He’s got this spiky blond hair, sort of messy. And his jeans always have holes in them. You can tell he’s brilliant, just by looking at him, at his expressions. He is everywhere you are, just another person in town, but another person in town in the same places at the same times as you for whatever reason.
You don’t know his name, but you feel like you should. He’s familiar to you, and why? There’s no reason for things like this.
You know you’ll never meet him. As it stands, he is an intriguing fixture, with a brain not to be picked or realized. He is scenery, environment. But he is the scenic route as well, and if he was cosmically chosen to haunt your lunchtimes and the shows you go to, then that’s completely fine with you.
You are downtown, driving, parking. You’re terrified of parallel parking and you will circle the block fifteen times until you can attempt it without holding up traffic. You pass up three perfectly good parking spots because of this and then realize it was all by default. There was no one behind you that whole time. But now you have to make the block. You get back onto Franklin Street, pass up that first good spot for no good reason, and spend twenty-two minutes backing into a space.
You exit the vehicle. You are fumbling for quarters, locking the door, and you glance up to see. . .
. .him. . .
. . .the Mystery Boy. Your fucking heart drops and shatters on the pavement. Soul Meets Body is thundering in your head, and you become annoyed at the whininess of Death Cab. A nickel falls to the ground, and you somehow have the coherency to leave it there because meters don’t take nickels and then you wonder why you’re even thinking about loose change at a time like this. It’s not as though you can talk to him. And then:
You look up and there is the girl you met at the Centromatic show. The one who, when you sat next to her, launched immediately into a story about how she spilled her life story guts onto this random broad in the bathroom of some random bar, and the Centromatic girl is freaking out because “Oh my god, I didn’t even KNOW this woman!!!” And you’re thinking, “You don’t even know me.” And you laugh. The girl’s name is Mary, and she is hysterical, and when you say “hysterical,” you actually mean both “funny” and “a maniac.”
But anyway, there she is, calling your name in broad daylight, and with her is your Mystery Boy, and this is too much to handle. Mary introduces you to Him, tells you to swing by the Cave Bar for a beer. You agree, with no intention of actually showing up because you don’t want to destroy your Mystery Boy; you have drawn conclusions and built his personality for him, and should he speak, he may not fill the shoes you have tailored and created.
You think, “If you weren’t a terrible parallel parker, you never would have met up with them. If you would have just parked, you would have been long gone.” You go to the Cave.
The light outside was a dwindling brightness and the Cave inside is dark.
You do not remove your movie star sunglasses because you feel that if you can’t see people clearly, they can’t see your sub-par complexion, your ill-concealed awkwardness, your bumbling posture. It’s like when your dog shit on the carpet and then stuck her face in between two pillows as though if she couldn’t see you, you couldn’t see her either, and she would not be reprimanded. You look like a complete tool with your enormous shades, staring into your purse, looking for nothing, forgetting how to order a beverage.
The bartender is looking at you. He speaks slowly, clearly, carefully, “WOULD. . .You LIKE A BEVerage, Mandey?” You get a High Life and you stare at it. You snap out of the funk. You turn on the clever banter and the endearing sweater removal. You tell Mary and Mystery Boy stories about back home, about your favorite movies, about whatever, ever, anything to keep them there. Your mind is a holding cell for contradictory social responses. Mystery Boy is definitely clever, and undeniably antsy. He wants to leave, and you can’t blame him. You’re too frenetic, too wound up, too greasy from eight hours of work. His name is Joey Battles, and he is leaving the bar to go have dinner next door at Fuse. You are feeling a mixture of utter relief and profound disappointment.
You chug the rest of your beer and follow him with waiting for an invitation. You spend two hours sitting outside, two tables away from him, smoking way more than you usually do, thinking about how it’s funny that when a guy and a girl break up, the girl is automatically crazy. Ask a guy what happened with his ex, and he’ll undoubtedly reply, “Oh man. She was fucking craaazy. Woooh!”
There is a sprig of mint as garnish next to the pie you don’t remember ordering, and you pop it into your mouth, swallow it, and then ask everyone at the next table if it’s safe to eat the plants that decorate your food. No one’s sure why you’re asking, because you’ve already eaten it, and you decide that if you are fated to be dead within the hour, then so be it. At least you had the greatest culinary sendoff imaginable, because Fuse handmakes all their pies.
