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Moral Hazard


by Smiley McGrouchpants


“He was an alcoholic and heavily into cocaine.  There was not much left [of him].  And he hated his family.  Most people do.”—from Dan Simmons' 1989 novel, Carrion Comfort

 

            “They're goddamned chafed.”

            “That's nice.”

            The parking lot stayed empty.

            “They're a bunch of psyche scars, piled on together and formed into a mass, which is why they grin there and say ‘hi!' so astutely.  It's eerie.”

            “What do you mean, ‘chafed'?”

            A bunch of kids came out of the movie theater, yelping.  They disappeared as soon as they came.

            “It's like a compress, you know?  Imagine lots of skin pushed together that have no business being together — like a Frankenstein monster.”

            “You're pleasant.”

            An old lady came out of the door, by herself.  No-one held the door for her.  She started walking towards her car.  It looked like she had a long way to go.

            “Something took over — you know?  Like: the oven — or whatever — just processes whatever's in it.  ‘Here, time's up: here's you.'”

            “This is making me feel great about the future.”

            A security guard carried a kid out by the scruff of his neck.  He ceremoniously dumped him in the bushes, and — I swear — actually made a ‘that's that!' smacking-his-hands motion afterward, like he'd learned it in a movie or something.

            “Well . . . it helps.  It's like that Talking Heads song: ‘How did I get here?'”

            “Too true, too true.”

            The bushes rustled, then stopped.  It was as though the person inside them was thinking, or had given up.

            “You just wouldn't know which ‘how did I get here?' you'd have to watch for, though.  Nobody thinks that.  Everybody thinks they'd know for sure, see it coming, something like that.”

            “You're positive?”

            The bushes started rustling again.

 

            “I fell more alive with you, and I feel more numb with them.”

            “Really?”

            The waitress asked if they wanted more coffee, received two nods, poured, and left.

            “It makes it harder.”

            “I'm sorry.”

            There was an explosion of laughter at the other end of the place, nearer the door — drunken revelers invading the 24-hr. diner for mozz sticks and coffee.

            “No no — I'm grateful.  It's like the contrast is more marked, though.”

            “What?”

            The waitress told the revelers to please be quiet.  They acquiesced.

            “I feel like it makes some sort of adolescence transit more drastic — they really don't leave home, these all.”

            “These all?”

            Headlights flashed as a car pulled up into the parking space outside the window, stayed on, then cut out.

            “I have a lot of relatives.  A lot of 'em.”

            “That's nice.”

            A door slammed as someone left that car to enter the diner — too loud, as compared to the other three people leaving the car.

            “It actually isn't.  They project the frozen grins around each other, and it feels mean to even size them up that way, let alone break free . . . ”

            “ . . . like you'd be upsetting the applecart.”

            The ceiling fan whirred — a token gesture at clearing out cigarette smoke in pre-smoking ban late-'80s upstate New York.

            “Right.”

            “That's odd.”

            The ashtray almost overflowing — they'd been there 2 hrs, 43 min. — Brenda flicked another Camel Light end onto it, taking an absurd amount of caution to do what she could getting the mountain containable, as if she could, anyway.  What could you do.

 

            “Should I drop you?”

            “Thanks for doing this.”

            The trees whizzed by.

            “No problem.”

            “You enjoy driving?”

            The sun was coming up.

            “Love it.”

            “I hate driving.”

            Birds were fuckin' chirpin', and shit.

            “Why on earth?”

            “Stop kidding.”

            Click of the blinker — plock-do, plock-do — as he prepared to make a turn.

            “I just find it so liberating.  After riding in the backseat so long . . . ”

            “Big kid now?”

            Plock-d.  He flipped the blinker off, turn made.

            “It is like that.  It is that obvious.”

            “Master of your destiny.”

            Wheels droned on pavement.

            “Why don't you put that Cowboy Junkies tape in?”

            “I lost it.”

            Not much happened — the road was boring.

            Shame on you.”

            “I know.  Don't need to tell me.”

            More road.

            “We teenagers need to stick together.”

            “How trite.”

            Her house was coming up — how to make this last longer?  Slow down to 5 mph?  Miss the turn, and drive and drive for 20 minutes, for no purpose?

 

            “He had me do it like 8 or 9 times.”

            “Really?”

            The heating panel ticked.

            “It's like fuck, Reed, I'd be happy to, it's for a grade, you know?”

            “You call him ‘Reed'?”

            The house made its settling noises — hard to pin down, you're sure it's just nothing.

            “Well, ‘Mr. Reed' just becomes ‘Reed,' so yeah.  We all sit in his art room a lot, whether we're taking photography or painting or not with him, during our free periods.  So.”

            “So.”

            The whole thing seemed uncomfortable with itself — at the end of the street's cul-de-sac — like every house just thrown there in hopes of keeping things out.  It catches up with you.

            “So I feel like I'm finally taking a class with him for real — you know? — so I'll do the goddamn photo a hundred times, if he wants.”

            “Kiss-ass.”

            The heater ticked again.  Ticked off?

            “Nah.  He seems really taken with it, as a person.  He's looking at it and looking at it . . . ”

            “The one with me wearing the Ramones t-shirt?”

            A dog barked.  Somebody's.

            “Yeah.  And Jay playing guitar, and the lawnmower and stuff.”

            I see.”

            Chris looked at the window.  Curtains still there, all right.  He leaned back into the waterbed.

            “‘That's it!  That's a garage band!'”

            “Awesome!”

            The waterbed made gurgling sounds, making up for the shift down into it, as water (and air) sloshed around.

            “Funny thing, though . . . I couldn't quite get the balance right.  The more you develop the same negative, so the background shows — the stuff through the garage windows — the more the stuff in the front's lost.  I never could get it quite right.  That's why I had to do it 8 or 9 times.”

            “Was he mad?  I mean . . . disappointed?”

            The water shut up its gurgling.  Basically.  Try not to move.

            “Nah.  It was intrinsic to the negative.  It was a well-caught shot, it's just . . . ”

            “ . . . it's just.”

            She drags on a cigarette, too loud through the phone, like standing near a mic you didn't know was amped that much, it's loud in Chris's ear.  Bitch, you should know better than that, he thinks, the most sarcastic and un-meant thought he's ever had in his life.  His heart is beating.  His dick is getting hard.

 

            “Thanks for telling me I should apply to B.U.”

            “Nobody gets told this stuff.”

            The moon is full through the clouds, out the window.  It's ten weeks later.

            “I can't believe I'm going.  My whole life is changed.”

            “Parameters.  It's like . . . this what you have a shot at, you know?”

            Chris is being blinded by the moon — the moon, what the fuck? — but he'd have to lose his equilibrium, lying back, on the waterbed, and they're having A Bit of A Moment, here.  He's fully in the phone with her.

            “I mean . . . this is my life now, you know?  I never thought I would . . . I just . . .and WOW!  I got in and they gave us financial aid and everything.”

            “That's what they do.  They let you in, then adjust to what you have.  Mostly.”

            The house'll be quiet for, maybe, 20 more minutes.  Already they're pushing it — already they've been lucky.  He hopes, he hopes, please longer, please longer, don't come home, leave the house empty . . .

            “God!  I just never would have.  Just shrugged it off, like, ‘oh, that's not me . . . '”

            “Totally.  And our parents pay and arm and a leg to The Academy so we don't shoot ourselves in the foot by fucking up our applying at all, it seems like.”

            20 minutes for the next two months.  It hardly seems fair.  What am I saying — 19.  18, really.

            “Thanks.  Thanks really.  I gotta go, though.  Talk to you later.”

            “OK Brenda.”

            They say their goodbyes, and hang up.  She's more choked up than she wants to admit — she feels dopey.  She's pleased.  He's pleased.  He can't wait for summer.  The moon's going to get blocked out too, in a minute, in a minute . . .

 

            “How long's it been?”

            “Since I've been skinny dipping?  Never?”

            She takes her Ramones t-shirt off — same one from the photograph; they're young, they don't have many — and tosses it at him: Silly!  Resplendent in her white bra — she's got quite a pair of boobs on her, especially for someone sorta short — she starts unbuttoning her olive-green cargo shorts.

            “Where'd you get that R.E.M. tour shirt?”

            “The last leg of the Green tour at Great Woods, just outside Boston.  We drove all the way out there and back in the same night.”

            She unhooks her bra, and drops it carefully-enough near her pile of clothes safely up from the water's edge, and the revelation of what's she's kept under there the whole time — her breasts bobbing, her nipples longer than you'd think — is so erotic she looks different, registers as a different person, like: I.  Never.  Knew.

            “Good drive?”

            “Sucked.  It was exciting and fun — just to have something to do — but this friend of Jay's, this guy from Shaker who drove us in his mom's space van, wouldn't, incredibly, pull us over so we could take a piss, and then, when he got a speeding ticket on the way back, we were like Serves you right, dick.”

            Speaking of which, his dick is half-hard (and being seen by Brenda!) and dangling between his legs, nothing she doesn't know about him now.  If it weren't for the chill and the motion and the talking he'd be full up.  She's stepped out of her panties and tosses them with a goofy gesture as though they're kidding around at the Dunkin' Donuts shop where they went after doing ‘Can't Find My Way Home' and ‘Behind Blue Eyes' at Caffe Lena's that one time — but they're the fucking panties she's been wearing under her cargo shorts all day and her bush isn't guised anymore, either.  Best to keep talking, and die of happiness inside.  Only.  Crushes.  Are Worth It.  Like This.

 

            “You going to drive me home?”

            “Anything for you, darlin'.”

            Blinker: plonk-do, plonk-do.  And they're out of that dirt road they had no right going down, anyways.

            “How's it feel to not be a virgin?”

            “Couldn't ask for better.”

            She pop in Cowboy Junkies: The Caution Horses, the new one.  She lights a Camel Light from his pack, uses the car lighter (used '82 Cutlass Supreme — teenagers live in the vestiges of Things From Before), and rolls down the manual window with that curious sort of offhand care he's come, dareIsay, to love about her.  She's like a little old woman.  Who's pretty and blond and petite and listens to Mudhoney: ‘Flat Out Fucked' and The Replacements: ‘Love You 'Til Friday.'

            “Thanks for the compliment.”

            “You're welcome.  It's your due.  I'm your loyal servant.  Sooo . . . how 'bout yourself.”

            The trees whizz by.  They always do.  Upstate NY is bland; not homey like Vermont or Massachusetts.  Nothing to complain about, but still.

            “(she drags on the cigarette, waves her hand like comme ci, comme ça; she's fucking with him) Not bad.”

            “I'll try to do better.”

            And I'd rather listen to Coltrane than go through all that shit again, the radio says.  Brenda's eyebrows go up. Swear words in mass-released albums are uncommon and striking; Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction, with its deluge of f-bombs on every song but one of the non-singles, seem to be a bigger deal to the kids than the adults in the music press, who've been reacting to it for good, bad or indifferent reasons as though they missed this component entirely.  Like the drug-taking at Grateful Dead shows, since coke and heroin are eschewed and it's mostly pot and hallucinogens: nobody notices but the teenagers how screamingly obvious these two-or-three day events are compared to everything else, since it's new to them, and a total joke that people would go and not get high or trip on acid.  Where else?

