Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
Running is not a sport. It's a survival technique. A zebra munches on grass. She senses danger and her ears go flat. Whether the lion is sighted or not, the exodus begins. Zebras charging through grasslands, stomping through the plains. No rest until the danger is gone. All this, and no Nike endorsement deals.
With the help of three women who didn't like her very much, I managed to outrun Beckee Krackow. I camped out on their couch for the remaining nine days in Wisconsin. We made dinners together, crashed sorority parties, closed down Hurricane bars, and made dozens of mix tapes that featured little digs at Beckee that no one but the four of us would ever understand. I was almost having the time of my life. But this fun wasn't something I'd planned. Wasn't the spontaneous product of a carefree life. This fun was the byproduct of running away from my problems. And even though I was fairly sure they wouldn't be catching up to me any time soon, I was still uneasy about their proximity to my back. Every jeep that passed was Beckee. Every man I made eye contact with was unHarry. Every joke I cracked made three people laugh, and two cringe.
This is the way it has always been. Jeremy Burdick hits me in the face with a rock, I run home. The Saint tells me that hanging out with Kevin Harris makes me look gay, I run away from Kevin without looking back. The first time I got tired of dating Beckee Krackow, I gave her a Valentine's Day present, and ran to the safety of my dorm. Everything running. It's a wonder my feet ever touch the ground. This stupid fear of getting caught being who I was. Staring too long at Saint Christopher's ass, or unHarry, or that stupid crying faggy baby Jeremy Bird Dick. I spent so much time running from who I was afraid to be, that I never took a break to realize who I was. And now here I was, running from this crazed psychopath, Beckee Krackow, a girl who had never really done anything wrong except love me.
And, shit, even my running wasn't very original. Simone, Rachael, and Susan had already rescued one high school ex that Beckee had trapped. Alex. unHarry's junior year roommate, a tall, goofy looking kid with a blond fro. "He was obviously freaked out the very first night he was in town." Susan said. "Harry picked him up at the airport, and he met Beckee and us at The Safe House." So those fuckers knew where it was before I showed up. I wondered why they pretended they'd never been there before. "And then one of Beckee's skanky ass friends showed up, and kept flirting with Alex all through dinner. He looked so uncomfortable."
I wondered if the skanky ass friend was Michelle. If she'd laid her foot in Alex's lap while she bragged about how she orgasmed while giving head. If Beckee took him home afterward and read some poetry she'd written about him.
"He was weird anyway." Simone said. "He was always looking at people like they were some sort of exotic meat."
Rachel nodded. "Gave me the fucken creeps."
If they only knew.
I hadn't spent much time in high school getting to know Alex. Pretty much all the information I had about him came through Beckee. According to her, Alex's father was one of those rich shit heads whose jobs required him to move all over the world. That Alex never really settled anywhere until Torpor Heights. Five years old, and friendless in Madrid. Caught torturing a parrot to death in Belize at age seven. At twelve, he half-blinded a girl with a rock in Ghana. When he was fourteen he did something in a former Soviet Republic that made him chuckle, but that he wouldn't explain. Something bad enough to make his father send him to boarding school back in America. At fifteen, he was assigned to live with Harold Brissette. I don't know how or when they started fucking. Whether it was rape or if they were just two curious, horny teenagers doing what curious, horny teenagers do.
"He totally cries during sex." Beckee said. We were backstage, rehearsing for Romeo & Juliet. I had a few minutes before I had to go out, so Beckee was sitting in my lap, complaining about her sex life with unHarry. "It's so annoying. It's like, he's terrified of the vagina. Like it's going to eat him or something. Rargh." She wrapped her legs around my arm. "I don't get what's so scary about genetalia anyway."
"Pussy looks like an unhealed scar." I said. "Or some chasm to an alien universe."
"Oh, please. If there's anything alien looking about genetalia, it's the cock. It's fricken hilarious. Big droopy trunk and this hairy, floppy purse behind it."
"Don't knock my sword." I said, grabbing my junk as punctuation.
She chortled. "Puh-lease. I'm not afraid of your sperm purse."
"You haven't seen Kilo yet."
"Keeloh?" She asked.
"Short for Kilometer."
It was her turn to grab my junk. To her credit, she refrained from replying with the appropriate more like centi or, cock forbid, milli joke. "There isn't a penis in the world that scares me."
"And there isn't a vagina in the world that scares me." I replied. Which was true. I wasn't scared of them, just repulsed by them.
"Well, then you're one up on my gay ex-boyfriend."
"So you guys are definitely broken up?" I asked.
"Do you think I'd be playing with your sword if we weren't?" To my credit, I refrained from replying with the appropriate truth. "I mean. You have to promise not to tell anyone. But. Ok. Harry is totally gay."
I blushed. "So you've said."
"No, I mean like. Like he and his roommate fuck." And I'm sure she kept talking, but I didn't hear a word she said. I was picturing Alex and unHarry. Trying to figure out who was top, whether they held each other afterward. When I came to, she was looking at me. I was definitely supposed to be saying something.
"Why are you telling me this?"
The question became, why did she tell me this repeatedly? Every time we got together there was some mention of unHarry and Alex having sex.
Now that I'm comfortably in my twenties, I understand. She needed to talk to someone about how this guy she loved, who claimed to love her, was gay. How frustrated she was. And since unHarry and I weren't friends, and, maybe in her eyes, were romantic rivals, I was a perfect candidate. She didn't know that I, too, was a stupid, confused sixteen year old closet case, and because of how quickly and frequently she'd divulged unHarry's secret, I was now terrified to tell Beckee Krackow anything that she could use as a weapon with her next boyfriend. So, a couple of weeks later, I gave her the stuffed bear, and stopped talking to her.
