I’ve known my shtick for a while now. It was never a good friend — we’d never called one another up to grab a coffee or beer — but I could always count on it to help me meet new people (though most of those relationships failed to blossom).
My shtick was obviously very well read and had seen all the world classic cinema and spoke four languages. Often in the past I’d have no news of its whereabouts for months. There were rumors: Mexico, jail, living with its parents in the suburbs and really getting into gardening and pickling. During these times I’d normally be working hard, keeping mostly to myself, saving money (to one day escape it all?).
Those brief periods when my shtick was moving within my social orbit were supposedly both wonderful and awful. A lot of good times, so I’m told, but I remember little.
One time, after a prolonged period of not seeing my shtick, it surprised me at home. I was eating dinner (baked salmon, steamed green beans, boiled potatoes) when I heard my keys rattling outside my front door and then the door opening. It was the first time we’d ever hung out alone together, let alone in my (small but modern) studio apartment.
My shtick said it had wanted to talk, as it had been hearing “things” about me from some of our mutual friends. I asked what everyone was saying. It explained that my aloofness was coming across as “performative” and because of this I was giving It a bad name. I asked how it was possible that my low-key actions were affecting its high-profile reputation. It said the actor behind the performance was too transparent. I asked how, adding I was no actor. It said it had to go (a “downtown thing” and something about a “deal”). But he said we’d grab a coffee soon, or a beer.
We grabbed third-wave coffee and sat on some church steps. I couldn’t help looking at small parts of its body that I’d never been so up close before to notice: peachy rust-belt mustache, patch of sideboob, twitching forearms, slenderest of ankles with an anklet tattoo of the caduceus. It asked the questions and I went off in my replies, spilling over myself and running off on tangents and distracting myself with my own instant revelations. Whenever I asked it a question, it would just ask me one in return and off I’d go again.
Then my shtick suggested we go to a bar. When we arrived I went to the bathroom and when I got back it had already ordered us two cocktails. Then more came. Hours flew past. I remember being groped in the car ride home, lips on my neck, tongue in my ear. I woke up the next morning at home with a major headache. My shtick was gone.
I put the incident out of my head and dove deep into my work. About a week later my shtick called me up and said it wanted to take me to dinner, to “talk it over.” We went for mussels and fries. It explained to me that it was tired of being the social butterfly it was expected to be; that it had always admired me from afar for my quietness and lack of overt libido; that it wanted to settle down. I almost choked on a mussel as it was saying this, and my shtick took that as an emphatic Yes. We were officially dating.
It’s a thrilling feeling to be dating one’s own shtick. People look at you with envy and disgust. As a couple, you are either invited everywhere reluctantly, or you’re purposefully left off a guest list only for everyone in attendance to lament your absence.
There’s something about the perceived naturalness of the two of you, getting each other’s jokes (or calmly explaining why a joke is offensive or unfunny); getting along with the same people (or very diplomatically engaging in a little friendscaping compromises together); having the same down-the-road plans (or dispassionately but endlessly making pro-con lists to see which of several possible plans are the most practical or just rational).
Sex is indeed a little awkward with your own shtick. You can’t help thinking you know exactly what’s on its mind while its face contorts and it moans and shrieks; and because of this, you can’t shake the feeling it knows your own thoughts (past relationships or random sexual encounters, tomorrow’s workload, how will you get out of this one day?).
To date, my shtick and I have become minor celebrities for our non-traditional relationship. We’ve done podcasts and magazine photo shoots. During these shoots, I used to worry I wasn’t performing strongly enough in visibly emoting my devotion to my shtick — that my shtick would be the naked John curled up against the clothed dispassionate Yoko. But when we saw the pics, it was invariably the opposite: me gazing intently at my shtick, wondering, what comes next? While it, already bored and annoyed, looking off to the side where there had likely been standing a young attractive photographer’s assistant.
The question we’d almost always have to field was: Do I think I’d ever get tired of my shtick? I never know how to answer. For me, the looming question was always: Will everyone else get tired of my shtick? Look at it. Have you ever seen anything so damn handsome, pretty, witty, elegant and tough?
So instead I’d always let my shtick answer this question on both of our behalves. It’d normally blurt out, angry (and damn sexy), that people should work on breaking down their own little actor-oriented egos instead of badgering a love they could not understand. We’d always grip hands at this point.
Though I knew it was all for show.
— Michael Zunenshine is a collection of mismatched machine parts, some of which do writing while others do posting as @RealityTVDinner on IG and Twitter.