Tumbler

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

***

previously…

The cell phone going off in my pocket couldn’t have possibly timed it any better. I’d realized a while ago that Ursula, the gorgeous Eastern European I’d been hitting on, was more interested in my friend, suspected artificial life form, Sean McCoy, but I’d still been forced to uphold the conversation for all three of us, given their shyness and their tenuous grasp of English. How this man had been married was beyond me. The fact that he’d been married at least twice defied all reason.

The vibration in my pants presented me with my means of escape. As soon as I made it to freedom, I said to the caller, “Thank you, thank you!”

“Dude?” asked the caller, whose use of the word dude told me it was my neighbor, Emma. “Can we talk?”

“Of course! We have lungs and larynxes and mouths and lips and tongues and…” Thinking of Emma’s lips and tongue, as I often did, I had to take a deep breath and fan myself with my hand. “Sorry about that. I’m baked clean through, and I have a beer somewhere I haven’t touched in at least fifteen minutes because I’ve forgotten about it.”

“You know what,” she told me, “don’t worry about it.”

“Wait,” I said. “What if I want to worry about it? You sound pretty serious.”

“I am serious.”

“Let’s do this in person,” I suggested. “Where are you?”

“Sixth Street, between Second and Third.”

“I’m on First Avenue, at the International Bar. Want me to come to you?”

“No,” she said. “I’ll be right over. I need the air.”

“Do you even know where–?” I started to ask, but she disconnected before I could finish, leaving me a little baffled.

For starters, I have no idea why she’d get in touch with me. We’d fallen out of each other’s lives over the past month or so, which was understandable, given her preoccupation with her boyfriend and my preoccupation with staying the fuck away from her. Also, where the hell did she get my number? Did I give it to her? Did she give me hers? I checked my contacts, and there was indeed an entry for Em. Who else’s number did I have that I didn’t know about? I scrolled the list and found Gretchen, whom I never wanted to call, because she annoyed the hell out of me. That made sense, though, given our professional relationship. Further investigation revealed Amber, which was even weirder. I didn’t know any Amber–okay, I didn’t know any Amber well enough to keep in touch. I called her and announced to the woman who answered, “Hi, I’m Max.

“Of course you’re fucking Max,” growled the person I assumed was Amber. “That’s what it says on my phone: ‘Fucking Max.'”

“I’m listed as ‘Fucking Max’?”

“You have ten words to tell me what the fuck you want, Max,” she demanded, “aren’t something to the effect of ‘Your son is in the hospital; prognosis is not good,’ I am changing my number.”

“Right!” I smacked my head. “Amber McCoy.”

My name,” she exploded, “is not fucking McCoy! Do I have to put it on a fucking billboard? Yoshida! Not McCoy! McCoy is an asshole’s name!”

“Your son is named McCoy.”

“I never said he was perfect.”

“Touché.

“Listen,” she explained, “I’m in a room with a bunch of assholes in the middle of a deposition.”

“I don’t like your tone!” said one of the assholes in the room.

“You have the tone of an Australopithecus,” she told him, “which I don’t particularly like either!”

The asshole tried to ask, “What is an–?”

“Shut the fuck up!” she snapped, before returning her attention to me. “Could you tell me what this is about?”

“I didn’t know who this Amber in my contacts was.”

“See?” she said. “Ten words. Was that that hard?”

“Surprisingly, no,” I replied.

“Amend your address book to include my proper surname, add a note that I am Sean’s mother, and stop smoking so much goddamn marijuana,” she suggested. “And while you’re at it, stop getting my son so high all the fucking time. A little here and there is fine, but Jesus, you guys.”

“Could we just get on with this?” asked one of the assholes from earlier. “It’s after eleven and I just want to go home.”

“You’ll go home when I think you’re ready to go home, you pussy!” she yelled. To Max, she said, “He’s right, I do need to get this shit over. Are you joining us for Thanksgiving?”

“With bells on.”

“Don’t wear goddamn bells.” She hung up, and I edited my contacts as she’d advised.

I then scanned the avenue for cinnamon hair, until Sean emerged from the bar. “Your mom says hi,” I told him.

“I find that improbable.”

“She didn’t really say hi,” I admitted.

He grunted. “I’m curious as to the reason she might have phoned you so late in the evening.”

“She didn’t call me,” I replied. “I called her.”

“Suddenly my curiosity has increased immeasurably.”

“Long story,” I said. “I thought you were talking to Ursula in there.”

“I found that conversation to be barren.”

Of course you did.”

Emma chose that moment to arrive, which was just fine with me. “Hey, dude.”

