The Start of Something – Chapter Three (2016)

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*This will be the final chapter posted here…at least for a while.  Again, I welcome any and all feedback.*

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~Chapter Three~

Stacey

My roommate Gina found out about the stolen weed and was pissed at me for almost the whole day.  Eventually, when she got bored, she came in my room and said we had to use our salon gift cards because they only give you thirty days to use them.  “How old did you say he was?”

I didn’t answer until we were on the road a few minutes later.  “I didn’t say, actually.”

“Stace…come on!  Your first boyfriend since Thad?  That was like, a lifetime ago.”

“Ninth grade wasn’t a lifetime ago,” I said.  But she was right.

I have to know every—”

“I’m just…he’s not my boyfriend.  Just this guy I hang out with after work.”

“Girl, every night your phone is blowin’ up with texts from ‘B’.”

I really hate it that she looks at my phone while I’m asleep or in the shower.  I stacked up my school stuff and dropped it on the floor.  I knew going with her would only contain a minimal amount of pleasure, but I also knew I could not not go.

We were getting birthday manis–gifts from our moms.  A tradition.  Being born on the same day in the same hospital meant–to our mothers at first–that we were sisters in another life.  I love Gina to death, but since we started living together, she’s been a little too cozy in my personal business.  I go out of my way to steer clear of her boy drama.  She doesn’t even realize that I never ask her about the guys who’ve been over.  I’ve just rolled with it and waited for her to say something.  That has yet to happen.

“If I tell you, will you please drop it for now?”

She didn’t even take the time to close the magazine she held before tossing it over her head onto a shelf of ancient issues Shape and Good Housekeeping.

“Hoe stih pwease,” said the woman working on Gina’s feet.  The woman’s head never looked up from her work.

I cleared my throat.  “He’s twenty-eight.”

Her eyes exploded open and I could tell her brain was overloading with simple mathematics.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Now please let me just rest my head and enjoy the pleasurable service these fine women offer.”

“Okay, okay…that’s fair.”  She hummed.  It reminded me of what my little cousins did when they had unopened birthday- or Christmas presents in their laps.

I closed my eyes, and I think I counted to nine this time.

“You know my dad is only thirty-nine?”

I didn’t, but I didn’t bite.  Just mmmed.

“Have you two…?”

“Aww, Gina, come on!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

My girl tapped my foot to indicate its removal from the buzzing warm water.

“Your fren, she no listen well, no?”

“No, Kim,” I said, then coyly looked at my oldest girlfriend.  “She doesn’t.”

 

* * * * *

~Sherry~

Geoff is tired of me.  It’s obvious.  He’s up all night, pretending to fall asleep until I actually do.  I’m sure he gets up and either goes to his computer or just leaves.  Once I swear I heard him pull out of the drive at around two.  I’ve heard of these guys who just start watching porn or find some secluded spot to go whack off somewhere.  Kinda fucked up, but I’m too embarrassed to confront him.

So, when I saw Bill McKenzie at the gas station this morning and buying one of those ridiculous energy drinks, I had this sort of plan.  Geoff may have actually fucked someone else, but I don’t know for sure.  I decided I was going to just believe that he did.  After a few pleasant How-have-you-been seconds, I told Bill that day that Geoff and I were separated.

He hadn’t heard about the reunion this Saturday.  I thought he was just kidding at first.  I told him it was all over Facebook, but he said he doesn’t really look at that much.  I told him he can still go–it’s not like anyone needs an invitation.  He told me he’d think about it in the way most people say it when they have no intention of doing the thing being supposedly thought about.

He paid for his and told the girl that he was getting whatever I had in my hands too.  “For old times’ sake,” he joked.  I was flattered.  And embarrassed, frankly.  I had a Mountain Dew and a half dozen donuts in my hand, but none of it was for me, really.  I thought it would be stupid to try to explain.  But there was no need.  I must have looked as awkward as I felt as he paid for my stuff because when he turned, he looked at me fully in the eye.  He had only done that once at prom ten years earlier and it was just before the final slow dance when he asked me to the floor.  I held about four thousand calories in my hands, but I was turned on by his eyes.

Thus, while my husband was at the “office”, I suggested we meet for drinks later.  He said something about good timing and that I’d caught him on his day off.  That didn’t last long after I slid my hand up his thigh at the bar while ordering two drinks, mind you.  I wore the same perfume I’d worn for the prom and borrowed a low-cut shirt from my sister without her knowing.

What you or anyone may struggle with is that I did all of that, from the moment I saw Bill that terrible morning, to save my marriage.

