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Flunky

by

Steven Vivian


 

Chapter One: If It's Monday Morning



If it's Monday morning, the President will be yelling.

Dr. Don Boyle, the President of West Central College, will crash into the conference room like an errant Scud missile. Then, face reddening, he'll launch into his arm-waving, finger-pointing, full-throttle Monday morning inquisition. I mused that Boyle, like a soprano practicing scales before a performance, rehearses his operatic tirades before the bathroom mirror of the Presidential lavatory. The Presidential water closet, by the way, is the subject of ceaseless rumor. According to the most reliable gossip, it's mauve and blue and boasts a wide-screen stereo TV, phones, sauna, microwave, cappuccino brewer, toilets designed by a leading chiropractor, and a bar stocked exclusively with 1959 wines. These Chicago Irish, I guess, live with zest.

We waited for the President's entrance, clutching our notebooks and grinding our teeth. Nobody talked—we were too busy being nervous. The Cabinet meetings, as the Prez calls them, were always on Monday at 10:00 a.m. and were always frightful.

A slamming door announced his entrance.

Again, I was struck by the contrast of his small stature and large temper. Boyle's barely five foot eight. He's in his early 40's but is teenage thin. He weighs maybe a hundred fifty if you factor in the five pounds of polyurethane he lavished daily on his styled auburn hair. His suits were slightly baggy, suggesting a child in adult clothes. I'm a good six one and pushing two hundred forty pounds; I've often ached to smash Boyle against a wall, battering-ram fashion. But then he starts yelling at everybody. Suddenly you're a ten year old, cowering before your pissed off father.

He took his chair, which was upholstered in unborn calf. "To begin," he boomed, "I direct our attention to Dr. Malvick's analysis of spring enrollment figures."

We dutifully thumbed through our pile of papers. I envied Malvick, the Dean of Enrollment. The economy, though officially "recovered", had failed to produce jobs that pay actual wages. The shell-shocked citizenry was enrolling in record busting numbers, hoping to gain some college credits and get a job. Or just keep the one they had.

"What should we think of these figures?" Boyle asked rhetorically.

I was about to praise the figures, but Bruce Herrig—a virtuoso buttock buffer—was the first in line to Boyle's behind. "Wonderful, just wonderful. Up six percent."

We murmured and nodded and grunted, all the while hating Malvick's guts. Malvick flashed a self-congratulatory smirk.

"This report is a disaster!" Boyle boomed.

"It doesn't, I mean, I don't understand," Malvick sputtered.

None of us understood. The news was all good.

Boyle snatched a page of Malvick's printout, tore it into confetti, and threw it at his face.

"You're a short-sighted fool!" Boyle declared. His declaration left Malvick blinking through tears and Presidential spittle—the Prez spit when he yelled, so he spit plenty—but Malvick dared not wipe his suddenly damp and ashen face.

"You've cost this college hundreds of thousands of dollars! I have never seen someone so incompetent," he continued, his eyes narrowed to a vicious squint. "So stupid, so thin-spined and dim, and—"

I was grateful to be hung over: I could settle back into my murk and fog as Boyle mauled Malvick. The first flunky always got it the worst because the Prez had the whole weekend to simmer and boil. He tended to fire most of his load at target number one.

But Malvick made a terrible mistake. He talked back.

"I must humbly suggest," the Dean began, "that the report was not as, it's really quite positive."

The President paused in mid-insult, as shocked as the rest of us.

"The report is, it's true," Malvick blundered, "and I—"

"Unghh, ahrabba, ungh!"

"The state board of education could reprimand us for distorting information if—"

"Flunky!" Boyle jabbed the air with his forefinger; he looked mad enough to jab Malvick's eyeballs. "I do the reprimanding! Pump up those figures! We must show an overwhelming demand for a second campus."

Yeah, the second campus. It's all Boyle cares about anymore, and he's hell-bent on breaking ground within the year.

"—education is enrollment-driven! Push the numbers!"

"I will, I shall!"

"Get out of my sight."

We flunkies gasped collectively.

Malvick stood as if to leave, then he—

"Out!"

—he dropped to his knees, like a supplicant before the wrathful king, and pleaded with clasped hands and white knuckles. The President scoffed and waved him away, threatened him with the campus police and a lawsuit. The poor Dean, I knew, was scheduled for a triple by-pass next month. Without a job, he had no medical insurance. Without medical insurance, he had no reliable pulse.

