Archive for July, 2012


white people: the movie

Brett came to pick me up in his uncle’s Mercedes convertible, waving to me on the third floor so I would recognize him, as he wasn’t in the Grand Cherokee he usually drove. At the time I didn’t know that the SLK 230 Kompressor roadster was one of the lower-end Mercedes, what industry insiders called an “entry-level” model, slotted below the M, R, and SL classes. I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to Mercedes. As requested, I brought Brett down his Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz CD and his travel sized bottle of Hugo by Hugo Boss cologne that had come prepackaged with the big bottle. He didn’t have that much stuff in our dorm room anymore; aside from having to share the suite’s bathroom with Steve and Mitch, I basically had the place to myself. It would have been a good time to grow a pot plant or something, but the thought never occurred to me. I got pretty good at shooting baskets with my off hand on the Nerf hoop on the closet door.
Not that many juniors still lived in the dorms, just the ones whose scholarships mandated it, which no longer applied to me. I had lost my scholarship the semester before when my GPA went below 3.2 for the second straight time, but I stayed because had already filled out my housing form for the spring. Brett was staying mostly at his uncle’s place by the lake anyway by that time. His uncle was in Singapore on business till June and had given Brett a key. Told him to come by and bring the mail in a few times a week. Keep the grass cut. It might be a quiet place to study, he told Brett’s parents, or even use the pool if he wanted. I never met Brett’s uncle, but he was an older guy, like sixties. Divorced. It was a big place for one person. I couldn’t tell if he had good taste, but definitely expensive taste. The picture window mirror in one of the bathrooms was enormous, and angled in such a way that once I couldn’t help noticing this weird face I made when reaching back to wipe my ass. Did I make that face every time, I wondered. I worked for months afterward to correct it, then forgot about it. Oh shit, I probably still do it.
When I got into the car, he weirdly did not give me shit for wearing just a pocket t-shirt from Old Navy. He was dressed for the club though; he kinda always was. Did this fucker ever once wear a normal shirt the whole time I knew him. We went to college in a town where people still cruised the drag, and as we pulled on to the street where the club was, he handed me a pair of sunglasses just like the pair he was already wearing and I put them on. Not because I was trying to look cool, but because I didn’t know what to do with my eyes. It was a convertible. My whole head, my face, were just out there, and people were looking at us. I tried to look like I was looking straight ahead, expressionless, but I probably looked scared. Behind the sunglasses, I was looking all around.
We got to the club and I sneaked up to the third floor where they played hip-hop, to see if I could get a black girl to dance with me, but they could all tell I was a student. I went back downstairs to check on Brett, but he was fine. He had the reddest ass of any baboon in there. Looking and acting like an asshole was important to Brett, but he wasn’t one. He told me once that he had gotten with a girl that had been in a bad car accident, and he had had to hold her colostomy bag for her to get into the one position she was comfortable in. Uncharacteristically, he didn’t use the word ‘bang’ when telling the story. He had probably had to be pretty careful. I never knew why we lived together longer than one semester, but he accepted my weirdnesses long before I accepted his. Which of us was the better friend. The better person.
When the lights turned on at the club, he and I found each other and he had his arm around this really tall girl, Jamie. He said Jamie was just waiting on her roommate to come back from the bathroom, and then they were both going to follow us to his uncle’s place. Turns out I kinda knew her roommate. She was this girl Holly, a freshman, whose dad Mark I came into contact with a lot at my job. When I lost my scholarship, I got a work-study job at Central Purchasing at the physical plant. Mark was in charge of the motor pool, and he came by to order and pick up vehicle parts. Starters, brake shoes, bearings, belts. We all got back to Brett’s uncle’s, and instead of asking if they wanted to go swimming like he usually did, Brett started a VHS of A River Runs Through It in the den, then he and Jamie went back to the master bedroom. The movie was already halfway over when he started it, so Holly and I had some beers and talked for a while with it in the background. She told me Mark and her mom were divorcing. She was thinking about taking a semester off, having never lived anywhere but this town. I mostly just listened, but when the tape ended I put my hands on the couch to get ready to stand up and press Stop, and she put her hand softly on top of mine.
We kissed briefly. For seriously less than a minute. Then we heard Jamie’s footsteps walking briskly up the hall towards us, and when the light crossed her face upon entering the den I saw she had this really annoyed, impatient look on her face. Brett was behind her, not walking as fast. “I think we’d better go,” she said, and Holly stood up and got their purses and they left. Holy shit he had brought out the acoustic guitar, hadn’t he. He had.


