Monthly Archives: November 2012
Thin Lizzy continued…
Pulling into the parking lot of the Port Townsend Boat Haven Beth felt exhausted. It was 2am and she had taken the ferry and driven from Seattle after receiving a call that her father had not returned from his 1st day of the spot-prawn season. Beth had a man with her in the car and it was in fact his vehicle that she drove. The car was a black BMW M3 with heated leather seats and dark tinted windows. Beth knew if she weren’t so tired and worried about her dad she would have relished driving the sleek car. But having to drive silently in the dark not knowing where her father was took the thrill out of the experience. She wished Matthew could have driven but after single-handedly finishing the bottle of wine they had been sharing at dinner he was in no condition to drive. Beth had suggested she knew the way to Port Townsend by rote so maybe it would be best if she drove, giving him the chance to hand over the keys without feeling like he had to ask her to drive in his inebriated state. He was snoring in the passenger seat before the ferry even left the dock.
Rubbing her eyes she looked over at the now quietly sleeping man. He’d been much more attractive in the city. While still wearing his pinstriped lawyer’s suit, he’d taken off his tie and unbuttoned his collared shirt. He somehow looked less powerful to Beth. She quietly eased the door open but had forgotten to take the keys out of the ignition. The car expensively pinged to remind her to take the keys and she quickly snatched them out so as not to wake Matthew. He merely rolled his head to the other side away from the overhead light.
As Beth stepped out onto the gravel of the parking lot she realized the high-heeled boots she wore were completely inappropriate. The gravel crunched unevenly under her feet but she hobbled her way over to the harbor master’s quarters. Rapping lightly on the glass she saw lights were on inside the office. Opening the (always) unlocked door Beth called out “Charlie?” into the dimly lit room.
“Lizzy?” came the gruff voice of Charlie Helmsworth. “That you? Didn’t hear your car pull in.”
“I’m in a friend’s car tonight Charlie. Left the jalopy at home. Any word on my Dad?”
“I was just picking up some chatter on the shortwave. Come on in!”
She walked into the darkened back room and saw Charlie sitting at the old wooden desk with his gigantic white cat Moby curled up in his lap. Charlie motioned to the extra chair while leaning in to turn up one of the radios. She could hear voices coming out of the box but it sounded like they were speaking in codes. Charlie was scribbling notes on a piece of paper and staring intently at the radio. Suddenly the radio cut to static.
“Damn. They must have switched channels.” Charlie fidgeted with the knob but couldn’t find the signal again. “Grab me that chart kiddo,” he pointed to the large navigation chart spread out on the table in front of Beth. She brought it over to him and he quickly began checking the numbers that ran alongside the chart with the numbers he had written down while listening to the shortwave.
“Just what I thought!” he cried out in his biggest Bingo voice. Beth flinched at his unexpected outburst. Being in the same room with Charlie made his voice even louder than it had been on the phone earlier. But she still leaned in to see what he was pointing at on the chart.
“They were giving coordinates! See here how this number is the same?” he pointed with gnarled fingers at his pencil scrawled notes and then those on the chart. The area he pointed to fell right in the middle of the Straight of Juan De Fuca where the international boundary separated the US from Canada. “I think they’ve got somebody up around the border and we’re the closest Port of Entry!”
Almost on cue the phone on the desk began ringing. Charlie snatched it up before the first ring was finished.
“Harbormaster Charlie Helmsworth here. How can I help you?”
Beth heard Charlie’s half of the conversation consisting of many “yes ma’ams” and “right away ma’am.” Placing the phone back when finished he turned to Beth.
“They found your dad’s boat.”
Beth looked at him expectantly.
“And he’s alright.”
She let out a sigh.
“But he was tied up and had been drifting for a couple of hours on the tide.”
“He was what?!” Beth almost couldn’t understand what Charlie had said to her.
“They think some drug smugglers were coming across from B.C. with the ebb tide in Kayaks and somehow got caught up in your dad’s prawn line. When they could get their boats free they took over his boat and tied him up. But he’s ok. And they are bringing him in to us right now.”
Charlie lifted the heavy cat off his lap and set him on top of the big chart. “They’re going to need our help bring those boats in the dark. Let’s get down to the dock so we can light them up.”
Beth followed him down to the marina as if in a daze. Within minutes they heard the chugging engine of the Thin Lizzie and the smoother engine of the border patrol boat coming in behind it. Running over to her dad’s slip, Beth could see her father wave sheepishly from the helm. She quickly helped him secure the boat and hopped on board running over to give him a hug.
