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The Egyptian One was a dirty partner in crime, which is probably the best kind to have, ‘cause crime isn’t supposed to be Sunday Church. Smarmy, too, which frequently morphed into a sort-of backdoor charm, the kind that any Higgins, Iowa (pop. 635; now –6, last September. Janice took off junior year and got her GED via some fuckin’ study-by-mail bullshit) all the local girls ate up. Sure, he was dark. Real dark. (Habib, we told him, Shave your damn beard. You look like a terrorist.) But that made him all the more mysterious. Plus, it sure pissed off Daddy.
Yeah, his name really was Habib, real creative, right? But the people around here called him the Egyptian One, ya know, so as not to confuse him with the Asian One. (Matthew Kim was a fourth-generation Chinese Lacrosse player from Palo Alto, California, who came into East High during the middle of my sophomore year. Betsy asked me what Lacrosse was, but I told her to suck it, ‘cause I wasn’t her fuckin’ secretary. Kim hated everyone, and smoked a lot of weed. He eventually ended up at an East Coast Ivy League school, and sometimes he writes me. Lame.)
I let Kim touch my tits once, but he was all up on ‘em like he was testing out grapefruits at the supermarket. I kicked him in the balls, and it was a long time before he’d sell me a dime again. Whatever. It was always like, 90% stem, anyway. But this story’s not about him, or how my tits are top-shelf (but it should be, because they are). E-O, which we eventually started calling Habib, was also a Higgins transplant, but he didn’t have athletic skill or buy hallucinogenic affection like Kim did. This usually bought him some trouble.
For a long time, no one really knew who he was or how he got here. And he was from the Middle East. (Or Africa. Whatever. I was watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Redux the day we covered that in Geography class.) Betsy said she heard he was in the witness protection program, but her older sister Tammy said he was just another fuckin’ camel jockey. Tammy thought she was real smart, and a lot of people snacked on that, but it doesn’t take a fucking genius to make meth. If you can make cookies, you can make meth. Cunt.
Betsy and me were out back. You probably think we were ditchin’ class and smokin’, right? Well, fuck you. I don’t smoke. But Betsy was butt-fucking the nubbin of cigarette in her mouth with a freshly-procured menthol from the soft pack she had tucked in her sports bra. They check us at the door for lighters and knives and shit ever since Columbine, cause yeah, someone would give a shit to go on a rampage here in Shittown. The first one was lit with a stolen laboratory magnifying glass, and she kept the chain going through most of gym class.
Betsy’s mom was on the PTA, and a goddamn religious twerk to boot, so in between discussing the athletics bake sale and Mr. McFadden’s conspicuous rug, she took it upon herself to lose her shit and make a motion to “Save the Children” and “Praise Jesus” and “Keep the Devil’s Pyrotechnics out of Our Schools.” I told Betsy that was fuckin’ ironic, but Betsy missed that day in English when they were talking about irony because she was with me watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Redux. So Betsy’s sucking on the last one like she’s gonna die in the morning.
Twyla, she says. You see that new Dark Kid?
Jesus Betsy, I say. Just ‘cause you’re from Higgins don’t mean you gotta act like it. Besides, I continue, go home and tell your mom Jesus was black and see what she does.
Fuck you, she says, but she’s smiling. She nubs out the stub on the brick wall and smears the charred tobacco in a straight line before it expires and twitters to the ground.
Dammit, she says, I was trying to draw a penis.
I’ve smacked her upside the head for far less, but I was tired that day.
Mom was up all night watching the boob tube and chatting on the Psychic Friends Hotline. I can hear that shit right through my walls, and it don’t take no psychic to know that people are desperate and like getting ripped off. Good thing Mom’s on the payin’ end of the line.
Mom, I says, tell ‘em they’re gonna win the lotto, then have them tell you about their fibromyalgia and shit and then set down the phone. They won’t even know you’re not there anymore. People like talkin’ about themselves.
Huh? she says, and flips the channel to
We hear Gennie McFadden blow her whistle from the football field, telling us we gotta go back into the fold. From where we stood, we were camouflaged, but we could see that Gennie spent the majority of gym class trying to wheedle the other girls off the sidelines. Fighting apathy is a losing battle, Mom always says.
I wanna shove that whistle up her ass, Betsy says, but I don’t say anything. I bet she’d like it, she continues. Maybe Mr. McFadden wouldn’t have to watch me when I bend over if she were a little looser in the bedroom.
A 26-year-old’s Bedtime Story, as Told By Her Mother:
Once upon a time, there was a Mommie, she had a little girl, who was to be a princess (doctor).
(A princess-doctor-president? Did she have a magic horse/BMW?)
Ever since she was little, she wanted to be a princess-doctor-first-woman-president; she had a unicorn that cost $50,000. One day she said to her Mommie, I have a story to tell you, I have gossip. The Mommie said, Dammit, tell me some good shit. But the girl wouldn’t tell, and the Mommie went to bed never to be told any new shit again.
