Short Stories

A Wedding in June (juvenilia)

I had just arrived, but wasn't sure if I had walked. I sat and ate my thin, hot slice of pizza as I observed my nearby surroundings. It was the Thursday of the last week of school but the school was strangely calm, a nice change from the usual hustling and bustling around the hot building. Everything seemed normal, routine, indifferent, and there was nothing out of place.

Then I saw her, but I didn't find it unusual. I saw her every day. She was in my class and I considered her my friend, even though I didn't know her very well. She had pretty, blond hair which she wore short and I had liked her as more than a friend at the beginning of the year. But that was over. We were just friends now, and it was nothing more than that.

She walked from the junk food line, soda in hand, and began a slow and respected stride back to her table. Then she saw me. Her path curved naturally and she strode towards me. Nearing the table, she popped the tab on her soda. As she continued towards me I heard the familiar sound of the release of carbonated air quickly escaping the thin, metal can. Placing her arm on the table she sat down with a curving motion which seemed very natural to her. With her right hand, she placed the soda can very evenly upon the table. Then she clasped her hands together and looked into my eyes and smiled.

It was a warm, embracing smile. It seemed to say, "Hello, how are you, it's great to see you, you can trust me, I'm your friend." But then her expression changed. It was now more serious, yet still inviting, open. With sincerity and a hint of knowing advice, she said, "You know, you should get married."

Even though it was quite uncommon to get married at the age of twelve or thirteen, I thought about it seriously. I had never thought seriously about marriage before, nor of getting married to her. Was this a proposal? Did she want to marry me? I decided to play it safe, so I chose my words carefully.

"Who would I get married to?" I asked her with a look of wonder in my eyes, yet a smile of knowledge.

Quickly, she responded with a remark I never would have imagined her saying.

"Will you marry me?" she asked plainly.


And now, I felt myself having to make a very serious decision. I answered "yes" in my mind and then thought, "Why not?" Why not marry her? At this point I made the decision that yes, I would marry her, and my decision was solely based on the fact that I could find nothing wrong with the idea, and not that I had previously wanted to marry her. So, with no further adieu I said, "Yes."

She held my hand and smiled, then turned and left, returning to the table from which she had previously come.

As I sat alone, considering why I had so willingly said yes, my head lowered and I began to stare at the red and blue lines and words on the soda can she had left on the table. I thought about the reasoning I had used to decide and the reliability of it. I thought about the silence of the day and the oddness of the four-line conversation that had taken place shortly before.

I sank deep into a state of thought as I sat and stared at the can of soda. I enjoyed the calmness for a while and then thought of the can of soda. She had taken only one sip, there must be some left in the can. I wondered if she wanted it. It was very hot. I decided I would just get up and take it to her, without drinking any. But it was very hot. Just a little sip. Just one. Who cares, she'll never know, or care for that matter. Why am I thinking about this? It has no effect on anything.

So I took one sip of the soda and got up. I walked toward the table at which she was sitting. As I approached, she looked up from a conversation she was having with one of her girlfriends. I handed her the soda and she said, "Thank you very much, I must have accidentally left it over there." She asked me to sit down and gently patted a place to the right of where she was sitting. I sat down and she looked at me, she looked deep into my eyes and smiled. I smiled back but then she looked disappointed.

Suddenly I felt a deep choking inside my body and I let out a cough which sounded much less painful than the force which motivated it. She patted me on the back and, from an angle at which only I could see her face, she let out a cruel, curling smile. I coughed once more, this time it seemed my heart was racing faster, and once again she patted me on the back and from where her girlfriend couldn't see her she let out yet another quite cruel and very chilling smile. I began to wonder why she was doing this, if she was doing it, and (finally) what she was doing. Holding out the can of soda, she said, "Here, drink some, maybe it'll help." Her eyes seemed to wince as she flashed me any icy gaze. Thinking of nothing except the horrible cough and my racing heart, I took the soda and drank.

She offered some more soda, but now I realized. I politely declined and explained that I would be leaving now. I got up and began to leave to try and save my own life, but she stopped me, and said, "Will you sign my yearbook?"

In the split second after she said those ironic words, I felt the cruelness of the whole thing. And I felt the questions. Why propose to me before poisoning a soda and trying to kill me? Why does she want to kill me? I've known her since fifth grade, she's my friend, right?

"Will you sign my yearbook, please?"

Her soft, clear words penetrated my thoughts.

"Why, of course," I said, as I sat down once again. She handed me her yearbook, and I grasped a pen from my shirt pocket and began to write. I signed her yearbook with a flourish and a message. She closed the book as I handed it to her. She slipped the blue-backed book into her backpack and looked at me, smiling. I looked back in horror, as I felt my internal organs sporadically flexing and contracting, as my heartbeat became increasingly rapid, as she grabbed my hand and screamed, and as I fell and died, right there on the lunchroom floor in a strange mixture of trash, old food and blood. And my killer cried. Her tears diluted my blood and my blood stained her shoes.

An hour later, in a hellish, would-be geography class, a blond-haired girl sat crying along with some of her class and teachers, who were wondering as to the cause of this bizarre death.


The next day in morning advisory the girl opened her backpack and did something even she hadn't been able to do before. Out of her backpack she pulled her yearbook and opened it to the inside of the back cover. A single tear fell from her right eye and the entire class turned and watched in silence as she read her last words aloud.

"I know what you did," she read, her hands shaking. "Now face up." And then she read my name, just as I had signed it.

She placed the open yearbook on her desk and slowly removed from her backpack a red and blue soda can, still containing some soda, and placed it neatly on her desk. As everyone watched in wonder, she picked up the can of soda with her right hand, and took a sip. She coughed, then fell upon the floor. Her body began twitching as her heartbeat became increasingly rapid and the pretty girl died, blood spurting violently from her broken veins. And the blood stained her once pretty, blond hair as it slowly seeped in between the cracks of the hardwood floor, forever staining it with the essence of death.

Tina Marie Jones (and her sister's name is Shelly)

story from Leona Rhyme

told by Matthew Temple

today is Wednesday
stupid Wednesday
I hate stupid Wednesday
I like Thursday

Tiffany and I agree
Thursday is the best day of the week

today we had to sing a song
for the stupid priest
'cause it's his birthday

we had to make a stupid card
for the stupid priest
on his stupid birthday

there's this girl in my class named Tina Marie Jones
Tina eats her lunch on a washcloth
she thinks the table's dirty so
she spreads out a washcloth and eats her lunch on it

she packs her lunch in this big soft-side cooler

her mom packs so much food into that cooler

she opens it and she's got like

fruit snacks and Lunchables and
yogurt and cheese crackers and like three pops and she's got
string cheese and Twizzlers

and the only thing

in there her mom actually made

is a sandwich

but sometimes she doesn't even make that

she just packs frozen cake

and if you ask her if you can have something

you say, "Tina, could I have a fruit snack"

and she's like, "No, my mom buys it for me."

and I'm like, "I know, she buys it for a cow."

and she just sits there eating her frozen cake

she eats cake all the time
her whole family does, I think

she told us about her sister's second birthday

(and her sister's name is Shelly)

she said, "My sister Shelly just turned two. And we made her a birthday cake for breakfast. And later that morning, while she was playing outside, she had some more of her birthday cake. And for lunch her mom made her some more of the same kind of cake and they ate it together. And when I got home from school we had the rest of that cake for a snack and for dinner my mom made us all another cake for dinner and before bed we had some tiny little special cakes for a snack and in the middle of the night we all got up and had some more cake together at the kitchen table."

Tina thinks the cafeteria food is nasty
she's always complaining about how awful the cafeteria food is
but brags about how she's never had it

she talks about how nasty the cafeteria workers are
she says, "You know they scratch each other's butts and then go back to cooking. They pull out their hair and put it in the food."

this girl in my class was clipping her toenails

and Tina goes: "That's so gross! I can't clip my own toenails. My mom does that for me."

Tina has her mom so well trained
she packs her that huge lunch,
she clips her toenails for her,
she makes her cake in the middle of the night

do you know what she does when she's hungry in the middle of the night?

she goes into her mom's room
she wakes her mother up
her mother goes to the kitchen

and makes her cake in the middle of the night

"She warms me up a saucer of milk and feeds it to me while I sit in my special chair eating from my special bowl with my special spoon."

and then her mother tucks her in and goes back to bed.

the day after Shelly's birthday
Tina's mom made five cakes

she made one big square cake
and three regular-sized round cakes
and one round tiny cake

and she put them in a stack on the kitchen table

Shelly ate the three regular-sized cakes
and the one round tiny cake
Tina's mom had like one piece or something

and Tina ate the other one

Jessica's Pussy

I had been interested in Jessica's pussy since about the fourth grade.

But I never called her Jessica.

She was always Jessie to me.

So this story should really be called Jessie's Pussy but that's too similar to Jessie's Girl which I think is a song so I call the story you're about to hear Jessica's Pussy and it is, as you might imagine, all about Jessica's pussy.


The first thing you need to know about Jessie's pussy is I never got to have it. Other guys did. A lot of other guys did, starting, for her, I think, in around the seventh grade. Jessie gave her pussy to them. She never gave no pussy to me.

They were the men's volleyball team, the soccer players, even the theatre geeks if they played a prominent enough part in one of our school plays, which was dumb shit like Guys and Dolls, but, look, if you were one of the main Guys in Guys and Dolls, Jessica gave it up for you. I don't think she ever fucked any of the guys in West Side Story, which is too bad 'cause that's a much better musical. And if you're thinking I'm trying to indicate I'm gay by making comments on which musical is better, Guys and Dolls or West Side Story, grow up—West Side Story is obviously the superior musical.

So to fuck Jessie's pussy you had to stand for something.

And I didn't stand for something.

You know how they say familiarity breeds contempt? Well forget that 'cause that's a bullshit phrase—doesn't mean anything, doesn't have anything to do with this story and I never should have typed it. Fuck backspace.

In the first grade Jessie and I did things like cut each other's hair—well, I cut her hair (she asked me to) and when my mom saw it she sent Jessie home right away and called Jessie's parents to warn them about what they were about to see walking through their door.

It wasn't that bad.

I've cut lots of girls' hair since then and I never would have had the confidence that I do today if I hadn't had that first key experience cutting Jessie's hair. It wasn't that bad.

So that was first grade. Technically my first kiss was in the second grade with Jessie on her trampoline. My sister was there and she tells the story that we bounced and bounced and bounced and on that third and highest bounce, Jessie and I kissed each other in mid-air, lip-to-lip, like fucking astronauts. And that is pretty much how I remember it, too. Jessie and I have always been operatic best friends. If I was going to blow up with someone in a space shuttle..Jessie, definitely, hands down.


By the third grade—second grade maybe—Jessie and I had given up on kissing in mid air and exploding in NASA rockets and we were into strategy war games, mostly. I would go to her house where she had bags and bags of these little green military men—

Look, if you're just reading this story 'cause it has pussy in the title, you should probably find something else to read, bro.

—and we'd set up these military men all over her room, her on the side with the bed, me on the side with the door, and the idea was that eventually we would have a war. You know, rubber bands and shit, we'd shoot down each other's guys. But that never happened. We spent so long setting up the guys and creating terrain out of her shoe boxes and dirty clothes and making sure that each of us had the most superior tactical positions possible!—that we never actually got around to shooting each other's soldiers down. My mom would call for dinner or her mom would call for dinner and I'd be like:

"Do you want me to help you clean these up?"

And she'd be like: "No."

I don't think we ever had a single fight. We just worked on our strategic positioning afternoon after afternoon after afternoon and then I imagined Jessie cleaning up hundreds of military guys, all in different positions, each with a different weapon, in this war between us that never turned into a war.


So where was I? Oh yeah: Jessica's Pussy. I'm just going to call it Jess's Puss from here on out because I know your time is valuable.

Jess's puss was of infinite fascination to me starting around the fourth grade. I mean Jessie and I were like BFF material, riding Hot Wheels, living like two doors down from each other. So sometimes I'd be in Jessie's room and she'd be changing to go to the swimming pool.

Jessie didn't have a swimming pool but her eccentric neighbor Candy did. Candy is another fucking story for another fucking time.

Jessie would go in her closet, which had sliding doors, and she'd push off her shorts and her little girl panties and she'd put on her one-piece and it had this gusset and from where I was sitting on the floor I could see up between Jessie's butt cheeks and her legs and I could see her little pussy from the back and then she'd pull up the one-piece and her pussy would snug itself against that gusset and then we'd go swimming but the whole time, whether Jessie was diving off the diving board or pretending the plastic snake was real and screaming, "Snake!!!" loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear, I was thinking about Jess's puss.

Nothing could take my mind off it.

Even eccentric Candy, who was single and rich and ate with a table full of non-sexual blow-up dolls—even Candy couldn't take my mind off Jess's puss. The way it snugged into that gusset, the crack between the lips of it clearly visible through her one-piece. I wanted to touch it, lick it, suck it, fuck it, from sometime around the fourth grade. That's when my innocent curiosity of it became a basically adult wanting of it. I was always trying to work up the nerve to touch her there, surprise her on the edge of the diving board, just put my hand between her legs and let her know I wanted her and her pussy to..well..to basically be mine.

