Current Events

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

Despite my best intentions, my mind took a long, gentle stroll. It found itself listening to Emma panting in my ear until she climaxed, causing that breath to catch in her throat, like a cross between a grunt and a hiccup–which is far sexier than that description makes it seem.

It watched her rock back and forth while her half-closed eyes stared urgently into mine, and her lips parted, and her hair freed itself, one curled, cinnamon lock at a time, from a loose ponytail.

It felt her fist pounding against my shoulder blade as she shuddered against me; her nails tearing the skin along my ribs.

It smelled our bodily fluids mingling with latex and lubricant.

It tasted her sweat.

It was a nice stroll, while it lasted.

That is, until my editor shouted my name several times. I returned to the present and replied, “Yes, Chief?”

Myron grunted. “Do I look like a fire marshal to you?”

I turned to my photographer, Gretchen, and frowned. I took my eyes off of her because I never experienced her the way I’d experienced Emma, but the part of me that wasn’t consistently irritated with her wanted to.

When I returned my gaze to Myron, he said, “Well?”

What the hell were they talking about when I was away? “No?”

“Do I look like a commissioner or a high-ranking lieutenant in a police precinct?”

“No.”

“The engineer in charge of a naval vessel?” he persisted. “The president?”

“No, but I did vote for you on that last one.”

“The head of a Native American tribe?”

Having grown up near an Indian reservation, I couldn’t find any humor in this.

“Then stop calling me Chief,” he concluded. “Do you understand me?”

“I do now.”

He asked, “Have you been paying attention?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Then what have we been talking about?”

Your aversion to the word Chief.”

“Before that.”

“I wasn’t paying attention to that part.”

“Gretchen,” he snapped, “grab that paper over there and hit Max with it.”

“With pleasure!” she replied, rolling up yesterday’s first edition and smacking me across the cheek hard enough to fill both of my eyes with burning white light.

“Jesus!” Myron yelled. “Not in the face!”

“Right,” she said, and, with an incredibly flexible swivel of her arm, flattened my testicles.

On the bright side, I wouldn’t be distracted by sexual fantasies for the foreseeable future.

Myron sighed, “I meant hit him on the shoulder or something.”

“Oh.” She raised the newspaper again.

“I think he got the point, Gretchen.”

She relaxed her shoulders and sighed, “If you say so.”

“Oh, what the hell,” he said, “one last time.”

“Hey!” I called out immediately before I lost all use of my right arm.

“Are you paying attention now, Max?”

“Yes, Chief.”

“Hit him again.”

She did–with a smile.

“All I was saying was,” he told me, “there’s an actor coming to town this weekend to cover the morning- and late-show talk circuit.” He scribbled on a notepad and tore the sheet off. “This is his publicist’s number. Have Bill set something up.”

“You never told me who it is.”

“Yes, he did,” said Gretchen.

“You never told me who it is when I wasn’t daydreaming.”

“I give up,” he groaned. “Gretchen.”

I flinched, and she raised the newspaper.

“Tell him,” he said.

“Oh,” she pouted. “Frank Beatley.”

“That has to be the worst name for an action star,” I snorted.

“People used to say that about Oleg Flatowicz,” he said, turning his attention to a page proof, “and now he’s the governor of Idaho.”

“Governor of Idaho’s not all that impressive, either,” I said.

You’re not a political reporter, Max, so you’re not qualified to make those kinds of judgments,” he concluded without looking up. “And Happy Birthday.”

“It’s your birthday?” I asked Gretchen.

“No,” she replied, “it’s yours.”

“It is?”

They both doused me with a glare that answered my question. “In that case,” I said, “thanks, Chief!”

She didn’t need to be told to hit me.

I hobbled out of his office and, this being the end of my shift, for the exit. “This can’t be right,” I said to an empty elevator, but a quick look at the date and time on my phone revealed that it really was October 6. “Well shit. It would be nice if I’d had some kind of warning. I’d have made plans or something.”

Once in the lobby and on my way to the street, I noticed that I had voice mail waiting. Bracing myself for my parents’ annual tone deaf singing, I tapped in my password and listened.

“Hey, Max,” said the voice that belonged to neither of my parents.

I stopped walking at the exact time my heart stopped beating.

“It’s me,” the voice continued. “Carissa. Happy Birthday!”

I definitely could have used some kind of warning.

“I know we haven’t been in touch for a while. Well, since, you know. I wanted to let you know I was thinking about you.”

I hadn’t been thinking about her at all. Honest.

