28 April, 2009
When I answered the door, two uniformed cops were there to greet me. Fuck. Did I forget to pay a parking ticket? Did I get a photo enforcement ticket? I thought that camera flashed last night but that fucker in the red Audi was speeding, so…
“Yeah?” I tried to keep the door cracked so the cat wouldn’t get out. He liked to try and escape, the little fur ball. The last time he got out, I had to wander around for three hours looking for him while Maude sat at home crying over it like it was a kid. After I finally gave up and went back, trying to figure out how to explain that I couldn’t find the cat, I got back to find the little orange son of a bitch curled up on her lap. She told me that she tried to call and tell me, but that my phone was off. Again.
The cop on the left, the short one, spoke first. “Sir, do you know the people in the apartment next to you?” The other cop, a slightly taller blonde guy wearing mirror shades that covered his eyes and highlighted a distinctly aryan profile rattled off a last name like he was bored.
“I know them when I see them,” I answered. “But I don’t know them. I don’t even know their first names. My wife usually remembers things like that.”
“Is your wife home?” the short cop asked.
“No,” I answered. “What’s this about?”
“We’ll ask the questions, sir.” The taller cop’s tone got a little more aggressive. Great, I thought. That’s just what I need. A cop with a hard on.
“We tried knocking on their door,” the short cop explained. “Have you seen them today?”
“Not today, no.”
“And when was the last time you saw them?”
“Christ, I don’t know. Maybe a couple of weeks. But I don’t really pay attention.” Which was the truth. We’d just moved into the apartment and while I’d interacted with a few of the neighbors, I kept more or less to myself. Maude was always talking to people when she stepped out to smoke. I didn’t mind so much, except one of the neighbors knocked on our door wanting to bum smokes. When people start bumming from you, it never stops. And I didn’t like the guy much anyway. He and his old lady owned a pit bull that was too big for an apartment, and whenever they let it out, it shit like diarrhea all over the place and they never bothered to clean up after it. They also fought all the time – usually at night and almost always when I had to get up the next morning to work. Since I’d been laid off they hadn’t been fighting as much – or maybe I just hadn’t noticed. But they still liked to bum smokes and let their diarrheic dog wander around stinking up the place.
“Are you sure about that? A couple of weeks?”
“That sounds right,” I answered, hanging on the door.
“And what’s your name, sir?”
I told them my name. Then the taller prick asked me how long we’d been living here.
“A little over two months.”
“Do you ever notice anything odd going on over there?” The shorter cop nodded towards the apartment next door.
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “You know. Odd.”
I stood there for a couple of seconds, waiting for him to explain it a little more. He didn’t.
“Are you sure?” The taller cop asked, eyeing me over the rims of his mirror shades.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, I’m sure.” I felt the cat nudge up against my leg. My foot and right leg was wedged between the door and the two cops outside, but I instinctively pushed the cat back with my foot and closed the door a little more.
“We’re not finished yet, sir,” the short cop said. If I didn’t know any better, I could swear I saw the aryan’s hand fall on his gun handle.
I was about to explain that I wasn’t trying to slam the door in their faces when the cat slid by me in a blur of yellow-orange fur, shot down the alley, and was gone. There was no point in running after it; my only hope was that the little bastard would get hungry and find its way home. Don’t get me wrong; I like cats. But cats are different than dogs. Dogs will like you or not like you; if they like you, they remember you. They greet you when you come home. They play with you. Dogs will love you whether you love them or not, and will be happy to see you whether you feed them or not. Cats, though, operate on a much more fundamental level. Cats are loyal to whoever fills the food dish. They’re natural scavengers. That’s part of the reason why a lot of guys don’t like cats. A dog’s loyalty reflects who we think we are; but the taciturn and moody nature of a cat is a more honest reflection. House cats are domesticated like dogs; but unlike dogs, which have been carefully bred over the centuries, cats have been domesticated almost by accident. No one ever bred a cat to be a good hunter, or a good sheep herder. Domesticated cats were bred simply to be small enough not to maul their owners.
I looked at the cops. I couldn’t tell if they were amused or not. I assumed they were. “Shit,” I muttered under my breath and shook my head. I smiled. “You don’t want to go chase a cat do you? Protect and serve?”
The aryan was not amused. The short cop answered first. “Does your animal have a tag?”
“A tag?” I asked. “No.” Who the hell tags a fucking house cat? Ours didn’t go outside unless it escaped. Which it tried every chance it got. I tried to tell Maude several times that maybe the cat simply WANTED to be outside. Maybe it was happier that way.
“What do you mean?” she replied. “You just don’t LIKE him. You never have.”
“I like the cat fine,” I said. “I’m the one who ends up cleaning up his shit, remembers?”
“You’re always mean to him.”
“I am not. I get after him when he destroys our stuff, is all. Or do you want every stick of furniture to be a scratching post?”
It was an argument I was destined to lose, and I did. I wasn’t even sure what the argument was about, anyway.
The cops were standing there watching me. “You know you’re supposed to tag all domesticated animals, right sir?” The short cop’s mouth was curved into a small, twisted smile.
Asshole. “Look, officer,” I began. “That cat’s not really an outside cat. We don’t turn him loose. I have the litter box to prove it. Plus, he’s fixed, so it’s not like he’s out tomming.”
“He seemed like he was in a hurry,” the short cop answered. The aryan was scribbling in his notebook.
Great, I thought. That’s all I need. A fucking Nazi cop who secretly worships cats and has identified me as a feline abuser. Wonderful. Maybe they’ll all come and piss on my door as a warning. “So,” I said, trying to change the subject, “why are you guys looking for them?” I nodded towards my neighbor’s apartment. “Like I said, I don’t know them, really, but they seem like ok people to me.”
The aryan stopped writing long enough to look up and chastise me. “We will ask the questions, sir.”
“Thanks for your help, sir,” the short cop said, hitching up his gun belt. “Have a good day.”
The aryan handed me a piece of paper. I looked at him for a second, then down at the slip of paper he was holding in his hand. I took it from him. It was a ticket. Untagged and unregistered animal. I looked up at the aryan. He was smiling. “Have a nice day, sir.”
I held the ticket up. “Are you serious?” I was incredulous. “A fucking fine because I was talking to YOU and my cat got out?”
“A violation’s a violation, sir.” The aryan’s tone was condescending. He was really enjoying himself. He was probably going to go home and masturbate to this little scene along with the usual Nazi torture images.
“But it’s a FUCKING cat,” I protested.
“Maybe you’d like another citation, sir?” the short cop was bored and wanting move on. His tone was sharp. Annoyed.
I didn’t want to ask what the citation might be for. I just wanted to close the door. I shook my head. Both officers smiled and stood a little taller. “Have a nice day, sir,” the short cop said. The aryan just smiled and nodded, smug in the knowledge of his tiny victory. After they turned to walk away, I closed the door, went back to my computer, and tried to refocus on my article.
22 April, 2009
I usually sat at the far side of the bar. It was out of the light and facing the door, so I could see who was coming in. Not that I was looking for anybody in particular; but I’d known too many guys who ended up the hospital just because they sat with their back to the door. I was usually there for happy hour three or four nights out of the week, and everyone knew me. The bartender for Wednesday and Thursday day shift was a cool chickie named Ginny. She was friendly, remembered people, and (after a couple of times) their drink of choice. If you were enough of a regular, sometimes she’d even have your drink poured before your ass was in the stool.
That day was no exception. By the time I got to my usual place, she had my scotch and water waiting for me.
“How ya doing, Ginny?”
“Pretty good, Finn. How about you?”
“Not bad for a Wednesday.” I lifted my drink to my lips. “Even better now.”
“One of those days?”
“Everyday is one of those days.”
She laughed and moved off to deal with another customer. I was a little early, and the mid-afternoon crowd was a mix of late office lunch eaters and the off-track regulars, most of whom were trying to survive retirement. They were my father’s generation – the generation of men old enough to have fought in
“You gonna eat today?” Ginny was back from dealing with other patrons.
