Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category
Back when I trained parrots for a living, Mom told me that I was wasting my time. Maybe she was right. My parrot training was ultimately unsuccessful, and I was soon forced to eat my red-feathered friends. But I can tell you one thing – there’s nothing tastier than the developed vocal cord of an Abyssinian Ringneck.
My name is Texas Pete – like the hot sauce – but I don’t wear those big leather chaps like the guy on the bottle, because… I don’t wear pants. You see, after I finished off the last of those pretty birds, I was forced to find some other source of food. Naturally, I decided to become an underwear model.
Friends always ask me where they can see my pinups, and I have to explain that I’m not one of THOSE underwear models. Rather, I’m like one of those attractive guys who walk around the Abercrombie store folding a shirt every twenty minutes. Except, I model briefs. True, live underwear modelage is a relatively new field, but I see myself as a sort of pioneer. If you ask me, in order for a man to truly understand what it’s like to wear a pair of tight boxer briefs, he must be able to see the fine contours of smooth cotton gently sweeping across another man’s crotch.
It took weeks of lobbying to get my first job at a Hanes store modeling their incredible selection of thongs. They didn’t pay me much, but every day I walked out of the store with a fresh pair of underwear and five dollars in cold, hard cash. I didn’t stay at the Hanes store for very long. After a few days on the selling floor, I ran into some trouble with the manager. Every time the doors of the store would open and the cool breeze would hit my nipples, I couldn’t help but spin those dreidles like it was the eighth night of Hanukkah. To be fair, I probably could have gotten my job back if I had been willing to stop touching my tender touchables, but like every true visionary, I wanted more.
So I left the store for something bigger and better. That something was Costco, the biggerest, betterest place there is. But when I first came knocking, the doors of opportunity were slammed in my face. And it hurt. Luckily, I’m not a quitter. Otherwise I’d be dead. Like my mom always used to say, “If I ever catch you quitting, I’ll poison your food.”
I began spending my days wandering around Costco’s underwear section modeling a little number that I like to call “the baller.” I had never been so determined in my life – I spent all day, every day, at that store. After about a week, I still hadn’t gotten a job offer, but I could feel a little tingle in my pants telling me that the road to happiness wasn’t far off.
One day, as I was taking my lunch break at the samples station, my life changed forever. Just as I was reaching for my last pizza bagel, I caught a glance of a beautiful blonde-haired girl gripping an aluminum baseball bat, chasing after some twelve-year-old punk who had sucked down one too many tomato soup shooters. Just as he was about to get away, I pegged him in the head with my bagel and ran up to that sample angel.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“I’m so sorry about your samples.”
“Oh don’t worry, they’re not mine. I just work here… Nice underwear.”
“Thanks, they’re Kirkland Signature. My name’s Pete. What’s yours?”
“Well, my friends call me Lucy, but you can call me Veronica.”
It was love at first sight. I couldn’t stop staring into her beautiful green eyes, as they peered majestically at my very large penis. We both had to get back to work, but we decided to meet up later that night after closing time.
By the time the doors to the store were finally locked, I was nearly bursting with feelings and emotions. I found Veronica lighting candles around a picnic blanket in the baked goods section. It didn’t take very long for our clothes to come off. Very soon, I had Veronica lying on the blanket smothered in five gallons of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup. As I began coating her body with four pounds of rainbow sprinkles, I suddenly realized that I just might love this girl. So I followed my heart and asked her to marry me, the next day, in the Costco chapel.
And she said yes!
After we got back from our honeymoon at one of Costco’s Miami stores, my career took an incredible and unexpected turn. It just so happens that Veronica’s father is the boss of the Korean mafia and he was able to get me a great job as Costco’s official underwear liaison. Now, not only do I model briefs in our local store, I also travel around the country delivering motivational speeches about the benefits of semi-nude modeling in the workplace.
With our newfound fortunes, Veronica and I bought a parrot farm on the outskirts of Monaco and I am able to train parrots without worry. Plus, I drink a lot of alcohol.
I still eat parrots on occasion, just for the memories. But don’t worry, I only eat the stupid ones!
“Oh, it was a gift from my brother, originally; definitely quite a gift, but he’s quite a brother;” spoken in a well-tempered, subdued tone with what was almost a laugh. “He’s an art dealer, works mostly in Italy. It’s been in storage, we just don’t have a good spot on the wall for it.”
“But it’s a Frenhofer? It’s real?”
”Yeah: very life-like; no one else could get the kind of shadows or the feeling of distance that he could. This is a later piece too, one of the last he finished. It’s a shame he ended up killing himself.”
”I don’t understand, you’re only asking five dollars?”
”Yeah, that’s it.”
”Yes, but five? This is obviously a fake, there’s no other reason you would do this.”
”Yeah, yeah,” I paused to think about this. Actually, I had already considered this problem: people thinking it would be a fake–but I couldn’t come up with any clever or charming way to sell people on the point. Could I at least look like I had thought about it, genuinely, rather than thinking about it only to try to think my way past them? Maybe the sound of defeat in my voice would work. “There’s no way I can get you to believe me, is there? But I suppose I could just charge you more.”
