- Mental Health
Dave and Steve do Dumb Stuff.
This is silly.
“Hey man, cheer up.” John says. “You’ve got no reason to be so…down all the time.”
“I know.” I say.
“C’mon lets go see a movie.” John suggests.
“You go ahead dude.” I answer. “You should go.”
John leaves, letting the door swing closed behind him with a muffled thud.
The television blares, listing one product after another after another. Reasons I should buy special soap to clean my elbows with, reasons I should buy tickets to a movie starring a blonde haired fourteen-year-old girl who solves mysteries and plays in a kickass rock band, even reasons I should buy a pill to make my teeth turn extra white.
“Are you feeling down? Depressed? Do you feel like your missing that extra kick that used to make your life a sunshine happy go-go thrill ride?” An even baritone voice narrates over pictures of grassy fields and a woman wearing a yellow and white sundress on a swing.
“Ask your doctor about Euphorium. Euphorium is clinically proven to do things. Awesome things. Things with science. Euphorium was originally developed by NASA for SPACE. Outer Space™.”
The picture on the television changes again this time to a black man carrying a little light skinned (also black) kid with a curly half-Afro on his shoulders. Admittedly it looks fun.
“Euphorium should not be taken by people with allergies to any animals. Euphorium should not be mixed with alcohol, cocaine, penicillin, red dye number 4, or certain brands of bologna. Heroin is still ok. Euphorium has been shown to cause sudden pre-natal death in horses. Euphorium will make you feel off the wall crazy good, and thus should not be taken before operating heavy machinery. Euphorium may turn your blood into hydrochloric acid.”
I look at the number at the bottom of the screen and quietly memorize it. I have been feeling blue lately and anything that could help should be considered.
“Euphorium is not for everyone and you should consult your doctor before using it.”
Obviously I’m not going to do that.
“Euphorium. Happiness in a box.”
“Hey, Dave!” I shout to my brother. “Can you get me the phone?” I don’t hear an answer so I get up and go to the kitchen to grab the wall phone. Dave is slicing up a ham with an electric carver. He’s wearing a chef’s hat and has his earphones in. I can hear Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.” playing.
“Hey, bro.” He says.
“Dave.” I say curtly, nodding.
He looks at me expectantly for a few short moments until he figures out that the conversation is over and he goes back to sawing the pig.
I pick up the phone and bring it into the living room. I’m about to dial the number when I realize that I’m thirsty and I head back to the kitchen for a Dr. Pibb.
The Good Doctor goes down well and, my thirst satisfied, I head back to the living room and pick up the phone. I dial the number and after four rings a machine picks up and starts listing options and numbers to press.
“If you would like to hear information regarding Euphorium™ press 1. If you would like to contact our legal department press 4 than press 1 four times, count to thirteen hippopotamus, press 3, then press 4 twice. Wait for a click. When you hear the click repeat the process and hold your breath. If you would like to speak to a human operator press 2. If you wish to cance-”
I press 2 and I’m put on hold. Merrill Bainbridge’s song Mouth plays softly over the line. My eye catches the wall clock and I notice that the time is 4:56 pm.
“Hello this is Rachel speaking, are you interested in ordering Euphorium? Euphorium has been proven to make you feel like a kung-fu hotshot. Euphorium is the only FDA approved drug that is pre-packaged with a pair of brass knuckles. How may I help you this evening sir or madam?”
I bristle slightly at her high nasal voice. The smell of ham fills the entire house. I breathe in the essence of swine deeply, absorbing the natural determination that is at the very core of all pig-kind and I press on.
“Yeah, I’ll order two boxes.”
“I’m sorry sir, but Euphorium doesn’t come in boxes.”
I absorb this piece of information and even though the uselessness of it annoys me, I cope with this fact and move ahead; ultimately a stronger and more well balanced person.
“Well I’ll order two …containers? Two whatever. I’ll take two.” I say.
“Individually wrapped, hand crafted basket weavings.” She says, ignoring me.
“Ok.” I say, then pausing to think about this, I can’t help but ask “Really?”
“Really, what sir?” She replies. I can feel her twirling her hair and chewing gum through the phone line. I know that this is what she’s doing as she talks to me.
“Each pill comes in an individually wrapped hand crafted basket weaving? This is…” I’m fumbling, grasping for words to express my puzzlement, “…actually what I’m going to receive in the mail?”
“Yes sir, we at SBForever Pharmaceuticals take great pride in our shipping.” From the tone of her voice I come to understand that this is a company wide truism.
“Ok.” I say. “Ok, I can…deal with that. I’ve looked at the situation and I’m strong enough to deal with an individually wrapped handcrafted basket weaving.” I say, straining with effort to spit out every word.
“That’s fantastic sir.” Rachel replies, sighing.
She takes my information, name, credit card, etc. I hang up and fall asleep to the gentle sound of high-grade steel sawing through pork.
Cold and Late.
I wake up and it’s late. The television screen is playing something in black and white. I think it’s the Andy Griffith show. I see little Ron Howard scampering about like a little red headed dandelion, “Gosh pa.” He says.
“Hey aunt Bea, you wanna whip us up some confederate style grits?” Andy asks, leaning back in his kitchen chair, his lip affixed to a bottle of Wild Turkey.
“Kiss my rebel ass Andy dear.”
My eyes have somehow closed themselves again and I’m not sure if I’m waking up or just coming to my senses, but the chill from the open window distracts my attention and I turn my slumped body towards the offending gust of frigid wind. An image of a dancing penguin, sharp beaked and terrible waltzing with an ice sculpture of an Eskimo princess, gracefully gliding across a frozen lake on hooked venomous flippers flashes across my worn and tired gaze. I burp and scratch my stomach as I rise to the challenge of the open window.
“That’s a little weird.” I say. I make a note to myself to check if Penguins have venomous flippers.
Standing at the windowsill, straddling my brother Dave’s fichus plant, I happen to chance upon the shadow of an animal peaking around the corner of my neighbor’s garage. From the size of the shadow I would have to surmise that the animal itself was of an immense girth. The snow outside creates an atmosphere that reminds me of what Siberia would be like if they had homes that weren’t encased by high walls with machine gun wielding guards affixed atop them. It’s cold.
My breath makes a fogged blank canvas of the pane of glass in the window. I write Dave is a tool and eats his own shit!!!, gently tracing my finger over the silvery frosted glass, elegantly curling the S at the end of eats, and sharply etching the crosses of the lower case t in shit.
The shadow looms heavily still, clearly violating my neighbor’s trash bin with the impudence of Eminem and the ferociousness of a Bengal Tiger. I almost lean out my window to shout, “Hey, cut it out.” Or possibly, “Hey you shouldn’t do that.” But the thought crosses my mind that the intruder may in fact be either Eminem or a Bengal Tiger.
Worse yet Eminem riding a Bengal Tiger. And he’d have to be high out of his mind to be rooting through my neighbor’s trash bin. The tiger also would be high.
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “A Tiger would never let itself be ridden. A tiger is an untamed wild beast.” I rub my chin, deeply in thought. I come to a final, inevitable conclusion. “No, this whole story is full of holes.” I say, sighing. “It’s probably just a fisher cat.”
I sit and watch the sun come up, observing the receding night with a sense of incompleteness that fades into hunger as breakfast time rolls around.
Still Cold, but more Hateful.
Breakfast fades into midmorning with the grace of a Greco-Roman Olympic wrestler trying to screw a giraffe in the mouth. The radio plays nothing but thinly disguised euro- dance-blues-synth-rockabilly, for three hours from 11 to 2 and I’m listening to it in the background as I count the dots on the ceiling. The day passes in its own way, languishing from moment to moment and freezing the fertility out of my balls. It’s still too cold.
