Tag Archives: ashley & will

Panaud

Oh yeah? Yeah, I know he does that, and I’m not surprised he thinks about me. I mean, you keep playing the same loud songs only at certain times of the day… it’s kinda obvious. I’ve gotta say, though, I’m not sure if I should be flattered or pissed with the fact that he’s in there taking care of himself when he could probably, if he played his cards right, be in my bed with surprising effort. But I’m sure he wouldn’t “want me like that.” What does he expect? Rose petals and fat angel babies sprinkling gold dust on my hooters? Christ, it doesn’t work like that, Ash.

Huh? Why don’t I tell him that? You think I haven’t? Every time I try to actually get down to business with him…not like that, I mean in a discussion, he just crumpled up and gets quiet, and then I feel like I kicked a damn puppy. Let me say it like this: in my family, if you wanted to know something, or have something be known, you talked about it. My family agreed on most of the important stuff, but when it came down to the piddly little things, we used to argue til the cows came home…although I suppose in Hoboken it’s probably more like when the tan addict Guidos shuffle drunkenly home. And for the record, I’m Italian on my Mom’s side, so screw you I can say what I want. You don’t get black hair like this when you’re a fuckin’ Swede, let me tell you… and it’s a bitch to remove everywhere else.

Anyway, when there’s a difference of opinion, we talk. And talk. And talk. And then we go to bed and get up and talk some more. Sometimes we yell, sometimes we whisper, but we hammer at it until everyone is satisfied that it’s been resolved. That’s just how we are, I guess. From what Ash has told me, it seems like there was never a difference of opinion in his house growing up. Dad said something and everyone just accepted it. I have no fricken clue how an artist grew up in that environment, but maybe drawing was his release. I mean, you can’t go telling Daddy he’s wrong, I’m sure that would break some kind of Norman Rockwell law that keeps your family together, so everytime I just want to hash something out Ash goes all silent and just agrees with everything I say. Damn it, sometimes I want to fight!

I’ll tell you one thing he WILL fight, though: ants. Hates the fuckin’ things with a passion. The day he first saw one in the kitchen, he immediately went out and did the whole she-bang: spray, traps, those sticky things that never work… he was a man possessed. I’d never seen him go after something with such murderous enthusiasm… if only he’d do that to my exes. It was admirable, in a weird way, watching him do that, and maybe I’m just so damn desperate to see him show something vaguely masculine I’m taking what I can get. Who knows. I just wish he’d be more of a man sometimes, and I’d like that sometimes to not always be when I’m late for work.

“Get out of the fucking bathroom!”

“You don’t want to come in here.”

“I’ll hold my breath while I brush my teeth, I don’t care!”

“Can you even do that?”

“Damn it, Ashley! I’m late!”

“Banging on the door won’t do any good, unless you’re hoping the vibration will help jar things loose.”

“Gah! That’s nasty!”

“Besides, I’m enjoying some time without my pants.”

What?!”

“Well, I usually don’t walk around without pants, because you’re here. I hate pants, don’t you? They’re oppressive, they’re like a dictator.”

“Get out of the damn bathroom!”

“But this is where I do my best thinking! My pants are oppressive and my ding-dong is Lenin!” He will rise up!”

“God, I didn’t need to hear that! Hurry up, Vladimir!”

“That would make my ass Stalin, wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t fucking care!”

“Makes a lot of noise, kills several people with caustic nature. You know, loud and murderous.”

“I’m about to kick down this door…”

“Will, I’m sorry, but I had to.”

“You ALWAYS have to right before I have to leave! Doesn’t matter when, you ALWAYS take up the bathroom!”

“I can’t help it! There was a pogrom in my pants!”

Seriously, who the fuck thinks like that?! The boy’s a fucking loony tune, but at least he pays the rent, unlike my other roommates. I guess it’s worth it… and I have to admit the pogrom comment was kind of funny. He’s just so damned differenr, I don’t think I’ve ever met a guy like him. Then again, I suppose they grow them a bit different out in the sticks. I don’t get too many of the hayseeds in my line of work, you see, by the time they get to me they’ve been thoroughly kicked in the balls by this city and they’re nice and disillusioned. That’s how I like ‘em. It’s a lot easier to get someone work when they’re not expecting to play Hamlet right out of the box: a chorus part here, a few lines there… they’re just happy to eat regularly. To tell you the truth, I have no idea how Ash keeps the rent checks coming. I mean, Wet Willie can’t pay that well, can he?

“You’re not selling meth or something on the side?” I remember asking him once when the gaunt little bastard gave me a check, “no offense, but you kinda look like it.”

“I haven’t really slept in three days, sorry,” he rubbed his eyes like a little kid, “I’ve been working on a portfolio to send to a local internet café. Interior design isn’t exactly my forte, especially this new-age coffee shop crap, but my agent says it’ll look good on—“

“Woah woah woah!” I put a hand on his mouth and immediately regretted it. God knows when the last time those teeth got brushed.

“Back up the crazy train a bit, Ash. You have an agent?”

“Of course,” he grumbled, walking into the kitchen for coffee. I always knew he was getting his ass kicked by an assignment when he started drinking caffeine. Seriously, the dork’s even got decaffeinated tea.

“I wouldn’t get very far in the business if I didn’t, Will. You know that.”

“Of course I know that… but how come you never mentioned it before?”

He took a long pull from the coffee cup.

“Dunno,” he said after a big swallow, “Conflict of interest, maybe? It’s not like you’re not awesome at your job, I just figured you didn’t represent artists.”

.That one surprised me. I’m usually used to working for compliments, especially from the exes. Gotta monkey wrench emotions outta them sometimes. For someone to just let one fly like that was… weird.

“I’d represent you, and you know it, dumbass,” I leaned against the doorjamb, “so who’s your current agent, anyway?”

Chester Reed.”

Chester the Molester?” I tried not to laugh but it didn’t work. Ash was in the middle of pouring another cup of coffee when he looked at me funny.

“Excuse me?”

“Just a nickname, I promise. I used to work for him when I started out.”

“Really?”

