301 Moved Permanently

301 Moved Permanently


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Finals: My Life As The Reincarnation of Dorothy Parker

I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1993, and I am the reincarnation of Dorothy Parker. I know because when I was eight years old I dressed up as her for Carnival. I wore my grandpa’s patent leather shoes, a Snow White dress, and purple fake eyelashes. It’s not easy, let me tell you – I was born with the ego of the wittiest woman in New York and the social skills of a pale little girl with the depressive gene, in post-dictatorship Rio. I was nervous of the ocean, and ingrained with the impulse to arrange my social life around tables – therefore my prepubescent years were spent away in after-school excursions to the McDonald’s at the mall.

And the 2000s were the golden age of malls. There was then a kind of violent anti-aesthetic to them that no person under 30 can now claim to not feel nostalgic for, a kind of black hole for all of the world’s banality. They weren’t sad in the way of a “sleazy cafe”, of the kind of place you could go to when you were feeling sleazy – when you were angry and proud about it the way 12 year olds are meant to. By the time I rolled around, there weren’t any “sleazy cafes” left in Rio’s South Zone. There were overpriced juice bars with squeaky clean orange seats and walls lined with posters of dragon fruit, and there were touristy seafood restaurants by the beach that served draught beer and prawns. And there were malls. I was the reincarnation of Dorothy Parker and spent every afternoon after school sat on the floor of McDonald’s, moodily colouring in the activity sheet that’d come with my Happy Meal. I was trying to scandalize and entertain.

Whatever random group of friends I had latched onto that day, I referred to them as “my adorable weirdos”. I got into a habit of sucking on straws as if they were cigarettes, then blowing the hot air upwards as I leant back, a gesture of deliberate contemplation I cherished as my trademark. Everyone else thought it was a worrying thing for a sixth grader to be doing.

We went to the movies sometimes, and threw popcorn on people and made dirty jokes out loud, which I thought was all in prime society-defiant, satirical fashion. I was desperate to be witty, and thought being witty meant referencing French movies. Sometimes I’d march through the food court yelling “New York Herald Tribune!” – that was usually the highlight of my month.

Or I’d sigh and mutter “Les temps sont durs pour les rêveurs”, and drag on my straw.

It was around that time that I first saw Dudu, drinking alcohol out of a Coke bottle at a school dance. I was 12, he was 16, wearing a T-shirt striped red-and-white and the kind of haircut they’d give someone in a 1980s indie film if they were trying to make him the relatable teen lead – supposedly uncool, but in a universally appealing way bound to get copied by a generation. Dudu seemed boyish only in a Platonic sense, evocative of the ideal, ultimate youth, with just enough flaws to make him completely perfect. He had flaws like slightly too big ears and a ripped knee on his jeans. He was the first boy I’d ever seen kiss another boy, which at the time only made him more fabulous to me. For over a year I just enjoyed watching him, watching him smoke at the school gate, watching him read Harvey Milk’s biography when everyone else was in gym class, because he was one of those kids who just didn’t do gym class, watching him be a part of the walking mass of generalized merriment that were his friends, laugh and hug them and jump on their backs and squeeze their butts and kiss their lips all in good fun.

I actually called them “the Bohemian crowd” (for I am the reincarnation of Dorothy Parker) – the green-haired kids that always had Friday night plans. My friend Gabi had been out with them a couple of times, but was dismissive at best and vague at worst when I asked her anything about it. “I know, you think they go around discussing philosophy in dark alleys,” she said. I did think something along those lines. I figured “going out” meant for them poetry slams and cleverly themed costume parties – a French Revolution party, maybe, or a Beat Generation one. Gabi told me they mostly got drunk on tequila shots and danced to Panic! at the Disco, sometimes ironically but that was it. I was a bit disillusioned but Dudu didn’t stop being fascinating to me.