Eventually the tension I’ve accrued from sitting on the couch and drinking Jack Daniels, traced with a powerful hypnotic tranquilizer (that I’m prescribed for extremely legitimate reasons) for five days proves to be too much and I am forced to haul my bloated ass outside to get some exercise.
It’s so fucking cold out here. I’m only wearing a thin long sleeved green collared shirt and a pair of ripped Wranglers Jeans. There is nothing I hate more than cold and I can literally feel the icy fist of old man winter as he reams me over and over. I fantasize about meeting frosty the snowman right now so I could shove his stupid hat up his ass and lure him into a sauna. I would start a fire on his fucking mouth with those shitty coals he calls a smile.
I somehow make it to my car and immediately turn the heat up, which results in a torrent of arctic wind forcing its way into my brain through my left nostril in a smooth streamlined jet of pure concentrated air. I turn off the air and wait for the car to warm up. I wish I owned warmer clothes.
I see that somebody has spray painted “Hammer Time” in bright blue on the Stop sign at the corner of my street. “Clever.” I say aloud, my teeth chattering. The street is completely deserted. It’s too cold for the kids to play outside and I guess everyone else is already where they want to be.
Johnny on the Spot.
My cell phone buzzes and I pick it up without looking to see who it is.
“Hey, Stevey baby, boobey, beebey, bobby, bibby, bibbidy bobbidy boo.” It’s John, my friend and occasional roommate. He smokes crystal meth pretty much every day, but he’s trying to keep it a secret, so me and Dave just pretend not to notice.
“Hey, John.” I say. “What’s up?”
“Not much kid,” he says hastily, “Not too much at all. I’m just stranded a little.”
I look out the window of my car and see a couple of bums sharing a bottle of vodka and singing something that I can’t hear over my radio. My heat is starting to work and the frozen tundra that has been my head for the last few minutes is beginning its long trek back to normality.
“Where are you?” I ask.
“Well, that’s the thing.” He says, loudly lighting a cigarette. “It’s kind of far away.”
“How far?” I ask.
“Well…” a short pause in which I think about saying I’ll call him back and leaving him hanging but loyalty somehow wins out and I stay on the line. “Pretty far.”
“O.k.,” I say accepting that I may have a long drive in my near future. “How far is pretty far.”
“About as far as France.” He says. “So…like however far France is from where we like…usually are? That’s about …where I am.”
I nod, taking this info in. “So you’re in France?” I ask.
“Actually I’m in Sweden.” He says. “I’m just saying it’s about as far as France is from where you are. I mean basically it’s not like it matters where in Europe I actually am. It’s not like it makes the trip any easier or harder. From like a wider perspective man.” He finishes his sentence and takes another clearly audible drag on his cigarette.
“O.K.” I say. “So what exactly do you want me to do about this?”
“Well, I don’t have any money.” He says timidly.
“Uh-huh, that’s kind of a given.” I respond.
“And also I have…maybe one other pair of clothes. Definitely not… any more than two.”
“O.K.” I say again.
“So obviously I’m going to be stuck here for awhile with no money and only one pair of clothes if nobody can …bail me out of this jam.”
“Uh-huh.” I say. “But what do you, John, want me, Steve, to do about this?”
“I need you to fly out here and get me and bring money. And clothes.”
I turn this thought over in my mind for a second. It’s not all that unpleasant sounding of an offer. “Really?” I ask, curious. “This is really what you think the best way of handling this situation is? You want me to fly out and meet you in Sweden.”
A short pause. “Yeah.” He finally answers.
I sigh and rub the bridge of my nose. “John, I just saw you yesterday. How the hell did you get to Sweden?” I ask.
“Umm, a place called airports? It’s called Air travel technology Steve. Try and keep up.” He says mockingly.
“That’s…not really what I meant.” I say, unsure of what I in fact did mean.
“Steve.” He says.
“John you can’t just go off to Sweden. You realize this? John do you know that you can’t just run off to Sweden?”
“What are you talking about Steve?” John asks, clearly annoyed at my ignorance. “Of course I can go to Sweden. We have peaceful relations with Sweden. There’s no travel embargo against Sweden, Steve. I can go to Sweden.”
“John.” I say.
“It’s called Free will Steve.”
“John,” I say again. I decide: What the hell?
“All right, John I’ll…fly out to meet you. I’m bringing Dave. Just hang on for a little while all right? Just hang on.”
“All right.” He says. “Just hurry up. It sucks here. The Swedish language is a horrible thing for someone to have to listen to all day.”
“Ok.” I say.
“It’s almost unbearable. They sound like their trying to talk backwards.” He says, sounding tired now.
“I’m hanging up John.” I say. “I’ve received your distress call and I’m hanging up.”
“Nobody hear thinks my Swedish Chef impression is funny. They don’t even get it.”
I hang up.
“Where are we going to get the money for tickets?” Dave asks after I’ve filled him in on the details of John’s problem.
“I don’t have any money for that kind of thing,” he reiterates. “Do you?”
I scratch my chin and try and adopt a thoughtful looking façade, but in truth I’m thinking about the theme from Ducktales. “No.” I say.
“Listen, I want to fly out and save John from Swed…Swedish…Swedenism?” He’s boggled.
“Yeah,” I say shrugging. “I think its Swedenism.”
“It sounds wrong though.” He says, looking down thoughtfully then putting forth, “How about just Swedishness?” He asks, unsure.
“Go with it.” I say decisively.
“Ok,” He says. “I want to save John from Swedishness just as much as you, but we have no way of getting from point A to point B.”
“Right,” I say again adopting the scratch my chin style of fake thoughtfulness. “Point B.”
“Frankly, I don’t know what we should do.” Dave admits, sighing as he crumples limply to the couch.
“Well, maybe if you didn’t spend all your time sawing through pig-hide, you’d have some god damn money.” I shout for no reason.
“You don’t even have a job.” He retorts. “I work my ass off 50 hours a week while you sit and drink beer on the couch all day.”
“The house smells like a pig society you son of a bitch!” I scream.
“Jesus, Steve, we need to think about how we’re going to save Johnny. We don’t have time to argue.”
I disagree. Having weighed my discomfort caused by Dave’s ham sawing against John’s misfortune I find that the urgency is stacked in my favor. “Every dream I have is about snouts and curly tails.” I say. “I should poison you with mercury you bastard.”
“Steve, shut up.” Dave yells. “I’m trying to think.”
“Yeah,” I agree. “I bet the perpetual ham odor makes it kind of hard to concentrate. I bet that must be really annoying.”
“Steve, for the love of Christ, think of Johnny. He’s alone in a foreign country and he’s scared. He’s counting on us to help him. We need to think.”
I scoff derisively, something I very rarely get to do. “You know as well as I do that he’s got whores all over him.” I say. “And he’s scared because that’s what meth does to you, it freaks you the fuck out man. Besides he sounded pretty calm on the phone.”
“Yeah, but what about when he runs out of meth and whores?” Dave asks, narrowing his eyes triumphantly. “What then Steve? What then?”
Damn, I think, feeling foiled. “That’s…an interesting point.” I say. “He…he did say he was out of money.” I admit.
Dave’s eyes go wide. “You mean he’s already run through all the meth and whores? John’s not going to be ok without his meth and whores, Steve. You know how much he relies on those two things. Are you telling me that he’s alone and scared in a country without his two-a-day whore requirement? He simply won’t survive.”
