This story appeared in Fawltmag, Issue 1, Self-Delusion
What happened is that my mother is a very disturbed human being. She could be certifiably crazy. Not crazy in the sense that she likes to chop people’s heads off and paint her face with blood, or has the balls to do anything, crazy in the other way. This past weekend there was a party at this girl Amy Nogus’s house where many other girls were to come, obviously because of me being there. Amy Nogus has a scratchy voice and is said to have had five abortions already. Anyway, when it came time to ask my mother for a ride, that onion flavored slice of Manischewitz told me she’d already talked to Amy Nogus and said I wasn’t allowed to come, and get this, to call her immediately if I did. Isn’t that fucked up? But Amy Nogus played it smart and told my mom that she’d never even heard of me. This was a very slick move, but her craftiness didn’t soothe the wounds and scrapes on my end.
“What are you, retarded?” was my first question.
My mother sighed the same way she does when her and the other yentas talk about how much they hate men, but this is only because they’re nasty as hell and no guy’s ever gonna marry them again. “You’re not sleeping at an unsupervised party. If that little girl’s mother lets her children do that then something is horribly wrong.”
“If only she could take lessons from you, right?”
She touches my shoulder and gets her hand smacked away big time. Then she looks at me like she did after all those birthdays when my dad didn’t call and has the balls to say, “We’d both be embarrassed if you slept there and something… if something happened.”
If something happened. Yeah. Like what if while they took it out someone got a concussion, or what if some chick forgot to take her pill on purpose, or even what if Amy Nogus’s mom came home and wanted just one lick. One is all it usually takes and excuse me for saying so, but the old sack of lox has a point, even if she’s retarded anyway.
Darren Jones is a big black loser who sold me a bag of Oregano last summer and it is okay for me to say this because not only are most of my friends black, but because I essentially have the soul of an African American. Darren offered his services in Biology class during ninth grade summer school, but it wasn’t until later this year that we did the deal. He told me to meet him in the bathroom during lunch, at which time he looked both ways and shoved a crumbled up piece of cellophane into my pocket and told me to give him seventy-five dollars. While these were clearly friendly prices for a gram of funk, I gave him a hundred and told him to keep the change. What’s more, even when it dawned on me that Darren Jones had sold me a gram of seasoning, I went ahead and smoked it anyway. This is simply my nature.
Darren sits in front of me in first period Psychology and without mentioning the Oregano incident I jot down on a piece of lined notebook paper, “Hey bro, you want to steal my dead grandpa’s ride and run away with me tonight?” and slide it onto his desk. Darren reads it and doesn’t really say anything but it is obvious by the way he looks at me all squinty eyed that he is tempted. After class I like to go out by the PE lockers with my skater friends and show them some moves. What’s weird is that while taking a moment to smoke and watch my boys practice their ollies, Darren and some lanky friend of his named Derrick come up on me from behind and what Derrick says is, “Why you blew smoke at me, dude?” Just to be humble I tell him sorry, but then he starts digging through my pockets and taking my wallet. Ordinarily, this would be a declaration of war, but it occurs to me that what’s happening isn’t about whether Derrick has a death wish, no, this is Darren apologizing for the Oregano as well as saying, “You my nigga’ sho’nuff,” in the only manner he knows how. When Derrick slaps me and spits on my moccasins, all my conscience will allow me to do is stare at the ground, pretend to shake and wait until they’re gone, knowing that it is me, their white brother and savior, who understands and loves them more than anyone. That my skater friends don’t rush to my aid only proves that all these things are true.
“Mr. Shapiro,” our dickhead Study Hall teacher Mr. Poland grunts through a mouthful of fries, “For the second time, please remove the sunglasses.” Everyone looks at me real quick then turns away from fear. This is when I take the paper fortune-teller out of my pocket with the secret message inside and toss it over the shoulder of Jeff Tabor, the senior quarterback who replaced me after my tragic knee injury last season. Jeff is built like a rock, has a pretty good tan and wears his sandy blond hair parted to the right. Me saying that doesn’t make me gay or anything, please, just secure enough in my sexuality to recognize an attractive man when he’s in front of me. In fact, if you were to ask Jeff, my guess would be he feels the same way. It doesn’t mean he wants to blow me or anything. Sometimes Jeff gets in these weird moods though. This becomes a problem when he gives the fortune-teller over to that prick Poland and refuses to look me in the eye before sitting back down to work on his Algebra. Poland sees where I wrote “open me” and unravels the fortune-teller to read what’s inside. Then he glares over the rim of those pointy black specs. “Everyone please stop what you’re doing and look at Mr. Shapiro,” his voice is like endless whining. Now everyone is looking from me to Poland and they know because they are half smiling that this jackoff doesn’t know who he’s messing with. “Mr. Shapiro is apparently going to be leaving us. Would you care to tell the class where it is you’re planning on going?”
“To your mom’s house,” is my answer.
