Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hipsters: give it to me.

So that was the book. feel free to comment from this blog entry to tell me what you thought
of it.


Hipsters chapter 15


But Amanda didn’t stay away.
I was in my bedroom a few nights later. I could’ve been writing or listening to music, or maybe catching up with a friend. I’d thought about calling Calvin a few times since Amanda drove away from me, but what could I say to him that didn’t make me look like a fool? Or make our friendship seem more a sham? As for Noah, well, I didn’t hear from him at all. In truth I was doing nothing. I wasn’t grounded, per se. How does one ground a college-bound adult? But my gallivanting around the city, my sleepovers at the apartment of legal-yet-not-really-legal adults, my flagrant breaking of the no smoking/sex rule, made me public enemy number one around the homestead at Phillips Avenue. My parents weren’t really big on catching sight of me, and I wasn’t huge on seeing them either. I went to work. They went to work. I took my meals in some greasy joint near the library, and they seemed to have rekindled this wine-and-foreign-food dinnertime thing. I was never invited to it. I figured it was best to lay low. So I stayed in my room and my parents stayed downstairs. At least they were home more, I guess. College was going to be a long four years if I didn’t get that apartment.
Anyway, there was a knock on my door. I thought it would be my mom or dad. I thought they were ready for a truce. I didn’t really want a truce. I wanted room and board in some small college up north. I wanted my dad to silently hand me enough rent money to supplement what I’d earned so that I could pack a truck, call Noah, and then go out to celebrate at the Cage. I wanted something to happen to break the funk I’d been in since Amanda Evarts pushed me off her naked body, and stormed out of my life. One should be careful what they wish for.
“Come in,” I said.
There was a slight hesitation then Amanda opened my door. Christ if she didn’t look great. Blonde hair like silk coming down just below the chin. She’d obviously had it cut. Amanda was wearing a blue and white sundress that clung to each and every curve on her body, which clearly showed the outline of a thong underneath. There was no bra either, and probably the richest tan I’d seen on a Pittsburgh girl in my lifetime. Amanda had obviously been living well since we ended. I swear I started salivating right then and there, as I ogled her. It felt like I was really and truly seeing Amanda Evarts’ beauty for the first time. I wanted her back so badly. So badly, that I forgot the fights, the name-calling, the awkward moments. I forgot everything. It was amnesia brought upon by loneliness, confinement, and having a pretty girl front and center in my room. Then Amanda gave me an embarrassed smile. I turned away, too, but it was like pulling teeth to turn my head.
“Hey,” she said, softly.
“Hey.” Let bygones be bygones.
“Do you want to take a walk or something?”
It was a nice night outside. It was humid, of course, and the sky was void of stars. Stars got lost sometimes in the pink hue cast from the city of Pittsburgh. Amanda and I walked up Phillips Avenue, and then onto the long slope of Shady Avenue. Apartments were illuminated. Young people were having parties and being loud. Music wafted through the air. Private homes hung behind bushes, but inside you could see the muted blue of the television set as the tired working-class put another solemn evening in America to bed. I reached for Amanda’s hand as we walked, but it felt cold and limp, so I let it go after a block. She didn’t seem to care one way or the other. Finally she stopped when we got to Forbes Avenue. People were suddenly all around us, going into restaurants and bars. I couldn’t help but feel like we weren’t angling for a private moment here.
“I need to apologize to you,” Amanda finally said. She took out two cigarettes, and lit them. She handed one to me.
“No need to apologize,” I answered. I took a drag. “Things have just been bad between us. I guess I didn’t expect to have such a reaction to dating someone my friend was into. But you have to understand, I feel like I broke some male code.”
Amanda exhaled her smoke deeply then she sighed. “You’re still on that,” she said, quietly.
“On what?”
“Calvin...and this guilt. You think I’m here because of that? You think we broke up because of that?”
“Did we break up?” I asked.
Amanda nodded.
“Is this negotiable?
She shook her head. No.
“So there’s nothing that I can say to make this better?” It’s funny. A few days ago when she stormed off, I was okay. But now, in the quiet after the storm, I actually believed things could work out for Amanda and I again. “I don’t understand.”
“You will,” Amanda said. “If you think about it.”
“No, I believe I’m pretty dense,” I answered. “I think you need to tell me.”
She had a few more drags on her smoke, but didn’t speak. Was it hard for Amanda to come here and face me like this? Because I know it was hard for me to sit and have to hear it. I got tight. Amanda still didn’t speak. I got worried she’d go mute. I hated when people were being vague with me. I guess I believed that if you had something to say, spit it out, and be on your way.
“I’m seeing someone else,” Amanda finally said. On the other hand, directness wasn’t always good either. “Aren’t you going to say something?”
“When did it happen?” I asked.
“What does it matter?”
I clenched my teeth hard. “Trust me, it matters.”
Amanda turned to me. She looked cold. “So if I said it happened while you were in Atlantic City, then it would make a difference? Or if I said it happened last night?”
“Which one was it?”
“I don’t want to say,” she answered. “And I don’t have to say. Maybe it was both.”
“Did you sleep with him?” Amanda just looked at me. She wasn’t giving that away, either. I was free to come up with my own conclusions, which I did, in vast and varied locations and positions. All the various guys, and all the various positions; they made me nuts. “Amanda?”
“What, Alex?”
“Why did you even come here tonight? Why tell me any of this? I mean you had a free pass. You drove away and you never had to come back.”
“I’m here because I owe you an explanation, as to why I got so distant and cold so fast.”
“So why did you?”
She shrugged. “Because I’m immature? Because I’m only sixteen, and pretty much out of my league in all social situations?”
“That’s why you slept with someone else behind my back?”
“I didn’t say I did that,” Amanda said.
“You didn’t deny it either,” I said.
“Alex, I’m just not the kind of girl you’re looking for. I think maybe Calvin put some idea into your head, and when we met you just went with it.”
“That’s bullshit. You’re just using all of this stuff as a crutch.”
“Speak for yourself,” she said.
“We’re not talking about me.”
“Fine. Then maybe I just didn’t want to be saddled with some guy that I just met, right before my freshman year of college, where I’d have a whole campus of guys to choose from.”
That was when I stood up. Amanda had given me her explanation, and she’d managed to drudge up my old, sorry past at the same time. I didn’t need or want any more details from her about how or why she cheated on me. I needed to leave. Maybe I needed to go to the Cage, and have Noah sort this out with me. I couldn’t believe he was right about her. “So you explained,” I said, bitterly. “Good night.”
Amanda rose too. “You can hate me if you want, but my coming here is a favor to you.”
“Yeah? And how is that?”
“Because I’m seeing Noah,” she said, quietly.
I might’ve staggered a bit. I wasn’t in a lot of fights when I was a kid, maybe a few minor scrapes. And I don’t want to brag, but I never really took a hit. I usually did the hitting. A few punches, a couple slaps to the face, someone would cry, their mother would come out, my mother would come out, and then the whole thing would be over and done with. But when Amanda Evarts told me that she was seeing Noah that, in effect, they were sleeping together, I felt like someone had given me a good left and right combo. I took one to the face on that, and a nice blow to the gut. I wanted to vomit and go down for the count.
“It just happened,” Amanda said.
“These things happen,” I answered, trying to recover. “They happen all the time.”
Amanda made a step forward, and I took a step back. “You and I really never got along, Alex. We were done before we started because of all of this Calvin stuff. So Noah and I saw each other a little bit. We tried to stop. Then I worked the Cage last night, and....I went home with him again.”
“It’s that simple.”
I breathed deep. “It’s not that simple to me.”
“But it’s what happened.”
“He’s my goddamned friend!” I shouted. I never shouted. People stopped on the street to look at me, then they moved on.
“I know that.”
“I hang out with the guy all the time! Christ, I’m supposed to move into the apartment!”
“You were never going to get that place.” Amanda shifted uncomfortably. She was really good at cruelty. “Noah just strung you along because that’s what you wanted to hear. That guy, Killian, he’s moving in there next month.”
“You’re a liar.”
“Not about any of this.”
“Well I don’t want the damned place anyway,” I lied. Amanda Evarts didn’t deserve to see me fall. Then I backed away a little bit.
“I know what that apartment meant to you,” she said.
“At least you know, Alex,” she said. “At least there are no illusions.”
“Yeah, who needs those?”
Amanda shrugged. She didn’t care. She never cared.
“Does Noah know you’re telling me all of this?”
“He knows I plan on telling you at some point.”
“And he’s fine with that?”
“Let’s just say, Noah, doesn’t carry any guilt around with him.”
Hit a man when he’s down, I thought. That’s the old Amanda Evarts spirit. “Are you seeing him tonight?”
“Why?” She gave me a cautious look.
“Because I want to talk to him.”
“You know that’s not a good idea right now.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think I’ve had a good idea all summer.”
Amanda shook her head. “You’re an idiot.”
“I know but...” I never finished the thought. Amanda brushed past me and began walking away up Shady, her last bit of damage done to perfection. “Did you ever care about me?” I called out.
She stopped and turned to face me. “I tried.” Then Amanda Evarts began walking again. Gone, gone, gone.
I went back and sat on the bench. It seemed that more and more people were on the street now. I felt suffocated. Then, in a few moments, like the pierce of a deep stab wound, Amanda Evarts’ car came barreling down the street. As bad luck would have it, she got stuck at a red light. We were almost parallel. I glared into the car, but she kept facing forward. I could hear our music coming out of her windows, and she was on her cell phone. She was laughing and smiling. There was no residual anger left on her face. Amanda’s hands were clean of the blood, and I was a ghost. She was talking to someone on the other end of that phone, and, goddamn it, I was sure I knew who it was. Noah. He was making her happy. He was making her laugh, at least for now. Then the light changed and Amanda drove off. I stayed on the bench a few more moments, before I got up and began walking down Forbes.
The Cage was dead when I got there. There were a couple of drunks at the bar, and a few couples in booths eating food. Noah was at the other end of the bar. He was flirting with the other waitress, this cute redhead named, Gloria. When she saw me, Gloria, stopped talking and she tapped Noah on the shoulder. He turned with a grin but lost it as soon as we made eye contact.
“Hey Big Al.”
“I’m not getting the apartment, am I?”
Noah stared at me. All the color drained from his face. “This isn’t the time or place for this.”
“I’m not here for a fight,” I said. “I just want to hear the truth.”
“You’re not getting the room. The truth is you have a bedroom at home, and Killian needs a place. He and Clara broke up, and she wants him out. The poor guy is actually sleeping on my couch now.”
“So that’s it?”
“That’s it.”
I sat down on a stool. “Give me an beer,” I said. Noah stared at me blankly. “It’s the least you can do for me.” He got me a beer and slammed it down on the bar. Foam rose up, but I grabbed it in time.
“That’s the last one.” He pointed at the bottle of Iron. “You don’t come here anymore, okay?”
“Fine.” I took a pull on the beer, but then I couldn’t contain myself. “How could you hook up with Amanda behind my back?”
Noah sighed then was silent a moment. “She told me you were through.”
“You were with her when I was in Atlantic City!”
“That was a mistake. We didn’t sleep together that night.”
“That’s not what Amanda says.”
“What can I say, Big Al? The girl is a liar.”
“And you were my friend.”
“I’m still your friend.”
“No you’re not.”