Her flushed cheeks and blank stare prompted me to ask, “Are you okay?”

She shook her head, and a slow epiphany widened her eyes. “No, I’m really not, am I?”

“You’ll have to pardon my intrusion,” Sean said, “but I’m not familiar with your identity.”

Whatever had overcome her fled immediately. “You must be Sean.”

“This is Emma,” I told him. “Everybody calls her Em.”

Nobody calls me Em,” she replied.

“Ah.” Sean smiled. “I have been awaiting this introduction–“

“Dude,” she asked, “can we talk alone?”

“Perhaps,” he advised, “given Max’s level of intoxication–“

“Get the fuck out of here!” she shouted.

“Sean,” I sighed.

Without another word, he shuffled off to the bar.

“Emma,” I said, “what’s going on?”

“Don’t call me Emma,” she replied. “It freaks me out.”

“Fine.”

“Tyler and I just broke up,” she told me.

I gasped without meaning to. “When?”

“We. Just. Broke. Up.”

“Why?”

“Commitment shit,” she said. “Somebody said the L-word prematurely.”

“Yikes,” I commiserated. “Who?”

“Does it matter?”

“It does not,” I replied. “Want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Want to sit down and just be quiet?”

“No.”

“Do you want me to escort you home?”

“No way.”

Clutching at straws, I asked, “Should I come over and check on you tomorrow, then?”

“Definitely not.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I just…” she whispered. “I want to be alone for a while.”

Even though the following question was inappropriate, it happened anyway, because I was getting kind of frustrated. “So why did you even call me?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I felt like I had to.” In conclusion, she told me, “Anyway, I should go.”

“Right,” I agreed. “See you around?”

“Not for a while, dude,” she replied. “Please.”

I watched her go, and finally exhaled. And then, with a frown, I remembered the beer I’d been neglecting, and resolved to drinking it, along with as many of its friends I could get my hands around.

to be concluded…

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Visiting Hours

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

***

previously…

It was almost the afternoon, and my neighbor and I found ourselves sitting in a café just around the corner from our apartment building. Settling down with our post-coital coffees, I noted that they were both black with one sugar. “How’s work?” I asked by way of small talk.

“You know: making copies, distributing copies, filing copies, shredding copies, reprinting copies, and copying them again. Pushing a boulder up a hill.”

“Wow,” I said, “they make you push boulders up hills?”

She wasn’t sure if I was kidding. “How about your work?”

“Boring,” I replied. “Endless fluff pieces.”

“You got thrown in jail last night for writing a fluff piece?” she asked.

“That was something different,” I replied. “We call it ‘ninja journalism.'”

We?”

“My paper,” I said. “Well, my editor and me.” I thought about it. “Okay, just me.”

She shook her head with a smile.

It’s my job,” I explained, “to get to celebrities who are notoriously tight-lipped. To do that, I have to sneak past or talk my way through armies of publicists, bodyguards, and agents. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve have a long history of breaking and entering and running cons, so that makes me a natural.”

“So you’re paparazzi.”

“Not quite. The targets…”

“You’re not really a ninja, you know,” she told me.

“They know I’m a journalist. It’s just a matter of getting alone with them and making them like me. To do that, you need to be able to profile them on the spot and become exactly the kind of person they feel comfortable opening up to. Also, you have to be prepared to do a lot of drugs and alcohol.”

“Sounds lonely,” she said.

How did she know that? Most people at this point expressed only envy. “It’s–”

My phone went off, changing the subject. I dug it out, looked at the caller ID, and groaned, “I have to take this.” Immediately it began berating me.

As it did, Emma squirmed in her chair. The nails on one of her hands traced a pattern on the tabletop in front of her, and the rest of her fingers massaged her coffee cup.

My mouth went dry. I would much rather have been that cup, that tabletop, or that chair right now, instead of listening to my phone rant. “I know,” I sighed, letting it continue for another minute.

Emma’s fingers drifted over and began stroking mine.

When the phone went silent, I realized I’d better rejoin the conversation. “I know, I’ve been busy.” It asked me a question. “No!” I replied. “Okay, maybe a little bit.” I added, “Okay, maybe a lot.”

It lectured me some more while Emma quietly lifted my hand to her face and began sucking on my pinkie.

The phone chose at that moment to reveal something that hadn’t occurred to me, and I was forced to liberate myself from her grasp. “Seriously?” I buried my face in my now free hand. “Oh my god, I am so sorry.” The phone laid on a thick guilt trip.

Emma watched me curiously.

“I know,” I sighed, “I should have called.” Another, shorter guilt trip followed.

