The woman in the discount section of the B&B

I had an interesting experience this weekend at the Barnes and Noble bookstore, and it wasn’t the date I had via eHarmony. That was a dud. The woman wasn’t. She was nice and smart and funny and accomplished but we didn’t click, not even a little. I hate when that happens but more often than not it does.

No. That was Saturday. I’m talking about today, Sunday, in a different Barnes and Noble bookstore (sigh — I miss Borders…anyhoo….), the one closer to my house. I went there because, while waiting for my date at the other B&, I started reading this book entitled Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, which is very cool but that is not what this post is about. It is only the catalyst. Because I don’t  usually buy books anymore: I get them from the library, but I didn’t want to wait. That’s why I was at the bookstore today.

And while I was there I saw this woman and for some reason I was instantly intrigued by her, drawn to her. She had long, straight, blonde hair, but not like bimbo bleach blonde, like natural blonde, you know. And she was waring a flowery sundress, at least I think it was flowery. She wore sandals. And had glasses, that were very interesting, kind of retro 50s but still contemporary, you know. She had a tattoo on her right shoulder I’m pretty sure; it looked like something with wings. I didn’t want to stare too intently for fear that she would be creeped out by me. Also, she had this sort of old/vintage -looking white purse, like something my mom would have carried in the 70s. I dunno. It was cool. She was cool. And she had on this fragrance — it was intoxicating. Trust me, I know how cornball that sounds but it is true.

She stuck strictly to the discount books. I found myself watching her but at first didn’t think much of it. She was pretty, so I noticed her. I was there to get my book, which I did. I even scoped some other books. But I kept checking for her. She was still over there in the discount section so I returned. I purposely passed her again, and put myself in a position to walk by her, hoping to catch her attention, but she was so focused on perusing the books. Maybe the fact that she didn’t seem to notice me is what hooked me. I don’t know.

All I know is that I wanted very badly to talk to her. And I did, once. I said, “Excuse me” as I passed by her. She returned the comment. I looked for a sign that I could maybe talk to her but saw nothing. I did not want to creep her out. Or get maced or kicked in the balls or anything. I mean, honestly, do strangers just walk up to each other in public places anymore and introduce themselves? It does not seem possible.

Eventually, I got the feeling that she sensed I was watching her, even following her, and that was why she did not explore anymore of the store other than the discount section. She paid for her books and I walked over by the Nook display because I knew she’d have to pass me on her way out. I thought maybe….

But instead she asked for the restroom and went to the back of the store. So of course I took up a position where she would see me when she came out of the bathroom but not so close as to seem as if I was stalking her. I stood by the Lego’s of the the White House and Space Needle etc. She did not seem to notice me.

I watched her go. I though to follow her out, but couldn’t do it. Too late did I go to the window of the store to check the parking lot to see her drive off. And just like that she was gone. I thought, oh well, like anything was going to happen, right.

But here’s the thing. I can’t stop thinking about her. And I don’t know why. I can’t remember the last time something like that happened to me. Maybe it’s a sign of how desperate I’ve become. I don’t know. But I can’t help thinking, Could I find her? Would it be possible? Could I utilize facebook somehow, and perhaps other social media, to find her, to find someone I don’t know and have never met, someone I only know a few scant details about? Is it even worth. Is it advised? Would she think I’m crazy or even dangerous? Yikes!

What do you think? Please advise, opine, and debate. Thanks.

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Summer of the Zombie Novel

My daughter has been working on a zombie novel. She is very excited about it. It’s a about a kid named TJ and begins with him day-dreaming in school about this girl, Debbie, that he kind of likes. After that the structure gets a bit fuzzy, but still it sounds cool.

Anyway, it got me to thinking that maybe it is time I started work on my own zombie novel. I’ve been kicking one around in my head for awhile now.

Here is the opening:

For the past thirty-seven hours I have been trapped in my ex-wife’s attic. And I can still  hear them down there. By them I don’t mean my ex-wife, Carolyn, or her new husband, Roger, or my daughter, Melanie.

No. I mean the zombies. That’s right — zombies, undead, walkers,  biters, ghouls, legends of the undead. Whatever the fuck you want to call them. They are down there.

It happened. The dead came back to life. I don’t how it happened or why. I just know that it did. And I don’t know where my daughter is. I need to find her and make sure that she’s safe.

What do you think? Does it grab you?

I thought this could be a project for the summer, for my daughter and I — we could work on our stories together.

Digging deeper….

It’s late. I was out with a couple of old high school buddies. But I am determined to get a post in tonight before bed.

So the question was: Beyond physical attraction what do I look for in a potential date?

Well, on eHarmony there is a section in the About Me tab entitled The Last Book I Read and Enjoyed: If I like your pics (and again let emphasize that I’m not looking for super model 10 good looks, just something that attracts me — eyes, hair, smile, etc. Could be anything, but something) I will usually go straight to this spot. I am a big reader. I love books. And so it is only natural that I would want to be with someone who also likes to read. Perhaps not to the degree that I do, but to some degree. However, I do have particular likes and dislikes. Not everything published and placed between a cover is worthy in my opinion.

Some examples of reading habits that do little if anything for me and my likely responses to them:

1) I don’t like to read — you’re pretty much done

2)Why read when you can live life — not likely

3) I only read for work — boring

4) I only read magazines, like People and Cosmo. — nah, probably not going to happen.

5) Strictly romances — ugh

6) James Patterson, Dan Brown or Daniel Steel — you’re done

7) The Secret — you’re done

8) Spirituality and/or pop psych — not doing much for me

On the other hand if you are you standard mystery, thriller, popular fiction reader that’s okay. I mean, I’m not getting an instant boner, but my dicks’ not turtling up either, so….

If you like serious non-fiction books about science, history, math, politics, biography, or other assorted subjects I am listening.

If you dig a variety of fiction, from b-list and literary novels to more bestseller list titles, I’m getting a woody now.

If you say you dig literary short stories and novels, classics and contemporary, I’ve got a raging hard-on. BOING!

I also look at movie interests. As I put in the caption of my profile pic, if you can name the that this quotes comes from you have my undivided attention: “News said its raining in New York.”

I guess initially I’m looking for shared interests, because I think that this is important. It is a good base building block. Of course, one needs to go even deeper to look for points of connection, while a the same time looking for red flags.  You have to read into the details, infer from them, read between the lines, and other cliches.

For example: Any profile littered with too many cliches, such as “I love living life to the fullest every day” is a red flag for me. I take it as a sign of a lack of creativity, you know. I mean, what does that even mean anyway? Taken literally it is bullshit. Really, you’re living life to the fullest each morning as you brush your teeth and take a crap, shower, dress, eat breakfast and head off to your job. Wow! You wild woman you! It’s just lazy. And shows an unwillingness, or worse an inability to delve deep enough into yourself and come up with something genuine.

One of my biggest gripes about dating sites is the lack of authenticity in the profiles. It’s as if everyone (or most everyone anyway) is afraid to say anything really interesting or unique for fear of chasing away any potential dates or perhaps even offending someone. And that might indicate someone who is simply afraid of being alone, and I don’t want to be with anyone who is looking for someone because they are afraid of being alone. I don’t want just anyone. I want someone special.

Anyhoo…. you want to know a big, big turn on, something that will really gets my attention, beyond physical attraction and shared interests?