Poland’s droopy face flushes and sinks to where his neck should be. He doesn’t say anything for a minute and this is when it occurs to me that last year a few people were talking about how Poland’s mother swallowed a handful of pills and that’s why he was gone for almost two months. Still, it’s just your mother dude. Get over it. Move on.
“Mr. Shapiro? Wasn’t it your mother who dated Coach Schamus? Just before Christmas break I seem to recall. The question is, Mr. Shapiro,” Poland starts pacing the room, “Who’s going to your mom’s house? Can I come?”
Someone says “Damn” real quietly. Poland doesn’t realize the tightrope he’s walking but that’s okay because he’s a sad little man who wears brown dress shirts that hug his love handles and today I’m going to save his life.
“Sit down, Mr. Shapiro. I’m not finished with you,” then he yells out, “You forgot your book,” and smells it all of a sudden like he’s never seen one in his stupid life. “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest,” he reads aloud, “Looks like you’ve read all the way up to page ten. What’s this one about?”
Without turning around, my hand grips the cold steel door handle. What I wanted to say was, “It’s about the coolest guy in the world and how he’s surrounded by retards,” but bailed instead.
You ought to know right now that besides me, my dad is one of the most feared and respected individuals on the planet, and one hell of an insurance salesman. My neurotic spoon-fed whore of a mother calls him an ambulance chaser, but that’s because he never told her that the whole insurance gig is a front. My father is in fact the head of La Cosa Nostra. People could die over that information and me just telling you puts your life at serious risk. Even though he lives in Georgia and pretends to speak with a southern accent and plays golf a lot, he is the mastermind of the largest criminal enterprise known to man. Chances are good that bounty hunters and capos will be deployed to return me to my father. Even though they’ll be on strict assignment to guarantee my safety, it is a sure bet that if found, I’ll be riding to Georgia in the trunk of a dark Sedan.
Usually, me getting a ride home from school is absolutely not even a problem. People have often paid me for the opportunity. Today though, my knee doesn’t hurt so badly and my PT therapist says a little exercise ought to do me some good, especially since wrestling season is right around the corner. What’s a drag are knee high moccasins. No lie. A walk home from school in these bad boys will carve any of you out of wood.
Halfway home these girls pull up in a cherry red Mustang convertible and the driver, this skinny blonde number in a blue bikini top with yellow daisies says, “Nice mullet, dude.” Her three nectar friends laugh real loud and not because of me having long hair in the back, uhh uhh, because the driver is speaking in code and has just invited me to have an orgy with them in her hot tub. They peel out before giving me the chance to let them down easy. “Good for them,” I think. You have to be an emotional rock to survive in this cruel world. Right then at that moment, my best friend Dane Palacios pulls up next to me in his mangled white pick-up and says, “I’m the one you're looking for.”
Let me explain.
Dane is driving like a hundred miles-per-hour through a residential neighborhood, sipping a can of Schlitz, kind of looking around like he’s being followed. Aside from being an all right guitar player, Dane has really rosy cheeks, big eyes like Buzz Light Year and can speak Spanish because he’s from Peru. “Is it true you are stealing a car tonight?” he asks without looking, then throws in, “It is ninety degrees and you wear long pants and a jacket.”
Most people know not to meddle in my affairs, but Dane runs over someone’s custom made manatee mailbox afterwards, proving he isn’t so big of a jackoff, so it’s all good.
“If yes, then I will go with you. If not…”
“The shit’s going down tonight, amigo. Comprende?”
He is trying not to smile. My Spanish clearly impresses him. The false accent was a nice touch.
“You will pick me up at eleven. I know you know where my house is. You walk down my street all the time.”
He slams on the brakes to let me out, somehow aware that I wish to walk the rest of the way. In a sense, him dropping me off ten blocks back in the other direction is appreciated.
“Someone tells me you have a beautiful guitar. We will take this to my cousin’s house in Arkansas and start a band. And give me some cigarettes.”
After giving him a handful of Marlboros he peels out before I can close the door.
“Are you speaking to me yet?” my psychotic foo-foo mother asks and looks back down at her book, some Danielle Steele diarrhea. The rollers have always made me uncomfortable. Your mother is supposed to be the image of purity and perfect female-hood, not some broad sitting up in her canopy bed wearing a zebra-striped bra and all that crap in her hair. The way she pulls the covers over her chest all of a sudden is also gross, not in any way that can be explained, just naturally disgusting. Her room is a mess too. She never cleans it and would probably complain it’s because she works two jobs. Like hygiene isn’t a priority. With me gone she’ll most likely move into my space and that’s fine, the old cooze has always wanted the master bedroom. It’s not like she’ll have me to puke every time I walk by anymore.
“Do you want to say something or are you just going to stare at me all night?”
