Claudio despised Lady Gaga with a passion.
“I’d like to poke her face,” he told his underlings in Inside Sales, between a call. “Poke her eyes out, more like.”
“Mmm,” they replied.
“God, talentless trash,” he said to his huge flatscreen TV whenever her videos came on. “You look like you’re wearing garbage, literally, like you dug through the trash and wore it.”
His ex-girlfriend Mindy left him because of Lady Gaga. Sort of. You sure talk about her a lot, Mindy had said, over a candlelit dinner at the hundred-dollar-a-plate restaurant Claudio had sprung for in surprise celebration of their one-and-a-half month anniversary. She said, we were just having a nice moment here, talking about the possibility of an open relationship, and then you have to rant about what a slut Lady Gaga is.
“But she is a slut!” he said, a bit loudly perhaps, because, one table down, a woman wearing a hat the size and color of an apricot glared at him.
“Who. Cares!” Mindy hissed at Claudio, putting her fork down. Mindy had bright blue eyes – a bit on the small side, like the rest of her. But she was a comfortingly upright person, a kindergarten teacher in fact. Then to balance her out she had kind of an edge to her when she drank. Once she threw a shoe at him. Another time she yelled at him and called him very un-PC names. She was drinking red wine right now.
“Everywhere I go, I hear her music. In the cell phone store today, for example. ‘Whoooooooooooooa,’” he sang. “‘Caught in a bad romance.’”
“You like singing her songs.”
“Seriously don’t say that. You’re going to make me throw up right now if you don’t stop.”
“Fine, whatever you say.” Mindy shook her head and gulped her wine. She took a deep breath. “So – um – I have something –”
“In her new video, she’s wearing nothing,” said Claudio. He reached across the table and grabbed a roasted potato off Mindy’s plate, using his fingers. “There are these, like, Nazi looking guys kissing. Gay stuff. Really weird.” Claudio noticed Mindy’s frown deepening and he smiled at her. “You are so exquisite. Your eyes – it’s like gazing into the ocean.”
Mindy just stared at Claudio and shook her head. “Ugh, I don’t – I don’t want this.”
“What? Italian food? I thought –”
“No, I don’t want a fucking hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner for our – our, what, six week? – anniversary.” She gulped the rest of her wine and started putting her leopard print jacket on.
“But – what’s happening, what are you doing? Is it because I stole a potato from your plate, is it because of Lady Gaga? Talk to me. Is it –”
“Yes, it’s all of those things. It’s you. You weird me out.”
The woman with the tiny hat was watching. The old witch, thought Claudio. Coming here alone, sitting at a table and spying and casting disapproving looks our way.
“Sit down,” Claudio told Mindy calmly. Calm, he knew, worked better than hysterical. He’d tried hysterical, at this very restaurant, in fact, with Suzy three months ago. Ah, Suzy, the nineteen-year-old nanny, how he’d sobbed when she told him she was breaking up with him for a seventeen-year-old rugby player!
Mindy shook her head. “I’m leaving.” She smiled a pained smile, like she felt sorry for him.
“What are you thinking? What is in your head?” Claudio asked, voice climbing. A waiter stopped to look at him before continuing on with a platter of steamy steaks.
“Thanks for dinner,” Mindy said loudly, cordially. “I’ll see you soon.”
She did, though. She left him there to finish his, and her, entire meal. He even ordered two desserts and ate them, quietly weeping.
“Lady Gaga ruined my relationship,” Claudio said to his boss, Elmo, the morning after. He stood in Elmo’s doorway during a ten-minute break. Claudio had his headset on, dangling unplugged by his side. He swung it around in what might be considered a cool fashion. “Mindy dumped me.”
There was a long pause. Techno music emanated from Elmo’s computer speakers. Elmo, a two hundred pound boxer-turned-CEO, sat behind his giant marble desk and glared at Claudio.
“Is this why you came into my office?” Elmo asked.
Claudio gulped. He had hoped this might be a good opportunity to finally bond and get friendly with his new superior. “Yes.”
“Get the hell out.”
At lunchtime, Claudio attempted, unsuccessfully, to penetrate the tight-knit circle that ate at the one and only breakroom table.
“Room for me?” he asked, PB & J in hand.
“You look like shit,” Patty said. Patty was a woman with a sugary Chipmunk voice who was generally known as the Office Bitch.
The rest of the table giggled.
“Growing a beard, man?” asked Kenny, a wiry guy with a ponytail who looked like he would be more comfortable in board shorts and a T-shirt than the snazzy blue-green suit he was wearing.