At 22, you’re actually 42. Sure, you don’t feel 42. The mirror says you don’t look 42. You’re barely legal. (And indeed, you took advantage of that fact last night at the Corner Tavern, because Troy and Lindsay said you couldn’t—shouldn’t?—handle another Irish Car Bomb; this was clearly an infraction on your prowess. In feudal times, there would have been reputations besmirched and ladies fainting; a dual would have taken place somewhere around plus or minus dawn.) But to
, you’re 42. You could be their
. But in actuality, your real age doesn’t matter, because you’re a
Despite your casual dress—the pressed khakis, the retro
tie—you’re still in a position of authority, and to a group of eighth graders, there is only the language of “us-against-them”. They’re at about the age where an accurate
Lord of the Flies
analogy could be drawn, but somewhere along the line at State U, you read the Cliffs Notes on that one, because Troy was getting his stomach pumped and you had to hold his hand while he cried and told you not to tell his Dad, ‘cause he would totally fuckin’ wale on him if he knew.
You never saw another guy cry before, except for that pussy Justin in high school, who popped that fly ball in the ninth and lost the State Championship. His dad was a pacifist, so you knew that wasn’t the reason
was crying. And yet, there’s an unfamiliar retro-orbital burn—a word you learned from Troy, who sublimated his ED stint into budding medical career—that you’ve never felt before, but have an awesome idea of what it could very well be. The audience is just about split down the middle, half the faces are expectant; the other half, dismissive.
There’s a swing vote, though, and you know it comes in the form of that Fat Gariputo, the one who’s bigger than the other kids, and has his desk situated closes to the teacher’s desk. You wonder why
is in the seat generally reserved for the Poindexter, until you realize his proximity is probably not his choice. Mrs. Fallon has left a skeleton outline of today’s lesson plan, and it involves something called “participles” which you have to dig deep to remember, coming up with only a vague recollection of nuns and rulers and Tammy Mansford’s ugly knees.
She’s put an asterisk—you remember what this is—by the lesson plan time-line. Around nine-thirty, the asterisk tells you, the Fat Gariputo goes to the nurse’s office for his methylphenidate. The sheer length of the word scares you silly, and as the students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, you frantically text message Troy. Despite the Medical School entrance interview, Troy doesn’t so much want to help children and old people and puppies as he wants to skip class, fuck Lindsay, and blow his semester loan on Columbian
bets. He messages you back: “Read: Fuck Up. Tavern at 5?”
You’ve run through the Pledge, and the last time you checked, they don’t pray in public schools. You have officially run out of options. And, because he could sense it, Gariupto speaks: “Is your name REALLY Mr. Butts?”
You shake your head, and in your best grown-up voice, say, “It’s pronounced BOOTS, like what you wear on your feet. It’s German.”
“Are you a Nazi?”
You refrain from asking the little punk if he even knows what a fucking Nazi is, but instead opt for brevity and simply say, “No.” You stare each other down, like two rabid kennel dogs.
He’s tenacious, but you’ve vowed not to cave to a twelve year-old. Somehow, your success or failure as an educator, as a college graduate, as a human being, hinges on smothering whatever fire this little arsonist had planned for the substitute. The adult. The one named Mr. Butz.
. “How about,” you say, “we play a game.” His body doesn’t move, but his eyeballs twitch in their socket ever so subtly, almost subliminal, like an errant porno frame inserted into a G-rated movie. It tells you he’s calculating, tells you that he’s played before, and that you’re going to lose.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Wesely Willis is a genius, or at least Advanced, in the Chuck Klosterman-sense. For the uninitiated, Mr. Willis was a rotund, middle-aged schizophrenic that was frequently mistaken for a derelict any night he wasn’t headlining a club. His catalogue included seemingly innocuous melodies like “I’m Sorry I got Fat” and “Ford Windstar.” “Jesus Is the Answer” is probably the only song in history to reference the Messiah while promising to “fuck yo’ ass up like in a car crash.” I’m a little sorry that he’s dead and I won’t see the magic in person.
I thought the greatest day of my life was going to be graduating from medical school. It was not. My sister, six months pregnant, took it upon herself to go into false labor at the reception. I had the degree in my hand for less than a half an hour and technically had not an ounce of malpractice insurance to my name. The real reason, I confess, was that I wasn’t about to commit to its benignity. (If it was, which beckoned a whole other realm of stomach dropping insecurity, I wasn’t about to mar my day with added incompetence.)
The sticker is off the car
But I bleed
Or I need to bleed
(or you best hope I bleed)
and I hate it
And I don’t think it’s what makes me a woman
In fact, I am no closer to that tan-pink ram’s head than I am
to an indigenous Botswanian tribe, I take no claim of genealogy to either
It betrays me at every turn
It made me bleed in seventh grade, as I shuffled the last steps of that mile,
the classmates watching the fallen one, watching the gladiator in the
ring be gored
And feeling disgust
The day when
The DAYS when it didn’t come
When it could have well been a reality
that it was either going to end up in Pathology
Or in Family Court, begging for that month’s
It gives me breasts
That are either too big and conspicuous and damning
Or too small and ineffective and Plebian
The sticker is off the car, because feminists
might not do it better,
(whatever “it” is)
Because “There Are Two Types of Feminists: The Fuck Me’s and the Fuck You’s.”