“So,” is what I tell her, then put to use the training given to me by Affleck himself. “So I guess I love you and all that.” What a joke. She gets all slack-jawed and serious, but I’m already out the door. My eyes are watering a little too, that’s how good of an actor old Ben’s helped me become.
Dane is sitting on a small red fence made of wood next to the stop sign at the end of his street. He’s wearing shorts and holding a T-shirt in his hand. To mess with him a little bit I make like the car is out of control and go to plow his half-breed ass down and he’s all cool at first, then maybe he gets scared because he jumps out of the way before the fender bumps the edge of the fence and knicks away at the wood. As a gesture of comradeship, I get out and give him a hug, but he seems to think I want to blow him because he pushes me away all seriously.
“Get off of me. The guitar? You have brought it?”
After popping the trunk and showing it to him Dane says to go grab his stuff and drives the car away without another word. Smart. Very smart. There will be plenty of time to acknowledge the depth of our bond. What Dane also told me earlier in the truck today was how his dad is in Lima on business. Word has it that Ruben Palacios was once Peru’s ambassador to Brazil or something. It has been said that there is a picture of Ruben kissing the Pope’s hand somewhere in their living room. For me, as an Italian-American, this is a holy kind of thing that deserves much respect. But what Dane was saying was to be quiet and all because his mother and little brother will be inside sleeping. So what happens is Dane’s duffel bag is out by the air conditioning on the side of the house like he said it would be, but before picking it up, it occurs to me that peeking through the window to make sure everyone’s asleep wouldn’t be a total jackoff thing to do and maybe a good way to get a look at the picture. One thing that may surprise you though is that while my strength is considerable, my height is a little below average – five feet four inches to be exact. Because of this, the only way for me to see through the window is to stand on top of the air conditioner. This turns out to be a big hassle when something tinny snaps loose and my foot gets stuck, proving that whoever coined the phrase, “No good idea goes unpunished,” was remarkably intelligent. Now this air conditioner must be made of some unusually powerful steel because even with all of my fierce might, my foot will not break free and sadly, I am forced to allow myself to fall backwards and land very hard. At first there is this white light and then a high pitched humming sound before my eyes make out Dane passing by in the Lincoln. What happens next is Dane’s mom is staring down at me and his kid brother, a pasty little thing in Spiderman pajamas points all creepy-like and says, “He tried to climb in my window.” Mrs. Palacios has her hands on her hips and her red hair twirled up in a bun.
“Who are you and what are you doing?” spits that hot little southern firecracker.
“I’m Joe. Joe Quick!” Not bad, huh?
She looks at the hole in her air conditioner and hands me my mangled Nike, which I slip back on and explain all about how, “Dane invited me to sleep over. That’s my bag and stuff.”
Dane passes by in the Lincoln again and kills the lights, as if this has created a cloaking device.
“Why is that big ugly blue car circling the block?” and she takes her kindergarten teacher stance with me again and says, “Why are you out walking this late? Dane has never mentioned you, Joe Quick. What kind of name is that? You look Jewish to me.” She is not hiding her desire to get undressed very well at all.
“Ma'am. Quick is my middle name.”
“He tried to climb through my window,” the little plate-faced Damien repeats.
The Lincoln passes by much faster this time.
“There it is again,” she rants and grabs her kid’s arm. A minute later they’re both in her Cavalier, pursuing the Lincoln because she thinks the Lincoln is some pedophile or something. Five times both cars whiz by me until finally the Lincoln comes back the opposite way and Dane beckons me in. Without really feeling like rushing, I toss his bag in the back and hop in and it is clear by Dane’s expression that his pride is a little too hurt at the moment to compliment me on my technique. He floors it down a side street. I lean back and stare out the dead mosquito-covered window. Clearly old Dane has just learned a lifelong, most valuable lesson in special ops.
First nights on the Florida Turnpike are what make the most of men like us, those of us who saw a chance out of this God forsaken town, but had only hell to look forward to. We move swiftly like horses because swiftly is the way that horses move. We are among the hunt. We are the primal, and the damned.
Sometimes my thinking is really deep and stuff, as you can plainly see. Calling me a genius or comparing me to poets like Hawthorne or Hemingway will only embarrass you. They don’t hand out Pulitzers to jackoffs or hold conferences in honor of their perfectness.
Halfway across the county line, we park out front of a late night CD exchange. Dane goes through my collection cases with his Buzz Light Year eyes glowing from purple neon and careful fingers.
“What is this? Who is,” he inches closer, “Helen Reddy?”
“That’s my mother’s ass.”
“Your mother’s…? What are you saying?”
“I hate that music. It’s ass. My mother’s ass. How it got in this case is beyond me.”
He scans faster now, “Bon Jovi? Fucking Journey? Tell me this is not a Brittany Spears album? Or is it your mother’s ass?”
“You have to admit you’d bang her.”
Dane takes most of the CD’s in with him and says to sit tight and guard our stuff. He comes out an hour later and drives us over to the Shell. He pumps, buys two Slurpees and we drive onto I-95. That’s when he gives me my cut, all crumpled up bills from his short’s pocket.