He seemed to get the joke, but chose to ignore it. “God . . . cheap art: that’s so privileged. I’m actually feeling sick.” He looked up as he put his hands on his waist, and had a look of disgust that was so emotionally chiseled and perfect that I was momentarily distracted.
”Forget it.” He started to walk away and mumbled something that sounded like “bourgeois faggot” underneath his breath. That seemed a little too unbelievable for me, so I ignored it. The day was heating up, pushing down with sweat and light, evaporating the dew from my lawn, bleaching out the sheet I had put under my old C.D.s, trade paperbacks, and other things that were making my house feel cluttered. I hated having garage sales, but these things looked so cheap in my house that they almost seemed to be acting rude; out they went.
It took about an hour before someone looked at the painting again. He parked his Range Rover right in front of my drive-way and came to the painting as if he had made an appointment with it. But that’s crazy: I’d never seen him before and the painting can’t make phone calls. He motioned towards me and started. He pointed, not at the painting, but right near it. He probably wasn’t pointing at my bushes, so I assumed he was asking about the painting.
”What is this?”
”It’s a Frenhofer”
”Frenhofer . . . I know that from something: Flaubert? Nah, maybe Balzac or Trollope or some other French dude.” He paused and seemed rather to watch the painting than look at it. The face of his chrome watch gleamed in the sun and he continued. “Those guys . . . those guys are such writers, such sonsabitches, such brutal ironists. I work in T.V., trying to bring some of that realist irony into the tube, myself.”
”Oh, you produce?”
”Nah, nah. Strictly creative. I’m a writer for that show ‘The Hills’. Actually, I don’t really write; I accentuate the finer points of the girls’ lives; it’s supposed to be a reality show but — So 21st century Balzacean. That Lauren Conrad, she’s a master satirista; ironically, she has no idea . . . maybe her and her roommate can make fun of him and call him ‘Ball Sack’ or something, ’cause I’d love to reference him in the show. I should just throw some novel or something in their apartment and maybe they’ll just bring it up on their own.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I decided to laugh. The heat was wearing me down.
”So. If you’re interested, it’s only five dollars. No frame though.”
“Yup. Cash only.”
“I don’t get it.”
“I don’t get it.”
“What don’t you get?”
“Five bucks? That’s a joke. Where’s the camera?”
“This is either ‘Candid Camera’ or you’re an asshole. Which is it?”
“Well, I certainly don’t feel like an asshole.”
“Well, then, fuck you, asshole.” I barely noticed how red his face had become before he was stomping away. Obviously, I must have been more rude than I imagined; but he had just gotten to his car when he was on his way back, almost skipping rather than stomping.
“Wait . . . so, is there a camera here?” He had some gleam of humiliated interest in his eyes.
“Well, no. Listen, I’m sorry for seeming a little rude, or oblique, or however it is that I’m coming off. But yes, the painting is unbelievably inexpensive. I’d rather it wasn’t in a collection or a museum, for however long that can last, so I’m looking for private buyers.”
“Well, I don’t get it; but I’ll be back. My friend is a collector, and I want to make sure it’s real before I buy it.”
“You know, you could just buy it. I’ll let you return it if it’s not what you’re looking for.” He seemed to consider this. But while he was thinking, he turned around and started walking to his car. “I’ll come by later,” and he left.
As I started packing up, one last interested, would-be customer came by.
“Hey honey, they have a Frenhofer replica over here.”
“How are you?”
“Great, it’s been a busy day.”
“How much for this? With the frame.”
“Nice. My wife’s sister really likes this guy.”
“Oh, a fan.” Easy sale. I was having trouble deciding whether to tell him or not. He was digging through his pocket for the money when I decided that it wouldn’t matter. “This is real, you know.”
“Well, life does feel a little dream-like these days.”
I laughed, but just a little. “I mean, it’s real.”
He stopped digging. “Sorry?”
“The painting, it’s actually a Frenhofer.”
“Oh, I know, it’s the Catherine Lescault.” He started digging again.
“I mean, he actually painted this one. This is legitimate.” He had the bill out, but he stopped and stared at the painting instead. He looked up at me with some kind of suspicion before looking back at the painting. I knew I had lost the sale.
“You’ve already sold me.” He thought I was bullshitting him; God knows why this would stop him from buying anything. He stayed motionless as I answered him.
“My brother’s an art dealer–this was a gift.”
“Wait . . . it is real . . .” He turned his head slightly and something in his eyes changed. “You know, at once, that sounds really exciting, and actually, unbelievable. But really, that’s just going to be a pain in the ass; I’d have to buy a nice frame and worry about something happening to it . . . I really like it though.” He almost seemed to hesitate here, “Maybe I’ll just go buy a knock-off or something.”
The wind picked up a tad, and if you couldn’t have heard it, you would think the painting, the entire object, began to animate; as if it was attempting to tantalize the would-be buyer into a purchase, shimmering in the sunlight as it moved, showing off its authentic aura.
“You’d rather buy a poster?” I laughed a little. “But that’ll probably cost more.”
“Sure. But it isn’t worth as much; it’s less to worry about.” As he walked away, he turned around to add, “It’s kinda funny: I probably would have bought it if you never said anything.” I nodded.