            “(she leans over and kisses him on the cheek, free to do so since he's absorbed in his driving, darting back, hummingbird-like, to leave him to it) You better.  You'll have plenty of opportunities. (she blushes, at this admission)”

            “All summer.”

            He keeps his head tightly gripped on the wheel, to keep his focus so he doesn't float off into space, and she's right here, she's right next to me, we've got this time at last . . . Margo Timmons keeps singing, and they're all feeling so pleasantly world-weary.

 

            “How many people do you know who've died?”

            “Not many.”

            She flicks her cigarette.  They're beyond irony; they're living anyway.  What can you do?

            “That Jim Carroll song was cool.”

            “It was.”

            She bangs her head, goofy, grinny, a couple of times, her bangs bouncing in her face.  She's high on the goofy afterglow of first-time-for-each sex, but she still stops, because it's embarrassing if you mean it too much.  Funner just to kid around about headbanging.

            “I'd like to hear your list.  Non-stop.”

            “Okaaay . . . my great-aunt Virginia died of lung cancer after smoking 3 packs a day since whenever, weighed less than a hundred pounds.  Someone I knew in 6th grade for about two weeks shot his brother over an argument over whether they were going to watch TV or listen to the radio — it was in the papers and everything — and he ended up killing him.  I never knew the brother.  His older sister was in my 7th grade class.  I say behind her.  She was Korean.  We never talked about it.”

            Another diner.  You have to drive all over the place to find one that isn't Denny's, but who cares, what else is there to do?  24 hrs is 24 hrs.  Usually Greek, these places.  Always worth it.  Pie and cake display in a glass case when you walk in, shit like that.

            “Wow.”

            “And I never knew nor met Melina Hudson, but I knew her older brother from Stage Band class at school — two years is a pretty significant gap, otherwise.  Right?  So.  She died on Pan Am 103.”

            People seem to be overhearing bits of this, but they don't say anything.  It's too much to just drop in from overheard to eavesdropping to butting in.  Somebody at the counter nearby rustles his paper, as though shaking off these troubling implications from the teenage brats mouthing off a table-or-two over — stay away!  To no avail.

 

            “Let's go bowling.”

            “OK.”

            So they did.  It's the next weekend — they're ticking them off like the opposite of a prison sentence; so many more 'til fall, and departure — and being a relationship insulated them from goofy bleed-in's and aw, c'mon's from (would-be) friends and (allegedly-content) family; even if they're not fucking, or doing other than making microwave popcorn or playing mini golf, it's bad form to interrupt — if they play it right.

            “Why this place?”

            “I came here at the suggestion of some girl who goes to Bishop Maginn who knows my aunt, who decided she liked me and felt confident about it.  She took me here 'cause her family bowls a lot.  Her father's a cop, or something.  Our first date we went to see Wes Craven's voodoo movie The Serpent and The Rainbow and I paid attention the whole time, and she had to make a sort of pass at me after it was over to get me to kiss her.  ‘Something in my eye' sort of thing.  I was like, People actually do that?

            “Sounds like a real prize.”

            She bowls.  She's prissy, and it doesn't translate well: her care about holding the ball reverently (a squashed-pink one she took delight in finding after a three-rack search) only leads her to section breakPLOP!section break it and it rolls in to the gutter after completing two full revolutions only on the wood of the lane.

            “Dang it!”

            “Don't worry.  You've got a future in academics.”

            She laughs.  It's hard to know how little to care (or not) about such things when you're young enough to do them for the first time on your own: does it not matter, or are they declaring defeat prematurely?

           

            “Is Heathers a good movie?  I've heard it was.”

            “Yeah — like I said, I saw it with our ex-drummer and his Latvian friend.  She was more into it than he was; he's kinda mopey, looking at his shoes: ‘A movie?'  Like he'd rather be skiing.  Or playing golf.”

            They've take a break from making out in the backseat of his car — some empty parking lot for a roller-skating rink, I think.  It's like they're going rounds and then catching their breath.

            Golf. (she laughs) Oh Christ.”

            “We drove around the parking lot at SUNY Albany for the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert for a while — saw your car there, with all the stickers, I'm like, ‘That's Brenda's!' — but he was too shy to ask someone how to buy tickets.  His dad's a professor there.  Christ.”

            Cigarettes, all around.  Brenda reads the “Smooth Move #291” insert from the pack.  She inhales and through a series of fluid careful movements brings the ember out to the window crack and flicks out ash.  Like it's just another thing.

            “Well (puzzled) Joe Camel's not offering any good advice.”

            “(looks at it) No, he isn't.”

            The ashes burn down.  The lot stays empty; it must not open until 5 or 6 pm, or something.  No place better to hide than where nobody's looking, nobody cares, anyway.  For what that's worth.  And how long, anyway?

 

            “There's a place to watch the airplanes fly in over you?  Really?”

            “You should get down here from Saratoga more.  Fuck the racetrack — Albany's hoppin'!”

            They're already driving.  Fables of the Reconstruction is playing.

            “Will wonders never cease.”

            “They, like, ZOOOM (Christopher makes a gesture with his hand) right over you.  Apparently.”

            There's a lot of roads, a shopping plaza, more stoplights.  “It's a Man Ray kind of sky . . . ”

            “You've never gone.”

            “My uncle did.  And his wife and kids — they'd sit in the back.  We went to the drive-in with them, once.”

            Sun's coming down.

            “What movie — err, mov-ies, excuse me.”

            “Uhh, Fletch, I think.  The second movie was Into the Night, so we had to leave.  It was rated R.”

            Casualties of sprawl: except nobody minds, 'cause everybody has their own stuff, and they all leave each other alone.  The two of them drive past all of it.

            Older kids?”

            “Younger, actually — ha ha!  My mom's what you might call ‘stuck up,' except without any religious beliefs or cultural interests past better TV, anyway.  She's very ‘better than them.'  Makes them all vaguely uneasy.  Their kids all watch HBO, each of my dad's three siblings.  I'm not allowed to see Blood Simple or Stranger than Paradise when I hear about them on Siskel & Ebert, so . . .what's the point?  It's like, lose-lose.  Easier to avoid them both.  Going to school up with the Ivies, now, so let 'em bicker.”

            They pull into the gravel before a chain-link fence before a great expanse before the tarmac and — perfect timing! — a plane goes ZOOOM! and not quite rattles but quakes their windows a little.  Awesome.  Now wait 10, 20, 30 minutes . . . “the power lines have floaters so the airplanes won't get snagged.”

           

            “How'd you find out about this place?”

            “We played monkey tag here, once.  How you find out about schools you didn't go to.”

            They're in a place where the car parked a ways away on a side street wouldn't look unobtrusive, out of place.  By the time it'd be noticed as sticking out or looking weird, they'd be long gone.

            “Great place to fuck.  You fucking pervert.”

            “You couldn't do better, is all.”

            He loves her.  She's already pulling off her shirt with that offhand abandon he still can't believe he gets to witness, he'd keep taking her different places so she wouldn't get bored with him or herself or them both — oh, wait, there's that old-woman trait again, persnickety-careful about her near-spectacle glasses getting in the way, her angle-by-angle-by-movement of them from the bridge of her nose a surreal counterpart to her full bosom and teenage bra — dick's hard! — and bellybutton all part of his life.  His wife?  They're going off to school though.  Got a lot ahead of them.  Better make this time count . . .

 

            “My mom'll ask you to call her ‘Donna.'  She always does.”

            “O.K.”

            The drive is long, but they're pleasantly tired.  Surfer Rosa is playing now: “You're so pretty when you're unfaithful to me . . . You're so PRETTY when you're UNFAITHFUL to me!”

            “She seems to want to be friends with my friends, or at least . . . ”

            “ . . . not be a mom, exactly.”

            They're tired, but it's a pleasant high: some sense of purpose intrinsic to youth, not just available to a person when you've been up all night working on a project, and thus easily squandered.

            “Basically.  I mean, it's o.k., but it's just . . . ”

            Honest.  Strikes me as honest.  Or at least not dis-honest.”

            Stoplight.  Tape flips over: it's ‘auto-reverse.'  They've been allowing a lot of silences between thoughts expressed.  It's weird.  They just keep driving and riding, and the conversation's evolving at a glacial pace — though maybe it's a question of glaciers being bigger, and it warrants taking that long?  I don't know.  It's the Northeast.  These corny school-and-from-history images abound, easily.  What was I saying again?

            “I wouldn't go that far.”

            “Well . . . grass is always greener, I guess.  But at least you can tell.  The other side of that is . . . the other variant — I mean, ever get the feeling nobody really likes their lives, but they think and feel through them, so what're they gonna do?”

            Some jerk cuts off a yellow Datsun hatchback in front of them.  They're on the Northway — not going the back way, for variety.  Exits and everything, though it'd take a ways up into the Adirondacks before you'd encounter a rest area — pittances, really, just bathrooms and vending machines, not like the ones on the Mass. Pike with video games and Burger King and maps galore.  The event in front of them seems like a signal fire on the horizon — the worry's not there, but they feel empathetic.  Chris notices his girlfriend tense — that's wrong, like a picture frame on a wall that's off, simple as that — and then she unclenches, and he wonders if there aren't other sorts of lifelong commitments that aren't picket-fence, Leave it to Beaver marriages that leave people drained and unhappy by the time the kids are eight.  Will.  Never.  Not.  Know.  Her.  She's so great — hit the brakes.  Accelerating too fast.  No need.  Why worry?

 

            “She told them I slept on your couch last night?”

            “Yep.  Thanks, Donna!”

            She grins, like some teacher gave the two of them a free pass out of some other class or event they didn't want to go to — duly noted, but a little sarcastic in that we get to do it outshines the conspiracy of three potentiality — it's not that, just this.  She doesn't like her mom, and feels like she's getting an awkward short shrift from someone who's so offhand about diluting or “playing down” the role that she resents being put in this position — but, your mom's the only one you have, and it takes some doing to disengage those child-like psyche structures effectively.  Too many Gen X'ers end up being stuck in the role of their parents' best friend, without any ego-loss to the parent, or acknowledgment of the emotional larceny involved — let alone the acknowledgment that it's turning a solid failure into a worse failure, ie., the family structure's just there for the unwilling reproducers to use as a catch-all for atrophied needs and unarticulated desires.  Ugh.

            “Who's watching Woody Woodpecker?”

            “My little brother.  He's 10.  I taught him swear words at a very young age.  I regret it now.”

            Somehow, she seems ironic, so noted, and deeply mournful of this at the same time; the little(r) kid is in the next room listening to “nyeh-nyeh-nyeh-nyehnyeh” right now, so whaddaya gonna do, reprogram him right this instant?

            “We should really sleep.”

            “You should really take the couch.  I'll get you some blankets.  We're aboveground now, back in ‘up-and-up ville,' didn't you know that?”