The crowd dwindles, and you look up to find that Joey Battles has made his way over to you, and you are talking, but not really connecting, about music. You decide to leave the vague emo bands behind you. You will ask him his favorite band. Your favorite band is Tool, which makes people cringe because that’s like saying your favorite band is the Beatles. It’s too broad. You harbor images spiked with Technicolor clarity of sitting in Jessy’s bedroom after school, having just smoked a Marlboro Light under the bleachers of the playground down the street from her house. You are young, and you know you’re not supposed to be smoking, yet you really love that your uniform shirt smells gross like that. Jessy is fumbling with some CDs and asks if you have ever heard of the band Tool, and you say no. She puts it on, and Tool makes you feel like hidden cigarettes do. . .it’s a totally guilty pleasure, and they say curse words, and you know this is not something you should be hearing. You fall in love with the band, and carry them with you through all of the phases, personalities, changes, and surreptitious experimentation that come with adolescence. Tool is your favorite band because you’ve never grown out of them, and it’s okay that people roll their eyes because you feel that your thirteen years of unwavering devotion lends an acute credibility to the response.
So you ask, “What’s your VERY favorite band?”
He says, “Tool. You can go ahead and roll your eyes. You’re totally judging me right now, aren’t you?” Because when he says this, you are smirking into your hands, which are covering your face, and it looks like you are trying not to laugh. But really you are just smitten. Completely. He understands your point, exactly.
You and Joey Battles are back at the Cave now, in the exact spot you were when you were staring into your purse five hours ago. The shelf behind the bar is stocked with various questionable snack items, including chips with a logo so retro you wonder about the last time the delivery truck passed through. There is beef jerky and there is citrus flavored gum. Underneath all this is a shelf of canned goods. Soups. Bomb shelter type items. You find yourself staring at the soups, knowing you have seen them a hundred times before, yet you had never questioned their existence. Where’s the microwave? There is no can opener. Why the soups? You’re about to brush it off when Joey Battles says, “Look at all the soups. Why the soups? What is the common factor with all these soups?”
“I don’t know, they all begin with C?” you guess. Chicken Noodle, Beef Consomme, Chicken and Stars, Clam Chowder.
“No. Sodium. They all have really high sodium content.”
And he may be a mind-reader, bringing up the soups like that, there is so much junk behind the bar and yet you both chose to single out the Campbell’s. You are thinking of the Counting Crows and that one line in Anna Begins that goes, “Every time she sneezes I believe it’s love.” And you wonder if you’re reading too much into these shared thoughts, the favorite band being Tool, the soups. Does it mean anything? A coincidence? Do you believe in coincidence, or is it fate that you’re counting on?
You bring him home. He warns you that his house is shaped like a penis, and when you get there, it sure as shit is. It is a Quonset Hut. There’s a squarish area in front, and then a domed sort of hallway that sprouts the kitchen and the living room, and then a ball-sack-shaped bedroom area behind that. The overall layout is undeniably phallic. The first thing you notice is a built-in bookshelf and a very furry white rug. You are in love with this house, if nothing else. He excuses himself so he can change his clothes, and you are left with his Boy-Roommate, with whom you attempt to perfect the High-Five. Boy-Roommate’s girlfriend has the most fabulous hair you have ever seen. You become considerably self-conscious of your filthy locks, having come from work, needing a shower intensely. Joey Battles emerges from the ballsack of the penis-house, and you try not to stare at his outfit, an inside-out T-Shirt and a very short batik sarong. You realize that, while you cannot yet be in love with Joey Battles himself, you can definitely be in love with the idea of him. It is that sort of love that grows from profound endearment. But you will not do him the injustice of believing it’s love if he sneezes.
