Andy – a novel (Excerpt #3) (2013)

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I had played this scenario over in my head thousands of times, it seemed. What sitcom or drama hasn’t done the episode when the panicked guy drives the pregnant, heaving wife crazily through the streets in order to get to the hospital just in time before the baby came? They never got in accidents. They never got pulled over. There were always car horns or sirens buzzing around but their car always made it untouched. Usually, there was some nurse–typically black if you hadn’t noticed–waiting at the automatic doors with a wheelchair. Probably some smoking scrubs-clad nurses off to the side, always suggesting irony. And it was always one of two times: rush hour or middle-of-the-night. In both cases, cars were everywhere and lights and oncoming vehicles and distractions and more heaving and talk of contractions. The radio was always on at first before the wife screamed that the husband had better turn it off before she beats the shit outta him. It always brought brief comic relief to the intense situation. In the 90s the man or the woman always got some phone call and there was a panicked search for the phone which was never where the owner had remembered putting it. Like in the glove box or the middle console or some purse the woman didn’t even realize she’d brought with her.
Oh, and the bag they’d prepared. Wasn’t it always standing by the door for when the crucial night came? If the family already had kids, the oldest–usually a boy with a bowl haircut and wearing ridiculous pajamas or corduroy pants or in some cases both–lugged said bag slowly as the sleepy younger sister gathered up stuffed animals and blankets and a journal (more recently a video game device) and she never put her seatbelt on by herself. The oldest boy, in a glimpse of his civil upbringing would instinctively hold the door for his pregnant mother, put the bag on her lap for some reason, and climb into the backseat of the (usually pale blue if it was daytime) station wagon and help the little sister with her seatbelt. Then she’d ask that he buckle in Buttons or Polly or whatever cliche name her stuffed bear/dog/pony had.
Meanwhile, the camera always panned to the husband’s grizzly face. Never clean-shaven and always a bit too sweaty. A collar that left much to be desired and eyes that rarely looked enthusiastic. Any viewer could see the man was thinking dollar signs (or lack thereof) or general worry for the stress any pregnancy brought on. He’d fumble with his keys–once I remember he tried to put the house key into the ignition and laughed maniacally at his absent-mindedness; it took the laboring mother-to-be to slap him into cognition for the scene to continue.
Every show used the same tired jokes about the waiting room and the ice chips. Some of the time the notion of the epidural came up–probably to generate in-home discussions about the morality of drugging a labored mother. It never failed that a camera would fade from a loving still image of the couple holding hands at a bedside or that younger girl character resting her weary head on the engorged belly before panning to the wall clock that would shift four-, seven, or ten hours ahead to indicate the suffering the woman was experiencing. When the image returned to the expecting family members, we’d see that the man’s beard was noticeably scruffier now and he’d been given a newspaper or magazine that was rarely not on his lap as he slept comically upright in a stiff chair. Upon waking he’d complain about how his neck hurt which undoubtedly warranted a non-verbal punchline stare from the aggravated mother (who of course had not slept during the last X hours).
In sitcoms it was always a two-episode deal. The first one ended with a variety of cliffhanger moments (the doctor says there may be a problem, the father is called away for a work-emergency, etc.) and the second episode dealt with the fall-out of the baby’s birth. They always saved the name of the baby for the second episode too. Some viewers really got into that. One show, I recall, even used the pregnancy as their arc of the entire season and held a nationwide baby-naming contest. Occasionally twins appeared. Never anything too grim happened though. I’m sure test audiences regularly shut down some plot twists such as the baby having an unexpected skin tone or a rare disease and/or deformation. Any fights stemming back as far as the couple meeting might have been shown in a montage only to be outweighed by a longer montage of hugs, kisses, and romantic moments. The auditory accompaniment was Coldplay-esque. The same black nurse usually wheeled the mother and child/ren out the same entrance as before. The car drove away toward its home and there was never any traffic.

The Start of Something – Chapter 2 (2016)

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~Chapter Two~

–I’ll never fucking understand why fucking adults think I’m screwing with them when I tell them their fucking plate is goddamn hot.  Never fails.  Every time.  College kid or grandpa.  Men more than women, I’ll grant ya, but they all do it.  So I got tired of it, ya know?  It can’t be their first time in a restaurant, right boss?

Bill, I know.  People are idiots.  You and I see it all the time.  But you also are old enough to understand liability.  Of course the plate should not have given that guy third-degree burns, but…

–Isn’t it first-degree?

What?

–I think first-degree is the least worrisome.

That doesn’t make sense, Bill.  First.  It’s top priority in a burn center.