            She's kidding, big joke about how clever the two of them are, but, still, it would seem to be the case.  Are they figuring something out?  Are there no maps for these territories?  Stay tuned!

 

            “Are you going to band practice?”

            “Looks like it.”

            It's the next Saturday.  Chris had worked at Burger King — and “oddly satisfying” job, as he calls it — and Brenda has been scooping cream cheese — it's a truly ungodly amount — at Bruegger's Bagels.  He wears a lapel pin with “CHRIS” on it and a maroon Burger King™ (instead of Izod™) labelled t-shirt and regulation navy-but-almost-regular-blue pleated pants, and she wears a white t-shirt and an apron.  They rarely see each other, all told — but that time spent is time spent.

            “Can I come?”

            “It's like the Little Rascals sign out front, actually: ‘No GIRLS A-L-O-U-D.'  So sorry.”

            They're driving in circles, kinda like life.  In suburbia, anyway.  Spinning wheels, spinning wheels . . . stuck in gear.

            “Oh, you're all done with me?  $40 for signing ‘Gigantic' and ‘Headstrong' and see ya, that's it?  Why don't I doubt it.”

            “Maybe you can sing an Indigo Girls song.”

            It's a forced sort of kidding, indulging themselves 'cause it wouldn't touch down, leave any bruises: he's listened to the Indigo Girls album more than R.E.M.'s Green by a narrow margin, and now he studies 10,000 Maniacs Blind Man's Zoo the way he used to Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy or Who's Next.  Ditto The Trinity Session — it's a relief to be “above it all,” and not feel like a ninny or a girlfriend hater, because it's just so patently absurd: the world is changing, hair metal's looking pathetic, macho is a joke.  She rests her head against his shoulder while he drives (it's automatic transmission); she worries a little about how skinny he is, a female-motherly reflex that can't but cross her mind, useful or not.  His dick gets hard.

 

            “This is a song about something squandered.  It's called, ‘I Don't Want to Get Up.'”

            “I can't hear you.  Turn up the microphone.”

            More fiddling.  The fiddling turns into re-tuning the guitars, which turns into doing the chorus instrumental before the first verse, so it's sort of like catching up with a freight train already in motion . . . this goes on for long enough for order to fall apart, chaos to descend, and the drummer, never a focused sort in the best of times apart from his time behind the kit, is already down the basement hall, drumming the bricks on the wall as though testing them for depth melodiousness and thickness whether he's taking his boredom out on them or sincerely curious it isn't clear whether he himself knows exhaustively, and the group assembles in the backyard for a cigarette, sans drummer (who doesn't smoke).

            “Sounds good in there.”

            “Thanks.”

            Typical practice talk — who knows?  It does, but it could be better . . . probably.  Brenda's less a complaint, “with the guys” girlfriend than astute other ear . . . she hangs 'round as though the hanging 'round position is more comfortable.  In suburban Albany, there's no band scene to speak of, and they're too young to play clubs where you'd have to be 21, and too experienced, and the drive's too far and most of them are going to college in the fall, anyway, so . . . why bother?  It sounds good.  It comes like songs they like, and identify with.  It's a small miracle in an oasis of boredom and foosball.  They're actually doing this.

            “Can I hear you guys play ‘White Room'?”

            “I don't have my wah-wah-pedeal.”

            They play it anyway, the drummer's involved back in the night's energy (he gets to play the Ginger Baker role, a sure enticement to get the seat hot behind the kit), and the energy picks up for the better part of two hours, 14 min. or so . . . freight-train intro with instr. chorus it is.  It rocks!  We think.  They think.  Whatever . . .

 

            “Don't you ever use alternate tunings?”

            “No.  ‘Drop-D' tuning is as exotic as I get.”

            It's past 1 am — maybe past 2 am, who fucking cares?

            “J Mascis said, ‘If you can do everything, why do anything?'  He was talking about Sonic Youth.”

            “I see his point.  I'd say I'd agree with that.  Besides, Sonic Youth is D.I.Y. in ideology only — how the fuck are you supposed to do that?  Shit just towers, it's staggering.  They throw the whole book out and start over again, every time.”

            She's astute; he likes that — prefers that.  People looks at you weird like you think you know everything is you know about stuff.  She's written for the Saratogian as a high-schooler about bands and things he's never heard of, with a grasp not just a frame of reference beyond what's familiar to him.  She puts them in the paper, and nobody cares.  Except for him.

            “What are some ‘Drop-D' tuning songs?”

            “The Doors' ‘Land Ho.'  Ahh . . . I don't know.  Classic rock stuff?  Jimmy Page'd use alternate tunings, for ‘Black Mountain Side' and stuff . . . No, wait.  Let me think of one.”

            Red light.  She looks out the window — what else?  It's strange to make very moment count.  The radio is singing, ‘We're all gonna burn, we'll all take turns, I'll get mine too . . . ”

            He can't think of one.  They'd backed themselves into a conversational corner, anyway — a little too persnickety and pedantic.  Better to let the air go out of their tires.  The tape flips over.  “Hope everything is ALL RI-HIYE-HI-EYE-IGHT . . . ”  They drive on to Denny's, the bright yellow sign in the parking lot looming as a beacon to travelers, making everyone feel like they're on the road or in a rush, depending on your perspective.  Adolescents or truck drivers making a long haul or people rushed without knowing why.  It just feels that way, you know?  Like the ground under your feet is slipping away, and the structure's built — physically but culturally, too — like it's intended to stave off such worries, temporarily.  How can you not be made nervous by such referring-to-itself bulwarks against entropy, lost time, the never-sleeping rust?  Unless you  learn to welcome it.  No wonder the teenagers seem to feel the adults are in worse than a bad mood; they're shut down, and can't notice it now, they can't afford it.

 

            “French Slam?  Moons Over My Hammy?  Oh, the choices.”

            “You're such a dear.”

            She is.  The band's broken down for the night, and now — stolen time — they get to build their relationship over coffee and cigarettes.  Great.

            “Why don't why . . . go to a drive-in?”

            “We should.  We really should.”

            Plans, plans to make.  Somebody at the counter coughs.  The muzak's playing something saccharine, so you “feel” comfy.  Somehow, they can tune it out.

            “Did you ever read that William Gibson I gave you.”

            “Speaking of Sonic Youth.  No, not yet.”

            He's barely finished with Pynchon's V. — which he first read about in Stephen King's Danse Macabre, of all things.  The suburban ambience is, shall we say, unrelenting: “Are you comfy?”  People have to insist they're not worried, and they've long forgotten why.  Christopher still has to go to Church every week.  Brenda's dad is rarely around, even though he's revered by his English students at the high school he teaches at — leaving her under a weird, unfelt-by-her shadow — and her mom seems uncomfortable fulfilling her motherly duties or taking off outright.  All of it's desultory.  None of it adds up.  Allegedly.

 

            “Cops.”

            Shit!

            It's incredibly how powerless you feel, how the blinking lights in your rearview make you feel like you've done something wrong — it turns out it's just a broken taillight, probably the chinciness of the rust-bucket car with the Grateful Dead sole dancing skeleton sticker on the back attracted them for the “just in case” fishing-for-something-anyway reason and they're just about to let them off with a warning when the flashlight the guy has lingers on Brenda and it's all Chris can do to grit his teeth and do nothing but cringe.

            “Those guys were assholes.”

            “Bored.  Rookies.  Rookies at 40, it looks like.”

            She laughs, and it's half hollow, some relief but hardly getting at all of it, they've both got a bitter taste in their mouths, like bile.  Maybe they'll write a song about it, together.  Who cares.

            “Don't speed the rest of the way back to my house.”

            “I won't.  Needless to say.  Fucking tempting, though.”

            They're both in shock, of a mild sort.  Where the fuck did that come from?  Did they deserve this?  Does it mean people do or don't deserve what happens to them.  No it doesn't.  It just shitted their night up, is all.  Turn up the radio, is all: “Does fuck you sound simple enough?  Are you for sale?”  They feel slightly better.  The 8-band graphic equalizer with 40-watt amp Christopher installed with pluck and a pair of wire cutters and some leftover birthday money and Burger King pay helps; the fucking car is filled, it's like the music space surrounds them.  Gotta have priorities.

 

            “Whatever happened to that dude we were freaking out at the party by making out in front of?”

            “Vipul?  He killed himself, actually.”

            Vey rare: a Monday night where no-one's home.  They're not out for couples therapy: people in Albany don't do that, besides, the besides, the ‘staying together just for the children might actually make things worse' logic hasn't reached this burg from Northern California from the late '60s or other cultural centers throughout the late '70s if it ever will, in time: people just tighten the screws, grin and bear it more, read the funny pages and Parade™ magazine supplement, freeze-dry their emotions, since, hey, who wants to climb down the life ladder, and where to, and why?  So they're at some dinner with her two “well off” friends and their middle-middle class husbands; his lowermiddle class relatives are comfy in their atavistic pull, maybe watching HBO, or shooting hoops.

            Why?

            “No to sound ridiculous or unconcerned, but . . . no-one ever know what the deal was with him.  He'd be like trying too hard with everything he said: ‘But isn't it awsomecool?'  And you're left with nothing left to say but, ‘Um, ok, Vipul.'  And the Academy, I hasten to add, is strewn with enough second-gens, from India or Asia or whatever, that it's just part of the makeup, just part of us, who's there, who's doing well at sports or academics or conversation or what-all, so . . . nobody knew why he was so over-heated.  And he took his own life.”

            There's a silence on the phone.  There are actually cricket sounds coming from outside.  There is the temptation to think it's either ridiculous or too apt, but it isn't.  It's just crickets.  Doing their thing.  They don't care.

            Wow-ow.”

            “Yeah.  It sucks, but it puts you in a difficult position, when you simply are or aren't close to these or those individuals, intrinsically, regardless.”

            There's the distant sound of a siren — an Albany siren, it would seem, not in any particular hurry; it's serious, but nothing to panic about.  It's languid and echoes through the night.  This place could seriously fuck with your sense of what's final and what's not.  Or maybe it's just me.

            “How long ago?”

            “Last week.  Friday, actually.  The night before we were playing.  Kevin told me — remember him? he was the one laughing at me drunkenly pawing you in your prom dress, which only made you drunkenly laugh harder and made Vipul with his ‘girlfriend from Canada' date from last summer's Swarthmore summer school more mortified — he said he heard from . . . ”

            The garage door starts its automated opening: ca-chunnng . . . with other noises to follow.  Like the garbage disposal, another payment plan.  Like the Buick LeSabre, and the Pontiac Firebird, and the above-ground pool, and the not-bad deck.  No wonder everyone feels so trapped in paradise (small p, though).  This is a surprise.  Christopher will have to cut this call short.

 

            “Saratoga's nice.”

            “Isn't it?”

            Compared to Harvard Square — or most-or-any of Boston, really — Saratoga's jackshit, Carly Simon song or not.  But.  It's Friday, and the “hipper” district, such as it is, is bustling.  They're at Ben & Jerry's — new-fangled, like how Little Caesar's was a quirky step up from Pizza Hut, but better.  Smashing stuff in your ice cream is kinda Dadaist.