“I am,” he said. “And when you’re done being mad you’ll realize it.”
“No you’re not,” I said. “Friends don’t do this to each other.”
“Fine.” Noah wiped the bar, nervously. “Amanda is just a girl anyway.”
“She was my girl.”
He laughed. “I don’t think Amanda Evarts is anybody’s girl.”
“That’s just an excuse,” I said. “You’re just trying to make yourself feel better.”
“No,” he said. “I’m trying to make you feel better.”
“You couldn’t if you tried.”
“I warned you about that girl.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I know. But I didn’t think you were warning me about you, too.”
Suddenly Noah’s face turned red. “It just happened, okay. I can’t apologize for it.... I...I won’t. Amanda, and me, we’ve been happening for a long time, in bits and pieces. We just finally realized it last night.”
God, hearing that made my stomach churn. “So you love her or something?
“No,” he answered. “Guys don’t love girls like that.”
“Maybe I could’ve.”
“You never had a shot.”
“Christ.” I finished my beer then got up and made for the door.
“Big Al,” Noah called. I stopped. “Don’t be this way. You guys were done.”
“Why her?” I asked. “Why Amanda when you have your pick of all the hipsters chicks in Pittsburgh?”
He was still a moment. “She was different. Amanda was different from all those other girls.”
“No one’s really different,” I said. Then I grabbed the Cage’s door. My hand was shaking.
“Come on, Big Al. Don’t be childish about this.”
I shook my head, sadly. “I’m not the child. Amanda is.”
“She’s only sixteen,” I said.
Noah laughed. “Yeah, sure she is.”
“It’s true.”
“Now you’re lying,” he said. But I could see in his eyes that he believed I might be right. “Amanda Evarts is eighteen. She’s going to college.”
“Ask her to tell you the story about that,” I said. “It’s a good one.”
Then I walked out of the bar.
There was really nowhere for me to go. I stood on the corner of Forbes and Murray Avenues for a moment to collect my thoughts. I looked back inside the Cage. Noah was already flirting with Gloria again. He had no conscience. I mean I didn’t expect Noah to be wailing on the bar or anything, but maybe a small touch of solemn contemplation would’ve been nice. Screw it. I guess he and Amanda Evarts deserved each other. It stung to think it, but it was probably true. Still, I needed somewhere to drown my sorrows. Almost by instinct I called Calvin on his cell. Of course I got no answer. He and Steve were probably checking the phone, watching my number come up, and ignoring it. But I really felt a strong need for my old friends in that moment. So I called Calvin’s house. I got his mother. She told me the guys were at the Metro. So that’s where I went.
The Metro was pretty dead. It always was in the middle of the week. A couple of guys were huddled at tables, laughing and being guys, and there were a few groups of girls hanging around; a pack of them were dancing in the back of the place. It was pretty easy to spot my friends. They were at a table around the middle of the club. Calvin was there, of course, and Steve; Tom McDannen and George Rubio rounded out the group. There was even an extra chair at the table. I was hoping it could be mine.
“Hey,” I said when I got over to them.
“Dude,” Steve said, in his grating, gravel voice. All would be well. “Are you lost?”
Okay, it would be a little hard.
“No,” I said. “I figured you guys would be down here. I tried to call, but...”
“We know.”
“.... I couldn’t get through,” I finished.
Steve laughed. “That should’ve been your first clue.”
“Come on, guys. You can’t be this mad at me.” I looked at Calvin, but he had his head down. “I made a mistake. It was an error in judgment.”
“You were thinkin’ with the wrong head, Javorski,” George said. Then he laughed that giggle I hated. But he was right.
I nodded, and then I really humbled myself. “If it means anything, Amanda and I are through. That so-called friend of mine, Noah; she’s seeing him now.”
“Justice served,” Steve said. He smirked. Then he got up from the table and left.
“Cal?” I said. Calvin still hadn’t lifted his head to look at me. “Come on, Cal.”
Tom McDannen tapped George on the shoulder. “Come on, jaggoff, let’s go see if we can find some chicks.” George gave Tom an odd look. But then he nodded, and the two of them were gone too.
“Calvin,” I started again.
He looked up at me. “I know you’re sorry, Alex. And I believe you. It’s just.... it’s just.... I was really into Amanda. I know I told you it was cool that you saw her, but it was wrong. And I guess once you saw how much it hurt me; I thought maybe you’d realize it. But you didn’t. Or, if you did, you didn’t do much about it. You actually made it worse.”
I sat down at the table. “I’m an ass. What can I say? But I learned my lesson, Calvin. I got it thrown right back in my face.”
“I know. And I’m sorry,” he said. Calvin’s pity tore at me. “I guess I feel like I’m happy it was you instead of me, you know?”
“I know.”
“But I’m still mad. Alex, you were, like, my oldest friend.”
“I am your oldest friend,” I said.
Calvin nodded. “But you went ahead and did this without even really thinking about it.” Then he was quiet a moment. “What kind of person does that make you?”
I thought about it a second. “A guy who makes mistakes?”
“Maybe a guy who doesn’t give a crap about his friends,” he added.
“It’s not as harsh as all of that.” Then I found myself saying something that Noah said. It was funny. I mean it wasn’t really funny, but funny all things considered. “Amanda Evarts is just a girl. You and me, we’re like.... like...brothers.”
Calvin nodded. “I know. That’s why it hurts so much.” Then he got up from the table.
“But you said you were cool with it,” I said, falling back on my old, tired argument. “Just give me some time, Alex,” Calvin said. “Okay?”
I kicked at the floor. “Christ, I feel like I’m breaking up again.” He winced. All right, no minimal homosexual references. “Look, Cal, can you and I hang out some time and talk. Maybe we could do something next weekend.”
“Us guys are going to see the Pirates next weekend.”
“That would be cool.”
“We didn’t get you a ticket.”
“I understand,” I said. “Well, I’m at your disposal.”
“Maybe I’ll give you a call or something, some other time.”
“I’d like that.”
Then Calvin left the table, too. And I was really alone.
I got up and looked at my old pals. They were all huddled by a bar that sold soft drinks. None of them were looking at me. I made to leave. When I walked by, Tom glanced at me. He looked concerned. Maybe all would be okay, or maybe his care would pass once I stepped outside the Metro’s door. I looked at Calvin. He looked at me too. But then he turned and started talking to Steve and George. He said something and George giggled. Then Calvin had his good old innocent smile back.
I got outside the Metro. It was late. The dockworkers were arriving for the graveyard shift at the fruit processing plant. I probably should’ve taken the bus back to Squirrel Hill, but I decided to walk. Pittsburgh looked beautiful. It looked illuminated in the hot, glowing summer night. Every street was bathed in the amber hue of streetlights and neon. Each home that I passed gave off a warm feeling of hope. For a moment I was happy. I was content with the carnage that I had been through, and maybe even for what I put others through. I guess it had to happen.
But I knew in my heart of hearts that everything would work out all right. Calvin would call me and we’d be shouting about how bad the Pirates were in a few weeks. I was suddenly hopeful for the life that followed Amanda Evarts, Noah Banks, and the rest of those hipsters. I thought about them. I thought about the way they moved through the city streets carelessly, their hearts and minds full of the madness of the night just before dawn hit. Then I thought about my old friends too. I realized they were just the same. No one was special. I certainly wasn’t special. No one was different. We all just were. And sometimes we needed each other, and sometimes we had to let go and find something else for a while. Then I thought about what I was going to find next, and about a young life of irreplaceable joy and sorrow. And I wondered about it all. I wondered.

The End.

Hipsters Chapter 14


Amanda was fast asleep on the floor of Noah’s room, when he and I came in. She was in a makeshift bed of sheets and blankets and throw pillows. She was stripped down to a black pair of underwear and a matching bra. She was passed out above the sheets. Amanda wouldn’t even condescend to sleep on the bed with me, the bed Noah had once again given up for us. Then Noah laughed nervously, and we both shrugged at our predicament. The couch downstairs was taken. Drunken hipsters were using the other rooms. Tons of them were crashing here for the night. I looked at Amanda again. She was calm and off in dreamland. Noah chuckled a second time. Then he and I undressed to our boxer shorts and fell into the rickety waste of the small bed. It would’ve been a riot had it happened to someone else. At least no one was sleeping on a sliver of sheet in all of their clothing.
The air in the room was stagnant. It was humid. The room reeked of body odor and used alcohol. The old beat-up fan whirled from a window nearest Amanda. The damn thing blew nothing but small waves of hot air. I could barely feel it. Within minutes my body became pasted with sweat without even moving a muscle. Eventually I must’ve fallen asleep. Sometime near dawn I felt a subtle movement on the bed, and then the soft strands of Amanda’s hair as she nestled into my arms. She immediately began snoring again. As I turned to face her, I heard Noah snicker quietly. When I looked, he grinned at me. I turned away, unable to witness the spectacle of us. Three sorry people clad in our underwear.
Soon Noah’s snores mingled with Amanda’s. I was left alone with myself. My heart felt heavy at the idea of going through another day like yesterday. I could already picture it. There’d be arguments with Amanda, and there’d be more issues with guilt and parents and friends. My parents? I checked my cellphone. I didn’t even want to see what was printed on it, and I didn’t even bother to check my messages. I was screwed the whole way around. I closed my eyes tightly. I wanted to fall asleep and dream forever.
But the day came. There was a huge mess on the front porch. I decided I’d be a nice guy, so I set about cleaning it. The water in the coolers was still cold, so I took out a beer and had a sip every so many sweeps. I thought that cleaning the porch would get me in even better with Noah and his roommates. Then the room would absolutely be mine.
Amanda woke up. She was hungover. She came out onto the porch, rocking herself into a sickly calm on the rocking chair. I spent over an hour cleaning the carnage, as Amanda cuddled into herself. She kept groaning and cursing. We made no mention of the stuff that had been said. In fact, Amanda’s sick feeling actually brought out a kindness in her that I hadn’t seen since we’d first started seeing each other. She laughed at my jokes. She called me kind when I got her some aspirin and water. But the day was young, and I doubted such niceties were going to last.
The city worked itself into another scorching frenzy of a summer day. I called in sick from work, and Amanda and I drove back up to my house. We laid in bed a short while, fumbling around each other’s bodies. We made awkward attempts at passion, until we gave up entirely. For a time we rested in vain, nursing our booze sicknesses, hoping the sweat from our failed copulation would cool us off. It didn’t. And I wasn’t about to turn on the AC because my old man checked the electric bill like a scientist examining the newest species. He was all over it.
So we fled to a suburban mall. I hated the mall. All day, as we walked along I tried to re-ignite our feelings. I took a hold of Amanda’s hand and gave it a playful swing. But she always let go a short time later. I tried to kiss her, but she balked. I offered lunch, but she wouldn’t eat it. I offered the movies, but nothing was playing. It was no good. In the end, Amanda strutted through the mall as if I were non-existent. I didn’t care. Sadly, this had been our first real date.
Back at my house, Amanda pulled a 180. She undressed completely. She got on my futon and began touching herself. Then she drew me closer. I fell for it. In an instant our lips met roughly, and our teeth clanked together from violent necking. Saliva hung in strings between us. My breathing got harder, and my brain forgot everything bad that had passed. I got hard. Amanda groaned loudly. She pushed my head down her naked body, until I was between her legs. But I couldn’t get into it. My mind awoke. I felt raw and terrible. But it wasn’t guilt this time. This was a different feeling. It was ominous. Still, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“What’s so funny?” she moaned.
