I hate getting a haircut in any language.


The small talk, the waiting, the smells--the questions. I don’t know what style I want. I’ve had this same cut since birth and I’m fortunate that my curly hair makes any basic style look good at several lengths, so more than anything, if I had the necessary swagger, when I sit in a chair, I just want to say, “Make me pretty” and be done with it.


Normally, it’s more of a meek, “A trim?”


But in Korea, I don’t get that luxury.


I can say, “Give me a haircut please,” and “A little” and “Like this?” but beyond that, I’m in their hands.


Some seasons are better than others and I’ve accepted that bad haircuts are just the price I pay for not speaking the language. The best haircuts I’ve gotten were when Korean friends went with me to translate.


I didn’t have that today.


It’s Buddha’s Birthday. No one’s in school. Banks are closed.  My hair was long enough to put in my mouth so around noon, I went in to my local salon that I pass on the way to work each day and for the last few weeks, the hairstylist had given me that look like, “Is today the day?” Inside were three ajumma in plastic headwraps, chatting as they waited for the whatever to whatever; I don’t know what goes into women’s haircuts.  


I had all afternoon. I was fine waiting an hour for my turn.


They offered me coffee and I felt pretty confident in my Korean, saying “That’s okay!” and we left it at that. The women went on chatting. It felt more like friends than just customers.


Then the door opened. A delivery man walked in. Set a bunch of food out on a coffee table in front of me, and I started to feel awkward that I’d interrupted their lunch time. Should I leave? I didn’t know how to ask that so I looked at the hairstylist who told me, “Han-she, gwaenchanhayo?” One hour, is it okay?


So I left. Did my grocery shopping. At the cash register, I cut in front of an old lady by the baskets and I thought she was picking one up, but nope, just osteoporosis bending her over like a question mark.


Anyway, an hour and some minutes passed and I went back for the haircut.


A middle school girl was in the chair with her mother next to her. Not one of mine but I felt a kinship. We shared similar expressions as awkward children, her actually, me perpetually. That kind of mindset where people say things twice because we don’t realize anyone’s ever talking to us.


One of the ajummas from before asked me about coffee again and again I said, “That’s okay!” She was insistent this time.


Then the questions came. Not about hairstyle. The questions I get pretty regularly as a foreigner. Where are you from? What do you do? How long have you been here? Apparently, she lives on the floor above me. I had this excited surprised reaction as I understood, which made the whole room laugh except the student. You know how teenagers are. She asked about my dog, even. Great! But that meant questions that I’d never heard before. She took some time trying to explain them but she had to give up. At one point, she told me to study and I said okay.


Then the mother of the student who knew a bit of English, I guess, more than my neighbor anyway, turned to me and said, “Handsome!” which I responded with my usual “Thank you” and big smile but I was feeling brave and vaguely comfortable around these strangers (weird for me!) so I told her, “E-ppu-da!” which is “You’re pretty!” in the local Jeollanamdo dialect. The room lit up with laughter. Even the student broke her grimace.


I’d been accepted by these people.


My turn was up.


The girl’s hair had been permed with those big loops and now she wore the plastic headwrap under that big hair dryer that as a basic guy I’ve never used so I don’t know why it instead of the hand one. She was in the chair next to me. I could catch her eye in the mirror.


The hairstylist started asking me things that--who knows if my responses were correct. I said, “A little” and “Like this” and pointed and then she asked me something and I said, “Okay, sure!” knowing this was the part where I let go and let God or whatever when the student, near silent but for that one crack of laughter, shook her head.


If I had to guess, she saved me from an awful haircut.


So we agreed on something else. “Tubular,” an English word adopted into Korean.


I don’t know what the tubular hairstyle is. Or, well, I didn’t. I do now. Unfortunately.


She shaved the long hair around my ears. She started cutting. Midway through, the ajumma asked the student and I heard the word, “Papago,” which is an app I use to translate English to Korean. She did it the other way. With scissors in my hair still, the ajumma came up asking me things, letting the robotic voice of her phone speak English.


“Does he have a girlfriend?”


(Korean doesn’t use pronouns in the same way so translators always to default to he or it).




The hair stylist was yelling in that friendly way to stop interrupting till suddenly the haircut paused. The stylist looked in the mirror.


Midway through a haircut, it always looks bad.


However, we were 80% done. Normally, I can see its potential by now.


But I was missing a whole lot of hair. There wasn’t much left to cut.


And I think, as the majority of the salon’s customers were women, she maybe didn’t have a lot of practice with this hairstyle.


She asked her friend something.


I’m going to assume it was, “Is this right?”


And there was a discussion.


A long discussion with quick, heated exchanges.


And my neighbor, via translator, told me, “This was a popular style in Korea.”


I could shelve my opinions on the in-progress unsightliness of the cut until the end. I could put the pause and the discussion out of mind. The reassurance, though, really weighed on me. I looked over at the student, grimacing again.


It was done being cut but I needed a wash and whatever. At this point, the student’s hair needed its next step too, so the stylist walked me over to the hair washing station, that deep reclining chair that led to the sink with the neck hole. Then the stylist put a towel over my eyes so I couldn’t see and I felt tentative hands cleaning the hair out of my ears. And a pause. Then a few massages to my hair. Another pause.


While the stylist helped the student, the ajumma, the friend, my neighbor took on the task of washing my hair until she did a bad enough job that the stylist did it herself.


Back in the chair, the cut looked… not bad. Okay, I guess. Not great.


And the stylist grabbed a brush I’d never even seen before. It was round with large spokes very spread out, and she used it to tease my hair, which is an issue, because I don’t have that brush at home. I’m not going to buy that brush for home. So if the only way to get my hair looking all right is that brush, I think I’m screwed for a few months.


The end product is not bad, for now, but it’s very not me.


It’ll grow.


Cafe Polyn

My biggest embarrassment in a while.


This whole week, I'd been dragging my feet on writing in the morning so I wanted to get some done that night. I thought I'd get some coffee after work so I could walk for a bit, think about story specifics, then get home with anxiety fuel. But it's been raining on and off all afternoon while the start of summer is here. Our English academy has terrible ventilation, too. It's been that muggy, soul-sucking humidity, you know? The students were too dead to need discipline and after work, I was kind of a zombie, too. Not great writing mindset, but hey, the walk and the coffee might fix that.


When I went to work, it wasn't raining at all. I didn't need an umbrella. But after work, I did. Just some mist in the Korean neon nightlife. Still, my umbrella’s been broken and has needed replacing for months so I went into the bodega to get a new one. At the cash register--I didn't have my bank card. My wallet only had $5.


I apologized and left without the umbrella. $5 is more than enough for a coffee and I *like* the rain. The cool drops were some relief in this heat, even if it was soaking through my shoes and into my socks.


At the coffee shop, the real small one with the yellow lab, there were three other people inside. I suddenly felt socially anxious and hoped the owner didn't see me pass because in my mind, she'd know. She'd know I was intent on going there. She'd know I didn’t because people. She'd just know.


I decided on donuts as consolation. $5 is plenty for donuts, too!


But donuts were on the opposite corner of a busy intersection and the rain had picked up by this point so I turned around to look my anxiety right in its liar face then timidly went into Cafe Polyn 20 minutes before closing. An umbrella bin propped open the door.


The coffee shop had a reward.


Normally there's one big, friendly dog. Today, there were three! A golden retriever that jumped up on me to give me a hug. This girl was huge! Easily dancing with me with her paws on my shoulders and so fluffy and friendly. Very gentle, too, considering she was resting her weight on me. The other two big dogs were being kept apart because the boy dog wanted to hump the owner’s girl dog, both yellow labs, and the customer that was the owner of the boy dog was dragging him by his tail to keep him away and he was even wearing a diaper so it'd just be humping but still... Humping is bad for business.


Anyway, all this was happening as I ordered an Americano, hot, take out. The owner told me they had a new bean today. This fruity, earthy blend. I like it!


I even practiced my Korean a little with the fluffy golden retriever's owner. The dog's name was Mango. Mango was a she. That's all I really got.


Then the coffee was ready. She set it on the table for me and I left.


