Really? Oh, Ok- Oct 08
When you wait by the tracks you can smell the brakes. Not rubber, but a stinging smell, like metal on metal. The Metra ride into the city is over an hour, and it usually makes me apprehensive. I’m able to fall asleep this time, and a passenger calls to me from the exit once we reach Union Station.
I climb the familiar steps of the Quincy station, but the signs seem reversed. The brown line is on the opposite side of what I remember. At the top there are signs for the pink line but I can’t find a map for the brown.
A girl is sitting on a bench, erect like a statue. I sit down.
“Excuse me, does the brown line board over here.” She looks at me. She can see my mouth moving, but turns her head and doesn’t say anything. “Oh, earphones,” I say.
I watch her for a second, make a face, and turn forward.
A little Czech girl, the one that I spent my last weeks in Prague with, is visiting me. She has her hair cut short and dyed slightly darker, but she is beautiful and it makes me happy to see her. She doesn’t ask for much, and in the mornings she will sit and watch me work.
On her first day I skipped work and we went into downtown Chicago. Climbing out of Union Station I watched her face and I was disappointed when she didn’t have an expression of amazement like I had hoped.
When I come home from work she likes to take me to the bedroom. I offer that we go out for dinner but she usually wants to cook, and I like her cooking.
She asks me what I thought of her the first time I met her.
“I thought you were a cute little blonde girl with big blue eyes,” I say.
“I was real angry when you watched me up and down,” she says, about the first time she remembers meeting me.
“It was a compliment.”
The night before she left I watched Blade Runner. I sat on the floor and she slept on the couch with her arm draped across me. The movie finished, and I watched it half through again.
When I carried her into the bedroom she asked me what time it was. I lied and told her it was one when it was four-thirty. In the morning I was hung-over and I couldn’t get a terrible taste out of my mouth, and she asked me why I got so drunk the night before. I was surprised by the question; I thought she had been sleeping. Before I took her to the airport she told me that she ‘doesn’t mind when I drink alcohol’.
In the morning, at her place, while I’m waiting for her to get ready, I read Atonement. It had been sitting on the top of a stack of books. As I’m reading the first pages, I realize the movie had been one of the first movies I had watched after my Czech girlfriend had broken up with me.
Its family weekend at Colorado University, and I meet the rest of my family at my sister’s rented house. On the Pearl Street outdoor mall there are scattered groups of activists. The point of speaking out in Boulder is lost on me. Safety in numbers I suppose, but there’s really no progress left to be made. A vigil for peace is redundant on the Pearl Street Mall. Well dressed activism in gated communities, this is what conviction has become in my generation.
On Saturday they have a party before the football game. My sister’s neighbour invites me and my seventeen year-old brother into her basement for shots of Effen.
“Hey Jeff what are you doing?” she says to a father who is crouched behind the bar.
“Oh, peeing in a bottle.”
“We do have a bathroom upstairs.”
“Someone was in there.” He washes his daughter’s Nalgene bottle out in the sink and puts it back.
I travel back to Kansas City for a corporate meeting. Off Broadway Street, I meet two lesbians at an Asian influenced bar serving 2 for 1s. They’re quiet at first, maybe protective of each other, but I make it clear I won’t try to sleep with them, and buy a couple of drinks. They loosen up, and we drink, talk, and dance.
Outside smoking a cigarette, I meet a friend of the lesbians, Nick. He’s a social butterfly, and I know the advantages of being on good terms with the gay community. I don’t put on a gay front, but I also don’t let him know I’m straight. I need to keep him interested long enough for us to become friends. We smoke a cigar and talk about The Foundry, the bar he works at. I watch an attractive blond wearing a long fur-trimmed coat. She notices me, and moves her hand into the hand of the boy next to her. Nick invites me to a local band on Thursday; I tell him I won’t be in town, but take his number and we agree to make rounds at the bars tomorrow.
Inside I buy a drink and Nick comes up behind me and grabs my ass. I sidestep into a chair and realize I need to handle this. He follows me to get pizza.
“You know I’m straight, right?” I say.
“Yeah, I know,” he says.
We order a pizza and talk about Kansas City.
“Have you really never been with a guy before?” he asks. I knew it wouldn’t die so easily, a typical pick-up line.
“I never I have. It’s just not for me.” Usually that’s enough to end the conversation, but he continues.
“Have you ever wanted to try something? You don’t have to be embarrassed; all straight guys want to have a gay experience.”
