The teenage grocery bagger at the checkout is copping glances at her chest as he puts our booze into those flimsy brown plastic bags. He double-bags them and continues to point glances at her.
Elizabeth doesn’t notice. She’s busy signing the credit card receipt.
But I do.
As we strolled around the grocery store tonight gathering party supplies I had a great time watching the other men’s cagey glances. I watched them spot her from across the store and then stop what they were doing to get a better look. I watched their wives notice them looking and then follow their husband’s eyes to my date. It was kind of weird to be detached enough to watch it happen. I guess ordinarily I wouldn’t notice at all because I’d be one of the guys looking.
As we cut one aisle towards the checkout one old man nearly dropped a glass jar of applesauce he was so distracted by her. And it’s funny but that really sums things up. That’s how I would describe this girl, this Elizabeth Birdstall. She’s the sort of girl that would make you fumble jars of applesauce in the grocery store aisle. And that’s the way you’d have to phrase it because she’s the sort of girl who causes ‘a clean-up in aisle four’ might possibly have the wrong implications to it.
I’m carrying four heaping bags of beer and liquor as we exit the store. I would’ve been fine with a six pack of Bass or something but she insisted on the three six packs of Corona, the bag of limes and the huge bottle of Jack Daniel’s. “So you’re a Jack drinker huh?” I say to her as we stroll across the parking lot through the orange glow of the streetlights.
“Yeah, it’s the only hard liquor I can get sick on and still want to drink again. That, and beer.”
“So what’re you saying here? You puke a lot?” I ask.
“Well no. But it happens.” She shrugs.
“Well don’t puke on me alright? My ex-girlfriend always insisted on drinking these really horrible pink and purple shots and creamy liquors and she’d always hurl by the end of the night,” I plead. “I can’t tell you how many times I had to hold her head over the toilet and rub her back while she puked. She liked to get drunk but she didn’t like the taste and I never could get her to drink real liquor or beer. Probably would have saved her a whole lot of retching.”
“Awwwww,” she says in a cute little voice, tilting her head to the side to look at me. “You mean you wouldn’t hold me and rub my back and tell me everything’s going to be alright if I got sick? I think I’d really like that.”
“Noooope.” I say decisively. “I’ve done my penance where babysitting drunk little girls is concerned.” Actually this is a complete lie. I think I’d hold her if she had an alien about to explode out of her stomach just for the chance to get to hold her but I have to be a guy here. I have to increase my score for control of this date and pretend to be somewhat disinterested.
“Well, you won’t have to do that with me.” She grins. “I’ll drink your sorry male ass under the table.”
“Oh yeah? We’ll have to see about that.”
Porsche 911′s have trunks but I don’t hassle with it. The bags go between my legs on the floor. Any guesses why? From the way she drove here I have a feeling I’m going to need to hold on to them. I climb down into my little cocoon of a seat and strap myself in as she starts the car and drops it into reverse. A group of guys stop to check out the car as we pull out of the space and head out of the parking lot. That figures. That must be why people drive these things. It must be like being on stage all the time.
As soon as she gets back onto Manchester we’re back to the three times the speed limit gig but this time I’m flattened into the seat pretty good and have more than enough to hold onto. “How do I get to Highway-40 from here?” she asks.
“Well how’d you get here?” I ask.
“I came down Hanley,”
“Uhh, take Manchester up to Brentwood here and head North,” I say. “It’s about six blocks up.”
She grabs for a remote control slotted into the dash and flips on the stereo. “What do you wanna listen to?” she asks.
“I don’t care. I like just about anything. Anything but the Grateful Dead, James Taylor and everything the Point plays.” The Point is a local “alternative” radio station everyone listens to. They play a good song here and there but mostly they spin the same short playlist of the latest trendy alterna-hits over and over and over. I mean, how many times can you hear Third Eye Blind’s “Semi Charmed Life” in one day before you end up going completely berserk and shooting up a McDonalds or something? I’ve never listened long enough to find out.
“This thing has a twelve disk changer in it,” she says. “Some of my Dad’s crap is still in here.” . I watch the selections change on the CD console as she shuffles through them with the remote: Jim Croce. Harry Nillson. Joni Mitchell. Then I start seeing her titles flash across the LED display: Lords of Acid, Trance Favorites, something about Pleasuredome Vol. 1. I’ve heard of the Lords of Acid but the rest of this stuff? I have no idea. One of them is called “Gabba favorites.” Abba? What the hell is Gabba?
“Oh, I don’t care. Whatever,” I say. She settles on the Trance CD and soon the car is filled with a whirlwind of bass and samples. It’s a pretty good sound system though. I can feel the bass in my stomach as we rocket up Brentwood towards the highway. “So where do you live?” I ask her.
“Creve Couer.. My parents own the apartment building I live in so I’m rent free.”
“Jesus. Must be nice,” I say.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool but we don’t have a big pool like your apartments do.”