“You ok dad?” she checked him over for bruises.
“Just a little sore where they had me tied up. And I think we lost all the prawn traps when they cut them free.”
“As long as you are ok. That’s all that matters.”
Turning to see how Charlie was doing with the Border Patrol boat Beth saw a woman step onto the dock. In the quiet after the boat engines shuddered to a stop she could hear Charlie’s loud voice as he refered to the woman as agent Holdsten. Whipping her head around Beth watched in horror as the woman walked up the dock towards the ramp that went up to the harbormaster’s office and the black BMW in the parking lot. In a flash, Beth realized that by some strange twist of fate the border patrol agent was Matthew Holdsten’s wife.
“I’ll be right back Dad!” Beth cried as she hurried after the woman. But it was already too late. Standing at the top of the ramp, illuminated as if on stage by the bright lights Charlie had turned on for the arrival of the two boats, stood the recently awakened Matthew Holdsten. His wife strode purposefully up the ramp to meet him.
It’s not easy being a Crazy Magnet.
I know you probably never believed it WAS, but you might have assumed there was at least as much wild antic fun as there was scary drama. Maybe when I’m a few years older it will seem that way in retrospect.
But for now, it’s still fresh and tender. Not tender as in sweet; tender as in sore.
Which crazy should I start with? Not the regular everyday crazy. Not the one who proclaimed me to be her honorary gay friend even as I was hitting on her (or trying to).
And not the actually diagnosed as “crazy” crazy; complete with the wrist cutting and the stints in the psych ward and the insistence that a total stranger had bugged apartment and was listening in on everything. That would be too easy.
It’s the in-between crazy that’s the most, er, “interesting.”
It’s the crazy that seems normal until you accidentally step on a Crazy Cue.
Like when A. asked if I could be with her when she went to a doctor’s appointment.
She told me when and where. She said it was probably nothing, but she wanted someone to hold her hand just in case.
I asked what I thought was an innocent question.
I asked how long it would take.
Zero to inflamed in 0.3 seconds. That’s how long it took.
“How DARE you ask that! I pour my heart out to you and all you can think of is how inconvenient it’ll be. It’s my fucking LIFE at stake [it was really a routine follow up about a broken foot], and all you can say is [impersonating a flippant, sarcastic voice I had NOT used] ‘how long will it take’. My heart just SANK straight down to the FLOOR. Just LEAVE. NOW. NOW!”
I left. She slammed the door after me.
Sure enough, at 11:45 the next night—she had no sense of other people’s schedules—I got drunk-dialed. No, she didn’t apologize, or explain herself, or ask me to explain myself. She went right ahead with new news (foot progressing steadily) and another date invite (lunch and errands, which I knew would turn into drinks and errands and drinks).
You ask why I kept seeing her.
After the bloody mary breakfasts, and the at-home guzzling of plastic-jug vodka with Diet Pepsi.
After the half dazed road trips to Poulsbo and Lynnwood.
After she got kicked off the Leavenworth Christmas train for being disorderly (thankfully I wasn’t with her that day).
Long after I stopped having sex with her (yes, that was even crazier).
Even after the 14-hour date that started at a QFC, wound up at a suburban cardroom, and eventually led to my minor panic attack.
I haven’t stopped asking myself the same question.
But when a guy told me about the L.A. strip club called Crazy Girls, I told him I’d never had to pay for that. Not with money anyway.
When Beth got the call about her dad being missing she was ¾ of the way through a bottle of very nice red wine. And she was sharing it with a very nice man. He was tall dark and handsome and as far as she could tell he was into her. He was also married. But the wife was out of town on important business. After months of coffees at work and quick flirtatious drinks after work, it was their first “official” date and things were going well. He’d picked the wine –something expensive from Walla Walla. The mood was intimate inside the cozy café. The phone had been buzzing in her purse on and off for around 5 minutes and she’d pretended neither she nor her date Matthew Holdsten could hear it. But the buzzing didn’t stop and Matthew had noticed. He kindly joked that either her house was on fire or she’d won the lottery. When she finally checked her phone and saw the call came from the Port Townsend Harbormaster she knew she had to take the call.
“Sorry Matt, this will be quick.”
