Sunday, June 29, 2008

At 32 Part 2


I’m sitting inside the church with my head down, sweating on a cold winter day. My face is red, my eyes damp, my suit ill-fitting. My mother’s wail fills the room. Her cries echo off Jesus; he seems sad, too. I don’t think Mom will ever recover from this, and I fear that I’ll recover far too soon. I’m more numb than sad as I sit on the pew with my family, which is now one less. The room smells clean, like a freshly-scrubbed kitchen table, the scents of wood, leather and lemon filling my nose. Sad Jesus watches over us, and he seems to be saying, "Well, folks, you’re safe in my house, but once you walk out that door you’re on your own. Sorry."

It’s early January, and this is the last place I want to be. I haven’t been inside a church in years. I’m a lapsed Catholic. My little brother, William, is at the microphone talking about Dave, telling a funny anecdote. Dave didn’t hate William; he saved all his hatred for me. I have a few funny stories I could tell about Dave, but no one wants to hear my Dave Stories on this day. It sure was funny that time Dave tried to stab me on Halloween because I had to audacity to give candy to a group of black kids. How about that time I came home from work and he was smoking crack cocaine at the kitchen table, mere hours before his girlfriend gave birth? Boy, that was hysterical! And all of those times he stole my car? Fucking hilarious. Who can forget the time Dave lied and told me that William was stuck in Camden just so he could get a ride to the nearest drug corner? It sure was fun having Dave put me in harm’s way over and over again, wonderfully thoughtful of him. Oh, I’ve got stories all right. Stories about a brother that I loved, but didn’t like. Stories of a brother who drank and smoked and snorted to ease the pain in his heart.

Goddam it, Dave, why were you such an asshole? Why couldn’t you just have been nice to me? Why couldn’t we be the kind of brothers who get along? Why did you have to torture me for thirty years? You started it. You hated me first. I wanted to like you, but you made it impossible.

My brother is gone now. Dave died in prison. Hung himself. The guards had been beating him, and they broke his spirit. He started to hear voices. Thought everyone was out to get him (and maybe they were). He lost it. He lost his sanity and his hope. They put him on Suicide Watch, then they stopped watching him and he committed suicide. He wrote to me just last month, and didn’t sound like a guy who was planning to kill himself. Dave had found religion, and seemed to be looking forward to the future. He told me he was sorry for all that he’d done to me. I wrote back to him. I told him that all was forgiven, that we’re brothers and that’s all that matters. Blood. I don’t know if he got the chance to read my letter before he died. We never got the chance to shake hands and start over, and it’s just not fair.

William finishes his speech and everyone claps. It was a good speech, a better speech than I could have given. I feel like I should get up there and say a few words about my dead brother. But what can I say about a brother whom I despised for most of my life? That Dave and I were best pals, that we really liked each other, that he was a swell guy? I try to think of something nice to say about Dave. I scour my brain. I need a funny story to tell the crowd. Something to lighten the mood; something to distract my mother from her crying for at least a few minutes. Then it comes to me. I think of a great story to tell, a funny story that makes Dave look good, makes him sound charming and kind. The perfect story. But the moment has passed. The service has moved on to the next thing. No more stories. I guess it’s for the best. If I’d have gone up there and told a heartwarming story about Dave, everyone would’ve been thinking, "But I thought Ervin and Dave hated each other." We did hate each other. But we were brothers.

Of course, the real reason I hated my brother had nothing to do with anything he’d actually done. It had nothing to do with him stealing my car, stealing my money, chasing me around with knife, smoking crack in the kitchen, calling me names, hurting my feelings, hurting our mother’s heart. What truly made me hate my brother was his ability to make me feel small and weak, feel helpless and afraid. Dave made me realize at an early age that I had more than a bit of coward in me, and for that I hated him.

All I can do now is survive and try to make something of my life. I understand Dave’s drug addiction. I’ve felt the pull myself while snorting lines of cocaine in Pizza Tent’s bathroom, while getting my heart broken and wanting nothing else but a big fat line of white powder. I will make something of my life; I will be the one in our family to succeed. I went through my drug phase and survived, but I must always be vigilant and avoid temptation in the future. I need to be someone my mother can be proud of. Dave’s gone and I’m still here. I used to have three brothers, now I have two. I never used to think about death, now I’m on the clock.

Tick, tick, tick.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

At 32 Part 1


Today I received a letter from Dave. He wrote me from his cell at East Jersey Prison in Rahway, New Jersey. He’s not in jail for robbing a candy store or a liquor store, not in for stealing a car or assaulting somebody, not in for buying or selling drugs. This time, Dave’s behind bars mainly for nonpayment of child support. I’m not even sure Dave knows how many kids he’s fathered. With his spotty criminal record, every mistake he makes is magnified. I’m surprised by the letter, as Dave has never written me previously. He’s sent a postcard or two, and a Christmas card once, but never a letter. His reading and writing skills are at an elementary school level, but he has shown improvement lately. When he was younger, all his time behind bars was spent rolling cigarettes and lifting weights, but on his recent trips to jail he’s been educating himself, reading books, mostly the Bible, and practicing his grammar.

He writes: "To my brother Ervin.

"How are you doing good I hope. Are you still smoking cigarettes bad habit I guess you know that much I never thought you would smoke I guess being subjected to them your entire life it was enevitble that you would smoke.

"I want to let you know that I apologize for any problems I caused you from my drinking and drug problem in the past. Because you know thats not the person that I really am Just was self medicating all the pain in my heart.

"Man I made so many mistakes in the walk of life is full of snares and traps I just seem to step in all of them what line was I in when they were passing out the brains.

"In any event I hope you and the family have a great Christmas sorry I cant be there you should be geting a bible study course in the mail thats from me Look it over once you have the time.

"I met some great people in the church Christian people and they mail me my Bible Study here. And they prey for me and my family and they are willing to except anyone who believes in God and Jesus died on the cross for us and your life will be so full with happyness and thats what God does looks out for all his children. I guess you herd enough of the God stuff but it is a shame we didn’t grow up in the church its good for all family and they seem to have important knowledge and wisdom that helps one have a better life.

"Tell everyone I said hi and have a great Christmas Don’t worry everything will work out.

"p.s. Tell mom I forgot if any one wants to send me a book or magazine they can by source of sale only that means from the book store or they can subscribe me a magazine or book.

"Im not aloud to have any hard back books and nothing with pictures of guns. So if any has an idea to send me something to read they can.

"Thanks for being a good brother talk to you later ervin.

"Later your brother


I’m not quite sure why, but I’m crying a little. Just a salty drop or two rolling down my cheek and onto my lips. I want to hate him. I’ve vowed to hate him forever. But I can’t. He’s my brother and I miss him. Maybe he’s really changed. Maybe he has found God and is a new man. He seems to honestly want to be a better person. I’ll have to go see him in the new year. Give him hug. Tell him I love him. Do I love him? I hope so.

I swallow a Percocet, which I’m taking for mouth pain after some recent extensive dental work. Avoiding the dentist for fifteen years did no favors to my teeth. My mouth doesn’t really hurt anymore, but the pills make me feel nice. I like feeling nice. Nothing wrong with that, right?

I fold the letter and slide it back into the envelope. I hope Dave and I will get a chance at a new beginning. I decide to write him back and let him know that all is forgiven. We’re brothers, after all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

At 17


I’ve been dating an older woman named Karen for several weeks. She’s twenty-two, five years older than I am. A real live, adult, sexual woman. I’m still a virgin, and she’s far from a virgin. Karen has had sex with a few of the guys at Pizza Tent, which I must try not to think about, lest I go crazy. She dated one of the assistant managers for a short time, a jerk named Bill who told me last week that Karen’s pussy wasn’t that good. "Dude, the pussy is average at best, nothing special," he said, with a cocky shrug. I told Bill that I wouldn’t know the difference between good pussy and bad pussy. I’d be happy with any pussy, as long as my penis found its way inside. Bill laughed and said, "You’ve got a lot to learn, kid." It hurts to know that my boss has fucked my girlfriend, because I haven’t even fucked my girlfriend. I haven’t had sex with anything except my left hand, a bottle of shampoo, a photo of Molly Ringwald, and a grapefruit.

Karen is short and skinny, with small tits and badly-dyed blonde hair. Her face isn’t anything special, kind of horsey, in fact, but she has a nice smile, all of her teeth are intact, and her personal hygiene is commendable. She always smells well-scrubbed. Also, she’s mentioned that she really wants to fuck me, which certainly bumped her up a few notches. She’s a sweet girl who won my heart one Saturday night by bringing me a milkshake while I was pissed off and sweaty, doing dishes by myself at work well after midnight. The store was a disaster of dirty dishes, sticky floors, and overflowing trash cans. She handed me a chocolate milkshake and said, "I thought you could use this." I wiped sweat from my eyes and said, "More than you know." I was filthy and smelled like onions and grease, but she didn’t mind. She came on to me. Flirted. Let me know she was available. Wooed me with great pickup lines such as: "I’m on the pill," and "My parents are really old and their hearing is bad, so it’s like they’re not even home at all, even when they are. I could moan for hours and they wouldn’t hear a thing. I could moan for you, Ervin, if you wanted me to."

Karen is not my dream girl or anything, but she is open to the idea of touching my penis, so I’ve decided to be her boyfriend. It’s more than just the possibility of sex, though. I like the attention. For the first time in my life, a girl has fallen madly in love with me. I don’t love Karen. Not yet. Maybe I will, maybe not. But she loves me. Karen has said that she’d do anything for me. It’s just nice to be wanted by someone. I’ve told her that I love her, and I will continue to do so, because she likes to hear it, because she’d feel stupid if I didn’t return the sentiment, because I want her to sleep with me, because I don’t even know what love is.

Tonight, I’m with Karen in her living room. We’re groping each other beneath a blanket. Her parents are in bed, sound asleep, their television blaring. Karen is wearing short shorts and a pink half-shirt, no bra. My fingers are under her shirt, twisting her somewhat hairy nipples (I never knew that girl nipples could be hairy). She moans, bites my shoulder, pulls my hair. She sucks on my tongue as if it’s her favorite flavor of lollipop.

I’m ready to burst.

I think This is it. I’m finally going to get some action.

"Ervin," she says, "promise me you won’t do drugs anymore. I can’t be with a guy who does cocaine. I just can’t. So promise me."

"I promise," I say, with sincerity. "That part of my life is over." I haven’t done any drugs since my nightmare Junior Prom, and I don’t even miss it. The urge is gone. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be this guy. The guy who has a girlfriend. The guy who’s about to get laid, thank you very much.

She pulls her shorts down and shoves her tongue deep inside my mouth. "Let’s fuck, Ervin," Karen says. "I want us to sleep together."

"Yeah, let’s do that," I say. "I think sex would be, um, awesome. It would, you know, strengthen our love and stuff."

"Are you ready for it?" she asks.

"Oh, yeah!"

I am suddenly very scared. Scared of the pussy. I tremble. My hands won’t stay still. My stomach offers pain and odd noises. My hard cock shows signs of weakness. The pussy is in front of me, calling out to me, and I am afraid of it.

"Fuck me," she says, pulling me to her. "Feel how wet I am."

I slide several fingers inside her, with ease. "That’s pretty wet," I say.

"Fuck me right now."

And I would totally fuck her if my penis was the least bit hard. But it’s not. It’s gone soft, like a deflated balloon, and I want to cry.

She goes down on me, trying to bring me back to life, without success.

"I’m sorry, Karen."

I feel betrayed by the lower half of my body.

Karen says, "It’s okay. We can just lay here. I know you’re nervous. Let’s just cuddle. I love you no matter what."

She holds me close. Her shorts are still down and her bare sex mocks me. There it is, close enough to touch. Its sweet aroma wafting through the room. Its wetness on my fingers. The pussy is teasing me. I close my damp eyes.