The rain was really coming down now. And I felt liquid on my hand, but the rain was that kind of cold where it almost felt hot compared to the air so the burning cold liquid occasionally hitting my hand, I assumed, was the rain. Nope. Coffee. Hot, hot coffee. The lid wasn't secured properly. It somehow got soggy from the rain and started getting misshapen. Same with the cardboard sleeve. It kept spilling on my hand. It was sue-McDonald's hot. Tons of people around. Cars driving by. Restaurants still open for business, and I was looking for a drain to pour some of the coffee into but nothing was around so I poured it on a tree. I'm sorry, tree.


Nearly home. Coffee still spilling on me occasionally.


And I realized something.


Did anywhere in that coffee chaos I tell you that I paid?


I didn't. I didn't pay.


Cafe Polyn. This tiny business with a very friendly dog and if you can believe it an even friendlier owner who put up a photo wall that shows her working at Starbucks as a fetus so obviously this is her dream! The dream she probably told every teacher about since she was eleven that she’s worked towards despite the reality that dreams take a hell of a lot of luck and support and she’s out here living it as a gentle, generous owner & operator who sets her prices so low and has given me so much free stuff from yogurt shakes to a plant which I’m probably killing that I wonder how they're staying in business among the dozens of other independent coffee shops within five minutes walking, each with their own gimmick--the creepy mannequin beauty/coffee shop combo, the all white retro-futurist cafe, the coffee in the morning and wine in the evenings place, the constantly under construction hipster one run by a world traveler who can grow a beard which is impressive for a Korean guy in his 30s! The onion coffee!! And they’re all just trying to survive on their dream and I want to support this place and this dog so I can continue coming back each week--and I stole from them!


I turned around, but the coffee was still spilling out. Too hot to drink. Just one intersection from home. Instead I messaged the owner on their Facebook page, telling her I was really sorry like three times in English and five times in Korean after I explained what happened and swore up and down that I'd be back tomorrow afternoon to pay. I even fed the English through a translator, knowing it'd come out garbled.


She replied, "I didn't even know! haha"

One of My Best Friends Is a Merman

Synopsis: At the Fall Fireworks Festival, organizers ignore conservative protests and book the long-running event's first ever band of mermen as dragons light the sky in a fireworks display.

Meanwhile, Becky is on a blind date that isn't going well.


    On the way back to my date, his shoes next to him as his toes dipped into the water, a stray cat with a tragic stump tail passed me. In a beached canoe was another, looking closer, a family huddled together; the mother was so thin.

    "Think there are so many because..."

    Todd looked across the marina where they'd cleared out the fishing boats for the Fall Fireworks Festival. The merman band floated under the docks where they liked the acoustics. Mystic neon shimmered in the water, but when the wind blew, there was a smell.

    "Probably hoping for handouts."

    "Just a joke!" Then in a quiet voice that revealed it was more than insensitive mischief, he said, "But seriously."

    I handed him a Styrofoam clam shell.

    "What's this?" His nose rankled as he tentatively sniffed the lumpy chicken covered in a brown sauce alongside rice and naan.

    "Tikka masala," I said.

    "Indian food's too spicy."

    "The dish is for British people. It was the whitest item on the menu."

    "Racist," Todd said.

    "White as in spice level. White, red, black. Anyway, check out this complementary candy necklace."

    He suggested I put on the pastel sugar beads and he'd peck them off.

    "No thanks."

    He ate a red one. "Like stale beeswax and vomit. I'd almost rather have the Indian food.” He picked at the bread.

    The gloaming on the waterfront was lit by screeching rainbow fire with roars of fun and fury as shadows crisscrossed. The dragons let their wings cut through the water, spraying the boaters that had drifted beyond the buoys, and the next firework turned the spray to steam and the light through the colloid dazzled the crowd. I clapped.

    The display was set to traditional Sea music. It sounded human. Not very good, but that was also human. The crowd watched the band, talking over the tunes, only interested in the spectacle, but when the song switched to Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer," people came alive. The band was nailing it! I even bopped along. People started dancing on the dock above the band, despite ropes and stanchions blocking it off, and when the band missed a few notes, security reluctantly came and the dancers sat. Their feet dangled in the neon water. The singers retreated deeper under the docks.

    The song ended quickly, like they'd forgotten a verse, and it was back to traditional music. The dancers left for food.

    An announcement from a marina official interrupted. "An airplane will be landing unexpectedly at the local airport. Until the FAA clears us, the fireworks display will be on hold. Feel free to try authentic Sea food in the original Sunken Palace. We promise it's safe for consumption, but check allergen information before ordering. Thank you."

    Todd was fine with the musicians breaking. "The jet trail's probably more to my taste than--" He felt a small weight on his sweater, like a cockroach, and he shot up mid-sentence, slapping himself, sending the tikka masala and candy necklace into the sea, before he saw a pixie tumble to the dock. "Maybe say something next time."

    "Just wanted a view," the pixie said. It'd been trying to squeeze past.

    "Don't you think it's rude splitting a couple like that?"

    The pixie looked at me. They were stereotyped as blunt for a reason. "There are others out there, you know. You don't have to stick with this one."

    Todd rose up even bigger like he was contemplating stomping the pixie. "Did you hear what she said?"

    "I'm a guy."

    "Didn't mean to assume," he said with venom. Then he stormed off, a toe bumping the pixie into the water.

    Between the planks, a hand reached up. It startled me, a normal reaction. But the glowing yellow eyes caused shivers to linger on my skin.

    "Didn't mean to sneak up on you." His red scales had beautiful black markings in the shape of arrows. I always thought they'd be a bit slimy, but he wasn't. "Got a light?" he asked.


    He surfaced so the candy necklace floated around him. "Eh, just needed a conversation starter. Sorry about that dickhead date." When he spoke, there were bubbles but not as many as you'd think. He bobbed in the water so only his eyes were visible. The yellow didn't bother me too much now.

    "No big loss. Just met the guy tonight," I said. "Can you believe it's 2017 and we're still dealing with that crap? The Civil War, Holocaust, marriage equality—people should be past it. Always something."


    The conversation seemed to be drifting to a close, but I wanted more. I said the first thing that came to mind. "Are you with the band?"

    The silence told me I had messed up.

    "That was dumb of me."

    "You know this is our music, right? We actually like it," the merman said.

    "Me too. I wasn't thinking when I said that. Long night."

    "You're kind of ugly, you know that? All peach and pale."

    "No need to be nasty."

    "You think the same about us, right? You're always joking. Or curious. You always want to know how we fuck. Or how it'd be to fuck us. Whatever. Honestly, we're curious, too. Like pubic hair—just... why?"

    I didn't think I said anything that bad.

    "But this is new for our kinds. Less than a decade, of course we're not integrated. What's disgusting about you people is how you wrote us as fantasy nightmares, then you're so quick to draw analogies between accepting us, monsters you thought you conjured up, and others of your own kind."

    He ducked under and left the candy necklace floating there. I went looking for Todd. He'd driven me and I was ready to leave.

Why I Let My Ice Cream Melt

To start my vacation, after work I went to the GS25 to get some ice cream bars. Grape, tiramisu, and a strawberry cheesecake as well as some Sprite and soju. The most annoying part of soju is that it costs 1,010 won. Every item in Korea is on the hundred otherwise. I hate getting those 10 won coins. Worthless.


I went to my apartment building then had to go for a long walk in the 83 F and 86% humidity--the convenient store black plastic bag still dangling from my fingertips.


On the walk, I saw three rhinosceros beetles so big if I stepped on them the with the 285 millimeter shoes Not-Mom bought me two Christmases ago the head, tail, and wings would be apparent on all sides. I wasn't sure all my weight would squish one. They're not dangerous, intentionally, because they have no stinger and cannot bite, but by that logic, neither is a meteor. The sheer mass of it could certainly leave a bruise. That horn could take out an appendix.


One beetle was opening a swinging glass door to a mountain climbing shop, or trying to with some success.


Another beetle was creeping across my path and I almost turned around to retreat--again, but a high schooler in her Sailor Scout uniform ran into me from behind and, shuddering, I stepped over it.


