Most of you already know that I am, of course, a master packer. I brag about it so much that Daniel, Grant and Lary only travel with me on the condition I won't lecture them on the correct technique, which mystifies me. Why ever would you resent the good-intended advice of a friend when it comes to a well-packed suitcase?
"Jesus God! What is that? It looks like you put a handle on your house!" I shrieked at Grant the last time we flew to Los Angeles. He had stuffed his orange '70s Samsonite with probably a ga-jillion different outfits to choose from for our meeting with the head of HBO studios the next day, including his day-glo prison jumper the color of traffic cones.
"Shut up, bitch," he shrieked back.
"Seriously, I'm embarrassed to be seen with you," I said, and that's saying something, because I have proudly walked into hoity-toity art-gallery openings on Grant's arm while he wore his slinky black side-split "man skirt" with his big head decked out in two 'fro-puff pigtails. But this now, this is what he calls packing?
"I said, shut up, bitch," Grant bitched, "and help me lift this into the car."
I rolled my eyes and broke my spine doing as he asked. Standing beside him at the airport, I simply wanted to curdle into a crawling pool of pure mortification, as just the proximity of Grant's suitcase to me cast a pall over all the proud years I spent as a blue-collar airline scullery plebe. This proud past is how I learned to pack with the efficiency of an orphanage warden. Seriously, I can fit the contents of your grandmother's attic into a standard carry-on, and I am not exaggerating, probably.
The secret to master packing lies in understanding the line that separates the essential from the nonessential. Very important, because it is an undeniable fact that people think they need more than what they really need. So with this in mind, before a trip I usually assess everything I'm certain I can't live without -- such as my electric percolator and my collection of propane-powered curling irons -- then I cut that pile in half, then I pack half of that, and even then I always have twice as much as I need, especially if I am traveling with a baggage Sherpa like Grant, who brings his own specialty lavender-and-mint shampoo even though the small bottle of dish-soap grade battery acid the motel leaves for you in the shower works fine.
"Lemme borrow some of that super-wuss, $100-shit shampoo," I yelled at Grant from the bathroom of our room at the Beverly Laurel Motor Hotel. We shared a room this time, after I made Grant promise not to drag back any Mexican busboys to spend the night, because Grant goes a little crazy in LA, due to its closeness to Mexico coupled with Grant's famous hankering for Latin love monkeys.
Consider our last trip there. Grant and Lary ditched Daniel in San Diego on their way to Tijuana to pick up cheap pharmaceuticals (such as asthma medication -- not that either of them have asthma). There they wandered into a gay bar and Lary, not being gay (not for five more years at least, he says), left Grant's ass there all alone so he could see about getting a cheap-ass Mexican vasectomy for himself. The three of them got back to the motel all right, but by then Lary had acquired a whole other personality (in addition to the two he already has) and Grant wouldn't stop sniffing his fingers all night.
"Bitch, get your grubby-ass hands out of my suitcase," Grant said.
We were there on our third trip to LA. That's right; after passing through many gates to get to this point, HBO had finally granted us -- me and Grant -- an appointment with Carolyn Strauss, the head of original programming, the woman responsible for Six Feet Under and Sex in the City. Here we finally were, at the top of the mountain, there with the blessing of the other HBO gatekeepers that had allowed our passage. "Here we are," I thought. "Here we are, here we are, here we are!"
"Calm down," Grant said to me. "Look at me," he took my hand and commanded my gaze with those blue eyes like two tiny planet Plutos in the middle of his big, freckly-assed face. We were in our rented PT Cruiser that looked exactly like mine back in Atlanta, which I thought was hilarious because Grant hates my PT Cruiser and wouldn't be caught dead in it, yet here he was holding my hand in one right outside our motel as were about to head to the HBO studio for our most-important meeting so far.
So I was looking at him like he told me to, and I was expecting him to say something, but he didn't. He just kept holding my hand and looking back at me with that expression he has -- the one that says, "I got no job, no dreams, no aspirations; I'm the happiest man alive" -- until all of a sudden it hit me: the line that separates the essential from the nonessential. Right then I could see it as clear as day. HBO or no, my life is well-packed.
Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."