The Elephant in the Room

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

***

previously…

The best part of my schedule is that its irregularity allows for naps during the business week in an apartment free of roommates. Were it not for these naps, it’s likely that I would die from cumulative sleep deprivation. October was particularly hard on me, because there weren’t enough hours in the day for all the drinks that needed drinking, marijuana that needed smoking, and, alas, all the paychecks that needed earning.

And there weren’t enough hours in the day for all the sex that needed to be had with as many different women as possible. Don’t get me wrong–I didn’t accomplish these goals every single one of the past twenty-five days. That would be absurd, not to mention unhygienic. As far as I knew, no one in real life who wasn’t a celebrity could pull that off, especially without cheating. By cheating, I am referring to intoxication or deception, both of which are beyond unsavory. The challenge and satisfaction of my first three weeks as a twenty-eight-year-old came with meeting and seducing mostly sober women who didn’t mind a lack of follow-up.

This one-and-done streak ended officially last night. My fingers still ached from overuse, my scalp still throbbed from all of the yanking, the scratches on my back still burned, and my ribs chafed just a little from being rubbed so enthusiastically by the garters and fishnets of her French-maid Halloween costume. Best of all, the reason my quivering legs could barely make it home was that I’d decided that her being naked and sweaty was more important than her arriving on time to work, and she’d agreed.

Her name was Darla, and I was definitely calling her again–just as soon as I had a chance to sleep her off.

I’d almost drifted off into pleasant afterglow when my bedroom door thumped. “Are you there, chico?” asked my roommate Mitchell.

I smothered myself with a pillow, hoping that my lack of sound would answer his question.

The door creaked open, casting his shadow over me. “Are you sleeping?”

I held my breath.

He shook me anyway.

What!” I shrieked.

He lost his balance and fell to the floor. After he recovered, he told me, “So Cameron and I were hoping we could have a conversation.”

“I hate to disappoint you,” I replied.

“It’s really important,” Cameron said from outside.

Sitting up, I grunted, “Fine. Lead on.”

“Aren’t you going to put on pants?” Mitchell asked.

“No,” I said as I followed him.

“You should probably sit down,” advised Cameron from the loveseat, where Mitchell joined him.

I moaned. This was not going to go well. Still, there was no point in standing while having this kind of conversation. Besides, my knees had yet to stop shaking, so I sank into the easy chair. “Let’s get this over with.”

“What makes you think this is going to be bad?” asked Mitchell with forced, but sincere optimism.

“Please,” I said. “I’ve had a long night. And morning. Your tone is not promising.”

Cameron got to his feet and began to pace. “Look, Max, we’ve been… Mitchell and I have been… I mean. And you’re a great roommate…”

Oh, fuck. I knew where this was going. Darla faded from my heart as I wondered what the hell I was supposed to do without a home. I just moved in! Okay, so it was eight months ago, but it only felt like last week.

“I mean… you pay the bills and the rent on time…”

I wasn’t even on the lease, so they could throw me out today if they wanted.

“… and you don’t make a mess and you always buy the toilet paper and you cook for us sometimes…”

Then why the hell were they evicting me?

“But… there’s this thing that… um…”

Just tell me what this thing is!

“You’re straight!” Mitchell exploded.

Well, this was inevitable. “No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are,” agreed Cameron.

“It’s ludicrous how gay I am,” I told them.

“Chico,” Mitchell said, “you’re not even a little bit into men.”

“I fuck men all the time!”

“No you don’t,” he insisted.

“Just now I was resting up so I could go out and fuck some more men. Like I do. All the time.”

“Max,” Cameron sighed.

“I could fuck you right now, you know.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” he said.

“Not with your boyfriend here,” I clarified. “That would be rude.”

“Actually…” Mitchell stared off into space. “I’d kind of like to see that.” He cleared his throat. “But I won’t, because you don’t want to have sex with Cameron–“

“Says you,” I mumbled.

“–because you’re not gay.”

“Why would you even think this?” I begged.

“Max,” Cameron explained patiently. “We’ve known for a while. I mean, you spent most of the summer sleeping next door.”

“How would you know that?”

“Because we’re not stupid,” Mitchell replied.

“We had our suspicions,” Cameron agreed, “pretty much since you moved in, but we let it slide because we liked you.”

“Then why didn’t you say anything sooner?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Cameron said.

“Well,” admitted Mitchell, “it was kind of funny.”