“Ten bucks? There were over four hundred CD’s.”
Dane says they offered him a hundred for the collection and that he used ninety for a tank of gas and Slurpees, plus a Heath bar for later. Again, this is a very large vehicle. Plus, most of those CD’s sucked anyway, just like Dane said.
The Turnpike goes through West Palm Beach through Boca through Ft. Drum as the yellow lines shoot through my mind like smooth arrows. Outside my window the trees are blown by the mouth of the swampy woods.
After a while we pull over to the emergency lane because Dane wants to sleep for a while, but my body is not ready to shut down. While composing a volume of haikus (in Chinese), an alligator attacks the Lincoln, gnawing at the doors and hubcaps. Thankfully, my formative years were spent on the Seminole Indian reservation. With a yawn, I step out into the cricket darkness and wrestle the beast to the ground, as it whips and flails and finally submits. Satisfied that we’ve reached a mutual understanding, I turn to get back in the car and hear the slicing air sound of its whipping tail. More out of irritation am I forced to slice the reptile’s throat with my hunting knife, all while young Dane sleeps like a breastfed infant behind the wheel.
Everything I mentioned about the previous night is absolutely one hundred percent God damn true except we didn’t really make it to the Turnpike and kind of ended up in Ft. Lauderdale, in the parking lot of Guitar Planet. Dane said this would be a good place to sell my Gibson and it’s totally cool because in Arkansas, he has five Les Paul’s waiting at his cousin’s house. He even told me that last night.
The way Dane wakes me up is he peers over the front seat and slaps my face a few times. When my eyes focus, he is looking at me with his long matted hair over half his face, like he’s aware of something nobody else knows. Then he crinkles his brow and asks me what stinks so badly.
After changing clothes we take the guitar inside where Dane says it would be better if he handled the sale since he gives lessons at Guitar Planet a few times a week and has some pull with the manager, and for me to just hang back for a few. Then he goes up to some older red haired dude at the front of the store and shows him what we’ve got. Meanwhile, this is a good opportunity to compose a little composition while Dane deals with the dirty work. My instrument of choosing is a Gibson Flying V. After plugging it into the Peavey and cranking the volume, my fingers start doing the stroking and the sounds of my soul fill the air as people stop and stare in an amazed stupor at the one they will tell their grandkids about. My hand moves faster, up and down, as hard as it can go as my eyes close, my head falls back and my natural rhythmicality builds toward explosion. All around me grown men are weeping. Women are gyrating. Some little kid takes a whizz where he stands. Just short of my solo, someone who must be attempting suicide grabs my arm in mid-pick and the only reason that person continues to breathe is because it’s Dane and he tells me, “You are scaring people. It’s best we go.”
This is sound advice. What my companion is saying is that it’s not nice to throw your talent in these poor people’s faces. The intrusion aside, you have to admit the guy has a point. When we get outside Dane lights a cigarette. “You were going to try finger-tapping next weren’t you?” He says, “Please join the Key Club or something. It is cheaper and less disturbing to people who think of music as more than a fun hobby.”
“How much did you get?”
“He slaps a hundred dollars in my hand, “The manager was so amazed with you, he threw in a box of picks.”
“But that Gibson cost three-thousand dollars!”
He touches my arm, “Why do you worry. You must have lots of money to own such things.”
“My mom bought me that for my birthday.”
“I told you, where we’re going, you can have all the three-thousand dollar guitars you want.”
Just the thought of such a paradise makes my eyes water.
“You are going to cry. You do not trust me. Maybe we should not be friends.”
This is when he goes and gets in the car and it dawns on me that the great Dane is more vulnerable than he seemed. Maybe you can follow my thinking: Here’s a kid whose dad is someone special and clearly has no time for his son. In order to compensate for that missing male-role-model, he agrees to leave everything behind, including a full scholarship to pursue his dream, in exchange for the company of the coolest person he can think of. That same person lets him come along and is now questioning that decision. The guy’s got to keep his guard up. If sacrificing some guitar that kind of sucked anyway will make him feel more secure, then maybe this is how is has to be. It’s not easy to say, “I just want you to like me,” and not hear a reply. Even a true jackoff knows this.
The thing is, tattoos are an extension of the self. Not only an expression of a person’s beliefs, but a physical extension too. Getting one is the obvious choice, not only because of me having so much to say, but to fulfill the need of others to have more of me to go around. Dane talked me into this while we were at Denny’s eating breakfast. He said that because we are starting a band, not getting one would bring us bad luck. Then Dane picked up the menu and said not getting a tattoo of “Moons Over My Hammy” in the center of my chest would make me a punk bitch and he wouldn’t want to be friends with me anymore.
“What are you going to get?” I ask him.
“I am allergic to ink.”
