FROM “VIDAL VS. BUCKLEY”
“You don’t know shit about Gore Vidal and you know less than shit about art! And this isn’t my costume for the show,” he said. “Mama picked out my clothes this morning before I took her and her friends to Pancake Island for breakfast.”
“So you still think Island Pancake House is called Pancake Island,” I said.
“Yeah, and I guess you’re still flying off at the mouth when you need to be calling the box office at Theatre 98 to reserve those seats for the opening night of The Queer and the Crypto-Nazi,” he said.
I had no idea that what I would see in the garage might make me think twice about staying married to Ricky.
First of all, the pottery wheel that cost thirteen hundred dollars was still in the box, unopened. Imagine just leaving a crate stuffed with enough money to pay rent and utility bills for a month sitting in a corner untouched, collecting dust! That by itself made me want to strangle him.
And then I saw it.
Devils! Hundreds of them!
FROM “YO! BROCCOLI!”
“Hey, don’t you fall asleep when I’m talking to you about great art!” he yelled, clapping his hands. “Old da Vinci, he had to think hard about that last supper deal. He needed to figure out lighting and colors, and make sure he got all the feet under the table to look right—I bet that was the hardest part, the feet! On top of all that, he had to plant those clues so people could crack his code later.”
I’m not sure why, but that last bit sounded a little naughty. I just let it go, and who could blame me?
“I don’t have any cash,” I said. Elliott looked as though he were going to burst into tears, like he might grab me by the shoulders and shake me as he sobbed. Did I want to risk being responsible for either thing’s happening? “Let me go to the ATM in the lobby.”
“No, dude, come on,” he said, now rubbing the back of his neck and staring at his shoes. “Are you sure?”
I wasn’t. My finances had reached a critical state by that time due to the fact that I was no longer one half of a two-income household, which was due to the fact that my wife—my soon-to-be-ex-wife—was fucking someone who was born less than one year before my wife graduated from high school.
So. I was poorer than Elliott, but I definitely felt his pain. He knew it, too. That’s why the bastard was hitting me up for money instead of some happily married co-worker.
“Wait here,” I said, and withdrew ten dollars from the ATM, five of which I kept for myself to pump a gallon and a half of gas into my wheezing, shuddering 12-year-old car.
FROM “BITTER BELLY”
“. . . I must’ve stood there for fifteen minutes yelling before the lady who lives right next door to Mama opened her door and poked her head out,” he said.
I shrugged. “What can I say? Old people are really, really slow,” I said.
“I’ll tell you what: they can spread a rumor a lot faster than they shuffle their feet,” he said. “It wasn’t five minutes after Old Lady Kubichek asked me what was going on when just about everyone in that pod of cottages thought the Rapture had happened—and that Mama, Mary Lou, and Mary Lou’s husband got snatched up to the Pearly Gates. Mama’s neighbors were mad as hell thinking they got left behind!”
He removed his constricting bathrobe, leaving himself naked from the waist up. “Ride of the Valkyries” filled his apartment, the loud, crashing music luring each mark into his line of vision and muffling the already-quiet sound of each shot.
He easily picked off five of them with a Beeman pneumatic air rifle. He’d found it hidden inside the wall behind a shoddily attached slab of plaster in the bedroom closet, most likely left behind by the last tenants.
FROM “THE F*CKING QUEEN!”
After remaining in bed and talking for two hours to Desirée Love-Candy, she was fed up. “Are we gonna do phone sex or not?” she whined and then let out an exaggerated sigh.
“You’re supposed to be helping me—if you aren’t going to help me, why am I still on a call that’s already cost me $250?”
“I ‘on’t know how to help you! How’s come you’on’t wanna know what I got on? Ain’t shit we can do about that lady didn’t win no Glooden Gobes, but goddamn!“
On top of everything else, now the phone sex worker sounded intoxicated—from shot-gunning a few cans of Colt 45, not by our conversation.
FROM “TEENAGE KICKS”
We tried to tell him that every song didn’t have to be about a girl he wanted to bone, but he was like, “Why even be in a band?”
