By Mr. Fish
She looked Mediterranean or something, and I wanted to get close enough to see if she had a mustache.
Not just any mustache, but the original never-been-shaved-or-bleached-before mustache. I’d always figured that by finding a girl with her original mustache that I’d be finding some re-creation of the original woman, like meeting Eve, although probably a lot more enriching than that. Especially since, according to the fossil record, when Eve wasn’t basking in the magnificence of God’s Creation she was probably eating bugs out of old logs with a stick. Even so, finding a girl with a mustache would be finding a girl more likely to make the sort of bad decisions that favored the ruddier and more salacious pleasures of life, like nose-picking and peeing at the side of the road. A girl with a mustache is a girl who will wipe herself with a fistful of leaves or a mitten. Or a subscription card. Or a sock. A girl with a mustache will have an insatiable sexual appetite broad and crappy and imprecise and unflattering enough to touch on real poetry, the sort that poor dancers seek out when they want to experience grace and weightlessness without begging acceptance into the dull hooray of decent society. A girl with a mustache will have a sexual appetite crummy enough to include a guy with biceps as soft as old bananas and glasses as thick as any accent attempting to speak clumsily through the handicap of having nothing remarkable to say once, let alone twice for clarification. At least that’s what I hoped.
Or how about this?
The mustache that I was looking for on a full-grown woman was the mustache that an 11-year-old boy discovers on himself, with his face four inches away from the bathroom mirror, that all of a sudden makes his whole existence seem just on the brink of becoming worthwhile. It is the same mustache that appears on the right kind of 11-year-old girl and that stops growing there, following her into womanhood unchanged and arresting, from the point of view of the full-grown man’s subconscious, that particular euphoria that he remembers from his boyhood, like a block of Lucite arresting a dead tarantula for savoring up close or a photograph arresting Mickey Mantle in mid-swing when he’s about to whack another baseball out of Yankee Stadium. A woman with a mustache reminds a man’s guts, as if, spiritually speaking, she were a taxidermist of some impossibly moving bird extinct from his soul, of all those sexual fumes that rose up off his puberty when it was being jump-started like a small gas motor for the first time and all the terrible excitement that accompanied him as he was sent puttering into the dark adventure of the rest of his life, his sword being forged beneath deck in the warm glow of a raging furnace for the future slaughter of defenseless kitties and menacing windmills and so much empty air.
Anyway, there she was.
No makeup, closely bitten fingernails, sitting cross-legged on top of an old washing machine reading a book in the corner of the basement at a party at my big brother Jeff’s fraternity house, having just sneezed a single sneeze as sloppy as an exploding frog that loosened a black curlicue of hair from her ponytail, dropping it down over her forehead; a sneeze that immediately made me want to change my name to Kachooshitppzzzz! just so I had an excuse to walk up to her and to blame my presence on her wet lips and watery eyes and nipples that had been pulled into stiff almonds inside her Have a Nice Day T-shirt that was baby blue and bore, beneath the smiley face, the caption: I Just Fucked Your Mom. (Bless you, indeed!) With concentration lines clenched so tightly in her brow, I imagined every measure of bullshit having to gnaw its own legs off to escape being skinned alive and devoured by her contemplation; her breasts, I imagined, judging from how they moved my insides like some sort of radiation, attracting much more chauvinistic bullshit than was probably good for her contemplation’s diet, as if she were forever cupping her ears and trying to listen to the words of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech through a rowdy sea of heehawing Klansmen and snarling German shepherds.
Yes, there was something decidedly smart about both her stunning plainness and bold isolation, like her existence was a statement of fact rather than the vague assemblage of other people’s opinions that defined the rest of us and made us all seem slightly out of focus to each other most of the time. Sure, I wanted to dip my boner unprotected into her and discover its tiny lips sealed up two hours later as if it’d kissed a lollipop, but I’d had that same exact thought a thousand times a day about a thousand different girls, all ages, all colors, all sizes—occasionally, even different sexes. It was the rare circumstance, however, when I saw a girl whose opinion about my ejaculation I imagined valuing, or at least considering in conjunction with her ejaculation, figuring that she had a clitoris that, instead of attacking with all the cloddish enthusiasm that one typically reserved for the scratching off of a lottery ticket, was most definitely worthy of some sensual caressing and kissing and tasting; the couplet at the end of a sonnet, all at once moving and insightful and memorable for private and repeated recitation.