“Oh, you noticed that huh?” I ask. “Yeah, I suppose it’s a litter nicer than your average apartment pool. And the great thing is that all of the apartments are one bedrooms so generally there aren’t any screaming kiddies peeing in the pool.”
“Yeah. I never was much of a pool person until I moved in there but now I’m completely pathetic. The pool has become the opiate of my life. Any spare moment I have I jump in. I just float my whole summer away to the point where my friends tell me I should seek therapy. It’s like that scene in ‘The Graduate.’ You know, where Dustin Hoffman’s character is in the pool on a weekday afternoon when he should be looking for a job and his father is quizzing him about what the hell he’s doing with his life now that’s he’s graduated college. And Hoffman’s got those cool wrap-around shades on he says ‘I’m just floating…’ and then as if his father doesn’t understand him or his motivation, he clarifies, ‘…here in the pool,’”
“Wasn’t Sean Penn in that one?” she asks.
“No. I think you’re getting it confused with another film. This was in the Sixties, you know…” I don’t know how to explain this to her. In fact, I can’t believe I have to. I start humming Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs. Robinson.’ Do… Dooo-Dooo Do, Do-Do-Duu-Duu-Do…. “‘God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson. Heaven holds a place for those who pray’? Anne Bancroft plays an older woman who seduces this right out of college kid played by Hoffman?”
“Oh, I think my parents like that movie. They like that one and that musical ‘Paint Your Wagon.’”
“Oh c’mon Elizabeth! It’s an older movie and just because Marv and Estelle like it doesn’t mean it sucks. Now ‘Paint Your Wagon,’ I gotta agree. That fucking sucks. But make sure you see ‘The Graduate’. You can’t miss it.”
“So Randall says you work for Blockbuster Entertainment. Is that why you’re sounding like a commercial for the movie all of the sudden?” she asks.
“Hey! It’s a great movie! People always overlook the old ones, like it can’t be good unless the story is hijacked and revamped for the 90′s with Mel Gibson and Brad ‘the box office stallion’ Pitt.”
“But you work for Blockbuster right?” she asks.
“Yeah, I write copy. I write a lot of the in-store propaganda. Like those little flyers they shove in your bag of movies. It’s pretty much drudge work but one of these days I might get to start writing commercials. Hey, by the way,” I say changing the subject. “I meant to ask you earlier, what’d Randall say about me? Why am I not your ‘typical guy?’”
“I don’t know…” She turns up the sound a little. “The way he described you made you sound pretty different from most guys.”
“That’s what I’m getting at here Elizabeth. How did he describe me?” I ask.
“I’m trying to remember. I guess he said you were intelligent and funny.” She pauses to get her bearings on where the highway is and slides the car into the westbound entrance lane. Other cars move out of our way or maintain a comfortable distance. I guess no one wants take of chance of an accident with a car like this. If you hit a Porsche your insurance company would probably be all smiles and pay the bill, but then they’d dump your sorry ass policy a week later with that same smile. “And… uh. He said that you didn’t freak out too bad when they accidentally sent you out with a girl who was celibate.”
This upsets me enough that I completely miss the green turn arrow… and my chance to brace myself for acceleration. She floors the weird little hinged gas pedal and we rocket up the onramp onto Highway-40. I wish we could have some sort of short countdown so that wouldn’t happen anymore – her tearing away from traffic signals, accelerating to 40 or 50 mph in moments. And you know, it would have to be NASA-style countdown because that’s how fast this car can take off.
10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. 0. Zzzzt. ‘We have A-OK for Ignition, Houston. Zzzt. Launch the Porsche on runway niner!!’ And whooosh! Off we’d go!
“Whaaa .. What??! He told you that?!!” I say after I regain my composure. “I can’t believe he’d tell you about other dates I’ve been on.” In what seems like a few seconds, we’re already doing 70 mph down the fast lane.
“He didn’t tell me much. He just mentioned that as sort of a positive personality trait,” she says.
“Well, he’s wrong, I did freak. By the way, you’re not celibate are you?”
“Far from it,” she says, leaning over to pat me on the upper thigh. I purposely ignore the gesture acting like it didn’t faze me. But it did. I feel things swelling, going into “rearrange-mode” under my pants.
“So what else did he say about me?” I ask.
“Uhh, let’s see. He said you were really interesting. Really knowledgeable about literature, and music and the arts. He said you grew up in the country and ride horses.”
“Well, that’s partly true. Thats rode horses past tense. I grew up in the country and I rode a lot as I was growing up but I’m pretty much a city boy now. I haven’t ridden in years.I’m not even sure I could still saddle one correctly anymore.”
“Sure you could. You never forget how to do that,” she says. “My grandparents have a stable in Chesterfield. I ride quite a bit.”
“Oh yeah? Lemme guess, you like to trot and run them quite a bit don’t you?” I ask.