A year later, I was in the theater, hanging out with JBob and a few of the techies when I heard Beckee screaming. She and Alex were in the basement, supposedly working on one of the one act plays for an upcoming festival. It wasn't a long series of screams and crying, it was a short burst of "No. No. Get off me!" followed by silence. None of us flew down the stairs to rescue her. I cracked jokes about how that must have been the first time she'd ever said those words. JBob and a couple of the techies laughed. A couple of them cringed.
It was summer before Beckee told me what happened. How Alex had raped her in the basement that she had to spend three mornings a week, rehearsing in. I had just financed Jennifer's abortion when she told me, and I was all out of comforting words. I mean what could I have possibly said to take her pain away? Should I have told her about Jennifer? Should I have mentioned that I was starting to get the sneaking suspicion that my interest in gay porn wasn't so much a phase but an obsession? Not knowing the most soothing thing to say, I asked "Did you tell Harry?"
She didn't. She didn't tell Harry. She didn't tell her psychologist. She didn't tell a dean, so no disciplinary action against Alex was taken. And two weeks before he was scheduled to graduate, he raped a sophomore who did report it. But since, as far as the school knew, it was a first offense, they chose to let him graduate. After that, he disappeared for two years, until either Beckee or Harry invited him to Wisconsin. I don't know what happened there, either. Why he had a black eye and a limp when he showed up at Simone, Rachel, and Susan's. How, despite all that, he still smiled through most of the visit.
I firmly believe that men are much better at cock-sucking then women. I also believe that women are better muff-divers. It has to do with having the equipment and knowing how it works. I fully acknowledge that men can become great at cunnilingus, and women can become amazing at fellatio, but I believe this comes with practice or inherent talent. The people born with this talent are roughly equivalent to the people born with perfect pitch. They're out there, but your chances of meeting them over Craigslist or Love.com are pretty slim.
unHarry gave much better head than Beckee. We were in the back of his Corolla. I tried not to imagine which of Beckee's mom's friends he'd done this with the night before.
When we were both finished, he said "Please don't tell Beckee about this. She'll die."
I had no plans to tell anyone. I made my way over to the music store a little early, where I inventoried my sins. We were done a little before midnight. Beckee was asleep when I got back. unHarry was not in the apartment. I took my cell phone and the business card out of my pocket. It could have been a trap. Simone, Rachel and Susan could have been really good friends with Beckee. If I called them, they'd promise to pick me up the next morning, and when they came by, the three of them would hold me down while Beckee duct taped my limbs together and locked me in the tupperware bin beneath her bed, only taking me out for the occasional feed-and-fuck. But maybe it wasn't a trap. They'd seemed sincere enough. And horrified enough by everyone else at that awful birthday party. I called.
"Had enough?" Rachel asked.
"More than." I replied. And I detailed as much of the badness as I dared. I told them about Beckee burning the bad poetry, and the naked unHarry, but I left out the sex.
"Jesus." She said. "Here's what you need to do..."
Beckee and I left her house at eleven in the morning. It was her day off. I told her how sorry I was for making light of her feelings, but, I explained, things between Jennifer and me weren't really over, and until we were completely finished, I didn't feel comfortable being with anyone else. I felt awful about leading her on, but I was glad she had unHarry. Anyway, I didn't want to infringe on her hospitality any more, so I'd moved my flight up. My supposed flight left at 2:30 in the afternoon. I was so sorry, but this really was the best way, you know?
According to the plan, Beckee would drop me off around 1. I would wander around the airport until 2, when Rachel and Simone would pick me up (Susan was working).
We didn't factor in Beckee being a complete spaz. At 1:15, instead of looking through the airport giftshop, or watching Beckee's taillights disappearing, I saw a huge sign that said "Welcome to Illinois."
"Oh, shit." Beckee said. "Oh, shit. I missed the exit. I'm so sorry." And she got off at the next exit, sped from exit ramp to entrance ramp, and the jeep hit 110 flying back toward Milwaukee. "If we missed your flight, I'll pay the fees to get you on the next one. God, please don't think I did this on purpose. I'm so sorry."
I believed her.
We got to the airport at 1:54. Still time to catch the flight I wasn't taking.
"Thanks, Beckee. I'm sorry" no I'm not "things didn't work out the way we'd" and by we'd, I mean, you'd "hoped. But thanks for a memorable trip."
"I'm not leaving yet. I'll walk you to the gate." Oh. Fuck.
"But you're parked in a no-parking zone."
"No biggee, I left it running. Anyway, I've got to pee. I'll be right back."
Well shit fuck bitch ass cooter cunt cock dickweed, what was I going to do now? I was standing in the check-in lane for a flight that I didn't have a ticket for, and I had no idea where Simone and Rachel were.
That's when I noticed the newspaper moving towards me at an alarmingly quick pace. There was clearly a body behind it. Two firm, female looking legs. And just as the newspaper passed by me, Rachel stuck her head around it, and said "Run!" So I did.
I woke up on Beckee's bed. She was on the couch, leafing through a hard bound book. It was black, with a bunch of roses collaged on it. In the center of the book was the word Journal. Oh, shit.
"Remember when I used to play with your sword during rehearsals?" She asked.
"I had such a crush on you. And I knew you felt the same way. If that tramp hadn't showed up at The Shat...." She smiled.
Jennifer was not a tramp. She'd never taken me out to eat with her friends, and had a three hour conversation about sex and swinging. She'd never gotten me drunk and taken advantage me. She'd never...She wasn't a tramp.
