Monday, July 28, 2008

The Ballad of Phil's Foot

Phil yelped and nearly fell out of his towel. Sharp pain suddenly devouring his right foot. FuckMeRunning, he squealed. But he was not running. He had fallen flat on his face.

Phil winced through watery eyes at the throbbing appendage. And there it was. The culprit. A small shard of glass—the residual of yesteryear’s broken light bulb or shattered beer bottle—lodged deep in his shower-softened skin.

The sore red area pinched between both of his thumbs, Phil tried to extract the glass like puss from a pimple. However, this accomplished little more than hurting like a motherfucker and Phil was soon crawling toward the bathroom on hands and knees. A pair of tweezers the subject of his pursuit.

Tweezers, they didn’t do the job. The glass too far embedded to grip. Next idea: a sewing needle. Phil would dig at the offending shard the same way his mother had often removed his most savage of splinters.

But Phil knew searching for a sewing needle in his house was a fool’s errand. His few dress shirts pocked with holes where buttons should be, his ratty old shorts cinched together at the top with safety pins. Phil had never found much use for sewing needles and finding one would indeed be like looking for a needle in a haystack. No worse. Looking for a needle in a haystack in which there wasn’t a needle.

* * *

Now Phil was onto plan C. Or plan D. Or whichever plan he was onto now. Now Phil had to improvise. Around his pad, he scoured for something close to the thin sharp metal of a sewing needle.

First, the thought of a knife occurred but was dismissed with haste. Likely too much tool for the job. Likely to make a mess. Likely it wouldn’t solve the glass splinter problem. Just add a knife-in-the-foot problem to the mix.

His eyes flitted over a small replica Empire State Building sitting on his bookshelf. The pointy pinnacle atop presented a tempting option. But this too Phil had to drop. The kitschy souvenir, a present from his grandfather given not two months before the old man’s passing. And just in case there was a heaven. And just in case Poppy was there. And just in case Poppy was looking down on him right at this moment. Phil didn’t want the guy to see his grandson penetrating a swollen extremity with his thoughtful gift. Of course, just in case.

Then he had it. A killer idea. So killer. Phil limped to the living room and extracted one staple from his desktop stapler, straightened it as best he could. Then, ever so cautiously, he dug into the tiny puncture wound surrounded by sore inflamed skin.

Ow, he said. But pressed on. OwOwOw, he said. But continued to jimmy the makeshift needle inside himself. OweyOweyOwey, he said. And it was obvious little would be accomplished. Intense stabs of agony? Sure. The sickening sound of metal on glass? Absolutely. But anything in the way of improvement? No, not at all.

* * *

So here was Phil feeling hopeless. Deciding he might just price check some wheelchairs on eBay. Or maybe a cane would be enough. But until he got his hands on any of the essential hardware, he’d have to make due. And as he scooted off to the kitchen on his desk chair—using only his left foot for propulsion—Phil wondered if at least he could get a handicapped plaque for his truck.

The foot, throbbing something awful. Throbbing so fiercely Phil could hear it. Throbbing so perfectly he wanted to dance to the beat. If he could. Which he couldn’t.

Louder and louder and louder it throbbed. Clouding out his better judgment and casting a dark shadow over any logical plan. And in this haze of pain and noise a bounty of new options arose. None of which made a damn lick of sense.

First, Phil considered wearing three maybe four socks for the rest of his days. To cushion the…no, no, he could do better than that. How about spreading some peanut butter thick around the wound and letting his dog lick away until…no, no, heaven forbid the sliver lodge itself in Bogie’s tongue. Could Phil ever forgive himself?

ThudThud, ThudThud, much too much to bear. ThudThud, ThudThud, enough. Phil took off in an awkward gait toward the garage. Drastic times and all that bullshit. He had little choice now. Waddling to the workbench, to the hack saw, to his last best hope. And then, just as the implement of relief was within reach, Phil stepped on his right foot the wrong way. And he totally ate shit.

