plans to meet at Double Happiness, a dark, cavernous bar on the edge of Chinatown, which I picked in hopes of impressing her with my knowledge of this cool out-of-the-way establishment.
It was a freezing cold night. I had a coat on, but my legs were covered only by my new pants, which were made of a thin material. As I walked through the dark, and mostly deserted Chinatown streets, the wind cut right through my pants and froze my skinny, chicken legs. I should’ve worn jeans, I thought.
I got there a bit early, so I sat by the bar. I fiddled on my stool, trying to figure out the proper pose to receive Liza for the first time. I was wearing what became known among my friends as an adult costume. As a freelancer, I can pretty much wear whatever I want every day. In the winter, it’s sweaters and jeans. For this night, I wanted to give the impression of a successful guy who’s coming from work, as Kevin suggested, rather than a man-child who was watching Star Trek reruns and reading comics all day.
To me an adult was always that guy who wears a suit and works from 9 to 5 in an office. In the Jewish religion, a boy becomes a man, an adult, at age thirteen, when he gets Bar Mitzvahed. I don’t think my Bar Mitzvah really took. I was so bored in Hebrew school; I never learned to actually read my Haf Torah, which I was to perform for the ceremony. When the time came, I wrote the words phonetically in my book and cheated on my Bar Mitzvah. Maybe that explains everything. I confessed this to my mother, just a couple of years ago. “Very nice…why are you telling me this now?!” was her response.
Anyway, I was pleased with my ensemble and the shirt, though not the gun metal gray my friend insisted upon, was close. I was in my 6th or 7th cool guy pose (I can’t remember which—there are so many) when the door opened and Cameron Diaz with a better ass walked in. I saw her walking toward me in slow motion.
We sat at the bar for hours. Stan was right about everything. She was engaging and smart and maybe a bit goofy, but in a totally confident way. She was beautiful…tall and thin and blond. She was one of those rare women whose body was slim, but still somehow curvy. Her face was ageless…at least in the dim bar light. She had a look of maturity to her, but she could have been anywhere from her mid 20s to her mid 30s. She was absolutely of an indeterminable age, like Legolas from Lord of the Rings, which she said she was a fan of. In fact, she was a fan of all kinds of things I love.
When the night ended, we made plans to go out again the following week.
The next morning, I called Stan excitedly to thank him.
“So, do you agree she looks like Cameron Diaz?”
“She was more like an amalgam of her, Gweneth Paltrow, with a little Michele Pfeiffer and some Calista Flockhart thrown in tot he mix. I even said to her, trying to be smooth—you know Stan’s been telling me about you for a while and you’re even far more beautiful than he described. She laughed and thanked me.”
“Wow. You had a good time then?”
“I did, we spent 3 hours talking.”
“What did you talk about, Lord of the Rings?”
“A little bit. She’s a fan. She said her mom actually reads the book once a year.”
“What about Star Wars?”
“She brought it up to me that Star Wars was one of the defining moments of her life. She’s seen them almost as many times as I have, probably. She had the toys…she’s really into it.”
“I didn’t get too into that. When I do bring it up, I figure I’ll tell her I have only 5000 comics. Then when I know her better I’ll tell her the truth–10,000 comics.”
“You ease her into it.”
“You wean her into the comic book world.”
“You bring the geek factor down 50% that way.”
“Right! What did she say about me?”
“I shouldn’t really tell you this, but there were three things she said about you,” he said
“Three things…damn, my own mother only likes two things about me. What did she say?”
“First, she said you were sharp, meaning witty.”
“Second, she said you were cute.”
“Hey, look at that! Are you sure it wasn’t you saying that?”
“Yes, quite sure. Third, and this is the most unbelievable, she said you’re a snappy dresser.”
“Ha, awesome. I didn’t even go with the Gun Metal Gray.”
Man, I thought, I couldn’t believe she was actually impressed with me. Had she perhaps suffered a head trauma of some kind recently? Also, Kevin was right about the clothes. A trip to Banana Republic was in order before the next date. I was elated. Finally I was having a change of luck.
We had another date, and another adult costume, and plans were made for a third.
It was two days before our third date when the phone rang and I recognized Liza’s number on the caller ID. I had a bad feeling
“Hi Adam, it’s Liza. This is really awkward, but I want you to know I really like you and I had a good time with you and I want to thank you for everything. I don’t know how much Stan told you about this, but I was seeing someone a while ago, and he’s back in the picture and it’s sort of been cooking, and I need to see him exclusively.”
“If it doesn’t work out though, would it be OK if I called you?”
I found it very peculiar that she asked if she could call me if door number one didn’t work out for her. Why would I want to be anyone’s back-up?
I kept my adult costume on and thanked her for her honesty and wished her the best.
I was back out in the cold, but with some new adult costumes to keep me warm. But, moving forward, most nights I wore my usual jeans, occasionally mixing it up with a dress shirt, un-tucked and with the sleeves rolled up. I decided there was no point in wearing a costume.
Whenever Seth Kushner did anything foolish growing up, his mother would call him a “Schmuck,” that beloved Yiddish term of not-so-endearment. So, of course, it’s the title of his new comix semi-autobio on TRIP CITY, an online multimedia arts salon. Renowned for his books The Brooklynites (with Anthony LaSala) and Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics (With Chris Irving) and the webseries CulturePOP Photocomix, photographer and author Seth Kushner now throws his hat into the comics arena. SCHMUCK chronicles the period after his being dumped by a girlfriend, and the ensuing cascade of blind dates, Internet hook-ups, and comically tragic situations he endured with the hopes of finding “true love.”
SCHMUCK sheds a brutally honest light on 20-something relationships. Adam Kessler, our “hero,” is based on Kushner, ten years ago – a pop-culture-obsessed photographer torn between pleasing Mom by finding a “nice Jewish girl,” and figuring out what he really wants. His internal monologue is filled with the standard inane, perverted and self-deprecating thoughts we all have but are ashamed to admit. Meanwhile, his shit-talking, sex-obsessed Brooklyn boys stand by with their own, often wacky, advice.
Chapter One “Beer, Babes and Bowel Movements,” illustrated by Kevin Colden, (with “Photocomix” by Seth) debuted on Monday, January 9. From there, a new chapter will appear on TripCity.net every second Monday for one year. Every fourth Monday will see the release of a prose piece, “THE SCHMUCK DIARIES,” which will act as supplements to the comics. 2012 will see the release of 12 SCHMUCK comix and 12 SCHMUCK DIARIES.
SCHMUCK is an anthology series with different artists illustrating short “schmucky stories,” which can be read individually, or together to tell the complete narrative. SCHMUCK artists include; Sean Pryor (Pekar Project), Bobby Timony (Night Owls), Omar Angulo (Hurricane Wilma), Shamus Beyale (The Grimm Fairy Tales), Ryan Alexander-Tanner (To Teach), George Schall, (Dark Horse Presents) Nathan Schreiber (Power-Out), Leland Purvis (Resistance), Stephen DeStefano (‘MAZING MAN) and more TBA.
What to expect: heartbreak, diarrhea, painful STD removal, rejection, Kung-Fu, Natalie Portman, vomit, boobs, self-loathing, unkempt genital regions, sex with an ex, drunkenness, sexual dysfunction, depression, misogyny, and somehow, hope.
Influences on SCHMUCK include; Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison, Bob Fingerman’s Beg The Question, Dean Haspiel’s Street Code, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Curb Your Enthusiasm, works by Nick Hornby, Jonathan Ames, Woody Allen, Adrian Tomine, Jeffrey Brown, Chester Brown and Joe Matt.