She started to get bored again.

“I said I was sorry.” The next guilt trip was more of a guilt sprint, but it still stung.

Emma began to play with her cinnamon-colored hair.

I so wished I could just hang up and help her, but instead, I had to ask my phone, “What are you doing later?” It told me. “Why don’t we go have a drink?” It asked me where. “Let’s go to Byrne’s. They have that classy sparkling water you like, right? See you in an hour?”

Sighing, I hung up and said to Emma, “Sorry. That was my friend, Sean. I haven’t talked to him in over a month. I was supposed to go with him to a cocktail party where I could meet Maggie Gross.”

“Who the hell is Maggie Gross?” she asked.

“She owns and runs a restaurant that’s a hotspot for celebrities.”

“Your ‘ninja targets,'” she said with air quotes.

“Most of the reason they love the place is because she keeps the press at bay.” I added, “Unless she really likes the reporter.”

“And what makes you think she’ll like you?”

“Come on, Em…”

“My name’s not Em.”

“Everybody likes me.”

“I don’t like you.”

That’s probably because I keep calling you Em.”

She shrugged.

“So I’d once mentioned in passing to him that I would give my right arm to meet Maggie Gross, and he got me on an invite list to her latest party.”

“And you blew him off.”

“My cousin died,” I whined. “And I got distracted.”

“And you haven’t called him.”

“Distracted,” I reminded her.

“You really are an asshole.” She meant it.

Shtupping you is a full-time job.”

“I know, right?” She grinned. “I’ve got a half-finished comic sitting on my dining room table.”

“I know we’re pretty voracious,” I said, “but you seriously can’t come up with ten minutes to read one comic book?”

At first she seemed pissed, but after a moment of thought, she softened a bit. “Not read,” she told me; “draw.”

“You draw comics?”

“You don’t think I moved to New York to be a temp, do you?”

“There’s a lot about you I don’t know,” I admitted, “like your full name.”

“You don’t know that, do you?”

“Well?”

“Dayton,” she told me. “Yours?”

“Maximillian Alejandro Fuentes.”

“My middle name is Diane.”

“I don’t know your age, either,” I continued.

“You should know better than to ask that.”

“Based on your response,” I said, “I’m guessing thirty-eight.”

“Asshole.”

“Twenty-four,” I guessed honestly.

“Now you’re just trying to fix the damage you just caused.”

“No,” I said, “there’s no way you’re older than me.”

“You’re right, then, because I’m thirty-one.”

“How old do you think I am?”

“Thirty-five,” she replied.

“Twenty-seven.”

“That’s impossible!”

I shrugged.

“That makes me a cradle robber,” she giggled. “I am so hot!”

to be continued…

Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight

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

***

previously…

“Hi,” I said as I slid into the booth next to the bored-looking blonde, “I’m Max.”

“Are you the wingman?” she asked.

Do I look like a fighter pilot?”

She glared at me. “You know what I mean.”

With a cartoonishly eager face, I looked at her. “Please tell me.”

“You’re the one who’s supposed to distract the ugly friend while your partner swoops in on the more attractive one.”

I frowned and turned to the other side of the nightclub, where Sean was in the process of swooping in on the more attractive one. However, using her as a point of comparison was hardly fair. She was simply the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen; keep in mind that I still carried a massive torch for my gorgeous, elegant ex-girlfriend, so that’s saying quite a bit.

The thing was, Sean was terrible at this, which was odd, considering how many ex-wives he had collected. She was also not so great at this. It was like watching two pre-adolescents learning to waltz while their parents coached them using semaphore.

Ordinarily, I would have left him to it while I found a place to drink in which I didn’t have to be audience to this. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t tolerate being dispatched to distract the ordinary friend. This, however, was no ordinary friend. Nobody who filled out a camisole the way she did could be described as ordinary. Besides, there was something delightful about her cynicism. This meant that I knew in advance she’d consider the next thing I would say to be utter bullshit. I said it anyway: “She has an ugly friend?”

She growled, “Don’t start.”

“Let me make this simple,” I told her. “If I were only here to distract you, I wouldn’t be asking you to leave with me for someplace quieter, and with better lighting.”

“Really.” She still looked skeptical.

“Okay,” I sighed, “let me make this simpler.” I reached over and caressed her cheek with my thumb, guiding her closer to me.

And then, just before our lips had a chance to touch, a voice looming over us declared, “Max, I believe it is time for us to converse exclusively with each other.”

“What the hell did he just say?” the blonde whispered to me.

That he’s an asshole who has no idea how to interact with human beings,” I replied. To Sean, I said, “I believe no such thing.”

