"Look, I don't have the right to tell anyone else what their sexual identity is. You can call yourself whatever you want to call yourself. I'm just saying that we've known each other since we were ten, and thirty years is a hell of a long time to be going through 'An Experimental Phase'."
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.
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 buried my depression beneath a pile of CDs. Rock and roll, rap, folk; it didn't matter. Music. Pearl Jam. U2. The Fugees. REM. Radiohead. A Tribe Called Quest. Smashing Pumpkins. LL Cool J. Ani Difranco. Whosoever played a song that didn't mention Jennifer. All the money I didn't have to spend on books or school supplies went directly to my music addiction. Florida wasn't far enough away from Cranberry Lake to keep the sound of Jennifer's voice saying I'm sorry, I just never felt that way about you out of my head, so I had to keep newer, louder music pulsing in my ears. My studies weren't interesting enough to keep my eyes floating out of my books and catching a glimpse of the boy I'd helped Jennifer not have. It would have been a son.
The music wasn't loud enough. The sun wasn't bright enough to blind me. So I abandoned college and Sulfur City, and headed back home. I enrolled in UMass Cranberry Lake, and maxxed out three credit cards buying music from local record stores. My mother, whose condo I was living in, politely suggested that I might want to take a job. Maybe one in a music store with an employee discount. That, or find a new place to live. For once, I took her advice, and set up an interview at Raspberry Records. One of those corporate music stores that adopted a hip, alternative image in the early nineties. Their logo was a face not unlike the old poison sticker faces, with a rolling tongue sticking out of its mouth. Their way of saying Stick it to The Man by buying music from an alternative music store owned and operated by The Man. My interview went okay, but not having any previous retail experience, I was doomed not to get the job, despite the fact that the manager was Fitz, a former coworker of mine from Camp Davis. Still, I filled out the application, and at eight-thirty that night, I drove to the store to turn it in. The store was scheduled to close at nine, so imagine my surprise when I pulled on the door and found it locked. All the lights were on inside, and two women were walking around tossing CDs into shopping bags. I walked over to a payphone and called Fitz's cell. "Did you guys close early tonight to do inventory?"
"No. We do inventory on the last night of the month. Why?"
I explained why. Ten minutes later he pulled up, and walked into the store. It turned out, his assistant manager and some rogue employees had been stealing a few thousand dollars worth of CDs every couple of weeks, and selling them to one of the used music stores in Boston. Every employee involved was fired the next morning, leaving Fitz, and one employee. The employee was Kevin Harris, who'd been working there since he dropped out of Cranberry Lake High. Since the store was now completely devoid of staff, Fitz was authorized to do some emergency hiring, and, despite being only eighteen and having no experience, I was brought on as an assistant manager.
"What the fuck." Kevin said, rather than asked. "I mean, I'm glad it's you and not some asshole stranger, but...I've been here a year, why didn't I get the cushy fucken assistant manager job."
The cushy job which required me to work no more and no less than sixty hours a week. The cushy job where I was not allowed to leave the store for my required, punched out, thirty minute break every six hours. The cushy job where I usually found myself alone, my coworkers routinely coming down with the killer-concert-in-town-flu, or the 24 hour Hangover Virus. The cushy job where the asshole drop out closet case who I'd been buddy buddy with when I was a kid, routinely showed up one or two hours late, and clocked out precisely when his shift was scheduled to end, no matter how much work needed to be done. Kevin fucken Harris.
I was hired in February. By November, we'd gone through four other assistant managers, and roughly three dozen retail associates, most of them named Sarah. The various Sarahs (which included both of the Queen Popular Sarahs from my elementary school days), rarely lasted more than two weeks. Queen Sarah Popular The Second being the shortest term employee in the history of Raspberry Records, when she aced the interview, then showed up positively wrecked on muscle relaxants the next morning, and screaming "This fucken job is corporate fucken bullshit" at the top of her lungs, when I asked her to check and see if we had a copy of the Pocahontas soundtrack in stock. My patience was quickly fagged, and she was quickly fired.
Unfortunately, having gone through three Sarahs in two weeks, the staff currently consisted of one manager, Fitz; two assistant managers, myself and a thirtiesh veterinary student named Madison; and one non-manager, Kevin. We had three days before Black Friday. Fitz was taking a two week vacation in Fuji, and Madison had to take a week of sick time because she'd nearly had her arm ripped off by some sort of rabid beagle. A couple of local managers had sent us some of their precious employees for a shift or two, but I was scheduled to work double shifts on Black Friday, No Relief Saturday, and Dear Fucken Jesus What Am I Doing Working In Retail Sunday. One of the more saintly managers had volunteered to help me close the store on Black Friday, but the morning shift was just me and Kevin. Kevin who had never been less than two hours late when he wasn't working with Fitz.
