TWO

Sitting on top of my desk in the office of the student-run newspaper, The Weekly Rag, an ass-kissing deuschebag who I thought for sure graduated last year has called a mandatory-meeting for anybody working for or hoping to be a part of this year’s staff and it’s getting late, after seven, and there’s twenty or more students crammed together in this small space and out of the twenty I recognize maybe half but only six of them were with us last year and I sigh louder than I mean to and it echoes throughout the room during a lengthy silence. This brings unwanted attention and even with my eyes closed I could feel some staring at me while I chew on a piece of Nicorette gum and lightly tap my feet against the side of the desk.

“Christian.” It comes from somewhere and I scan the room, finally locking eyes with Sonny — the ass-kisser who called this meeting. “Everybody, Christian’s been with us since his freshmen year.” All eyes are on me. “He is one of our best writers — and a terrific team-player. Let’s give him a round of applause for a job well done three straight years.” I literally feel the walls closing in on me and every single person stuffed in this small office claps for me. I feel like a fucking special-ed kid people applaud for just participating.

This girl Jenny who’s been working with me the last two years is standing right next to me, laughing. She has dark brown hair and a perfect face, one that never requires makeup. She’s neither heavy nor anorexic and isn’t tall or short. She’s nearly perfect looking but aside from that one time, we’ve never dated or fucked for an extensive period despite working with her on many projects – including that all-nighter last fall.

I feel the burn on my cheeks, and right now the only thing I’m thinking is what Sonny’s head would look like on a stake. Sonny has started talking about some bullshit and the heat’s off me and I’m looking around the room, watching the majority of these assholes hanging on the guy’s every word. Ridiculous, I think.

“Okay everybody, I want to thank you for your attention,” Sonny yells, standing on a chair so he can observe the whole room. “I know it’s late and everybody’s just trying to get adjusted right now with their schedules so I appreciate all of you bearing with me. Like I said, anybody interested in joining our staff this year the applications are up here in the front, and I do need them turned in by Friday — five at the latest. The very latest.” The room turns to a medium-roar and when I turn around to hit on Jenny, she’s gone and who’s in my face but Sonny.

“Sonny,” I say, sitting at my desk, swiveling around on the chair. It’s all I can think to say to him and for me to pronounce those two syllables it takes everything in me not to jump up and start beating him with my goddamn shoe. Why is he still here? is all I can think and I’m so hostile right now that when this Asian dude Chun approaches us to hand Sonny his portfolio, I nearly snap at him. And I like Chun. Sonny wouldn’t put him on staff last year and I think it was a big mistake. But this is supposed to be my year, not his. This was my year to be Editor so why is he here, right in my face, calling the shots? No, I think. Fuck.

“My portfolio,” Chun says trying to hand it to Sonny.

“Yeah, that’s great man,” Sonny says, ignoring him and taking the seat next to me (Jenny’s). “Just toss it in with the rest.”

Chun, this poor damn Asian, is short and wobbly and has bad acne which is probably why I always see him walking with his head down and he wears cheap eyeglasses, scotch-tape holding it together in two separate areas and his clothes are from ‘92, and it’s now when I make an executive decision, taking matters into my hands, convincing myself that I won’t let Sonny destroy my senior year. “Hey Chun, let me take a look at that.” For the first time ever I see the kid smile and he hands me his portfolio and I begin to leaf through it and it’s apparent the kid has real talent (his photographs aren’t just good, they’re amazing) and Sonny’s still sitting next to me and I sense his aggravation which fuels me to finish looking at each and every photo, shaking my head in approval. I hand back the portfolio. Sonny waves him off and immediately the kid’s smile disappears and he turns and begins to walk away, his head drooping to the floor and that’s when I say, loud and authoritatively “You’re hired.”

“Truly?” he asks, eyes popping out of his head like a damn cartoon-character.

“Yes,” I say, slowly turning to Sonny who sits there silent, hands clutched in a shaky fist, looking away from us. “We need a new photographer,” I say, to Chun, to Sonny. “Jesse was our best and he graduated.” I say this so convincingly, throwing up my hands as if to say “what could we do?”