“No, I really don’t,” I say laughing. “If I did I wouldn’t care. It would probably be easier. Sorry, man.”
“Sorry to disappoint you Simon, I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking in general.”
I go to the bathroom, and when I come back the pizza is waiting untouched. He pouts at the table, which starts to piss me off.
“Are you sure you’re straight?”
“Yes I’m sure,” I keep folding up slices and eating them. I need to soak up any left-over alcohol. “Eat some of the pizza,” I say.
“No, I don’t want any.”
“Then why did you come here?”
“I expected something else from this.”
“Hey, we can still go out and party. I’ll pick up girls, and you can pick up boys. It’ll be fun.”
“No, I don’t want that.” I keep eating the pizza, while he continues. “If you’re not with me your against me.”
“Are you serious? Alright, fine.” I put a twenty on the table. “You fucked this up.”
I swear to myself on the way back to the bar where I say goodbye to my lesbian friends. I delete Nick’s number, and curse my luck for losing such a well-connected gay guy. I drive the speed limit home, and try not to wake the roommate, as I get into my hotel bed.
In the morning I have a message from Nick: ‘I feel really bad. I just think you want to experiment, but you’re afraid of what that will mean. I want to please you in any way you want, no judgments. We can do sexually whatever you want.’
I’m groggy and fucking furious. I start to write a response: ‘Dude N.O.’- and then I consider how small the social scene is in Kansas City. After I delete the message, the desire to send a scathing reply returns, and I wish I hadn’t deleted the message without writing back. I take a shower, get a cup of coffee, and go to the eight a.m. meeting.
The hum of the overhead projector runs through my head during the morning presentation. I can’t focus on the voice, only the loud static hum. I hope the caffeine will relax the pounding of my skull, and keep me awake. The pleasant sounding voice continues to talk. I can’t bring myself to care.
After dinner I had washed my face, brushed my teeth, and lay in bed to read a book. I needed sleep, my body ached, and my brain was blurring.
I got a phone call, the other salesman were in the lobby. I told them I was tired, that I was getting sick, but I gave into the peer pressure and put on my shoes. Someone had called a taxi, and I realized they were going to take me to a strip club. In the taxi we smoked cigarettes and drank beers; I stubbed out my cigarette on the plastic guard rail for the slide door.
It was a dirty little place that had a small platform in the middle of the floor, and a ramp leading to the bathrooms. The ATM outside the front door charged ten bucks to take money out. We bought lap dances, shots, and I realized shortly after the first round that I wouldn’t get the rest my body needed.
“How old do you think I am?” a salesman said.
“Thirty-seven,” she said.
“I can’t believe you said that.”
“How old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?” she asked.
“Forty.” She looked genuinely upset. “Twenty-four,” he said laughing.
“I’m twenty-one, now we’re even.”
“That’s not even close,” he said.
We were better dressed and spending more money than the other clients, and a large group of strippers started to gather around the table. A plum Asian with great tits told me about living in Vegas. She worked a day job there, and it took coming back to KC for her to start stripping.
Thankfully the ATM broke and we pooled our money to afford the twenty dollar cab ride home. We talked until the sounds of fucking exploded out the car speakers. The cab driver spun the laptop so we could see the porno.
“I’m going to show you true love in a girl’s eyeball,” he said.
He had hooked the laptop up to the stereo system, and it was louder than our voices. We laughed, it was unexpected, and he continued to cycle through his video collection. In the hotel I called the salesman ‘fuckers’, and we exchanged are good-nights and went to bed.
I’m meeting her for dinner at the same investment bank I used to work at. Waiting in the lobby, that summer feels familiar: a skyline, the sound of escalators, Irish bars, women with careers, and money. I thought the city would be warmer than the suburbs, but the wind coming off the lake slips between the buildings and drops the temperature. It’s close to freezing and I’m without a coat. I need to buy a coat, vest, something, if I’m going to be out tonight.
After dinner she has to go back to work, and I make plans to meet her at her apartment. Between the El and her apartment I buy a bottle of wine and walk by a De Paul dormitory. It always upsets me to walk by the dorm, partially because of memories of happy times, but more regret that I can’t live that life as the person I am now.
The next morning she tells me I spent over an hour throwing up. ‘My life is so literal,’ I had said over and over again. She asks me if I blacked out. I have clarity and then a line is drawn with only moments of memory after, the realization in front of her house that I had left my new coat at the bar and looking at the art-deco poster in her bathroom and wishing I had lived in the 1920s.