“I might. You never know.”
“We have a NEW menu,” she said, showing it to me.
“They want to try new things,” she said. “Plus they just brought in a new cook and he’s got new specials for the menu.”
“What happened to the old cook?”
Ah. The look on her face was a familiar one. It meant the cook hadn’t left so much as she’d been forced out. That could only mean one thing. Adelle was on the war path again.
Adelle was the owner – though she spent more time saddled up to the bar buying her friends drinks than she did doing the paperwork. She’d originally gone into business with her boyfriend, and they were co-owners of the bar until he left her for a younger girl with firmer tits, a better ass, and a nicer disposition. He sold her his share – cheap – and opened his own place across town. I’d been in there a few times. It was a nice little place. A low key neighborhood kind of place. But it was too far to walk; plus the bus was a hassle, and I hated driving to the bar. Since then Adelle had been gradually running the place into the ground. The economy didn’t help any; but mostly it gave her a good excuse to let the place go to hell. The boyfriend had been the one who dealt with employees and the major paperwork; mostly she booked music acts that drew small crowds and sponsored ridiculous contests in an attempt to “build the customer base.” One of her bright ideas had been to take out the dart boards and put in a claw machine that had sex toys and adult videos as prizes. That lasted until one of the people who brought her kids in with her complained about the brightly colored dildoes her five year old son wanted to try and win. Now the machine just sat unplugged, shoved off into an inconspicuous corner behind a larger than life cardboard cut-out of a bare mid-riffed model advertising Budweiser.
“Is the new cook any good?”
Ginny smiled and sat on the cooler. “I hear he’s pretty good.”
“Not exactly a ringing endorsement.”
She shrugged. “He’ll do. Until he quits, too.”
“They always quit eventually.”
Just then, Adelle was walking out on the floor; she was coming out of the back office with one of her bar buddies; a tall, muscular construction worker who was her new flavor of the month. As usual, Adelle was dressed ten years younger than her age and body could stand, and her spray on tan looked splotchy. By the time she and her man meat got to the bar, Ginny had poured him a tall draft and made her a Cosmopolitan.
“How’s the new menu?” Adelle asked Ginny.
“It’s going ok. The new appetizers are popular.”
“What about the burgers?”
“No one’s ordered one yet.”
“Ok.” Adelle took a sip of her drink. “Just so you know, we’re out of avocadoes.”
Ginny started washing glasses. “Ok.”
“So when people order the
Ginny stopped washing glasses. “Huh?”
Adelle smiled. It was one of those smiles like she thought she knew something nobody else knew. “We’re out of avocadoes,” she repeated.
“And so, if anybody orders the
Ginny wrinkled her nose. “O-o-o-k-a-y. So what are we supposed to tell people when they expect avocado and get guac instead?”
Adelle’s smile widened, like she was anticipating the punch line of a worn out joke. “Tell them it’s avocado spread.”
I looked over at the man meat. He was drinking his beer and not saying anything. But I could tell he was thinking the same thing I was. Ginny looked at me; I shrugged and rolled my eyes. Then she put down the pint glass she was about to wash, dried off her hands, and walked towards Adelle.
Adelle took a sip of her drink. “Yeah. Sure. I mean, that’s pretty much what it is, right?”
“Um, no. Not really,” Ginny said. “They’re gonna know the difference between plain avocadoes and guacamole.”
“Trust me.” Adelle drained her glass. “It’ll be fine.” She held out the empty martini glass towards Ginny. That was her way of saying she wanted another. I was sitting near the mixing station, so she came over and started another Cosmo in a clean glass.
She looked over her shoulder to make sure Adelle wasn’t listening. She wasn’t. She was too busy fawning over her man meat and pushing her tired sagging tits in his face. He clearly didn’t mind, but I suspected that he’d have ditched her for one of the waitresses if it wasn’t for the free booze and easy piece of ass.
“Can you believe that?” Ginny was leaning close and whispering.
“I can believe most things.”
“Would you believe that? If somebody tried to tell you that guac was avocado spread?”
“Maybe it’s not so much believing it. Maybe it’s not having a choice.”
“She just didn’t order them,” Ginny hissed. “This kind of shit happens all the time. Like two weeks ago with the beer shipment.”
That had been truly tragic. I showed up to the bar and all the domestic taps were empty. It had happened before – usually the day after the Superbowl, the World Series, or the NCAA Championship. But this had been just a regular day. The Tuesday bartender – a young single mom named Shannon who liked to increase her chances for tips by wearing tight tank tops and a g-string that always managed to show just above her jeans – had told me the distributor changed the delivery schedule without telling them. The next day, Ginny told me the truth; Adelle hadn’t ordered more beer because on the day the order needed to placed to get it there in time, there wasn’t any money to pay for it; the distributors were working with her on cash only basis. That hadn’t stopped her from supplying all of her friends with free booze, though.
“Well,” I said shrugged. “What can you do?”
“It’s just so stupid,” Ginny shook her head. “People are gonna KNOW. Right?”
“Yeah. Sure they will.”
“You’d know. Right?”
I told her that of course I would. Most anybody would. I mean, there were probably some truly ditzy people out there who wouldn’t know the difference, or people who are too drunk to care. Of course, I had trouble imagining that avocados would taste good on a hamburger and I also had trouble imagining the kind of person who wanted to be healthy but still wanted their grease and read meat, too.
She finished mixing Adelle’s drink and took it over to her. Then she came back over.
“I should say something,” she said.”
“You know… at the rate things are going, this place will go under in six months.”
That wasn’t a pleasant thought. I hated the idea of having to change bars. New stool. New bartender. New cast of regulars to deal with.
She continued. “I mean, it’s just a shame, you know?”
“I should say something.”
I didn’t see any way that could turn out well; but I guess everyone has to draw the line somewhere. I quit a job once because they wanted me to cut my hair. The line doesn’t always have to make sense to anybody else.
I finished my drink and Ginny took my glass to make me another. “Are you going to talk to her now?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I’ll wait until tomorrow, before my shift starts.”
Get her before she starts drinking, I thought. Smart.
I stayed for a few more drinks, and I left at the end of Ginny’s shift. When I dropped by the next day, I asked her how it went.
She shook her head. “I tried to tell her. Some people are allergic to onions. Some people have to watch their salt. You gotta take those things into consideration.”
“Very true. So what’d she say?”
“She got mad. Yelled at me. Told me she knew what she was doing.”
Ah. “And what did you say?”
She shook her head. “Nothing.”
“So you’re just going let it happen?”
She shrugged. “I figure a customer will complain about it. Then she’ll have to do something.”
I wasn’t convinced. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you’re right.”
“You ain’t kidding,” she answered. I finished my drink and she poured me another. We talked about other things. Adelle came out of the back office, sat at the bar and drank Cosmos while her man meat downed tall drafts. Adelle and Ginny maybe exchanged words twice the whole time I was there. Both times were brief. Other regulars came in, and Ginny had their drinks ready for them. When I left, Ginny was in the process of counting her drawer and Adelle was standing next to the juke box dry humping the construction workers leg and cackling.
The following Wednesday, Ginny wasn’t working.
“I was getting complaints about her,” Adelle said, smiling. “I had to let her go.”
“Complaints from who?” I asked.
She looked down at me. “Regulars.”
I didn’t answer. I went back to my scotch and considered ordering a
14 April, 2009
He was using his best line – talking about how secluded his fishing cabin was. How romantic it was when the moonlight splashed off the lake. How he was thinking seriously about retiring there (if he didn’t get killed in the line of duty, he’d joke). How it needed a woman’s touch.
The girl behind the counter said nothing and handed him his coffee. She smiled to be polite because the Sheriff’s Department patrolled their lot a few extra times so long as the coffee was free. Besides, she really needed the job; and while she didn’t feel like she ought to put up with bullshit, making an enemy out of a small town cop was never a good idea. “Don’t you think you should answer that?” She asked him after his police radio went off for the third time.
