Rated R (language)
“Daddy, Why Can’t I Say ‘Ass?'” Chapter 1—Red Snapper
June, 2005—California; a large, shoebox mobile home a short, barefoot walk from the community pool. Modest, humble, almost cabana-like. Original paintings, prints and photographs cover every wall. I work at my computer, my throne, in a makeshift office that used to be a dining room. Stashed in an L-shaped arrangement of low bookshelves, this is where I proceed to fulfill my destiny—that of: the struggling writer. Living with my menopausal wife and 16.5 year-old daughter, I am the eye of the storm.
‘I smoke, drink, and don’t believe there’s such a thing as ‘dirty’ words—unless you count hate, bigotry, ignorance, abuse and politician among them. Religion ain’t so great either… Can we talk about Moral Arrogance and Death Penalty and Ten Commandments for a while? Let’s not, because I’m only interested in Truth,’ (The Guy) said.
(That’s good, said my inner, parenthetical, creative voice. I like that.)
(Get out of my head, I’m busy… I replied, also parenthetically, but without the italics.)
(I know you don’t mean that.)
(I told me: Yes, I do. Babe is stirring in the kitchen, I feel interruptions coming on.)
Babe, my Hawaiian tahini. My little almond butter. Her head is in the freezer. “What do you want for dinner tomorrow night?” she asks.
I knew that question was coming eventually, but this early? On Saturday? She is asking this about tomorrow, of a person who hasn’t worn a watch in nearly a decade; who so rarely knows what day it is he has divided the week in two: Weekday and Weekend. Someone who never, ever knows what time of day it is or even the day. I have a graveyard of watches hanging on pushpins on the wall, time of death precisely 6:47, 11:17 and 12:11. (I’m hoping to have one stop at 10:08, then it’ll look new.) They’re trophies. Mounted heads. A little monument to Einstein and Salvadore Dali. I’m never quite sure what I will feel like eating in some distant future.
The reality is I don’t care. “Uh… I don’t know. What have we got?” I never care what’s for dinner. When I’m hungry I’ll eat anything she puts in front of me.
(So what are you going to name this character?)
“I don’t know!” I say out loud. (Forget about that for now!)
“What?” Babe calls to me from the kitchen. I am on my throne, wiggling my fingers over the keyboard. “I bought fish yesterday.”
Sounds good. Not salmon, though. “What kind of fish?” I ask. Trout or catfish would do nicely. A perch, perchance?
“Uh…” She bought it yesterday. She knows what it is, just can’t remember what it’s called.
She’ll get it, eventually. Inspired, I continue:
‘(This Guy) fancies himself as ‘laid back,’ and maintains a very fine collection of Hawaiian shirts. He has a new one on today. It is a beautiful silk pattern of orchids, with koa buttons. More than that, the print lines up in places like the pocket, the yoke, the collar and down the front. A printer would say: the crossovers are dead-on. It is way too expensive a shirt for his means; it was a gift from his mistress of sixteen years, his Babe…’
(Do you know where you’re going with this?)
(Of course not, I say to myself.)
(I see, the Just Start method.)
“Tomorrow’s Father’s Day, what do you want to do?” Babe asks me, placing her hand on my shoulder.
I just want silence, and to sit on my throne and fondle my keyboard. “I don’t know…” I trail off.
“How’s the story going?”
“Hmm…” I trail off again.
“Are we going to Williams Sonoma today?”
I sigh, just a little bit. Not enough to be noticed because I’ve been married to one woman or another for the past thirty years and I know. I actually want to go to Williams Sonoma. I actually want to go to: The Mall. Every so often I like to share in this exciting world of hers. It is a modern day walk along the Boulevard. It’s the Easter Parade without eggs. It’s anything I can think of to make it something other than: The Mall, in my mind.
Babe can shop, there’s no doubt about that. She was a pro way before we ever met. I knew that. I didn’t care. She looks cute when she shops. I like to watch her try on clothes. I peek inside the dressing rooms, sometimes even going in with her, especially the small ones. It’s fun. She is sexy and exotic, and fills out her black, lacy bra.