–Well, it was the lowest level.  And I’m sorry it happened, but goddamn.

I know, Bill.  Look.  Please let me go back and handle it.  Look.  It’s a quarter to ten.  We close in a little over an hour.  Maybe just hang back here and you can start on closing.

–I thought he was kidding, Brian.  I really did.

I know, I know.  Look.  We can limit the damage.  The EMTs are coming on our dime.  Let’s just make sure we look proactive at this point.

–Fuckin’ hate lawyers, man.

We all do.

–I’m not gonna get fired, am I?

He deep-sighed, then stared at me for an uncomfortable four seconds.  I watched the flimsy red stick click between the three and the four.

Look, Bill.  I’m going to talk it over with HR now that they’ll know about the EMTs coming.

My foodslime-covered kitchen shoe fall from my left knee.

–I’ll just go.

No, please.  Don’t.  It doesn’t have to…I mean…I’m telling you you’re not—

I flipped a raggedy single on his desk.

–Just mail my last fucking check, Brian.  And fuckin’ thanks for the support.

* * * * *

“You did not!” Stacey cried out with that grin that’s all but forced me to hang around with her.

“Yeah.  Fuck that place.”  We’re at Legs, which sounds like it’d be a strip bar, but they are known for their southern-fried chicken. And lord help us if any of the ladies who work here start disrobing.

“Shit, man,” she said, the smile diminished quickly.  “I don’t want to work there if you’re not.”

Stacey’s a real sweet kid.  We’d been hanging out for about six weeks off and on.  All the girls at that place have to tie their long hair back or pin it up.  When we go out for drinks after work–like straight after work, still smelling of gravy and shit–she lets it down.  I think she waits until we’re seated because the first time she did it, I felt like I was watching some shampoo commercial and I think she caught me staring.  Her hair cascaded down her shoulders and bounced a little.  I replayed those moments in my head for several lonely nights in those days.  Somehow the dark hair gets curlier the longer we stay.  If we’re at a table, I usually sit across from her and I’ll get caught just looking at those locks.

“Well, I feel a little bad about just taking off–probably shot my chance at a referral.”

“Yeah,” she said, still examining her tall pilsner glass.  She only just ordered domestic bottles before we met and came here together for the first time.  The shit these kids don’t know astounds me.

“Think I shoulda stayed?”

She shrugged and looked away, then pursed her lips a little.  Almost pouty, but it didn’t last long.

“You’re too nice, young lady,” I stated, then signaled Bobby for two more tall ones.

She grinned and turned to me.  “I know.  I mean, I know why you took off.”  She ran her fingers down the slender glass, wiping away the condensation.  “Sounds like you were going to get the ax after you clocked out.”

“Exactly.”

“Well, anyway…what are you going to do now?”

Bobby put the beers in front of us.  Without prodding, Stacey downed the rest of the first and reached for the new one before swallowing.

I offered my glass to be tapped with hers.  A small, congenial smile crept across her face.

I grinned, foolishly.  Drunkenly.  “I have no fucking idea.”

We laughed, then chugged.  We got chicken wings, fried pickles, and a big basket of fries.  She talked about how unhealthy all that shit was.  I told her she had nothing to worry about.  I’m pretty sure I actually said “Gather ye rosebuds, Miss Thang” to which she laughed but not for the right reason.

The food was gone in minutes.  Some dudes across the bar clapped when a game ended.  Nobody else from our restaurant came in, so I was antsy to get the fuck out.  Bobby dropped a glass while trying to dry it.

“You gotta any weed, l’il lady?”

She smiled and nodded.

“Well, fuck!  Let’s get high.  Fuck this bar and their overpriced, fucking flat-ass beer.”

Bobby hollered to us that he heard that.

“It’s actually Gina’s, but…”

“She won’t give a fuck.  Just a bowl.  C’mon.  Drink up.  Let’s get out.”

Stacey told Bobby thanks as I flopped a twenty on the soaked bar.

—–

I woke up alone on Stacey’s couch and had a beer in my hand.  Of course, it wasn’t upright and was now nearly empty, but my shirt was soaked.  Must’ve been high as fuck not to care whenever that happened.  The TV was on, but it was a fucking exercise video series infomercial.  Each testimonial after the other made me want to die or at least take a huge dump.  I hadn’t done that—not the level that was brewing so early in the morning, anyway—at Stacey’s before.  A plan quickly entered.  I found a ten at the top of my left pocket.  When she came out of her bedroom in a bra and sweatpants, I suggested she snag some of that gourmet coffee from the corner.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  She looked great, but I felt like total shit.  And I had to take one.