“Yeah, how’d you guess?” she asks. I look at the speedometer and note that we’re doing 97. She’s whipping in and out of the traffic, passing the slower moving 70 mph cars like they’re standing still. I don’t think I’ve driven this fast in my entire life.
“So what do you do for a living?” I ask.
“I’m a Psych major at Wash U. – a senior.”
“Ahhh the prestigious Washington University. That’s cool. How’d you get into Psychology?”
“Well, it was kind of bizarre. I just kind of fell into it,” she says. “On a whim I took this abnormal psych class and had this really cute professor and I just ended up really liking it. I was already like sixty credit hours into an International Business degree but I decided I wanted to do Psych instead.”
“Wow, that’s cool,” I say.
“Yeah, I loved it. Took three years of it in High School. It was really the only class I ever looked forward to going to.”
“I took French for a couple semesters,” I say. “But I slept through most of it. Luckily it wasn’t too hard to pass multiple choice French exams or I would have flunked.”
“I almost took French!” she says giddily. “But the Spanish class got to have ‘Fiestas’. Little parties where we ate food and sat around and watched movies. It was so easy! So when I went off to college I just kept going with it.”
“So you could have college Siestas?” I ask.
She smirks. “No, because it was fun. I guess I just enjoyed it more than any of my other classes. But then we took this trip down to Mexico City with one my classes and it was just really… I don’t know. I didn’t like it very much.”
“You didn’t? Why not?” I ask.
“It was really… I don’t know. It was just different than I expected. It was dirty.”
“Yeah,” she says. “There was trash all over the place and it smelled.”
“So, where is this going?”
“Well, I didn’t want to major in International Business speaking Spanish anymore. I knew I had to change my degree,” she says.
“Wait a minute,” I say, shaking my head quickly as if to clear it of confusion. “You changed majors because you thought Mexico was ‘dirty?’”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“I see.” Oh man, I may laugh out loud. But that would be pretty mean and would also probably end the date. I bite my lip and check out her breasts and suddenly things are back in perspective. “So you switched to a Psych when you got back?”
“Yeah, this professor was just really cute. And he had all these theories about why people kill their mothers and things like that,” she says.
“Oh yeah? Did he have any theories about how to get dogs to salivate?”
“DING!!” she chimes, imitating Pavlov’s bell.
“I wonder how long he had to torment that poor fucking dog with food and bells before it came to associate the two,” I muse. “Now that I think about it, I think if I were that dog I would have been conditioned differently by his treatment. I would have associated the ringing bell with lunging for Pavlov’s throat and killing the bastard. Then I’d eat his food.”
“Me too,” she says laughing. We’re at our turn off, the Chesterfield Parkway. In under five minutes we’ve covered a stretch of highway that would’ve normally taken over ten. I guess that’s what twice the speed limit buys you. We exit next to a couple health clubs and a golf course. Welcome to the land of the well-off and newly rich. We’re in what St. Louisians refer to as West County and let me tell you – it’s a whole different universe.
I’m really at a loss as to why I would compare it to a different universe. I guess where West County and the city of St. Louis are concerned there really isn’t much intergalactic travel. No one from the city really has any reason to travel all the way out here. And the reverse is true of the locals. They have their own bars and restaurants and mostly they stay within County limits. The Porsche looked totally out of place cruising through my neighborhood but as we tool down these tree lined streets it looks right at home cruising past $500,000 homes. On the roads Lexus’s, Land Rovers, Saabs, BMWs and other assorted luxury cars cruise past… This is West County traffic.
“I used to date a girl who lived not far from here,” I say, watching the huge homes go by.
“Where’d she live?” Elizabeth says, cutting the wheel hard to the left to accelerate around a hotel shuttle bus.
“Oh, shit. I don’t remember. What was that subdivision called? Sparrowfriendly Farms? Ummm, no. Flowerpraire Farms? Meadowbovine Farms? Nestleberry Farms? Peacefulbrook Farms…”
“Alright smart ass,” she cuts me off. “Enough making fun of Chesterfield.” Everything in Chesterfield has a farm theme. Not everything, I’m exaggerating a bit, but almost everything. The residents of the town are apparently caught up in the strange delusion that they live out in the country.
“You don’t live out here. What do you care if I make fun of it?” I ask.
“Because most of my friends live out here! And the party we’re going to is in Meadowbrook Farms.”
I start laughing. “Oh wow, that’s her subdivision!” I say when she gives me a dirty look. “The girl I dated, she lived in Meadowbrook Farms. I sure hope this isn’t her party.”
“She grabs a piece of paper from between the seats. “This one is at 15776 Barn’s Loft Praire.”
I snicker and she looks over at me agan. “That’s not her house” I say. “I’m sure of it. She lived on Old Beautiful Country Calico Carriage Lane.”
“Enough!” she screams.