Well, guess you’ll just have to come back for the next installment to find out. Nanny nanny boo boo.

Stay Awake: stories

I haven’t written anything in awhile.  I had planned to write about my new job, working in an office that is an interesting mix of Gen X and Millennials, with a few Boomers thrown for good (or not…) measure, but that hasn’t really happened, now has it.

Yesterday, though, on my way home from work, I had to stop at the bookstore — Barnes and Noble because there are no more Borders (B-o-o H-o-o) — to by a copy of “Stay Awake,” a new collection of short stories by Dan Chaon.

I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I first learned of it’s existence, which was some time ago, although how long exactly I can’t quite recall. No matter. It is here.

I have been following Mr. Chaon since his very first collection of short stories, “Fitting Ends,” was published in 1995 by Triquarterly Books.

I  was still a graduated student in the MFA program at Western Michigan University, hoping to be a writer of short stories myself some day. I must have come across this book at John Rollins bookstore in Portage, MI, right up Westnedge from Kalamazoo, where WMU is located. That was a great independent bookstore. But I’m not sure it exists anymore. A google search does not turn it up. <sigh>

Anyhoo…. I recall being so taken by the stories in “Fitting Ends” that I wrote to the publisher in hopes of contacting the author, Mr. Chaon. This was before it was so easy to track someone down via the internet. To my surprise, the publisher passed on my letter to Dan and he eventually wrote to me. For a time we exchanged letters and emails, which was a fresh technology at the time. Eventually, though, the correspondences ended and life moved on.

I remember I was in the Borders on Woodward in Birmingham, I’m pretty sure, when, scanning the shelves for something to read, I came across Dan’s second collection of short stories, “Among the Missing.”

I remember sitting and reading it but ultimately not buying, perhaps because it was in hardcover and I was a new father and concerned about money and therefore didn’t feel right about dropping that kind of cash on a book (huh, if only my ex had felt the same sense of fiscal responsibility when it came to her hair or clothes). But later I did buy it in paperback.

A few years later, not long after I started my job at the Baldwin Public Library, one of the hot fiction books at the time was Dan Chaon’s first novel, “You Remind Me of Me.”

I spent my early lunch hours absorbed in this exceptional novel.

And of course I was super duper excited when, years later, still working at the library, I saw that Dan’s new novel, “Await You Reply,” was to be released. I counted down the days until the book was available. And immediately devoured it once it was. Of course, because I was the main copy cataloger at the library I was the first one to get my hot little hands on this novel. I had the first hold.

In fact, I believe I wrote a blog spot about it.  Ah, yes. Here it is. In it I identify Dan Chaon as a GenX write, a label he agreed with, you’ll see in his reply to my post. Of course, I was tickled that he’d managed to find my meager little post on my meager little blog.

I remember being exceptionally fascinated with the premise of this novel, at least in part because it was about characters who “just walk away” from their life. I made a comparison to the movie “Grosse Pointe Blank” because it deals with the same sort of thing with John Cusack’s character, who had walked away from his life abruptly one day. I can’t help wondering now if that interested me so much because at the time I secretly wanted to walk away from the life I was living — the oppressively soul-crushing marriage to a narcissist part NOT the being the father to the sweetest little girl in the world part.

Anyhoo…. this brings us back to Mr. Chaon’s new collection of short stories, “Stay Awake,” which, after reading the first two stories, I am sure is going to be exceptional from beginning to end, and which is going to be on of my favored collections for years to come, if not eternity. Well, my eternity anyway. I wonder. What will my daughter do with all my books when I am gone? Will she just donate them? Toss them? Keep perhaps a few? I should probably discuss this matter with her at some point. But probably I should concentrate on getting her through middle school and adolescence and all of that first, hug.

These stories, so far, are hard stories. Harsh. In fact, there almost seem like horror stories in a way. Very grim. Unsettling. But I love them for that very quality. Unlike the  reviewer on amazon who didn’t like the collection because people suffer in it, because it troubled him. This is an attitude, frankly, that I don’t get. What do people want? Short stories are not TV shows; they are not meant to make you feel good so that you’ll be in a receptive mood for whatever advertising comes between portions of the show. But…everyone is entitled to his/her opinion….for good or ill.

What really struck me about the first two stories in the collection  — The Bees and Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted — was how for each main character there is this confusion between what is really happening and what is just a trick of the mind or perhaps a dream or even something else, something unexplainable, and how these worlds, real and imagined and otherwise, mash and mix together. It’s the kind of thing that I like to experiment with in my own writing from time to time, particularly in a longer piece (novella length) that I have been working on.

Having said all that, perhaps far too much at this point, I am eager to get back to the book now.

In My First Apartment: a story

In My First Apartment


In my first apartment after the separation I would often lay awake in bed at night and listen to the traffic on Thirteen Mile Road. There were big, thick pine trees in front of the building and I had thought that they would act as a buffer against the noise but they didn’t, especially not when it came to the ambulances and their screaming sirens as they headed down Thirteen to Beaumont Hospital on the other side of Woodward. But even without all of that I doubt I would have slept well there.

I wouldn’t call the place a dump or anything, but it wasn’t home. (Home was where my ex was with our daughter.) This apartment was just space for me to exist in temporarily until…I don’t know what. I had not a fucking clue. I had no clear view of my future.

My ex is the one who found the place, on Craig’s List, she was so eager to get me out of the house, although she made it seem as if she was doing me a favor. And the shit of it is I went a long with it, letting her usher me right out the door without so much as a complaint. The apartment had seemed like deal at $500/month but that was until I learned that heat wasn’t included. I’d have to pay both a heat and an electric bill, one would be high in the winter and the other would be high in the summer. I’d never catch a break. I’d be too cold or too hot or broke. Probably all three, truth be told.

My ex was the one who made the money. (So in a way I guess it made sense that she should keep the house. She was the one who could afford the mortgage payments. Of course, it had been a different story years before when we were buying it and needed a down payment – then it was our house, we were in it together. But that was then, and this is now. Things had changed.) Oh, I had a job all right, but I didn’t make money like she did. I made the mistake of thinking that I didn’t have to. What a sap I was.

My ex said that she didn’t care how much money I made, that it didn’t matter, that what was important was that I was a good husband and a good and attentive father to our daughter. I thought that I was. I mean after all I was the one who altered my work schedule so that I could work from home and tend to our daughter while my ex went into the office to pursue and advance her career. Working from home it was all I could to do hold onto my job, never mind advancing. It’s difficult to get things done when you have an infant to deal with. I did most of my work late at night after my ex got home from work, usually after she’d gone to bed. While my ex was moving up and up I was administering feedings and changing diapers and trying to get her to sleep so that I could answer just a couple of emails. It was a lot harder than I ever could have imagined. But you know what? I didn’t mind. As frustrating as it could be at times, it was one of the happiest times of my life, and I would not trade it for the world, especially for example days when I would pack up my daughter and take her down the Detroit Zoo to stroll around and eat lunch. Part of me wished that I could do that every day for the rest of my life.

In the end clearly it did matter how much I made, otherwise my ex would not have replaced me with a guy who made even more money than she did.

One of the only good things about the apartment was that it had two bedrooms so my daughter had her own room, but she wasn’t very comfortable in it. She said it smelled funny and that she heard strange noises at night, in addition to the traffic and the ambulance sirens. She didn’t sleep well there either.