Spending is not an issue. Since Babe is the major bread-winner in the family and the bookkeeper, I have narrowed down my association with the household finances to receiving an allowance. Pin money, that’s all I ask for and all I get. Butts, coffee and a keyboard are all I need. I feel lucky. Since I have nothing to do with the household monies, I no longer have to open mail.
I feel especially confident today. We’re not going to Shop, we’re going to return the popcorn maker she was given as a birthday gift five months ago. It’s an exchange, we should get out pretty cleanly. She wants a mango peeler. So do I. I know what this means. We are going to exchange a fifty dollar item and all we want is a twelve dollar mango peeler in its place. There will be a store credit—a credit impossible to ignore. To a woman who shops, a store credit is no less than a dare.
“Sure,” I assure her, reasonably excited. She has to take a shower first, that gives me forty- five minutes. I crack my knuckles and get back to work.
(Yes? This Guy? Haven’t thought of a name yet, I see.)
I hang my head. No.
(Don’t really have a plot yet either, do you… I say to me, not really a question. Time for a trip to the bathroom.)
I go there to not think. I assume the backwards position on the john, stare at my towel, and wait. It always comes to me in the bathroom. It never fails.
(Nuther cuppa joe?)
I chuckle. Ah, there you are, my Temptation. Time for a break. Mentally relax. Let it come…
(Have another hack at it first.)
I return to my throne, where I Am Man and Master of My Kingdom! From here I control everything: music, TV, volume, picture, even the smell (incense or Marlboro, sometimes worse). I have no qualms about firing up a real Cuban cigar while on my royal chair, when lucky enough to have one. (Cigars are not a way of life for me, they‘re celebratory. Just having one is cause for celebration.) I am at the helm—ready for anything. Prepared, I am. Once my fingers touch the keyboard the “Just Start” method kicks in…
I hate TV. If it were up to me I’d disconnect the dish. I can’t even watch sports with background music anymore. You must take steroids and speed to compete, or you don’t compete at all. These are no longer games; this is lifestyle and greed. This is Status. This is young men trading their dick for a fat contract. I shudder at the thought.
They have taken the game away from me, like they took away the colors from my daughter at school. They took red and blue out of school. Imagine. I’m stunned. No red or blue. No gang colors. You can’t wear red or blue at school. I keep repeating that in my mind, incredulous. No red or blue anymore. You can’t have them. They actually took them away. Games have been replaced by big business with small members, and red and blue have been pronounced guilty. There’s no red or blue!! Goddamnit, NO RED. NO BLUE. YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ANYMORE! I weep for them.
(Yes, it’s too sad, I tell myself. It’s not their fault! I want to scream. You’ve got it all wrong! I want to explain. It’s not them, it’s us!)
(So what about ‘This Guy?’)
I’m off to sit on the john again. Fuckin’ crips and bloods, you’ll never get uppercase out of me! You tried, Tookie, at the end, but the ball you helped put in motion ran over itself.
(That’s it? That’s all you’re giving me? I came to the bathroom for this?)
Babe is in the shower. I peek.
“Hi Babe!” she says happily, pink razor in hand and looking slippery. She looks great wet.
Her naturally curly hair is long, dark and streaked with highlights of all shades. She is beautiful, and refuses to acknowledge that fact no matter what I say. I don’t qualify to make the call, because I love her. What I hate are those pink razors—the memory of a burn from one still etched in my craw. I’ll never run out of manly razors on vacation again. No, not ever.
“I’m almost done,” which is code for: Quit looking at me so I can finish. I take my cue and smile, stretching it out a little bit. I know the exact moment is near; when the loving, slippery look of demure sexiness turns to: Shut the fucking Mickey Mouse shower curtain and go back to looking at your towel. No boddah me! I know these things, and the timing involved with letting her shower in peace before, just before, it becomes annoying. The Art of Annoyance is something I learned at an early age and perfected on an older sister. I wish my daughter Katy wasn’t better than me.
I scan Babe from the top down and say, “I love it when you’re wet.” It’s a sincere compliment, not a double entendre. When you’re sincere, you’re understood. Dale Carnegie taught me how to win friends and influence people. She couldn’t help letting a small smile slip out. I slid the curtain shut and tucked the end around so it wouldn’t drip water onto the floor. Damn I’m good.
