We were roaming the streets on the first warm night of Spring in our t-shirts and jeans and the first skirts of the year. We were drunk and smoking and loving it.
"Look! Look!" Jen said. She was bent over picking up something in a shadow just off the sidewalk. "Look at this!"
She held it up, cradling it with both hands. It was dark and I was drunk and I couldn't see. I think I was still walking.
Someone said, "Oh my god. You just found that?"
"Yeah, it was sitting right there. What should we do?"
"Ask it a question," Sam said.
She ran under a street light and shook it, the Magic 8-ball that she found hiding in the shadow. Everyone huddled around her, taking turns.
"That's not how you play. Yes or no questions, only," Jen said.
"Here." She handed me the Magic 8-ball but all I could do is watch her lips form the word, 'here.' The way they kind of puckered while smiling, the corners turned upwards, her bright eyes, the matter-of-fact nod. "It's your turn!"
I took the toy and put it close to my ear as I shook. It sloshed and I shushed everyone and I made a big production out of it. I'm sure it was more annoying than anything. I whispered something to the Magic 8-ball.
"That's not how it works! You have to ask out loud." She said.
"This is important, Jen." I said, "I need a real answer."
This was true, I did need real answers. We all did and I thought for a second how this magic found us - Five desperate twenty somethings who needed an answer. A real answer to anything - We would have taken it.
I cheated, though. I didn't ask anything. I turned the 8-ball window side up, closed my eyes, looked toward the sky and waited.
"What's it say?" I asked.
Sam said, "Uhh… it says, Without a Doubt."
I handed him the 8-ball and pulled Jen in and kissed her hard under that orange street light. We had only just met an hour ago.
“This is utter bullshit," she said.
“You mean cow udders, or, maybe figuratively?" I said.
“Fuck you. That doesn't even make sense."
“Right," I said, “sorry."
She looked me up and down and smiled. It was always like this - wound tight and a little drunk. a cloudy forecast that never comes to fruition hiding in the prediction of thunder and lightning with some [unreadable] of high winds to clear the air or blow everything to bits. This idea of going on w/o a plan or [illegible] a glimmer of an idea puts us on edge. That, and the mochas. We'll always [turn page] have the mochas. Hot. Frozen. 140° low-fat, no whip. All fat, extra whip. whatever Low Cal. Wilford Brimley's night terror. We had them all and wanted more. Always hiding in our poor grammar, oversized headphones & loud devices with nothing to say, of significance, of course, back pedaling through our days, doing well by not really doing, but Hiding. Hiding was something we were good at. We loved that feeling of nearly getting caught but not being seen. The idea that you can be there. Be Right There for all the world to see but still be invisible. We were nothing special. Tall but not pretty. Thin but not toned, not strangely beautiful, but we were there, Always. Taking it in with little comment except within ourselves. Long-winded commentaries on the world's actors and bullshit around us. I latched onto her phrase, Udder Bullshit. What does that really mean? Bulls don't have udders. I've never seen a bull Hell, how would I even know? I cursive I have never seen a bull up close, let alone inspected its underside. For all I know, they do have udders, and Hell this shat bay maybe they shit out of them, maybe that's where we get our mocha. It's not cocoa in espresso. It doesn't come from a chocolate cow. It is just udder bullshit. You know what? I'll take it… That extra shot of expresso, please. Yes, I said expresso. One of the many things I get wrong just to annoy her. Ranking Neat Things That I Like is not up top of my list of Neat Things That I Like, but annoying her is right there near the top. Her pursed lips. The upskir wrinkle between her brow. The way she pulls and twists her hair. It is precious and beautiful, but not anything like her crying. God, I love that. Especially when it is my fault. (#1)
I was thinking today - I have a fancy phone, internet, messaging, all that. I [illegible] feel lost without it; cut-off from everything I deem important like knowing the time. Which is interesting and trite because there are, at this very moment (both as i write and years down the later as you read) there are a good # of people who have problems. Real problems & who are, not, or maybe by choice, so cut-off that they don't know what day it is, let alone time. Right now there is a baby being born to a mother who has a hell of a lot more to worry about than the date. That baby will never [turn page] have a birthday. And, will likely have enough Real problems that the lack of a birthday will not be much of a concern. And, here I am, worried if my phone has enough juice to last until I get home.