On the cold, oil stained concrete of the garage floor lay Phil and an assortment of tools and supplies he had managed to clear off the workbench with his fall. A ratchet set, an Allen key, three small screws and a bottle of…

* * *

Later that evening Phil vigorously vacuumed and swept every room in his house. And to be safe, wore shoes throughout the process. Sure his foot still hurt. But it was the sort of dull pain that so often accompanies triumph. Like the aching lungs of a runner fresh off a marathon. Like the sore loins of a new mother.

The solution to his predicament had at the same time been far more elementary and far more bizarre than anything he had thought to try previous. And had it not so fortuitously landed—dare I say at his feet—then Phil might well have hobbled himself beyond repair.

So what happened. Phil, hopeless and helpless on the garage floor, found himself nose to nose with a bottle of Elmer’s Glue. And figuring all other possibilities exhausted. And remembering grade school days of peeling thin layers of Elmer’s off his hand like a snake’s shed skin. Phil figured, it was nontoxic. Phil figured, give it a try. Then the hacksaw.

And what would you know. A nice squirt of glue upon his foot. Rubbed slowly and thoroughly into the slit until it had dried into a nice film. Then with the steady hands of a champion Jenga player, Phil peeled away the thin coating. And with a marvelous pop, gone forever was the wretched splinter.

Back to that evening. Phil finished with the post-op house cleaning. In his bedroom, before him an open cigar box filled with baseball cards from childhood, friendship bracelets from summer camp, the Durex wrapper from his first time. And into this menagerie of memories he placed a small gluey wad. A little piece of himself.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Can't Get No

Carl, if a high school baseball injury hadn’t blown his shoulder, he would have given himself a pat on the back. The early morning cab ride more than paid for with last night’s tip haul. So while he only lived twelve blocks away, who needs a walk of shame when you can ride baby ride.
And Lisa or Linda or whatever it was, she had been all over him last night. Carl, not sure if loosening up patrons with free shots was some unethical fucking flirtation. Decided, fuck it, I’m the man. Decided, tips and tail what more was there? Decided, life is nothing but looking for satisfaction.

Oh damn, Carl wanted her bad. And while Lisa or Linda or whatnot had been a looker, this broad was a dime piece. Straight red hair hiding one eye and lips like inner tubes and totally looking like the real life Jessica Rabbit. One big problem, his drill wasn’t working for shit. He sent her free drink after free drink. First vodka cranberries. Then craziness like Jolly Jumpers and Pit Bulls on Crack, all about displaying his bartending prowess.
She took the drinks no problem. Thing was, anytime Carl stopped to chat her up, all the dude got was a one word answer or maybe a shoulder shrug. When she cut out hours before last call, hours before the end of his shift, Carl was burning for her. No ass, no number but still, she left a killer tip.

With a shit crowd, Carl pocketed some tabs. Old men with cheap drinks and tipping in little stacks of coins. Him just looking for a few more bucks to make the night worthwhile. To be honest, looking for a little kick. Or satisfaction. To be honest, whatever. And when, just as he slipped an illegitimate fiver in his pants, a hand—all braided with arthritis—grabbed him. When that happened, to be honest, Carl nearly shit.
Kid, the guy said. Kid, would it trouble you much helping this sauced ol’ feller to a cab? And what could Carl say? So bony paw on his forearm, Carl walked the dude out towards the street. Keep with it and surely you’re gonna lose the job, the guy said. And stopping Carl to look both way before he crossed the street, he said, Better to live in fear than to die in fear. Carl thinking, that’s a point. But when the guy tipped him half a dollar and a yellow grin, Carl thinking, fuck that. Anyways, his rent was past due.