“Well, not so much ‘with’ as ‘for,’” I shrugged.

“I’m surprised he never mentioned you,” Ash dug into another cup of coffee and started looking for some cereal, his other desperation go-to food.

“Yeah, me too. Guess I’ll have to kick his ass.”

Ash laughed there, halfway to the Apple Jacks, and I knew why. Chester was middle-aged and looked like he’d probably never had a fight in his life. Picture Archie from the comics with a receding hairline… or Ron Howard.

“That’s Chester, though. Tough as nails when it comes to business. The fact that he didn’t mention me, though… that must mean he likes what you’re doing. He doesn’t want you to be looking somewhere else for an agent. Congrats, Ash, you must be pretty good!”

He looked up from pouring his cereal with a weird look on his face. He looked almost hurt, but there was something in his eyes that said “I understand.” It’s the kind of face half my clients wish they could pull off convincingly.

“Will,” he said quietly, “Have you ever seen any of my work?”

“Well, there was Wet Willie…”

“No, no,” he ran a hand through his greasy, unkempt hair, “I mean my real stuff. Like, the stuff I did in college, before I had to worry about making money.”

“Nope. I didn’t know you had it with you… why didn’t you show me before?”

“You don’t seem like much the art type,” he said with a face that begged me not to hit him for that comment. I wanted to, but he had a point. As he was the guy renting off of me, he’d pretty much left me to decorate everything but his room… and I’m not gonna life, I was sucking at it. In fact, now that I think about it, I’d never even seen the inside of his room.

“Try me,” I said, folding my arms. I could see that he was nervous, but he lead me out of the kitchen and into what used to be a storeroom, back when this whole thing was a neighborhood hardware store. It wasn’t much for a room, but he sure made the most of it. The nicest part of those old buildings was that every room, even the storerooms, had nice, big windows. Back when people used to care how the buildings looked, I guess. Ashley pulled the shade up and flooded the room with harsh, morning light, and damn it all, his stuff was beautiful. He had landscapes, portraits, all kinds of pictures made with all sorts of stuff: paintings shung next to pencil drawings on thumbtacks, and chalky-looking things were all gritty next to smooth watercolors.

“You dick!” I shouted, and immediately he shrunk, although I got the feeling he didn’t really know why, “I’ve been hanging my Hobby Lobby bargain bin shit on the walls while you were hiding all this in your ROOM?”

“I didn’t want to feel like I was taking over the apartment or something…”

“Bullshit. You probably were afraid I’d pick on you, weren’t you?”

“…Yeah, but…”

“Shut up,” I held up my hand again, taking another look around, “I’m thinking that one would look good in the living room, what do you think?”

“It’s just a sketch I did of Central Park.”

“Shut up, it’s beautiful. And this one, this chalk-thing…”

“They’re called pastels,” he said sheepishly, “and it’s a picture of Yankee Stadium.”

“Put it in the kitchen.”

“But neither of us really like baseball…”

“Shut up! It’s beautiful!”

I found myself saying that a lot as we moved the majority of Ashley’s art out of his cramped little room and into places of honor around the apartment.

“It’s too bad you don’t have a doodle of Stalin. It’d look great in the bathroom.”

I heard Ashley stop what he was doing for a second while his tired brain processed the reference. Then, he broke down into that really sloppy kind of laughter someone does when they’re really tired, really drunk, or both.

“I don’t get it, Ash, I just don’t get it. How does someone who makes all these beautiful things crack fart jokes?”

“I’m just a Renaissance man, baby!”

“You’re something, all right,” I said, shaking my head, “Is there anything else in there that would look nice out here?”

I brushed past him and back into the emptied room. Ash immediately moved to a corner near his bed, obviously trying to hide something.

“Real smooth. What are you hiding?”

“Me? Nothing,” he yawned dramatically, “Just thinking of getting down to sleep. I’ll take to you later, okay?”

“Nice try,” I pushed his skinny, sleep-deprived body aside easily and found the canvas he was hiding. It wasn’t a particularly big one, so it was easy for me to spin it around and see what it was.

“I swear, if this is some kind of porn I’m gonna…”

The rest of my words just froze in my throat. The painting was mostly black, and it was done in a way that looked sketchy, but I think that was the style he was going for. The border was kind of jagged, like you were looking through a broken window in all the black, and inside there was a woman in a shirt and underwear, sitting on a floor and hugging her knees. It looked mysterious because you couldn’t see her face, and the jagged lines made it look kinda, I don’t know, harsh and depressing. Still, the girl in the painting, she had no jagged edges, she was painted smoothly and perfectly, not one dot out of place. She seemed to shine out from the center of all the blackness in the painting, all alone but still beautiful.

“…That’s me, isn’t it?”

I didn’t even care what he answered. I knew.

“Was this that one night? Love, Actually and The Muppet Movie?”

“…yeah.”

I put the painting down, even though I didn’t want to. It was so beautiful, and yet so sad… I walked over to Ashley and kissed him: slowly, gently. I could feel him go almost completely limp as I held his face, and I was afraid he’d pass out right there, so I let him go and grabbed his right wrist, looking it over carefully.

“No meth… right?”

I saw his eyes open slowly, still rolling around in his head.

“Huh?!”

“Oh, forget it…”

I took him in my arms and we both fell back onto his sad little bed. We both barely fit on there together. For once, his skinny butt was helpful. And no, before you ask, nothing happened. I just laid there with him, looking into his tired, bloodshot eyes and softly stroking his matted hair until it was nice and smooth. Even if I had wanted to screw him, and at that moment I really wanted to, he was out and asleep before two minutes were up. I looked at him while he slept, with his little breaths going in and out. I’d never seen him look so relaxed. Just watching him sleep like a rock made me sleepy, so we wound up sleeping together without, you know, sleeping together.

I swear, that guy just can’t do anything normally.

Lookie lookie!