We fall asleep together, both of us wearing shirts and pants pushed down to our ankles. I dream about the sex I couldn’t have, dream that I’m strong and hard and fuck like a champion. I awake a few hours later with a gigantic (average-size but incredibly firm!) boner. I wake Karen, shake her, shout, "Get up! It’s urgent!" I am fully ready and Karen feels it and says, "Put it in. Now! Before it gets soft again," which doesn’t instill me with great confidence. She’s on the pill and that’s good enough for me, diseases be damned, because I’m seventeen and indestructible. I slide inside her and give her a sweet, hot, romantic, passionate, clumsy minute. I am no longer a virgin. I’ve done it. I’m seventeen and I’ve had sex.

What a relief.

She grabs a T-shirt and wipes between her legs. "I usually hate the mess of sex, but I don’t mind your mess. Your mess makes me smile."

"That’s sweet of you to say, gross but sweet."

Karen holds me close, pets me, kisses my forehead. "I’m glad we got your first time out of the way. I’m sure you’ll do better next time. We can practice all you want."

I say, "I don’t know what you’re talking about. I thought I was awesome." We both laugh. She tells me she loves me, and I lie and tell her I love her, too.

I hear my brother’s voice in my head. Karen is not Dave’s type. She’s much too tiny for a man of distinct taste like Dave. "I’m like ‘em big," he would often say. Dave may be gone for now, but he is never forgotten. I imagine that when he returns from his time in the carnival, he will be even more wise, if that is possible. And he will probably be missing a few more teeth. I envy my brother. Traveling across this great country, not a care in the world, spreading his demon seed to all the carny groupies across this great nation, rolling tight cigarettes and watching the rickety rides spin. I wish I could tell him that I just got laid. He’d appreciate that. Dave would congratulate me and then ask to smell my fingers.

Monday, June 2, 2008

At 12, Part 3


I lost a friend today. He didn’t die. He just doesn’t exist anymore, not in my little universe, anyway. Yesterday, Todd and I were like brothers; today, we are no longer friends. We will never again see each other. Never do anything together. We won’t ride the elevator with light bulbs shoved down our pants pretending we have massive erections while old ladies turn purple and shout "You two perverts are going to burn in hell!" as we laugh and laugh. Won’t argue over which of us Nicole likes better. Won’t smoke cigarettes Todd swiped from his father. Won’t battle it out playing Tank on his Atari 2600. And I won’t have to beg him not to show off his penis. My best friend has been taken from me. Stolen in the night. He did something stupid and went away. Todd did something that changed everything. Changed our future. Changed our past. Because now we have no future. Because now my memories of him are tainted.

An unfortunate incident occurred, and because of that incident, Todd will no longer be living at Chapel Manor. Because I’m a kid, my mother did not want to tell me what happened. Soon enough, though, she relented. It took her a long time to speak of the incident, and she was embarrassed to do so. She wouldn’t give the exact details, wouldn’t say certain words, but I was able to put the unbelievable pieces of the story together. Now, having just been given the truth, I sit in stunned silence on the living room couch. I want it to be a joke. Want it so badly to all be a silly prank. But Mom is not the joking kind. Her words are true as the summer sun.

Todd forced Franklin to give him a blow job.

Todd, my best friend, made Franklin, a young retarded boy, give him head. Just thinking of it brings the stinging vomit up my throat. Brings the heat to my cheeks. Brings the hot ache to my belly. Makes me gag. It happened in the woods, near the area that Todd set on fire. Franklin told on Todd right away, and the police came and took Todd away. He was taken away before I even woke up this morning. Franklin’s gone too, off to live with relatives somewhere far away. Both of them now gone for good, as if a magician had simply made them disappear and then died suddenly before having the chance to bring them back.

I don’t know why Todd did it, but I will never have the chance to ask him, because I no longer have a best friend. I’m pissed off at Todd for what he did, fucking enraged, but I also miss him like crazy. Already, I mourn his loss. At least now I understand why he was always trying to show me his penis. Why he always wanted us to drop our pants and compare wieners. Why he wanted to teach me his dazzling masturbation techniques. But he never put the moves on me. Was never forceful. I’d say, "No, Todd, I do not want to see how big your penis is," and then we’d move on, play video games or basketball. His penis fetish was never that big of a deal. Until it was. Today.

Mom is visibly uncomfortable when she asks, "Ervin, are you gay?"

"What?" I say, my face growing hot. "Mom!"

I vehemently assure my mother that I am not gay, unless you’re counting my taste in music, which is, in fact, very gay (and includes groups like The Carpenters, The Brady Kids, The Partridge Family, Culture Club, and Wham!). Mom tells me that gay is disgusting. That gay is wrong. Gay doesn’t seem that disgusting to me. I personally have no interest in kissing other boys, but who am I to tell everyone else who they should kiss? The only gayness that I’ve seen in my life has been on television, on late-night cable. Most of the dirty movies I watch when everyone else is asleep feature at least one or two lesbian scenes; for example: the adult Cinderella—when two beautiful sisters decided to lez-out together, the erection I get lets me know that gay is good. In fact, girls kissing other girls seems to do something in my pants akin to a miracle; a small miracle, in my case. Men kissing each other does nothing for me, but who am I to say it's wrong?

"You’re not a gay like Todd?" she asks. Mom definitely has a way with words. "Did he make you that way, too?" She’s acting as if a sudden outbreak of gay has spread throughout the apartment building.

"No, I’m not a gay. But I don’t think Todd is gay, either. And I don’t think you can make someone gay. I kinda think if you’re gay, you just are."

Mom scrunches her face and shakes her head. "Well, I think he’s gay."

"I’m pretty sure he just did it as some sort of punishment for Franklin, like, to hurt him or something, instead of just hitting him like usual. I don’t think he meant for it to, so gay," I say. "I think Todd was alone with Franklin, and Franklin was dripping snot and laughing and pulling his pants down, so Todd just got really mad and decided to punish him. But then things got out of hand. That’s what I think."

"Well, I know he was your friend and everything, but Todd is sick. What if he had done this to someone else? What if it was your little brother instead of Franklin?"

"It wouldn’t have been. Todd would never hurt anyone in our family. He just really had it in for Franklin."

Mom shrugs and says, "Whatever, Ervin. You think what you want. I have to go to work now. Keep an eye on your little brother, and don’t ever be gay."

My mother and I never have conversations that last more than a few minutes. She’s always moving around very quickly while speaking, and I know when the conversation is supposed to be over because suddenly I’ll be by myself. Mom always has numerous jobs, is always working, always heading out somewhere to earn money so her children can eat.

"Sure, Mom," I say, staring at the floor. I feel hollow. Feel the loss in my bones, the emptiness, like someone has just sucked out all of my marrow.

"You look so sad, Ervin."

"I just miss Todd. He was my best friend. It’s not fair. This totally sucks. I wish I could’ve at least said goodby to him, and told him what a jerk he is for doing what he did, for messing everything up." I begin to cry. I don’t want to cry. Todd doesn’t deserve my tears. Still, they flow.

She smiles. "Well, you’ll find a new friend, don’t you think?"

I would have answered her question, but she’s already out the door before I get the chance. Mom’s like Batman. You blink and she’s gone.

I have a few friends in the building, but none will be able to replace Todd. I have to accept that I’ve lost my best friend because of a blow job. I should feel sorry for Franklin, I really should. He’s young and retarded and doesn’t know anything. I should feel sorry for Franklin, but I don’t. I hate him, and I blame him for Todd’s sudden departure. Of course it’s not Franklin’s fault, but fuck him and his snotty fucking face for even existing in the first place. And I hate myself for not being there, for not stopping Todd from doing what he did. Todd needed me to keep the Devil inside him, like I’ve always done. But the Devil came while I slept. Came and took my friend away.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

At 16, Part 5


I met her on a Friday night just a few weeks ago, and fell for her instantly. Fell hard. A traveling carnival was in town for the week, and had set up the sad-looking rides and rigged games in the parking lot of a large hospital that’s named after a dead president. It was one of those no-frills sort of carnivals, with cheap stuffed animal prizes and rides held together with rusty bolts and spit. I wandered around aimlessly with Vito, checking out the girls. We were a little drunk. A lot drunk. All smiles and stumbling cheerfulness. We rode a few of the smaller rides, the ones intended for little children, and then I threw up behind the freakshow tent. After vomiting, I felt better and more lucid, but still had a nice buzz going.

My older brother was there that night. Dave had just returned home from another stint of incarceration, and was in good spirits. He was not drunk, not high, had inhaled no illegal substances. Dave was just happy to be alive and free, and had vowed to change his ways. For once, he actually gave me money. He handed me a twenty and said, "Here, Erv, have fun." It was nice seeing him this way. Happy, funny, relaxed. That night, I had fun with my brother. I wasn’t at all ashamed to be related to him, which was a nice change of pace. "If you need anything, just let me know," he said, just before I wandered away with Vito.

"Your brother is acting weird, almost like a normal human being," Vito said.

"I know. It’s freaky, right? It’d be nice if he was that way all the time. I’m really liking Dave right now. When he's not being an asshole, he's actually kind of awesome."

The carnival started to shut down at eleven o'clock. Most of the employees were missing teeth and had huge, ugly tattoos of naked women and flaming skulls covering their arms. As they packed up for the last time, as they prepared to move on to a new city, I noticed that Dave was helping take apart the rides. They’d recruited him. My brother fit right it. Dave looked like he’d been a carny all his life. With his missing tooth and his black cross prison tattoo, he was one of the guys. I waved to him and he waved back, and I’d never seen him as happy. Dave suddenly had a purpose. Had real work to do. Had a place where he belonged. Dave was Carny Folk now.

After I lost my last dollar trying to knock over a stack of plastic bottles with a rubber ball, Vito and I walked away from the carnival. The flashing lights had stopped flashing. The cotton candy had been put away. The smell of dirty, underfed animals began to fade. The show was over. Another year, another carnival. Vito was in the middle of telling me how many girls he could have banged if he wasn’t such a good friend ("Dude, there were, like, ten girls all over my shit tonight, but I wanted to hang with you, ‘cause you’re my boy. If I was by myself, I’d have gotten at least four blow jobs."), when suddenly a big-eyed, tall girl stepped in front of me and smiled. She wore tight, carefully-torn jeans and a Metallica T-shirt, and had long brown hair, parted in the middle. messily feathered. I was immediately taken by her impossibly large green eyes. So big they almost ruined her face. Almost. There’s a fine line between lovely and hideous, and her eyes were just the right kind of big. I couldn’t look away from the sparkling green.

"Hey," she said, her grinning face close to mine. She stood directly in front of me, blocking my way. She reeked of cheap mall perfume and pot, but I didn’t mind. "You’re really cute, you know that?"

I turned and looked at Vito, then back at her, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d made a mistake. She must be talking about Vito I thought. But she was looking right at me. Her eyes were bloodshot, bright green streaked with uneven lines of red, and she was definitely stoned, but there was no doubt she was talking to me. Talking to the skinny, pale guy in the Wolverine T-Shirt.

"You’re cute, too," I said. "I like your eyes. They’re really green and big, like big green balls of, um, I don’t know, green." Real smooth, Erv. I was quickly damp and hot, hands trembling, heart racing.

Vito stood nearby, quiet, possibly in shock, watching the scene unfold.

"I’m Lacy," she said. Then she stepped forward and put her arms around me, pulled me closer, and, as if in a dream, shoved her tongue in my mouth. Within seconds, we were full-on making out. We were all tongues and sweat and heat. Her mouth tasted like schnapps and cigarettes. I grabbed her ass. I was bold as hell and wondering what had gotten into me. I was groping a girl I’d never met before, in public, with a small crowd looking on.

"Damn!" Vito said, jealously watching. "I’m next!"

"I’m Ervin," I said to Lacy, at the first opportunity to speak, as I gasped for air.

She smiled, a dopey, stoned, lovely smile. "I've been watching you for, like, an hour, and I've been wanting to kiss you, so I did."

"I’m glad you did," I said. "I’ve been wanting to get kissed, so it all worked out."

We kissed again. I grew dizzy. Couldn’t believe this was happening. I didn’t know this girl. Our tongues were connected. Most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. Didn’t know where she came from. Didn’t care. The world was out of focus around us. There was just us. Everything else a blur.

