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Margaret comes home to find Lester slumped on the sofa where she left him that morning, the only evidence of his having moved the collection of 12 dozen bottles of near-beer around his feet and three empty bags of ranch-flavor Wow! tortilla chips.
"I almost made it outta the house today," says Lester, scratching his scalp through the sparse greasy hair he hasn't washed in a week and flicking an orange crumb from where it lays on his concave stomach, bared beneath his mesh half-top.
"You're a real go-getter," Margaret says, unwrapping a stick of butter and taking a bite.
The living room sod hasn't been watered in two weeks, and it's getting ridiculous. When Lila and Rico moved in, they swore they were up to the challenge of maintaining an indoor lawn. "All I know is it'll be easier than vacuuming every day," Lila said. "The quicksand in the old place was beautiful, but too much work."
Now the sod's trodden and so hay-like that the neighbor's horse has taken to ogling it through the open living room window.
"I miss Kimber," says Rico, remembering how their dog disappeared into the quicksand one morning. "Let's let the horse in!"
Carmen wants to break up with Alan. The quirks she'd found endearing when they met are now the things that disgust her. She can't believe she ever thought it was cute that he picked his teeth with cuticle scissors, sandpapered his chapped lips, stabbed her in the arm with a toothpick to test if she was "done" like a pan of brownies, or ate oatmeal by sucking it through a Crazy Straw. What was she thinking?
"I can't see you anymore, Alan," she says one night. "You disgust me."
"That's OK," he says. "Your oatmeal's too thick anyway."
Carmella liked caramels and camels and Appolonia liked apples and alpacas, so of course it was natural that they would become the best of friends. They met when Carmella, astride her camel, chewing a caramel, saw Appolonia on alpaca-back, gnawing an apple, approaching her from across the gravelly parking lot of the flea market. Both were wearing nametags. Everyone wore them back then.
"Hi, Carmella!" said Apppolonia. "I love your camel."
"Hi, Appolonia!" said Carmella. "I love your alpaca."
The obligatory social kiss led to each girl tasting a caramel apple on the other's lips. So they fell in love!
Amanda sinks into her new red velvet sofa with a cup of green tea and marvels at how more "adult" she feels. Is this all it takes? Getting rid of the futon, mouth-stained from numerous one-night stands, and upgrading from instant coffee?
She decides to start wearing high-heel slippers at home instead of striped toe-socks, and to trade in one-night stands for a proper boyfriend. She gets so excited that she spills tea on the sofa. Within ten seconds, the sofa dissolves. She is sad for another ten seconds, and then goes out to find a man for the night.
Every night, the scissors, six-inch ruler, and letter-opener on my desk climb out of their "caddy", tiptoe to the desk's edge, shimmy down one of its legs, and creep along their bellies to my bedside. The scissors stands up, spreads its blades for balance, and then hoists the others onto the bed, where they lie down and extend themselves to grab his two heads and pull him up.
"I'm the ruler of the universe!" the ruler always whispers. You'd think the other two wouldn't laugh every time, but they do. So I wake up, thwarting their plans, whatever they are.
As soon as they meet, in first grade, the boy without a nose and the girl with two become friends and are inseparable. During recess, they sit side-by-side in the sandbox. The boy pinches one of the girl's noses (usually her left) with the gentlest of fingers, and the girl places her thumb in the slight indentation where the boy's nose would go if he had one. It's soft and velvety and warm there.
"Why don't you have a nose?" she always asks him in a breathless whisper.
"No one knows," he always whispers back, and winks his third eye.
Marnie's mom heats up the ice cream before she serves it to the neighborhood kids. "It'll hurt your heads otherwise," she says. "You kids eat it too fast. And that's what killed my little Benjamin."
The neighborhood kids are somewhat creeped out by Marnie's mom, and they're not crazy about Marnie and her lazy eye and weird clothes either, but hey, ice cream's ice cream, even if it is warm and Marnie's mom doesn't give them spoons but instead insists they eat it with their arms behind their backs like Benjamin did the day he drowned in his last bowl.
Erin refuses to be just another girl with a wooden leg, sitting on the sidelines reading a book while the rest of the kids play softball. The other sideline kids – the armless boy, the faceless twins, the kid from France, and that one kid whose head is on backwards – are staggering bores.
This is a new school, and she is a new Erin. She limps over to the plate, holds up a finger to tell the pitcher to wait, balances herself on her flesh-leg, and then twists off the wooden one, which she uses as a bat.
She's a natural!
Charlene does not like the way Sam fixes her eggs, potatoes, and toast. She appreciates that he wants to make her happy by making her breakfast every morning, but she is not fond of his lack of skill in the kitchen.
She's not a fan of runny scrambled eggs flecked with bits of shell and served in a Dixie cup. She prefers well-done hashed browns to barely-cooked home fries. Oddly enough, Sam always burns the toast (white toast, when she only likes rye!). But what can she do? Tell her dog to stop getting up early to make her breakfast?