Fuckin’ pink razors… I don’t particularly care for hair gel either. It makes a terrible face moisturizer when you pick up the wrong tube.
(I know, I know! But what about ‘This Guy?’)
(Will you quit that shit? Please?) Pause. My towel is green.
(It’s Sea Mist.)
(I come here for inspiration and you give me chores and color palettes? What kind of shit is this?)
(And you’re almost out of butts.)
(Don’t think about the name yet.)
“Hungry, Babe?” Babe calls me Babe, too. Yes, I am hungry. We’ll have hotdogs.
‘But Hamlet was cross today, not laid back a’tall. They had taken away his Red and Blue and he was PISSED about it.’
(Hamlet? That works, I like that…)
‘But Hamlet was cross today, not laid back at all…’
(They didn’t take away his Red and Blue, that’s STUPID… oh fuck, [sigh]. Oh no, please don’t turn on the teevee…)
Babe turns on the television and scans the stations. Guys play cards… soccer barely rates a kick… some guy… Oprah looks concerned… a fly-by over basketball… forbidding weather looms over the Carolinas… Finally, Peter Pan meets Hong Kong and the hotdogs are ready.
“This is the world’s longest moving sidewalk…” the teevee says. With that, I’m sucked in. I want to rollerskate along the world’s longest moving sidewalk. I’ve always wanted to rollerskate along the world’s longest moving sidewalk and never knew it. I learn much about myself eating hot dogs in front of the teevee.
‘Hamlet was not laid back at all, he never was while watching TV. At least it had Red and Blue. And Green.’
(Just give up.)
‘It was never about anger with Hamlet, it was always Passion, he would say. That’s what he liked to call his tirades over inanity: Passion. He would have run for office but was much too sane for that…’
“Ready?” Babe asks.
“Yeah, sure. Let’s go.” We can’t leave through the front door because it’s stuck shut—what with the house titling and all. When the front door worked, Katy’s bathroom door was stuck shut. Now that it doesn’t open, her bathroom door swings open when someone walks by. Babe shuts it, we exit, and I yank the back door closed—hoping the knob doesn’t come off in my hand, again. We’re off to: The Mall, and get in the car.
“Did you bring the popcorn maker?”
I go back inside and get it.
‘Harry/Hamlet/This Guy was a schmoe, but he liked nice shirts…’
‘Macbeth needed a drink…’
(NO! NO! NO!)
“Red light!” Babe advises me.
I slam on the brakes. “Oh, sorry.”
This place isnt a Mall, it’s a fucking Metropolis. “Parking place!” Babe points it out. Hard left, hard left, hard left, handicapped… “Oh, sorry.”
‘Othello is laid back, he doesn’t care. He’s wearing his gorgeous new Hawaiian shirt (Aloha shirt?) and it’s a beautiful day smack dab in the middle of the Left Coast.’
(I know but I like it here.)
(Othello? Is that a sly clue that your character is black?)
(Yes! Very good!)
(Will it have something to do with the plot?)
(Probably not.) “What difference does it make?” I say out loud.
(True enough, o wise one…)
“Well, about $400 bucks after it’s towed.” Babe told me, about the handicapped parking.
Hard left, so I’m driving in squares. I stalk a shopper heading to her car, toying with the idea of asking her if she wants a lift. We have to wait while she gets in. I wave off two other cars with intent to steal. Graciously, they acquiese. I’m hoping she’s not simply eating lunch in her car.
(Remember where it is…)
I remember this Mall when it was no more than a Payless selling prescriptions, flip-flops and Xmas trees. Twenty years ago it had an Outdoors. Now it was Little China in the Astrodome. Once inside, you’re in Tiananmen Square, with a catwalk. Squirrely asides cast you into Blade Runner on a shiny, silver platter. Who was real and who was Replicant?
‘Odysseus and his Penelope strode purposefully, boldly forward…’
“Which way?” I asked Penelope. I was pretty sure she didn’t know.