“Well,” I say, looking my brother firmly in the eye. “I guess we better get brainstorming then.”
“Thank you.” He says mock gratefully.
A pause where we don’t say or do anything.
Then I say, “First take a shower, you smell fucking awful.” It felt good. I’m glad I said it.
Dave Is Also a Jerk.
“Ok.” I say.
“Ok…ok what?” Dave asks me.
I unwrap my Trix Yogurt Popsicle, and throw the plastic out the passenger window.
“I…do not know.” I say, eyes narrowed. “It seemed like a good time to say something.”
“Ok” Dave says, rolling his eyes.
A moment passes and I cannot resist. “Ok what?” I ask.
He doesn’t say anything.
Miles go by in silence. “Where are we going?” I ask.
Dave doesn’t say anything. He just chews his Wrigley’s sugarless spearmint. We pass a homeless shelter. Bums in tattered rags crowd around a trash barrel fire and sip on various mulligan stews.
“I asked you a question idiot.” I say.
“I heard you.” Dave answers.
“Then answer it.”
We come to a red light and I notice that the car next to us is chock full of black people. Not really the tough kind; more the suburban transplant kind.
Dave remains silent.
“Dave, answer my god damn question.”
He flinches, annoyed at my voice I think.
“All right Dave.” I say. “You’re going to regret that.
I roll down my window and catch the eye of the father of the black family who’s driving the car. It’s a really nice car, like a silver SUV type thing. I make the international “roll down your window” sign. He complies.
“Hey.” I say.
“YOU’RE A BUNCH OF DUMB FUCKING NIGGERS.” I yell.
The man grits his teeth and looks extremely angry. “My name is Dave Leopold McManus.” I say.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Dave asks, looking frantic.
“Where are we going Dave?” I ask.
“I’m so sorry.” Dave is yelling, trying to catch the eye of the black man.
I hear someone else in the black people car laughing. Then the father breaks into a smile and looks towards us. He shoots us the bird.
“I’m not a racist, I swear!” Dave is yelling. A pained expression is ingrained on his face.
“He’s a total racist.” I say, casually. “We both are.”
The light turns green and the black family car speeds off, the sounds of deep laughter emanating from it and leaving an echo as it fades into the distance.
“You’re an asshole.” Dave says.
“Shut up.” I say.
“You’re sociopathic.” Dave says, staring straight forward. “Theres something wrong with you.”
“Just drive.” I say. “Wherever we’re going.”
“You know where we’re going Steve.” Dave yells, completely exasperated.
“I have no idea where you’re driving to.” I answer. “The turn to the pawn shop was like five miles ago.”
Oh yeah, we decided to pawn some of Johnny’s shit to pay for the plane tickets.
“Oh my god.” Dave says. “Why didn’t you say something? You complete son of a bitch.”
“I figured you knew.” I say, savoring the flavor of my Popsicle.
“Did it occur to you that maybe I did not know, when I missed the turn and didn’t know?” He asks, eyes bugging out.
“Yeah.” I say. “That’s why I asked you where we were going. Remember? You should maybe try answering questions sometime.”
“Fundamentally wrong.” He says, emphasizing the word fundamentally. “There is something fundamentally wrong with you.”
We drive in silence again. Dave makes a U-turn at the rotary split.
“I can’t believe you called those people niggers, Dave.” I say.
“THAT WAS YOU!” He yells. He has officially turned purple.
“That’s not what they think.” I say. “Remember how I said that I was you?” I ask.
“That’s all I’m saying.” I answer.
“Just because you say that you’re me doesn’t actually make you turn into me.” Dave says. “I was there, I remember you saying it.” He adds.
“Yes Dave, but how will history remember it?”
He turns to me with a disgusted look on his face. “You’re fucking pathological dude.” He says. “Path-o-logical.”
“Whatever.” I say. “You missed the turn again idiot.”
The Soviet Menace
The pawnshop is this old rusted out shack called “Yogis Pawnatorium” with a picture of a realistic looking bear on the door. The damp smell of cheese and vodka hits me full in the face and I scrunch my face up in involuntary disgust. Dave reacts in a similar fashion and actually closes his eyes and steels himself against the odor before proceeding farther into the store. There’s nobody manning the desk but theres a bottle of Wild Turkey vodka sitting half full next to a large glass on the counter.
“It smells like Russia.” I say, absent-mindedly perusing the stack of VHS movies on the spinning rack near the entrance.
“You have no way of knowing what Russia smells like.” Dave retorts. He’s pulling his shirt up to his nose, but it’s one of those tight trendy hipster shirts so it doesn’t even cover one nostril.
“Yeah.” I say. “Probably bad though. Probably worse than our kitchen. The Pigistry.”
“Would you shut up about the damn ham?” Dave says quickly turning to me. “There was a fucking sale ok? I had coupons.”
“But why buy all of it Dave?” I ask, pleadingly. The smell in the shop increases as I approach the front desk.
“I bought three pounds of ham, Steve. Three pounds. It’s not even that much.”
“You son of a bitch that’s a lot of ham.”
“You love ham!”
“I don’t love being immersed in it, Dave. I don’t want the total ham experience. A little on Easter, that’s fine.”
Our argument is interrupted by a sallow cheeked, damp looking, grey skinned man wearing a red cardigan sweater who suddenly appears, without catching our notice, at the front counter. “You want pawn something? Show what you bring.” His accent is Russian and you can feel the oppression and years of soviet rule seeping out of it like deep grey bile.
I can’t move because I’m frozen by his sweater. A picture of a mustached man is knitted onto it in picture perfect style. I cannot tear my eyes away from it.
“Is that…Mario?” I ask, bewildered by the subtle green coloring of the hat on the mustached sweater mans knitted head. “Why …” I stammer unsure of what to say, “I just…have so many questions.” I finally spit out. “I didn’t know they had Nintendo in Russia.
“Is not Mario.” The Russian says. “Is great leader, man of steel.”
“Superman doesn’t have a mustache.” I say, and then pausing philosophically “I guess… he could grow one though.” I’m not sure if Superman can grow facial hair.
“Dave,” I shout back to my brother who has timidly decided to “check out the CD’s” instead of face the Soviet Menace. “Can Superman grow a mustache?”
“Yeah.” He says. “I think he shaves with his laser vision.”
“Huh.” I say, rubbing my chin. “Laser vision.”
“Is not superman.” Interrupts the Russian, without emotion. “Is Stalin. Great Leader. Man of Steel. Kill many of my people. Is great man.”
Dave slowly shifts from foot to foot and makes his way to where The Russian and me are talking business. He puts his arms on the desk and pushes a blonde curl out of his face. “We have a bunch of shit to sell you in our car.” He says, ignoring me completely. “A TV, a Guitar. Some other odds and ends. You interested?”
The Russian nods and pours a swish of Vodka into his dirty glass. He downs it in one gulp and says, “Am interested.”
We go out to the car and lay out all of Johns crap for The Russian to inspect. I take special care to put Johns bright orange guitar in the middle as a center piece. My phone buzzes and I answer it without checking the ID.
“Good morning.” I say.
“Hey, Steve it’s John again.”
“Listen John,” I say holding up the ‘one second’ finger to The Russian who nods and really seems not to care. “We’re pawning all your stuff, I’ll call you back.”
I hang up and The Russian begins to shuffle from item to item quickly going from one to another. His uneven stride is causing him to go in a zigzag, and I’m starting to think that what I had originally pegged as his monosyllabic, taciturn nature shaped by decades of Soviet oppression is actually just blind drunkenness.