It did, even though I was later than usual. After plugging it in, I looked through the sliding glass door to the backyard. She was sitting, head thrown back, facing west[photo]. Her long hair up and messy. I waved. She shrugged and squinted. Barefoot with legs crossed at the calf. Her toes tapping to whatever was playing. Faded black sharpie on the bottom of her dirty left foot -
I am the boy
who can enjoy
The pool hadn't been touched since the day they found her mother at the bottom of it. The water was low with three years of tannic leaves at the bottom, strains of algae growing up the side and streaks of rust running off the ladder. The grass was dead or dying and choked with weeds and gumballs dropped by the American Sweetgum trees (liquidambar styraciflua) that dominated the subdivision.
“What's going on with you?" She asked as I stepped outside.
“I don't know what we accomplished, but I laughed so hard I fell down." I said, “So, there's that, I guess."
we are: tall thin not beautiful we are introverted we consume we think we produce nothing we are invisible
Evlyn (eavie) Rhehn
pretty, young women who go against the system in their own way. but what would matt's girlfriend, jen, say?
Jackson (Jack) “pants" McLox doesn't so much show up but more like Arrives - forever not knocking. This time he walked through the door in a generic white polo, some sort of jeans cuffed high on his calf, and deck shoes. He was covered in blood that was somehow oozing from a head wound that wasn't there. After greeting everyone with overly enthusiastic (in his mind, ironic) high-fives, he disappeared down the hall and slammed the door to my bedroom.
Jenn said, “Whaaaah?"
“Yep." I looked at my phone. “He walked through the door at 6pm +/- 10 seconds, like a fucking clock. OCD as they get.”
“Uhhh, Didn't you see him?" She asked, “Is he hurt?”
“He can't be late. He'll do anything." I said, “He drives a shit box K-Car convertible and keeps a bottle of fake blood under the seat. I think he stole it from his ex or whatever. Something about a vampire fetish. Anyway, when traffic gets bad he'll get this compulsive need to pass everyone on the shoulder. Problem is he can't stand being That Dick who drives on the shoulder and cuts everyone off. Plus, everyone will block That Dick from getting back into traffic like its their fucking job. So, he covers himself in fake blood and goes. Who's not going to let a guy covered in blood get in front of them?"
“Works wonders in long-bathroom-line type situations."
Jack pushed through automatic doors:
My birthday means breakfast with grandma. She used to come to our house for my birthday breakfasts because it landed school days most years. Birthdays that weren't on school days meant a Moons Over My Hammy. The tradition had some hiccups while I was away at school but it got right on track after I quit. Recently it has been us, alone, with toast and jelly at her place.
“Woah grandma, you're gonna bust a nut trying to get that jar open." I offered some assistance. "Hand it here."
“Thanks Jack." She passed the jar. “So, honey, how are things?"
“Work is good, nothing to write home about. Friends are fine, a little crazy, but fine. XXXX is good, we might find a place together in May."
“You know how I feel about that."
“Grandma, you sound like a rusty trombone again."
“I know, but dammit you're so young. I want to see you get out there and spread that seed."
“Nice grandma. Real nice."
I slapped strawberry jelly on dark toast and said, “There is this girl at school."
“What's her name, Sweetie?"
“I'm not sure. I see her around a couple times a month."
“Is she pretty?"
“Pretty? Yes. Not gorgeous. I don't know if its the glasses or the shoes, but there's something about her that really gets me. Every time I see her, I Feel It."
“Have you talked to her?"
“Not really. Last week I pushed through some automatic doors and there she was but I didn't say anything. I froze, really. First, because I almost hit her with the door. Second, I'm sure the look on my face creeped her out because that's when I noticed it."
