Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
When I was 7, I met my second nemesis. I do not know my second nemesis’s name, I barely remember anything about her save for our one contentious encounter, but I will spend the rest of my life nursing the grudge. (Why must you always nurse grudges? Why don’t grudges grow up, go to grudge college—called Animosiversity—get a grudge job at Ill Will, LLC, and start paying some damn bills around here? Don’t make no sense! I have a grudge against my grudges!)
Anyway, this nemesis: so I’m 7, it’s near the end of the school year, and my parents have just put our house up on the market because we were supposed to move to Dallas so my dad could go to seminary. I had not been consulted about our pivot to the Ye-Haw agenda. (Or was it the Ye-Holy agenda? Yaweh-Ha agenda? This is becoming untenable.) I think, at that point, I was fine with whatever because I was 7 and I’d read the book Gilla Monsters Meet You At the Airport so I’d done extensive research. But before we could move, we had to sell the house so my parents started working with a realtor and occasionally strangers would show up and be led on a tour of our home. This was very exciting to me as a young Mrs. Potts, who thrives off of unexpected guests, making a fuss, and showing off. I understood that they were there to see the house but I made sure to add a little zazz by hiding behind random corners and dramatically displaying my favorite books (which at that age were Corduroy and, oddly, The Book of Job from the Bible. Honey, conservative late-80s Dallas was not ready for me at all!)
My nemesis was one of the people did a walkthrough of the house. I recall her being by herself, maybe early 30s. “This is a lot of house for a single person,” I muttered to myself as I paged through Job whilst staring over a pair of sunglasses I’d poked the lenses out of so I could use them as judging bifocals. I still do think my parents’ three-bedroom house is a lot for a single person but I’ve learned to mind my business. At the time, my youngest brother was a baby and sleeping in the nursery and my middle brother and I shared a bedroom. The bedroom had one of those not very deep wall closets with the sliding doors. It was just enough space to hold our clothes and most of our toys. We didn’t have an extreme number of toys; we had a normal number of toys! But they didn’t all fit into the closet because, like the answer to the prompt “name a perfect song”, the closet was Shallow.
I am defensive about the storage capacity of our closet because of what my nemesis did as she toured our house. Following the realtor, she made her way up to the third floor where I waited patiently in my bedroom to perform my grand finale (“It’s a Hard Knock Life” from Annie followed by a monologue from a syndicated episode of Good Times). My nemesis rounded the corner, looked at the closet, and uttered the only words I heard her say. “Too many toys,” she spat. And then she turned around and left. Baby, I had never experienced anything more insulting in all my seven years of life! It was shocking. She didn’t need to buy the house because she’s lived in my head, rent-free ever since.
First of all, ma’am, you need to mind your 30-year-old, pre-approved mortgage business. The toys aren’t part of the sale, okay? The toys are coming to Dallas! (As it turned out, the toys would stay, actually. The next week I’d get chicken pox at school and give it to my brothers, creating a small but chaotic superspreader event in my home which would force my parents to take the house off the market and keep us in Baltimore. I have complicated feelings about deferring my parents’ dream but in retrospect I’m not sure how well I would have faired in a Texas Bible college town where dancing wasn’t allowed and I don’t think I have a head for hats.)
The sheer audacity of this person, though! I was and remain gobsmacked. I think about her literally all of the time. Which is why, on the Christmas morning Zoom with my family, as my niece and nephew intermittently appeared on camera to show off their toys, I was reminded of my nemesis and tried to start old drama on a new platform. “Does anyone remember that person who said we have ‘too many toys’?” I asked a screen full of in-laws and people who were too young to recall one of the seminal events of my life. Only my mother knew what I was talking about, which is fine because she was the one I was talking to anyway. “Do you remember her name?” I asked for no reason. What was I planning on doing, calling up a 60-year-old stranger on Christmas morning like “Happy holidays I am still mad!”
I worry now that by bringing this story up on Christmas, I may have seemed like I was shadily intimating that my niece and nephew have too many toys. I absolutely do not think this and even if I did think it I wouldn’t have said it like that because I’ve found that passive-aggression doesn’t really play well on Zoom. To the contrary, it brought me such delight to see my middle brother’s kids showing off for the far-flung family, undeterred by the platform and our strange time. I would have looked at toys all day. I was especially compelled by my almost 3-year-old niece who, as her older brother leapt through the frame wearing a cape or holding a video game, chose instead to methodically display all of her toys and costumes one-by-one. She absolutely refused to be rushed and she absolutely refused to consolidate. She was like “You will look at this one tutu with reverence like we are at a Sotheby’s auction and then I will proceed to the next item.”
For the entirety of our Zoom, she’d enter the frame at regular intervals, blocking out her father, and holding the piece up until she was satisfied with our response. It was nothing short of masterful. It was also a perfect bit of comic escalation. She started with some toys, a doll, regular stuff. We thought she was done; she was just beginning act two. She, apparently, is living out every dream her dear uncle has ever had by building an enormous costume closet. So she set about to leaving the screen, grabbing one costume off of a rack and bringing it back whilst intensely looking at the screen like she was auditioning for a Muppet Babies / Fleabag crossover.
This precise fashion show went on for 45 minutes. It was the greatest thing I have ever seen. When she didn’t get the response she was looking for, like if we were engaged in other conversation, she would look very cross. She was like “I know this Snow White-themed tutu is the most amazing thing you old millennials ever laid eyes on; you need to prove to me that you know it too.” As someone who is very attuned to wanting public adulation whilst costume-adjacent, I was quick to pivot the Zoom back to the matter at hand. “Oooh, look at that Princess Unicorn costume,” we’d all coo, pretending we knew who Princess Unicorn was. My niece would then look at us like:
Then she would leave without a word to go find another item to let us cast our wretched eyes upon. A true icon.
I gotta say, I did not like quarantine Christmas at all this year; like my nemesis walking through our house, I have a lot of opinions and none of them are positive. Quarstmas was very hard and sad and no one brought me figgy pudding. But, despite it all, there is little more joy-provoking than a couple of kids that you care about very much exuberantly and intensely trying to get your attention so they can share their home, their holiday, and the correct amount of toys with you and brighten your old millennial life.
In case you missed it, the Wednesday discussion post was open to everybody this week and we got very into non-traditional holiday movies (The Ice Storm has entered the chat). You can join in the convo here!
Coming up this week:
Wednesday discussion thread on Wednesday (happening Wednesday)
Is WW84’s Fake Steve Trevor a Good Dresser: An Investigation
The first “I Have a Few Notes” writing workshop post
Random Thing on the Internet
Obsessed with everything about Eartha Kitt song called “Champagne Taste”—the delivery, the orchestration, the lyrics, all of it. The minute we are out of quarantine and I get my wine flight of vaccines, I am going to start doing live shows again and, despite my inability to sing, I am going to incorporate a cabaret portion just so I can perform this song. Afterward, my niece will slowly display clothes for three hours. You’re going to love it.
Happy holidays I am still mad!