“Hello?” she quietly answered the phone. She hadn’t even gotten up from the table worried her slightly tipsy state would be betrayed by wobbly legs. She’d had a cocktail before dinner, and another one before that to fortify her self for the date. The restaurant was a dark quiet place in the Seattle Pike Place Market, heavy on the red velvet and preferred for clandestine meetings. Beth was happy for flattering low-lights making her look sexier and more mature than she was. But now she worried she’d stumble over something having to navigate the cave like darkened room.
“Elizabeth Banks?” came the booming voice of Charlie Helmsworth the longest standing harbormaster in the Puget Sounds region. His voice was like a fog horn and cut through her pleasant buzz. She felt her date flinch at the noisy intrusion into their romantic dinner. She mouthed “sorry” to Matthew and pushed her chair back, realizing she needed to get the fog horn away from her date or the night would be ruined, if it wasn’t already ruined. Stepping out onto the wet sidewalk, Beth struggled to keep her skirt from blowing up in the sudden wind that swept through the market up off the sound. Charlie was going on about a non-return on slip 22, which Beth finally registered as meaning her dad had not come back in his boat to the marina. Apparently he’d been out on the 1st day of the prawn season and was expected back by 6pm, and now it was almost 6 hours later and they couldn’t bring him up on the radio or the cell and Charlie was beginning to worry. His first worry of course was for the boat. He’d financed the majority of the repairs it needed after her dad had rasped the hull on the shoal coming in to harbor while under the influence last spring. For all intents and purposes the boat belonged to Charlie even if it still bore Beth’s childhood nickname “Thin Lizzie.”
“So kid, I gotta, ask is he back on the sauce again?” Charlie boomed from across Penninsula.
“Oh jeeze Charlie. I don’t think so. I think it scared him straight when he almost lost the Thin Lizzie last spring.” But Beth wasn’t all too sure that her dad wasn’t back to drinking. It hadn’t stopped him 20 years ago when his wife left him for the sunnier climate and a “drier” husband in Tucson Arizona. And it hadn’t stopped him 3 years ago when he got a DUI driving home from a great day of crabbing off the Dungeness Spit. He’d always stop at his favorite bar the “Three Crabs” after a good day at the Spit and celebrate with a whiskey (or three and a beer). At age 15 Beth had been adept at driving her inebriated father home from the Three Crabs. So Beth really didn’t know whether her dad’s disappearance had something to do with his drinking, but in any case she was worried because more than anything else in the world, her dad loved his boat. And for him to risk being out alone in the dark, it didn’t seem to add up.
“Well I think we gotta call the Coast Guard in on this one.” Charlie sounded like he’d lost a bet in which calling the Coast Guard was the punishment.
“Yeah. O.K. Charlie. That seems like the best thing to do. I’m going to try to get on the next boat so I can come help find him. I’ll give you a call when I get to town. Keep me posted.” Hanging up the phone, Beth suddenly remembered she was without her car tonight having taken the bus to work, hoping to leverage her need for a ride into an overnight stay with Matthew. She even had her yoga pants and clean underwear in her large handbag. The toothbrush, sadly she’d forgotten.
Coming back inside with a gust of cold air, Beth felt tousled and significantly less drunk than she had before the call. Relieved that Matthew was still sitting at their table she sat down and reached across for his hand.
“Brrr…you’re freezing!” He rubbed his hands over hers.
“Matthew, something has come up…”
“Yeah I could tell from that sports announcers voice on the phone. “
“Remember how you said you’d always wanted to go to Port Townsend for a weekend getaway?” She paused for a moment. “Well, how about we hop on a boat now?”
“Like now.” Checking her watch, it was 11:45. “We can make the 12:10 if we get the check and you drive.”
He considered for a moment eyeing the remains of their dinner. “If we’re taking the next ferry, then we’d better finish this bottle!”
Beth hoped to hell her dad and his boat would be snug in the harbor by the time they got there, and that her date could proceed exactly as she had hoped it would: in a hotel, with a married man and a brand new toothbrush.