"Do you like Bon Jovi?" she asked, between soft kisses.

"No, I like the Beastie Boys. They’re my favorite. I saw them with Public Enemy at the Spectrum. It was awesome."

"That’s a shame," she said. "How about Poison or Winger?"


My heavy metal girl then said, "You need better taste in music, dude."

Our first disagreement. How cute. I wondered how long it would be before she ended up backstage at a Bon Jovi concert, flashing her tits to the drummer.

Vito slipped away while I was jamming my tongue down Lacy’s throat. Guess he’d seen enough.

Soon, too soon, it was over. Lacy and I exchanged phone numbers and said goodbye, kissed again quickly. Lacy waved goodbye and walked off with her friends. They were all giggles as they disappeared from sight. I looked at the small piece of paper in my hand. Next to her phone number she had written, "I want your body!"

I began to walk home alone, my lips tingling, a wet spot in my underwear, the pre-cum a result of some more than mild excitement on my part. I must not have been paying attention, because I bumped into a drunk, dirty, large angry teenager whom I recognized from school. He was a few years older and his name was Eddie. He took a quick disliking to me.

"Watch where you’re fucking going, faggot!" he said.

"Sorry, man, I was, just, um."

"You want me to kick your fucking ass?" He stepped close, bumped my chest with his. The monster on his Iron Maiden T-shirt looked right at me with its cartoon devil eyes.

"No, I, um, really don’t. I was just trying to cross the street. I live right over there." I pointed, showing Eddie where I lived.

"What do I care where you live? What, do you want me send you a fucking Valentine’s Day card or something, queer?" Eddie asked, then shoved me to the ground. He kicked my leg, then bent down and grabbed my shirt. "I will kill you!" He spit a little with each word spoken, and I was getting soaked.

I knew that Eddie had been in at least three or four fights at school; he rode the short yellow bus, affectionately referred to by the student body as the "Tart Cart," and a couple of boys had teased him about it, so he kicked their asses. He balled his fist. Cocked his arm. I closed my eyes. Eddie was going to punch me in the face. I had never been punched in the face before. At least part of my face was numb from all the kissing. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt too badly when he clocked me. I put my hands in front of my face and prepared for the worst.

Then I heard my brother’s voice.

"Let him go, asshole," Dave said.

I opened my eyes and saw Dave and Eddie standing face-to-face. Dave had a small grin on his face. Eddie looked scared. Even though Dave was over eighteen and Eddie was under eighteen, I knew Dave would still kick Eddie’s ass if he felt like it. Age was only a number to Dave. In fact, earlier that night I’d spotted him making out with a sixteen-year-old girl from my Geometry class.

Dave helped me up and said to Eddie. "This is my brother. Nobody messes with him. You got that? You tell everyone that Ervin is not to be fucked with, or I’ll come after them. You spread the word, okay?"

"Sure, Dave." Eddie slowly backed up. "I didn’t know that he was your brother. My mistake. I’ll see ya." Eddie walked off in a hurry.

"Thanks, Dave," I said.

"No big thing. That’s what brothers are for. That kid’s a punk anyway." He laid a hand on my head and messed up my hair. "Who’s your favorite brother?"

"You are, Dave."

He shook my hand, said goodbye, then left town with carnival. He said he’d be back in about a year, when the carnival returned to New Jersey. Dave finally seemed like he had his life together. I thought I’m really gonna miss that guy.

Lacy and I talked on the phone for the next few nights, and our conversations were short but nice. She told me that she’d recently broken up with her boyfriend, and if he found out she was messing around with someone else, he’d surely kick my ass. "He knows how to fight," she said. "His last name is Fish, so, you know, that should give you all the warning you need."

"Of course, but I think I can handle myself," I said, acting as if Dave was a witch who’d cast a protection spell over me. Even though he had left town, I still felt safe. My brother had laid down the law: no one messes with Ervin. Who would dare defy his word?

"I don’t usually just go up to random guys and start sucking their face, but you're just so fucking adorable," she said. "And you’re so, like, straight-laced. You’re the perfect boy-next-door. And those dimples. Sexy."

I took a deep, calming breath and said, "Listen, I have this Junior Prom coming up, and I need a date. Will you go with me?" I felt sick. Asking a girl out always made me nauseated.

"Sure, sweetie. Hey, and if you play your cards right, you might just get lucky. You ever get lucky before?"

"Sure," I said. I made a mental note to myself: Junior Prom, lose virginity.

Everything was going perfectly until this morning. Until Lacy called me and somberly said, "Look, Erv, I have to tell you, I got back together with my boyfriend last night. We had a long talk and decided to try one more time."

"The Fish guy?" I asked.

"Yeah, him."

"So, what are you saying? That you don’t want to go to Prom with me?"

"No, no, I’ll still go if you really want me to. I said I would."

"Don’t sound so excited."

I knew that Prom was ruined. I was taking someone else’s girlfriend. I no longer had a date, I had a friend.

She sighed. "It’s just a tough spot for me, you know. I’m in a bind here. But I won’t go back on my word. I’m no cunt. But don’t worry, my boyfriend said I could still go with you. He won’t beat you up or anything, as long as you don’t try anything."

"Well, thanks," I said.

Right now, I am in a limousine with Lacy, and Manny and his date. It is very apparent that Lacy does not want to be going to Prom with me. I know this because five minutes ago she looked at me and said, "I should never have agreed to this. I should be with my boyfriend."

After several minutes of complete silence, Manny leans over to me and whispers, "Don’t worry, man, I’ve got a surprise that’s gonna make it all okay. Just try and enjoy yourself. Screw her if she doesn’t want to be here. Fuck that bitch."

Manny hands me a bottle of cheap peach schnapps and I quickly guzzle half the bottle.

I want to get drunk, high, wasted.

Lacy looks wonderful in her lime green dress. Goes with her eyes. And I would tell her that if I didn’t want to strangle her instead.

Manny asks me to move in close, and he opens his jacket and shows me what he’s packing. His special surprise.

Turns out, Manny has an eightball of cocaine. A very large bag of coke. Enough for many, many lines. I vowed never to do coke again, but now I just don't care. I am not going to lose my virginity, so instead I will snort copious amounts of cocaine. Makes sense to me. This will definitely be the last time. I believe that a broken heart and a fucked up experience at Prom gives me special dispensation to be an asshole.

"What time’s this thing gonna be over?" Lacy asks me.

"Soon, I hope," I say.

We arrive at Prom and immediate have our picture taken. Lacy gives a fairly believable smile, then asks me to dance, and I begin to think that maybe this evening won’t be so bad after all. We dance for three minutes, a slow dance, to Berlin’s "Take My Breath Away," and Lacy seems distracted through the entire song. Manny and his girlfriend are dancing and looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. Must be nice.

After my dance, Manny and I sneak off to the bathroom, lock ourselves in a stall, then snort a few lines of white powder. In my fancy clothes, I don’t just feel like a drug user, I feel like a well-dressed drug user, like a Mafia kingpin. I exit the bathroom, wiping my nose, body afire with pleasure, and discover that my date is no longer in the building. Apparently, her boyfriend, Fish Dude, arrived at the ballroom and took my date away. They made out in front of everyone, then took off. People feel sorry for me. I hate when people feel fucking sorry for me. But I like to feel sorry for myself. "Dude, that’s fucked up," Manny says. "I can’t believe that bitch." The news spreads quickly, and I am suddenly Prom’s big loser. I’m the guy whose date took off with another guy. Everyone stares at me, pointing, whispering, giggling.

I am now at Prom without a date, unless you count Manny, who is pretty like a girl but in a very manly way. Manny and his date have rented a room so they can fuck all night long, and they invite me along because they feel sorry for me, but I say that I’d rather just go home and fall on a knife. Manny gives me what’s left of the coke and I go home, to my small matchbox of a house, and I cry only a little, just enough to let myself know that I’m not a robot. I snort more coke and watch Animal House on HBO. My mind is in a million places at once, and my body feels like a hundred women have their mouths on my flesh. I think I am going to die because of the tremendous amount of coke that I’ve ingested this evening, but I don’t die. I don’t sleep, either. I look in the mirror and decide that I don’t like myself very much. I have lost my identity. I used to be good. Now I’m not. I am some kind of defective person. Just another white kid in suburbia numbing his pain.

The sun is up and I haven’t been to sleep. My skin is tingling and hot, and I need more drugs, but I’m out of coke. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, eating pizza for breakfast. All I ever seem to eat is pizza. I’m still wearing my wrinkled Prom suit. My mother enters the kitchen, wearing her waitress outfit. She’s just come home from the overnight shift at the grease-pit diner.

"Did you just get home?" she asks.

"Nah, I’ve been home for awhile."

"How’d it go?"

"It was okay. Nothing special."

I am such an asshole.

Mom sits down next to me. I try not to look her directly in the eyes, for fear that she will instantly know that I am on drugs. Moms know these sort of things. Moms can just tell. I try not to sniffle. There’s cocaine inside me. In my bloodstream. In my hair, my skin, my saliva. I want it out.

"Have you been drinking?" Mom asks. She’s smiling a little, as if she’s almost proud of me. There was a time when everyone in my family thought I was gay, so for Mom to know I was out with a girl makes her very happy, and to know that I’ve been drinking, well, maybe she’s proud of me for not being a complete and total nerd.

"Oh, yeah, I had a couple of drinks."

"That’s okay, Ervin. I’m not mad. You’re a good kid. You’ve never caused me any trouble. Good things are going to happen to you, because God sees how good you are."

I want my mother to stop talking. She’s making me feel like complete and utter garbage. I’ve stolen, lied, cheated, indulged. I am a fraud. I’m embarrassed and ashamed. My mother sees none of my flaws, because I’m her angel. I could fuck a goat in the living room, shout, "Hey, Mom, I’m fucking this goat in the living room," then kill the goat and eat it, and my mother wouldn’t even notice, or she’d blame it on Dave. I could say, "Mom, it was me. I fucked and killed that goat," and Mom would reply, "No, you wouldn’t do something like that. You’re the good one."

But that’s all I want.

To be good.

Friday, May 9, 2008

At 12, Part 2


I’m in Nicole’s sixth-floor apartment, adults absent, about to begin a heated game of Spin-the-Bottle with a group of kids from the building. Just a small motley assemblage of horny eleven, twelve, and thirteen-year-olds, looking to get some hot tongue action. Or more. We’ve just added a new wrinkle to our game play: Seven Minutes In Heaven. A boy and a girl alone in a dark closet for seven blissful, possibly tit-touching minutes. The suddenly more adult nature of our game was Todd’s idea. No surprise since he’s the oldest, tallest, and most likely to be arrested for a sex crime in the future. When Todd floated the idea of "special closet time," no one protested. No one wanted to come off as scared. I’m sure that we’re all terrified of the idea, save Todd, of course, but none of us wants to show fear. I certainly don’t want to admit that the idea of time alone with a member of the opposite sex terrifies me. So we proceed. I see fear in people’s eyes. Hands shaking. Beads of sweat on almost every forehead. My heart races. My stomach burns. I can’t wait to begin—if I don’t run and hide in a moment of panic, that is.

There’s seven of us. Four boys and three girls. Aside from myself, there’s pervy Todd; Nicole, the pretty, blonde, shy object of mine and Todd’s lust; Gerry, he of the buck teeth, flabby body, and club foot; Juan, equal parts white, black, Spanish and Native American, and clearly the stud of our little group; Talia, Juan’s skinny, tall, obnoxious, beautiful sister; and then there’s Lisa, who’s just moved into the building and is still a bit of a mystery, with her dark hair and eyes, her flat-chested, boyish figure, her vampire fangs, her short punk rock hairdo. We know almost nothing about Lisa, but the boys are clearly intrigued. This is her first appearance at our now-weekly, surprisingly innocent (thus far) make-out sessions. Talia and Nicole are clearly jealous, as they’re used to getting all the boys’ attention. But a new girl changes the equation. It’s going to be an interesting night.