But after four and a half hours on two very slow-moving trains from my college campus in New Brunswick, N.J., to my big brother Jeff’s fraternity house at his college campus in Philadelphia, I needed to take a piss, like needing to set down a heavy suitcase full of old books.
So, with my crotch screaming like a teakettle and the sudden realization that pissing might allow me greater focus on exactly what I might like to say to this girl, this Eve, something to make her want to see me with my pants off and my glasses on—assuming that after pissing I would somehow be able to muster up the courage to cold-sell my nuts and personality to her, in that order—I scanned the crowd quickly for my brother’s cacophonous brown hairdo, his head always immediately recognizable in a crowd as if it had been scribbled into reality by a vandal, and, not seeing it, turned and excused myself up three flights of busy stairs to his bedroom, where I found him trying to wave marijuana smoke out of the air with an empty pizza box, pizza bones strewn at his feet like he’d just devoured a small monkey.
“Hey, jackass,” I said, throwing my backpack down onto a chair and walking into his bathroom, trying not to spill my bladder.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he said, like somebody suddenly finding a dead cricket in the pocket of an old raincoat.
“Hang on for a second,” I said, flipping on the bathroom light and lifting up the toilet seat with my shoe and pulling down my zipper to have the bowl, as brown as a steam shovel, yowl up at me with a bright stench like mayonnaise, airplane glue and possum, its rim covered with enough pubic hair to appear mammalian.
“Is everything all right?” said my brother.
“Give me a second,” I said, contemplating the diarrhea and vomit scabs splattered across the porcelain above the water like an exploded guinea pig that had been gorged on overcooked asparagus spears and raw oysters. I felt as if I were standing over a vivisected cat with a pitcher full of oily chicken broth wondering if what I was about to do would be doubling disgust or diluting it. “Huh?” I finally said.
“Dude, what are you doing here?” he said.
“I gotta take a piss,” I said, reminding myself.
“You rode 200 miles to take a piss?” he said, tossing the pizza box toward a wastepaper basket overflowing with empty beer cans and crumpled candy bar wrappers and cellophane from miniature doughnuts, corn chips and hardcore porno magazines. “That makes a shitload of no sense,” he said. “You got off early for Thanksgiving or something?”
“No,” I said, pushing the door closed with my foot. “I dropped out.”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” he said, pushing the door open with his hand. “You did what?”
“I dropped out!” I said, pushing the door closed again with my foot. “I’m joining the Gay Movement.”
“You’re doing—what?” he asked, opening the door again with his hand.
“Fuck art school,” I said, “I’m through; it’s all bullshit. I’m joining the Gay Movement. There’s a rally in Washington tomorrow and I’m going to be there. Now,” I said, turning to remove the mascot of the movement that I was aligning myself with, “do you mind?”
“What gay movement? This one?” he said, doing a sloppy pirouette in dirty sneakers.
I didn’t answer him, letting loose with a piss stream that was thick and serrated enough to saw a hockey puck in half, my eyes shut in glorious praise of what Emerson once referred to as … an intelligence served by organs.
“Hang on for a second,” said my brother over the applause of my bubbles, walking across the room and closing his bedroom door to keep the controversial stench of homosexuality from rolling down the stairs like Judy Garland on Benzedrine and Rodgers and Hammerstein. “Since when did you find out that you were gay?” he asked, his question a lopsided whisper as he walked back toward me, fascistic heterosexuality Berlining through the house below us.
“I’m not gay, you prick!” I said.
“Well, what the fuck are you joining the Gay Movement for, the prestige of having people think you take it up the ass?” he said.
“Not everybody in the French Resistance was French, you know,” I said.
“Does Mom know?”
“Does Mom know what?” I said. “That not everybody in the French Resistance was French? Fuck if I know.”