“No,” Claudio sighed. “I’m just too devastated to shave.”
No one asked why.
“My girlfriend and I called it quits,” Claudio told them.
“That’s too bad,” said the Intern, who everyone just called the Intern.
“Is it because she’s tired of your other girlfriend?” said Patty.
“What?” said Claudio. “I don’t have –”
“Lady Gaga,” she said, and everyone laughed harder. Patty looked pleased with herself and reapplied her orange-red lipstick without a mirror.
“Fuck all of you,” said Claudio. He threw his sandwich at the wall and stormed out.
Everyone was surprised. He was written up for Throwing Sandwich in Breakroom and given the afternoon off.
At home, he was hungry, but his fridge was, typically, bare. Instead of ordering out he sat at the black kitchen table and drank a tall glass of expired milk and three shots of expensive tequila. He called Mindy for the fourteenth time that day, but she didn’t answer. He drank another two shots of tequila, vomited foamy alcoholic milk into his trash can, and fell asleep on his couch with the TV on.
He had a super weird dream that night. Nightmare, more like, because Lady Gaga was in it. She was naked, except it was as if her whole body was covered in pantyhose. Undefined, undetailed, body-shaped flesh. She had these glasses on, like wineglasses with no stems.
“Retouch,” she said. But it was Mindy’s voice. “Topmost.”
Claudio awoke the next morning in a cold sweat. “What the fuck, now you’re ruining my sleep? I hate you!” he screamed to the imaginary Ms. Gaga.
Elmo called Claudio into his office for a sitdown later on that week.
“I’m worried about you,” Elmo barked. “Worried sick.” He didn’t sound worried. He sounded pissed, and spit when he spoke. “I hired you two months ago, and have watched you spiral into a friggin mess, son.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“You’re our youngest hire ever. I risked my ass hiring you, but I thought, what the hell, kid seems bright. Fresh out of business school. But fresh out of business school doesn’t mean shit if you’re crying in the bathroom at all hours of the day.”
“What is it? Is it the girl?”
“How long were you together?”
“Oh, give me a break,” said Elmo.
“I’m sensitive,” protested Claudio, voice climbing. “I’m a romantic. Once I dated a woman for a week, and it took me an entire year to get over her.”
“I don’t give a shit if you have a broken heart. My cat Sammycakes died last month, and I fucking loved my cat, you know? A dozen joy-filled years we shared. But I came to work and did my goddamned job just the same.”
“So buck up. This is your warning.”
“My warning?” Claudio said.
Elmo pointed to the door.
Claudio held in his tears for the rest of the workday. But after returning from the bathroom (he’d only let himself cry for one minute in the stall, timed on his cell phone) he saw someone had laid out a brand-new glossy Lady Gaga poster on his desk. Perhaps intended as a harmless office prank, it did not go over well.
“I hate you!” Claudio screamed, looking around at the alarmed faces and melting smiles of his coworkers. He picked up the poster and ripped it to tiny confetti pieces and threw it around him like a blizzard. “All of you! None of you understand!”
Elmo sent him home with a “final warning.” Sent him home this time via taxicab, because Elmo thought Claudio was “too batshit crazy to drive right now.”
Claudio told the cabbie everything. About Lady Gaga, Mindy, the Lady Gaga poster, Elmo, the Lady Gaga dream, everything. The cabbie was Shandra, an obese sass-talking woman with a red beehive. She stank like hairspray.
“See a counselor, boy, you are a mess,” she pronounced as she pulled up to his building, a high-rise.
“Mmm-hmm,” Shandra said. “No shame in it. People see counselors all the time.”
“Hell no. But I meditate, you know what I’m saying? I have a personal relationship with Buddha.”
“Thank you Shandra,” he said, and pressed a hundred dollar bill in her hand. He cleared his throat. “For everything. Would you care to come upstairs and join me for a mojita, perhaps a marguerito?”
“I am way too old for you, son,” she laughed.
“Lordy Lord.” She wiped her eyes, still laughing. “You have a good night.”
Mere days later, Claudio had the Gaga dream again. He woke up screaming into his pillow and hitting his mattress with his fist. How he despised that blonde naked harlot with the cheap melodies and the unspectacular vocals, that godawful siren creeping into his unconscious, speaking nonsense to him in dreams! What could it mean?
He took Shandra’s advice and called a counselor the next week. Not because he thought he needed counseling, but because he was going to lose his mind if he didn’t interpret the dream he’d had now three times. However his counselor Hank, a man with long girly eyelashes and a goatee, seemed to have other ideas.