“Hmmm…” We merged with the current and veered left, always left, where it began to sweep us around its giant curves and alleys. Too many faces, too many things to look at. To continue walking meant to leave off looking at one thing as it was supplanted with another. What is it? What is it? Shoes. Crepes. Shoes. Phones in my path. Hawker… He’ll want me to buy a phone. I look him dead in the eye. Go ahead, make your pitch.
He eyeballs the popcorn maker. “Gonna have a party, eh?”
I slow down slightly. “Nope. I prefer to sauté my kernels,” and keep walking.
“Oh…” He doesn’t know what the fuck I mean. Gadgets. Knick-knacks. Shoes. Shoes. Shoes!
“I know it’s upstairs,” Babe says. I smell cookies. We go upstairs, hard left. Round and round we go… Now we are on a Walkabout. Sports Dugout. Dresses! I like looking at the dresses. Hmmm, nice manequin! Her hair is carved. Plus, she’s got big tits for a mannequin! Nice touch. She’s hot! I check for nipples… can’t tell, but the dress is nice. I’d like to see Penelope try the black dress on but Smart Enough to Know Better kicks in and I barely hesitate past it. We have a purpose. As a long-time married man I know, or rather I am hoping, that having a specific goal of going to: The Mall, to exchange a fifty dollar popcorn maker for a twelve dollar mango peeler, shouldn’t cost me much—another reason I am happy to shop with my beloved today. My almond butter…
In place of empty stores, there are giant graphics mounted on thick foam-core advertising some such shit. I’m too close to be able to read the entire message, it’s so big. Two beautiful, blonde models, bigger than Shaquille O’Neal, allow me to look down their throats. Nice, but their free-throws suck. They look like they floss. Nice gums. No gingivitis here! A teevee show is being advertised: KYLE YX. I only read it because it’s illegible in the stylized font they’ve created to add to the movie’s Terminator-like aura. I force myself to translate it like it was an eye test, though I don’t cover one eye.
“Oh look, Hawaiian jewelry! Mmmm…” I hover while Babe peels off the track for a pitstop to ‘look.’ It’s one of those concession booths, too small for its own store. It is the tiniest layer of shopping in the maelstrom around it. The most powerful. Luckily, the sales attendant is attending the phone, sitting down, talking quietly. Her blouse is slightly crooked and I’m slowly heading her direction to circle back, hopefully to collect Penelope before she lingers too long. Babe is wearing her usual accoutrements: an ensemble of gold Hawaiian bracelets, her pala’oa, a smoothe, palm tree necklace and gold rings on four fingers. The gold is beautiful against her polynesian almond-butter skin. At just the right angle, I can peer down the attendant’s blouse as I pass. I check. It may be an A cup, but it’s a nice, pale blue. I am not a pig, this is my pastime and recompense for carrying a popcorn maker across the Kalahari.
(Please don’t ask me where we parked the car…)
I’m caving in—desperate now. There’s no choice anymore, nothing else I can do. I can’t keep going like this. I can drive for hours in a Lincoln Towncar through Boston until I end up where I started but I simply can’t do it here, not carrying a popcorn maker.
Unsteadily, I raise the torn and tattered white flag: “Don’t they have Directories here?” I completely capitulate, ashamed of myself, unable to look my Penelope in the eyes. I’ve asked for a map.
“Fuck,” I whisper, it’s color-coded. It may as well be three dimensional chess. I back off, let the pro handle this, feigning ‘no glasses.’ The perfect ruse. Damn I’m good. I rarely bring them with me anywhere. That way I avoid having to read anything small and important. Babe scans and translates the menus for me, automatically dismissing what she knows I won’t be interested in. She does this for the newspaper, the National Geographic, and nearly all the current bestsellers; providing concise, incisive summary of each. Saves me a hell of a lot of time and aggravation. Don’t misunderstand; I am not an ostrich. I read headlines.