"You know we're opening an hour early on Friday, right?" I asked him on the Wednesday before The Apocalypse.
"Yea." He said, as though I had asked him if he knew how to spell his name. "You want me here at seven, right?"
"Yea, we open at seven-thirty. And it's going to be sick with shoplifters and people who absolutely must have that album by that singer who sings the song with love in the title. So, early. Please."
At eight-fifteen on Black Friday, I had a line thirty-seven people long. The credit card machine was on the fritz. I was out of ones, fives, and quarters. The phone was ringing. "Thank you for calling Raspberry Records, this is Adam, how may I help you?"
"Adam, it's Kevin."
"Thank fuc...calling. Are you on your way?"
"No. My grandmother had a heart attack, yesterday. My mom wants me to stay at the hospital with her, so I'm not going to make it in."
The line was now forty-one people long. The fax was beeping. "That sucks. Hope she recovers. I can't stay on the phone, though. Bye." And I hung up.
At three-thirty, I couldn't speak, smile, or leave the space behind the register. The line wound around the entire store, out the doors, and on to the sidewalk. "Criminy jickets!" Madison shouted, as she walked into the store. "Are you by yourself?"
Once she made eye contact, she had my answer.
"For how long? All day? Oh my goodness." She ran into the back, and came out with the cashbox for the other register. "Go. Take a minute in the back."
I expected several of the customers to jump me as I made my way to the back, but they all made space between me and the back door when I stumbled from behind the register. I peed for seven weeks, then refilled my water bottle, and made my way back behind the register. "I thought you were out on sick leave." I said, as I scanned through a pile of Whitney Houston and Jackson Five CDs.
"I was. I just came in to pick up my check, but this store is just sick busy, I can't leave you alone like this. You should have called."
I explained that I had called every store in the region, pleading for someone to send any associate they could spare. But no associate can be spared on the busiest shopping day of the year.
At five o'clock, the saintly manager from one of the Boston stores, showed up, and instead of relieving Madison, ordered me to take an hour long break. "And don't even think about clocking out. You deserve at least triple overtime for working by yourself."
I drove five minutes home, opened the refrigerator, and began devouring one of the tupperware containers filled with Thanksgiving's turkey and cranberry sauce that my mother had left. I drank an entire two liter bottle of Cherry Coke in ten minutes, belched loud enough to rattle the kitchen window, and went upstairs to take a quick shower. Full, clean, and wearing an identical (but different) raspberry red turtleneck, I had twenty minutes to make my five minute drive back to work. I decided to stop at the video store to pick up a movie to put me to sleep after work. I grabbed The Basketball Diaries and Until the End of the World, and made my way to the checkout. And there...there....there, behind the counter, wearing the blue and gold uniform of every Blockbuster video in the known world, was Kevin Harris.
"How's your grandma, motherfucker?" I asked. My smile was so wide, it knocked over a box of Twizzlers on my left, and the hat of the gentleman standing on my right.
"Hey, Adam. Look, I'm sorry I―"
"Does your boss know that you called in sick to your other job, claiming that your grandmother was dying of a heart attack?"
The other blue and gold golems lurched to the scene of the impending homocide. "Is there some sort of prob― Adam?"
The leader of the blue and golders was familiar. "Saint?"
Michael Christopher shook his head and laughed. "Why are you causing a scene in my store?"
"Well, I'm the assistant manager over at Raspberry Records, and I had to work by myself for eight hours this morning because Kevin's very ill grandmother had a heart attack, and he had to stay at the hospital with her."
"Really?" Michael asked. "The same grandmother whose funeral he had to go to last Tuesday?"
"Couldn't be." I said, pleased that Michael and I fell so easily in stride with each other. "Kevin was working with me last Tuesday. His car ran out of gas on the way over, and he was about two hours late, but he wasn't wearing funeral clothes."
Kevin was the color of my turtleneck. "Guys."
"You are so fired." I said.
"From your place, too?" Michael asked. "Damn. Fired from two jobs in two seconds. That's rough."
The person in line behind me cleared her throat. "Well, I've got to go back to my sixteen hour shift. It was fun talking with you, Michael. I'll stop in the next time I have a day off, which I think is March, and we can catch up."
"Have a good one."
And I drove back to Raspberry Records, so happy, my smile could barely fit through the door.