“When I first started back at school I was walking across campus and this girl on a moped thing rode slowly past. I didn't see her face, but I guess it didn't matter because I still somehow got this ridiculous crush. I loved what she was wearing and the way she carried herself, on the dorky moped, no less." I took a bite. “I know, dumb. Right? She had this tattoo and I thought, ‘Wow, I hate bikes and tattoos, but I wish i could know her name.' but its not like I could just call out and say, ‘Hey, I don't know you but I suddenly have this wicked crush on you and I live with my girlfriend and can we be friends?'"
Grandma talked with a mouth full of toast, “I knew you two were living together." She waved the butter knife. “What did you notice about the other girl behind the door?"
“The tattoo. It was her. I opened the door, saw the tattoo and almost shat. The girl I always see with the glasses was the girl on the moped. So, I said hi and she said hi and I held the door and she walked out."
“Oh Jack. You have to stop falling in love with strangers. Do you think about this girl all the time?"
“Aaaaannndd she's perfect."
“I can tell you right now, she's not. She's probably fast, or a moron. I know sometimes I sound like a rusty trombone and I don't mean to bust your nut (I choked a little) but I've seen it too many times with your uncle to sit back and watch you do a Little Mermaid."
“Yes. Just like the cartoon. You see some random stranger and think they're the bees knees. So, you do everything you can to be with them. You change your clothes. You change the way you talk. Once you meet them you see they're not as perfect as you imagined, but how could they not be perfect because that's why you're in love with them. You throw away your friends and everything to change yourself to fit. But, that's the problem, you'll never fit. She won't change. You'll make excuses. You'll feel like shit because you gave up everything you had that made you special - your mermaid tail - and the next thing you know you have three kids and you have to drink yourself silly just so you can stand to be in the same room with her."
“Are you on the internet?"
Meeting her parents for the first time went about as I expected. Her dad answered the door. He stared at me for a second and yelled into the house. “Leslie? You might want to get out here. There's another flaming bag of shit on the porch." He spit to the side but still I felt it on my face.
I smiled. “Hey there. Are you Mr. xxxx?"
“The guys at school are going to be real jealous."
“I got to meet the man who made the most realistic sex toy of all time. Is your wife around? I'd like to congratulate her."
Leslie bounced through the door, squeezing her dad on the way out, “Love you, daddy. I'll be home early." She grabbed my hand and quickly led me across the lawn to the car. Her dad was a statue.
“I think I broke your dad."
“What do you mean?" she asked.
“Nevermind." I pulled the car away from the curb and said, "Where we going?"
We turned a corner and she pointed toward an apartment complex. "That's where Stacy lives. She's gross. I'm like oh my god would it kill you to empty your bathroom trash can once in a while? I mean, really, I love sifting through layers of girl gunk looking for that ring I just knocked off the vanity."
It wasn't pleasant, but at least I knew The Bag of Shit at the Door dad was all talk. I had to wait a few years for a truly crazy dad to take me for a ride:
She was kind of beautiful with big teeth and her dad owned all the private parking lots downtown. His name was Bob and he looked completely normal. He had whitish hair, he was thin, he dressed well, and he talked to me with respect. I couldn't help but look up to him. He was a self-made man who treated me in a way that made me feel I could learn a thing or two.
Is it weird that my dad wants to hang out with you? She asked.
Maybe a little, but I'll do it.
Really? Great! He's going to call you.
He did call, the next morning. We made plans for dinner.
He picked me up in his brand new Cadillac CTS and we took a ride downtown. I didn't ask where we were going and I got a little worried when we headed North on hwy. 55 and exited just after downtown. It was a scary part of the city and we were tooling around in a brand new Cadillac.
What's the name of the restaurant, I asked.
It's called The Haves. Ever hear about it?
Nope, I said. I hope it is good, I said. Don't worry, it is good, he said and we drove East toward the river. The only thing I knew about the area is it was full of tore up warehouses and home to some sort of helicopter refueling pad. No one would ever go here for dinner.
We slowed down on an arbitrary block and the gate of a chain-link fenced parking lot slid open. The building looked like a real piece of shit, but the cars in the lot were nice like Bob's CTS. There was a single light over the solid double doors. The door on the left was dark and heavy like oiled teak with polished silver hardware and there was a sign above, "The Haves." The door on the right was shitty and weathered with several coats of paint peeling, almost falling apart with a crooked sign above - "The Have-Nots." The windows that had been there at one time were boarded up with graying and splintered plywood.