“It’s downstairs now. They’ve moved.” I knew she’d find it. We depart the catwalk and take the stairs back to the lower level. It seems that when we want to change levels the stairs are always closer than the moving stairs. (Rollerskates wouldn’t work on moving stairs.) It’s so fucking crowded down there I wish the store would move back upstairs. Where did Babe’s mother ever get the idea we needed a hot-air popcorn popper? That suddenly seems so besides the point. We’ve curved twice since our first hard left into the Great Mall of China, now we’re heading back the way we came. Theoretically. Did I say Kalahari? I meant Sahara.
Shoes! Jewelry! Sickly Sweet Smelling Sticky Buns!
‘Out, damned Sticky buns! Out, I say!’ saith Mac, absconding his Lady’s line while fussing at the pearly grease of cinnamon on his freshly acquired silk Aloha raiment (Hawaiian raiment?) ‘Oh, I am fortune’s fool!’
Babe looks at me strangely. “What are you laughing at?”
“Nothing, fair maiden, I am but enamoured of you.” I would have bowed if I wasn’t carrying a fucking popcorn maker.
Suddenly we’re there, halfway past it before realizing. “Here it is.” I want to cry out loud: Olly-olly-oxen-free! (check sp.) and tag the first guy I see: a young kid with a bluetooth in his ear who looks like he ought to be in The City in The Clouds on a George Lucas set.
“Hi! Welcome to the store!” he says to me brightly, cheerily. Perfect. This is a good sign. Someone who worked there made eye contact, spoke, and offered help. The fact that he acknowledged me automatically qualified him as being an authority on what I needed to know.
“Hi,” I said with a genuine smile. “We’d like to exchange this.”
“What’s wrong with it?” he wondered, jumping the gun.
“I have no idea, we’ve never opened it.”
“Oh, right this way please.” Bluetooth walked us five feet to the registers and laid it out grandly with a fine, sweeping gesture. I would have bowed but…
(Repeat conversation with another boy at the register.) “Are you on our email list?” he wants to know. In a bit of quick thinking I tell him Yes. “Zip code?” I resist the urge to say Yes again and tell him my zip code, as if I have to. It’s one of the God-awful amount of numbers and passwords I have to remember. Social security, drivers license, three phone numbers, date of birth…
“Drivers license please?” like that really needs a question mark. I wonder why he wants to see my drivers license in order to return a popcorn maker, but let it slide. He works at my credit and I make use of his captive attention while my Penelope wanders off.
“You got that mango peeler thing?” Oops, he is not a multi-tasker. The question confuses him slightly but to his credit he recovers pretty well. I am the most critical customer in the known shopping world. Oh yes, I have every right—having spent many years in Sales, living on commission. I expect your full, undivided attention every time. If the phone rings and you answer it without checking with me first you’re fucked in my book. I won’t mind making extra work for you. I will ask you if I can try this sandal in a size 12 just to make you go get it. I’m the guy who wants honey in my coffee and a penny’s worth of jelly beans… Then, I laugh behind your back—good naturedly of course.
“I think it’s over…” he’s not certain where it is and that’s fine with me. You can’t know where everything is in a store. It’s moot. Babe already has another employee in her buying bubble and they’re chatting amicably near the Spoons. She’s already got something in her hand.
“I found it, Babe!” she calls to me. I smile and turn away. I truly am glad we found a mango peeler. I love mangoes and hate peeling them. I’m happy. Now comes the hard part.
I’m given a little plastic card worth $49.95 plus a lot of mental math at 8.25 percent sales tax and make my way through the kitchen bric-a-brac to Babe. “So you got the mango peeler,” I casual. “How much is it?” She tells me twelve bucks. I tell her she has $37.95 plus tax left on her credit. I say it not as a command, mind you, but as an accountant.