“I don’t get you,” I answered. I raised my head up. “All last night you criticized me. You made it a point to hang all over Karl, and to accuse Noah of some pretty crazy stuff. Then you insulted me. You basically accused me of stabbing Calvin in the back, when you know how that makes me feel. You told me that you were tired of me, and you stormed off into the cottage, leaving me no choice but to get in bed with Noah, only to come cuddling in between us later on.”
“I was drunk and upset.”
“You weren’t that drunk, or that upset.”
“Hey!” Amanda snapped. She nudged my head away from her, and closed her legs.
“This morning you were the picture of love, sitting on the porch and spouting out kind words. And then at the mall you treated me like I was a leper. Now you’re naked on my bed again, and here I am with...with...listen, I might live in a world full of confusion, but I’m not really a fan of it. Plain and simple, I don’t understand you, Amanda Evarts.”
“Fuck you!” Amanda shouted. She kicked me away. Then she rolled off of the futon and quickly began to get dressed.
“Fuck me?”
“What are you doing now?” I asked. “Playing hard to get?”
“I’m getting dressed and getting the hell out of here.”
“You don’t want to talk about this?”
No answer.
“They say that talking is therapeutic.”
No answer again.
“Come on, Amanda, open up.”
“You mean you don’t have a reason for any of the behavior?” I said. “No explanation? There’s nothing in your life causing a mental imbalance of some sort? You’re just going to throw your clothes on and split without anything? You’re just going to let me go crazy wondering what went wrong for me this time!”
Still no answer. I looked at her. Her face was pale and content. There was no anger there. There was no passion. Amanda looked devoid of any emotion whatsoever. She was placid in an eerie way.
I laughed. “Well Christ, Amanda,” I said. I sat on the futon and lit a cigarette. “Thanks for nothing.”
She finished dressing. She checked herself quickly in the window, and then stormed out of my room. She slammed the door so hard it popped back open. I felt so purged and sinisterly liberated. I felt absolutely uncompelled to chase after Amanda and straighten anything out. But I did it anyway. I did it out of guilt.
Outside, Amanda stomped down the porch steps and marched to her waiting car. She got in and turned the key. Music blasted from the interior. But she waited. “You really want to end it like this?” I asked, when I reached her. “You don’t want to talk?”
Amanda glared at me. Then she smiled. It was a sly smile. I’d seen it so many ways, so many times. “You just don’t get it, do you Alex?”
“Get what?”
“Me. Maybe why Sarah dumped you...”
“Don’t bring up Sarah,” I said.
“No, I wouldn’t want to bring up precious Sarah. I wouldn’t want to bring up your other failures, would I?”
“She wasn’t my failure.”
“Yeah right.”
“We were just different.”
“Keep thinking that.”
“Go to hell,” I said.
Amanda laughed sadly. “You know, I might be the younger one here, but you’re about as naive as they come.”
“What do you mean?”
“Goodbye, Alex.” Amanda rolled up her window, and was gone. She was probably gone for good.
I stood on Phillips Avenue. I couldn’t say that I was in shock. Shock would have necessitated me thinking that this moment in time was never going to happen. But watching Amanda Evarts drive away that last time was inevitable; she’d been driving away from me for weeks. True, our fight and nasty tit for tat wasn’t the conclusion that I wanted. At least not in terms of its execution: I was much more a fan of peaceable dissolution. And I was hurt a little by her quick, brutal exit. But for some reason the finality of Amanda and me seemed the most normal thing we’d had during the course of our relationship. It seemed right.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hipsters Chapter 13


I heard his laugh. It came in the midst of a dream I was having about Amanda Evarts. I heard Noah Banks’ laugh, clear as day. I opened my eyes and the blurry yellow of the day hit. Amanda was sitting up in bed. She looked angelic and illuminated by the sun. Her blonde hair was askew and her face was pillow-blotched. She had her small breasts hidden underneath a white sheet, but I could still see the dark of her small nipples. She was a site, and I was hungry for her now that everything was right between us. Everything was as it should be. I felt like she and I could really begin now, this time, for sure.
“Hey beautiful,” I said.
“Hey yourself.” Amanda’s face darkened.
“Why the look of contempt?”
“Are you up?”
“Can you function?”
“I think.” I rose from my pillow. That’s when I felt the pounding thud ringing between my ears. I didn’t want to move. I was afraid I would hurt more. “I need aspirin and water, I think.”
Amanda pointed toward the doorway. I looked. The thudding in my head became a symphony of pain and sickness. I focused my eyes. There was Noah, in the doorway, with the water and aspirin I so desperately wanted.
“Christ,” I said, dazed. I sank back onto my pillow.
Noah laughed. “The fun and games always end the next day.”
“What did you do to me?” I asked. He came over and sat on the bed. He handed me the aspirin and the water.
“I introduced you to Canadian Club whiskey,” he said. I took the aspirin and shot down the water. It was a huge mistake. My stomach rumbled, the pain in my head seared, and I was up like a bolt, naked except for my boxers. “And now you’ll be introducing it to the toilet.”
I ran into the bathroom. I just made it, before a torrent of used up beer, food, and whiskey plummeted into the bowl. I was on my knees. Sweat rose up in me. I heaved again and again and again, until I felt like my guts would come up. This was death for sure. This was the worst kind of death. Then I heaved again. It was one last, great heave. When I came up for air, I could hear Noah and Amanda laughing in the bedroom. Were they laughing at me?
“You knew this was coming this morning,” Amanda said, when I staggered back into the room. She was still holding a sheet to her breasts and Noah was sitting right there.
“Give the man a break,” he said. “He’s a whiskey drinker now.”
“I still contend you tried to poison me,” I said, getting back in the bed. “Maybe you had an ulterior motive. Maybe you were trying to get me out of the picture, so you could screw my girlfriend.” No one laughed.
“That’s such a charming thought,” Amanda finally said. She rose off of the bed with the sheet wrapped protectively around her.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To the bathroom. I have to get ready for another stupid day at Roadwise, if that’s okay with you?”
“Yeah. I picked up an afternoon.”
“You didn’t tell me,” I said. “We never talk anymore.” I said it as a joke. But, again, no one laughed.
Then Amanda shrugged. “I must’ve forgot.” She looked at Noah. “I think I might put my notice in today, too.... if you think I should.”
Noah nodded. “Do it. I’ll meet you at the Cage this evening, and we’ll square it all away with Rich.” Then he looked at me. “Your girl is gonna be under my wing, per se.”
“I heard,” I said, looking at Amanda. She gave me stern look then I turned back to Noah. “Looks like you’ll be seeing me more and more.”
“Yeah, right, Big Al. Rules still apply.”
I grabbed my wallet out of my jeans, and showed him the fake I.D. that I got from Steve Scanlon. “Rules are made to be broken.”
Noah looked at the I.D. and frowned, which wasn’t what I expected. “Childish.”
“Yeah, well that’s Steve Scanlon for you,” Amanda added. “And people who hang out with him.”
Her tone pissed me off. But I had nothing to say back. I mean she was right. Steve was childish. But I wasn’t. I just didn’t like how she and Noah were ganging up on me. They should’ve been cooler. A fake I.D. meant I could come and talk with Noah at the Cage, and see Amanda on those late nights she had to work. I shouldn’t have been getting shit about it. Maybe Calvin wasn’t the problem between us. I looked at Noah. He just stared straight ahead. Once Amanda abandoned the hallway and closed the bathroom door behind her, he turned to me with a sympathetic shrug.
“At least you finally got rid of your guilt,” he said.
“Yeah, but to what end?”
From the bathroom came the rusty squealing of the shower nozzle, and the brash opening of a torn baseball-themed shower curtain. Then Amanda Evarts sang something I didn’t know. It was amazing to me how peaceful she sounded when alone. She sounded refreshed. Sarah used to sing in the shower too. She sang show tunes, and songs by chick singers. I continued listening to Amanda, as Noah and I sat quietly on the bed and smoked a cigarette. The joyous sounds of her getting ready for work: the swirl of a borrowed hairdryer, the make-up bag zipping and unzipping, and the thumps of her feet as her legs went through underwear and pants. It all depressed me. I felt like a failure at the old love game again.
The bathroom door shot opened. Amanda bound back into the bedroom with the same angry look she’d had when she left. She set down her bag and looked at Noah and me sitting on the bed. “Don’t you two look cozy?”
“How’d you get a change of clothes?” I asked. “More to the point, how did your bag get here?”
Amanda gave me a strange look.
“You must’ve been pretty drunk last night,” Noah said to me. “You don’t remember me telling you that Amanda and I were going to get her stuff from her car.”
“I didn’t know Amanda had stuff with her.”
“I...I always have an extra change of clothes on me,” she said.
“You do?”
“I told you that weeks ago. Don’t you remember?”
“I guess not. But your car was parked all the way up on Philips.”
Noah shrugged. “It was a nice night. We walked.”
“Drunk?” I asked.
“Only you were drunk, Alex,” Amanda added.
I thought about everything from last night, for a moment. Noah was gone. Amanda wasn’t sitting with the others. It made obvious sense; aside from misunderstanding about the change in clothing Amanda always claimed to have on her. I know she never told me about that. “Are you coming over tonight?” I asked, as she gathered her things.
“Are we actually doing something tonight?” she said.
“Same as usual.” I smiled Amanda didn’t smile.
“You’re damn right we’re doing something!” Noah broke in, saving me. I lifted my head. His self-assured smirk electrified the room. “I’m throwing another little bash tonight!”
“You are?” Amanda said. She leaned back. He expression softened.
“I don’t know if I can,” I said. “I mean my parents, you know?”
Amanda laughed bitterly at this.
“Oh, like you can get away with two nights?”
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s called ignoring their calls and not going home.”
“Children,” Noah began, diplomatically. “Let’s not fight about this. To hell with parents, I say. Alex,” he looked at me, “do as your girlfriend said. Don’t tell the folks. I have plans for us today anyway.”
“You do?”
“Yes. You’re helping me get the stuff for tonight. Then while I’m with Miss Amanda, here, you will be setting up things back on the home front. Get it?”
I nodded.
Amanda smiled and looked at her watch. “Are we done here? Otherwise I’ll be late.”
Quickly, she walked over to me and planted a cold kiss on my lips. Amanda’s arms hung around my neck an extra second. It seemed like they wanted to linger. But then she let go. I felt a familiar pain. Loss. So close this time, Javorski. But maybe I was just being overly dramatic. Hell, Amanda had been drinking too. I wouldn’t want to be going to work at the library after a night like that.
I watched Noah and Amanda make small talk. They seemed so easy and comfortable together. Noah would say something and Amanda would laugh. Hadn’t I had that just three weeks ago? Hadn’t I had that once for nearly three years? I watched them some more. It was like I wasn’t in the room. And I knew it. Maybe Amanda was just a passing phase in my life. Maybe she was temporary to me. I watched Amanda hug Noah. Then she blew me a kiss, and left. Maybe it was just a matter of time before she’d be gone for good.