“Why not,” Sonny says. We exchange glances, and it’s so hard not to mock him just as I’m sure it’s difficult for him to smile like all’s well. After a long silence, the three of us not wanting to make the first move, Sonny says “Our first editorial meeting is Sunday. We’re gonna aim for noon. See you there Chow.”

“It’s Chun,” he says, almost in a whisper – afraid of saying anything at all I’m sure.

“Right … Chun. Get home safe now.”

Chun walks away, weirdly skipping before he does a hop-and-a-leap outside and I’ve got to admit: I feel better. A minor victory, sure, but still a win.

Now with the office empty, it’s just the two of us – Sonny and me – and I’m interested to see how this one plays out. My chest is actually pounding and I know I have to keep myself together for this one. Can’t fuck it up. In my head, along with a few other odd thoughts, we’re playing a game of chess and every move is vital and important. Any immature or foolish or deadly thought speaking to me I try to block, instead concentrating on that first move. After a three-minute stare-off he moves the first piece and I’m able to relax somewhat.

“I know Christian,” he says, lowering his seat. He’s unable to look me in the eyes giving me somewhat of an advantage and ironically we’re both wearing jeans, button-downs and blazers – mine navy and from Brooks Brothers, his an ugly shade of brown and too tight. “I get it, I really do … and I’m sorry for the way this worked out. I imagine you’re not happy, and I see where you’re coming from but …” His voice is raspy and he’s clammy and coming off nervous.

“What?” I say, dragging the word out making it more of a statement than a question.

“I know you were supposed to be Editor this year,” he says, his voice picking up, confidence returning. “It’s no secret. I know. Everybody knows.”

“Oh yeah? You know? Everybody knows? Honestly, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” I stand, find my bookbag and start opening and closing drawers, grabbing papers (old articles, some short stories I wrote over the course of my college career – all sent out to various magazines, the rejection letters still paper-clipped to the stack of them) – and then open every drawer again, searching for the lone copy of a novel I started freshman year that still remains unfinished, and even though we’re the only two in the office, my opening and slamming drawers with extreme force makes the office sound as if the entire staff’s here, working hard to finish the week’s issue in time for it to go to print.

“Christian, please?” Sonny stands right next to me and I’m more than half-tempted to punch him the fuck out. He keeps going, in my ear as I pack my entire desk in a bookbag too small to hold everything anyway, causing me to scan the room for an empty box. “Christian.” He screams it this time and grabs my arm.

I immediately stop everything and slowly bring my eyes from the desk to him. It’s a bold move. I have to give him that, given the circumstances. It’s not like he hasn’t ever seen me in a fit of rage before. He risked a lot with that move. In movie-like slow motion, the basement office becomes quiet again. There’s nobody screaming, no rusty drawers squeaking as they’re being ripped open and shut, every sound vibrating and echoing throughout the office. Those few seconds of silence are golden, and I don’t even realize how badly I’m shaking (Parkinson’s bad) until I close my eyes and try to relax. You know where this can go, I think, eyes still shut and I’m trying to breathe, doing my best to “let it go.” Something Dr. Lynn would say.

“Look,” he says “I know you probably hate me, but let me at least tell you the what and why.”

“Where’s Henry?” I ask, still angry, defensive, pacing back and forth in a five-foot area. Henry, or Professor Cue-ball, a nickname that stuck with him since he began teaching here in the ‘60‘s or some shit, obviously due to the fact he has absolutely no hair and not just on his head but apparently everywhere. Kind of crazy, huh? Regardless of that, he was a student here way back, when the only majors offered were in the liberal arts. Henry (or Cue-ball, whatever) came from a prominent family that owned something like a dozen newspapers and, from both legend and knowing him personally, he got his father to donate a building and other contributions so long as RBU developed a department for journalism. Henry graduated with a general degree but he was then hired by the University to develop the Program, along with its curriculum. The Weekly Rag was founded when Henry was a sophomore, its original staff him and one other student. It took a long time for the program to take off but eventually it did, thanks to Henry, good ole Cue-ball. He’s head of the Mass Communication department (which eventually the Journalism program grew into) and he also oversees the operation of The Weekly Rag since its inception, with one specific rule: the paper is to be staffed by students and run solely by them. His function within the Rag is to guide the students working for it and to facilitate the transition of its Editor each year. So, once again, I ask Sonny “Where’s Henry?”

