If you stopped me right now and asked if I had the time, one of three things might happen: I might ask, “The time to do what?”; I might treat you to a verbose, rambling meditation on the concept of time, how it relates to motion, and how a time machine would actually deposit you in the empty vacuum of space, due to the unending revolution of the Earth around the sun, and the rotation of the outer spiral arm of the Milky Way, and to the ongoing expansion of the universe; but most likely, I would give you a blank, bloodshot stare as your question ground to a halt the delicate, hard-fought momentum of my thoughts.
I needed every thread of concentration I could muster for my journey to the battered comfort of my mattress, because I couldn’t tell you where it was. The only thing I could say for certain was that it wasn’t in Park Slope anymore, because my landlady sold the place out from under me and my former roommate was a penis.
I was pretty sure I had a new floor onto which my mattress now rested, and I was pretty sure I had new roommates, and I was also pretty sure I had to fib a little to get them to accept me. What was it I told them? Oh, yeah: that I was gay.
So maybe I had to fib a lot.
But why would I do that? I couldn’t have been that desperate… unless, of course, the apartment was in Manhattan. Even the filthiest of heterosexual harlots would tell that lie to get an apartment in Manhattan, and I was pretty damned filthy. However, there wasn’t much of a point to having a place in Manhattan if one couldn’t retire there for illicit trysts–unless it was somewhere really inconvenient, like Inwood.
That’s it! I lived in Inwood as a gay man!
Okay, that was beyond fucking ridiculous… but it had enough of a ring of truth that I was just going to go with it. And now that I knew where I was headed, I needed to figure out how to get there. That part was easy. I just had to take the A-train north to 207th Street and walk. The trick was figuring out which subway train I was on right now, where it was headed, and how to make the necessary transfer.
“The next stop is,” the far-too-pleasant computerized female voice announced, “Inwood-207th Street!”
“Stand clear of the closing doors!” added the equally pleasant computerized male voice.
“A-train, next stop is the final stop, final stop,” continued the less-than-pleasant conductor over the intercom. “No passengers, no passengers, remember all of your personal belongings, last stop, A-train, last stop.”
Well, shit. This was going to be easier than I thought.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
My editor had assigned me a phone-in fluff piece about whatever summer movie was scheduled to bust the blocks this coming weekend, but then word got back to us about a super-secret, super-spontaneous, super-small-venue being put on by super-big-rock-stars at a bar in Long Island City. This kind of thing happened whenever a stadium-stuffing band like Duckpants felt the need to return to its alleged roots to reassert its alleged street cred. This kind of gesture is useless, however, if the public doesn’t know about it, and so details are “leaked” to the press.
Being a successfully filthy harlot, I didn’t have a whole lot of time for anyone playing hard to get, but unfortunately my editor did. And since Duckpants would be acting coy about their “unexpected” publicity, I needed to turn on the charm. I called a guy I knew in Bay Ridge who knew a guy in White Plains who knew a guy in Binghamton who knew a guy in Ontario, and before long, I was trading a notebook full of candid quotes for two ounces of the finest, not-at-all-legal agricultural engineering in the Northeastern Corridor.
And that’s why, hours later, I found myself shuffling out of a desolate subway station, more stoned than I would be had I been a Christian living in Roman-occupied Palestine, seeing as I was a filthy harlot and all.
“God,” I whispered, “let’s make a deal. If you get me from here to my mattress, I will stop being such a harlot.” I considered this for a moment. “Yeah, that’s not going to work. How about, you get me home unscathed, and I will stop drinking and smoking the funny weed or the wacky tobaccy or the whacko tobacco or whatever it is you call it…” What would God call it? “You know what I mean. Consider it. Amen. Sign of the cross and all.”
I lurched forward, one foot after another, pretending not to notice the small pack of teenage hooligans popping up around me like prairie dogs wearing denim. Any interaction with these whippersnappers, whether it be confrontational or conversational, would extinguish the tiny, smoldering embers of brainpower that had survived the trip here. I had to get away, right the hell now.
“Hey, Ed!” one of the teens called out.
This was good, because I was not Ed, and so I didn’t have to acknowledge them.
“Ed!” a teen called out. It could have been the same teen, but I didn’t care, because I was not Ed.
“Come on, Ed! Talk to us!”
Yeah, Ed, come on.
Come on, Ed! I I looked up to see if I could help these teens find Ed.
“We’re right over here, Ed!”
My eyes scanned the otherwise empty street.