Bill is not in a good place.  It’s like it resonates off his face.  He was shaved, but he looked incredibly uncomfortable.  Men may never understand how important it is to at least look the part.  Women read body language way more than men think we do.  He cleaned up for our impromptu date, I gotta give him that.  He didn’t seem to care that I wanted Chinese delivery either (Geoff hates it).  Since my husband had said that he was going to help some guys at the office with this project that was set for a presentation the following day, I knew it was a lie but I worked it out.  Bill has never been known to be very perceptive, but I thought I should at least shove a bunch of Geoff’s stuff in a closet to give the impression I was living alone.  I had my doubts that he’d sleep with me under the true circumstances of my marriage.

He got a little sloppy with his liquor too.  He told me a little about what he’s been doing since school.  He wondered if I had ever planned to have kids.  It was important for me to avoid getting too emotional with him, even though we had something of a past.  An after-prom fuck is not what a lot of people consider a history, but it was ours.  Nothing ever really matured after that.  Just awkward sightings in the halls and some classes.  I was sure I’d meet better guys at college, so I stopped trying to get a boyfriend in high school long before prom.  But, I wanted to go and I wanted to have fun.  We saw each other in passing a few times on campus that first semester, but after that I don’t remember much from him.  At prom, Bill was a good date, but a pretty lousy lay.  Probably his first time, but he never said so.  I don’t have any sort of savior value or anything.  I just knew that he was probably not as interested in starting a relationship with me.

If he hadn’t been buying a Monster yesterday morning, I might have just banged the clerk instead.

We had a good time.  Not great, but good.  While he was in the bar restroom, I texted Geoff to tell him I was having a girls night and would be staying over at Lindsey’s.  He only replied with “ok” which made me sad but a little horny.  Bill came out and I kinda wanted to pounce on him then and there—not because he all of a sudden looked like Matthew McConaughey or anything; rather, I was super pissed at my husband for preferring to jerk off in his cold Celica and not onto my breasts.

“Let’s get outta here,” I said.  He’d just ordered a beer, but I took a huge chug then pointed to it for him to finish.

“Really?”

“Sure!”

“My place?”

“Sounds great,” I told him.

“You hungry?”

That’s when I mentioned Chinese.  He just nodded and said he hadn’t had it in a while.

So, I brought him back, we talked a little more and slurped lo mein right out of the boxes.  The TV was on, but I wasn’t watching.  He played with my hair and I scooted closer.  It was a lot like the prom night but with a bigger general space.  And light.  I made no move to turn off the ceiling fan or lights and he kept a baseball hat on until he realized how often the bill was hitting me in the forehead.

This is all before the weirdest part of the night.  After we were done on the bed, he like instantly crashed.  That’s not news.  I turned on a movie, but he fell asleep.  I think, with the condom still on.  Anyway, about ten minutes into his doze, he began muttering something.

Geoff always talks in his sleep, but it’s about work and stupid shit like the price of Nike tennis shoes.  Once he had a conversation with me but he performed both parts.  That was about a vacuum cleaner.  This night, however, Bill was saying some shit that didn’t make any sense.  First, he was saying Alison, Alison.  Go home.  It’s past your bedtime.  Then, he said something about his parents were fighting again and making it hard to play by himself.  Some really of weird shit, right?  I just rolled him over a bit because that always gets Geoff to shut up.  It worked.  He was still snoozing when I snuck out.  I had to get up for work.

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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.    

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.”

Remember Arn Anderson?

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“Remember Arn Anderson?”

I didn’t hear any response.  The guys are in a booth and I’m at the counter.  My head hurts and I pour Cholula on my omelet in order to give it flavor.

“He was a wrestler,” the same guy continues.  “Oh my god.  He had a brother, right?  Well, do you remember when we would watch TBS on like Sunday nights?  It was always the final match of the episode or whatever right when dinner was ready?  This was the days when Mom insisted the TV had to be off.”

He stops.  Perhaps to sip his coffee.  I get a crispy nugget of bacon stuck in my teeth.  The Western is shaping up.  My feet are cold.  It’s a steamy day inside and out.  The cook whose head pops up through the pass-through window from time to time must be sweltering back there.

“Dammit, man.  We must’ve watched that shit every week for what…a year?  More?”

He laughs.  I bite.  Chelsea, the lone counter girl, scrolls through her phone.

I can’t hear the friend’s responses because he’s facing away from me.  It’s weird to sit here and hear one side of a conversation.  I pretend to look at the classifieds that somebody who had been beside me left.  Did he give me a glance and assume I needed a job or is that something that people do at diners?  I’m not a regular or anything.  I just wanted to sit at a counter and have coffee and not think about work or home or my kids.  For an hour.

“Oh man.  Those were some crazy fun times, right?  Seems like a lifetime ago.”  He pauses again.  I want to order two buckets of coffee to shove my feet into.