“Huh? Oh, shit. I guess.” He fumbled a bit with the speaker attached to his shoulder, and found the button. “What’s the problem Glenn?” He hoped his voice sounded annoyed and impatient. He wanted to make sure the coffee girl knew he’d rather be talking to her. Women like being the center of attention.
“Bank Robbery, Bart…”
“When you’re speaking on official channels, Glenn, you address me in the correct manner.” He beamed a little. It was also good to show that you’re in charge. Women were also drawn to power and authority.
“Sorry, Bart. I mean… SHERIFF. The First National Bank is getting robbed.”
“Main and Third?”
“Yes, Sir. I’ve already called for the ambulance and called in Lamont from the speed trap on Route 157…”
“It’s not a speed trap, Deputy.” He rolled his eyes and looked to see if the girl was impressed.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, Sheriff. I’m just here outside the bank. He’s holed up in there with all the people. Says he won’t come out until you get here.”
“Yes, Sheriff. Sounds like a kid, too.”
The Sheriff pushed out a long, annoyed sigh and shook his enormous head. “10-4.” He looked up at the girl. “Have to go, honey. That’s the life of a police officer.” He waited a couple of seconds to let it sink in; it would be important, after all, for her to understand how dangerous the life was. None of his other three wives seemed to have understood it; but Bart Motherwell saw himself as a romantic figure. He picked up his coffee and walked out the door.
The bank wasn’t that far from the coffeeshop. It was a small town, so nothing was that far away from anything. Over the three block drive, he mentally went over the short list of criminals and lowlifes who might be dumb enough to pull a daytime bank robbery in his town. Bunch of dumbass kids, he thought, born of dumbass parents who had just enough sense to know how to breed. As he pulled up across the street the bank, behind Deputy Glenn Pursett’s patrol car, he narrowed the list down to two or three possibilities.
He got out of the car. Glenn was standing there, holding his pump shot gun like a teddy bear and trying to keep the gathering crowd from getting too close. Why did I ever hired that kid? he thought. Shouldn’t matter a tinker’s damn if your Dad’s on the Village Council. “Ok, Glenn, what do we got?”
“Just like I said, Sheriff,” Glenn answered. “He’s got them all in there as hostages and he said he wouldn’t release anyone until he talked to you.”
“Well, I’m here,” Bart said. “Let’s get this show on the road. And Glenn,” he reached for the shotgun and took it out of the Deputy’s hands. “You need to stop waving this thing around. You’re liable to hurt somebody.” He took the gun and tossed it in the front seat of Glenn’s car. Just then, Lamont pulled up like he was going to church. Shit, Bart thought. How do I get anything done with these idiots? “You two try and maintain the parameter. I’ll talk to the suspect.” He held the bullhorn up to his mouth and began to speak.
“Alright, now,” he began. “You wanted me here and now I’m here. “The first thing you need to do, son, is release those hostages. Then you need to surrender peacefully. Before this gets out of hand.”
“Is that the Sheriff?” The voice sounded almost squeaky.
Is this kid old enough to even have hair on his balls? “This IS the Sheriff. You’re in a whole lotta trouble, son.”
“Son? I’m not your son, fat man!”
“Jimmy Bresden? Is that you? You better come out here before I come up there and turn you over my knee. Goddamn punk.”
“I don’t know who that is, but you’re too fat to catch me. You sure you’re the Sheriff? There ain’t a weight requirement?”
“Billy Rice,” Bart called out through the bullhorn. Get your ass out here and release those hostages.”
“Don’t know that name, either, fat man. But I’m coming out. And if you try anything, I’ve got a bomb set to go off in here that’ll blow this town off the map.”
The crowd began to murmur, and Bart ordered his useless deputies too push everyone back and call the state bomb squad. “Why you want to come out, then? Scared of your own handiwork?”
“I want to talk to you, Sheriff. That’s all. Let me talk and everyone goes free.”
Bart didn’t like letting his suspect take control of the situation, but at least if he’s outside the bank, there a chance. Clearly the kid’s in over his head and is looking for a way out. “Fine. You come on out and we’ll have us a nice little talk, ok?” He started to get the sense that Glenn could’ve handled this without him – if Glenn wasn’t such a useless tool. At least Lamont was a good hunting buddy. Glenn – the college boy – was damned useless. Bart told himself that after this was finished, he was going to get that useless little pussy kicked out of the Sheriff’s Department and sent somewhere he couldn’t do any harm. Like the DMV.
The bank door opened and the suspect walked out calm and cool. He didn’t look familiar. Shit, Bart spat on the street. He’s not even from here. Now I KNOW I’m dealing with a dumbass. The kid was on the tall side, a bit lanky. He had close cropped dark hair, and was wearing big sunglasses that covered most of his face.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked.
“Why the hell would I know who you are? Am I supposed to? I know you’re not from around here.”
“That’s right,” the bank robber said. “I’m not from around here and you don’t know me. And you ain’t going to, either. But everybody else will. You can count on that.”
“What’re you talking about?”
“I’m saying, fat man,” the boy grinned, “that I intend to kill you. You’re my first one, see? And then all these people will know me. I’ll be famous.”
“That’s probably the stupidest thing I ever heard,” Bart spat. “You think killing ME is going to make you famous?”
“Not just you,” the robber grinned back. “Don’t you listen? You’re the FIRST. And by the time I’m done, everybody everywhere will know who I am.”
“Is that all this is about?” Bart asked. He’d heard a lot of dumbass things before, but this one had to take it all. Some lanky kid just rolled into some small town and decided to be famous by robbing a bank and killing a small town sheriff?
“Why, is it too complicated for you, fat man?”
The Sheriff felt himself starting to sweat. He wasn’t counting on this, and he had no protection at all. He couldn’t even fit into his bulletproof vest anymore, and the only weapon he had was his service revolver. It was inconceivable to him up to that point that he’d actually die doing his job. The most he ever put up with were speeding tickets and parking violations. The Friday night drunks. Domestic violence calls. He’d joked often that half the men in town had a reason to kill him; but it never occurred to him that someone might actually try.
“Listen here boy,” he answered. “There isn’t any big city paper here to write you up. Hell, our paper here isn’t much more than a bunch of coupons and bible verses.”
“Shut the fuck up fat man and go for your gun,” the young man leered. “I bet you’ve never had to fire that thing. I bet you only have one bullet. Am I right?” He laughed. “Barney Fucking Fife. Come on fat man. You might get a shot off.”
“What? You think this is some cowboy movie? You think you’re Doc Holiday and this is the OK Corral?” Bart shook his large head. He felt the beads of sweat running down from where his hat was squeezed down over it. “You need to let those people go and give up.” For a second, he thought he felt his knees go wobbly. That’s all I fucking need.
“Maybe I DO have a bomb and maybe I don’t. But it don’t matter none. You’re not going to be here to see how it all works out.” He reached behind him and started to pull a handgun out of the small of his back.
“Now wait a minute here, son,” Bart couldn’t disguise the quivering in his voice. He started to back away and wished again that he’d at lest tried to make the vest fit. “Don’t you do that. Don’t you…”
“Go to hell fat man,” The kid pulled his gun out, took aim and was ready to the trigger. Bart braced himself for the impact of the bullet he was sure would hit him. Every thought emptied out of his head. He closed his eyes. Then he heard the POP of a gun going off. But nothing happened. Nothing hit him. He was still breathing, his clothes soaked through with sweat. When he opened his eyes, the kid was laying in the street. Bart looked around. Lamont was taking his .22 down from his shoulder. The first thought that entered Sheriff Motherwell’s head was He must’ve been out hunting this morning. He’d talked to Lamont time and again about hunting off season and during his shift; but at that moment, Bart didn’t imagine he’d ever say another word about it. Ever.