Cut ahead 14 or 15 years.

Now Jessie is 24. I'm 24 as well. Jessie is getting married.

She invites me out to dinner to discuss her wedding plans.

We have sushi. This is just me and Jessie, without her husband, Jon, who doesn't come in until later. If you're excited to meet Jon, you'll have to hold your horses.


Jessie takes a full year to plan her wedding. She uses a three-ring binder with insert sheets, color-coded tabs, multi-colored markers, gel pens, regular pens, Polaroids (yes, this was before the age of the digital camera, but let me assure you, we did have pussy back then)..anyway Polaroids of locations, flowers, flower arrangements that looked like flower arrangements she actually wanted to use at her wedding. It's sort of like..imagine if..well I know this is difficult but imagine a world without Pinterest. Imagine if there was no web, and you had to do everything on Pinterest manually. That's what Jessie's was doing.

The binder was three inches thick.

It was comprehensive.

It contained movable construction paper models of the seating configuration. It was not only important to seat the right people at the right tables, she told me, but also to position the tables correctly with respect to each other. There was likely to be eye contact between guests at adjacent tables and that, too, would affect the conversation. Seating dynamics are very complex for weddings. I think that alone is reason enough for me to never have one.

But I sat and listened to Jessie's plans. And not just because I wanted to get in her pussy—I really cared, I was her friend her whole life, I was happy she was getting married and Jon was cool. I mean he was like highly educated and shit; that's the type of thing Jessie needs. She's kind of a non-practicing intellectual, as in: she drinks and smokes and swears and says that she'll someday write a book. She paints on canvas in cemeteries. She gets The Big Lebowski. So, like I said: basically a non-practicing intellectual. But fuck intellectuals anyway.

If you're just reading this story because you're an intellectual, please stop now. You're as unwelcome as the pussy-only crowd.

Who's left? Just us crows.

Right so Jessie and I would drink on these excursions, too, ok, so we're like gorging on sushi talking about her wedding plans and The Benefits of Natural Parenting—I'm pretty sure that's an essay title so we're gonna treat it like one. And afterwards it'd be freezing cold and I'd be wearing nothing but a hoodie and Jessie would have this all-wool, Little Red Riding Hood head-to-knee jacket which was appropriate for the climate we were in, which was Ohio. At the end of these nights it would invariably be a full moon—fuck you, alright, it was always a full moon, this is my short story, go write your own. We'd be in some alley on Fifth Street smoking endless cigarettes, buzzed and knowing that we always wanted to and could do so at any time, right now, boom, Jessica's Pussy—story's over. But we never did. Neither of us made a move. I can't speak for Jessie but I don't usually fuck people who are planning weddings, like, with the person they want to spend the rest of their life with. Some sex is just sex—but that sex is not just sex. That sex is like potentially life-changing sex where you end up in the movable seating chart sitting next to the bride. And, Jessie always knew that she was going to have children and I always knew that I was not. So. I never wanted to get married, either, and she always did. So.


I'm in my apartment. There are all these people sitting on the floor and lying on throw pillows. We've been up all night. We've been to the park. We've been hanging out on Fifth Street. We've been talking to cops on horseback. Well, I was talking to cops on horseback. Why? Because talking to cops when I'm on ecstasy is one of my favorite things to do.

Then I remember.

Today is Jessie's wedding.

There's a drum circle going on in my living room and my downstairs neighbor is banging on her roof with a broom handle. I vaguely wonder why she doesn't just come upstairs and ask us to be quiet.

I stand up.

Everyone lounging looks at me like I've broken some sort of unspoken code. Why are you standing up? You look like you're going somewhere. That involves action. That involves planning and motivation and all sorts of qualities one lacks when one is coming down off MDMA.

I say, "Today is Jessie's wedding."

Some of these people know Jessie. Some of these people have probably fucked Jessie. Some of these people I know for a fact are on Jessie's seating chart.

Excuses all:

"I don't feel like getting up."

(Yawn.) "I was just about to go to sleep."

"Yes," I say, "but Jessie and I played army men when we were kids and I have to go to Jessie's wedding! She's my best friend!"

This last part wasn't true. But she was a good friend and I know this sounds disgusting but she was a special friend. Not like the kind of special friend you keep locked in the basement electrocuted in a basin of water for torture purposes, but a special friend like you almost had sex, you've kissed a billion times, and—most importantly—you saw Pulp Fiction in the theater together on opening weekend.

That's major right there. That's bigger than Star Wars. If I had the choice of having sex with Jessie that night or her dad coming in while we were dry humping and telling us we had to leave right then to see the show..I wouldn't have changed a thing. We got off the bed and went to the theater and saw Pulp Fiction on opening weekend. That's what friends are for, and, let's face it, there's a lot of pussy out there. Why should Jessica's be so special?


It probably wasn't safe for me to drive, not due to the effects of the ecstasy but due to the fact that I was tired as hell after having not slept all night. I was that kind of lazy dangerously close to sleep, but could you imagine if the girl whose hair I mangled in the first grade and who changed into her swimsuit in front of me and who screamed, "Snake!!!!" as loud as she could got up there and was looking over the audience and her Hot Wheels captain was..just..not there?

They had it outside. I drove up to the farm. Parked in some mud. I was wearing clothes that Prince would wear if he was doing ecstasy at his own house and wanted to be fashionable but comfortable. My shirt was a shimmery purple-green thing that looked like colors were moving around it like oil on water. It was unbuttoned so you could see my chest hair. I wore sunglasses. No shoes. Honestly can't remember the pants but knowing me at the time they were probably corduroys with the widest wales known to man.

I knew some people. I knew Jessie, who was hidden off somewhere. I knew Jon as the three of us had gone out many times together. Jon would drink beer and Jessie and I would split a bottle of wine. John was a practicing intellectual. I went up to him and said hi.

"Matthew!"

He shook my hand.

"Congratulations, Jon. I can't imagine a better partner for you. Or one for her, to be frank."

I actually speak like that. I'm very formal. I say things like, "to be frank."

"Nice glasses!" he said. "Are those Oakleys?"

"No, these are thrift-store specials."

That's the type of thing I love about Jon. He has no godly idea what a pair of Oakleys looks like. He's a history major—which in case you haven't been keeping up is less marketable than a philosophy major. And yet he reaches out, trying to connect on the point of my sunglass manufacturer, having absolutely no idea that I am not a fashion guru, that all my clothes including the shimmery shirt come from the thrift store on Fifth Street, a block from my apartment. It's the only place I ever shop.

"You're not wearing any shoes!" he says.

"Well, it's such a nice day."

"Go inside, Jessie wants to talk to you. Or she said she had a gift for you or something."

"She's the bride. Aren't I supposed to have a gift for her?"

"Don't worry about it. We're just glad to see you—you never RSVP'd!"

"Oh, yeah, I ran out of stamps like six months ago."

"That's hilarious."

"Well, have a great life. I'm going to find a seat. I have to sit up close 'cause these aren't prescription."

"Didn't you drive?"

"Jon, it was kind of a late night."

"Find Jessie. I'll save you a seat."

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah, I think she wants to play you some music from The Piano or something."

"She did that like a million years ago. Grief. Did she tell you everything we did?"

"Pretty much, bro."

"That's good. Well, Make cute babies. Have a nice life, man."

"Aren't you staying for the reception? You're at the main table, right next to Jessie!"

"I know. I helped design the seating chart."

"Jessie even made a special cheesecake just for you!"

"Jon, I picked out the recipe. You know I planned more of this wedding than she did."

"Well thanks for all your help. You're a good friend to Jess. Here. See? I'll put my jacket around this chair. This is yours. Can you see from here?"

"Yes, I think so. So she's inside?"

"Somewhere in there."

"Alright. Have a great wedding. I'll be cheering you on."

Jon gives me a hug—which is not the sort of thing Jon would ever do—which is what makes what I'm about to tell you even worse.


I go inside the house through the front door, past the upright piano where Jessie's did once play for me music from The Piano. And with her slight mistakes and stops and starts it was even moodier than the original and always would be.

Jessie's parents greet me and smile and laugh and throw back their happy faces and shake their hippie hair. I could never be unhappy around Jessie's parents, not just because they created my best friend, but because Jessie's dad is the only person in Dayton who knows Japanese cinema like I do, I mean Jessie gets bored once her dad and I start talking—I'm almost more BFFy with her dad than I am with her. And it's the same thing with her mom, except with us it's novels. The woman has read everything. And, I guess, so have I.

They tell me Jessie's in her bedroom.

"The same one as before?"

They laugh.

"I'm pretty sure you remember how to get there."

So, this isn't the bedroom that Jessie and I used to play army men in, in the house that was two houses down from mine. Jessie has like five parents and three houses—I'm leaving out a lot of detail for your simplicity.

And you say, "Thank you."

And I say, "You're welcome."

This bedroom, the one I'm going to now, is the one where Jessie and I were dry humping and then instead of taking our clothes off and actually humping we left and went to see Pulp Fiction on opening weekend.

I open the door and these is Jessie, Jessica, Jess, sitting in an ergonomic office chair, her back to her desk. The desk is surrounded in poetry collages, stuff she did in high school. Jessie is wearing her wedding dress, smoking a Kamel Red, and her feet are propped up on some articulated part of the chair, the white dress pulled up over her knees, and her frilly white panties, with a solid white gusset, are staring me in the face.

"Close the door," she says.

I close the door.

"Sit," she says, pointing at her bed with the cigarette."

I sit on her bed, looking freely at all parts of her: her face, her knees, her inner thighs, her shoulders, her neck, her cheek, her crotch.

She is smiling as she says, "This is a sad day."

I mean she is smiling blissfully.

"Did you hear what I said?"

"Yeah, I heard what you said. You said it's a sad day."

Jessie sucks on that cigarette like she's trying to suck the cancer right out of it. She offers it to me.

"I quit."

"Why?"

"Because they fucking cause cancer."

"You're cranky."

"Well I was up all night doing ecstasy, and I'm so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open."

"Thank you especially much for coming, then. We never got your RSVP."

"I stopped opening mail about six months ago."

"But you remembered the date from our planning sessions."

"That's right. I do pay attention when we talk."

"Do you want to ask me why this is such a sad day for me?"

"I think I can guess."

"No, you can't guess. Why don't you take off your Ray-Bans so I can talk to you."

I think about telling her they're not Ray-Bans but then I just cut the shit and take off my sunglasses.

"Jesus, you do look like shit. Here, take this."

"I told you I don't smoke."

"I'm not asking you to smoke it. I'm asking you to hold it for me while I do something."

I take her cigarette and take a nice big drag.

"Feels good, doesn't it?" Jessie says.

Then she uses both hands to push her panties over her butt and off her cunt and all the way down her pressed-together legs and then she throws them on the bed next to me. The entire rest of our conversation Jessie's pussy is exposed. It's just: Jessie's body, her beautiful hair, her wedding dress, and her pussy, naked, legs apart, feet propped back up on the articulated part of the chair.

"Can I have my cigarette back, please?"

I take another drag and give it back to her.

"Are you still high off ecstasy?"

"No, I'm just really, really tired."

"I'm actually surprised you came."

"I would have never not come to this, Jessie."

"Did you see Jon downstairs?"

"Yes. He's saving me a seat like three rows back."

"You should be able to see well from there. Are those Ray-Bans prescription, or..?"

"They're not prescription."

"I'm gonna tell you something," Jessie says.

"What is that?"

"Jon and I have never fucked."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"Why not?"

"You know," Jessie says, cigarette in mouth, "I find that why is usually not the most important question to ask."

"What question do you find is the most important to ask?"

"How."

She lights another cigarette.

"Well, Jessie, how is it that, in this progressive age, you and your husband-to-be have not fucked yet?"

"I don't know. We just haven't. What I do know is that I'm about to be married and you're my best friend and we almost fucked a million times—"

"A billion."

"What?"

"It was more like a billion."

"Alright, a billion. We almost fucked a billion times and never did and I'm asking you how you want this to go? Do you want to take your cigarette and walk downstairs and see Jon and I get married and then leave and go do more drugs with your drug friends or do you want to be sitting in that seat in the third row down there with Jon's jacket slung over your shoulders knowing that you got to have me before my husband, on my wedding day, at the farmhouse, with my sisters in the next room and my parents downstairs and Jon outside none the fucking wiser."

"Isn't that a little immoral?"

"Not until we say the vows."

"Jessie, don't you think that's kind of a technicality?"

"No. Because Jon and I have come this far. We're getting married. Nothing's going to stop that unless there's flash flood or a tornado or something. I don't see what the big deal is."

And she starts touching herself with both hands, the cigarette still between a pair of fingers.

And my cock starts getting hard.

"You know what this is?" she says.

"Yes."

"No you don't. Ask me what it is."

"What is it?"

"It's Jessica's pussy. Sounds like a short story title, doesn't it?"

"Not really. If this was a short story it should be called Jessica's pussy and why the dick is stronger than the cock and marriage will still last forever or some Fiona Apple-type shit, you know, like a one-thousand word poem that no one can pronounce because it's written in a dead language. Something like that. I don't believe you never fucked Jon."