 

It’s after eight when I leave the office and I’ve mellowed out a bit after popping a Klonopin and I’m trying to take Dr. Lynn’s advice to “let it go” and because there’s so much shit on my mind I forget to take the back streets home so I’m walking through campus and the sky is plastered with stars, the moon full and beautiful and since I’m going to pass by there anyway I stop at the Student Center and everything besides Starbucks is closed even though it’s only 8:17 but that’s fine because all I want is a coffee so I walk in and there’s a solid crowd and while waiting in line I hear Skye’s piercing voice followed by a laughing Amy. There’s two people in front of me with only one worker so I know I’ll be here longer than I want, leaving me no choice but to say hi to the girls and I let Amy kiss me on the cheek and listen to Skye rant about her and some guy she was with last night and after only half a minute I become bored with it all so I tune out and now there’s only one person in front of me.

“Sir. Hello, can I get you something?” I get lost for a second. “Hello?” This time the lady behind the counter is rude, a total bitch.

“Christian,” Amy says, standing beside me. “Order something.”

I turn to the Starbucks-bitch and say “A Latte.”

She rolls her eyes. It doesn’t faze me at all. The K-pin’s hard at work.

“Christian, what size and how do you want it?” Amy puts an arm on my shoulder and I let her hold my hand. When I continue to say nothing she orders me a ‘Venti Latte’ with an extra shot of espresso and two frappuccinos for her and Skye, reaches in my back pocket, grabs my wallet and pays for it with my Visa.

The world shifts and spins and we’ve migrated from inside Starbucks to outside the Student Center smoking cigarettes and it isn’t until two kids wearing dark jeans and hoods skate by us smelling of marijuana that I fully come to, and I search my blazer for a dime bag I had earlier but can’t find it so I sigh, listening to Skye as she continues to go on and on about the guy she fucked last night. “I’m seeing him again tomorrow night, and have no clue what to wear.”

“It’s not like you’re gonna be in it that long anyway, you slut,” Amy says, smiling and laughing. “I have this gorgeous dress Davis bought me last week you can have. You’ll look so pretty. It’s so you.” I’m not sure if Amy says this to make me jealous, or alert for that matter, but it does stir up something and I try to remember where I heard this name before. Davis. Last week. Amy and I were still “together” last week.

“I hope he likes it,” Skye says, pouting, tossing out half a Newport and sipping her frap. “He’s so … amazing. And for him to pick me,” she points to herself “out of everyone … I’m so into him Amy.”

“I know honey,” Amy says, hugging Skye as she tears up. “He does, he does. And after tomorrow night I have no doubt that he’s truly into you. Tim’s a good guy, Skye. Yeah, he has a reputation but … trust me, he’s into you.”

I finish smoking my cigarette and gulp down half the latte in one sip, my throat on fire and that’s when I make the connection and after adjusting to the burning I say “Wait, Tim? My Tim?”

Skye looks at me as if to say “duh” but then loses it and starts crying hysterically. Amy hugs her and calm her down as she shakes and appears to be having a mental breakdown. They’re talking but I’m a good five feet away and looking the other way so I can’t hear a word.

“You and Tim have a date?” I say with a laugh and a smirk.

“Yes Christian!” Skye screams and under the streetlight her face is fully visible and I can’t help but laugh as her mascara runs, streaming black down her cheeks, eyes puffy.

“Christian,” Amy says, her eyes begging me to “shut up” but I have no intention of doing so.

“Skye, you and Tim Ruthers are dating?” I laugh so loud coffee comes pouring out my mouth and nose.