I don't know how the marriage proposal happened. Movies, TV shows, romance novels, they all have these elaborate stories involving the Eiffel Tower or a the rehab center where the couple first met. There's always rings involved and one or more of the couple ends up on their knees, staring deep into the other's eyes, and saying "Will you marry me?" And the other person says yes and they live happily ever until the credits roll.
I was drunk. A bottle of Jack Daniels and a six pack of Heinekein drunk. She may have been too, I don't remember. It was summer again. Our last summer before college. I was two weeks into another ten week long camp counselor position, and she was a week away from going to Europe to visit all those exotic places where richer, soberer people proposed to each other or honeymooned. We were at a party hosted by one of my coworkers. The host and his frat buddies showed off their Stigmata Delta Piebald brands. DJs spinned terrible local hip-hop wannabes and bad eighties tunes. I confessed something stupid like "You know... Beckee. I mean. Beckee was so, you know, shallow, and shallow and shit. But you. You. I totally love you. We should get married." And she said yes, and we made out for a little while. And I walked her to her I hope she's sober enough to drive home car. I kissed her. Told her I loved her. Staggered back in the direction of the house in order to find more whiskey, since I was obviously too drunk to drive home, myself.
A few yards away from the sliding glass door that led into the kegful kitchen, was a jacuzzi. I was wearing a bathing suit. The two frat brats already in the jacuzzi were not. They were skin and water and slick and smooth and drunk and...and they were on opposite sides of the jacuzzi, flexing their bodies toward the edges of the what are they doing jacuzzi. "Sooooooo good. You want to try this?" The frat boy facing me asked.
"Fucking the pooljets." The frat whose ass was bending in my direction said.
Yes. "No. Thanks." And I walked around the jacuzzi until I had the proper vantage point to watch both of their asses flex. I watched and watched, comparing ass, back, and rhythm, mentally calculating which of them would finish first.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Bernard asked. Bernard. Ugh. Bernard was a thirty-five year old pot head who taught archery at our camp. He had been a counselor at Camp Davis for almost twenty years, with the exception of one summer when the previous director of the camp had stepped down, and he had assumed that he would take his place. The CEO, thinking he was making a joke when he asked to interview for the position, had laughed in his face. As a form of protest, he'd taken a position at another camp. He was fired two weeks into the summer, when he was caught smoking up inside the archery shed. During his summer away, I had served as assistant archery director. The year that Bernard decided to come back, we both applied for the Archery Director position. He got the job, but only because they'd offered me a chance to run waterfront, a job with more prestige and three extra dollars an hour, thus making me, in his eyes, the most evil person on the planet. "I asked you a fucken question. What the fuck are you doing here?"
Watching two hot, naked frat guys fuck the airjets in a jacuzzi. "They're drunk." I said. "And...and you're not supposed to be in a jacuzzi when you're drunk. And I'm a lifeguard. And, you know, if they dehydrate and pass out, someone's gotta be here to help them. You want to watch em for a while why I go get a beer?"
"Fucken faggot." He said, and walked away, in the direction of the house.
I stayed a minute or two longer, and then headed into the house, where I passed out on a couch.
My heterosexual dream was shattered on August twelfth, 1995. Jennifer: destroyer of sleep and car rides. I picked her up at the airport on the eleventh. She was unusually quiet during the entire trip. I assumed this meant that she'd slept with someone. That she had realized that she didn't love me, but she at least had the tact not to break up with me while I was driving her home from the airport.
The next day, she called too bright, too early, to say that she was on the way over. She wanted to talk, but it was nothing she could talk about over the phone. I was being dumped.
"I'm pregnant." she said.
"But...but we were so careful." I said. "We always used a condom, and―"
"It's not yours."
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.
Contrary to rumor, Jeremy Burdick didn't beat me up. I didn't move to Arizona to join the priesthood. I didn't drown, trying to save one of my campers at Camp Davis. I was not institutionalized because of my schizophrenia. I just went away to boarding school. I didn't tell anyone, because I hadn't planned on going. Ninth grade hadn't been a hardship, I'd made a number of popular friends, and discovered that I was really good at American Sign Language, and working with kids. I had every intention of returning to Cranberry Lake High, and yawning my way through another year's worth of classes. My grandfather had other ideas. And my grandfather's ideas were always more important than my own.
My first real memory of him was when I was three or four. I was watching The Smurfs or The Snorks or some tirelessly friendly cartoon inspired by a Scandinavian comic book. My grandfather walked into the room, changed the TV to the news, and then walked out of the room. I turned the cartoon back on. He walked into the room, changed to the news, and walked out. I changed back to the cartoons. When he came back in, I asked "You want to watch the news?"
"No." He said. "I read the paper this morning. I want you to watch the news." And he turned the channel back to the news, and pulled the dial off the TV.