“Is shit.” The Russian says. “Am not interested. Is Pawnshop not shit dumpster.”
Dave opens his mouth in naïve protestation. “C’mon there has to be something you want here. Not even the guitar?”
“Shit dumpster?” I ask.
“Guitar is shit. Not interested.”
“Oh c’mon man. We need the money.” Dave says, impassioned.
“Is a shit dumpster like…a septic tank? Shit dumpster…”
“I not in business to feed your faggot drug habit. Is Pawnshop not charity.”
“We’re not drug addicts.” Dave yells. “C’mon man.”
“Shit Dumpster… Maybe… it makes sense in Russian.” I say.
Dave whips his head around at me, “Can you at least pretend like you care?”
“I do.” I say.
“Go away.” The Russian says, turning back to his shop. “Methadone clinic across town. Faggot club also. Sell worthless shit to faggot drug friends.”
“We’re not drug addicts.” Dave yells, stamping his foot. “C’mon man.”
“Dude, we’re not faggots either.” I add. “Why would you not mention that?”
“Shut up Steve.”
“Dude, tell him we’re not faggots.” I say, and then quickly raising my voice before The Russian disappears into his shop I yell again, “Mister, We’re not faggots!”
“Well, now what are we supposed to do?” Dave asks.
We’re back home on the couch brainstorming the shit out of this thing but we can’t think of any way to get the money.
“I dunno man.” I say.
“Johnny’s going into withdrawal right now alone in Europe, and we can’t help him.”
“I know dude.” I say. “It sucks.”
“There has to be some way that we can get the money.” He says. “But what? What?”
I pop the top off a beer and put my feet up. “I don’t know man.” I say. “We’ll think of… something.”
“Well we need to think of it fast.” He says, sighing. “Gimme a beer.”
I throw him one and he catches it pretty nicely in his right hand. “We can’t just,” he takes a sip of his beer and swallows, following it up with a satisfied exhalation. “Let him rot. Man that tastes good.”
“Isn’t it fantastic?” I ask, brightening up. “It’s new. Tasmanian Jungle Fever.” I say.
Dave takes a long sip. “God, that’s incredible.”
“Yeah, I know.” I agree.
We both just sit and drink for a little while, enjoying the flavor.
Sluuurp “That … is really good.” Dave says.
Sluuurp “Yeah, right?” I answer.
Sluuurp “Where did you get this?”
Sluuurp “Never seen it there before.”
Sluuurp “Yeah I told you… Sluuurp, it’s new.
I wake up to the incandescent glow of the couch-side table lamp, with a headache and a yellow sticky note taped gingerly to my forehead.
“Went to work, think of a plan. –Dave.”
I crumple the note and throw it on the ground next to the empty beer cans. My cell phone says that it’s noon and that I have three missed calls. The sour odor of man must and alcohol sticks to me like a shadow and my eyes feel like I slept with them wide open.
I get up and head upstairs to the shower. The water feels good and along with two Advil, it serves to ease my hangover considerably. I stand against the steams of the shower and let the hot water hit me full on in the face until it starts to turn cold. As I’m drying off I notice in the mirror that I have a long purple scab slashed diagonally across my left side, and I can’t think for the life of me where it came from. It looks almost like an animal had ripped a single claw across my ribcage.
“What the hell is that?” I ask aloud to the air. The air doesn’t answer.
I close my eyes tightly and shake my head convulsively, putting the scratch mark out of my mind. I floss my teeth and a bit of blood is in the spit that I shoot through my teeth into the sink afterwards. I militantly don’t care about this and yet I commit the image of the lightly colored blood and spittle splattered on the yellow porcelain of the sink.
Shave, adding my orangey-brown whiskers to the skank pile in the sink, and then do the brushing proper; further skanking up the mess of fluids and hair that circle the drain.
I walk naked from the bathroom to my closet and I pick out a tan sheepskin coat that my father left me and set it aside on a chair while I change into a pair of brown creased corduroys and a light brown t-shirt. It’s an earth tone ensemble that I’m strangely proud to have assembled and as I look in the mirror I’m pretty sure that I’ve pretty much embodied the spirit of hipness in this postmodern age, where being hip is less hip than not being hip. Either you get that shit or you don’t and as I don’t get it that makes me get it even more. I think this all within the span of a millisecond upon seeing my reflection. “Very hip.” I say, looking myself in my own slate blue eyes. “Very now.”
A phone call. An answer. “Lo.” I say, cringing from a residual headache throb that pops up simultaneously upon picking up the phone.
“Hey buddy, what’s up?” It’s Marc, an old friend of mine from high school who I’ve kept in touch with for simply arbitrary reasons. “I’m shooting a porno. You should come over.”
“Yeah man. C’mon it’s gonna be great. I got a tripod. Sweet set up, and like these floodlight…things. A boom mic too.”
I furrow my brow involuntarily and mull this over. “Really?” I ask again.
“Yeah buddy. It’s like…tax deductible too. It probably is tax deductible.”
“I don’t think shooting a porno is tax deductible Marc.” I say. “I …don’t think that’s how that works.”
“Yeah all right. But do you want to come over?”
Despite myself I actually really do want to go over and see this. I hang up the phone and make my way to the car and start driving towards Marc’s house.
Along the way I see a bit of the city. Marc lives in an apartment with Peter Rhodes and some other dude who bastes chickens professionally.
Peter Rhodes opens the door and he smiles at me and kind of yanks me inside with a headlock.
“Hey it’s fuckin’ Steve-eeeey.” Peter yells.
“Hey.” I say, pushing him off but laughing. “What the fuck are you hugging me for dude?”
“What?” Peter exclaims. “Is there a no hug rule? Five feet from ya all the time now?
Is that it?”
He grasps me even tighter and I’m not fighting him off but I’m like pretty obviously
annoyed and he almost lifts me off the ground.
“A dude can’t hug another dude anymore? Did all Dudes decide that from this day forward no dude on dude hugging would be tolerated? Because I’ve heard nothing of that sort.”
“No man” I say. “But… why are you …hugging me? “I mean why specifically me? Theres like four… other dudes right there that you haven’t even greeted yet. And its weird anyway ...So just for both our sakes stop.”
“Yeah...ok.” He says. “Why are you like…breaking it down? I mean I think maybe your splitting hairs here.”
“Ok dude.” I nod. “I’m sorry dude that I got all heated but c’mon dude, c’mon.”
“All right dude.”
There’s a pause in the conversation where we just walk for little and stare at the ground or at a passing bit of litter rolling off the stoop in the low city breeze.
“Still dudes?” He asks looking at me for the first time directly.
“Yeah, bro.” I say earnestly. “Totally still Dudes.”
We walk into the living room. Marc did in fact set up this room up to shoot a porno. Lights are spread around strategically. A high-tech looking video camera on a tripod is pointed in the direction of the bed. The couch is done up with a spider man towel draped over the spot where the performers are going to be squishing against each other.
Marc is standing in the opposite corner from me and he’s talking with three other guys in matching blue uniforms that all say “TeensThatFuckTopayForTheirAbortions.com” in big Purple letters emblazoned on the arms and chest of the shirt.
“Oh my god Marc what the fuck?” I say shocked by the name of their living room that had been turned into a smutatarium. This is now the porn room and it horrifies me.
“What?” He asks. “The name? Are you freaked about the name? That’s it right?”” He says nodding his head understandingly. “I know its pretty…shocking stuff.”