Truth is, we’re just kids playing grownup. Doing what we think adults are supposed to do, even though we’re still children. I still collect comic books and action figures. I’d rather read the latest issue of Detective Comics than go to the mall and look at girls (I mean, girls are great and all, but no girl, no matter how big her boobs are, is cooler than Batman), and I recently taped firecrackers to all my Star Wars action figures and blew the hell out of the Empire. Then I burned down my Death Star Playset. Lit the large plastic toy on fire and watched it melt and ooze black smoke. I still prefer Saturday morning cartoons to adult movies on cable, though the gap is definitely closing (I recently had some uncomfortable, just plain wrong thoughts about the animated ladies from "Scooby Doo."). I do not want to grow up. I like being a kid. But the kissing is a nice way to feign adulthood without having any of the responsibilities. Tonight may get serious in a sexy kind of way, and it’s possible that I’ll lose more of my innocence than I’d like to.

It’s not just me. It’s all of us. Todd spends his weekends playing Frogger and Moon Patrol, and solves a Rubix Cube faster than anyone I know. He’s also strangely fascinated by "The Smurfs," but I think that could just be his perverted interest in Smurfette, whom he believes has to service all the male Smurfs on a nightly basis. Nicole, my Jewish Princess, has an extensive Barbie collection. Gerry is addicted to Lucky Charms and Bazooka Joe gum. Juan is a break-dancer, and carries a large piece of cardboard around with him; he keeps telling me I need to buy a nice silver pair of parachute pants to match his, so we can walk around town and challenge people to dance-offs. I haven’t quite mastered the art of break-dancing. Or dancing in general. Or moving my body in any sort of coordinated manner. Lisa says she still fiddles with her Easy Bake Oven. Talia collects stuffed animals. We may just be a bunch of poor apartment kids about to stick our tongues in each other’s mouths and swap A.B.C. (already been chewed) gum, but I get the feeling we’d all just rather pull out a Monopoly board and fight over who gets to be the shoe. Except for Todd. He’s still a kid at heart, just with a bigger boner than the rest of us.

I know I have to grow up. I know kissing girls is nice, and I do sort of like it. I know I can’t stay a kid forever. But is it wrong to want to? Is it so bad to want another innocent year hoping that Santa Claus brings me a new batch of Star Wars toys to replace the ones I blew up or set on fire? Is it so terrible to not want to go all the way with a girl just yet?

We begin with a spin of an empty Coke bottle and a simple, quick kiss. I kiss Nicole on her cherry lip gloss lips. We’re both mildly embarrassed as the others stare at us and Todd hoots and hollers, but the candle-lit room’s mood lighting hides our surely red cheeks. The game continues. Todd kisses Talia, and she quickly pulls away when he tries to slip her the tongue. "You nasty, boy!" she says, wiping her mouth on her long puffy sleeve, and everyone giggles. Talia dresses like Prince’s little sister, as if waiting for that call to join The Revolution and His Purpleness on tour at a moment’s notice. Gerry spins and his momentary visible excitement fades into stone-faced rejection as Talia extends her hand for a shake instead of a kiss. The girls never kiss Gerry. Not Nicole, not Talia, not one of the three or four other girls in the building who sometimes play in our kissing games, and I’d imagine that the new girl isn’t too keen on lip-locking with poor Gerry, who compliments his crooked buck teeth with sour breath similar to long-outdated milk. I feel bad for him. No one will ever call him cute. As much as it embarrasses me, I do like it when girls tell me how cute I am. If one of the girls here tonight shook my hand instead of kissing me, I’d probably cry and never play these kissing games again. But Gerry always comes back for more. I guess he thinks someday his kiss will come.

I spin and the bottle points to Lisa, the new girl. She smiles. I lick my lips. She says, "Why don’t we take this game up a notch? How about me and you go into the closet, Ervin? I’d like to try the Seven Minutes In Heaven thing? How about it, cutie pie?" I nod vigorously. Todd leans close to me and whispers, "She wants to suck your dick, dude." Lisa stands and takes my moist hand. She’s an inch taller. A year older. A grade above. The girl knows what she’s doing. She leads me into the small, musty closet. Todd shouts, "Grab some tit for me, if you can find ‘em!" I am beyond embarrassed, my cheeks burning. Lisa shoots Todd the middle finger and calls him a neanderthal. He says, "Thanks." Lisa whispers in my ear, tells me she hates Todd, and it excites me to know that Lisa likes me and not him.

We sit together on the floor of the closet, cross-legged, facing each other, our knees touching, a still-wet umbrella pressing against my back. It’s dark, with only a tiny beam of yellow light creeping in. The closet is mostly filled with shoes, and the scent of dirty feet invades my nostrils. I start to sweat immediately inside the stuffy little sex room.

"I wanted to come in here with you because you’re the cutest and nicest boy," Lisa says, and I follow her lips as they move. She’s wearing green-tinted lipstick that kind of glows in the dark.

"I thought you might want to come in here with Juan," I say. "He seems to be the guy all the girls want to be with."

I am by no means an ugly kid. I’ve overheard most say that I’m "cute," and believe me, I’ll take it. But "cute" translates into "non-threatening." I have blond hair, fair skin, freckles, dimples, no muscles to speak of. I’m the boy next door. The sweet kid that mothers love. Juan, on the other hand, is the tall, dark, handsome stud that fathers want to keep their daughters away from.

"Who? That Menudo reject?" She laughs as she rubs my bare knee. "He’s good-looking and all, but not my type. I like ‘em like you. Sweet and shy."

"What do you think of Todd?" I ask, already knowing the answer. I just want to hear her say bad things about the other guys so I’ll feel better about myself. Petty, I know, but ego-boosting nonetheless.

"Todd is crass, but mildly entertaining. He smells like the stuff that gets caught between my toes and he has big ears."

She takes my hand in hers. Her hands are as sweaty as mine. Makes me feel better. Makes me think she’s nervous too.

"Should we kiss now?" I say, smooth as high school bathroom toilet paper.

"Ervin, you’re adorable. Come here, baby."

She wraps her arms around my neck, leans in, opens her mouth wide, and then jams her long tongue into my mouth. If she wasn’t a girl whom I was playing group sex games with, I might think she was an assassin trying to suffocate me. I pull away after a few seconds, gasping for air.

"Wow," I say, more shaken up than turned on.

"I know, right? Am I not the best kisser ever?"

Her mouth tastes like hot dogs and peanut butter.

"Yeah, best ever." I pause, searching for the right words. I add, "But can we do it without tongues for awhile."

"You wuss!" she snaps. "Without tongues is stupid. French kissing is the only way to do it."

Lisa grabs my left hand and places it on her right boob. Or at least the smallish bump on her chest that I’m hoping is a boob. It could just be a protruding rib. I pinch to make sure, and feel her nipple harden beneath my fingertips. She moans. Her nipples are huge, and I’m aroused instantly. Not just aroused. Ready to burst. The slightest movement, I fear, will cause me to come in my shorts. I pull my hand away from her little tit because I don't want to mess myself.

"So you’re my boyfriend now."

"Um, okay."

"I like you a lot."

"Same here."

"You ever had a girlfriend before?"

"A real one?"

"What, you’ve had fake girlfriends?"

I quickly think of a clever retort. "Sure, I’ve dated a couple of Barbie Dolls. I’ve also dated a lot of girls who didn’t know we were dating, because I was imagining it."

Instead of laughing, Lisa squints and stares at me as if I have a glass eye that’s just fallen out. "You’re weird, Ervin."

She kisses me again. Licks my teeth with her tongue.

We exit the closet a minute later, holding hands, smiling, presenting ourselves to the world. Lisa leads. I follow. Everyone is waiting for us to rejoin the circle, but we remain standing.

"Game’s over," Lisa says. "Ervin’s my boyfriend now, and I don’t want him kissing other girls, and I’m sure he doesn’t want me kissing other boys, right?" She squeezes my hand. Digs into it with her nails. Breaks the skin. Hurts me.

"Right," I say, on cue.

"Ah hell, you pussy," Todd blurts out. "Thanks for ruining the game." He stands up, shakes his head, then walks straight out the front the door.

Juan shrugs indifferently, then goes back to fixing his curly hair in the mirror.

Nicole stands up and, without a hint of jealousy, says, "Well, I guess that’s it."

Lisa looks at me and says, "Now what?"

I don’t know. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’m not sure what a guy is supposed to do with a girl once she’s his. This is all rather sudden. Guess I’ll just have to make it up as I go. And in the future, I’ll have to figure out how to get away with touching a girl’s boob without having to make a long-term commitment.

So, now I have girlfriend. A girlfriend whom I barely even know. What the hell was I thinking? My relationship with Lisa is only minutes old, and I'm already trying to come up with a way out. Maybe I can convince my mother that we need to move, like, right now, before my new girlfriend tries to have sex with me.

Monday, May 5, 2008

At 16, Part 4


We’re heading to Camden to buy drugs of the snortable kind. Myself, Vito, Manny, and Derrick, another Pizza Tent cook craving a few lines of blow. Each of us is finishing up our junior year at Cherry Hill High School West. All that’s really left of this school year is Junior Prom and final exams. Tonight, though, school is the furthest thing from our minds. We’re not concerned about the future. We simply want to snort a few lines of coke and then maybe score a hooker. I’m not sure where the prostitute idea came from. Just a thought floating in the air as we drove to Camden. I’m sure we were all thinking We’re going to Camden and there are hookers in Camden. Then Vito, Manny and Derrick began to discuss all the different ways they were going to fuck said hooker. But what kind of hooker to get? White? Black? Thin? Thick? Young and fresh? Older and experienced? Maybe more than one hooker? We are four, after all.

It’s decided that we’ll only need one hooker, since I’ve stated vehemently that I won’t be "doing no naked sex stuff with no hooker," since I am, apparently, a grammatically-challenged big fucking pussy. It’s then decided it’ll only be blow jobs for the gang and not full-on penetration, because Derrick has a girlfriend and he doesn’t want to cheat on her. We’re all certain that a blow job isn’t really cheating. It’s then decided that the hooker should be as young as possible. The less time she’s had on the streets, the less hardened she’ll be, and the greater the chance that she won’t yet have acquired too potent an STD. An agreement cannot be reached on whether or not our hooker should be black or white, so the decision is made to split the difference and purchase a Spanish girl’s time. None of the boys are too concerned about the hooker’s weight, but she must have nice breasts and a pretty smile. Since I’m not participating, my input was not required. But they still need my twenty bucks. "Least you could do," says Vito. "You wanna be a chicken, you gotta pay up."

My reasons for not enjoying a nice bit of head from the hooker aren't especially noble. I don’t feel bad for any of the streetwalkers, and I certainly don’t begrudge them making a living. I am not on some moral high horse. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. I’m just scared. Plain and simple. I’m almost as afraid of hookers as I am Demonic Possession, heights, spiders, and Global Thermal Nuclear War.

I blame The Last American Virgin. No, not me. The movie. Virgin is a teen sex comedy that haunts me. Most of your typical teen sex comedies, Porky’s and the like, are fun, irreverent, nudie romps about high school kids trying to get laid. Virgin is a little different. Sure, there’s the prerequisite nudity, drugs, sex, and comical STD scenes, but the movie has one of the saddest endings ever put on film. There’s a scene where our Hollywood-typical group of teens (you’ve got the fat one, the horny one, and the sensitive one) visit a prostitute. A mean, jaded, awful hooker who berates the main character, the sensitive one. Who calls him names and says awful things about his manhood. Who turns his first sexual experience into a nightmare. Since seeing that movie, I’ve had nightmares about random hookers laughing at the size and ferocity of my penis. So, at all costs, I’ve made it a mission of mine to never allow a prostitute to see my manhood. Also, I’ve decided to never again dance in public, but that’s not an issue tonight. Just the hooker thing.

Our hooker happens to be named Precious. We picked her up and worked out a reasonable deal for her services. She’s on my lap. Grinding on my not-completely limp dick. About to, I’m sure, make fun of me. But, in a shocking turn of events, I’m suddenly fully hard. Respectably hard. Bulging beneath my jeans, my cock looks almost...impressive. Vito is driving, with Manny sitting next to him. I’m with Derrick and Precious in the back. Precious on my lap, grinding. She’s a tall, thick young girl, with a nice face and long dark hair. Her left hand is resting on Derrick’s crotch. Messaging his pecker over his jeans. Precious smells like she’s had a long night already. She has the lingering odor of recent tricks.