That was when he noticed he’d pissed himself. Trying to regain his composure, he stood at his full height. Just then, one of the tellers came out of the bank; it was one of the pretty young ones who only worked during summer. The rest of the year she was off at college studying to be an accountant or veterinarian or something. Sometimes she laid out in her parents’ back yard in a skimpy little bikini, tanning herself. He used to like to try and drive by and catch her out before he turned his attention to the coffee counter girl. “Everyone in there alright?”
She shook her head. “He told us he’d shoot anybody who walked outside. He said he had people out here with guns, watching the doors.”
The Sheriff spat on the ground and shook his head. “No bomb in there?”
“What a dipshit. You go on back in and tell everyone it’s safe. We gotta talk to everyone before they can leave, though.”
The girl nodded at him and walked back in the bank. Lamont and Glenn were standing over by the body. Well, actually, Lamont was standing by the body and Glenn was close to the sidewalk, bent over puking. “Useless little piss ant,” he muttered. He walked over and stood next to Lamont, who sniffed the air and looked at the Sheriff. Bart shot him a look. “We got an ID on Jesse James, here?” Bart asked.
“Haven’t checked yet.”
Bart kicked the body over and exerted great effort to get down on one knee to check for identification. But the kid wasn’t carrying anything. Not a wallet, or even a dollar to by a pop.
“Goddamn idiot,” Bart wheezed as he got to his feet. He looked at Lamont. “Get this mess cleaned up.” He pointed over towards Glenn, who was just finishing emptying his stomach in the municipal gutter. “Get him to interview the people in the bank. That should be lightweight enough for him.” Lamont nodded. The Sheriff walked over to his car, got in, and drove off to change his pants and call someone about getting Glenn reassigned. And after that, the Sheriff thought, I’ll go get another cup of coffee.
13 April, 2009
to yell at me. Calls me
selfish. Tells me
I don’t love her enough.
That I want her to be alone
and crazy. Other times, we’ll just be
laying on the couch watching one of those awful
goddamn television shows she likes to watch
and she’ll sit up mystified by the way (she says)
I don’t take care of myself.
She tells me
she can’t go through it again,
watching someone else go
the way her mother did
all green and bloated and crying
wanting only to die in peace.
It’s horrible, watching a broken person die
when you know the best sensation they will ever feel
is that exact moment
when the gargling is over
and the body transforms itself
into a slab of meat
for medical students and morticians
to splice and dice.
I would explain the difference, but I expect she will see it herself. Sometime.
Sometimes I think
she’s broken too,
but in a different way
and maybe that’s why
the whole thing is lost on her. And no matter
how hard I try
I will never be
that un-broken person she wants –
that person not requiring a constant explanation
to all the friends and relatives
who will, most likely,
look on in complete amazement
as I go on doing
because in my own way
I am simply trying to put all the pieces
back in order.
10 April, 2009
“Don’t you care? Don’t you care at all?”
“What do you want me to say?” I asked. “You want me to rush over and comfort you? Tell you everything’s alright? What?”
“Should I go to the doctor?”
“What’re you asking me for?”
“I’m BLEEDING,” she carried on. “Don’t you care…”
“I don’t have time for this,” I said. “You called at a bad time. I have customers here.”
“You… told… me… you… loved… me…” she was crying so hard she sounded like she had the hiccups. I looked up. The store was empty. Not a customer in sight. I looked out the large windows facing the parking lot. Not a single car. I looked at the clock. I had another five hours of the night shift. If I wasn’t careful, she’d come to the store and do her crying jag there.
“Yeah. And YOU neglected to mention that your husband’s a fucking psycho.”
That made her cry even more. It was giving me a headache, and I was tired of talking to her. I had broken it off with her as soon as I noticed this troll looking guy following me everywhere. He was outside my apartment. He sat in the parking lot at work. He followed me to the bar. He followed me to the goddamn grocery store. When I finally got up the nerve to ask him what his problem was, he told me his name was Craig and that he was Cindy’s husband. When I told him he was full of shit, he showed me a wedding picture. Then he showed me a 9 millimeter and told me he’d empty it in my face if I ever talked to Cindy again. Nice guy, right? Though I guess I couldn’t blame him. I’d never had a girlfriend long enough for one to cheat on me; but I imagine I’d be pretty pissed off.
I hadn’t heard from her in a month, and then she called me at work to tell me she was pregnant. She called me there because she knew I wouldn’t answer her calls at home. “Congratulations,” I told her. “Does your husband know?”
She tried to tell me he was jealous and upset. He didn’t think the baby was his and all he did was yell and scream at her, and threaten to hit her so she’d lose the baby. When I reminded her that he was clearly justified, all that did was upset her. She told me she was sure it wasn’t his baby, too. Then she told me it was mine.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “We always used a rubber. I’m careful about that shit.” And that was the truth. I WAS always careful. I’d never had a scare before; but I learned from the mistakes of others. I used to know this guy in high school – I think his name was Bernie or Buddy or Brian – and he got this girl pregnant. Well, her parents were religious freaks and insisted he marry the chick and “do the right thing.” His parents told him if he didn’t make it right that they were going to cut him off – and they were pretty well off. He was planning on going to medical school, and he didn’t want to have all those loans hanging over his head. So he married the girl. They weren’t even out of HIGH SCHOOL. I took biology with her and all she did was sit in the front and show baby pictures to all the other girls in class. The teachers were scared shitless that there was going to be a baby epidemic. So I always used a rubber – except for this one time and that girl was on the pill, anyway.
“Condoms break, you know,” Cindy was saying. “Nothing is one hundred percent effective…”
“Save the public service message,” I told her, “and talk to your husband. Or any of the other guys you’ve been with.”
I thought that would be the end of it. But of course, it wasn’t. She was calling me all the time – always at work, where I wouldn’t have the caller ID – and telling how horrible it was at home.
“Craig’s always drunk,” she’d say. “He’s mean. He’s hit me a couple of times, and he keeps threatening to punch me in the stomach.”
“So leave him.”
“Can I come stay with you?”
Maybe I should’ve felt bad. Maybe I should’ve offered to let her stay with me until she could get settled in her own place; but I knew how that would turn out. She’d move in and never leave. The psycho would camp out in front of my place. She’d cry a lot. Then there was the whole baby thing to consider. It played out in my mind like a whole lot of hassle and drama.
On this particular night, she called to tell me he’d gone through with his threat to hit her in the stomach and it had caused her to bleed.
“Call 911,” I said. “Call an ambulance. Call the cops.”
“What should I DO?” she wailed.
I looked up and was relieved to see a customer stroll into the store. “Listen,” I said. “I’ve got a customer. I’m at WORK, you know.”
“I’m sorry,” she sniffed. “I know you’re at work. I just don’t know what to do…”
“Yeah you do. Hang up and call the cops. That’s who you’re supposed to call when your husband is abusing you.” I hung up before she could get out another sentence.
Most of the time I hated it when my shift was busy; people were so damned impatient when they had some place to be. It didn’t matter that I was the only clerk and there was only one register. Customers came in waves. It was never just a steady trickle. No, they came one right after another for like an hour, maybe even two. Then nothing. When the store was empty I could read or get started on my end of the shift clean-up. Mostly I read, or snuck behind the cooler and nabbed a beer or something to drink. The gig was a monkey job – it didn’t take any great intelligence to do it – and I had to find some way to while away the time. One of the things Cindy always said she liked about me was that I was smart, but I didn’t act like it. She’d point to whatever book I was reading to prove her point; though when it came to reading I was fairly indiscriminate. I bought books at this used book store on my way to work: tossed away paperbacks, four for a buck kind of stuff. I avoided those god awful romances and the Tom Clancy crap – but I read just about anything else. Cindy started bringing me books, too. Nicer, hardbound books that I wasn’t comfortable lugging around. She said it was nice to talk to somebody literate. The husband, apparently wasn’t much of a reader. He considered himself something of an art and social critic, and he despised everything that had been written, painted, or made since the thirteenth century. I asked her once if it ever occurred to him that in the thirteenth century, he wouldn’t have even known how to read. She laughed and kissed me.