"Do you want me to come over there and lie with you on the bed?"

"Only if we're gonna lie here like Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation and say a bunch of philosophical shit and then at the end of the scene I'll just touch your toe with my hand and then we both fall asleep."

She comes over to the bed. Jessie kneels over my cock and she's rubbing her pussy on me through my corduroys and I'm flooded with everything that girl and I have ever been through. Maybe we should have fucked that night when we were in high school instead of seeing Pulp Fiction. If we had, we prob'ly woulda fucked a lot of times since then. I look up at Jessica. Her eyes are closed, head slightly back, hair wisps going every which way. I can't help it: my hand goes out between her legs and my thumb and index finger and the almost-webbing in between them feels the wetness of Jessica's pussy. I slide my hand back and forth a few times, taking the wetness and rubbing it on her clit with my thumb.

That's Jessica's pussy, the thing I've been thinking about since we kissed on the trampoline in the first grade, since every time she changed into her swimsuit and I saw it snug into the gusset, since she stood on the diving board and I could see that crack between her little-kid pussy lips. I'm genetically, culturally programmed to be fascinated with Jessica's pussy.


"Jessica?"

"Yes."

"Do you still have any of those old army men?"

I can feel her pussy muscles relax when she says it: "Yes."

She lifts my head by my chin.

"Is that what you want?"

I nod.

She lowers her dress and goes to the closet, cigarette between her lips. And that fucking beautiful girl pulls out two bags of army men from a high-up shelf. She sets the pack of cigarettes between us, on the side with the bed, me on the side with the door.

We chain smoke Kamel Reds.

Jessica never puts back on her panties.

And her in her wedding dress and me in my thrift store corduroys, we sit on the floor and get cancer and strategically set up hundreds of those little green military men. We didn't even have rubber bands—we couldn't have had a war if we wanted to.

We set those men up until it was Jon knocking on the door seeing if Jessie was ready and then Jessie's parents both knocking on the door asking if everything was alright and everything was "still going as planned??"

"I'll be down in twenty minutes!" Jessie yelled.

And the two of us hardly looked at each other. We did sometimes look up at the same time and we smiled, and one of our smile would ignite the other's, and we'd look down again. We chain-smoked Kamels and set up military men all over her room and we never got past the setting-up phase.

Jon was at the door.

"Jessie, would you please unlock this?"

"It's not locked," she said.

So Jon comes in and sees his future wife sitting on her knees in her wedding dress meticulously arranging military men so they'll be safe from cover in case of a possible attack.

He sees me, my back to him, engaged in the exact same task.

"Well, we're getting married in five minutes," Jon says.

Jessie lights another cigarette. With the tasty nicotine thing bobbing between her lips, her eyes looking down surveying all her military men, she says:

"I'll be down in two."

Jon closes the door.

Jessie flashes me real quick, shows me that horny, beautiful vulva.

That was me and Jessie's last play date.

When she went downstairs to get married, I stayed in her room and perfected the arrangement of my army men.

I never much thought of Jessica's pussy again.

Sushi Date

One time I lived in Philly with my sister. We lived on Watkins Street, in Pennsport, South Philadelphia—my sister Joanne and I.

We would walk from our house to South Street to go to restaurants. We were used to walking long distances in Philadelphia from our childhood, and I thought South Street was maybe five blocks from our house. I looked it up recently on a map though and South Street and Watkins Street are like 20 blocks apart. We walked it anyway. We used to take much longer walks than that in nice weather.


Usually we met at Bridget Foy's—one of the first restaurants where I got to explore quality bartending. Usually those nights we'd cab it home because I tended not to feel like walking when I was that drunk. Plus, once you've spent a hundred dollars on drinks, what's eight-fifty plus a two-dollar tip to zip on down to Watkins Street?

This night, though, we had planned to meet at a new sushi restaurant we had both seen and wanted to try. We did this occasionally. The time before it was a Moroccan restaurant that looked intriguing on the outside and amazing on the inside. Every surface covered with blankets. We sat on the floor. Ate with our fingers. Could not withhold laughter when belly dancers came out and danced right in front of us while we ate our food. It was a great experience but we never went back—too expensive, not filling, awkward though beautiful—the culinary equivalent of a one-night stand.

This night it was sushi. It was right across from Bridget Foy's and it was big and bright—a huge space for a restaurant in a city. We're both mad fans of sushi and at this point we've each tried so many sushi places around the country and the world that for pure sushi quality neither of us would probably ever go back there again, but we were new at the time and this place was a good next step along the journey.

I got there first. Went inside. Got a table. We had agreed to meet at a particular time and I just stayed at work late and rode the bus to city hall, then cabbed it to the sushi place. There was no one there. Two geisha-looking hostesses with the huge bows in the backs of their costumes fought over who would seat me—that's how new the restaurant was. I told them I was meeting someone. They asked if I wanted to wait at a table. I said yes.

The menu was huge. I wanted to try everything. But I didn't want to start without Joanne so I ordered only tea.

I drank six glasses.

The servers seemed concerned that I wasn't eating but I assured them my date would arrive soon and we would order lots of food and it would be great for everyone.

When 20 minutes went by, I felt annoyed.

When 35 minutes went by, I felt angry.

When 45 minutes went by, I felt worried.

At an hour, I was terrified. She was dead. Something horrible had happened. She had been pushed in front of a subway train. Robbed and killed. Beaten and raped. Mugged and taken to the hospital. I knew these events were statistically unlikely, but when someone is an hour late, something has happened. You don't know what it is—that's the part that's terrifying.

I called her phone.

"Joanne, hey, it's your brother. We were supposed to meet at seven at that new sushi place on South Street right across from Bridget Foy's. Remember? Anyway, I'm here, I hope you're ok, and I'm waiting. We said seven at the new sushi place, right? I don't even know what it's called. But I'm inside. And they have wonderful tea. I have to go to the bathroom. Bye."

And these Japanese teenagers keep bringing me tea after tea after tea even when I'm not asking for any and I finally have to ask them to stop bringing me tea and I assure them that:

"My sister will be here any minute!"

"Would you like to order?"

"No. Thank you. I have to wait for my sister."

Then I'd leave another message.

"Joanne, I hope you're ok. I just keep imagining..well..I guess I don't need to scare you with my paranoid fears but I am extremely worried because I haven't heard from you. Maybe I'm at the wrong restaurant. But please check your phone and call me—even if you're mad at me and don't want to meet—just let me know you're ok. Ok? Alright."

Then I'd call again and say:

"Joanne, whatever the situation, whatever I did, just please call me back and all you have to say is 'I'm ok' and that's it, we can end the conversation. You don't have to talk to me just please, please let me know you're ok."

Then like a fourteen-year-old girl in a sexualized Japanese babydoll costume (the one with the huge fucking bow?!) comes up to me and kneels beside the table and I'm sliding away from her on my bench. She saw me recoil and she bowed and backed away. I thought: I'm scaring the servers here. I'm being rude. I thought: this child is flirting with me but if I took a picture of her I could be arrested for possession of child pornography. But I did, I wanted to fuck every one of those Japanese teenagers with the big bow costumes. Something about wearing chopsticks in your hair and a huge bow in the small of your back mysteriously makes me want to fuck someone—or at least unwrap them like a present.

But that's not where my mind was mostly at. Mostly, my mind had entered this dark psychotic fantasy wherein I was sure my closest person in the world—the sister seventeen months younger who I had played Indiana Jones with in the mud in the back yard—was dead. There was no other explanation for her not showing up and not answering her phone or responding to my messages. I imagined myself in a hospital later that night, identifying a body. And I thought of how bleak life was going to be without my housemate and most ideal conversation partner—one of the only people who will actually listen to me when I talk, one of the only people I know who actually has something to say.

These thoughts spiraled. In a vacuum of information, everybody's mind makes things up. But mine does this quicker and more convincingly than most. I'm great at coming up with theories that are completely wrong and believing them without any evidence—the fact that I thought it is evidence enough, apparently. I can't dismiss my own unlikely ideas. Everything in my head got worse and worse and worse until finally I had already entered the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross stages of grief and was already on step five over someone I didn't even know was dead.

But in my mind she was.

Finally I thought she had probably committed suicide or just been hit by a car or something random like that. I was desolated at the loss of my sister and I decided to leave the restaurant. I tried to pay for the many pots of tea I had consumed while sitting there. I begged every one of the five very hot Japanese server girls and none of them would allow it. I was their guest and they hoped my sister was ok. I bowed to them and left.


And right outside the restaurant was Joanne, standing in front of a huge concrete column, almost exactly outside the window I was looking out of when I was inside. But she was leaning against that column such that I couldn't see her from my table.

She looked terrible—like she'd been through an ordeal.

She told me that she had thought we were supposed to meet at seven but when she got here she didn't see me so she waited. She wanted to call me but her phone battery was dead so she waited outside, getting more and more worried that she had messed up—that the time we had planned to meet was really eight, that she had done something extremely wrong. So she waited, outside, in the cold and rain, for a whole hour, waiting for eight to come and hoping to see me then.

And when eight came and and went she started to get extremely worried that something terrible had happened to me. She reviewed it in her mind and recalled that we were definitely meeting at seven and it was definitely this restaurant and she had assumed we would meet outside and go in together so that we could pick a table and be seated together—of course we would do this—it would be odd if one of us got here first and went in alone.

This may have been some big-city etiquette she had picked up in her time in New York—I didn't know. But, standing out there alone, she slowly realized that what had happened is that nothing terrible had happened to me at all, but that most likely I had gone into the restaurant already, having arrived early, and that I was waiting for her inside.

But even knowing I was likely right inside the restaurant she was standing in front of, she became paralyzed, thinking along the same lines as I had, that her best conversation partner and housemate and long-time brother had met some horrible end and this would be how she began to find out: waiting in the rain in front of a sushi restaurant for a dinner partner who not only wouldn't sh0w for dinner, but would never show up again.


And as she said this, as she explained all this to me, I examined my own thought processes as I had been waiting for her, inside, drinking sencha and looking at sexy Japanese girls, engrossed in my psychotic fantasy that my sister was dead.

And what I realized was horrifying: there was some joy in this fantasy.

I certainly didn't want to lose my sister!

My best friend and most ideal conversation partner!

But the horror and sadness and loss was something I was so used to feeling, having lost a soulmate-type girlfriend to bulimia not two years earlier. I found myself thrilled at the idea that my very best company in the world had once again disappeared into death and I found an excitement that Joanne, one of my two only sisters, had died young and in some horrible way and that made the story of my life all the more tragic and appropriate, somehow, as if I deserved tragic deaths to follow me around throughout my life. It's not that I wanted her to die!—that was the worst thing I could imagine! But imagining the worst thing was thrilling nonetheless.


And now that Joanne was standing in front of me, in the rain, reaching her arms out for a hug, I became aware of how engrossing my psychosis was—though at the time I didn't know it was psychosis so I just called it imagination. I thought about us: two siblings, brother and sister, standing forty feet away from each other for two hours, each thinking the other dead. And me instinctively recollecting the disbelief, the unfathomability, of someone being here and alive and in your bedroom and then them being dead, gone, disappeared—forever! You do not wish for this—but it is a fantastically devilish thrill, death. Horror is still exciting, even when it's so real that it is something you never could enjoy.


And Joanne told me that when she realized it was after eight, and we had planned to meet at seven, that most likely I wasn't dead at all but was sitting inside the restaurant waiting for her.

But she became paralyzed, feeling the foolishness of not having simply checked inside, when she got there, to see if I was inside. And the more time that passed, the more foolish she felt for not looking, and the more paralyzed she became to that spot by the beam. And she was afraid for herself, at what her inaction meant—that she was so unassertive that she could not make herself go inside the restaurant and ask if I was there.

The thought of this compounded in her mind and reached out to include her job choices (from working for Dad's shitty real estate development company to working at a video arcade—jobs that had nothing to do with dance, which was her training) and it reached out to include her inability to make friends (romantic or not) because she was too scared to go up to someone on the subway who looked interesting and say, "So what do you do?" or "Hi, I'm Joanne, would you like to have sex?"

She felt lifelong aloneness.

She told me this.

She felt unable to risk anything.

That's what glued her to that spot behind the beam where I could not see her as we both tortured ourselves from about 7:15 to 9:30pm.


"Can I have a hug?" Joanne asked.

She was crying and her tears were indistinguishable from the rain.

I hugged her so tight and I said, "Didn't one of those guys who jump out from nowhere to sell umbrellas the second it starts raining, find you and sell you an umbrella?"

"I have one in my bag," she says. "But I was too afraid to open it."

She bawls into my shoulder.

"You didn't do anything wrong," I tell her.

"But I should have gone inside the restaurant. I knew you were in there."

"Well you didn't know I was in there. You didn't absolutely know I was in there. You thought we were meeting outside. I just went inside because it was raining. We never discussed it."

"That's right," she sobs. "We never discussed it."

"No, we didn't. We set the time. We had that right—seven o'clock. We chose the restaurant—Pod—strange name for a sushi joint but Zagat says they're good and they've got those sexy little Japanese girls with the big bows on their back as servers—you know I like that."

I raise my eyebrows.

Joanne and I both smile.

"Yes I know you like that."