The Dean kept genuflecting, but Boyle was unmoved. The Prez's secretary poked her head into the conference room. Boyle nodded, and in thirty seconds the campus cops arrived to remove Malvick.

The cops grabbed Malvick's feet and dragged him across the deep pile carpeting. "I can't lose this job!" he wheezed. "I have health problems, I—" His head struck the door frame.

Malvick's pleas faded down the hallway. We stared straight ahead, our faces betraying no emotion.

Boyle paused for several gulps of coffee, and he scrutinized us over the rim of his stein-sized mug. He had us. If we didn't jump through every hoop, we could face mortgage foreclosure or medical disaster within the week.

As for Malvick—what? You think he'll sue? No, that's comically naive. Don Boyle's got the goods on Malvick, you can be sure. Hell, everybody knows that Malvick's been boffing his half literate and fully stacked secretary for the last six months. The secretary is a patronage employee, and she knows where her bread is buttered. If told to, she'd march into court with a headline grabbing tale of sexual coercion. Never mind that she'd be lying her plush buns off; patronage sometimes requires perjury. No, if Malvick wants even the slightest severance, he'll shut up or the college's goon squad of lawyers will make him run the gauntlet in court, in full view of Malvick's wife. His three daughters. His pastor.

The meeting resumed. Boyle, face animated with tics and grimaces, interrogated each of us. Herrig, the Director of Public Relations, was currently on the rack.

"—didn't we agree that the new color pamphlet would have five colors, not four colors. Didn't we? You failure."

Herrig didn't bother to defend himself because defense was impossible. Last week, Boyle wanted four colors in the pamphlet. Now he demanded five. Boyle changed his mind about everything continually. He was addicted to those pop business bestsellers like Vlad the Impaler's Strategy Secrets and Dare to Scream, Dare to Dream. He called his thought-flips the "Flexible Proactive Goal Management Method of Chaos Driven Decision Making".

My thoughts turned to Lydia Fairview, sitting three chairs to my left. Lydia could lose a few pounds, true, but her red dress was tight in all the right places as she took notes. I caught her glancing about the room and smiled, but she returned to her notebook.

See, Lydia pretends to hate me. Last year during the Christmas party, she drank too much and fell during the hotel bar band's Neil Diamond medley. She rose, flapping and braying, jugs liberated from their prescription-only brassiere.

I shoved aside her shocked watusi partner and offered my assistance. She was indignant, complaining that she didn't want help, but I insisted with collegiate clutches. She kicked me. Now it was my turn to hit the floor, grabbing my bruised shin. But that's just her way, I think. Lydia, I'll bet you, likes some violence with her sex.

I was recalling the heft and hang of those hooters—rendered exotic by the dance floor's blue and green lights—when a Boyle bombshell struck my bunker and brought me back to the present tense, er, tense present.

"Deyme, brief me on our political action caucus."

"Huh?"

"Don't let me down."

"The progress is, it's, it's coming along nicely, Dr. Boyle."

"For example?"

I tried to review my notes on the political action caucus. This was difficult because I'd forgotten them. "We've met lots of times. At least twice."

Boyle's nostrils flared.

"And we've got volunteers to cover the precincts with leaflets a month before the Board elections. And I've got some contributions to buy coffee and gas money for the volunteers."

"Speakers lined up for the Rotary and Township meetings next week?"

Uh oh.

My peripheral vision faded. I could see only straight ahead, as if I were looking through a tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was Boyle's ruddy and muscled face. I got light-headed, and for a nanosecond I thought I was going to faint into Herrig's lap.


"Yes, I have speakers lined up."

Please, God, please. Please don't let him ask who my speakers are.

"We all know how very important these Trustee elections are for us. To think this guy Drock could get elected to the board—" Boyle chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, then turned to somebody else.

Herrig loudly cleared his throat. I offered him a quick and smug smile, then slipped back into the sludge of my hangover for the meeting's duration.


Welcome to my life. I'm James Deyme (as in "dime", as in two nickels), but I prefer the less formal John. All the James's I knew as a kid were cross-eyed freckled bookworms. So just call me "John".

I am Associate Vice President of West Central College, one of several community colleges in Chicago's sprawling suburbs. If you're unfamiliar with the intrigues of higher education, you might be impressed by my title. Don't be. As my name-choice reveals, I'm ironically less than comfortable with books, with learning, with smarts.