Nobility? Well, I don’t know about that. I’d say it’s more like “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Nah, it’s more like “if you can’t say anything nice, I’ll fucking kill you.”  I don’t think Will understands just how frightening she is. I guess she’s gotten that way from her job: when you represent someone, you have to practically be willing to kill for them. Thankfully, I haven’t asked my agent to do anything like that, although I bet the headline “Wet Willie Murders” would really sell a few papers, huh? And yet… I get the feeling that Will’s attitude toward life has very little to do with her employment. A personality like that doesn’t just show up after college, you know. I tried asking her about it once, after she apologized for badgering me about proper use of a measuring cup. I think, if she had it her way, she would control everyone and everything that came into her life.
“Hhf,” that was the noise I remember her making, “You should see my father.”
I have yet to meet Will’s father, and for that I’m pretty glad. Someone who would willingly name his daughter Wilhelmina is probably a few crayons short of a full box… but don’t tell Will I said that. She loved her parents just a little bit more than she complains about them, and I had to learn the hard way that Ma and Pa were a taboo subject… unless, of course, you’re related to them. Every once in a while, Will gets a call from someone in her family, and they usually spend half the time talking about how screwed up the rest of the family is. I made the horrible mistake of jokingly calling her Dad a little “nutty” and got a week’s worth of glowers. Sometimes, the lessons your mother taught you about being honest don’t exactly work. In the world of the professional artist, you learn that very quickly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said someone’s work was great, just in the hopes of them finding me more work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, when I get home I like feeling like I have the freedom to say what I want… as long as it’s not about certain subjects.
I know, I know… it’s spineless and weak and unmanly, but… come on! I’m a professional artist, I don’t know how to fight! I got in one fight in the third grade and even that one ended in a draw. I know I’m taking a walk down Generalization Avenue here, but it’s really not in my nature to fight. I draw pictures, I make things look the way people tell me to look. Almost any fight has been bred out of me because, let’s face it, the promise of food and shelter outweighs artistic freedom. After that, it’s just a slippery slope, and soon you find yourself agreeing to all sorts of ridiculous things. Every once in a while, though, you  find just a bit of strength left over, just enough to keep you going.
“We’re not talking about your father, we’re talking about you.”
“Well, it’s annoying!” she shouted, “You hold the two cup measure right up in front of your face, that’s not going to get you a good reading! You’re supposed to put it on a flat, sturdy surface to get the right amount!”
“Will, I’m an artist, I’ve got steady enough hands.”
“And you’re also a skinny little shit!’ she said, her voice slurring a little, “How do I know your arms will be able to hold it that long?”
“That’s ridiculous.”
“YOU’RE ridiculous!”
“Have you been drinking again?”
“No!” she shot back. She made to shift in the couch to face away from me, but in her huff she jostled a throw pillow and a clinking sound issued from underneath. I couldn’t see her face, but I saw her shoulders sag.
“Dash and I broke up. Again.”
Yes, his name really was Dash. And yes, this was their second time around. The only thing that really changed was his hairstyle.
“His loss,” I pulled out one of my standard responses, then went for my ace-in-the-hole: self-deprecation, “But hey, at least you’re getting dates. Other than the chick who tried to steal from me, I haven’t…”
“Why do you always do that?” she cut me off, “why do you always do the same thing, over and over? You always try to comfort me, and then you make fun of yourself. Are you thinking I’m going to laugh?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but she didn’t give me a chance to.
“I never laugh, Ash. Never. All I ever think is ‘why doesn’t he do something instead of making the same bad jokes?’ You really should stop making those crappy jokes.”
“What should I do then?”
“I don’t know!” she turned around again, and her face was red and puffy. Still, she looked kinda cute, “Offer to kill him for me, offer to set me up with one of your clients, offer to buy me some decent booze instead of this shit!”
She tore at the pillow and a bottom-barrel brand of tequila thudded to the floor and rolled away. It almost looked ashamed.
“Hell,” she gave a bitter laugh, “You never even try to put the moves on me.  I’m easy pickings, you know, it wouldn’t take much.”
“I wouldn’t want you like this.”
That comment earned me a pillow to the face.
“There’s that damned nobility again! ‘I wouldn’t want you like this,’ what the fuck does that even mean? Who do you think I am, some princess? I’m just me, Ash, just me. I’m not this dream you’ve got in your head. I’m fucked up, I drink too much, and I routinely make very bad decisions. Don’t go thinking I’m something I’m not, please…”
She stalked across the room, snatched the pillow up from off the floor, walked back to the couch, and buried her faced in it.
“I’m nothing special.”
See, here’s the problem. For every so-called “nice guy” out there, this is the ultimate dilemma. Here’s the girl you like, the one you like for reasons you can’t even understand, and she’s basically begging you to try something. The only problem is, she’s a little tipsy and emotionally, well, a wreck. If you tried something now, it wouldn’t be the same as if she came onto you sober. You know it’s just pity, you know it’s just a fleeting mistake, you know that doing something now would completely screw things up for the rest of eternity. You say things like “I wouldn’t want you like this,” because it wouldn’t be nice to say something like “I’m afraid that if I jumped you right now it would severely hurt my chances of getting to jump you for the rest of my life.”
And that’s not to say it’s purely physical. Sometimes, it is. Some of you guys have been there. Maybe some of you have learned from your mistakes. I have. Drunk kisses and drunk promises are something you never want to engage in. Not only are they unsatisfying…but they’re usually incredibly messy, too. If you love someone, really love someone, you’ll wait until they are clean and sober before you try to kiss them. Or, if you’re like me, you just won’t say anything at all, because you don’t know if it’s something nice to say quite yet. I’d rather be lonely and have things just the way they are than risk blowing the whole thing away… does that mean I’m really not in love?
“You’re plenty special,” I countered, “but you told me to stop trying to comfort you.”
“Sometimes it’s okay…”
“You’ll have to draw me a map sometime.”
There was a bit of silence then, with her hugging the couch cushion and me, well, I was just standing there after chasing her out of the kitchen. Finally, she spoke with the truest of drunken sincerity.
“I thought you liked me.”
“I do like you,” I said, sitting on the couch next to her, “Probably too much, or else I’d be taking you up on your offer.”
“It’s okay,” she sniffled, “I’d probably be too drunk to enjoy it, anyway.”
She flopped over sideways onto the arm of the couch, still holding the pillow. In a few moments, she was fast asleep. I did my best to cover her with a blanket and headed to bed myself. The entire time, my body cursed me for not giving in, but my heart felt warm enough to make it bearable. I guess that’s what she calls nobility, huh? Well, if she knew what I did as soon as I went to bed, she’d probably think me a lot less noble.

