Cro-Magnon man had reached his limit. After ten classes over twelve weeks, he was sick of his classmates mocking the cool toughness of his hit man character, Cain; he was tired of the snickers and the giggles when his work came up; and most of all he was sick of Daniel Morowitz's smug dismissiveness of his art. That was the way it looked to Mo, at least, as he angrily tapped his oversized index finger into the table, half-yelling that Cain was a man above men, that he didn't have petty needs for companionship like normal humans, and that he most certainly was not, as Morowitz had assumed, gay.
“Hey, man, no offense. I just thought that was what you were going for. I thought it was very progressive, actually,” Mo said, faking sincerity, well-aware that the suggestion would drive brow-ridged Erik into a blind rage.
“Yeah, I thought it added great dimensionality when it seemed like he was hot for his arch foe,” Andy the stork added. “The homoeroticism was very effective, even poignant.”
“Cain is not gay!” Erik thundered.
“Erik, cool it!” The teacher commanded. “I don't understand why you would be so threatened by the suggestion that Cain might need a sexual outlet…”
It was so easy to piss Erik off; Mo would miss that. Despite himself, he wished Min was here to see it one last time. This was the final class. Min had missed the last two weeks and she seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth since his disgrace by Liam in the coffee-house confrontation.
Laughing with Andy over generic potato chips and 7-Up at the close of class, he spied Connie, the girl with the two sprigs of dyed green hair, working up the courage to ask Andy for his phone number before it was too late. He wished her luck, silently to himself, and stepped away from Andy at just the moment she stepped up. As he did, he eyed the stack of Min's latest installment of “Out of Joint.” The class had given him the copies with their comments to bring to Min.
When last we left our time-traveling heroes they had convinced the new Roman Emperor Claudius to listen to them and to help them get to Professor Locksley and his stolen time-traveling ship. The problem was that Professor Locksley had become like a king to the Bannites, and in order to get to him Piedmont, Bromley and Juarez would have to fight their way through Anatolia and deep into the new, expanding Bannite Empire. Only with the Roman army's help did they stand of chance of recapturing the ship and saving the time continuum—or the lovely Dr. Jessica Troy whom Professor Locksley had captured and seemed determined to make his queen. Since time was already hopelessly damaged they had to risk it all; so, Piedmont taught the Roman army the secret of gunpowder—their only hope of overcoming the rhino-mounted Bannite troops.
Mo was sure Min was going to kill one of the main characters in the conclusion. And she had ominously hinted it would be Jessica Troy before Piedmont could tell her he loved her.
On Friday Mo sat in Glory's living room in a bean bag chair watching Enter the Dragon on Glory's roommate's projector. It was just the two of them. Min did not return his call and Alex, too, was curiously quiet. Mo was glad they were not there. He didn't know if Glory knew about Min fucking Liam and he didn't want to know. Besides, it had been hard to be around Min since she shacked up with Alex.
“More Bruce Lee! Less White Guy! More ass kick!” he yelled during one particularly dull part of the movie.
“You so need meditation, dude,” Glory laughed and passed back her crappily built green glass bowl to Mo.
“Christ, you guys are trying to turn me into a dirty hippie,” Mo said, sucking the hit in deep.
“And you're tying to turn me back into a carnivore!” Glory retorted. “Seriously have you, like, ever done it? It's all about shutting down your brain…I mean really stilling it.”
“I could so do that!” he said, laughing to himself. “I would totally kick everyone's ass at it! My brain would be, like, the stillest ever!”
“You're gonna win!” she said. Mo was pleased to discover a few weeks ago that Glory wasn't quite the uptight hippie he initially thought she was. “Bell thinks you're cute, you know?” she said.
“…I mean we're, like, a generation with all this unused brain capacity and people like you just want me to shut mine off. I'll explode,” Mo continued, punctuating his point with a deep hit. Then he thought of that nice, shiny girl in the imaginary bikini that he meanly called an idiot. “Bell said that?”
The doorbell rang. Glory's head perked up from her beanbag. She had mentioned that she had told a “cute” boy to stop by if he wanted to watch Kung Fu. Glory seemed to think he wouldn't; Mo wondered if she had seen herself in the mirror lately.
She sprang up from her seat, and, as if she suddenly weighed less than a feather, flew to the door. Their friendship was new, and Mo still kind of wondered when she would lose interest in him, but she had been good about keeping his secret about Min. He even told her about the half-hearted suicide attempt, and she didn't mock him or call a hotline. She just recommended a shrink to him, and for the first time such a suggestion did not feel like a slight. When his mother and sister would demand he see one whenever he got dark, they were saying “you, Nut Bag, need to talk to Dr. Mindbender about your sickness…I am totally fine by the way! Never better.” But when Glory suggested it, she said matter-of-factly: “Right there with you, honey. It's all hard even when it feels like it shouldn't be. Here is who helped me.”