“And I miss you. Call me sometime.” And she hung up.

to be continued…

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The Weak Force

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

I had been struggling for about an hour to add color to an otherwise monochrome, straightforward profile of Anna Castle, star of the upcoming sequel to the box-office juggernaut, Seventh Chamber, when someone slid into the booth opposite me, chomping on a wad of bubblegum.

“Hey, Gretchen,” I assumed. I didn’t need to raise my head, because I already knew what she looked like–i.e. the body I most wanted to fuck wrapped up in the brain and series of quirks I least wanted to fuck.

“Why are we here?” asked the voice of the photographer I almost always worked with.

“Philosophy,” I replied. “Ask philosophy.”

“Why are we at a May’s Cafe?” she clarified after taking a moment to parse my words.

“Because it’s right down the street from the Beacon Theater,” I told her. “Get a map.”

She cracked her knuckles, which she did when she was tense. She cracked her knuckles a lot around me. “I mean, why aren’t we at the Beacon?”

“Because Paige Cromwell isn’t due onstage for a few hours, and we’re getting paid to sneak an interview with her, not her roadies.”

“You know there’s a bar right across the street from the Beacon?”

“I’ve been there,” I said.

“Then why aren’t we there?”

“It’s too early to be drinking.”

The gum stopped smacking. “But you always told me that it’s never too early to drink after the sun goes down.”

I tossed my disposable pen onto my notebook and snapped, “Dammit, Gretchen!” However, when I finally faced her, I forgot what it was I was going to shout next. “So, um…” I mumbled, referring to the bustier she wore, “… I see you’ve got your breasts out.”

She glanced down. “These?”

“I’m not going to answer that question.”

“It was your idea,” she reminded me.

I didn’t know what she was talking about. “I never said that out loud…”

She moaned, “Why do you have to be such a…”

“Pig?”

“Pervert.”

“I prefer pig,” I said.

That’s because you are one.”

There was no real way to respond to that. “So, now that we’ve established that I am a pervert, why are you dressed like…” The first words that came to mind to describe her wardrobe were nasty. I hated those words, and I hated that I thought of them. “… that?”

“Remember when you got arrested at the Staplebitch concert?” she asked.

I groaned.

She took that as a yes. “And remember how, before you tried to tried to sneak past the barriers and bouncers before you got arrested…”

I groaned again.

“… and you tried to talk your way past the bodyguards? And how that didn’t work? And you got arrested?”

“You just like to remind me of my failures, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “but that’s not what I’m talking about right now.”

“Carry on, then.”

“Remember that you told me it would go a lot easier if I ‘showed off my girls a little more?'”

“That’s right,” I recalled, “and you didn’t know which girls I was referring to.”

“Nobody’s ever called my boobs girls before,” she told me with a genuine pout. “I think that’s really weird.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”

“What?” She shook the confusion out of her head and continued, “So I thought about it, and since boobs make men stupid, I could use them as weapons.”

“I’m going to be honest, Gretchen,” I told her, “I’m impressed with your forethought.”

She snatched up my pen and began clicking it. “You don’t have to be such a jerk all the time, Max Fuentes.”

“I said I was being honest.”

“I know you,” she said. “You were just being dishonest about being honest.”

“Yeah, I can see how you might come to that conclusion.” I shrugged. “I have a history.”

“Thank you?” Her face scrunched up in adorable confusion, and, as she did so her fingers acted of their own accord and began twirling the writing instrument between them with remarkable dexterity. “Maybe?”

“I like that better than knuckle-cracking,” I said, pointing at her hand.

“What?” And with that, her prop jumped into the air and onto the floor. “Oops!” she squeaked and reached for it, an act that presented me with an even better view of her cleavage than the incredible one I’d already been witness to.

I closed my eyes and breathed. “It’s okay, Gretchen …”

My assurances meant nothing, because she was on her hands and knees, groping around my feet before I could even finish saying her name.

“I’m serious, Gretchen,” I told her, “I have plenty–” A loud thud and a ripple in my coffee announced that she’d hit her head. I glanced innocently around the restaurant. The table shook again.

By this point, we’d attracted the attention of three men in the corner. With their vests, mud-stained jeans, and cowboy hats, they looked like they could have been a sight-gag entitled “Generic Migrant Workers.” That meant they resembled parts of my extended family, making it all the more embarrassing as the table thumped twice more as Gretchen hauled herself back up to her seat.

When she got there, she adjusted her bustier, pulled her hair out of her face, and brandished my pen with a triumphant grin. “All done!”

