By Christine Ma
Last night you dreamed of Portlandia Matt. When you get into your office the next morning, you login to your email and see an email from Portlandia Matt. Is this Inception, you ask yourself, incredulous? Briefly you think about Leonardo DiCaprio and how you never found him attractive, just that his chin resembled that of a fox’s, and you, lacking a penchant for bestiality, could never get over this.
In his email Portlandia Matt invites you and the rest of the world to come listen to this author you’ve never heard of speak on this book you’ve never read. Another Matt, it said, reading from his latest (and only) short story collection. You open the attached flyer and waiver; Other Matt is not attractive enough to make you want to go, but you remember that you need to stop watching Netflix and start reading if you really want to be a serious author, and plus Portlandia Matt will be there, so you decide fine, against your better judgment.
You look down at your outfit. It is a indiscriminate white shirt dress from Victoria’s Secret a-la-the-nineties (you know this because you’ve followed all the Victoria Secret catalogs from the 2000s onward with a devout religiosity you could never feign in any other area of your life, and never saw this dress); you got it last weekend for 99 cents at a used children’s consignment store benefiting sick kids at a local hospital. You’ve redeemed the otherwise amorphous mass of white with a belt, thick and brown and metallic, to remind people of your waist-to-hip ratio, of which you are rather proud. It is not what you would’ve chosen to wear to go to a book reading, and certainly not one involving a Matt (either one would do at this point), but later your husband tells you that you look like you’re wearing a man’s dress shirt, and by extension that implies that you just came to campus directly from sleeping with someone and forgot to bring a change a clothes—a sure sign of a whore. When you hear this you are pleased; you made the right sartorial choice after all. Go, subconscious!
When you pick your son up from preschool you tell him you guys are going to CVS.
“What’s at CVS,” he asks.
“Lip balm,” you say.
“Why?” he says.
“Because mommy’s lips are dry,” you claim, lying. Your lips, next to your waist to hip ratio, are one of your better assets, and it’s been a while since you’ve dedicated the attention they deserve. If you want to wrap them around somebody’s junk later that evening, lip balm is imperative. You get the EOS ones you saw in Miley Cyrus’ music video, “Wrecking ball,” the one where she applies them like a slutty lesbian. You buy them even though they are not on sale, which is a first for you and CVS. The blonde cashier lady looks at you gratefully, which you are surprised by because her minimum wage doesn’t depend on the store’s net profit margin. You walk out, shrugging.
“I’m leaving,” you call out to your son, who is still in the summer toys area of the store, near the front, picking up every toy he already has at home, because you get all his Christmas/birthday toys from CVS anyway—which is to say, you buy him too many toys and are a bad mother while you’re at it. He runs out, telling you he’s changed his mind for the nth time about what he wants for his 5th birthday, which is still two months away. You don’t remember what he tells you, but lucky for you his memory is as terrible as yours.
The CVS detour makes the two of you late for music class, which is fine because Peter is there with his two overweight children. They are adorable now, you think—his little girl has a bubble butt to die for—but god, hopefully they don’t have a penchant for carbs because thick is only cute under the age of two. Peter, though, is tall and gangly, and his bald spot is only just materializing, so by all objective standards, still very do-able in your book. He always sits by you, and today you return the favor. He scoots closer, his big hand just a palms-width away from yours.
When class ends you walk out immediately—tee ball is next—but Peter’s little girl follows you like the god-forsaken puppy that she is, what with a dad that always takes her to music class and a mother who never manages to show up even as every other mother in the room—yourself included—manages to work and play sex kitten and launder and cook and bring their children to events so they don’t grow up retarded or worse yet, anything short of incredibly well-rounded. Ammie—that’s her name—follows you out the door and when you look back you see Peter, oblivious and stupid, talking to the instructor—a man, don’t worry, so you are not jealous. You want to hold my pinky? you ask Ammie, leaning over and hovering. She looks up at your sweet little face—you know because babies love you, consistently and predictably—and immediately latches on. You lead her inside, telling your own son to wait by the door, and Peter rushes up. Look who’s doing their job! he says, sort of in disbelief, which you find rather concerning. You smile and try to let go of Ammie’s hand, but she will have none of it. You eventually pry her fat fingers off of yours while Peter tries to talk to you some more. You do not oblige, although you are likely to do him later; just not today. Today is tee-ball day.