They were friends only, of course. Mo had wondered if he was just a sucker for beauty, and if he would fall for Glory the same way he had fallen for Min, but it just didn't feel like that between the two of them. Still, he got a little thrill when her sweats slipped and he caught a glimpse of her turquoise underwear.
Glory returned with a male model a few steps behind her. He was probably six feet tall, with lean, symmetrical muscles bulging from his faded grey t-shirt, and geisha-like hair contrasting his chiseled face.
Gee Glory, if that is what ‘cute' looks like, you must think the rest of us are hideous.
“Mo this is Dane,” she said and he lifted his hand in some kind of hipster salute.
“Good to meet you, Mo!” he said, straight white teeth a-gleaming.
“Lo Mein?” Mo offered, holding a box of noodles towards Glory's new intended.
“Don't mind if I do,” he said, took the box, and sat down Indian style between the two beanbags.
They resumed the movie, and Mo growled a little to himself at the site of the two alphas sussing each other out. Finally whitey was letting Bruce kick some ass and with each great move Glory and Dane's hands crept nanometers closer to touching. Maybe it was just best to think of the beautiful as a different species, Mo wondered. To each other they are shy and unsure, humble and sensitive; meanwhile they are simply puzzled at the thought of coupling with someone outside their species—as if an avocado had propositioned a swan. The polite swan might answer, “You seem like a very nice avocado, but I really don't think I am supposed to mate with you.”
And they were, indeed, a lovely incipient couple.
People would pay big money for the video of you two fucking… Mo giggled to himself. Save that joke. Min'll get a kick out of it.
Saturday morning Mo was puttering around his apartment gathering himself together to head to the office. He had agreed to repair a few computer glitches as a favor to his boss who was still pissed about Mo's going AWOL during the computer meltdown a few weeks before. While Mo finished up his eggs and coffee he thought about meditation. Glory had explained it to him; you just sit there and try to quiet your mind. Even 10 minutes helped, she claimed.
He shut off his TV, which was on CNN, and his stereo, which was playing “Cure for Pain,” and sat down in the middle of his living room in a semi-lotus position, which was fairly painful. He commenced purposeful breathing and closed his eyes.
His left eyelid shivered to the worry of his precarious position at work. He silenced that but behind it terrors, panic, ponderings skittered across his consciousness like an interstate highway for every possible insect. Anger at Min, sex, whether he had turned off the burner in the kitchen, Bell, gayness, the death of rationality, if he really meant to end it when he took all those pills, the burnt sienna couch and the cheap Jell-O knock off at the clinic, that girl who shot him down when he asked for her number back on Block Island, Billy and Cindy, Glory and Dane, his evil father in New York, his lonely mom in LA, his superior brother in Chicago, law school, his perfectionist sister in Miami and what a terrifying mother she would be, Victorianism, pooping too much, his old friend Alex, Joy, symmetry, fury at Min's lips, three dimensions, Pavlov's glistening slobber, “Mogwai”…
Am I stupid because I don't understand string theory?
Will I ever have sex again?
Are those sirens?
Should my apartment smell like this?
Am I running out of pot?
Did I really yell at a drug dealer across a crowded bar “DUDE! YOU ARE THE BEST DRUG DEALER, EVER!”?
He breathed harder and squeezed his hands to push away the clutter and clear some room for silence. For a moment things cooled—he felt as if he was in a silent white room on a glacier, but the background sounds of his head blared through. On the right of his head, he could hear Barry White singing his orchestral “Walk on By,” on his left it was “Soul Sucking Jerk” by Beck struggling next to a jingle for Thomas's Toaster Cakes. Each song was in lush stereo sound.
♪Walk on By…♪
♪I got a job making money for the man, throwing chicken in a bucket with a soda pop can. Ukraine uniform on my back, I had to set it on fire with a vat of chicken fat... ♪
♪There's something popping up for breakfast these days that just might be the latest craze. A skinny little muffin that's easy to make. Pop! There goes another Toaster Cake…♪
And behind all of it there was a low deep moan, like a distant fog horn and then a thought knocked open his eyes: Wait, a second I'M a two dimensional thinker!
He looked at Pavlov. “I've got to calm the fuck down…”
“Where have you been?” Mo asked into his cell phone while sitting on the floor of the server room at his office.
“I know,” Min said. “Do you want to go for a walk? It's gorgeous out.”
