Mixtapes for Hookers

The Yoko Test

[In honor of Yoko Ono’s 80th birthday, here’s an excerpt from a previously unpublished story about the dumbest boyfriend I ever had, right after college.]

My gums bleed a lot. Mostly it’s because I don’t take very good care of my teeth, but mentally I blame it on bad genes. It makes me self-conscious, particularly on those rare occasions when I’m brushing my teeth with someone else in the room. It’s a terrible sight, foamy and bloody and red and blue and white, like a mangled American flag that’s also foamy and bloody and made out of toothpaste.

If there is one thing that terrifies me, as a single gay man who likes to put various parts of other single gay men in his mouth, it is the transmission of disease through my bloody gums. Additionally, they are unattractive.

It is the summer of 2004 and I am using my new boyfriend’s bathroom for the first time. In a pretend casual way we are trying to act comfortable about this step in our relationship, peeing with the door open and brushing our teeth together as nonchalantly as we can. Honestly, we are not comfortable. I am panic-stricken, because soon I will need to spit and he will see the blood. And then God only knows what he will think of me, of my mouth, of our relationship.

I eject the messy globs od toothpaste when I think he isn’t looking, but he is, and the blood excites him. He examines the sink. “Awwwww,” he says, in a tone that I don’t know him well enough to decipher. “You’re bleeding!” He thinks it’s cute, asks if I’m okay, but in a strange way that leaves me wondering whether he’d like to see me bleed more often.

We are preparing to go to the Olive Garden. My new boyfriend lives in Connecticut and wears jean shorts and the Olive Garden is his idea. I have a strong distaste for chain restaurants and from a very young age my Italian-American family instilled in me in no uncertain terms that the Olive Garden is a terrible place where terrible people serve terrible food.

But who am I to say this to my new boyfriend? He is the one with the car, after all. He is also the one taking me out to dinner, because I am earning $7.50 an hour at a part-time job and only weeks previously I moved into a new apartment that I could only sort of afford, just days before my car was totaled on the highway.

At twenty-three I am still defining myself by the pop cultural phenomena that I choose to surround myself with, like teenagers do. I live on a healthy diet of movie rentals and CD purchases, losing all sense of which things are well-known and which ones aren’t. I’ll talk at length about a scene in Celine And Julie Go Boating, or about some lesser-known Linda Ronstadt album, oblivious to the fact that companions’ silent nods stem from politeness and not from familiarity with or concern for the subject.

In retrospect, I still think of this ultimately very brief relationship mainly in terms of the songs and albums and movies that I was absorbing at the time. During this period I watch Man Bites Dog, Diva, Demonlover, all movies I hated. At my new boyfriend’s urging I listen to a lot of the Village People, after realizing the brilliance of “Fire Island,” their song about a funky, funky weekend that ends with a strange and ominous warning not to go in the bushes because “someone might grab you / someone might stab you.” We also listen to Coil; at the time I am semi-jokingly obsessed with the idea of couples having songs that are “their song,” and I declare that “our song” is a Coil song, an intentionally dreary minute-long piece of robotic awkwardness called “Boy In A Suitcase.” (Shortly after my new boyfriend and I break up, one of Coil’s two members will fall from a balcony and die, which I will take as a sign that it’s time to move on.)

I am also listening to a lot of Yoko Ono. Particularly, I’m listening to her Approximately Infinite Universe album from 1973, which a co-worker had lent me. One evening, after making dinner for my boyfriend, I put Yoko on and a short while later my boyfriend and I start kissing; I find it troublesome when he asks me to change the music. Later, after we break up, I decide that I will only date men who can endure a passionate makeout session while listening to Approximately Infinite Universe. So far, the one time I employed the test. it was 100% accurate. If you are kissing the right man, he will not object. He may think you’re nuts and you may have to talk about it afterwards, but the Yoko Ono Test is a surefire sign that you have found the right guy. This is the only dating advice I have to offer. (I have no idea whether this test would work the same way with women.)

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