Because I couldn’t sleep I spent a lot of time reading and watching TV and trolling the internet. I read a lot of  old  private detective and crime novels that I’d already read several time before, plus some of the books I kept from my college classes, the ones that I’d liked, like Hemingway, I had “The Sun Also Rises” and the collected short stories of his and I liked to read and reread them. I don’t know why but that made me feel good. It was comforting somehow. Also, I figured I should watch as much TV as possible since I was paying for cable anyway and couldn’t really afford it. Mostly I watched reruns of old TV shows, and movies I’d seen dozens of times already, like “Jaws” and the “Star Wars” movies, but really whatever was on. I just wasn’t that interested in anything new, you know.  I joined Facebook and started reconnecting with old friends from high school.

It was satisfying, almost exciting, to touch base with people that I hadn’t been in contact with for years, and in some cases even decades. It felt familiar and strangely new at the same time. Also, I was encouraged to learn that I was not alone. It seemed as if every other person I spoke to was either divorced, going through a divorce, separated or in a marriage that they wanted out of. It was like some kind of fucking epidemic.

It was via Facebook that I hooked up with Kelly, an old high school girlfriend.

I saw her online and shot her a message via chat. She responded almost instantly, pleased to hear from me. It wasn’t long before we were chatting about our current circumstances – me separated, her divorced. She had been seeing someone but it had recently gone bust. Also, she’d recently moved into a new house and we quickly figured out that she wasn’t more than a mile from my apartment. Next thing I knew I was grabbing what was left of a six-pack of beer in my refrigerator and heading over to her place. It was already late and I had to work in the morning (I still had my job at that point; I hadn’t yet been laid off) but I figured why the hell not.

Driving over to Kelly’s, I felt a giddy nervousness, like I used to feel when I was in high school, going out at night, especially if I thought there was a chance I might get laid.

Kelly was the first girl that I’d ever had sex with. I’d fooled around with other girls before her but I was always too afraid to go all the way. With Kelly I didn’t feel as if I had a choice. She wanted to have sex, so we did. I wasn’t her first. She was one of those chicks who, when we were freshman, had a senior boyfriend.

Kelly answered the door in her pajamas, a pair of loose cotton pants with a drawstring in the front that hung low on her hips and a tiny tank top. I could tell that she wasn’t wearing a bra.

“I’m sorry, I know,” she said, after inviting me inside. “I look like shit. I just got out of the shower.”

“Are you kidding,” I said. “You look great.” And she did too. But she also looked kind of tired, slight bags under her eyes. Her hair was shorter and straighter than it had been back in high school, blonder too.

We cracked open a couple of beers and sat down on the couch. The TV was on low because her kids were asleep in their bedrooms. The house wasn’t that big. She had two kids, a boy and a girl. They were both teenagers.

“So is this weird or what?” Kelly said. She was slouching back on the couch with her bare feet up on the coffee table. Her toenails were painted dark purple. Her tank top rode up and I could see that her naval was pierced.

“Yeah. A little, I guess.”

After a couple of beers we started talking about our exes again. She told me how she and her ex had lived in Florida. They had had a big house and boat, living the high life, she said. Her ex had worked in construction and business was booming. And then it wasn’t. He lost his job. And the next thing Kelly knew she was pulling double-shifts as a cocktail waitress just to try and pay the massive bills that they had while her ex sat around drinking and feeling sorry for himself. One day, in the middle of the day, she went looking for him and found him playing golf when he was supposed to be looking for work. And she lost it. She and her ex got into an actual fist fight, beating on each other. He was a big guy, but Kelly is tough, no one you wanted to fuck with. I could actually imagine her kicking the guy’s ass.  Like the time she got into a fight with this guy in the Burger King parking lot after a football game. The guy said something to her that she didn’t like. I don’t even know what he said. All I know is that she threw a half-empty beer bottle at the guy’s head, just missing him. Of course, the guy was pissed, but he said he wasn’t a going to fight a girl. She didn’t give him a choice. She walked right up to the guy and clocked him hard. He went down. And she jumped on him, pummeling him mercilessly. It was kind of scary.

I told her how my ex had basically decided that I didn’t fit into the life that she wanted now. She wanted someone different, a man who was serious about his job and his career. I had interpreted this to mean that she wanted someone who made more money, and as of course I was right.

“You just need to go out there and get a better job,” Kelly said. “Show her you’re the man.” She struck a pose with both her arms up, making muscles, both hands clenched into fists. I thought she was joking, but she wasn’t. She was serious.

“Yeah. I don’t know…”

“What are you going to do? Just feel sorry for yourself?’

“I don’t feel sorry for myself.”

“Bullshit!” She laughed.

Kelly’s house was small – only two bedrooms and one bathroom, a small living room and galley kitchen – – but it was neat and clean, and filled with “nice things”. “I like nice things,” she told me, as if it was something immensely important that I needed to know about her. “And I’m not about to apologize for that.”

“Of course not,” I said. “Why should you?”

“I won’t. Not to anyone.” And there was an edge to her voice that made me a little nervous.

After exhausting the subject of our exes and kids we reminisced about high school and talked about work a little. And then suddenly we both got quiet, as if we had nothing more to discuss. We just sat there for a time, drinking beer and starting at the all but silent television. Kelly’s hand was resting there on the couch between us. After a time, I finally made a move and took her hand in mine. We both looked at each, smiling.

We were about to kiss when  her teenage son, the older of her two kids, came stumbling out of his bedroom, passing through the living room behind the couch where we were sitting, seemingly oblivious to us and went into the kitchen to get something to drink from the refrigerator.

I immediately let go of Kelly’s hand and sat up on the couch, as it was Kelly’s father and not her son who had just entered the room.

He stood in the kitchen, tilting a plastic two-liter of Faygo Red Pop up to his mouth, chugging. He had curly brown hair that hung down in his eyes and he was wearing a blue and green pj bottoms that were too long and a black t-shirt with the name of some band I’d never heard of.

When Kelly introduced us I wondered if I should stand up and shake his hand but I didn’t. I just sat there and gave him a little wave. He belched in reply.

My hope was that he would quickly return to his room, close the door and stay there for the rest of the night, but he didn’t. He lingered in the kitchen, nosing around in the refrigerator and cupboards.

“What the hell are you looking for?” Kelly said.

“I don’t know,” her son said with a shrug, and kept on looking.

She got up and went into the kitchen. “Can I get you something, honey?”

“Nah. Not really.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

“Then what are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

The two of them stood there looking at each other. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to leave but I couldn’t just get up and walk out. I turned away and watched the TV.

Finally, Kelly’s son headed back to his room but Kelly stopped him. “Where are you going?”

“Back to bed. Where do you think?”

“Why?”

“Because it’s late and I’m tired.”

“Don’t….”

What the hell was she doing?

“…stay and hang out with us.” She stood in the doorway to his room, blocking his way. He tried to push passed her but she was having none of it. In fact, she seemed to be enjoying frustrating and embarrassing him.  “Come on, baby. My sweet baby.”  She laughed. Then she grabbed him by the face and planted a kiss right on his lips. He did not react. He just stood there and let her. He showed no sign of anger. I was kind of pissed off for him. I wanted to say something, tell her to leave him the hell alone, but I couldn’t.

Then she said: “Hey, honey. I got an idea. Why don’t you get your guitar and show my friend Sonny here how well you can play?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Oh, come on. Don’t be shy.”