“I guess this was all farm land once wasn’t it?” I ask, looking out the window at the strip malls and sprawling subdivisions. “I remember my family looked at some land here back when I was in the second grade. I don’t remember much but I remember playing in a wheat field with my older brother while my parents walked through the display homes.”
“Yeah, It was all farm land,” she says. “My parents used to own a stable not far from here when they were first married. I’ve ridden though here as a little girl.” She makes a hard left onto Barn’s Loft Prairie and the car spins around the corner like it’s tied to the street sign. This subdivision certainly isn’t a farm; It’s not even close. It’s thousands of slightly customized suburban houses with 1.5 acres of land each. In the last block or so I notice that the street is increasingly lined with cars. We must be getting close to the party. She pulls up behind a ridiculously large truck. It’s a custom truck with KC lights and huge chrome wheels.
“Now why would anyone need a huge truck out here in the suburbs?” I wonder aloud.
“To run over all the curbs,” she says, turning off the car.
“I think you just nailed it on the head,” I say. She reaches down to grab her purse… about the time I’m trying to get the liquor out from between my feet. The result? I’m not sure exactly how it happened. But by accident I end up nearly cupping one of her breasts in my grab for the booze.
“Uhh. Excuse me,” I laugh and do one of those fake coughs. “I really seriously didn’t do that on purpose.”
She raises up with her purse and smiles. “Oh yeah? We’ll see how things go. But I might let you do it on purpose later,” she says opening her door.
As we’re walking towards the house, I’m not really thinking about anything. Ok, you guessed it. I’m thinking about how her breast felt. Warm. Soft. Very Large. Some sort of lacy pattern on her bra underneath the shirt…
And man this is an ugly house!
Oh my God! This must be what they call ranch-style. The whole damned house is covered in faded rough cedar paneling and the landscaping is completely out of control. Little stone paths curve and wind through mismatched shrubbery. It’s a home project nightmare. It’s almost as if someone watched Bob Villa with a glass of cognac tucked under their chin one too many Sundays. “Jesus…” I say laughing.
“Yeah, I know. You should meet my friend Steve’s father.”
“I bet he’s…” I start to say.
The front door flies open and slams against the front of the house with a loud ‘whack’ and this guy comes running out onto the front porch in a panic. Music blares from the open door behind him. His eyes are bugged out, wide open as he checks out the front yard. He looks left and right and then right at us. What’s up with this guy? I notice he looks white, no wait green. He’s wearing sunglasses and an oversized Blues jersey. Then he’s running for the bushes.
Jesus. He looked innocent enough standing there turning white in the sports jersey and sunglasses at night, but that was until I realized that this guy is Satan. That was no ordinary puking. It sounded more like he turned himself inside out. And it continues… Elizabeth leans over and puts her face on my chest to avoid looking, and I get to be the guy here and tough it out watching the gore show. I touch my nose to her hair and settle on putting my chin on top of her head and somehow smelling her hair and perfume makes it a little easier to tolerate. Then the front porch light comes on and suddenly I have an even better view of the vomiting carnage. Fuck.
“Why don’t we go inside. If this is a big party I’m sure that was just the opening act,” I say. A huge football player looking guy stands in the doorway as we start in.
“Hey Steve!” Elizabeth says.
“Hey! Glad you made it! Come on in!” the guy booms.
“Steve, this is Craig. Craig this is Steve. I had a few classes with him this semester. This is his party tonight.” She introduces us, and Steve and I shake the typical ‘my grip is stronger than your grip’ sort of shake. He reminds me of this guy I went to high school with. I could be wrong about him but he just seems like a great big nice guy. He must be 6’2 and 275 pounds. But he’s grinning from ear to ear as we shake like I’m his new best buddy. His crew cut is growing out and looks fuzzy which makes him look even more harmless. And there’s a wet spot on his white button down shirt where he must have spilled some beer, or had some spilled on him.
“Hey Craig, pleased to meet ya,” Steve says. His shirt isn’t fully tucked in. The tail end hangs out over his shorts.
“Nice to meet you Steve. So what’s the occasion?” I ask.
“I dumped my girlfriend,” he says.
“Cool man,” I chuckle. I don’t have a clue whether he’s serious or not. “Hey, by the way, you have a little camper out in your front yard that upchucked his Wine Coolers onto your landscaping.”
He laughs. “That’s just my homeboy Mark. You’d think he was completely gone but he’s not. It was the bananas.”
“Bananas? Evil man.” I shake my head. “You crazy idiots are starting the night drinking banana daiquiris?” Elizabeth gives me what I take be an approving smile. And yes, this is what I’m like at a party. I don’t care who I know or even if I know anyone at all. I jump right in. That’s one of the things they taught me in college
“No, we won’t get a chance to make those tonight unless I get off my ass and make another run to the store. Mark ate ‘em all,” he says. “Someone bet him two hundred dollars he couldn’t eat every banana in the refrigerator. And Fuckin’-A if he didn’t eat ‘em all!!” Steve says with a roar. “We had like fifteen or twenty of them in there. The bet was that he had to eat the whole thing. He had to eat the peel, the banana and most of the stem. And he did it. He ate ‘em all!”