"Anyway we set the place, we set the time, but we never decided exactly where to meet and that's the only problem that actually happened here. No one died. You didn't get hit by a car or commit suicide."

"And you didn't forget," my sister says.

"Were you afraid I'd forget?"

She cries and says, "A little bit."

"Did I forget when you got us Cirque du Soleil tickets?"

"No."

"No, I didn't. I even left that rat-ass hedge fund before market close and when I walked out the door I literally said to my officemate, 'You can kiss my ass 'cause I'm going to see Cirque du Soleil so have a nice night writing C code that fucks people over on their mortgages.'"

Joanne laughs.

"Did you really say that?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

"What did he say?"

"My officemate?"

"Yeah, isn't he Italian but you said he's a big Mozart fan?"

"Bozzini. Yeah. Huge Mozart fan. He said he's never been to see a Cirque du Soleil show because to him it's just a glorified interpretive dance number and it's not worth the ticket price."

"He said that?"

"Yeah."

"You work with some uncultured.."

"I believe the word you're searching for is motherfuckers. Anyway, I showed up on time for Cirque du Soleil, I showed up on time when we went to that Moroccan restaurant, I always show up on time when we go to Bridget Foy's, and I showed up on time tonight—as did you—we just had a little misunderstanding and our brains took us to places we didn't need to go."

"Right."

"I always show up on time. It's Dad who doesn't show up on time."

"Right. That's about Dad. You're not Dad."

"Thank the fucking stars."

Joanne sniffles.

"Well?" I say.

"Well what, brother?"

"Well you wanna have some sushi?"

"I thought it was too late—aren't they about to close?"

"They're not about to close. We're their only customers. There's like..fifteen of those Japanese server girls and one guy at the bar doing sake shots—he's got problems way worse than ours. Sushi's on me..let's try to spend at least two-hundred dollars."

She laughs.

"Are you serious?"

"I'm so fucking serious."


And while we ate, I told her the story of the Boskop brain.

"What's the Boskop brain?"

"It's the brain that went inside this huge skull they found in South Africa. There was a village of fossils, all together, and then a little ways away, there was a hut, and inside that hut, there was a human creature except it had a really big brain. And anthropologists who studied the layout of this village, the tools, the fossils, local legends, found that this Boskop man was—not like a god—but like a demigod to these regular humans. Because he had a huge brain, he could solve their problems for them easily. Like if they had interpersonal problems or family problems or engineering problems or agricultural problems, they would go to the Boskop and he or she would solve their problems for them. So they worshipped this person like she was special, a pseudo-, demi-goddess sort of presence."

"Why was her hut away from the rest of the village?"

"Right. Well that's the critical question, isn't it? They think it's because if you have a brain much larger or more powerful than the human brain, that it becomes much more interesting to spend time alone with your thoughts than it does to spend time socializing especially with creatures whose brains are much smaller than yours. So they theorize that this Boskop was a creature who had a deep, deep imagination. The Boskop brain would be so deep that the Boskop would rarely ever leave it. It could make up worlds and see them as though they were real. There was basically more going on inside the Boskop's head than there was going on outside of it. So it lived in its imagination!"

"Is there a reason you're telling me this story?"

"There's always a reason I tell you a story. What is this, fucking Teletubbies?"

"Is this a true story? Or are you making all this up?"

"Well. It's based on a true story. Real findings. Real research. Which all got discounted and no one takes seriously anymore. So: is it true, is it not true—there we're in a gray area. But the general concept is true."

I hold up my cup and say:

"Can I get some more tea over here?! Preferably from a fourteen year old wearing a bow."

Joanne taps my chopsticks.

"I love you, my brother."

I tap her chopsticks back.

"I love you, too."

Anna's Corner

This isn't a story. It's more of a place. It's more of a time. It's more of something I used to do.

When I lived in Astoria, Queens, New York, I used to go a restaurant called Anna's Corner. It's closed now. I just looked it up on the internet and they said it's closed.

Some things matter to you, and maybe they mattered to other people who were there at the time, but then you all go your separate ways, and die, and the memory is lost like tears in rain.


Here's what Anna's Corner was to me.

First, it was the hostess, who could have been my mother. She was my mother's age. She kissed me and hugged me every time I walked through the doors. She came around the front of the hostess' station and hugged and kissed me the first day she met me! There were no customers at all—the place was completely empty. Astoria is a Greek neighborhood. The hostess had a Greek accent. She waved her arm and twirled her hand and she called to her little girl, a teenage waitress who was the only waitress—which makes sense since there was only one customer.

I look in the kitchen—there's a see-through window. Giant spits of meat—beef and lamb—and two cooks who are standing there joking with each other, snapping each other with towels, speaking in a language I don't understand..Greek?..is Greek a language people speak? These guys laugh and look me in the eye and they wave their arms at me too, as if they're inviting me into the kitchen.

"Hey! Come on, brother," they say.

But the hostess is introducing me to the waitress. And look, I don't remember their names, they don't remember my name, to them I'm just some guy who used to come in and eat mussels and drink Greek wine and help the waitress with her homework and smoke cigarettes I bummed from the other waitress I discovered they had and most of all, most of all, shot the shit with the hostess, who was probably the owner's wife, who treated me like she was my own kid, but in a country where your mother wouldn't be upset if you smoked cigarettes and drank wine and left forty-dollar tips for teenagers you had no intention to fuck.


Let's start with the waitress, the young one, the one I helped with her homework.

She let me choose my seat. So I sat in the very back corner of the dining room, one table over from the corner, actually, with my back against that most corner table.

When I look at the menu it's all Greek to me! So I just ask this young lady what the best thing is.

"Do you like mussels?"

"Never had 'em. I've had clams."

"No, no. This is nothing like clams."

"I'll have the mussels then."

"Alright," she says, takes my menu, and then she says, "Anything to drink?"

"Wine?"

"I bring you the list."

This delight of a person brings me an absolutely huge menu of wines, all listed in Greek. I'm looking over it.

"Do you have a chianti?"

"What is chianti?"

The hostess comes over. She's not the waitress' mother, but she protects her like one.

"Chianti is an Italian wine," she says for the benefit of her faux daughter.

The hostess takes the menu out of the waitress' hands and holds it where I can read it. You can tell this completely annoys the waitress—as it should.

I just order the most expensive one and try to pronounce it.

They both fall over themselves feeding me the syllables.

Once I've pronounced it sufficiently, once my mother and sister are satisfied that I am capable enough to at least say the name of the wine I am purporting to drink, the hostess leaves and the waitress waits a little too long, walking backward, holding the wine menu, bumping into a table, and smiling at me as she says she will have my food out soon and my wine out sooner.


There was only one time I went to Anna's corner when there was anybody in it but me. It was some Sunday afternoon and there must have been a wedding or a religious festival whose guests had completely packed the place—every table full but one. I could hardly squeeze between all the people and respectfully avoid the little kids who were running between tables, seeming to belong to every adult there. Anyone could talk to them, tell them to stop running, pinch their cheeks, stop them and examine their dresses. That day, the hostess was brisk, her only apology in her eyes that all these other people were here.

But that wasn't my Anna's Corner.

My Anna's corner was the Anna's Corner of Monday and Tuesday nights, getting off the train at the last stop in Queens: Astoria. I lived with my sister and her friend and it was cramped and I spent most of my time at restaurants. And I drank.

Oh, I drank.

I drank to forget that my days were drab, days doing web programming at a design shop in Union Square owned by a psychopath and his buddy and I'm pretty sure the buddy's Bulldog was part owner because I mean we had a goddamn dog in the office every single day I worked in that place. When we went out as a team, we'd drink at bars or bowl and everyone would get way too drunk except this one girl who was new to the office and she would get so drunk that she would invite home whoever she happened to be facing at the moment. In all-hands meetings in the hip glass-walled conference room, I would occasionally make an exceptionally imaginative and logically correct suggestion about the direction of our products and I would get back blank stares off eight web programmers five years younger than me and the only person who would get my ideas was not the CEO, not his buddy, not the buddy's Bulldog, but a smart programmer named Loren who was twenty years older than me. So yeah I drank.

At Anna's I drank Greek wine exclusively. I mean, you're in a Greek restaurant in a very Greek neighborhood being served and hosted and cooked for by Greek people, you're gonna have the Greek wine. Even though I didn't know what the names meant, I developed a favorite. My waitress brought it to me automatically after a while. She learned that I would drink the whole bottle, and she would sometimes pour my next glass for me if she saw mine was empty. I call her my waitress not out of some sick sense of consumeristic ownership (you sick fucks) but because she was my only waitress and I was her only customer, so we belonged to each other in a way.


There was another waitress, older, perhaps a few years older than me. I saw her on the weekends, when summer came around and I sat outside on one of the four tables they had set out in front of Anna's Corner.

This waitress would size me up, as I ate my giant bowl of smoked mussels, dipping my bread in the flavored oil in the bottom of the bowl, and as I used the tiny mussel fork in conjunction with the regular-sized dinner fork to dissect my shells, eat the meat, and discard the open, empty shells perfectly into the bowl that she brought for me—and periodically replaced with a clean one—I never made a mistake, I never dropped a shell no matter how drunk I got.

When she took her break, she took it right next to my table and she smoked a cigarette.

I asked her if I could bum one.

And me and this older waitress—who were close enough in age to be in danger of fucking—shared a cigarette and talked about pretty much nothing. What she did. What I did. Where she came from, exactly, in Greece, how long she had been here, her relationship to the owner, whether we liked our jobs, and she would tell me, plainly, that Anna's Corner had the best smoked mussels in the world.

"Why is that?"

"Because of the sauce," she said, pointing at my bowl with her cigarette. "The way you do that, the way you dip your bread in the oil, that is the way we do it back home. That is the right way. Who taught you to do this?"

"No one."

"Then you are an honorary Greek."

We smiled and smoked the rest of our cigarettes.

We looked at each other.

She thought: I'm not that much older than you.

And I thought: She's not that much older than me.

Then my waitress would come running out to separate us with her math textbook. She was taking algebra I and I was her tutor.


We grew into a routine at Anna's Corner, with me as their one patron and a hostess, a waitress or two, two cooks, and the owner on payroll. I tried to spend as much money as I could to keep the place going. It was my favorite place in Astoria, besides my bed, which wasn't even my bed—it was my sister's bed which I slept in with her, platonically, because I couldn't afford to rent my own apartment because..one, I had bad credit..and two, I spent all my money at Anna's Corner.

I ordered the same thing every night, mussels and my favorite wine, until they ran out of my favorite wine and my answer to Which wine would you like? was always Surprise me. My waitress surprised me through their entire wine catalogue and I learned a lot about Greek wines.

She sat next to me with her textbooks open, and we expanded our curriculum from algebra I to English Literature to American History to Biology and then at some point we were studying algebra II together and I was wondering if it was time for me to leave—not just Anna's Corner, but New York.

The hostess offered to pay me for tutoring her niece.

I laughed. I declined.

The hostess kissed me on the mouth and I really wondered if it was time for me to go.


Someone must have told my waitress to leave me alone with the tutoring because she stopped bringing her books to the table. I wanted to tell the hostess it was ok, but I wasn't going to beg to tutor her niece, and I figured whether anyone else thought so or not, me getting all intimate over algebra II with a sixteen year old wasn't the best idea.

I brought in my laptop. I wrote. Well, I attempted to write. All I ended up doing was reformatting all my plays and sending an archive to my ex-girlfriend over email, calling it my "Will of Plays"—I wanted someone to have a copy of my still insignificant plays in case I died. I had some fantasy that after I died my ex-girlfriend would mount productions for the best of them and even though my life on Earth had been meaningless at least I'd be famous after I was dead. That was my greatest hope for myself at the time. Sometimes I dip into that now. But now my idea of self-worth is more about the beauty I can experience than the impact I can make. I figure if I can sit on a beach and smell the surf, that's a meaningful life. Whether I write anything special isn't really wrapped up in it. I'm a graphomaniac—I'm just crazy about writing for its own sake. If I was stranded on a desert island with a typewriter I would still write—and I'd stand and read to the waves—it's just something I like to do.

My bowl of mussels and a bottle of wine turned into a bowl of mussels and a bottle of wine, then typing ideas for future plays on my laptop, then another bowl of mussels and another bottle of wine.

I bought my own cigarettes.

I started to see what different worlds me and my waitress were from. Even if she were eighteen, we wouldn't be fucking. She had a whole world of Greek culture and with that came certain rules about how romance and marriage proceeded. Rules that were broken, yes, but I remembered that one day when Anna's Corner was full. It was a wedding party. I had as little to do with that world as a snail has to do with a semi truck. People in that world had families, money, houses, tons of relatives who lived in a one-mile radius. Also they weren't crazy. I didn't know my mental diagnoses at that time, but I knew I was never going to get married, have kids, hold a job, or—yeah, that's basically it—I was never gonna live a normal life. I had never envisioned it. I knew, deep down, that that life was impossible for me. I didn't quite know why yet.


