Here for It w/ R. Eric Thomas, #190

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
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This week: Steve Bannon got yacht rocked; Michelle Obama once again clanged the Liberty Bell; I have another doppelgänger.

Welcome to new subscribers! Every week I round up my most recent ELLE.com pop culture and politics columns plus write a new short piece up top. I also include information about upcoming events and present one wonderful random thing from the internet.

I am not in the habit of dressing cute when I go to Lowe’s, which is essentially the only place I’ve been outside of my house (and two local bakeries with which I am obsessed) for the last 5 months. This is a tragedy on many fronts. Front the first: I like to dress cute. I have cute clothes. Some of them don’t really fit anymore but because I only exist from torso up on Zoom calls nowadays, I’ve decided that three-dimensional physics is just an illusion. Front the second: since my rare public appearances are limited to trips to a home improvement store in the quixotic quest of improving my home, I am afraid that the Lowe’s-going public has a limited understanding of the full scope of my wardrobe. Perhaps I should hold a fashion show at Lowe’s. Let’s look into that.

I spent the hottest days of this summer working with David to get our house ready to move into and much of that work involved fixing up the yard, so when I’d show up to Lowe’s I’d be in Manual Labor Drag—a basic tee shirt and cargo shorts. (I do not know why I bought the cargo shorts. I am really committing to this character, I guess. Most of my shorts are from J. Crew and are only appropriate for hanging out on the deck of a yacht that’s about to be raided by the Post Office police. I just googled “Man working???” and bought the first inexpensive pair of shorts I found. I literally was like “What would Tim the Tool Man Taylor wear?”) I spent a couple of weeks digging up roughly a ton of slate that the previous homeowner had let sink into the ground and re-laying it into a new path, so most of what I needed from Lowe’s was bags of sand and bags of drainage rock. It feels silly to purchase sand but when I thought about it I wasn’t really sure how else I was supposed to get it. Like, a beach? Seems impractical. I want to rewrite the Footprints poem so it’s about Jesus carrying me while I scoop up buckets of sand to build a garden path that will drain well.

Anyway, yesterday David and I went to Lowe’s to get fire extinguishers so I dressed in my regular clothes, which is to say that I looked fresh to death. I had on short cerulean shorts and a teal polo—literally swan-diving to the other end of the spectrum from Manual Labor Drag. We’ve both been so stressed this week—there’s work things, there’s personal things, there’s the general miasma of apocalypse, and then there’s the fact that we’re moving next weekend. So we were dragging. He slung his arm around me as we walked across the parking lot and while it felt comforting, I also became aware—as I always am—that it was a potentially dangerous thing. Home improvement stores, most beaches, airports, and Walmart all feel, to me, heterosexual in an ambient but obvious way. Even if there are people who I clock as queer in those spaces it feels to me like the spaces are just set up for heteronormativity. Maybe it’s something about the lighting. Who can say? Anyway, I get nervous. But, gay people have homes and need to clean their gutters and mulch their whatever mulch goes on to just like everybody else, so perhaps this is just a me problem.

We walked through the sliding doors at the same time as another guy was walking into another set of doors about 10 feet away from us. He had the breezy, attractive air of the kind of late-30s, upper-middleclass guy who does Fun Runs. I don’t know that this is a description that will track for anyone else, but the only way I understand most straight guys is by assigning them a sport that I don’t really understand. Lax bros, for instance, are shaped like Launchpad McQuack from Darkwing Duck. Soccer guys are like a young Bob Hoskins. This guy looked like Hugh Dancy in a baseball cap and to me that says Fun Run.

I was still a little nervous that my legally-wed husband and I were in close physical proximity in a building with fluorescent lighting when Hugh Dancy Guy spoke to me. No, not spoke, shouted. He set eyes on me and yelled “Look at you, you handsome man!” Was I being cat-called in the vestibule of a Lowe’s? Truly, I was perplexed from jump. I assumed he was probably someone I went to high school with as those are the only people, in general, I run into in Maryland. But I couldn’t place him, as he had on a hat and a mask and I graduated high school two decades ago. I feel really bad when I can’t place people, which actually happens a lot, but I felt partially let off the hook by the fact that I could only see one-quarter of his face. Now I get how no one guesses that Bruce Wayne is Batman.

“I’m sorry, I can’t quite tell who you are,” I replied. He hesitated and then asked me to pull down my mask. How was this going to help me with my problem? Maybe he wasn’t Batman after all but rather The Riddler. I pulled down my mask and he immediately apologized. Still got it!

“I’m so sorry! I thought you were a friend I haven’t seen in a while!” he shouted with the same level of enthusiasm with which he had told me that I was handsome. He turned to David and continued, “I don’t know if you two are dating, but my friend dates someone who looks like you.” WHO IS THIS DOPPELGÄNGER COUPLE THAT HAS A HOT ENTHUSIASTIC FRIEND (yes, I couldn’t see this man’s face but yes I still could tell he was hot. It’s my mutant power). The man turned back to me, still so psyched. He told me I look just like his friend and then he complimented my outfit. He continued, “But I was going to say that you’ve trimmed down since we last saw each other!” The last bit is not a true fact about me in the present, but I accepted it anyway.

(About a year ago, I wrote in this newsletter about a sommelier that I used to get mistaken for a lot. I have no idea if this is the same person. What if there are an army of Erics running around Baltimore, having friends and knowing more about wine than I do?)

I was so thrown by the whole encounter that I was tripping over my words, thanking him for calling me hot and trying to put together a joke about how I always want to enter Lowe’s and be greeted by someone who is very excited to see me, my doppelgänger partner, our love, my new body??, and my masked face. The joke ended up just being me shouting back “You awesome friend!” before he disappeared into the store. Still got it!

We kept running into each other as we wandered the aisles and each time he shouted some new affirmation at me. Was this man in love with me? Was this man in love with his friend? Does this man want to be friends with me? Could I replace his other friend? Or… was I really the friend all along? (No, actually I do not know this man, but I wish him and his friend and his friend’s boyfriend all the best and yes I am very envious of their whole situation because it is quite difficult to make adult friends but maybe I will meet this man’s doppelgänger and then I can yell at him and then we can all be friends like strange reboot of Big Business. Until then, I’m just going to look at the bright side: we got fire extinguishers and in the fluorescent glow of a Lowe’s, I am hot.)

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“Man working???” ,

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