“So that’s what happened…” I say, starting a deep, good-old boy Southern accent. “So it was one of those ‘My boyyyy can EAT fifty eggs’ sort of bets huh?”
Steve starts laughing, holding his barrel sized stomach. “You got it, yeup, that’s totally it.”
“So did he get the money?” Elizabeth asks.
“Cool Hand Luke? Or Cool Hand Mark?” I interrupt.
Steve grins at me. “Yeup,” he says chucking. “My boy Cool Hand out there is now two hundred dollars richer.” We all stand there looking out into the yard.
“Well hey,” our host says. “C’mon into the party. I’ll show you where you can put your booze.” We make our way down a hallway. Family pictures line the walls. I spot one picture of Steve taken in grade school. His is hair feathered perfectly in the middle and even as a kid there’s the same big grin on his face. Right next to it is a picture of him on a baseball team, the Ellisville Indians, dated 1982. Another one farther down the hall shows an even younger Steve and his brothers in their pajamas holding Christmas gifts in front of the tree. In the picture, Steve proudly displays his new Star Wars figures, action figure collectors’ box and a Cardinals football jersey.
He looks back as we’re walking up the hall and catchs us looking at the pictures. “I was a tiny little guy wasn’t I?” he asks.
“We all were at that age,” I say. “I looked like a blond Opie.”
“Yeah, I would have taken those down and saved myself the embarrassment but a bunch of ‘em are covering up holes me and my brothers knocked in the walls over the years. And I’m house-sitting for my parents and my crazy mother notices when things get moved even an inch.”
“I think they’re cute!” Elizabeth says. After ducking around a few groups of people at the end of the hallway, we finally make it into the kitchen. And it is packed! It’s a good-sized kitchen but there are like fifty people in the room. I’ve seen this sort of behavior at parties before. It can be a huge house or apartment, plenty of room to spread out. But everyone will be in the kitchen. I bet you could move the keg and the refrigerator to the living room and they’d still crowd into the kitchen. This party is different though because through the walkout dining room I can see another twenty or so people out on the back porch smoking and there are even more people in the living room.
Elizabeth ducks under a guy’s arm who’s gesturing wildly, telling some funny story to a small crowd. She’s found the refrigerator. We unpack our booze, shoving some things aside in refrigerator and rearranging to make it fit.
“Hey, I spotted limes already cut up over there on the cutting board. I’ll go add ours to the mix.” I grab two bottles of Corona.
“You want a shot?” she says pulling the Jack Daniel’s back out.
“Already? Uhhh, I mean sure.” I duck away to dump the limes on the cutting board. This has to be the biggest party I’ve been to since college. I make my way past the keg and the crowd around it – I mean keg plural. There are three of them. Jesus. They must be expecting even more people.
I survey the crowd. I’m a poor judge of age but I’d guess most of these people to be in their early twenties. I catch myself trying to stereotype the crowd as a bunch of rich kids but it’s really hard to do because there’s just a lot of different types of people here. There’s a bunch of guys I take to be college football players and some really trendy looking groups of girls who look like they take their cues from MTV’s House of Style. And there’s a few neo-hippy types standing around and like anywhere in the 90′s, a majority of the people at the party are just hard to categorize.
That’s a good thing, I decide as I’m making my way back across the kitchen. Elizabeth is still near the refrigerator talking to Steve. She hands me heaping shot of whisky as I approach. I trade her for a Corona with lime. She pours two more shots and hands Steve one.
“For ME!” Steve shrieks in a little girl voice. “Oh boy! Oh boy!”
“What should we toast to?” she asks.
“To my girlfriend being out of town,” Steve says raising his shot.
“Alright then, to Karen being out of town it is,” she says. We clink the shot glasses and raise them to our mouths. One of my roommates in college was a big Jack drinker so I acquired a taste for it years ago but I always love watching other people’s reactions.
Steve grimaces and lets out what Missourians would call a ‘Holler.’ “Whhhhooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhh!!!!!!!!!” he hollers, shaking his head at the ceiling. People on the perimeter give him a “way to go Steve!’ here and there. The folks on the back porch are crowding into the windows, trying to get a look to see what the hell is going on.
Elizabeth downs it like a pro. She doesn’t even wince. And I down mine with the same finesse and grin back at her. She points her shot glass at me and smiles. I really hope she was kidding about trying to drink me under the table.
“So Craig man. How’d you score this fine woman here?” Steve asks, pointing to Elizabeth. Shit. Do I have to admit this?
