The task, heroic; the hero, me
So I go to a party some white girl is throwing for herself. Looking around at the celebrants, I think Leonard Jeffries cannot be all wrong. She asks me, “Have you met anyone interesting?” I say, “You mean ever? I know you don’t mean tonight.”
But because the proper study of mankind is heartless bitches, I wade into this Whitey Biennial in search of god, love, and guns, just like my blogless gonzo forebears.
The party has as its setting a bar other than the one I am used to, and I feel out of sorts. Why should I be wasting time in this bar when I could be happily at home, wasting time in my bar? But although the situation is alien, the results can be the same: drunkenness in public. I order some drinks, talk to some fellow inmates.
Resting from the battleground, I talk a bit to my friend Oliver, the world’s most sensitive straight man. He tells me about a job that’s just come into his PR company, to develop a program for a non-profit branch of the U.S. Army, in which 1% of all proceeds will be donated to peace.
Next thing I know, I lock eyes with Kerry across a crowded musical number. She rushes over to me as if she wants to talk to me ever. She has chubbed out a little for the winter, and it works; those tits would be so nice to come home to, by the fire. It turns out she’s there at a different party being held in the same bar. How’s that for an embarrassing scheduling conflict? Kerry and I weren’t due to run into each other again until 2005 at the earliest. So as Oliver wanders off to turn unsuspecting women into warm puddles of adoration, Kerry and I “catch up” on the very meager, stringy, and unnourishing pieces of news since September.
But what she most wants to do is whine, and your chronicler lets her. She’s whining about her roommate, a woman I had not met or previously heard of. She’s sick of her roommate, whose crime seems to be that she is inferior to Kerry, not only in Kerry’s estimation but that of all of Kerry’s friends.
“She’s such a social liability,” Kerry growls. “She’s shy. No one likes her at all, but I always have to take her to these parties because of course she knows I’m going. But no one wants to talk to her. She just stands around.”
“Well, that’s unfortunate,” I say.
“But the worst part is — she gets so much out of it! I mean, she gets more out of these parties than she contributes!”
Say what? Now she’s lost me. What the heck kind of vindictiveness is that? I mean, okay, the lady is boring, but now you’re upset that she’s boring and not miserable?
While I’m trying to figure out a reply for this, one of Kerry’s friends joins us, a woman I have never met. Kerry introduces her to me as Erica, the very roommate! And then, of course, escapes.
So I chat with the hated roommate. Here is what I discover, not necessarily in order: she is tall, charming, bright, sincere, blonde, athletic, well-traveled, and has a big rack. Normally at least some of those things would be enough to make her popular. But it really seems true that no one likes her, and, based on her sad sack aura, she knows it. She even launches into this subject, telling me that she is not “memorable,” and is always being introduced to people who talked to her before and don’t know it. As I went around with her at the party, this was borne out.
It was becoming a very disturbing mystery. How had Kerry and the forces of evil convinced an entire planet that this very acceptable girl was worthless? Including the girl herself? Okay, so she’s a little dorky, but that just keeps her human. I remember something like this in William Goldman’s first novel, where there was a girl with big tits who had no friends. I think I’m here on Earth to make sure that never happens again.
Erica, you will be rescued. Just hold on a little longer.
The brains I got will stuff your bust out
(Apologies to Mr. Robert Johnson.)
The question, as always, is what are other people for? Or, just as perplexingly, what good am I to them?
The answer, as always, is that we are each other’s fictions. We admire each other only as long as we can make it all up. The onset of reality into any relationship is its death knell.
I have kept the news from you, dear diary, but for the past six weeks I have been in a “dating relationship”, which I had not done since before I knew better. This is my first post-knowing-better dating relationship. I am “dating”.
I am dating Erica.
Perhaps you will picture me sweating bullets when I tell you that Erica is a wonderful person. I am not adequately prepared for dating a wonderful person. Hanging over me is the knowledge that I will one day do something awful to her. However, she has so far proven so resilient that I know whatever I will eventually do will be the worst thing I have ever done to anyone. Her destruction will probably also be my own, or that of the world. It is a burden on our happiness.
But Erica continues on, saying she “love[s] [me]”. She is unshakable in this. Sometimes I try to talk her out of it, and she laughs, kisses me, and says, “You’re silly.” This enrages me.
