Okay, okay, I heard you the first time. I’ll buy it after the game ends….No, they’ll still be open….Of course I’m sure. They have extended hours on Fridays, everyone wanting to stock up for the weekend. You of all people should know that….Yes, I have to watch this. Do you have to watch your fucking shows?…Well, too bad. Maybe you shouldn’t be a pothead then…Yeah, yeah, I’m a boozer….Okay, fine, I’ll go. But you gotta give me a blowjob first. Just don’t block the screen….Well, fuck you too….Bye, pothead……..When’ll they have real audiences at these games again? Fucking COVID.
The one argument too many, the death knell for all marriages regardless of the spouses or the American presidential administration, has arrived, caused by his, for the umpteenth time, having clipped his toenails several feet away from the wastebasket, keratinous crescents lying on the bedroom carpet, her usual annoyance over his thoughtlessness exacerbated by his refusal to apologize; instead, sitting in the living-room recliner, watching Eighties rockabilly videos on his phone, he chuckles deprecatingly at her, welcoming what follows as validation for his having mentally (and secretly) divorced her ass months earlier. Plus, bonus points, she can’t fucking stand rockabilly.
Another morning, another commute. Sitting in his car, stuck in traffic, he wonders if he should move to the city so he could live closer to the office, partake of high culture, and have his pick of fine ladies. But he realizes that even if he could afford moving, preferably to a gentrified area—low crime, unthreatening minorities—well, not minorities, you call them POCs, persons of color, now—well, eventually, the economy would contract, and that gentrified area would go to hell. Everything in the city goes to hell eventually. But suburbia endures. White bread’s packed with preservatives. Yum.
The Nineties, the Nineteen-Freaking-Nineties, started with that recession where I lost the clerical job I’d had for fifteen years. Buh-bye health coverage. And hello breast cancer. One lumpectomy later (including radiation therapy and reconstruction), and I had to go bankrupt. Then I started drinking. Then I got involved with a bigger drunk, a guy who liked beating me even when sober. Then the breast cancer returned and—not even that Seinfeld episode about Elaine’s nipple could salvage that decade. Plus I still miss the building where I’d had my clerical job. That place lacked so much character, it had character.
Alone in her dorm room at two AM, pounding away at her laptop, almost somewhat close to finishing that report due in seven hours, jacked up on energy drinks, Morgan speculates for some reason that her mother’s yoga instructor’s unmarried, childless, middle-aged, rabidly-Catholic, permanently pursed-lipped cousin, Bonnie Gurman, is probably either a virgin or a closet lesbian or both. For a few seconds, Morgan thinks she herself—a nonvirginal pansexual—should beneficently have sex with Bonnie.
Nah, not my type, Morgan decides. I like tawny skin. And big boobs. Does that sound shallow? Sorry, Bonnie. Hee hee. Why the hee-heeing?
When I was five, my mother decided I should learn piano, so I’d get cultured. This lady named Mrs. Birchak would visit for an hour every week, teaching me pieces such as “Tumbling Puppy” and “Ode to a Dumpling.” I grew to enjoy playing that instrument. But after a month, she told me at the beginning of class, “Well, dear, maybe you consider doing something else.” And she left. I never saw her again. Or played any instrument again. Seventy years later, I’ve started making colored sand bottles at the senior center. That counts as doing something else, I guess.
One night at the hospital, during the height of the pandemic, during her fourteenth straight hour on shift, after watching yet another patient die from COVID, a nurse’s aide named Carly, still wearing her PPE complete with mask and face shield, shuffled out of the ward, through the halls crowded with patients, and through the front exit. She got into her Kia and sat there, mulling over her options. Did she even have options?
Yes. She could terminate her selflessness. She could vacuum her car’s interior. She could check on that emergency intubation. She could pump air into her tires.
A familiar sight during my childhood: my old man in his shirtsleeves, slumped over the kitchen table at night, beer bottle in hand, complaining to Mom about his day, specifically about the employees at the department store he manages, about the customers who try to rob him blind, about how no one appreciates what he does, much less deserves it—complaining in that tone, equal parts grandiose and self-pitying, that makes me grind my teeth into nubs as I lie on the living-room carpet, in the adjoining room, watching TV. I’ve just turned twelve. Mom, of course, sits next to him, not saying a word. His performance goes on so long, I imagine visual clichés from those old movies she loves: hands twirling around on clocks, pages flying off the calendar.
Finally, the usual crescendo of his complaining arrives. He asserts he’s done everything he could, and what more can he do?
“Killing yourself would help,” I mutter, softly enough for my parents not to hear; otherwise, either of them, or both of them, would have leaped up, run into the living room, and commenced their usual disciplinary method of beating me in a whirlwind of slaps, punches, and kicks. I’ve never said anything like that about my old man before. For a few moments, I feel guilty. “Ha ha, how fuckin’ embarrassing, right?” I say seven years later when relating this anecdote to my fellow soldiers in the jungle in Vietnam, causing them to go into detail about the butt-kickings they’d endured as children. Laughs all around, drawing us closer together.