An Uncle’s Job is Never Done

by Ashley Yang-Thompson

I met the man who would become my Uncle through my unhinged dishwasher coworker who wanted us to star in his uncomfortably misogynistic Instagram horror movie.

I had just moved from New York City to a town of 7,000 that reminded me of an East Coast version of the seemingly white-washed, puritanical-on-the-outside, perverted-on-the-inside tourist trap I lived in as an angst-ridden nutcase teenager, and I was desperate for anything exciting to happen.

When I met my Uncle, his name was Jesse (he told me to put “Jesse Assface” into my contacts), and he looked like he was born out of a dystopian graphic novel. His small dark eyes were sunken into his improbably enormous cranium; his hair was long, wild and already streaked with grey; his physique ogre-ish; his pants were a foot too long; his beard was sticky with shawarma; he reeked of poorly digested faux cheese and his shirt was stained with the grease of a thousand microwavable pizzas.  

He looked like a caricature of extreme mental illness.
In other words, he looked the way I felt on the inside.

Jesse lives in his parent’s basement amid stacks of books by every author I’ve ever wanted to read: Susan Sontag, Arthur Rimbaud, John Ashbery, Marcel Proust, Henry James, and on and on along with thousands of comic books, CDs, LPs, Criterion Collection films and every horror blu ray DVD imaginable, and he has actually read, watched, and listened to most of it. Walking through his cultural subterranean labyrinth, I felt like Belle encountering the splendor of the Beast’s library.

I gave him my best constipated dinosaur impression (my way of immediately telling people what I’m all about) and we filmed a scene where I amputated his hand with dental floss (my idea) while he mimed jerking off (not my idea) and I left with eight of his books in my arms and, filled with distrust and mildly creeped out, didn’t talk to the busboy or him until months later, when I sunk into a deep, buried-alive-with-salt-rocks-in-my-chest depression—a despair which so thoroughly eviscerated my pride that I was willing to set aside any and all judgements and accept help from whomever was willing to lend a hand.

It was as if getting myself to write again was a matter of life and death, but I just couldn’t do it alone, so when I ran into Jesse (on the rare occasion that he left his cave other than to buy lobster bisque at Big Y with his mother’s credit card), I figured that since his sole preoccupation is reading and watching and listening (and ordering nineteen items at a time from his mom’s Amazon account) widely and voraciously, he must have something beautiful in his head to put to paper. I told him to meet me at the library the next day, and he did. And then I asked again and again and again. And he said yes every time. (He only says no to me once a month).

We found out that we have the same sick, twisted, off-color, socially annihilating sense of humor which one learns to suppress. I found out that he is among the sweetest, most gentle, unassuming creatures I have ever met. In college, I was surrounded by boys who talked the talk of feminism and then continued to talk over every woman in their vicinity. Jesse would never call himself a feminist, but around him I never have to defend myself or prove anything.

I was content to spend every day sitting across from Jesse (provided that he not sigh in my face with his hellish sourcream-and-cheddar-chip-infused-breath), but I didn’t want a romantic relationship, and I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea, so I named him “Uncle Fingers,” after a character from one of his alienating incest-themed freewrites. He enthusiastically adopted his new name, changing his Instagram to “realunclefingers,” wearing a pin on his shirt that said “uncle,” and referring to me as his “niece.”

Uncle Fingers is my neighbor, volunteer chauffeur, assistant, and muse. We have read dozens of books (and Hustler issues) sitting across from each other. We have walked up the hills beside his home countless times (we are working on a horror movie where I’m his killer personal trainer). He drove me to and from my 9pm - 2am library shift at the local college, and kept me company the entire time while reading horror novels. He drove me to a clothed lesbian tickle fetish gig an hour away in the middle of the woods when I was strapped for cash. We have listened to Einstein on the Beach, Knee Play V and sang along to Lana Del Ray thousands of times while he chauffeured me to gigs and exhibitions. When in doubt, I draw his face, which never ceases to lose its magic or mystery. I have drawn him hundreds of times. Just talking with Uncle Fingers is like a poem writing itself—it is as effortless and natural as a ripe fruit falling from a tree. He has modeled for me nude. He has modeled for me as a satanic sacrifice. I have photographed him sleeping. I have painted his face on his cheeseburger-sculpted gut. He has binged on chips beside me as part of my poetry readings. I have studied his pugs and practiced my naked-dog-girl performance art in his mom’s office. He has written avant garde 8 hour operas dedicated to me. He gave me the intellectual stimulation and emotional support I needed to start my weekly autobiographical zine, which has become the existential must of my life. He also came up with its name, WORM HOUSE: The Only Source of Real News in the World/Bringing Las Vegas to the Berkshires. (The original name he came up with was “Bloody Vagina.”)

Interview with Uncle Fingers