Jul 212008
 

My parents were in the process of having a back porch built onto our house. This was a big deal for my brother Ryan and me, because stalking one of the workers became the sole reason we got out of bed each day. I mean really, who wants to swim and lay out in the sun when you can be violating someone’s privacy?

There was no real reason why we felt so intrinsically drawn to the sweaty laborer. He wasn’t good-looking, he didn’t sport a peg-leg, he wasn’t albino. He was just your average forty-something year old porch-builder with tinted eyeglasses, a farmer’s tan and a bushy moustache. I don’t even think he ever spoke to us. I mean, would you?

We would run from window to window, snapping pictures of him. Pictures from the kitchen, pictures from our parent’s bedroom, pictures bent around tree trunks. One day, Ryan even chased his truck up the street as he departed for home after a long grueling day of hammering nails and chugging Schlitz under the shade of a maple. I often wondered if our porch-builder had a good broad with a nice plump behind to nail, maybe cook him up a nice thick stew.

I’ll never forget the day we discovered his name was Gary. We ran into the house, erupting into shrieks and giggles. Our mom’s reaction was something akin to “Yeah, so?” accompanied by an eye brow raise. She always raised the eyebrow that bore a scar from when she was a baby and rolled off her bed, banging her face off the corner of the nightstand. I still can’t believe she never made up a better story, like how she was nicked by a gypsy’s butterfly knife the time she tried to steal cantaloupes off their wagon. When I was fourteen and viciously mauled by our psycho rabbit, you better believe I went back to school with a yarn about getting stabbed during gang initiation.

After a week of wasting film on this fine craftsman, we decided these clandestine snaps weren’t providing enough of a sociopathic rush. We needed more thrill, something that provided more of an instant gratification. When you’re young, you want souvenirs for everything you do: pocketed sugar packets from a truck stop diner, pebbles from the parking lot of the first sex shack your dad made you wait outside of, bloodied gauze from your first tooth extraction.

So the next obvious step clearly was to collect Gary’s cigarette butts and beer cans.

We waited until he’d go to his truck, then sprint out in the backyard like scavengers, picking through the grass in search of a butt or two. Once we accumulated enough to satiate our pursuant appetite, we brought our treasures in the house and stowed it underneath the couch in the family room. Like chipmunks storing acorns, crack heads hording rocks.

Stalking Gary consumed so much of our summer. So much that it infiltrated the summer of my friends, as well. My best friend Christy was out of town for some sort of academic camp. I wrote her a letter and enclosed one of Gary’s cigarettes butts for her to cherish as well. I just wanted her summer to be as rich as ours had become, thanks to Gary. I wrote letters to every one of my pen pals, detailing Gary’s every action and movement. Everyone clung to the Summer of Gary with bated breath.

Unfortunately, the fun and games ended when my dad unearthed our stash of purloined memorabilia under the couch. Now, any other dad would have rightfully accused us of smoking and drinking. Luckily for us, my dad recognized the extent of our weirdness long before this incident, so he believed our tale and we escaped punishment. The downside was that he forbade us to continue our game and pitched our pirated keepsake, muttering something about how we were embarrassing him or something.

I often wonder what Gary is doing these days, and if he knew he was being stalked. Was he flattered? I asked my mom: she said probably not.

Jun 122008
 

Today, Chooch and I went to lunch with Janna and my brother Corey. We walked several blocks to Tom’s Diner, which was fine until the way back when Chooch was too tired to walk so I had to carry him in 179 degree weather and he stunk of sweat and curdled milk. Anyway, at Tom’s, he made a fist and held it out to everyone who walked past, and said, "Punch. Punch." Most people ignored him, but a fat old man wearing a big mother-whompin’ ring made a fist on his way out of the diner and shouted, "Gimme some knuckle, kid" and Chooch had this expression of "Fucking finally!" 

Chooch and I both had grilled cheese and fries, but he was more interested in stealing potato chips and pickles from Janna’s plate.

A woman came in with approximately 18 children (fine, four) and as soon as they sat down behind us, a really old should-be-fucking-dead-by-now man hobbled over with a hunched back and passed out saftey suckers to each one. "I just really love kids," he exclaimed to their mom, and then he went back to his table.

Now, this lewd display of favortism went down behind my back, so I sat there and funneled my disgusted sighs and angry scowls at Janna and Corey. "So what, Chooch doesn’t qualify? Why didn’t that elderly douche balloon give my son a fucking poison treat?" I swear to God it made me so angry that I could feel my adrenaline rushing, blood crashing like cymbals in my ears, and I wanted to approach him in the worst way. Me, approaching an octogenarian over a sucker. And then what? Cause a scene over candy that would wind up dirt-encrusted and dropped on the floor after three licks? I have a really ridiculously skewed sense of entitlement.

Mar 252008
 

When I left my job Thursday night (technically Friday morning), my gas light flickered on. I don’t pass any gas stations on the usual route I take home, so I made a right, hoping it was the correct one since I couldn’t see what I was doing. (I totally should not have been driving without some kind of seeing aid.)