She complied and I was able to mask my embarrassing shit with some of her perfume.

By the time she came back, I’d found another shirt I’d left or that she’d stolen.  “I got you a mocha.  Is that alright?” she asked.

I was standing at the open refrigerator door.  “Sure.  Thanks for going.  Man, what a night, huh?”

“You. Were.  Hilarious, though.”

I looked up at the closed freezer door.  Nothing but her words had caught my attention.  “Really?”

“Oh my god, yes!  Gina told me after you passed out that she was sorry for ever saying anything bad about you.”

What a thing to tell a person, huh?  I had no choice but to play it cool and be appreciative.  Of course, I didn’t give one absolute fuck what her stringy roommate thought of me.  I knew she thought I was too old to be hanging around their apartment, and I suspected she had a bit of a crush on Stacey herself.

“Really?  Didn’t she say once to you that I was the kind of guy who probably gives out Busch Light to kids at Halloween?”

“She was kidding.”

“Well, anyway.  I’m glad she’s finally warming up to me.”  I didn’t actually give a shit though.  I’ve learned that no two female roommates seem to have the same system in place when it comes to guys they bring home.  Some are way over the top with friendliness, and others seem to pretend I’m invisible.  Only one ever actually flirted with me, but I shut that down pretty harshly.  I don’t even think I went back after that one.

So it was no surprise that Gina was standoffish toward me.  Again, don’t care, but that divide made for some unwanted commentary from the girl I did like.

About a week later, though, I knew I’d never probably have to deal with Gina anymore.  I had stayed again at Stacey’s place.  We were both exhausted after working together, so we just picked up some movies and this bad-ass baked spaghetti that somehow tastes better than anything my grandma used to put out at Thanksgiving.  We both crashed on the couch during the first movie, and I woke up around two with her head in my lap.  Not sexually or anything.  Drooly, actually.  So, I carried her to bed and we slept for another handful of hours.

When I woke up, I didn’t feel tired, which was rare.  I wassomehow motivated to do something nice.  That sounds like I don’t do that very often.  Anyway, I ran out to the store to get some breakfast shit—for Gina and even a guy if one was in her room—and made it back before anyone else was awake.  I put a pot of coffee on, quietly cleaned the dishes we’d all tossed in the sink, and then prepared to cook the one thing I know how to make well:  omelets.

“I gotta pee!” Stacey announced as she rushed behind me toward the bathroom.  She left the door open and the sound of her urine hitting the water–a sound that I absolutely cannot stand unless it’s my piss—put a dent in my mood.  Taking the high road, though, I made myself a cup of coffee.

“What’s all this?” she asked.  I’m not sure I heard her flush, which was also a little fucked up.

“Just thought I’d make everybody breakfast.  You like omelets, right?”

“Ummm…sure!”

That felt like a no, but I wasn’t going to offer anything else.

She turned on the TV and curled up under a blanket she once told me her grandmother made for her.

I was in the middle of making hers when she sighed loudly and said “Man!” in a jealous way.

“What’s up?  What are you watching?”

“These houses are insane.  Man, I wish I was famous.”

I stirred the eggs and tried to imagine what she wanted in hers without asking.

“You wouldn’t be worried about losing your privacy?  Your independence?”

“Nah.  Fuck all that,” she said coolly.

“Well,” I said, still not looking away from the stove.  “Tell me this:  Would you rather be Harrison Ford-famous, or like, guy-who-can-make-a-pancake-look-like-Harrison-Ford-famous?”

Nothing.  Then, sadly, “Who’s Harrison Ford?”

Even though she said she loved it, it was the only omelet I made for her.

The Start of Something – Chapter 1 (2016)

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I know what you’re thinking already.  Another shitty story from some nobody dropout whose life goals were unachievable and nothing more than chaotic pipe dreams.  I get it.  I prefer, though, to think of myself as a victim of society—or perhaps societal values.  Isn’t it interesting how much time, effort, and money we spend looking forward to the next “vacation” where we can finally “let go” and “relax”?  What many people don’t see in me is that I’m calling that mentality total fucking bullshit.  

That’s insane.

And we should all be ashamed to think that’s why we were placed on this gorgeous fucking planet.

Now.  Hear me out.  I’m a server.  Some call it a waiter.  I take food orders from people in restaurants, bring that food out to them, fill their fucking teas, waters, or beers in some places, and scoop their tips.  It’s not a mind-bending type of life or career.  It’s cash.  It’s mundane most of the time.  It probably has interesting roots—I imagine ancient Egyptians or something bringing meals to those in political power and rewarded with some trivial trinket or item of small value.  