One day I just added him on MSN Messenger on a whim, fretted for a few minutes over how I was going to introduce myself, and attacked when he came online with what was about to become known as “my pick-up line”: “Hey, do you have a good recipe for churros?” Our online conversations never lasted long –
mostly, they were a manic back-and-forth of nonsensical literary exercises that we both felt insecure about being able to pull off, and there is only so much time one can spend engrossed in that.

dudu says:
Homeopathy works. My mother takes it and has been the light and joy of our
household for over twenty years.

my new haircut makes me look like jean seberg says:
Smuggling sucrose pills into the cupboard at age three. It’s pitch black. They melt
on my tongue the way cheap chocolate truffles always promised to but never did.

dudu says:
I believe in cheap chocolate truffles. I wish my shampoo smelt of them.

my new haircut makes me look like jean seberg says:
I’d only ever take two or three pills at a time. Fear eating me from below as
sweetness did from above.

I was undeniably in love. At school we never talked – but we nodded and smiled knowingly whenever we walked past each other, and that alone made me feel like I already belonged in his life more than I’d ever thought I was worthy of.

dudu says:
I suggest a bustling shared life for us. Wearing identical bowler hats, asking each
other for book tips. And peppermint tea! Do you like peppermint tea?

my new haircut makes me look like jean seberg says:
I love peppermint tea.

We met the next day in front of the school gate. Gabi came with us, and we sat in a McCafé for an hour or two as she and Dudu idly filled the silence by throwing in-jokes at each other about their mutual friends. I laughed and sucked on my water straw and blew out hot air. “I love your outfit,” was just about the only thing Dudu said directly at me – his voice was higher and feebler than it’d seemed before, when I’d only ever heard him speak in enthusing interjections as part of the Bohemian crowd.

Gabi’s bus arrived before his, so we sat quietly at the bus stop; we spent a moment synchronizing the dangling of our legs to each other’s, we giggled, we didn’t raise our eyes from our feet. When his bus arrived he handed me a 25 cent coin. “Here’s 25 cents for you, you deserve it.” I smiled a bit too widely at that. How quirky and delightful of him to pay me 25 cents for my time. High times we were living in. I was the reincarnation of Dorothy Parker. I was so uncomfortable in my skin.

Dudu stopped coming to school a few weeks after that. I asked Gabi if she knew what’d happened; she laughed nervously, muttering he was a just a weirdo. For nearly a month he didn’t even show up online. When he finally did, I messaged him immediately, asking bluntly “Why haven’t you been at school? Are you ok?” That was the most personal thing I had ever said to him.

dudu says:
I got upset.

I don’t know exactly what he meant. I didn’t press him further. But that evening I sat on my bed feeling defeated, and truly world-weary for the first time I can remember – as opposed to the half-smile during Christmas dinner, texting my friends under the table kind of world-weariness I had known until then.

why must one talk? says:
Hey do you want to get some coffee this weekend?

dudu says:
No I’m an idiot idiot idiot and he fell with the wind.

why must one talk? says:
You know, that gets tiring.

dudu says:
What does? Me being an idiot?

why must one talk? says:
No, the “he fell with the wind” bit.

dudu says:
I agree!

I told him I loved him once. I said “I love you, dammit” because I thought that was the least embarrassing way there was to say I love you, at least to someone I knew was gay. Then I said, “Sorry.”

I can’t remember the last time we talked. The whole thing just ended up fading away within a few weeks, in the same inconspicuous way it had started. Those were difficult times for dreamers.

There was also my friend Rodrigo, whom I smoked oregano cigarettes with and whom I taught how to behave in bookshops (“If you pull a book off the shelf, you have to spend a long time flicking through it. At least five minutes. You don’t want people to think you’re just picking books at random because of their funny titles,do you?”). He was the reincarnation of Oscar Wilde – so we had our differences.

There was Olivia who told me I would never make any real friends if I was just trying to be witty all the time. She took me to a jugglers’ convention and offered me ecstasy. I was 12. It was out of my comfort zone. What was in my comfort zone was loving Hemingway as if I had hormones and people-watching at McCafé – mostly middle-aged receptionists on their lunch break, sometimes they talked about sex though.

I came out of my childhood as the reincarnation of Dorothy Parker a socially anxious, borderline misanthrope terror. Any progress in this lifetime has been slow and inconsistent, but there has been some: I can finally cook for myself. I am now bored of wisecracker types and prefer long earnest conversations about feelings, but I still pine after the little house in the country with the blue shutters, it might happen this time around. I might finally get some rest. I’m so tired.

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