I misgauged my location and while the road I chose led me to the road I wanted, it spilled me out right in front of a section that was blocked off for construction. Unable to make the left, I was forced to turn right, which brought me closer to the seedier parts of town. I’m only on this particular road in the daylight, so I was struggling to see where I was going, and wasn’t even sure if any gas stations were nearby. Through my squinting, I made out the red and yellow blur of a Shell sign, so I pulled in with relief.

Digging through my wallet, I discovered that Henry never returned my credit card (he used it to go grocery shopping, since I always have more money than him because I’m the best) so I had to use the one for our joint account. While I was fumbling to key in the PIN at the pump, an older black man shuffled through the deserted (and very, very dark) lot toward me.

"’Scuse me, miss? I ain’t mean you no harm, but I was wondering….if you could let me pump your gas for you, maybe give me a few dollars in return? I’m homeless, see — just temporarily! I don’t like to be begging so I try to do things to earn the money, see? I haven’t eaten in about two days."

He kept talking, and I was only partially listening because I was too busy scanning his person for the outline of a gun. He had his hands where I could see them, and we locked eyes for a few seconds. Something told me not to be scared.

"I can’t see," I said stupidly, as the credit card terminal on the gas pump was beeping to alert the entire area that I was too retarded to enter my PIN properly.

"You ain’t pushing the button hard enough," the man said, pressing down hard on the "enter" button with the pad of one bony finger, turning his flesh white around the nail. It accepted my PIN this time and he looked at me, waiting for my answer.

I sighed and handed him the nozzle. "I don’t have cash on me," I started, but I felt the tiniest pang of guilt watching him stand there, feeding my car full of fuel, "so let me go inside and find the ATM," I mumbled. I really kind of just wanted to go home. Now I was stuck getting gas for the car and helping a person in need: two of my least favorite things.

The gas station doors were locked because it’s situated so close to the heart of the ghetto. I walked up to the window, where a large and very angry-looking black man was seated behind a sign that instructed: Cash Transactions Only. Below it was a bank teller-type drawer. It reminded me of the  time Janna had to make an after-hours bread transaction through the steel drawer of another poorly-located gas station because I was majorly drunk and needed spongey carbs to soak up the stomach acid.

I pressed my face close to the speaker embedded in the bullet-proof window and begged to be allowed inside to use the ATM. The clerk gave me an annoyed glance and then shook his head disinterestedly. "If I buy something, can I have cash back?" I asked, thinking that I could use this as a really legitimate excuse to buy a pack of Camels. Possibly two. I was aware of the slight whine in my voice.

In a perfect world, he’d have jumped up, clapped heartily, and squealed, "Why sure, little white girl in the faux-fur collar! Come right on in! You own the world!" Instead, he didn’t even bother to look at me this time, giving me a second head shake, slow and deliberate.

I sighed haughtily and stomped back to the car.

"I stopped when it got to $10, just like you said, ma’am!" The homeless man was standing with his hands stuffed into his pockets, shoulders hunched against the wind. He looked like he wanted praise.

"Look, I’m sorry but the store is locked for the night so I can’t get any cash." We stood facing each other awkwardly, and I watched as his face fell. I deliberated for a second before sighing and asking, "What’s your name?"

He stood up straight and introduced himself as Mel. He whipped out his thin wallet and flipped it open, exposing his ID to corroborate his story.

"Mel, get in the car. I’ll drive you to Ritter’s, there’s an ATM there." Ritter’s is a diner a few blocks away, in a safer, more populated, area of town. They have good fried green tomatoes. I mean, as good as you’re going to get this far north.

Mel took my hand, asked my name, and thanked me. A brief flash of being filleted with Mel’s blood-crusted switchblade whirred past my eyes, but I shook it off.

I know, REALLY BAD IDEA. What person in their right mind lets a pseudo-homeless man in the hood, late at night, get in their car? Not that I’m in my right mind, but even I should have known better, and I guess I did, but there was something telling me it was okay. A vibe or something, I don’t fucking know. My paranoia works in mysterious circles: It’s broad daylight in a park full of laughing children, shiny balloons and Jesus feeding ducks and I’m cowering behind a bench, anticipating a drive-by. Midnight in the ‘hood with a strange homeless man in my car and I’m fine, thinking about grilled cheese sandwiches with pickles on the side, just fine.

Mel acted as my eyes on the short trip down to Ritters. "Oh Miss Erin, watch that car parked on the side of the road," he’d warn. "No, it’s this next block up here, Miss Erin," he’d correct. Mel was probably more intimidated of me and my (lack of) eye sight than I was of having a strange man in my passenger seat. Interspersed between Mel’s driving instructions, I learned that he has a bullet lodged in his head and one in his back, and that he lost his mother and two sisters a year ago. He has three kids: the oldest is twenty-three and the youngest is seven.

Inside Ritter’s, I used Henry’s credit card once again to withdraw money. I stood there at the front of the restaurant, holding the bill in my hand, contemplating asking the cashier to break it into smaller bills for me. "No, it’s Easter," I said to myself. I took the money outside and stuffed it in Mel’s hand.