Vito looks into the rearview mirror and sees the sexy scene going on in the back and says, "Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about! Give it to her!"

I’m a little drunk. Had a couple of beers. Don’t know what’s going on. Don’t know how to stop it. Don’t know if I want to stop it. Vito parks the car in a dark alley, and I am taken with a great and all-consuming panic.

Vito takes the key from the ignition and says, "All right, Erv goes first. Everybody else get out."

Manny turns his head and offers a large smile. "Good luck," he says. "Don’t catch anything I wouldn’t catch."

"Why can’t I go first?" Derrick wonders, climbing out of the car.

I stare ahead, focusing on the large fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror. Wondering What’s going on here? Also, silently panicking. I, of the clean penis and strong anti-sex-with-hookers mantra, am about to engage in unseemly acts with a professional-type lady of the night whose fingers smell like the cock and balls of fifty questionable men.

Vito, Manny, and Derrick fire up a joint and smoke up while leaning back against the car. They allow me my privacy. My friends seem to have forgotten that I didn’t want any part of this madness. I was the one who protested. Yet here I am. Alone with Precious. Precious is still a teenager. She’s possibly the same age as me, possibly younger. Too young to be in this line of work. Old enough to know how to grind.

"My nuh-nuh-name is Ervin," I say, with no small amount of difficulty.

"That’s great," she says. "But not really important, Erwin, unless you wanna be my boyfriend or something."

"That’s okay," I say.

She’s straddling me. Facing me. Her pleated skirt pulled up. Her sheer panties on the floor. I’m still fully dressed. She lifts off her tight shirt and presses her tits against my face. Precious wears too much makeup, I'm guessing to cover her obvious acne problem. Her breasts are large and soft. I should know because I’m practically eating them. I’m also about to pass out from lack of oxygen. Mercifully, she pulls her tits away from my face. She pushes me down on the backseat and unzips my pants. I like that she’s not as ostentatious as the other streetwalkers I saw tonight. Her outfit is somewhat demure in that it covers all of her dirty parts. At least it did until about a minute ago. She’s now mostly naked, just wearing the short skirt and black high heels, and trying to pry me from my clothes.

"I’m not sure about this," I say. "I mean, I don’t know anything about you."

"I fuck for money," she says succinctly.

As she slides my pants and underwear down, fear gets the better of me. Outright panic. My erection fades fast. Like a tire losing air. Precious places the deflating member in her mouth, performing sexual CPR. Sucking, stroking, squeezing. Nothing. I am limp and I am going to stay limp. This is not working for me. I don’t want my first time to be with this girl, that much I know. Still, an erection might make this moment less embarrassing. Even a partial erection might lesson the ego-crusher I’m about to experience. I think Please don’t let this hooker laugh at me.

"I’m sorry. This isn’t going to happen," I say, looking down at her and the sad little shiny thing in her hand. I’m ashamed, and relieved.

"Whatever, I’m still charging you," she says, wiping her mouth. "Send in the next faggot."

I pull up my pants, while repeatedly telling her that I’m sorry.

"You know what your problem is, hon?" Precious asks.

"What?" I ask. She has my full attention. Maybe this young prostitute has all the answers. Maybe she will help me. Guide me. Show me the way. Turn me into the great stud I'm destined to become.

"You’re the kind of dude who needs to be in love. You can’t just go out and fuck some girl you don’t got no feelings for. Find yourself a sweet little high school girl and get some high school nookie. Hookers ain’t for you. Sorry, kid, hate to break this to you but you ain’t no stud. Now send in the Italian kid. I’ll bet he’s got the best shot at getting it up."

I smile and tell her thanks. My days dreaming of being a stud are over. I am what I am. I’m a relationship guy, not a fuck-and-run guy. At least she didn’t make fun of me. Well, not directly, anyway. She didn’t call me names. I won’t be scarred for life from this. Just for a day or two.

As I climb about of the car, Vito climbs in. "Hope you got her warmed up for me. I’m gonna fuck this bitch silly."

The door closes and Manny squeezes my shoulder. "How was it?"

"It was okay," I say.

"You didn’t do it, did you?"

"No, not really. I was going to. Honest. You should’ve seen the boner I had. But I’m saving myself for someone special. Or, you know, Prom."

Manny laughs. "You lying shit."

Precious begins to scream. Manny looks at me and mouths Holy shit.

Derrick says, "What’s he killing her or something?"

The three of us take a quick glance. Precious is on all-fours on the backseat. Her face pressed against the side window. Vito fucking her from behind. Pulling her hair. He’s pounding her like he’s holding a grudge.

Precious moans, "Oh shit, baby, that fucking hurts! Fuck yeah!"

Vito says, "You better believe it does!"

We turn away from the car and let Vito have his privacy. None of us wander too far from the car, in case we have to make a speedy getaway. We are in Camden, after all. People are murdered in Camden frequently. And four non-black kids from the suburbs cavorting with a hooker in a dark alley are prime candidates for some of that nasty murdering business. I do not want to be murdered. I don't want to die, not yet, not until after Batman comes out next summer, at the earliest.

Vito and Precious climb out of the car after ten minutes of hard screwing. Vito is grinning. Precious does not look well. She’s wobbly. Her makeup is smeared. Her eyes are damp and bloodshot. Her hair is a mess. Strangely, she doesn’t appear unhappy about what just took place. She’s showing a hint of a smile.

"That’s it," she says. "I’m done fucking. The Italian guy wore out my pussy and I need a rest."

Vito smiles proudly. "You hear that? I wore that pussy out."

Derrick says, "Shit, what about my turn?"

"You still need to learn a thing or two about how to fuck a girl," Precious says to Vito. "You may have a big dick, but ramming it in me like a fucking city worker trying to put a hole in the street ain’t proper form."

"Do you need a ride?" Vito asks Precious.

She applies a layer of blood red lipstick and says, "Nah, I’ll walk. You boys have a good night."

I wave and say, "You too, Precious."

A minute later, we’re back in the car, looking for an honest drug dealer. The drug dealers inhabit nearly every corner, so we can be choosey. We’re looking for a trustworthy rock-slinger. A decent businessman.

"Fuck!" Vito shouts. "That fucking slut took my wallet!"

Derrick says, "Shit! Mine, too!"

I don’t carry a wallet, but the three twenties I had in my pocket are gone.

"My wallet is safe," Manny says. "But I only have six dollars left. That’s not going to be enough to get us any coke."

Vito wipes sweat from his forehead, then says, "I can’t believe that hooker ripped us off."

"Really?" I ask. "You have trouble believing a hooker would steal our money, Vito? I find it quite believable."

"Shut up, Erv," Derrick says. "At least you got laid. I didn’t get any pussy, and now I don’t have no money, either."

"I didn’t do anything with her," I say. "I couldn’t."

Nearly a minute of silence passes before Manny smiles, looks at me, and says, "Maybe we should’ve gotten you a male prostitute, you limp-dicked faggot."

Vito and Derrick laugh, and quickly all three of my friends are laughing boisterously at my expense. I smile, take it like a man.

We drive home. We didn’t get the drugs we had planned on getting, but still, we’re laughing and having fun in the car. Manny suggests we go back to his place and play video games. We all agree that that’s a great idea. I want to play video games and forget that I’m growing up. I want to forget about hookers and drugs. I want to play Pitfall and Spy Hunter and pretend that I’m ten again. Recently, I've felt like I've been living someone else's life.

What happened to my life?

Where have I gone?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

At 12


Todd is puffing on a bent cigarette and going on about Nicole, the sweet Jewish girl who has captured both of our hearts; well, I don’t think Todd has a heart, but she’s certainly captured his penis. I want to hold her hand and give her soft, sweet kisses. Todd wants to "pound that snatch." Nicole is my age, twelve years old, both of us heading into the seventh grade in the fall. Todd is a year older, set to begin eight grade. I’ll be joining Todd at the junior high school, so we’ll finally be going to the same school. It’ll be nice to walk the halls and eat lunch with him.

He looks much older than he really is, and could easily pass for seventeen. "It’s because I drink a lot of milk," Todd has said, explaining abnormal his size. "And they put all those hormones and chemicals in dairy nowadays. Steroids and shit. I’m telling you, man, milk makes your dick huge. Wanna see?" It’s a never-ending battle to keep Todd from showing me his dick. One false move, one slip of the tongue, one too-long pause, and he’ll have his penis waving in front of my face like a hot dog with a smiley face drawn on the tip. Sometimes I feel like Lucille Ball in "I Love Lucy," battling that conveyer belt loaded with chocolate. Except in this case it’s not chocolate, it’s nasty, uncircumcised penis. "If you’re not circumcised and you don’t shower a lot, you get this weird cheesy-type buildup down there. Wanna see?" Todd recently said, adding to my nightmare. "It
is so fucking gross, and it stinks. Here, Erv, look. Look! Sniff my cock, dude."

I’m alone with Todd on a hot summer afternoon, in the woods behind our apartment building, resting comfortable on a stained tan couch that someone dumped here a few weeks ago. It’s not a bad couch, all things considered. No tears, burns, or loose springs. Just the faint the smell of cat piss, which weakens with every rainstorm. The mildew smell grows stronger after the rain, but any scent is preferable to cat piss.

"Hey fellas!"

The voice is loud and squeaky, a boy who hasn’t yet hit puberty.

We turn our heads quickly and see Franklin standing behind the couch. He’s eight years old and more than a little retarded. The dried green/yellow boogers below his nose appear to be permanent, as I’ve never seen him without that congealed nastiness on his lip. He’s always smiling, always laughing, always stinking up the immediate area, like Charlie Brown’s putrid pal Pig Pen. Franklin lives with his grandmother. No one is quite sure what happened to his parents. I’m guessing he just wasn’t wanted. Franklin is eight years old and friendless. Kids run from him. I try not to be mean to him, but it’s hard. Todd treats him like garbage. It doesn’t help that Franklin often runs around with his pants down. Penis bouncing. Like right now.

"Look at my peepee," Franklin says, jumping up and down. His pecker is shockingly large and I immediately look away. "Floppity flop flop flap flip! Whoop!"

"Go away, Franklin," I say. "Pull up your pants and go home."

"My pants fall down." he says. "Ha ha! Hoopa doop! So can I play with you guys and your peepees?" I don’t think he understands what he’s saying.

Todd picks up a large, jagged rock and squeezes it beneath his fingers. His lip begins to twitch. A vein in his neck throbs. His face is washed in pink.

I’ve never seen such rage in him. Never seen such rage in anyone other than my brother, Dave. I’ve seen him go from happy to raging in an instant. Seen him grab a baseball bat and swing it at Ron’s head, clearly intending to kill his older brother. My stomach flames on. I nearly fall over from the sudden fiery cramps. I think Bad, this is bad.

"Todd, don’t," I say. "He’s just a kid."

Franklin grabs hold of his penis and waves it in Todd’s direction. In an instant, Todd isn’t Todd anymore. He’s a beast. Twitchy and sweaty. Seething. He cocks his arm back, as if about to fire a fastball into the catcher’s mitt. The catcher who isn’t there. He’s throwing for the kill.

Franklin giggles. Uses his free hand to juggle his tiny, hairless balls. Sticks out his tongue. Hops. Says, "Grandma says I shouldn’t mess with bigger boys. Ha! I can make mine bigger." He closes his eyes and intently fondles himself. I’ve never seen the boy so focused. Eyes closed, tongue between his teeth, grunting. Franklin now has an erection. My blood runs cold, as if I’ve just been thawed out.