I almost feel like I’m going to throw up and I’m looking around the room to see if theres somebody with a gun or something that’s ready shoot me if I threaten to rat out their operation.
“Don’t kill me.” I say. “I know you can see that I’m fucking …un-able to cope with this situation and I know you can see that I’m going to back out.but-“
Marcs like “I’m not going to kill you. The name is just a name dude. Yeah, those girls aren’t actually pregnant we just say they are.” He’s cleaning his buck knife and sitting back on a black wood chair that’s leaned against the window near the bed. “It’s a gimmick. And even if I really were doing that, it wouldn’t be illegal. So I wouldn’t actually have to kill you if you ran away and started telling people because we aren’t actually criminals. Were just morally repugnant.”
“Right.” I say arching my eyebrow standing dynamically. “But… why the jackets?”
“Yeah, why do your crewmembers I mean…” I say sort of waving my arm like a wand at the various crewmembers. “I noticed that they have matching jackets.”
Marc shrugs hands me a beer. “Yeah. They have like a…club or something. They wear jackets, it’s just like… this thing…that they do. I don’t know I’m just like whatever. Cool they wear jackets.” He looks at me “Ya know?”
“Yeah sure.” I say. “But I mean the name… you know…all right I mean theres probably an audience for this…but to actually… make the jacket that tells the world that you are involved in this…”
“Yeah.” Marc says. “But you know…whatever. I mean I think just one guy made like a lot of them and handed them out or something. It’s not like we’re a bunch of guys that united through our love of jerking off thinking about women being subjugated so low that their forced to fuck some guy and have a video of it posted over the internet, just so they can pay for an abortion.” He Looks away for a second acknowledging a man entering the room in a red and blue sashed silken robe with the emblem of the United States Marine Corp sewn across the back of it.
“C’ept for that guy. He says, “Anyway whatever it’s going to be awesome, you’ll see in like… 45 minutes.” He checks something off on his clipboard and looks up at me, directly into my eyes. “Go mingle man. It’s a fuckin party.”
“Marc I’m feeling a little uncomfortable.” I say. “This is a little strange for me.”
“Yeah.” He says rolling his eyes. “It’s a porn set idiot. It’s sleazy. You’re supposed to feel a little uncomfortable. That’s like your conscience or something but it goes away. Trust me, take a Valium or something. Don’t be all sketchy, all right?”
I shake my head agreeably but I’m confused. “Ok.” I say. “By the way I brought Peter.” I say, motioning to Peter who’s accepting some type of illegal substance from one of the crewmembers and then high fiving another enthusiastically.
Then shaking my head, attempting to clear my thoughts I remember that Peter was already here when I arrived, had in fact greeted me at the door. “I mean…” I say.
Marc looks up at me casually. “You all right?” He asks. “I mean…you gonna make it?”
“Uh-huh.” I say. “This is messed up man.”
“Dude, People get off to this stuff, there are people out there that get off to very weird things.”
A girl walks out from where I guess she was hanging out in the kitchen wearing a blue cotton robe. She’s smoking a cigarette, which she stubs out on her tongue and flicks out a window that is slightly ajar. She looks young, maybe sixteen with light almost white blonde hair framing a smooth pale face dotted with emerald green eyes that shine.
“Who is that?” I ask Marc.
“That is Jessie Green, or as she likes to be called professionally Miss Stormy Mcphee.”
“Jesus.” I say looking at her youthful face and delicate features. “Is she even old enough to be doing this?”
“Ummm… Yes.” Marc answers.
“Ok.” I say. “All right I’ve thought this over and I can’t stay here while you do this Marc. I have to go now.”
“What’s your hurry?” Marc asks. “Why not stay and watch a little?”
I wipe a dollop of sweat from my brow and blink trying to clear my vision.
“Listen…I can’t…I mean…” I stammer and then suddenly remember the money issues I’m having with the plane tickets and Johnny being stuck in Sweden all alone. It’s a pretty good excuse I decide. “I have to raise money man.” I say, backing away towards the door. “Me and Dave…we need plane tickets and…like I should really…be working on that.”
Marc has been studying his clipboard as I’ve been talking and now he says “Money?” without even looking up at me. “You need money? I can lend you some money. Money is not a problem dude.”
I cease my backing up and my posture straightens out considerably as I process this new and very relevant information. “Really?” I ask. “You’ll… lend me the money?”
“Yeah, sure.” He says, lighting a short, fat, hand rolled cigarette. “How much do you need?”
“Umm…” I say unsure. I decide to hazard a guess at how much a plane ticket to Sweden would actually cost and I say, “2000.” I figure it couldn’t be more than a thousand each.
“All right man.” Marc says, taking a puff of his cigarette. “Come by tomorrow around eleven in the morning. You’ll get your money.”
I stare at him, trying not to seem suspicious but confused as to why Marc would lend me such a large amount of money without asking why I need it. “Ok.” I say cautiously.
“Right, no worries man.” He says swiveling his chair around. The set is all ready. The lights are pointed just right and the two stars are situated on the couch ready to perform. Marc picks up a blue megaphone and puts his hand up to ask for silence.
Back when we were kids, Dave and me, we would go out to the hills on the other side of town and we’d fly kites. Half the time I couldn’t get mine off the ground but Dave could always get his aloft and spinning through the sky blue wind like a shark in the water. He’d run as far as he could and as fast as his legs could go, yelling back at me to hurry up and get mine up.
I still remember the hill the way it was before they pounded it into the ground and built a strip mall there, with a huge Mattress Giant and a K-mart. I don’t recall every rock or crevice, and nothing in my mind about the actual physical appearance of the hill sticks in my minds eye, but I remember that it took seemingly forever to roll down it.
Which is why it was so satisfying when Dave pulled that bullshit kite thing again and I pushed his ass down the hill and he smacked his head on a rock at the bottom.
“Yeeeya bitch.” I remember screaming.
This scene replays itself over and over in my head as I try to relive happier times, attempting to put the thought of Johnny shivering alone, seriously withdrawing, with not a single whore around to comfort him. Europe must be a cold and lonely place for a degenerate, cotton headed dumbfuck like John.
I drive over to the strip mall now, where the hills used to be and I wander around the K-mart, killing time until Dave gets off work and I can tell him about Marc being generous enough to lone us his money, dirty and most likely ill-gotten as it may be. Passing a girl, possibly half Mexican, all pierced up, rings in her lips and her ears and her nose, holding an orange woven purse that’s half draped around her slender arms, I think about whether or not if she pulled the ring out a jet of air would come through the little hole. A third nostril if you will, pin sized and beautiful.
My attention is ripped from the pierced girl to another girl, whom it turns out is actually like some sort of half girl-half man, lightly bearded, small breasted …person. He/she is pushing a cart stacked high with boxes that say, keep refrigerated, and because from far away this girl actually looked pretty banging, I smile at first but upon seeing what I think are the beginnings of a poorly proportioned mustache, my fight or flight response almost kicks in and the primal search that threatens to overtake my senses scans the area for a club or some sort of stone edge hunting implement. Calmly, I count to ten, do the breathing exercises, and wait the moment out.
The panic slowly abates and I wish to god I had some sort of tranquilizer on me, a Xanax, a Klonopin, an Ativan, anything to ease the process. My fondness for prescription drugs however has not gone un-noticed by my family and friends and while I was able to escape the last intervention by executing a picture perfect Reverse Irish Back Breaker on my great aunt Karen, the hassle of perfecting a wide variety of deadly wrestling maneuvers merely to keep people off my back is a bit much. Still I need my fucking pills.