Cameron snorted. “Remember when you tried to convince me you didn’t hear Emma getting it on because of noise-cancelling headphones?”

“Oh my God, I, like, peed my pants when he told me that one!” Mitchell giggled.

I frowned. “It gave you a bladder infection?”

“Laughing!” Mitchell said.

“Ah.” I considered this entire exchange for a long moment. “So… you’re not kicking me out then?”

“Why would you think that?” asked Cameron.

Mitchell shrugged sheepishly. “Yeah, I could see why you’d think that.”

Cautiously I clarified, “So… we’re okay then.”

“No,” Cameron replied, “we’re not. I think you owe us an apology for lying to us for months.”

“Yes, I do,” I agreed, “and I am genuinely sorry. I was desperate, and I don’t have a lot of morals.”

“You should cook more,” Mitchell told me. “Then we’re okay.”

Well, shit, that went better than I expected. Relief deflated the tension from my shoulders, and I said, “Deal.”

to be continued…

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Hold Your Tongue

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

***

previously…

Due to the increasingly electronic–as well as the decreasingly profitable–nature of journalism these days, the actual physical presence of my newspaper’s entertainment division consisted of an editor’s office and a lonely copyeditor’s cubicle. On the rare occasion that a reporter such as myself spent any significant amount of time in the building, he or she simply found one of the empty desks and computer terminals scattered throughout the news floor.

Based on the randomness of such a selection, I never suspected that my editor Myron would know where to find me, much less appear suddenly over my shoulder and shout, “Max! What the fuck is going on?”

I jumped a little bit, the momentum of my landing twirling me around to face him. With a calm that surprised me more than his sudden appearance, I replied, “You’re going to have to be more specific, Chief,” I replied.

Stop calling me Chief!”

I sighed, “Sorry.”

Myron reeled back to strike me down for my insolence, but lost his verbal balance instead. “What did you just say?”

With a glance at my cheap-looking watch, I asked, “What is it that’s confusing you, Myron?”

“Did you just call me Myron?”

“You know,” I told him, I was hoping to cut back on our usual banter. Evidently I failed.”

He breathed.

“Do you want to come back and try again?” I offered.

Max,” he grunted, “you mind filling me in on this fucked-up e-mail you sent me five minutes ago?”

“What’s so fucked up about it?”

“It’s got your latest fluff piece attached to it!”

“Did I do it wrong?”

His eyes bulged in frustration. “Deadline’s not for another four hours!”

“So?”

“You turned it in four-and-a-half hours early!” He clarified, “For you anyway.”

“I didn’t feel like staying late.”

“Since when?”

“Since today,” I replied.

Finally–something that made sense to him. “Big plans?”

“Not really,” I said. “Just felt like getting home at a reasonable hour.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it. “Okay, then.” He added, “You have an appointment tomorrow with Annie Castle about her latest expensive bullshit extravaganza. You can pick up a screener from me on the way out.”

A couple of hours later, I headed straight home, stopping only at Myron’s office and a Chinese food place on the way.

My roommates, sitting on opposite ends of a loveseat, were exploring separate corners of the Internet when I opened our front door. In the creepiest unison, they sat up straight and swiveled their heads toward me. Cameron said. “You’re early.”

“I’m not that early,” I replied.

“The sun’s still out,” he told me.

“It does that,” I agreed.

Mitchell pointed to the bags in my hand. “Is that for us?”

“Mitchell,” hissed Cameron.

“I’m just saying it’s a lot of food!” he said.

“It’s not that much food,” I replied.

“It really is a lot of food,” said Cameron.

“I couldn’t make up my mind,” I conceded convincingly.

“General Tso’s chicken?” asked Mitchell.

“Chicken with broccoli,” I said. “Close enough.”

“Can I have some?” he asked.

“Mitchell!” hissed Cameron.

“I’m…” I said. “I’m hungry.”

“That’s really hungry,” Mitchell mumbled.

Cameron kicked him.

“Anyway,” I told them, “I have homework, and I want to get it over with.”

“Big plans later?” Cameron asked.

“Not really.” I shrugged. “Just felt like hiding in my room for the night.”

“Huh,” he replied.

I waved, locked myself away, and immediately exited through my window onto my fire escape. As I crawled inside my neighbor’s apartment, I announced, “Stop what you’re doing! I’ve got chicken with broccoli, lo mein, four condoms, and a screener of Seventh Chamber: Part 2.”

Dude!” She looked up from the comic book page she was inking. “You’re early.”