I stole a glance over at the migrant workers. All three of them gave me a thumbs up. I smiled back, but without much enthusiasm.

Let’s take a detour for now

to be continued…

Appropriation

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

Tyffanie Grant was only sixteen, but she had spent the past five years selling out pop-music concerts and acting in her all-ages sitcom, Mac and Daddy. She’d always dressed and acted provocatively, yet maintained her virtue. Tonight, she was going to put money on it. Judging by the decorations and the size of this yacht on which I stood, I’d say it was a lot of money.

For a purity ball, I was expecting more white clothing. Even the boys, all athletic and bobbing their heads in unison to the music, wore mostly baby blue shirts tucked into their meticulously pressed khakis–too cool, of course, to dance.

The girls unanimously wore black cocktail dresses with skirts that reached down to their mid-thighs and kept hiking up as they wriggled, writhed, and sweat to the bubblegum blaring out of the unnecessarily large speakers in every corner. To Ms. Grant’s credit, none of the tunes were her own.

After hours of this, I barely even noticed my colleague, Gretchen, finishing her photographing orbit of the room and gliding over. “Max, look at this.”

I am looking.”

She smacked the back of my head. “Not there.”

I turned my attention to the display on her camera. “What am I looking at now?”

“Who’s that?”

“Phil Ferris,” I replied, “the washed-up comedian who plays the titular father in Mac and Daddy.”

She smacked me again. “That’s for saying tit in a yacht full of teenagers.”

“It means title, you idiot.”

She shrugged. “I know, I just like hitting you.”

“That’s nice,” I told her. “Can I go back to being a creepy pedophile now?”

This time, when she swung at me, I caught her wrist.

“Do you think you could tell me what’s going on without hitting me again?”

“I’m not talking about Phil Ferris,” she said, liberating her arm, “I’m talking about the guy behind him.”

I squinted. “Looks like a ferret in a sweater vest.”

“Yeah, but who is he?”

I scanned the room and caught sight of him swaggering over in this direction, with his loosely knotted tie, well-worn pants, and scruffy blond hair. I’d never seen him before, but it was obvious to me exactly who I was dealing with: my arch-nemesis, who worked for my rival paper and had been snatching exclusive interviews right out from under me.

I said to him, “Allen Dean, I presume.”

“Wayne,” said someone nearby.

“Say what?” I turned to the voice to see a towering slab of Nordic beef. His blond hair, like Gretchen’s, improbably swept over his head in the most stylish manner imaginable. His lips, like Gretchen’s, puffed alluringly. His chest, like Gretchen’s, threatened the integrity of his button-up shirt. And he brandished a camera, just like Gretchen.

The Aryan repeated, “I’m Wayne.”

“I’m Gretchen,” she purred, checking him out.

“Knock that off,” I hissed at her.

“You must be the lauded Max Fuentes,” the ferret said.

“You must be…”

“Not lauded much longer,” he added.

“That’s a declaration of war, Dean,” I told him.

A bit of a one-sided war, don’t you think?”

“This sexual tension is killing me,” I said. “Should we make out now, or should we trade a few more barbs?”

He shook his head. “You’re funny. But redundant. I’m about to score an exclusive, and all you’ll have left to write are captions.”

“You’re so cute,” I told him before cupping my hands to mouth and turning toward the dance floor. “Tyffanie Grant! Come on over!”

A few moments passed, and she emerged from a cloud of giggling teenage girls without a word, just a curious smile.

“If I promised to dance with you and all your friends, you think I could get an exclusive?”

She glanced at the line of subtly bobbing boys, looked me up and down, grabbed my hand, and said, “Deal.”

As she pulled me away, I made sure to blow Allen Dean a kiss.

A half hour and a full notebook later, I rejoined Gretchen, who was standing alone and fanning her face with the hand not occupied with a camera.

“The hormones in there are suffocating,” I told her. “If I don’t fuck something tonight, I am going to die.”

She let out something between a moan and a sigh. “Oh, yeah. It’s a good thing I have a boyfriend to go home to.” I couldn’t tell if the sigh was one of relief or schadenfreude. It didn’t matter, because I spent the rest of the evening inebriated to the point of nausea by youthful lust.

When I got home hours later, I tried a cold shower, but I couldn’t wash the hormones off of me. It made it worse, actually, as I became aware of how nude I was, and how badly I wanted to share that nudity with someone who richly deserved it.