At that point, I decided it wasn’t worth telling people that the painting was real. But by that point, it was so late in the morning that the thrill of garage sale shopping looked about as big of a waste of time as it was. The warmth of the late morning sun had turned into an early afternoon heat, and the diffused quality of the light, which once offered such a soft and indistinct partitioning from the dreamworld to the day, was becoming too bright to be comfortable, over saturating the sensitive eyes of bargain hunters with yellows and whites beyond their wildest and most haunting daydreams. Aside from looking terrible in the stark daylight, the Frenhofer was probably getting ruined in this kind of light. I packed everything up from the lawn. Frenhofer had his chance this weekend but decided to get a sunburn instead of being sold at the kind of bargain price that you could only find in fiction. I laid him out behind the garbage cans to save myself the misery of finding him hidden amidst cardboard boxes and boogie boards years from now.
That night I went to work on my novel. I had a sudden spark of inspiration last summer while at the beach; I saw a plastic bag floating through the sea, dancing through the liquid as if it were full of life. My novel was about these non-degradable pieces of trash, and how micro-biological creatures would ban together and form colonies over the entire surface of trash like this; eventually, the colonies, forming a sort of massive micro-biological commune, would begin to move the trash through the effort of their collective will; they would actually use the trash as a vehicle, while simultaneously making it appear as if the trash were moving on its own. I really had no strong ideas about what this meant, but the chapter I was currently writing was about the media’s portrayal of an incident in which a child had suffocated when a bag had rolled onto his head. Although they had no clear evidence that this bag was in fact a bag on which one of these communes had been established, the story was still spun as an act of willful malevolence, which incited a nation-wide occasion of plastic burning–I had no idea where to go from there; I figured I could just keep rolling one idea into another until it felt right. But not that night. After the giant bonfire was beginning to cloud out the sun, I went to bed.
At around two o’clock, amidst dreams and the tangle of my wife’s long legs, I heard a car in the alley. Strange that anyone would be using the alley this late; stranger still was the sudden snapping sound as the car passed by the bedroom window. A hushed bundle of excited whispers followed and seemed to incite the engine, which started away twice as loud and twice as fast. I got out of bed, walked to my window and looked down to see the Frenhofer in two pieces.
A dash of cold from the air outside the window, was so fresh and chilling that i dreamed of domesticating it and keeping it inside. It was some chill which seemed as if it would never leave the back alley; not until this city was drowning in hot, burning trash; some ridiculous bonfire, where everyone would turn out what they had previously loved and burned it like garbage; wine would be spilling out of sweaty hands and grotesque smiles, and everyone would, I hope to god, at least feel good in that one stupid moment. I looked up into the night, and the unbelievable crept into shape before my eyes. “Goddamnit,” I was deeply bitter at this point. I swear I had no other name for what I was seeing: “A fucking UFO? Why is my life turning into some cheap science fiction cliché?”–that, with a tremble and a heart-shiver, I woke. It was a dream.
The morning light was back, just as warm and diffused as the previous day. I got some of the empty wine bottles from the kitchen and went to take them out back. When I turned the corner and looked at the garbage pales the painting wasn’t crushed; it wasn’t even there anymore.
If I were to tell you a story, would you believe me? There’s really no reason for you not to. I am very credible. I would be a spectacular eyewitness in any kind of murder case or impromptu City Hall wedding ceremony.
I want to tell you about the afternoon I met Sandy. It happened totally by accident. She just walked up to the roof of her new apartment building, my apartment building, to see the “view of the historic Hollywood sign,” and instead found me massaging a baby rabbit’s eyeball with my index finger.
To explain, I had a surplus of baby rabbits. I had to get rid of them. Unfortunately, they were defective and would be near impossible to give away. The natural progression was to make a little game out of tossing them off my apartment building.
The average baby rabbit flies roughly forty feet straight out when tossed granny-style from the top of my three-story apartment building. It takes about twelve seconds for it to thump on the street below, give or take a few seconds depending on the amount of wind. Sometimes the baby rabbit will thump on the windshield of a passing motorist before it gets a chance to reach the pavement.
I give myself three points for each baby rabbit that lands in the trashcan across the street from the apartment building. I receive two points for each baby rabbit that lands within ten feet of the trashcan. I receive only one point for each baby rabbit that lands in the street. I do not receive any points for each of the baby rabbits that hit the windshield of a passing motorist, or the head and face area of any of the Armenian or Russian Americans who live in the neighborhood, or for any of the baby rabbits that don’t even make it as far as the street.
As soon as I noticed Sandy on the roof I could sense her staring at me, judging me. Her eyes darted quickly around uneasily as she tried to take in the whole scene. They lingered briefly the ten-gallon aquarium squirming with fuzzy life on the roof next to me, my tight khakis, the hairy pile resting next to the fire hydrant across the street (two points), my veiny wrists and forearms, and my sideburns. When her eyes finally came to a rest on the black baby rabbit in my hand, I felt like I had to explain.
“Tossing cute little baby rabbits granny-style from the roof of my three-story apartment building and into the trashcan across the street in front of the building is just what I do when I’m not working,” I said. “I don’t do it all day long and I certainly don’t do it for money. I am not a crazy person. I could never plead insanity.”