Any chance we can get that last bit taken off the record?
 

Worp!

He may be from the middle of freakin’ nowhere, but he’s not an idiot. At least, he’s not an idiot with some things. When it comes to how to act in the city, he’s borderline retarded. It took me three months to make him aware of the fact that having an out-loud conversation about certain stereotypes can be a problem WHEN THE STEREOTYPES ARE ALL AROUND YOU. I tried explaining this to him, but before he moved to the city, he’d seen about three black people. “But they know they’re stereotypes, right?” I remember him saying, “Shouldn’t they be okay with that?”
Like I said, borderline retarded. But then… there’s the whole Pierce incident.
Pierce was a guy I dated for a little under a month. Unlike all the other dicks I’d dated, this guy was really nice. He actually liked to hear me talk, we went out shopping together, he even offered to pay for dinner and said “excuse me” when he burped. On top of that, he was smoking hot and pretty damn talented in the bedroom, let me tell you. Pierce and I were over one night, and Ashley was in the middle of his “deadline zombie” phase. He was nice enough to stop and wave, allowing me to introduce him to the man of my dreams. He said hello, excused himself for being so busy, and went into the kitchen to get what was either breakfast, dinner, or both. I followed him in, feeling about as giddy as a twelve year old at her first dance.
“Hey!” Looking back now, I feel like a complete tool.
“Hey,” he answered, grabbing some Easy Mac and a Sprite.
“Could you sit for a little while? I’d like you to meet Pierce.”
“I know Pierce.”
“Really?”
“I went to school with him,” he said, putting the macaroni in the microwave, “he was in the theatre school, though. Got a few big roles, good actor.”
“Wow, really?” My admiration was growing, “He told me he was in insurance.”
“Not surprising, hardly anyone gets to work in the arts anymore right outta school. What’s that you like to say?”
I smiled.
“It’s shit all over?”
“Yeah,” he pointed at me and grinned, then yawned and furiously rubbed at his eyes.
“Cripes! Sorry, I haven’t slept in a while. Trying to get this damn mascot done.”
“Which one this time?” I asked as I grabbed myself a Sprite and took a drink.
“Wet Willie.”
That bastard. Hope he enjoyed his Sprite-shower.
“What, are you working for a porn shop?”
“No,” he probably would have been on the floor laughing if he’d been more awake, “The city water utility is taking submissions for a new ad campaign. You know, turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, blah blah blah…”
He took a long pull from the bottle. I was immediately jealous for spitting half of mine all over the kitchen. He heaved a big sigh as he finally let the bottle go. If that’s how he kisses, I’m not surprised his prospects are nil.
“I’ve got about thirteen designs I’m sending in: everything from a Mickey Mouse dewdrop thing to something that can be animated.”
“Well, don’t kill yourself over a wet dream,” I smiled and took a drink, thinking myself quite witty. He gave a heavy, dry chuckle.
“Right… my mattress gets more action than I do.”
“That slut.”
We stood there for a bit before the microwave gave a ding! and the Easy Mac was done. Ashley pulled it out and gave it a stir.
‘Hey,” I tried to take his attention away from the noodles, which he was currently looking on as if it was the revelation of god itself, “Come on, take a break. Come watch the movie with us. Give your Willie a rest.”
That time, he actually snorted. Looks like he was waking up. He agreed to come on in and watch the rest of Hello, Dolly with us. Hey, not my choice, and it was in HIS collection, anyway.
“It’s a good movie,” Ash said with a bit of malaise, digging into his macaroni. Jesus, we watch a lot of movies, don’t we? Anyway, after that and some ice cream (Pierce was a sweetheart and brought over peanut butter fudge), we said goodnight and then it was just me and Wet Willie, who was gently snoring on the couch. I didn’t really mind that Ashley kept me from spending some more time with Pierce. It was actually kinda nice, the guy usually seems so demanding when it comes to sex. So I poked Ashley awake and set about grilling him. Hey, it’s my job as the roommate, isn’t it?
“You were a wonderful host.”
“Muh.”
“Oh, come on, I know you’re not that tired.”
“It’s not just tired,” he said, his head lolling back and forth, “I just spent eighteen hours drawing a friendly blob of water, for cripe’s sake. This isn’t what I spent years at college for…”
“You should be happy! You’re actually doing it. I mean, look at Pierce, you said he was in theater and now he’s hawking insurance.”
“Hh,” Ashley grunted, “He’s a liar.”
Now, that got me pissed. Past experience notwithstanding, I like to think I’m a pretty fuckin’ decent judge of character. I mean, that’s my damn job. And I told him that.
“You don’t seem to be able to apply it to your personal life,” he said slowly, couching his words, “Pierce is gay.”
“Bullshit!”
“He is!”
“Fuck you!”
“He was the biggest picnic basket on campus, Will! Everyone knew it! I wasn’t even in the same school and I knew it!”
“Maybe he…changed!” I knew it sounded weak, but things were going so well!
“Will, when he says he likes your dress, he means he wants to try it on.”
“Bull,” I said, sounding way too much like my father, “Besides, we do it. All the time. How can a gay guy get it on with a woman…and I AM a woman, just in case you were wondering!”
“Believe me, I hear the two of you,” he shot back, and his eyes seemed to shake a little, “but tell me… do you ever have the lights on?”