Whether it be I am on
vacation, or sitting in a restaurant or maybe an airport, and
especially hotel lobbies, I have often conjured up and imagined what
lies deeper into the various lives as the people cross in front of my
eyes. I am truly a voyeur, just an observer not an inter-actor, but
I take a birds eye view from afar. This little game all started
simply as a way to keep the kids engaged and focused as we awaited our
entrees or dessert. The kids would pick the tables with children and
choose which kid was the bully and what kid liked horses. The
teenage boy would be the hero of the football team, maybe the wanna
be ballet dancer that the dad would be horrified with. So much fun,
a lifetime of being a voyeur, never knowing, nothing coming to
fruition with these games I have played. , Me, the bird, is
perched in a restaurant at a table for two, and I dream up that they
are a couple from DeCalb Illinois, a town that is famous for being
the home of barbed wire. He (Conrad) works for the local PUD, she
does the bookkeeping for a concrete coring company (CCC) her name is
Corrine, and wouldn’t usually wear coral capris back home but she and
her husband whom she dressed this morning in a rust colored V neck
sweater are in Seattle on vacation. He slouches in the wicker chair
and checks his watch often, and doesn’t look like he is comfortable
with his height, the sweater, Corrine, and the tarot card reader is
too “far out”. Corrine is good with numbers and practically got this
little marriage distress trip for nothing, by using her Discover card
miles she had saved on both the hotel and the rental car. Her
embroidered jacket lends itself to a yen to really wanting to vacation
in Mexico, but he won’t go because “they don’t speak the
language” , Now this begins innocently enough maybe her glasses
tipped me off to her being bookish, and a numbers girl, maybe the
too snug sweater is a dead give away for a guy who would rather hang
in a pair of Carharts and eat out of a lunch pail. I think their next
move is to walk on the ferry, going off to Bainbridge Island with
their overnight bag after lunch in the Market. , The next table has
a cute couple I name Elisse and Dennis, I imagine they are on their
first face to face date, they met online and after emailing and
finding that they each charmed the other, they meet for lunch and the
spark isn’t very bright. He orders a soda with bitters and she a
glass of white wine. She works at a clothing design company, really
an errand girl, but with the title of design assistant. He works for
a company that does library systems all over the world. The company
used to be on top of the heap, but now there is much more
competition, you can see he has wearied over the job and tired of
looking for someone to spend the next 50 or 60 years together. Elisse
is very fashion forward, argyle tights with heavy boots, a multi
stripe knit skirt and unmatched scarf bunched at her neck. She has
chosen the restaurant because of the apple gallete, so that there
will be at least something good that comes out of this meeting.
Dennis is much too conservative for her in my opinion, he is divorced
with no children and you can see the disappointment, from both of
them, it shows from their not making eye contact. , I have a
little over an hour to wait to go to my shrink appointment, and
figuring that the lunch crowd will soon be gone, I may write in my in
my journal, sitting here next to the bar, my shrink likes that I
write what I am feeling, “helps to purge” she says. , I watch
Corrine get up from the table head to the ladies room. When she is
out of sight from her husband, he signs the check and rises from the
table and exits up the stairs and out to Post Alley and all of the
rest of the tourists into the Market. Corrine reappears, orders a
white wine spritzer barely looks at the table where she has had
lunch, nothing strange about “him” being gone from the restaurant and
almost marches over and sits at the Tarot readers table. This seems
out of character for her, a girl from outer Illinois getting a
reading, where is her husband? I see the seriousness she takes in
what the seer is saying, I can see her ask questions and listen
intently to the answers. , What happened to the overnight on
Bainbridge I have tidied up for them. She looks pretty satisfied with
herself, now propped up at the bar like she has done this one hundred
times. I overhear her tell the bartender that she is in Seattle at
the convention center on business with the Beef Coalition from
Kansas. I like that I am right about being from the Midwest but
really curious about where “her husband” has gone. I decide to be a
friendly Seattleite and as I order a second Mimosa, (it has orange
juice in it) I sit next to Corrine and introduce myself. I make it a
point to help out folks downtown that stand there with the map,
looking usually for the market, it erases the unfriendly image that
we are stuck in our selves. I am dying to tell her how I make up
scenarios about people, depending on their sturdy shoes or horn
rimmed glasses. I let her go on about the Beef Commission and all,
how coming to Seattle is the first trip she has taken west, and me
thinking her embroidered jacket was a tip off of traveling to Mexico.
She had been married to the same man for going on 41 years and he
wasn’t a traveler, and had never been out of Kansas. I wanted to ask
who the man was that she was having lunch with, they seemed so
comfortable with each, like the silence between them was something
they were both used to. She sputtered on about life in Kansas, her
husband’s father had been the mayor of the town they were from, some
sort of notoriety, I could see she was feeling her cups, but I let
her blabber on until I just had to ask “who was the guy she had had
lunch with? Corrine looked as if she had been caught in a snare, she
looked at me as if I was asking a too delicate of a question. She
composed herself and answered that he was indeed the head of the Beef
Commission, a Texan whom she would travel with twice a year, meeting
in DC in January and then to the next city in the summer that the
convention was held in.