During the summer between ninth and tenth grades, I was a summer camp counselor in training. I helped run the sports program, and taught swimming lessons (and nobody drowned during them). I had planned on being there all ten weeks, but during the fifth week, my grandfather stopped by. He was captaining a boat from Jacksonville, Florida to Portland, Maine. I'd gone with him for the southern part of the journey when I was twelve. This summer, he wanted me to help out with the Cranberry Lake to Portland leg. I agreed, because I had no choice. I figured, it was a three day trip, max. And I was technically correct. We arrived in Portland the next day, spent one day at my uncle's house, eating lobster and catching up with relatives, and the next day, he rented a car, and we began driving, I assumed, home. I assumed wrong.
"It's Reunion Weekend at my old highschool." He said. And I knew I was doomed to spend the next two days with his fellow septuagenarians, listening to dull stories about their childhood, and how I looked just like my grandfather, which was a lie, as I was adopted, and shared none of his body or facial design. I also knew I'd have to take some sort of tour, where a smiling admissions officer would tell me how much fun I'd have there, what a great drama department they had, how I could volunteer to work with kids, and how I would yadda yadda smile love it there.
I knew that if my grandfather wanted me to go there, odds were I was going to go there no matter what I wanted. Plus, it meant I wouldn't have to watch my parents fumble toward their inevitable divorce. So when I got home, I told my parents how much I'd loved the school, and, sure, I'd really apply myself there, and could I please go back to my summer at Camp Davis now?
Three days after camp ended, my parents drove me back to Torpor Heights, carried a bunch of my clothes and belongings up the four flights of stairs to my room, and took me out to lunch. My mother cried. My father was proud of me. Back in Florida, my grandfather was proud of me. The only thing I was excited about was meeting my new roommate.
Through a fluke in the admissions process (or maybe a donation from my grandfather), I'd been booked into the biggest room in the dorm, a triple. But there would only be two of us. Whereas all the other rooms had a single, cumbersome wardrobe, our room had two walk-in closets AND two cumbersome wardrobes. We also had a bunkbed AND a non-bunkbed. My roommate, though absent when I had moved in, had already been in the room, and claimed a closet and the non bunkbed, which was totally fine with me.
It was a few minutes after my parents left when one of the student leaders knocked on my door. "Hey. My name is Daveed. I'll be living across the hall. You met your roommate yet?"
"Oh, man." He made Oh, man sound precisely like I'm so sorry that your puppy got murdered, but don't worry, you're going to get a chance to see him real soon, because you're about to get hit by a very big truck with very spikey tires.
"Oh, man?" I asked.
My very first roommate at Torpor Heights was a twenty-one year old sophomore named Yao Wen Handsome. A Chinese student, whose mother had recently married a very inaccurately named banker named Sean Handsome. Their marriage was some sort of business arrangement that, for some reason, meant that Yao Wen had to change his last name to his American stepfather's. Yao Wen had been in America for two weeks when school started, and the only English he spoke was "Yes", "No", and "I want fuck yo'r ice", which had been taught to him by one of the very unscrupulous hockey jocks who lived down the hall from us.
I hoped that his English would improve quickly, as THA had one of the premier English as a Second Language programs in the country. Alas, instead of teaching him things he could use like "How do I get to the Science Building?", "Do you mind if I use your stereo to blast my shitty Chinese pop music while you're trying to sleep?", or "Excuse me. I had some really spicy food for dinner.", they taught him annoying phrases like "Need you help now." and "Giant bresteses." Two things he liked to say almost as much as he liked to announce that he wanted to fuck my rice. No matter how many times I explained that I didn't like my rice fucked, he insisted that he would be really good at it.
After the third night in a row that he'd slapped me awake at three in the morning to ask for help with his homework, I started setting up a line of tennis balls in the little dip between my bunk and the wall. Every time I caught him walking in my direction, I'd chuck one at his head.
I wasn't the only person in the school who was less than pleased with the existence of Yao Wen Handsome. Next door to David (pronounced Daveed)'s room were two juniors. A shaved-headed punk fan named Jack Marple, and a purple headed goth rocker, who voluntarily went by the name of Roadkill. I wasn't present when Roadkill and Yao Wen began their war. I don't know who first insulted who, but I do know that I came home from dinner during the third week of school to find Roadkill running down the hall. Yao Wen was chasing him, with three of my tennis balls in his hands, chucking them at Roadkill, yelling "No shoes on bed! No shoes on bed!"