Because “Well-behaved Womyn Rarely Make Herstory”
Because “Grrrl Power” is neither “Grrrl” nor “Power”.
I am so bored with the taut bodies (even the soft bodies, really) and the female figures, the quintessential curves, the standard blonde, the orthodontic pearly whites, the sun-kissed electro-tanned skin, the ruby red lips, the false eyelashes and the false laugh. I am so over the washboard stomach, the talldarkandhansome, the MD, the lawyer, the stockbroker, the Independently Wealthy, meeting the Parents, the
12-point font invitations. I am finished with the late-nights spent awake, staring at the ceiling. I want a Pabst Blue Ribbon, dirt under the nails, the farmer’s tan, the grizzly beard and the oil change.
My place of truth
My real feeling,
That which comes to me in early dawn, unsolicited
Is of anticipation
Of holding one’s breath,
For the shoe to drop,
For better or for worse,
For something to come along,
(“For some lowly little power, to pull you out of this.”)
For the hand of God to personally deliver you from evil
For a high so high that any low can be weathered if promised another
(“That though you walk through the Shadow of the Valley of Death…”)
You shall fear no evil,
but that you shall be wary of salvation.
My true place is somewhere that I can swear, because that is the Lazy Man’s articulation, the fewest number of words for the biggest bang. The coarseness, the contempt, conveyed with one word, with
instead of the cumbersome “malodorous, unpleasant folds of human flesh” that is invariably the boss, the
, or the nun who fucking backed into your new Honda Accord. My true place is somewhere where I can sleep, because I am tired. It envelopes me at night, a curtain dropped on a setting of fluff and down, of silk and linens and other folds of human flesh.
There’s an acrid, metallic aftertaste in my mouth that wasn’t due to the teeth whitening strips that promised me three days to pearlier whites, that wasn’t due to the antibiotic I took three hours earlier, that wasn’t due to the blood accumulating in the crevices of my shellacked gums, having bit my lip three minutes earlier. It was the distinct mixture of grit and soot; of a cold, hard barrel that was in my mouth three seconds ago, now dangling precipitously over my head, the other end of which was being wielded by the man who checked in last night.
He’s saying things like NOW and GO and BITCH, but I only know this based on the way his lips move over his tombstone teeth. I hear nothing. His red flannel shirt is oversized and dirty; his
jeans, the same. I notice that he hasn’t bothered to conceal his identity. No hat, no mask. His wiry blonde hair is matted on one side, and he anxiously tries to smooth down the other side with his free hand. He twitches like a squirrel; his jerky, choreiform gestures are borderline slap-stick, and the gun is kept barely within my strike zone.
Margaret is a hot mess. She’s rocking in the corner, spittle clinging to her nose, to her hands, and back again. Her hands are perched outward, wrist to wrist, like a martyr giving a heavenly offering, but I know there is nothing holy within a ten-mile radius, and certainly not at this witching hour, when the sky has transcended blackness to nothingness.
It is my favorite hour.
The man, the one in the foul red flannel, is not pleased. He shakes that thing in front of Margaret a few times, in a flawed attempt for an armed robbery in silence.
I don’t know what Margaret is saying now either, but had I the gift of sound this evening, it would not have been decipherable anyway. I’m still on my knees, behind the front desk. The shag carpet, a tasty cerulean blue, grows tired against my hosiery. The fibers are settling paradoxically into the fine
meshwork, tickling the peach fuzz on my kneecap. I grow tired of the carpet as well. I look toward the door, and I feel metal against my cheek almost instantaneously. He says Don’t Think About It, but what I hear is I Want an Audience.
The guest information ledger tells me his stage name is Theordore R. Bundy, which under most circumstances I would find uninspired, unimaginative, and directionless thievery. He bores me, and he sees this. And he hates it. He twitches more. He gets Margaret to stand, and pushes her into the back room, leaving the door open behind her. She’s running out seconds later, her University of Washington jacket hooked over her head like it’s raining. He’s let her go, and I know we’ve arrived at Act V. I don’t believe in the
Deus Ex Machina
. I don’t believe in encores, either.
I live with a Jew, so he’s not offended by such blasphemy. My mother, however, has telepathically heard this. She knows, without the US Postal Service fifty-cent confirmation, that it’s arrived, that I’m hovering outside my door, looking at the small brown package with a mountain of trepidation, with anthracical suspicion. Last year, it was an animated, singing crucifix. The year before, a pamphlet on conversion and a rock-hard fruitcake. (Yes, people actually do send this.) She knows I’ve tippled it with my toe, because my cellular rings; the package slides closer to me unabated, as if possessed.
I’m stealing this from Steamed Dumpling. (Yes, SD, I read your Batch last month, and I think we might have to make babies.)
Once-a-month-freebie: Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow (I totally cut and pasted all that, too).
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