"Do you still write?" She asked.
I did. I hadn't written much poetry since high school, but I'd been working on a play, and a few short stories.
"Me, too. It's funny, I started writing this years ago, and I just finished it last night." And without asking if I wanted to hear it, she began reading from her journal. Terrible poems comparing our relationship to Romeo & Juliet's. I tried not to laugh at the audacity to elevate our romantic disconnection to the world's most famous double suicide. Then came the mixed metaphors involving a white picket fence, and living underwater in Poseidon's kingdom. I wanted a cyanide pill, a razorblade and hot water. I wanted to go double Van Gogh. Anything to not have to hear these terrible cliches about our supposed relationship. "So what do you think?"
I put my hand in my pocket, to make sure the business card was still there. "Aren't you dating Harry?"
"We have an open relationship."
"Don't take this the wrong way." And I tried to find something I could say that could possibly be taken any way but wrong. Nothing came.
At some point in our mostly one-sided conversation, Beckee had excused herself to the bathroom. She was in there for a long time. I heard tearing sounds, smelled smoke, and every few minutes I heard the toilet flush. She was burning the poetry book.
I took my copy of the apartment key, and my notebook, and went out to explore more of State Street. I was in one of the music stores, flipping through their used CD section when I found the U2 fan's holy grail, a complete collection of CDs known as The Propaganda Remixes. Five bootlegs of all the non-album tracks from the Achtung Baby/Zooropa era. Each one cost twenty bucks. There was no way I could drop $100, even if it meant very happy new music to drown out Beckee's voice.
"Look," the guy behind the counter said, "Ron's too sick to come in, and that fucken Sarah girl you hired last week didn't show up today. Even with two people, it's going to take all night to do inventory. There's no way I'm doing it by myself. I know you've got a date, but...Fuck you, Alan. I..." He looked up at me. "He fucken hung up on me. Do you believe that?"
"I do. I co-manage a music store in Massachusetts. We go through three Sarahs a month, and I'm always the one stuck doing inventory."
"Massachusetts? The fuck are you doing in Madison."
Freezing. Being trapped into a possible relationship with a delusional ex-girlfriend. "I'm on vacation."
"Maybe." I said. "And maybe you are, too. If I help you do inventory, can you cut me a deal on some CDs?"
His eyes bulged. "You help me inventory this store, and I'll cut you any deal you want."
We agreed that I'd stop by at 9:30, a half hour before the store closed, and I'd stay until the job was finished. In exchange, he'd give me the whole Propaganda collection for free, and tell the owner they'd been shoplifted.
It was only 6:00. I decided to kill some time at The Noodle Factory. I was staring at the huge menu above the register when I heard a familiar voice behind me.
"So many choices, huh?" unHarry. "Welcome to the world of the bisexual."
"You know. Like, the whole world is open to you, you've just got to make a choice. And like, most people only want either noodles or sauce, but bisexuals are willing to get either or both, so there's more choices."
"Uh, right." I ordered rotini with parmesan cheese, that I watched the cook sprinkle strands of cheese over my noodles. It was the most elegant macaroni and cheese I'd ever seen.
"Beckee told me she read you her poetry."
"Terrible, isn't it?"
"Actually," I said, "it's quite delicious."
"I meant her poetry."
"So she sent you after me?" I asked.
He snorted. "Hell, no. She was driving me batshit, so I went for a walk, and I saw you come in here. Figured I'd see how you were doing."
"Fine." I said, and returned my attention to the rotini.
He had a plate of spaghetti with marinara. The world's most boring bisexual.
We ate in mostly silence. But every once in a while, I'd look up and he'd be staring at me, elbow on the table, his head leaning on his fist.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm trying not to stare like an idiot." He said. "If you rest your head on your chin it looks more like you're staring like a genius."
"I saw the way you were looking at me yesterday."
I choked on my rotini.
"It got me so hot that I ended up leaving the party with one of Beckee's mom's friends. I just had that craving for cock, you know?"
Fuck. I did know.
Beckee's apartment was a larger version of her high school dorm room. But not much larger. A queen sized bed, a computer desk, a couch, a living room table, a microwave, a stove, a refrigerator, a bathroom. Candles filled the small shelf that ran all the way around the walls of the apartment. There was also an enormous, half-melted maroon candle in the middle of the living room table. Were it not for the Mac and the microwave, I would have thought she didn't have electricity.
While I went into the bathroom to splash warm water on my face, and maybe slap myself until I woke up in my comfortable bed in Cranberry Lake, Beckee put The Verve's Urban Hymns CD on. "I'm sorry I'm so useless tonight. I just...I haven't slept much recently. I promise I'll be more sociable tomorrow."
"Well, make yourself comfortable." Beckee said. "You can either crash in the bed with me and Harry, or you can take the couch."
Uhhh. "I'll take the couch, thanks."
I woke up the next morning with Beckee's foot in my crotch. Apparently, my lap was a skank ottoman. "Harry's off at work. I've got to go to work in a couple of hours, too. Want to do lunch?"
I did. We headed to The Noodle Factory. Beckee quickly ordered an order of lobster ravioli and alfredo sauce, while I scanned the menu. I was debating between rotini with parmesan cheese or bowties in butter with carrots, when Beckee said "Just so you know, tonight my mom is throwing me a birthday party. Formal dress." Bowties in butter, it was.
After lunch, we headed back to her apartment. "I left a spare key on the table, so you can come and go as you please. But both Harry and I will be home by four, and you'd better be here waiting for us." Then she kissed me and left.
