30 Apr

Missed Opportunities (part 8)

He was sitting on a bench. When he saw me, he put his head in his hands.

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “This is our second meeting?”

He sighed. “This is not good.” Then he stood up, grabbed my arm, and walked me away from the entrance of the store. I dropped the box of Not Dogs, but when I went to pick them up, he yanked at my arm. “Did you see Julie?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Julie. She just went in the store. Did you see her?” He continued leading me around to the back of the co-op. We stopped at the dumpster. (It’s always a dumpster.)

“Julie’s here?”

“That’s what I’m telling you.”

“Shit.”

“Yes. Shit.”

“Well, what should we do?” I asked.

He pulled a knife from his pocket and flipped it open. “We don’t have a lot of options.”

I checked my pocket. The switchblade was still there.

“Listen, man, it was nice meeting you,” he said.

“Likewise.” I flicked the switch of my knife. It wouldn’t open. I shook it a couple times and tried the switch again.

“Oh shit. Did I give you the broken one? I didn’t mean to.” He stepped toward me. I jumped, ready to use my fists. “Here. Let me see it.” He closed his own knife and put it back in his pocket. I tossed mine to him.

He jimmied the switch a little and the blade flipped open. Just as he was passing it back, I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around, and three of us simultaneously shouted, “Fuck me.”

The third was standing there, mouth agape, reflecting the expression on my own face.

“So there was a third,” Jake whispered.

The third hung his head. “I saw the two of you and I ran. I thought I could avoid it.” He had a hint of an accent I couldn’t quite place.

“There is no escape,” Jake said.

“I know.” The third offered me his hand. I shook it. “I thought that maybe if you didn’t see me, I could avoid the whole thing. I’m Petra.”

“But we did see you,” I said.

“Yeah. I know that now.”

Jake shook Petra’s hand. “Crazy name, Petra.”

We stood there in that awkward triangle for some silent seconds until Jake spoke up. “Listen, do you think we can get started? My girlfriend’s in the co-op.”

“Is she hot?” Petra asked. Jake glared at him, but Petra just winked back.

We readied our knives; Petra’s was holstered to his shin. He had this Euro-cowboy look going: tight, metrosexual pants; black boots. His clothes alone almost made me want to kill him.

28 Apr

Missed Opportunities (part 7)

I was limping when I walked through the front door of my apartment. Maggie was on the couch, crocheting an afghan for a friend of ours who was pregnant. She noticed immediately. “What happened?”

I plopped down next to her, relieved to be off my feet. “I met this dude who convinced me to skip class and drive with him to Mt. Hood and go sledding.”

A smile stretched across her face. “Nice one. And you collided with a tree?”

“More or less.”

She had her glasses on, and she was wearing a winter hat with her hair down. She was so cute, sitting there wrapped in a blanket. “Hard day at class?”

“Hard day at life,” I wanted to say. My right leg hurt, I had a massive headache, and I was facing the promise of an unpleasant fight for my life tomorrow. What did I care about class? “What’s for dinner?”

“Not Dogs.” Maggie had recently decided to go vegetarian, and she was slowly taking me with her. It occurred to me this could be my last meal. “You were gonna pick them up, remember?”

Shit.

There’s this co-op near our apartment that sells all things organic and natural. How Not Dogs are considered natural is beyond me, but at least the name is accurate. They’re definitely not meat. They’re disgusting is what they are.

I truly understand the whole vegetarian impulse – the reluctance to eat something that was once sentient. Maggie has some good arguments. “If you’re not willing to eat a cat or a dog, then why are you willing to eat a pig?” she says.

I get it. But if meat is a travesty, imitation meat is a total perversion. It’s rubbery, dry, and not-of-this-earth.

Maggie was right, though; I was supposed to pick up the Not Dogs. So I hobbled out of our apartment down to the co-op. (Harmony and Balance Co-op, to be precise. Please.) I glanced past the fake cheese, the fake breakfast sausage, and finally found the fake hot dogs. Then I took them to the fake cashier – some white guy with dreadlocks – and got the hell out.

The next perversion was waiting for me outside. It was Jake.

25 Apr

Missed Opportunities (part 6)

You don’t get used to seeing alternate versions of yourself. Ever. It’s always strange. It’s always a little jarring. It always makes you question the very fabric of reality. But you come to a certain understanding that it will happen. And you resign yourself to it like people resign themselves to living in an apartment that faces a brick wall or to needing to work 60 hours a week to support a family or to never having gone to college. It’s the flip side of the American dream, which is just as much about what we’ll put up with as it is about what we’re seeking.

But there are limits. When I heard Jake say, “Are you all right?” my brain short circuited. There he was, still in the driver’s seat, fighting with his airbag. Hadn’t I just seen him outside? I gaped at the stranger in the seat next to me for what felt like half a minute. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think.

And then he said, “Dude. I must be going nuts. I swear I just saw you running through that guy’s yard over there.”

It took a good five seconds for me to understand him. And though I thought, “Yeah, me too,” I couldn’t utter the words. Of course, the car accident may have had something to do with my vertigo. I don’t know. The whole thing was pretty dizzying.

I felt Jake’s hand on my forehead. “Whoa!” he said. “You don’t look so good.” He opened his door and told me to crawl across the seats to him.

I think the movement did me good, got the blood flowing back to my brain or something. Once outside, I could at least speak again – enough to point out to Jake that the convertible had no driver.

“Holy shit,” he said. “I think we just got in an accident with a third.”

“What’s a third?”

“A third!” he said. “Another one of us!”

“That can happen?”