“Goddamn you Christian! I fucking hate you!” She turns and walks away, cursing and crying like the pre-Madonna she is and Amy says “Just head to the car, I’ll be right there” and then she approaches me and whispers in my ear “tonight, my place?” and I feel her breath on my neck and we’re leaning into each other, her lips daring me to kiss as they draw nearer and I close my eyes and all I see are flashes of our past: her in a tight pink bikini at the beach lathered in tanning oil, her ass and tits pronounced; naked in my hot tub drunk on a stolen bottle of wine fingering herself as we kissed; skinny-dipping in her dad’s pool when we were in ninth grade; making love for the first time that summer in my backyard, the sky lit with stars, holding each other afterwards; last winter, her crouched in bed wearing flannel pajamas unable to hold down a cup of tea or bowl of soup, yet still reading this feature I wrote – the one I thought was going to make me – telling me how wonderful it was, that I was “so talented” and I was going to make it; and then the last night we spent together, this past summer when I visited her in L.A. where she was supposedly crashing at her cousins and I surprised her and at dinner she could barely look at me, suggesting we stay the night at the Four Seasons instead of her “cousins” and when we made love that night it wasn’t the same, and the following morning I flew back to Pennsylvania and on the ride home I got a text from her saying we “need to talk” and still I was naive, and it wasn’t until a few days ago when we were driving back to school when she ended it and then, within the same two hours, said “nobody could be alone anymore” and I’m thinking about all this as she begs for a kiss and I begin to shake and the latte crashes to the sidewalk and I wind up walking away – silent and confused, nervous and crying – towards 220, jogging the whole way home, searching my backpack for more pills before realizing they’re back at the house and when I get home I run up the stairs, trip twice, and once in my room I turn off the lights and rummage through my dresser until I find my script and, while shaking, pour more than I should into my hands, chasing them with Jack Daniels, and then spend the next twenty minutes crying in the darkness, the Reaper’s eyes always on me and eventually I nod out and don’t wake up until 7 p.m. the next day, and soon find myself

 

taking shots of Crown in a downtown bar, nursing a lager. Tim met three foreign exchange students from Russia in a music-history class he’s taking this semester. Everybody at the table is cracking up so I join in, completely unaware of what I’m laughing about – although I doubt it matters. Besides the Russians and Tim, it’s me and Dan who make up the other half of the date. After yesterday the last thing I wanted to do was go out but when I finally woke up earlier Tim reminded me of our “triple-date” and though Tyler was originally supposed to come out with us in place of Dan, his girlfriend from back home found out the extent of his cheating last weekend and, as of when we left, was cursing him out live via Skype and even with his door closed all of us could hear her shrieks and he kept saying “babe, just hear me out” but her screaming-crying-yelling was all that prevailed. Finally, at quarter to ten Tim told Dan to get dressed and five minutes later when he came out of his room, Tim was pacing the hallway smoking cigarettes wearing jeans from Express, a navy-blue polo and a fresh pair of New Balances. Dan, as usual, in his traditional attire: a very bland and wrinkled pair of jeans, a Coldplay tee shirt and a ballcap that had seen better days. Tim, shaking his head, said “I’m driving,” and by the time we arrived at Hal’s the Russians were already seated, and they were so fucking hot that I was instantly hard.

An hour into the date the Russians order two more rounds and it’s almost as if they have taken a page from Tim’s playbook, getting us wasted (hopefully to take advantage of us later). It’s the vodka, shot after shot – all Stoli – and the three of us are close to gone, heading into blackout territory.

“Wow,” Tim says “I’ve got to hand it to you ladies.”

“Oh … and what is this?” one of them says. It could have come from any one of them. All three have long dark hair, matching dresses and the same red lipstick and fur-coats – even though it’s September and sixty degrees out – and they’re all holding their liquor. Perhaps better than us. We may have met our match. Damn, I think, ridiculously drunk – shocked I’m still holding it together. For the time being at least.

“I’ll say it,” Dan slurs. Seconds after he coughs and throws up on the floor beside him. He clears his throat several times and puts his hands up as if to say “I’m good,” and then he leans against the back of the chair, reaching for his beer. He finishes the pint of Guinness in front of him and then belches loud. “My bad,” he says — an astonishing amount of clarity in his voice. “Anyway, like I was about to say: you girls certainly know how to drink. Russia has taught you well young grasshopper.” There’s a half-shot of vodka somewhere on the table which he picks up, tips toward the Russian closest to him and slams it down.

“Grasshopper?” the Russian asks, clearly bewildered as she shakes her head.

“It’s a saying,” Dan says. “Like …” I see his mind drifting. “Like … a Kung Fu thing.”

“Kung Fu?”

“Jesus Christ.” Tim, putting his head on the table, perhaps seeing the night working against him. “Fucking shoot me.”

“You know, Kung Fu,” Dan says, slowly dragging the words out. “Martial Arts? Karate?