Todd chucks the rock, and I know if it hits Franklin in the head it’s likely to kill him. I want to close my eyes, but it happens before I get the chance. The rock hits Franklin on the left shoulder, and he falls over backwards, landing on his bare ass. He jumps up almost instantly, already crying, his cheeks pink, wailing like a kicked dog. "Ahhhhh! Ahhhh! Ahhhh! Gaahhhhh!" he’s screaming. He runs away. Fast as he can. Falls over. Pulls up his pants. Runs again. Until he’s gone. His weeping echoes from the trees. It’s about the worst sound I’ve ever heard, like chalk on a blackboard if the piece of chalk had a voice box.

"Holy shit, Todd, you could have killed him." I’m stunned. Nearly speechless.

"Motherfucker!" Todd says. He’s still not himself. He takes a few deep breaths, wipes the sweat from his brow. His face returns to its normal color. He looks at me with eyes that say I can’t believe I just did that.

Todd’s abuse of Franklin has been steadily increasing for weeks. I fear for poor, demented Franklin’s life. The boy brings out the darkness in Todd. The bitter hatred. Todd’s brown eyes go black when he sees Franklin. And I’m not sure why. But it scares me.

"You’ve got to watch yourself around that kid," I say.

"I don’t know what came over me. That faggot just infuriates me."

"I just don’t want to see you get into trouble."

He shrugs, then flashes a boyish grin and says, "Don’t worry about it. What’s the worst thing I could do?" He lights a cigarette, then drops the match onto the couch and it falls between the cushions. "Oops," he says, grinning.

We both hop off the couch and watch as the cushions catch on fire. Within seconds, the entire couch is engulfed in flames. Black smoke fills the air, shadowing the orange flame beneath it. I start to cough and Todd tells me to cover my mouth. We run as fast as we can. Out of the woods. Away from the blaze.

Outside the woods, we stop to catch our breath. Todd looks up at me and says, "Holy shit! I can’t believe I did that!"

"You’re crazy," I say.

"I thought the couch was still damp from last week’s rain. I didn’t think it would go up like that. Fuck me."

We step back and watch as the major fire Todd started rages. A crowd gathers. People from the apartment building stand on their balconies and watch the blaze. Look out their windows. A few watch from the roof. It’s an event. By the time the fire trucks arrive, Todd and I are among a crowd of sixty people watching the black smoke fill the early evening sky.

A sweaty firefighter asks, "Anybody know what happened here?"

Todd shakes his head and says, "No, I didn’t see anything."

"Me neither," I say.

We watch as the firefighters work to put out the fire. At first, it looks like the fire is too big, too unwieldy. A real monster. An untamable beast. But the firemen soon take control. They’re good at their job. They extinguish the blaze before it reaches the apartment building.

Todd grabs my shirt and says, "Come on, Ervin. This is boring."

The powerful odor of burnt wood can probably be noticed for miles. My eyes are watering and burning. My throat is dry and itchy. The taste of burning on my tongue. I walk away, but keep my head turned back to the woods, watching the hard-working firemen finish the job.

I can’t believe Todd burned down the woods.

"You tell anyone and I’ll kill you," he says. "Don’t be a pussy."

"I won’t tell," I say. "I won’t be a pussy. It’s our secret."

He puts his arm over my shoulder and says, "That’s good, because I need a friend who can keep secrets, and who’s not a faggoty pussy."

"That’s me," I say.

"Erv, you wanna put light bulbs down our pants and ride up and down the elevators so everyone thinks we’ve got, like, huge boners?"

"Sure," I say.

Todd might be a dangerous perverted pyromaniac who wants me to look at his penis, but he’s also my best friend. I need him to hang out with me. I need him to be my friend. Because he’s the only one I have. He's the only kid who ever feels compelled to talk to me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

At 16, Part 3


Mom is panicked. William sits at the kitchen table, smirking as he reads a carefully folded letter. I’m dressed in my Pizza Tent clothes: brown polyester pants, sauce-stained white sneakers, brown and white shirt, mesh hat. A cockroach stares down from the ceiling, listening to our conversation, maybe hoping to learn about humans, maybe wondering why we hate his kind, maybe trying to find a way not to end up on the bottom of my shoe. I’m sitting at the table, scarfing down a bowl of Fruit Loops. I need to eat. Need my energy. A long night ahead of me. A night of scrubbing and socializing. An all-night cleaning session. Pizza Tent is dirty and needs to be sanitized. In so many ways.

"I can’t take this anymore," Mom says, waving her hands in the air. "Ervin, talk some sense into your brother."

"What do you want me to do?" I ask, milk dripping from my chin.

"They’re going to arrest your little brother. I already have one son in jail, and now I’m gonna have two. Am I such a bad parent? I work hard. I work sixty hours a week. Isn’t that enough? What do I have to do?" She turns to my brother and says, "Is that what you want, William? To go to jail?"

"They can’t arrest me, Mom. I didn’t do anything wrong. All I did was write a letter to someone who’s in prison. People do it all the time." William is ten years old. My baby brother. Forever a child in my eyes. Since he’s been born, I’ve always felt like William was my responsibility. I’ve been his primary babysitter. The sibling always left in charge of his well-being. The one who looks out for him. William has one bad eye, because he refused to wear an eye-patch like he was supposed to, and serious anger issues. He’s a smart kid, though. Smarter than I’ll ever be. But not an ounce of common sense. Kid can tell you all you want to know about philosophy, but can’t make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He can quote Socrates, but can never seem to remember where he put his glasses.

Mom shouts, "You wrote a letter to Charles Manson! Charles Manson the killer! What, do you wanna join his satanic cult or something? What’s wrong with you? Are you sick, William?"

"Actually, Mom, I don’t think Manson killed anyone himself," I add. "He always had people do his dirty work for him, like, his disciples. Also, he co-wrote a Beach Boys song."

"Ervin, you’re not helping," Mom says.

William holds up his much-cherished letter and says, "I can’t believe he wrote me back. Isn’t that awesome?" William grins proudly. This is his greatest achievement: garnering a response from a famous boogeyman. William is a fan of serial killers. Mom, understandably, is not thrilled with William’s fascination.

I wonder aloud, "What did he write?"

William scans the letter. "He pretty much just told me to keep my head up and not let anyone ever get me down. Charles says I can do anything I put my mind to. He says to block out all the negativity. Charles is really big on positivity. Charles Manson believes in the power of positive thinking."

"That’s sort of lame," I say. "I thought he might ask you to sacrifice a virgin for him. Or kill all the members of The Beach Boys. Or, I don’t know, poison New Jersey’s water supply."

My mother sighs loudly. "You can’t just write letters to people that without someone noticing," she says. "They’re going to put you on some kind of list, a watch list. Now the government knows who you are. That’s just great. They probably already have the house bugged. I wouldn’t be surprised if the police were listening right now."

"Ahh, shut up, Mom." William folds the letter neatly and places it back into his pocket, then storms off.

I finish my cereal and toss the bowl into the sink. The cockroach on the ceiling darts away, disappearing into a crack in the wall. Mom wipes away tears.

"Why do you have to work this time of night?"

I kiss her cheek and say, "The district manager is coming for an inspection on Monday, so Ben decided to get everyone together for an overnight cleaning session. It’s overtime pay. Time and a half. That means I’ll make, like, five dollars an hour. I can’t turn down that kind of money."

"Are you saving for college?" Mom asks.

"I’m not going to college." The words come out without any thought. I hadn’t even considered going to college. My grades are mediocre at best. I have no money to pay for college. All I really want to do is keep working at Pizza Tent while I try to get laid. I like to keep my goals reasonable.

"I don’t like you working all these weird hours. You’re still in high school. Don’t they have child labor laws anymore, or did they get rid of those?"

"Yes, Mother, I believe that laws exist to protect children in the workplace. You’re right about that. But you wrote that note saying I can work late, that I have your permission, remember? You gave my boss the authority to use and abuse me. Anyway, what else am I gonna do until school starts? Sit around here and kill cockroaches? It’s good for me. I like the people. They’re nice to me. They’re the only people in the world who think I’m awesome besides you."

She sighs and halfheartedly says, "Well, I still think they’re taking advantage of you. When I signed that letter, I didn’t think you’d be working all the time."

"Those people make me feel good about myself. They make me feel important. When school starts, I’ll cut back my hours. Promise."

Mom gives me a hug and says, "It’s good to know that you’re a hard worker. Your father couldn’t hold a job to save his life." It’s not easy for my mother to show affection, so I appreciate the gesture. Mom is pleased to know that I am not my father’s son. I am nothing like that person. He who often took cars apart and then forgot how to reassemble them. My father, as far as a I can tell, was one shiftless son of a bitch. No, I’m not that man’s son at all. I don’t even know that man. I am my mother’s son.

Mom has struggled all her life. She grew up feeling unwanted by her mother. After my grandmother remarried (a man she met at a bar, while always dragging my mother along when Mom was surely too young to be at such a place) and started a new family, Mom became an outsider. My Grandma Shirley had five boys with her new husband. As the only reminder of a bad first marriage, Mom didn’t stand a chance. So she found a man to marry and moved out at fifteen. She felt like she had no choice. I suspect that my mother was abused, but if she was, she’ll never admit it. The only beatings she’ll acknowledge ever took place were the ones given by the nuns at her Catholic School. A ruler across the knuckles. A smiling nun. Bloody hands. No wonder my mother quit school and ran off with Big Ron. What went on at home, before she moved out at fifteen, Mom will never speak of. I do know that Mom was not the recipient of even a hint of affection as a child. Beatings at school. Ignored (or maybe abused) at home. Mom had to grow up fast. She wanted out, and she got out. Pregnant and married by the age of sixteen.

One of my mother’s better qualities is her general agreeableness. Ask her to sign something, and she almost always complies. Mom is not a stern taskmaster. Mom is a pushover. She’s only punished me once in my life—when the police brought me home late one weekend night, after I’d snuck out with my best friend Todd to play video games at the local convenience store. I try not to think about Todd, my former best friend and perverted creep. What he did still makes me shudder.

Soon after saying goodbye to Mom, I’m on my knees in the back of Pizza Tent, scraping the floor with a large metal spatula. Must clean out the cracks. The bits of meat and cheese stuck between the maroon tiles. Left by some pimply-faced member of the previous era. The 70's version of me. This place may have never had a thorough cleaning. Until tonight. And I’m just the man for the job. Cleaning clears my head. Relaxes me. The repetition of movement. Jerk of the arm. Twist of the wrist. The mind on automatic pilot.

I look up and see Manny flirting with Kiley. Sexy Kiley with her Pat Benatar haircut and her tight red assistant manager sweater that wraps around her large chest. Manny is my age. Sixteen. Soon to be seventeen. Kiley graduated high school back when it was still cool to wear a KISS T-shirt to school. She has at least fifteen years on Manny. I know they’ve been messing around. Kiley has left a few nasty hickeys on Manny’s neck. Not sure if they’ve slept together yet. Probably. He just smiles when I ask for confirmation. Pizza Tent certainly has its share of women in their thirties looking to initiate high school boys into the wonderful world of sex.

Cliff is behind me, Walkman on full blast, singing along with Stevie Wonder. He’s cleaning the oven. Parts of the oven. Belts and grates and wall panels and oddly shaped pieces of steel. All three compartments of the sink are filled with sections of the oven, which must be scrubbed cleaned and then reassembled. It’s a puzzle I could never solve. But Cliff’s got the mind for it. He’s a sharp kid. A drug dealer and amateur stand-up comedian. Tonight, he brought an eightball of coke into the building. He showed it to me when he arrived. Sold it to Ben. Cliff is the only black person in the building tonight. Manny is El Salvadorian, although he and Cliff share the same light shade of brown skin. The rest of us are Caucasian. Various shades of white. From paste to pink. Cliff will probably be the only person who stays completely sober tonight. Regarding cocaine, he once said to me: "I don’t mess with that shit. I just sling it. But I ain’t no corner boy. I don’t stand around Camden waiting for the clients to come to me. I make connections. Deliver in person. I don’t need no corner when I got a whole building full of pizza-sellin’ motherfuckers buying the product. But I never sample the goods. I leave it to you crazy white folks to do the do. I’m just a businessman. Most I do is blow a joint here and there. Get my smoke on. Hard stuff ain’t for this nigga. My mom didn’t raise no fool. But, please, feel free to do all the drugs you want. I need some new sneakers and a fat gold rope. Snort your fucking asses off. Make daddy rich."