Carrie is repulsed when Brandon tells her he wants her to meet his Uncle Wiggly. But he's already dimmed the lights, put on sexy music, and is bringing in a bottle of sparkling wine, so she doesn't think it's appropriate if she tells him she's not ready to "meet Uncle Wiggly". Even though this is their fourth date and technically she's pushing it as far as playing coy goes.
"OK, bring him out," she says. "Let's get this over with."
Brandon opens the front door and in wiggles his uncle, trembling with Parkinson's.
"Carrie, pull down your dress!" Brandon hisses.
Uncle Dave looked like a hybrid of Ed Sullivan and Richard Nixon. At least that's what the six-year-old me remembered about him when he died. That, and a blanket and a wheelchair and his wife, my Great-Aunt Masha with the perfect poreless white skin and cheekbones so high they seemed to compete with her almond-shaped eyes for upper-face space.
Six-year-old me liked to convince herself that she was overwhelemed with sadness when he died, and was heartily impressed when she managed to coax tears. But I felt nothing, except fear when I convinced myself Uncle Dave's ghost was watching me.
He scurries out of a small establishment, his head bowed, chin tucked into his upturned coat collar, a small cup of something half-hidden in his right hand. I check the sign above the door, expecting to see a neon "XXX", but see only "Tasty Delite". Aha. So the small cup does not contain a sample of seed, but a taste of TD.
A large bandage flops open on his cheek, above his coat collar. Before it flaps against his skin again, the rudimentary mouth beneath it smiles at me and licks its twisted lips in anticipation of the cup's contents.
Every Sunday morning, Sandy boils underpants in a large stainless steel cauldron-style pot that takes up all four burners of the small old-fashioned stove in her tiny but charming apartment on the Lower East Side. The underpants are not hers, but those left behind by every man who's ever spent the night at her place.
And they always leave their underpants behind, when, in the middle of the night, they dress quickly and bolt downstairs to the homeless shelter.
Later, though, Sandy gets the last laugh when she brings her cauldron downstairs to the street and ladels them their soup.
Charlie's teacher wasn't amused with Charlie's diorama project. What was the big idea of a six-year-old handing in a crushed shoebox containing crumpled-up fast-food wrappers, crushed cigarette butts, unfurled (and unused? she hopes) condoms, blood-rusted razorblades, hypodermic needles, and three baby teeth? The assignment was to create your family's living room. She gave him a big fat red "F".
When Charlie went home that afternoon and his dad saw the grade scrawled on the shoebox lid, he smacked Charlie so hard across the jaw that a fourth tooth flew from the boy's mouth and joined the others in the shoebox.
Little Sammy Hammerstein is what some people would call "special". But not the kind of special that means "retarded". No, it's not that bad.
Sammy's specialness has to do with the two-foot long salami growing out of the side of his left leg. It hangs down way past his knee and makes walking a bit of a chore since it weighs 25 pounds (it's very dense salami) and doesn't bend like a regular leg. It wins him admiration from most of the other boys – and disgust from all of the little girls – because they don't realize it's just a leg.
Martin's talent is various and vast. Not only can the four-year-old yodel like there's no tomorrow without being Swiss, play the harmonica without being a blind black man, knit a pair of baby booties in an hour flat without being an expectant mother on speed, but he can also whittle the most amazing butter sculptures using only his teeth despite his general aversion to rectangular representations of animal fat. It's a shame, though, that none of these talents make him much money. Why couldn't he be an accounting or computer science prodigy instead? Or at least exceptionally good-looking? Poor kid.
When Sheila Litt was four, she was expelled from her posh private kindgergarten for spelling a very bad word with the polished wooden blocks the teacher encouraged her to play with instead of the fingerpaints she'd once used to decorate her naked body in her cubbyhole when everyone else was busy playing Duck Duck Goose.
"But it's not even spelled KHUNT," Mrs. Litt argued to the teacher. "If anything, I should be the one complaining. Mr. Litt and I spend good money to send Sheila to this exclusive school, so the least you could do would be to teach spelling."
My mother told us she used to be a "lady wrestler" who wrestled dinosaurs when she was young. She was old – in her early 30s – so it wasn't out of the question. I only doubted her stories because she was a small, thin woman who needed our help carrying grocery bags. How, then, could she have been strong enough to wrestle Tyrannosaurus Rex or a stegosaurus?
, I figured,
she was younger then
And oh, how beautiful she must have looked in her lady wrestler outfit, her black curly hair flinging to and fro as she straddled T. Rex's neck!
I know you didn't ask for it, but I'm giving it to you anyway: a little advance advice for you, dearest "A", for the next time I stay overnight at your less than charming townhouse in the middle of Bullshitville, Pennsylvania.
Please invest an Andrew Jackson or two on a fluffy new pillow upon which I will rest my pretty little head when you are doing marvelous things to me on the bed. The quality of the existing pillow – flat, lumpy, bumpy, sepia-mouth-stained – does not match the quality of the services you are providing. Have you ever heard of pillowcases?
Your BMW wasn't that great. I know you thought it was, but really, it wasn't. I mean, come on. It was a swell enough car, but nothing to kill yourself over. And certainly not worth sitting at a special table for, so you could watch it from the restaurant window to make sure no one dared breathe on it.