After I'd showered some of my Madison away, I grabbed my walkman, and put in one of the on the road mixes that I'd packed. I was barely out the door when the walkman stopped working. I went back into the apartment, grabbed some fresh batteries from my bag and...nothing. Stupid five year old walkman had finally bitten the dust. I threw it into the trash, and headed back out into the cold, without a soundtrack.
Music stores. Botiques. A restaurant that only served different types of noodles. Book stores. Music clubs. Comedy clubs. And in front of each of them were free copies of a magazine called The Onion. I fell in love with State Street fairly quickly. At three-thirty, I headed back to Beckee's apartment. The refrigerator door was open, and I could see unHarry's hand gripped around the top of the door. "Hey, Harry." I said.
"Oh, hey Adam." unHarry said, closing the refrigerator door. He was naked. "I was looking for a Rolling Rock, but it looks like Beckee drank them all this morning."
He was still naked. "Huh."
"Oh! I found a walkman in the trash. That was yours, right?"
Still naked. "Yea."
"I fixed it for you." He picked it up off the counter and tossed it to me. Still naked.
"Thanks." I said.
"Anytime." He walked toward me. Still naked. "It's just good to see you again." And he hugged me. Still naked. Still unhairy.
Then he bent over toward the bed, pulled a plastic bin from underneath, opened it, and pulled out a pair of black pants. "Beckee's mom is throwing a birthday party tonight, and she wants everyone to dress up. I think she mentioned telling you to pack a blazer, but if you didn't, you could borrow one of mine." He started to denaked.
"I, uhh. I brought my own. Thanks, though." And I put my good clothes on in the bathroom, like a normal person.
Beckee arrived home a few minutes later, already dressed in the same gown she'd worn to The Shat, and a pair of silver pumps. "Everyone ready?"
And we drove. And we drove. And there was snow and cows and ice and cold. And in the middle of absolutely nowhere, Beckee pulled into what looked like an abandoned VFW Hall. It was not abandoned. It was a VFW Hall. Inside, a bunch of middle aged men and women were line dancing to Tone Loc's "Wild Thing." There were three rather horrified looking girls, roughly my age, sitting in a corner, drinking PBRs.
"Beckeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" screeched one of the line dancers, breaking formation to run full speed in our direction. "Happy birthday!" It was Beckee's mom. And she couldn't be more shitfaced if she was wearing a toilet seat hat in a diarrhea factory. "Oh, wow, Alex! So glad you could make it. Hope you won't stand my daughter up like you did at the prom."
"His name is Adam, mom."
"Adam, Alex. whatever. So, Adam, have you fucked my daughter yet?"
unHarry grabbed my arm and led me toward the corner of horrified looking girls. "She's a bit plastered." He said.
I was devoid of a witty response.
"Adam, these beautiful young ladies are Rachel, Susan, and Simone. Beckee and I met them on a cruise last year."
"Hi." I said. "Good to meet you."
And then unHarry was gone, back in the direction of Beckee and her mother. "PBR?" Simone asked.
We sat in silence for a few seconds.
"What am I doing here?" I asked the floor.
Rachel answered. "Be glad you missed the country karaoke."
"You're the other guy that Beckee dated in high school, right?" Simone asked.
Simone took a long sip of her PBR. "So, are you here of your own free will or did Beckee have to trick you into flying out here?"
"She does this all the time." Susan said. "Every month or so, she and Harry get bored of dating each other, and one of them invites some friend, or some stranger they met somewhere to stay with them, and then they try and get them drunk and take advantage of them."
Simone sighed. "Look, if you need to get away, you can give us a call, and we'll help you out." And she handed me a business card. "This guy named Alex came in September, and couldn't deal with them, so we picked him up while they were at work, and he spent the rest of the week with us."
"You know," Rachel said, "I still can't get used to how cold it gets here. I'm from Maine, you know. And, yea, it gets cold there, but not like this." And then we were discussing the difference between Wisconsin winters and Northeastern winters. How Rachel and Susan had devoted most of their Spring Break cruise trying to avoid this aggressively annoying girl who, on the basis that they were all from the same state, had decided they would be best friends for the duration of the cruise, and possibly life. Simone had felt sorry for Beckee, and decided to be her pity friend. Her well of pity was rapidly depleting, however. I needed another drink. Several more drinks. An ocean of Bacardi 151.
Beckee and her mother cut through the line dancers in our direction. "I'm sorry your pansy ass friends can't take a joke." She said to Beckee. Then, she turned to me. "Alex...Adam...whatever...you know I was kidding about the fucking my daughter thing, right?"
"Of course." I said, folding the business card in my pocket.
She snorted. "See. I told you he knew. Satisfied?" And she walked away.
"Alex?" I asked Simone.
"What about him?"
"Tall, goofy looking kid with a blond fro?" I was picturing unHarry's high school roommate
"Sounds about right." Simone said.
"What the fuck is going on here?"
At some point during the party, unHarry disappeared. I was too drunk to keep track of him. That, and Rachel had taken me out into the parking lot and shared a joint with me. "Remember," she'd said, "if you need to get away, just call us. No pressure. We're not like Beckee's other weird friends. We don't want to sleep with you or anything. You just seem like you're a little out of your element, and we want to help you out." And then we were back in the VFW with the spinning karaoke spotlights. I was dancing. Beckee's fucked her yet mother smiling disco ball. Some fat old man was grabbing Susan's ass. PBR slap. The floor was enhanced gravity. Splayed out against the wall. Beckee falling into my skank ottoman. Roll of Rachel eyes. And then we're in the jeep. Front seat. Cows. Snow. Ice. Fields. "Where's Harry?"