At first the way he was trying not to smile made me think he thought getting a “Moons Over My Hammy” tattoo would be the move of a real jackoff, but soon I realized that he too wanted there to be more of me for himself, and that smile he was hiding, was a mask for tears, the shame of his mutant allergies to anything ink related.
We find a parlor in Orlando called Buena Vista Tattoos and Piercing. The bald shirtless guy who works there is named Needles. Needles has giant orange flames covering both arms. The plate of “Moons Over My Hammy” takes two hours. Dane laughs for the first twenty minutes but says he’s laughing because of how awesome it looks. Needles and Dane seem to be old friends too, it is obvious by the way they look at each other and keep smiling, like they’re remembering fun stuff they did together. This makes me feel better. Before too long Dane says he’s going to go walk around for a while and bails. My guess is he is almost ready to open up to me, but doesn’t want to cry in front of Needles.
Want to hear something awesome? Dane comes back two hours later and guess what? He’s picked up two nectars! They’re wearing really sexy tank tops and no bras at all. Dane comes in just as Needles finishes the “Moons Over My Hammy” and the nectars wait outside the window watching. He kind of looks at it sideways for a minute like it makes him sad and then he says, “Do not worry. I mean they can remove these things very easily.” Dane tells me to pay Needles and come meet the girls. Then he bails. While he throws away the needle and cleans me up Needles tells me, “Your boy’s just like Cinderella. Ring his clock and he’s nobody. Think about it.”
Just so you know, Needles trying my best friend like that is not something a guy like me takes lightly. What if someone tried Tom in front of Huck? Or Matt in front of Ben? Still, you have to pick your fights is what they say. Maybe this is why they said that.
Shira and Vera are sweating me wicked outside the Circle K, which is where we go after.
“That’s the dumbest tattoo I’ve ever seen,” Shira jokes, “What were you even thinking?”
Shira has one of those giant vaccination marks on her arm and still insists on wearing sleeveless shirts.
“Will you stop blowing spit bubbles off your tongue!” Shira yells.
Vera is checking me out in a big way. She digs my trick and wishes she could do it too.
“How do you even know him,” Shira asks Dane, who shrugs and looks at her butt.
If you haven’t been featured in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, the chances of coming to bed with me are not in your favor. That’s actually what they mean by “Secret.”
“Why is he smiling?” Shira asks me. “Stop smiling you puffy rat-faced loser.” She leans in to tell Dane, “Oh my God. You were so right.”
This isn’t me being shallow. It’s just a time issue. You can’t please everyone. This must be why Shira’s so defensive.
“I think he’s sweet,” Vera tells Shira while looking at me with penny-colored eyes. She has long black hair like Slash and is about my height.
“Isn’t it true you have never kissed a girl before?” Dane inquires, then secretly points to Vera.
“Of course he hasn’t, look at his dork butt.”
“That’s so sweet.” Vera says, although she knows very well that millions of girls have been kissed by me and changed forever.
Shira smells like a Chinese restaurant. Not her breath really, just her overall. But with her big fuzzy red hair and dark circles, she looks more Jewish than anything. She even kind of looked like a nectar at first. Plus she has pimply shoulders. Plus she’s way too into her herself.
“Is it true you stole a car?” Vera asks me all quietly.
“Your friend says you’ve been following him home since the seventh grade,” Shira says to me. “Are you a ‘mo or something?”
“You don’t have to run away you know. You probably shouldn’t,” my little concubine whispers.
“You’re sixteen,” Shira says to Dane, “Why do you even need him?”
“What grade are you in?” Dane is suddenly suspicious.”
Vera says eighth and Shira says twelfth at the same time, then Shira looks at Vera all mad and Dane secretly motions me toward the car. Right now, Vera and me are the only two people on the planet. She won’t stop staring. Aside from the whole shaggy dog thing she’s not butt ugly. Maybe she could use a little sun. Some boobs wouldn’t kill her either.
“Tell me something sweet,” Vera says and touches my hand with the back of hers.
“How beautiful you are is causing me physical pain,” is that something.
Dane says 'damn,' then Shira laughs and my heart begins beating really fast for some reason. Vera looks at me for a few seconds like she’s waiting for me to do something and then what happens is, after passing a little gas, I begin running around the parking lot full speed. Don’t ask me why. Everyone watches me barrel across the street, through oncoming traffic, into the Red Lobster parking lot and then into a strip mall. After about ten minutes is when it’s clearly time to stop showing off. So, upon sprinting back into the Circle K parking lot, for good measure  I go ahead and abruptly puke on the pavement in mid-stride, then walk the rest of the way. To my surprise though, Dane is sitting in the driver’s seat with one leg out of the car, his cigarette smoke curling up along the roof and Vera and Shira don’t seem to be anywhere.
“Where’d they go?”
Dane looks at me, then starts the car.
What an amateur.
“You have got to be kidd…What is that smell? Do you smell that?”