My oh my, I couldn’t have come up with this sordid story, she having
an affair on her husband, Conrad from Texas, my mind drolled on. She
didn’t have anything to loose, me an ear for her, out of Kansas for
the first time west, she was open and almost too honest with me I
just listened, back to my perch, just observing her plain simple
explanation for it all.
She and Conrad, (Richard) had been meeting like this for 22 years, a
same time next year Beef Commission Convention kind of deal. They
were not to deviate from their individual marriages, they had a
mutually consensual deal, that when they traveled they would have this
All of us, looking for someone nice, somebody you would like to share
the same house with for the next 50 to 60 years, when will we get that
this really just doesn’t work out very well.
“If you want to be in the club then set your alarm clock.”
That’s how I ended up waist-high in freezing water at 5:45 AM. No one else in sight.
It had seemed so appealing the night before, several beers in.
“Oh yeah, a bunch of us have been going for sunrise swims down at the lake. It’s so refreshing!”
Ethan was tall and slender, with hair that looked like Justin Bieber’s. I liked him. He was hilarious and crazy smart, but also extremely flamboyant. He seemed to like me, too, for some reason – had come right over and introduced himself during student orientation, and ever after we were pals. If there was an open seat next to me in class, he’d usually take it, and he always made a point of waving me over at parties. I was partly flattered, and also grateful – I had never been popular, and Ethan definitely was, in his own way – but I also worried that people might assume things about me because of his attention. About what team I played for. Particularly all of the incredibly attractive women that were in his constant orbit. On the other hand, the more I hung out with Ethan, the more access I had to these women.
More access to Mary. That was what really mattered.
“Yep, it’s the sunrise club. Quick swim in the lake while the sun comes over the mountain. Incredible way to start the day! You should join us!” Mary smiled in that way that made my stomach feel hollow.
“Sure, why don’t you?” Ethan threw his arm around Mary’s shoulder. His physical affection with her was so effortless. I envied him, thought for a brief moment that if only I were a gay man I could put my arm around Mary and she’d just let me. No anxiety, no hesitation. Gay men were so lucky. I pulled another beer out of the cooler on the porch, and tried to look extra manly as I keyed off the cap.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I’m a little drunk, it’s 1:30 in the morning, I’ve got class at 8:00. I hate cold water. I’m a terrible swimmer.”
“Oh come on, we’re all drunk. That’s no excuse!” Mary winked at me. Little explosions going off in my chest cavity. I was never sure if Mary flirted with me like this because she assumed I was gay, or if she was actually making passes.
“Who else is going to be there? Who else is in this club?” I tried not to stare at Mary’s chest and imagine what she looked like in a bikini. Did they even wear swimsuits in this club?
“Well,” Mary started, “there used to be four or five of us, but the last few times it’s just been Ethan and me.”
I caught Ethan’s profile as he looked over Mary’s head. He really was awfully handsome. I wondered if Ethan was as gay as he seemed, or if he sometimes fell off of the wagon. It was shockingly easy for me to imagine Ethan and Mary kissing. Maybe Mary didn’t know that he was gay? Maybe she didn’t care?
“Come on, join the club! I swear you’ll love it. Say you’ll come?” Mary held her hand up for a high-five. Okay – she must know that Ethan was gay, right? And that I’m not. She must find me interesting, attractive. She wanted to me to swim with her in practically the middle of the night. She was inviting me to a special, exclusive rendezvous. Right? Right?
But there were some obstacles.
First off, I really am a terrible swimmer. And trying to highlight your manliness by underperforming athletically – I know this to be a bad strategy. I was betting Ethan was an excellent swimmer, probably could dive like Greg Louganis. And I really do hate cold water. Really, really hate it. Finally, I had a weird rash on my right leg that started at the front of my knee and crawled right on up the inside of my thigh, disappearing up my boxer shorts. Pretty much the worst rash you could imagine. Like an advertisement for STDs that didn’t even exist (couldn’t exist, since I hadn’t been lucky enough so far to engage in the kind of activities that earn you such things). The quack at the college infirmary had given me some cortisone cream, which seemed to be making it worse. It wasn’t pretty. I didn’t think the rash was going to help convince Mary that she should get to know me better. I honestly felt awkward about Ethan seeing it, too.