Shit.
“Do you?”
“…That doesn’t prove anything.”
“And just how do you do it? Who goes where? How does he like to do it?”
“That’s none of your damned business!”
“He’s gay, Will,” Ashley tossed his bowl and spoon into the sink with a clatter, “and he’s lying to you. He’s not working in insurance, he’s probably trying to act his way into your favor so you’ll get him some more work.”
“I’d know if he was gay,” I retorted, “I work with actors every day, you know!”
“And I’m an artist,” he countered, “trust me, I know gay and fake-gay when I see it. Pierce was a flaming queen in college. Just wait. Actors will screw anyone if it will get them the part they want!”
It got really silent then, and we both just stood there, my angry eyes glaring at his bloodshot, tired, but almost pleading ones. He did have nice eyes…when they weren’t shot to hell.
“I think you need to go to bed,” I felt myself turning away from him, even though I didn’t know why, “and I do, too.”
I didn’t talk to him for days, maybe weeks. Within that time, Pierce “expressed a desire” to “return to the stage” and “wanted to know if I knew anyone that could help him.” I asked him right then and there if he was gay. He didn’t even act shocked, only pissed that apparently, his “character” wasn’t good enough. I thought about giving him a black eye to add to his “character,” but everyone sues everyone over everything these days, so I did the savvy thing and blacklisted him instead. The next time I saw him was about three months later, when “Dana Pierce” attempted to get represented at my agency. Apparently he’d gotten his Daddy in insurance to get him a little operation.
Ash was right… he had wanted to wear my dresses. And so, you see the usual process for me. Flypaper for douchebags. Oddly enough, Ashley came to me a few weeks after the original blow-up and apologized profusely, saying it was wrong for him to interfere and he won’t do it again… but he only did it because he was worried for me. He hasn’t said a single thing about any other guy I’ve brought home. Thankfully, none of the other ones have turned out to be gay, but still… sometimes I see him walk through the living room, or see us at a store or something…and I can tell he just wants to say something.
That’s probably what pisses me off the most about him. Some damned kind of… nobility.

Stiff neck

So she says I’m “nice” huh? Wow, I supposed I’d better get my leather pants and mesh t-shirt now. She might as well have said I was gay, to be honest. “Nice” is as close as you can get to a death knell for any guy trying to impress a girl. Then again, Will isn’t really a girl. She’s a woman, and if you say anything else I’m sure you’ll wind up with a black eye where you don’t even have an eye. Yeah, think about it.
I don’t know. Yeah, she’s rough around the edges, yeah she speaks her mind when she really, really shouldn’t, and yes, she made me stagger around a harbor screaming about ice cream for about an hour so I wouldn’t get my butt kicked. Maybe it’s some kind of Stockholm syndrome… but that’s her, you know? She’s one of the most honest, straightforward people I know, which doesn’t happen often where I come from. Back there, it’s not surprising to have the old lady thank you for opening the door to church and then spend the next fifteen minutes enumerating every last one of your faults to her other old lady friends. But hey, that’s Catholics for you. L’echaim.
To be honest, though, I’d rather have a thousand gloomy, backstabbing Catholics to five of those goody-goodies you get in the other Christian branches. At least with the Catholics, they are aware of how much we suck, and they’re sad about it. There was a Baptist church in the town where I grew up, a couple of blocks down from where my family went to church, and they always seemed so… I don’t know… happy? I mean, there’s making a joyful noise and then there’s blissful ignorance. Ah, whatever makes them feel better, I suppose. Not like I have the answers.
…and there it is. That right there is probably why Will thinks I’m “nice.” You see, if I said something like that in her presence she’d probably clobber me and tell me to stop being so damn wish-washy. I made the mistake of asking her about religion once, and I got a three hour lecture about her crazy Lutheran parents. Funny, I figured everyone in Jersey was either godless or whatever church the Corleones went to. I mean, how else would you survive? Anyway, I usually sneak out and take a few hours every week to hit up the Catholic Church in the neighborhood. Sure, my Spanish ain’t so good, but I get the basic idea. Depending on the week, I sometimes say a little prayer for her… but if she ever found out she’d probably start throwing things at me.
Sheesh, I make her sound like some kind of ogre, don’t I? She’s not violent like a maniac or anything, she’s just… she doesn’t hide anything. If she’s feeling something, you know it. If she doesn’t like something, you really know it. It’s something I really admire about her… but she can go a little overboard on it. Take, for example, the one single solitary lady I managed to bring back to the apartment. Let me remind you, by the way, that she was usually sitting around with Cooper and Dash or whatever, but as soon as I brought someone over it was “can I see you in the kitchen?”
Me, being an idiot, said “Okay,” and was treated with a blindsided bevy of questions like “what’s with Snaggletooth?” “You rescue one from the Pound or something?” “She looks about as bright as a cast-iron skillet.”
And so on. It turns out she was absolutely right, and the young lady was as dumb as a post with a face to match, but… she wanted to spend time with me. That doesn’t happen very often. Of course, using that defense caused her to counter with the accusation that I don’t “sell myself” and I never “take a chance” so all I’m going to get is the dregs. I was about to respond, but it was about that time I noticed that my new “friend” was trying to steal the DVD player. So, you see, it isn’t so much that Will’s a bad person, she just doesn’t really know the right way to go about being a good person. It’s probably just a reaction to what she called a “stifling” upbringing. Say what you want about my Catholic childhood, I never really felt stifled… was I doing it right?
It was a few days after what Will would dub my “disastrous date with Meth Lab Millie” that we were crashing on the couch together, splitting some pork Lo Mein and an order of steamed dumplings from this really good local Chinese place. I always wanted to know how they got the pork the way they did in those things, it was like pig jerky in little tasty bits. Anyway, I’d just finished doing some work for  a few subway ads (not the sandwiches, the actual subway) and Will had managed to sign a couple of bimbos as dancers in a Broadway show, so we decided to celebrate. We were halfway through a rented copy of Spaceballls when Will said something that didn’t have anything to do with the Schwatrz.
“You’re still going to church, right?”
“Yes…” I was half expecting another lecture.
“And it’s the Catholic Church up the street?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Can you understand what they’re saying?”
“Kinda.”
There were a few seconds of silence. I took the opportunity to get some more Lo Mein before it got cold. It’s probably my favorite way to eat cabbage.
“The Catholics, they have all that ‘feed the hungry’ and ‘clothe the naked’ stuff, right?”
“I thought all of them did, but yeah…”
She grabbed the last dumpling. I knew they were her favorite.
“Am I doing that stuff? For you?”
I finished slurping a few noodles and took the time to think.
“In a way, I guess you kind of are. I mean, you let me move in here, you’ve let me share food when money’s short…yeah, I’d say you’re keeping with it.”
She bit off half the dumpling with purpose.
“Thanks.”
She seemed a little down, so I figured I’d try something more.
“You haven’t been clothing me, though. I don’t think your stuff would fit me, but if you’d like to try…”
“Don’t be an ass.”
We sat in another little bit of silence. It really surprises me that they wrote an actual song for Spaceballs, by the way.“If I ever catch you trying on my clothes, you’re a dead man.”
“Perish the thought, Will,” I reached for a can of Pepsi. For some reason, Coke doesn’t work with Chinese.
“If anything, I’d just walk around naked and wait for you to clothe me.”
“Please, I’m trying to eat here.”
I giggled into my soda and we kept watching the movie. There goes the planet. Suddenly, half a steamed dumpling was floating under my nose.
“Hey, you want this?”
“But they’re your favorite…”
“I’m pretty full. You like ‘em, right?”
“Sure…”
To be honest, I love the freakin’ things.
“I didn’t drool on it or anything. Go ahead.”
She handed me the little plastic cup of dipping sauce and went into the kitchen. I heard her call out as the credits were rolling.
“Hey, you want anything for dessert?”
I was still sitting, transfixed by the half-eaten dumpling that sat on a paper plate before me.
“Dumbass, do you want dessert or not?”
I jumped a little bit as her voice modulated up. I looked down at the dumpling again.
“Nah… nah, I’m good.”
I smiled.