“Holdon holdon holdon,” Hank said. “Before we delve into the dream, I’d like to get a little more of a sense of you, who you are.”
“Who I am doesn’t matter,” said Claudio. “You’re wasting precious time.”
Hank shook his head. “In order for me to know what something means, I need to contextualize it with personal information. Like, for example, you said you were raised primarily in boarding schools.”
“That has nothing to do with why I’m here.”
“Also, you said that you’d been working for VanGold pharmeceuticals for a few months, running an Inside Sales team. That’s a pretty serious job for someone your age.”
“Stop wasting my time,” said Claudio.
“You said, too, that in the last few months you bought a condo and had two girlfriends, one of which you lost your virginity to –”
“Just tell me about my dream!” Claudio shouted, standing up and pacing. “I’m paying you! I am paying you!”
Hank nodded slowly and gulped. “Okay. Please sit down. I’m sorry – I – I just don’t usually have clients who come in for one single session to – to interpret one single dream.”
Claudio sat in the chair and adjusted his stripy green and purple tie, and repeated the repeating dream.
Hank listened and stared into the air thoughtfully.
“Well?” Claudio demanded.
“Let me preface this by saying all dreams aren’t necessarily symbolic, or meaningful.”
“They’re just not.”
“What about this one?”
Hank took a deep breath and shifted his legs. “It – it sounds to me like, I don’t know – like maybe you’re attracted to this Gaga person.”
“Don’t make me vomit,” said Claudio. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Maybe you’re just – just a little, you know, lonely for human connection – you said she was naked, in the dream?”
“I would never have sex with Lady Gaga,” Claudio shouted. “Not in a million years, that talentless —”
“Okay,” said Hank, holding up his hands.
“I miss my girlfriend,” Claudio said. His throat hurt and his eyes teared up. “Her name was Mindy. We had sex almost eleven times.”
“Okay,” said Hank again.
Claudio cried for some time. Hank nodded at him and passed him tissues as needed. Then an egg timer went off and their session was over.
That night, finally, Mindy picked up the phone. Claudio called her from his bathroom over his nightly teeth-brushing, teeth-flossing, zit-popping rituals.
“Mindy!” he said, so surprised he spit toothpasty saliva all over the mirror. “Mindy, oh, thank you for answering, thank you!”
“This ain’t Mindy, motherfucker,” said a husky male voice. “This’s her boyfriend Sam. And if you ever call her again, I will come over and bitch-slap you so bad you’ll go cryin’ home to momma.” Click.
“Boyfriend?” Claudio said into the phone. “How can this be?”
Claudio called Mindy’s number again.
“What the fuck, you stupid fuck, did you not hear what I just said?” Sam yelled.
“But – what are you saying, she was cheating on me?”
“Stop calling her.”
“Or are you some new boyfriend? Just tell me that much. Is she there? Is she with you?”
“Could I speak with her for just one moment?”
“I will turn your fucking prettyboy face into hamburger if you ever call here again,” Sam screamed. He hung up.
Claudio sat on his leather couch and drank the last of his tequila. It had been his 21st birthday tequila, a present from Mindy. He felt okay until he saw you-know-who wearing a sequined bra and dancing on some awards show onscreen. Then he got up off the couch and threw the empty tequila bottle into his fancy TV. That somehow didn’t seem enough, so he hit the screen with the remote in his left hand, hit it, hit it, over, over, her face kaleidoscoping into a million flesh-colored pieces like a broken mirror, twenty-one years of hatred annihilating his newly acquired 56” flatscreen. His hand hurt, swollen, pink and cut. The plastic-glass was everywhere. Claudio laughed maniacally, because he knew he could buy another and another; and she would keep “dancing” and “singing” in her wacky garbage outfits on the TV; and he would keep breaking them. He would keep buying things and making things and healing things and loving things and breaking things too.
When all was done, the quiet was deafening. Claudio collapsed on the couch and watched the television’s skeleton. All he could think about was how high up his condo was – twentieth floor – and how he could jump and hit the ground and everything could be over. He thought about it long and hard. Nobody would miss him. His money, and his trust fund, all that, he could write a note saying “Donate to a good cause.” Philanthropic last moments. Mindy would cry to Sam, “I never knew him, I never really knew him, he was so generous.” He could kill himself right now. He really could. Just jump, and fall, and bam – forget. Forgotten by all. Sigh. But no. No he wouldn’t. At least, not today.
Faith Gardner lives in Oakland. Past publications, music she plays and other randomness can be found at faithgardner.com.