Like most people who do my job, I did not sit around in high school looking forward to the day where I would be lambasted by a boss who’s on a uniform-neatness kick, stuck in an awkward position to listen to some grandma bitch about how her kids don’t bring her grandchildren over often like they used to, or worried that a girl at the restaurant I’ve been seeing is either cheating on me or looking for ways to let me down easily.  No.  Nothing terrifically dreamy about those scenarios.  Scenaria?  Anyway, I took this job when my college “career” went to shit and I haven’t done anything else.  It’s kind of like G-rated stripping or prostitution.  By no means is the money close to what I assume those girls take home, but in a way it’s the money (and the ease of obtaining it) that’s kept me here almost eight years.  

Eight years.  

Man that looks like a huge number when I type it out.  It’s shitty because it’s pretty much the same thing every day, but there are no two days alike.  I mean, one day, I’ll get some regulars, have some repeated conversations, help the new kids with the shit on the computer, and eventually sneak out of there with my ninety- or hundred bucks.  Once in a while, something crazy will happen in the kitchen.  Or they’ll play a block of AC/DC tunes at like the perfect time in the server alley.  

But I keep going back.  And I wonder if other people keep going to their own jobs with the same perspective.  Do they truly think they are adding to the value of their company, the community, and/or the people with whom they work?  Is it just a paycheck?  Is it just something people do in order to save up for that trip to Disney, Cozumel, or Venice?  Is working a job where the return is strictly financial worth our time?  

Don’t fucking ask me.  I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in if I knew any of the answers to my own questions.  

So, how do I manage through the muck of restaurant work year after year?  It’s pretty much with moments like this:

Me:  Hey, there.  I’m Bill.  You must be new this week.

Newb:  Hi.  I’m Latosha.

Me:  I’m sorry.  What?  How do you say it?

Newb:  Luh—tosh—uh.

Me:  Oh.

Newb:  What’s that supposed to mean?

Me:  Nothin’.  It’s just…

Newb:  It’s just what?

Me:  I mean…I thought it’d be pronounced differently.  I saw your name on the floorplan…

Newb:  Oh.  I get that a lot.  How were you thinking it should be pronounced?

Me:  I dunno…maybe like, er….”Mike.”  Or  “Jeremy”…

Newb:  What the fuck?

Me:  Dude, it’s cool.  I mean, I don’t care.  You’re gonna want to hide that adam’s apple a bit more.  

Newb:  My real name is Benjamin, but please don’t tell anybody, okay?

Me:  It’s all good, Latosha.  Glad to have you aboard.

And now I’ve got that dude on the hook for a big favor for about a week.  He might cover me while I duck out for a smoke or just give me one of his parties or something.  I don’t press for shit like that anymore.  That’s one thing I’ve learned about this job:  The money is fairly steady and reliable.  At least, in the course of a week or so.  People on commission jobs probably get what I’m trying to say way more than salary fucks.  You can have several shitty days in a row and your income is a direct result of that.  Some salary fuck can miss work, fuck up, stay late, get reprimanded by a superior—all in a couple days’ time—and still get the same exact paycheck as he did last time.  So, I have no clue why anyone would want to make enemies at a restaurant.  When servers are happy and work together, they make more money.  It’s not fucking college trig, ya know?  Come in, do your shit, put on a sunny disposition if you have to, and skidaddle with your cheddar for the day.  

My problem is not that I don’t look to the future for something better.  It isn’t that I really want anything else.  I’m content with making decent cash, paying my rent and utilities, and spending the rest however the fuck I want.  If I’m dating someone, I’ll blow a lot of cash on her early on.  If it fizzles out, so what?  We had fun, right?  We didn’t plan a safari for six months and eat fucking generic mac and cheese every night until the big trip either.  

So, I actually like what I do—even if it isn’t what I thought I’d do as I’m nearing 30.  It’s my life, ya know?  Why the fuck does anyone else care?

I’ve dated tons of servers too.  Most of the time, it’s short-lived and one of us ends up leaving the restaurant only to just pick up a job elsewhere by the end of the week.  It’s probably common in college towns this size.  It’s the only city I’ve really known, though.  When I say date, I should be more articulate.  I show interest in a girl and typically a group of us go out for drinks or whatever.  I make a move and it’s either received well or it’s received poorly.  I’m cruising at about a sixty-five percent success rate.  Most of the rejections stem from them having boyfriends or at least claiming they do.  I’m not all about trying to wreck anybody’s good thing.  If they’re lying about being in a relationship, at least it saves me the embarrassment while I’m getting hammered at four bucks a drink.  The girls are all pretty good natured and usually just drift away.  Maybe they go home for summer break or maybe they find a better job.  Some are crazy and some are super horny.  You don’t know me all that well, but trust me when I say I’m very respectful toward them all and I take it all in stride.