            “Smashing stuff in your ice cream is kinda Dadaist.”

            “Like that guy ‘goofed on' in the Pixies song.”

            He is referring, of course, to Luis Buñuel, referred to in the Rolling Stone review of Doolittle erroneously as a ‘Dadaist' and not a ‘Surrealist' — can't believe everything you read!

            “I like Cherry Garcia.”

            “Deadhead.”

            This is close to absurdity, as alleged insults go — she wouldn't touch the stuff, really, but he's the one with 30+ bootlegs (nothing doing, considering the friends circles at school — one guy's got 500! '80s kids . . . ).  Still.  They get to trip on acid and make out when the Grateful Dead came the recently-built Knickerbocker Arena in April, and her mouth tasted like the Big Red gum she'd been chewing 20 min. ago . . . or was it he'd been chewing?  Or were they hearing, sensing, imbibing Beg Red flavor?  (Their seats were close enough — on the floor, at least.)  Duh.

            “Why don't you like cherries?”

            “I'll spare you the pun, although you left a wide open door for one.  I dunno.  They're just non-exotic — like watermelon — and non-regular — like strawberry — so, why bother?”

            This is succinct.  This is the sort of essay writing that gets one into the University of Chicago.

            “I want a new boyfriend.”

            “You'll never find a pathetic lapdog like me.  Never.”

            She laughs.  He almost wishes he didn't mean it — at all!  Almost.

 

            “Another abandoned schoolyard.”

            “Degenerates.”

            Her nipples are hard, and her breasts have just the right sort of womanly hang to have Chris now-crazy, as though it's so obvious she needs a bra to keep them cooped up so she can walk around and focus on other things, he can't measure what it's like to have a friend in a body like this, her pubic hair is wet from —

            “No — more.  Ow!”

            “Sorry.”

            Bristles.  Brambles.  Stones.  Teenage sex.

 

            “This seems to be a shattered world.”

            “Hence the need for constant reassurance.”

            He's listening, while he drives.  Like she's serving, they're playing ping-pong, or something.  The music's off, for once.  The air through the window feels cool and nice.

            “People put so much weight behind what they hear others in their immediate vicinity say to them.”

            “Hear, hear.”

            She flicks an ash out the window.  The ashtray's full.

            “It's like they have no reservoir.”

            “It's like they fear one, or are against one, or are protective against — ”

            This is too much.  They let it drop.  She pops in Document: “Finest Worksong” starts.  It's better than nothing.  It's better than a bad something, a rotten egg, or a bland pancake.  Hours to go.  Then sunrise.  Then sleep: They're like vampires, or something — creatures of the night.  Just kids.  But growing.  Getting somewhere . . .

 

            “Donna and Timmy are out.”

            “Good for us, then.”

            She opens the screen door — leading the way, flicks on the hall light, looks up and down just a reflex — scowls at him to wipe his feet, take his shoes off at the door, like nodding her head, paintbrush in mouth, as she backs away from the canvas, not quite right.  He doesn't know why he thinks this.

            “Are we sleeping?”

            “I'm not sure yet.”

            She removes her t-shirt — up up and over her head, now it's in her hand, draped, it's glorious — and walks around in her bra, for some reason, or it's just the heat and convenient.

            “She left a note for me.”

            “What's it say?”

            They are remarkably commonplace in their dialoguing, it would appear, when all energy has been dispatched elsewhere: it might as well be Pass the salt? and Sure, here you are!  But it passes the time, like confirming each other is there, like knocking on wood, or something.

            “It's pretty cryptic.”

            “(looking) That is cryptic.”

            She stifles a yawn.  He leans in a way that makes her feel welcome — your choice? — and she agrees, and nestles in.  (His shirt's gone, by now.)  He pecks her shoulder.  His dick gets hard-ish.

            “It's like we're dancing, again.”

            “Sway with me.”

            They stay coupled, his arms around her supple flesh, his dick stiffens.  Her breath increases.  He kisses her shoulder, and she leans toward him while her pulls the light-pink strap down to her shoulder.

            “Shouldn't we (they kiss) maybe move (he probes her mouth with his tongue; he can imagine his feeling her nipples stiffen against his chest and under her bra) to the . . . (she unhooks her bra, lets it fall off, puts her head on his shoulder and resumes kissing him, fully tongue-in-mouth).”

            “Well . . . (she pops out, and her boobs bounce, nipples fully erect alright).”

            Well.

 

            “We gonna watch some John Waters?”

            “Have to.  Can't watch Raising Arizona and Blue Velvet over and over again.”

            '80s kids.

 

            “Sometimes I have dreams I'm in England.  I almost said back in England.”

            “Feels that vivid, huh?”

            They're stoned, but on sex, not pot, or (chemical) ecstasy.

            “It feels oddly familiar.”

            “I used to write messages to myself in Phoenician cuneiform.  I was 5.  They had them in the encyclopedia — the letter ‘A', the letter ‘B,' whatever.  Where it came from, as a demonstration.  History.  I don't know why I did this.  The messages were in English, obviously.”

            She laughs.  She flicks her cigarette out the window.  They're both nude.

 

            “The sun's coming up.”

            “Where's your fam.?”

            He's looking at his paycheck, scrutinizing it.  They've put clothes on, for decency.  Filthy lucre, and all.

            “They're . . . still out, I guess.”

            “Happened before?”

            FICA . . . Social Security tax . . . State tax . . . Withholding tax . . . Medicare . . .

            “No.  Not really.  But who knows?”

            “Maybe that message was a clue.”

            He starts tearing the informational piece into bits and shreds, and the bits and shreds into bits and shreds.  She joins him.

            “Ha ha.  That's what messages are for, right?”

            “Message from beyond.  One . . . step beyond!”

            This is a lame joke.  She looks at him and groans, like you can do better.  Either of them's too tired to but putter-putter — hopefully they won't step on each other's toes and raw nerves to let each other down, and have to recoup from it later.  Modern living is so dangerous.  But.

 

            “We should get a move on.”

            “Might as well.”

            It's a strange, sort of post-sunup time — what is it, 7:23 AM? — after they've grabbed 3½ hours worth of sleep, not feeling like they needed much, they have other sorts of energy.  Morale, even.  But it's still strange.  They're a little unsure whether they should be tired — not in terms of conscious decision-making, but what their bodies're telling them — but, yes, they seem to be standing upright, not really flagging but maybe needing some coffee.

             “Diner?”

            Après vous.”

            She studied Spanish in high school, and did better in it than he did in French, but he likes tossing random “apt” phrases into conversation more.  C'est la vie.

            “Boyfriend, I think we'll have to stop by the store for more maxi pads.”

            “Thanks for telling me you're not pregnant.  I'm glad to oblige with the monthly good news.”

            Jokes about terribly un-funny things don't even need to be funny: it's like, whew!

            “And cigarettes.”

            “Got those.”

            He produces a fresh pack from inside his jean jacket — he's thought ahead.  He backs out over a stray toy of Timmy's, hears a CRUNCH!, and looks to her for her instant permission, and gets an instant shrug, a resignation to the too late now! state of Timmy's toy's fate.  They amscray, before her little brother can call the cops, or sue.

 

            “Why do we like Schenectady more than Saratoga or Albany?”

            “Do we?  We're not from here.  For us, it's stretching out.”

            She takes out her copy of Naked Lunch — it's one of her touchstones; she loves the part with the fake menus serving petroleum products for dinner and all the people are so intimidated by its reputation they still keep going and shows it to him, it cracks her up — and they decide to order something.

            “Do you have Duck L'Orange, with natural-gas glaze?”

            “Yeah.  Or how about Escargot garnished with coal shale.”

            The waitress looks at them, confused — why do they have to do this to everyday folk?  They need to move to the city, where the Dadaists live.

 

            “You shouldn't call me at work.”

            “I know.  It's a quick, one-time thing, though.”

            His break, his dime; her not-break, she's get called away and back again, that's all the time she's got.  For $4.40/hr. (him) or $5.25 (hers) to save up maybe $1600 for school year, outside-dining-hall spending money, apart from the books/student loans/tuition/financial aid stuff that's the parental unit's responsibility.  They can have some weekends, but it's as obvious as a less-full gas tank; what are you going to do, pretend you don't notice?  Nobody'll do anything if you don't, either way: apart from the nagging and inapt guilt that's Christopher's family's métier, and relied-upon way of staggering through life with themselves and each other — why should he be any different?  “Who do you think you pays for the Thomas's™ English Muffins and the sprinklers on the lawn out there?”  They're so bitter, it's settled in and so far past satiation they don't know what that would be like, let alone what would come next, and how intrinsically unpredictable that would be; any youthful patience exerted in their direction is futile, and going to be misread as “giving up” or uncertainty on his part, for all the good that does him, knowing it's coming.  What does “unreliably unwavering” mean?  You.  Still.  Can't.  Tell.  Brenda's mom, on the other hand: “That's great!”  Regardless.  Like she'd rather be somewhere else . . . almost.  The time-clocks of their shit jobs are more honest, more discernible.

            “Montréal?  I didn't know Dawn and Andy were going.”

            “I just ran into them, here at the mall.  Once they got over their laughter at seeing me in my Burger King uniform . . . ”

            What a haul, just to pack yourself into something, just to do something for one weekend.  While the world goes, “What?”

 

            “Did you bring Doolittle?”

            “Naw.  I got Nothing's Shocking, though.”

            Christopher's bag is duffel-sized, clothes and toiletries from ears of Boy Scout-camp packing and vacations with family and shit like that, but of course it's still jammed, too, with three tapes, Neuromancer (just in case), a camera (hand-me down; kids too grown for cheezy photos, parental units have no sense nor interest in aesthetics, Take it, it's yours) and Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground (hey, you never know — it's short, right?).  He breaks the store-bought (not-dubbed from a friend) tape out of the case and passes it to Dawn, after she puts the cheese doodle in her mouth and has a hand free, who's sitting shotgun.  200 miles to Montréal.

           

            Dawn, you're not going to show your breasts to everyone in Montréal, are you?”

            “She shouldn't have to do it alone.”

            Brenda digs her chin into her chest, blushing furiously.  Andy tightens his grip on the wheel — not much, but Chris knows that “dick hard” feeling, like the hairs raising on the back of the neck, inadvertently.  The miles pass, like seams in the pavement — whirrrrrrrrba-dump, whirrrrrrrrba-dump . . .

 

            “This is a boooring rest stop.”

            “We're still in upstate New York.”

            What do you do?  Your least interesting impressions of “just o.k.” things.  But still.  This thing takes up space.  Shouldn't it have more of a sense of purpose?  Isn't there a discernible deficit?  Who cares.  Respect your elders.  Somebody must've plunked it down.  Sometimes, it feels like everything's waiting in the bleachers at a minor-league, interminable baseball game that's the best your local town can do and it's an echo of an echo of things you've heard about, like Fenway or Comiskey parks and it's pathetic and still thrown up there — somebody built the signs, somebody puts the chalk between bases and mows the lawn.  Then the more things are like that, the more other things near those things are similarly caché'd: bland coffee, Franklin Mint plates, Bing Crosby Christmas albums on CD.