Ethan eyed me. “Whatever, Mary. Don’t pressure…”
It was like a dare.
“You promise I’ll really be refreshed, and not just freezing and late for class?” I swung my head to the side and looked at her in a way I hoped seemed devil-may-care.
“I promise it will be awesome, and you won’t be late for class because we go at 5:30 in the morning. Plenty of time for a hot shower after you see the best sunrise of your life!” Mary still had her right hand held high, ready for me to commit. Was she inviting me to her hot shower?
“Alright, you talked me into it. I’ll go.” I slapped Mary’s hand and she grabbed onto mine, squeezing it tight and laughing.
“You’ll love it, I promise!”
I made a plan as I stumbled back to my dorm. Arrive 15 minutes early, get in the water. Leave towel close by, and when we’re ready to get out of the water, make sure to leave first. Grab towel, cover rashy leg. No problem. I’ll be in Mary’s club. I will love it.
Alarm clock went off at 4:45, much to the irritation of my roommate. I pulled on my not-long-enough swim trunks and a jacket , remembered just in time to brush my teeth, and walked in the dark to the lake. It was freezing outside.
5:15. I found a branch close to the shore, carefully hung my jacket and the towel I’d brought from my dorm, and waded in.
My feet were numb, and then my shins and calves, and then my knees, and then my thighs. Maybe the freezing lake water would be good for the rash on my leg? Or maybe I would contract some terrible bacterial disease from all of the geese shit rumored to be in the lake. A couple of geese swam by as if summoned by my anxiety and I flipped them off. Finally I was up to the bottom of my swim trunks. Every part of my body that wasn’t in the water was covered with tight little goose bumps and my teeth were chattering. The minutes ticked by SO SLOWLY and I tried to focus on the trees, the shore, the buildings beyond the shore to keep my mind off of how cold I was and how ridiculous I must look. I tried moving around a little, thinking that would warm me up, but each movement seemed to bring even colder water in contact with my skin.
15 minutes went by. 5:30, that’s when Ethan and Mary said they’d meet me.
No Ethan. No Mary.
It was getting lighter outside, and a halo was beginning to build around the mountain.
I could no longer feel anything from mid-thigh down, and decided to go a little deeper. It took another 10 minutes of tiny steps to get to waist-depth. I checked my watch – 5:43. I had that sinking feeling of a small child that’s been duped by older, smarter kids into doing something humiliating, but I could now see the top of the sun, growing slowly and then more quickly over the horizon. It was beautiful. The rays became warmer and stronger, and despite the icy water, I could feel warmth on my chest. Finally the sun emerged whole, in full glory, breaking the day. It actually was the best sunrise I had ever seen. In truth, I’m not sure I had ever witnessed a sunrise before, but still…Mary was right. It was an incredible way to start the day, and I felt a little in awe.
My watch said 5:45. No one in sight. I counted to 10 and then plunged my full body and head under the water, gasping as I came back up for air. I felt proud of myself – who cares if I was tricked into swimming in a frozen lake at a crazy hour in the morning? I actually loved it! I thought how ridiculous I had been to worry about some dumb girl (who couldn’t even get out of bed in time and was clearly unworthy of my regard) and what she might think of a silly rash. This was the life! And I could live it on my own! No need for flakey friends!
I had been dogpaddling around for a few minutes, wanting to be able to honestly say that I had been swimming (not just wading – that sounded so lame), when I spotted Mary and Ethan on the beach. I stopped dogpaddling and stood up. The water was only about three feet deep where I was.
“I thought you said 5:30! Where were you guys?”
“Mary had a flat tire,” Ethan called back.
I could see Mary’s bike propped up against the tree where my jacket and towel had been. My towel was no longer there.
“Plus, with the temperature this morning, we didn’t think you’d come,” Ethan laughed, “It’s, like, 41 degrees outside! You’re a madman to be in the water!”
“I’ve got your towel for you, though,” Mary smiled, “You must be freezing! Come on out!”
What Are Friends For?
I hurried over to his apartment before his meds knocked him out for the night.
I wonder what’s taking her so long to get here. She said she was taking the 358 leaving at 7:09. That should take about 38 minutes plus time to walk here. I hope she didn’t miss the bus.