Sandy still didn’t say anything, but her attention was directed fully and completely on my face. She was probably drowning in my eyes. That seems to be a common occurrence around me.
“Besides,” I said, “this baby rabbit is blind.”
She took a few steps closer and asked me, “Are you for real?”
Now it was my turn to stare. She was exactly the kind of girl I needed. Her face was a beautiful blank canvas, just waiting for someone like me, or more accurately, me, to come along. I hoped that she could sense this too. And I hoped she was as dumb as I hoped.
“I have lived on this Earth for thirty years, ten of them here, in Los Angeles and I have never before seen a girl quite like you,” I told her. “Your cheeks are as silky as the pillows of a princess. Your eyelids resemble glorious lace doilies draped across white grapes. And your lips are the luscious North American Northwest Region before it was razed by industrial logging.”
“Thank you,” she said. She seemed sincere. I am normally a great judge of character. “What’s the black bunny’s name?” she asked.
“This one is called Number One-Hundred and Ninety-Seven,” I said. Then I kissed the black baby rabbit on the forehead for luck. I know she thought that was funny. I am a funny person.
“Please don’t throw the bunny,” she said. “It’s so cute and little. I don’t care if it’s blind. I don’t want you to throw the rabbit, and I’m not going anywhere. I have to take a picture of the Hollywood sign for my parents. They haven’t seen the hills. They haven’t felt the Santa Anas blowing through their hair. They haven’t been thrown off balance by a tremor. They’ve never bought a tamale from a shopping cart off a man walking down Sunset Boulevard. They haven’t lived, like I’ve lived for the past eight days. It’s time for me to send them a little piece of the Los Angeles experience, a little piece of me. And it’s time for you to stop throwing “baby animals” off the roof of this apartment building.”
“First of all,” I said to her, “I do not toss any other baby animals from the roof of my building. I only toss these baby rabbits.”
I stroked the baby rabbit’s head again with my palm tickled it between the toes with my fingers.
“The thing with these baby rabbits is that they’re useless,” I said. “These baby rabbits are blind, sometimes in both eyes. They stink like perfume. Some of them have lipstick stains on their teeth. Others bleed from the nose or anus. These aren’t cute rabbits. Little kids won’t want them. Parents definitely won’t allow them in their house. Actually, they’re rather disgusting.”
Sandy crept up to where I was standing and reached out to the baby rabbit. I firmly held its mouth shut, so it couldn’t bite her. She stroked its back as it squeaked softly.
Her face was within a few feet of me. There was an enormous amount of potential in that face. Nobody in this city wants a face with potential. Sandy desperately needed someone to make her into a beauty. Everyone wants a beauty. From that distance I could see every glistening pore and each individual eyelash. They were crying for my attention. With my help, Sandy could be beautiful.
Sandy slowly worked the baby rabbit out of my hand and cupped it between her own. It didn’t bite her. It didn’t bleed on her. It didn’t pee on her. Number One-Hundred and Ninety-Seven just curled up in her palms and gently breathed.
“Do you use a foundation?” I asked her. “I think you’d be a cameo, or possibly a natural beige.”
Sandy didn’t respond. She walked over to the aquarium, crouched down, and looked inside. The baby rabbits, the ones with working olfactory, stood up and anxiously sniffed the air.
“Of course, I’d have to do a foundation test to really be sure,” I said. “That would only take a few minutes. Well, technically that would be the second step. First, there would be skin care with exfoliates, purifying astringents, and some overnight renewal. But with the help of adequate skin care, a flattering foundation, and some barely-there blush, I could make it all happen for you.”
Sandy placed the baby rabbit into the aquarium. The wriggling mass of fur quickly swallowed it up.
“Please don’t throw any more of these bunnies off the building,” Sandy said. “Would it help if you had something else to throw? I could buy you some tennis balls or something.”
I don’t have any problems with baby rabbits. I didn’t have any traumatic experiences as a child involving Floppy leaving bunny puffs under the dishwasher or Ms. Cutesy Boots chewing on the Atari wires or anything like that. I’ve just never wanted any of the baby rabbits that I use for my testing and research to have to go back into the world.
“What are these baby rabbits going to do on their own?” I asked. “I can’t take care of them. Maybe if they were just one, but they are many. This is faster and it’s painless. They don’t even get a chance to find out how ugly and useless and disgusting they are. It’s just twelve seconds of the sheer jubilation of flight, and then it’s over. I’m sure all of these baby rabbits have wanted to be a bird at some time or the other.”
“I’ll take care of the bunnies,” Sandy said. “I don’t have a job right now. I need something to occupy my afternoons. I’m trying to be a personal assistant anyway. I could use the practice pampering.”
I had a few dozen more baby rabbits in my apartment. They have their own spacious bedroom. They are well cared for. I’ve read plenty of books on grooming and breeding. My apartment’s properly ventilated. I feed them twice a day. I didn’t tell Sandy about these other bunnies.
I couldn’t get rid of all my baby rabbits. The world of cosmetics is constantly changing. I run a small business out of my home. In order to keep up with the latest face luster or long wearing lip-liner, I have to continually research and test. I’m not going to test anything on myself.
“I just don’t want you to kill them. Please don’t kill them,” she said.
“Alright. I won’t kill those baby rabbits,” I said.