Except for one girl .  Real quick, lemme give you dudes a heads up on a certain type of girl.  She was twenty when she started and I was the first guy she hung around with since she’d left her hometown to come to college.  She was pretty and had joined a sorority, but it was not like the type you may expect.  They had been on probation for like three years for some super fucked-up shit that went down during homecoming or rush or whatever, and they were basically desperate to get a new breed of girls in their club.  Mellaaddy (pronounced as “Melody” but yeah, it was fucking spelled like that) jumped at the chance and was rising up the authority totem pole quite quickly.  Well, here’s the red-flag, gentlemen:  She ran a sorority-presidential campaign by using the new-found popularity of those vibrantly colored vinyl or plastic bracelets.  She’d thought it was quirky to make a hashtag with her name on these and give them out to the girls who were in the sorority or trying to be in the sorority.  

Then she gave me one to wear.  

And she wasn’t fucking around either.

“I don’t get it.  I’m not even a student…”

“Oh, I think it’s cute!  If you wear it at work, maybe people will ask about it and you can tell them—”

“Oh.  Okay.  Well.  Thank you.”

“Put it on.”

“Now?”

“Sure!  The election is in two months and I really want to win…”

It’s pretty obvious, I hope, that she and I didn’t make it to the night the votes were cast.  

I kept the fucking bracelet though and it’s on the shelf next to my shaving cream behind the mirror in my bathroom.  Every day or so I see it and am reminded to keep the crazies at a distance.  

It’s worked so far.

And I’ve also figured out the girls who were so fucking mysterious to me through late high school and into college.  This just happened last week.  The girl’s name is Kendra, and she’s probably around twenty-three.  Not too young, I know, but she looked a little younger but acted a lot older.  Does that make sense?  So like, her age was an average of her look and her personality.  Something like that.

Well, this dude rolls up and is just standing near the kitchen pass-through.  Not in the way or anything.  But standing there.  It’s a place where either really forward people stand if they want something like napkins or a ketchup bottle that actually has ketchup in it, or a spot where past or present employees linger to get someone’s attention.  This bulky dude was the latter.  He was dressed like a biker—probably was one, I suppose—and it was still pretty warm out so he had a short-sleeved shirt under his leather vest.  I didn’t catch the local brotherhood of riders’ name on the back (something like Sons of Halitosis or Evil Do-Gooders, I’m guessing) but I did notice the rather unsettling red bulbs emerging from his forearms on both sides.  It was one of those things the eye catches and you know you’re already staring at it too long, but it’s so fucking intoxicating to examine that on the one hand you’re peering into some chemically charged abscess while subconsciously weighing out what you think this fucker is going to do to when he realizes you’re staring at his fucking ghastly arm.  People who wear that much black leather aren’t typically the most secure people when it comes to visible abnormalities or proper English.  Thus, I looked away as quickly as I could, but those bulbs lingered in my mind for days afterward.  

So this dude is just chilling there, and if he’d looked like anyone else less menacing I might have struck up a simple “May I help you” scenario, not so much as to appease whatever his request was but rather for my own selfish get-those-fucking-things-away-from-me needs.  That, and some dopey newbie sweetly asked him if she could get him anything and all he said was Kendra’s name.  I passed by during this brief exchange but could tell with his single word response that he was probably itching to get back on the road (presumably not toward a dermatologist’s office, I might add) and was growing impatient with each passing second.  

Kendra took her sweet ass time getting to him and had a muffled conversation right outside the pass-through.  I busied myself with making drinks and remembering where the damn state-required sanitation pumps were because I was not a hundred percent that Gruff Daddy’s arms didn’t come in contact with my own.  This was just last year, and I have my whole life still to live.  

About a half-hour later, I had a few seconds next to Kendra and asked if that was her boyfriend.  

“Who, Keith?”

“I don’t know the individual’s name.  The guy who wanted you a little bit ago.”

“Keith.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t you know Keith?  He’s a dish guy.”

That at least spoke to the irritations on his arms.  “Nope.  Never seen him.”

“Well, he only works weekends here.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.  That’s why.  Anyway, no.  He needed a ride.”  She paused, but not for anything other than stifling a burp, I think.  “You know I’m like, super gay right?”

“I..did not know that.”

“Yeah.  So.  No.  Not my boyfriend.”