I pressed 1909 on the keypad in the brightly lit foyer of the pre-war low-income building. “Joey,” I shouted into the intercom. “It’s me Barb. Come on, I know you’re not asleep yet. Ring me in.”
“Damnit where did I put that phone. Oh shit here it is.”
I could hear him fumbling to find 9 on the old school cordless he insisted on using.
“Barb, is that you? Hold on, I found it.”
I yanked open the door and rode the sticky elevator up to the nineteenth floor.
“I’d better open that door before she gets up here.” He mumbled to himself. “ I don’t want her to see me all decrepit and shit.”
I pushed the door open. “Joey, Joey, I have some great news buddy. Remember that awesome money making deal I was telling you about.”
Man-o –man, every time I go into the place I feel like I’m on an episode of Hoarders, with the dark bedroom lit by one of those battery operated candles, red, left over from last Christmas that his sister had sent him from Texas. My eyes finally adjust to the gloom and I find him bunched under the covers blending into all of the other piles of clothes in the tiny room. I couldn’t tell where he began and the heaps of clothes ended.
“Hey, did you get any smokes? I only have these snipes.”
I hope to hell she doesn’t tell me to get up and start that shit again about how I live and shit.
He sat up in the bed reached over half empty cups of moldy tea, pills of various sorts, mostly Tylenols and aspirins, the overflowing ashtray and expired lotto tickets for one of the five or so lighters on the heaped up bedside table. “Now what’s this about a deal. You know I need my sleep. What do you want now?”
Dear God. If he gets any more sleep he’ll be dead.
“Oh don’t be a drag, man. You know I got your back. Who else comes up here bringing you tobacco and wine and stuff?”
“Yeah right Barb. You’re always around…like a bad hangover. You must want something from me… like always.
I sat down next to him on the bed and switched on the table lamp stuck to that fearful bedside table. “Ah, Joey man, don’t be such a drag. You know it’s not often you get to hang out with a cool chick like me.”
She was right. She was almost the only person who would not only come up here but come into this mess and bring me stuff too. I know I am totally fucked up. There’s no hope for me.
I wonder how he got so bad. He’s not even that old maybe sixty-seven, sixty-eight. He used to be not so bad looking before. I remember seeing him on the street a few years back. He had a wife at one point and a couple of kids.
“Thanks for the smokes. I’d go out and get some myself but…you know… I just… I will I…I…shit.”
Sitting here smoking a fresh Newport is the best. I remember when I smoked my first cigarette. It was a Salem and I would get such a buzz. I can taste it now. I wonder if that first drag was what put me on the road to this misery?
Joey put the half smoked cigarette carefully out on the rim of the ash heap. “ Ok, I feel better now. What is the plan Sam?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking. You know, you can get a medical marijuana card right?”
“Yeah, but I have to pay about two hundred bucks to get it and I ain’t got that kind of spare money just to get some pot. I don’t even like the shit any more I just get paranoid.”
“But you still get your SSI check, right? And that is about six hundred a month, right?”
God, I hate it when she starts talking about my money. I mean hell, where is her money? Why does she keep doing this to me? Every month it’s the same old thing. This scheme that scheme always something and it’s always some thing she wants to do with my money.
“Now Joey, don’t get all weird and shit. Listen to me, this time I have a perfect angle.”
I’m losing him. He’s already starting to freak.
“Listen Joey, We’ll go and get the card and then you can put me down as your go to person. I mean look at you. You’re all fucked up. You never leave the apartment except on the first to cash your check and buy shit with your food stamps. You’re turning into a hermit or worse. Do you want to die here all-alone? Do you want me to come up here one day and just find your dead body all eaten by maggots, Do you Huh? We’ll go and get the card and spend the rest on some weed. Then I can sell it for double or even more on the street. We could make a nice stack of cash. I know people who are doing this. We could get you out of this hellhole. Listen, I talked to this good friend of ours, remember Gordon Brown? Well, he had his mother for Christ’s sake, go and get a card. They go to the dispensary every week and get a freaking shit load of weed and take it back to the neighborhood and re-sell it. I tell you we could do it too.”
“I don’t know. How do you know this could work? What if everybody does it? What if I get busted? What if you just ran off with my money and the weed?”
I grabbed him by his skinny shoulders and shook the hell out of him. “If you really believed me you would give me the money.”