The customer who had been my excuse to get off the phone took his time strolling around the store. The place wasn’t that big, and everything was pretty easy to find. They were building a newer, bigger one down the street – construction was always ‘ongoing’ – but for now, everything was tightly packed and easy for the eye to see. He wandered down the snack isle and up the grocery isle. For a second he stopped in front of the Spam and Chef Boyardee, and I thought maybe he was going to buy something. Sometimes people just wandered in and wandered out without buying anything ; and I wouldn’t have cared, except that meant I had to look like a dumbass and stand at the register, waiting for them to buy something. I’d been called out by my manager twice because of that. I stood there, looking attentive and ready to ring him up, get him lottery tickets, get him a pack of smokes, or a porn magazine; he got to the end of the grocery isle, facing me. He smiled at me and turned to walk down the automotive isle. He stopped briefly in front of the fix-a-flat, then moved on.
Mother fucker. Oh well. I stood there on my little rubber mat that was supposed to keep my feet and back from hurting (it didn’t) and kept my prepared stance. That was what the manager, Joyce, called it. A prepared stance. I never bothered to ask her where she heard it or what it was supposed to be. I liked Joyce most of the time. She was short, and little on the plump side. Attractive for a woman in her early 40’s with a big smile and a rack to match. She was all business when it came to work, but I knew she spent her weekends and off time drinking beer and smoking weed. She’d invited me to a field party once, but I had to meet Cindy that night. Sometimes I still kicked myself for not going to the party instead.
I was thinking about how I was going to buy some new shoes with my next check, when the phone rang. I held my breath in for a second. Let it be a wrong number, I thought. I answered the phone using the professional air Joyce wanted when we answered the phone.
“Do you know who this is, you piece of shit?”
Fuck me. “The Tooth Fairy?”
“You think you’re funny, asshole?”
“I have my moments.”
“I told you what would happen if I caught you talking to my wife again, didn’t I?”
The barrel of the 9 millimeter flashed briefly in my mind. “Does this mean we’re not friends anymore, Craig?”
“You better watch it, fuckhead.”
“What do you want?” I asked. “I’m at work. Maybe you’re familiar with the concept?”
“Funny. You’re a funny guy. Maybe you should make a joke about how you fucked my wife.”
“I told you. We’re just FRIENDS.” That was exactly what I told him, too. They were married, true. But she had come on to me. I didn’t feel like I owed him anything – especially the satisfaction of being right. “You need to calm down.”
“Yeah?” he sneered. “Then how come you were on the phone with her tonight?”
“Look,” I said, keeping an eye on my strolling potential customer, who had made the loop around the store and was making his way down the drink and refrigerated isle. “I didn’t call her. She called me. If you don’t want your wife to talk to me, maybe you should monitor her phone calls a little more closely. If that’s even possible.”
“DON’T YOU FUCKING GIVE ME THAT. DON’T YOU FUCKING LIE TO ME, EITHER. MAYBE YOU’D LIKE IT IF I CAME DOWN TO THAT SHITTY LITTLE CONVENIENCE STORE AND BEAT THE TRUTH OUT OF YOU? HOW’D YOU LIKE THAT?”
“Look,” I said. “If you want to come down here, that’s fine. I’ve got nothing to say and nothing to hide.”
“YEAH? MAYBE I’LL COME DOWN THERE AND POUND YOUR EMPTY FUCKING SKULL IN WITH A BASEBALL BAT. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?”
I thought it was getting old. I didn’t want him to come down to the store, and I wasn’t all that sure I could take him. I felt my hands shaking and my heart beating faster. But I sure as shit wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing that. “Look. If you want to come down here and start something, then get in your car and come down here you psycho son of a bitch.” I was raising my voice. The phantom customer looked up from what appeared to be the potato chip section. “You’re just a fucking pussy, anyway. Got to get feel like a man by beating the shit out of your wife. Maybe if you weren’t such an abusive asshole with a small dick, your wife wouldn’t need to make friends with other people.”
“I CAN SMELL YOU ON HER! I CAN’T KISS HER ANYMORE BECAUSE I TASTE YOU IN HER MOUTH!”
“If you taste balls,” I told him, “brush your teeth more often.”
“No,” I said. “YOU listen. If you’re going to come down here then get off the goddamn phone and come down here. I have work to do.” I hung up. When I looked up the phantom customer was standing in front of me. He’d set a small bag of pretzels and a Diet Pepsi on the counter. I was still shaking. I smiled and tried to compose myself. Then I rang up his stuff.
“Is there anything else you need?” I asked. “Lottery tickets?”
He shook his head. “No thanks.” He paid with cash. I gave him his change. When he picked up his purchases, he wrinkled his brow at me and said “Good luck.”
“Have a good night, sir.” He walked out, got into an old model Lexus, and drove off.
The rest of the night was uneventful. Craig never showed up. Cindy never called back. Towards the end of my shift, Joyce walked in.
“Hey, Joyce. What’s up? You taking the next shift or something?”
“No,” she said. “We need to talk.”
“I need to let you go.”
“Because all you do is screw around. I’ve got you on tape reading, sneaking into the back to steal beer, and talking on the phone. This is a place of BUSINESS, you know. If you want to talk on the phone, do it on your own time.”
“I can’t help it if the phone rings,” I said. “What do you want me to do? Not pick it up?”
“I want you to act like a professional and not scream cuss words into the phone. It scares the customers.”
“What customers? It’s been dead all night.”
She shook her head. “Do you remember a guy coming in earlier tonight?”
What? I thought. Did he call to complain or something? “There was one guy,” I answered. “He bought some pretzels and a pop; but that was after he strolled around the store for twenty minutes scratching his ass.”
“That was the owner,” she said. “He likes to check up on his stores. When he left here, the first thing he did was call me. Woke me up to tell me that he heard you screaming at somebody over the phone, threatening them.”
“I wasn’t,” I defended. “You see, there’s this guy..”
“I don’t care,” Joyce said, folding her arms around her enormous tits. “You’re also a thief. You have to go.”
“Fine,” I said. “I’m too smart for this job, anyway.” I grabbed my stuff, walked into the back, and clocked out. Joyce followed me – I guess to make sure I didn’t take anything.
“You’re not going to finish your shift?”
You’ve got to be kidding me. “I’m going to get drunk and go to sleep,” I said. “You work here. You finish the goddamn shift.” When I walked out of the store, the sun was coming up. I looked around. The only cars in the parking lot were my piece of crap Honda and Joyce’s shiny Ford F-150. I walked across the parking lot, keeping an out for Craig. He was nowhere to be found. Then I got in my car and left.
08 April, 2009
“Is it Happy Hour yet?” she asked the bartender.
He frowned a sympathetic frown and shook his head. “Not yet.” He pointed to the clock above the cash register. “Not for another half hour.”
She sighed and looked at the clock on her cell phone. Dammit. She paid for her beer and thought about how nice a cigarette would be. That meant going outside; there were tables out on the patio, and she could sit and smoke and drink. It was even pretty comfortable outside. But she just KNEW if she stepped away from the bar for even a second – even just long enough to smoke – Books would come in, not see her at the bar, and walk back out. He wouldn’t wait. He never waited.
Sigh. “What a crock of shit,” she muttered to no one in particular. The only other person at the bar was a youngish guy with glasses. Very smart looking. Intellectual, even. She imagined what Books might look like in those same glasses. She shook her head a little. On Books, glasses looked ridiculous. The only way he looked right was the way he always looked: wearing a pair of ratty shorts, sandals held together with tape, an old t-shirt and that disgusting ball cap that didn’t really fit his head right. Not quite the intellectual look. More like garbage sheik.
She looked up from her thoughts, and over at the man in glasses. He must have felt her staring, because he looked over and smiled. “How’s it going?”
“Oh, fine,” she said. “Just trying to relax.”
The man nodded. “Long day at work?”
Gracie laughed. “Yeah, I guess. Though, technically I guess I’m still working.”
“Can’t be too bad of a job if they let you drink on the clock.”