think your way out of happiness

Five minutes after he finished, he wished he could roll back over and jerk off again, just so there would be something left in the day to look forward to besides being stuck in bed by himself. He opened his eyes and saw nothing but the ceiling. This was a feeling Randall knew well, just not with this intensity. He had felt it as a child whenever he saw the back-to-school sale signs go up, or when he heard “All Summer Long” by the Beach Boys; and as a young man every Sunday night when he sensed the weekend coming to a close and began preparing himself for another week unloading furniture from trucks in his father’s warehouse.
That long-ago loading bay job had been his father’s idea of an apprenticeship, his way of training Randall to one day run the three Room Genie stores that achieved fame partially for being the retailer from which most families in town had bought their first dining room set, but primarily for a long series of commercials airing on local television that over the decades had steadily increased in absurdity; the latest ones bordered on the surreal. Randall and his older brother Darren had starred in the first few of these ads, before Darren found better things to do than hanging around taking orders from the old man. Randall, however, remained loyal to the bitter end, and not just on the business side either. Sure, as general manager of all three stores, Randall had fulfilled the promise his dad saw in him, but he was most proud of having carved out time in his busy schedule to stop by a few times a week and see Eugene in the rest home long after the glint of familiarity had left the old man’s eyes when Randall entered the room and stroked his blue, veiny hand.
The last of those famous television ads had struck a strangely valedictory tone as it showed gauzy, sepia-tinged clips from television ads past. Randall never got used to the mental disconnect between the image of Big Gene dressed up as a genie, resplendent in his shirtless glory, and the reverential notes the disembodied voice used to thank Greater Marksburg for thirty-seven years of memories while announcing that customers could look forward to the same service they had come to expect from Room Genie, while also enjoying the wholesale prices that could only be delivered by a national retailer like Mattress Mart, who would be absorbing all three Room Genie stores next year.
Randall had hoped Big Gene’s death would be the event that brought Darren back to the fold. After all the betrayals, he still held out hope for reconciliation. Instead, Darren began negotiating with Mattress Mart in earnest, selling off his interest in the company like it was radioactive and not his heritage. Darren’s involvement in the company, already tenuous, had lessened considerably six years ago when he got romantically involved with the girl that sang the final iteration of the Room Genie jingle, a breathy, seductive take on a classic that their mother would never approved of. Darren was, of course, nowhere to be found when Big Gene took ill. If Randall had foreseen the sale of the company his father built for his sons to run, he would have corrected the old man’s final words to him, months before he actually passed: “You’re so good to me, Darren.”
He threw the sheets off of himself and, trying to rid his mind of thoughts of that big spotlight they were renting to put in the parking lot for the final week of the liquidiation sale, reached for his laptop. He disgustedly hit ‘close tab,’ however, upon noticing that the girl rubbing oil on her nude body by the pool had a tattoo of Tweety Bird.