“Go back to sleep.”
“You need to pay for a hotel. We will get towed parked on the highway like this.” He lights up. “Tell me the truth: Did you piss yourself?”
“Because this morning smelled like piss, the same thing.”
“Well I didn’t piss. So there you go.”
“I think you did and are not telling me. Plus I saw you playing with GI Joes earlier. You thought I was sleeping. What’s up with that?”
“What you’re smelling is the humidity. And we haven’t taken baths. So of course it smells like piss. Anybody could tell you that.”
“You know what else I think? I don’t think you’ve read any of those books you pile around you when you sleep. I think you piss on them. What do you think?”
“That you’re retarded. One day you and everyone else will realize this.”
Sometimes my best friend Dane’s overenthusiasticness about starting the greatest band of all time is more than a guy like me can take. Seriously. For one, upon waking up, my thing is to have some down time to consider my dreams, which are pretty damn amazing since they always feature me. B) A shower at one of those truck stops would be nice, especially after Dane accusing me last night of something only gigantic jackoffs do. It’s more like a shower after the rape kind of thing than a shower shower and Dane making me change clothes and throw my old ones on the side of the Turnpike is total proof of this. Then (then!) there’s the dream thing again. I was having a really kick-ass vision of that chick Vera, who, while not a total complete nectar, has had me thinking about her a lot for some reason. Also, and this is really a private thing between me and her, when Vera was looking at me all wide-eyed yesterday, right before my little run, not saying anything, she really was saying something and that something was: “Someday I’ll find you and we’ll run away together somewhere awesome and just hold each other all the time and stuff.” Girls saying that may happen to me all the time, sure, but maybe this time it’s a little different in a way you can’t understand.
So me waking up and climbing in front and saying good morning is apparently not a big deal because Dane doesn’t even look or say anything when this happens. After lighting up a Marlboro and cracking the window is when something weird goes down. The Turnpike sign, it says we’re going south.
“Dude,” is my reaction, “Why did you turn around?”
“Why would you say this to me,” he says to me, like he knew it was coming. He says, “I am very serious about this. If you are not so serious, maybe we should turn around.”
“The sign said ‘Turnpike South.’”
“You do not trust me. Me who has defended you when everyone says you are potential Columbine. I am not so sure we should be best friends anymore because…”
“Hold up a sec…”
“… because maybe you cannot commit to this band. Because maybe you are still in diapers in many many ways. Because what kind of musician sells his guitar like it is nothing to him. You should see my guitar. It is a piece of shit. But it is mine. My father, he has just filed Chapter 11. Did you know this?”
“What kind of stuff does he write?”
“See. You make a joke of it. When girls talk to you, you fart first and run in all directions like a broken rocket.” He takes a quick drag, then goes, “What you said to that girl, it was amazing. I wished I had said it. Why did you run? What scared you so much you would steal a car and do that to your chest?”
“I don’t know, chicks I guess.”
“You mean Amy Nogus. Why don’t you tell her she causes you to feel physical pain?”
“My mother has made sure that can never happen.”
“You are using me is what I think. Your mother, she buys you three-thousand dollar guitars you care nothing about and still you blame her for being scared of the girl you love. Look. You are about to cry.” He says, “Yes, now you stare out the window like always. You all day stare out that window like you are in deep thought. But this is not true. I think you do not know how to think. And that you want to go home.”
“Then you are serious about our band?”
“Then maybe we will drive straight to California and never look back. Of course, you will not be able to contact your family ever again, but you must know this.”
“Because if the cops ever found us, they would whip us. That is what they do to people who steal cars and try to call their families. They whip them for weeks. Sometimes they even whip their families too. This is why you must never try to communicate with them. Especially your mother. She is in the most danger. She might be already dead.” Dane says, “Say something to this.”
After a minute or so, “Stop at the next plaza. I need to make a booty call,” is that something.
You may be wondering why someone would be allowed to speak to me in the way Dane just did and the answer is: a guy like me has to be able to forgive, or there would be mountains of dead people everywhere. People have died over less than this is all that needs to be said. Also, the whole booty call thing: That was made up. True, lining some up in any town in the country is something that could be done with a simple phone call, and sometimes by merely showing my face, but right now, this is just what Dane needs to hear for his own protection. He’s just so delicate and it’s not easy for me to tell him he turned out a bigger jackoff than it seemed at first. Also, Vera will be coming for me any day now. How do you tell your best friend in the world that you’re quitting the band and calling off the adventure of a lifetime over some broad, especially when this is someone who is pining for a lifetime friendship? This is a prime of example of not having enough of me to go around. I’m only one person God damn it. Why don’t people understand that?
What we’re doing is sitting outside the Okahumpka service plaza finishing some sandwiches from Sbarro. Dane’s nervous about those two redheads he thinks are coming to bang us. He may be a legend with women, but right now, you would think he’s a pathetic little virgin with the way his jaw keeps moving back and forth and his cheeks are all red. He hasn’t even taken his hand off the wheel. What a freak, right?