You spy a gigantic cock-a-roach climbing next to Boy-Roommate’s head. You and Girl-Roommate immediately dive under a fleece throw. “If you cannot see it, it cannot see you, you will not be reprimanded.” The boys spring into action, grabbing various weapons, and they kill and smear the cock-a-roach right onto the wall there. You and Girl-Roommate are hyperventilating, and Joey Battles and Boy-Roommate are breathing open-mouthed and prehistorically, having reclaimed their house as their own, and with their loincloths and long hair, are now going to retreat to their respective caves. You are reminded of why you love boys in general so much
The next night, you find yourself back at the Quonset Hut. Joey Battles hands you a beer and asks if you want to take a walk. There are lot of woods and gravel roads around, and even though you’re wearing a skirt and platform heels, this is not the sort of wilderness opportunity you want to pass up. For three hours, you walk through the woods with him. These are the things the two of you do:
1. You look into people’s windows, the people who are awake and watching TV at this time of night, and you come up with life stories for them. You have created: a girl who is sleeping on the couch, her boyfriend awake and spooning her, and he has been watching the DVD menu screen for quite some time. They were supposed to do it but she fell asleep and now he is disappointed and horny and doesn’t know how to excuse himself for the bathroom without waking her up. You have created: an elderly widow stricken with insurmountable insomnia, which she combats by watching television way too late, waiting for him to come back home from the dead, or to die herself. You are impressed at Joey Battles’ ability to do this sort of thing because YOU do this sort of thing and you often wonder if anyone else ever does. They do.
2. You find a parking lot with an unsettling apartment complex on its edge. There is an eerie, dilapidated truck in the corner. The front license plate says something in Spanish, and there is something proudly displayed on the front windshield in Old English lettering. A sticker on the back says Chihuahua, and there is a blanket draped over the back seat with little hearts all over it. You take several pictures of the truck, mostly because you want to make sure you’re not hallucinating it.
3. You sit at a bus stop to rest, you have no idea where you are, but Joey Battles does, and that’s enough. Trusting him to not get you lost in the woods is a great precursor to this leg of the journey, because you end up talking about relationships and trust and loyalty and people who cheat, and you say you do not cheat. You do not ask him if he has ever cheated. You do not want to know, really. Not just yet. Past the bus stop is an administrative building with a little courtyard smoking area built onto the side about fifteen feet above the ground. There is a gate surrounding the courtyard. You ask Joey Battles if he is a good climber, because it is very easy for you to imagine him scrambling up trees without incident. With barely a word he is jogging to the raised courtyard, and, of course, he seamlessly scales the brick wall, the fence, and is over and into the courtyard, raising his fists, clenched together, over his head in a sign of victory. Or was that you, being victorious for him? Who knows?
4. You settle into a gravel-covered clearing and attempt to discuss the coincidences surrounding your meeting. Only, the words come out broken, and you are terrified of sounding like a stalker weirdo. You try to assess whether he is someone who won’t care that you’re sufficiently knowledgeable in everything but an expert at nothing.
You go back to the Quonset Hut and end up on the floor with him, a cereal box, and an unabridged dictionary, and the two of you are finding words in the cereal’s ingredients that that you cannot define, and you look up each word in the dictionary. Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamin. They are all members of the elusive Vitamin B Complex. Maltodextrin is not in the dictionary. Not even the unabridged dictionary. You keep thinking about how you sit around at home looking up words in the dictionary, and you try to learn a new word every day, and if you skip a week, then the pressure’s on to learn seven all at once. And when people call you and ask what you’re doing, and you say, “Um. Reading. The um, the DICtionary,” they will undoubtedly acquire a reason to get off the phone. Who reads the dictionary? Now you know the answer. Joey Battles reads the dictionary. So as not to sound contrived, you don’t bring up the fact that reading Webster’s is a favorite pastime of yours, and you are content with the thought that now you have your own personal sarong-wearing, dictionary-reading, soup-can-noticing, wall-scaling roach smasher.
The night is over, it is 6am, and you have been sleeping next to the dictionary for five minutes. He wakes you up, he extricates you from his life for the night, you say goodbye, and you leave.
Thus begins your life after meeting Joey Battles, and you have no idea what will happen next, and you’re not sure what you did with your life before him. It is not a question that should be answered, much like his was not a brain to be picked and then realized. But he’s letting you, he’s letting you pick and realize, slowly but surely, and you have no doubt that in time, you’ll pick and realize exactly what you did before him, and you’ll decide to forget whatever it is that that was.