Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Red Bull

When Mitchell's car broke down he had to ride the bus everywhere for two weeks and he thought for a bit that he'd have to ride it forever thereafter because he didn't have any kind of money, really, much less two thousand dollars to fix a burned out piston line or whatever the hell that was they told him.  He wished he'd taken auto shop instead of home ec, which he took for the girls, but the girls in home ec turned out to be none of the pretty ones, and only the kind that already looked matronly and were planning your children's names while they helped you thread the sewing machine and then looked sorely disappointed in you like your mother when you sewed the cuff of a shirt on inside out.  He'd wanted to ask out the one thin and mousy girl who always looked lost when she looked at your face, but then the teacher had yelled at her for mishandling the washing machine, and she had some kind of panic attack where she couldn't breathe and great gobs of mucus flowed down her face, and she went out into the hallway, and Mitchell didn't see her again after that.  Not that it would have changed his car situation now anyhow.

Mitchell hated the way the bus smelled of food and diapers as if its mission was not to transport people to and fro, but to remind them that they were mortal animals and everything they did was somehow in the service of fried chicken and infants.  He thought that when you thought about things in the long run like that, it was bound to make you depressed and even suicidal, and the last thing the world needed was him depressed, because wasn't he enough of a drain on the energy of the universe back when he had to drive a 1989 Pontiac Sunbird around?  

He realized finally after two weeks of more self-pondering and seat-sharing than he thought was good for anyone that he wasn't getting his car back, but he certainly wasn't riding the bus for the rest of his life either, and when he told a man at the bar about his problem, the man bought him a Red Bull and vodka and told Mitchell he had a business proposition for him.

Apparently having the kind of job that requires you to haul ass all over the city every day, as well as being, on balance, fairly young and not misshapen, qualified Mitchell to receive free use of and even get paid for his time in, the Red Bull car.  This car was shaped something like an old Gremlin, painted silver red and blue, with the Red Bull logo on the side and a giant plastic Red Bull can on the top.  Mitchell would drive it around for work and hand out coupons and advertisements and make some money while he was at it.  

In his first day in the car, he drove by his old bus stop, slowed down and honked the horn and flipped off everyone standing there, which made him feel better about himself while simultaneously feeling bad about himself for feeling good about flipping off young mothers and professional types with briefcases.  He instantly resolved not to think about it at all anymore, but then the light at the corner was red and he had to sit there in the silver car with a Red Bull can on the top, right next to all the people he was not thinking about, and he wondered whether he should give them some flyers.  Then the light turned green and he drove away.  


Thursday, March 19, 2009


Dust kicks up in the wake of the bus and, turning her head North, Krista tries to close every orifice but involuntarily licks her lips and tastes powdered sugar.  Looking up and to the South she catches them, giant rotating snow machines sprinkling sugar from the rooftops.

"Gak," she clears her throat in disgust, and an elderly man nods in agreement, or in time with headphones.  Tiny blondes are dressed for the club, swathed in unnatural fibers and ringed by slouching striped-shirted men whose belts match their shoes.  Sweet dust settles in their sticky hairdos and they do not notice that it glows in the light of their Bluetooth headsets.

The elderly man's mp3 player gives out with a click and he pulls it from his too-tight corduroy pockets and shakes it.  When sugar comes shivering off the square screen along with the usual lint, he scowls up at Krista with mucusy eyes.  She just wrinkles her nose at him and scratches her chin, but he thinks this is a gang sign, a rallying cry to the girl's hidden henchmen, and he lurches behind the lone, iron-fenced tree.

Hurt, Krista recedes from the curb and strides up the street through the sweet mist in search of a more personally conducive stop.  Approaching the homeless man who halfheartedly hocks Streetwise outside the smoke shop, she imagines herself opening her wallet to him, emptying all of her cash, probably over forty dollars, into his faded paper cup.  His squinty, sweaty face would light up at her and he would stammer appreciative words in a tumble so confused and excited that they could not form themselves rightly into sentences.  He would praise God, undoubtedly; bless Her, personally; call her beautiful, likely.  He would tell her she had a beautiful smile, as people always did if she were smiling, or beautiful eyes, as people always did if she were not smiling.  

But she had passed him now without a nod or smile, and without money in his cup she was beautiful to no one.  No matter.  With sugar falling from the sky today, flour yesterday, it was liable to be eggs or yeast tomorrow and soon enough he could make all the meals he needed from the dust shaken off of tourists' umbrellas as they stared, giggling, up at the clouds.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Truth or Dare

The evening light tinged the buildings softly orange and the last of summer's dying bugs flailed about wildly in the glimmering air.  "Ugh," Kristi said and thought about spitting in the grate on the sidewalk, "Never play Scruples with your parents.  You find out things you do not want to know."

Jessie giggled and swayed her shoulders back and forth.  Kristi was her best friend, inordinately funny, eminently cool and a thousand other things besides.  

Kristi wrinkled her nose, forehead and lips and rolled her eyes.  "So not kidding," she said and did spit in the sidewalk grate.  Jessie was her best friend, terribly immature and kind of short, but a fantastic audience.

Jessie laughed harder and tried to work up some spit in the back of her mouth.  "What's Shcruples?" she slurred slightly as the spit gathered.

Kristi stretched her neck from side to side, trying to get it to pop like her older brother's did.  "Umm..." she said, her voice pinching and stretching with the shape of her throat, "It's like Truth or Dare in a card game.  Only without the dare part.  And the other people get to accuse you of lying and tell everybody about how they think you're a liar and then vote on it."

Jessie swished spit and squinted at her.  Tipping her head back, she gargled "Whad they asg?"