That sounded both charming and worrisome.
“Crap. You don't have cancer do you?”
“I'm fine. The walk'll do you good,” Min reassured.
Fifteen minutes later Mo was standing at the corner of Locust and West Washington Square wondering what this meeting was all about. Maybe Glory had not been so discreet.
It was warmish but windy, and tiny pieces of long dead leaves kept blowing up in his eyes. Min appeared behind him in a U Mass sweatshirt, blue jeans, glasses and a pony tail.
“Oh my god, you're pregnant!?” Mo joked. She scowled. “Oh my god…it's mine!'
Min motioned towards Independence Hall and they started walking. Min asked him how he'd been. Mo hadn't really been updating her in too much detail since she got together with Alex.
He was frank. It had been a rotten few weeks. The weekend after the night on X, Mo got the flu and spent it in bed. The bright spot was Glory came over and feed him chicken-free chicken soup, ginger tea, and stared out his window at the Hale Bopp comet which was distressingly clear in the Philadelphia sky. He nearly lost his job. His stomach had reached a boiling point, and he finally saw a doctor who put him on some popular drug that promised to transform his stomach from a caustic bucket into a serene and supple pouch. He still needed to poop too much. He couldn't forget that comets were a sign of bad things to come.
Min looked over at him surprised a few times.
What? Am I not cracking enough jokes? Is what's actually going on with me? Too dull?
“I have copies of your script from class,” he remembered. “I'll bring them over to you, tomorrow.”
“No rush,” she said. “I'm kind of losing steam on it.” A gust blew an empty bag of Doritos against Mo's foot. Mo wanted to demand she finish the screenplay, but he bit his tongue.
“I think Liam is going to kick my ass,” Min said, looking up at the statue of Admiral Barry, standing on the spot where the public heard the words of the Declaration of Independence for the first time. “Someone started a rumor about him, and he might think it was me.”
“What, that he has a small cock?” Mo guessed.
Min thought too hard on this. “Believe it or not I don't really have that many points of reference…he seemed pretty normal,” she said, blushing a bit.
Spare me your fucking dimensional analysis.
“I don't know what it is, actually, but he's pissed. And you were right. Apparently he and Sunny are all about the coke now. I hear that doesn't much help with anger issues…maybe someone said he had a STD?” Min offered. “He didn't,” she reassured.
“You two cool?” Mo asked, referring to Glory.
“We finally talked. It's cool. I am an asshole, and we both hate the guy,” Min said as they crossed the street in front of the horse-drawn carriages that led tours of the historic district.
Then why did you both fuck him? Because of his fashion sense? Because of the way his ass looked in a pair of cords? If beautiful women would stop fucking assholes maybe there would be fewer of them.
“How is Pavlov?” she asked, perhaps thinking of Glory's first meeting with the neglected cat.
“Oh…yeah,” Mo didn't want to tell her about the drool. He was too ashamed for the cat. “I sort of ended the experiment.”
“You really made it this long without petting the poor thing?” Min asked.
“Well…yeah. All it needed from me was milk and food…I didn't want it to get all soft,” Mo said, thinking of the attention-starved house cat that now lived in his apartment where a proud alley lion had once ruled.
“I mean…you know that's not really true. Right?” Min asked.
“Um…” Mo didn't like where this was heading.
“I mean you watch all those nature specials and stuff, right?” Min asked, and Mo nodded. “You know about all those experiments they did with rhesus monkeys?”
With her sneakers on, Min was a little shorter than Mo, but it still felt like she was talking down to him. Mo matched her walking pace, trying to step a half instant before she did.
“A lot of credible scientists only, like, sixty years ago believed that mammals don't cling to their mothers because they want love but just because their moms provided milk. So this guy, Harry Harlow, did this series of experiments on Rhesus monkeys.
“It's kind of horrible, but he made two artificial monkey mothers out of chicken wire. In one fake monkey mom he put a bottle of milk. The other one he covered in terry cloth—fake monkey mom fur. The baby monkeys all chose to cling to the soft fake monkey mom even if it meant they would starve. Just to be extra sure (and cruel), he decided to see if it would change anything if he punished the monkeys who chose to cling to the terry cloth monkey moms by blasting them in the face with air. The baby rhesus monkeys only clung harder.”
Mo did not like this little story. It sounded like propaganda. Maybe the monkey thought it could eat the terry cloth? And was it really that well-known an experiment?
“Kinda,” Min shrugged looking both ways before they crossed Market Street.
“I um…I kind of, don't read as much as I'd like to,” Mo admitted. He had actually been meaning to read up on this kind of stuff. He had been thinking about evolution his whole life, but beyond what they said in lectures (and it was not like you had to do your homework just to pass at UCLA) he really had been ruminating on these theories all on his own.