After the fourth time the dormhead was called to settle a dispute between Yao Wen and one of our floormates, I made a request that he be moved out of my room. I was assured that I'd have permission to request a change of roommates by the end of the week. Three weeks, and a dozen or so excuses later, I decided to take matters into my own hands. One of the other sophomores, who lived on the third floor, had the unfortunate pleasure of sharing a room with a kleptomaniac named Charlie Denton. Barely a month into the school year, and Charlie had been caught stealing two jackets, a dozen or so CDs, and Roadkill's favorite hairbrush.
"It's bullshit." JBob (Denton's unfortunate roommate) said. "He's stolen two of my Guns and Roses bootlegs, sharpied out my name, and wrote his own. And my favorite jacket disappeared my first day here. I asked the dormhead to transfer rooms, and he told me he'd get it done by the end of the week. That was two weeks ago. Fuck, dood, there's an empty room on your floor. I don't get why one of us can't move into it."
"I have a better idea." I said.
That afternoon, while Yao Wen was in class, JBob and I moved all of his furniture and clothes into the empty room, and moved all of JBob's furniture into my room. "This way," I said, "we can claim that you didn't know I didn't have permission to move Yao Wen's shit out, and, with any luck, the dormhead will feel sorry for you, and let things stay the way we want them." Which is pretty much what happened. Yao Wen came back from class, flipped out that all his stuff had been moved, and found the nearest Chinese interpreter to take his case to the dormhead who, initially, flipped out, then shook his head after Yao Wen left, and said "Well played. You guys can be roommates, but don't pull any shit like that or again, or I'll put you on disciplinary probation."
Little did he know, JBob and I had one more game to play before we felt we were even.
Every Wednesday morning, there was a mandatory all campus meeting at our Chapel. The student leaders checked each of us in at the beginning of the meeting, and we'd sit in our assigned pews, listening to the deans or the headmaster or a guest speaker fill our minds with morality or mortality or whatever opinion they were determined to inflict on us. JBob and I had loyally attended each one, but we knew that Denton liked to sneak out and take a cab into town and shoplift, since he had the two post-meeting periods open.
On this particular morning, I checked in with David, and JBob checked in with his student leader, then we excused ourselves to go to the bathroom. While our dormmates listened to our Headmaster explain how important cultural diversity was to a school like ours, JBob and I broke into their rooms and began playing a game of Kleptomaniac Scavenger Hunt Bingo. I took Roadkill's brush, and Jack's New York Dolls CD. JBob took David's drumsticks, and one of his roommate's Argentinean porno magazines. I took our resident Republican's U2 poster, and his roommate's favorite sweatshirt. And together, we went up and down all floors, taking one or two things from each room (including our own), and scattering them all throughout Denton's room. Then we went to our fourth period classes.
Neither of us were there to witness the beginning of the chaos. Seeing as he'd already caught Denton stealing his hairbrush once, Roadkill knew where to go when he discovered it missing a second time. And, of course, he saw Jonathan Fletcher Tork the Fourth's U2 poster, and told him about it. JFT4 saw David's drumsticks, and one of the other student leader's guitar, and on and on and on. When Denton came back, he was pulled into the dormhead's apartment. He was completely befuddled, and swore he was innocent. But he was wearing JBob's favorite jacket, and had the inside pockets stuffed with CDs that were stolen from the local music store. He was kicked out at the end of the week.
For the remainder of the first trimester, JBob and I got along famously. Despite his justifiable concern over my taste in music (I had just grown out of a pop phase, and had a Mariah Carey CD and some Paula Abdul tapes scattered throughout my U2 and Nirvana), we found we had a lot in common. Our honeymoon period was brief but enjoyable.
Both of us had work jobs (the most redundantly named program at the school) in the dining hall. He served lunch. I helped prepare dinner. One night, while squeezing whipped cream onto the lime jello, one of the salad ladies approached me with a petition. "Do you know that Yao Wen kid?" She asked.
I told her that we'd been roommates.
"Well, the faculty and students that work here have been having problems with the way he talks to people. And the way he touches them."
I relayed the story about my walk back to the dorm, after my first tennis class, when Yao Wen had touched my ass. How I'd firmly shook my head and said "Don't touch me." And how he'd touched me again, anyway. And how I'd cracked him over the head with my tennis racket and ran like hell to the dining hall.
"So you'll sign this?"
"What will it do?"
That week, it got him banned from the back of the line in the dining hall. He could still eat there, but he wasn't allowed to even talk to the cooks or the students serving the food. The next week, he was told he was no longer welcome at the farm. It wasn't too long before I came back from French class to find his new room empty. Some months later, my guidance counselor told me he'd been sent to "an institution better suited to his needs".