"Oh Miss Erin," he whispered and shook his head. He started to say it was too much but I pushed his hand back into his side.

"It’s OK. You need to eat. It’s only money." I was shocking myself. I started to wonder where this uncharacteristic charity act was coming from.

We stood around under the front light of Ritter’s for a few more minutes, talking about our kids and life and suddenly I wasn’t in such of a big hurry to get home.

Because I knew I’d have a lot of ‘splaining to do.

Mel asked me  to keep him in mind if I needed yard work done or my basement cleaned (I later announced excitedly to Janna that I was going to buy him) and then he let me take his picture in the dim light. After I allowed to give me a bear hug, I continued on my way home.

It was a drive full of nervousness and trepidation.

All the lights were on when I got home and Henry was dressed for work (he usually leaves a little after I get home, around 1AM or so). I always come straight home from work, so I’m sure he thought I was sucking dudes off in an alleyway.

It probably didn’t help that I was vomiting nervous giggles all up in his grill as soon as I walked through the door.

"What did you do?" he asked, the underneath of his eyes creased with concern.

I rummaged through my purse, keeping my face hidden behind a wall of hair. "Henry, don’t be mad," I urged through taut laughter. "I’m just going to write you out a check—-"

"WHAT DID YOU DO?" he asked again, sounding quite alarmed.

I couldn’t stop laughing. I tried to stall as long as I could, but he eventually made me cry uncle, just with his eyes alone.

So I told him the story. He sighed a lot throughout my tale. Sometimes he closed his eyes to keep the fear from showing. Occasionally he shook his head in horror.  "And so what it all means is, I’m a good samaritan," I finished.

"No, you’re a fucking idiot. Why would you let some homeless guy in the car? AT NIGHT? AND IN THAT AREA?" He grabbed the check off me and shoved it in his pocket.

"So…you’re not mad that I gave him money?" I asked slowly, confused yet relieved.

"No. Just don’t let strangers get in the car. You know better."

Do I? It was a real good father-daughter talk. If only we had been sitting atop a Laura Ashley comforter and I was hugging a teddy bear, it could have been a great public service announcement.

"But you have to admit I was doing really good. I haven’t done something this stupid in a very long time," I said.

He was still mumbling about me being an idiot as he walked out the door for work. It could have been worse. I mean, I could have brought Mel home with me.

[Ed.Note: I know I’m a stupid asshole and highly reckless. You don’t need to tell me. I will try not to do it again.]

Jan 052008
 

My friend Lisa is home on winter break, so we did the lunch/hang out thing yesterday. She’s one of the few people from high school worth staying in touch with: she’s not a twat, she’s not fake, and I don’t have to worry about her leaking any behind-closed-doors aspects of my life: a rare trait to find in a person these days. (Am I right, Keri? Dumb cunt.)

Lisa moved to Colorado last year for school, and since I haven’t seen her since she last visited in July, I let her decide which restaurant would be the lucky establishment to have us as diners.  She chose Aladdin’s, where she requested a second basket of pita and proceeded to waste it, but nothing was spilled this time, not even a tiny dribble of olive oil. I was proud of her; she must be drinking less.

After sitting through a meal and hearing things like, “You’re still so weird,” and “There’s always something crazy going on in your life” (and by crazy, I think she met dramatic), we crossed the street for some biscotti, which was sold to us by a very brusque and impersonal shop owner. Lisa bought a giant chocolate cookie and was pleased when he slid a warm and fresh one off a tray straight from the oven, but when we got back to my house, she theorized that he was really only choosing the most deformed cookie in the shop — it was pretty malformed and pathetic-looking. But tasty, I’ll give it that. The shop was supposedly voted one of the top ten bakeries in America, but I found the biscotti to be so-so. (Of course, I didn’t check to see the source of this high accolade, so for all I know, it could have been some fat kid updating a 5-visitors-a-week blog from a dank basement in Idaho, on which completely reverent articles about Twinkie recipes and World of Warcraft are meticulously scribed.)

I gave Chooch a piece of a chocolate biscotti, and he only needed to see my dunking mine in coffee once before he elbowed his way to my lap and ravagingly tried to dunk his own. A caffeinated Chooch is all we need, so Henry took the lid of Chooch’s sippy cup and let him dunk it in chocolate milk. Chooch made it down to the last bite before turning his face and making a disgusted “no more” sound in his throat, so Henry popped the chocolate milk-saturated piece into his own mouth and I promptly dry-heaved.

“Chooch dipped that in his milk!” I cried.

“Yeah, so?” Henry answered defiantly.

“You just ate his floaters!!”

Lisa laughed and Henry explained to her that I’m essentially a horrible mother and we all laughed and then took pictures and Nicotina bit Lisa and then Lisa peed while I put my make up on for work and we hugged goodbye in my bathroom — an appropriate place to end a day with Lisa.

She goes back to Colorado on Monday and I won’t see her for at least six months. That’s three friends I had to say goodbye to in one week, the kind of trauma that might make a weaker-willed person hang themselves. Just sayin’.

Then I went to work and my boss told me my hair looked like crap.

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