If there was anything like karma in this world, Carl figured he’d get it good as the pretty boy over there. Asshole flanked by a couple prospects and flashing a wad like tomorrow was impossible. With Carl, bringing over round after round and getting a plastic thank you and a shit eating grin. Whatever, dude was just lucky.
Hump Day Hooch Night had Carl all over with half-priced well drinks. The place busy like an Eskimo Pie left near an anthill. And every time he looked up from a bottle of grenadine or a pearl onion he caught that jerk off smiling a smile and laughing a laugh and acting like tonight was just par for the course. But if this weren’t a drink special night, if Carl had room enough to maneuver, the dude wouldn’t look like prime shit no more. This Carl knew.

Pounding shot and shot and shot. And even on his night off, Carl still found himself at the bar. Lisa or Linda or whats-her-name not returning his call. Bored and without plans and totally wishing he’d remembered her name and not left a voicemail addressed to hey you. A shot and to hell with the old fuck who caught him stealing. A shot and to hell with that slick prick from last night too.
The bartender on shift tonight made his rounds and chatted everyone up equally. No doubt in it to get paid. But benefiting from house shots all night, Carl couldn’t begrudge the guy nothing. Just shot and shot and shot. And not even a look up from the empties to check for some maybe action. Just shot and shot and shot. Until he figured to be something like satisfied.

So close to bounding over the oak and smashing the fool’s nose flat. The fucker ordered some whacked-out drink then coached Carl through the mixing all scoffs and eye rolls. So close to hopping the bar and making the asshole swallow some teeth. Dude pointed to his watch. What, had he expected the shit was on tap? And then—when Carl dropped the drink before him and the guy said, I wanted two olives you clod—then, so close was in the rearview mirror.
But as Carl wound back to slap the single-olived-swizzle-stick from the punk’s mouth, he was nabbed from behind, bear hugged. Mort the bouncer hauled his ass outside. Carl, squeezed tight like Snidely Whiplash bound him to the tracks. Listen buddy, Mort said. I don’t know your fucking issue but check it out, shit only piles on. Every day you make your decisions and every morning you have to wake up and live with all the decisions you’ve made. So think first, dig? And Carl nodded, thinking he wouldn’t be anything like satisfied tomorrow.

All afternoon on the couch doing a whole lot of nothing. Television and weed and the pure fucking definition of nothing. Dude, Carl’s roommate said and stubbed out the second spliff on a wrecked coffee table. Dude, if you’re at the North Pole, like the total Northest of the North Pole, can you only walk in three directions? I mean if you’re as North as you can go, aren’t the only options South, East and West?
Carl, less satisfied than ever, got his ass off the couch, went for a warm beer. And slurping down foam he thought, the hell am I doing. Thought, whatever satisfaction is, this is just fuckall. Thought, if quitting wasn’t so easy he’d have something to show for himself. But that was always the problem, huh? The only thing easier than quitting was never trying to begin with.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Next Time's a Charm Pt. 2

Note: This is the conclusion of last week's story. So read that one first. Or you won't know what's what.

The bar again. It’s been a half hour solid. No Walt, no Walt’s boyfriend, just me and my lost cause. Two more shots and I don’t feel any less nervous. Just slightly more nauseous.

Better off this way, that I’ve been stood up. Now nothing’s holding me here. I can cut out, forget the misadventure. Still, dudes pack the dance floor like divorcees at a Tom Jones concert. How I’ll escape, I can’t say. The air is warm, not easy to breathe. I just want to lie down.

Thinking, I need a plan but not able to think much beyond. Thinking, what a fuckup I am. Thinking, all this time wasted on a half-baked plan. Can a plan be quarter-baked?

The newspaper, on Sunday it lists local happenings, shindigs. I had pulled the section and studied. Combed through the nightclubs and bars like a diabetic reading nutrition facts. Had to. At best they gave only subtle hints. Cryptic clues pointing toward the sexual preference of a given joint. Phrases like “Great for a guy’s night out,” caught my eye. But I was cautious—probably just a sports bar. The tag “Open-minded atmosphere,” more promising. Eventually, I compiled a list—short though it was—of potential spots.