I tried masturbating, but I kept remembering how young the objects of my fantasies were. Whenever I tried to change the subject, I found myself recalling the skinny, immature limbs of my high-school sweetheart. Whichever way my mind’s eye went, it landed on jailbait.

And so I tried climbing onto my fire escape and getting some fresh air laced with tetrahydrocannabinol, but this was the worst idea of them all, because of my neighbor.

I could have fled at that moment, because, facing away from me with her cell to her ear, she had no idea I was there. Yet I was paralyzed by her neck, exposed by a loose ponytail and glowing with sweat, by the damp polyester clinging to her back, and by her workout pants.

Damn. Athletic women: my only weakness.

My mind, already on fire, ceded control to my body, which maneuvered my feet right up to her. The fingers of my right hand slid over her hip so they could tug loose the knot that held her drawstring together. The rest of them stroked her stomach and crept under the hem of her shirt.

She told her phone, “I’m going to have to call you back, Mom.”

Fifteen minutes later, give or take, I rolled onto my back and wheezed, “Sorry.”

She also rolled onto her back and attempted, with limited success, to slow down her breathing. “Why?” she panted. “Fair’s fair, after all.”

to be continued…

Cesspool

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

The door to the holding cell opened, and the officer on the other side told me, “You’re free to go, Max.”

With a yawn, I asked him. “Hey, Jason. What’s going on?”

“You know, the usual.”

“Really? Because the last time I was in, they told me you and the family went to Florida for the week.”

Rolling his eyes, he said, “Not much of a vacation when you got to stay with your in-laws, if you know what I mean.”

“Not personally, but I’ve heard things.”

“Lucky.” He shook his head. “You know the way out. Stay out of trouble.”

We smirked at each other.

When I got to the check-out desk, I said to the uniform sitting behind it. “Hey, Roger.”

“Hey, Max,” he replied. “Says here you were trespassing backstage at the Staplebitch concert.”

I shrugged.

“My daughter loves that band.”

“Your daughter has lousy taste in music.”

“That’s what I keep telling her,” he said, “but you know kids.”

“Not personally, but I’ve heard things.”

He handed me my belongings, I signed for them, and he told me, “See you next time, buddy.”

Upon exiting the building, I was greeted by my colleague and photographer, Gretchen, leaning on a lamppost, playing with her fingernails. Her voluptuous hair was tied up into a stringy ponytail, her pin-up-girl figure was hidden under too-large jeans and a T-shirt, her bright eyes were bloodshot and framed by the ugliest pair of glasses I’d ever seen, her lips were pale, and her smile was absent. I’d recognized her only by the sound of her gum-chewing.

“Gretchen,” I told her, “you look like shit.”

“You look like the shit that shit shits,” she replied.

I took a moment to comprehend what she had just said. Failing that, I closed my eyes and exhaled.

“We done?” she asked.

I nodded.

She strode off, and I turned on my phone to see what the world had been up to in my absence. “You have one new message,” the ethereal voice inside informed me.

“And I bet you a dollar I’m going to hate it,” I mumbled in reply.

“Max,” the first message growled, “this is Myron. You know, your editor? The one who keeps having to bail you out of jail? That Myron? I expect to see you in my office within a half-hour of you getting you out, and I expect you to have an interview for me with the notoriously difficult-to-interview it-band of the moment with the stupid name. If not, I will murder you, chop up your body, and throw it in a compost heap.”

Seeing as I’d failed to get said interview, I figured I should try to make a run for it.

“If you failed to get said interview, and you try to make a run for it,” the message continued, “I will hunt you down, then murder you, chop up your body, and throw it in a compost heap.”

Scratch that.

My phone went off while I was a dead man walking to the train, and I went ahead and answered it, given that I was too numb to give a fuck anymore.

“Am I talking to Max Fuentes?” it asked.

“Who wants to know?” I replied.

“I need you to confirm or deny the veracity of a recent news-related rumor.”

“And what rumor would that be?”

“That an exclusive, all-access, behind-the-scenes story about Staplebitch is not running in your paper this weekend.”

I’d never heard the voice before, but the cockiness of my arch-nemesis could not be mistaken. For starters, it rivaled mine. “Allen Dean,” I moaned.

“I also need you to confirm that I scooped you. Again.”

It didn’t even occur to me to ask how he got my number, because I was too busy informing him, “Dean, I am going to fucking kill you.”

He laughed and hung up.

I sighed, “Myron is going to fucking kill me.”

Forty-five minutes later, however, my editor sentenced me to a fate worse than death. I blinked. “You want me to do what?”