"He met some guy. They're probably out fucking in the back of the guy's Corolla or something."
Naked unHarry splayed out in the snow, walkman grunting suburban hymns, rolling of discoball eyes. "Guy? Harry and a guy? I thought you two..."
"Please. You're the only one of my exes who didn't turn out to be a fucken closet case homo."
Eyes spinning floating ass of pleasure. My spine, a creased business card. "I'm soooo confused."
And then we were in her apartment. Her on her bed. Me on the couch. The Smashing Pumpkins playing The Aeroplane Flies High Looks Left Turns Right. I was watching the candle burn gravity. Through her apartment's only window, I saw a parade of all the naked men I'd ever seen. And then she kissed me. And then my shirt was off. And then my tongue was on her left nipple. And then my hands were on unHarry's ass. But he wasn't there. Beckee's ass. And then she was on top of me, licking all the way down, and my pants were off. The Verve was singing The Drugs Don't Work. And tongue and lips and sweaty hands and PBR discoball floating ass of karaoke splayed out against the wall burning urban hymns. "Are you finished?" She asked. Had we started? My hands were spotlights moving up and down the dance floor of her body. Nipple. Face. Belly button. Leg. Maxi pad. Maxi pad? Hallelujah menstrual cycle. "I know. The timing sucks." She said. "I know how much you wanted this. I've been waiting for you to make your move, but you're still the same too slow, too nice guy you were in high school. I'll be ready for the hard stuff," she grabbed my not very hard place, "in a couple of days. Trust me, it will be worth the wait."
Twelve days. I had twelve days before my flight home.
Whether I was fired for harassing Kevin Harris at his other job, or whether I quit when my district manager refused to let me fire Kevin Harris was a topic of much debate among the other managers in the eastern Massachusetts region. The only part of the story that remained constant was the way the district manager had called to apologize when all of the managers on Cape Cod called in sick the day after I ceased working there. While that did make me feel special for a few minutes, the true vindication came when Kevin Harris failed to show up for his next three shifts, and ended up getting fired anyway.
"So what are you going to do with your time off?" Beckee asked me.
It was midnight, two days after I was unemployed. Beckee had been calling me about once a week for the past three months. She'd forgiven me for The Shat incident. Now she called to brag about all the dick she was getting in Madison, as well as update me on the status of her on-off-on-off again relationship with UnHarry.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. One of the guys I used to know in middle school offered me a job at Blockbuster, but I want to take at least a couple weeks off to fuck around. I was so busy during the last couple of months at Raspberry's that I didn't have time to spend any of the money I was making."
"Well," Beckee said, "next week is my twentieth birthday party, and my mom is planning this HUGE party for me. You should come."
"Yea. I'll just bop over to Wisfuckenconsin for a few hours for your birthday party, drop off my gift, and then drive home."
"Actually, my mom is paying to fly a bunch of my friends from high school out. And you're a friend from high school." And, so it was, that I agreed to spend the first two weeks of 1998 with Beckee Krackow. As a friend.
The cheapest flight landed me in Milwaukee. The first thing I noticed about Milwaukee when I got off the plane was how cold it was. Fucken cold. The kind of cold your feet get if you accidentally fall asleep just after a shower in the middle of January while camping at The North Pole the night before the wedding you have doubts about. Beckee had brought an extra coat with her when she picked me up at the airport, knowing that I wasn't going to correctly gauge just how cold Wisconsin was.
"Happy b-b-b-b-birthday." I chattered, kissing her on the cheek, and handing her a box of mix tapes I made for her.
And then we were in the car, driving for what seemed like hours. "I have such a surprise for you! We're meeting Harry and a couple of friends at the Safe House tonight."
A restaurant in Milwaukee, where we'd have dinner before we all drove to Madison together. "The problem is...it's a spy-themed place, so...so there aren't any signs for it." She said, defending the fact that we'd been circling the same block for over twenty minutes. Harry said it's around here somewhere, but..." And then I spotted unHarry waving wildly.
We parked, got out of the car, and made our way toward unHarry. Were it not so cold that every human nose in the state had fallen off and shattered to the ground, I would have smelled like a three hour plane flight, and two hours in an artificially heated jeep. unHarry hugged me. And, I wasn't completely sure, but he might have grabbed my ass.
"I can't believe you're here." He said. "Now, I don't suppose you know where The Safe House is, do you?"
According to unHarry's friend, Lenny, the really cool thing about The Safe House was that you had to know the password to get in. If you didn't know the password, they made you do something ridiculous, like dress up in a raincoat and sing "Rubber Ducky." The inside of the club was lined with televisions that broadcast what the idiots who didn't know the password had to do in order to get in.
Twenty-five freezing minutes later, we walked up to a brick a building. I was cold, tired, and, technically, stank stank stank. I didn't care about passwords or raincoats, I just wanted to be inside a building with heat. We appeared to be in a tiny little gift shop. There was a huge bookcase in one corner, and the rest of the room was filled with costumes and hats. A tall woman with a mustache stood behind a cash register. "Maybe you can help us." I said. "We're looking for a....Safe House."
The woman smiled, and pressed a button on the register. The bookcase opened like a door. Was a door. "Right this way." The woman said.
On the other side of the bookcase was an enormous bar. A series of rooms. Some blacklit, some tropical, some set up like a train car. And throughout all of the rooms was a wide plastic tube, the kind they use at a bank to ferry money back and forth between the inside of the bank, and the unlucky schmuck in the far lane of the drive-thru. "What are those?" I asked.
