13 Mar

Departments (Part 2 of 2)

“Can I help you find anything else?” she called after you.

Poor girl. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t deserve to be the victim of your breakdown.

You saw an empty cart in the aisle and seized your opportunity to make things right by grabbing it and wheeling back to the glasses. “You know what?” you said, “I think I’ll get these now.”

“Oh. Okay.” She couldn’t hide it: she flashed you a look that said, “You’re weird.”

But you smiled at her and then you perused the cookware. They had that hard anondized stuff that Heidi was always talking about. You grabbed a ten-piece set, the Rachel Ray line.

Then you moved on. The OXO Angled Surface Measuring Cups looked good. You threw them in your cart. You added the Simple Human Utensil Holder with Removable Spoonrest. You needed some order in your kitchen.

But you also needed some sophistication, so you grabbed an Oneida 8-inch Mesh Strainer and a Rachel Ray fondue set. Was it tacky? The orange highlights were maybe too much. Perhaps the Chantal brand? In fact, maybe the Calphalon brand hard anondized aluminum cookware was a smarter buy than the Rachel Ray one.

You switched, opting for uniformity. After all, the stuff in your kitchen needed to match.

You were feeling better already. “Out with the old,” you muttered to yourself. And you headed toward the Accents Shop, where you picked up a couple of fancy pillar candleholders along with a Fresh Picked Peony- and an Anjou Pear-scented candle.

But then you saw the store employee who helped you earlier. She was talking to another employee, who was looking at you now. The implication was clear. You were a spectacle.

You didn’t need to be reminded. So you ducked around a corner into a clothing aisle and found yourself in the Misses section. Looming overhead were 12-foot pictures of women modeling Skirtinis and Shortinis and Strappy Tanks and Bootcut Jeans. They had relaxed smiles, skinny arms, pronounced collarbones. They were so beautiful.

You thumbed through the various racks housing Eyelet Trimmed Polos and Embellished V-Neck Tanks and Layered Tunics. You’d never heard these names before. There was an entire vocabulary you didn’t know.

Maybe it was your fault that Heidi left.

You wanted to drive back to the dentist’s office and apologize to the hygienist, tell her you had taken her advice and bought the toothbrush.

“I’m sorry,” you’d explain to her. “You look like this woman I was gonna marry. She left me three weeks ago.” She’d wonder if you were just trying to pick her up. And though you’d want to, you’d just walk away, proving to her that your intentions were honorable, that you were a good guy, that you just wanted to say sorry.

But then maybe she’d come after you. Maybe she’d say, “Wait!” and utter a sincere thanks and give you her phone number and say, “Maybe we could meet under better circumstances.” It would be just like a romantic comedy, the kind where apparent dating failure turns into a happily-ever-after with the most unlikely person – the one who disliked you the whole rest of the movie and who at the last moment realized that true love was waiting right there, right under her nose.

For a second, it seemed possible. You even began walking toward your cart, thinking you’d fish out the toothbrush. But then you looked up at the giant model in her Shortini, smiling ten feet above you, and it was utterly clear that you were surrounded by fantasy. None of it was true.

So what was there left to do but go home? What was left but to walk out of the Misses section, past the clerks waiting at their registers, towards the sliding glass doors marked with signs that warned, “Not an exit” and hope that they’d slide open for you?

11 Mar

Departments (Part 1 of 2)

You were a total embarrassment in the dentist’s office. Given, the hygienist looked exactly like Heidi, which was unfortunate, but that didn’t really excuse your gawking. You shouldn’t have ever started staring at her, but when she walked into the room, the way her scrubs swayed when she moved and something about the way she held her arms, with her hands bent up at the wrists, maybe – it was too much. You stared.

Even when she was at the computer, pulling up your record, and she glanced at you and then did a double take because you were staring at her, you didn’t stop. You kept staring. You stared when she started her small talk, your mouth agape even though she hadn’t yet requested for you to open up. You stared at the strands of hair that fell into her face as she bent over you. When she positioned her dental light so that it shone into your eyes, you just squinted. You stared at the silhouette of her face.