            “I think Dawn's been going pee for a long time.”

            “How long she and Andy been together?”

            She tells him: she met Andy — not unlike, in a parallel way, how Brenda met Pete, the bass player in the band Chris is in, before that quickly flamed and fizzled out — at a QE2 (Albany club) show.

            “He's a sophomore, but he's grown for his age.”

            Matured, even.  Evolved.”

            She laughs.  Andy looks at her and she waves, a bit embarrassed — he must have just come out of the front entrance.  Bathrooms and maps and vending machines.  Blah.  The cars keep whizzing by, making you feel like you're on an oasis.  Proximity without hazard — they're right there, going 55 mph and up, 60 mph, 68 mph, who knows — and they'll have to keep on the “aflight” course until they have to pee, and then come in for a landing, next one's 37 miles (the sign said — aren't they considerate?).  Let's hope these people make it.  Young'uns can afford a little empathy for the grown-ups — but hey, not that much.  Besides, I thought you were busy?

 

            “Dawn!”

            “Be a good friend, Brenda.”

            He doesn't know what to say, either.  Any sort of politeness keeps everyone on tippy-toes — Andy two years younger, three months with his license and driving across a national border with his just-graduated girlfriend now riding shotgun shirtless (tossed in Brenda's face — aren't we all more hilarious when we're obnoxious with each other, like bumper-pool bumpers) and in a black lacy bra that, like Rae Dawn Chong (cultural reference points being '80s narrow, so help me) with a fuller bosom that can't help but make Christopher glad for being obscured behind the seatback (except at Dawn's whim, as she moves back to answer or ask a question or forward to check in the glove compartment for that goddamn map) saves him from guilty unfaithful longings — it's as though she and Christopher are pinioned, safe, via an isosceles triangle comprising Brenda on the one hand and one with Andy in another, both triangles interlocking and keeping them distant — and Brenda is shy and Andy is young and Chris is more experienced with books, school and music (playing and listening) to know if this is full-tilt confidence on Dawn's part or flippancy w/o care.  Her nipples are light brown, from what he can see of them (which he shouldn't!), at times (not his fault!).  Still, it passes the time, and Dawn's a Nubian queen, with these awkward stupid white kids — it'd be stereotypical and hackneyed, if it wasn't playing out this way, anyway, effectively.  Proof's in the pudding.  She asks Brenda if she has any Altoids.  She pouts when the reply is not in the affirmative, then watches 15 — 17 min. or scenery (shrubbery) pass, until The Replacements' Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash flips over and repeats again and that's just too muc—

 

            “Are we there yet?”

            “That's not funny.”

            They don't mind.  They're excited — how much do they know each other — but, they're going to a part of Old Europe, right here on the continent, and all they need is a driver's license to cross the border (everybody's got one of those, right?  In your wallet without even realizing or thinking much about it . . . )  It's a wave, a rush of excitement that needn't have anything to do with specific plans so much as “newness” and onward, rushing momentum.  The days are so stale.  O.K., but filled with just-show-upness.

 

            “That's a big line.”

            “Yes it is.”

            Awestruck and dumb.  Not everything in your teenage repertoire is going to be apt, pithy, and spot-on.

            “Dawn, (throwing it) put your shirt on.”

            “Maybe you should take yours off, Brenda.  They're, like, European up there.”

            She sniggers.  Christopher feels like they're going to get themselves shot.  Andy pulls into the place behind the line of cars waiting — it's hard to tell what he's thinking, except he's focused on the effort, trying to do as good a job as possible, and not inclined to try to curb his girlfriend.  She instantly starts applying lipstick, as though to offset the cramped-style the insisted-upon shirt's return forces her into: grape-gum flavored purple.  The speaker thunders Hüsker Dü: “I! Ah! Poll! Oooo-gize!”  Andy reaches for the volume on reflex, then drops his hand; it'll be a while yet.

 

            “We'll have to go to that bookstore, later.”

            “Is it near to the hostel?”

            They're all craning their necks out the window, except for Andy, who, through younger-fella avoidance of overreach, is pretty much Steady as She Goes.  He's a stabilizing influence.  He and Dawn make a good couple.  Everybody's speaking French on the sidewalks.  Nothing to panic about . . . right?

 

            “I understand.  I understand.  Sure.  Yes — thank you.”

            “Rule follower (under his breath).”

            She smirks at him, but just as way of acknowledging she's heard, him, nothing more — Brenda's unfeigned old-lady politeness (she seems, somehow, more comfortable being this way, at times, in this Modern World) serves them well with the astonishingly-polite people at the front desk who are, of course, not suspicious and needing to be won over, but — every little bit helps.  The city's so full of history and unabashed about wearing it on its sleeve (how else?) they all feel a little daunted about getting what They'd Hoped For; they seem oddly generic and outclassed and full of sullenness and mopery not uncommon to upstate NY high schools, but here, they have nowhere to “blend in” to (these, the outliers of popular social circles, to begin with): they don't seem so much unwashed as unformed.  Not terrible taste in clothes but like they're half-asleep — not Oh God, not that! but Really? O.k. . . . is the response they (maybe paranoiacally) feel they're getting in beats-of-conversation glances from people filling the sofas and tables and chairs at the hostel, not even intentional, but something that cuts weirder and deeper than petty attacks in some tacky hallway of Eisenhower-era styled locked: I can do better.  I have a lot of catching up to do.  Except for Dawn, who seems idly curious but not frantic: all this rubs off her like water off a duck's back.  She gets into a brief conversation about “dub” with some dude who seems more informed about the trance-music scene in Europe than Casey Kasem, to put it mildly, and all of the other three feel varying sorts of two-feet-tall along the lines of: Shouldn't I trust my girlfriend? to Dub's not something you do with Maxell tapes — good thing I checked my impulse to correct her to Paul Hardcastle's got nothing to do with this . . . Shit!  I should've listened to that tape Lïv all-but-pushed-on-me more than once . . . no elevator.  Take the stairs.  Quit smoking.  (It's too late for that!)  Go swimming or jogging more.  Carry your (admittedly-little) luggage up three flights of stairs.  Think, happy, upbeat thoughts . . . you're not a whiner . . . you're not at sea, out of your depth . . . party!

 

            “Are they fucking? (kissing him)”

            “Not a bad idea. (brushes her wet hair back, put his tongue fully in her mouth, holds her nude body against his, warm water pattering down her back . . . )”

            After the shower fuck, they cautiously step out of the shower, appropriately-toweled before opening the charming-European (they don't know the architectural styles) door open — but Dawn, full of no pretense, is already standing astride, her body held like it's fully her possession, her toes splayed and like anyone you know well or personally, she doesn't look like you think.  Andy's got the blanket covering him, until Chris drops his towel semi-discreetly (not-unlike how you get through locker-room changing) and starts to unpack his tighty-whities t-shirt and jeans while Dawn's taking it all in and rattling off with the others the itinerary for what they're going to do next (cocking her head back, full attention paid and full breasts swaying, to Andy's offered input) leads Brenda to start lollygagging as well (panties pulled on under towel before she drops it, though — there's a sliding scale of “modest,” even for teenagers in Montréal) while conferring topless with Dawn and the now naked and semi-hard Andy (teased out of his blanket covering by the yanking it off him Dawn; no “wet blanket” girlfriend is she!) while the hilarity of conferring with your boyfriend in his underwear and her breasts bared (nipples and aureoles redder than you'd think) leads to a longer conversation and a weirder sense of gigglyness-and-release before they all get dressed up and head out onto the town to get drunk.

 

            “Got any change?”

            “Like . . . 75¢, maybe?”

            The three of them file into a porno booth, so incongruously just-around-the-corner from the family restaurant district (full penetration & ejaculation on magazine covers displayed in the store window) that they assume they'll be treated to European-style “quaint” or “discreet” or “artsy” fare in the 25¢/10 min. porno-loop booth.  They're not.  As they attest to when they file out to meet Christopher (“25¢ was all we could stand — kind of like the all-you-can-eat diner, in the Huey Lewis song”) who's smoking a cigarette and managed to get propositioned by a prostitute in the intervening moments (“They sure are forward, here!”) who interlaced her fingers with the ones in his free hand and asked him, “Wanna date?”

            “I could feel how many souls had passed through her.”

            “Don't say that.”

            Christopher shuts up — more in total agreement, like it's good advice and will calm the shudder that runs through all four, separately but in concert, like chiming bells, it's weird — and stubs out his cigarette.  Time to find a Bistro, and get good and properly loaded on better-than-Budweiser™ beer.

 

            “Hold this.”

            “O.k.”

            He does what he's told — 'cause this “what” is holding her beer (bottle) while she whips her shirt off and cavorts, rooftop-dance party-style, in her bra; being her boyfriend means being her pal, and her steady, and her rock and her cover all at once.  (She'd be a little old lady and not a sex goddess w/o him, he feels.)  This is a trade-off, this is a see-saw; everybody's so loose and relaxed and engaged up here (does he mean the roof, or Montréal? he shuts himself up before he starts to think by nuzzling his sense-receptors with another sip from the beer) that the dance music, usually so boring for your guitar-fixated types to listen to, seems to have a purpose, and fits and fills the space and also moves the people in a way that causes an a-ha! Reaction, plus, it's not Rockwell or Whitney Houston or mall music.  It's cerebral, somehow, the way it pulses on you, dareIsay shamanistic, and he keeps his hand on her hips, as she steers them forward, swaying again, but more to it than that than in Brenda's room in outside-Saratoga, 'cause, kids, it's communal: the summer night's brightly-starred, unobscured, and warm; Dawn's over near the speakers, bra straps both slipped off her shoulders but bra still on, and she seems vaguely unhappy about it.  Viva Montréal!

 

            “Is that the room?”

            “Is that — is that (he almost falls over) — isss that the — ”

            They're drunk.  They're a little loud.  They shush each other, as needed (Brenda and Andy need it less, for different reasons — like Chris and Dawn need it differently, in each case, on each occasion . . . who said our drunken selves aren't but our normal selves, exaggerated?) they get partially undressed, wanton and in front of each other (charming little lamps), but any planned-or-possibly debauchery is mainstayed by their falling asleep, snuggling as couples each in their own beds.  The sun comes up and hangs there for a good, long while — starts to arc in the sky and come back down again — before even one of them starts to wake up.  It's Saturday in Montréal, whatever that means!

 

            “Should we shower?”

            “We stink!”

            So they do.  And by the time they go out, it's already dark — past six, or seven, or so?  Right?  Quelle heure est-il?

 

 

            “Chris, do you and Brenda think you'll be getting married?”

            “Um.”