“Not you,” said my editor as he pointed a finger at my colleague and photographer, Gretchen, who had somehow gone home, showered, washed and blew out her hair, dressed, and applied most of her makeup, since I last saw her not all that long ago; “both of you.”

“I’m clear on who’s involved, Chief, but it’s what you want us to do that I don’t quite understand.”

“Go to a purity ball,” he repeated. “And you should probably stop calling me Chief. You’re already skating on thin shit.”

Gretchen snorted. “Max isn’t exactly pure, you know.”

“Well,” Myron continued, “it’s not your purity in question, but you’re still attending.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m not going to do that.”

“Since when did this become a democracy?”

“Since 1788,” I replied, “when the Constitution was ratified. Mind you, it excluded blacks, women, and poor people, but we’ve since made improvements.”

During the course of this back and forth, Gretchen produced a vial of mascara from God knows where.

“Max,” Myron said as he absently produced a mirror and held it up for her, “if you don’t shut up and do as you’re told, I’m going to physically kick your ass.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

“I’d pay money to see that,” Gretchen muttered.

“You’re young,” he told me, “but I could take you.”

“You’re probably right,” I admitted. “So, I totally forgot with all the banter, what was our assignment?”

to be continued…

Sobriquet

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

“Maxwell?”

“No.”

“Maximus?”

“Do I look like a gladiator?”

“I’ve never seen you in a toga.”

I liked her. “Keep playing your cards right.”

“I give up,” she said with a coy smile.

Maximiliano.”

“Really?”

I nodded.

“Why would you ever want to shorten a name like that?”

“Because it’s impossible to say in the middle of an orgasm.”

After she blinked them, her eyes went wide.

“Have you ever tried?” I asked.

“Max Fuentes!” shouted someone else entirely from outside the dressing room we occupied.

“What is it, Fraulein Kommandant?”

When Gretchen entered, her angel’s face was scrunched up in confusion; but she let that pass before replying, “You’re supposed to be interviewing the star, not the makeup girl.”

“Makeup woman,” I told her.

“Well?” Gretchen tapped her feet to further illustrate her point.

As I stood, the makeup woman said to me, “When you’re done in there, let’s get back to talking about your name.”

“Looking forward to it, Jen.”

“Lynn,” she replied coldly.

I winced. Gretchen snorted.

I let Gretchen go ahead of me, because my dislike of her did not extend to the way her ass swayed when she walked. “I don’t see why I have to be here for this,” I muttered.

“Because you’re the reporter.” She didn’t end the sentence with the word idiot, but it was implied.

Sarcasm was a concept that didn’t exist in her world, so I skipped ahead in the conversation. “I’m a goddamned stenographer. Let me save everyone the time: ‘I’m Curtis McKean, and I’m really excited to be working with Stanley Marshall again. He’s an actor’s director, and he has this vision I believe in that really connects with the audience. Know what I’m sayin’? It’s a dream come true to be working on a movie about the character of Mastermind, because I’ve been a fan of the comics since I was a little kid…'”

She tossed her perfect waves of blond hair and growled, “What the hell is your problem?”

“My problem is that I have to walk through that door and say the words, ‘Rumor has it that you and costar Alysin Perez sizzled off-screen as much as you sizzled on-screen. Any truth to that?'” I held my thumb and forefinger millimeters apart. “I am this close to clawing out my own goddamned tongue.” I muttered, “Not like I’m going to get to use it on Gwen anyway.”

Gretchen looked over her shoulder to the dressing room with a frown. “I thought her name was Lynn.”

“Fuck this,” I told her as I burst into the green room. “Time to be a quote-unquote journalist.”

“Pull yourself together, Max Fuentes!” she scolded.

And the worst part? She was absolutely right. I loved my job. When was the last time I let it get to me like this? When was the last time I forgot a woman’s name like this–especially one I was wooing so successfully? And so, as much as I didn’t want to admit that she was right, I had to. “Okay,” I sighed. “Why don’t you give me a second while you go take some pictures or whatever it is you do.”

“Because I took them already.”

“Even the one where he gazes soulfully out a window?”

“Yes.”

“How about the faux-candid shot where he lets down his guard and laughs shyly into his hand?”

“I forgot that one.”

“Well get to it, then!” I demanded.

“You don’t get to tell me how to do my job!”

From the overstuffed couch nearby, Curtis McKean chuckled, “You two need to get a room.”

I was aghast because, while my body would gladly explore a weekend’s worth of sins with her body, my personality found hers intolerably irritating. She was aghast because she’d found out by accident exactly what my personality thought of hers.