“Behind you, Ed!” yelled a voice from behind me.
I pushed forward.
“Don’t be that way, Ed!”
Was I Ed? I thought I was Max. Did I become Ed when I wasn’t paying attention? How is that even possible?
“Turn around, Ed!”
If I was going to make it over this last hurdle, I needed to hold onto one important fact: I was not Ed.
Maybe I was Ed.
“Whatever, Ed! Fuck you!”
And for the next half-block, silence blessed me. Even if I was Ed, I still made it to the front door of my apartment building, and that was something. To follow this up, I amazed myself further with my ability to climb four stories of stairs and operate not just one, but two locks, and, since I was batting a thousand on this quest home, I thought I’d take my chances in the kitchen.
That was my first real mistake of the night.
I’d been squinting to keep my eyes open since I first left Queens, so it took me a long moment to understand exactly what it was I was seeing. On the kitchen counter sat a rectangular block of wood. Towering in the center of this block was a pair of gargantuan six-volt batteries, from which copper wires coiled away, wrapping themselves around a pair of handles that rose from said block like horns; and holding onto these handles were the white knuckles of one of my roommates.
“Mitchell,” I asked, making my second mistake, “what are you doing?”
“Electrocuting myself,” he replied without taking even a moment to think about it.
My voice cracked. “Why?”
“To kill the parasites.”
“I’m going to bed,” I concluded and headed straight to my room, stopping when the front door knocked gently. I studied it, not fully comprehending. When I finally understood that it was not the door knocking, but someone on the other side of the door, I announced, “I’ll get it!”
I peeked my head outside to find nothing. Maybe I was right the first time. Maybe the door did knock itself.
Proving me wrong, however, was the sound of a tussle to my left. I turned to investigate and witnessed someone struggling to balance several file folders and a purse in a desperate attempt to get inside her own apartment, which was right next to mine. What this meant, I didn’t know–any and all conclusions were far beyond my reach at this time. I still had an eye for detail, though, and these details were fantastic: a short, black pencil skirt; well-maintained thighs in charcoal stockings; knee-high, leather boots; and bouncy, cinnamon curls. I couldn’t tell you the color of her eyes or the shape of her lips, though, because she didn’t raise her head when she told me, “You left your key in the lock.”
“Well, shit,” I replied when I realized she was correct. “I don’t know where my head is today.”
“Happens to the best of us, dude,” she replied.
“My name’s not Dude,” I said. And then sobriety struck me like it was a sandstone boulder, and I was an anthropomorphic coyote.
The sound of my heart beating its last was drowned out by the sound of a purse and several folders crashing onto the landing at her feet. “What the fuck you doing here?” Emma demanded.
“What are you doing here?”
“I asked you first!”
“I live here!”
“No, you don’t!” she insisted.
“I have a key,” I replied.
“No,” she said, “that was there before you got here.”
“Then how did I get inside in the first place?”
“It doesn’t matter. You don’t live there. Cameron and Mitchell live here.”
“And now so do I.”
“No, you don’t!”
“What about you?” I asked. “I thought you lived in Williamsburg.”
“I told you I was apartment-sitting.”
“At the time,” I admitted, “all of my concentration was on defiling you.”
She groaned in defeat. “Now I remember. They told me they needed a new roommate.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you,” I said. “New roommate.”
“Dude,” she replied, “I read the flyer. ‘F or GM only.'”
“First off,” I reminded her, “My name isn’t Dude. Second off, I’m totally a GM.”
“I can testify under oath that you’re not a GM.”
“That was a fluke.”
She shook her head. “Nobody flukes that good without a lot of practice.”
“That’s kind of you to say.”
She squatted down to pick up everything she’d dropped. “Fuck this,” she growled. “I don’t care what you’re doing here, dude, but leave me the fuck out of it.”
“That’s not going to be a problem, Em.” This was going to be a problem, because, God help me, I wanted to bend her over the railing and fuck her until my legs fell off.
“My name’s not Em, dude,” she replied.
“Right back at you,” I told her as I yanked my keys from the deadbolt and slammed the door between us.
“Sounds like you met our neighbor,” Mitchell said from the kitchen.
“She’s…” I replied. “Something else.”
“She’s pretty sweet once you get to know her,” he apologized.
“I’m sure she is.” Admittedly, she did taste like vanilla, but I wasn’t supposed to know that.
“Good night, Max,” he said.
I grunted. If this was God’s idea of unscathed, then I was going to have to renegotiate the terms of our contract.