            He doesn't know what to say.  Andy and Brenda are sitting in a coffee shop adjacent to a bookstore, and, on an impulse that seemed to be shared by all four — Andy's really taking to the rattling-off about Kerouac and Dorothy Parker and what-not Brenda's doing, he seems eager to be tipped off to such things, and it's healthy and not rote like school, and Brenda doesn't feel like she's retreading ground with Christopher or bringing up things like she'd presume he's never heard of them before, awkwardly, by implication — so he and Dawn feel their “itch” to amble about is amiably not in tune with these two's's hunker-in for hours mood, so why not traipse around the surreal place with “MERCI” on the Burger Kind trashcans' swing portal?  (Chris, of course, is very struck by those.  Andy thinks it's pretty funny, but he's younger.  Brenda and Dawn actually roll their eyes at each other — a rare occurrence, smacking of 11th-grade bitches they'd rather not be.  But, it's all in the past hour.)

            “I guess you need time to think about it.”

            “It's just . . . it's hanging over everyone's heads . . . yes or no?  I love Brenda, I esteem and respect Brenda, I'll never want to not know her and feel like I'd always love her . . . why does this sound true and cornier than saying I'd want to marry her?”

            She looks at him, somewhere between Good point! and something inchoate, like he's bringing something to the table that confirms things she's been thinking about if nascent and unformed at that, but it's too soon to tell, after the ringing-note and look in her eye the light changes and it's time to cross and it's too weird to talk about, anyway — it'd be like daring the whole world to hate you.  They can almost feel the eyes on them — how dare you! — so they'd better keep it to themselves.  And get a brioche.  While we're at it!

 

            “Let's go in this alleyway.”

            “Um . . . ”

            Dawn's already taking him by the hand.  They're already making out, backed up against the wall, hands all over each other.  Will this stay in Montréal?”

 

            “(mmph — slurrrp)”

            “Huh — ”

            She sucks him off, breasts exposed, and some people watch lingering, bemused — what is there to do but put his finger around her nipples, pumping pumping pumping pumping . . . Dawn is very patient, and focused, and wipes her mouth with a flourish.  The voyeurs walk on, having gandered at Dawn's fullnesses, and she pulls the bra over the, shirt too.  Christopher gives her his hand, and helps her up.  How'd that happen?  Better just to catch breath — they're doing that anyway — and segue into pedestrian traffic.  Brioche.  Yes, let's do that.  Brioche.

            “Kandinsky.  He's the shit.”

            “Mm-hm.”

            Try and act like you're interested, he thinks.  Try not to feel like you have but little interest in the stuff — and, what's worse — maybe you would, if it hit you in the proper broadening-yourself, cool-feeling, curiosity-stoking sort of way, instead of your English teacher making you all listen to Wagner and watch Fanny and Alexander, that sort of imposed sort of feeling, that kills spontaneity and makes you nod your head in a desultory sort-of way, but because you're worried about overcompensating for the blowjob and may be cheating (cheating?) on your girlfriend (cheating? . . . but haven't things already gone that far, already? Or . . . close?) you're mustering what-feels-like feigned enthusiasm — which it is, or maybe wouldn't be, if it weren't buried under all these other motives, a confused tangle in the ten minutes you might be sitting here —

            “Klee!  Klee.  Awesome.”

            “Yes.  Mais d'accord.”

            She laughs, pleased, They get through the moment, somehow.  He vaguely remembers Brenda saying something about her going down to SUNY New Paltz to study art — once.

 

            “Well well well!”

            “Oopsie.”

            Brenda's blushing.  She takes her hand off Andy's lap.  Something's up.  They've been laughing far too loud, far too long — some people around them seem displeased, but nobody seems disgruntled.  Andy's mortified — this is a lot to process at this age.

            “Andy hon? (eyebrow raised, nod at Brenda) Shall we?”

            “Um . . . yeah.”

            Christopher's articulate.  An English major in the making!  Brenda curves her eyebrows up, then down — this is happening too fast, perhaps.  It's not a perfect fit.  Andy seems relieved to not be mortified.  Off to the hostel room, it is!

 

            “Is this . . . a party?”

            “It's a bacchanal!”

            No it isn't.  Christopher should shut up.  Everybody's bemused — some increments beyond that, approaching-whatever's-French for “irked” — and it's summer, so they're dressed down and drinking, everyone being (as it turns out): Julie, Antoine, Nadine, Sherry, and Jacques.  (Christopher tells him he starred in a short-film documentary for somebody else's project in the Modern Tradition class as “Jacques Strap: Painter of the Bodily Fluids” and, even though this is too much to process, what with the “experimental” class name, let alone the purported-mocking of American crassness by reveling in it, dashed with something else Duchampian about it — a name Christopher won't hear until college — Jacques is polite, game for conversation with these Americans.)  They stay up all night talking about literature and the arts, till the cigarettes burn down and they're re-smoking butts, too eager to keep going, none eager to leave, all promising to become pen pals, and who knows, maybe they will.

 

            “It's time to load up.”

            “The car beckons — it awaits!”

            Andy grins.  Dawn seems a tad on the glum side — about what, it's hard to say.  Weather?  Leaving?  Having to go back?  Not as sexually sated as she'd like?

            “Brenda . . . look.”

            “Oh (head turning as she stuffs the duffel bag in), my.”

 

            “She's asleep.”

            “Don't wake her.”

            Andy eyes Chris through the rearview mirror.  They've all become oddly protective of Brenda, as though in sleep she's in a fragile state, and, being so wise beyond her years, for some reason their being able to recognize this makes them keepers of the flame, her protectors.  She Must Never Know.  Christopher decides he won't tickle her nose with the feather from the loony cap she and Dawn each bought one of from that guy outside the hostel, just before they left — that joke isn't funny anymore.  He lets it fall to his knee, limp, and watches the terrain.  Fascinating!

 

            “Almost home.”

            “Yippee.”

            This said without much enthusiasm.  Will it all just drain away, what just happened?  Brenda has to go work in Boringville, Bruegger's Bagels, and Christopher has to go work in Burgerville.  Dawn's filing things away — who knows?  Andy's got the blinker on, making a turn.  Modern life.  America's forgotten its roots, if it ever had any — and what are they supposed to do, complain?  They've never lived anywhere else.  Food for thought: William Gibson's from Canada.  Technically . . .

 

            “Alright. (she lifts her arm and drops it, tired wave goodbye, also smacking of absolution, like a priest's benediction or just p'shaw.)”

            “Alright.”

            She doesn't care.  It's left in Montréal, or something.  They've got a whole summer left ahead of them — or what's left of it, anyway — and, what?  Like they're not both going off to school?  All this while half-tired.  What a line of communication — like a couple of tin cans and string stretched between houses, but, ha-ha, it suffices.  The woman says let it go, you let it go.  Andy's kind enough to drive him home — far out of his way.  They say nothing the whole way, at a loss for common conversational ground, not knowing each other that well (he's seen my girlfriend naked) and not inclined to fake small talk (his's sucked my dick), so Chris exchanges perfunctory goodbyes before the constant perfunctory greetings at the door, enveloping him, enervating, but he turns the whole trip into monosyllables and begs off, crashes on his waterbed, and this confirms something they've always thought, anyway (You know how he is), whatever that is, however nakedly groundless, like touching a lamp to make sure it's still there, or feeling satisfaction at opening something wrapped in plastic so you know it's not contaminated or dirty, they relate to the whole world this way, something must've happened to them in youth, whatever that was, but he's too tired to care, and after dinner there's work to escape to tomorrow and —

 

            “I'm in the food court.”

            “Why are you in the food court when the Burger has its own . . . sphere, or whatever?”

            What do they call it.  What do you call it when it's unnamed, it's just there — making it hard to orient yourself, prone to second-guessing, doubt and self-esteem problems.  Particularly when most everyone in a particular room with you (at the time) is “sure” it's just there.  Makes one lethargic, and despondent, unless you move.  Or unless you let something shift inside you, numb off and curl inwardly, staying there as stuck as a physical strut, and as unreachable if you don't, can't, aren't motivated to figure out how to isolate it and flex it again out of its atrophied state and into life — why bother?  Some scabs never heal, hence, “one of us.”  But she's right . . . what else do you call it?  It takes up space differently, like it's a store, a whole Burger King shove in there as if from off the street — it's a weird and distinct decision the planners made.  Maybe Burger Kind outbid McDonald's at the early meetings, they were more invested in the project and this location, the McDonald's rep. was a new guy, not taking this mall seriously, showing up late unenthusiastic if at all, why bother with this rather than bigger pastures.  Boy was he wrong.

            “They don't have phones there?”

            “No, they do, but . . . I'm just out of the ‘need to leave it at work' zone.”

            Sure he is.  Very profound.  He's sweaty, as he often is if the Albany humidity coupled with 90° temperatures aren't compensated for with the strangely-polyester shirt and pants, not just made from a material but made to feel indifferent, like you're supposed to be clear you're a cog in a wheel by the indifference to form and function of your work clothes, or that's the incidental and unavoidable effect, anyway.  Shades of the now-extinct Soviet Russia dinosaur, where you have to work in a shit factory and wat in line for bread and wear crap generic clothes just so the State can prove a point.  And they all want cheeseburgers, of all things.  Fuckin' blue jeans.

            “You out of change?”

            “Got plenty.  In fact — ”

            DING!  In fact, you've got to keep putting it in.  He hopes she doesn't hate him.  No way to get her back on the phone.  He sips his milkshake and sulks, wishing this was just his fault or wasn't, that he could tell if it was a big deal or wasn't.  He feels he's insulted her.  He hopes she's laughing — even at his expense, rather than taking it personally.  Brenda's got a lot of inward space, a lot of headspace scope . . . this town's too small to hold us!

 

            “Christopher, I think we need some time off.”

            “Um, we we're going — ”

            He wouldn't be able to play on her sense of guilt and sadness if he didn't feel it himself.  He leans in, as she watches him, helpless, they're already in the front seat of the car, their mouths touch, they're horny like that and pissed and sad, he can feel it in her, he's being used but who cares? his hands are on her shoulders, her bra (her shit's gone) her chest's heaving (breaths up to 110 bpm . . . dammit, feels good!) he brushes his lips against hers, which just makes her wetter (down below, too, there's no doubt) and her bra's slip-slipping off because he's unhooked it and her breasts, fully out and nipples erect like they're paying attention, actively involved . . . they're teenagers, this is so easy for them to access it, what else is there for him to do but take care and get her honorably laid?  A tear drips from her right eye, more an emotional burst of dollop like raindrop than rage or sadness it's more like impending climax . . . at least she knows he'll still write her letters when she's at college, right?  He can't not.  He's helpless not to.  He'd have no audience.  She relaxes, and gives herself over to it, let him tend to her and fulfill her needs for experience and a satisfying sex life . . . her panties off and her tits, no denying it now, ARE FUCKING GREAT!  (She breathes heavy.  She feels so pretty.  Just fuck me, fuck me, fuck me . . . and he does.  And he only has one condom so they finger and suck and play with each other until they pop, pop, pop off enough to collapse and go to sleep . . . sun breaks through the windshield . . . she looks up, how weird, we've actually become those stupid sort of teenagers who have sex in a car . . . and she flounders for another thought but the strength/energy/impetus isn't there so who cares, she feels reassured anyway, she kisses him on the crown of the head and he's breathing so deep her smart, smart boyfriend seems so reduced so helpless & vulnerable in his reduced state it's like anyone could come and take him away, no problem . . . she almost wants to cry . . . she cradles him in her arms, right as her nipple plops near his mouth making her horny (just a little bit) instead (a flare within) why is the world so bad, all this concrete and unfeeling — ) she sighs, and drifts off to sleep almost immediately, like she fell into a pond or a swimming pool, unbeknownst.  Dowwwn!