“Curtis,” I said. “Can I call you Curtis?”

“Sure!” he replied.

I took a careful, cleansing breath before I said something I might regret. See, I know that I can be a cranky person. Some of this could be attributed to the fact that my job consisted of enabling overpaid narcissism, often on an irregular schedule, and usually at the cost of my sleep and health. Some of this could be attributed to my biggest hobbies, which consisted of sex, drugs, and the acquisition of such. Some–if not most–of this, could be attributed to the fact that I was a New Yorker. Hell, I’m sure that a lot of the blame could go to growing up in a trailer park with a bipolar tomboy as my closest friend.

But today was special. Today marked the eighth time in the two weeks since I met my new neighbor that she called me dude. That’s not what was breaking me. No, what really pissed me off was how much that was getting under my skin.

Curtis McKean didn’t deserve me taking this out on him, but that wasn’t going to stop me from doing so.

“Curtis,” I told him, “if you ever insinuate any kind of romantic chemistry between me and my photographer again…”

“The newspaper’s photographer,” she clarified.

“… this photographer again, I will drop-kick your skull across the Triboro Bridge.”

“What he said,” Gretchen agreed.

Curtis McKean’s perfectly sculpted nostrils flared with a furious veracity that he could never quite bring with him to the big screen. “You can’t talk to me like that!”

The fact that I did was all I needed for me to return to character. I laughed, “Just kidding, Curtis! Can I call you Curtis?”

Curtis McKean’s membership in Mensa was one of those little publicity factoids bandied about as a means of distinguishing him from the rest of the stars dotting screens big and small, but even all that intelligence couldn’t help him comprehend what had just happened. He turned to Gretchen for slack-jawed clarification, but she just giggled, rolled her eyes, and shrugged.

“Before I ask you what it’s like to work with director Stanley Marshall,” I began, “how about letting me in on some of that behind-the-scenes chemistry between you and costar Alyson Perez?”

Hours later, I shuffled up the stairs to my apartment, dreading the inevitable run-in with my neighbor, who always seemed to be waiting to ambush me with that most cruel of cudgels: the word dude. Yet somehow–and I don’t know how–I made it home unscathed.

As I deadbolted and chained the door, my fellow apartment-dwellers waved from the loveseat in front of the television.

Fellow dweller number one, Cameron, said, “Roomie.”

“Roomie,” I said back.

“Just getting in?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Cool.”

“Yes, it is.”

Fellow dweller number two, Mitchell, chimed in, “Shorty.”

“Chico,” I chimed back.

“How was work?”

“Crap,” I replied. “Yours?”

“Crap.”

“Glad we had this talk,” I told them.

“Same again tomorrow?”

“Probably,” I muttered before stumbling into my bedroom, kicking off my boots, and tossing myself onto my mattress just in time for my cell phone to buzz. I didn’t have to look to know that it was my editor, Myron, who was the only person who ever called me.

“Chief,” I said.

I hate it when you call me that,” he replied.

“Probably as much as I hate it when you call me on my phone.”

“I don’t really care what you hate,” he said. “Reese Kensington just got arrested again for drunken disorderly.”

“I’m not surprised,” I replied. “Guy can’t hold his liquor.”

“I need you to meet Gretchen downtown and get a statement as soon as he makes bail.”

I whined, “I just got home!”

“Well,” he said, “since you live all the way up in Inwood, it’s going to take you forever to get there, so I suggest you leave now.”

I cried out, “Fuck!” so that the fu part lasted all the way through my ending the call, getting to my feet, slipping on my boots, splashing my face with cold water, and storming through the living room. The ck only occurred when I stepped out of the door, only to see my neighbor in the process of stepping into hers.

“Dude,” she said before disappearing into her apartment.

Great. Now I was going to have to lash out at Reese Kensington, which sucked because I actually liked him…

to be continued…

Food Memory

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

While enjoying a cup of black coffee in a semi-classy diner in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I flipped through one of my trademark reporter’s notebooks and ran across a ten-digit number. With a shrug, I muttered, “Now’s as good a time as any.”

“Um,” said the voice coming from my cell, “hello?”

“Hi,” I told it, “this is Max.”

Max?”

“You gave me your phone number last night?” I reminded the voice. “Need me to narrow it down?”

“I don’t give out my phone number a lot, Max,” said the woman on the other end with a happy sigh.

“I’m flattered.”

“And I never give it out to guys at that bar.”

“Why not?”