Today, I woke up about noon and spent the next couple hours trying to talk myself out of this monkey business. In the end, figured I’d scout the three finalists.

First place I dropped by, Chameleon’s, turned out a drag joint. And while the whole “dress like a woman, think like a woman, understand the woman” philosophy has some merit, I decided to hold that for plan B. Next, The Cave, looked like it had a leather dress code. Last on my list, Charlie Horse, was more what I had in mind. Nothing too flashy, too kinky. This I could dig.

But now, now I kind of wish I’d tried my luck at The Cave. My brown leather jacket, it once belonged to my dad. Not so much hip and trendy as middle-aged suburban chic but probably would’ve gotten me in. And once inside, I couldn’t have done any worse than I was doing now.

“Excuse me,” I hear. The voice thick with accent. Over my shoulder, a tall olive-skinned man.

“Excuse me.” Again, now that he has my attention. “But I wonder, how do I get service here?”

“You want a drink?” Making sure we’re on the same page.

“Nice of you to offer,” he smiles. “I will have bourbon.”

Well played. I wave to the bartender. Vodka for me, bourbon for my new friend.

“I’m Josh,” I say. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Marc.” A pause. “It is good to meet you also.”

We sit and we sip. For a few minutes nobody talks. Occasionally glancing at Marc. He smiles.

“I like this place,” he says finally. “The people, they are quite friendly.”

“It’s not bad. The music’s awfully loud. And the dance floor’s all crowded. And there’s that smell of cologne…”

Marc interrupts with a laugh. “You misunderstand me,” he says. “I do not mean this bar. I mean your country. It is a good place. Better than I have been told.”

“Yeah, land of the free and home of the brave. Good times for all.”

“I do not understand. My English is not…excellent. What is it you mean by that?”

“Nothing, just an old saying.”

“Ah, yes. An expression. In France we have one, ‘Taper dans l'oeil.’ Word by word it means, ‘to hit in the eye.’ But as an expression, it is, ‘to be pleasing to the eye.’ Do you understand?”

And just like that, we’re flirting.

“Why are you here?” I say.

“It is Friday night. Would I be at home?”

“No, In America, I mean. What brings you to America?”

“Ah, America. My sister, she studies here. I am just on a visit. But it is nice, you know? The people, they are kind and the cute ones always buy me drinks.”

We sit quietly. Marc orders the next round. We sit quietly but it’s not uncomfortable. Somehow, the language barrier excuses awkward silence. Makes it understandable silence. Unavoidable silence. Relaxed silence.

“I must leave now,” Marc says. “I have promised to meet my sister for coffee after she has finished with her studies for the day. But it was very enjoyable meeting you Josh.”

“Yeah, Marc. It was nice to meet you too.”

“Take this please,” he says, scribbles a number on the inside of a matchbook. “I will be in town until the end of the month. We should have dinner, no?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

~ ~ ~

I wake early the next morning. Eyes heavy with hangover, the sun is way too bright. I open my fridge and grab a bottle of water and head down to the bakery for a cranberry muffin.

In the alley, Duke’s propped against the brick wall, breaking up discarded cigarette butts. Combining the leftover tobacco to build a fresh smoke.

“Josh! You don’t look tiptop.”

“Long night, Duke. But I feel alright.”

“Maybe you just look that way on account of all the poison They’re feeding you.”

“The Government?”

“The one and only!” Duke pats his belly with one hand, places the skinny cigarette in his mouth with the other. I toss him a book of matches.

“No need to worry. I quit the soda. Diet and regular. They can’t get me now.”

“No? Well, what you got there? Water?”

“Just a little H2O Duke, no healthier drink.”

“That so? Think about all them chemicals from the plastic bottle seeping on into your beverage. A cancer cocktail, if ever there was.”

I bank the half-empty bottle off the alley wall, into a dumpster.