As one of today's Education Professionals, I didn't study language or math or science or any other actual subject. I studied something called "Education". We Education majors slogged through courses in bulletin board design and Affective Interpersonal Relating and esteem repair. Oh yeah. We play acted too. You know, we acted out roles like the Sickeningly Cheery Teacher and the Pistol Packing Student who flunked the spelling bee. What the hell. We education majors often score near the bottom of the SAT yardstick. What else are we supposed to study?

After getting my teacher's certificate, I further enfeebled my intellect with a "doctorate" in Educational Administration. Educational Administration really gives bullshit a bad name. In one class, we studied school organizational charts: a box here, a rectangle there, even the occasional rhombus, all connected with elaborate lines and arrows. The course's climax occurred when I created my own organizational chart composed exclusively in triangles, which suggested "dynamic responses to challenge."

After my doctorate, I resolved to conquer corporate America. For two years, I managed one of those Rumpus Room Teaching Centers...you know, the chain outfit that closed because half the "teachers" were child molesters. None of the sickos, fortunately, had infiltrated my particular Room. Thank Christ, because I was pretty slack in the interviewing process.

After the Rumpus Rooms closed, I was on the dole for six months until I crossed a picket line at a local high school and got a job teaching social studies to some unbelievably sullen sophomores. The bureaucrats liked my spirit though, and when the job at West Central became available, they put in a good word for me.


God damn did I luck out! No way could I find another job that paid sixty five grand a year, plus bonuses and benefits. That's the thing. All those middle managers who prospered during the 1980's are hacked to pieces in the killing fields of the 1990's. Can't you hear the clotted cries from the mortally downsized? Hear those awful pleas for a cyanide pill? Yeah? So do I.

At West Central, we flunkies are paid very well to endure Don Boyle's rants. Snorting and belching at the public dollar trough, we have little cause to complain—though we still do. But, telling you the truth, I'm thrilled to be here. I think I'm working for a genuine genius. That talk about Boyle one day being a U.S. Senator, that's not just bullshit.

Boyle's genius is probably in the genes. His father was, as a young man, a Catholic priest whose taste for the good life—attractive women, unblended whiskey, poker with Chicago's Irish establishment—convinced the Church that he was better suited for a lay position. He became a prized Catholic school administrator. He had a rare grasp of politics and was appointed city comptroller, where he mastered the high wire art of Chicago patronage. The old man never forgot his roots, and the Chicago diocese was all too pleased to accept the wave of "charitable donations" in return for its political clout. Donald Boyle got a free Catholic education all the way through graduate school, and he too became a patronage pro. He'd even run a few Catholic high schools, but he got sick of that damned separation of church and state. Boyle hungered for the tax dollars of public higher education. Now he had them.

_______


By eleven thirty, I was ready for an early lunch. I wanted to leave immediately, but it looks better if you wait for a few other bureaucrats to leave first. From my office window, up on the second floor, I could see colleagues heading for the parking lot. I waited five minutes and left.

"Have a good lunch," called Barbara, my alleged secretary.

"Make sure to call Herrig and Johnson and all those other guys," I said. "I need to line up speakers for the Rotary and, and whatnot."

"But I do have a report to type this afternoon," she reminded me.

"So make your calls during lunch!" I snapped as politely as I could.


On Mondays, the nearby Chinese restaurant has an All You Can Eat buffet. I can eat a lot, as my burgeoning belly and bulbous butt graphically attest. I was shaking with food fever. You've seen the food fever shake: it's the shake of the starving stray dog who discovers a squirrel carcass pressed into the road. His tail, his butt, and his trunk shake. His limbs tremble. That's me, shaking and belching as I mug my heap of chicken wings and fried rice.

After my second plate, I wowed my fellow diners by imitating a flatulent otter. Chastened, I hurried into the can and went at it. The fish sticks I had for breakfast hadn't agreed with me. I finally finished the job, though I would have been grateful for stirrups.


Back at my office, a message from Boyle was on my voice mail: "Call me immediately."

Rheena, Boyle's fawning secretary cum surrogate Grandmum, announced my call. Boyle didn't greet me with a curse, which encouraged me. "Listen, I forgot to find out this morning. Who've you got lined up for that Rotary meeting day after tomorrow?"

"I've, I've got Herrig lined up."

"And for the west Cook county Democrats meeting next week?"

"...Herrig."

