Wasn’t Aware “that” was on the Menu
IF YOU WERE MINE, all mine, would you eat pussy with me?” he, my friend Matt, looked over his glasses at me and asked in such a persuasive and nonchalant whisper that my face went hot and sweaty instead of the normal reaction I’d have to his sexual advances like spitting my kale smoothie into his face and/or wetting my pants a little from laughing too hard. I was trying to adjust myself a little smaller between the red vinyl and the grey Formica just in case anyone had overheard our conversation when the “What?” came at me as if he didn’t already know that he’d embarrassed me to no end. “I don’t wear my cape in public; you know that, Girl,” and I did know that, but it wasn’t that he didn’t wear it in public. He did, except when it was at the drycleaners, which was most of the time. He will never admit it, but Matt is a vigilante and a superhero, standing up for stray cats and feral vaginas everywhere. Or maybe it’s stray vaginas? I’m not sure. Back when we were kids, cookie fingers smudging paths along walls fraught with white, I often wanted to pop him in the mouth for the stupid stuff he’d say and the even more asinine stuff he’d do, but then he’d speak to me in this soft, convincing tone of voice — velvety smile to match — and my fists would no longer make any sense to me. Like I said, he’s a vigilante, always probing and prodding for that feminist line in the sand.
I like to keep him guessing, though. Mostly because I have no idea what being a feminist actually means other than that I always seem to pay for breakfast, which I did when the waitress came and shoved the check into the center of the table before pursing her lips and subsequently stomping off to the disgruntled beard who was screaming for a latte refill at the rear of the establishment. She wasn’t coming back, not with a smile, so I drew one on the back of the check then put it and a nice tip under the vase of fake tulips. Matt always says I tip too much, but life is hard enough without worrying about an extra buck or two for a server or the trumpet player illegally busking in front of the tattoo parlor across the street.
BODY PIERCING UPSTAIRS. CASH ONLY.
We don’t high tea in the garden district. We don’t meander idly through society hill, and we don’t stylishly lifestyle atop the row of abattoirs turned art gallery-penthouse apartments near the piers. We live in middle city, the lower digits, between the bodegas, the leather shops, and the homeopathic voodoo alchemists. Where the rubbish only gets picked up on Mondays, and there’s no free parking from ten to one, or from two to four, or any time after five. There’s an uptown, a downtown, and the equally eclectic and slovenly east and west sides. We are somewhere in between: a six-punch transit-pass away from actual OZ. If a city could have a back-room, this would be it. Every once in a while someone swaps out the red incandescent for a daylight led and cracks the door to let the fart stench out, but it never lasts for very long. The spiritual healing incense and temple gong market only lasted six months. They closed up shop before I had completed my twelve steps to Zen, so at this point, I, and just about everyone else I know, well, we have to deal with my roughly sketched out version of normal.
I suppose Matt and I do normal things together. Things people who like each other enough but not enough to get naked on the regular would do on a normal day, in a normal city, with normal lives. We’ll have breakfast at a trendy vegan eatery, preferably one that just opened, which means that the health inspection certificate is still live-ink fresh. Not that we are vegan or anything even remotely trendy, but it’s nice to have something current to talk about at the cocktail parties we never enjoy going to anyway. Then in the morning, we’ll do the dejected servitude walk to our respective workplaces, where, we’ll blunder away the lucid fragments of the day in an eight-hour stretch of insanity mixed with sphincter-clenching boredom. Matt works in a used bookshop, sleeps on a cot in the mildew-stricken back room, and loves every bit of his sans-the-sunscreen life even though he has nothing of value and wants nothing to replace the valueless nothing he already has. Except me. Apparently, I am irreplaceable. Since the day we met, he’s always wanted me as a friend. He’s never said that specifically, but I know he does because I’m kind of psychic that way.
“So. How was it for you last night?” he asked of me as we skirted around some dog shit and broken glass on the sidewalk in front of us, and all I could think of was how it wasn’t. At. All.