“Well… it just FEELS like a job, I guess. You know what I mean? Sometimes you have to do something and it just…”
The man nodded. “I know what you mean,” he answered. “If it feels like work, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. I mean, if it makes you feel bad.”
“Oh, I don’t mind,” she answered a little too quickly. “I mean, I guess I do. But I don’t.” She laughed nervously. “Does that make sense?”
The man nodded. “Must be a family thing.”
She brightened up. “Yes. It IS a family thing. That’s exactly it.” She extended her pudgy hand to the man. “My name’s Gracie.”
The man shook it and smiled. “Call me Charlie.” His eyes were so gray they were almost silver. Like steel. She couldn’t remember ever seeing someone with eyes that color.
“Nice to meet you, Charlie.” Gracie smiled. “So what do you do Charlie?”
“Oh, a little of this and a little of that,” he answered. “I’m sort of in between jobs at the moment.”
“That’s too bad.” Her tone was sympathetic. And he looked so professional, too.
“Oh, I’m not worried,” he answered. “Tough times, I know… but I’ve got another job waiting on me.”
“Well that’s nice,” Gracie said. “So you’re sort of on vacation, then.”
Charlie smiled. “Sort of.”
She checked the clock on her cell phone. She’d only been sitting for five minutes. Why bother showing up early, she thought, when I know he’s not going to? Books wouldn’t show up until it got closer to Happy Hour. Cheaper beer, for one; though she still wasn’t sure why he bothered since he never bought his own booze. More than once, she’d threatened to stop paying for him when she saw him. After that, he didn’t call for six months and she’d convinced herself he was dead in a ditch somewhere, or one of the John Doe bodies like on CSI and Law and Order. That was more than she could handle; Books was a pest, a weight around her neck. He never bought his own drinks and rarely bought food. He lived where ever he could and was impossible to find. But that didn’t mean she didn’t worry about him.
Family, she thought. Not quite. Though she had known Books for as long as she could remember. She’d grown up with him, gone through school with him – until he dropped out – and they were still friends. As much as he aggravated her, Gracie understood that their friendship was a rare thing; hardly anybody stayed close friends – GOOD friends – with someone their entire life. She was closer to Books than she was to anybody in her piece of shit family. And actually, they WERE family – technically. Fifth cousins by marriage. Something like that. They’d figured it out once when they were kids. “Oh well,” Books had said. “So we can’t never get married.”
Gracie had trouble imagining anybody being able to marry him. Books had his share of women over the years; but none of them stayed. None but her. She was his friend even after a few of his girlfriends told her to fuck off and get a life. One even demanded Books choose between her and Gracie. As if. All Books did was laugh. That was all he ever did. He never said ok, or no, or yes. He never defended Gracie or took up for the girl who was pushing him to decide. He simply laughed. He laughed and the women all left, and things went back to normal.
She down her beer and looked at the clock. She didn’t know a half hour could last so long; all she wanted to do was be able to order a happy hour beer and save a few bucks. The bartender came back over and asked if she wanted another. She nodded and he took the empty mug, replacing it with a freshly filled frosty one.
“Preparing?” Charlie spoke.
Gracie looked at him. He nodded towards the beer. “Oh.” She chuckled a little. “Not really. It’s not that big of deal, actually. I’m just waiting for a friend.”
She giggled again. “Ah… no. We’re just friends. Old friends.”
“Ah. Well, good,” Charlie answered. “He’s not running late is he?”
“No,” Gracie responded. “It’s still early.”
“But you came early just in case… right?”
She shrugged and took a drink. “Well, yeah.” She shrugged again. It was the same shrug she gave whenever she talked to someone else about Books. “Besides,” she smiled, “miracles DO happen.”
“Do they?” Charlie smiled.
“I’ve known Books my entire life,” she said.
She nodded. “I think we first met in kindergarten.”
“Wow,” Charlie said, though he didn’t seem too impressed. “You’ve known him a long time.”
“Yes.” She opened the huge purse sitting on the stool next to her, pulled out a mostly empty wallet, and removed a small square of paper. She showed it to Charlie, handling it like a sacred document. “This was Books in when I met him.” The picture was bent and worn along the edges. The little boy in the picture smiled a big, toothless grin. His hair was cut in a shaggy bowl, and he wore a bright yellow and green colored turtle neck. She loved that picture of him. Sometimes, she he laughed, he still got that same look in his eyes – the same as the one in the picture.
“Cute,” Charlie commented, looking over the rims of his glasses. She looked up at Gracie and smiled. “Do you have one of you?”
Gracie felt her face burn. “Me? No.”
“I bet he carries one of you, though. Right?”
No, she thought. He doesn’t. She changed the subject. “I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before, Charlie.”
“I drive by this place all the time,” he answered. “Just thought I’d check the place out.” He smiled. “Is that alright?”
Gracie smiled and took another drink of her beer. It was nice to talk to a man who wasn’t Books; a man who bought his own drink and who was polite to her. The way Charlie talked to her reminded her of when she was younger – junior high, maybe – before she gained weight and right after she developed. The boys ogled and circled around her. They bought her lunch. They reserved seats for her in the crowded lunch room. Books had hated it, too. He hadn’t liked sharing her. That was also around the time they played truth or dare and … things happened. After, she thought maybe he –
She stopped the train of thought. She drowned the metallic taste in her mouth another drink of her beer. There wasn’t any use in going back over all that. Books had never shown any interest in her, and he never would. He liked those skinny girls. The ones who push their tits together to make them look bigger and look good in a bikini. He liked them young and dumb, too. “Old enough to buy beer,” he’d explained to Gracie once, “but not old enough to start sagging and dragging.”
And that’s what she was. To him, anyway. Sagging and dragging. But that doesn’t matter, she reminded herself. We’re friends.
“So can I ask why you’re meeting your friend?” Charlie interrupted her thoughts. “It doesn’t seem like you’re all that excited about seeing him.”
“Oh, it’s no big deal, really.” She sighed. “I just want to make sure he gets something to eat.”
“He can’t buy his own food?”
“He’s between jobs.” That was what she told people. The truth was Books had been between jobs for as long as he’d been old enough to work. Between jobs and in and out of jail. But she was his friend. She had always been his friend.
“You’re a good friend,” Charlie said, “to be willing to take care of him.” He took another sip from his drink. “Though I suppose he’d do the same for you.”
Gracie didn’t answer. Once, when she thought she was pregnant and the guy ran off, she’d gone to Books. At the time he was leaching off some girl or another. He drank a beer and listened to Gracie cry and blubber. She didn’t know what she was going to do. Then he offered to punch her in the stomach so she’d lose the baby. “You could blame the guy,” he’d explained. “That’d teach him.” Luckily she turned out not to be pregnant; that was the last time she took any of her problems to Books.
“He looks kind of familiar,” Charlie said. “Reminds me of this kid I went to school with. His real name’s not Harold, is it?”
She shook her head. “No. Ellis Booker. His real name is Ellis Booker.” She didn’t say his full name often. When she did, it sounded like a name that belonged to someone else. A lawyer or a captain of industry. She liked to imagine what Books would have been like if. If he’d stayed in school. If her had become a doctor or a lawyer. If he’d had any interest in her.
At one point, she’d had their entire lives planned out. Their junior year of high school, she was determined to marry him. They were the best of friends, after all. And wasn’t that what a good marriage needed? She knew she could be a good wife. She knew she could take good care of him. She just had to be patient and let him see it. But then, he decided to drop out. And then he hooked up with some junior high girl (who Gracie knew and knew better than to think that Books had forced himself on her) and he went to Juvie for a few years. When he got out, he had trouble finding work because of his record, and Gracie felt like she had to help him. After all, weren’t they friends?
She looked at her clock. Still not Happy Hour yet. Her beer was gone, and she was debating ordering another.
“You think he’s coming?” Charlie asked.
“He’s coming. He’s got to come.”
“Who else’ll buy him a beer, right?”
Gracie didn’t answer. Just then she didn’t like the tone in his voice.