At tee-ball you chat with the other Asian mothers about the foul weather and summer movies at Regal for a dollar and whether to move up north, to the Bay Area. You quote Hemingway: “My coldest winter was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” The other moms are impressed and tell you that’s why you have a Ph.D. You break it to them that you heard it on NPR, and that they too can quote Hemingway if they simply listened to public radio. They look disinterested, or slightly confused.
Your husband shows up right on time but acts like he doesn’t know you, either because he wants to give you space or because being elusive is the key to good sex later. At this point in your marriage, it doesn’t matter too much either way. You excuse yourself from the other mothers and go over to say hello, like you two are college acquaintances reuniting at a funeral, or wedding.
“Why are you being all weird?” you say, by way of getting his attention.
“What are you saying?” he asks, immediately irritated.
“What is wrong?” you reword. He grabs you by the arm and leads you away from the peeling evergreen bleachers and white families and Asian moms.
“Stop making me look like a dick,” he tells you, accusatory. “You sound like an abused wife,” he continues. You wave it off; this conversation is already taking too long.
“No one thinks that,” you say dismissively. “You and Josiah are on your own for dinner?” you ask, though it’s more of a command. Husband nods, retreating back into the world of recreational sports and families.
You head back to campus for the double Matts and book reading. It’s at a chapel of all places, although based on the Amazon reviews this book is pretty risqué; there are a lot of offended middle-aged women on the web because this Matt guy talks a lot about pussy and gratuitous violence. The chapel is right next to your office—literally, you could hurl a water bottle at it from your desk if your office had windows—but it still takes you a while to find the door because even though the school used to be a Brethren institution, nothing has gone on at the chapel for a long time, except for that one event with the transgender student and his/her mother that the chaplain put on, but you didn’t go, for reasons too convoluted to bring up now.
Eventually you find the door and behold, there are the two Matts standing directly inside, like Christmas presents waiting to be split open.
“Hey Chris,” the Portlandia one says. “Ever been to the chapel?”
“We have a chapel?” you reply, laughing. “Who knew?”
The other Matt just looks at you, waiting. You head inside and sit in the third row from the back. Always keep your eyes close to the exit, as your high school history teacher would tell you.
Before the reading starts there are two introductions, because apparently this Matt guy is sort of a big deal, at least if you’re one of those schools that let kids into college without taking the SAT. An English professor introduces Portlandia Matt, who in turn introduces Other Matt, and by the way he introduces him you can already tell that Other Matt is a tad bit of a tool. “Bottom line,” Portlandia Matt tells the audience, “is that this Other Matt always leaves an impression.”
Yeah? you think. So does teeth, but you don’t see me going around biting everything that moves. You start to think that perhaps this was a bad idea.
Other Matt starts to read, but before he does he gives everyone a long contextual explanation about why he’s talking about rape in the animal kingdom in a chapel at a once-Brethren college. Something about his mother dying, you gather, and you wonder if all tools have mommy issues.
When he starts to read you are initially disappointed that the story has less to do about rape and more about this almost-dead bird named Gary who, to be fair, makes a courageous recovery before dying again, the latter time for good. But then Other Matt says something about running into an ex-girlfriend and fingering her Back-Alley or Back Abbey or Downton Abbey style (remember: your memory is terrible), and you giggle gleefully while wondering if the Academic Dean—who is sitting across the room one row up and strikes an incredible resemblance to Sophia Vergara—is disconcerted by all this. Later, you will go home and ask your husband about the sexual reference, and what exactly it means to finger someone Back Alley/Back Abbey style; by then you’ve inferred that Downton Abbey could not possibly, ever, in any universe, refer to anything that could result in a woman coming. Your husband will shake his head and decide that he loves you more now than ever and proceed to tell you that you should’ve corked more guys before marrying him. You concur.
Other Matt goes on to read about his Switcharoo move, which takes no amount of rocket science to figure out that it refers to swapping his index finger out for his dick—real fast, he says—and in fact, so fast that his slut of an ex-girlfriend is unable to figure out that she has been duped. You truly doubt this, but are duly impressed before you realize that every man you have never dated has probably tried this technique on some unsuspecting woman you may or may not be friends with.
The reading ends and Other Matt asks if there are any questions. You have one, but you figure that some questions are best asked in secret, or at least one-on-one, lest the whole world misunderstand you.
“So, how much of that was autobiography?” you ask him later, after the deans and kids who showed up for extra credit have left. You know exactly what parts you are referring to. By his slow smile, Other Matt knows too.
When not writing, Christine Ma teaches at the University of La Verne. Her recent work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and is forthcoming in Straylight.