In fact, looking back, my motherly hostess knew it. The slightly older waitress knew it. It was in the look in her eyes, when she saw me switch from one bottle a night to two; when she heard me talk a mile a minute about everything that interested me more than everything I was doing every day at that gimp-ass graphic design firm. In a few weeks, I would tell off my so-called supervisor, the owner of the company, his buddy, his buddy's Bulldog, and get on a plane for New Orleans, where I would get stupid drunk in the French Quarter listening to some of the best jazz I've heard in my life, then move out west, living homeless in Arizona for months, resisting real work, seeing how long I could make it as a dishwasher, one of my many fuck yous I've given to corporate America (they hardly felt the pebbles I tossed at their battleships) and, yeah, my life would degrade into more corporate prostitution, working illegal jobs and taking my good cut of that government fraud money, drinking every night. Some people say they went out and had a couple of gin and tonics. When I went out I started with some gin and tonics—six to be exact—and I went from there. But those six..those six..those were just to get me started.

People like my waitress, people from Anna's corner, they didn't do crystal meth, hanging out at their drug dealer's house for days on end, not showing up to their jobs. I mean they have a tight-knit family, someone would notice. Someone would be upset. Someone would take them to the hospital and put them in rehab. That wasn't our family. No one would dare suggest that I had a drug problem—we were all way too polite for anything like that. Your life was your life, and even our parents would never intervene in their own kids' rapid self-destruction.

Maybe that's kinda what I liked about Anna's Corner. From the minute I walked in the door, the hostess was kissing me and asking me about my day. She knew that idiot tech job was no good for me and she told me to find something different. She knew living with my sister forever was no good and she told me to get my own apartment. Even my waitress would take my second bottle of wine away if she saw I was too drunk to type: too many presses of the delete key.

And she'd cork it.

And she'd put a piece of tape around it with my name.

She'd hand it to the cooks to find a shelf for in the kitchen.

And she'd have it ready for me the next day.

Mercy

When I hear Gaga's Poker Face, I always think of the time I picked up this Kenyan stripper on meth. Fucked the shit out of that Kenyan's red little pussy. She was still in her teens. Late teens. She lost her virginity on Craigslist. Had a thing for white guys. That's probably because she was looking for a green card.


The reason I think of this Kenyan stripper when I hear Gaga's Poker Face is that when I walked into this strip club—containing the Kenyan stripper?—Poker Face was playing on this epic sound system and I guess I should mention that the Kenyan stripper's name was Mercy. I mean she's a real person, with a name, and her name was Mercy.

I had to get cash at a convenience store across the street, where I was being cased by about six black guys who watched me through the glass, go to the ATM, get out about three-hundred dollars, and then as I crossed Hollywood and Highland diagonally, these guys asked me if I could give them some money. Very dangerous situation. Say no and there's an extremely high chance those guys'll be waiting for you when you get out of the strip club and you'll get jumped. Say yes, actually give them money, you'll get jumped right now for your entire bankroll, your backpack, the emergency bottle of wine you always keep with you, your emergency corkscrew, and the little bit of meth you have left on you from your drug dealer's house, which is where you just came from.

Jesus, why I am I talking about myself in the second person?

I had just come from my meth dealer's house, where I had been hanging out for about three days wasting our money on internet poker, which was still legal then.

So I said, "Have a good night, gentlemen," when I crossed the street diagonally and went into this strip club. Went through some security bars and slipped sixty bucks under a bulletproof plastic window to like an eighty-year-old Asian man who gave me back a fat pack of ones, I paid him twenty bucks to get in, and he gave me a ticket for a free drink—non-alcoholic due to state law. Thanks. I'll be spending hundreds of dollars to look at women's pussy and have women rub their pussies all over me and I get a free drink ticket for which I can get a fucking Coke.

In a plastic cup.

With no ice.

I mean, fuck you.

I push through the doors and..bam..Lady Gaga's Poker Face.


I'm not really a strip club person. I never went to one before I moved to California. It was practically a requirement to escort the Chief Software Architect of the front company I was working for, to bars, strip clubs, and..yeah, that was pretty much it, bars and strip clubs.

But once I went once, I was more willing to go again. I thought it was ridiculous that you couldn't drink alcohol in a strip club (and most strip clubs were conveniently located right next to bars) and frankly I think the whole idea of strip clubs is ridiculous. I think this night I'm describing is the last time I went to one. Stips clubs are for lonely, desperate people. The most fun I had in a strip club is when I went with my friend and his girlfriend—going to a strip club with a girl is a whole different game and it actually is fun.

But this night was not that kind of night.

This night was someone high on meth for three days who finally had to leave his dealer's house because she politely let me know that three days was the maximum stay and she was going to have someone else come over and bleed them dry off coke and meth and internet poker. I love my drug dealer. I wish she would have let me fuck her. And when I left her house, I wanted to fuck someone. I was on a mission to do so. So I went to this strip club and my intention was to pick the girl with the prettiest pussy and somehow convince that bitch to come home with me or take me home and actually motherfucking fuck.


There were five people working and I was the only customer. There was the guy working the door, a DJ, and three strippers: a white one, young, tall, brown hair, beautiful pussy; an old, nasty one who I gave like one dollar as a consolation tip (I couldn't even look at her pussy); and Mercy, this beautiful dark-skin Kenyan with actual living facial expressions that indicated there was a real person underneath and a red, red pussy that contrasted in that light so sharply with her dark skin that—I mean—it was one of the most beautiful pussies I'd ever seen.

The young white one I would have loved to fuck. But I read her right away. There was no way I could go home with that girl. She's American, she's not gonna fall for this shit. So I tipped her well, drank my Coke, and ordered a lap dance from the Kenyan. Mercy. I said goddamn.

That's a quote from Pulp Fiction by the way if you don't know it you might as well shoot yourself in the face.

Actually just shoot yourself in the face either way.


So I order a lap dance from the Kenyan. It's like sixty. We go into the secluded cubicle and she rubs her pussy all over my crotch, which doesn't get hard because I've been high on meth for three days, I'm wearing thick pants, and, it's basically not going to happen. She asks me if something's wrong and I say no, you're doing everything right. And I tell her she's beautiful. And she is. As soon as she's done and I pay her, I pay her for another dance just to spend some more time with this person. My meth high is waning and I need something to replace it—actual human company seems a decent substitute, though I would kill to have someplace safe to smoke some more of this unbelievable glass my dealer gets.

I go back to the ATM across the street and I'm developing a potentially deadly situation because these black guys hanging out on a Sunday night are still there, they obviously have no money, they are obviously looking for a source of money, and now that they've seen me come out of the strip club to return to the ATM, I am undoubtedly their best source of that money.

So I play it careful when I leave the store with another three-hundred in my pocket. I speak first.

"What're you guys getting into?"

"Nothin', white man. What are you getting into?"

"Not a thing."

"Not a thing, huh, 'cause it looks like you out for some pussy tonight."

"Yeah, I'm a fiend for the stuff."

"Can I get a hundred bucks?" this guy says as I'm crossing the empty street, diagonally, with no cars coming in either direction.

I don't say anything to that, and I trot back into the strip club.

"We'll be here when you come out," the one guy says.

"Cool, we'll hit some bars together," I say, and I know I can't go back out that way again. That bridge is burned.


Then it's just me pathetically sitting right on the edge of the stage, leaning over the rail handing one dollar bills to the young white girl as she spreads her pussy lips right in my face and I look at her face and imagine fucking her and she plays it perfectly: she looks back at me like we're about to fuck, right then and there—even though this girl would never fuck me. She's a native, and the only thing that would make her spread her legs for me for real is if I was a movie producer driving a Lamborghini.

I wait for Mercy.


The older stripper comes out and sits next to me. She's brought me another Coke.

"So what are you looking for tonight?" she says.

She's wearing a see-through shirt, bra, panties.

I wonder if she can tell I'm high.

"Just like to come here after school. Calms me, you know."

"Where do you go to school?"

She puts a hand on my arm.

"The LA Film School. I came here from Ohio. I was editing some stuff earlier tonight."

"You smoke?"

"Not really."

"Too bad. I'm about to take a smoke break. Mercy'll be there."

"Mercy'll be there?"

She nods.

"Yeah."

"Yeah, ok, I'll smoke a cigarette with ya."

Then there's some confusion because as I'm getting up to walk out with this hag, music starts, and Mercy walks out on the stage. The hag looks and me, I look at the hag, and I let her to her cigarette while I let myself to my Mercy.

I sit down.

I give this woman tons of dollar bills.

I watch as the spreads her legs and spreads these healthy fat labia—just right—and I feel like I'm at the zoo staring into this woman's pussy and I just want to lick it and touch it and fuck it and rock Mercy sitting on top of me and make her cum, too.

She picks up all the money I set on the stage for her and crawls over the railing to me, holds my head in her hands and says:

"You wanna hang out with me for a while?"

I say yes.


We go to this room. There's a projector. It's playing really bad porn. I hate hardcore porn, nasty, unrealistic, salivating lusty fucking. The only porn I like is lesbian porn or (mostly) solo girls masturbating. I'm not really into anything that suggests abuse or misuse of a person.

"You seem like a gentle person," Mercy says.

She has my cock in her hands. I can't get hard.

"I hate this kind of porn," I say.

"So do I," she says. "Let's go."

So Mercy takes me to the back, behind the DJ booth, to the smoking room. It's this black box of a room with markered graffiti covering the walls, one door that exits to the back of the building, one steel table with high stools, and Mercy sits in one and I sit in the other.

I do have cigarettes on me.

Kamel Reds.

I offer one to Mercy.

"No thanks."

"Do you mind if I smoke?"

"Not at all."

I smoke about a pack while I sit there with this woman. Each cigarette lights the embers of my meth high. I've still got butterflies in my stomach, that light feeling, and indestructible confidence.

I lead Mercy through a conversational vortex. I can talk anyway, but on meth, I'm a prudent predator that sober me would never go to the same lengths to pull off. I become one of those guys who is intentionally saying everything right to take this girl home, even though in strip club culture it is strictly forbidden for girls to go home with clients. I mean then you're into prostitution and that's still illegal in LA so I mean the reality is that this girl cannot go home with me. But that's a reality I'm looking to overcome.

First, I ask about her. Naturally. I ask about her brothers and sisters, a tender subject, to show that I care about her family. I ask about her parents, her home in Kenya. She says she's from the same town that Obama's grandmother lives in. I tell her that I've been to Africa.

Her eyes widen.

"You have?"

"It's been a while," I say.

And I tell her of my childhood trip to Africa. This is my high card in this particular interaction. What are the chances of this African meeting a white boy in Los Angeles who has been to Africa.

But I have.

I went to visit some family friends in Liberia when I was a kid and even though that's been forever ago I tell the story like it happened to me yesterday. Emphasis on how well I got on with the locals. Became a fixture in the marketplace. Was taken advantage of when I first arrives because my skin was so white—vendors could tell I just got off a plane. But how, after a few days, when my skin darkened as much as my white skin will ever darken, that I became a master of bargaining, rode a turtle some guy was trying to sell, and generally became friends with everyone.

Mercy and I talk for hours.

I didn't realize it had been that long before she said she had to leave and she led me into the main strip club area and all the lights were on, everyone but the DJ gone, and he was like:

"You ready to go?"

Mercy said, "Yes."

He was there for her safety, to walk her out, to make sure nothing bad happens to her at my hands.

But Mercy and I have really connected at this point, and she stalls.

The DJ goes to the bathroom.

Mercy looks at me with desperation in her eyes.

"Do you want my number?"

"Yes," I say, and I get it into my phone and put my phone away just as the DJ is coming back from the bathroom.

"Goodnight," I wave.

"Goodnight," the DJ says.

And Mercy takes my hands in hers, smiling.

"Call me," she says.

And I mouth, "I will."


I have more meth. When I leave the strip joint the group of guys are gone. There's nobody out. I walk carefully to the Sunset and Vine parking lot, looking behind me often, but I make it to my car safely.

I drive to Westlake Village, way north of Hollywood, where I rent a room in a trailer home within walking distance of work, a fraudulent software development company called Optimistic Solutions but they should have just named it Fraudulent Solutions.

In this trailer home I rent a mini-apartment of one bedroom and my own full bathroom with a shower. There's an empty bottle of Hennessy Paradis on my bathroom sink which I now use to keep water in.

I camp out in the bathroom and close the door to my bedroom because that's the farthest I can get from the bedrooms of the mother and daughter whose trailer this is.

I get out my meth, my pipe, my lighter.

I'm so fucking high the sound of the lighter sounds like a chainsaw to me. I feel that every sound I make is certain to wake my housemates. I smoke as little as possible, in tiny little inhales, to keep the smell of meth smoke (quite distinct) out of the rest of the house. I'm sure that I'm about to be discovered and arrested, evicted, kicked out on the street with the coyotes who share our canyon.

I nurse my high for hours, jerking off to porn of two girls kissing. Touching each other's breasts and genitals, yes, but mostly just kissing. One has a yellow shirt. One has a pink. Sober, it's incredibly sexy to me. High on crystal methamphetamine, it is more obsessional than the roof of the Sistine Chapel. I mean it's the sexiest thing I can imagine. I tease myself for three or four hours before I let myself cum.