He crushes his sandwich wrapper into a ball, lights up his six hundredth cigarette of the hour and as he finishes chewing, says, “You are made of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails,” then goes, “You know the only reason I don’t go catch a bus is to see if you can tell the truth.”
“Truth about what? Bro, these girls are wicked horny. They’re twins.”
Dane laughing at this is an indication he might be a very gay man. Him covering his eyes afterwards and exhaling gives me every reason to believe this is true, which only justifies me ending this whole thing before he tries to blow me or something.
“Wow!” is what Dane says when three hours later a light blue Camry pulls into the plaza. “These beautiful twins look exactly like my father?”
As the Camry moves forward, the face of Ruben Palacios becomes unmistakably his own: Tan, droopy and not totally not resembling a raisin. His hair is short and combed straight in all directions like the black-haired Stooge.
“He sees us,” Dane says, and then says, “Funny how he knows which car to look for.”
Part of me wants to believe Ruben Palacios came home from Central America early because he found out his son was gone and had the tracking ability and undying love for Dane equal to my own dad’s. But this is not the truth. The truth is my mother. She’s gone and done it again.
Dane’s dad backs into a spot across from ours and this is when Dane collects his stuff.
“When your mother comes, or whoever comes for you, go to Guitar Planet and pick up what belongs to you. I will call from the car and arrange everything.”
“How much will it cost?”
“Listen to me: It is being held in the back. Just do as I say.” Dane’s Buzz Light Year eyes get all wet when he looks back at me and goes, “We were going home anyway, you know, and I would still be in deep shit. But I would have that guitar and it would have been worth it. But as pathetic as you are, I cannot do it. The thing is this: You and I would end up friends if you would just say the truth, even by nodding your head.” Dane looks at me for a few seconds then gets out pretty quick, which is probably why he doesn’t hear me say, “See you at school.” What happens next is Dane’s dad is standing by the open car door wearing a stark blue Polo tucked into bright white pants hiked up above his pot belly and with his hands behind his back, like he’s hiding something as Dane goes up to him. Now maybe the windshield in the Lincoln is dirty from the dead mosquitoes but it looks like after Dane says something, his dad punches him in the face really hard. First of all there’s a popping sound, but Dane also falls down on one knee, spits and rubs his jaw. Again, he may have just slipped or something. My eye itched at the time. Even so, there’s something very beautiful about a dad hitting his son to say hello. This is what makes us men. Our ability to show our feelings in a way that chicks just can’t understand. Dane must feel the same way because he gets in the car and stares straight ahead as they head out of the plaza, he doesn’t wave to me or anything. It dawns on me that this is probably the first time he’s had to take a punch, so maybe me calling my mom and her calling the school for Dane’s mom’s number and her calling Dane’s dad and him coming home from wherever to punch Dane in the face is actually a good thing. Sometimes you’re helping people and you don’t even know it. Maybe that’s what being best friends is all about.
You probably know the rest of the story.
My retarded joke of a mother comes barreling into the plaza in the Corvette she’ll spend the rest of her worthless life paying for and not only that, she’s got Coach Schamus in the car with her. She slams on the brakes when she sees me sitting in the driver’s seat of the Lincoln and doesn’t even bother to park, just gets out and runs at me like I’m some soldier getting off the plane, except she’s not so happy. She’s not even wearing anything, just some black top that only covers her boobs and her belly and even those jiggle when she runs - it’s quite too gross to talk about, which is why I look away. She runs up to the door and starts banging on the window. After about a minute is when the time seems right to roll it down.
“Josh,” she’s all out of breath, “Jesus Christ.”
Schamus is standing by the Corvette with his arms folded, still wearing his PE uniform like he thinks he could take me or something.
“You’re not hurt are you?” she asks and leaves her mouth open, like I want to see those gums that come all the way down to where her teeth should end.
“What’s he doing here?”
“Someone has to drive the car home.”
“We had an agreement. You weren’t supposed to see him anymore.”
“No. Josh. We didn’t. We had an agreement that it wasn’t fair to you, because he’s your teacher. Scott’s my friend, that’s why he’s here.”
This is clearly the right time to show her the new extension of my selfhood. I lift my shirt for her benefit.
“Josh! Fuck! Is that a tattoo? Of a sandwich? Did your friend make you do that?” She knows better than to give me the whole, “Your body is a stupid temple,” thing, like she’s even religious. Please. “What am I going to do with you, Josh?” she asks no one in particular as she covers her mouth all drama-queenish like she’s trying out for Oprah.
“When did he call?” is my question.
She looks at me like that time my dog got sick and died and she didn’t want to tell me, almost grinning, but not. She’s all, “He hasn’t called in nine years, Josh. I just said it so you would stop.” Then she looks away and says, “I didn’t know what else to say.”