The final beetle was also the first beetle. Carrying that convenient store black plastic bag, I saw it once again looming above the apartment entrance.


I summoned all my courage and dashed beyond it with my melted ice cream and I'm never leaving again.


I don't care. Bugs are gross. Shut up.

The Blogger, chapter something

August 3                                                         INSERT TITLE                                                             


Hi guys! Gals. Whoever those views are. Tanzania? Didn’t even know where that was till now. Analytics! Didn’t cover it in Geography last year with Mr. Reed who had a baby, well, you know, his wife, and then Mr. Cryer, young and supposedly good looking, I don't know I wasn't paying attention, replaced him during his maternity leave—fraternity? Google says paternity—but I can’t even think of what we did in that class. There was that month of student presentations on an assigned country and we each had to fill a class with a lesson, giving Mr. Cryer a break as he learned our names—Mr. Reed assigned it. I went first. Cambodia. Formerly Kampuchean, which I thought was the same as capuchin—like the monkey from Friends. No one called me on that logical leap because who knew that spelling? Angkor Wat. That was accurate! Tons of war and occupation just in the last century. Tons to talk about. But I really, REALLY sweated taking the whole class. Talk for 40 minutes? Oof! Luckily power point. And a Q&A at the end where no one asked a thing so I showed photos from Google. But being first, I didn’t have precedent. Also I wasn’t going to set precedent. Didn’t quite have that star power to make a school presentation on history memorable to kids who maybe knew my name if they read the opening slide—OSCAR—but a lot were already tuned out at that point. So the next few presentation classes, students took twenty minutes. Ten minutes. Five. Two. Then we had free time. I was reading a book a day back then. Sometimes the book I’d just read the day before because only so much library at home. Only so much allowance. Star Wars mostly. Jacen and Jaina, Yuuzhan Vong, Darth Caedus, Luke’s kid Ben dying and Chewie getting like a moon dropped on him. It was great. I guess we had that really good class discussion on how many continents there were. I didn’t participate but I listened to Sarah and Lindsay, besties (then), hotties (still), ask Mr. Cryer about the continents. Seven, right? Wrong! But Sarah flipped open our textbook to show him and he grabbed her hand before she found the page, spinning her promise ring till it unscrewed, and explained. Not in South America. They just see America as one long continent, probably the biggest, if so. And was Central America in South or North? Didn’t matter if they were one. Wow! What about Europe and Asia? I’d heard that before. Eurasia! (I wanted to cry out.) Was Australia on the same as Indonesia? It maybe was different than New Zealand. Anyway, memorable as those were, that was a month and a half of classes? Where’d the rest go? It was a full two quarters, what in high school we call semesters. Mostly we learned country names I already knew. Also Djibouti! Which is also in Africa—like Tanzania! Which you know because you’re in Tanzania, some of you, most of you, and knowing Djibouti is like knowing Idaho for me. Do you know Idaho? Oh, shit, so this is still the opening address and it’s meant to end in a comma,


I really just got on to update that not much happened this week, didn’t want to miss a post and make you think I was dead though. So aloha?


Anyway, thanks for reading. See you next week? Or talk to you next week, I guess, since we’re not really seeing each other, though I’m sure you’re just gorgeous—man or woman—maybe not, but even if not, that’s not too important, right? You’re surely brilliant. You’re reading my blog after all. You sorted through all the noise to get at what’s special online—ME! That’s what my mom—she’s never said it, like the joke, but she probably thinks it. Right? RIGHT?! Yeah, she does. Oh, but I guess we won’t talk next week either. You’ll just read and I’ll talk at you. Type at you, really. Don’t want to hear this voice. That puberty crack. Um, right. So… thanks for reading. Type at you next week,



The Grouch Grocery Shops

July 12                                                      The Grouch Grocery Shops


Three entries and already I’m getting this blogging thing down. It’s not hard. I don’t have haters like some people. No one comments so no one gets on tangents so no one fights. It’s fine that nobody comments. Who cares about me? I’m nobody. Actually Mom calls me The Grouch when I get in these sour moods. So that’s who I am. But if you’re reading this, feel free to comment. I’ve got metrics for ten countries. I didn’t know people from Baluchistan could read English. I didn’t even know it was a place! Or how to say it. Just say “Hi!” I’ll wave back then feel stupid for waving at a computer.


Mom decided I was leaving too permanent an imprint on the couch so she made me go grocery shopping with her. My brother needed sunglasses because he sat on his. He told Mom to pick whatever—he didn’t care, but we all know he’s picky about style so she said he had to come with us. He grumbled but agreed. I don’t always like having him around but it’s better that he’s with us because he’s 24 so I don’t feel too old to be out with my mom if he’s there too. He also needed shampoo and toothpaste.

At a Huck’s gas station while Mom filled a gallon jug with Diet Coke, my brother picked up a pair of sunglasses and looked in the mirror and decided those. They were black with blue reflective lenses. They were UV400. It said so on a stick so that must be important. These took him ten seconds. But it was buy 1, get 1 free. He spent another half hour on the second pair.

Mom said, “If you can’t decide just let The Grouch get the other pair.”

“Is he going to wear them over his glasses?”

“He can wear them with contacts. Like today.”

I told them I didn’t need sunglasses. Contacts bothered my eyes and made them all red.

Mom ignored me. “Doesn’t he look so handsome in contacts? But it’d look better with his hair spiked or slicked back. It doesn’t always have to be a mess, you know.” She got out her shopping list on the back of an envelope to scrawl hair gel.

“He’s still got a whole bottle from Christmas. It’s not even opened.”

My brother gave me the second pair of sunglasses he picked out. They were too big, but I liked them anyway.


When we got to Dosey Does Grocers at 1, each aisles only had one or two people.

I’m not sure what guys are supposed to do with sunglasses indoors. I put them in a pocket. I walked around the store with my hand holding them. My mom slides hers into her hair but that looks like a headband. I don’t want to do something girly. There were similar sunglasses near the checkout.

I asked Mom for the receipt.

She had given up figuring me out, but my brother asked, “Why?”

I explained someone might think I stole them.

He scowled. “Can’t you just be normal?”

I put the receipt in the other pocket and held onto it too, getting it as crumpled as the Constitution, just in case I had to take it out and show anyone who thought I was shoplifting. No one thought that. Sometimes I’d pull out the sunglasses and look at the lights to see how well they worked. Pretty well!

There were some ladies in the store. Some were my age. And some my age were with their moms. I put on my sunglasses. Maybe I looked dumb wearing them inside but at least I could peek without seeming perverted. Though I guess I kind of was for doing it secretly.

“Take those off,” my brother muttered. He had left his in the car. I should’ve too.

“I like them,” I said. “I’ve never had sunglasses before.” I’d had glasses since second grade and I never wanted to wear those dopey clip-ons. Usually I just wore contacts for school photos.

“I hope everyone thinks you’re just blind instead of a freak.”

We went over to the freezer section that had pizzas and ice cream and meats. Mom is on a diet always but she needs “healthy cheats” like fudge bars and chocolates and daily batches of cookies. Those don’t count against her diets I guess. She’s not fat either. She jogs around the house in her socks. The dog chases her. It must burn off her healthy cheats because she only weighs about a hundred pounds which she says is ten pounds too heavy. She’s a very small woman, five flat on her license but it’s a lie.

We got everything at the back of the store and were headed toward the pharmacy to get the toothpaste. I saw a kid in a hoody buying condoms. Was he embarrassed to do that? I would be. It’s not like buying shampoo or vitamins or other adult items. They’re condoms. And they stock them in the same aisle as toothpaste. That’s how I saw the kid. When we came into the aisle to get my brother’s toothpaste, the kid in the hoody rushed away but I saw them in his stomach pouch. They were Trojan brand. The Maxi pads and tampons were on the back wall. Why not switch those with the toothpaste so that everyone in aisle 3 was embarrassed and less likely to judge each other? Like if you’re a girl getting stuff for your time-of-the-month (cringe!), you’re going to stare at the products you need and ignore anyone getting condomsunless he’s cute and just buying some to be responsible. Then if you’re a guy getting condoms, you’ll stare at the shelves with what you need, ignoring the girls behind you even if they’re cute because you can’t meet a girl while she’s picking out tampons. What would you tell your kids about that romantic meeting? Well, Jeffrey, your mom was choosing between Tampax Pearl and Playtex Sport and I was getting condoms and they didn’t work so nine months later, you were born. That’d be awful. But what’s embarrassing, the leading cause of teen pregnancy I’m sure, is that adults with their kids come in looking for Spongebob toothpaste and they see a teen getting condoms.

