Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Diary of a Creep

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Diary of a Creep

Article excerpt

I'm a creep. I know this because people -- mostly but not always random strangers -- tell me so.

It happened by degrees, a series of imperceptible gradations, slow and steady, a sort of "Picture of Dorian Gray" in reverse, or rather, in the natural order, wherein the picture stays the same but the man degrades.

My problem isn't as luxurious as aging. I've had my summer, and don't begrudge the autumnal tumble of leaves or the crunch of frozen winter coming. And there's nothing wrong with me health-wise, at least not that I know of. I get over colds in a day and, while I practice my daily routine of martial arts, even come off as physically gifted. Yet there's obviously a corruption, a slow, unidentifiable toxin seeping into my life.

I'm a creep.

I know this because people -- mostly but not always random strangers -- tell me so. What sort of creep is significant, I think. I'm not the catcaller or the leerer, the public masturbator or the stalker. These deviants are creeps by choice; they live the creep lifestyle. Instead, I'm just a dude who looks the part, and it's amazing how much that affects my life.

Over the years -- I'm 39 -- my arms have grown too long, my thighs too thick, my barrel chest too beasty. As if to halt these things from imparting the appearance of strength, my wrists and hands have, at the same time, dwindled thin.

My hair, once caught up in a mass of thick dreadlocks, I recently sheared with a pair of $10 hair clippers, something I hoped would cut down on the creepiness factor, but only exacerbated it. I have volcano-ash dandruff, so I haven't gotten my new hair "shaped up," in the parlance of black barbershops, out of embarrassment. As I can't see the back of my head to give it a proper trim, a puff of hair is developing there. I could be said to have a slight mullet. And like a lot of journalists, I have what might be called a dismal sense of fashion.

But worse than anything else is my face, or more specifically, the skin there. The condition I have, the one that's grown more and more severe since a Christian Scientist girlfriend exposed me to a third-world brand of tuberculosis -- she subsequently refused to take antibiotics and died -- is called seborrheic dermatitis. Though it's probably the most important term in my life right now, I have to look up the spelling each time I type it. As I'm generally a compulsively correct speller, I assume that's the result of a mental block built around anguish.

All year long, but particularly in summer, the condition, which scientists think is either caused by a fungus or a yeast, but is essentially the result of an immune system kicked into overdrive, producing new cells pell-mell, causes my skin to peel away in big flakes. What the flakes leave behind on this dark-skinned black man are patches of skin missing their requisite melanin, the sallowness that takes its place making me as splotchy as a weather map. Sometimes when I have a flare-up I can fool myself into believing the effect is minimal, but the Northern Virginia community I live in is there to remind me it's not.

Living in a basement apartment as I do, I spend a lot of time writing in Arlington coffee shops. …

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