It’s just like her to blow things all out of contortion because she’s stressed out and can’t deal with being a parent. Please. Like that’s why I waited here for her dumb ass. What a jackoff. Nine years. That’s too funny.
Let me explain.
 It is with great shame that I confess responsibility for three of those instances.
 What I’m wearing are ripped jeans, a sleeveless Floyd t-shirt, a faded denim jacket with an REM patch and brown moccasin boots that come to right below my knees. Not bad is right!
 Me and Jeff are like brothers. We used to wait until after a game (back when Jeff was second string) and line the cheerleaders up on the field, making them bid for us by way of humiliation. Like Jeff might say to one of them, “Lay on your back and pretend you’re a turtle tipped over in your shell who can’t get back up,” or I’d say to another little nectar, “Go on a dig,” and watch her burrow through Astroturf at impossible speeds. The ones who really meant it got to come back to my house where me and Jeff marked them for life. Usually my mom was out with one of the yentas so we never had to worry.
 The reason everybody’s laughing isn’t because my mom dated my PE coach or even because Coach Schamus slept over a few times. They’re laughing because a few weeks ago, me and some of my gangsta’ buddies (one of whom happens to be some small time rapper named Ol’ Dirty Bastard by the way), broke into Schamus’s condo, tied his ass up and drove his six-foot-five black butt out to the Everglades and almost fed him to the alligators. But, the way he begged for his stupid life and kept going on about his rotten kids, we ended up just stripping him down to his drawers and leaving him in the swamp to walk home naked.
 He also runs most of the larger hotels in Vegas, is one of the most powerful movie producers in Hollywood, has banged well over six thousand women and all of them were serious nectars, believe me.
 This is nothing to a guy who speaks seventeen languages including Brazilian.
 It is unquestionable that before reaching adulthood, my gait will increase by another foot and a half easy.
 It is no secret that it was me who first said this. Some other sayings invented by me include: Nobody likes a smartass. Thank God it’s Friday. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Whoever smelt it dealt it. Take one for the team. Once you go black, you never go back. I’ll give you something to cry about. It ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings. It’s not how deep you fish, it’s how you wiggle your worm.. I’m not like other men. What comes around goes around. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Over my dead body. You and whose army? You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. There are people starving in China. You go girl. Beggars can’t be choosers. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. Fuck you. No shirt, no shoes, no service. It’s Miller time. Mi casa es su casa. Show me the money. Don’t spend it all in one place. A penny saved is a penny earned. Good things come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue. Someone has to put food on the table. Wake up and smell the coffee. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If you shake it more than twice, you’re whacking off. Easier said than done. Size does matter. I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Let’s kill two birds with on stone. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Jewish is not a country. Are we there yet? And a few others…
 Clearly, this is how a normal mother goes to sleep. Her southern accent is not altogether sexless either.
 My asscrack of a mother used to take me on road trips going this way and what I’d do is stare out the window and pretend to be holding a giant ax that extended for miles, chopping down everything in my path from trees to billboards to mile markers to barbed wire fences.
 By the way, the whole pain thing you hear about being so terrible when they ink you, this is an old wisetail. Besides, my body is not capable of feeling pain due to my father’s big time testosterone level being passed on to me in double doses when he banged my mom and stuff. That’s why that horrible scream that made the Iraqi dude who worked in the check-cashing store next door run in to see if everything was cool came out of me so loudly.
 Ben likes to fly me out there every couple of months or so to come be with them. This big meathead looking dude (it was Vin Diesel) tried Matt at this Project Greenlight party in the Hills and let me tell you, Ben’s no pussy like people think. He even gave Vin a third degree curb job. Since we’re talking about Ben, it is entirely possible that next to me, he may be the coolest dude in the world. We’ve even had this conversation. This is a dark and dangerous man with a timeless cool. When people say he sucks cock or call him a cheeseball, it makes me insane.
 I don’t know, maybe if you can hide your flaws you probably should. Same goes for people with dandruff who wear black everyday, or homely dudes with Chinese wives, I mean, who do they even think they’re fooling?
 This just feels like the thing to do, plus there is always time to work on your cardio-muscular conditioning; keeping a body like mine in top form is not something to spend your whole life on so far, then piss it away because some little dish gives you the eye.
 And to not completely out shine Dane, who needs to get laid just like any other dude.
 The dream was we were at a Richard Marx concert, listening to that song, “Hold On To The Night” (which doesn’t entirely suck ass in some ways you know).
 It may also be worth mentioning that news has reached me, the source of which must remain classified for now, that the bounty hunters are closing in fast. This is proof of how much a guy like me is loved in this world. That said, it is with great resolve for me to admit that the guilt is too much. Allowing the impressionable Dane to go down this dark path and have his soul crapped on forever is just not something a guy like me can live with.
 New Jersey teeth is what they are, all my Aunts have them and everything. It’s wicked nasty.