She said she was 34 but we both knew that was a lie.
I was old enough to know better, to know best even, but some spark remained; rendering me kid-like, still open to the inherent ridiculousness of life, the daily slapstick routine.
A life in the service industry yields bad habits. From eating food off the floor to inhaling rails of blow off the top of a toilet seat, your immune system grew strong, but your moral compass gave up and bought a house on the equator.
“Leave it to the professionals,” you think as a lifelong fever surreptitiously enters your bloodstream, your poor doomed bloodstream.
Blood is becoming your enemy; you slowly realize, hackles raised constantly, but it takes years to hit you, Eureka! like a poisoned arrow thru the window into your heart like a burrowing creature exploding apart. Shrapnel is all that you are left with, and all that you require.
Me and the Shrapnel go on dates. She is a connected woman in the Biz, making many figures; tall and curved. She - an ideal for many a man, not quite me, but who am I to argue with her attention? Legs from here to eternity. An actually well done and borderline appropriate boob job, nighttime soap opera face; Dynasty never got cancelled, it just moved to the West Village. The fresh not-so-fresh ex-boyfriend, an ex-NFL football player, now a day-trader or something of similar useless ilk, but still a meathead, still roid-raging like a goddamn bull in a china shop, except the china shop is their 5000 dollar a month apartment and his jerseys are on the wall, still; (she must’ve cleaned up the broken glass from his last fit quick) but he was a no-name player, filler, an extra.
But what did I care? I could scarcely render a hard-on on the roof of her friends’ place; something about the lights. It’s always the lights.
Expensive restaurants, bullshitting with chefs, them looking at me without even trying to mask their “Who the fuck is this loser weirdo with this beautiful successful woman?”
Someone invented a phrase for it:
And I was too in my own way. Vertical slum. A peak at the other half living; I was barely doing it so let’s see how they fare.
Ahhh, mostly a yawn, but every once in awhile, every blue moon, some event will transpire and, poof!, there you have the pulsating carcass of human existence, a tartare you would do well to devour, for you will need as much strength as possible in this life, no matter how long or brief. The thread needs to be fed.
EAT THE MEAT. EAT THE MEAT.
So I’m sure it will come as no great shock that this particular piece of Shrapnel was a human vacuum cleaner for cocaine, very very fine cocaine.
Certainly no one could complain. I never uttered a peep. Just took my trips to the bathroom like a dutiful lad, pocket bulging with the ziplock, an enormous amount of coke for an evening out. By anyone’s standards.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, TEAR OPEN BAG.
All of this wonderful food, sometimes special dishes prepared just for us (her), virtually untouched. Without a doubt admired, but seldom did the meat pass our lips. A nibble here and a nibble there, but the jaws were working on a different rhythm than the chew. Teeth muscle and saliva were not syncing up. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Scene: Exclusive literal-underground restaurant/bar in lower Manhattan. A bit overwrought, but hey I ain’t payin.
We make our way thru the glistening shmooze fest of the crowded bar, to a comfy corner booth, one she seems to be familiar with, settling in instantly. Our faces twitch, our legs pop, and our eyes scan the room, like a couple of hunted criminals, out on the lam, sure, but still looking for kicks.
I can say with all honesty that never in a million fucking years would I expect to see someone I know at a joint like this; they wouldn’t even make it past the kitchen.
But there I was. Standing there, drink in hand, laughing it up with some other empty suits, like a pack of hyenas post-meal. “You motherfucker,” I thought.
They say the camera adds ten pounds, but in this case it looks like it takes off more than that. I couldn’t believe how bulky I was; unwieldy, boxy, a giant slab of cold meat. This enraged me for some reason. How dare this doppelganging asshole make me look like a common brute, a performing cavemen, dance you dumb monkey, dance like I’m shooting at your feet.
Someone noticed. The psychic vibes would have alerted even the most insensitive among us. There were sparks flying, but this wasn’t the beginning of any kind of romance. Not us, no, not us.