We sort of saw it from his point of view, which was the point of view of someone who wanted to be in a band, but who couldn’t really sing. And couldn’t play an instrument. And had no interest in learning. Even though he was the best looking of us all, we realized he was too much of a dick to be in our band. It seemed like we had no choice, so we kicked him out.
FROM “A SWEET LADY DI DEAL”
I flung the door open and motioned for Jim to come in, then slammed the door as soon as he was two steps through it.
“Hurry up! I can’t spare much time,” I said. “You know what tomorrow is!”
“Tomorrow is Tuesday, but today is your lucky day!” said Citizen Jim.
“No, today is almost over and I haven’t finished writing my annual story in celebration of Kate Winslet’s birthday,” I said.
“You need to wash that English Rose outta your hair and get in on this sweet Lady Di deal I’ve got for you,” he said.
He certainly knew all the right marks to hit, all the right buttons to push. The only person who could possibly make me forget writing a story about Kate Winslet in honor of her birthday was my first and forever British crush, whose smushing of my heart started sometime in 1980 and hasn’t stopped, even 24 years after her death.
Father started to speak, but the police officer held up a hand.
“I don’t wanna hear it! Crazy train stops here, all right?” He flipped the cover on his notebook and looked down. “These complaints are goddamn stupid, okay? That lady’s house is purple because she likes purple, all right? It’s not painted purple to make it easier for drug addicts to find it. She’s not a drug pusher. She likes purple, is all. There’s no crime in having a purple house. It’s a free country, all right, and people can paint their houses lime green or neon pink if they have a mind to. Looks like your house could use a coat of beige vomit or shit-muckle-dun or whatever color it used to be–I see more wood than paint, that’s for sure.”
FROM “WORK. PRIDE. BADGERS.”
His shirt was gold lamé, tied at the midriff. He was wearing hot pink bicycle shorts with purple and green tube socks and a pair of white Chuck Taylor Converse shoes covered in red, blue, orange, yellow, green, and purple glitter. The ensemble was literally topped off with a rainbow wig he probably got from the bargain bin at Big Lots the previous Halloween.
“What? You don’t like my outfit?” he asked. “Frankly, I’m a little surprised, all things considered.”
“All things considered? What things?”
“You know! Queer things,” he said. “You’re still queer, right? In spite of everything?”
I stared at him without blinking for something like twenty seconds. “My God,” I finally said. “Yes, in spite of everything I’m still queer.”
“I mean, you do know it’s June, right? It’s time for Pride,” he said.
“But you aren’t gay,” I said.
“I know! And I’m proud of it!” he said. “No offense, but I just don’t see why you people want to march around the town square playing Sister Sledge and Gloria Gaynor on your boom boxes when your future looks so bleak.”
He was right, I supposed, while I also supposed things had changed about gay pride parades since the first one I ever marched in during the summer of 1992.
I called a psychic and paid $2.99 per minute for the guy to say, after concentrating for half an hour, “Potato.”
“Sorry–all I’m getting is potato,” he said. He didn’t sound sorry.
“Potato,” I repeated. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, potato,” he said. Then he gasped and added, “Wait!”
“What?” I said. I got very excited, thinking he might now be getting images of a pot-bellied pig or a hamster, maybe even a ferret.
“Sweet potato!” he said. He was really pleased with himself, too. I could hear the smile in his voice.
I hated him.
FROM “KATE WINSLET VS. HEMORRHOID CREAM”
Was I just hearing things? Had menopause taken over my aural command center in order to drive me even crazier than my hot flashes and mood swings did on a daily basis?
“I’m sorry! I thought I heard gunshots out here,” I said. “I guess I’m glad I was wrong.”
“Oh, you weren’t totally wrong,” said Citizen Jim. “You heard gunshots, but they were on this live feed I’ve been watching with my phone.”
“Where on Earth is the live feed coming from? Chicago?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said. “It’s from the Fairhope Municipal Pier. Apparently Woody Allen is making his latest film here in Fairhope, and I guess it’s some kind of heist movie or something.”
“God, who’s in it?” I asked, knowing it had to be a bunch of Hollywood D-listers who didn’t give a crap about their careers.
“I’m pretty sure it’s just Woody Allen with a bunch of fallen actors and comedians who can’t get work. Nobody good.”