In aid of her own dark motives, she is willfully ignorant about what an awful person I am. It makes me nervous. When is the judgment coming? Enough cat-and-mouse.
What does Erica see in me? As I long ago noted, nobody else likes her. I only ran into her a few times in the past year, but each time she seemed more and more pleased to see me. It soon became apparent that, if she had had a cap, it would have been set for me. Generally, I can tell when women like me, but only if I don’t like them. Desperate, distasteful women are easy to read. Whereas the sleek, surly Sphinxes I often admire are professionally incapable of a facial expression. Their self-satisfied sang-froid is a turn-on for me, but it’s an indication that they don’t really get turned on by anything. Which makes the relationships somewhat doomed.
Erica, on another hand, is probably the most acceptable woman ever to live whom I actually could figure out. It remains a mystery to me why she was on the loose. I don’t think our time together will end with my discovering her horrific secret, either. She is just too good for this world. Which makes it all the more maddening that she should pick me, the Gimlet Hamlet, as her swain. I worry about it. I really can’t enjoy the experience as I should.
The other day, as we were nestled on her sofa in her apartment that is much nicer than mine, especially because I never slept with anybody else in it, I was worrying about this. It was late after a day of doing couple things, the way couples in the street do them to your dismay. It had involved a museum and a café. She had my head in her lap and was stroking my hair absently as she one-handedly graded papers from the class she is T.A.-ing. (She is upwardly mobile.) I would not normally place my head gently in a woman’s lap any more than I would put it in the lion’s den. Erica is, by nature, soothing. I just lay there staring up at her breasts, which were soothing. I closed my eyes and tried to think about how to pose the question. It is the question humanity has always asked: why am I here?
I angled my head to try to catch her eye, somewhere behind her breasts, but without suggesting, by moving, that I wanted her to stop the soothing touching of me. I was counting on her soothing touching of me to cure me of my ills, if continued for the next forty centuries. “Erica,” I said tentatively.
“Mmmm, yes, dear,” she said, making quick marks on her page with a chewed pen. Dear.
“I don’t want to interrupt,” I hedged. She smiled down at me over her glasses and her breasts, and tousled my hair again. She put her sheaf to one side and bent down to soothe and smother. We kissed, during which I thought more about how to phrase it. I said, “I wanted to ask you something.” I thought it was wrong to ask this sort of thing perpendicular to the person you were asking it of; I didn’t want this couch to be Freudian, so I sat up. I put my arm around her in order to keep the reassuring contact and she interpreted that as an invitation to sink down to put her head in my lap. I couldn’t very well ask her in that position either. I patted her head and face for a while and then thought of a gambit that would involve rearranging ourselves: “Shall I make us a nightcap?”
“Oh, Jack, I think I’ve had enough. I have to get up early.”
I kept touching her head while she smiled at me sleepily. Her inability to be constantly doomed was always a strategic difficulty. I was used to girls who flipped out at the least sign of dissent, such as if you didn’t think Milan Kundera was the era’s most insightful sage. It was second nature to me to push their buttons. Every time you pressed Erica’s buttons a little sign would light up saying, “I Love You”. I said, “I wanted to ask you something.”
“So you said. What is it?”
“Can you sit up a minute?”
She sat up. “What’s wrong?” She took my hand. “Are you all right?”
She was squeezing my hand and I was beginning to feel unwell based only on the unnecessary drama I had built into this scene. I stuttered and looked around the room. When I looked back, I saw there were tears moving down her face.
“Why are you crying?”
“I don’t know,” she sobbed, and bowed her head in shame. “I don’t know; you won’t tell me!”
I quickly took her into my arms. “There’s no reason to cry, it’s nothing like that.”
“I’m sorry if I’ve done something wrong,” she said over my shoulder.
“You haven’t done anything wrong,” I said.
“Oh God,” she said. It hadn’t made her feel better.
But I was teaching her to be doomed. It was not even on purpose.
I said, “You know I love you,” and I kept holding her. “I just wanted to ask you something. Not about you, or about ‘us’; just about me.”
She wiped her nose on her sleeve, while she held onto me. “What do you mean.”
“I just wanted to know why you liked me,” I said. I traced some patterns on the back of her sweater, bumping back and forth across the bulge of the bra clasp.