“Karate, yes, yes.” I’m quite sure that was the three of them, all verbatim.

“Even better,” Dan begins, “‘Learn from me, young padawan.’” All three are now staring at him, once again completely lost. “Star Wars?”

“Star Wars, yes, yes.” It’s as if they share the same brain.

Dan stands up as if this is a fuckin’ comedy-club and imitates Star Wars characters – Yoda, Luke, even Darth-Vader – and Hal’s quickly turns into the Dagobah system. I look around and the people at the table next to us are laughing, cheering on Dan’s Star Wars impersonation and the Russians love it, are cracking up. He continues his routine for another minute and once again we’re all lively, back in the game, over the worst of our drunken states.

Tim Ruthers, who thought the night was “fucked” only twenty minutes ago, nods his head to Dan as we say “cheers.” I check the Bulova and am shocked it’s already five to two and for last call Tim shells out a hundred bucks for a bottle of Bollinger Champagne and we all stand up, tip our flutes to each other and drink every last drop and even though Tim suggests we take the party back to our house the girls say it’s only two and suggest we go to the strip club so we leave Hal’s and walk to the other side of town and the night is brisk and cool but that’s okay because the alcohol is warming and it’s at this time when we swap dates – the chick that was supposed to be “mine” holding Dan’s hand instead and the girl Ruthers initially met and was planning on sleeping with tonight has also gravitated to Dan, leaving my Russian for Tim – and I’m bringing up the rear, listening to the five of them as they flirt and throw around sexual gestures and since it looks like I’m not getting laid tonight I consider skipping out on the rest of the night, realizing Thursday night is now early Friday and in less than six hours I have class (an 8 am Public Relations course I’ve already missed twice this week) followed by a meeting with Henry and fucking Sonny at 11 that I do need to attend as it has to do with my job at the paper, but I talk myself into going anyway thinking I might find some dumb drunk bitch at The Emerald Club that I can fuck, or at least get my dick sucked.

A guy wearing a dark suit with a blue tee-shirt and a gawky gold necklace right out of an episode of Miami Vice surprisingly checks our ID’s at the door and we shell out twenty bucks each for the cover – ten for the girls. Once inside I head towards the bar and order a drink ignoring the fugly old blonde in a pink thong trying to talk people into lap dances. Me? I’m content to sit in a stool and drink away my sorrows while watching a trio of hot brunettes share a pole on a side stage. Dan and Tim wander through the semi-crowded club and sit down near the main stage with the Russians.

I order a Miller Light and finish it just as fast but when I try to order another the bitch tending bar flat-out ignores me and flirts with some dickhead from some lame fraternity whose name is either Evan or Edwin and who, according to an Amy-Skye gossip story, was spotted giving an incoming freshman a blowjob behind Neco’s last weekend. I shout louder than I should have to, take a fifty out of my pocket and hold it out saying “hello, hello hello” until she turns around – but not before I catch her rolling her eyes in the reflection of a tequila bottle – and heads my way with a smile as fake as her Louis Vuitton heels.

“Another please,” I say sliding the empty to her. Fake smile still intact, she reaches below the bar and grabs a bottle, opens it and places it in front of me. I turn the fifty into a five and tell her to “keep the change” knowing there isn’t any – and then I’m the one with the smile and it’s far from fake. She walks off pocketing the bill and calls me a “dickhead.”

I’m extremely drunk and really don’t give a fuck what I may say but instead I think Fuck it and walk away but it’s so dark I nearly trip over three butch-lesbo’s making out, number one sucking number two’s nipple while number three fingers number one’s asshole and I push through an overwhelming crowd all dancing to a daring blend of new-wave electronic music infused with rock’n’roll elements and old-school hip-hop all mashed together with the choruses of recent hits and it truly is catchy. I stumble, spill my beer but retreat to my feet and fall into an empty chair center stage. Drunk and dizzy I put my head down and feel the tickle of fingers run through my hair, hands so soft and warming. “Hey baby, how about a little dance?” I lie back in the seat and roll my head looking up to see who those soft hands belong to and either it’s the dizzies or she’s black … kind of. Perhaps a mixed-breed? What you call em? Mulattos? Or maybe she’s got a J. Lo kind-of-thing going on rather than a Halle Berry. I just don’t know.  Either way she’s hot. Smoking hot. So, in my drunken-stupor I watch her straddle me and then starts rubbing her tits against my face, which is not good because my normal reaction is to nibble on them but they frown on those things here (unless you pay for it; and no, I don’t mean stuffing a dollar bill in her panties) so I’m more than happy when she turns around and gives me an exceptionally good lap dance until the point where my snake starts to dance to the beat of her drums – the last thing I need is a tease when I know there won’t be a payoff so I thank her and shoo her away saying “gracious” in the off chance she’s a Latino and give her a five. She looks at me with contempt but smiles anyway and walks off.