hydroplaning toward a better tomorrow

A business associate of mine passed along the name of a doctor known for his discretion, a reputation supported by the fact that the address given to me led to an unmarked storefront in a part of town I knew primarily from my days as a cash-only delivery driver struggling to maintain willful ignorance of my cargo. I waited outside until I saw an important-looking man, presumably a patient, emerge from the door with a sling on his arm, escorted to his SUV under the careful watch of his subordinates, a couple of appliance-sized fellows in track suits and sunglasses. I pressed the buzzer, then waited on the verbal cue to speak the word I was given over the phone when I made my appointment. Saturnine. In contrast with the building’s exterior, the examining room was immaculately kept, and the doctor entered promptly with an outstretched hand to greet me. Having completed the business of putting me completely at ease, he asked of my physical complaints as I changed into a surprisingly comfortable gown while trying to discern the source of the relaxing music.
The doctor attentively checked the affected area in question, then assuaged my Wikipedia-fueled concerns and issued me a small tube of topical cream. And when I complimented his encyclopedic knowledge and computer-like recall of ailments related to mine, he looked me in the eye and said, “I can tell you a heck of a lot more than that for an extra $50.” Intrigued, I took him up on his offer and he led me to a room in which two-thirds of the space was taken up by a large machine emitting a menacing hum. I began to question my decision as he attached electrodes to my chest, forehead, and fingers, but tried to focus instead on the music, which I could have sworn had somehow become even more relaxing, perhaps even aggresively so. No sooner had he attached them all did the machine print out a sheaf of papers, punctuating the flurry of activity with a cheerful “ding!” and the doctor pronounced the procedure complete.
He handed me the papers, offering no explanation beyond “your career stats.” Quickly my bewilderment gave way to astonishment as I pored over page after page of a complete inventory of every activity I had ever participated in, replete with the number of times I had done them. Among other details, the copendium reported 24,192 times in my lifetime that I had brushed my teeth, using the equivalent of an application of toothpaste 504 feet in length and spanning 11 different brands. I had clipped my fingernails 1,716 times, my toenails 343. Over the years, I had eaten a total of 416 veggie combo classic footlongs from Danny’s Famous Subs, which would have qualified me for 52 free footlong subs of equal or lesser value, if I had not misplaced 29 of Danny’s Famous Subs Frequent Diner punchcards prior to completing them. 8,736 minutes of my life had been spent masturbating, compared with 8,947 minutes spent obscuring evidence that I had. I consumed the catalogued information voraciously, stopping only upon learning that fully 2,488 hours of my life had been taken up with meetings at work that had led to an increase on productivity so low as to not even register on this exhaustive list. I began to worry that I had wasted my life and resolved henceforth to value my remaining time before it dwindled away. The doctor correctly surmised my intentions as he observed my flipping ahead to the last page and stopped me. “Don’t bother, friend,” he said. “That list can tell you a lot of things, but no one knows for sure how much time we’ve got left.” Just then, a runaway gasoline tanker truck barreled through the front of the building, killing us both instantly in a horrific fireball. We awoke in the afterlife, bypassing an information desk crowded with souls trying to find out their lifetime pickup basketball shooting percentage, and proceeded confidently to the pizza buffet.


growing a plant in a paper cup

From the time I was very young, balloons have been a source of considerable personal anxiety. If I got one at the shoe store or at the dentist, my Mom would holler at me in the car on the way home to keep it from floating up in the back seat and blocking the rearview mirror. I’d start out kinda sitting on the balloon to protect it from my older brother Randy, who would always be reaching over to try to pop it. As gingerly as I could, I’d wedge that purple or orange bulge between the outside of my thigh and the inside of the car door on the driver’s side, where I always sat. They didn’t put kids in car seats back then, but we did have to wear seat belts. If Randy did manage to pop it while Moms was driving, she’d jump and let out a little scream, then pull over into a gas station and beat my ass. Probably happen again when Daddy got home and heard about it. So I felt protective of this thing that was under my care, and the feeling lasted long after I had unstuck my legs from our car’s hot vinyl interior. If the ribbon was long enough, I’d leave it tied to my wrist even at the dinner table, while I held the balloon under the chair with my feet while I ate. There just wasn’t any correct way to deal with a balloon. If it broke or you accidentally let it get away from you, you failed as its keeper. But even if you exercised the utmost care, it still wouldn’t last. I once kept one safe under my bed after successfully guiding it through all the day’s obstacles, but when I checked on it the next day it had already started to die on its own, wrinkles forming in uneven patterns all over the sad green dome.
Having been born a couple months after Jimmy Carter’s inauguration, I had a whole half a class full of peers who had lived in one more Presidential administration than I had, and I was a little jealous of them. As if that weren’t enough, these classmates had also, albeit unknowingly, gotten the chance to have lived in the year of our nation’s Bicentennial. What had it been like, I wondered. The third week of fifth grade, fortunately, brought a chance at redemption for me, as the bicentennial of the Constitution was upon us, at a time when I was not only alive, but old enough to truly appreciate it. At homeroom, Mrs. Robinson told us she had a special celebration planned just for the fifth graders. She handed out these little notecards, each with a punch hole in the top left corner, with a line for us to write our name, above a typed explanation that the balloon attached to this card had originated at Carver Elementary School and if found, to please send the card back to let us know how far it had gotten. On our way out to the playground, we were each handed a red, white, or blue balloon and told to tie the ribbon through the hole in the notecard. All the other kids were cutting up and horsing around at this rare opportunity to go outside before recess; I alone undertook the task with the solemnity and dignity it deserved. Mrs. Robinson counted to three, and we were all supposed to release them at once. I held on to mine for a second or two longer, though, the better to identify it from the others as it rose in the sky. Up it went, and soon I lost it in the crowd. The wind picked up and a few in the bunch began to drift from the cloud of dots in the sky, getting smaller and smaller. I could hardly believe that this thing that had just been in my hand was now up so high, all on its own. I hoped it would travel far away. I hoped no one would ever find it.

July 2012