Kristi wrinkled her nose, drew a deep breath and blew it out hard at her bangs.  "Oof!" She said, "I'm telling you.  You do not want to know."  

Jessie stuck her left hip out hard, jammed her hand down on it and spat in the grate.  Wiping her chin, she grinned.  "It's not my mom!"

"Jesus, Jessie!"  cried Kristi and squinted at her, "Did you get any in the subway, or is it all on your face?"

Jessie blushed, but grinned wider.  "My loogie was bigger than yours anyway."  Kristi could always think to do something cool, like spit right in front of everyone at the bus stop, but Jessie could do it too, and she knew that Kristi was impressed.

Kristi shook her head at her and rocked back on her heels, staring up at the whorls carved into the tops of the buildings high above.  

Jessie watched her for a moment, swirling her key chain round and round her index finger.  "So?" she said at last.  

Kristi stomped forward onto her flat feet.  "You're such a damned busybody Jessie!" she said.  Jessie might know how to laugh at a joke and even how to tell one every once in a blue moon, but damned if she knew when one was over.  

Jessie narrowed her eyes at her, then turned away and looked toward oncoming buses.  "Whatever Kristi.  You effing brought it up."  She checked her watch and ran her tongue between her upper teeth.

Kristi laughed out loud then and grabbed Jessie around the shoulders.  "Oh my God, I'm just kidding.  You're such a Froot Loop!"  Jessie's shoulders were meatier than she expected, and she hugged her closer. 

Jessie shook her head and smiled slightly.  "So.  What happened?" She asked.

Kristi thought hard for a moment, staring at the sidewalk cracks and patting Jessie's arm.  Jessie knew this gesture, and thought she was about to get the superior eye roll and heavy sigh.  But Kristi suddenly squealed and turned to put her mouth right by Jessie's ear.   "Holy crap," she yelled, "My mom totally said that if people were having s - e - x on a park bench she'd stop to look!"

"Eeeeew!" Jessie wriggled away from Kristi and jumped up and down.  "Your mom is a total psycho!"

Kristi sighed, punched Jessie on the arm and said "Don't I know it." 


Thursday, March 5, 2009


All of a sudden, at the age of 34, Marian discovered that her teeth were narrower at the tops than they were at the bottom.  She had several cascading thoughts about this.  The first was that she really ought to be more observant about her own physiognomy, though this wasn't the first time something like this had happened to her.  When she was in college a man had pointed out to her that her toes didn't curl under, but laid flat just like fingers, and that the second to last one was longer than the middle one.  She had stared for a few moments at her vampire finger toes and then put on her clothes, left the room and never had a one night stand with a man with gel in his hair again.

Marian's second observation was that she should take her fingers out of her mouth or people were going to start staring at her, if they hadn't already.  Besides which she had no idea what kind of turbo germs she had just communicated into her mouth via her fingernails, seeing as how just a moment before she had been absentmindedly scratching the side of the bus shelter.  It had an poster for the new Batman movie on it and when she looked over she had seen her fingers scraping across an enormous reproduction of Christian Bale's face, airbrushed free of pores or facial hair.  

Her third thought was that she wished she had a mirror so she could look closely at her triangle-shaped teeth and see what impact this freakish oddity had on her smile.  Casually she leaned closer to Batman's gigantic head and tried to catch her reflection in his dark hair, but she could not see whether her teeth looked any different without grimacing abnormally at herself.  She sucked her tongue and leaned back again.  

Finally, staring intently at the Bale head, she wished that it was a poster for a light romantic comedy, or Channel 5 News, or some other brightly-colored sea of smiling faces that she could inspect for tooth shape and at least get some idea of whether she would need to make a dentist appointment as soon as she got home.  She ran her tongue over the front and back of all of her teeth, but she could not feel the shape of them as well as she could with her fingernails, and she longed to be home where she could inspect herself in the mirror, wash her hands and stroke her teeth with her fingertips or turn on the television to look at the toothy faces.

Marian gazed around her, looking for someone to make face-contact, but everyone stared vaguely into the distance.  They were all dressed for fall--thin men in white shirts and dusky blue sweater vests, pudgy young women in peasant skirts and brightly-colored scarves tied artfully around their necks.  But the late afternoon was still summery warm, and the bus exhaust blew across them in waves, bringing jewels of sweat to the chins and foreheads of the well-dressed commuters.  Leaning her head back and away from the onslaught of traffic, a middle-aged woman got caught in Marian's stare.  She wore a teal tweed suit with a silk blouse--no doubt soaked through with sweat at the armpits by now.  Marian smiled at her.  The woman stared, looked quickly behind her and then checked her watch.  Terrified, Marian automatically stuck her fingers back into her mouth and felt her teeth.  That seemed to clinch it.  Something awful had happened to her gums during the course of the day and she was now wandering the streets grinning at strangers with a horrific triangle-toothed smile that was extremely off-putting.  Marian was sure she would remember if people had always had this reaction to her smiling at them.  

Or at least fairly sure.

That stopped her heart for a moment, and she added flipping through old photo albums to her list of things to do as soon as she got back.  The mentally ticked off the list; one: check the state of teeth and gums in the mirror.  Two: see how current teeth and gums compare to earlier teeth and gums, particularly as relates to happy pictures with other people in them also looking happy and not uncomfortable or afraid.  Addendum: people not related to me.  Three: compare current and past shape of teeth and gums to examples in film, television and magazines.  Addendum: research whether examples have had their teeth capped.  Marian took a deep breath.  With this list compiled she felt much more prepared for whatever might befall her.  Wincing, she added a possible fourth: call the dentist, oral surgeon or emergency room, whichever seemed appropriate given the situation.  Pulling out her wallet, she checked the amount of cash inside, stepped to the corner and hailed a cab.