“Thank you. You’re making the right decision,” she said. “Doesn’t it feel good to make the right decision?”
Sandy picked up the aquarium filled with baby rabbits and balanced it awkwardly with her forearms. Inside was a flurry of life and movement as all of their pink noses worked overtime to explore the scent of their new caretaker.
“I’ll name each one. They won’t be identified by numbers. They’ll be pampered. I want to make sure they get the star treatment,” she said. “I can start right away. I won’t tell my roommate. She always stays in her room. Don’t tell my roommate, okay?”
She started to walk off toward the steps with her new aquarium. I reached out and snagged her by the elbow.
“Wait, what about the picture for your parents?” I asked. “It’s the magic hour out here. You don’t want to miss out on the perfect light.”
“I’ll take it some other time,” she said.
“I could take it for you now. And that way, you could be in the picture. They’d be getting the dreams and the girl who’s chasing them. They’ll love it.”
Sandy set down the aquarium and took a disposable camera out of her back pocket. I had her stand near the edge of the roof, where I could get the most beautiful backlighting.
“Close-ups are the most interesting,” I said. “They’re more intimate. It makes you feel like you’re standing there with the person, and you’re sharing the same experiences.”
“No. Don’t get too close. I didn’t wear any make-up today,” she said.
“I’ll make you look beautiful,” I said. “I’ll give you the star treatment.”
Then I ran, as fast as I could, down the steps to get my kit out of my apartment. I hoped it would just be the first of many pictures.
When Hannah met Josep he was floating face down and motionless amongst the waves. Only his back bobbed up and down with the breakers. His head and limbs hung toward the bottom. She thought about turning off the waves. Her whistle gave her the power to do so.
It was a very hot day and a very busy day at Noah’s Ark Water Park’s Big Kahuna Wave Pool. Hannah didn’t want to get the guys in the wave house to shut off the motors. But she really didn’t want anyone to get hurt on her watch. She’d been a lifeguard for three years and she’d never shut off the waves before, but she’d never had to save anyone before either. Usually it was her job just to sit and watch. It made her feel needed and everyone else feel safe.
Hannah jumped down off her chair to the side of the wave pool, grabbed her bright red rescue can, and put the whistle to her lips. Just as she was about to blow she could see his head turn slowly in the water and glance up at her lifeguard chair. When Josep noticed she wasn’t there he adjusted his position slightly with a tiny bit of hand sculling and made direct eye contact with Hannah. He was faking. She decided not to blow her whistle.
She had been working at Noah’s Ark Water Park since graduating college seven years before. She worked her way up from filling pop machines with the park services crew to selling admission tickets to keeping an eye on the children at the Paradise Lagoon and finally to the ranks of the lifeguards. It had been three years since Alyssa had made her a lifeguard and this earned her seniority and the right to choose which attractions she wanted to supervise.
Hannah’s average morning was spent at the top of one of the family-size water slides. Usually it was Kowabunga or Dark Voyage. She enjoyed watching a middle-aged mom frantically stuffing her fanny pack, securing her nine year-old’s aqua socks, lathering her sixteen year-old twins’ noses with another layer of fluorescent green zinc oxide, and pulling her husband’s drooping swimsuit up to his belly button. It was Mom at her best.
Hannah’s afternoons were almost always spent under an umbrella at the top of one of the high-speed slides. It was her turn to take over for Mom by watching Dad and the Twins while Mom spent a few minutes comatose riding an inner tube around the infinite loop of the Endless River with the Little Tyke.
Playing mother for those few minutes was the least Hannah could do for the hundreds of moms coming through Noah’s Ark everyday. Here it was supposed to be Mom’s vacation too, and she still had to spend most of the day worrying about the kids or squirting a bottle of SPF 30 onto Dad’s back. Hannah knew the fifteen minutes of relief she could give Mom wasn’t as good as it gets, but it was something.
Unfortunately there wasn’t anything Hannah could do in regard to the children too small to accompany Dad on the water slides. Mom was stuck with an unsightly tan line on her arm from where she held her Little Tyke next to her on the tube in a little life-vest. If only Hannah had the ability to hold each of these Little Tykes against her breast and protect them from the beating sun and the crashing water, then she could feel like she’d done all she could for Mom.
The end of Hannah’s day was always spent at the Big Kahuna Wave Pool. Usually she worked the Wave Pool with Alyssa. They would sit in chairs across the pool from each other, along with a few other lifeguards. It was one big lifeguard family and each family member would be in charge of a pool quadrant.
Hannah felt all the park employees were her extended family and she wanted the rest of them to feel the same way. A few years after she started working at the water park, she started a tradition for the employees. Every other Sunday morning she, and anyone who wanted to come, went to Paul Bunyan’s Northwoods Cook Shanty for a family dining brunch. Originally she wanted everyone to come to her apartment, but she soon realized that her table for four was never going to be large enough, even if she added the leaf. The bonus then was also that Hannah didn’t have to cook for everyone. Although she liked to cook, her breakfast menu was limited and the cooks at Paul Bunyan’s always left the Arkers gasping for breath from eating pile after pile of pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and hash browns.