"What, is he a good speaker?"

He was awful. "He's outstanding."

"Okay then. But I want you to get different speakers for the Republican crowd. I need a speaker who can talk about lower taxes and high standards and all that, you know, all that bullshit. Just in case any of the Republicans gets elected—we can't alienate that crowd."

"Very wise, Dr. Boyle."

"We could cope with any of them but that bastard Drock. If he gets on—Christ."

Drock was a Republican of the far right variety, and he was stumping for one of the three contested Board of Trustee seats. Drock had a mini-empire in area computer stores, and he was promising to bring abhorrent "fiscal responsibility" to West Central College.

"That bastard Drock," Boyle snorted, "has been saying that West Central administrators are the highest paid in the state! And he says that the second campus is just a patronage front for Democratic contractors."

"That's really irresponsible!"

"Demagoguery!" Boyle hung up.

Damn it, I had to get to work. What would it take to persuade Bruce Herrig to make some speeches for me?

Cash, of course. I flipped open my battered wallet and sighed. Ninety two bucks probably wouldn't be enough. Then the phone rang.

Boyle eschewed niceties such as "Hello" or "Another thing."
"If Drock wins this election," he growled, "I'm in a tub of boiling fat. And you're there with me."








Chapter Two: Meet Me at Ralph's



Bruce Herrig told me to meet him at Ralph's, a restaurant and bar a few blocks from campus. Herrig was smiling in a corner booth, his seemingly polished bald head a beacon in an otherwise dark dining room.

I pushed my gut past the intrusive table corner, and Herrig helped himself to one of my Arctic Blast menthol cigarettes. "I don't know why I'm helping you out of your little jam," he teased. "Lying to the President like that."

"You have a stake in this too," I reminded. Alfred Rochinni, Boyle's confidant and Board Chairman, was up for re-election. Drock had been especially harsh in criticizing Rochinni's patronage hirings. Drock even started a whispering campaign among local pols that Rochinni's string of liquor stores had ties to organized crime. Rochinni called Drock a racist interested only in smearing Rochinni's Italian heritage.

Herrig dismissed my fears. "Either way, it's okay for us. Hey, Republicans are pro-management, and they hate unions."

Indeed. Drock had fought off unionization in his Chicago chain of Big Byte computer stores. He'd even gone to court to stop the distribution of union propaganda sheets. His suit failed, but his fervor impressed the local Republicans, who are always trying to get a foothold in Chicago.

Herrig rubber-necked at our approaching waitress, who wore a black sequined slingshot. He ordered another pitcher of Behemoth Dark, then made me pay for it.

"So, do you hate Boyle as much as me?" Herrig demanded.

"Sure."

"No you don't. I, you're the biggest ass kisser in the college."

"You're just pissed because Boyle yelled at you for ten minutes about your stupid pamphlets. Hey, it's better getting yelled at than getting canned like Malvick."

"God, look at those."

Herrig nodded toward our waitress, who stood in profile at the bar. Her gravity defying tits threw a shadow across the faces of two sputtering drunks. The drunks, two retirees in checked shirts and Brylcreem, complained she'd short-changed them. Finally, after a lot of hair-splitting explanation and earnest assurances, the waitress escaped.

"Hey over here!" Herrig called.

She returned, smiling warily. Or wearily.

"We'll take another pitcher," Herrig announced, "and my colleague will pay for it."

She dutifully returned with fresh beer, its head flowing luxuriously over the pitcher's rim.

"Join us," Herrig urged.

"I'd love to, but I'm still working."

I was about to hand her four dollars, but Herrig held my hand down. He didn't want the waitress to leave.

"Did you know," Herrig inquired, "that my friend and I are employed at the fine nearby college?"

"I'm the Associate Vice Tresident, the Vice President of Liberal Arts," I interrupted. "My colleague is just a Dean."

The waitress tried to look interested.

"I'm the reason that we have regained our fine reputation," Herrig interrupted. "We're on the bleeding edge of computers and of, of educational things."

"Forgive him," I said sonorously. "He just can't stop the P.R., even after business hours." Whoa...I was suddenly feeling much better, exhilarated by the wonderful beer and wonderful boobs. "Did you ever tell us your name? What's your name?"

I don't remember what her name was. I do remember that my chair began to quake and shimmy, as if its rocket boosters had suddenly fired. See, all the Behemoth Dark was violating the laws of gravity and motion. Still, I kept talking, though the escalating G-forces had mashed my mug against the suds-sopped table. "Now c'mon. What's your name?"