Mom left us in that aisle while she filled a prescription for something that a 50-year-old woman needs that 40-year-old women don’t. I asked if she was sick and that’s how she explained it. I didn’t know what it meant. It took a while for her but it took my brother ten seconds to choose his toothpaste so we just milled about. My brother sniffed a bottle of peach-scented shampoo and stuck it in the cart. Mom had left it with us.

I read the toothpaste label and ingredients and directions—they say only one minute, but my mom taught me to go for five and I still got cavities. Then I was kind of looking at the condoms. They were a mystery. So many colors and brands and features and none of it really meant anything to me. But I didn’t want to be caught looking at condoms. My brother wouldn’t care. He’d just groan and ignore me.

But this redhead came down the aisle. She was opening and closing her mouth like she’d just gotten rubber bands on her braces and they needed stretching. The ligatures were pink and green. She had freckles and her hair was always falling in her eyes and she was taller than me.

I put on my sunglasses and pretended to be looking at the toothpaste too. But she kept glancing over at me. I probably looked odd wearing sunglasses so I looked away, but I didn’t want to look at the condoms while she was there.

My brother was leaning against the cart. He always made everything look cool, relaxed, like he was meant to be there.

I tried leaning on the shelf, but the tiny boxes of condoms rattled behind me as they toppled and I got startled so I whirled around and elbowed blueberry-flavored condoms off the shelf. Why were they flavored? I rushed to pick up everything before my brother could snarl that I was a klutz. The redhead helped too. She handed me a box and it felt warm from her radiance. “Here.”

I stared, gaping, and I couldn’t say anything. I was still wearing the sunglasses. She had cleavage.

My brother grabbed me and the boxes from my hands and dragged me to Mom so we could hurry and go. First we had to get some Diet Mountain Thunder (ick!) that we’d forgotten then we went to pay. My mom was in line to check herself out at the 10 items or less register, though we probably had 20 or more.

The redhead was near, too, reading a Men’s Fitness magazine in the next line. Was she here alone? Was she old enough to drive?

My brother had snatched my sunglasses and stuck them in his pocket so I couldn’t even look at her. I faced the rack of Mentos and Skittles and tried to sense if she was looking my way. Apparently she was.

My brother said with no discretion, “She’s eye-fucking you.”


“Your little ginger friend. From when you knocked off all the condoms.”

“I don’t know her,” I said. 

“So go get to know her.”

“But Mom’s right there.”

“Who cares?”

“But I don’t know her. She’ll think I’m weird.”

“Girls like weird.”

“Can I have the sunglasses back? They make me more confident.”

“Then you’ll look crazy. Girls don’t like that.” My brother gave me a push toward her. “It’ll be fine. Just say hi.”

I almost did when Mom asked us, “Are these yours?” She was holding up the condoms. After I’d made a mess, my brother had tossed them into the cart with his toothpaste. Oh god! He must’ve not realized what they were! And now Mom had to touch condoms which weren’t even ours but she probably thought they were and so she probably thought one of us was having sex and it definitely wasn’t me because I spent most of my days at home and there’s no way I’m having sex while my mom’s downstairs jogging in her socks.

“They’re mine,” my brother said casually.

“Okay. The total for your stuff is twelve-something. You can just give me a ten and we’ll call it even.”

He gave her fifteen because he didn’t like owing anyone.

The redhead had paid and gone.


I think I make a bigger deal of things in my head, but I still can’t believe Mom just said “Okay.”

Anyway, remember to say “Hi!” if you read this. The “stats” thing says I have twenty-two views but I don’t know who they are other than my brother that one time. I know you’re out there. Please say “Hi?”


Thanks for reading,



1 Comment

Oscar: (July 12)


TV-MA: Sexual Content

Chapter 3


The phone lay horizontally across three-fourths of the toaster slots, leaning against a spiral light bulb pack, aimed so the camera framed me from crotch to curls.


A royal tie limp about my neck. Leather belt looped but unbuckled. The sateen shirt, hemmed for last year's waistline, showed hints of the work I'd done this last week in the basement with barbells and a punching bag, but that was just a tease. The rest was in tonight's photos. I buttoned myself. Looped the tie. Did the cuffs. Tucked it all. Threw on the sport coat.


The final touch for our date, an olfactory tease to draw her in: cologne.


I spritzed a cloud.


Then dashed through before it settled too heavily.


It was four hours till our date.




A black loose-weaved cardigan cinched Priya’s lean curves with the camera angled strategically to cover where other clothes should’ve been. I saw her like never before.




We hadn’t started the call. Video wouldn’t work. We always tried but it never did. Not Tanzania to US. Tanzania to South Korea. South Korea to Saudi Arabia. This would be the first attempt at Saudi to US, but it wouldn’t work. 


“Can we try?” I pleaded over IMs. “Are you ready?” 


Her previews were pixel-painted across the 72-inch flat-screen, cycling through the three she’d sent, every transition more tantalizing. Wireless keyboard across my lap, a bottle of KY in the crease of the recliner. Blinds closed. An abstinent week of build-up except in my dreams. My mouse hovered over the call button. I was ready.


“Can we wait?”


I zipped up my pants. “Is your family still there?”


“They’ve gone till 5:00. That’s when they said to start dinner anyway.” She was 8 hours ahead and it was 9:00 am her time. Plenty of time. “You’ll probably fall asleep before then. How’s Lady?”


“Snoring on my parents’ bed haha She’s been a lapdog since I got back, but she weighs almost as much as you except with claws that sink in when she hugs.”


“She’s missed her boy. Lucky girl.”


“You’re nervous.”


“A little,” she admitted.


“If you’re not ready, we can wait.”


“I already made you wait.” 


“And I’m fine waiting another year. Two. Ten. Forever if you’re never ready.”


“I suggested this.”


“We can have a normal call. A date without expectations. The furthest we’ll venture is that trembling, furtive moment as my hand slides towards yours for the first time.”


“I want to. For you,” she insisted. “Why me?”




“That’s what I always come back to. You could have anyone.”


“We both know that’s not true. I’ve had one prior girlfriend. For two weeks. This is my longest, most stable relationship.”


“If you’d just talk to strangers. You’re very charming. And we like your golden curls. You know all these amazing people: a pro boxer, a pilot, other writers, people who have traveled and held jobs and can give you a normal life, but you’re stuck with a nobody.”


“You know how special Lady is to me? I locked her away for the night after 20 months apart while you and I have talked nearly every day. I’d still rather spend tonight with you. You’re everything to me.”


“Why? Why me?”


“I haven’t told you about the prophecy that old blind woman told me in Korea? You’re the chosen one. Destined to change the world.”


“No, you’ve never told me this blind Korean woman story.”


“She’s actually Dutch-Irish. I just met her in Korea.”


“Really. Why?”

“I don’t have a satisfying answer. The standard compliments. You’re smart, caring; you have the straightest face when teasing me so I’m about to have a heart attack before you let me in on the joke.


“It’s not just that you have a nice butt, either,” I continued. “You do, evident by the preview. But mostly you let me be me, even if I’m scared to. While I was playing photographer earlier, I saw myself puffing out the waistband of my athletic shorts, but it’s no more than last time and you seemed like you liked those. You asked for more. So I ignored my self-scrutiny to take 12 photos for you.”


“12? I don’t have 12. I had 7 and you’ve already seen 3!”


“Hey, it’s okay. Those 3 are better than all of mine. They’re each beautiful, distinct stories. Mine are just one story, slowly unfolding. It’s just a boy and his towel and while you’ll love the ending, they can’t compare to even your previews.”