Noah and I spent the day racing around the city in his car. We picked up booze and other provisions for that goddamned party. We talked about the time that had passed between us. He kept telling me how cool it was that I wasn’t like the rest of his friends. It was all of the stuff I’d heard a million times. It used to make me feel good when Noah said things like that. But, riding in his car on a hot summer afternoon, I just felt like some odd thing he collected. I felt like some freak, which was strange considering people like Steve Scanlon always called the Noahs of the world, freaks. Then he blasted music and laughed. I thought about Amanda Evarts. I wondered if she smiled at all during the day, and, if so, who had made her do it.
By early evening I had managed to clear away a few beers, as I set the rest of them in old coolers on Noah’s front porch. While I set up chairs and chain-smoked, I thought about maybe going up to the Cage to surprise Amanda. I wanted to lend her some support. But I didn’t in the end. It was a stupid idea. I mean Amanda was already trying to put one over on Noah and his boss. It just would’ve looked bad for her teen boyfriend to show up. They were gone a long time, though. I was kind of worried.
I did do something worse, however. I called Calvin on his cell phone to invite him and the guys to the party. When Cal didn’t pick up, I called Steve. Steve didn’t pick up either. I dialed Tom. Then I dialed George. I went down the line and called them all again. No one picked up. I guess I was done with those guys once and for all.
Noah eventually arrived back at the cottage. He was alone. Or, rather, he was without Amanda. Gene Oldham, Karl Rudolph, and the girl that I only knew as Gennifer with a G, Noah’s sometimes girlfriend, were with him. No one said anything about Amanda being absent, but Noah said the interview went great and that she got the job. So where was Amanda Evarts to celebrate? I watched as everyone sat in a semi-circle. They were drinking beer and laughing. Gene plucked quietly on an acoustic guitar. I asked Karl where Amanda was, but he just laughed nervously and said ‘women.’
The sun was setting. I looked at my watch. Amanda was nowhere to be found. I sent her a text. Then I called Calvin again, as more people ascended the stone steps of the cottage and Noah restocked the coolers with mounds of import beer. I got the same response as before. Finally I took a seat on an old rocking chair. I cracked open a beer. All the hipsters chatted coolly, as I surveyed the scene. I felt alone.
As the night wore on, more and more of Noah’s friends began to show up. By now, I knew all of their bored faces and I had little to say to a lot of them. Killian arrived drunk with a group of his hipster, poet friends. They were all laughing and trying to outdo each other with knowledge about the most obscure of writers. Clara wasn’t with them. Killian immediately began harassing me about writing. He pointed his thin fingers into my chest. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to go home and scream about Amanda. I wanted to hit the Metro and have Steve call me a pussy or something, and then laugh as George Rubio told me a dick or fart joke.
Finally, Amanda showed up. She looked fresh and relaxed, and aloof. She had on a sundress and nothing underneath. We eyed each other, but she kept her distance. She made the rounds from Noah to Gene to Karl, and then to everyone else. Amanda knew all of the hipsters more than I did. But soon she gave in and came over to me. We kissed, and had a few strained words. I felt her dress to make sure my assumption about nothing underneath was correct. I was right. Amanda gave me an uncomfortable giggle. Then she moved away. She plucked a beer from the cooler and sat beyond my grasp. She poured all of her energy into fawning over Karl.
I hung around for about another hour, listening to Amanda’s buffoonish come-ons to Karl. The poor fool stared ahead as she whispered in his ear. He looked scared shitless. I looked at Amanda, hoping for something in her eyes. There was nothing. She would stare back at me blankly, and then suck down another beer. Amanda Evarts was getting drunk. She was sitting almost on top of Karl, and she had her sundress hiked up to her thighs. Amanda seemed so cheap that she depressed me. I grabbed myself another beer and got off the porch. Noah watched me but said nothing. I thought I heard Amanda laugh. I needed to be alone. So I went and sat on Noah’s back porch. A half hour later, she found me sitting there.
“What's wrong, Alex?” She opened the backdoor, and tripped out on the steps to join me. “You're always sulking.”
“I'm just enjoying the silence, babe.”
“Running away from your own party. That's brilliant. Why did you go and invite all of those people, if you were just going to run away?”
“I invited no one. They’re all friends of Noah.”
“But you just happened to do all of the work.”
“Something like that,” I said.
“You’re such a fool,” Amanda continued, derisively. Then she sat down, flung her head back, and stared into the night sky. “It’s part of your charm, I suppose.”
“No. Thank you, Alex Javorski,” she said, laughing.
I shrugged. I didn’t know what she meant by that, and I didn’t care. I reached for my beer, and took a good pull. “Anyway, the beer is running out and this little shindig will be over soon.”
Amanda laughed. I was beginning to hate her laugh. Then she lit a smoke from her own pack. They were the same brand Noah smoked. As we sat there, a large group of people led by Gene Oldham walked up Forbes. “I guess that leaves me with you, Noah, and Karl,” she said. “Unless God totally hates me and Calvin shows up with that prick, Steve.”
“I don't think Calvin and Steve are coming. I called them, but no one got back in touch with me.”
“You actually called, Calvin?” Amanda said. “Of course you called, Calvin. You wouldn’t be Alex Javorski without the guilt.”
“You’re a real glutton for punishment.”
“Yeah.” I finished my beer. “Like I said, no one got in touch with me. So don’t worry, you won’t be stuck here with them tonight.”
“I'm not stuck with anybody. I drove here.”
“Yeah, but you're not leaving,” I said. I put a hand on her beer. “If you have any brains you’ll stay here and sleep it off, like I am, and suffer the consequences tomorrow. Plus you’re underage. If you leave, you could get into trouble...or worse.”
Amanda smirked. “Whatever. Too bad you don’t know how to handle your friends.”
“I’m not responsible for my friends.”
“Noah treats you just as badly as you treat Calvin.”
“Where’s this coming from?” I asked.
“You acted like Calvin was so important to you, but all I had to do was bat my little eyes and you were rolling all over the bed with me.”
“It was that simple, huh?’
“Yes. Except for all your guilt. Oh, poor Calvin. I can’t sleep with my girlfriend because of poor old Calvin.”
“You’re being kind of a bitch, do you know that?”
“Maybe I’m always a bitch.”
“At least I have a backbone. You, Alex Javorski, you have no backbone.”
“Fair enough.”
Then we heard the screen door tap and Noah laugh. Everything was funny to everyone that night. Nothing was funny to me. I didn’t want Noah there at that moment. But he came on to the back porch to join us anyway. Amanda pushed her face close to mine. “Did you know he grabbed my ass twice tonight?” she whispered.
“I thought you kids had taken off,” Noah shouted, drunkenly. I turned to gaze at him. His face was splotchy and swollen. He stood over us with his fists nailed firmly into his hips, like a dejected superhero. He didn’t look like himself.
“The party’s over?” I asked.
“Over? I just sent people out for girls, more beer, and other shit. The party is far from over, Big Al.”
“Hey Noah...” I started, but I stopped myself. I didn’t want to ask the question I was going to ask.
Amanda glared at me, and I knew. By not taking Noah on, I’d failed her again.
“Come on, buck up, Big Al!” he continued. “This party is seriously lacking in women.” Then he looked at Amanda. “Except you, sweetness. You’re the finest thing here. You’re not into any kinky stuff, are you?”
“You’re a real class act,” Amanda said.
“Ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black, babe?”
Amanda looked at me. “Cat got your tongue, Alex? Or don’t you care that your friend is insulting me?”
“Noah, don’t insult Amanda,” I said plainly. Maybe I should’ve defended her more, but for some reason I just didn’t buy this little fight. It seemed put on. Amanda and Noah were getting along too well before this. Although he did come home without her. And Amanda had been acting odd all night. Did Noah come on to Amanda? “I mean just leave her alone, okay?”
“Gee, thanks,” Amanda said. “Thanks for being a world-class jerk.”
Noah laughed. “Don’t insult, Big Al. He knows that I’m a truth teller.”
“And just what do you know?”
“I know a lot more than you do.”
“Screw you!” Amanda shouted. Then she stormed off.
“Well that about ends the night,” I said, getting up.
“Go and chase her, then, Alex,” Noah scoffed, shooing me away as if I were trash. “I’m sure she’s off trying to dry hump, Karl, by now.”
I did as instructed. When I caught up with Amanda, she was in tears. “Hang on a second,” I said, clasping her arm. She stopped still and stared at me.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I just want to talk.” I tried to smile.
“Fine.” She broke free from my grasp. “Talk.”
But I had nothing to say.
“That’s what I thought,” she said. Then Amanda bound down the avenue toward her waiting car.
“Wait!” I shouted. “You can’t go! You’ve been drinking!”
She spun around. “I’m not leaving. I wouldn’t want to ruin your life by dying in a car wreck. I’m going to bed.” She went to her car and grabbed her overnight bag. “I’m so tired of you, Alex,” Amanda finally said, before walking up the cottage steps and disappearing down the walkway. I was tired of me, too.

Hipsters Chapter 12


Back in Pittsburgh I tried to tell Amanda about everything that had happened in Atlantic City, but her only response was to strip down to her underwear in my bedroom. She mentioned nothing to me about her evening at the 31st Street Pub, and I didn’t say a word about Calvin or guilt. Amanda simply brushed off everything with long kisses. She shut us up by running her hands and mouth along my body. Then I kissed her neck and my fingers reached in her panties. I moved them in and out of Amanda. I had such control that she came instantly. Then it was my turn. I flipped over. Amanda sunk below my belly. She pulled at me until I felt raw and used up.
We did it for a long time. I stared up into the vacant white of my ceiling trying not to think, as Amanda rocked back and forth. She kept at it until she began to moan like someone dying. She pressed harder into my pelvis, and called out my name. I hated my name. What did it mean anymore? Alex was soiled and cruel. Alex was disloyal and only concerned with himself. Alex was jealous and insecure. Alex was possessive and a world-class drunk. Alex was...
“Hey,” Amanda said.
“What?” I answered waking from my funk. Then I looked up and I was out of her. I was limp and useless.
She sighed and got off of me. She lay on her back and pulled me over to her, and I got on top. Amanda grabbed me hard and tried to get me excited again. I didn’t think I would, but it worked. Then she put me back in. I went slowly at first, but then she prodded me into going faster. I went so quick that my hips hurt, and sweat dripped from my head onto her face. All the thoughts came back. Alex is a worm. Alex is a statutory rapist. Alex will never leave his bedroom. Alex hangs with hipsters. Alex hangs with fools. Alex loves no one and doesn’t know who he is. Soon I was limp again.
“Jesus Christ!” she shouted. “What is with you?”
I rolled over on my back. “I don’t know. It’s not...it’s just not right.”
Amanda gave me a dirty look. “What isn’t right?” Then her eyes brightened viciously. “Oh, oh I get it. Can’t screw the sixteen-year-old now, huh?”
“That’s not it.”
“Then what is it?”
“I just feel guilty.”
“Is this about Calvin again?”
Amanda sat up. She took my cigarettes off my nightstand and lit one. When I met Amanda Evarts, she didn’t smoke. Three weeks later and she was a pro, breaking my parent’s house rules as well. “This is about Calvin, isn’t it? Maybe you should date him, and I’ll go out and get a real guy.”
“Don’t say that,” I said. “Please don’t be that way.”
“How else should I be, Alex? I mean this is beyond ridiculous.”
