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Chapter Fifteen

The battered palooka face of the sheet metal door is punch-drunk stunned, beaten partially open by the bodies inside jabbing in dance to a brutal beat. The line is wagon train slow as though wheeling over rutted prairie. The music I heard from a distance at the back of the parking lot begins to scald my ears as we shuffle forward, a deafening percolation of beeps and blips in a boiling coffee-pot of espresso bass.

Pierced kids with colorful paraphernalia enclose like a jungle watered by Disney-hued rain.

Sigh has Larry on his shoulders, the arms with keyboard looped over his head like a restraining bar on a ferris wheel ride, holding the dummy’s ankles. I peer above the tufted Popsicle-orange hair of the androgyne in front of me, trying to see through stiff vivid thorns that have memorized comb’s teeth. The androgyne has a blue-plumed companion, gender also indeterminate, and to kill time they discuss movies. They stack shouts, building a Babel of conversation.

Orange says, “Hot male movie stars.”

“Brad Pitt,” Blue states. “Brad Pitt – definitely hot.”

“I don’t know,” Orange replies. “He looks like he doesn’t bathe regularly. He looks like he might sort of smell bad.”

“Point taken,” Blue concedes. “So buy a bar of Dial and wash his ass crack, or just toss the sheets when the party’s over.”

Orange suggests, “Pierce Brosnin. Sophistication’s epitome.”

“Only looks really good in a tux,” Blue counters. “I saw him once in some movie where he was dressed in regular clothes? Jeans and a checkered flannel shirt? He looked like a dressed down manikin. When’s the last time you fucked a manikin?”

“Ask me that question,” Larry contributes. No one pays attention.

“Val Kilmer,” Orange offers, hand motion like slapping a tabletop for emphasis. “That man’s voice is like a lullaby.”

The crowd creeps forward, a centipede with shin splints.

“We’re not talking voices here,” Blue qualifies.

A stocky kid behind me joins in. “If I were a woman – were, was a woman? – I might go for George Clooney.”

This kid has a friend, too. “It’s were, unless you’re seriously considering a sex change op.”

Stocky Kid answers slyly, “I might be.”

Another voice from somewhere comments, dryer than dismissive sand.

“Mooney drunk-boy Clooney.”

“Shit, just forget Clooney,” Blue says. “Eminem.”

The conversation waxes communal. “Not a movie star,” someone objects.

“He’s only been in one.”

Blue reasons, “54.5 million for opening weekend of 8 Miles says he’s a movie star.”

“Kurt Russell,” Orange exclaims, slapping the tabletop.

“I guess he’s not bad,” Blue responds, “if you like grown men who look like they lost their skateboard or something.”

“Benito Del Torro,” a tall girl to my right proposes.

Someone in Tall Girl’s cluster chortles. “Brenda, you would go for him. You’ve been to like four raves in three days. Maybe you met Benito on the intersecting cusp of one of them? He certainly looks like he might benefit from a whole 15 or god forbid maybe even like 20 minutes of uninterrupted sleep?”

Tall Girl whines, “Then what about Alec Baldwin?”

“Alec B!” Orange cries, slapping the table.

“Big and bloated in all the wrong places.” Blue sings it to the tune of.

“My vote goes for what’s-his-name – those eyes, you know, Melanie Grifith’s squeeze – Antonio Banderas,” Orange submits, slapping the table.

“At long last,” Blue sighs, “we concur.”

The music is so loud it makes the voice in my head vault in competition like an inspired high jumper of jibberish, and I can actually hear myself think: Go home. Write. Get the next installation of pages ready. Call the police and tell them everything, cuff your own hands before they arrive, impress them with your efficiency.

Someone behind us lobs a black balloon that, as it charges air, lengthens with liquid to tusk. It bursts above the door and water stampedes, rushing out of its tight herd of rubber. The crowd has a scent like a zoo removed from the oven and set on the shelf to cool.

“I need to rectify certain inequities,” Larry shouts, “in the star-studded roster just named. I didn’t hear Lawrence Fishburn. I didn’t hear Will Smith. I didn’t hear Samuel Jackson. I didn’t hear Cuba Gooding, Denzel Washington, Blair Underwood. Eminem was named so Tupak’s fair game. I didn’t hear Mario Van Peebles or Larenz Tate. Or, etcetera. A couple hundred years ago yawl couldn’t get enough of that dark meat when it was served up at midnight on the plantation plate. WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING IN THIS GREAT COUNTRY OF OURS?”

Sigh plasters his hand over Larry’s mouth to shut him up.

No one pays attention except next to me – a girl as narrow as a stalk of wheat, locks of hair a field of blonde. She laughs and the sound is calculatedly cute, practice-makes-perfect natural: pleasant pastel hours locked in the bedroom consumed by vanity mirror rehearsals. “That is like so too true.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Larry confirms after Sigh’s hand falls away. “It’s so too true.”

“I like people in green bathrobes that tell it like it is,” she says.

Larry ups the ante. “I like girls who like people in green bathrobes.”

I stop listening.

At the door a man bulled up with muscle is bulked down on a stool. Two sizes too small, the brown leather vest he wears with no shirt attempts to retreat into the furred cave of massive armpits, wants to hibernate, to bypass that inclement season of bullying flesh. The mask of expressionless menace that belongs on his face is a surprise because it’s not there, and he smiles as though some rumor of happiness he heard is so-too-true. Next to him and behind, industrial-sized water coolers array ice and stud of plastic Evian water bottles in a jewelry display of thirst quenchables. No one passing pays and he hands each person a bottle, chanting.

“Hydration, compliments of the house. Hydration, compliments of the house.”

“I’m not thirsty,” I say when he offers me a bottle.

The mask that’s not there slips away for a zeptosecond, so fast that present almost cheats past. The menace sleeping in the scar above his left eyebrow slips down into his eyes, like the reflection of a napping pit bull jabbed awake with a sharp stick. Then he blinks it away before it can bark. “You will be,” he says, smiling, and so we centimeter in.

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