“I want to do this.”


“We will. When you’re ready. Maybe a regular call will loosen you up, but if it doesn’t, we can just talk.”


I clicked the call button. It dialed. The video didn’t work, but even the audio was never secure. The connection often mechanized our voices or she’d hear me but I wouldn’t hear her or she’d be seconds behind or it’d connect for a greeting but drop before the pleasantries. That was why I always started with “I love you.”


“I love you too,” she said. There was a happy lilt to her accent. “I think this is the first time I’ve been this nervous with you.” When she got excited, her words rolled like in her Arabic. It was contagious excitement. “It’s always so simple. Never any pressure.”


“Not even now?”


“I’m only nervous because I want it to be perfect. It won’t be. I know that, but I want it anyway. I’m sorry.”


“Please don’t be.”


“It’s just that I tried with James for his sake. I never liked it so it wasn’t often and even those previews are more than he ever saw. You like them, right?”


“Love them,” I said as the next flicked across the screen. 


“You better. When it was over, I had given him all these personal moments that I wanted back. And I trust you, but I trusted him too.”


The connection buzzed during our silence. 

“What if I tell you something that has me shaking just thinking about admitting for the first time?” I asked, adjusting myself in the leather chair so it squeaked under me. “Maybe by trusting you with this, it’ll open you up too. 


“Please don’t say anything till the end.”




Thinking back, it happened during a few months between 2nd and 3rd grade, but it felt like years.


Derek had moved into the brick house catty-cornerfrom mine. I'd just gotten turtle rimmed glasses. Still had my platinum blonde bowl cut and Mom dressed me in sweater vests. I was making progress with Dr. Hannah, my speech therapist. We played this game where we rolled plastic pigs and got points if they landed on their feet or were touching another. If one was on top of each other from behind, I had to yell "Sooie!" I just realized why that was worth the most points.


Anyway, Evan and I were staying at Derek's. He was a year older but held back in kindergarten but a big kid regardless--his head was too big for our Little League helmets. But he was scared of spending the night away from home. He'd cry. So we stayed at his house. There were two water beds and a small TV with a built-in VCR sitting on a wooden stool.


In those days, everyone had cable or static. Satellite wasn’t really a thing yet. 45 was Cartoon Network: Johnny Bravo, Dexter's Lab, Cow & Chicken. 34 was Nickelodeon: Angry Beavers, Rugrats, AHH! Real Monsters.


For most families, 25 and 26 were ants. Snow, fuzz, whatever you called it. But Derek got them. HBO and Cinemax. They played movies with swears. One night, according to the TV Guide channel, Cinemax was finishing Terminator. We were obsessed because our parents didn't want us seeing parts and fast forwarded most. That night we caught the credits.


Then a warning came on: TV-MA.

Adult language.

Adult situations.



The girl was kissing the guy. Down there. On his thing. He liked it.


We knew we shouldn't watch and had the sound low. Evan put his ear to the speaker. “That's silly,” he said. “Why's he so happy?”


Derek and I just watched. We didn't understand, maybe we almost did, but we definitely wanted to.


We got naked like they did. Derek made me try it on him first as he watched. We'd been running all evening playing ghost in the graveyard till dark. It was salty. Then he made Evan.


“Evan's better,” he said like it was soccer and he was picking teams.


Then he made me do it to Evan then Evan to me. We didn't understand.


Next time Derek had chigger bites there. Red marks from grass bugs. His mom had seen when giving him a bath and that's how he knew what they were. He made me do it again anyway.


Sometimes we stood in a circle in the back yard with our pants down and everything touching.


Then he told an older boy, Blair, 6th grade. He didn't believe Derek so he made me show him. It was different with him. It was bigger and he made noises and moved his hips and it was wet and salty at the end and I didn't want to anymore. But I had to. They made me. Not forced, but coerced. Teased.


When my mom took me to register for 3rd grade. We saw Mrs. Wagner and Derek there. “You're with my Derek this year!” she said.


When we got to the car, I cried to my mom. “I don't like Derek anymore.”


Kids are like that. One day friends, one day not. Over little things. So she called the school and my test scores put me in the gifted program.




“Derek's parents found out and yelled and swore and threatened to tell Evan’s parents and I wondered if they did or if my parents knew or know now. I've never told anyone. I just buried it and cried after I saw him at school even in high school when he was a baseball and football star, still close with Evan, slinging ‘Fag’ around at any kid with a haircut he didn’t like. Even me. Think that moron even remembered?”


The poor connection’s static listened closely and I thought the call might’ve dropped and I’d have to say it again and I wondered if I could without throwing up.


“I love you,” she said.



“There's more but I don't want to burden you with too much."


"There's no such thing as too much between us. We can survive anything so please, when you're ready, you can tell me anything."


"It wasn't just my mouth.


"And this next part is really messed up in a way so please don't judge me, but when I was a teenager, angsty and hormonal, jerking off was the easiest way to cope and when it got really bad, when I was in bed crying that no one liked me despite having a lunch table-worth of friends that disproved that, I felt that old life creeping back like self-destructive pleasure. So that makes me a masochist or something. I was just so far gone, submissive which no man should be, right? And I thought I was secretly gay, which in high school, everyone used that as an insult so I felt shame when I did that and shame when they said it, especially Derek or Evan who were in my gym classes with gym lockers right by mine, and I still carry it with me but sometimes I'm feeling so low that I need that taboo pleasure."


Reclaiming an old trauma as a current fetish might seem fucked up but it was therapy, a release I'd never gotten. She was intuitive enough to know that. Kind enough not to judge. I hope you will be too.


"I love you," she said again because what else was there to say in this situation?


"It's dealt with. I don't cry over it much. Just shake. A little. But I don't want it buried from you.”


She said, “I’ve sent you four emails. You can’t open them until I tell you and you can’t touch till I tell you and you definitely can’t finish until I tell you. I’ll tease you like you like and make you beg until you’re mine.”


“Yes, my goddess.”

M&M & M&Ms

Originally printed in the Bangor Uni newspaper in 2011, after being written for a class, Showing & Telling with Professor Lisa Blower. This was later edited by myself and Professor Arthur Johnson till it turned into "A Welsh Affair."



Angie and I, both being Americans studying in Wales, needed a Mexican and Movie night. We shortened it to “M&M night,” to which we brought M&Ms. It was a monthly event with countdowns on Facebook and she’d text me the day of, asking “U pumpd 4 2nite?!!!”

I’d reply, “Of course.”

She cooked tacos and quesadillas, and I ate a bag of nachos while waiting. We complained that nothing tasted right. I told her, “It’s the ingredients, not your cooking.” We ate sitting on her quilt. It was white with colored circles and I’d always sit on the orange one at the foot of the bed. She didn’t have any plates so we ate from paper towels on our laps. She warned me if I spilled I’d better only stain my pants and not her quilt. It was a present from her boyfriend’s nana.

She set the laptop on a purple circle and tilted the screen and asked, “Can ya see alright?” She wriggled closer so our knees touched. I could smell the salsa on her breath.

During The Strangers, a horror flick, she’d squeeze her plush bear Jimothy. She’d hold him up when the eerie music signaled a killer or kitten to spring from the bushes. She’d flinch and bang her head on post cards of castles and cathedrals in Dublin and Cardiff that were taped to the wall. Sometimes Jimothy wasn’t enough so she’d clutch my shoulder. Her fingernails would dig in.

I’d snicker at the cheesy effects or clichés or at the truly scary moments when I didn’t want her to know how desperate my lungs were to breathe again.

The movies were online and we could only watch seventy-two minutes before the website made us wait half an hour. But she found that after closing the browser then reopening it the wait time was only ten minutes.

“Why they gotta do that?” she asked.

“Probably bandwidth restrictions.”

“What’s bandwidth?”

“Something technical,” I said. “Hard to explain.”

During the break she gave me a tour of her room. Seated next to me she’d wave her arm like Vana White and present each spectacle. “The litter bin’s under the desk. That’s also where I study. Over there’s the toilet. Gotta potty? Do it now. And you’re sitting on my bed.”

“Awful tour. Give me some history.”