In one swift move, I dropped the bags onto the floor, plucked the pen from her hand, grabbed her wrist, and yanked her to her feet. “I needed time to warm up before the turd we’re about to watch.”

“Ah,” she moaned as I nibbled on her neck. My fingers assertively massaged her torso, and her hips responded by grinding into mine. “Wait,” she gasped, pushing me away.

I fanned my face with my hand and panted. “For what?”

“I have a date tonight.”

“Oh.” A grin exploded across my face after about a second. “That’s fantastic! Is he cute?”

She grinned and nodded.

“Who is he?”

“Some dude who works in the same building as me. Tyler. I see him in the elevator every day, and we went out to lunch a few times, and now we’re going on a date-date.”

I bit the inside of my cheek before asking, “Want to warm up for Tyler?”

She shook her head. “I think I want to be exclusive until I figure out what’s going on.”

“Got it.”

I know not everybody does it that way…”

“You mean me,” I clarified.

“Well…”

I think it’s obvious that you and I are different people.”

“True,” she said.

“Then you need to wrap up that art thing and get ready for that date-date,” I told her, “and I need to get back to my room and do something about this uncomfortable hard-on.”

“Sorry.”

“For what?” I asked. “The whole point of our arrangement was to keep you relaxed enough to find someone to sleep with you actually liked.”

“I meant about the hard-on.”

“That?” I said. “I have those all the time. I got it covered.”

She grinned her crooked grin. “See you around, dude?”

Jabbing a thumb in the direction of my apartment, I reminded her, “I live right there, Em.”

“My name’s not Em.”

“My name’s not Dude.”

I crossed her windowsill to the fire escape, crossed the fire escape to my room, and crossed my room to the rest of my apartment, where my roommates remained frozen to the Internet. “I’m going out,” I told them as I then crossed the rest of the apartment to the front door.

to be continued…

Gobsmacked

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

***

previously…

“Mitchell?” I asked my roommate within moments of arriving home.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Why is there an ATM in the living room?”

“I’m holding it for a friend.”

“Oh,” I said, as if that explained everything. Well, almost everything. “Mitchell?”

“Yeah.”

“We live on the fourth floor.”

“Yes, we do,” he confirmed.

“Of a walkup.”

I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at,” he said.

“How did this get up here?”

He shrugged. “You know.”

Before I could ask what it was that he assumed I knew, he’d wandered away.

I’m going to bed,” I concluded and headed straight to my room. If the world was going to fling crap like that at me like it was some kind of inbred monkey, I was just going to have to put myself in the proper state of mind. With enough marijuana to intoxicate a water buffalo, I crawled out my window.

After the day I’d had, nothing was going to make me happier than this bowl. But just before I touched flame to green, a voice from my neighbor’s apartment called out, “Dude, is that you?”

I considered taking a hit before replying, but I wanted to savor every moment with my green, foul-smelling victory. “No.”

“Dude,” she said, callously disregarding my falsehood, “I’ve got to show you something.”

“I don’t got to see it.” Unless it was herself clad only in a lacy pushup bra, preferably in cerulean blue, which would brighten up her eyes. That was negotiable.

“Aren’t you even curious?”

“No.”

“Guess.”

I took a deep breath, unfortunately, of regular air, uncontaminated by cannabis. What was it going to take to get some goddamned peace in my life. “Will you leave me alone if I do?”

“Only if you want me to.”

“Oh, I want you to.”

“We’ll see about that.” She added, “Go on, guess!”

I folded up my pipe. This was going to take a while. Now what the hell could be so exciting that I had to endure this? I took a stab at it: “Is it…?”

“It’s apple butter!”

My mind said, “What?” My mouth also said, “What?”

“Come inside and I’ll show you.”

“Can you show me out here?”

There was a long pause as she considered her answer. “Please!”

“Fine,” I growled, prying open her window.”

“I’m in the kitchen!”

Stepping out of her bedroom, I found myself completely disoriented. Her apartment was only two-thirds the size of mine, so why couldn’t I find the kitchen? “Marco!” I shouted.

“Polo!” she shouted back.

Following the sound of her voice, I muttered, “How does one get the apple milk to make the apple curd you need to churn to… Oh, my.”

I had to conclude that the unlabeled jar in her left hand contained apple butter, because she was sucking on the finger of the other one, and she appeared to be enjoying it. When I opened my mouth, I’d planned on asking her about that, but what I actually said indicated what was really on the forefront of my mind: “You’re not wearing your shirt.”