You stared and noticed her fidget when she met your gaze, but each time, you kept staring, noting how the gradient of her blue eyes was exactly like Heidi’s. And even when she cut the small talk and threw all of the dental jargon she could at you (mesial, composite, onlay), you kept staring.

Poor girl. She told you your gums were too sensitive and that you needed to spend some time stimulating them. You just stared. She recommended an electric toothbrush and a gentle circular motion at the base of your teeth. You just stared at her –despite her flaring her nostrils and clenching her jaw (just like Heidi). And as soon as the real dentist finished his examination of your mouth, double-checking her work, you stared as she fled through the doorway of the office.

You realized, of course, just how creepy you’d been, but the guilt didn’t hit you until you were in your car in the parking lot. You said out loud, “I gotta get ahold of myself.” And then you decided to go buy an electric toothbrush. There was a department store in a strip mall just down the road, so you drove there and began searching.

You walked around for ten minutes before finding them next to the vacuum cleaners. But instead of buying one and walking out of the store, you browsed the vacuums, which looked like colorful jet packs and boasted cyclone technology, mini turbine heads, and motorized brush bars.

An employee asked if you were finding everything all right.

“Yes,” you told her. “Thank you.” But since you were in the home goods section of the store you were a little sentimental, and you actually considered confessing that in the larger scheme of things, no, you weren’t finding everything all right.

“Actually,” you said, “do you have flow blue glasses?”

“Yes.” The woman smiled. “Right this way.”

You followed her to the Kitchen Ware section, and she pointed to the glasses.

“These are nice,” you said.

“Let me guess.” She wagged a finger at you. “Wedding registry?”

You almost dropped the glass. “Yes,” you lied. “How did you know?”

“Well, first of all, not many men shop for flow blue glasses. But mainly, I could just see the look in your eye when you picked up the glass. It was like you were thinking of someone else.”

“That’s impressive,” you conceded. You set the glass back on its shelf and walked away. You couldn’t talk about it anymore.

08 Mar

The True Karl

I thought you were dead, I say.

Nata looks at me. She’s got a what-the-fuck expression on her face. You know this guy? she asks. Karl says to me, took you long enough. Seriously, Jimmy adds.

What’s going on? Nata says, I thought this guy was all weird to you when you popped his clutch.

Karl snickers.

Me and Karl thought it would be funny to set up a “chance” encounter, Jimmy says. He makes quote marks in the air when he says chance. It was just a joke, he clarifies.

Yeah, Karl says, I figured I could act really weird and eventually you’d recognize me and we’d all laugh about it.

But that didn’t work, Jimmy chimes in, so then we had Karl show up at the bar that night.

And that didn’t work, either, I say.

Right, Karl says. I figured I’d just keep messin with you until you recognized me.

Okay, Nata says, so who the hell is Karl Morris? She’s looking at me. So is Jimmy.

Yeah, Karl says – he puts his hand on my shoulder – who am I?

So I explain to Nata that me and Jimmy and Karl were good friends in elementary school, but then Karl moved away in 6th grade and that in high school, I heard that Karl had died in a skiing accident. I tell her how the three of us used to go wandering through the construction sites in the subdivision where we grew up and how we were always getting into trouble and how we stole two boxes of nail gun nails one time. And another time, I say, Karl put like 20 toads in a box and wrapped it and tied a ribbon around it and gave it to his sister for her birthday.

Holy shit, says Jimmy, I forgot all about that. Yeah, so did I, says Karl.

We crack open some beers and sit around telling stories about those days and then at 10:00 Oprah comes on and we stop talking and watch, all four of us – me and Jimmy and Nata and Karl. The show’s called “Perfect Strangers, Perfect Friends,” and it’s about a taxi driver and a businessman who discover that they are actually best friends. Or something like that. At the end, Dr. Robin comes on and starts talking about happy friendships and shit.