And when I do, it's that orgasm you can only get on meth. If you've never done meth, this is the quickest way to describe it: not-cumming on meth is better than cumming off meth. Cumming on meth is an orgasm times thirty. A sober orgasm is pretty unbelievable. An orgasm on meth is fucking ridiculous. I mean it's more ridiculous than religious ecstasy—it's so good it feels impossible.


I actually decide to play it cool with this girl. I wait two, three days before I text her.

Mercy?

Yes?

This is Matthew. We met the other night. I was smoking infinite Kamel Reds.

Oh, Matthew, the gentle one.

Do you want to get together?

Long pause.

Yes. Saturday? Meet me at the farmer's market?

I say yes, of course.

Saturday we wander around the Hollywood farmer's market. She buys fruit, I buy us both sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and we sit on the curb and talk and eat with people pushing strollers all around us and all these almost famous people, industry people, film school students, they walk around us.

I think, for a second, that this might be it for me, that I might be in love. That Mercy might be my next soulmate. Our conversation at the strip club the other night had been so good. And we had that physical magnetism, hands going everywhere all over each other, me letting her lead me like a dog as I held onto the waist of her shorts. She was cute, we had a good conversation, we were able to shop together without getting into a fight, it seemed like we both wanted to fuck each other—what else is there?


Mercy drops her fruit off at this home for battered women where she lives.

"Do you have to be battered to live here?" I ask.

"You just have to be single. Wait for me here."

She hands me an orange.

She says, "You'll be here when I get back?"

"Mercy, I'll be here. I'll wait ten hours if I have to."

She laughs.

"I'll be right back," she says.

And she goes into this home for battered women.

I sit alone at a round table with a sunbrella.

I polish that orange with my shirtsleeves.

Mercy is gone for longer than it takes to drop off her farmer's market purchases, and my mind makes up every horrible possibility it can muster, but soon Mercy comes out, skipping, wearing a new set of clothes. Her hair is different, beads of moisture on her neck.

She showered, she changed clothes—the girl wants to fuck. I mean it's a one-hundred percent certainty at this point. So I peel the orange and she sits in my lap and I feed it to her and my dick get hard and she can feel it and she squirms in my lap and she feeds me orange slices while I can feel the precum getting my short wet. Fuck.


I take her to an expensive seafood place down the street: fresh seafood, infusion liquors. It's called The Hungry Cat—one of my favorite places in Hollywood. She can't find anything on the menu, which is kind of understandable because it's one of these sparse Hollywood menus that's kind of the opposite of the wall-to-wall barrage that say, an Applebee's or Friday's menu is. There aren't a hundred menu items. There are ten. There are no pictures. Mercy says she can't find anything to eat here. Instead of walking her through the menu I just say:

"Where would you like to go?"

"Denny's," she says.

So we get up and walk to Denny's.

We sit across from each other in a booth and she puts her foot in my crotch, making sure my dick stays hard the whole time we're sitting there. I'm pretty much detoxed off the meth at this point.

Mercy orders fish.

"You're such a cute boy," she says.

"You're fucking gorgeous," I say.

"We'd make great babies," she says.

I agree.

She tells me about her village in Kenya.

"So for maybe one-tenth, maybe one-one-hundredth, of what it would cost to buy a tiny house here you could have a mansion in Kenya with servants and a huge area of land around where you could go hunting with my brothers—"

"How many brothers do you have?"

"Seven. But some of them are half-brothers."

"How are they gonna feel if you bring home a white guy instead of marrying one of their friends?"

"They won't mind."

"Really?"

"No."

So I show her grits because she's never had grits before and she orders a white fish I never even know Denny's served.

"This is how I would cook for you if you came to Kenya."

She massages my cock with her foot.

We actually talk about marriage, and I'm ready to strap in, let's do this. I mean I'm lonely and aimless enough that if someone as outgoing and cute as this little woman with the red pussy wants to marry and move to Kenya, I mean, why not—let's do it!


Mercy and I walk to the ArcLight and the whole walk my cock is hard. Just walking down the street with this woman holding hands, wrapping our arms around each other, makes my cock fucking rock hard and there's precum seeping through my pants and everyone on the sidewalk can see this and I don't care a lick what they think because in my mind I'm like, I'm with the hottest girl on the block and this is what happens to a man's cock when he's with the hottest girl on the block.

We stand in front of the huge lighted sign of movies and movie times and Mercy picks Slumdog Millionaire. We go in. The theater is three-quarters full. I let her pick the seats. We're way early and the lights are on. She immediately puts her leg over in between my legs and rubs it up and down, keeping me hard and driving me out of my mind wishing the lights were off or the theater was emptier or I had someplace to take her other than my rent-a-room in the double-wide trailer back up in Westlake Village. I can't fuck her there—I'll get kicked out by the mother I rent from. She doesn't want her daughter hear me fucking someone named mercy while I scream her name.

The show starts. It is the worst movie I have seen in years. Mercy can't stand it either. We leave after fifteen minutes and it's the movie that makes me swear I will never watch another Danny Boyle film again. That was ten years ago and I have not since seen another Danny Boyle film again and I re-swear, in this moment, that I never will. What a waste of thirty bucks. Or it might have been that a certain Kenyan named Mercy and her American Boy Matthew wanted to have sex so damn bad they just couldn't enjoy any film.

We left the theatre, my cock rock hard, cumming through my pants, dripping, and Mercy shamelessly reaching over and massaging it as we walked down the street. She sang that Estelle song to us both as we went down the street to the Super 8 motel in Hollywood, California.


The attendant wanted to see both our IDs, and after some convincing he accepted some sort of international ID from Mercy (not a passport) and he reminded us that there was no prostitution.

"Neither of us are prostitutes," I assured him.

He looked skeptically at me, like: Are you fucking kidding? Do you know how many couples I've checked into motel rooms in my lifetime? You're about to get played*, boy.*

But I didn't listen to his internal monologue.

Mercy and I went to the room.

We kissed.

We took a shower together.

We washed each other.

I washed in between her butt.

I touched her pussy and she knelt under the water and sucked my balls and the tip of my cock.

We got out of the shower, she laid down on the bed, I laid down on top of her, and I went down on her to loosen up her pussy enough to that I could get my dick in. She admired, always, the contrast between our skin, and I loved it too—a very light white boy and a very dark black girl. Our skin looked beautiful together. I finally got my dick inside her and we looked in each other's eyes while we fucked. She was tight like a cave and I filled her up all the way to the cervix. Pushed the walls of her vagina so wide open she gripped me like a fist.

What can I say? It was good fucking. She was responsive. I eventually turned her over face-down on the bed and fucked her lying on top and just pumping that girl and hearing the sounds she made took me to the top—I pulled out and came hot all over that girl's back.

After I wiped her up we got under the covers and she held me in her arms like a baby and told me Kenyan fairytales. Well, she told me one. I wish I remembered it now.

I was dosing off in that post-sex haze, and I remember thinking: This could be the life, falling asleep every night to Mercy telling me Kenyan fairytales. I mean, what else is there?


The next day at the bar I announced to the bartender, to everyone, that I had fallen in love.

"Like, as in, love love, the real thing."

"The real thing."

I held up my glass.

I could tell he didn't believe me because he had known me for a year and I had been single the whole time. Like I had sex with the random costume girl but that was it.

"Bring her in sometime."

"I will. I'll bring her in this weekend, like Friday, or Sunday, or Thursday."

I was trying to figure out what night she'd be off.

Then I called my mom. I told her. She asked me how we met.

I said, "We just passed each other on the sidewalk, and it was this magic moment, Mom, she looked at me and I looked at her and we stopped walking and we started talking to each other and we haven't stopped since. She has this verve, this energy, and I saw it in her right away, before she ever said a word."

"She saw it in you, too, I bet."

"What?"

"She must have seen the same in you," my mom says.

"Yeah, maybe. Maybe."

"I'm happy for you, my boy."

I imagined introducing Mercy to my mom someday. We would have to agree that the meeting on the street story was the one we'd use for our families.

I drank.

I texted Mercy.

I asked her if I could take her out Thursday. I was eager to show my bartender that Mercy did exist and in fact was a ten as I had claimed. Him, I told the real story of how we had met.

Then mercy started texting me about a green card.

I said what, you want us to get married and then you get a green card, and then we live here and have babies and live happily ever after—that kind of green card.

She said no, she likes me, she really does like me, and I'm cute for a white boy—I'm her American Boy—but she wants to find a black boy from her country to marry and have kids with. She can't see herself being with anyone who wasn't from her village..and her father would never go for it. She really liked me, she insisted.

So what are you asking me?

Will you help me get a green card?

Like we get married? How long is that gonna take? Would we be together?

What do you mean, together?

Would we be a couple, a real marriage?

It would have to look real, she texted.

And I put my phone away.


"Everything ok?" my bartender asked.

"She just wants a fucking green card."

"Did she say that? Or is that just how she's acting."

"No she said that. This girl was telling me Kenyan fairytales," I said.

"Damn."

"Yeah you know? I thought that was for real."

"Maybe it is for real. I mean maybe she wants a green card and she likes you."

"Well she likes me."

"Did you fuck her?"

"Yeah."

"Was it good?"

"Yeah!"

"Have you ever fucked a Kenyan before?"

"No."

"Have you ever fucked a black girl before?"

"Yeah, I fucked a black girl before. I'm telling you, she and I can really talk. I don't meet people that often that I can really talk to. You know, it takes, like, years."

"So marry her. Help her get a green card. Get some puss. Everyone's happy."

"Except I'm not happy," I said. "I don't just want to use her for pussy while she uses me for a green card. Plus, that's illegal. That's a long time to be faking a marriage and living together while she prob'ly has other boyfriends and getting inspected by the INS—if I got caught I'd go to jail. I can't do that. I mean, I do want to help her. Of course I want to help her. She's an amazing person. She could have been a friend. She could have been a lover. I wish she could have told me sooner."

"About the green card."

"Yeah, man."

"She was probably scared."

"Yeah."

"Are you upset? Do you want another glass of wine?"

"I'm a little upset, yeah, and yeah, I want another glass of wine. You know what she said? She said she lost her virginity to some guy she met on Craigslist. She told me I'm the second person she ever had sex with. We took a shower together, man. I washed that girl's butt."

Some guy next to me at the bar looks over.

My bartender brings me a double pour of my favorite Cab-Merlot blend—it's all I've been drinking lately. He pours himself a half glass and we chink glasses. He smiles, dimples flashing.

"At least you got to fuck her," he says.

"At least I got to fuck her," I sigh.

I drink.

I wish the world was different. I wish Mercy could just move to California if she wanted to, from any part of the world. I wish there weren't countries, and green cards, and laws, and tricky ways around those laws. I wish Mercy didn't feel like she had to fuck me to get my interest just to ask me to help her move here.

But I think she really did like me. But I'll never really know, will I?

It's weird, because she was playing me, but I'm the one who ended up using her—she got nothing, I got exactly what I wanted, which was just somebody to have sex with while I came down off crystal.

I wish she really liked me.

I wish what I told my mom on the phone was true, and I really had met her on the street, playing pantomime, knowing it was love at first sight, two people from different worlds, both having that spark that is so rare, and we could be together and not need to use each other for legal purposes.

What a waste.

But, as my bartender says—and he's right—at least I got to fuck her.


Then again, when it comes to poker, maybe Mercy won that hand. Because here it is, ten years later, and every time I hear that Gaga song, I think of that Kenyan and not just the sex, either—I think of the two days we spent together and I remember her like we were in love. I don't know if she feels that way.

But I do.

Tennessee Dirt

I have a photo I keep from childhood.

It is an old photo, an actual photograph, before digital. It is of a girl named Jennifer Harrison who I had a crush on.

I knew Jennifer through the third grade, then we moved away. It wasn't until we were both 38 that we saw each other again.


It was at a camp. We were both adult leaders from churches on opposite sides of the country, and when we saw each other, we recognized each other even though all those years had passed.

Jennifer was tying a boot and she looked up and she saw my blond almost-shaved head and I saw her brown semi-curly mane and the tension ran between us like a wire. When we hugged we hugged a little too close, a little too tight at the hips, a little too hard her breasts pressed into my chest and when I kissed her it wasn't on the cheek, it was more like on the ear, and I whispered to her:

"I've kept a picture of you all these years."

And she said, "You have?"

"Yes, you're about in the third grade and I've been wondering all this time if you'd turned into a church girl or—"

"Or," she interrupts, "a freak like you."

"What makes you think I'm a freak?"

"I can read freak all over you," she says. "And I'm very glad. Because if you had gone down the path you were going down in Dallas..you would have become a preacher, and you would have become a very good preacher, but you wouldn't have been able to touch me the way I need to be touched."

Fuck that girl. She turned and went back to helping her campers lace their boots, and pretended like I wasn't there for the rest of the day.


The sun didn't set that night. I was sweating in the sheets of my single bunk. A tent over me and three campers, all asleep. Every bunk was a single bunk. Everyone was in view. Then Jennifer comes in, peeling back one flap of the canvas and lying next to me on my bed.

"Oh, my god, you've been sweating."

"It's the sun. It hits this canvas and creates a greenhouse. What time is it?"

"Three am." Jennifer said. "Are your campers sound sleepers?"