"Oh. Well, if you order a martini at one of our bars, they type your order into the computer, and a bartender at another one of our bars makes it, then covers the shaker, sticks it in the vacuum tube, and it shoots through the entire restaurant back to the bar you originally ordered it from. That way your martini is guaranteed shaken, not stirred."
"Cool." Lenny said. The rest of us agreed.
We ended up sitting in one of the blacklit rooms. Our menu was dayglo white.
"So...Adam." unHarry said. "What was the password, and how did you know what it was?"
"I don't know. All I did was ask for the safe house."
A waitress bent down at the table to greet us. "Oh, you got lucky." She said. "The password is I'm looking for a safe house."
The cheeseburger I ate was the most delicious piece of food ever consumed by man, beast, or god. I chewed it as slow as possible. Both to savor the taste, and to keep from having to talk to Beckee, unHarry, Lenny, or Lenny's girlfriend, Michelle, who spent a good chunk of the meal bragging about how she could orgasm just by giving a guy head. The whole dinner conversation seemed to center around sex. Blowjob, dick size, lactating breasts, you look much cuter than Beckee told us Adam, anal, cunnilingus, swinging. I chewed. I swallowed, but not in the way Michelle bragged about swallowing.
"You're so quiet." Michelle said.
"Just tired. Long flight. New city. You know. I'll regain the power of speech tomorrow."
She winked at me. Then there was a foot rubbing against my crotch.
I crossed my legs under the table. Michelle raised an eyebrow, and returned to eating her tomato soup.
Her foot rested on my brain for the rest of dinner.
After dinner, I hugged Michelle and Lenny goodbye, and sat in the tiny back seat of the jeep. unHarry sat in the passenger's seat and sucked on the fingers of Beckee's right hand, while she drove with the left, occasionally trying to make conversation with me. I feigned sleep. But the vacuum tubes of my brain shot feet and fingers from one side of my head to the other. What had I gotten myself into?
I have broken up with exactly three women who loved me. Twice the breaker, once the broken.
Jennifer: destroyer of worlds and children. During the summer break between my junior and senior years at Torpor Heights, she decided I was worthy of her company again. I told her how I used her as a shield for my first year of school, and she laughed instead of getting angry. I think this was progress. When I told her about leaving Kate for Beckee, she got quiet. A congregation after the priest announces he's vacating his position to pursue a career in child pornography. "So" silence "tell me more about this" silence "Beckee."
I don't know if she was jealous. I just know that we became lips and hands for a few weeks. Movie dates. Dinner. All the things we hadn't done during the four days before she'd broken up with me in middle school. She filled me in on all the gossip about the kids at Pilgrim's Academy, and I realized that I didn't care about any of them but her. And when autumn came in its typical premature fashion, we promised to be faithful to each other and call once a week and other stupid promises that neither of us had any intention of keeping. During the first week of school, I spent an hour feeling up Beckee in the basement of the theatre. Jennifer never called me, so I figured we were even.
The problem with Beckee was everything. I didn't like her any more than I liked Kate. She was funnier. She had her own personality, but I didn't care about it. I didn't love her the way I loved the idea of Jennifer, and every time I closed my eyes and kissed her I was thinking of someone else. And that's all Beckee was: lazy entendre, smile, kiss, hands under clothing, fumble, fumble, kiss, ear nibble, fumble, I've got to go. I would meet her for a free period between calculus and biology. We would eat lunch together. Some nights, I would go over to her dorm and lazy entendre, smile, kiss, hands under clothing, fumble, fumble, kiss, ear nibble, go home. I don't know which one of us was the most boring lover in the world, but I fear that it was me. So I decided to do the unspeakable. On Valentine's Day, just before calculus, I ran to the school bookstore and bought a stuffed purple teddy bear, exactly the color of Beckee's hair. In its hands was a big red heart that said "Available" on it. I wondered how long it would take her to realize what it meant.
Three days. Three days after Valentine's Day, she called my dorm for the thirty-seventh time. This time, I answered it. "Available??? A-fucken-vailable? You piece of shit. I can't believe you dumped me on Valentine's Day. And didn't even have the cock to tell me. A-fucken-vailable???" And I couldn't argue with her because she was right. And I couldn't talk to her anymore because she was right.
I didn't tell Jennifer about my second term with Beckee. But I did start talking to her again. Once a week promised phone calls. Reestablishment of us as a couple. Perfect barrier against needy chorus girls and aggressive theatre students. I told her how excited I was to have chosen and been accepted by a college: a tiny little four year school in Sulfur City Florida, a couple of hours away from Disney World. I even invited her to our school's version of the prom. Torpor Heights being appropriately hoity, but not quite fancy enough to be toity, all our mundane high school rituals had different names from their public school counterparts. Our prom was called The Shat. It was technically spelled with a capital C, and was short for the Chateau where it took place, but the evening was generally believed to be The Shit, so when it was over, it was The Shat. Jennifer couldn't make it, thus fueling the popular rumor that she didn't really exist. I had resigned myself to not going, when I received a written plea for armistice from Beckee. Could we go The Shat? As friends?
I accepted. Her mother flew in the weekend before from Wisconsin, and presented me with an antique cane that perfectly matched both my tux and Beckee's goth girl meets preppie prom dress. Contrary to my fear, I was not, at any point in the night, beaten over the head with the cane. I wish my night had been that simple.
Shortly after our absurdly expensive filet mignon dinner, Beckee and I returned to campus to dance, kiss, and all those other popular prommish activities. As we entered the lobby of The Chateau, we were greeted by gigantic silver and black balloons, the underclassmen orchestra playing an instrumental version of Head Like A Hole, and, oh fuck, "Jennifer?"