 

            “Diner?”

            “Diner.”

            They drive.

 

            “How are you finding Neuromancer?”

            “Incredible, really (he pokes at his French toast, lifting up a syrup-drenched fragment as though he's confused by it) — embarrassing as it is to say it . . . I'm glad for it.  It makes me feel vindicated, like all the ‘let's just look at our navels' stuff in capital-L Literature doesn't really know what it's doing, doesn't but avoid the world, let it pass by, or hope it will . . . why bother?”

            The waitress is far, far away (it feels like) and stuck with a big table of overly-persnickety customers.  It's a Harsh World, Indifferent and Uncaring.

            “You put too much maple syrup on your French toast.”

            “Define ‘too much.'”

            He parries with her — it's a neat way to avoid being annoyed.  She is concerned for him, somehow, but like so much “concern” these kids learn from their parents it's scattershot and not line up with real problems, smacks of patronization, and guilt . . . why worry?  Why, really?  Albany has no crime.  No traffic.  Just forced smiles, and an aversion to Life Choices not served-up, menu-style.  What we talking about, again?

            “Craig's having a party tonight.  His parents are away.”

            “Who's Craig?”

            Too many schools.  Too many social circles.  Oh, that Craig — from Scotia.  The annoying one, who was so eager-to-please about his acid-dealing he showed off plenty, got caught, arrested, and kicked out of his high school.  Well, if there'd be a lot of people there they could always overreach as far as hospitality offered, and underregard him personally.  Some people just ask for it, you know?  Who.  Knows.  Why.

           

            “Police.”

            That didn't take much.”

            Christopher keeps driving like — he hopes — he wasn't going to stop at that house, anyway.  Nice night, officers! that sort of thing.  You know.  But it doesn't come to that.  Next thing you know, they're seven blocks away.  Whew!  Now what?

 

            “This isn't safe.”

            “Safe?  What's unsafe in Albany?”

            Still, they stay in the car.  Pass cigarettes back-and-forth, both to cut down on the number they're going through in the one pack between them and to breath the same air (as it were).  He tells her about his extended family, a chandelier of great-relatives, uncles and cousins which seem to've been a step ahead of the rest of the county, economically-speaking and property-owning wise (they have a house in the woods in the Adirondacks, a commonplace thing around those parts, it would seem) but the rest of the country's caught up with them, generation-wise.  So they have the same cable TV/Ruffles™ potato chips/Ragu™ spaghetti sauce/lawnspinklers/dishwasher lives everybody else does, they just look like fools and a little creepy, like rats clinging to a sinking ship that isn't sinking, anyway, anyhow, no more amidst old-typey things (spiral staircase in the house they grew up in in a never-talked about childhood with a similarly-wholesale-omitted grandfather, the place with the pillars out front that people are surprised to find out isn't an historical relic but part of Christopher's absurd in-denial family, when it comes up at school or band practice).  She asks if he's seen Sunset Boulevard.  He says he hasn't even seen The Man Who Knew Too Much, Psycho, or Vertigo.  She says that wasn't what she meant.  He loves making her laugh like that, without meaning to, or being pitied or condescended to.  They're digging in.

 

            “Left of the Dial.”

            “Can't.  Sorry.”

            He's got Let It Be, but not Tim, in the car.  She pretends to pout.  They better find somewhere to go — they're on the verge of almost driving each other irked, if not nuts, and it'd be better to encounter some stimuli.  Bad movie at Crossgates Mall . . . it is!  Decision made — a veritable quorum in agreement — he turns the engine over and shifts out of “PARK.”

 

            “We should drive to Williamsburg next weekend.”

            “Let's.”

            Williamsburg, MA home of Williams College (the Amherst/Swarthmore-like place) is a 30-min. drive, maybe, from downtown Albany, no tolls, right over the Mass./NY line, listed in the Metroland alternative newsweekly when some orchestra or plays are going to happen there, and nobody Brenda or Christopher knows goes there, period.  Albany, NY is a town that leaves the New York Times crossword in the back pages of the newspaper untouched and undone.

 

            “You missed the exit.”

            “We're going to see Wild at Heart.  There's a 10:10 show.”

            They've both been waiting, for this — what, were they really going to miss opening weekend?  They shuffle their shoes, still, these kids, not wanting to upset some balance, themselves, each other — it's ingrained, when do don't live with real worries, there's all these imaginary shoes waiting to drop . . . why cringe?  It's a hard habit to break.  Adults are hard to find — real adults, of the “here's the road ahead of you, it's not just for me to say” variety — and harder to imagine, so you're left with a fantasy-vs.-desire meter that's corrupt, like murky waters, or a distorted passage in a text.  Who knows.  Why.  They're.  Like this.

 

            “Makes me want to smoke a cigarette.”

            “Yes.  Lot-ta close-ups.”

            She laughs.  He tries to shake one out like an old-time detective in a fedora, but — it's a soft pack — the thing almost shoots out onto the ground, but (barely) doesn't.  Aren't they cool.  They're in the parking lot.

            “I'm making my lunch!”

            “This whole world's wild at heart and weird on top.”

            The whole lines-quoting thing will go on for a while, and should sustain them for weeks.  Christopher pops in The Waterboys' Whole of the Moon — copied from Bob, he of the R.E.M. lp-collection, too.  Friend of a friend.  Brenda's gotta be home by (whenever) tonight, so . . . why not stay?  Why not stay?  Work's not 'till the day after, so . . . Christopher's parents will presume he's at Brenda's (“We're worried!”), since Donna's been cool with letting them presume that (“We're petrified!”), since it gives her a minor-“in” with accomplishing parental duties (“We've atrophied in our volitions and senses of personal agency!”) while getting to simultaneously cop out and look cool to her daughter: “Rack it up, I'll cover it” is sort of the motto-cum-understanding, she'll “pass” them with the other parents, sort-of like a hall pass with indefinite and unspecified latitude, she might not even be home tonight and she'll say she was so they won't seem to've been unsupervised.  Awesome!  I saw the crescent . . . you saw the Whole of the Moon!

 

            “Everything looks like a horror movie, tonight.  Like we're going to run into that scene with [Sherilyn Fenn, but they don't know that yet. — ed.] running out of the desert with her hair all bloody and her head cracked and the car wrecked and about to die right in front of you on the spot as she gasps out her last — ”

            “Um, Brenda?”

            He keeps driving.  She grins at him.  He puts his hand on her leg, just above the knee — thank God for shorts & automatic transmission.  Her skin has a flavor, like silk, it's almost furry-feeling while completely shaved, and he can almost feel her wettening up between her legs — just a little.  Knowing about how black glossy dark her pubic bush is hardens his cock like a flag pulled by a sailor methodically up the mast and he better watch the road . . .

 

            “That was a close one.”

            “Where the fuck did they come from?”

            Dark road.  Not any more isolated than any other in the Capital District (Albany • Schenectady • Troy!) area, barring the Northway; why a zoomer-careener and a narrow last-minute screech?  If Christopher hadn't suddenly swerved, and suddenly swerved back, they'd either be smashed or in a ditch: His heart's still beating fast, and she's gulping and breathing a little too hard.  Whew!  And yet . . . for what?  No answer.  Keep driving.  Turn up the tuneage — shit, time to change the tape!

 

            “We've got some microwave popcorn.”

            “Microwaves are pretty useful, considering they're the tools of the devil.”

            She sniffs.  The old-lady thing again — almost (but not quite, it's just hard to get out of your head, you know?).  The cabinet's musty.  Nobody dusts, unless Brenda does it — and Timmy's just a kid, with a broken toy (come to think of it).  They settle in to watch Alex Cox's Repo Man, which Brenda bought for $9.95 a while back and Christopher's never gotten 'round to seeing — perfect for nights like this!  The mini-adults settle in, blanket over their legs and all, for an impromptu double-feature's conclusion.  What a life.  Top-loading VCR, semi-flat Coca-Cola, et vous.  Mon chéri.  Cue up . . . press “PLAY” . . . FBI Warning . . . FBI Warning?

 

            They're asleep, heads resting on each other's shoulders like two kittens, in the glow of the static of the TV.  Awww.

 

            “My mom's home.  (beat.)”

            “Did she just . . . leave?”

            Something strange is going on.

 

            “It's another Sunday.”

            “Let's go to church.”

            “You're perverse.”  Somehow, this seems like natural running commentary to her taking off her sweaty, slept-in t-shirt.  She takes it off, both hands on either of her sides lifting it up and over to reveal a beige bra — always a holy sight — and she tosses it in his face.

            “Let's shower.”

            “Let's not.”

            But they do.

 

            “You've been rubbing my back a lot — I mean, it feels good, but — ”

            “Thought you'd never ask.”

            He moves to her breasts.  She smiles — a little at first, then more.

 

            “The whole world's melting.”

            “It seems like it, doesn't it?”

            She's not talking about icecaps — he kinda was (having written an article about Earth Day and the “greenhouse effect” for his school paper), but knows what she's talking about, too.  Those Lovers on The Run in Wild at Heart.  Everywhere they place their foot, the ground sinks.  Excellent film.  You really should check it out.  [INTERVIEWER: “What's Wild at Heart about?”  DAVID LYNCH: “It's about two hours.”]

 

            “Do you have Bossanova?”

            “Didn't get it yet.”

            She keeps thumbing through his tapes — one of those chintzy suitcases, holds thirty, snaps shut with authority.  Not bad.

 

            “I think my mom's a devil-worshipper.”

            “Lotta those around.”

            It flashed on his mind — Led Zeppelin's Zoso — but he's past that.  Tape playing's R.E.M.'s Document: “Sharpening stones / To increase your business acumen . . . ”

 

            “Let's go to Little Caesar's.”

            “Agreed.”

            The terrain's been the usual — nice, but not resonant, and going on for miles and miles.  It's nice, but it all registers as if under a who cares? patina — none of the English terrain you can imagine you're seeing the aural equivalent of in The Who's “Baba O'Reilly” or Led Zeppelin's “Over the Hills and Far Away.”  What if there is no big secret?  What if it's just blandness to make you feel safer in, less irritated by mosquitoes or plague, and everyone just common-consensus themselves into a cocoon?  What do you want, upheaval?  Not exactly, but . . . teenagers always like the End of the World, anyway.  Stephen King's The Stand was a favorite of Christopher's.  And every teenager loves Shakespeare's Macbeth — everyone dies at the end.  So be it.  Here's the parking lot — put on your blinker, Christopher, pull onto the island, and wait for traffic to pass.  Sigh.  Look at her.  Isn't she pretty?  Something's on her mind . . .

 

            “I think we should break up.”

            “You sure?”