One parking meter, two parking meters, three parking meters, four. We were almost to the bookshop, and I knew my silence was irritating the crap out of him, but I didn’t have the nerve to say anything out loud, on the street, in public, where some passer-by might conclude that I was a loser, or worse, that I was afraid, so I flipped him off with a “How was it for you?” knowing full well that he’d gotten himself laid and couldn’t wait to tell me about all the transgressive exfoliating and fluid exchanging he’d done upside down on a balcony, or in an alley, or skinny dipping in the park fountain across the street with a watching bevy of tranny hooker mimes. Whatever exotic positioning he had gotten himself into had to be something, anything … as long as it was daring and social media worthy.
I don’t do daring.
“That’s your problem,” he said. “You have no sense of adventure.”
“My adventures are none of your business.”
“Girl, a vibrator doesn’t count as adventure.”
Now, there are six of them in my apartment, and even though I have no idea what they count for, I’m sure that they damn well do count for something.
“So, what was wrong with this one?” he continued, hands deep in the pockets of his drainpipes, keys jingling against his nuts as he snickered and walked. “They all seemed like your type.” My type being, in Matt’s opinion: buzz-cut bronze with a muscle-stuffed frame, strewn through the sinews with pride and mud. No pulse. No breath. Just a sense of entitlement drooling from the creases at the corners of a pretty, pouty mouth.
Matt and I had gone to a party last night, just as we do every Friday night in the lower digits. Friday is party night. Invitation only. We hate parties. No open air. People stacked on people stacked on people. A suffocating blur of textures, of thoughts, of multi-colored elixirs garnished with opinions non grata. I couldn’t focus on anything. Just some stranger’s mouth, a mouth I thought I might want on mine. Well, for five minutes anyway. Most of the night, I wanted the carpet not to be orange shag and the celery in my Bloody Mary not to be bitter. I often wanted things like that when in the midst of crowd-sourced terror. Matt kept on smiling at me from across the room with an encouraging face full of teeth. I can remember the vein in my wrist throbbing because I had convinced myself that people could probably see my misshapen nipples through my t-shirt. Duncan, Mr. allegedly My Type, and the host, was half-way into a nice beer-buzz, his upper lip sweating spackle into his drink. He talked a good game. Fucked a better one I imagined, but when he nudged my elbow with his, smiled, and then walked his hipster blue-jeans off into the next stupid conversation, all I could think was that he’d look good wrapped in black plastic at the bottom of a ravine.
Five minutes always seems like forever, but that was all it took to decide that another night of celibacy was a good thing, even if Matt would disagree.
“I couldn’t even…” I said as he unlocked and then proceeded to yank the shop door open despite the wood rot and sticking paint.
“Couldn’t or wouldn’t?” was the question he always asked in return, but this time it was both. Hook-ups don’t make any sense to me at all from a logical forward-thinking point of view. I’ve always got that big-picture thing going on in my head. Instant gratification sticks to my hips in ways evocative of bad science fiction, and just the general idea of it always leaves a scrapyard taste in my mouth. From a practical point of view, I didn’t have any condoms, and of late, I’ve developed a rather nasty allergy to man-buns, elaborate moustaches, Pabst, and, hipster cock.
“…and anyway, Matt, you should be thanking me for my couldn’t and my wouldn’t. Hanging out with Duncan always requires some sort of prophylactic pesticide. I don’t know what made you think setting us up was a good idea. Whatcha got in the bag?”
“I wasn’t setting you up, and nothing. Just stuff.”
“Come on, Matt. Bedbugs? Lice? What sort of creepy crawlies is Duncan infested with now? I don’t even know why you hang out with him. Listening to vinyl doesn’t make him any less repulsive.”
“I like repulsive, and besides, he’s got good weed, great porn, and fabulous vinyl.”
“Yeah, that’s really awesome or something. Now I’m upset that I didn’t fall in love last night.” I held the door while Matt fumbled through the waft of old paper and WD-40 with his bags of bug spray and his shitty attitude.
“For the love of Pete’s piss pot, Girl. You make me insane. You weren’t supposed to fall in love last night, you doofus, but you know what I love? I love the smell of WD-40 in the morning.”
I just smiled and waved him on through the door.
“After you, bug boy, and maybe you should spray that on your crotch from now on; then the bugs will just slide off, and I won’t have to shave your fringe again.”
Matt just shot me a small crooked smile from the small crooked right side of his scruffy face as we headed into the dinge. The sad thing is that I, too, actually like the smell of WD-40. It smells a heck of a lot better than bug spray, Lysol, and shag carpet.