“That a’boy, fight the power. You know, I only tell you this because I care for my people. Not trying to frighten you or nothing. Just being the best Duke I can be.”


“Well enough with the small talk. Tell your old buddy how things went. Spare no juicy detail…or, if the details are too juicy you might just summarize. But let’s hear it, brother.”

“No juicy details to speak of. I gave it the old college try. But I’m not sure hitting on gay men is any practice for hitting on straight women.”

“Me, I never went to college but I could’ve told you that much.”

“Duke, it was your idea!”

“I have lots of ideas, my man. Not all of ‘em top shelf. But tell me this, did you learn anything? Anything at all?”

“Yeah, wasn’t a total bust. Actually, I’ve got some plans for tonight.”

“Well? What’d you pick up, kid?”

“Just an idea. I’ll tell you if it works out.”

~ ~ ~

Deep in the evening when I get there. Half a red sun perched on the horizon. In a different season, everything would be dark by now.

Ornamental wooden doors are propped open and inside I can make out the rough shapes of people—dancing and chatting and having an all around good time. Roll my shoulders, inhale deep—I smell pleasantly of Hugo Boss—and walk past a bouncer with more muscles than a seafood restaurant.

I slip through the crowd, closer and closer to the bar. Music, loud and not all too clear. A poppy R&B song—everyone in the mood for a little bump and grind.

A few feet from the bar, survey the scene. Folks huddled together, usually in groups of two or four, timing interactions with the bartender so their next drink will arrive just as their current one is finished off. Further on down, a lone figure.

“Excuse me,” I say and boy does she jump. “But how would one get service here?”

“You want a drink?” She’s confused by my heavy and unidentifiable accent.

“Sweet of you to offer. I’ll take vodka.”

She laughs. “That’s a good one.” Flags down the bartender, she orders us a couple drinks. “Interesting accent. Where are you from?”

“France,” I say. “Your country is very nice. Always, cute women are buying me drinks.”

She smiles and we sit. Drinking in a calm and comfortable silence.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Next Time's a Charm Pt. 1

A tickle when sweat drips from my armpit, down the side of my ribcage. A techno number—sampling, of all things, the theme from Braveheart—too loud for me to think. A whole lot of lights in a whole lot of colors and it’s total sensory overload.

“Fuck,” I say to myself. “Fuck, fuck, I am so fucked.”

And I really am fucked. Got in way over my head this time. Inching through a crowd of people—happy, dancing people—I see their polo shirts, skinny jeans, their leather shoes and I don’t fit in at all. My loose sweater, cargo pants, my sneakers—they’re new and not too shabby but still I can’t compete. I’m not happy and I’m sure-as-shit not dancing.

Hugo Boss all up in my nostrils, I choke a bit. It’s everywhere, like one of these sharply dressed folks spontaneously combusted and the fire sprinklers sprayed cologne. Me, smelling of Old Spice anti-perspirant. I want my money back.

Through the sea of people, I pass like a modern-day Moses, find myself at the bar. The most fortunate turn all night far as I’m concerned. Give me beer or give me death. I sit on a stool, close my eyes and wait for the bartender.

Music still pounding. So loud it’s beyond sound. So loud I feel it, causes my liver to twitch. I try a meditation exercise a friend once taught me. Big breath in, now imagine you’re a wave washing up on the beach—peaceful, pristine. Exhale and you roll back out to sea—beautiful, the natural order of things…

“Want a drink, or a nap?” someone says. Snaps me back.

“Huh...uh…draft beer…” I start. Then think better. If my shoes, my scent haven’t given me away, I don’t want my adult beverage to do the job. “Or, forget that. Green apple martini.”

The bartender laughs. Big, earthy chuckle. It shakes my bones and combined with the thumping techno, I fear I may implode. A gold tooth glows in his mouth and for some reason the guy’s wearing sunglasses. Even though he’s indoors. Even though it’s night.