“Well,” she explained, “it’s kind of an old-man pub, not a meat market.”

“I’m not really a big fan of meat markets.” Especially when the meat markets are too crowded that particular evening. “However, I’ve always been a huge fan of that pub, though.” This would be a lot more convincing if I could remember that pub’s name.

“Then how come I’ve never seen you there before?” she asked.

“You must have just missed me.”

“You’re hard to miss,” she said.

It was time to get off the subject of geography before my bluff ran dry. “You’re referring to my distinctive broken nose.”

“It does stand out,” she agreed sheepishly.

“It also makes it tough to commit petty crimes.”

She chuckled. “So why are you calling, Max?”

“I was hoping you were free tonight.”

After a moment, she replied, “As a matter of fact, I am.”

“What do you think about me swinging by your place later?”

“You don’t even know where I live!”

“I was hoping you’d tell me.”

She paused again. “Monroe Street. Hoboken.”

“That’s good to know,” I told her. “There are some pretty good takeout places in Hoboken. Got any preferences?”

“Surprise me.”

“Sevenish?” I concluded. “I think that gives us plenty of time to get to know each other, and if we want to go out later, we can. If we don’t, we don’t.”

“Eightish?” she replied. “I need to straighten out my apartment.”

“Deal.”

After I hit the End button, I turned to Gretchen West, the currently scowling photographer from my newspaper who happened to be sharing my booth. “What?” I asked.

“Don’t you ever stop?” she replied.

“Why would I?”

Gretchen shook her head. “What makes you think this woman you just met is just going to sleep with you?”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

“Because she doesn’t know better.”

“She knows enough to find me attractive,” I told her. “Isn’t that enough?”

“You are so gross.”

A small part of me winced, but that was mostly because I didn’t usually endure such condemnation in the bright, green eyes of someone with that smile and décolletage. Her opinion of every other person she’d ever met sparkled invitingly, and so her negativity stung a little. But only a little. Otherwise, I welcomed her contempt, as it was matched by mine. Besides, her assessment reminded me of something important: “Are there any good takeout places in Hoboken?”

Aghast, she asked, “Why would I even consider helping you take advantage of some poor girl?”

“Why wouldn’t you?”

“You are so gross!”

“You said that already,” I reminded her.

“That’s because I mean it.”

On the inside, I smirked. For someone so vain and vacuous, she was getting pretty good at keeping up with my banter. On the outside, however, I completely ignored her. “For obvious reasons, I should probably avoid Italian. There’s nothing sexy about slurping.”

“You’re making me uncomfortable,” she told me.

“I should probably avoid Indian food too, because I don’t know how her digestive tract might react.” I frowned. “Have you ever seen those movies where the characters feed each other erotically? Maybe they could give me some ideas.”

“Focus,” she demanded.

“I suppose I could pick up some strawberries from a bodega on the way over, but that’s not much of a meal, you know?”

She pouted, which was a lot cuter than it was intimidating.

I snapped my fingers. “Something with chopsticks! I can feed it to her sensually! Maybe sushi…”

“Max Fuentes!” Gretchen snapped.

“What?”

Aubry Hitchens, reality TV’s It Girl de jour, cleared her throat from the other side of the table. “Are we going to get on with this interview?”

“Right,” I admitted. “Totally forgot.”

She sneered. “I have a talk show and a magazine shoot later, you know.”

“Sorry,” I replied. “Important business.”

“That was important?”

I grinned. “I’ll ask the questions here.”

Despite herself, she smiled a tiny smile. “Then get on with it.”

“Are there any good takeout places in Hoboken?”

Gretchen groaned, and Aubry frowned. “Is that really your first question?”

“It is now.”

“I’ve never been to Hoboken.”

I jotted down Hobo and struck a line through it. To her, I said, “What kind of food do you think of as sexy?”

“Is this part seriously going in the print edition?” she asked.

“Why wouldn’t it?”

to be continued…

What Does Narcissism Have to Do with Me?

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

I could tell you every single detail about the history of this cable channel. I knew the date and time of its first broadcast, and of the content it has inflicted upon the world. That date was a long time ago, which, in television years, was a very, very long, long time ago, and the content had been educational in nature, twenty-four hours a day. About halfway between that date and now, the executives in charge noted that learning didn’t turn much of a profit. And so they set their meager budget to the task of scouring the continent for a half-dozen egos and ids the size of ten egos and ids, transplanted them to a mansion in Long Island, surrounded them with cameras, microphones, liquor, and hot tubs, and set them loose on each other. And, despite the fact that an incalculable number of formerly educational cable channels had walked this path long before this formerly educational cable channel, the result was still gold.