“Hey, mistel you want flee manicule?” I hear the shrill foreign sounding voice ask from about a yard behind me and I turn to see a squat middle aged Asian woman sitting at a table, with various cosmetic tools scattered about the surface.
“Umm…like, what?” I ask. “I don’t think I…want that.”
“Manicule, manicule.” She says, smiling at me and gesturing wildly for me to approach her which I inexplicably do. “Fire yoll fingels.”
“My…fingels?” I ask. “I don’t think I even have any fingels. Are those like…a frozen food item? Like a… mini pizza?”
“No, no, no.” She says, holding up her fingers and a tan sandy surfaced nail file. “I fire yoll fingels fol you.”
“Oh.” I say, finally comprehending. “No, that’s ok.”
“C’mon.” She says smiling enticingly. “Velly Cheap. Rook good.”
“Why do you talk like that?” I ask. “I mean just …talk normal.”
She scowls at me and says something in Chinese or Vietnamese or like…Laotian. Honestly, I don’t care. Asia? Pshhhh.
“This my second ranguage.” She says. “How many ranguages you speak?”
“Well,” I say, looking across the store towards the Linen section. “Only one.”
She stares at me, looking satisfied and she points a long wrinkly olive colored finger at my face. “So you come to me when you speak mole than one ranguage.”
“I mean,” I say. “Every time you mix up the L and the R. It’s…like, uncanny. Just use the R sound when you would use the L and like…vice versa dude.”
“I don’t know what you’le tarking about. Rou want manicule? Ol you want me terr yol foltune?”
I think about creating some sort of diversion and slipping away unnoticed among the crowd of bloated and bleary eyed shoppers but when I hear her offer to tell my fortune I am admittedly highly interested.
“Like…can you do that?” I ask. “How much for one fortune?”
“Is two fol five dorra.” She says sternly.
“Yeah…” I say, looking around me for other people. “But I’m the only one here. How much for one fortune? Just one.”
“Two fol five dorra.”
“But I don’t want two, I only need one. There isn’t anyone else here.”
“You want manicule?” She asks.
Exploding with unbridled rage, I kick up and connect with the underside of her table, scattering her supplies to the sides and walls. “I am this close to mortally… wounding you!” I scream. Then noticing that people are looking at me, some with judgmental expressions, others with looks of abject disapproval, I smooth my shirt down and regain my composure. “So just like…no I guess I don’t want a manicure.”
Later I’m outside the store, panting, desperately trying to catch my breath, watching a red station wagon pass by with some little kid, a boy, maybe five or six, leering out the back window, giving me like…a once over. This for some reason soothes me considerably and I’m able to stop my hand from shaking long enough to get my keys out of my coat pocket. My cell-phone rings and I look at the screen but it’s a number I don’t recognize. I pick it up anyway and a high, creamy female voice greets me enthusiastically.
“Hey, Steve.” She says. “Steve?”
“Um…hello.” I say. A lump in my throat forms and refuses to be pushed down. A flock of brown birds flies just over my head and an urge to run back into the store and barricade the bathroom, or possibly con the pharmacist out of something to make me sleep through the rest of this day, a Sonata, a Lunesta an Ambien, whatever, rushes over me like a wave of scorching water.
“So...like what are you doing?” the voice asks.
“Oh.” I say. “You know.”
She laughs and agrees, “Yeah, me too.”
“Well…” I say hesitantly. “Small…world.”
We chat for a minute or two and I never figure out or have any interest in finding out who this girl is, but I agree to meet her for dinner somewhere anyway, with zero intention of showing up.
The Great and The Pretty Good
I’m still waiting for Dave to get off work and he’s not picking up his phone, so I turn on the history channel and watch Hitler strut around like a peacock and then making deep angry, growling, German speeches to the teeming masses. I remember how Peter told me once that Hitler had one testicle, and I start to imagine this man sitting all alone crying in his shower lamenting his lost ball.
The absolute truth of the matter is that I’m starting to think that John can rot in some god forsaken European dystopian shithole and I just wouldn’t even give a fuck. The initial buzz and feeling of empathy for my friend is wearing off and the prevailing attitude buzzing through my brain is one of indifference to the dumbfuck’s self-inflicted plight.
I’m on my fourth or possibly twelfth Tasmanian Jungle Fever by the time I finally decide to forget the whole business and I’m screaming, “Fuck that idiot. He’s…dumb.” And curiously I’ve stripped down to nothing but my white tightly hip hugging jockeys, despite the cock bending cold.
“Hey…you…dumb.” I shout at Dave as he enters the room carrying a plastic bag and his keys.
“Uh…hey Steve.” He says.
“You want…money? Huh?” I shout, pointing at him. “Well I…Marc is going to lend us 2000 dollars you… jack off...er. JACKOFFER.”
“Steve.” Dave says, looking at me slightly confused. “You’re…so drunk.”
“Yeah.” I say. “Why do you think I kicked an Asian ladies… table today?”
“What?” Dave asks, dropping his keys on the table next to the door.
“Oh, so you don’t know everything… I guess.” I say. “I’ll kick you too. Get any closer, I’ll kick your friggin mouth.”
“Steve did you say that Marc would lend us two thousand dollars? Did you say this?” Dave asks.
I blink, trying to bring the image of Dave’s blonde haired head into better focus.
“Yes.” I say.
“Just like that? Simple as…I mean why did he agree to that?” Dave asks.
“Uh-huh.” I say. “He was shooting a movie. I guess he like…” I stop, my thoughts trailing off. “I mean the bitch was going to tell my fortune. I showed her though.”
Dave scrunches up his face in a look of utter befuddlement. “Who? Marcs making a movie and …trying to tell your fortune?”
“No,” I say. “I…I mean no slanty eyed witch is stealing my soul with some…I dunno…like, voodoo bullshit.”
“Steve you’re not making sense.” Dave says. “Is Marc going to lend us the money or not?”
“Yes.” I say. “Yes, of course.”
“Well all right then.” Dave says, sighing and flopping down on the couch. “Thank Christ.”
“Yeah.” I say. “But also I’ve been, like, you know…thinking.” I say.
“About what?” Dave asks, his eyes closed, remarkably relaxed.
“Fuck John.” I say. “I mean you know? We could spend that money on… something cool.”
“We can’t just fuck John.” Dave says, eyes still closed. “He’s our friend.”
“Like… a skeet shooter.” I say. “I bet we could find a skeet shooter for around two G’s.”
“Probably.” Dave agrees.
“Well,” I say. “I can see you’re not sold on this…idea. You sleep on it.”
I fall asleep around this point, the last thing I remember being the Television advertising something called Renzokison. It’s this Japanese thing that supposedly permanently dyes your chest hair a deep golden lion-like blonde.
I wake up once during the night, freezing my ass off and I’m again drawn to the window where I can see a man in black snow pants taking a walk past our house. I grab a Pepsi from the fridge and watch as he passes by. I’m still pretty drunk, but I’m sober enough to realize that I need a shower so I turn on the hot water and jump in.
I carefully grab the soap from the little shelf and grip it lightly as not to send it flying out of my hands. Working symmetrically, I use both palms to generate a lather that is neither too foamy nor too soupy. The froth is at about what I call foam consistency when I begin to spread the ivory soap over the rest of my body. My chest, which would normally be an absolute teeming field of thick brown hair, is completely smooth owing to a regular routine of shaving, waxing and buffing. Using a circular motion I rub the cleansing agent into my skin spreading it evenly over my abs, pectorals, armpits, elbows and most of my lower body. After an appropriate amount of scrubbing, I allow the streaming jet of warm water to rinse the soap from my body.