            He's not as thrown as he would've thought.  They're at a diner.  Little Caesar's wasn't open yet.

            “I just want to go to college.”

            “Fresh start?”

            He pushes the hunk of pancake with syrup permeating it like a sponge you're about to wipe the refrigerator-or-something clean with clear across the plate, to the other side.  Fascinating.

            “Maybe we should just . . . ”

            “ . . . consider it over, until that weekend at Provincetown, but not harp on it with anyone?”

            Their friends circles are limited, anyway — narrowed down.  People seem to be giving up, already, or getting curious, and loading up for a life of interesting things and cool people, if not quite adventure.  Those types stick out like sore thumbs, and are worth their weight in gold.

            “Yeahh . . . yeah.”

            “Okay.”

            It's like a negotiation.  Slow fade out, till (quiet, offstage) big bang when he puts to use the trimester system at “U of C” to his advantage: she'll be in college by end of August, he won't be until first week of October.  Provincetown's kinky, rad, artsy, non-homophobic (it's the end of Cape Cod equivalent of San Fran, basically) and salty and full of lobster and seafaring shit.  Topless women wading on the edge of the beach, occasioning (in one instance) some old guy with binoculars jerking off in the brush on the top of the dunes (as one of the guys in the band reported back to Christopher, during a routine practice break).  He'll make Whoppers till then, and she'll make bagels and man the register.  Man, what a life!  He feels regret, confusion, maybe even a little relief mixed in (paradoxically?) but he'll still write to her.  She'll keep him updated, too.  They're in a world of concrete and steel, people who don't feel.  Why lose touch?  Why risk it?  What's the attraction?  His dick is getting hard, again.  Dammit!

 

            “Let's go to Claudia's.”

            “I don't know if she's up for it.”

            They don't know Claudia all that well — through they do like her.  Christopher explains: her creepy-when-in-private, passing-for-normal-when-in-crowds boyfriend, once the giver of ultimatums involving his suicide or their continuance and avoidance of breakup (nice guy!) has finally been shoved off her, but — get this — her parents kicked her in the teeth by nixing Columbia (she outshone her older brother, who went to St. Lawrence) in favor of their spending $11,000 on a scuba-diving trip to the Caribbean and packing her off to her $8,000 safety school, SUNY Buffalo.  Poor Claudia.  It's a lot to process.

            “Let's get her drunk.”

            “It's Sunday.”

            “Tipsy, then.”

            “Okay.”

            Christopher changes lanes.

 

            “'Sup Claudia.”

            “(Brenda waves her hand back-and-forth back-and-forth ‘hi,' then lets it drop to her waist.)”

            “Just loungin'.”

            Claudia's so bright-eyed and cheery, you'd never know anything was troubling her.  She holds the screen door open, polite as can be, and the two of them file in.  Christopher can't help but admire her , feel she deserves better — but, what can he do?  Brenda's doing a survey of the place, without seeming judgmental, as if her innate curiosity would hit a wall at being actually rude.  Both of them can't help but feel that Claudia's parents (mercifully gone, now — golf? who knows?) are suspect.

            “Want to play spin-the-bottle?  Strip poker?”

            He thinks he's just kidding!, but amazingly, like tumblers falling into place in a lock, they give a half-shrug each and smile and crack up.  So it is, and so it shall be.

 

            “Aces high.”

            “Ooh.”

            “Hmph.”

            Claudia peers over at Christopher's cards — as though she doesn't believe him, like to confirm he's not cheating — giving him a nice vantage point (try not to look, try not to look) right down the front of her tank top, and while Brenda's somehow humoring him (and this, these proceedings), it still seems there's such a thing as bad form, as a breach of protocol, and he'd like to stay the other side of it.  It gets finer-grainer, one finds out, when generosity levels go up: He couldn't ask for this, he couldn't dream of this, so they hold all the cards — sexual experience wise.  Claudia's shirt is up-over-and-off — that two-handed, across-the-front thing women do so well when their own volition's involved.  She drops it to the side like a lusty lass in some movie — what a gas.  She's a little red in the face, but it seems to be from a mixture of pleasure and embarrassment at finding this pleasurable.  Her bra is white and has a little ribbon inset between the two cups, between her two breasts, between her not-very-tanned-but-just-a-little-tanned cleavage.  She takes another swig from her Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler — better than Budweiser™, less strong than vodka, favored by females.  She wipes her mouth.  Chris's dick is getting hard.  He's glad he has other interests, or they'd have no reason to like him at all.  Guy friends are alright, but — who wouldn't prefer female friends?  If they still are the sort that'd like to go to the diner.  Or see Rocky Horror.  Hey, that reminds me —

 

            “He likes to go down. (Brenda takes a swig, wipes her mouth in an oddly-evocative gesture.)”

            “He likes to GO DOWN? (Claudia waggles her eyebrows, bare breasts jostling, for exaggerated comic effect.)”

            “At your service, ma'am.”

            They both crack up.  It seemed the polite thing to say.  Things are getting interesting.

 

            “No, no . . . tongue her there!”

            “Oh . . . ooohhh — ”

            “(mmph.)”

            Brenda, boobs a-bobbin' while she lifts her hand she was supporting herself on the carpet with and points, seems to be taking to this like shop foreman overseeing a task an initiate is trying out: supportive and encouraging but no-nonsense.  Task at hand.  You know.

            “(approving grin, nods her head.)”

            “Ohhh . . . ohh! (Claudia grabs at the carpet, almost-fruitlessly, just to grab something.) ohh! — ohh! — OHH! (her bucking hips buck . . . and fall.)”

            “(mmph.)”

            She comes like it's an event, like something in her's broken open and she's falling back together inside herself, newly whole.

 

            “How long you been working at Bruegger's?”

            “I did it last summer.  Funny thing is, these people seem fond of me.”

            “I know this guy who's a manager at Burger King — one of the ‘cool guys' — who was in a band that didn't get there.  He was talking, two summers ago, about my Road Runner car, which wasn't a stick shift but an automatic, so it went down a notch in his lights.  I was like, ‘Fuck, yeah, but . . . '  And he would just smirk a little and shake his head at me, like it was simply unfortunate, a little, that I thought that.  I never knew what became of him — he moved on, got replaced, I'm going to school, I forgot to think about it . . . I guess?”

            They nod sagely.  The world's full of regrets and unfinished business.  Claudia starts to sigh, and Chris and Brenda almost want to catch her, so she doesn't topple over — that's what it feels like.

            “You want to go for ice cream? (she nods her head and wiggles her eyebrows at each of them, two each, in turn, like kiddingly not-asking them.) Ben & Jerry's in Saratoga?”

            “Wow!  What a treat-and-pleasure day this is turning out to be.”

            “We'll just have to keep this under the table at Ben & Jerry's . . . ”

            They both pretend to be shocked, and slap him on the arm-and-other-arm, variously, but laugh.  (Keys are in pocket of pants you gotta put on, buddy-boy, he thinks.)  They're all still naked.  They linger for a while, then dress & vamoose.

 

            “You get Bossanova yet?”

            Mais oui.  C'est vrai.

            “Ugh.”

            Claudia says this, but smiles right after.  She really is just so nice.  Christopher's really glad he just ate out her pu— section breakahemsection break.

 

            “Let's get a banana split.”

            “No.”

            Yes!”

            They do.

 

            “Do you have to go to work tomorrow, Claudia?”

            “Mmm . . . (she smiles, big.)”

            “We've got sick days.  C'mon c'mon!  That's what they're for.”

            They've got three, not four, actually: Brenda's used one, so she'd be banking on not getting sick or otherwise using the other one.  Cluaida works in an office — what's that? — the other two wonder, only half-kidding — what's it like?  It's another planet, to them . . . she gives in.  To adventure!  To taking a day off, spending the night at Brenda's mom's, and driving to Williamsburg, start out early and come back late.  Work can wait — 'Til Tuesday!  I don't like Mondays.  I want to shoot, sho-oo-oot, the WHOLE day down . . .

 

            “We going to stay in a hotel . . . ?”

            “No, Claudia, we're going to sleep in the car!”

            “Brenda's right — we're Dharma Bums!  We think we're Jack Kerouac!”

            Claudia's smile fades as she looks back and forth, back and forth between them (it's a week later, Fri., as it worked out) and realizes they're not kidding.  Her arms folded primly-but-nonchalantly across the separator between the two headrests (she's such a dear!), Claudia's life seems to be one of adjusted expectations.  She's in her Sunday-afternoon best, Albany-style (Woolworth's is to be avoided; but what, did you think there was a Sak's in Albany?): a frilly top that nicely shows off her ample cleavage (Christopher tries not to think about it, particularly after the somewhat-lone conversation the three of them got into at Ben & Jerry's about Alex Cox and Eraserhead and the mysteriously-favored-by-HBO Raising Arizona, among other things; mostly it was Brenda laying out shit she'd heard and Claudia adjusting as stuff came up — Claudia's a good listener — and Christopher felt relieved to not have to jump in with background for once with people, it ruins everything so ‘why bother' kind of rules out even trying, you'd look like — and be acting like — a jerk, so, mum's the word, but by the time the conversation's finished and they awkwardly realize the place is closing and the ice cream remainder's melted the last of the cup to the point that the paper is almost structurally-compromised, he's picked up a shit ton about how conversations work, how Brenda's knowledge set seems to've been enhanced by Claudia's pointed-but-empathetic asking, and she, too, his girlfriend, seems benefitted and a little different afterwards, like she could shut herself up by talking and release some tension she didn't know she was carrying — a problem Christopher's realized is inherent to his own mind, as well, what with all the preoccupations he's carrying, what with school (in particular) and work (as a time deficit) and social problems (not so bad, considering, but you still gotta adjust and know your way around!) and anything else that makes you a person, lifts you out of the dullard's doldrums into someone who is legitimately interested in things and therefore interesting . . . he'd almost rather shrug off the latter, as though treating it as an inexplicable quality effectively registered as an accusation, to him, and just focus on the former exclusively . . . he's seen enough about how other people benefit, even inwardly, from such sifting and separating persons by dint of ‘quality,' to want to have anything, really, to do with it: mutual benefit with like-minded and unsolicitedly-finding-each-other peers seemed an at least safer haven, to him) and has heard of Jack Kerouac from that 10,000 Maniacs song on In My Tribe everyone's been playing around here and there for the past two years or so . . . what'll there be, a quiz, or something?  But she heaves back into the roomy (just hers!) backseat with its '82 Cutlass imitation leather (comfy!) and gives them each a game smile, Christopher in the rearview checking on her and Brenda ditto over the separator from shotgun, and shrugs, sure, she's in.  At least there's parameters and it's not just a plunge.  She'll be back on Sunday.  (To her old self?  Who knows!)  Transformative . . . or just a goofy suburbanite kids' overheated attempts to stretch their legs.  (“You are now entering / MASSACHUSETTS / The Bay State” the sign says, and they all note it, alighting on it with their eyes the way you do when it's too obvious not to notice, but they say nothing, each of them.  They keep driving.)  It feels like they've crossed a line.

 

 

 

 

 


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