It’s at this point when I become conflicted, don’t know what to do, so I ponder my options: I could leave by foot – afterall I’m only downtown – or call a cab to go home and masturbate myself to sleep; I could go through my phone and drunk-dial everything with a vagina, send out a mass-text and see what happens; or I could shell out the cash to go to The Pit – not your everyday private room lap dance, the mysterious basement level of the club is full of cages with a variety of different women where you pay a good chunk of change to have your way with them. If Halle Lopez hadn’t stirred up the desire in me, the former may very well have done, however she did wake up my sexual appetite thus I must go with the latter, as it is a sure thing. Amazing what money could do. My journey begins and I push my way through the masses eyeing up the strippers, shudder as I watch filthy disgusting men get lap dances, watch the pretty lady dancing on the stage and then I wind up in front of the bouncer standing guard and all it costs me is a smile and a hundred bucks. I’m led down a dark stairway and then a dimly-lit hallway looking at the stone-covered walls and the girls touching themselves – some fingering themselves – and for a split second I feel like Clarice from The Silence of the Lambs walking down the cell hall on her way to meet Hannibal Lecter when I finally stop in my tracks upon seeing Girl #7 where something other than my penis is erect: my attention.

 

It’s an awkward moment and all I can do is stop and stare – as does she. Hair an auburn-blonde, her breasts small yet full with nipples so hard it could cut the glass she stands behind; long legs and a hairless vagina that’s pink, healthy and quite familiar, however there’s something else about her that screams disgust and as soon as our eyes meet the gigs up, it’s too late – and she knows it, she sees it and I can see her tearing up and that’s when the bouncer takes a couple steps forward and looks at me, then to her before back to me. “Is there a problem here?” he says, folding his arms across his chest. I can see the black man’s muscles bulging, the veins in his neck ready to pop but before I open my mouth to start fumbling words, she looks at him and says “He’s a regular” and though he doesn’t say anything he continues to look at the two of us, unconvinced, so finally she says “Everything’s fine Jay, really” and then he mumbles something and holds out his hand. Taking his cue, I pull the money from my pocket and take it out of the clip and start laying out bills – the fifty from earlier along with a twenty but his hand is still out so I peel back another twenty and continue to look at him as I feed him bill after bill until all that’s left is a ten, two fives and some ones – and then, after a long stare, he opens the cage and lets her out and leads us the rest of the way down the hall passing by three more girls in their respective cells and I could feel him staring at the back of my head, feel his breath on my neck as we finally reach the door. He pushes the two of us to the side, puts a key in the door, slides it open and then, once again, leads us down another hall (thankfully a shorter one) and to a set of three more doors. Door #1, on the left, has a sign on it that reads: Bondage. The door directly in front of us, the middle, is marked: Occupied. The third door is unmarked. “How come this doesn’t say anything?”

My new friend, the bouncer, says “It’s a fucking door. Now go. One hour.” Without further conversation, the door opens and we step into a small room with a bed, nightstand and a loveseat. She curls up in a naked ball. I take off my button-down and toss it to her as I pace back and forth smoking a cigarette, drunk, confused and not knowing where to even start. She puts on my shirt and brushes hair from her eyes, looking down, around … anywhere but at me. I similarly am having a hard time looking at her. She’s perspiring, forehead clammy and ghastly pale, breaking out and biting her lower lip, sores all over. Can’t weigh more than eighty pounds and is as close to a skeleton as humanly possible. The rest of her is complementary to her face. Fuck a mess, she’s a downright shipwreck. Fucking debris. I smoke it down to the filter, sit on the bed facing her and say “What the fuck Samantha?”

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