She said into my ear, “Okay, you’re sitting on my bed and I haven’t had sex in it yet.”

I got up and looked at the photos on her desk. The frames sat on wrinkled and grease-stained syllabi for classes. When I picked a frame up, a diet coke can rolled down the desk and clattered on the crumbed carpet. “Your boyfriend?” I asked.

“That’s my dog.” She snatched the picture from me. Our hands touched. “That’s my boo. And that’s Mommy. She looks like me, doesn’t she?” She held up the photo by her ear so I could see them side-by-side.

“She’s very pretty.”

“Aww, so that means you think I am, too.”

I stuffed a cold taco in my mouth and sputtered that she was gorgeous (“Yo go-gwith”) but she just asked, “What?”

“So, have any photos of your dad?”

“We’re not close,” she said, staring at the photo of her mom. She wiped at a water stain but her thumb just smudged the glass. “He was kind of abusive, ‘til we kicked him out.”

“Oh. Sorry. I didn’t know.”

Through the walls we heard her flatmates stumble into the kitchen and slam the fridge. One yelled to the other, “Wer muh crisp-pat?” And the other shouted, “Dunno!”

The heater was on and broken so it wouldn’t turn off. The needle pointed at thirty Celsius—it was boiling. She stripped off her fleece and I got a peek at her bellybutton. It was an innie. I sweated in my hoodie until she noticed my flushed cheeks.

“Why don’t you take it off? Put on a little show for me.” She winked and laughed and I said I was fine. I scrunched up my sleeves though.

“How much do I owe you for the tacos and stuff?” I asked and tossed my napkin in her litter bin. She lobbed her wadded-up napkin at it, too, but missed. I threw it back at her and she chucked it at my face. It went back and forth until I tipped a stray throw and she hopped up to spike it like a volleyball player. Instead we collided and the napkin ended up in the bin.

“About eleven quid,” she said.

I patted my pockets for my coin purse but had left it in my flat. “All I have is a ten,” I said with my wallet open.

“I don’t got any change and that’s too much for the tacos but not enough for the night.”

I insisted she take the ten and when she had change, a couple of two-pound coins or a handful of one pounds or even four hundred pence pieces, then she could pay me back.

“Naw, I’ll forget. Just pay me on our way to Clan-whatever this weekend.”

“Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch?” I had been practicing that word since I first saw it, and I was happy for the chance to show off my hard work.

“Yeah, over on Anglesey,” she said. “The movie’s probably ready by now.”

“I need the toilet before we start.” I had been holding it all night but too many sodas had ruined my plan to wait until I got back to my flat.

There was hair in the sink and the tile floor was still wet from her last shower. Her room was small, and with the toilet separated only by a plastic door, well, I was kind of shy. I let out my stream slowly, careful not to aim at the water. I drained my bladder as silently as possible and five minutes later I was done. I washed my hands using her raspberry soap that scented the bathroom. I walked out taking a big whiff of my hands.

“I could hear you, ya know.”

Raw Material

Originally accepted for publication in the 2012 Knickerbocker, but there was too little room and the same issue was already printing "A Welsh Affair." 


I grabbed an orange and The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling and hopped the fence in the back yard into Southwind Park. There was a white oak with a bench under it to lie on and I used Tom Jones as a pillow. I rolled on my side but the wood was hard on my hip. I tried my back but the sun beamed through the branches and I covered my eyes with my forearm. The orange fell from my pocket and rolled in the dirt, and I left it there.

Something hopped on my stomach and I opened my eyes. The dog was a ball of fluff with black goop around its eyes, wagging its tail. It licked a pizza stain on my shirt and yapped at me as it retreated between my legs where it peered over my crotch.

Around the dog’s neck was a pink collar with a purple leash held by my roommate Dodge. “I thought we’d find you here,” he said. His left arm had tattoos of Heaven with trees growing on clouds and angels swinging from their roots, playing heavy metal, and his right arm showed businessmen standing in line as his image of Hell. I don’t know what they were waiting for because it was only to his elbow—he ran out of money after paying for the Celtic cross on his back and the rubber duck in a sailor’s cap on his chest.

The dog barked and I grabbed its snout, but it hid under my knee. I pinned it there but it wriggled free and hopped on my chest and kept yapping.

Dodge cradled it. “Isn’t she cute? She’s mine.” He’d recently removed his piercings so there were two holes under his lips that bubbled when he spoke. He wiped his lips. “I named her Ruby.”

“Sounds like a stripper.”

“She’s a pure-bred Maltese. She could be a show dog!” Ruby leaped from his arms and Dodge stepped on her leash so she couldn’t run off. “Did I tell you Levke’s wandering around the park? We had a bet on who could find you first.”

“This is my first time here all year.” I rolled over so I faced the back of the bench. Behind it was the oak and in a crotch was snow that hadn’t melted yet. “She’s looking for me?” I opened Tom Jones and cracked the spine but peeked over at Dodge.

“I don’t know why. I didn’t come with her or anything.” He sat on my toes.

“What’d she say? How’d she say it? Did she say she was looking for me or did she need something from me? Maybe I ought to call her.” I got up and Ruby growled until she saw my orange and pounced on it, as if it was a ball. She tried biting it but her mouth was too small. I snatched it from her and she pawed at my shins, barking for me to give it back.

“Don’t call. She’ll find you.” Dodge playfully socked me in the shoulder and Ruby barked at me.

“I didn’t do anything!” I yelled at the dog and she ran under the bench.

He popped out the black taper in his ear and tugged at the stretched lobe—a quarter could fit in it. “I can’t remember if I told you my big plan yet, but I was thinking when we get out of here, we can hike across Japan. We’ll bring a change of clothes, toothpaste and my bass. We’ll be in bars every night and you’ll get free drinks since I’ll be headlining. I’ll get a following and you can see the world. You really need to before you settle down. Think of all the cute Asian girls.”

“I’m $120,000 in debt. I can’t afford that,” I said.

Dodge cradled the pup and she licked his face. “You got over a year to save and your parents’ll help fund it. But my mom’s not paying for any more international excursions,” he said. His mom owned a law firm and made a pile of money defending corporations but Dodge had gotten kicked out of the France study abroad program for a fight. “But I’ve got twelve thousand bucks of my own. That’ll keep me while I write my songs. Listen to this one.” He warbled to the dog and spun her around, “‘You ripped open my chest, tore out my heart, and replaced it with a ticking bomb, a terrorist’s love!’ What do you think?”

“A little bloody.”

“Maybe it’s emotional, but that’s what art is! Everyone’s had that happen to them at one point.” Ruby wriggled in his arms so he set her down. Then she pawed at his shins to be picked up again. “It’s still a rough draft anyway. I wrote five songs last night because I had the itch to play my bass.” He strummed Ruby’s leash. “The RA came over around three in the morning to ask me to shut up, but when inspiration hits you just go with it. We might be getting fined though.” Though we roomed together, I was almost never in the dorm. I usually stayed with my parents in town so I could sleep at 3 a.m.

Levke walked up and shoved Dodge. “Why didn’t you tell me you found him? You know I had something to talk to him about.” Ruby lay on Levke’s shoes.

“Sorry. I couldn’t send up a rocket,” he muttered.

“You were looking for me?” I asked but she was talking to Dodge.

“You could’ve called.” Levke was born in Germany but her family moved here when she was five. Her mom used to teach German to our fifth grade class. All I remembered was that “der Po” meant “butt” and Levke had a nice one. “You still have my number, right?” she asked him.

“Naw. I left my phone at bar last Friday. I think it was the Pitt in Pittsfield.”

She cupped her hand over his mouth. “I don’t want to hear excuses. When’re you going to start dressing for the real world? You can’t always be wearing rock band T-shirts.” She pulled out the hem of one he was wearing. “Who’s ‘Bullet for My Valentine?’ They sound like the most whiny—”

Dodge licked her hand and she jerked it back like she was about to slap him. “Hey, tell T.K. he should travel the globe with me,” he said.

“I won’t do anything of the sort. He needs to decide on a career before he starts a vacation.” She stripped off her peacoat and folded it over her arms. She was wearing a pants suit.  