I sat up in bed. I grabbed my own cigarette, but at least Amanda was kind enough to let me light mine off of hers. “You didn’t see him in Atlantic City. You didn’t see how sad and pathetic he was.”
“Yes. I don’t care about Calvin. He could come in here now and start crying, and I wouldn’t give a shit,” Amanda said.
“You’re cruel.”
She got out of bed. Her body looked lithe and amazing. What a fool you are to not reach and take this, Alex Javorski. What a fool. “I’m not cruel. I’m honest,” she said. “And you should be, too.”
“I’m trying to be honest,” I said. “I’m trying to tell you what happened in...”
“Not about Calvin! Not about Atlantic City! About me, Alex! Be honest about me!”
“I...” But what Amanda said took me by surprise. What did she mean, honest about her?
“Do you want to be with me?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, quickly. And it was true. I just wanted the guilt and jealousy to go away.
“Then we shouldn’t be having these problems.”
“But we are.” I got out of bed and started dressing. “I want to be with you, but my old friends hate me now. I want to be with you, but you don’t want to talk about any of that. I want to be with you, but...”
“Ugh!” Amanda shouted. “Stop whining, Alex!” Instantly she calmed and came over to me. “I’ll try and be more understanding, okay?”
“But you have to try too. You can’t go forward and then see poor, sad Calvin, and fall back. You’re not letting yourself enjoy things. You’re not enjoying me, that’s for certain.”
“I...I am,” I said. But then she stifled whatever else I was going to say with a kiss.
Then we went to the Cage. I thought it was a dumb idea, but Amanda wanted to go. I never just dropped in at the Cage. I always had to let Noah know ahead of time. Things had obviously changed. To my surprise, we got into with no problem. Noah wasn’t even behind the bar. He was sitting with a group of friends at a back table. He waved us over. The guy working the bar looked like a biker. I’d never seen him before. He was tall and thin with a shaved head, and a long coal-black goatee.
“Hey, baby,” he said to Amanda. Then he leaned over the bar and kissed her on the cheek. It stunned me. How much had happened since Atlantic City? The whole world seemed nuts.
“Alex, this is Bill,” Amanda said. Bill? The Bill?
He extended a sturdy, tattoo-filled arm. We shook hands. It seemed like he was trying to break mine off. “So you’re the boyfriend, huh?” Bill looked me over. He was smiling at me. Or was that a smirk?
I looked at Amanda. “Is this...?”
“Yes, this is my friend, Bill. The one I was hanging out with,” she said. “Noah was cool enough to help him get a job.”
“How old is he?” I whispered.
“I’m thirty-one,” Bill said. That was definitely a smirk on his face. Then he reached down and grabbed us two bottles of Iron. He didn’t even ask what we wanted. I guess he didn’t have to. “I’ll actually be thirty-two in a few weeks.”
“Great,” I said, taking the beer. Amanda and I started over toward Noah’s table, and when we were far enough away from Bill, I asked, “How do you know a thirty-one year old?”
“He was one of the truckers at Roadwise.... until recently,” Amanda said, laughing.
“So you’re taking employees from Calvin and Steve’s dads?”
“No, I helped a friend get a better job. Noah said I might be able to waitress here, too, which would be nice because then I won’t have to deal with Calvin on my own.”
“But you’re sixteen,” I said. “You can’t waitress in a bar until you’re eighteen.”
Amanda turned to me. There was violence in her eyes. “Yeah, well, Noah and his bosses don’t know I’m only sixteen. And the job pays under the table, so I’m expecting it’ll stay that way.”
“I’m serious, Alex.”
“I don’t doubt that you are.”
Noah grabbed a couple of chairs and we joined everyone. Amanda sat next to Noah. I probably wouldn’t have noticed this a week or so ago. I sat on her other side. It was cool, I guess. I mean despite my temporary insanity in Atlantic City, I didn’t really suspect anything was happening between the two of them. Bill, at the bar; I wasn’t so cool with Bill. Looking at him again, it put me in a mood. I could feel myself getting angry. I no longer wanted to be in the Cage. I wanted to be home. It didn’t even matter if Amanda was with me or not. I looked at her. She was laughing and talking up a storm with some of the girls at the table. Every once in a while Noah would say something, and Amanda would laugh and touch his shoulder. I hated the way she touched his shoulder. She could have all of them.
I went back up to the bar to get a couple more beers. Bill didn’t say much to me, except to ask me a little about Atlantic City. I told him some crap about casinos, but I really didn’t want to talk about Atlantic City anymore. Maybe I should’ve told Bill about the private club. I should’ve told him how I told all my friends about Amanda Evarts, and how much she liked having sex with me. Maybe he wouldn’t have been too surprised to hear it. I turned to go back to the table, and there was Noah standing right on my heel.
“Boo!” he shouted. Then he put his arm around me. “Don’t look so pissy, Big Al.”
“Sorry,” I said, my eyes going past him to the table. Amanda was practically sitting on top of Karl. “Things have been a little weird lately.”
“I’ve noticed,” he said. Bill handed him a beer, but he put it down on the bar. “Wanna go outside and have a smoke? Get some air?”
I set my beer on the bar. “Yeah.”
We went outside. The night air felt cool. This was odd for Pittsburgh in the summer. Noah and I stood in front of the Cage. We didn’t say anything. Noah let me smoke in silence. He smoked too, taking tight tugs on the cig, pulling at it, flicking the ash. He watched families going down Forbes with Italian Ices or ice cream. He watched the girls go by dressed in their summer dresses, with their hands full of Starbucks drinks and cell phones. Most of them stared at him and smiled. Noah just had that way.
“So what’s bugging you, Big Al,” he finally said.
“Come on.”
“Take your pick,” I said.
“I’m gonna go with a small, cute blonde girl.”
“You’d be right.”
Noah smiled a little, dipped his head. “Aw, man, it can’t be that bad. You’re gettin’ some at least, right? You’re just being too heavy about it. Check it, Big Al; one of the things I like about you is your intensity. But you don’t need it with this chick, Amanda. Just have a good time.”
“That’s the problem. We don’t have a good time. Hell, we don’t even really date. We just get together. We argue about Calvin or something else stupid.”
Noah gave me an odd look. “Why are you arguing about Calvin?” Then his eyes lit up. “Oh, I forgot. You have to stop doing this. What’s done is done. You were at least a man about it. You went to Calvin and talked to him, before things really heated up with Amanda. He said he was cool, remember?” I nodded. “So, yeah, end of story then.”
“You weren’t in Atlantic City, though,” I said. “You didn’t see.”
Noah shrugged. “I wasn’t in Atlantic City, true. But I’m here. And I can see you blowing it with this chick, Big Al. If you keep it up, man, that Amanda is the kind that’ll just cut you off. She’ll scrape you away like a piece of crap off the bottom of her boot.”
“What?” I asked, startled. “What did she tell you?”
“Nothing.” Noah opened the door to the Cage. Laughter and jukebox music boomed into the night. “I just know the type.”
We stayed for a few more hours with music and laughter, and more and more beer. I loosened up considerably. I had never really drunk this much before, but lately I’d been putting it away. Amanda and I seemed to get along better too. She snuggled into me a lot, and kissed me in front of everyone. We held hands, and sometimes we got frisky below the table. It was fun.
Hanging out and getting drunk made me understand why I liked all of these people. There was no stupid talk about getting laid or casinos, or chicks. The people here talked about art and music, and about college classes. And while I wasn’t an equal, the more I got to know everyone, the better they treated me. I decided once and for all to forget Calvin and the rest of the guys. They’d come around. And if they didn’t, I had a whole new world to immerse myself in. I had Amanda Evarts.
Then Noah decided we were taking the party to his apartment. Being on your own and legal, in every sense of the word, was awesome. You could just decided to have a party, buy beer, smokes, and stay out all night. Me? I had to text my folks and tell them a lie. I told them that I was staying at Calvin’s. Amanda left a message for her parents too. I don’t know what she told them. I’m sure no one would buy it. But that was a problem for another day and time.
I drank more beer at the party. Noah gave me shots as well. He kept running up to me with two little glasses of dark liquor, and we’d do a shot. Then he’d laugh, call me Big Al, and he’d go off and get two more. I looked around. No one else was doing shots with Noah. Gene, Karl, and Killian were all huddled around a vintage turntable, listening to some record, and taking soft tugs on their imported beer. Amanda was with her new hipster friends, and they were all talking. About what, I didn’t have a clue. Bill was with them. I wasn’t worried about him anymore. Amanda would look up at me and smile or lick her lips and softly bite the bottom one, or else she’d blow me a kiss. Then Noah would come back with another round, and everything would start all over again.
I got really screwed up in no time. Everything was a blur. I couldn’t really understand a thing people were saying. I looked toward where Amanda was, and she wasn’t there. Bill was still there, though, so I wasn’t freaked about it. I swayed and waited for Noah to come back with another round of shots, but it seemed he quit doing that. Where was Noah? I decided to look for him. I remember walking. I was doing well too, except chairs and tables and people, and sofas kept getting in my way. I felt hands on me. I think it was Gene or Karl. It was definitely Karl. I could tell by his laugh. He took me into the dining room, and set me down on that weird sofa seat. It felt like I was there forever. Then Noah came back. And Amanda was in the other room again.
“What do you think?” Noah said to someone.
“I think the boy is gone,” someone said.
Then hands were on me again. I walked some stairs. Soon it was warm and soft, and dark around me.
“Where’s Amanda?” I asked.
“She’s downstairs,” Noah said.
“Where am I?”
“In my room. You’re done partying tonight, okay? I put a bucket by the bed. Do not puke on my bed, Big Al. Try to sleep it off.”
“Okay,” I said.
And then Noah was gone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

hipsters chapter 11


I awoke into the gray dawn. My head throbbed for the second day in a row. I looked at Calvin asleep on his side of the bed. He really was fully dressed. He was above the covers, on the smallest sliver that he could fit on. You’d think that after nine years of friendship, through baseball cards and cartoons, crushes, steady girlfriends, and now sexual perversion, Calvin would’ve had a hold on his masculinity. He didn’t need to inconvenience himself that much to sleep. I wanted to laugh at him, to take my old friend and his silly homophobia for what they were, but I didn’t have much of a sense of humor at that moment. I checked my cell phone. No Amanda. No nothing. So I quickly dressed and headed out to get breakfast, and walk around and see the ocean.
The hotel room was empty when I returned. Beds had been made, and the heavy blinds had been drawn. A fresh stack of those cellophane-wrapped plastic cups were on the empty dresser. I opened one to give myself a makeshift ashtray. Then I sat on the bed with my pack of smokes. I turned on the television, and thought more as Donald Trump expounded on how great life was. I thought maybe I’d write a poem or something, but I had no poetry in me lately. It had gone with the arrival of Amanda Evarts. All my emotion went into her. Why hadn’t she called me? After a while I got tired of trying to figure things out. My eyes grew heavy and I fell asleep.
“Javorski! Where have you been?” Steve’s voice boomed in my head.
“I went out,” I said groggily, waking. “I got breakfast and then I came back.”
“You got breakfast?”
“Is that a crime?”
“We had a comp breakfast waiting for us at 10:30.”
“Stupid me.”
“Damn right! Missing comp meals makes my parents look bad, dude. The reservation was for five people. We had four.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I said. I rose out of bed and lit a cigarette.