I move on to the shampoo phase of the showering process. Grabbing my bottle of Vidal Sassoon Extra Awesome Vitamin B Purifying Shampoo, I gently squeeze out a dollop of the peach colored translucent gel into the palm of my right hand and essentially repeat the whole lathering process. Rubbing it into my hair, I make sure not to massage it into the scalp too hard, but I use a sufficient amount of force to ensure optimum hair maintenance.
Making sure not to get any of the substance in my eyes, because the shit stings like Satan’s salty claws, I step into the path of the water and allow the shampoo to wash down my head into the drain, traveling in a strange circular spiral motion.
At this point the water becomes a little too cold, so I turn the knob farther to the left to keep the optimum temperature, a tolerable mix of warm and temperate, generating enough steam to create a pleasurable bathing experience, but not so much that shit gets fucked up by the moisture. Like…maybe…the wallpaper could get all…fucked. It probably could happen. I mean…it probably happens every day.
Moving on to phase three, or the conditioning phase, I grab the white and lavender bottle of Gerard Bonafrette Fortifying Conditioner With Specially Designed Hi-tech Micro cleaners, and squeeze another dime sized dollop of the gel-like substance into the palm of my hand and get a lather going. This phase is basically identical to the Shampoo Phase, or phase two, except that I leave the conditioner in for about five minutes before rinsing and then I repeat the whole process.
Sufficiently cleansed from my the ordeal I turn off the water and towel off with my Ninja Turtle Donatello Special Super Woven Mega Towel, starting with the head and gradually making my way down to the mid-section, eventually finishing up by thoroughly drying the knees legs and feet. Each toe is spread so I can individually buff the crevices and valleys between each separate tootsie, which allows for a more comfortable overall foot experience.
I grab my cotton, green and black monogrammed after-shower robe and wrap myself up in it tightly. Feeling completely refreshed, I look at the clock and notice that the time is now 3:26 AM, so I tilt my head back and slowly, gradually, effortlessly, drift back into a sleep where I dream about this fat hairy guy who keeps trying to smother me with his stomach.
Joe gives money, Noted Economist.
Dave leaves early for work and I can hear him stub his foot on a desk while he’s getting dressed, cursing mildly under his breath. I formally wake up around eleven and while I’m clean from last night’s shower I still feel disjointed and uneven, almost supercharged with some worry that I can’t quite put my finger on. While I’m pretty sure that this distress isn’t coming from any concern for Johnny, whom I’ve long since decided can go fuck himself, his trials seem to be an adequate explanation for the rawness of my nerves so I attribute the anxiety to that anyway.
I prepare for myself a breakfast of orange juice and vodka, but I don’t make a screwdriver I simply drink both delicious liquids straight from the source. Coupled with toast and some scraps of leftover chicken, this constitutes a pretty balanced fucking breakfast and I’m, oddly, immensely satisfied by the time of the meals conclusion.
The tangy aftertaste of the orange juice still permeates my mouth as I dress myself in a pair of well pressed corduroy pants, a blue striped polo shirt and my silver Etnie shoes. I contemplate shaving, but as I stand in front of the mirror, razor cocked and ready for action, I begin to daydream about a roaring fire, imagining each lick of flame as it consumes some formless structure. Smoke billowing out like water from a burst valve, creating shapes in their midst; dancing cats, rapists with rotting teeth, a mother hen running from the chopping block, Syd Barret, maybe a hole in one golf shot. The essence of a homerun.
That fucking nonsense is interrupted by the ringing of the door bell. “It’s open.” I yell as I put down the razor. The doorbell rings again and a mild annoyance begins to rise in my throat. “It’s O-PEN.” I yell again. “You can, like come in.”
The door bell rings a third time, followed by a knocking, really hard pounds thumping like a snare drum. “Fuck OFF.” I yell this time. “Open it yourself, idiot.” I add.
“Steve, open the door it’s locked.” I hear a familiar voice say.
“Joe?” I ask.
“Yeah,” He answers. “C’mon dude, like open the door. It’s freezing out here.”
I pause, suspiciously. “Isn’t it…open?” I ask.
“No,” he answers. “No, it’s pretty closed.”
“Hang on,” I say. “I’m not decent.”
I pick up the razor again and one more time contemplate the possibility of shaving, pretty much leaving Joe to freeze while I cut the bristled hair from my chin, but decide against it and open the door, first unlocking it.
Joe enters the room, breathing a puff of cigarette smoke ahead of him, announcing him if you will, and rubbing his hands together in a futile effort to generate friction heat. Joe is like this average looking dude who can, through some freak genetic mutation, basically tear the door from a car. The dude is fucking strong. He smokes like a chimney and takes more LSD than I think would generally be recommended for human consumption and as such he’s prone to hallucinations and night terrors. He also has a penchant for orange juice and tight fitting clothes, robbing the rest of the world, in my opinion, the option of whether or not to examine his entire body in all its glory.
“Hey, man.” He says. “Cold out there.”
“Yeah,” I answer. “Cold.”
“Yo, Marc told me to give you this.” Joe says, producing an envelope stuffed with hundred dollar bills. “He said that like…um…” He trails off, his eyes fixating on the wallpaper pattern of ivy and thorns that adorns the living room.
“Joe.” I say, snapping my fingers. “What’s…like going on?”
“Oh yeah,” He says, his eyes regaining their sharpness, “Marc said that …like here’s the money…dude. I guess.” He hands me the envelope, which for some reason is pink and floral smelling.
“Ok.” I say. “I thought he wanted me to come by and get it.”
“Nope,” Joe says. “I guess…not.”
“Ok.” I say. “Well…like wanna get hammered?” I ask.
“Naw, man.” Joe answers. “I mean you know…I already am.”
“All right, dude.” I reply. “Well, I guess I’ll see you later.”
“Well,” Joe says, eyeing the room again. “I mean…I could hang out.”
A trip to McDonalds is planned and we get into his 1998 Dodge Rolla. While we’re driving Joe looks out the window and ashes a long thin cigarette.
“Hey, look at that man.” He says, pointing at a passing cloud. “Does that look like the number nine to you dude?” he asks.
I look at the cloud and all I see is a wisp of gusty grey vapor floating over the bluish background. “Like…as in 1,2,3?” I ask disinterestedly. “Like a number?”
“Yeah.” He replies, turning left onto the road towards the center of the city. “Nine.”
“No.” I say. “It looks like a Snidely Whiplash plastic watch.”
“Oh.” He answers. “Maybe it does.”
“Does.” I echo to myself, mimicking the dream like way the word escaped from Joe’s lips.
“What’s that bro?” Joe asks, picking up on my barely audible murmur. “Did you say …Lou Dobbs?”
I narrow my right eye reflexively and turn a quizzical look towards him, sizing up this dumbfuck. “Yeah.” I answer abruptly. “I said Lou Dobbs.”
“Like…as in the noted economist and journalist?” Joe asks. “On CNN?”
“…Yeah.” I say, unsure. “He’s…like sort of a personal hero.”
“Oh.” Joe replies, pulling into the parking lot of McDonalds. “Kinda weird.”
“It’s not weird.” I say, stepping out of the car. “He’s like…a pretty distinguished dude.”
“Yeah.” Joe answers, as he stubs his cigarette and grinds it underfoot. “But I mean…just saying Lou Dobbs out of the blue like that.”
“Yeah, so?” I counter. “Doesn’t make me like…a bad person.”