“Your beliefs are irrelevant.”

“I think I should go,” she said.

With a flick of my wrist, my business card appeared in front of her face. “I’d like to continue this conversation,” I told her.

She plucked it out of my hand as she stood up to collect her attractive friend. “Maybe.”

As I followed him to the bar, a petulant silence thickened between us that I was determined not to shatter. Frankly, I didn’t give even the tiniest of shits about what was pissing him off.

My stubbornness outlasted his, and he snapped, “Please explain to me the purpose of that exchange.”

“I was being your wingman,” I reminded him.

“You were far exceeding the duty for which I enlisted you.”

“I don’t do anything half-assed, Sean.”

“Thus I must ask, has it become a necessity to refresh your memory, vis-à-vis our wager?”

You mean the one where I swore that I wouldn’t have sex for a year?”

“Indeed,” he replied. “Only ninety-four days have passed since we reached this agreement.”

“It’s only been three months?”

“And a smattering of days.”

“Fuck.” I reached for my wallet, took out three dollar bills, and slapped them onto the bar.

“And what, pray tell, is the purpose of that?”

I looked at him and then back to the bar.

He looked at the bar and then back at me. “You’ve engaged in coitus?”

I shrugged.

“I believe there might have been some kind of miscommunication,” he told me. “If I recall correctly, the wager had originally been set for one dollar. Two, if the object of said fornication was your neighbor.”

My mistake.” I tossed three more dollars onto the bar.

“Three times?”

I clarified, “Does the dollar cover the entire period of time our clothes were off, or every instance of actual intercourse?”

“We had not actually negotiated the terms to that degree of specificity.”

I took out six more dollars. “It’s the spirit of the thing.”

“Motherfucker!”

What about heavy petting and groping through clothing?” I asked. “Oh, the hell with it,” I muttered and tossed two more dollars onto the pile.

“There are no words in my vocabulary, Max Fuentes, that adequately describe the tenor of the loathing I feel for you right now.”

to be continued…

Scared Money Never Wins

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

***

previously…

“Request denied,” Sean told me as he slid off the stool at the International Bar.

I appealed his ruling. “Why?”

“Because, as is the case every morning,” he explained, “I must report to my place of employment.”

“So?”

“The hour at which I must do this is rapidly approaching.”

“Again, so?”

He sighed. “Excluding you, and perhaps some chemically enhanced rock musicians, the mammalian biology requires a number of hours to rest and reset its physiology. A more economical way of describing this function is…” He pantomimed quotation marks, probably because he knew how much I hated that. “… ‘sleep.'”

I wasn’t sure how this applied to him. Given the way he interacted with people in general, as well as the fact that his fashion was as robotic as his vocabulary, I’d always suspected he was not a mammal at all, but rather a really badly disguised alien that didn’t actually need to sleep. Regardless, I chose to play along with his subterfuge; I was desperate. “Call in sick to work,” I said. “Spend a few extra hours in bed.”

“The flaw in your logic is that I would find myself wracked with boredom upon awakening.”

“Watch some TV.”

“I derive the same amount of pleasure from television as you.”

I derived the same amount of pleasure from television as someone getting beaten in the face with a sanitation worker’s shovel, so that was out. “Don’t you have any hobbies you’ve been meaning to get to?”

“Excelling at my family’s business is the closest approximation I have to a hobby,” he replied, “inasmuch as it is the only pastime for which I’ve shown any aptitude.”

“I don’t know what to say to that.”

“Then say nothing.” He gave me a moment before sitting back down and asking, “What is it you seek to avoid at home by further socializing?”

I sighed and signaled Dan the Bartender. “I think I need another beer.”

There was one in front of me almost instantly. “You really look like you do,” Dan replied.

I poured it down my throat and said, “I think I need another beer.”

Dan handed me another bottle.

I turned back to Sean. “Where was I?”

Your fear.”

“Right.” I sighed, “Every time I go home, I run into my neighbor, and she calls me Dude. And that word cuts into me like a…” Okay, so where the hell did my wit go just now? “Like a sharp thing that hurts a lot.”

“What qualifies this as more dire than other verbal indignities you tend to endure on a regular basis?”

“Because,” I tried to reply. “Because… To be honest…” I said before turning back to Dan the Bartender. “I think I need another beer.” Upon my order being delivered, I spat out, “Because it makes me feel awkward.”

“Why, pray tell, would it be awkward?” he asked. “You have, after all, seen her in the nude and have performed unspeakable acts upon her body…”

“Enthusiastically, I’ll have you know.”