Eventually I would give into her. I might regret it later but hell, I just might be able to live like a normal human again. She’ll have to pay the consequences though. I’ll ask her after the first deal if she’ll marry me. I know she’ll say yes.
4:30 a.m. The iPhone screen shone that number on its screen, as bright and bold as all fuck. The little fucker also blasted forth the screeching ode to joy of some KEXP neo-neo-neo-punk band. No lulling acoustic emo ballads for the early risers this day. I tried to assemble my brain. The pieces wouldn’t fit together, at least not easily.
Slowly, clumsily, it all came together. I remembered who and where I was. I remembered why I was there, and why I had to leave here soon.
It was the club. The club to which I became a member over the past two days. The club I had to get out of, by getting the hell out of here.
Where was here, again?
Oh yeah. A guest room at Frank and Cindy’s place. Way out in the exurbs.
I soon also remembered why I’d set the phone’s alarm app (which I’d never used before) to get me up at this gawdawful hour of the dark.
As soon as I could see anything besides the blinding blinking digits on the alarm app, I looked around the room. Nothing had changed here since my eyes were last opened.
Then I looked directly around me on the bed. A figure, totally hidden beneath the bedding, slumbered and breathed in a manner that reassuringly reminded me of my own girlfriend.
But just to make sure, I pulled back the covers.
I exhaled completely for the first time that morning. It was her. Janie. The woman whose man I am. She stayed, and she stayed with me. Thank God.
From what I’d learned about Cindy in the previous 59 hours, that woman would do just about anything.
No, correct that. No “just about” about it.
It’d be well within Cindy’s repertoire to sneak in while I was passed out, to arrange for Janie to not make it into this room, and then to take me while I was still groggy. To take me in my unconscious “morning wood” condition; for her selfish pleasure, for a sense of territorial acquisition, or just for the hell of it.
That would not be “cheating.” Not in Cindy’s OR Frank’s definition.
Their loyalty to one another is based not on what they consider the obsolete rules of petty society, but on their shared beliefs.
In their worldview, the world existed to supply them with luxuries and thrills. Other men and women in their world were to dutifully supply what Frank and Cindy wanted, when they wanted it, no matter how outrageous or capricious the request.
Any man or woman who failed at any time to supply what Frank and Cindy want was exiled from their world. This exile included the termination of employment at their company.
To the outside world, I would have simply been let go for not being a “team player,” as proven during my abysmal performance at this “team building weekend.”
In my anguish over my precarious spot, the memories of the previous 2.5 days came back to me.
Four co-workers, and their companions, had joined Janie and me at this session. All of us were picked up at our respective homes in a rented limo.
The Friday evening portion had been fine; all dinner and drinks and get-to-know-you parlor games.
Then early Saturday morning (even earlier than this morning) the hell began.
Imagine the worst fraternity hazing rites, as re-imagined by a couple of role-playing-game entrepreneurs.
Then, add a big dose of Ayn Randian sociopathy.
Then, top it off with their insistence that, as masters of the plantation, they could direct who mates with whom and when (and even how).
These two didn’t just create a popular pseudo-Medieval fantasy world. They lived it. And they expected us to live it too, and to like it.
Another memory came to me.
Of me, stripped and restrained with ropes. Watching Janie being taken by Frank and another man. I somehow made eye contact with her. I tried to silently assure her. We would get out of this, somehow.
Back in the here n’ now, I quickly dressed. I packed my overnight bag and too.
I picked up the phone and looked up where I was. The estate, as I already knew, was large. Perhaps a quarter mile to the gate. I knew they’d probably have a car tracking Janie and me down, to and beyond the gate. I didn’t know if the gate would be manned. After that it was a mile and a half to a little strip mall, where we could presumably get a cab back to civilization.
I finally took the time to try to rouse Janie; something I should have done minutes before. She was as out as I had been.
She grumbled about how early it must me. She writhed about in the bed, trying to feel me beside her. She opened her eyes, and found she had to look up to see me.
She smiled. She begged me to come back to bed.
I told her we had to get out of there now, before they found us. I told her they could fire me. I’d take it proudly. We could start that social networking startup she’d always said she’d wanted to start. But we had to get out of here, now.
She yawned, said what the fuck was I talking about, smiled again, reached up, and tried to pull me back onto the bed.
After all that excitement last night, she said, didn’t I want a little refresher?
What the FUCK?
She LIKED IT?!?!?