Song of My Returning


Don’t get me wrong. He’s a nice guy. He’s immature, wishy-washy, and hopelessly idealistic, but he’s a nice guy. Also, he’s an okay cook. All in all, he’s a pretty good roommate, although I kinda wish he’d give up that crush he’s got on me. Yeah, don’t tell him I said that, he probably doesn’t think I know. Hell, I knew it from the first time I locked eyes with the guy. I wish I could just tell him that it’s not gonna happen, that the two of us would just end up hating each other in the end… but I’m pretty sure that would drive his little artistic brain into some fit of Shakespeare love/suicide craziness. I’m really not wanting to look for another roommate, especially one that seems to work, so him leaping off a building or something would totally screw my plans. You know how artists are.

And believe me, I know how artists are. I’m a talent scout: people send me their resumes and headshots and all the self-masturbatory claims of how good they were in their high school version of “Grease.” 99% of the time, I toss their stuff in the garbage can. I don’t know if it’s something in the water, or the way these kids are being raised, or some kind of genetic mutation, but damn are there some stupid kids out there today. I call it the “American Idol” effect, although if I had my way I’d probably just call them all American Assholes. I’m not exactly an old broad, but when I was their age not everyone thought they were the next Meryl Streep or Madonna or… shit, now I am dating myself. Fuck.

Well, at least dating myself might be better than the jack-offs I usually wind up with. I swear, I’m like flypaper for idiots. Sure, they’re nice and attractive and the first few dates go well, but then… then it’s the little things. He picks his nose when he thinks you’re not looking. He isn’t the first one to reach for the dinner check. He doesn’t introduce you to his friends. He tries to hide his farts in the couch cushions. You get the idea. And yet… I just keep hoping that this one will be better, that this one really will be what I want from a man. I want someone strong, someone who will challenge me as much as I challenge him, love me as tough as I love him. Do I really have to sacrifice balls to get a guy I can talk to for more than a month? If Ashley is any indication, I’d say so.

He’s from Ratfuck, Indiana, or Ohio, or something like that. One of those completely unremarkable states… but definitely Ratfuck. Came out here to make his living as an artist, went to one of these hoity-toity art schools, and now (BIG SURPRISE) he’s flat broke and doodling placemat mascots for the local Choke ‘n’ Puke to make the rent. I try to find him all the work I can, but I can barely get enough decent people represented to keep me in the black. It’s shitty all around, but Ash says he doesn’t wanna have to go back home and bunk with Mom and Pop again, and I respect him for that. He’s got some balls… but they’re little ones. I guess that’s why I haven’t thrown him out onto the street yet, because frankly… he’s a little fuckin’ weird.

Take, for example, the first day we both had off. That didn’t happen often, as we’re usually working around the clock on schedules that require us to see both the ass-crack of dawn and the two PM taint. Either way, he got his stuff done, and I had most of my clients rehearsing for the day, so we figured we’d finally try to get to know each other outside of saying “hey” to and from the bathroom as we had for the first month or so. I’ve lived in the area my whole life, Hoboken, so walking around town for a hot dog or a tamale is no big thing, but remember… Ashley is weird. He raved about Anrturo’s Dog Cart like it was fuckin’ filet mignon, and if Arturo had understood any English he probably would have wondered what that kid’s problem was. I walked him down to the through Pelham Park, showed him City Island and the marina. This dumbass goes nuts, talking about how he’s never actually seen a real marina on the ocean. I wanted to tell him that Hicksville was a few miles south, if he was interested, but the damn mental patient jumped on board one of the nearest boats and started singing Billy Joel’s The Downeaster Alexa at the top of his fuckin’ lungs while playing air accordion.

AIR ACCORDION. Who the fuck does that?!

Anyway, the guy who, you know, owns the ship comes storming out and threatens to pound Ashley’s skinny ass into the dock. I had to tell him he was a mental retard to get the guy to go easy on him, and Ash spent the next twenty minutes having to walk around the dock yelling “ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM!” and looking for his helmet. I swear, do people not act like, y’know, PEOPLE out in Ratfuck? Can you just jump on someone’s John Deere… planter thing and start singing John fucking Denver? Christ, I hope he never invites me home for a holiday… but he will, because head-over-fucking-heels for me. There are days, real shitty days, when I wish I could say the same… but as fuckin’ weird as he is, I’d rather have him around and giving me the puppy-dog eyes than fucking the whole thing up.

I mean, he is the best roommate I’ve ever had. It’s nice.