“I’m not shy. I just don’t want to.”

“Oh, stop being a whiny little punk and get your guitar.”

“It’s cool, Kelly,” I said finally. “He doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want.”

“It’s okay. He’ll do it. He just needs a little encouragement, don’t you sweetie.”

“What am I your performing monkey?”

“Yes,” she said, laughing. “That’s exactly what you are. My little monkey.”

“Fine,” he finally capitulated.

Kelly waved me over to stand with her in the doorway to her son’s room. He slung the guitar over his shoulder, a bright red Gibson semi-hollow body with a black pick guard, and turned on his Marshall amp. He fiddled with the tuning keys for a moment, plucking at the strings to tune them. Then, after another moment spent adjusting the dials on the guitar and the amp, his hands suddenly burst into action, working furiously, harmoniously. I stood there and stared, impressed by his abilities. Clearly he was not only good at playing the guitar, he loved doing it. You could feel it in the music, see it on his face, which was contorted with a strange kind of joy.

But I was nowhere near as impressed as his mother, who fawned over his playing like a giddy high school girl.

“Doesn’t he fucking rock?”

“Yeah. He’s really good.”

“Good? Are you fucking kidding me? He’s a hell of a lot better than just good.” She seemed offended by less than adequate praise.

“No. Yeah. You’re right. He’s great.”

“Damn straight he is.”

He played for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Afterward Kelly rushed him, smothering the poor kid with hugs and kisses, which he tolerated uncomfortably.

After her sweet little boy had been tucked back into bed with the lights out and the door closed, Kelly insisted on showing me a video clip on YouTube of her son moshing with a bunch of other young guys at some outdoor concert. How it got onto the web, she didn’t say, but you’d have thought he’d made an appearance in a major motion picture or something, the way she acted. “Look at, look at. That’s him. Right there.” No matter how many times we watched it, she never ceased to be delighted. She showed me more video clips that she had stored on her computer, of her son and her daughter. Pics too. After she’d gone through them all, she hauled out some photo albums and a box of loose photographs and we went through them. She chattered on ceaselessly about her kids, placing each photograph in context for me. Of course, it was more or less white noise to me but it was clear that she was proud of her kids.

“And why shouldn’t I be?” she said.

“No reason.”

She gave me a hard look and took a drink of her beer. I looked away. Then we both got quiet for a time, staring at the all but silent TV screen. Finally, I said, “I should probably get going.” I figured Kelly would be glad for me to go, but she said, “Are you leaving so soon?” Her voice was suddenly meek, and sweet, even a little scared, almost as if she couldn’t bear for me to be gone.

I started to get up to go but she stopped me, reaching out to take my hand.

We made out on the couch like the teenagers we used to be. And I was reminded of all those fumbling encounters we’d had all those years ago. In the front and back seats of cars, on couches in basements, outside in back yards behind garages and on the sides of houses, behind bushes, in swimming pools after dark, in cheap motel rooms after dances.

“God,” she said, her breath hot on my neck, “to be together again after all these years.”

“Yeah,” I said, rushing my hands up her top to fondle her breasts. “I know…”

I tugged at her pants. “Going in for the kill already,” she laughed. And then she pushed me off of her and stood up. For a second I thought she was going to walk away from me, a tease, just like in high school, but she didn’t. She undid the tie at the front of her pants and let t hem drop, then pulled down her panties, stepping out of them. She stood before me, naked from the waist down.

“Check it out,” she said, smacking her ass. “Two kids and not a single stretch mark.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just smiled.

Straddling me, she wrapped a blanket around us. “I don’t want my kids to see us fucking,” she whispered with a little giggle.

It was kind of like being in high school again, except instead of being worried about her parents busting in on us, it was her son and daughter that we had to be concerned about. It was kind of strange, even a little creepy. Part of me wanted to stop but I didn’t know how. Kelly was really getting into it. I guess I was enjoying it too, but not like she was. I doubt I could have stopped what was happening if I’d tried. Finally, Kelly did stop, but only because she wanted to switch positions because her knees were hurting her. We moved into the missionary position, lying down on the couch. It was an awkward and uncomfortable transition. I really just wanted this to be over with. It was like work and I was struggling, I guess you could say.

“Don’t think about it so much,” Kelly said. Her tone was sweet and encouraging, but also a bit impatient.

Afterward, I grabbed my pants and scurried off to the bathroom to peel off the condom and clean up. Then all I wanted to do was make a quick exit, but Kelly wanted me to stay.

“It’s late,” she said. “You don’t have to go. You can sleep on the couch and leave in the morning.” We were by the front door. I was kneeling down, putting on my shoes. Kelly was standing over me.

For a second I was tempted by her offer. I thought it might be nice to wake up and not be alone for a change. But then I remembered that I wouldn’t be waking up to just Kelly. There was also her son and her daughter, and being there in the morning when they woke up would just be too weird. For the first time since I’d moved out of my house all I wanted was to be back in my apartment, alone. So I stood up and said, “Thanks. I appreciate it. But I can’t. I really have to go. Sorry.”

“Yeah. Sure. Fine. Whatever.” She was trying to act like it was no big deal but I could tell she was unhappy, even a little pissed. I steeled myself for whatever might come but nothing did. She saw me out the door and that was it.

In my car, driving the dark, empty streets at three o’clock in the morning, I felt relieved, even kind of happy, which I hadn’t felt in…I don’t know how long. I was buzzing, and not just on beer – after all, I’d only had two beers to Kelly’s four…or was it more? I felt a twinge of that giddy excitement that I used to feel when I was in high school and I’d been out all night, driving around or at a party, hanging out, talking with people, meeting girls, getting laid. I rolled down my window and let the crisp summer night air blow in across my face.

I was actually whistling as I climbed the stairs to my second-floor apartment and let myself inside. Suddenly the place didn’t seem so bad. In fact, it was kind of cool. A little grungy and run down, sure, but so what. It was my place, all my place. I could do what I wanted there when I wanted how I wanted and with whom I wanted. I could come and go as I pleased, just like I used to be able to do, before I got married and had a kid.

And for the first time in a long time I was going to have no trouble falling asleep. I was a little drunk and tired as hell, and I needed to get up in a couple of hours.

But just as my head hit the pillow my cell phone rang. It was Kelly.

“I just wanted to make sure you got home okay,” she said.

“I did. Thanks.”

“So…what are you doing?”

“Trying to sleep,” I said, making no effort to conceal my annoyance.

“Oh. Yeah. Right.” Then, after a moment: “So that was pretty fun tonight…” It was somewhere between a question and a statement.

“Yes it was.”

“Yeah. It was. Really great. We should do it again.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, agreeing in hopes of ending the conversation quickly.

“Cool. How about tomorrow night?”

“Tomorrow night?”

“Yeah. You could come over again.”

“Oh…I don’t know, Kelly…”

“What’s the matter? Why not?”

“Well, I’ve got a long day at work tomorrow…today, actually. And I’m going to be pretty wiped out by time I get home and…”

“You know what? Never mind. Forget it.”

“I’m sorry. I just –“

“Don’t be sorry, Sonny. You don’t owe me anything.”

“I know I don’t.”

“Whatever,” she said and hung up.