“He has sixty years before he dies. Plenty of time for a job.” Dodge took off his stocking cap. His hair was blonde and became almost white in the summer, but he had dyed it black with red tips. When he put on the cap, the tips stuck out. “Besides, you got lucky finding a job right out of college.”

“It’s not luck,” she said. “I chose actuarial science because it’s one of the top professions.”

Dodge snatched my orange and pretended to throw it. Ruby was fooled and darted towards my house.

“Why weren’t you holding her?” Levke snapped.

Dodge dropped my orange and chased the dog.

She yelled, “Don’t chase her! She thinks you’re playing. You’ll run her into the street!”

“C’mere, Ruby-booby! Here, Rubes! Rube-a-dube-dube!” He patted his thighs and crouched but she just took off again. “Bad! Bad girl! Fine, get hit, get lost. I don’t care.” The dog snapped at a bug and hopped after it into Mrs. Scannura’s Russian Sage. Dodge sprinted after Ruby while she was cornered by the fences but she ran between his legs towards the street. “Ruby!” he pleaded then jogged towards her. He grabbed her leash when a bread truck swerved. I thought it had flattened both of them. But when it passed, she was wallowing in a puddle.


Levke was tall with blonde hair that was straight one week and curly the next, and I didn’t know which was natural—it was curly today. In high school she had modeled for Galaxy Fashion & Accessories, a local boutique. A picture of her twirling in a skirt still hung in the back corner, above the sun dresses. Since then she’d put on a little fat around the cheeks and hips. She was always complaining about it, even after I assured her she was still gorgeous. “Why did Dodge get a dog anyway?” she asked. “He can hardly take care of himself. His parents probably feed it and I bet all he does is walk it, play with it and tell his parents when it pooped in the living room.” She pulled out her compact and stretched her cheek until she could see her pores.

I picked up my orange and wiped it with my shirt.

“Why don’t you eat that?”

“It has seeds,” I said. I turned it over in my hands and the orange leaked. The juice smelled nice but tasted sour. “Did you know out of a hundred seeds, only one will grow into a tree? I learned that in a botany class last year.”

“You’re an English major. Why are you taking botany?” She hung her peacoat over the bench while she rummaged through her purse for a tissue.

“It was interesting.”

We walked through the park. She stayed on the pavement because the grass was swampy and I walked alongside, occasionally bumping into her. She grumbled at a text message on her cell phone. It was her boss asking if she could come in this weekend.

“So you were looking for me?” I nudged her with my elbow.

“Watch where you’re going.” She shoved the phone in her pocket. “What are you doing after graduation?” she asked.

“Dodge says I should travel with him.”

“Why does he never invite me to travel? I can afford it. Not that I’d want to or anything, but that boy doesn’t make any sense! If your parents had a fortune like his, it’d make sense to invite you. He just doesn’t understand that your parents work sixty hours a week and are still broke.” The wind tossed her hair around. She brushed it with her fingers while looking in her mirror. “But what are you really doing?”

I plucked some horsetail—as a kid I called it puzzle weed because you could rearrange the sections. They pulled apart with a pop! “I’m already in bankrupt. I guess I’ll just work for the highway department again. Last year they had me cleaning up road kill—deer and stray dogs and raccoons. But there’d only be one or two corpses a week so the rest of the time we just cruised through the country. Eleven bucks an hour wasn’t bad for a summer job.” I made the horsetail into a circle and handed it to Levke.

She chucked it like a Frisbee at some goldenrod. “I’m making double that with benefits and vacation time.” With her fingers she brushed her bangs, though she called it her “fringe” because that sounded more sophisticated. “Do you really want to pick up road kill the rest of your life?”

“This year they might let me hold that sign with ‘Slow’ on one side and ‘Stop’ on the other.” I pumped my fist in mock enthusiasm. “I’m just working there until I figure out my life. Dodge will be a troubadour and you’re a rate analyst—whatever that is. Everyone seems to know what they want but me.”

“Dodge thinks he’s a rock star. He might be decent if he ever practiced but he spends more time posing in the mirror and designing his next tattoo. He can’t rely on his smile to make it as a musician. He could be a lawyer like his mom or maybe teach music to kids. He’d be good at that. That way his passion would do somebody some good.” Levke closed her compact. “Did you know he got another tattoo? It’s a rubber ducky on his chest—it sounds so stupid. And he won’t show me until it’s healed. I should slap it.”

“Forget about Dodge.” On the hill was a patch of Dutchman’s breeches and I plucked one for Levke. “I’m looking for my future.”

She held the flower in her palm, unsure what to do with my gift and the wind took it. “Lying in the park all day is hardly ‘looking.’”

“It’s my first time here since autumn. It’s been too cold.” I plunged my thumb in the orange and juice squirted my eye. “Why does every marketable skill bore me?”

“Some drudges have to teach,” she said.

“I’d hate a classroom full of kids. And I hate talking in front of people. And standing. And wearing polo shirts or suits or anything but T-shirts. Why won’t anyone pay me to lie on a bench and read?” I flipped open Tom Jones—the spine was cracked so it always opened to the last page I read.

“I figured growing up broke would make you less spoiled,” she said. There was mud on the pavement and she stepped in some of it. She dug in her purse for a tissue.

Ruby charged towards Levke. The dog was still wet from wallowing in the puddle. Levke stuck out her foot so the dog rammed it.

“Don’t kick my dog!” Dodge said.

“Then hold the damn leash!”

Dodge bent over to rub Ruby’s ears but she circled Levke, sniffing her perfume. “Let’s go to the Pitt tonight and get trashed. Are you in?”

“It’s Monday. I’ve got big girl things to do tomorrow, like a job.” She picked up Ruby by the scruff and let her dangle. Her fur dripped.


Every Monday, a quartet of college kids called Indecision played at the Pitt in Pittsfield. Their repertoire was made-up of Metallica, ACDC and Bon Jovi. The customers flailed and writhed on the dance floor, bumping into tables and spilling drinks, as they squawked the lyrics.

Dodge and I sat at a round table with a two-foot diameter but I had to lean in to hear what he yelled to me. “This bass player is shit! The others are good, but god, that guy is dragging them down!” Dodge yelled.

“Maybe he just learned it.”

“Naw. He’s too busy thinking which chord comes next. He should just feel the music. I ought to show him how.”

“Why don’t you?”

Dodge chugged his strawberry daiquiri.  

At a table next to ours, another of Levke’s guys was whispering in her ear. He had his hand on her back and she shook her head and shouted something that got carried away with the music. The guy chucked his napkin and left.

“I’ve always found bar conversation creepy,” Dodge yelled to me. After drinking, he always got philosophical about his observations. But he got generous when drunk and bought me drinks. I had paid for the first beer and he bought the other rest. “Either you have to yell at the girl you’re talking to or you have to whisper in their ear.” He turned to Levke and asked, “How many of those guys licked your ear?”

She stuck a pinky in it. “None!”

“And how many have you licked?”

“Just one—it was an accident. One guy didn’t get it that I didn’t want to dance. I had to yell in his ear before he left.”

“If you’re not good at miming, no one’s going to understand you.”  Dodge got up from the table and drank from an invisible glass, then pointed at Levke to ask if she wanted a drink.

She shook her head and only her bangs moved. The rest of her hair was pinned in a fancy contraption and sprayed. “Buy yourself another drink—I’ve got work in the morning! I thought you wanted to get shitfaced. You’re not even tipsy yet.”

He shouted, “C’mon. What can I get you?”


Dodge left to get it.

She’d only had one drink so far. She said she came along to babysit us, but she wore a black dress that clung to her hips and hardly covered her thighs. They were smooth like she had just shaved them. “Why aren’t you drinking more?” she asked me.

“I’ve got Shakespeare in the morning. It seems childish to get drunk on a school night. I’m not a freshman anymore. And I don’t really have the cash.”

“Dodge has already spent like thirty-five bucks. Soon he’ll be too drunk to remember the tip. What does his mom think he’s spending her money on?”

“Once he tipped the guy fifty bucks.”