“Well, I didn’t think it could, but . . .”

I stumbled a little and Jake caught me. He guided me over to a curb and told me to put my head between my knees. It helped.

The clearer the world became, the more I began to understand how screwed we were. The prospect of Maggie finding out that my “twin brother” and I got in a car accident – well, let’s just say, it would have been awkward.

But then it dawned on me that I could leave. I could simply walk away. “Listen, I don’t want to wait around for the police to get here and discover that we don’t have the same last name and . . .”

“Hey, I understand,” Jake interrupted. “In fact, fuck it. I’m leaving too.” He stood up and offered me his hand.

We didn’t look back; we just left.

23 Apr

Missed Opportunities (part 5)

So I decided to purge myself. “Jake, I gotta tell you something. Back at your apartment, Julie asked if I was gonna sneak another kiss on her. I’m assuming Colin snuck the first one.”

“Really. She told you that?” He bit his lower lip.

“Sorry, man. I know how unnerving that can be.” I remembered how much I’d hated Eric Two once I realized he’d met Maggie. It was invasion of privacy at its worst.

Jake was silent for a long time. I half-expected him to knife me right there in the car. But when he finally spoke, he sounded casual, friendly. “Well, at least it wasn’t more than a kiss.”

Impressive optimism, if you ask me. I mean, we’re all insecure enough when it comes to relationships. But Jake and I had the added complication of Random Identical Guy showing up to steal the girl.

He patted my shoulder. “You’re a good guy, you know that?”

I had a sudden urge to hug him. No one really understands you like these guys do.

“You got a good knife?” he said.

So much for sentimentality. I managed an “um.”

“Look in the glove compartment. There should be a few switchblades. Pick one.”

I chuckled, but, actually, I didn’t have a good knife. So I opened the glovebox and perused the ones he had.

“Listen,” he said, his tone serious, “if you win, I need you to do something for me. I need you to go to Jules and tell her I’m breaking up with her but that I’m too much of an asshole to tell her face to face. I think it will hurt her less.” He stopped abruptly and turned away. After a brief moment, he added, “You got a girlfriend? I’ll do the same for you.”

Now I turned away. “Sure. I can do that,” I told him. But before I could say anything more, I witnessed a red convertible run a stop light and come careening directly at the passenger side of our car. As the front bumper made contact with my door, I had just enough time to marvel at the irony of Jake and I dying together before the airbag turned my world white.

They look fun – airbags – but they’re not. They’re like getting punched in the face by a fat man’s ass. And there’s this acrid taste that you notice once you get over the momentary sensation of suffocating you feel while wrestling with the deflating bag. When I got the damned thing off of me, I glanced out the window at the crumpled hood of the convertible, which was spewing steam or smoke into the air. I looked for the driver, but no one was there. Beyond the car, a limping figure caught my attention. It was Jake, fleeing the scene, running down the sidewalk.

21 Apr

Missed Opportunities (part 4)

Julie sat on the couch. “So how you been?”

Time to bullshit. “Not bad. I was just up in Seattle last week.”

I expected a follow-up question. You know, something like, “Oh, what were you doing in Seattle?” I was even working on a story about how this guy that Jake and I knew from high school was at U-Dub.

But then she hit me with this: “You gonna try to sneak another kiss from me?”

I had no story for that.

She walked toward me, a mischievous smile on her face. “I know it was you,” she said. And then she moved closer – close enough that I could feel her hot breath on my ear lobe. “You ever do that again and I’ll cut your balls off.” As she disappeared into the back bedroom I was caught somewhere between arousal and shitting my pants.

Part of me wanted to follow her. The other part of me was relieved when Jake came through the front door. “Ready?” he said.

“Yeah.”

“Jules, we’re leaving.”

“Okay,” she shouted. “Have fun!”

In the car, Jake pulled out his wallet. “I’m gonna speed,” he said, extracting a driver’s license in the name of one Colin Williams. I considered telling him what Julie told me, but before I could open my mouth, he started up the car and spoke. “So. My mom.”

That changed the mood a little. I offered condolences, which always feel phony to me.

“I was seven, so it was a long time ago.” He put the car in drive. “Not that it didn’t fuck me up.”

I ventured further. “How did she die?”

“Breast cancer. She was 37.”

Maggie lost her mom to cancer soon after we started dating. It’s a shitty way to go – lots of waiting around only to find out your most recent source of hope has evaporated. And then the doctors come in and tell you there’s a chance that this other thing might work. But then it doesn’t work.

I’d much rather get stabbed in the neck in an alley fight.

I remember going to the hospital with Maggie once or twice. Her mom’s room was decked out in the requisite flowers and balloons, marking exaggerated celebrations of small victories. I must have spent a lot of time staring at the walls and ceiling “Ëścause I remember this spring-themed strip of wallpaper running along the top of all four walls. It was full of songbirds dispersed amongst foliage and flowering branches. And since it was a repeating pattern (apparently installed by someone who didn’t appreciate continuity), every once in a while you’d see half a bird, its body sliced off with the precision of a utility knife.

When I pointed it out to Maggie, she just smiled and said she loved me. Her mom was dying. An angry outburst would have been justified. In fact, she had every right to lambast me for my insensitivity, to tell me she didn’t care about my quasi-neurotic distaste for asymmetry at the moment.

I tell you, for all my lusting after limber young women like Julie, there was really no beating Maggie. College was draining every last bit of my funds, and with my reduced hours of work, she was pretty much paying our rent. Meanwhile, here I was rewarding her sacrifice with a joyride I’d have to keep a secret.

And I was still kind of picturing Julie naked.