Charlie stood up to leave. He through a few dollars on the bar to pay his tab. “Will you do me a favor?” He smiled.
He handed her a card. “Will you tell Ellis I’m looking for him?”
She looked at the card. DET. CHARLIE BUSHFELL. She wrinkled her nose. “What’s this about?”
“Parole violation,” the detective answered.” Your friend Books apparently decided to pay a visit to your old junior high. We have a report of someone matching his description exposing himself to two seventh grade girls on their way home.”
Gracie started shaking. She felt herself go numb.
“Take care, Gracie,” Charlie said. “And be careful, huh? Your friend, he’s not such a nice guy. Call me if you hear from him.”
The detective left and Gracie looked at the clock on her cell phone. Ten minutes, she thought. She looked at the card in her hand with the detective’s name and number. Then she ordered another beer.
02 April, 2009
She was standing over me, handing me another drink. I was on the floor, sitting with two people I barely knew trying to fake my way through a conversation. I was the odd man out – I knew Dorie, whose party it was, but I didn’t know anybody else. She and I were friends practically by accident, and even though I didn’t really fit in with the usual crowd of Oh-So-Cool-Tragically-Misunderstood-MTV-Kids, she still liked having me around. I think I made her laugh; though I was never sure why she thought I was funny. I never tried to be.
“Is what tragic?” I was grateful for the break in the conversation. I looked up at Dorie. She was clearly in her element. The small living room of her basement apartment was filled with cigarette smoke and the sounds of meaningless chit chat. There was a guy in the corner that looked suspiciously uber-intellectual, who was trying to explain Kierkegaard and existentialism to a slack jawed, wide-eyed, and clearly underaged chick who would undoubtedly end up using her mouth for more than making confused sounds and odd clicks. Another small group of three or four people was taking up the couch and recliner, trying to work out what Miro had to do with the poetry of Thomas Gunn. The potheads – there were about five of them – were in the back bedroom wrapped in smoke, coughs, and the occasional cackling laughter. My little group – comprised of me, a graduate student in mathematics, and a wannabe filmmaker – were trudging through a conversation about what the filmmaker referred to as “the vapid heart of Hollywood movies.” The math graduate student was defending his statement that there hadn’t been a solid movie from Hollywood since RETURN OF THE JEDI. That was when Dorie saved me.
“Oh,” she cooed. “You didn’t hear?” I was hoping that she was going to sit down and join us and maybe I wouldn’t have to listen to the geek explain why Princess Leia is the ultimate woman. Dorie didn’t sit, though. I looked up at her. She was smiling, and a little buzzed, or she would have been careful not to bend over and give me a full view of her tits. She typically liked showing off for other guys; but I was always excluded from her batch of boy toys and the ogling entourage. I focused on her eyes. “The lead singer from PJXO died.”
“Oh.” That was one of those bands I was supposed to know because everyone else did. Mostly I listened to the radio, and never top 40. I couldn’t remember the last time I bought an album, though it was certainly before the CD revolution. “How’d he die?”
“Oh my God,” she said, still not sitting down. “You HAVEN’T heard.” She looked up and smiled wide at the wannabe filmmaker and the math geek, both of whom were focusing on her the small mole on her left tit. “He choked to death.”
“NO,” she breathed. “He died from auto asphyxiation.”
She slapped me on the shoulder, causing a little of my drink to spill. “You KNOW. When people hang themselves when they masturbate.”
“Why do that?” I asked. “Seems like a lot of trouble for something every 13 year old boy picks up without much hassle.”
“BECAUSE,” she smiled, “it’s supposed to make it feel better. You know? It’s like, you cut off the air to your brain and it makes the orgasm more intense.”
She was careful to articulate the words MASTURBATION and ORGASM. I looked over at the math geek and I was fairly certain that was as close as he’d ever gotten to sex with a woman. The wannabe filmmaker was smiling and laughing, trying to be all cool and cynical.
“Oh,” I said.
“But, I mean, isn’t that just tragic?”
“Because,” she slapped my shoulder again, “I mean, he’ll never make music ever again. He’s gone. I mean, isn’t that just WEIRD?”
“You’re telling me that the guy hung himself jacking off, and that’s supposed to be tragic?”
“I mean, come on. OOO, the poor bastard HAD to jack off? Come on! He was a rock star for fuck’s sake! Girls probably threw themselves at him on a regular basis. He probably didn’t to touch his own meat ever – not even to take a piss or clean his balls. And it’s TRAGIC?? What, he was so lonely and nobody understood him? What the fuck? If he was so miserable, why didn’t he just get a regular job and be a normal, boring, desperate guy like the rest of us? At least then he’d have an EXCUSE to wack off.”
The math geek was stunned and the self-styled Scorsese interrupted me, trying to make a point. “It’s like Cobain, man,” he said. “He couldn’t handle the fame and look what happened to him. Real artists are just too fragile for…”
“Art?” I cut him off. “Art? Are you shitting me? You’re telling me that the thing that defines an artist is how thin skinned and “misunderstood” they are? That’s a whole lotta bullshit. If they can’t handle it, they should get out of the way and let those of us who want the money and girls and to not have to work a miserable goddamn day job have all the fun. Fuck-ing Chr-ist!”
At this point, I looked up at Dorie. Normally, she enjoyed my tirades. She wasn’t enjoying this one, though. “I was just making conversation,” she said, pointedly. “I wasn’t sure if you’d heard and I THOUGHT you might be interested.” She leaned in a little more. “You don’t have to be such a fucking ASS all the time, you know. You’re always so DEPRESSING. People like him are HEROES to some people. Who the fuck are YOU?” She stood up and kept walking, heading back towards the bedroom.
Heroes, I thought. Who the fuck needs heroes, anyway? I tried to think of any heroes I had. I used to have them. John Wayne. Humphrey Bogart. Superman. My Dad. Dad was dead; Superman should’ve died after the fifth Christopher Reeves installment. Bogart was a coward in real life. John Wayne helped blacklist actors he thought were communists. Sigh. But that wasn’t the point, I guess. What Dorie said made some sense. But still? Some poor little rock star getting hung because his right hand wasn’t enough? He’s a hero?
And did she have to jump on me that way? She knows how I am. I looked around the party. The temporary disruption caused by my little speech was over and everybody was going back to whatever conversation they’d been engaged in. The uber-intellectual was whispering in his chickie’s ear and running his fingers through her pink-dyed hair. I wondered who his hero was. Kierkegaard? Nobody picked dead philosophers for heroes. Everybody there looked like they stepped right out of Rolling Stone or Spin Magazine. Even the math geek had an absurdly cool sense of style. I was dressed the way I normally dressed. Which one of these is not like the others? That was pretty obvious.
I felt like going back and telling Dorie not to invite me to cool kid parties if she didn’t want me to be me. She was always different around different people, but I never really thought about it much. She and I were the best of friends – as long as there wasn’t some piece of man meat around that needed to be impressed and flirted with. We went to the movies together. We talked about books. We exchanged ideas on current events and we laughed at all the stupid shallow people we saw wherever we went. At the time, she was in between fuck buddies – so we’d been hanging out a lot. Just then it occurred to me that when she told me about the party and I said I’d show up, she never actually ASKED me to come. So, not only was I not supposed to act like myself, I wasn’t even supposed to be there.
The wannabe filmmaker went back to talking about some indie movie or another that nobody saw because the Hollywood system was corrupt and anti-art. The math geek was getting prepared for a break in the monologue so he could engage in his well-thought out defense of Star Wars. I looked at my drink. She’d given me some concoction or another. I downed it without bothering to taste it. When the glass was empty, I looked up and Dorie was walking back into the living room. She breezed right by me and over to the couch crowd, who were at that point discussing the ins and outs of Gap outlets. She didn’t even bother to look at me when I stood up and left.
01 April, 2009
“You playing that race?”
“Jack asked because Jarvis’s eyes were fixed on the screen showing races from the Charlestown Track.