Maybe I should have felt bad, but I didn’t really. I was too tired. Besides, I had enough grief in my life; I didn’t need it from Kelly too.  I just sort of forgot about the whole thing until a couple of weeks later when I saw Kelly online. I’d seen her online previously but I’d purposely avoided her. Now, I had the impulse to contact her. I assumed she was still pissed at me but hoped that I could somehow make amends.

Turned out she wasn’t mad at all, or if she had been she’d gotten over it. We chatted amicably. She asked me how I was doing and I told her that I was feeling kind of down. She told me what I needed was to get laid. “I’ll fuck you,” she IM’d. “Give you self-esteem.”

I IM’d: “Okay. I’ll be right over.”

“HA! Sorry. Not going to happen tonight. I’ve got the period from hell.”

“Some other time???”

“Maybe…if you’re lucky ;-)” Then she asked: “So what’s got you down today?”

I told her it was just one of those days; I was feeling lonely and missing my family. For some reason I thought she might understand, being divorced herself, and that she might have some sympathy for me, but she didn’t. Instead, she went off on me.

“You’re still all fucked up on your ex,” she wrote.

“What?”

“I don’t need this shit. I don’t need your psycho ex giving me shit.”

“She’s not going to give you shit. What are you talking about?”

“I’m not going to play second fiddle to some other bitch. I know who I am and I know what I want. I work hard. I pay my bills. I take care of my kids.”

I had not a fucking clue what she was going on about. And she was typing so furiously that I couldn’t even respond. Eventually I gave up even trying. I just logged off, relieved that she didn’t know my address, afraid that she might want to come and kick my ass or something. Later, I blocked her; I couldn’t quite bring myself to de-friend her. I guess I probably should have. She was clearly nuts.

That was back in the early spring. By that summer I’d moved back into the house with my ex and my daughter, but of course that didn’t last either.  The following winter I ran into Kelly again, at the bar. It was one of those high school alum get-togethers that people had been setting up via Facebook. When I saw her I went cold. She was with some guy that I didn’t know. She looked good, all done up, wearing a cool black leather jacket over a black turtleneck. I pretended I hadn’t noticed her and tried not to look in her direction. But I knew I couldn’t escape her attention. I was sure she’d seen me. I swear I could feel her eyes staring daggers into my back. What would she do? I wondered. Smack me upside the head? Punch me? Clock me with a beer bottle? Drag me off my seat and start stomping on me? These all seemed like real possibilities. I wanted to bolt, to just get the hell out of there, but for some reason I couldn’t make myself move.

The longer I sat there and nothing happened, the more I was convinced she was fucking with me, making me twist while she plotted her strike.

And then she did, sneaking up behind me, slipping her arms around my neck, and pressing her cheek against mine. “Hi, Sonny,” she said, giving me a kiss on the cheek.

What was this? I wondered. The kiss of death? Was she going to shiv me in the back? Or maybe pull a gun a shoot me down?

Nope. Nothing of the kind. She had no intention of harming me in any way shape or form. She was just saying, hi, being friendly, sociable.

She introduced me to the guy she was with, Bernie, an amicable guy who smiled and shook my hand with no trace of malice or threat. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Sonny and I went to high school together,” Kelly explained. “We were friends.”

We were? I thought. Friends? Just friends? Really? Because I remembered it a bit differently, and wanted to say so, but I didn’t. I kept my mouth shut, nodding in agreement.

Later, after we’d hung out and drank and talked a bit, I found myself observing Kelly with Bernie. I wasn’t staring at her, ogling her anything. And I wasn’t jealous exactly. But I did notice something. It was the way Bernie looked at her, with a kind of goofy admiration bordering on reverence. It was sappy and a little annoying, but nice too. And, it was the way she was with him, sweet and solicitous, kind of giddy like a school girl. I got the impression that I was witnessing two people who were in love or falling in love, or at least something close to it. And it made me wonder. Was there something I’d missed?

Unemployed: a story

It was the smell of bacon that finally got my ass out of bed.

Since before dawn, I’d been lying wide awake, staring up at the ceiling in my parents’ basement as the window wells slowly filled with the dull gray light off morning. A chorus of birds sang with the rise of the sun. I heard cars passing by outside on the street. The world was beginning its day, and I no longer had a place in it.

My name is Sonny Ramone. I’m 43 years old, divorced, and live in my parents’ basement. (Funny how, I still think of it as my parents’ basement, even though my father has been dead since I was thirteen.) And like so many people in this country, especially here in southeast Michigan, I am unemployed. When I first lost my job (I was laid off) I went into hyper-drive job-search mode, hitting the bricks – or in this case the internet – hard, looking for a new job. I wasn’t going to just sit idly by and let this happen to me. I was determined to find a new job before my first unemployment check came in, but I wasn’t able to do that. Still, I kept at it, waking early each morning, stretching, going for a jog, and then showering and dressing as if I had a job. I did have a job. Finding a job was my job, my full-time job. And I wanted to do it well. I was motivated, at least for the few weeks, even the first few months. Whenever I felt discouraged I just thought about my ten-year-old daughter, Melanie, and how I needed to help provide for her. But as the weeks and months passed even that wasn’t enough. I was applying to ten or more jobs a day and I wasn’t hearing anything. Not even rejections. I considered it a good sign if I got an acknowledgment that my resume was received at all. Eventually, I all but gave up. I still job-searched but I did so with little hope that anything would result from it. I began to find it harder and harder to even get out of bed, much less get on the computer and search the job sites. I started sleeping in. Some days I didn’t get out of bed until late afternoon, if at all. I watched TV and read and napped, a lot. I just didn’t feel like doing anything.

But the smell of bacon, that’s damn near impossible to ignore. Who among us can resist such succulent seduction? Not I.

I got up and dragged myself up the stairs to the kitchen to find my 80-year-old mother standing at the stove, cooking.

“Good morning, Ma,” I said.

“Good morning, Sonny,” she said brightly. “Can I make you some breakfast?”

“Sure. That’d be great, Ma.”

Fifteen minute later, there was a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in front of me, along with toast, a glass of orange juice, and coffee. I reflected on how nice it is to have someone make me a hot meal. That sort of things rarely happened when I was married; I did most of the cooking.

I ate heartily. Afterwards I was inclined to go right back downstairs and get right back into bed, but then my mother said, “What are your plans for today?”

“I don’t know,” I said glumly. “I hadn’t really thought about it. Why?”

“It’s a nice day out. You might consider getting out of the house.”

Of course, I knew she was right. I knew she was worried about me too. So I jumped in the shower, dressed, and went out, although I had no idea where I was going to go.

So I just drove around, which seemed kind of wasteful considering that gas was over four dollars a gallon.

I drove up Ryan Road passed my old high school, circling the parking lot. It was empty because school was out for the summer. Then I drove down the block passed the Catholic church I grew up attending. I couldn’t remember the last time that I’d been in church. After that I circled around and drove passed my old middle school and the Elias Brother’s Big Boy restaurant across the street. A little further down was the Burger King, a popular hang out after football and basketball games. There was also a McDonalds about a mile from the Burger King where we’d sometimes go too. Just passed the McDonalds was the K-Mart, and behind the K-Mart was K-Mart Hill, a popular place to park and hang out in high school, drinking and smoking and listening to music until the cops kicked us out. Why they called it K-Mart Hill I don’t know. There was no hill. There was a slight mound you had to climb to get from the parking lot to the field behind the K-Mart but I wouldn’t call it a hill, not much of one anyway. I drove passed some old make-out spots, and wondered if teenagers still used them. Finally, I just drove up and down random side streets, remembering houses of old friends and girlfriends and houses that I’d been inside for parties, but after awhile the houses and streets all started to seem the same, and I felt lost, lost in a place that was too familiar.