“Do you have any money?” Joe asks, changing the subject.
“No.” I answer. “Do you?”
We order and eat our food at the two seater; near the back double wide window. Joe gets the Big’n Tasty combo meal and I enthusiastically devour my Filet o’ Fish sandwich combo meal. “Wow,” Joe says after a time. “This is… legitimately awful food.”
I call John but he doesn’t pick up and I leave a message, telling him that we have the money and that we’ll be out to get him in a few days. I tell him to hold on, to be strong, to, if he in fact still has any money at all, to resist the temptation to blow it all on whores and meth. I tell him about how I got the new High Score in Virtua Fighter 4 at the Briarwood arcade, beating his lame ass bullshit score by leaps and bounds. I wish him good luck. It means something when I say it because I almost mean it; just about care whether the kid actually isn’t freezing to death in a doorframe somewhere in Sweden.
“Anyway gimme’ a call when you get this…We’re all pulling for you. Just hang on a little longer dude. All right…well, you know…I’ll see ya when I see ya…later.” And I hang up, breathing with a sigh of relief and enjoying the wave of relief I acquire from having done my friendly duty.
I hang around the house most of the day and Dave calls me to tell me that he won’t be coming home tonight, that he’s still thinking hard about how to save John, but that something’s come up and though I suspect some sort of lady situation I just tell him that I’ve got things under control.
“I got the money.” I say.
“Good.” He answers. “Don’t spend it.”
“Whatever.” I say, defensively. “I wasn’t going to.”
“Fine.” He replies, chewing on something, possibly a Caeser Salad.
“Are you eating a salad?” I ask.
“Yeah,” He answers. “Don’t spend that money.”
“Because it sounds like you’re driving.” I continue.
“I am.” He says.
“And eating a salad?” I ask
“You’re driving and eating a salad.”
“Yeah,” He repeats. “So what?”
“How are you doing that?” I ask, genuinely interested.
“I’ve gotta go.” Dave says, sighing. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Joes Cassio Stereo
I go out to Joe’s house where there’s some sort of party going on, lots of high school girls, some college kids, more college age kids like me who didn’t really buy into the whole education scene, and everyone is talking and kind of standing around drinking cheap beer and sort of gently tapping their toes to the music coming from Joe’s Cassio stereo. Currently the song is “One Is the Loneliest Number.”
I make my way through the swarm of polo shirts, and provocative slogan emblazoned blouses, over to where Joe is. He’s talking up some girl whose smoking a huge joint and puffing smoke into his face which he cheerfully inhales and puffs right back at her.
“Joe.” I say. “This is insane.”
He laughs and smiles good naturedly at me, turning away from the girl who I now realize is blind drunk and barely on her feet. “I know right?” he answers, sipping from a red plastic cup.
“Joe.” The girl says, scowling babyishly and tugging on his sleeve.
“Chill babe.” Joe says. “You look… awesome tonight. Everything’s cool babe, you look great.”
“Joe.” I say, snapping my fingers regaining his attention. “This actually seems kind of messed up.”
“Oh, man.” He says, giggling. “It’s totally messed up.”
“Joe some of these girls are underage.” I say.
“Most of them dude.” He answers, then doing some quick calculations in his head adds, “Almost…almost all of them, I think. Like ninety percent.”
I watch as Joe playfully swats the girl off of him, blocking her attempts to kiss his neck. He laughs and looks at me like he’s completely confused but pretty accepting of that fact, and pushes her more forcefully away into the teeming crowd of jailbait.
“Meet people babe.” He says, calling towards her. “It’s like a meet and greet, and all that bullshit.”
“I don’t think I realized that this was going to be…as illegal as it is.” I say to Joe, whose attention is almost completely captured by some internal process that only his own mind can comprehend.
“Yeah,” Joe agrees nodding whimsically. “Huh. Weird.”
What are all these people doing here?” I ask, surveying the crowd, which seems much younger than it did when I first walked in. “How do you even know these people?”
“Well,” he admits, “I don’t really know…most of them. I know that guy.” He says pointing towards a long haired kid spinning a glowstick around his neck. “His name is Tim.”
“Hmm…” I say, dumbfounded by Joe’s seemingly impassible denseness.
“Listen man.” Joe starts. “Shit just… got… weird.”
“Shit just got weird?” I reply, mimicking him. “You didn’t, like, initiate this? Are you sure you didn’t invite all these people over and thus start the weird shit?”
“No, I mean, yeah I did do that.” He admits. “And then shit got weird.”
“Shit got weird.” I repeat.
“Shit got weird real fast.” He agrees.
Joes spots someone across the room and we slap hands and he makes his way away from me. I mill around the party awkwardly, drinking a little, exchanging strained conversation with whoever initiates it.
I’m sitting on Joe’s plaid, fuzzy couch watching the girls dance all over each other, fingering the envelope full of money that I, regrettably, brought to the party with me for some reason. This kid with really expensive looking designer jeans, a long leather coat and a scarf sits next to me and tells me that he’s a vampire. I tell him that this is great.
“No,” He says, brushing his long razor cut hair, out of his eye. “I really am.”
“Ok.” I say. “I didn’t say you weren’t.” then, bored, needing something to do with my hands so I don’t feel weird I ask him, “Do you have a cigarette?”
“Yes,” he says and hands me a Marlboro Light. “Seriously though I suck people’s blood.”
“Right,” I say, nodding. “Cause you’re a vampire.”
“You don’t believe me?” he asks, baring his teeth.
“I just said I did.” I answer, annoyed. “I have yet to question you’re vampirism.”
“I eat children in their beds.” He says to me, whispering in my ear. “I cut them up and I suck out their guts through a straw. I gnash their tendons and loins between my teeth and howl at the moon with delight. I relish in their blood as it drips down my face and stains my pale flesh deep crimson.”
“Really?” I ask, eyebrow raised.
“Yeah,” He answers. “I’m just letting you know a little bit about who I am.”
“Well…I would stop doing that.” I say. “I would try and give that up.”
“I relish the blood.” He says. “It energizes me, and I howl at the moon.”
“Yeah,” I say, apathetically. “I remember you saying that… before.”
“It’s the truth.”
I look at him, sizing this freaky weirdo up one more time. His skin is really pale and his eyes are a little bloodshot, his cheeks sallow and sunken. His hair is pitch black and he looks, overall, pretty gaunt and malnourished. Also he is impeccably dressed.
“Have you ever felt the warm blood rush out of a freshly severed vein? Have you tasted the life of a woman as she screams pitifully for salvation and dies in your embrace?” He asks me.
“Is that fun?” I ask.
He closes his eyes and convulses pleasurably, clutching his arms around his waist in a self hug. “It is…exquisite.”
“I guess it sounds… all right.” I reply, wearily.
He throws his head back and wraps the scarf tighter around his neck, staring me down in a way that makes me slightly uncomfortable. “I stalk the earth.” He says. “I rip the throats from woman and children and chew their pulpy skin like chewing gum.”
“Ok, buddy.” I say. “I mean…that’s great, but…can we talk about something else maybe? Hobbies? Do you have any hobbies?”
“Only one.” He answers, growling menacingly.
“Is it stalking the earth and all that dumb shit?” I ask.
“I am pure evil.” He answers.
“I don’t know.” I say, honestly. “You seem all right.”
“I’m pretty bad.” He says.
I stay a little longer and when I try to leave I notice the Vampire kid following me from a distance, but I ignore him and drive home. We’re supposed to have lunch on Friday, but I probably won’t go.