She leaned against me in silence for a moment, then she giggled. She pulled back to look at me. Her tear-stained face was grinning. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she laughed.
“I just wonder why you like me. An answer doesn’t come immediately to mind. I know the answer to why most girls like me — they don’t.”
“Awww,” she said, and put her hand on my shoulder. “Because you’re the perfect boy,” she said. “Or you would be, if you knew it.”
“That’s corny,” I said.
“It’s true,” she said. I wasn’t sure if anything corny could be true. I was brought up to believe more in dissipated, jaded, Tallulah Bankhead sorts of truth. “Be more specific,” I suggested.
“Because you are smart,” she said, “and funny, and kind.”
“You’re putting me on. Taking the last accusation first: kind? Kind of what?”
Erica swung around to sit in my lap. “You don’t have to be afraid of being a normal person,” she said. “It’s possible to just be a normal person and be happy.”
“I dunno,” I said suspiciously.
“I’m proud of you, Jack,” she said. “I’m proud to be with you.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “All right, well, thank you. Let’s go to bed now.”
So there you have it: the only woman on Earth who doesn’t understand Jack Task is now dating him. The very thought of him is enough to make her chest swell with pride — not that it needs it.
I slept in late on Friday because I had nothing else to do. That’s more or less my explanation for everything. I called my ardent supporters at 26 Street Color Labs to tell them I’d be in Monday to get the chromes I should have gotten immediately. But it was only for a job. I had better things to worry about, like my wounded soul [sic].
Kerry had canceled our date, and it was a blow. It was a date that never should have been conceived of to begin with, and when it had been, it had given me hope. I thought maybe I had underrated Kerry, myself, and the race of man. Then she had canceled, and I realized that in fact, once again, I was right about everything. I was not going to get a piece of that.
However, she had suggested that she felt bad about the cancellation, and that we should reschedule. This could have been just cover. Or it could have been true. I had to decide which of these interpretations I would respond to. In the hungover cocoon of my bedclothes, I grasped the phone which would dial her number. I decided to give her one more chance. I would take her at face value: I would propose that we get together again the following Saturday. I was even prepared to consider, if she were not available, the Saturday after that. All without thinking less of her for it. That was how far I was willing to meet her halfway. I dialed her number.
It rang once. I reshuffled phrases in my head for use in the clear, concise message I would leave. It rang twice. I had second thoughts about allowing her such control over me after all, but then reconsidered. It rang three times, and I mentally ran through my oratory. But instead of an answering machine message, I heard, “Hello?”
I said, “Kerry?”
The voice, which didn’t sound like Kerry’s, said, “No, this is Erica.”
I said, “Oh!”
She said, “I’m Kerry’s roommate.”
I said, “I know who you are, we —”
“Oh, because a lot of Kerry’s friends, or the people she knows, they don’t know me, and —”
“This is Jack Task. We’ve met.”
She paused for a second, considering that. “Yes,” she said, “Jack. How are you?”
“Well, I’m fine, uh, actually. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m okay, I guess, thanks. Did you want me to take a message for Kerry? Or do you want to just call back and I’ll let the machine get it? She’s away for the weekend, you know.”
“Yes, I do know,” I said, and I thought about what I had wanted to say to Kerry, and about Erica sitting in her room listening to it, precisely targeted direct to the wrong ear. “Well, I guess I don’t have a message. I was just returning her call.”
“She had to leave town suddenly,” Erica said again.
“Yes, she told me,” I said.
“Meeting in San Francisco,” Erica said.
“So I understand,” I said.
“Did you two have plans?” she asked.
“I was just returning her call,” I said.
“Because if you had plans, obviously, well, I’m sorry to say she’s left town unexpectedly.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said. There was a pause while I tried to figure out what was happening.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Erica,” I said, “are you available tonight?”
“Tonight?” she said. “Friday night?”
“Yeah, tonight. It’s Friday.”
“Well,” she said, and I pictured her looking around their apartment, “actually. This particular Friday I happen to be available.”
“Because I was thinking that maybe —”
“Most Fridays I’m not available,” she said. “This Friday happens to be convenient for me because —”
“I thought that, since you’re free, we could —”
“— because this Friday I happen to have no friends at all because I’m very unpopular due to the fact that no one likes me. What did you want to do?”
“Should we get dinner?”