Didja miss ’em? I did.

It all started with craigslist.
Yeah, craigslist.
Believe it or not, the world of a freelance artist doesn’t pay all that well, so I was in the market for a roommate. Sadly, I had left the safety of college and home and traveled roughly 750 miles to make it on my own. As soon as the money started wearing thin, so did my landlord’s patience.
So I went to craigslist. I know, I know, it’s basically a hive of scum and villainy the likes of which Obi-Wan never saw…but I was desperate.
Really desperate.
Craigslist desperate.
It’s full of skeazeballs, but if the skeazeball could front a month’s rent for the down payment, so much the better. It’s also full of predators and rapists. Ah well, I thought, I hadn’t gotten any action in about three years, so it wouldn’t be totally awful…
Okay, I was kidding on that last one. But it almost came to that. Probably would have if I hadn’t seen this little gem hiding under the thinly-veiled pornographic “massages” and broken, semen infused futons:

“Craiglist is a pile of shit, but I’m running out of options. 26, female. I’m a talent agent, so money is there but spotty.
I am armed. I won’t take any bullshit, and I expect perfection. Two of my last three roommates wound up with complexes, and the third is in denial. I’m the worst person to have as a roommate, but as fucked-up fate would have it, I need one.

And underneath was her number and the name W. A postscript put the icing on the cake:

“I will not violate you.”

That put a smile on my face, so I called up this mysterious W, while trying not to think of George. We hit it off instantly, if only on a brash overseer and timid lackey basis. Soon, however, that melted away, and we wound up working well together. Her abrasive but charming personality added strength to mine, and I gave her some of my more mousey traits in return, effectively balancing both of us out. We both tended to have fairly open work schedules, so we saw a lot of each other and managed to bond. I helped her find artists in the area to represent, including myself, and suddenly my iron-clad roommate was wrestling me jobs all over town.
“Gotta make sure you pay the rent, Rembrandt,” she would drawl in her low alto voice, mischief flashing behind her blue eyes.
Oh, those eyes. Those damn blue eyes. They started all this trouble.
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December…except I don’t have a bird haunting me about my past love. No, this was the birth of love anew! Love, grand love! Have I mentioned I’m a fucking idiot?
Will had just broken up with her boyfriend. Her…latest boyfriend. I’d known her for about six months, and she would change fellas pretty much whenever the calendar would change. I joked once that it was because she wanted each guy to match the picture for each month, and I wound up with a lemon-sized bruise on my bicep for a few weeks. She was always falling into it with the same kind of guy: always stoic and oh-so masculine, but with just enough foibles to masquerade as deep or gentle. Problem was, those foibles were really just a manifestation of deep-seated issues with their mothers, for which Will was serving as a surrogate. After a few weeks, she got sick of holding their leashes, and showed ’em the door. Well, actually the two doors…the one out of our place and then the one at the bottom of the stairs that exited next to the Latino grocery. Coincidentally, I’ve come to love avocados, and to be a connoisseur of guacamole…
Anyway, it was after fella number six, a particularly hard-boiled leather-clad fellow named Trace (they always had those obscure names like Trace or Hunter, a word you know was something else before it became a name) and she was pretty broken up about it. I guess six one-month courting excursions would take it out of anyone. In a display of, well, very un-Will like behavior, she got loaded on a bottle of Montezuma and I came back from a mascot-rendering meeting with a local bowling alley to find her in her underwear watching Love, Actually…over and over.
Seriously. I went into the kitchen, made dinner, brought her a box of Triscuits, and finished the movie. Hey, I’m a ridiculous romantic, it’s one of my favorite films. Also, I’ve been trying to call them films more, don’t know why. After dinner, I ruffled her dark hair a bit (our roommate-code for “you’re better without him/her, everything will be all right, and bring a bucket to bed, something she’d done much more often to me, actually…) and headed to bed.
I went to bed very proud of myself, because I had managed to not stare at her in her underwear, which was a very welcome sight, if you catch my drift. However, I was woken up around two AM by some rather loud crying.
Will crying.
Now, maybe you don’t understand: Will doesn’t cry. She is tough. Civil War hardtack circa 2007 tough. She doesn’t do this over guys, especially not one like Trace. I rolled out of bed and peeked my head out into the living room, knowing immediately that she was about halfway through the movie, er, film, and it must be about the third time running. She was still watching intently, sniffing loudly, tears on her cheeks (although I can tell she tried to rub them out.) Well, I had only known her six months, but I had lived with her for those six months, so I figured it was my roommately duty to help her.
Plus, she was still in her underwear…
It was the scene where Colin Firth (a wholly under-appreciated actor, by the way) is slowly falling for the Portuguese girl, even though they can’t speak the same language, in true romantic comedy form. Sounds saccharine, but it’s nice, give it a try if you haven’t. Er, the film. Not falling in love with Portuguese girls. Although, if that’s your thing…
“It doesn’t work like this,” she muttered grumpily. The tequila was starting to wear off. “In real life Firth would just fake the whole novelist thing to get in bed with this girl, and ride the physical connection to the breaking point while she’s running around picking up after him…”
“Swearing in Portuguese all the way,” I added, sitting on the wood floor, in front of the couch, next to her. This got a little snigger out of her, and she finally let go of the death grip she had had on the couch cushion since six last night.
“Aren’t you cold? It’s like 10 degrees outside and not much better in here. I should know, you never let me turn the heat on.”
“Put on a sweater if you’re cold, no need to spend more on heat,” she grumbled.
“You’ve got to be cold. This floor is freezing through my pajamas. Come on, I don’t want you getting sick. If you pull a Jim Henson I’ll be pissed, because I like the way we have things set up and I don’t want to find a new roommate!”
This was a little cranky, and the Henson joke was a little low, but somehow it got through to her. She turned away from the television for the first time in roughly eight hours and looked at me with big, wet, sparkling blue eyes, shining out from fair skin and dark brown, almost black straight hair.
It was those eyes, those eyes fucked me right over from the get-go. Looking back, it wasn’t even anything romantic or dramatic, just a little look that probably lasted half a second, but I kept replaying it in my mind’s movie theater, er, cinema for about a week. She looked back, a little forlorn.
“I’m so sick of myself,” she muttered as Colin Firth got his awkward on, “I’m so sick of being this person that no man can stand to be around, even though I’m willing to bend over backward for them. I’m sick of being the Mom, the teacher, always seeming like it’s me giving and them taking. Just makes me want to go have a lobotomy, shove it in my tits, and have someone give to me for a change.”
Now, I wanted to make a comment about how her tits were fine the way they were, but I value all my teeth. Instead, I went for the cheesy boy scout line, dripping with maple syrup.
“Will, you’re amazing just the way you are, and you should really stop selling yourself short for these guys.”
and the kicker:
“One of these days you’ll find the right guy…”
ME! I screamed inside my head.
“and you’ll be so happy, because you won’t have to compromise and it will just…work.”
She sniffed, half to be derisive and half to reclaim and errant snot flow. Still was cute, though. I decided to close with a good old-fashioned self-deprecating joke, to take the pressure off her and to confirm to her that I wasn’t implying myself as “that guy” in any possible way.
“I mean, if there’s no chance for you, what’s a beanpole like me got in the world, eh?”
There was silence for so, so long. So awkward. All I could hear was Hugh Grant babbling on the TV. Why can’t I sound cute and charming when I babble, when instead I just sound nasal and offensive? Maybe I need a British accent…
“I am cold,” Will finally relented. I couldn’t persuade her off the floor, but I got a cozy afghan blanket wrapped around her shoulders. In a move that almost burst my heart, she decided to lean over and rest her head on my shoulder, speaking so softly, so sweetly.
“That Jim Henson joke was really fucking bad…but now I want to watch the Muppet Movie.”
So I spooled up the old VHS and we watched the Muppet Movie at 2:30 AM in a cold apartment on a snowy morning above a Latino grocery store in the Bronx. I was worried she’d hurl and ruin the beautiful moment…but that girl can sure hold her liquor.
Of course, there was the cursory post-hangover awkwardness for a few days, but soon it was back to normal for her…but not for me.
It’s been four and a half years now, I’m now 29 and she’s 31. We’ve managed to carve out a comfortable enough life, still without heat and without AC…but comfortable enough. I’ve been in love with this woman for four and a half years, but I love her too much as a friend and partial mentor to risk fucking it all up now. She still brings home the occasional greaser, and I try to have a fling once in a while with one of those eccentrically hot art chicks in the village, but it never really works out, anything to not arouse suspicion.
I’m security, I want to get married, and that’s hard to find in the art community. I’m a true romantic, unscarred from my myriad of love failures in the past, still believing in love happening at first sight, conquering all, and being a many-splendoured thing. That night so long ago, she was in her underwear, and pretty drunk, but all I could think of was how worried I was for this person I hardly knew, and how I wanted her to be happy no matter what, even if I wasn’t part of the equation, because she really was amazing and she deserved it.
And that’s what love is to a true romantic. Hurts like hell, but it gives life such…tangibility. Coincidentally, my DVD of Love, Actually got played out…but I just can’t seem to bring myself to buy a new one.