I needed someplace to go.

So I did what I did when I was a kid and had no place to go. I went to the mall. I figured I could kill some time walking around. I could buy a book and sit and read. And there was a bar in the mall where I could get a drink, although it probably wasn’t a good idea to start hanging out in bars in the middle of the day. That could be the beginning of the end for me.

Walking from the car to the mall, I saw a woman coming out of the mall. I didn’t think anything of it until she got closer. My eyes aren’t what they used to be. By time I got close enough to recognize her it was too late to turn around. The best I could do was hope that she wouldn’t recognize me, but no dice.

“Sonny? Sonny Ramone? Is that you?”

“Yep. It’s me. How are you doing, Debbie?”

Debbie Kanicki was a girl I’d gone to high school with. Actually, she wasn’t just any girl. She was a girl that I’d had a major crush on from the moment I first saw her, on the first day of sixth grade in middle school. I pined for her from that day all the way through high school. She knew it too. Hell, everyone knew it. But she wasn’t interested in me, not in that way. She would only be my friend, and I gobbled up every little crumb of attention that she threw at me.

Of all the people that I could have run into, why did it have to be her?
Of course, she insisted on hugging me. Back in high school I would have killed to hug Debbie but now I was hesitant to do so. But what was I going to do, run away?

It felt good to hold her, too good. She smelled the same, light and clean and slightly floral. It was nice but it made me sad too, reminding me of how long it had been since I’d been close to a woman. The last woman I’d slept with was my ex-wife and I’d been divorced for over a year, separated even longer than that. I made a point of not holding on too long to Debbie. It was she who held onto me, a moment longer than seemed appropriate it, but I wasn’t about to complain. And then when she finally broke the hug, she gave me a quick kiss on the lips that sent shock waves through my entire body.

“It is so good to see you,” she said.

“Yeah.You too.”

“So what have you been up to?”

“Not much. The usual. You know…”

“Yeah, yeah…right.” She had a big grin on her face. “And are you living around here?”

“Yes,” I said, which wasn’t a lie but it wasn’t the whole truth either. But I wasn’t about to tell her that I was living with my parents again. How pathetic?

“Walter and I are up in Rochester now.” Walter was the guy she dated in high school our senior year and ended up marrying not long after graduation.

“Yeah. I heard that. Must be nice.”

“It is. We like it. You’ll have to come visit sometime so you can see our house.”

“Sure, sounds good,” I said, even though I had no intention of ever visiting Debbie and Walter. That would be just too weird.

“And meet our daughters.”

“That’s right. You have two girls.”

“Two teenagers.”

“Wow.”

“What about you? Do you have any kids?”

“I have a ten-year-old daughter.”

“You do? How wonderful. Do you have any pictures?”

“Sure.” I reached for my wallet, pulled it out and showed her Melanie’s picture.

“She’s beautiful.”

“Yeah. She is.”

Then Debbie said, “You know, what. We should go grab some lunch right now. Are you free?”

“Well…”

“Oh, do you have to get back to work?”

“No. I’m not working today,” I said. “But what about you? Don’t you have to be somewhere?”

She looked at her watch. “Actually, there is one thing that I have to take care of but it won’t take long. Let me just make a quick phone call.” She stepped away to make a call on her cell phone. Meanwhile I contemplated making a run for it. The last thing I wanted to do was eat lunch with Debbie. She finished her call and came back. “Okay. I have to make a quick run to meet a client but it won’t take long. Why don’t you come with me?”

“Um, okay…”

We walked back to the parking lot and got into her car, a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It had leather seats and tinted windows and still smelled new, unlike my dingy little Honda Civic.

“So where are we going?” I asked once we were on our way.

“I need to show this house to a potential buyer.”

“You’re selling real estate?”

“Just a little on the side. Walter and I run a business.”

“Wow. Cool.” I was genuinely impressed, running a business and selling houses. It seemed so important.  Even when I was working I was just a schlep in an office. I had a cubicle and I wrote reports and went to meetings but it never felt all that important what I did. It was just a job. Like a lot of people I occasionally bitched about my job, but truthfully I was glad to have it, glad to have a place to go every day, a purpose, tasks to perform, goals to meet. Now that it was gone I realized just how important it was to me. I missed my job. I might not have been in love with it, but it was my job. It meant something to me, maybe nothing very profound, but something, something significant, to me anyway. “And so how is business?” I asked.

“In this economy – it’s tough, let me tell you. But we’re managing. How about you?”

“Same,” I said. “Managing, you know.”

While we were driving, Debbie lit a cigarette.

“You smoke?”

“Sometimes,” she said. “When I’m stressed. Want a hit?” She held out the cigarette for me. I thought it was a little odd that she offered me a hit off of her cigarette instead of just giving me one. I took the cigarette and dragged on it. It had been awhile since the last time I’d smoked and inhaling was a little harsh, but I liked the immediate buzz it gave me.

“So what are you stressed about?” I asked handing the cigarette back to her, wondering if I really wanted to know.

“You name it,” she said ironically.

We drove north of the mall for a few miles and then turned into a subdivision and parked on the street in front of a grey-brick house. There was a big, red Ford F150 pick-up truck parked in the driveway. It had an extended cab and a shiny silver tool box in the back. I wondered how these people could afford to drive these big vehicles, the gas I mean? What did they do for a living?

Debbie asked me to stay in the car while she dealt with this client. It wouldn’t take long, she assured me.

A guy got out of the truck. He was wearing jeans and work boots, a jean jacket over white t-shirt and a baseball cap, and aviator sunglasses. Walking up to Debbie, it looked as if he was going to hug her, but she stopped short to avoid it. They talked for a moment, standing there in the driveway. He looked over in my direction. Then they went inside.

They weren’t gone long when I got the urge to snoop around Debbie’s vehicle. I opened the glove compartment. I found that little owner’s manual that tells you how to operate the radio and use the cruise control and stuff like that, a couple of maps, and a package of travel tissues. Also, a pen and small pad of paper. I opened the arm rest between the front seats and revealed a row of CDs – Springsteen, Steve Miller, Mitch Ryder… Ah, there it was; the Doors LA Woman album. Whenever I heard a Doors song I always thought of Debbie, especially the song, “Love Her Madly.”  Debbie had left the keys in the ignition so I was able to pop the disc into the CD player. I went to “Love Her Madly” and played it. From opening guitar riff, it took me back to my high school days, especially time spent with Debbie. I could picture her at 17 as if she were sitting right there next to me.

I sang along with the song and as it got to the part where it goes…

Don’t you love her as she’s walking out the door

                        Just like she did one thousand times before.

…the guy that Debbie went into the house with came storming out of the house, stomping down the driveway to his truck. He got in and slammed the door, started the vehicle, and pulled out of the drive and tore off, squealing his tires. Debbie had come out of the house behind him and she just stood there and watched him go.

I got out of the Jeep and went over to her. “Is everything okay?” I said.

“Yes. It’s fine,” she said, holding back tears.