Bob opened the door and ushered me inside. The hostess (gorgeous) greeted me, gave Bob a smile and led us to an open table.
For the most part, it was simply another uber-trendy restaurant. Good lighting, modern design, extremely comfortable chairs. Except the back corner was set up as a trashy liquor/corner store. Dirty shelves filled with generic chips and junk food, bright fluorescent lights, a cash register at the counter in front of a wall of cigarettes and cheap booze. It even had a roped off porn section and a creepy looking guy was sitting behind the counter like he was working.
The food was my first experience with molecular gastronomy (oddly delicious) and the first time I was truly freaked out about every single person in the room.
The restaurant was set up near "Hopeville" - a tent city of homeless people camped out at the Mississippi River floodwall near the Riverfront Trail. There weren't any stores or facilities near the camp so this place was basically set up in a prime location to attract homeless people.
The "Have-Nots" had to walk through the restaurant to the back corner where they would buy generic cigarettes and horrible cheap vodka that, I guess, due to the liquor laws had to be poured into styrofoam cups with lids and straws before they could leave with it.
Five men and one woman walked through the restaurant while we were there eating our $473.92 meal. Bob would stop mid-sentence to comment - "Look at that real bag of shit." It was loud and I laughed, but at his choice of words, not the man. Other tables had things to say, too. Occasionally, and I'm still not sure why, everyone would tap on their water glasses and people would laugh wildly.
He dropped me off at home and I called her.
How was it? Tell me everything. Where did you guys go?
The Haves, I said.
Oh my God, he took you to The Haves?
Yeah, it was pretty unbelievable, I said.
I know, she said, I LOVE that place!
As we ducked out of the rain I exhaled and she rolled her eyes. The neighborhood was always quiet at night but tonight it was full of thunder and rain. My neck was on fire and I was standing and she was Standing. She seemed to be made of stars. Or, at least, more stars than most. Certainly more than me.
We shouted and ran to the next porch, singing and splashing with courage(? I'm not sure.) and contrived rage. That porch light was off and we held hands. We didn't know how much had changed and we couldn't have cared less because right then, right there, we were closer than we had ever been.
I pulled a plastic cup out of the trash and toasted, “Here's to you, darling" and tossed it over my right shoulder. I felt like this was meant to be. I was ready to waste away and to let the rain take us dOwN and ON & ON.
We ran into the street and I fell flat. She kneeled - her eyebrows were doing their job as the rain poured down her face. My knees were scraped and my arm was getting blue and yellow but my bones were good. She brought me up and made me forget.
I thought (right then and right there) she would ask if I came back for her, but instead -
“Let's go to the cemetery!"
And we ran. And then we were there.
The rain was gone and we laughed at the one star that shone between clouds not knowing if it was a star at all. My shoes squished. Hers were gone. We were close to her old house, now. She was thinking of her old pink bedroom while standing on a wet monument in bare feet under a black sky, coming clean.
“I didn't love you," she said.
“I've got a wondering soul," she said, “I've got nothing to give."
“COME ON!" She hopped down and we were running.
“I've got something to say." Her breath was short. “When I die I want 10 seconds to look back and know I've lived it right." We were running together and we hurdled a stone. “I know the mistakes I've made and how they each mark up my soul. Lord knows the mistakes I'll make. (We jumped another stone.) What will become of me? My soul?" We stopped and I bent over to catch my breath. She said, "God, I don't know."
And she flopped in the mud and she said, “I want you to be one of my mistakes. Right now." She pulled me to her. “If you feel it… What I'm feeling… Then come on!"
Her arms and legs were around me and a breeze blew and the trees rained down and we were salty and out of breath and then I was wearing her lipstick and her wet hair seemed longer and every movement sank us in the mud. Her neck smelled like candy & my favorite shirt was somehow gone & we were moving and sinking deeper.
The wind blew again and the trees filled my eyebrows with salty rain and she killed me with kisses and then It all somehow washed away and she ran. Fast.
I didn't get up for a long time. Maybe she said wandering soul.