Hm?

A delivery man walks up a flight of stairs with a box under his arm. He stops before a wooden door that reads “A. Williams, Proprietor” and knocks.
“Who is it?” Comes a man’s voice.
“UPS. Got a package for a Will Stafford.”
“Right! Come on in!”
The door swings open to a queer apartment. It was obviously the remains of the office for the drugstore, whose remains are now the Mexican grocery on the first floor. Little bits have been salvaged and used as decoration: an old soda fountain, a few old metal signs, and a massive cash register straight out of the 1950s. A skinny man in his late twenties is standing on the hardwood floors, a television playing “Jeopardy” in the background. It continues on, indistinct, as the delivery man begins.
“I got a package for a Will Stafford,”
A woman in her early thirties, strong looking, enters from the kitchen with a cup of coffee. The gangly man waves. The delivery man cares not for cordiality.
“You him?” he jabs a finger at the man.
“Mrhm?” The man babbles.
“Are you Will Stafford?”
The man sighs, as if this is something he is very tired of, and instead jerks his finger to the woman in the background.
“Her?”
The man speaks.
“Yep.”
“You Will Stafford…miss?”
The woman walks forward, looking at the man.
“Buenos Aries.”
She turns to the delivery man.
“Wilhemina Stafford, that’s me.”
“Ah! Okay. Sign this.”
“No problem.”
“So,” the delivery man begins, glancing about, “you’re Will Stafford, and I got another package for this address for an Ashley Bannister. 467 1/2  East Tremont, Ashley Bannister. You got another roommate?”
The young man, who has turned his back to watch Jeopardy, raises his hand solemnly.
“You?”
“Yes.”
“You’re…?”
“Ashley Bannister. That’s my package, I’ll sign.”
“Seriously?”
“Seriously.”
“Awright. You two…you have a good day now.”
“Thanks.” they say in unison as the delivery man leaves. In the background, Alex Trebek expounds:
“Buenos Aries is correct, and you are our new Jeopardy champion!”
“Dammit.” Ashley swears under his breath.
“You’re making dinner tonight then, eh?” Will laughs, teasing him, “I’m thinking Italian,” she turns to change the channel.
Ashley turns to address the camera.
“Yes, I’m Ashley Bannister. Twenty-eight, Aquarius, likes kittens. This is my roommate, Will Stafford. She’s a great girl, but we’re just good friends…”
Will exits back into the kitchen. Ashley becomes very conspiratory.
“Actually I’m completely in love with her, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Can’t endanger the friendship, can’t endanger the rent. So I just kinda sit here, helpless…”
“Who’s helpless?” Will has re-entered, “I hope you’re not helpless in makin’ me some dinner! Italian, with a red sauce if you please.”
Ashley sighs, grins to the camera, and goes to make dinner.
“What was in your package?”
Will looks at several photos and resumes of beautiful young women.
“Work.” She drones, “yours?”
Ashley chances a glance at his. It’s full of grinning cartoon characters.
“Work.”