“No, that you’re dropping out of school because you want to make fellatio through a handlebar mustache an amendment to the Constitution,” he said, cracking himself up and then sniffing his armpits like a baboon. “If you want, I can call her,” he said, walking over to his dresser to uncap a deodorant stick and to shove it up under his shirt, while I, tethered to his toilet bowl by my own piss stream, politely refrained from socking him in the mouth.
“Why would you call her?” I said.
“It might be less traumatic if I told her your gay news instead of you.”
“I’m not gay!” I said, turning and closing the door with my hand hard enough to send a herd of tiny curlicues of hair like little black tumbleweeds across the bathroom floor. “Forget I said anything,” I hollered.
“And just so I don’t embarrass myself by using the wrong terminology or whatever,” said his voice through the door, “when I’m talking to her, do you prefer the term cock chomper or heiney pirate?” He laughed.
“Fuck you!” I said, my piss stream finally beginning to cool.
“Now where’s that key?” he said to himself.
“Not only am I not gay,” I said, “there’s a girl in the basement that I wonder if you know.”
“A girl?” he said.
“She looks Spanish or something, tits like a loud noise, fucking unbelievable. She was reading a book—”
“Polish,” he interrupted.
“Polish?” I said. “You know her?”
“Yeah,” he said, “his name is Manny Ron Ron Racowski, he’s always got a book in his hands; of course it’s usually upside down. Did he have a harelip and nostrils like a bowling ball?”
“I’m not gay!” I said again, my piss stream collapsing into a sloppy chain of falling links.
“He’d be perfect for you, by the way, if you can stand the stuttering. He’s only got one nut.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” I said.
“Fewer calories. He’s like the Jenny Craig of oral sex. His nickname is Tab.”
“Listen, you fucking douchebag! I’m joining the Gay Movement because it’s a civil rights movement!” I said. “Think of me as a white Joan Baez in 1963 wanting to march with a black Martin Luther King.” I shook my pecker like shaking the flame off a match.
“If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll think of you as Joan Baez. That’s not gay.”
“You know what I fucking mean!”
“Here it is,” said my brother.
“Here what is?” I said.
“It’s almost 6 o’clock so she’s probably started boozing already,” he said.
“Who?” I said.
“Maybe she’ll feel less like an alcoholic if I give her some reason to keep drinking—you know, some reason other than having no reason to stop,” he said.
“Look, I asked you to wait on that,” I said, repacking myself and pulling up my zipper. He didn’t answer me. “Jeff?” I said, raising my foot and setting it against the flusher. “Jeff?”
Flushing the toilet into a gruesome foam, the water gnawing loudly on diarrhea and vomit scabs like walnuts, I opened the bathroom door just in time to see my dickhead brother stepping into the hallway and closing the bedroom door behind himself. “Hey!” I said. There was then the sound of a key fumbling into a keyhole followed by the clicking closed of a deadbolt, the sound not unlike the sound of a pinball in a pinball machine clattering into a chute for launching. “Hey, wait a minute!” I said, having seen that key before, a key forged a hundred years ago to protect the polite Dutch opulence prized by the wealthy Pennsylvanians who built the house only to become, decades later, a key as tarnished and full of horny witchcraft as the winning side of a snapped wishbone that had been yanked from a choked chicken and used to trap more fellatio and clumsy ejaculation in this attic room than there were wishless Coca-Cola bottle caps in the Fontana di Trevi. “Hey!” I said, running across the room and throwing myself up against the door.
“Hey!” I said again, twisting the doorknob hard in neither direction, its immovability as fixed as a tooth. “JEFF!” Stepping back, I punched the wood. “I like girls!” I said, sounding just like one.
I then imagined with a hope so extreme as to become a prayer the following scene:
My mother, Mae Bea Blithe, is sitting at her dining room table in the small beach town of Manahawkin, N.J., her classic 1950s prom-queen features swollen and exaggerated by four decades of alcohol and Shake ’n Bake recipes into that of an over-Othelloed William Shatner. The time is exactly two minutes from my imagination and my mother sips vodka from a 17-year-old Battlestar Galactica glass cloudy with scratches and blinks slowly. The phone begins ringing and she reaches into the fruit bowl in front of her and picks up a banana. “Hello?” she says, speaking into it. The phone continues to ring. She reaches for another banana. “Hello?” she says. The phone continues to ring, the number of rings dependent upon the number of bananas in the bowl. Eventually, she feels hungry and reaches for the telephone.