"That depends on what you have in mind," I said, putting my hand on the side of her face, touching her ear and running my fingers through her hair.

She takes my hand and interlocks our fingers.

"What I want.."

"Yes?"

"What I want is some of this Tennessee dirt."


She led me by the hand, outside the tent, to an area right in the middle of our campsite, and she unzipped her jean shorts. She raised her arms over her head and I took off her tank top. She shuffled off her panties and unhooked her bra as I got undressed.

Then she lay in the dirt.

I knelt behind her.

She was clawing it, scraping it out with her hands, building a trough. And behind her I worked, scraping out a trough in the dirt, and we could see where worms had scrambled around creating squiggly tunnels and Jennifer held the dirt to her lips and smeared it across her own pink pigment and talked about the worms and explained to me about the Tennessee dirt.

"See how wide those tunnels are?"

"Yes."

"That's because Tennessee worms are wider than normal worms. And so. When they make tunnels, they make wider tunnels in the dirt. And then—" she showed me this with her hands "—the dirt crumbles in bigger chunks. You know how normal dirt has a fine granularity?" she says. "Well Tennessee dirt has coarse granularity—bigger chunks."


Then she spreads a handful of this Tennessee dirt on her back and gets on all fours and I put my hands on her back and I'm pulling wads of dirt from the sides of our trough and rubbing it into her pale skin and massaging her with the earth and I feel the coarse chunks she is talking about.

Everyone is asleep.

The sun is shining.

Jennifer's body is there before me and I can see her vulva and I imagine going inside it and her ass is wagging back and forth like she's some kind of snake but I never fuck her.

I grab chunks of dirt from the side of the trough where I can see the worm trails and I rub her all over with the dirt: in her hair, in her ears, in the crack between her ass. My cock is pressed against her belly as I'm leaning forward rubbing Tennessee dirt on Jennifer Harrison's breasts, wetting her delicate nipples with worm shit/worm food.


"That's what makes this so essential," she says. "Worms eat the dirt, then shit the dirt, then you grab the dirt and run it over me, a small human kneeling like a dog in the universe. Dirt is our food. Dirt feeds our food! Isn't it magical? You don't even want to fuck me, do you?"

"What kind of witch are you, but no! I don't."

I rub the dirt underneath her shoulder blades.

"I want to do this."

I rub the dirt into the skin behind her ears.

"I want to do this."

I rub the dirt between her thighs, scraping upwards toward the vulva, letting my fingernails scratch her, a little trophy for her husband to find and think about later.

She knows what I am doing and says that I am a bad, bad boy.


And my cock is right there. Right there. I could fuck Jennifer Harrison in this dirt trough and no one would care. Our campers would never wake up at this time of night, even with the sun shining on us all so bright. And if I hadn't kept that picture of Jennifer Harrison from the third grade, I would have fucked her. But I had spent all these years thinking of her as the perfect third grader that she was back then, that I didn't want to ruin it, and I knew the minute I stuck my dick in her it would ruin my ability to look at that picture ever again.

And that is what I really wanted. I didn't want to be Jennifer Harrison's husband. I wasn't jealous of him. I wanted to keep third-grade Jennifer with me forever, so I rubbed dirt all over that bitch like we were both caterpillars, both worms, and I squeezed her tits and rubbed dirt between the crack of her vagina and I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed and rubbed my fingers there until she almost came.

And she let me rub my cock between her legs, hugged by her vagina lips, until I almost came.


And then we were face to face in the dirt trough, each of us with our hands between the other's legs, and we rubbed our genitals with Tennessee dirt.

Then Jennifer sucked the wall of the trough and brought out a worm. She squeezed my penis hole open and held the worm up to the hole. And that worm wriggled its way inside my cock and it was stiff and in a line as my cock was stiff and in a line.

"Tennessee dirt," my friend said.

And I sucked a worm out of the wall of the trough and Jennifer leaned back with her toes bent to support her on one end and her shoulders and head resting in the dirt. And I spread her lips and held the worm up to Jennifer's pee hole and the worm wriggled its way into Jennifer's body. Jennifer's eyes rolled back into her head at what I assumed was the strange pleasure I now felt, of a worm wriggling its way up my urethra, a pleasure no human could ever give, that we had just given each other with the help of the Earth.

Victoria

I was a drunk in New York once. That meant that I drank every day, every night, every morning, every afternoon. That meant that I had favorite places to drink, places I drank every day. The only people in New York I knew were bartenders, servers, owners of restaurants. I knew busboys, custodians. I lived with my sister but I didn't know her. I lived with her friend but I didn't know her. I stayed out late enough each night so that they would be asleep by the time I got home and I woke up early enough each morning so that I could leave before they woke.

I went to work.

I worked as hard as possible.

I left as soon as possible.

Then I drank.


That's how I got through the week. Then the weekend came. That's how I got through the weekend too.

I was friends with hosts. I was friends with hostesses. They showed me their pictures. They told me their stories. They sat with me at my tables and drank with me.

But at the end of the night, went all the customers had gone home but me, my bartender friends didn't come with me. I left alone, to find the subway or more likely a cab because riding the subway drunk didn't seem safe. And then I was on the yellow line back to Queens, and my sister's apartment, with my sister and her friend hopefully both asleep.


One weekend I was walking near Times Square. A side street. And I found some middle eastern restaurant as wide as a truck. Out front was a host station, and the host stood there in a suit, and even though I had my headphones on, he drew me in, first with a smile, then with talk of New York, then with talk of the food, then by introducing me to his fellow hostess. Now his smile was nice, but it wouldn't have brought me in. And his talk was nice, but it wouldn't have brought me in. But his hostess, who he brought out to show me, stopped me walking down this tiny street.

"This is Victoria," he said.

And the story stopped for me.


She served me and we were the only ones in the restaurant.

She kept it formal.

I ordered, ate, drank wine, and paid my tab.

But I didn't leave.

As I ate, I kept my headphones on, and only when Victoria approached did I take them off.

I sat after the meal finishing my glass of wine.

Victoria asked me if I'd like another.

Then she asked me what I was listening to.

I took the headphones off and held them out for her.

She put them on her head.

She listened for a moment.

She looked confused.

And then she smiled.

She took the headphones off her ears.

"Who is this?" she asked.

I said, "Arvo Pärt. That's all I listen to on Saturdays."

Victoria gives me a quizzical look.

"Is he Ukrainian?" she asks.

"He's Estonian," I say.

Her head turns sideways.

"Why are you looking at me like this," I say.

"Because you are American," she says.

She laughs.

"I just would not expect you to be listening to such a thing."

"I listen to the best," I say. "I don't care where there're from. Why? What do you listen to?"

Victoria reaches into her apron and pulls out a tiny music player with pink and white ear buds. She steps close to me and I can feel her heat. She puts first one earbud into my ear, then the other. She hands me the player and says:

"This is the volume."

Then she presses play on the thing.

It's pop music, some crazy wild singing of an American teenage girl. Insane bass. Million-dollar production. Meaningless lyrics, repeating over and over some phrase about how to get down her pants.

I ripped the earbuds out of my ears.

"What is this?" I ask.

"Nicole Scherzinger and the Pussycat Dolls."

"She sounds like she's on crack."

Victoria busts out laughing.

"What's so funny?"

And Victoria says, "Because..I am listening to American pop idol and you are listening to Russian composer."

"Estonian," I say.

But Victoria is doubled over, gripping her sides, so much so that the manager of the restaurant comes out.

"Is everything okay here?"

"Everything is fine," I say.

But the manager says, "Victoria, I need to have a talk with you."

But it's too late. I'm already in love with this Russian teenager named Victoria.


I become a regular at their restaurant. Victoria is their only server. I am their only customer. I order the same thing every time: Victoria. It doesn't matter what I eat. It doesn't matter what I drink. I just want to talk with Victoria. I want to put my headphones on her and show her the music I like. I want her to put her earbuds in me and show me the music she likes. I love her delight that I have no idea who Nicole Scherzinger and the Pussycat Dolls are, and my musical choice, if not the Cello Suites, is Arvo Pärt.

I love Victoria's Russian accent.

I love that almost everything about her is not American.

After a while the manager lets her sit at the table with me when I'm done eating. It is possible the only reason he does this is that the longer Victoria stays with me, the larger the tip gets. It is possible, too, that he can see what fun we're having and he can see how empty his restaurant is and he wants it to go to some use.

I play up my ignorance of American pop music, because it gives Victoria such joy to have met an American character who has never even heard of the Pussycat Dolls or Rhianna, when in fact I have heard of them I just don't know their music. Victoria takes me to the Virgin Records in Times Square and plays new artists for me. I prefer my Arvo Pärt.

It becomes tradition for Victoria and I to walk around Times Square after my meal. At a listening kiosk in Virgin Records, our hands touch for the first time. By the time we leave the store, at dusk, in the crowds, we are kissing and touching and everyone moves around us like fish avoiding a rock and as I hear her Russian accent come out not even in words but in the little mmms and nns that she makes while we're kissing, I think to myself that I would listen to any type of music with this girl.


We walk Times Square everyday. We go to Virgin Records. We kiss. I covet her Russian accent. She tells me the story of why she's here. She and her brother wanted to come to New York for the summer and their dad paid for their tickets. Her brother is working in a barbershop in Brooklyn. They share a tiny room.

We hold hands on our walks around Times Square, interlocking fingers, and saying goodbye in front of the record store turns into riding the subway together as long as we can before I really have to get off, change trains, and go the other direction. On the subway car she sits in my lap and things get hard and things get wet and her hand goes between her legs and touches me and my hand goes up her shirt.

I can feel the reflex over her belly as I brush it with my fingers.

I feel her bra.

I feel her nipples beneath it.

She lets me kiss her neck.

When I bite her she pushes me away and simply says:

"The restaurant."

We both laugh because we both live with our siblings in tiny rooms in this gargantuan city. We don't even have a room where we could go if we wanted to. Our bedroom is a southbound train that takes her home and that I stay on as long as is worth it to spend time with Victoria. I usually wait until right before the bridge.


We have each other's number, we text. We call. I don't always want to go to her restaurant and eat before I take my casual bride around the Square. Sometimes I stop at the host station and ask if Victoria is there. Her days off are the darkest for me. I text her in Brooklyn and she never wants to leave. But when she is at the restaurant she unties her apron and grabs her things and runs outside and kisses me in the middle of a street which is no wider than an alley.

Her boss doesn't like this and stops letting her leave. I have time and money though, so I leave, buy her things, and bring them back to her. I even take requests, and one day she requests chocolate. I huff it up the street, find a Godiva store, and buy her many small chocolates, all dark.

When I return to the restaurant, I ask the host for Victoria.

"Another gift?" he asks.

"For Victoria," I say, "there will always be another gift."

Victoria comes out, blushing.

I hand her the bag.

She picks through the chocolates and says:

"Only dark?"

"It's only chocolate if it's dark," I say. "It's only wine if it's red."

"I only like light chocolate," she says. "And I like white wine!"

This is where our relationship started to fall apart.

I mean I can forgive the white wine thing, but I don't know if I could ever really be with the woman who didn't like dark chocolate.

"You're joking," I said.

"No," said Victoria.

"You don't like dark chocolate."

"I only like milk chocolate."

I was stammering in my brain. I was having difficulty. I thought she was playing with my affections.

It was my understanding that the most romantic, the only romantic, type of chocolate was dark.

Maybe in Russia they do things differently, but here roses are red, chocolate is dark and white wine is for casual lunches and couples who can't get it up.

It might sound trivial, but this dark chocolate thing was a serious showstopper for me. I mean sure I wanted to take walks around Times Square with this girl. Sure I wanted to make out in the subway and have her reach between her legs and touch my cock and I wanted my hands up her bra brushing her Russian nipples as hard as those soft nubs could get. But I seriously wasn't about to eat light chocolate to get it.

To me, light chocolate represented everything weak, everything ill designed, everything Americanized about this beautiful food. And, to me, the fact that Victoria only liked light chocolate made me question her grit. It did, it made me like her less. It made me question how serious a person she was. I didn't like to think of myself eating light chocolate and giving a yellow rose to my date while we drank white wine even if it was Victoria. I imagined spreading pink rose petals over the bed where we would first have sex because she didn't like red roses and fucking her against a backdrop of pastel colors. It wouldn't really matter how tight or cute or Russian her pussy was—it just wouldn't be right.


And here's how fragile our relationship was. And how doomed.

She could see the reaction on my face. She could see how much I wanted her to like her gift.

But she had to be herself. A light-chocolate girl couldn't just turn into a dark-chocolate girl to please some guy. She was a light-chocolate girl for reason, and even though I would never understand that reason, that reason was hers, it was true, it was pure within the context of her life. And nothing I ever did was going to change that.

And what I could see on her face, as she rifled through that bag of dark chocolates, was that she could see that there was nothing she could ever do to change me from being a dark-chocolate guy.

The honeymoon was over.

In fact the whole motherfucking thing was over.