The most popular food items were always the buttermilk donuts and the bowl of sugar to dip them in. Without fail, Dalton, Ollie the Otter in the Water Animal show, would ask a first timer to pass him the bowl of “tasty doughy water buoys.” If he got a laugh, he would ask him/her if they liked “paying to see stand-up comedy.” If the answer was “yes,” he would ask for a dollar. Dalton earned nine dollars over the four years he’d been coming to Paul Bunyan’s.
Hannah wanted to do something special for Josep to thank him for coming with her to Paul Bunyan’s for the first time. She felt it would be a nice way for her to show her appreciation for his wanting to be a part of her life. She had gone out alone with him a few times since she’d met him, but it was the first time he was going to be around her friends. She wanted them to be comfortable with each other.
She knew he was a Libra, which meant he was a beauty lover. She decided to draw him a picture. It was going to be the most beautiful picture she could imagine. A young woman in a bikini soared through the air with her arms outstretched. Directly underneath her was a magnificent dolphin leaping out of the sparkling ocean. With one hand the young woman reached down and touched the dolphin’s dorsal fin. Both the young woman and the dolphin looked extremely happy.
Hannah and Josep showed up at Paul Bunyan’s after everyone else. Alyssa had saved them a couple of seats next to her. Hannah was happy to see this. Alyssa was her best friend at the water park and wanted her to get along with Josep the most. Hannah had Josep sit down. She put her hands on his shoulders and introduced him to everyone as her “new boyfriend.” Except for a few “not another one” jokes from Dalton and the other Water Animals guys, the introductions went well. Hannah was pleased.
Hannah pulled the drawing out of her purse and handed it to Josep. He seemed surprised, and had to set down his orange juice to unfold it and get a better look at it. As he examined the picture she gently massaged his back with her fingers. He looked closely at the girl in the bikini and scratched with his fingernail on the dolphin. Hannah sat and massaged expectantly. Josep turned and gave her a short kiss. He loved it. He said that he didn’t understand it, but he loved it. He was touched that she would make anything for him and he would put it up next to his bed.
Alyssa asked to look at the picture. After a moment with it, she told Hannah she liked that both the dolphin and the young woman were smiling. They seemed content and happy. She noted that it must have taken a great deal of coordination for the two of them to be at that same position in space and time at the very same moment. Alyssa even went so far as to say that it was probably fate that brought the two of them together in the air above the ocean, because neither of them really belonged there in the first place. Hannah never admitted to Josep that she had made Alyssa promise to say all of this about the picture, if he didn’t understand it.
Someday Hannah wanted to stand in the doorway of a cabin, like the one housing Paul Bunyan’s, and look out over the collection of forgotten and dilapidated cabins she had turned into a beckoning Eden on the shore of Lake Michigan. At night her husband would watch over the guests so she could sit just off the shore in the Great Lake and let the cool waves lap against her waist and breasts.
Lounging in the shifting tides under the moonlight all she would worry about would be the waves trying to push her back to shore. Dragging her toes along the rocky lake bottom she’ll be able to hold her position against the moon and the tide and just sway back and forth in a lazy lateral motion. With the right amount of pressure she would be able to withstand any wave the moon could throw at her. This would be her fifteen minutes on the Endless River.
Unfortunately the resort cabins and Lake Michigan were still years away. The only cabin Hannah spent her time at while working in Wisconsin Dells belonged to Paul Bunyan’s Northwoods Cook Shanty. The only waves were created by the whirring motors behind the wall at the far end of Noah’s Ark’s Big Kahuna wave pool.
Josep already had a position in the lodging industry. While it wasn’t quite a beckoning Eden, it was always filled with lodgers and had it’s own picnic pavilion, outdoor pools, and Fun Pail for the kids. He worked Tuesday through Sunday as the second shift Front Desk clerk at the Flamingo Motel & Suites, located just outside the water park on the far side of Noah’s Ark’s mini-golf course.
After the meal at Paul Bunyan’s, with all of the Noah’s Ark family, Josep had to go into work. It was the summer and the busy season for not only the water parks but all of the tourism industry in Wisconsin Dells, which meant the Flamingo was consistently placing out its “No Vacancy” sign and Josep was consistently working six or seven days a week. His manager didn’t allow him to have visitors during the workday. Hannah didn’t get to see him until after his shift was done at ten at night. Most of their dates had happened after the sun went down.
The night after giving Josep the picture Hannah sat on a pool chair outside the Flamingo and waited for him to finish. The sky was still lit up by a full moon. It was exciting for Hannah to have the extra light. She was on a high from Josep liking the picture she’d made for him and wanted to see what else the day could lead to. In the past few weeks of dating, the dark skies had forced the two of them directly into seeing a band play at a bar or going to a movie after he got done with work. Tonight she’d decided to pick up some Burger King for him and surprise him with a moonlit picnic. If they sat by the Fun Pail, a massive man-made outdoor shower on a timer, they could even have their own waterfall every fifteen minutes.
The last few dates had ultimately led to lengthy make-out sessions in the back of his Blazer, and even a night in the Flamingo’s “Just In Case” room at the end of the hall next to the A & W machine. This was all great. Hannah enjoyed the physical contact and absolutely enjoyed trying to make Josep smile. Still, they hadn’t really had a chance to have a conversation longer than five or ten minutes since they started dating. She hoped that the full moon might allow them the luxury of staying outside a while longer and trying to figure out if they were compatible in public too.