And then out of nowhere, Karl says, Dr. Robin’s a Creepy Mofo.

You’re telling me, Nata says.

Amen, Jimmy adds.

And I honestly can’t believe what I’m hearing.

Are you guys crazy? I ask. Do I even know you people? Dr. Robin rules.

They say nothing. They all look at each other for a second and then Karl says, just fuckin with ya and we all laugh our asses off. I’m telling ya, it was just like a sitcom — beautiful people, misunderstandings.

And as the credits began to roll, I kissed Nata and told Jimmy and Karl to go fuck themselves.

(Click: the whole story on one page)

05 Mar

Karl Remembered

I turn to Jimmy and ask him if he got my message and he says what message? and I say the one where I told you that Karl is a creepy mofo who hit on me the day I popped his clutch.

Karl interrupts and says, I’m telling you, that really sounds sexual, and I say, shut the fuck up. And Jimmy smiles and shakes his head and says, Karl’s not a creepy mofo. Nata whispers something in Jimmy’s ear, and I glance at Karl, who’s still eating his damn cereal.

Then Jimmy laughs out loud and says to me, you know, man, you can be a real asshole sometimes. And I give him a look like where the hell did that come from?

And he says, you really don’t remember, do you? And I’m like, what the hell are you talking about? And Jimmy says, Karl come over here. So Karl gets up and walks over to Jimmy and Jimmy grabs him by the arm and stands there next to him. Take a long, hard look at Karl, he says, you know him.

I don’t know what he’s talking about, but it’s Jimmy, so I do what he says. I stare at Karl’s face. And the whole time, I’m just thinking, yeah, I know this guy, he called me a girl and I’m pretty sure he’s a sexual predator. He’s like a dumb Hannibal Lector, I almost say out loud. But instead I shrug and say to Jimmy, what’s this all about? And Jimmy says, just do it.

So I keep looking at Karl and I get this flash of a familiar face. I can’t quite place it, but now I know Jimmy might be right. I keep looking at Karl and now it’s driving me nuts. I definitely know him. I’m thinking of all the possibilities. Was he a bartender? A clerk at a liquor store? One of Jimmy’s college roommates?

His last name’s Morris, Jimmy says.

Karl Morris? I know that name. I gaze at Karl again and just like that, I remember. Holy shit, I say. Karl Morris?

03 Mar

Karl in All His Creepiness

I grab my car keys and head for the door. We’re going to Jimmy’s, I say to Nata.

What? Why? she says.

I tell her that I’m pretty sure Karl’s over there right now. I don’t tell her that I’m also pretty sure that Jimmy’s tied to his bed with nylon ropes and that he has a racquetball in his mouth and is probably crying while Karl talks to him in an eerily calm voice about how he doesn’t want to hurt him.

When we get there, Jimmy’s door is locked. I look under his doormat for the key, but it’s not there. Motherfucker, I say. I punch the door, which hurts a little, but then Nata reminds me that I have a key.

Before I can stick the key in the lock, the door opens and Karl’s standing there. He’s eating a bowl of cereal. Where’s Jimmy? I say. But he’s just put a spoonful in his mouth, so he can’t answer me. He goes and sits on the couch. Where is he? I shout.

He swallows and says, his body’s in the bedroom. He takes another spoonful of cereal. Nata screams and runs into the bedroom, leaving me facing Karl.

I should have run you over when I was popping your fuckin clutch, I say.

Karl sets his cereal bowl on the coffee table slowly and deliberately, like a serial killer, and looks at me. Was that, uh, sexual? he says.

And I say, what?

He says, what you just said about popping my clutch, kinda sounded sexual.

What? No, it wasn’t sexual! I say.

Just then, Jimmy appears around the corner.

Jimmy! I say.

And he says, hey, man.

Are you alright? I ask.

Yeah, I’m fine, he says.

And then I look at Karl, who shrugs and says, just fuckin with ya.