She didn’t say anything; she just grinned an enormous, smug grin. Below her waist were her unremarkable track pants–the ones I had once torn off so eagerly not long ago–but above the waist she wore only a periwinkle, pushup bra.

Periwinkle. Okay, I was willing to compromise.

I needed to say something right now. It needed to be witty, but not so funny that it would kill this hypnotic stare-down we had going on. I said, “Apple butter?”

She took a moment to finish licking her finger clean before she asked, “Want some?”

With the grace of a zombie, I reached for the jar.

She pulled away and scolded me, “Like this!” She dipped her finger into the jar and held it held it in front of my face.

Without breaking eye contact, I steadied her hand with mine and enjoyed my first taste of the touted apple butter.

“Although,” she said, “there may be one way to make it even better.” With that, she dunked my pinkie in the jar and licked it.

Using my free hand, I braced myself on the nearest door frame, seeing as my legs were now useless to me.

“Not bad,” she purred. “So what to you think?”

I grabbed the back of her neck, pulled her closer, and kissed her ravenously. From that point forward, only one thought in my head had any sort of coherency, and it demanded that she leave that sexy-as-hell bra alone as long as possible. The rest of the clothing in the room, however, was fair game. Sure enough, my pants, shirt, and tie joined her track pants in a pile in the corner. Don’t ask me how they got there. I don’t even remember how my boots and socks got off of my feet, and those were usually the things that crippled momentum.

The rational part of my mind only surfaced for a moment when it heard her gasp, “Wait.” She fumbled around the counter until she opened her silverware drawer and retrieved a condom. A few minutes of frenzied grappling, fumbling, and thrusting later, she caught her breath and asked, “Can we lie down on the floor now?”

I nodded and helped her off the counter.

After we rested and enjoyed some air, we both laughed. She helped herself out of that beautiful, beautiful bra. “What did you think of the apple butter?”

“It made me forget all about getting high.”

“You’ve got some weed?”

Pretty regularly,” I replied.

“Can I have some?”

I thought you didn’t like to smoke because,” I started to say before good sense caught up to me. “Yes, you can have some.”

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…

Winding Up

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

***

previously…

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.

“Ed!”

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.

“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!”

Strike three.

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.

to be continued…

Straight & Narrow

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

***

previously…

“One plastic cigarette lighter; one three-by-five-inch spiral-bound notebook, blue cover; one leather wallet, no cash …”

“Hey!” I snapped. “There was cash when I got here!”

“That’s not what the logbook says.”

“Son of a bitch!”

“Continuing on:” said the police officer as he tallied the items piled on the desk in front of him; “one cell phone, turned on; one breath-mint tin full of business cards; one watch, cheap-looking …”

“No editorializing, please.”

” … one eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch flyer, folded; three condom wrappers, empty–want me to throw those away?”

“I think I’ll hold onto those for now,” I replied with a grin. “Mementos.”

You are a smug bastard, Fuentes.”

“It’s true.”

“And finally: two disposable pens.”

“Thanks, Roger,” I said as I swept the items into my pockets.

While I signed the necessary forms, Roger read from his clipboard. “Says here you were brought in for possession.”

“Accessory,” I said. “Came in with the band.” My definition of accessory was scoring some mescaline in exchange for an interview, but that was between me and my work-appointed attorney.

“Anybody I ever heard of?”

“Doubt it,” I replied.

“Try me.”

“The Jane Plains.”

“Never heard of them,” he admitted. “What’s their genre?”

“Hip-hop-slash-tribal-Native-American fusion.”

Roger winced. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

“I know,” I told him, “but they actually sounded pretty good.”

“Wonders never cease.”

I shrugged and headed for the door. “Until next time, Roger.”

“See you later, Max.”

In the men’s room of a nearby coffee bar, I checked the date on my phone while brushing my teeth. It was the twenty-fifth, so I still had about a week to find a new apartment That comforted me just a little, until I remembered it was February.

I rinsed, spit, and muttered, “I should probably do something about that.”

Even though the night before had come and gone without any real substance abuse on my part, it still took a few minutes for my brain to rev up properly and remind me of the flyer in my pocket. I held my breath and called the number.

“Hello?” muttered the man’s voice on the other side of the phone.

“Is this Cameron?” I asked.

“Cammy!” the voice yelled. “Phone!”

From somewhere in the distance, Cameron yelled back, “Jesus! Stop shouting so loud!”