Jennifer: destroyer of smiles and proms. Dead stunning in shimmering silver architecture gown. Her hair, for the first time in the six years I've known her, cut shoulder length and the angle of her chin and her sparkling who is this eyes. "Surprise."
"Yes." Beckee growled. "Surprised."
Luckily for Beckee, unHarry had gone stag to The Shat, and was more than happy to pick up my discarded date. Still, the truce was broken.
"She keeps glaring at me." Jennifer said. "Are you sure she knew you two were just friends?"
And I could look her in the eyes and reassure her that I had written proof that Beckee and I had agreed to be nothing more than friends. But Beckee and I both knew how easily written words belie their intentions.
JBob and I had always joked about how our dorm was really a sanitarium. We even blasted the Metallica song of the same name, every night after study hall. Aside from our former roommates, and the poster child for safe sex that was Roadkill, there was no shortage of weirdos in our dorm. Right around the time that Denton was getting kicked out of the school, someone began shitting in the showers. It started on the third floor, prompting an all-floor meeting about sanitary conditions. A week later, there was an incident on the first floor. Then the second. And, eventually, even our own floor was hit. After four weeks of terror at the hands...or...ass of the Phantom Shitter, a few of the hockey jocks set up a sting operation, and a kid named Jaleel Johnson was caught dropping a deuce during a late night shower session. He was put on Disciplinary Probation for a semester, and the shitting ceased.
Shortly after his probationary status was up, the third floor was besieged by an even more terrible odor than was usual for a floor full of adolescent jocks. When a floor parent discovered that someone had shit in the communal trashcan, an all-dorm meeting was held. It didn't take long before the finger was pointed at Jaleel. "I mean, come on." David said. "The guy shits for fun. As soon as he is no longer in danger of getting kicked out of school, he starts shitting again."
"I swear, guys," Jaleel said, "it wasn't me. I mean, shitting is the shower is funny, but shitting in the garbage can is just gross."
The Second Phantom Shitter was never publicly outed, but during his free second period, screams could be heard from Jaleel's bedroom. After a few minutes, a couple of the hockey jocks came out of his room, laughing. Jaleel showed up at the dining hall that afternoon in a hat. His prodigious afro had been shaved off. From then on, all shit was directed into toilet bowls.
The hockey jock alpha male was a hick named Francis White. He was six feet tall, and two hundred and forty pounds of mostly muscle. In addition to putting the hit out on Jaleel's hair, he was commonly believed to be the mastermind behind the Charlie Denton kleptomania outing, and was rumored to be the Master of Ceremonies for a weekly gathering of hockey players that involved a game called Dirty Nachos.
"Dirty what?" I asked JBob, when he first told me about the meetings.
"Dirty Nachos." He said. "Basically, a bunch of the teammates get together in Francis's room the night after a game. They all whip out their cocks, and start jerking off onto a pile of nachos. Whoever finishes last, has to eat them."
"That. That. That is THE most disgusting thing I've ever heard."
JBob laughed. "Now you know why I don't play hockey."
"I thought you didn't play hockey because you were too short."
JBob was, in fact, five foot two. Some of the hockey jocks joked that JBob hadn't hit puberty yet, but as his roommate, I can attest that if he hadn't yet reached adolescence, then he was the hairiest prepubescent boy in the history of the human race. He had hands like mittens, and otter legs. Jonathan Fletcher Tork the Fourth started referring to JBob as ALF, after the popular alien TV star of our childhood. One weekend, my parents drove me home for a doctor's appointment and to announce the dissolution of their marriage. While I was there, I picked up the stuffed ALF doll that my grandmother had given me when I was in the fourth grade. While JBob was away at class, I put one of his hats on the ALF, and left it on his bed. When I got back from my own class, I found the ALF doll, still with JBob's hat on, hanging by the neck from a water pipe, with a handwritten note taped to his chest that said "You're next."
To make up for the prank, I bought him dinner from the best sub place that delivered to campus. "Mmmmm, turkey and bacon." JBob said, as he devoured his sub. "All is forgiven."
The next weekend, JBob's girlfriend visited from New York. I gave them as much space as I could, spending most of my day either at the library, or down in the basement watching cartoons. When she left, she gave JBob a quick peck on the cheek and said "Later Juicy."
"Juicy?" I asked.
"Yea." She said. "What do you think JBob stands for?"
I had no idea. I thought it was just his name.
"Juicy Buckets of Bacon."
My spleen burst.
"His real name is James."
"I swear to God," JBob said, "if you tell anyone, I will kill you in your sleep."
I didn't tell very many people. But when I was feeling frisky, I'd often poke him in the stomach and say "Juicy!"
He didn't kill me very much.
Though the two of us survived the year, both as friends and roommates, we decided to try our luck with incoming juniors the next year. Both our roommates ended up being slightly annoying, but not nearly as bad as Yao Wen or Denton. Still, my roommate got homesick halfway through the fall trimester, and moved back to Germany, and JBob's roommate moved to the other campus to be closer to the stoners he hung out with. We, briefly, entertained the idea of rooming together our Senior Year, but ended up tempting the fates of the admissions office. JBob roomed with a Korean student who spent most of his non-class time swimming and making lame jokes. My roommate was a Saudi Arabian with a serious addiction to masturbation. I'd walked in on him at least four times, and several of our floormates had caught him, too, so I asked if he minded moving down the hall to one of the singles. He didn't mind. This gave me all the time in the world to indulge my own masturbation addiction, without the fear of getting caught (I knew when to lock the door). I was in the midst of one of these sessions when the sophomore across the hall came knocking on my door.