It turned out that Josep felt the same way. He was “totally into” getting to know each other for a while, rather than just getting distracted by some mindless entertainment. He agreed to sit down on some deck chairs and eat their Whopper Juniors and talk about how they felt about each other, but only if they could first catch the final Fun Pail dump at 10:15. It’d been a long stressful day in the hotel management world and he needed a little refreshment.
They stood together under the giant metal pail and waited for the cool water to crash down on their heads. From the Fun Pail platform Hannah could see the doors and windows of all the Flamingo’s poolside rooms. In this busy season every one of those rooms was filled. Each one had it’s own family unit. Dad and the Twins were probably huddled up watching a pay-per-view movie and drinking huge pops they’d gotten from the Amoco. The Little Tyke would be asleep on a cot. Mom was getting her second round of rest for the day in a bubble bath. Then, just as a character in the movie swore, the Twins gasped, the Little Tyke woke up suddenly, Dad told the Twins not to tell Mom what they’d heard, Mom smiled to herself behind the bathroom door, and the Fun Pail tipped.
As soon as the thousand gallons of freezing water showered down on Hannah and Josep, she could care less about the families tucked away behind the closed doors. The water was ice-cold. Goosebumps formed immediately. Her teeth chattered. The cool night breeze suddenly felt like a polar wind. It was not her idea of refreshing. All she could think about was getting somewhere where the Fun Pail wasn’t.
Josep immediately apologized. He quickly ran to the maids’ office and came back with an armload of blankets. The two of them ate their cold Burger King food underneath multiple layers of white cotton. He apologized again and explained that he’d never gone under the Pail so late at night. He guessed they must shut off the heater once the children staying at the Flamingo head off to bed.
Hannah told him it was fine and she wasn’t mad, but she did want him to talk first. She didn’t care what he said, she just wanted to learn something personal about him, anything she didn’t already know. She nibbled on a few cold onion rings and waited for his response. She knew exactly what it was going to be. He was going to tell her about how he didn’t want to stay working at the Flamingo Motel & Suites forever. He had bigger plans. He’d always dreamed of opening his own bait shop, or Scandinavian knick-knack shop, or better yet a beckoning Eden of cabins on the north shore.
Josep admitted that he’d originally faked drowning so she’d rescue him. Then when she threw an arm around his floating body and swam with him to the shallow end of the Big Kahuna Wave Pool, he would be able to slowly twist his body around so his face was smushed against her breast. He’d been admiring them from the pool for about twenty minutes, and came up with the plan to get his nose right next to her nipples. He said he was embarrassed about it now, but glad he’d done it. He told her she had “beautiful boobs” and that he was especially enamored with the freckles and moles that covered her breasts, stomach, and arms like “tiny brown stars.” They made her look exotic and exciting.
Although it wasn’t the response she’d expected, Hannah was flattered by it. She’d always been proud of her breasts. They weren’t any larger or more beautiful than other breasts, but they were hers and they reminded her that on same base level she’d always be needed, whether it was for pleasure or nurturing.
Josep began to trace lines between the moles and freckles with his index finger. She told him how she and her sister used to call the moles “lefse spots.” They looked like the brown spots that would appear when her grandmother made the Norwegian potato-based tortillas for her grandchildren around the holidays.
Josep told her he couldn’t see the stars in the sky very well since the moon was full, so he was going to trace out the constellations in her lefse spots. On her collarbone he traced out the Little Dipper. He said it looked like the Fun Pail. She shivered. He grabbed another blanket and wrapped it tightly around her shoulders. On her left breast he traced out the stars of Libra. Then he moved to her right breast. He told her a constellation was visible tonight on the “right horizon” not normally seen so early in the season, especially so close to Libra. It was the constellation Cancer.
Hannah giggled and told him she was a Cancer. He said he knew. He’d memorized which signs went with which birth dates when he went to college in Madison. Girls loved it. He continued to trace out Cancer on her breast. It had quite a few more stars in the constellation than she remembered.
His tracing stopped on the final star of the crab constellation. He called it the great red star, “Redulus.”
Hannah didn’t remember any red moles. She’d always searched for anything off color in the mirror in the morning. She always used more than enough sun block when lifeguarding. There couldn’t be any red moles.
The cabins off the north shore collapsed. Josep drowned in the Big Kahuna. Mom and Dad and the family started screaming at each other. Alyssa didn’t have any more chances to approve of Hannah’s new boyfriends. Dalton stopped bouncing his new material off of unsuspecting newcomers at Paul Bunyan’s. The Fun Pail dropped a thousand gallons of freezing cold water on her head. Everything spiraled out of her control.
Josep took a closer look at Redulus. He scraped at it with a fingernail. It came right off. He tasted it and informed her it was just a tiny speck of ketchup from the Whopper Jr.
Hannah began to cry, a loud wail. It didn’t even build up. It started at the highest volume possible and stayed constant. Instantly lights flicked on in the windows overlooking them. Josep was stunned. He asked if there was anything he could do for her. Hannah couldn’t believe he wanted to do something for her. She was the caretaker. She was the nurturer. She was the mother. She was supposed to do things for him. He put his arms around her and told her he was there and he would listen to whatever made her so sad.