Along with this disappointing story, I also could tell you the names, ages, and hometowns of every single one of these egos and ids. If said ego and id was female, I could tell you her measurements, and whether or not they were fake. And finally, I could tell you the highlights of their hookups, breakups, and fisticuffs.

Yet my soul has remained intact for one reason alone: I have never watched a single minute of this program. Knowing these things was my job, and I was damned good at it.

The champion ego and id of this particular house was Aubrey Hitchens–32DD, with a twenty-six-inch waist and what has been described by many as a “smokin’ booty.” Currently, this particular booty was strolling down 116th and Amsterdam, across the street from where I stood, my photographer by my side.

“I can handle this,” she said.

“What’s your plan,” I asked, rolling my eyes. “Go up to her, compliment her shoes, trade ab-crunching techniques, and ask if you can take a picture and let me follow up with a few questions?”

“Well, her shoes are really tacky, but I like her purse,” she replied without the slightest trace of irony in her voice–or even her soul, really. It’s one of the reasons she got under my skin. The other reasons strained the top buttons of her blouse.

“That’s not going to work.”

“Have you ever tried it?”

“I don’t like her purse,” I replied.

“Fine, Mr. Bossy Pants,” she said. “What’s your plan?”

Bossy Pants. That was new. At least she called me Mister. “Just follow my lead,” I told her.

“Why would I want to do that?”

I smirked. “You’ve been my sidekick–“

“Partner.”

“–for how long?”

“Four months,” she replied.

“And what’s my ratio of pulling to not pulling things like this off?”

“After you, Mr. Bossy Pants,” she admitted.

I jogged down the street as fast as my charcoal-lined lungs would take me. “Miss Hitchens!” I wheezed. “Can I get you to answer a few questions?”

“You have to talk to my publicist,” Aubrey Hitchens snapped without slowing down or looking in my direction.

“Did that,” I replied. “She told me there was a fee.”

“Then pay the fee.”

“Can’t afford it.”

“Then you don’t get an interview,” she concluded.

“Can I quote you on that?”

She stopped walking. “Do what?”

“I mean,” I told her, “my editor demands a story about you for the weekend edition. He gets what he demands.”

He scares me,” Gretchen agreed. “Like when he ordered me to get a candid of you in case we need to fill a hole in tomorrow’s paper.” Without warning, she squeezed off two shots from her hip. They were probably going to be amazing shots. I didn’t want admit it, but she really was an excellent photographer.

I continued, “I had hoped to talk to you, but I’ll just have to write a column speculating as to why a self-proclaimed farm girl from Omaha, Nebraska, would be so vain as to charge that much money for her attention.” I removed a notebook from my pocket for effect, not because I had anything to write down. Also for effect, I frowned and turned to Gretchen. “Are there even farms in Omaha?”

“How am I supposed to know that?” she replied.

“Because you’re from Nebraska.”

Her eyes widened in confused shock. “No, I’m not.”

“Yeah, you are.”

“No,” she reiterated, “I’m not.”

“There’s no point in denying it,” I told her. “We already know the truth.”

“I’m not from Nebraska!”

“You shouldn’t be so embarrassed,” I said. “Nebraska’s a fine state.”

“I’m from Baltimore!”

“You went to college in Baltimore,” I clarified. “You went to high school in Nebraska.”

“I went to high school in Connecticut.”

“And before that you lived in Nebraska.”

“No, I didn’t!”

This didn’t make any sense. Based on my rudimentary understanding of evolution, the kind of boisterousness, naivety, and delicious curves of someone like Gretchen West could only have developed from the hardworking, honest, God-fearing, German-Nordic genetic stock of the American Heartland. “At least tell me your parents are from Nebraska.”

“What the hell is going on?” yelled Aubrey Hitchens.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Gretchen replied. “We’re blackmailing you.”

“And if she can figure that out,” I added, “then it should be obvious.”

“You do this,” Aubrey Hitchens warned, “you’re burning every single bridge between me and your paper.”

“We can’t afford the tolls anyway,” Gretchen told her.

Startled, I blinked and said, “That’s… that’s really fucking clever.”

Her kissable cheeks blushed.

“Who did you steal that from?” I asked.

Those same cheeks flushed with anger.

I returned my attention to Aubrey Hitchens. “What do you say?” I asked. “Tomorrow afternoon?”

to be continued…