“You have performed unspeakable acts upon her body with great vigor…”

“Vigor’s a good word for it,” I sighed.

Undeterred, Sean continued, “and you fled from her without so much as a simple telephone call, and now you’re hiding in the closet–figuratively, of course–only to discover that your most recent sexual conquest…”

Not my most recent,” I mumbled.

“I’d forgotten you were a slut.”

“I’m not sorry.”

“Be that as it may,” he continued, “one of your more recent sexual conquests sleeps in a bed not more than four feet away from yours, and you have yet to learn her surname.”

“When you put it that way,” I said, “it sounds kind of filthy.”

Sean laughed. “I find it astounding that I’m sitting next to the most preposterous thing ever to grace this bar. And, if you’ll recall, it had been recently patronized by a man in a gorilla suit.”

Dan the bartender shook his head and chuckled, “Silly gorilla-suit guy.”

Inspiration struck me. “This is a message from the heavens!”

“The gorilla?”

“No,” I replied, “Sex. I quit having it.”

“I doubt your conviction.”

“I believe me, and that’s all that matters.”

“This is the most ill-conceived idea I’ve been party to in quite some time,” he told me.

“It makes perfect sense,” I said. “I am tired of being led around by my penis. When I think about it, I’ve made so many bad decisions in pursuit of sex, and what do I get out of it?”

“Orgasms,” he replied.

“Well, it’s not worth it,” I declared.

“There is little doubt in my mind that you’ll find yourself fornicating at some point in the near future. As a matter of fact,” he told me, “I’m willing to entertain a wager in regard to your poorly thought-out declaration.”

“Really.”

“I’m prepared to stake one dollar on this.”

“That’s not exactly a fair bet,” I said. “You’ll only have pay up if I die before you.”

He sighed. “Very well. If, by this time next year, you haven’t engaged in sexual congress of any sort, I will pay out the dollar you will have earned.”

“That’s not a lot of money.”

“My father would say, ‘It’s the principle of the thing.'”

I shook his hand. “Better make sure you have enough money in that bank account in a year.” I added, “And can we keep congress out of this? They just fuck everything up.”

He ignored me. “Double if your partner in said acts is your neighbor.”

“Hell, I’ll go triple on that.”

“Double is sufficient.”

“Sucker,” I mumbled.

“Sucker,” he mumbled.

to be continued…

One Way or the Other

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

***

previously…

When you’re being propelled through the air at a ludicrous speed, your crotch on a collision course with the head of a parking meter, you have a lot of time to think. Naturally, you’ll be thinking about how exactly it was that you found your balls about to strike a sturdy metal object.

The answer to that was boredom, which is what had led me to pick up my phone and push some buttons.

“Max,” the voice on the other end said. “What might be the purpose of this call?”

“What are you up to tonight?” I asked Sean.

“Occupied.”

“Is there room for me in this occupation?”

“I’m accompanying friends for what is likely to be an evening of drunken frivolity,” he replied. “Given your propensity for alcohol abuse, you’ll blend in seamlessly.”

You have friends?”

He grunted. “Admittedly, their relationship is strongest with my former spouse.”

Recalling the feel of my palm stroking her thighs, I sighed wistfully, “Ah, Sara…”

“The one to whom I refer is Johanna.”

“How many ex-wives do you have?”

“More than I care to admit,” he confessed. “We’ll be gathering at Byrne’s pub on Eighth Avenue near Fortieth Street at nine p.m. I’d recommend punctuality, given that the venue will almost certainly change repeatedly throughout the evening.”

And it did. Frequently. Sean was accurate in observing my propensity for alcohol abuse, but what he hadn’t told me was that it would be eclipsed by that of his companions, Adam and Stacia. I don’t know how much I’d imbibed in my attempt to keep up with them, but, since most of my memories involved me getting another drink, I’m guessing it was a lot.

Sean, as always, remained dry. I assumed this was because he was an artificial life form, a conclusion I’d long ago reached, given his vocabulary and posture. It could have been something more depressing than that, but he’d never explained it to me, and I’d never asked. Regardless, he was comfortable with sobriety, which is why, after the other two left the table for a few minutes, I felt like it was safe to request, “Could you get me a refill?”

“Why would I do this?” he replied.

“I’m in no condition to stand.”

“Inebriation,” he asked, “or erection?”

“Second one.” I don’t know why I told him that.

That’s twice you’ve experienced this in my presence.”

“It’s not you,” I said. “It’s the women you surround yourself with.” All night, Stacia wiggled and giggled and made me more woozy than my blood-alcohol content. I would have thought she was flirting with me, had it not been for the wedding ring adorning the hand she used to pluck ice from my bourbon and suck on it. That, along with the way she had to keep tugging her skirt down as she danced in front of the jukebox, led to the current predicament in my pants.