“I did. Everything is complimentary, I said! All meals taken care of! That includes breakfast!” Steve stomped around the room until he settled at the window. He peered outside at the whole of Atlantic City. “What’s been going on with you lately, Javorski?”
“What in the hell does that mean?” I said, climbing off of the bed. “What kind of crap has Calvin been feeding into your head?”
“Calvin?” Steve walked over toward the bathroom. “Who’s talking about Calvin? Screw Calvin! I was talking about you not being around lately, dude!” Then he lowered his eyes and shook his head. “Truthfully, I didn’t think you should come with us on this trip to A.C. It's not because I doesn’t like you, but because you’ve been a flake lately, and because you don’t gamble at all. Javorski, you’re a financial liability in a place like Atlantic City. But then I felt bad for you. You seem lost, dude, hanging out with freaks and blowing off your friends. Now, I wonder why I felt anything at all.”
“Gee, Steve, I didn’t realize you cared so much.”
“Go to hell.”
“Look, if it’ll make you feel better I'll lose some money on the slots to make up for missing that goddamned breakfast this morning.”
“Dude, I couldn’t care less at this point. Go drown yourself in the Atlantic if you want!” Steve held up two fingers. “I’m requiring only two things from you. The comp dinner is tonight at 5:00, so you better be there! Then I got us guys into an exclusive club for drinks later on. If you miss either of those, you walk home!”
That afternoon, I walked around the casino with a plastic bucket full of twenty-dollars in quarters. Occasionally I plunked one in a random slot machine, taking my losses as if I were somehow keeping the Scanlon’s steadfast in the lifestyle they’d become so accustomed to. I spent six-dollars of the change on watered down drinks. Then I called Amanda again. No answer. So I left another sad, pathetic message. I was at low ebb for sure. I was angry with Steve for chewing me out, and I was angry with Amanda for being out doing God knows what. I was even pissed at Calvin for becoming such a sad shell of himself. Everything was getting my goat. By late afternoon I’d had enough. I found myself a lowly bar on the boardwalk, and drank my share of vodka and sodas until it was time to meet up with everyone.
Dinner was held in a second floor buffet restaurant. The place had sterile-looking white hospital walls, and long ceramic islands full of metal vats containing pasty, sneezed-on food. My drunken belly craved the smoking morsels of dead meat and soggy vegetables. I ate like a heathen, as all my so-called friends acted like pricks. They were getting on me for this and that, and really riding my last nerves. Steve kept asking me how the gambling was going. He made me uncomfortable, so I ate more to compensate for being nervous. The food made me sick.
Calvin avoided me. He made no eye contact. He didn’t speak. There wasn't a stitch of humor on the boy’s face when I made a fool of myself by tipping over two successive glasses of soda. I felt like a leper when I saw myself through Calvin's eyes. I had no real friends in Atlantic City, and maybe no one who cared at home now. I wondered if anyone knew about Amanda and I, if anyone knew about Calvin’s six-hundred-dollar score. Did any of the guys know anything about what happened at Jezebel’s? Or did they even care at all beyond their diminished wallets? Eventually, I just lowered my head and sulked. They all talked on.
But then my cell phone rang.
“I gotta take this!” I shouted, rising. Then I went out into this busy hallway. “Hello?”
“So what’s the emergency?” Amanda asked. She sounded real casual. It sort of burned me up.
“Where in the hell have you been?”
“Gee, dad, I didn’t realize I had to check in with you.”
“Don’t be like that,” I said. “You know what I mean. I kept calling and calling, and you never picked up your phone.”
“Being possessive is really unattractive to a girl.”
“I’m not being possessive. I’m being worried and concerned.”
“Because I haven’t seen you since....” And then I stopped myself. Since when? Since you told me you were only sixteen?
“I was out with friends,” she said, calmly. “I’m not the only one who has been out of the loop. I haven’t seen them in almost two weeks.”
“Oh.” Christ, now I felt stupid. “That’s cool. What did you guys do?”
“We went to the Cage.”
“Yeah, right,” I said. “How’d you get in?”
The sound of his name stopped me in my tracks. I don’t know why. At first I really wanted Amanda and Noah to get along, probably more so than I wanted things cleared between me, her, and Calvin. But after that night at the club, after seeing Noah holding Amanda’s hand as they came toward me through the crowd, I wasn’t so sure I wanted the two of them spending so much time together. I wasn’t sure I wanted Amanda spending any time with any other guys. And if that made me possessive, so be it.
“I’m still here,” I answered. “So why’d you go to the Cage?”
“Why do you go to the Cage? Because it’s cool, right? Because you can get in.”
I can get in. Me. “I can’t believe Noah let you in, especially with other people.”
“It was one person,” Amanda added. “My friend, Bill.”
“Bill?” Please be short for, Wilhelmina. “So, Noah, let you and, Bill, in the Cage?”
“Yeah. He was cool about it too. Noah bought us a couple of rounds.” Amanda was quiet a moment. “Noah’s pretty awesome.”
“Yeah, he’s all right,” I said, sullenly. “Anyway I’m glad you’re okay.”
“I was in good hands. But I’m missing you,” she said. “So what’s going on in Atlantic City?”
“Nothing. I don’t belong here and I kind of want to go home. Steve is giving me a hard time, and Calvin is being strange.”
“Strange how?”
“He says he doesn’t want to hear about us.”
“So don’t tell him anything.”
“Now why didn’t I think of that?” I said, sarcastically.
Amanda sighed. “Enough Calvin talk. What else is going on?”
“Strip clubs and such.”
“You went to a strip club?”
“I went with Calvin.”
“Maybe I should be the one asking questions.”
“Very funny. The strip clubs here are depressing.”
“They’re depressing everywhere,” Amanda said.
“Right. Do you have time to talk? It’s just been really strange here. All I’ve wanted to do is stand here and listen to your voice for a little while.”
“That’s really sweet, but I don’t have the time right now,” she said. “I wanted to check-in, I guess. You take care and get through this, and when you get back I’ll make it all better...if you know what I mean.”
I did. “Wait! What’re you doing tonight?”
“Noah invited Bill and I down to see his show at the 31st Street Pub.”
Amanda laughed. “Don’t be a jealous, possessive guy. I’ll be thinking about you all night.” Then she blew a kiss into the phone. “Sweet dreams, Big Al.”
Big Al?
I stood there in the hallway a moment, watching as people filed into a club. Noah. Bill. Amanda Evarts sandwiched in between them in hot, sweaty Pittsburgh bars. The thought was enough to make me go mad. Why couldn’t Amanda have female friends? Why couldn’t she leave my friend alone? I guess it wasn’t such a hard stretch to understand that’s the kind of girl she was, whatever that kind of girl was to begin with? I mean Amanda had never talked about female friends and, hell, before we hooked up I’d only known her through my guy friends. Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal. Then again, I didn’t really subscribe to the male/female friendship scenario. But many people did. Of course, I never really had any female friends to test the idea out on. My thought was if you liked a girl enough to be around her, why only be friends?
Steve Scanlon’s exclusive club was on the thirty-fifth floor of the Trump. The thick double doors could only be opened if you had the appropriate key. Steve had jacked a key from his father’s private lock box. The club was a large. It was an empty, well-lit room that resembled those vast dinner clubs of the 1930’s. On the right hand side was a long rectangular window. It revealed the Atlantic City skyline in all its glory. Scattered throughout the joint were round tables covered with thick, white cloths. They were adorned with flowers and candles. The piano stand in front of the window was void of its player. An empty tip jar sat by itself atop the black, glossy behemoth. The bar was black zinc and U-shaped. It pressed up against the wall with a mountain of bottles stacked behind it. It was sparsely packed with defeated old gamblers sipping on tan-colored drinks. They were smoking and staring at nothing. Truthfully, it didn’t seem so exclusive.
“Mike!” Steve yelled. He hurried over to a silver-haired bartender with a thick moustache and a diamond earring in each ear. Mike was dressed in a pair of black pants, a white oxford, a black vest, and a black bowtie. Steve shook his hand vigorously, and then straddled the stool before him. The rest of us filed in like thoughtless drones. “How have you been, buddy!”
“Good,” Mike answered, looking at Steve as if he really wasn’t sure who he was. He probably wasn’t. Then Mike gave the row of us a sidelong glance. “I haven’t seen you in awhile.”
“I haven’t been to A.C. lately.” Steve laughed. He was trying to carry himself like some world-class gambler, but it wasn’t working. Steve only knew about this club because it was where his father came to booze while Steve’s mother gambled their Monopoly money away down in the casino below.
“What are you all drinking?” Mike asked.
“Do you still make that killer Long Island Iced Tea?” Steve asked. He turned to me. “This dude makes the strongest Long Island Iced Tea you’ve ever had, Javorski. You think you’re some world-class drunk now (I didn’t), but I guarantee that you get loaded off of the first one.”
“Long Island Iced Tea it is,” I said to Mike, thinking Bill, Noah, and how much I could use a good drink. Mike fiddled around with glasses, until he pulled out a wide pint glass and began concocting his drink.
“My treat,” Steve said, slapping my back.
Mike set the drink before me with a cheap grin on his face. I took a long pull on the sweet tasting booze. Everyone else sucked on bottles of beer. I shot down the first drink quickly and then asked for another. Mike was in the middle of some tale concerning his seventeen years at the casino, but he stopped, smiled, and went right to work on fixing the drink.
Midway through my second Long Island Iced Tea the booze started to hit me. It mixed with the vodka and soda already in my stomach, and my eyes blurred and I felt my mouth curl into a grin I couldn’t remove no matter how many tragic thoughts I conjured up in my quickly numbing mind. My body felt loose. My soul felt a grave honesty pass through it. Mike was in the middle of another drag of a story, but he stopped again. He looked at me with triumphant eyes.
“Only took one and a half to get him!” He laughed.
Steve slapped my slumping back. “Not so world-class now are you, Javorski?”
“I never claimed to be anything,” I said. I never claimed to be a world-class drinker, or a possessive boyfriend, or a cheat, or a good friend, or a great writer. I never laid claim to a single title.
“Can I ask you fellows something?" Mike began. “What are five young guys doing in an old man bar while in this sin city?”
“It's part of the comp deal,” Steve said.
“Comp, shmomp!” Mike laughed. “I’m serious here. Is there something wrong with you guys? Are you all a women repellent or something?” He backed away in jest. “Because if you are, don’t get any of it on me!”
Steve laughed. “This is a chick-free weekend. Right fellas?” he looked back and forth at us for some confirmation.
“Sure it’s chick-free,” Mike continued. “I’ll bet you all planned it like that, right?”
“Exactly!” Steve answered.
I finished off the Long Island Iced Tea. Mike continued to harass us about women, and our so-called inadequacies where the female species was concerned. It was all in good jest, but it pissed me off, all things considered. Mike was a douche bag. He was some kind of idiot ringleader. He had the whole row going in a loud debate about women. This was probably more animation then this sad club had seen in years. Even Tom McDannen got into it, and I’d never seen Tom with a girl in his entire life. Everyone was voicing their opinions and their own macho expertise except Calvin and I. I was too engrossed in the way the room had begun to spin. I was too engrossed in sick thoughts of what Amanda Evarts was doing at the 31st Street Pub. Calvin sulked sadly into his beer; the sight of him harboring his sadness made me bitter. He didn’t have a clue what Amanda Evarts was like.