“Blind date,” she says before I can say anything. “My friend Randall set us up.” She winks at me. I guess neither one of us wants to admit using a dating service. I think it’s the first vulnerability I’ve seen her reveal tonight. This makes me feel much better. One thing I’ve learned about strong, aggressive women over the years: where there’s a small hole in the defenses, there’s got to be a huge gaping hole somewhere else.
“Dammnnn. You lucked out. My girl here – she’s smokin’!” he says patting her on the shoulder.
“Yeah, I agree. I told her the same thing earlier in so many words. She’s the mother fuckin’ bomb.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt your guy talk,” she says playfully, “But which bathroom in your house hasn’t been discovered by the masses yet?”
“My parent’s bathroom upstairs,” Steve says. “From the top of the stairs, it’s a left, and then another left past my old bedroom.”
“Did you get to ride in her Dad’s Porsche?” he asks after she’s walked away.
“Man, yeah. That car is just totally sweet. I’d never ridden in one before tonight.”
“How was her driving?” He gives me a knowing smile.
“Pretty much two to three times the speed limit the whole way here, man. Quite a few jet-assisted takeoffs from stop lights and plenty of sharp turns.”
“Yeah, I remember last month she drove me home from this Rams game and she was doing like 120 or so down 40. And man, I like to drive fast. But only when I’m at the wheel, you know what I mean?” he asks.
“I nearly piss my pants when I gotta drive with her.” We laugh.
“So do you have season tickets to the Rams?” I ask.
“No, I play for them,” he says.
“Really! Jesus man, I didn’t know I was standing here talking to a celebrity or I would have been giving you the ‘props.’ I’m sorry Steve. I’m not that much of a sports fan, I didn’t recognize you.”
“Well even if you were a fan you wouldn’t know me. Mostly I just warm the bench,” he says.
“Whadya play?” I ask.
I chuckle. “Oh C’mon man, I’m sure you’re pretty good…”
“A lot of these people around here are from work, I mean the organization…”
Funny he should refer to playing for the St. Louis Rams football team as “work”.
“Well Craig man, shit. I don’t know who the fuck to introduce you to first. It’s a pretty mixed crowd,” he says, looking around the kitchen. “You got a bunch of people from the Rams, various players here and there. And then a bunch of people I went to college with at Mizzou. And then you have all the West County crew I grew up with and went to high school with.”
“Mizzou! Cool, I didn’t graduate from there but I did three years up there. I might know some of these people.”
“Oh yeah? What year?” he asks.
“You caught me. I’m an old man. I was there in ’88, ’89 and ’90.”
“That’s not old! You weren’t too far ahead of us. I was there ’91 through ’94. Those guys over there,” he says pointing. “They’re Mizzou guys. The three next to the kitchen table were in my frat. The other guy was Mizzou too, I think his name is Jeremy.”
“Holy shit. I know that guy!” I say, lowering my beer. “Yeah, his name is Jeremy but we called him ‘the Ghost.’ Lived with him for a few years in one of those college crash pad houses packed with guys. He was one of the more notorious members of my crew when I was up there.”
“Great, man, so you know people already. I’ll introduce you to some more people later on but ya gotta excuse me here,” he says. “I need to skate off here and put some more music on, you know, do the host thing and make sure people aren’t wrecking my parent’s house.”
“Alright Steve, thanks.” He heads into the living room. I wonder what old Ghost is doing at this party. He lives in Illinois. I wander across the kitchen but decide not to walk right up to him. Instead, I stand about ten feet away and say the nickname to see if he still remembers…
“Ghost…” I whisper.
The Ghost spins around suddenly with a look of shock. Hequickly scans the crowd trying to figure out whoever said it, and hen he spots me leaning up against the counter. “Mitchell!!!” he yells and runs over and gives me a bear hug. He’s a small guy but I still nearly spill my beer when he’s slapping me on the back. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“This girl I know brought me. She knows Steve. How about you?” I ask.
“I’m here with Rodeo’s little brother Darrin. You remember him? He came up for a few of our parties,” he says pointing at one of the guys over by the kitchen table.
“Oh man! It’s so great to see you again! How the hell you been, Ghost?” I ask, clapping him on the shoulder.
“Great, really super,” he says. “I can’t complain. How about you?”
“I’m really pretty happy in life, man.” We both take a swig of beer and look around the room. “So what’s old Rodeo been up to lately?”
“Fuck… He’s working at this factory outside of Columbia. I think they make farm machinery or something.”
“So he didn’t do anything with his Journalism degree?” I ask.
“Yeah, he’s still writing his stories but he hasn’t found a job yet,” he says. “You want the truth, when we were at Mizzou he got this townie pregnant. You were already long gone but he got this girl pregnant and she had the kid and I think they have a house. Hasn’t married her last I heard though.”
“What about the other guys?” I ask. “What’re they up to?” The music starts. Steve put on some Parliament and a small crowd is boogying with him near the stereo. He jumps around the room and then up onto the furniture doing a funky jive. But then the CD player starts skipping because at his size he literally rocks the house.