Adam’s matching ring made me wince. “That is a blessed man,” I concluded.

“And what, pray tell, guided you to this declaration?”

“He gets to know that woman carnally.”

Sean shrugged. “If that’s how you choose to measure fortune in this case.”

“Why wouldn’t you? She has to be utterly amazing in the sack.”

“Really,” Sean replied. “I myself am quite skilled with the egg toss. Perhaps she and I can combine our resources to compete in the three-legged race, and thus dominate the church picnic.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” My fury existed mostly to cover up the shame I felt for using the phrase “in the sack.” Really, though, I had no other words. The blood had long ago fled from my brain.

“Unless, perchance, you were describing her talents while engaged in coitus,” he continued, “in which case she is indeed quite skilled, as I have been informed with a great deal of accuracy.”

“Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you?”

By now, the bartender appeared between Adam and the object of my desire and pointed his thumb to the door. Stacia floated over to the booth, leaned close to me, and tickled my ear with her whisper: “It’s illegal to dance in this stupid city. We have to go.” Her T-shirt covered her up all the way to her neck, but my lust seemed to grant me X-ray vision.

“I’m going to need a minute,” I told her.

“We’ll be outside.” She fished an ice cube out of my otherwise empty glass and wrapped her lips around it before sashaying all the way to the door.

I groaned.

Sean followed them without a word.

A few minutes passed before I was fit to join them.

“Where to?” Adam asked as he hopped over a parking meter.

Because I couldn’t comprehend someone doing what he just did, it didn’t register in my brain. “We’re only a few blocks from the International Bar,” I suggested.

“Is there dancing?” Stacia asked.

My pants stirred. “No, but the drinks are cheap.”

Adam bounced over another parking meter and agreed, “Cheap drinks are good.”

What I was seeing now broke through my concentration, and I pointed. “What?”

“This?” he confirmed, clearing another one with the same casual effort I put into walking.

I nodded.

“Piece of cake,” he told me. “Watch.” He repeated the action, the minutiae of which I studied with disbelief. “Now you try.”

And that’s how I ended up on the sidewalk, curled into the fetal position, my testicles liquefied. The good news, though, was that I wouldn’t have to worry about inappropriate erections again. Probably forever.

to be continued…

Disappointment

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

***

previously…

The ringtone I’d assigned to Sean McCoy was “Shower in the Dark” by Binary Mystery. The band was chosen because binary must have been his native tongue in the android factory in which I assumed he was assembled; the word mystery referred to the fact that I had no idea what the fuck he was about. The symbolism of the song itself was that it was free for download, and I didn’t want to put too much work into a goddamned ringtone.

“Why didn’t you shut that shit off, Max,” asked my editor, Myron Fogle.

“Because nobody ever calls me.”

“I call you.”

“Nobody who doesn’t ask me to do things that aren’t my job calls me.”

He frowned as he rifled through negatives in that sentence until he uncovered my point. “Your job is to do whatever I tell you to do.”

“If you told me to eat the Chrysler Building?” I asked. “Would that be my job?”

“Yes.”

“Checkmate,” I admitted.

He sighed, “I don’t like this either, Max, but word came from on high.”

Mr. Lloyd?”

Myron flinched, because he was Jewish, and his people were not in the habit of speaking the names of those at the top. And while Mr. Lloyd wasn’t God, he was pretty close. “Not quite that high.”

“So nobody gets struck by lightning if I pass?”

My editor took a deep breath and removed the reading glasses I was certain he only owned because he needed something to remove to show he was serious. “I really hate to tell you this, because you’re a cocky son of a bitch, and the last thing you need is validation.”

“It’s true.”

“You’re the only one who can get in there.” He explained, “When it comes to journalism, nobody’s security is tighter than Hollywood’s, yet you get through every time we ask you to.”

“I don’t do it because you ask,” I replied. “I do it because they because they don’t want me to do it.”

“These guys really don’t want you to.”

“I’m listening.”

“Total media blackout for three square blocks surrounding the entire Brook-Gareth Hotel complex. “Nobody gets in without an invitation, and those involve security checks.”

“Catering? Cleaning staff?” I asked. “Being Hispanic does give me an unfair advantage.”

He shook his head. “In-house.”

I ground my teeth.

“You have thirty-six hours. No interviews–just the names of the people there, the gist of the keynote speech and the identity of the one giving it, and some color. All you’ll need to do is get in, get out, and call Bill immediately so he can type it up.” He sat down at his desk, returned his glasses to their former position, glanced at his computer, glanced back, and said, “You’re still here?”