“Mmmkay,” was all I could muster.  I was suddenly sixteen and completely thrown off by looking at a woman who was into other women.  I’m sure I’ve known more, but Kendra was astronomically more comfortable with her lesbianism than anyone else.  This was only like the third night we’d worked the same shift.  

The place was getting quieter and a bunch of the other servers were already gone or about to go.  Kendra was wiping down a drink station and I was filling an ice bucket.  I thought, what the hell.

“Sorry if I said anything wrong earlier,” I began.  I knew she didn’t give a shit.  I mean, she wasn’t like offended or anything.  She was proud of who she was.  I wanted to make jokes.  I wanted to sarcastically say all the things I knew other people had said to her over the last several years (or however long it’d had been since she first came out) like “But you’re so pretty” or “Do you think it’s real or just a phase?”  All the stuff that it’s pretty uncool to say now.

So, instead, I began by apologizing unnecessarily.

“It’s good.  I just thought you should know.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”  She had a tinge of nervousness in her voice.  She probably knew I wasn’t some college douche, but at the same time I was still a man.  A guy.  And we have a fucking long-ass record of asking dumb questions.

“Isn’t it funny that you and I probably get off to the same porn?”

She fucking lost it.  I blindsided her and she had no way to reply.  She cackled so loud that it caused Misfit Brian to emerge from his hole of an office to ask what the noise was.  

“Seriously!”  I continued.  I had her hooked now, boy.  “I mean, we barely know each other, but I feel like you and I could discuss multiple girl-on-girl videos we’ve both seen!”  

She snorted.  I was all jittery.  I get like that when I say something that gets such a positive reaction.  People who don’t know me too well will comment from time to time that I should be on stage somewhere.  I’m not trying to believe it’s just that easy, but it is very close to a medicated high when it happens.  Like a non-sticky orgasm.  

“You’re too funny, dude,” she said when she caught her breath.  What are you doing tonight?”

A porno reel began in my head, but I knew any joke there would fuck things up.  

“Shit.  Nothin’ special.  Get some fuckin’ tacos or something and watch a movie or something.  Think about what I did with my life.”

Her face shifted to serious, not knowing if I was being genuine or sarcastic.  “That’s fucking deep, man.  Seriously.  Wanna meet my roommate?”

I did, absolutely.  But I had to stay cool and somewhat indifferent.  “It’d be alright, I suppose.”  Then, toward the nothingness of the nearest wall, I announced, “Guess you’ll have to wait a day, Ben Affleck!”  She laughed and bit her bottom lip.  Still sexy to me, whether a girl likes dudes or not.  “What ya wanna do?”

“There’s a shitty sports bar not far from here called Buckaroo’s.  I mean, it sucks if you have standards, but we go there because no one else does.”

“Is that Buckaroo’s – apostrophe S, or just Buckaroos—plural S?”

She glazed over.  “What?”

“Nevermind.”

“Well, it’s crusty and probably going to close before Christmas, but we like it.”

I nodded and said something about running home to change, but she cut me off.  

“Nah, don’t fuck around.  TNF tonight, boi!” she howled and whisked away.  I didn’t have time to say in my best droll voice that nobody calls it “TNF.” Thursday night football is the one exception, it seems, where Americans are willing to pronounce all five syllables.  

That was the night I met Valerie.  And Valerie brought some friends from high school a few weeks later.  And one of those friends brought her roommate who was looking for a job.  And that girl is Stacey who started at my restaurant.  Kendra quit a couple weeks before Stacey started.  I heard her bitchy girlfriend left her with no note.  Not that any of that matters, but I thought I should share how things work in my world.  We wait tables and get together and drink and usually start by making fun of the fuckers who gave us shit and complain about managers’ shitty micromanaging, and the straight girls would usually bitch about nursing classes being harder than they thought and the cosmetology girls would talk about hundred-dollar make-up and Kendra and/or Valerie and I would talk shit about the game that was on and how many women on the pro tennis tour were gay and whether or not gay men fantasize about threesomes with one girl but no one in our group could shed light on that one.  

They’d ask me if I went to school or if I ever went to school and I was nothing but forthright.  I gave them the story you’re reading now.  I went to school like most idiots who didn’t have a fucking plan and lost control of the situation and found myself unable to sign up for classes.  They told me the community college would take me and that my credits would transfer back but that sounded like a whole lotta years in the classroom not making money.  So I changed the game and balled in restaurants for forty hours a week for a while until I realized I could get a second serving job down the road and make another couple hundred or so.  Nothing was tying me down.  Nothing kept me from going after that easy cash, boi.  