"My name's Bruce Herrig."

"Why don't you let her talk?"

"She left five minutes ago. Did you pass out?" Herrig didn't wait for my answer. Toward me he pushed a shot glass filled with an innocent clear liquid. "Drink up."

I drank up. The Ouzo's volatile fumes escaped my slack mouth, and I wondered if Herrig's cigarette would catch fire. After heroically swallowing his shot without a flinch, Herrig agreed to deliver a couple speeches for the paltry sum of three hundred dollars. I squawked only halfheartedly. Herrig was helping me; he could have begged off and enjoyed my desperate attempts to round up speakers, then come in and demanded even more money.

"The West Central political action caucus thanks you," I croaked.

Yeah, Herrig was all right. As the drink flowed, we bonded as flunkies do when alcohol taps our mother-lode of anxiety. At one point, I even offered motherly sighs of sympathy as he revealed his hair problems: He'd tried a rug, but it looked like an unruly shrub atop his squat and pocked face. He'd tried Rogaine with Monoxidil and grown a bumper crop of peach fuzz—but the fuzz died the next week. He'd tried Assertiveness Training with Positive Self Imaging. Now he was trying the removal of all mirrors from his apartment. I'd never before been struck by the plight of a relatively young man—Herrig was 34 last month—with a nearly nude scalp. I'm blessed with few attractive facial features, but I do have a thick curly bloom of black hair.

"You don't know how lucky you are," Herrig accused. "If you die, you've got to will me your hair."

Herrig had touched my heart. We hacks have so little esteem-support during the work day: the President yells at us, and the faculty dismiss us as illiterate parasites. I felt bad for Herrig. Hey, imagine being a professional mouthpiece, trying to put the best face on a bogus college. You're blathering about "quality education", armed with glossy pamphlets and your bored audience is thinking, "That guy's a cue ball."



The afternoon surrendered to evening. Herrig kept hustling the waitress. He even tried to kiss her hand. She quickly withdrew it and disappeared. By now, Herrig was crocked on Ouzo and lust; he mistook our packed ashtray for his glass and sipped a mouthful of butts. A wave of crimson began at his scalp and traveled across his face to his neck.

Then he did the big spit under our table.

After a lot of woeful gagging, Herrig stumbled out, though he managed to leave his business card with our appalled waitress. An old codger led him to the door and Herrig, now sobbing, gave the codger ten bucks.

I slyly disassociated myself from Herrig by moving to a table across the room. With the assistance of anonymous steadying hands, I made it to a new table without incident in five minutes, though the thirty foot journey drained me. By now I was too drunk to do anything but drink and make frequent zigzags to the stall. Finally, around 9:00 or maybe midnight, I ordered a cheese burger. Miraculously, it stayed down and my head cleared. The euphoria of food and drink, however, surrendered to the existential dread of a new hangover. Or maybe it was the same old hangover refreshed by the booze.

I was minding my own business, content to smoke and burp and evaluate chicks. One hot number inspired me to do a leering 180. But the chick's hulking husband or bodyguard told me to fuck myself. Dejected, I tried to cheer up by deciding to take tomorrow off.

"Hello, James."

For the love of bleary Jesus...Boyle. He pulled up a chair opposite of me, a glint in his eye. He motioned at the waitress for a drink, a gold pinkie ring accenting his gesture.

"Have a drink, James. Or some coffee."

I tried, as drunks do, to look sober.

"Looks like you've had a few."

"Sure, whatever you say, Dr. Boyle." I winced as the hangover delivered its first punishing blow to my forehead.

"Don't apologize to me. I had a few too many myself last night. It's just white wine for me." Boyle leaned forward, intimate and candid. "I'm glad I found you here, James. I've been meeting with some of the county Democrats, firming up commitments and so on for the board elections. I came here just to have a quick drink, to relax, and I find you here. Now I don't have to drink alone."

"That's why I came here too, to not drink alone. But Herrig left, and I've been trying to leave for hours." I lighted still another Arctic Blast. My demoralized lungs accepted the heat and poison without protest.

"I need your help, John. Your help with something very important." Boyle gently patted my hand.

All this male bonding! I almost sprawled across the table to hug him.

Boyle's smile revealed his alarmingly white teeth. "What I need you to do...it's not illegal. Really, it's just good old American political hardball." Boyle paused meaningfully. "Hardball."