I called Sean back immediately.

He asked, “I’m curious as to your–“

“Busy,” I replied. “I’ve got to get into this super-secret-media-non-grata-political-fundraising-bullshit and so some stealth reporting and I don’t even know how I can get into the building without an invite…”

“I can acquire an invitation.”

“Excuse me?”

“You are alluding to the governor’s ball at the Brooke-Gareth Hotel tomorrow evening, are you not?”

“You’re invited?” I stammered.

“Not presently,” he replied. “Typically, I choose to avoid such events inasmuch as they tend toward the stuffy and pretentious.” Yes, I was aware of the irony, but I don’t think he was. “However, it will be a simple matter of a telephone call to amend my schedule.”

And so, the next evening, a tuxedo-clad Sean McCoy strolled up to where I leaned on the outside wall of the Brooke-Gareth hotel and asked, “This is the attire you have chosen for such a prohibitively high-security, high-class gathering?”

“I tucked my shirt in!” I said.

“You may wish to remain by my side for the duration of the evening, lest your goal be ascertained by those who do not want their greased palms exposed.”

I watched limo after limo pull up to the front door to be met by enormous, humorless security guards. “You’re probably right,” I told him.

Naturally I wandered off at the first sign of an hourglass figure in a strapless, backless evening gown. She was all class, and I was playing hooky out by the creek or whatever it was kids did when they played hooky. She belonged here in this nightmare of political tuxedos and greased hands. I, on the other hand, did not. Long story short, I was not even remotely in her league.

That never stopped me before. “Hi,” I said to the woman who possessed both the figure and the gown, “I’m Max.”

Sara,” she replied before she even saw me. When she did, she looked me up and down and smirked. “You’re wearing cowboy boots?”

“Yes, I am.”

“At a formal, fundraiser?”

“Yes.”

“You may be the ballsiest man in this building.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” I replied. “Senator Bruno Sanchez is standing over there, and he’s running in the primary as a fiscal conservative.”

She laughed. “Ouch.”

“He’s not the ballsiest man in the building,” I continued. “That would be Councilman Marvin Hechtmann over there, who insists he’s the go-to guy for family values. Now, if you want to expand the field to both genders, then the ballsiest person in the room is Senator Vicky Southern, who voted against the last federal jobs bill and has actively been campaigning to repeal it. And when the money from it started rolling in, she signed the checks and went to all the photo ops, and–this is my favorite part–claims that the money came from a different spending package.”

With a grin, she shook her head.

I concluded, “On the other hand, I am wearing cowboy boots to a formal fundraiser.”

“You know the press isn’t invited here tonight.”

“What makes you think I’m the press?”

She flashed me a dirty but amused look.

I gave her a card. “You win.”

She took a look at it. “I was wrong,” she said. “You’re not a real journalist if you work at this paper.”

“I like you.”

“The feeling’s mutual.”

“Want to get out of here?”

“I can’t,” she replied. “It’s my party.”

“You’re the governor?”

She laughed. “I’m the social director. I’m the one who brought all this together.”

“Oh.” I asked her, “You want to find an empty room nearby and fool around?”

“You really are the ballsiest person in the building.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“There’s an old smoking lounge on the other side of the bar,” she replied. “No one knows it’s there.”

I don’t know how long we’d been in there, but I do know that I had my hand up her skirt when Sean turned on the lights.

“Max,” he announced, “you need to be aware that…”

Sara jumped off of my lap and began smoothing out her dress while I tucked my shirt back into my pants.

He groaned in frustration. “Is there any point in your life, Max, when you are not…”

Sara said, “Hello, Sean.”

His back stiffened. “Sara.”

“Are you his plus-one?” she asked me.

I shrugged.

She snorted and walked to his side. “You, of all people, should remember that the media is not, nor has it ever been, invited to gatherings such as this.”

“He is merely my companion,” he replied. “What he chooses to do with that status is his business.”

“Your companion? I was wondering how long it would take for you to realize that about yourself.”

“Aspersions about my sexuality? Mature.”

After she stormed away, I asked, “What the hell was that about?”

He rolled his eyes. “She’s my ex-wife.”

“Say no more.”

“I had no such intentions.” He pointed a thumb at the door. “Regardless, I have come to bring to your attention that the keynote speaker has nearly ascended to the podium. It might interest you to know that she is Andrea Gareth, heiress to this both the Gareth and the Brooke family holdings.”

“I need a minute before I can go out there.”