“Let’s see…” The Ghost says. “Well shit. Farmer Tim just got back from Mexico. And he’s here with us man! I think he’s out on the back porch. They got a joint going on.”
“Wow, I haven’t seen that guy in ages. I think he still owes me money,” I say.
“Who else?” he says. “Well, the General scored a job at the New York Times doing copy editing. He lives in Manhattan and he’s about to get married. Ben’s working for a startup newspaper in Oklahoma, still trying to get that experience. Who else?” The Ghost is a skinny little guy and to make matters worse, he’s only about 5’7 or so. Wearing a baseball hat pulled backwards over his frizzy brown long hair, he almost looks like a little kid. But most little kids don’t have silly looking goatees. “I just talked to Avery,” he says. “He’s back in town for a few weeks before his ship cruises again. He’s working as the director of some cruise ship. Apparently he still has quite the party lifestyle.”
“How about you man? What the hell are you doing these days?” he asks.
“Working for Blockbuster Entertainment, writing copy,” I say.
“Oh yeah? You like it?” he asks.
“Not really. A good friend of mine works there which makes it a little more tolerable. But everyone there is just so uptight. Hey wait, you remember Sarah??”
“Sarah…” he rubs his chin. “Was she that blonde who took her shirt off at Pete’s Halloween party our Junior year claiming it was her costume and that she was ‘the super booby girl’?”
I laugh. “Probably was. I don’t remember that but it had to be her. Anyway, yeah, she works there. What about you Ghost? Where are you at?”
“Well, my parents are still supporting me,” he shrugs. “But I’m gonna be published man!!”
“You’re shitting me!”
“Yeah man!” he says. “I got a piece on the new Russian Mafia accepted by Access magazine! I think I might be on my way.”
“Well congratU-fuckin-Lations Ghost! That’s great news! It’s so cool seeing you and hearing about the other guys. And we’re finally writers man!! Or at least you are.” I raise a toast and clink beer bottles with him, swallowing heavily on the salty lime Corona.
“Yeah, we did something with our degrees,” he says. “Pretty much everyone did. I was always worried all that partying would corrupt our brains and we’d never get moving in life but we graduated and almost everyone from the old ‘rabbit hole’ is on the move.” Suddenly another beer gets thrust in my face. A Corona, lime sticking out of the top. I grab it out of Elizabeth’s hand.
“Elizabeth, let me introduce you to an old college crony. This is The Ghost.”
“Pleased to meet you,” The Ghost says wide-eyed, looking her up and down. It’s funny, she’s tall enough to look down on him. “You can call me Jeremy too.”
Elizabeth extends her hand and shakes. “Nice to meet you. So you guys went to college at…” she starts to ask looking at me for a cue and gracefully swallowing another mouthful of her Corona. I guess I never got around to telling her where I went to school yet. But then again it’s a young date… I mean, we’ve only been out for an hour or so.
“Yeah, at Mizzou,” I finish the sentence for her. “We had this big house about two miles from campus. ‘Bout nine or ten guys lived there over the years.”
“So why does he call you ‘The Ghost’?” she says, putting down her beer bottle on the kitchen table.
I put my second beer down on the table next to me and continue to drink the one I had.
“It was his nickname in college. You know how it goes. Just like the Army, after a few years of living with the same guys, sooner or later everyone ends up with a nickname. But the Ghost here,” I say. “There’s a pretty good story behind his. Mind if I tell it?”
The Ghost grins “Sure.”
“Uh, where should I start. Let’s see… Well, we all lived in this big house like I said, and we called it the ‘rabbit hole.’ Don’t ask me why because t wasn’t my idea and besides, it’s another story altogether. But anyway, we had a huge party right before the end of school our Junior year. Finals were still a few weeks off and you know, any party held at that time of year is just marked by complete craziness and insanity because everyone knows they’ll have to hit the books and subdue their partying soon. So anyway, we have this huge party and like a hundred people show up. And the rabbit hole,” I say looking around Steve’s house. “It was a pretty small place, about half the size of this one. And to make matters worse we’d blocked off the second floor where our bedrooms were so nothing would get stolen. So that limited the space even more.
“But the party was a blast and this huge bottle of Tequila was going around that one of the roommates had brought back from Mexico. And the Ghost here drinks a little too much of it early in the evening and just disappears.” The Ghost smiles and takes a drink of his beer. No one knows where he is. We looked everywhere! We checked every room in the house and even upstairs. His room was empty and so were all the other bedrooms. He wasn’t outside. No one saw him leave…. He had disappeared into thin air.”
“Where was he?” she asks. The best part of telling this story is people tend to think they know how it ends. Like that we find him in some crazy place a few days later and that’s why we call him Ghost, because he’s hard to find. But it’s better than that.