“Are you sure, because –“

“I’m sure,” she snapped, cutting me off.

I didn’t respond right away. I let the moment settle. Then I said, “You know, he doesn’t really seem like an enthusiastic buyer.” It worked. Debbie laughed.

“I forgot,” she said.

“Forgot what?” I said.

“How you could always make me laugh. Thank you.”

“No sweat. Anytime.” And just like that the crush I had on her back in the day was back. Dammit!

We went inside the house and Debbie explained to me that that guy wasn’t a client. He was just a disgruntled contractor. I wasn’t sure that I believed her. I mean, who cries over a dispute with a contractor, especially Debbie. In fact, up until that moment I don’t think I’d ever seen her come even close to crying. But I didn’t dispute her explanation.

We waited for the potential buyers but when it became clear that they weren’t going to show Debbie said: “I could use a drink. How about you?”

It was early in the day still, but I figured why not.

Debbie took a bottle of champagne from the refrigerator, something she liked to keep on hand for when she sold the house, to toast the sale with the buyers. She gave the bottle to me to pop and fished a couple of champagne flutes out of the cupboard. We filled the glasses and then Debbie said: “Here’s to… what? What do we drink to?”

“Got me,” I said.

In the end we decided who needs a reason to drink. And then we ordered pizza, delivered to the house. While we were waiting Debbie asked me if I wanted the tour. I told her sure, as long as she understood that I wasn’t in the market for a house.

“Not yet you’re not,” she said with a smile.

The house wasn’t completely empty. It was sparsely furnished, as if someone had only just begun moving in, beginning with the major pieces of furniture. Debbie explained that this helped give buyers an idea of how the place could look once they’d moved in while leaving room for imagination. Otherwise it was just a bunch of connected empty spaces. Also, if the buyers liked the furniture it could help nurture the sale. And if they didn’t like the furniture, you could point out how much better the place will look once the buyer added their own special touches to the place. It was one of the tricks of the trade, she said, like baking cookies for a showing.

We ended the tour in the back yard on the concrete patio. There was a wrought iron garden table with four matching chairs around it. That’s where we sat and ate pizza and drank champagne and talked.

I was worried that Debbie was going to ask about my job and my family, because those seemed to be the two things that everyone asked about. I didn’t want to have to tell her that I was unemployed and divorced and living in my parents’ basement. It was too embarrassing. But for some reason I didn’t want to lie to her either. As it turned out she didn’t ask about my job or my family. All she seemed to want to talk about was the “good ol’ days” when we were in high school. She said remember this and remember that… And, remember that time I… and remember that time you … and remember that time we… And, remember when so and so and so and so did this and that…

It actually kind of  bugged me and when there was a lull in the conversation I said, “So… how’s Wally,” knowing full well that she didn’t like it when you called Walter Wally.

“Walter’s just fine,” she said a little haughtily. She tried to give me a hard, disapproving look but couldn’t help smiling a little.

I was surprised by how much a smile from her still meant to me.

Back in high school a smile from Debbie meant everything to me and even the slightest hint of disapproval or rejection was devastating, which is probably why things happened the way they did.

It was our senior year and I’d given Debbie a ring for her birthday, just a small token of my affection and friendship; I knew that she was dating Walter at the time. It was silver with two pearls and a diamond. She accepted it at first but then later gave it back to me, telling me that she couldn’t take it.

Of course, I wanted to know why not.

She said that she just couldn’t. It was a beautiful ring and she appreciated it very much but it just wasn’t right. She was sorry.

We were driving in her car, just the two of us. She’d come around to my house to pick me up, to go driving around, or so I thought. She tried to hand me the ring in its velvety box but I would not take it from her. So she set it on my leg. Still I would not touch it. I let it sit there on my thigh. She tried to be nice, tried to say all the right things in all the right ways, but to me everything she said was wrong.  Finally, I picked up the ring box, clutched it in my hand. I was looking out the passenger side window, trying to hold back tears. We were driving passed Shaw Park. The park was dark and empty. When Debbie stopped at a stop sign, I jumped out of the car and ran, disappearing into the darkness and trees.

I ran through the back of the park to the trails behind it, trails that I used to ride my BMX bike on when I was younger. I made my way through dirt trails to the field between the park and my old elementary school. I crossed the field to the red-brick school building. Behind the school I sat on a swing, holding the ring box. I wanted to throw it away, chuck it as hard and far as I could but for some reason I couldn’t let go of it.

I don’t know how long I sat there. Maybe for an hour, maybe longer. Maybe not that long. It felt like a long time. Finally, I got up and trudged home.

It didn’t occur to me to stay hidden while I made my way home, that I should travel under the cover of darkness through the back of the park again. Instead, I walked out in the open on the sidewalk out in front of the park, in the light of the streetlamps, my head hanging, feeling sorry for myself. So I didn’t notice Walter pull up in his car.

“Hey, Sonny,” he called, getting out of his car. “Wait up. I want to talk to you.”

I stopped for a second, until I realized who it was. Then I kept walking. Walter was the last person I wanted to talk to, but that didn’t matter. He wanted to talk to me. He caught up to me and got in front of me, cutting off my path. I tried to walk around him but he was having none of it.

“You’re not going anywhere,” he said, giving me a shove backward. Despite his goofy name, Walter had a reputation for a being a tough guy, a fighter, a hard ass. And I was scared of him. “Debbie’s really upset right now,” he said.

I didn’t say anything. I just stood there.

“She just wants to be your friend. Why can’t you accept that?”

Still, I refused to talk. I refused to even look at him. Walter didn’t like that. He gave me a little slap across the face and said, “Look at me.” I did. “Stop giving her a hard time, you got it.” When I didn’t respond, he got right up in my face and repeated, “Got it!”

“Yeah,” I said, my voice trembling. “I got it.”

“Good,” he said. “Now, let me give you a ride home.”

“No,” I said, and started walking. This time Walter let me go. When his car passed by and was well out of sight, I told him to fuck off.

At home, I downed a bottle of prescriptions pain pills with a glass of orange juice only to throw them up in a bright yellow projectile stream the next morning. I ended up in the hospital with a tube that went up my nose and down into my stomach, pumping toxic bile out of me.

All I wanted was to be left alone, but of course I couldn’t have that. It was some kind of policy that a suicide attempt was not to be left alone. So there was always someone there with me. I hated it. And then the nurse came in to tell me that there was someone here to see me. Of course, I thought, Its Debbie. She’s come to me finally.

But it wasn’t her. It was the priest from our church. My mother had called him to come and talk to me. And since I was basically trapped in my bed I had to sit there and pretend like I gave a shit what he had to say, when all I really wanted was to see Debbie.

“Are you happy?” Debbie said to me.

“What do you mean?” I said, wondering just how much she knew about my situation. I’d made it a point to not to talk to people about getting divorced and losing my job but these things seemed to have a way of getting around anyway. For example, I’d heard rumors that Debbie and Walter weren’t doing so well, that their marriage was on the rocks. But they might have been just that – rumors.

“I mean are you happy with the way your life’s turned out?”

Obviously the answer was no, but I didn’t want to confess that to Debbie. “I don’t know. I guess it depends.”

“On what?”

“On what you mean by happy.”

“Come on. You know what I mean.”

I shrugged.

“If you were happy you’d know it,” she said.

“What about you?” I said. “Are you happy?”

“That’s a good question.”