She reads me perfectly. “I wish I could find a Spoon like the one that broke, remember that?” Sorta, yes. Wooden spoon, kinda short, kinda flat, brown. She’s poking through slots after having already been through the rows of different styles of Spoons littering the aisle. She and the other employee, a woman this time, have been chatting about Spoons on a level way deeper than I could ever hope to join in on. They are talking edges and shapes and depth and…
I see one and try to help. “This one sorta looks like what I remem—”
“That’s a rice paddle,” both women say to me at once with seamless, natural, woman-to-man-dismissal and continue talking between themselves. Sheepishly, embarrassed, I put it back in its slot. I’m not offended. Men do the same thing, worse. I admit it, I don’t know the first fucking thing about Spoons. Or rather, the second fucking thing about Spoons—I think I know the first, but now I’m not sure. I may even be a little confused about Spoons. Maybe I should drift away…
Finally, the women agree they are talking about the same Spoon. “I got mine in France,” says the helpful, sincere, employee Spoon specialist, adding a good-natured chuckle after realizing how pompous that sounded. “So my advice is, go to France!” and we all laugh together. It was pleasant. I wanted to ask her if she’d make me a turkey sandwich. Unfortunately, the Spoon on which Babe fondly reminisces is not among the wealth and battallion of Spoons at Williams & Sonoma in our: Mall Mecca.
That’s bad. It means our mission is over; we are simply standing in a giant: Mall, with no plan. We’ll have to drift… to shop. This is where it gets expensive, any man knows this. If you don’t, it tells me you have money but don’t know women. Which means you’re a sap. But I digress…
‘Mac and Beth wore their matching Aloha shirts and were pleasantly sipping a blue drink at the bar by the pool. It was a people-watching spot and they chatted happily between themselves while the alcohol dripped intraveinously (sp?) into their love tryst. Pink flamingoes, real ones, looked flamingo-like and, I’m assuming, never having heard one, sounded that way too.
‘Oh honey,’ Beth oozed onto Mac’s arm like an alcoholic tiger kitten and purred in his ear: ‘Wouldn’t you love to have a Cuisine de Chateau stove? Deep, midnight-blue enamel… with brass trim, stainless top, and…’’
“Oh yeah, that’s beautiful,” I agree. I don’t even want to know where the price tag is for this epicurean ‘functional centerpiece to [my] kitchen,’ this stove. “Very nice,” I say, noticing a display of CDs and sliding towards it. “Have you seen anything you want?” I meant here, in reality; rhetorically.
The CD was called New York and had Keely Smith, Mo’ Horizons and Oleta Adams. Fifteen bucks. “This looks good,” I offered my considered appraisal for Babe to decide. It was her birthday gift, the popcorn maker, so it was up to her. Also professionally married with a trained eye and perfect ear for nuance, she agreed to the CD. “That leaves twenty-three bucks… What about that cake pan I ruined not long enough ago, have they got another one here you like?” After Spoons and the rice paddle faux pas, I wasn’t about to tackle cake pans without guidance. She scoffed at the idea, brushing it off casually and moving on. Cake pan indeed! I may have crossed the line with that stupid cake pan remark. Damn, I thought I was so good… Of course not a cake pan, schmuck. That’s a kitchen gift, as far apart from a birthday gift as two different Spoons. Oh my gawd, what a rookie mistake! She is too kind by blowing me off completely and moving on. She is a Saint. She shows me Mercy. She shows me kindness. She shows me a knife block.
I blatantly reveal my naiveté about Knife Blocks. “How much is it?”
She looks at me sweetly, demurely, with her disarming, changing-room smile and says with an otherwise straight face and without hesitation: “Seventy bucks.”
I must stammer here. “I… uh… it’s what? Seventy bucks!?”
She looks at it longingly. “My knives get so dull in the drawer and this will open up some space and…”
I notice a different sort of Knife Block, the kind you put in a drawer. “How much is this one?”
“No. That’s for a drawer.” Negatory. Roger that.
“Great! Let’s get it, if that’s what you want. You’ve been talking about this a long time and…”
I’m selling her on it because she wants it and this way it looks like it’s partly my decision, too. We have bought the Knife Block together and haul it and the mango peeler to the register, where I give the young boy back the card he gave me in our pre-Knife Block and mango peeler days. We owe him $47.95 plus tax. I wondered if I could get to like hot-air popcorn and paid him.
‘’Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almightly I’m free at last!’ Hamlet was in rare form for a hot afternoon and put on his new silk happy-shirt with the brightly colored mixed drinks all over it to celebrate. He couldn’t remember where he parked his car but didn’t care, he was too…’
“It’s this way…” Babe knows my question before asking.