“Mom?” my brother says when he hears the receiver being turned around and around in my mother’s hands while she looks for a way to peel it. “Mom!” he says again. My mother looks hard at the telephone receiver and narrows her eyes.
“Yes, Mr. Banana?” she says.
“Mom! Put the phone against your head!” screams my brother. “It’s Jeff!”
“Death?” says my mother.
“Wait a minute, I fell asleep the other night watching a movie with you in it—it was foreign and you were on the beach.”
“No,” says my brother, “I said Jeff, not death!”
“Well, I’m not ready to go.”
“Mom! I can’t hear you! Talk into the phone!”
“There’s still so much I want to do, like going back in time and starting all over again as somebody else.”
“Hey, I know—didn’t you play chess with that guy in the movie?”
“Are you talking to me? Is there somebody there with you?”
“Wait a minute, I don’t have a chessboard. How about Parcheesi?”
“Mom! Dwayne’s gay! He’s going to march in a parade! Without an instrument!”
“Four of us can play. I’ll go knock on Mrs. Murphy’s door across the street. She and her son can play.”
“You’ll like him. He wears a wig with a chinstrap and he never stops hiccupping.”
Just then, the alarm on my mother’s wristwatch begins chirping. It is an alarm set years earlier by the watch’s previous owner, my grandmother, as a reminder for her to inject insulin into The Magnificent Stacey, an 80-year-old parrot with cloudy eyes and BO who was being kept alive for the mere sport of it. “Oh,” says my mother over the chirping, “that’s the door. Excuse me.” She sets the phone down onto the counter and stands, pressing the creases from her clothes and smoothing her hair.
“Mohmmm!” shouts my brother into the Formica.
My mother walks across the dining room as if she were walking across the deck of a ship trying to keep itself upright in the North Sea, her watch still chirping. “Coming, coming,” she says, stopping in front of a narrow cabinet in the kitchen and opening it, releasing an ironing board attached to the inside wall which falls and smashes her on the head, collapsing her like a pyramid of cantaloupes onto the kitchen floor.
“Hello?” says Mr. Banana.
Just then, startled awake from my daydream by a sudden miniature explosion of motion at my feet, I looked down to see a tiny white piglet wearing a black brassiere burst through a trucker’s mud flap that had been crudely nailed over an 11-inch square cut into the bottom portion of the door. It was Eddy, the house mascot, although I doubted that it was his brassiere that he was wearing because it needed to be crisscrossed several times over his slim shoulders to avoid dragging on the floor. Our eyes met and, just as quickly as he’d appeared, he scrambled back out through the hole, his feet spinning like a cartoon character’s, his hoofs like itty-bitty high-heeled shoes with all the traction of plastic knitting needles. Kneeling down and lifting the mud flap, I caught a glimpse of Eddy’s apple-sized rump rocketing down the stairs, his unbridled mania for nothing in particular sending something like real excitement through my whole skeleton. Doing my best to size up the opening in comparison with what I imagined my shoulders capable of compressing to, I tore off the rubber flap and tossed it into a corner of the room and sighed, getting down on all fours.
Would this, I wondered, be a long and painful birth that I would eventually forget about as the richness of my new life as a college dropout flourished so remarkably that it would lift me high above my previous traumas? Or would I discover, much to my own sorrow many years down the road, that instead I’d struggled this cold November night to force myself, uninvited, through the furious sphincter of a fate that should’ve never been mine? Was I preparing to live the rest of my life inside the bowels of a world hellbent on trying to shit me back out, feet first, into the past where me and my ridiculous misreading of everything and everybody belonged, or was I doomed to suffer the much more gruesome fate of just being a normal kid trying to squeeze his gargantuan normalness through a tiny door?