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?