“Erection?”

I nodded. Nothing Sean said surprised me anymore. Nothing.

Ninety minutes later, I whipped out my cell phone the moment I stepped out of the media-blackout zone. “Bill, I hope you’re ready to type. We might be able to catch the first edition–”

“No rush,” Bill replied. “We’ve been scooped.”

I handed Sean the phone. “Take this,” I said. “I need to find a quiet place to throw up.”

“Evidently you have given Max news of an unpleasant nature,” Sean said to Bill. “Please clarify while he vomits.”

After several hours’ worth of hors d’oeuvres fled my stomach, he handed me back my cell. “A journalist for your rival paper, The New York Caller, by the name of Allen Dean had secured, by means which remain unclear, interviews both with the governor and Andrea Gareth, as well as an advanced copy of the speech she eventually delivered.”

“Allen who?”

Sean replied, “Unbeknownst to either of us, you appear to have acquired yourself an arch-nemesis.”

to be continued…

(… a look back, for perspective)

The Call That Never Came

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

***

previously…

I’d solved my first problem earlier today–I was no longer homeless at the start of the month. This, however, only exacerbated my second problem, which was how to transport my belongings from my old apartment in Brooklyn to my new one, which was within shouting distance of the Bronx. While I didn’t actually own much, the idea of schlepping it over the entire length of Manhattan was enough to make me want to douse it all in napalm and ignite it. That wouldn’t work, though, inasmuch as I couldn’t afford to replace any of it.

Solving unsolvable problems, though, was my specialty, and so I set my right brain to the puzzle while my left brain typed up the notes I’d taken from my Jane Plains concert review and feature from last night. Both sides were brought to a halt when the cell phone in my desk went off.

I should probably point out that this phone wasn’t mine. Some fuck-nozzle had dropped it onto the East Village after shouting a strange obscenity in my general direction. I’d kept it, because hey why not? I answered it for the same reason.

“The electronic device into which you speak is my property,” the phone told me.

“Finders keepers,” I replied. I had no intention of keeping the thing, mind you, but the whole experience that put it into my hand was kind of ludicrous, and I wanted answers. In my profession, I’d come to discover that adversity, if massaged properly, tended to produce answers.

“I find your immaturity to be unpleasant.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but the directness of the statement was kind of startling, and so I closed it again.

The voice continued, “I am prepared to negotiate for its release.”

“Why don’t you just buy a new one?”

“I would prefer not to follow that course.”

Are you a robot?” I asked sincerely.

“I fail to see the pertinence of that question.”

“So you’re not denying it.”

He sighed–or simulated a sigh; I had no way of telling. “Decorum dictates that I should utter your name in frustration at this point, but since I have not yet been made aware of it, I would prefer to bypass this and remind you that I am willing to exchange a great deal to repossess that cell phone.” He added, “I should probably make it known that I am remarkably wealthy. So what is it you want?”

“Okay,” I said. There was a lot I could use right now, I’ll admit, but none of that would clarify the situation that put me into this position of strength. You see, the man on the other end of this phone didn’t freak out that night when he saw me; he freaked out when he saw my best friend. When I asked her to explain, she absolutely refused. If there was one thing I hated, it was not knowing something. “I want you to tell me how you know Lisa Green and why you reacted that way to her.”

“As a businessman,” he replied, “the term I would use to describe such an offer is deal-breaker.”

“I thought you were going to give me what I want!”

“The word I employed was negotiate,” he told me.

“Don’t you want your phone back?”

“I am willing to purchase another.”

“Because you don’t want to talk about some girl?”

“Lisa Green can hardly be described as some girl.”

All right, I had to give him that one. But still… “That’s crazy!”

“Indeed.”

I massaged my eyes. “You drive a hard bargain.”

“Doing so is my livelihood.”

With a sigh, I confessed, “I’m moving from Park Slope to Inwood after work tomorrow, and I don’t have a car or any money.”

“Deal.”

“Seriously?”

“I require your current address, your new address, and a convenient time of departure.”

I grinned. “I bet your cybernetic arms can lift a lot.”

“Nonsense,” he replied. “I’ll be utilizing professionals.”

“But your cybernetic arms could lift a lot, though, right?”

“The information I requested, if you please.” After I provided it, he told me, “I will be present at your new residence when you arrive so that we may conclude this transaction, and subsequently, our relationship.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m Max, by the way.”

Sean,” he replied.

“Let me guess, it stands for ‘Synthetic Engineered Android… Ah hell, what does the N stand for?”

He hung up.

I shrugged. “That went well.”

to be continued…

(… a look back, for perspective)