“I can be ready in ten minutes. What time?”
I looked at my watch. It was three in the afternoon. “How about we meet at Café Ombre? At eight o’clock?”
She said, “All right, that’s fine. I don’t know if you remember, I’m a tall blonde —”
“I remember. I look forward to seeing you, Erica.”
“Great. Okay, great. See you then.”
I went back to bed. At around six I wandered into the bathroom and reconstructed myself by chipping away everything that didn’t look like a gigolo. I had a couple of stiff ones and trudged out across town to that West Village enchanted bistro, Café Ombre, where I have never had a date that didn’t end in tragic, Lake District lovemaking. For a moment, on the M8 bus, I was struck with remorse that I was leading Erica down the garden path. I had no right to take her to dinner, especially not at a romantic spot where she was guaranteed to agree to give it up. This was between me and Kerry. Erica was an innocent. The fact that she had answered the phone should not have made her party to the conflict.
But then again, in any court of justice, the fact that she was a blonde with big tits made her fair game. I refrained from asking the driver of the M8 bus to turn back. I was soon at the café, where I spoke to Javier, a man whose job was equivalent to that of the owner but without the ownership that would entail, nor even the salary level of a manager. He seemed to be not so much a manager as the waiter elected from their number to deal with the non-waiters. He was my friend. He gave me the You Will Get Laid table, a leather booth behind some leafy plants far away from the other tables but close to the bathrooms, so your date couldn’t go hide in them with someone else without your knowing it.
Javier brought me, personally, my usual fine Russian vodka in locally available glassware. I had only taken a sip of it when Javier brought me the next course: Erica looking flushed from the cold, beaming, struggling out of her coat with his help. He gave me a broad stage wink, and took off with the coat, another prevention against your date leaving without your permission, and I rose to give Erica a proper greeting with a chaste peck on the cheek involving an unavoidable press against her chest. We sat in the booth. She looked happy so far.
“Thanks for meeting me tonight, Erica,” I said.
She beamed and said, “It’s my pleasure, Jack. I’m just happy to get out of the house for a change.”
I considered for a moment her outfit, which must have been witty when you considered its brevity. Red heels, tan skirt, and a kind of orange tube top normally worn when it is not winter and you not are a non-hooker. It struck me how sad it was that a girl whom nobody invited out wouldn’t have appropriate date clothing, but would still have hooker tube tops. (I was in a blazer, slacks, and a collarless shirt — all black. Do you approve?) Anyway, she looked pretty hot.
Javier’s assigned waitstaff professional took her cocktail order — vodka Gimlet; what does that mean? We considered the menu and I ordered a professional bottle of wine. It all went off quite well, with the leafy plant swishing importantly whenever the next course was brought or someone had to go to the bathroom. Erica and I gazed into each other’s eyes for our own separate reasons, and finally I got the check and paid it with the money that I get from working. Now we know why I bother.
At my signal her coat was returned and we stepped out into the night, standing on the street corner for one final negotiation.
“Thank you so much for the wonderful —”
“How about one more drink?” I asked.
“Well, sure, all right, where do you —”
“How about your place?”
“Sure, I have some drinks,” she said. “We can go to my place for a drink. That’s no problem!”
“Let’s do that,” I said. She smiled at me, and I felt bad, but I remembered that tube top under her honest winter coat. Wasn’t she just as much to blame as Javier?
After Erica led me into her apartment, I took her coat and left her to mix the drinks while I snooped around the place. I had never been invited back to the apartment she shared with Kerry before, and certainly not by Kerry. I left our coats on a chair and stood in the doorway of Kerry’s room, noting the too-big bed but not touching it: I’d leave that for when I saw her next. Sure, she might have had to leave town suddenly, but she’d be back, and I could resume my lifelong process of learning how to seduce her.
Erica had arranged herself on the couch, brightly waiting for me with two vodka-and-sodas in her two hands. With her hands full, her tube top was beginning to slip, and as soon as I relieved her of a glass, she pulled her top back up while sipping from the remaining drink.
“Bit chilly for December,” I said, gesturing at her cleavage with my glass.
“Oh, I like my vodka on the rocks all year round,” she explained.