The classifieds are shit.  And, though it takes me a moment to realize, they’re four days old.  I have no choice but to imagine how many uncleaned hands have scanned this creased paper and how washing my hands has to happen even though I’m using a fork.

“Guess it sorta was,” he says, I assume, in reference to the ‘lifetime ago’ comment.  I don’t know if he said anything in between.

“Order up!” the tiny man from behind the window calls.

Chelsea springs into action as quickly as anyone else her age with a phone such as hers.  That is, she sighs, scrolls a bit more, squeezes her phone into her apron’s pocket, and stretches in the same manner that people who actually work while they’re at work do.

“I’m so tired,” I hear her say to no one.  Somebody down the counter says she can use his hotel room while he’s at the office.  I think she says “Not that tired,” but someone around me clanged some dishes and I may have missed it.

Without staring, I casually watch her—eyes on newspaper, eyes on her, back and forth—whisk two plates toward the guy’s table behind me.  The wrestling guy whose booth-mate is inaudible.

“Your friend not coming?” I hear her say.

“As fate would have it…”

She puts down both plates, though I’m still pretending not to be engaged in this.

“Well, I’ll take it back–”

“Could you leave it?” he asks.

“Umm…” She probably bites her lip here.  I can tell this exchange will be a major part of her Snap story this afternoon.  “What’s that?”

“That’s…my friend Matt.”

“What’s his picture doin’ over there?”

“Well, I’ll tell ya…is it Chelsea?”

She agrees to his pronunciation.

“I’ll tell ya, Chelsea.  That there is my best friend Matt and he’s not here in body, but he’s here in spirit.  Do you believe in that?”

“What, the spirits?”

“Yes.”

It hits her.  “Oh my!  Did your friend…pass away?”

Her reaction to his apparent nod confirms her suspicions and deductions.

“Sir, I am so sorry,” she says, finally.  “I didn’t mean to–”

“It’s fine.”

“No, I mean…I was…not so nice earlier.”  I don’t know what she’s referencing, so I’m left to assume she was less than courteous when she first talked to him and offered coffee.

“It’s fine, dear.  You couldn’t have known.  He was my friend.  And my brother.  My actual brother—not like one of those guys who you call brother but–you get it.  Different dads though.”

“Oh,” was all she could muster.

“Thank you.  It’s fine.  We used to come in here a lot more often back in the day.  My therapist said if I talked to him more—god, I sounds crazy when I say it out loud like that.”

“I am so sorry, sir.  Here.  Look.”

I hear paper torn.  “My manager says he’ll allow me one screw-up per shift for the first month.  After that, I gotta pay for my mistakes.”

It seemed like a fair policy, and the wrestling guy agreed verbally.  My feet got icier somehow and my omelet was just as cold as my feet.

“Enjoy your pancakes, sir.  I’ll be back with some coffee later.”  He told her it wasn’t necessary.

I don’t need the classifieds.  That is, unless there’s an opportunity for me to go back a week and not tell Turner what I said that led to getting fired.  I’d love a job, but forty-one is not usually the desired audience of the listings that announce “Trainees Needed.”

I get up.  It’s time for me to go.  I have to change something in my life.  The wrestling fan is well into his bottom pancake.  I didn’t know some people ate them one at a time and worked their way down.  There is no one in the booth across from him.  There is, however, a wooden-framed picture across from him.  Kind of behind a syrup bottle.  The guy has on a John Belushi “College” sweatshirt and holds a football.  I see all this in the split second that I glance at the table.

I remember losing my brother a decade ago.  This guy and I could be friends in another life.  But who talks to strangers in a diner other than the waitresses?

I gotta piss.  This has been happening more and more lately.  It just hits me with little warning.  I’ve been pissing more and more in public these days.

The diner restroom is exactly as you’re picturing.  Its odor is the combination of cheap air freshener and truck driver stools.

The door swings open and I’m mid-flow.  It’s the wrestler guy.

“Yeah.  It was mostly improvised.”

“Huh?” I say.

“Told ’em you just died.  Brought that picture from school.”  He listened for a second more.  I zipped up.

“Aight, buddy.  I’ll be over soon,” he said.  He zipped and turned toward me and tapped a button on the bluetooth in his right ear.  “What’s good, man?” he asks me.

 

 

 

 

 

A snippet from my mind

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*This will be a tiny scene in the novel I’m working on–tentatively titled The Start of Something.

Stacey is a early-twenties co-worker/pseudo-girlfriend of Bill, who is almost 30. 

Stacey:  I want to be famous.

Bill:  Oh, yeah?  How famous?

Stacey:  I’m not…sure, exactly.

Bill:  Well, do you want to be Harrison Ford-famous, or do you want to be, like, guy-who-can-make-a-pancake-look-like-Harrison-Ford famous?

Stacey:  Ummm.  Who’s Harrison Ford?