“He’s an idiot.” She leaned on the table and her dress drooped enough to provide a peek at her cleavage. “He should be spending that on books. Or on a haircut. He’d look better with short hair.”

Dodge came back, carrying four pitchers of sangria and biting a cup by its rim. The orange slices floated to the top of the pitchers.

“Dodge! What are you doing? I said an appletini!” Levke shouted as he handed her the cup.

He sat between me and Levke. “They had five dollar pitchers! And have you ever had sangria? When I visited Spain two summers ago, this family made me the most amazing sangria—I haven’t had it since. You like wine, right?” He set the pitchers on the table and drained his beer mug. Then he poured a glass for each of us and he didn’t notice that I had half my Guinness left so the two drinks mixed.

“I’m only having a glass,” Levke said and took a sip.

“I can’t drink four pitchers myself!” Dodge held up the end of her glass, forcing her to keep drinking until the sangria spilled down her dress. He wiped at her chest with a napkin and she lost her balance and fell backwards. He laughed like crazy about it but she punched him in the shoulder then shook her hand as if it hurt.

I couldn’t drink my Guinness and sangria cocktail so I watched Dodge and Levke worked on the pitchers. She felt like dancing after she began to feel the drink and dragged Dodge to the dance floor while “Hell’s Bells” blared—that’s not a song people normally dance to, but there were quite a few drunks trying.  I stared at Levke wiggling her booty until a slower song came on. She held Dodge close then spun him around and slipped, then got angry because he hadn’t caught her.

She stomped back to the table to chug some sangria. “Dance with me,” she demanded and grabbed my wrist. It was a fast tune called “Can’t Stop” originally by the Red Hot Chili Peppers but she held me close and laid her head on my shoulder like it was a slow song. Her perfume smelled nice and even her burps smelled like oranges.

“Dodge is an idiot,” she yelled into my ear. When drunk she lost all sense of volume. “I ask him to dance and he’s holding me close and I tell him, ‘This is nice.’ But all he can talk about is how the bass player’s no good. That idiot. He spent fifty bucks on drinks and I’m drunker than he is!”

“Just don’t throw up on me.” I rubbed her back as if to soothe the nausea. 

“Is that supposed to be funny? I even told him I have to work in the morning and still he gets me drunk. I’ve got to be there at seven and he bought four pitchers of something I don’t even like and he’s just like ‘Drink, drink, drink.’” She swayed too far to the left and stumbled. I held her up.

“I’ll get you both home soon.” My hand slid down her back until I could feel the outline of her thong. Then I slid a little farther and she didn’t complain. Her butt was firm.

“You know, in high school he was a real catch. If he had listened to me and never gotten that fleur de lis tattoo on his calf, he’d’ve been fine! He wouldn’t’ve gotten addicted to the ink. He wouldn’t’ve scarred his body with something he’ll regret in ten years. Half of those drawings don’t even have any meaning to him! He’s so much better looking when they’re all covered. He’s smart too! When he’s not being an idiot.”

“He failed Intro to Business twice.”

Her chest pressed against me. “So he’s not a business guy. He was always good at physics! He helped me with my homework once. Maybe he could’ve been a physicist and disproven gravity or something!” She yawned and when she closed her mouth, she bit my shirt and chewed before spitting it out.

“You’re drunk. I better get you home.”

She nuzzled her head against my shoulder. “Just one more dance. Hold me for one more song.”

And I did—I held her close and listened to her rant about Dodge.


I drove them in Dodge’s Lexus to our dorm because Levke lived with her parents and I didn’t want her mom seeing her drunk like this. I laid her on my bed and tucked her in. I set the trash can next to the bed. 

Dodge slept in his own bed, sprawled across his dirty laundry, snuggling his bass.

I set three alarms for 6:00, 6:10 and 6:15 a.m. so Levke wouldn’t be late for work. Then I left to sleep at home.


The next morning in Shakespeare, we were supposed to discuss Measure for Measure Act V but the professor spent the hour encouraging us to study abroad in London. Half of us hadn’t read the play and the other half didn’t understand it.

I carried The Complete Works of Shakespeare under my arm as it didn’t fit in my pack. Back in my dorm I slammed the book on the desk to wake Dodge. If I didn’t, he’d sleep in until noon and miss his Calculus class at 11. The covers on my bed stirred. Dodge must’ve gotten up to pee and forgotten which bed was his. He had my pillow over his head.

I kicked his boxers under his bed and tossed his pants into the corner. “Get out of my bed. And please don’t be naked under there.” I threw off the covers and ripped the pillow from his face and got ready to slam it back down but Levke was holding Dodge’s head to her cleavage. She was just wearing her bra and thong. It was the first time I’d ever seen her bare ass. It was a bittersweet moment.

She pressed her hands to her face, rubbing her eyes. She spread her fingers and opened her eyes and saw me. She smacked Dodge’s head until he rolled off her.

I left, still carrying the pillow.

“T.K!” she yelled, following me into the hall.

I looked back but kept walking and ran into a door. I was lost in my own building.

“Would you come back here?” She had wrapped my towel around her waist and she held a hand to her chest, trying to cover her breasts that bounced as she jogged towards me. “Are you mad? Don’t be mad!”

I went through a swinging door into the bathroom. She followed me in. I went into a stall and locked the door. She went into the adjacent one and ripped some toilet paper to cover the seat then stood on the toilet and peered down at me.

“Are you done running?” she asked. Under the stall wall, I saw her towel fall to the grimy tile.

“I just saw my roommate’s junk for the first time!”

“You guys have roomed together for years and that was the first time you saw him naked? What about when he changes?”

“I look away!” I paced in the stall by taking one step then turning then taking another step and turning—it made me dizzy. “I just saw your ass for the first time. I’ve known you for years; why haven’t I seen it more often? Dodge got to see it—he got to grab it! Bite it probably!”

“What kind of weird sex are you into?”

“So you did have sex?” I sat on the toilet and put the pillow to my face. I could smell her perfume from last night on it, and Dodge’s BO.

“Yes.” She was always complaining about the guy. She had him in her phone as ‘Idiot.’ She never called me an idiot. I was the one who always helped with homework and she called me to cry after a break-up. “But it was an accident.”

“How do you accidentally have sex?” I yelled into my pillow.

“I mean I didn’t want it.”

“So it was rape?”

“No!” She leaned over and grabbed the pillow. “It wasn’t planned. An hour after you dropped us off, he got up to puke—”

“So you let him smooch you even after he puked?”  I left the stall and rinsed my face in the sink. I could see her in the mirror. People say seeing a girl in her panties is like seeing her in her bathing suit, but no way. And her bra was frilly and pink.

“I asked if he wanted to sleep in your bed. His was so messy—he couldn’t have been comfortable.”

“So he should’ve cleaned it off!” I pressed the soap dispenser twenty times until the puddle of soap spilled over my hands. I washed my face and it stung my eyes. “Why aren’t you at work? I set three alarms for you.”

“I called in sick. I know it was stupid. But why are you upset about this?” She stood next to me and stared into the mirror. She made eye contact with my reflection.

The bra strap slid down her shoulder and the cups drooped lower. “I’m not.”

She caught me staring and fixed the strap and covered her cleavage with my pillow.

“You’re always complaining about Dodge. You know he’s an idiot, that he’s never going to change but you chase him anyway.”

“I know he was a mistake. But he’s got so much potential.”

“He’s not even interested! He doesn’t want to stay up late watching a movie and eating cold pizza. He doesn’t even want to grab that firm butt of yours. Why do you have to chase him?”

“Because I don’t see anyone else worthwhile.” She ran the sink and the water pooled in her hands. She dumped it on the edge of the sink to rinse facial hairs down the drain. “Just friends and strangers.”


I went back to my dorm room with my pillow. I promised to get Levke’s dress for her.

Dodge was awake and dressed in his clothes from yesterday. He hefted my Shakespeare book. “Hey, you mind if I borrow this? I think I could use some of this ‘Where forth art thou?’ nonsense in my next song.”

“I’ve got an essay to write.” I grabbed the book and Levke’s dress and left for the Southwind Park, where I slept using them as pillows.