“You boys wouldn’t know what to do with it,” Mike said. He waved off my yapping bunch of pals.
“Do with what?” I finally asked, loudly.
Mike smiled. He leaned in so I could smell his cheap cologne. “Pussy.”
“Bullshit!” I shouted. “We all know what to do with it! Why Calvin just came in his pants over it last night at Jezebel’s."
Poor Calvin turned scarlet as the whole bar laughed.
“That's playground stuff. All you rich little boys go and come in your pants at Jezebel’s. I’m talking about real life here fellows. You got to know how to go down on a woman to really get her steaming. You got to do it like you’re ringing a bell.”
“Like hell,” I continued. “You have to go slow. You have to caress it. It’s not the damn Liberty Bell!”
“You tell him, Javorski!” Steve said, egging me on.
“What do you know?” Mike said to me. “You’re just a dumb, drunk kid blowing your daddy’s cash.”
That pissed me off. I was no rich kid and my dad didn’t give me shit. Hell, he wouldn’t even help me out with Noah’s apartment. “I know that the girl I’m dating now doesn’t seem too unsatisfied,” I answered. Mike needed to watch it. “Every time I go down on her, she moans so loud I have to stop so my parents don’t hear.”
“Your parents?” Mike laughed. “She’s probably moaning because you’re doing it wrong.”
Steve laughed. “Javorski, you're making this stuff up now. Game over. Admit it."
“I’m not making anything up,” I answered, defensively
“Sure you’re not.”
“I’m not.”
“Then who’re you going down on?” Steve looked me directly in the eye, and I knew I'd screwed up. “Javorski, are you back with Sarah or something?”
“No. It’s.... it’s Amanda.”
“Amanda Evarts?” Steve looked confused. Then he looked down the bar at a humiliated Calvin, and got all the confirmation he needed. He turned to face me. I couldn’t look at him. “Wow, that’s cold, dude. Forget what I said earlier about screwing me over. You obviously had bigger fish to fry.”
We stayed another half hour. Steve talked quietly with Mike about blackjack and baseball. Tom and George took Calvin to a far off table. I said nothing. There was no one to talk to anyway. Just like the car ride. I stared forward and nursed a beer. I was pretty drunk. I’d said plenty. I'd said enough to last me a lifetime and then some. Now I needed silence.
When it came time to leave, I made up an excuse about the drinks really getting to me. I went back to rest in the hotel room. No one cared. I think the guys were relieved to see me go. Before I left, Steve looked at me as if I might as well go ahead and drown myself in the Atlantic. I couldn’t begrudge his allegiance to Calvin. I'd been an asshole.
When I got back to the room, I called Amanda. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. The voice mail came on. Fuck it. Go ahead and screw Noah and Bill, and whomever you want. I got on the bed and fell asleep to Donald Trump’s biography coming through the TV again.
Sometime before dawn, Calvin returned. He reeked of booze and cigarette smoke. I awoke to feel him hit the bed like a knocked-out heavyweight. He rolled over and sighed. I stared into the black void between us.
“Cal,” I whispered.
“Are you okay?”
He was silent for a few seconds. “I’m all right,” he finally answered.
“I’m really sorry about tonight,” I said. “I was drunk.” I fished around on the nightstand until I found my pack of cigarettes. The makeshift ashtray almost collapsed when I brushed it. Calvin took a smoke from me. I lit us both. “And about Amanda,” I continued. “I just feel horrible saying that shit. I feel like an ass. I promised you that I wouldn’t mention her, but I did. I’m embarrassed. All I really wanted was for things to be cool between us.”
“We’re cool,” Calvin said, slowly. “But you’ve really hurt me a lot lately. I don’t know why you even mentioned Jezebel’s. That stuff never happened anyway, Alex. I did some thinking tonight. I guess I just need to grow up and forget about Amanda. There really isn’t anything I can do. I told you that I was fine with it, but in truth I’m not.” Calvin chuckled sadly to himself. “I actually hope that she dumps you.”
“Maybe she will,” I said. It really wasn’t so hard to imagine that scenario now.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” I asked.
Calvin sighed. “Alex, don’t tell anyone.”
“Don’t tell anyone, what?”
“Yeah, yeah, I promise. Don’t tell anyone what?”
“I lost it all,” he said.
“Lost what?” I asked, sitting up. “You’re not making any sense.”
“The money.”
“You lost the money? The stuff you won?”
“I lost everything. I lost it all playing blackjack.”
I took a couple of drags on my cigarette. I gave Calvin's predicament some thought. “So what?” I said. “It’s all a part of the game up here, isn't it? You win it and you lose it. At least you have the money that you came up here with.”
Calvin took a drag on his smoke and coughed lightly into the darkness of our room. “I lost every last dime I brought, though. About twenty-five hundred dollars in total.”
“I know.”
“It’s all my fault.” He said nothing. He didn’t have to. I knew Calvin's loss was my fault because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. “I have money,” I said. I tossed my cigarette in the murky ashtray water. I handed the cup to Calvin then fell back on the bed. “Anything on the way home, I got it covered.”
“Thanks Alex,” he finally said. I had almost drifted off into sleep when I heard his voice. “You’re a good friend.”
That was good to hear. It was a lie, of course. I doubted that Calvin DeFlino and I counted as friends at all, anymore.

Hipsters chapter 10


The next morning I sat in the back of Steve Scanlon’s claustrophobic, gleaming monster of a car. I was bookend with Tom McDannen, and the both of us were pinched in by George Rubio’s uncompromising girth. I couldn’t move so I just stared out the window. I wondered what Amanda Evarts was doing. I needed a cigarette, but Steve wouldn’t let anyone smoke in the Lexus. I hardly said a thing at all. Talk to whom? No one here would care what I had to say. And to make matters worse, I still hadn’t apologized to Calvin for the way I treated him in front of Karl, and God only knows how many others.
I guess I should start at the beginning.
I had gotten drunk with Karl a few hours before Calvin was to pick me up for this damned trip to Atlantic City. Amanda had just left and I began to panic over everything she’d told me. I mean I didn’t get nuts. I didn’t think about breaking up with her. I guess I just freaked out. I got upset about the fact that someone I’d been intimate with hadn’t been completely honest with me, and that my complete and total desire to not be alone had made me brush it off like it was nothing. Yeah, I know I told Amanda it was all right. Yeah, I know I was being kind of a hypocrite. But at least I was a hypocrite in private. Anyway, I called Karl. He came over to help me drown my sorrows with a pint of vodka, and a six-pack of cheap beer. I didn’t tell him what we were sad over. I’m sure he assumed it was Sarah, because how could I be upset over Amanda Evarts so early in the game? I had called Noah too, but he wasn’t around. Karl thought he might’ve been at work.
By the time Calvin showed up I guess I was in rare form. I was probably in a blind, drunken rage. I scarcely remember hurling beer cans, and insulting everyone. I was picking fights. The booze and Amanda had turned me into an uncharacteristic monster. The goddamned things I said, I could only imagine. And poor Cal, I know he got the worst of it. One could only guess what I’d said to him.
No matter. It was enough that he gave me the cold shoulder all that morning. He avoided me as I groaned through the Scanlon house, drinking orange juice and two of Steve’s father’s beers to combat my hangover, and the major urge I had to vomit. I honestly felt bad about everything. I wanted to apologize. I found myself always wanting to apologize to Calvin DeFlino now. But it would have to wait. I’d catch good old Calvin in Atlantic City. We’d talk. It would all get squared away and made right.
Then I reached inside my pocket. I felt tiny pills jostling about. They were Zoloft pills that Karl had boosted from a co-worker’s locker. He had given me a few so that I could put up with the weekend. I took one of the yellow pills and tossed it in my mouth. I wasn’t exactly sure what it would do. It was no cigarette, for sure, but it would have to suffice until we reached Atlantic City. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. It was no good. The pill made me jittery and it made my mind wander. I couldn’t stop thinking about Amanda Evarts and sixteen, and what it felt like to fuck her.
Atlantic City came upon us. It was a merciless mini-metropolis made of glass, metal, and gold. The town was wrapped up in painted sprays of muted pink and blue pastel. We hit the hotel; the wide and looming Trump Plaza on Mississippi Avenue of all places. The Zoloft I’d taken had begun to really kick in. I felt alive. Restless. My head was completely numb and without pain. My arms felt like rubber. My legs felt loose. Best of all, I couldn’t think straight. No more worries over Calvin and Amanda, and my ceaseless eternity of sadness.
“Christ, Javorski!” Steve yelled. “Quit kicking my seat, you goddamned nicotine fiend.”
“Fine, fine!” I shouted.
We stepped out of the car. I walked over to Calvin and surprised him by slinging a sweaty arm over his shoulders. All was forgiven, right? “Do you believe this place, Cal?”
He smiled slightly. He wasn’t sure how to take me. That was fine. He’d come around. “It’s pretty cool.” Calvin gazed up at the rising white of the Trump. “I kind of feel important here.”
“Yeah, yeah, important,” I said. Sweat was running down my face but I felt dry. My heart thumped wildly and I lit a smoke. I danced slightly. I watched Atlantic City live before my eyes. I took another Zoloft out of my pocket and handed it to Calvin. At first he was wary, but then he accepted it without question. I pulled him tighter. “Once we get checked-in, we should walk around this whole place and just take it all in!”
“Hey assholes!” Steve called from the back of the car. He had all of our bags and a cooler of beer out on the ground. In his hands were our fake I.D.s. He happily doled them out.
“I can’t believe you jaggoffs got me breakin the law like this,” Tom moaned.
“Fucking-A!” George shouted, looking at his.
“Just don’t do anything to give my mom and dad a bad name,” Steve added.
We were on the twelfth floor of the Trump Plaza. It was a two-room suite that had wide ocean view windows. The room had no actual living space because of how many of us there were. But who dawdles in their room in Atlantic City? There was a large bathroom with a shower and basin-wide sink that cut between the two rooms. There was a large king-sized bed in one room, and three foldout singles in the other.
Calvin and I lost straws and had to share the king-sized bed. Nothing like close quarters to heal a friendship. Our room had a massive television set loaded with pay-per-view channels, and a ton of channels that played nothing but a biography on Donald Trump. Trump’s smug face looked back at me, as Calvin and I hopped around, smoking cigarettes, and buzzing off of the Zoloft. We took turns staring at the rolling, green waves of the ocean. There was even a refrigerator which we stocked full of the beer Steve had brought.
The five of us went to an Egyptian-themed restaurant. What a place that was! In the middle of the dining area was a multi-spouted fountain placed at the top of a sculpted pyramid. People marveled at the thing. A pack of Pharaoh-clad waiters and waitresses descended upon us, and we all ordered a seven-course meal. Plate after plate came our way. The main course was a rack of lamb smothered in a blood-red raspberry sauce, and a slice of dark chocolate cake to finish. I washed it all down with two vodka and sodas, and a beer, in an effort to keep my pill buzz going. The I.D.s were a success. Then I looked across the table at Calvin. He was still high, and enraptured in the pulsating movement of a fleet of belly dancers. His mouth was wet with the seedy drip of saliva. I gave him a toast. Whatever I did or said or insinuated the night before, I hoped that the pill-drugged fool had forgiven me.