A friend pointed at me. He thought he was being sly, but I saw that accusatory finger, like a guided missile at my very existence. My shadow caught my gaze and held it, working over the ramifications in his mind. I could smell the gears grinding, and I saw all of the possible headlines before he could work through them; some ended in his blood smeared all over the bathroom walls, some ended us as best friends, arm in arm til the end of the world. “Fuck this,” I thought, I’m taking the fight to him.
“I’ll be right back,” I growled to the lovely piece of shrapnel next to me, and I stood up with great purpose, knee-knocking the table and jerking some silverware around. Suddenly all eyes were on me as I strode across the room, almost angrily, certainly defiantly, my own eyes leveled at my target.
I practically walked right through him.
“Well, hello there,” I said, “This certainly has been a long time coming.”
“Oh yeah?” he said, an infuriating smugness settling over his face, his too-wide grin on his too-big head. “Why is that?”
“I figure it’s been a good 13 years, lucky number that, since the horrid ironic horror movie you appeared in came out and fucked my life up forever. Every goddamn day, I’m reminded. Everyday some fool says, ‘Did anyone ever tell you….?”
He started to really understand what was going on.
“Bah, you’re a pale imitation. Get back to me when you’ve won a Tony.”
“Fuck Tony and Fuck You,” my voice getting higher and louder, others’ quieting down, craning to hear the commotion.
“Listen, brother, I’m trying to have a drink with some friends here. So, nice to meet you, but kindly fuck off.”
“I didn’t even introduce myself, you fucking cocksucker. I’m trying to have a quiet dinner with my ladyfriend,” my arm made a grand sweeping motion towards the bug-eyed Shrapnel, “and you come rolling in here like the fuckin’ King of England.”
“That’s your girlfriend?” he said, his own eyes doing their own kind of bugging.
“No, not quite, why?”
“She’s stunning; my heart is literally skipping beats. Now that's a woman.”
My brain began a quick series of calculations, weighing this and that, considering several different outcomes to this scenario. Part of me wanted to lure him into the bathroom with the promise of a bump of fine grade, and then what? Strangle him with his own tie? Bash his head into the corner of the marble sink? Jab my keys into his neck, hoping to gut the jugular?
But then I came upon a much simpler, more elegant, and altogether mutually beneficial solution.
“Forgive me, dude. It actually is very nice to meet you. Fortuitous even. You see, me and my ladyfriend are going through a bit of a rough patch; I’m not sure we’re going to make it through, truth be told. And perhaps that’s for the best, I don’t think it was meant to be.”
At this, he was nearly slavering like a dog; unbecoming for one of even modest international fame such as himself. And his children, my god I felt sorry for them.
“Why don’t you come with me and meet her?” I said, one eyebrow cocked queerly.
“Oh yes, that sounds fabulous.”
I led him across the room to our table. At this point, most had returned to their over-priced meals, snugly back in the folds of their mundane conversations.
“Ms. Shrap, please meet Herr Doppelganger. I believe you’ll have much to talk about. Now, can I see that zippie once again, my dear? I’m gonna toot off to the lavatory right quick. Back in a jiff. Herr, please treat yourself to a bite or two of my dinner, I don’t think I’ll be finishing it.”
He looked at me stupidly, a big dumb dog reacting to his master’s voice.
I walked towards the restrooms, and vanished into the crowd at the bar. Before I melted into the scenery, I took a glance back and saw Dog and Shrapnel hitting it off instantly, he putting his arm around her, she smiling like a cat eating a canary.
I made my way up through the subterranean establishment, into the blinding lights of the city, and virtually skipped down the street in glee. Two birds, one stone.
Now, I wondered, where does that lovely Naomi live?
[This piece was written for a group show entitled MEAT. While I read the story in front of a full length mirror, semi-famous photographer Keith Marlowe threw fistfuls of raw ground chuck at me each time I uttered the word "meat" or "meet." He scored several direct hits; first salvo square in the back of the head, final salvo full-on in the face. Later, we grilled floorburgers. A good time was had by all. The end.]