“Yeah. I have better luck with races under five furlongs. Less room for error.”
Jack smiled. He was on his third beer. He came in everyday at three when Happy Hour started, drank four beers, and then went home. He worked all over the valley as an industrial painter; but somehow, Jack managed to hardly ever bee late for his stool at the bar.
“Nah,” Jarvis answered. “But it’s important to be optimistic.”
That made Jack chuckle. He sipped at his beer. When Jarvis first met him, he thought the old guy was retired. He certainly looked to Jarvis like somebody who ought to BE retired; Jack reminded him a little of those broken up old men he worked with at a warehouse gig in Lexington. It had been so goddamn depressing, going into work everyday and seeing a bunch of worn out grandfathers shuffling through the day just to be able to earn Social Security. That was why they did it; he’d asked one of them over lunch break. The one he asked (he didn’t remember the guy’s name) had one of those faces – all wrinkles and bags of skin, sunken red eyes. It was impossible to see anything in the old guy but a broken piece of machinery. He never talked about a family, never talked about what he did in his spare time. He worked. He went home. He got older and older, waiting to be told he put in enough time to earn the pittance that was Social Security and wearing himself into dirt. Talking to the old guy made him wonder if that was what would happen to him someday. If he’d be one more piece of manufacturing machinery just waiting to break down. Jarvis quit the warehouse that day and never went back.
Jack was different too, though. He didn’t look broken down or tired. He just came in for his few beers and then went home to his wife. He talked about his kids, his grandkids. He was vital. He was alive. The work wasn’t a weight; on the contrary, it seemed to help keep him going. It made Jarvis think of his grandfather the carpenter who worked right up until he died of lung cancer. There were people who worked their entire lives and it never seemed to bother them. Jack was one of them. His face was a road map to some unknown country. His hair, still thick, was bushy and white and stuck out from under his ball cap. When he walked into the bar, his steps were solid and deliberate. His feet weren’t weighed down with worry about where the next step would lead him.
“Which horse?” Jack asked.
“What are the odds?”
“12 to 1.”
Jack looked up at the TV, but only casually. He didn’t gamble. Jarvis didn’t think he ever heard the old guy spit out a curse word.
“Does he look good?”
“Sure,” Jarvis answered. “But if I don’t win this one, I’m done.”
Jack chuckled under his white mustache.
“What about you?” Jarvis asked.
Jack answered by shaking his head. “Nah. Not me.”
“Probably smart. Save your money.”
A couple of the older guys at the bar chuckled. The professional gambles were all there; they’d sit at the bar, order well drinks like rum and coke or gin and tonic, buy the race program, and spend a large part of the day placing bets. Jarvis bought a program once, but it didn’t help him; it was more complicated than the financial pages in the newspaper. Jarvis watched them gamble sometimes and listened for tips. They considered all the crucial angles. The rider. The owner. The trainer. Track conditions and the weather. The genealogy of the horse. The length of the tale. The color of the coat. The size of the horse’s ass or whether it was a tall or short horse. Some wouldn’t bet unless they saw the horse first. Some didn’t want to see them until they came out of the gate. The daily players mentioned all the riders by name and talked as if they knew each on personally.
Jarvis understood how important the rider was. And he understood the other factors played some role in which one crossed the finish line first. But it was too much to keep up with. There were different categories of people who played the horses. Most fall into the occasional category. They’ll play, lose, and then probably not play again unless they happen to be somewhere and they’re in a good mood. Sometimes, though, the occasional bettor ends up winning; and if THAT happens, they become mood or situational players. That kind watch, and if a horse strikes their fancy, they’ll lay a bet – usually something simple, like a $2 show or maybe even an across the board. Nothing that requires too much thinking or number juggling. Moving beyond this category wasn’t really a question or wining or losing; it had more to do with temperament. Gambling took a lot of patience or a lot of desperation, or both. Most of the time, the nag in question didn’t come in. Even if all the elementals looked good and the planets were aligned – the whole system was set up for people to lose more over time than they would ever win, even on a good day.
He considered himself a situational player. He’d sit through the races until he saw a horse he liked, or he’d go to the bar and lay some bets just to pass time. He’d managed to win a few times – but never more than ten bucks and never enough to cover what he’d already put in. But there was something about the ritual of it all that he enjoyed.
On the current race, for example, Jarvis walked in and the next race was ten minutes away. The five was running at 12 to 1. Two minus one, you get one. 12 minus five, you get seven, which was only divisible by one. The pony in question was a beautiful dark brown – so dark it could’ve passed for black. It looked like the kind of horse you’d expect to see thundering out of the sky in some movie about Armageddon, all full of fury. He even liked the name: Twoforthemoney.
I probably shouldn’t be playing at all. Jarvis was starting to run low on money and so it probably wasn’t wise, even though it was only a six dollar bet. But he also figured he nothing to lose, either. And he still had his two grand in relief money – if he got to the point that he absolutely HAD to use it. He didn’t want to use it. He didn’t feel like somebody who needed to be on relief. Sure, he’d been pushed out of New Orleans by the worst natural disaster to hit North America in fifty years – but he hadn’t really lost anything. There were people who lost a whole lot more and who, he thought, deserved it more.
He shook his head and wondered for a second how his dad had felt about horse racing. Except for the occasional lottery ticket, he never saw his parents gamble. On anything. On the contrary, they were, if anything, especially cautious people. Vice free people. No booze in the house growing up. Neither of them smoked. No drugs except for all the prescriptions his dad took towards the end of his life – all the multi-colored pills with specific functions that meant nothing in the end. High blood pressure. Depression. Arthritis. Bronchitis. Antibiotics. Vitamins.
The sound of the horses leaving gate shook Jarvis from his thoughts. The five pulled ahead early; that could be a good thing, since it was a short race. But there was another horse – the six – a cool speckled gray – that was keeping pace. “Fury is stronger than Death.” he muttered to himself, thinking for no particular reason of a sci-fi fantasy book he’d read as a kid called He Rides a Pale Horse.
“Looks like you’re going to win,” Jack said.
“Let’s hope so.”
Jack smiled. “Why? You need the money?”
“No. Just the luck.”
Good point. Jarvis turned his attention back to the screen. Twoforthemoney came in first. Once the results were official, Jarvis would be able to collect his winnings.
Jack finished up his last beer. Looking around, Jarvis saw by the looks on everyone’s faces that his horse was the only one that came in.
“Maybe you’re on a lucky streak,” Jack said, standing up. “You gonna take advantage of it?”
Jarvis shrugged. “Don’t know. Maybe. Can’t trust luck to last too long.”
“True enough. Take care.”
“See you, Jack.”
His six dollar bet got him $31.10. He tipped $1.10 to the guy working the window and went back to the bar. The evening crowd was starting to wander in. They were more talkative – the social drinkers who didn’t really play the horses. They came into watch sports, eat chicken wings, and complain about their bosses. There was probably a baseball game on; and even though the Diamondbacks had no chance in hell of making it to the post season, people came and watched anyway. Baseball fans were like that. The real ones, anyway. As much as he didn’t like Phoenix, there was something comforting about baseball fans. They were as nuts there as they were anywhere else. Jarvis ordered another beer and looked back up at the races. He saw a horse he liked. He considered his luck and decided to go ahead and make a small bet. When he got back from the window, the odds jumped up, and then down. That always made him a little nervous; made him feel like the powers-that-be were just fucking around with him for sick entertainment. Isn’t there enough risk in gambling, he thought, without the odds jumping up and down?
Maybe dad never went to the track because the odds are kind of like the weather. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it’s windy. Sometimes the rain took out an entire city.
When the race started, it looked like his horse was a bad pick. But just as he was about to give up hope, the horse rounded the bend. Then he broke free from the pack and took a substantial lead. The favorite was falling back and the other horses were struggling to keep up. The horse crossed the finish line. Another first place finish. When Jarvis collected his winning, he noticed that the odds had jumped high in his favor before the race. He had turned his initial six dollar bet into $200. Not a bad day.