I think JBob was the one who nicknamed my across the hall neighbor, Fledge. "He's a You in training. A little fledgling Adam." He'd said. "He has the same obnoxious laugh, he makes the same weird noises, and he tells the same stupid jokes you used to tell when we were roommates." He was right on every count.
In addition to his warped sense of humor, Fledge was a sci fi fan, and an aspiring writer. Once a week or so, he'd stop by my room, or invite me into his, to talk about ideas he was working on, or to tell me his latest terrible joke. The night he nearly interrupted my masturbation session, I pretended to not be in the room. He made some buzzing sounds, and a few beeps to indicate his displeasure at me not answering the door. I was determined to finish what I'd started. The problem was, that I had started the fantasy thinking of some non-descript, well-rounded ass. There was no one in particular attached to it, it was just the floating ass of pleasure, designed to please only me. If I'd stopped to examine it, I'd probably notice that it bore a striking resemblance to Kevin Harris's ass or, perhaps Jeremy Burdick's. But I didn't stop. And I didn't notice. But when Fledge started making those noises, the floating ass of pleasure started to expand. Soon, it was attached to a smooth back, with defined shoulderblades. Then there were shoulders, and soon, there was even a head at the end of the torso. Fledge's head. And he was making those noises, and he was doing that thing he did with his face when he was pretending to be deliriously happy. And then...and then...and then I toweled off, and knocked on his door.
"Knocked actually. Were you asleep?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "Kinda. What's up?"
He was. I missed the first few sentences of his conversation because his enormous penis was hanging out of the hole in his boxers. "Uhhh, Fledge?" I said. "You're, uhhh, hanging out."
He looked down where I was looking, and tucked it back in. "Sorry." He said. "It has a mind of its own." And he began talking about a band called Floating ass of pleasure, defined shoulderblades, that deliriously happy face. "You know?"
I told him I did know, though I hadn't paid a single bit of attention to what he said. I knew that, while I had successfully beaten it once already that night, my penis was itching for a rematch.
"And I'm pretty sure I could suck my own dick." Fledge said.
"I mean, I'm still pretty flexible from when I took gymnastics, and, well..." He patted his package. "...you know."
I'd like to think that at any other point in my life, I'd have been smart enough to realize that this incredibly hot, well hung, beautiful guy was hitting on me. And not with a fist, he was hitting on me with a sledgehammer. Unfortunately, having the self-esteem of a chalk stick figure in The Louvre, I thought he was idly bragging, and passed up an opportunity to take the virginity of the first acknowledged guy of my dreams. I was no longer a virgin myself. Well, I was still a virgin in the Christian or the Clinton sense, as none of the two pleasure centers below my waist had ever been in any way entangled with the pleasure center below anyone else's waist. I had, however, exchanged blowjobs with a hot Korean guy the night before he'd graduated, and I'd headed back to Cranberry Lake for the summer. When we were done, he'd gone through the school yearbook, and pointed out all the guys he'd found attractive. "What kind of guys do you like?" He'd asked. And, with a totally straight face, I'd told him I wasn't gay. I don't think ignorance is truly bliss, but denial is certainly amusing.
For the rest of the year, Fledge made easily dozens of suggestive and flirtatious commentary that I dismissed because I was too fat to be attractive, and besides, I wasn't gay, I just jerked off to the thought of guys. I dated women.
I'd used Jennifer as my fake girlfriend during my sophomore year. At the beginning of my junior year, one of those heavyset curly haired girls who always wore just a bit too much makeup, and sang alto in the choir, had developed quite a crush on me. I'd remained my usually oblivious self until she rammed her tongue into my tonsils in the hallway outside the auditorium. Kate and I had what I referred to as a platonic romance. I bought her a stuffed white bear shortly before Christmas break, and occasionally let her kiss me. I didn't kiss her back, but told myself that it wasn't because I was gay, I wasn't interested in her because she was fat.
Just after Christmas break, I was in a school production of Romeo and Juliet. Originally, I'd had the role of Paris, as our director had the idea of casting all black students as Montagues, and all white students as Capulets. When the black Romeo dropped out, the entire show was recast. In the new version, I was to play both Benvolio and Balthasar, with JBob playing Mercutio. The roles suited us, and we spent most of our backstage time swordfighting and making jokes. It was during some of my non-JBob backstage time that I first got to know our stage manager, Beckee.
Beckee liked to play with my sword. The prop. She would rub it and purr every chance she got.
"I think she likes you." JBob said.
"No shit." Even I was not that oblivious.
Of course, the problem was, that I was still not dating Kate. "Yea, but..." JBob said. "Kate is...well, you know, and Beckee is...not Kate."
But Beckee was dating a computer geek named Harold. The unharriest Harold in the known universe. One day, in mid-January, unHarry, Beckee, and I had lunch together in one of the dining halls on the other campus. While unHarry looked on, Beckee kept trying to unbuckle my belt, unbutton my jeans, or unzip my fly. unHarry wasn't the only person watching the little display. My choir teacher, my precalculus teacher, four kids from my psychology class, and the kitchen workers had a front row seat. As did Kate, who stormed out of the dining room. She was waiting for me by my dorm room later that night, "You can have your stupid bear back." She said, shoving it into my hands. And I probably could have explained that I wasn't really interested in Beckee, that she'd been flirting with me, not the other way around. But this was the perfect way for me to deKatify. How macho I was, being dumped by the fat girl because the hot purple haired girl with the big breasts couldn't keep her hands off me. How straight.