“That’s a girlie drink,” he says. “And we don’t serve those here if you get my drift.” Another heavy laugh and he slaps my shoulder. I squirm, realize I’m even more fucked than I thought.

Before I revise my order, two shots hit the bar. The bartender shows his gold tooth—I guess that’s a smile.

“On me,” he says. “Your first time here, no?”

Nod. We each down a shot.

“Loosen up,” he says. “Everyone’s first time is sometime.” Can’t argue with that logic. “You’ll fit right in.” He lifts his sunglasses to wink then moves down the bar to another customer.

I swivel on my stool, look at the dance floor. People. They’re enjoying themselves, and for a moment I wonder if I should join. I wonder if I should jump in. Dive in. Sink or swim. I wonder how I let myself get into this mess. Then I wonder where the bathroom is. Because I really have to piss.

The men's room, first thing I notice—before the erotic yet tasteful painting on the wall—how clean the place is. No crumpled paper towels inches from the trash can—some guys have terrible aim. No puddles near the urinals—like I said. And it smells of Hugo Boss. Which now, I’m getting used to.

I saddle up, face a large canvas with a naked woman’s watercolored behind and make sure to steady my stream. Lest I risk blowing my cover again.

Washing my hands, another patron enters the piss parlor. Tall and blonde and has a wine colored shirt. He smiles when I carefully place my used paper towel in the trash. Then he extends a hand.

“Walt,” he says. “Nice to meet you.”

This is it. Work it. Time to work it. “Hi Walt, I’m Josh.” We shake.

“You’ve never been here before have you?”

“No. That obvious?”

“It’s just, you have quite a distinguished…style. And that’s something I don’t forget.”

Not too bad. No sir. Maybe not so fucked after all. Maybe this was actually a good idea.

“So,” Walt says. “How’s this compare to your regular joint?”

“My regular joint?”

“You know. Your regular bar”

“Oh. To be honest, I’ve never been to a gay bar before.”

Walt smiles. Knowing, smug. “A newbie,” he says. “Cute. Why don’t you meet me at the bar in twenty? I’d love to introduce you to my boyfriend. We’ll buy you a shot. Nobody should drink alone.”

Boyfriend? Flirting, really it was friendly banter. Not fucked, really I’m totally fucked.

“Thanks,” I say. “See you in a few.”

~ ~ ~

Last weekend was when I decided to give it a go. It was supposed to be an experiment. It was supposed to teach me a thing or two. It was supposed to change my life. What it wasn’t, was my idea.

Saturday morning, left my apartment and walked around the corner and up the alley toward my favorite bakery. Duke was there, hunched over on a milk crate. Always.

“Hey Duke,” I said. “What’s cracking?”

“What’s cracking? They’re trying to kill us is all. Same as last week and the week before and every week since They realized we ain’t going nowhere!” His beard was so thick, so bushy I couldn’t see his lips. Words rained from a cloud of grizzled hair.

“Nobody’s trying to kill us, Duke. Hell, if anyone wanted to kill you they’d have done it by now. You never leave the alley.”

“Oh, you’re wrong. You are WRONG! They’re killing me alright, They’re killing you too. They don’t have to know where I sleep at night to get me. And They don’t discriminate between noblemen like myself and common peasants.”

Duke, he swore that was a title. Swore he descended from Scottish nobility. Maybe. But I was still pretty sure that Duke was only his name.

“Who’s trying to kill us?” I asked, squatted on my haunches.

“Who do you think? The Government, like always. They have big charts and computer-made-graphs and They figure ain’t enough room on this earth for us all. Running low on food and fuel and forests and They take it as duty to thin the herd. Well I’ve lived in an alley for a half decade through and I ain’t thin yet. So good luck to them is what I say.”

I first met Duke the day I moved into my apartment. He was making the rare trip from his ally to a corner bodega. Carton of milk in one hand, a half smoked cigarette wedged in his beard.