“It’s your question.”

“Yeah, it is,” she said but didn’t answer.

As high noon drifted into late afternoon and then evening, we found other things to talk about, like movies and TV and music, politics and current events, although mostly we talked about other people, gossip. It seemed as if we were talking around something and we both knew it.

And then for what seemed like a long time we just sat there in silence, staring off into the back yard. I wanted more than anything to get up and go, but I couldn’t. After all Debbie had driven us here. Finally, she said, “Well, I’m too drunk to drive. I need to clear my head first.” And then she got up and went back inside the house. She returned shortly with a small duffle in hand that she must have gotten from her Jeep and told me that she was going to jump into the shower. After a time, I heard the water running upstairs.

My mind began to wander. I imagined getting up and going back into the house and taking the stairs up to the second floor and going to the master bedroom where Debbie was in the bathroom taking a shower. The door would be slightly ajar, a subtle signal for me to enter. In the bathroom I could just make out Debbie naked form behind the cloudy shower curtain. “You came,” she’d say, pulling the curtain aside, and the look on her face would tell me everything I needed to know. I’d strip naked and climb into the shower with her. We’d start making love in the shower and finish in the bed and thus we would begin our new life together.

Of course, none of that happened. In the midst of my fantasy the water stopped running and I was returned to reality, in which I was going to wait for Debbie to come back downstairs. When, after a time, she didn’t, I went upstairs and found her wrapped in a towel, lying on the bed. For a moment, I just stood there staring in disbelief. She lay on her side with her back to me. Thinking that she didn’t know I was there, I started to leave. That’s when she raised her hand in the air, reaching toward me, and said, “Sonny. Would you lie down with me?”

“Okay,” I said. Kicking off my shoes, I climbed into bed next to her. She took hold of my hand and pulled my arm over her. “Mmmm,” she said, pressing her backside against my hard-on.

I wondered if I should try to make a move. Did she want me to? Would she let me? I was scared. It was just like that time in high school at the Galaxy Drive-In when I found myself in the back seat of a car with Debbie. It was a Saturday night and of course we’d both been drinking. We started making out. I tried to go up her shirt. She didn’t try to stop me. I stopped myself. It was as if I didn’t want to. But I did, badly. But I didn’t want it to be like that, squalid and public. I remember the following Monday in school Debbie acted as if I’d done something wrong. Now, I just lay there, holding her.

Finally, she turned to look at me and said, “You’re so sweet, you know that.”

The way she was looking at me, I’m sure that we would have kissed had Walter not showed up at that precise moment.

At first we didn’t realize it was Walter. All we knew was that someone had come into the house. It could have been the potential buyers, showing up late, but then he called out for Debbie. “Hey, honey! Where are you?”

“Oh, shit!” Debbie said. “You need to hide.” She directed me into the next bedroom and had me lock the door from the inside and wait there until she let me know it was okay to come out.

I pressed my ear against the door, listening to Walter come up the stairs, wondering where I might retreat to if he were to come into the room. There was the closet or under the bed but going to either of those places would only prolong my inevitable discovery. There were windows in the room but it was two stories down. All I could do was hope that he would stay away.

Through the door I could hear Debbie and Walter talking but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I waited for the explosion of shouting and yelling, the inevitable rendering of the fabric of their relationship that would drive Debbie into my arms, into my life, into my heart where, after all these years, I still believed she truly belonged.

But that didn’t happen. There was only the low amicable back and forth of conversation. And then that stopped, replaced by other noises. It took me a moment to get the picture – they were fucking.

After my separation and then my divorce, after being forced out of my home and estranged from my daughter, and then finally losing my job, I didn’t think I could feel any more sad and lonely and pathetic, but apparently I was wrong.

I had to wait for what seemed like a long time. After I heard Walter leave, go down the stairs and out the front door, get into his car and drive away, I didn’t wait for Debbie to come and get me. I got up from where I was sitting on the floor with my back against the door and went back down the hall to the master bedroom. The door was slightly ajar. I knew Debbie was still in there. I could hear her. It sounded like she was making the bed. I knew I shouldn’t look, that I should just go downstairs and wait for Debbie there, but for some reason I couldn’t help myself.

I pushed the door open. Debbie was still wrapped in a towel. Her damp hair was a tangled mess. I was right, she was making the bed. She didn’t look at me, just said in an infuriatingly neutral voice, as if nothing strange had just happened, “I’ll be down in a just minute, okay.”

“Okay,” I said, and turned and went down the stairs.

When Debbie came downstairs, dressed not in her work clothes but in a pair of shorts and blouse that she must have had in her bag, she told me that she couldn’t drive me back to my car. She gave me fifty bucks and asked if I wouldn’t mind calling a cab. I said I didn’t mind but that fifty was too much money, I certainly didn’t need that much, but she insisted that I take it. So I did.

I did not call a cab. I waited until Debbie left and then I started walking back to my car.

By time I got back to my car it was just starting to get dark. I was hot and tired. I got in my car and drove home. I could smell dinner as I walked up the driveway to the house. Inside, my mother had already finished eating. For some reason, I found myself thinking that if my father wasn’t dead he’d be in the living, sitting in the easy chair, watching TV, while Mom cleaned up in the kitchen.

“I kept a plate warm for you,” she said.

“No thanks, Ma. I’m not hungry,” I said.

I went downstairs where it was cool and damp and dark. I didn’t turn on the lights. I kicked off my shoes, crawled into bed and pulled the covers over my head, hiding until all the light had drained away.

People say…

People say, “Good luck.” And I believe that they are sincere. But I can’t help wondering if they’re also thinking, “Whew, I’m glad it’s not me.” They must be, some of them. I know I would be thinking that.

As I was leaving yesterday the IT guy at work asked me if I was tired of people wishing me good luck. I had to admit I was a little. Part of me wants to say, “Don’t wish me good luck. Find me a job.” Actually, a few people have given me tips. So…

People say, “Hang in there.” And right now, that’s exactly how I feel, as if I’m hanging on a ledge, dangling over a deep drop. Yikes!

People say,” Something will come along.” And they are probably right. Eventually, I’ll be working someplace else, a new job, a better one perhaps. But it might not be a better job. It might be a shit job. But a shit job is better than no job, right? Right? And sometimes I can’t help wondering, “What if nothing comes along? What if I am unable to find a new job, ever?” There are people who have given up looking, because they believe that there are no more jobs available to them. Of course, that can’t be true, but I bet it feels true.  Feels true to me sometimes. I mean, I’d been looking long before I even got my lay-off notice and intensified my search once I did find out, but still nothing. Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to fall through the cracks and end up unemployed for…life. Could that be possible? How could that be possible….?

But the possibility got me thinking. About a story idea. What if there were no more jobs? What if there were only a limited number of jobs? And they were, for the most ,taken, and you had all these unemployed people who need jobs but can’t get one? What if  the jobs you see posted online are for the most part a lie, propaganda to make people believe that there are jobs available. What if it got so bad that the only way to get a job was to not only be selected from thousands of applicants and make it successfully through the interview process but you had to fight for it. To the death. That you had to kill the person who also wanted the job or already had the job? Could you do it, if it meant the difference between having a life and providing for your family, making sure they had a place to live and food on the table and clothes on their back, and existing in squalor and hunger, as if in a third-world country?

Hmm. Maybe that the premise for my epic novel.