She stopped wanting to leave the store. We still went to Virgin Records but when we went out front to be the rock fish swim around, our kisses sucked. All the technicals were there, but it wasn't the passion of the new boy meeting a new girl, exploring each other, tasting each other, knowing all the bad things they would do to each other behind closed doors. When our fingers interlocked to hold hands, it was awkward. When it came time for Victoria to go back to Brooklyn, I didn't always ride the train with her anymore. She took that bag of Godiva chocolates home with her and I imagined her feeding them to some neighbor dog, hoping it would die, my gift to her just poison to kill some scruffy little pooch. And I didn't want to kiss a dog murderer. I didn't want to kiss someone turned her nose up at dark chocolate. At first the pop music thing was cute but then it became part of a larger trend within Victoria. American pop music. Milk chocolate? I mean honestly what was next?


And the attraction waned on her side, too. She stopped texting me back. Our kisses grew shorter. And sometimes, on the train, we wouldn't make out at all—she would sit on my lap and stare into the tunnels and have nothing to do with me.

Then it got to where, when I went to her restaurant, I could see her sitting at one of the tables doing side work and when I asked the host if I could see Victoria, he would always say she's busy.

I would stand there, dumb, watching Victoria fold silverware into white napkins and she would look up at me, with her earbuds in, and just stare at me blankly.

I hoped she was listening to Arvo Pärt, secretly keeping a part of me, as we crumbled.

One day, on a walk around Times Square, I admitted to her that I not only knew who the Pussycat Dolls were, knew who Nicole Scherzinger was, but that Nicole had been in my house for a party back in Ohio when she was still in school.

Victoria, rightly, looked at me like she wanted to kill me.

"What," I said, "are you going to tell me you really never heard of Arvo Pärt before you met me?"

"I hadn't," she said meekly.

"How can you be Russian and never heard of Arvo Pärt?"

"I feel like you're insulting my nationality."

"I'm not. I'm insulting your taste in music."

"Well forgive me if your American music intrigues me."

"American music is one thing. But the Pussycat Dolls?"

"This is about the chocolates isn't it?"

We stop, in Times Square, and we're the rock with the fish swimming around us again.

"I wanted to get you something romantic. And dark chocolates from Godiva is just about the most romantic thing I can think of, short of jewelry which I don't think we're there yet."

"You could've gotten me a tiny ring."

"I would've gotten you anything. But the way you accepted—or didn't accept—my gift, made me feel like instead of taking what I offered, you were unable to do that, and maybe you are very picky person, and maybe that's not the kind of person I want to be with."

"But if I don't like dark chocolate, what am I supposed to do, spend the rest of my life with you eating dark chocolate, smelling red roses, drinking red wine? I am not American sophisticated enough for you? What if you only fuck the ass, and I don't want my ass to be fucked? Then what? A lifetime of ass fucking from your American cock and I never get my pussy taken care of?"

"I wanna take care of your pussy! I never need to ass fuck you a day in my life. I want your pussy so bad. I want to eat every part of you, every day, for the rest of your life and make you cum with my fingers and my mouth and my cock and feed you light chocolate the entire time!"

This is where talking in New York is amazing, because even though everyone's right around you, no one's listening to what you have to say.

"Did you plan to have my pussy before I went back to Russia at the end of the summer?"

"Yes. No. Either way. I just like hanging out with you, Victoria. Honest truth I don't care if we ever fuck, kiss, hold hands ever again if we just get to talk and walk around Times Square together."

"Is this true?"

"Yes."

"Let me think about it."

Of course I said yes. Think about it all you want. Take a week, take a month, take a year. Go back to Russia, and every time you hear Arvo Pärt think of me, and in 20 years, if you want to take a single stroll with me around Times Square, I'll be here waiting.


Victoria left me standing at the listening kiosk in front of Virgin Records while I had my headphones on listening to Rihanna and Victoria took her earbuds out and went into the crowd without even saying goodbye. That's the last time I ever saw or talked to her. I stood there for a long time hoping she would come back, knowing she wouldn't, pretending I was there for reason, pretending I was waiting for someone, pretending I wasn't so, so alone.

Then I went and did what people like me do—I got terribly drunk. I went a few blocks north to the Playwright Tavern, hoping, of course, that sitting in a place so named would magically cause me to become a playwright. It did not. But for a few bucks it did magically fill my belly with steak and two bottles of red wine and took the slightest edge off the pain of losing Victoria.


I cabbed it home and here's where my real embarrassment came.

Victoria would not respond to my texts, so I began calling.

She would not pick up the phone.

So I continued calling.

My cab driver could tell that I was insanely drunk, and based on my voice messages, that I was love sick as well, so he did the only appropriate thing and took advantage of me by driving an unnecessarily long route to my home in Queens. This made no difference to me because what's an extra 20 bucks when a person you have romantically walked around Times Square with, you have made out with on the subway with, you have shared music with at the listing kiosk in front of the Virgin records store, is suddenly no longer part of your life. Just walks away. Just goes into the crowd, gets on the train, get on the plane, goes back to Russia, and probably never comes to Times Square again.

Finally, Victoria's brother picks up the phone. He is shouting from the start.

"Victoria doesn't want to talk to you. She never liked you. She has a boyfriend in Russia and so she can't do anything with you. We are leaving tomorrow. Tomorrow we get on the plane. Stop calling my sister. She is through with you! Do you understand? She wants nothing to do with you! We have your number and I am going to block your number and if I get any more calls from your number I am going to kick your ass. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?? HERE IS VICTORIA, HEAR? YOU MADE HER CRY!!"

And he puts the phone up to Victoria and in fact I hear her crying.

"I'm crying too, man," I tell this guy.

And I am, I'm bawling into the phone.

"I just liked Victoria," I say. "And it's innocent. It's pure. And it's nothing that would over offend you as her brother. I have sisters. I'm protective of my sisters. But when a guy comes along who makes one of my sisters happy, the only responsible thing to do is for that to make me happy too. I want my sisters to be happy. Don't you want your sister to be happy too?"

"YES," this guy yells at me. "BUT SHE IS NOT HAPPY WITH YOU."

Click. Another Russian relative I've pissed off. Pretty soon these kids' father is going fly to New York and kick my ass.


I lean up to the cabby and bawl at him through the hatch.

"This girl was perfect man. You know, we had our disagreements, but it'll be years before another girl like this comes along."

"There's girls everywhere," the cabby says. "Town is full of girls."

"But this one. I'm telling you. Her psyche was unspoiled. You know that look I'm talking about? The childlikeness that exists in some adults? You know what I mean. It's..innocence."

"You believe in innocence?" this New York cabby says to me.

"YES I DO!!" I belt out, sobbing. "It's here and there. It still exists, one out of every hundred thousand people you meet. Some people aren't robbed of that by their upbringing, their experiences, all the bullshit they go through. It's there and I believe in it and I have a non-selfish interest in it."

"What's your non-selfish interest in it?" this cabby says.

And I say, "To fan the flames. To get two sparks together and make a fire. That kind of thing is possible, you know. This world isn't just days and dollars and rates and scams and grease and trucks and bridges and rats and all that. You got to get out of New York sometime—go to Utah—this is a beautiful world, man."

"Well if I can give you some advice?" says the cabby.

"What's that?"

"It sounds like this girl don't want to talk to you. So maybe, leave it alone for the night?"

"I won't. I won't call her anymore. Her brother wants to kick my ass. She won't even talk to me."

"That's what I'm saying," says this guy.

I slump down in the back of the taxi. I take out my phone. I scroll to Victoria's number.

I shake my head.

And I delete the motherfucker.

Racism and Ageism in Chicago

My ex-girlfriend invited me to Chicago to keep her company while she auditioned for a TV show. This was the promise of a nice hotel room, ex sex, and tons of free time for me to explore restaurants on the strip.

"We're staying at the Omni," Ashley said. "That's the hotel Oprah's guests stay in when they're on the show."

Honestly I didn't give this much weight until we got there, when I discovered in person that the Omni is, in fact, a dope hotel. One of the very nicest hotels I've stayed in. Every surface was covered in real wood. The bed was made for fucking. As soon as we got to the room we pulled each other into the thick comforters, undressed each other, and fucked like only exes can. I mean by that point you know how to do each other, but there's a vast shore between you emotionally. It's really quite a nice type of sex.

Anyway we fucked.

Ashley didn't feel like going to dinner, so I went to the restaurant on the top floor and had salmon to live piano music, servers that you want to be best friends with, and wine, wine, wine. I looked out onto the strip, with its fashion stores and neon signs. Just as money as anywhere in New York or LA—the expensive neighborhoods. Oprah's guests stayed well.


The next morning I walked Ashley to her audition spot, wished her luck, and went to explore more restaurants. I must have had lunch three times. Then Ash called—it was time to go—and I met her, and we walked back to the hotel.

"I didn't get it," she said.

"You know already?"

"Yeah, they had us in groups, and they cut my group."

"Aww, I'm sorry. That sucks. Do you want me to buy you lunch?"

"I'm sorry. I know you want to go out but I just want to get back to Dayton."

"Then that's what we'll do."

So we packed up at the Omni, waited downstairs for them to load our bags in Ashley's car, and Ashley started driving us out of Chicago.

"I think I'm gonna take a shortcut to that highway we came in on..look at the traffic."

"It's your call, Ash—let me know if you want me to navigate."

"I'm good."

And she was. She had this red pseudo-sports car—I forget what it was called. But it went fast and she drove it that way. We're paralleling this highway looking for a place where the traffic clears out so we can get there. Only problem is..it never clears out.

Next problem: we hit some kind of street junk—it looked like a giant screw like would come off a train—and it destroyed the back right tire.

"Is that a flat?"

"Yes."

"Fuck."


Now you have two white people driving around Chicago looking for a place to get a car changed on a Sunday. We're driving on the flat, judiciously choosing the shortest path possible between points. First point: gas station.

"Do you know where we can get a tire changed?"

"Not today. Your best bet would be Big Jim's."

"Ok. Where's Big Jim's?"

The guy gives us directions and luckily it's only four blocks from here.

"But—" the gas station attendant says.

"What?"

"Never mind."

And he repeats the directions.

Ashley and I look at each other like we're in some 1980s comedy/horror flick. Which we basically are.


Big Jim's is a square of chain link fence, topped with razor wire, and inside this square is a covered area with racks and racks of tires. In the open area is a basketball hoop where a bunch of black kids are playing basketball. You know, the hoop has no net—the whole nine. And the worst part is that you enter through a large gate which is half of one length of the square. The gate is closed.

Ashley and I sit there, idling, on the wrong side of the road, waiting for someone inside to pay attention to us. Everyone takes their time. Finally, one of about three older guys—in their thirties—comes and opens the gate for us. Ashley drives in. The boys have to stop playing basketball to make room for us.

Ashley says, "Will you take care of this?"

I say, "Yes."

I get out of the car. Now I've lived in bad neighborhoods, I've had my ass kicked by four black guys before, I've lived in neighborhoods worse than this one, but I'm still a little scared.

I go up to the guy who opened the gate for us. I relish for a moment how enclosed we are—how trapped we are—if these guys wanted us to be. They could just close that gate and that would be the end.


I say to the guy who opened the gate, "So, we have a flat tire."

He turns around and shakes his head.

"You need to talk to Big Jim."

"Ok, where's Big Jim?"

And this guy yells over at the kids. They're all looking at Ashley and Ashley's trying not to make eye contact with them.

The guy says, "Jimmy, got a flat!"

And this one kid—the youngest among a bunch of mostly twelve-year-olds—he's about eight, no lie—he comes over and stands in front of me.

"I'm Big Jim." He extends his arm and I find myself shaking hands with this eight-year-old. "What can I do you for?" he says.

"Well we've got a flat, this right rear—"

That's all I have to say, and Big Jim is on it.

He squats by the tire.

The three thirty-somethings stand behind him, listening to everything he says.

"Get a 40/11-1-1-Ultra Wide-7684. Quick quick quick!"

The three men run into the covered shed and get the tire. They instantly jack up the car and switch the tire. It takes two minutes.

"So how much you want for this."

"Fifty," the kid says.

"Fifty? For the tire and labor?"

"This ain't no ripoff joint," Big Jim says. "This is the finest tire shack in all of Chicago. If you ever have another flat in Chicago, which tire shack are you gonna come to?"

"Big Jim's," I said, and I handed the kid a hundred bucks.

"I'll get you change."

"No. That's for giving me the finest tire change I've ever had, anywhere."

Big Jim folded the money and put it in his back pocket.

He extended his hand again and we shook.

"It's been a pleasure doing business with you," this guy said, and I thought, it sounds like he's watched more white TV than I have.

But I said, "It's been a pleasure doing business with you, too."

And I meant it.


When I got back in the car Ashley was incredulous.

"I thought those guys were those kid's dads."

"I know, Ashley, but it's all Big Jim here."

We start cracking up.

"Now get us the hell out of here."

Yes, we had had a rare piece of positive black/white race relations in the year 2000, but you don't want to push your luck by hanging around in a chainlink cage topped with razor wire.

I leaned around in my chair and took a picture of Big Jim's to aid in future tellings of the eight-year-old who ordered adults around, of this extraordinary little man who definitely ran the place.

Ashley got straight on the highway.

We drove straight to Dayton, no stopping. Even when Ashley got tired, she wouldn't let me drive and she would't stop so we could stay in a motel. She drives tired. I hate that.