If I wasn’t serving, drinking, or sleeping, I was usually reading in those days.  I mean, I told Kendra that first time she invited me to Buckaroo’s that I was going to watch some dopey movie, but that’s because you don’t tell people you’re going to hurry home and read.    

The Story in the Clouds (2013)

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I walked out of night class feeling pretty wonderful, believe it or not.  Only 60% of the enrolled students attended, but that was not what merited my demeanor.  I had also consumed an iced coffee–admittedly to keep myself going strong–but I don’t think that’s what attributed to my high spirits either.  I think I actually helped some students that night.  Perhaps I can get to why that was a surprise in another post.

Indiana late summers are usually sticky.  Some clever local weathermen once used the term “humiture” to attempt to define the combination of the actual temperature plus what the humidity added to that.  Perhaps to non-natives, this was bizarre.  Perhaps what it “feels like” should be the only number reported.  Anyway, this particular evening was void of humidity and the sky was bidding farewell to the sun for the day.  This produced my favorite color–that shade of not-quite orange mixed with not-quite strawberry and not-quite plum–and I slowed my walk to the car to absorb nature’s impromptu gift to me…rather, to us all.  Embedded in the brilliant sky were thin clouds of varying shades of gray.  This canvas now had a pallet of color options beside it to create anoter masterpiece.  The clouds, though, are what struck and inspired me.  Two specific clouds, squarely placed in front of me, were stacked like hamburger buns–the air between baring only a thin chimney curl.  It was a sight that might have made Nathaniel Hawthorne smile. 

Seeing this H on its side reminded me, of all things, of a Simpsons episode where, I believe Lisa and Bart (and perhaps the muted baby) sat cloud-gazing on a day similar to the one displayed during the show’s opening credits.  The children were discussing the shapes the clouds made–as children whose entertainment venue is exclusively out-of-doors.  The format of the joke is that Lis sees a formation that appears to the viewer as vague and indecipherable at first, only coming into focus throughout the explanation or analysis.  Then, Bart I believe, says he sees one that looks like (this isn’t accurate, I haven’t seen the episode for years) a local legend on horseback.  The scene changes to his POV and we see a precise version of what Bart just reported.  It’s funny to see how Lisa, the prodigy, creates with her imagination, and her academically disinclined brother can only see with clear, specific images and no imagination needed.

Covered (2016) Excerpt #1

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After feeding, it’s nap time.  Yes.  Baby nappy.  Momma nappy too, sweetheart.  Oh, baby.  I’m just so—yes, sweetheart.  Mommas get sleepy too.  Yes they do…oh, they sure do, sweetheart.  Trust me.   Okay, baby girl.  You did a good job eating your breakfast.  Let’s burp it out and take a nappy, okay?

“Hon?”

Shit.  Okay.  Good job.  Now let’s just lie you down.  Go to sleep now, darling girl.  I’ll be right in the next room.

“HON!”

No, no, baby.  Don’t cry.  Aww…sweet girl, don’t…please?  It’s just daddy.  He’s…well, he forgot you were about to take a nappy.  I’ll leave the door cracked…just..like…this…

What is it?

“Oh, shit.  You were putting her down.”

Duh.

“Did she–?”

Yeah, but she’ll fall asleep soon enough.

“Is that her?  She’s still cry–”

I know.  Amanda said it’s hard to let’em cry it out at first, but there’s nothing wrong.  Otherwise, we’ll never get any—.

“Okay.  Well, I’m sorry I forgot…you were going to put her down as well.”

It’s fine.  What did you want?

“Umm…well, I couldn’t find the remote.”

College announces new hires, promotions — Ivy Tech Northeast News

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Ivy Tech Community College Northeast announces the following new employees and promotions: Nicole Treesh is a new librarian. Steven Lively is a new assistant professor in English. Jeffrey Ewen is the new social science program chair. Jason Summers is the new humanities program chair. Christopher Riley is the new student services professional. Tammy Henry has […]

via College announces new hires, promotions — Ivy Tech Northeast News

“Burying Agnes” by Tom Noyes (2003; reviewed 2016)

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Blog Note:

This is the first of potentially multiple reviews of Tom Noyes’ debut short story collection Behold Faith and Other Stories (Dufour 2003).  Mr. Noyes, at the time of this book’s publication, was teaching creative writing at my alma mater Indiana State University.  Also at that time, I was teaching at a small, rural 7-12 public school about 30 miles away. Mr. Noyes was gracious enough to visit my creative writing club members and give a brief talk about the craft.