FROM “FREE MARKET”
There’s nothing more stubborn in the world than an old person who’s made up their mind, but they’re almost all hostages to the opinions of their children, whose decision-making on their behalf can turn an end-of-life scenario from “Cocoon” to “A Clockwork Orange.”
Besides, what are they going to do, report me to my supervisor? Write a letter to the editor about the decline of manners in the marijuana-delivery service industry?
FROM “ZODIAC STORY: CANCER VS. SCORPIO”
My panic and fear increased when I recalled the thousands of songs I may or may not have downloaded from Napster and Kazaa and Limewire at the turn of the 21st century. Someone had to face the consequences for robbing struggling artists like Paul McCartney and Madonna of several meals, so I supposed it was going to be me.
It was so unfair, though! How else was I supposed to make truly amazing mix CDs for the girl I was in love with during a lengthy period of penury in my late 20s? Why is the law so unforgiving when it comes to matters of the heart?
I had a sick feeling I would be convicted and jailed for this crime—despite the number of albums I had bought off of Bandcamp on Fee-Waiving Fridays, always paying more than the asking price.
The cars behind him started blowing their horns, creating a ceaseless, disjointed cacophony. The headlights on the car behind him flashed at his rear bumper. Even that wasn’t enough to get him to move. If anything, it made him more determined to sit right where he was. He guided his gearshift to the Park position and turned up the volume on the radio right when the Cars cross-faded into Cat Stevens, his eyes still trained on the East corner of the intersection.
FROM “‘BAREFOOT AND BARELY DRESSED,’ OR
‘DONNA LOUISE TARTT AND THE RUNAWAY ROQUE MALLET’”
He was already out the door when he turned around and said, “What it is now?”
“Do you remember a song from the 80s called ‘Barefoot and Barely Dressed?’ Or am I just imagining it?”
“Geez, Stimpy, I don’t know,” he said. He surprised me by actually looking deep in thought while he considered my question. “Could’ve been something by the New York Dolls before Johnny Thunders left the band, or it might’ve been the original title of ‘Sexy and Seventeen’ by Stray Cats. I do know it’s nothing from a Pink Floyd or a Dick Dale album. It’s probably just some stupid shit you made up to waste my time asking about.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Thanks anyway,” I said.
“Piss off!” he yelled. “And you’d better send me that damned picture of Donna Louise before I come back there and beat you unconscious with both slappers on that roque mallet.”
With the little bit of money I had, I went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of Thunderbird and a gigantic Slim Jim. I asked for a piece of cardboard from one of the boxes being unpacked by a clerk, then I asked the cashier for a Sharpie.
Within half an hour, I was standing on the corner of Frinton Avenue and Bottle Street strumming my guitar, the porkpie hat I’d bought waiting for its first donation.
Looking back, I probably should’ve made the word “BUSKER” a little more prominent on the sign I’d made. “HOMELESS” was the first word that caught the eye of a cop patrolling on horseback, and he didn’t know what a busker was. He thought I was soliciting people for a weird sexual practice.
FROM “52 PICK-UP”
“Oh my! Fifty-two is a great age! It’s a great number!” he said. He was still pacing, his eyes on the floor, chin in his hands. “Think about it! A Round on the Mayan Calendar is made up of 52 years. Playing cards? Fifty-two! White keys on the piano? Fifty-two! There’s 52 weeks in an Earth year!”
“Wow! Yeah! And Billy Joel’s second-best album is 52nd Street!” I said.
Citizen Jim stopped and glared at me. “Don’t pull that bug-eyed old drunk into this,” said Citizen Jim. “And besides: his first best album is The Stranger, and his second-best album is Turnstiles. I only see 52nd Street in third or fourth place, if that.”
FROM “LODGE NIGHT”
Hidden in the folds of his suit jacket were all the pins and medals required for lodge entry on a night like this. He knew the pass codes for each point of inquiry within the lodge hall, which would be lit only by torches affixed to the walls surrounding their sacred meeting space.
He was anxious and terrified and smug, knowing that nothing would be the same for him and his lodge brothers after the secrets of the scrolls were made clear to them.