“I’m getting to it,” I say. “So old Ghost here, he was MIA for a majority of the party. And near the end of the night, around three in the morning everyone started coupling up and doing their own disappearing acts with whoever they had hooked up with that night. You know, people making out in the coat closet, the basement, the bathrooms. In fact, for some reason I don’t remember, I was in the shed out in the backyard with this freshman. And that’s when I heard the screams.”
“Screams?” she asks, looking concerned.
“Yeah,” I laugh. “And it wasn’t just a girl. This guy was screaming too. It was totally creepy cause they were both screaming in terror. I mean, really loud – like a horror movie or something! It was coming from up in Larry’s room on the second floor. So I go running up there and I’m the first person on the scene, and I can hear a lot of commotion behind Larry’s bedroom door and I open the door, and for what seemed like a full minute I can’t figure out what the fuck is going on. Larry was always broke and he hadn’t bought light bulbs in awhile so his room was completely dark but from the glow of his alarm clock I can make out two naked people running around in there, pawing at the walls trying to get out. And finally this guy and girl spot the light of the open door and come running out with blankets wrapped around themselves and run down the stairs!
“Now Ghost, correct me if I’m wrong about any of this. This story’s been told a million times and it’s probably been exaggerated a bunch, but apparently at some point this couple had ducked underneath the duct tape we had strung across the hallway to keep people from going upstairs and they went into Larry’s room to mess around. Maybe someone told them Larry was out of town that weekend. Or maybe hey just wanted somewhere to go at it and didn’t care. But they’re on Larry’s king-sized bed screwing and really going at it and at some point during the passion…” I smile over at the Ghost.
“In the complete darkness of the room, a ghost rises up from beneath the covers at the top of the bed with a loud moan and falls on top of them! Which of course, scares the living shit out of the couple who are really stoned and undoubtedly drunk too and who thought they were all alone in the room. But that wasn’t the case. They were so fucked up they didn’t even notice they weren’t even alone in the bed! They jump out of the bed and run around the room screaming their fucking heads off. And you know, the funny thing is from down in the shed it sounded like the guy was screaming even more than the girl. So I really didn’t think this was a date rape situation or anything when I went running up there. In fact, I didn’t know what the hell was going on….”
We’re all laughing hysterically before I’ve even finished the story. I can hardly finish it. Elizabeth is doubled over holding her stomach. “But, heh. By the time I got up there they were blind with fear, running around naked, couldn’t find the door. Ghost is in the bed, irrationally drunk and moaning loudly – which I think was scaring them even more. And finally they get out, run past me down the stairs, breaking through all the duct tape we had used. And they sprint out of the house and into the night wearing a bunch of Larry’s blankets!!”
More hysterical laughter. People from around the room glance over at the three of us. “I found a drunk Jeremy slobbering away in Larry’s bed. But from that night on no one called him anything other than The Ghost. I’ve heard another version of the story where The Ghost is actually tangled in a white bed sheet and jumps out of bed slamming into walls in the sheet and terrifying the couple even more. But I don’t know if it’s true.”
“I don’t remember,” The Ghost says laughing. “But you forgot the part about their clothes…”
“Oh yeah!” I start laughing again. “They left everything! We found every single article of clothing they’d been wearing that night scattered around Larry’s room!” I can’t stop laughing. In fact, at this point the two of them are laughing at me laughing. “They left a message on the house machine the next afternoon looking for their stuff. So Saturday night me and the General, he was this Honduran guy, a really cool, mild mannered guy. His real name was Jacob. We dressed up in their clothes! They fit! We skipped the underwear, that would have been too gross. But I got to be the girl and I put on her bra and stuffed it with toilet paper and I put on makeup and shaved my legs and wore her little sun dress. And Rodeo found the girl’s student ID and picture and managed to scavenge up a long brown wig that matched her hair pretty close.
“We had their wallets so we knew where they lived and what Frat the guy was in. So we marched over there to the Frat dressed as the couple with a crowd of people from the party the night before laughing along behind us and we found the two of them at a barbecue in the back yard. I walked right up to them and they didn’t even see us coming! And I’m like, ‘Hi! I’m Kim! And this is my boyfriend Terry,’ I said and pointed to the General dressed up in the guy’s clothing. And the General just stood there with this perfect confused, dumbfounded look on his face. And everyone started laughing. They were really cool about it. The whole Frat came into the backyard to check us out. “
“I don’t think I’ve heard that many people laughing so hard in years. I think we ended up staying to barbecue with the Frat and another Sorority that was down the street. Then part way through the night the General and I traded their underwear, clothes and wallets for some beers and the blankets they had taken from Larry’s room. And then we went ‘toga’ for the rest of the night. We were the celebrities of the Frat party. I think we must have retold that story a gazillion times that night.”
We’re still chuckling when Steve wanders up with three more shots of whiskey.
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