I’m about to get back to scrubbing when Diana suddenly appears in front of me. I’m on all-fours, filthy spatula in hand. She’s staring down, hands on hips, smirking. Her scent like onions dipped in lemonade. Diana is Ben’s age, late-twenties, I’d guess. I think they were high school sweethearts. She’s strikingly thin. Dark hair. Loud and rude. Pretty in a hardened sort of way. She can either be sweet or vindictive, depending on how recently she’s gotten high. She’s the type most people would call a bitch, but I kind of like her. Diana makes me laugh, and I like the way her long nails feel on my skin when she scratches my back.

"Well, since you’re down there, Erv," she says, grinning and posing above me, arms at her side. I look down at her feet. She’s wearing little white sneakers with fluffy pink laces.

"What? I don’t..." I then notice that my face is extremely close to her special lady place. Or "cunt," as Diana likes to call it. My position is quite compromising. If Diana had a whip in her hand, I’d look like her slave, her Boy Toy.

"Come on, gimme a couple of quick licks. I won’t tell Ben. Heh."

"Give what a few...oh, right." My face burns with embarrassment. I’m sure my skin is beyond pink. Probably purple. Like a drunk-on-blood tick. She loves to make me uncomfortable. Loves to make everyone uncomfortable.

"Drop the spatula and come with me, kid," Diana commands. "Me and Ben have a special treat for you. A little bit of motivation. Something to keep you going through the night and make you feel like a stud. Some fuel."

"What is it?" I ask, at my naive best.

She takes my hand and pulls me up. "You’ll see. Don’t be so impatient. Well, it is a bit of motivation, but nothing we learn in the Pizza Tent Manager Training Program. Sometimes Ben and me like to come up with our ways of getting our employees to work hard."

Diana leads me by hand to the front of the store. I allow her to do as she pleases with me. I make no objections. We pass by Tricia, who’s in the dining room with a few other waitresses, refilling the salt and pepper shakers which have just been thoroughly cleaned. Tricia stares at me with her large brown eyes and silently mouths Don’t do it, but I’m not sure what she means. Diana glances at Tricia and mutters "Stupid cow" just loud enough for me to hear. "You know that Tricia wants to fuck Ben, right?" she says, not really asking a questing. Just putting it out there. Saying her peace. "She wants to fuck and Ben is just stupid enough to do it if he’s drunk enough. Well, if I ever find out he put his dick in that, I’ll chop it off. You didn’t fuck her that night at the party, did you?"

"No way," I say. Not for a lack of trying.

"Good. She’s nasty. I know she’s your friend and all, but come on. Look at her, then look at me. I’m way hotter. Don’t you think?"

All I manage to say is, "Umm."

"I’ll bet her cunt smells like Thursday’s leftovers."

Actually, I think, more like a sweet combination of perspiration and citrus. Not at all unpleasant.

Diana pulls me into the men’s room and the first thing I see is Ben, grinning stupidly my way. He puts his arm over my shoulder and says, "Welcome, Erv. Tonight is your lucky night." Diana locks the bathroom door. The three of us cram into the small stall. Not easy considering that Ben is a giant. Six-five, almost three hundred pounds. A mostly-hairless bigfoot. And there, on the toilet seat , are three thick, glistening lines of cocaine. Cut neatly and ready to be snorted. Diana’s eyes widen. She licks her lips. Ben smacks my back. Hurts me just a little. Ben bends down, sticks one end of a rolled dollar bill in his nose, and snorts, inhaling quickly, as if it were a competition. While Ben’s nose is over the toilet, Diana leans in and whispers in my ear: "I love coke. It makes me so horny. Makes me wanna fuck. You’ll see. After you snort, you’re gonna be hard as a rock." As soon as Ben comes up for air, Diana is down, finger pressing one nostril closed, inhaling. The sound like paper tearing. She gets it all. Every last minuscule bit. Licks the toilet seat. Wipes her nose. Smiles. I’m next and I do not hesitate. I do not resist. I do not tell them that I can’t. I make no mention of my drug-addled, jailbird older brother. I fail to cite even one of the million reasons why I should not be snorting this line of cocaine. It seems like too much effort. Just easier to snort. To make the boss happy. Inhale. Do it. Be a man. Just do it. And I do. Diana rubs my back as I take the rolled dollar bill between my fingers. As I insert one end into my right nostril. As I breathe in. As the white line disappears. As the thousands of tiny granules disburse. Make their way up through the tightly-rolled dollar and into my system. The drug trickles down the back of my throat. The line is gone. It’s in me. It’s too late. There’s no going back. I’ve done the deed. It tastes like powered metal. I shudder.

Diana running her long fingernails down my back, whispering words of encouragement. Ben saying, "Why don’t you just fuck him already?" Diana jokingly squeezing my ass. Ben laughing. Ben saying, "How about it, Erv? Wanna make a nice sandwich out of my wife?" Ben losing his smile. Saying, "That’s my wife you’re talking about, asshole. I’ll kick your faggot face in!" Ben and Diana laughing. Ben adding, "Okay, fine, I forgive you. But I get to fuck her in the ass. It’s tighter there. You get the front, Erv. She’s so stretched out she probably won’t even feel your little pecker." Diana smacking Ben upside the head. Saying, "Why do you always have to be such an asshole? He’s just a kid, and I’m not a fucking whore." Ben shrugging. Adding, "Fine, Erv can have the asshole. My mistake." Diana trying not to smile. Diana smiling.

I can’t laugh. I’m too overwhelmed. The euphoria hits me immediately. The buzz. The high. Skin burning. Brain buzzing. Heart pounding. I think Oh yeah, this is nice. My heart has never pounded this hard before. It’s like a motor. A buzz saw. Ben and Diana are so proud. Like doting parents. I’ve done them proud. The only sound I’m aware of is the beating of my heart. The thump thump thump. I feel strange. Out of body. Distanced from myself. Like I’m on the other side of the room looking at myself and not recognizing who I see.

"All right," Ben says, pushing me out of the stall, "now get back to work. I expect you to work your ass off tonight. Don’t let me down, kid."

"I won’t."

Diana winks, "Bye, Erv. See ya soon. I need to be alone for a minute with my husband."

"Oh, yeah," he says with glee, like the Prom King about to get lucky with his Prom Queen. "You know what that means."

Ben opens the bathroom door. Throws me out. I smack hard into the wall as the bathroom door closes and locks.

I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t feel quite so fabulous. The high of cocaine is like hitting the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth, but without actually having to hit a home run. Like saving a baby from a burning a building without having to get burned. I’m calm yet panicked. I’m happy yet disgusted with myself. Heart pounding faster. Mild chest pains. Never do this again. Need more. Dear God please don’t let me have a heart attack. I’ll never do it again if I live. I won’t do it hardly ever. Maybe just once in awhile. I untuck my shirt to cover my erection. My brain is producing images and sounds and thoughts at such a rapid pace that none of it is making sense. It’s all blurring together.

Tricia won’t even look at me as I pass her by. She knows. Tricia used to respect me. Cliff comes up behind me and lays an arm over my shoulders. He says, "Wow, I’m surprised you did it, Erv. I thought you were different. I really thought you was gonna turn ‘em down. Aw, well. If you ever need some coke, let your good buddy Cliff know and I’ll hook you up good." I nod and keep walking. I sidle up next to Manny. He looks at me and laughs. "You got some white stuff under your nose." I frantically wipe my face and then say, "Is it gone?" He replies, "It wasn’t there in the first place, fool. I was just seeing if you’d done it. You’re a bad boy, Erv. Congratulations. You’re one of us now."

I clean everything. The floor, the walls, the windows, the shelves, the ceiling. The only time I’m not cleaning is during my ten-minute break, which I spend in the men’s room. So I can masturbate. The erection keeps getting in the way, so I have to take care of it. I masturbate on my knees, over the toilet. My fantasy is this: I’m on my back. Tricia sits on my face. Diana sits on my cock. They hate each other but are united in their love of me. They take turns fucking me. Switch places. It’s nice that they can put their differences aside long enough to give me their sweet, sweet love. Then they team-up on a blow job. The best imaginary threesome I’ve ever had. Better than my legendary Molly Ringwald/Pam Grier wet dream team-up from 1986. I shoot directly into the toilet, flush, clean myself up, then return to work. Still feeling good. Still electric. But now talking to myself. Talking to anyone. Nonstop talking. I talk until I come down. Talk until the drugs wear off. We finish cleaning when the sun comes up. My heart has finally stopped racing. I come down hard. Go from frantic to comatose. Struggling to keep my eyes open.

I’m soon in Tricia’s car, parked in front of my house. She was kind of enough to give me a ride. I know I look and smell awful. All I can think about is that next line. When and where I’m going to get it.

She runs her fingers lightly over my face. "Erv, don’t lose yourself in the drugs. I’ve done my share. I’m no angel. But I know when enough’s enough. If it’s just a casual kind of weekend thing, that’s fine, but you’ve got be very careful. These things can get out of control fast."

I smile. "I’ll be fine. I just wanted to try it one time. I’m not the kind of person who gets addicted to drugs. I’m smarter than that. I’m not like my brother."

"I hope so."

So do I.

Monday, April 7, 2008

At 16, Part 2


I’m so drunk that I’ll probably wet my bed (small price to pay for all the fun I’m having). So drunk I know I’m going to vomit at least once tonight. Never been this drunk. Drunk enough to be holding Tricia’s hand and not be the least bit nervous. She’s been all over me since I arrived at the party a few hours ago. Hugging me, kissing me, squeezing my ass. Flirting. Touching. Rubbing. Tricia is thirty-five years old. I’m sixteen. Ten minutes ago, she nibbled on my ear and whispered, "Tonight might be your lucky night." I have a feeling that this woman wants to deflower me. She asked me if I was a virgin because I was saving myself for someone special. I said, "Yeah, that special woman who’ll actually let me put my penis in her vagina." Tricia found my words hysterical, laughing as she kissed my cheek and told me I was adorable. If not for the booze and pot, I wouldn’t be half as hysterical as I apparently am. Turns out, the combination of three wine coolers, four Coronas, two rum and cokes, and a few hits off a big fat spliff turn a regular guy like myself into the next Lenny Bruce. I’m making everyone laugh. Maybe it’s because I keep falling over. Nah. I’m sure it’s because I’m just really, really funny. It’s my quick wit I think, as I stumble forward. Tricia, holding me tight, keeps me from landing face-first on the carpet. Then I think No, it’s definitely my lack of balance.

It’s my first Pizza Tent party. Not sponsored by Pizza Tent, of course. They didn’t sponsor my loss of innocence. Didn’t condone my drinking. The corruption of my soul and my eventual de-virginization was not brought up in any official capacity at our most recent employee meeting. It just so happens that almost everyone at the party works for Pizza Tent. Vito’s here, and he doesn’t work for Pizza Tent, and a few girls are scattered about that I don’t recognize, but mostly it’s just us pizza slingers. Just a friendly gathering of Pizza Tent workers at Ben’s apartment. Ben is my boss, but he has a surprising lack of maturity. His small apartment is packed with a nice mix of underage high school students (the part-timers) and older Pizza Tent lifers (the full-timers). None of the adults seem overly concerned about the large quantity of alcohol I’ve consumed. Or that plump, aromatic joint I puffed. No one seems to care that a woman twice my age wants to fuck me silly. Ben seems to think it’s about time that someone made a man out of me. I know this because he just whispered in my ear: "Erv, it’s about time you got that little willy of yours wet. Try not to blow your load before you get it all the way in." I tell him that I’ll do my best.