Hannah thought about it. It wasn’t just that she was sad. It was a full-on outpouring of all her emotions at once. She was sad she’d been stuck in a tacky Midwest tourist Mecca for the past seven years, instead of at her own resort in Northern Wisconsin. She was scared she’d never leave. She was embarrassed that Josep didn’t understand the meaning of the picture she’d drawn for him. She was angry that one little speck of fast food ketchup, in her awareness for only a few seconds, could throw her whole world into a tailspin. She was happy she had a friend like Alyssa. She was happy she met a man like Josep. They’d had a little break through today. He told her he loved her breasts. It was something. It was more than just ignoring each other for a few hours and then going off to some motel room to have sex. She was even happy to hear Dalton’s terrible jokes once a week at Paul Bunyan’s. It was comforting to know what a lowly and despicable zero was and that she would never be one.
She told Josep she was just sad. No reason. Just emotion. He asked if there was anything he could do to make her happy and calm her down. Her screaming was going to get some of the guests upset. She told him she really wanted to go swimming in the Big Kahuna.
Josep helped her hop the fence into Noah’s Ark. After a quick moonlit stroll past the mini-golf, the go-karts, and multiple waterslides devoid of tourists they reached the Big Kahuna.
The wave pool’s normally tumultuous water sat serene and empty. The full moon reflected in the center. Josep ran as fast as he could out into the center of the pool and dove underneath. The Big Kahuna was heated twenty-four hours seven days a week. A pool with that much water took too long to heat for the lifeguards to take the time to do it each morning. Josep’s body floated up to the surface. He smiled, floated on his stomach, and stared at Hannah.
Luckily Hannah learned over the past few years how to turn on the machines in the wave house. She ran into the back and flipped it on. The motors whirred to life. Soon the whistle blew, signaling an upcoming wave. She took off at full speed out of the back and dove into the pool. She swam as fast as she could to where Josep was and made it just in time before the waves started.
Clutching the rough cement bottom of the pool with her toes, she was able to hold her position against the machine and the waves and she swayed back and forth in a lazy lateral motion. With the right amount of pressure she was able to withstand all the waves the machine threw at her.
She could see Josep laughing and bodysurfing back to the shallow end in the moonlight. When the waves ended she laid back and relaxed in the water. Hannah waited for the whistle to blow again.
If you’re reading this it means I’m dead. Kidding! I hope you still have your sense of humor, Future Self, because I’m going to level with you — right now that’s kind of all you have going. I really hope this is my five to ten year Future Self, and not my one year, because I’m confident that my five to ten version will be able to laugh. Not so sure about my one year.
Things are bad now, man. You took some chances and they didn’t pan out. That’s Present Me for you, though – a risk taker! In an effort to “show them” you quit your job with nothing lined up. I bet in retrospect getting reprimanded for coming in two hours late and parking in the CEO’s spot seems reasonable. You weren’t there, though. Larry’s tone was condescending, and it was a big deal at the time.
Speaking of big deals, what were you thinking ending it with Chase? Now that I think of it, he was pretty fantastic. I look to you for answers, F.S., because you’re older, wiser, more mature. I’m just a silly old kid, and to me, wanting to spend time with your sick grandma seems boring, and I hate to say it, but kind of cliche.
You’re cracking up right now, aren’t you? I bet you’re sitting in your mansion, doubled over, trying to wrap your head around the notion of “bad times.” Good for you. You deserve a good laugh. With all the hard work you do, plus your daily five am yoga classes, you could use it.
And hey, I’m sorry about that scar on your forehead. That was just plain idiotic. But ’til the day I die, I will stand by the fact that if Mindy didn’t force-feed me that eighth cup of mulled wine I never would have leap-frogged Charlie. At least not handcuffed. Although I guess I could have just been acting out because I was getting arrested. Whatevs. The point is, I can admit when I’m wrong. There’s probably, like, really high-tech machinery to laser scars out now though, right? What, do you just go into a booth and zap, come out scar-free, Jetsons-style? I bet it’s something like that. Probably kind of pricey, though. But with your paychecks, that’s just a drop in the ol’ bucket! (Assuming modeling/acting/singing still pays well.) I wonder if you’ve become an aristocrat? Do you have a butler? Do you use cloth napkins? Hey – whatever you do, don’t forget the little people, sister.
All these shenanigans – or should I say lessons – made you/me stronger, didn’t it? I bet it helped define who you are. Thanks to Present Me’s devil-may-care ways, you’ve learned so much through trial and error. That’s why you’re so different now. Do you still like soy cherry chocolate ice cream from Trader Joe’s? Do they even make that in the future? (Note to Current Self – stock up.) I know you still like Led Zeppelin. That’s probably the only thing you and I have in common right now.
Anyway, back to the present. Well, the past for you. Charlie finally got WWE SmackDown vs. Raw for Wii, so Mindy and I are going to head over there to do some damage. Who knows, maybe you’ll get a great story out of it! Show me a really fancy dinner party you won’t kill at now, girlfriend! You’re welcome.
This piece was originally rejected from McSweeney’s.