After the meal, we all split up. We divided into two groups. Steve and George went off to play blackjack. Tom, Calvin, and I strolled off to weed our way through the endless rows of slot machines. I had never been in a casino before, and the sensory overload of flashing lights and echoing sounds was a bit rough. In all directions came the clanking of coins into metallic slots, the scooping of change into wide, plastic cups emblazoned with “Trump Plaza” in bold, diamond-studded letters. Hundreds of silver levers with thick, black knobs were being pulled in unison, and then let go as blurry images of fruit, symbols, or words flashed by hungry faces in three square-shaped boxes. Occasionally the joyous sound of a slot machine relieving itself of its bank invaded the air and caused a stir. People pulled on their machines with greater vigor as the winner collected their cash, and accepted a drink from one of the circulating waitresses. I took it all in, the circus-like madness of the joint. Then I took another Zoloft pill. I handed Calvin one. You needed to be high in Atlantic City.
Tom left us for the poker tables. I followed Calvin over to a caged-in security area where he exchanged his dollars for coins. He brought back one of the “Trump Cups,” and set it on the mirrored surface of a game called Luck of the Draw. He slid his chair in to play. Twenty-minutes later, and Calvin was still losing a lot of money. He looked sweaty and pathetic. I looked at the slots all round us, gleaming, destroying people’s lives. What a waste. I wouldn’t play the damn things.
“I’ll be right back,” I said.
“Mmm,” Calvin mumbled.
I left the casino and went out into the salty ocean air. My head was swirling with pills and booze. I went over to a wooden fence, and started into the black void of the ocean and infinity. Then I pulled out a smoke and lit it. I dialed Amanda’s number on my cell phone. It rang once, twice, three times, and then the voice mail came on. There was Amanda’s voice telling me to leave a message. I wondered where in the world she was in that moment. Was she thinking of me? Was she all right? I let the message play out, but at the beep I just hung the phone up. Still, I needed to talk to someone in that moment. I felt so alone staring at the ocean, as people walked up and down the boardwalk and had conversations. So I called Noah.
“I thought you were in Atlantic City this weekend,” he said.
“Yeah, but it’s a drag.”
“Go to a strip club or something.”
“What are you doing?”
“At the Cage?”
“Where else?”
I listened in. “How come it’s so quiet?”
“I don’t know...slow night?”
“It’s Saturday.”
Noah sighed. “Big Al, I have to go. Come and see me when you get back. Come up to the Cage and we’ll hang.”
“Sounds good,” I said. Then he hung up.
Back in the casino, I found Calvin in a state of absolute exuberance and sweating insanity. He was at his slot machine and bouncing around like a madman. When he saw me his eyes lit up, and he started frantically waving me over.
“Holy Shit!” he exclaimed. He grabbed my collar. “I just won six-hundred-dollars! I told you slots were winners! Steve always said I was an idiot for playing the same machine for too long.” He laughed. Calvin took another look up at where his ticket was printing out. “Who’s the idiot now?”
Then an attractive, surly-looking, waitress carrying a drink-less tray descended upon us.
“What do I do with this?” Calvin asked her.
“Well, first you have to rip the ticket out of the machine,” she said, condescendingly. Then she proceeded to do it herself. Calvin cringed as the waitress tore at his prize. “And then you take it over there.” She pointed over toward the same, small caged-in booth. “Sal will take care of it for you.”
We walked cautiously over to Sal. He took Calvin’s ticket, and stared at it a few seconds. Then he punched a few keys into a keyboard. Soon Sal placed a set of six one-hundred-dollar bills on the wooden counter before us. I’d never seen so much cash at once. It made me feel bad about being broke all of the time, and needing money for college and the apartment. And there was my pal getting money for nothing. Quickly, Calvin scooped the fresh bills off of the counter, and shoved the money into his pocket. Then he bummed a smoke off of me, and we left the casino.
The boardwalk was covered with trinket shops selling t-shirts and palm readings. Calvin went mad inside almost all of them. He bought tons of worthless crap. He had his sorry fortune told, and then paid two more times to hear more. Calvin picked up t-shirts that had stupid sayings emblazoned on them, and more money was blown on a pair of cheap sunglasses that looked like a pair some no good actor wore. Calvin wore them in the darkness of the night. He was acting like an idiot with a little dough. It was the biggest waste of time and money that I’d ever seen. And he wasn’t even done. All of those foolish trinkets and threadbare t-shirts hadn’t made a dent in his winnings. After we dropped the shit off in the room, we ended up back at the wooden fence on the boardwalk, tired, and running out of things to do. I lit a cigarette and listened to the ocean.
Calvin stepped away from the fence. He began to breathe heavily. His face lost some color.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s nothing.”
“Come on, Cal.”
Then he breathed heavily some more. “I don’t want to hear about you and Amanda anymore.”
“I’m sorry about that...whatever it was that I said,” I answered. “I was really drunk last night. I should’ve apologized this morning.”
“You didn’t say much, Alex. Maybe I’m just not ready to hear anything about you and Amanda, good or bad. I wish that I was, but I just don’t like the thoughts it puts into my head, you know. Plus I still have to see her at work, and....”
“I won’t mention a thing at all,” I interrupted. “I’ll just keep my trap shut until you tell me you’re comfortable.”
“That’s what I want.”
“Then that’s what you’ll get.”
“She doesn’t even look at me anymore,” Calvin said.
I nodded.
Then we were silent a moment.
“What do you want to do now?” Calvin asked. He looked relieved.
“You’re the one with all of the money.”
He thought for a second and then smiled. “I think I want a beer,” he said. “And I want to see some girls.”
The two of us wandered the boardwalk, until we reached an opening and came out on the street. The residential area of Atlantic City was shadowed in a gold tint from the hue of the boardwalk’s majesty. The streets were about as run down and dingy as several parts of Pittsburgh. They were Monopoly streets with Monopoly names. Many of them were thin, almost alley-like, and dark. There were abandoned homes lining the decrepit sidewalk. Soon we found a bar called Jezebel’s. It was nothing more than a strip club beckoning the monetary winnings of dupes from out of state. A sign posted on the sculpted cubes of glass by the door read: Take your winnings to Jezebel’s, in heavy black ink. It was surrounded by amateurish drawings of flowing coins and moneybags.
Inside, Jezebel’s was a motif of gaudiness and green. It had a forest green carpet, sea foam colored walls, and emerald green tablecloths on the round, packed tables. Even the bar was lacquered a pale green with a gold bar that outlined the wide length of it. Calvin and I took our seats at one of the last tables in back. Drunken men screamed and shouted. There were no other women in the joint but hostesses, and dancers gyrating a long stage. Four women danced and slid on poles. They were completely naked, and writhing suggestively in the red faces of fat husbands and loners.
A hostess came over. “Can I interest you fellows in a drink?” She was a brunette. She said her name was, Sue. Sue set down a couple of napkins. She smiled at Calvin’s hypnotized gaze. She wasn’t bad looking by strip club standards. She was a little older, maybe pushing forty, but probably still able to exude a masterful sexuality. Sue was topless except for pasties on her nipples. Calvin held up a twenty-dollar bill, without removing his eyes from them. Sue took the money with a roll of her eyes and a mothering smile. “Can I interest either of you in a lap dance tonight?”
“What exactly goes on with a lap dance?” Calvin inquired.
“Basically you go into a room. One of the girls comes in, hops on top of you, and does a nice little dance.”
“Naked.” Sue smiled. “Only, you can’t touch her. You have to be a gentleman. That means your arms have to be at your sides the whole time. A bouncer accompanies the two of you to make sure no funny business goes on.”
“How much?” he asked.
“Forty-five dollars. Plus you have to buy two soft drinks for your dancer.”
“Alright, I’ll do it!” Calvin enthusiastically got up from the table. He handed me a twenty. “Alex, are you cool to wait here?”
I quickly grabbed the twenty and shoved it in my shirt pocket. I pointed at the stage full of naked women. “I think I’ll manage.”
Sue led Calvin away toward this hole in the wall. A fool and his money, I thought, as he disappeared out of sight. I stayed where I was and had a drink on Calvin’s twenty. I watched the girls dance, but soon the whole set up bored me. The women did nothing for me. I missed Amanda, and all I wanted was to hear her voice. So I stepped out of Jezebel’s and tried calling her again on my phone. I got no answer again. I got the voice mail. I checked my watch. It was damned near eleven o’clock. Where in the hell was Amanda Evarts? I was both worried and mad. I left an urgent message asking her to get back to me. Then I went back inside the strip club.
“Hey Sue. Where’s the bathroom?” I asked, when she came back over to the table.
“Over there.” She pointed toward where she’d lead Calvin.
“I thought that was for lap dances?”
“There’s a can back there, too.”
I got up from my seat and emptied the rest of my beer down my throat. I shook the bottle in a crass, demanding way, and then handed it to Sue. Then I limped off to drain myself. Inside the break in the wall was another, smaller room with two long, black couches facing each other. On every cushion sat some drunk with a naked girl bouncing on his crotch. Forty-five-dollars and you got dry humped in public while men went to and from the bathroom behind you. Pathetic.
Then I saw Calvin. He was on the end cushion with his head back and his eyes closed. Calvin’s cheap, high school moustache wrinkled. He wore a look of pain or enjoyment on his thin face. Calvin had his hands rigidly at his side, but his fingers were clenched, ready to grab the ass of the auburn-haired stripper, as she shook it in his face. Calvin wasn’t even looking. His goddamned eyes were closed. The bouncer standing over him had a long, superior grin. I felt sad and sickened, and somewhat responsible all at once.
Then Calvin began to gyrate. Slowly at first and then quick for a few seconds, until he stopped all together and raised his sweating head to look at the stripper with eyes full of shock. He’d cum in his pants. She put her arms around his shoulders, and leaned in like she was feigning some afterglow of her own. Calvin mindlessly shook his head, deep in some lost thought. What was he thinking about? Sue? Some other girl? Amanda? The stripper and the bouncer exchanged glances and smirks. I entered the bathroom before Calvin rose and saw me.
We didn’t stay long after it was all over. Calvin sat through one drink at the bar, and then handed the stripper ten dollars so that she could buy the other one herself. We didn’t talk much when he came back and sat with me. Calvin and I just stared blankly at the strippers on the stage, as he shifted restlessly in his seat. Eventually he started talking. He was quiet at first, but then he became boisterous and boastful. Calvin started talking about his lap dance as if it was some conquest on his part. I didn’t bother to tell him what I saw. We left.
In the Trump Plaza, the casino was still packed with people. Atlantic City was one great and never-ending party. Everyone was still winning and losing. Waitresses were still passing out the drinks. Steve and George were still playing blackjack. Tom was bent over a poker table, examining his cards. They all looked haggard and tired. What a place to end it all. Atlantic City was a great neon suicide.
In the room I undressed by the light of the television set. Donald Trump’s biography was on again. He looked seedier than he had before. Calvin showered in the bathroom, getting all that sinfulness off as quickly as he could. I checked my watch. It was now twelve-thirty. Amanda hadn’t called. I went to dial her cell, but then I gave it up. I just lay down on the bed. I was half asleep when Calvin came out of the bathroom. He crawled onto the far end of the bed. My bet was he was still fully clothed. I was going to turn and say something, but I didn’t. Calvin had quietly begun to cry. So I shut my eyes and listened to the ocean, and the waves as they roared below.