It was a busy afternoon. People going this way, that way. Trying to make it home, trying to mind their own business. Duke, the only one to offer me help with boxes. We finished and I tried to buy him dinner. But he was too proud for that. Said a good nobleman helps his subjects, asks nothing in return.

“So, the Government’s trying to kill us to curb overpopulation?”

“Oh, They’re not trying. They’re goddamn succeeding. They’re smart you see. Doing it slowly. Slowly but surely.”

“Duke man, you’re paranoid. I’m gonna grab a bagel, you want a Coke or something?”

“Ha! See, that’s my point, brother. That is my point. You buy the Coke and what do you get? All the sugar They can dissolve in water. Sure enough They’ve put you one step closer to a heart attack.”

“Then I’ll get you a Diet Coke.”

“Diet Coke, chock full of chemicals! You’ll get the Big C for sure. That’s what They do—poison you. Microwave some food, just turns it radioactive. Plop down in front of the tele, They beam radiation right to your brain. They’re taking us out and ain’t a thing to do about it.”

“So why worry? If we can’t do anything about it, why even worry?”

“Who’s worried, brother? I’m just warning you—live your life while you got it. ‘Cause you never know when you’re gonna go.”

“Thanks, Duke. I appreciate that.”

“Because Josh, I worry for you.”

Wow. The man lives in an alley, babbles conspiracy theories and he’s worried for me. Talk about a downer.

“Why’s that Duke? I’m doing alright.”

“Because a man your age, he should be thinking about one thing and one thing only. You know what I mean, my boy?”

Nearly said keeping a roof over my head, realized that might have been on the rude side. Shook a no.

“Women, brother. Beautiful, beautiful women. And long as I’ve known you, ain’t ever seen you with a nice lass on your arm. Not once. Ain’t ever seen you bring one to the bakery for a spot of breakfast after a hard night’s work. If you get where I’m coming from…”

“Ever think I might not score points by introducing a lady to the local bum?” And I felt like a grade-A cocksucker right off.

“Josh, that’s cold. But a benevolent ruler never holds a slip of the tongue against a lowly peon. Just try to show more respect in the future.”

Thing was, women were kind of a sore subject with me. There was something about the fairer sex I didn’t get. They seemed foreign—exotic, mysterious, intimidating. They humbled me like nothing else.

Two months ago I vowed off the singles scene after one particularly shitty incident.

At a club on the North end of town, I had tried to drink myself courageous. Seven pints in, decided to give it a go. Stumbling to the far end of the bar, I took a seat next to a short, dark haired woman with over-glossed lips. So shiny I could see my reflection in them.

“Uh, would you like a drink?” I said, legs twitching something fierce.

Forced, tightlipped smile and she blew a quick breath from her nose. No words, pointed to a nearly full margarita sitting before her.

“Right…well, maybe later,” I said, watching myself go red in her lips. Just sitting next to her for another few minutes—the silence burning my ears—before I retreated out the door.

Back in the alley I tried explaining to Duke how I’ve never been smooth with the women.

“What do you mean, ‘smooth’?”

“I get nervous, flustered. Can’t be myself.”

“Well, how’s it you ain’t nervous with me. Hell, I might lack a set of ovaries. But kid, I’m kinda intense. Most people, they avoid me. You seem ‘smooth’ enough.”

“Too bad you’re not a young lady, Duke. I’d be on easy street.”

“Well brother, maybe you need some practice,” Duke said and I think he was smiling. But with that beard it’s anyone’s guess.

“What’re you getting at?”

“Well, like you said you need to work at some smoothness. It ain’t happening with the ladies, so maybe, maybe you oughtta try your shtick on the dudes. You know, for practice. Then take your learnings, really knock them dames for a loop.”

“Duke,” I said. “Might be you’re on to something.”

Next Week: the conclusion of Next Time's a Charm