‘Odysseus and his Penelope had just negotiated the Sirenum Scopuli and were leaving the Sirens to their dalliance with Persephone. With Orpheus plucking the lyre, the Argonauts rowed them to the safety of the parking lot.’
Babe: “…red dress. I always like…”
‘Odysseus straightened his new, silk tunic.’ (Toga?)
“…those barrels and…”
‘Naught but Nyx, Chaos or Hecate!’
‘…and cast the ropes to the deck in relief. The entrance they sought was two doors down from the store. They had sailed around the world, seen many sights together, and discovered: the Mall, was round. By Circe, what wizardry is this!’
“…charms. Here we are.”
I open the car door for Babe. Not so much out of chivalry but because the door lock on the drivers side doesn’t work. It’s been busted over two years. It looks kind of cool when we’re together, so gentlemanly and all, but when you’re driving alone it looks dumb and inconvenient. I throw the Block in the trunk, strike up the beatmaster, and row home.
Later that night…
‘This Guy…’ I write, tiredly.
(This guy goes into a bar and…)
“Oh, put a cork in it…” I tell my inner, creative voice—out loud.
“What?” Babe asks. She has tired eyes. Slits are one thing, but when they start crossing she is only 3.2 minutes removed from utter narcolepsy. The National Geographic is open on her lap to the page she turned to a half hour ago. Virtually asleep, she will not lose her place. She is a sleep-reader.
“Go to bed, Lover,” I say, employing her alternate pet name. If she doesn’t, she’ll pinch her neck in the chair. Then her shoulders will ache. She’ll nap like that until 1:00 in the morning and awaken with a second wind—enough to scratch her lottery tickets for the next thirty minutes. She won $1000 bucks once. When the eyes cross, it’s too late even for that.
“I’m going to bed…” She rests her head on my shoulder and kisses me on the neck, then the lips. “I love you.”
“Sleep perfectly, Lover.” I kiss her in return, and add two new ones—one for each breast.
“You too,” she tells me, and patters off to bed unsteadily.
The house is dark. I am on the throne. I am Man and… (Yawn.)
(Yeah, me too…)
I have to chuckle a little bit, remembering earlier in the evening when I needed a knife. Of course the drawer was nearly empty, the knives having been moved to the Block. Where was that thing… ah, here we go, stashed neatly near the toaster oven, the Magic Bullet blender, the bright red Kitchenaid blender-thingy, the coffee grinder, espresso machine and two elegant and lovely bottles of oily liquid with a bunch of shit floating around in them which we never open. We don’t even know what’s in them. The closest thing to a label on either of them is a rafetta string-tie. What was I looking for? Oh yeah, the knife. Of course, by their handle they all look alike. It was easier when they were in the drawer. So this becomes one of those Man/Woman things both sexes are obligated to reconcile if they wish to cohabitate successfully for any length of meaningful time. These are the ‘little things’ they talk about the moment our God signs the wedding certificate. You know what I’m saying, men. It’s the moment you lose the Garden Section of the newspaper as a placemat. I don’t care where the hell the knives are, really, once I get used to it. In fact, I’m pretty certain I won’t even be able to find the mango peeler when I need it, but I don’t care! If it makes Babe happy, Penelope to my Odysseus, I’m happy. The place could be filled with raffeta, oily bottles of unknown substance, bread-makers and ice-cream machines; Ab-loungers, Bowflex’s, Nordic Trax or train tracks; old lottery scratch-off’s, hair gel with foreign labels or cone incense; but without her my home has no Flung Shway (or whatever the hell they call it). So long as I have my pin money, coffee, butts and a keyboard, and you throw a clam at me once in a while, I’m good. Without Babe, I am almond butter without the jelly and liable to get stuck on the roof of my own mouth.
“Red snapper,” Babe says quietly, sleepily behind me. I turn around and her eyes are closed as she stands, but she has come out of bed to tell me: red snapper. I can’t help it, I have to laugh. Dinner tomorrow. Babe starts to laugh too. Feeling better, she can sleep soundly now.
“Sounds good. Sleep perfectly, Lover.”
“You too. I love you.”
“I love you too, Babe.”