This first review is over a story I’ve very recently read.  Seriously, it was about thirty minutes ago*.  I’m not a professional reviewer, so I’m not sure if I’m breaking protocol by not “sleeping on it”** or “thinking about it”*** before I just write about it.  Luckily, I can blame my amateur review on my lack of review training and knowledge of such rules (stated or unstated).

*I started the story (and this blog) yesterday and was able to finish this morning.

**I actually did…now.

***Did that too.

End of Blog Note:  Actual blog below little line below.

“Burying Agnes” is perhaps an appropriate title for what transpires.  Wait…am I allowed spoilers here?  Um…let’s see.  Well, Agnes is not a human, and the title suggests she’s getting buried, so I think I’m okay.  Agnes is the main character Cal’s elderly dog.  Her death is imminent, and Cal’s first appearance in the story shows him preparing for her wintertime death by deciding to dig a hole in the back yard prior to the ground freezing.  It’s Labor Day weekend, and Cal is half a decade away from retiring.  His impending retirement, one must conclude, is stated only for us to know his approximate age and hint that he’s one of those fixed-in-his-ways kind of guys.

Because Cal and his wife Jan apparently have no children of their own, they have perhaps a closer relationship with the aging dog.  Jan’s not pleased with Cal’s decision to dig the hole for obvious reasons.  This is her baby too, and she’s nowhere nearly as prepared for the rapidly approaching death of the dog as much as Cal is.  This doesn’t make Cal cold; it makes him sensible.  If the vet is right that Agnes won’t make it to Christmas, then he’s doing her a service by having the hole prepared for her final resting spot.  It’s senseless to put his own health in jeopardy by digging in much colder conditions into an icy landscape.

The heart of the story soon changes to an impromptu Labor Day family gathering among Cal’s neighbors–who have both grown children and half-a-dozen young blond grandchildren.  The party, now fourteen in number including Cal and Jan but not counting any pets whatsoever, is a traditional American cookout-and-pool scene.  There is a sense that Cal and his neighbor Ernie have become something of friends but only by geographic limitations.  Perhaps this is meant to speak to a common acquaintanceship one has in American suburbia.  We get older and lazier and befriend the closest people out of convenience.  Cal’s role throughout the day is rather minimal.  He’s not meeting Ernie’s kin for the first time, but he’s also not the type of man to demand educational and professional updates from each member of the family.  Rather, he drinks beer and mildly offers to help once the grilled food is prepared for consumption.

Cal and his wife Jan are not fighting–at least, there’s no true evidence other than the opening exchange about the hole-digging–but their relationship is not in the ballpark of lovey-dovey either.  They’re post-50.  They don’t get that way with one another.  There seems to be a heavy emphasis on Cal using humor to keep things upbeat between them.  Jan, about three-quarters into the story, elects to take advantage of the one hour of pool time allotted to the adults.  This is mildly surprising in that prior to her submersion into the water, one would suspect she’d be the kind of woman who would offer to clean up after the meal and rest under a ceiling fan.  They’re little more than roommates that stay together for the sake of the dog or the insurance or both, but that’s not atypical of American marriages with- or without children at that stage of life.

The action of the story is intentionally laid-back, presumably to mirror Cal’s lifestyle.  He takes things as they come, and there appears to be no suggestion that he’s had an erratic reaction to anything in his life.

The final scene involves Cal stoically observing the children’s whiffle ball game while keeping things lively through his alcohol-induced wit, including his amusing verbal play-by-play of the children–all of whom he calls Blondie.  His noted apathy toward the children secure an interpretation that children were never part of his life-plan and are at best a nuisance.

Then again, he’s fairly jovial in every human interaction within the story.  Yet, it’s impossible to know if this jokey disposition would be present throughout his day-to-day life if he had ever been a full-time dad.  He’s more of a “funny uncle” whose responsibilities are only vaguely present when he’s within a certain radius of the children.  This haphazard jurisdiction, in the end, makes him ultimately guilty of the unsettling climax–a crime he does not directly commit.  When one of the young boys end up at the bottom of the pet grave due to his understandable ignorance of the hole, Cal is obviously sorry but appears more so for the fact that the shovel was down there as well.  What truly redeems his merit and absentmindedness is his reaction to the event.   He hurries to the boy but relinquishes immediately once the boy’s father reaches him.  He’s mute throughout the chaos and silently agrees to stay home when his wife suggests he not accompany the large party to the hospital.   In short, he’s humbled by the event, knowing perhaps that electing not to procreate was a solid choice.  Some men, Noyes might be suggesting here, are better suited to be just funny neighbors or uncles.