They were coming up on a little bar he knew, hidden on the other side of Christ's Church. “Do you want to get a drink?”
“No,” Min said. “I am in that ‘I want to clean myself out' phase I sometimes go through…I doubt I'll make it a week.”
“Water, cabbage and high colonics?” he offered, fuming quietly, since this meant that pot or cigarettes were likely out, too. He wanted a drink, or a hit. He wanted to get away from Min, who even without makeup looked like the prettiest girl in the world. “Then what do you want to do?”
Min took a deep breath, “I'm thinking of moving back to New York.”
Oh that's fucking it. Ignore me, fuck my friend, talk down to me, fuck over Glory, fuck that uber-asshole Liam, and then tell me you're leaving?
“Things not working out with Alex?” Mo asked, neglecting to conceal the acid in this question.
She looked east up Arch Street. She looked tired.
“Want to keep going?” she asked.
Mo was already getting worn out.
Do you want to walk all over the whole fucking town?
Min stopped walking and shut her eyes. She opened them again and they were red. She was tearing up. She looked from side to side and then focused on one spot and stared angrily at it. It was like she found the pain that was biting at her, looked it in the eye and scared it off. She shook her head and recovered her composure.
“Sure,” he said. It was strange seeing her like that. It made his stomach hurt. Min was not the crying type.
Min pointed them into the sun; up towards Philly's tiny Chinatown.
“Things with Alex aren't working out,” she said. “That's not why I'm thinking of leaving Philly, though.”
“It probably doesn't help, though…”
“Did Glory ever tell you about my Dad?” she said. Mo's heart jumped. That, much like her full first name, was a topic that was strictly off limits. Mo had wondered why at first, but he found himself quite comfortable with not knowing. As if she was delivering a book report, she talked about her severely bi-polar dad and how she managed his mental illness for years. Then, one day in her last semester of college, a little less than a year ago, he blew his brains out.
They had reached City Hall and Min looked up at its grayed spire.
“I don't know. I think I am done here. I think I've been hiding…” she paused. “What do you think I should do, boy genius?”
Mo couldn't imagine why she was asking him that. How the fuck was he supposed to help her after she dumped all this shit on him? How the fuck was he supposed to tell her if she should stay or go?
He looked at her again. Her posture had fallen, and she looked small and pale below him.
She just wanted his help. She must have thought he was tougher and smarter than he actually was.
“That's hard, Min,” he said. A gear popped into place. “Is that where the money came from?” he asked.
“I am almost through my whole filthy inheritance,” she said, with a hint of pride. “It wasn't a ton.”
Things were starting to make sense.
I don't want you to go.
“I don't want you to go,” he said. It wasn't as hard to say it as he thought it would be.
Min smiled. “Thank you.”
“What's waiting for you in New York?” he asked, and she talked about her old friends, Brian, and how New York just felt like home. She talked about being closer to her sister and mother in Massachusetts. Then something occurred to him, right before they stepped into the park at Rittenhouse Square.
“Do you think…do you think you were just trying to shake it loose?” Mo asked.
“Shake what loose?” she asked.
“The craziness? I mean…he was your Dad. Do you think you thought…you might be like him? That maybe all the crazy fun and drugs was trying to see if you could coax it into happening…like, if you were going to lose your mind, too, you might as well get it over with?”
She sat down on a park bench and Mo, who was achy after hours of meandering, sat down next to her.
“That's probably part of it,” she said, a bit bewildered.
Mo looked at her face strained, with heavy thoughts she had tried to avoid for nearly a year. He looked above her at the advertisement hanging over a huge department store window. A supermodel looked goddess-like in low-slung designer jeans.
Min looked so normal now. She was just a girl. She was beautiful, but in no small part because Mo's eyes could see her no other way.
“You've always been okay,” he said.
Min took his hand and squeezed it tight. It felt, for just a moment, like they were on X, again.
Two hours later Mo got back to his apartment and, almost as soon as he did, he felt warm fur envelop his calf.
Poor Pavlov. Begging for another hit.
He thought of that Rhesus monkey blasted in the face with air. He reached down and pet him, and drool poured from Pavlov's mouth.
He dismissed the shame. He had just developed a theory on shame. “I'm not going to be motivated by the same instinct that makes you cats bury your shit. Okay?” he said to the contented cat.
He wondered how Alex was holding up. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed.
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Beauty, meditation, Rhesus monkeys, avocados vs. swans, turning points, revelations, Barry White: this last chapter of the penultimate act has it all.
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