“That’s good,” I said. “Drink up.” We drank up. I finished my glass but she didn’t finish hers. Otherwise I still liked her. I put the glasses on her Ikea table and kissed her goosebumpy neck. She had her hands gently on my shoulders, and, grinning, she said, “Oh, you shouldn’t.”
“Why not,” I said, without stopping. She said, “Oh, okay.”
I looked in her face and I said her name. She fluttered and said something similar to my name. I kissed her right down the cakehole and she made it known she appreciated it. We held onto each other there on the couch, crunched up in one corner, feeling important. “I’m glad you called me today,” she said, which was a pleasantly revisionist version of the story, since I had been calling her roommate. “Me too,” I said.
Erica settled in against the cushions and I handed her her drink. She smiled at me and smiled at the drink and smiled. I traced little circles on her thigh with an ice-skating finger. “You know,” I said, “you’re a good-looking woman.”
She giggled. “No, I’m not.”
I leaned back in but I didn’t take her drink. She sipped on it as I bit on her jaw. “Don’t act surprised,” I said.
“I’m not surprised, it’s just not true,” she said, in all her radiant glory. I hooked a finger into her tube top and peered inside. “Looks pretty good to me,” I said. She snorted and spilled her drink on her own clavicle. I raised up the tube top to absorb it. As I wiped her with the clothes she was wearing, I said, “Stop playing games; you know you’re turning me on.”
Her eyes were wide. “Are you serious? I am?” I nodded. She grinned. “Okay,” she said.
I pried the empty glass out of her hand, set it on the Ikea table, and kissed her seriously with hands on head and everything. Then I rolled her tube top up under her arms, which she automatically lifted so I could take it off over her head. She really was as gorgeous as I wanted her to feel. A little goofy, but nobody would know that if they were just looking at the dirty pictures that I’d have to find a chance to shoot.
With her déshabillement a project begun, I moved her aside so I could nestle in the couch’s corner instead. She flopped down on me like a drunk, horny girl will do. We kissed and murmured and felt around each other. I think I took off my jacket. I hadn’t had that much to drink, for me, but I suppose Erica was used to getting kicked out of the party long before she’d had as many as she’d had tonight. Again, was this my fault? I did like her. I wanted something to happen between us. She was the one who was drinking her drinks.
She was spending a long while feeling around my crotch and smirking up at my face. I let her do that for a while and then I said, “Why don’t you put it in your mouth?”
She snorted again and drew back her body in probable surprise, which was a graceful arch despite her drunk staccato movement, but her hand never left the goods. She looked up at me and I nodded that I approved this message. The unzip was easy, the reaching in took some shifting around on my part, and then the tentative engulfment began. You spend so much time walking around the planet sending out the telepathic signal, “Please suck my dick,” that it’s always a relief when someone finally does. As I say, it was tentative at first, with lots of glances at my face for encouragement, but I said, “Erica, I’m just so happy to be here with you,” and after a while she was just all on her own down there, self-contained, putting in a good day’s work, and without any self-consciousness at all. She had been wound up well and now she was going to run out her charge. I squeezed her shoulder with genuine affection.
Life is farce, and so are blow jobs, but I watched Erica with growing admiration. As the only blonde bombshell wallflower in existence, she was a rare specimen to be cared for. I wasn’t going to hurt her. I wanted to help her. I wanted to cherish her, as far as was reasonable. I would do whatever I could for her. Kerry, my perfect woman, to one side, there was no reason that Erica could not also be amazing. Especially since Kerry was out of town for a few days.
As my plans for the coming weekend bounced around in fuzzy bliss, I heard the door open behind me and I turned my head to see Kerry heading in with her wheeled suitcase. She looked over at the couch first, as a couch, and then looked to see I was on it, and then wheeled closer to see that Erica was on it too. At this point, Erica hadn’t stopped moving; she was in the zone. I said, “Kerry!” Erica looked up, then took my dick out of her mouth, and said, “Kerry!” Then I burst across her face. Then Kerry wheeled her suitcase into her room and shut the door. We watched her go, and we listened to the manic sobs. Erica looked troubled. I wiped her face with a rag I found on the floor, which turned out to be her tube top. “I’m sorry,” I said to her, meaning it generally.
“She said she was going to be away for the weekend,” Erica said, still dazed from overstimulation.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” I said, standing, putting my jacket back on, and replacing my dick in my pants. “I will call you.”