It was funny, though, when someone tapped its front bumper when backing out of a parking space, and you yelled WHAT THE FUCK in the fancy restaurant and dashed out without apology. You were so very classy.
Your Porsche sucked. I know it was red and it was zoomy and it was a convertible and you looked pretty cool in it when the top was down and you were sporting those dark "shades", but still. It sucked. It was just a 944, and not very well-maintained.
I suppose I shouldn't've been surprised, later, when I saw that your apartment was in as much a state of disarray as the car's interior. So why I fucked you, I still don't know. I guess it was because despite all this you were really kinda sexy.
I ask him to, so he sends me photos of his two kids. I want to see if his looks translated well into kid form. But I don't tell him this. I just squeal (or as much as one can squeal via email), "Oh, please send me photos of the little darlings! I'm sure they're precious!"
The kids are neither darling nor precious. One of them inherited the father's unfortunate hirsuteness. Miniature tufts of curly reddish-blond hair creep from the open neck of the kid's polo shirt. It's fascinating.
Too bad it's the little girl, though, and not the boy!
Ken's hair's on fire again, and everyone in the office is getting sick of it. What a pain in the ass, to run for the fire extinguisher every day to put the guy's hair out. Why can't Idiot Boy grow out the "fiery" red dye-job already? Maybe on a hot girl red hair works, and on good-looking guys like Eric Stoltz ... but on Ken Charles? No.
So we just watch him flail his arms like mad until finally there's nothing left to him but a belt buckle. And Shanky yells, "Better dead than red!" and goes back to his spreadsheet.
Like an idiot, I nodded my head in response to the comments the blind woman made about the cello performance we'd just heard. Her conversation was spirited, intelligent, and well-informed. Did I think she could feel the direction of the wind produced by my vehement head-nodding, and thus interpret it as my agreeing with her well-informed assessment of the performance?
I imagine she thought I was ignoring her, so thankfully I realized I had to speak instead. I tried my best to sound like a music lover and arts aficionado. And, more importantly, to sound thin, good-looking, well-dressed, and beautiful.
I rushed into the restaurant without waiting for the maitre d' to seat me at the table where the future Mrs. Birkenshpiel perched on a tufted chair, waiting to show off her ring.
"Show me the ring!" I said. "I've been dying to see the ring!"
She pretended to be embarrassed by the ring. She pretended to not want to show me. She pretended she thought it was stupid. She didn't realize I pretended to want to see the thing.
"Oh, it's gorgeous!" I said. "Exquisite!"
"It's only four-point-five carats," she said. "But you know me ... I hate ostentatious displays."
Such a gracious host, that Lou. After treating his lady to a night of grunting cocained passion, he left her to her own devices in his South Jersey apartment while he went off to do business wherever it was Lou did business. His lady didn't question. His business was none of hers.
She was grateful the instant coffee jar had enough to scrape together a cup, a drawer yielded three packets of Sweet ‘n' Low, and the Cremora wasn't a solid block. She needed energy, after all, to clean Lou's apartment from top to bottom before his return that evening!
Say what you will about Larry, but the guy sure knew how to treat a gal, that much I can tell you. From the jar of butterscotch topping warmed up in the microwave (careful not to overdo it ... that stuff can burn delicate flesh!) to the box of tissues by "her" side of the water bed (for easy clean-up!) to the can of Tab in the cooler just for her (no need for her to get up to get it ... "after"!) to the five minutes of furious fuckin' ... no lady could resist! Just ask Lenore. She married the guy. Twice!
Imagine my surprise when I came home last Tuesday and found my husband in a heap on the floor, his ankles bandaged to keep blood from gushing onto the white carpet we'd had installed after Nancy finally flew the coop.
"Don't fret," he said, struggling to stand. "I'm OK."
"But my Frette sheets aren't," I said. "Why couldn't you use one of Nancy's old sheets?"
That crazy Richard! He'd sawed off his feet and was trying to attach Nancy's bronzed baby shoes to his ankles! I guess I couldn't fault him for trying to improve himself by taking "baby steps".
Oh, I understand. I really do. I understand how acknowledging my birthday would have been too much of a commitment. A major undertaking. I understand that the utterance of the standard two-word greeting would symbolize your dedication to me beyond forever. I appreciate that the release of those four syllables would indicate an unbreakable bond you do not wish to share with me. It's tough. I know. The energy, the effort, all the planning of inflection in your voice or tone of your email ... it's too much for you to bear. Oh, I feel your angst!
Thank you, chiquita linda, for being my biggest fan. You're truly the grooviest girl I know in Madrid ... lo, in all of Spain! You're the only girl I know in Madrid or Spain, but hey, that doesn't matter. I'm sure that if I knew other girls in Madrid or Spain, I'd still think you were the grooviest.
I wish I could swing on by and we could spend a crisp autumn afternoon eating bocadillos. I'm partial to the tortillas con papas (or whatever they're called). I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. You always do.
The Tip Jar