Vito is playing quarters with a balding forty-five-year-old assistant manager named Eric, a Spanish-speaking, always-smiling dishwasher named Juan, a part-time cook and full-time drug dealer named Cliff, and a pretty fifteen-year-old black girl from Camden named Sharla. Ben and his wife, Diana, stand together by the front door, screaming and poking a finger in each other’s face. I hear Diana say, "Then why don’t you just fuck her already?" Ben, exasperated, throws his hands in the air and says, "Because Erv’s going to fuck her." N.W.A’s "Straight Outta Compton" blasts from the stereo. Pretty girls dance and sweat. Drooling boys watch. Vito sings along to N.W.A, shouting, "Crazy mutha fucka named Ice Cube, from a band called Niggas Wit’ Attitude!" He looks at me and winks. Not knowing the proper response, I smile at my best friend and give the thumbs up. He’s the only person here who knows the real me. The rest of these people are, for the most part, strangers. They don’t know me as that shy kid walking the halls in high school. They don’t see me as Vito’s sidekick. I’m new to them. With these people, in this environment, I am suddenly, shockingly cool. I’m one of them. I’m accepted. I’m a drunk kid at a party having a good time. Getting a back rub from a sexy older woman who might take my virginity tonight.

"You know I’m engaged, right?" Tricia says, as her fingers squeeze my shoulders. "You know I have a fiancĂ©, right?"

"No. Didn’t know that," I say.

"We’ve been engaged so long it’s kind of a joke at this point."

"Ha," I say. I was about to laugh, but then I forgot how. Because I’m drunk and my brain is hiding things from me.

Tricia’s revelation causes me to lose half of my erection, the other, more optimistic half of my boner sticks around to see where all of this is going. I’m sitting between her legs on the small, stained couch. The party rages around us. Ben walks by and winks at me. Why are all the men at this party winking at me? Diana follows closely behind Ben and smacks the back of his head whenever he stares too long at one of the many young, half-naked girls roaming merrily about his apartment. It’s hot inside the apartment, and the girls are losing their clothes as the night rolls on; at least one girl has lost her shirt entirely and is proudly showing off her pink bra.

Tricia gently kisses the back of my neck and says, "Well, we’re engaged but it’s a very tumultuous relationship. We’re on and off. Right now, we’re off, but we’ll make up eventually. I wanna have fun before the wedding, though. It’s his own fault. If he would just marry me already, I would stop having sex with other men. You know what I mean? Am I wrong?" She bites my ear and giggles. "Why am I asking you? You’ll say anything to get in my pants."

I turn and face her, ask, "If your fiancé walked in right now and saw your hands all over me, would he kick my ass?"

"Oh, yes, totally." She laughs. "But he’s out of town. Actually, he’d probably just be glad I’m not trying to jump Ben’s bones. I’ve been after Ben for years. That’s why Diana hates me so much. Too bad I’m twice her size. She should stop doing all that coke and gain some weight. I’d break her like a twig."

Tricia is a large girl, but she has a lovely face. A simple, pretty smile. And my fucking God does she smell nice. Not a perfume-soaked kind of nice. A natural kind of nice. The kind of pure freshness that makes a guy want to tear off a girl’s panties and bury his face between her legs because he knows only flowery sweetness exists down there. Vito told me that a girl who wears copious amounts of perfume is usually hiding something funky. In her underpants. She’s covering up a deep, dark stink. That’s what Vito says, anyway. Not that I would know. I can only guess. And fantasize. Imagine the many wonders that await beneath Tricia’s big pink panties. I know that they’re pink because she’s already shown them to me twice, once in a hall closet and once on the couch. ("Wanna see my panties, Erv? Here, I’ll give you a glimpse. Another glimpse. Heh.") Tricia smells like peaches and flowers on the outside. I want to know if she smells the same on the inside.

I excuse myself and walk to the bathroom. Stumble to the bathroom. I’m starting to feel bad. The things I’m doing. The substances. The beverages. I’ve always been the Good Son. The Innocent One. But here I am, drunk and stoned. Just like I remember Dave always being. In this state. Not himself. I do not want to become my brother. I do not want to be a junkie. An alcoholic. A stoner. An asshole. But I won’t. It’s just one party. One night of debauchery. Tomorrow, I will be good again. Tomorrow.

Vito joins me in the bathroom. I pee first because I always pee first. My bladder must be the size of an actual pea. I can’t go half an hour without taking a piss. I zip up and sit on the side of the bathtub as Vito relieves himself.

"I don’t want to become my brother," I say. "I want to be good."

"Dude, you’re one of the best people I know." His stream weakens, ceases. He shakes, zips. Turns to me. "It’s not the booze and the drugs that made Dave bad. It’s who he is on the inside. The drugs just brought out the nastiness in him. You’re drunk, right? Stoned? But look at you. You’re just happy-go-lucky. That’s you. There’s not enough alcohol in the world to make you a bad person. Maybe you’re not perfect, but compared to most people, you’re doing okay, dude. You’re a fucking saint compared to me. Just fucking relax and have fun, Erv. You’re a good dude. You’re my best friend. And if you ever start acting like your brother, I’ll set you straight real quick."

"Thanks," I say. It’s the nicest thing he’s ever said to me. But I know it’s not true. I’m just as capable of being awful as anyone. I’m not nearly as nice a person as everyone thinks I am. I strive to be the person my mother, my family, and my friends think I am. But there are urges. I sometimes am called to the Dark Side by soft-spoken voices in my head. I’ve been able to resist. Tonight, I’ve let myself go. I’m drunk and high. Fucking wasted. Doesn’t make me bad. No, not yet. But there’s potential. I’ve always prided myself in being different from the rest of my family. From defying history, heredity. No one in my family has ever achieved greatness. Almost every marriage has failed. More members of my family than I can count have been to prison. Wife-beating. Stealing. Drugs. Incest. Rape. Breaking and Entering. Car-jacking. We’re not exactly a family of Harvard graduates. Hell, we’re not even a family of high school graduates. I’ve always told myself that I will rise above the sordid white trash history of my clan. I’m beginning to doubt myself. It feels good to drink. To smoke pot. The body likes it. Euphoria. I drunk and high and I can’t wipe this smile off my face. I’m drunk and high, and I’ve never had as much fun as this. Coincidence?

Vito affectionately punches my shoulder and flashes a smile as he exits the bathroom. He’s a good friend. I close my eyes and bury my head in my hands as I hear the door click shut. I sigh. Someone else sighs. I hear heavy breathing. I’m almost afraid to open my eyes and see who’s sharing the bathroom with me.

"Are you okay, honey?" Tricia asks.

I look up and smile, say, "I’m good."

She pounces. She climbs atop me and jams her tongue deep down into my throat. Just as I’m about to pull away and gasp for air, she pulls away and licks her lips. Tricia stares into my eyes as she grinds on me. Feels my erection quickly take solid shape.

"Are you really a virgin?"

"Swear to God," I say.

"I wanna fuck you so badly right now. Would you wanna fuck me, Ervin? Do you like me? I know I’m not the prettiest girl here. I’m not young and thin and beautiful. I just want you to like me."

"I do like you."

"Enough to wanna be with me that way?"

"More than enough."

"And you don’t care that I’m so old?" she asks, her face nervously scrunched.

"Not if you don’t care than I’m so young."

"Care? Are you kidding? You being sixteen is a huge turn on. I guess that makes me a dirty old woman. I don’t care. It’s hot."

She bites her lip. Grabs my hand forces it between her legs. Even through the thick material of her jeans I feel the heat. The wetness. I squeeze. She moans. My other hand travels underneath her T-shirt and up her stomach. I feel breasts. Over the bra. Tricia pulls away and stands up. Looks down at my crotch. Sees the outline of my erection through my jeans. She drops to her knees in front of me. Runs her fingers lightly over my jeans. Over my erection. Over my eager cock. It’s begging to be released from its prison. Tricia lowers her head and places her lips atop my jeans. Her saliva slowly seeps through. I think This is it...she’s going to put it in her mouth.

She doesn’t. Tricia smiles and rises. A large lip-shaped circle of wetness spots my jeans. She winks and says, "Let’s get out of here. Let’s just drive somewhere. We need some privacy. We can’t do it here. Too many people."

We end up in front of my house, making out in Tricia’s tiny car. We’re messy and aggressive. My hands are all over her large tits, her pillowy ass. She sucks hard on my neck and I’m almost certain that this girl is a vampire; I know she’s leaving marks. Tricia’s car leaves us little room to maneuver (but since my car is not a car at all but a bicycle, her car is the only option we have). Still, I’m not deterred. I unbutton her tight jeans. They’re so tight I’m not sure how she got into them in the first place. I slide them down to her ankles. Her panties fall next. All her defenses gone. My right hand goes in for the kill. Two fingers ease inside. She’s dripping wet and my hand almost feels like it’s being sucked inside her. The inner Tricia is warm, hot, sticky. I’ve never done this before. Never had my fingers inside a girl’s sex. I’m too eager, too rough, too inexperienced. Tricia tells me to slow down. Take it easy. Work those fingers with precision not violence. My fingernails are jagged because I bite them, and I’m sure I’m making her bleed a little. I’m busy fingering her and hardly notice that she has unbuttoned my jeans and slid them down. She lowers my underwear. Finally, my erection has room to breathe. Not for long. Soon, it’s smothered by her hot mouth. Enveloped.

I look down and watch her head bob up and down. I think A girl is blowing me at this very minute. I’m getting blown. Hmm. Nice.

"Let’s go inside," she says, panting, finally coming up for air. Her forehead is beaded with sweat. "Let’s go to your room. Let’s do it on your bed." Saliva drips off of her chin. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

"Oh, we can’t," I say. "My mom’s home and my little brother shares a bed with me and he’s home right now too, so that’s not really an option. Can’t we stay in the car and do it? Or go back to your place?"

"I’m so stupid," she says, pulling a pubic hair from her teeth. "This is wrong." She sighs loudly, pulls up her pants.

"Wait, no!" I say, watching as my lonely penis shrinks. "Please!"

"We can’t do this for, like, so many reasons. We work together, for one. You’re a minor, for another. And what if Ben finds out?"

"What would Ben care?" I shout. My shiny penis is now hopelessly limp.

"Look, I can’t explain it, but Ben and me have a...thing. I don’t want him to think I don’t like him anymore."

"Fuck Ben," I say. "He’s fucking married!"

She shakes her head. "I have a complicated relationship with Ben. I love him."

"You can still love him while we’re having sex. I don’t mind."

She smiles. Kisses my mouth softly. "You’re cute, Erv. You really are. Maybe some other time. When you mentioned that your mom was home, it just reminded me how young you really are. I started to think, ‘Tricia, what the hell are you doing?’ I’m more than twice your age. You’re sixteen. I would be corrupting a minor."

I release a frustrated grunt. Pull my messy hair with both hands until the pain distracts me from my sexual frustration. My shell-shocked libido. My near-sex. "I’ll be seventeen soon. Come on, just let me put it inside you for a minute. I just want to know what sex feels like. We don’t have to finish. I’ll put it in and take it right out, I swear."

Tricia shakes her head. Smiles. Says, "Sorry. Can’t do it. You’re drunk. I’m a little tipsy, too. If we ever have sex, I want us to both be sober and somewhat conscious of what we’re doing. No sex for you tonight."

"How many chances are you going to get to have sex with a virgin? I’m pure and untainted. Disease free. I need to be tainted! Give me some taint!" I realize even as I’m speaking the words just how utterly pathetic I truly am. Still, Vito says that begging works at least one out of every five times.

"Goodbye, Ervin."

"You’ve already had it in your mouth. Can’t you just put it back in and finish the job. A blow job isn’t real sex."

"Look, I would have sex with you if I felt it was right. I just don’t feel like it’s right tonight. Please, just go home."

I pull myself together, give Tricia a hug and a kiss goodbye, climb out of the car, and walk slowly up the gravel path to my front door. She honks, then drives away. I sit on my front step and stare up at the full moon. I know I’ll have the chance to be with her again. I can taste the bitterness of missed opportunity on my lips. Smell the sweetness of sex on two of my fingers. I smile. I know it’s coming. Someday, somehow, somewhere. Not with Tricia, more than likely. But there’s a girl out there who is going to let me in, and soon. I know this. It’s coming. I’m nearly a man. So close. It’s frustrating to go home smelling like sex without actually having had sex. Wet and sticky. Going home. A woman’s scent on my fingers. No sex. Damn.