“Can I ask what this is about?” whispered the first voice.

“I met Cameron at the Jane Plains show last night, and he said he was looking for someone to help out with the rent.”

“We are!” the voice said. “Do you want to schedule an appointment to swing by and take a look at the place?”

Cameron yelled, “Jesus! Stop talking so loud!”

I read the flyer. “Your address in Inwood, which is a little over two hundred blocks from here.” I read my cheap-looking watch. “Also, it’s eight thirty, and I’m expected to be in the office by nine. I can come over right now if you like.”

“I don’t know. Cammy drank a little too much at the concert. It might not be the right time.”

“On the contrary,” I told him, “it’s the perfect time. Hell, I just spent the night in a holding cell …” Shit. I probably should have kept that to myself. I pushed on, though, just in case. “If we can get along in this condition, then maybe we’re made for each other.”

After a long pause, he said, “I like the way you think.”

“Doesn’t everybody?”

A little over two hundred blocks later, I knocked on a door on the fourth floor of a five-story walkup in the northernmost neighborhood in Manhattan. It was not Cameron who answered. Where Cameron’s shape was tall and slightly rounded, this guy’s was short and sharp. Where Cameron’s skin was the shade of cappuccino, this guy’s was more like hot cocoa. Where Cameron’s forehead was expansive and crowned by a tight, salt-and-pepper fade, this guy’s was hidden by a threadbare golf cap. And where Cameron wore cargo pants, this guy opted for snug cotton briefs.

I could have stood there in silence, averting my eyes for all eternity, but Cameron rescued me by yelling from somewhere within, “Jesus! Stop opening the door so loud!”

I’m Mitchell,” said the guy. “Come on in. I’ll get some pants.”

“Thank you for that.”

I froze immediately upon entering. When Mitchell returned, I asked with great awe, “What is this, nine hundred square feet?” After consulting the flyer, I asked with even more awe, “Two bedrooms? In Manhattan? At this price? Is this for real?”

“I know, right?”

In shock, I sank into a nearby easy chair, impossible flyer in hand.

Cameron yelled from the kitchen, “Jesus! Stop sitting so loud!”

“Long story short,” Mitchell said, “Cammy got laid off in December, and there’s not a lot of prospects out there.”

I shrugged with genuine sympathy.

“It’s a big place, and the other bedroom is empty anyway, so we figured could really use the help.”

“What a coincidence,” I replied. “I could really use the bedroom.”

After we traded names and occupations, the important questions began. “What do you think about living with a couple?”

“I think domesticity is comforting.” Truth be told, I was worried about relationship drama.

“Most people are worried about relationship drama.” Imagine that. “You’re not a party animal, are you?”

“Not at all.” Not at home, anyway.

“Do you smoke?”

“Not for months.” I was referring, of course, to cigarettes.

“Do you cook?”

Finally, something I could be completely honest about. “I love to, actually.”

“I bet you make a mean enchilada.”

“Excuse me?” I couldn’t remember the last time someone had drawn attention to my ethnicity with that kind of recklessness, and I had no idea how I was supposed to react.

From the kitchen, Cameron yelled, “Jesus! Stop being tactless so loud!”

“What?” Mitchell was confused for second, and then he caught on. “Oh.”

Had there been even the slightest bit of malice in his words, I would have walked away right then and there. We chose instead to ignore it.

He moved onto the next topic. “Have you ever seen a UFO?”

I laughed.

A wide-eyed Cameron appeared suddenly behind Mitchell, making quiet slashing motions across his throat–which is the universally recognized signal for “Stop what you’re doing! Oh, for the love of God, stop!”

I recovered in the time it took me to blink. “I laugh because I was born and raised in New Mexico, and the UFOs practically live there.”

“Wow,” sighed Mitchell.

Cameron flashed me a grin and a thumbs-up before retreating back into the kitchen.

Mitchell cleared his throat. “And last, but not least, do you have a boyfriend?”

“I’m between relationships right now,” my mouth said before the rest of me had a chance to comprehend what my ears had just heard. And it was a good thing too, because my eyes now discovered a detail on the flyer I’d missed before: “F or GM only.”

And so the question before me wasn’t whether or not I was willing to lie about my sexuality in order to win their approval; I had no problem with that. The question was, how long did I really think I could get away with it?

Oh, what the hell. Nothing ventured, et cetera et cetera. “I just haven’t met the right guy yet.”

to be continued…