I listened to Boyle's plan as carefully as I could. Paying attention was hard: Boyle kept ordering this invigorating white wine, and the wine and my hangover waged a battle for my drinking soul. In the end, the wine won.

After Boyle explained the plan, he asked me to repeat it. Quietly.

After a few false starts, I repeated the plan and Boyle nodded his approval. "The faculty zealots will give you a hard time, but pay no attention to them. Just proceed with the plan." He rapped the table. "We are the college's guardians. Faculty troublemakers are not. Management takes the risks, so we'll take the rewards. Don't you agree?"

"Risks. Reward."

"Come through for me on this one," Boyle half-whispered, eyebrows ascending, "and your future could be much brighter."

"—Thank you," I faltered. "I'm eager to, uh, to do really well and—"

"Don't let me down, James." Boyle ordered a pot of coffee for me and took his leave. I scorched my tongue on the jet-black java, but I was all smiles: Boyle had offered me a one-way bus ticket out of obscurity. Now I'd board that bus and commandeer the driver's seat to run roughshod over West Central's halting herd of timid toadies.

After a final restive session in the can, I wisely called a cab. Upon arriving home, I struggled with the door key—after all this boozing, it was belligerent and kept fighting its way from my grip. Finally I made it inside my rented duplex and collapsed on the rented living room couch. Of course, I had to piss within three minutes. I ignored my bladder's stabbing demands as long as possible then struggled to my feet, lamenting the long trip up the creaky steps. Screw it. I grabbed a sixteen ounce pop bottle and gave it new life as a urinal.

Getting comfortable, I considered my rising fortunes. Within a year, I'd probably be out of my cramped duplex, freed of its asthmatic furnace and noisy pipes. I was keen on a new townhouse development in exclusive Hinsdale. The townhouses were tres chic, all polish and pretension, and the clubhouse's two kidney shaped pools seemed terrific cocktail party sites. I imagined myself sipping mint juleps as a chick—Lydia Fairview?—massaged my shoulders and congratulated me on my latest bonus.

All this luxury was within the grasp of my nicotine-stained fingertips: I needed only to persuade Patrick Drock to drop out of the West Central College board of trustees election.


The morning arrived incredibly fast, as such mornings do. Why are post-drinking mornings so impatient? I lay there and marveled at my headache, which had acquired a physical heft and provided a light show of red and white explosions on the back of my eyelids. On any other morning, I would've been trembling and swearing under a scalding shower. Not today. I took my sweet time calling in to my secretary. I wouldn't be in today, I informed her. I asked that she call Patrick Drock at the Big Byte computer store on 170th. Tell him that Dr. Deyme of West Central College would be seeing him.


As I drove to meet Drock, I hoped that a revitalized career would revitalize my love life. By now, almost anything would be an improvement.

Joan, my ex, was my last steady sackmate. Ah, Joan. My college senior year steady who I married the day after graduation. In school, she'd always been so affable as I tossed back beers and blew joints. But her smarts grew during our schooling, and continued to after our marriage, and I guess she might've grown a teensy bit bored with me.

Our pillow talk gradually degenerated into her monologues about my widening waist and stalled salary. And Christ, she learned how to stick in the knife, and when to twist it. Like when I was canned from Rumpus Room. I came home that afternoon barely able to utter, "I got laid off." I stood bloody but unbowed in the doorway of our modest suburban ranch waiting for my wife's defiant, "Screw them, they've lost a great manager," or brave declaration, "James, I know we'll make it somehow." Instead, I got a sarcastic, "Does this mean we're not getting the new refrigerator?"

Joan was immediately absorbed in schemes for winning the best divorce settlement. She was a paralegal and hired her boss, who stuck me with his towering tab. I got clobbered. Joan and her boss selected the good old "abandonment" argument. True, I hurt my own cause by getting drunk and AWOL for a few days, so she had a good case: the loser husband gets canned, then he gets lost for 36 hours, then he finally washes up on the front lawn, snoring and flat broke. She woke me by dropping my suitcase on my head. But you understand, don't you? I was crushed: first by Rumpus Room, second by my wife.

So, sex isn't part of my day-to-days. And when I do indulge...well, things get weird. Like last month. I met a chunky Clairol blonde—a dean of Nursing somewhere—at a conference in Toledo. She seemed a little flaky or a little high, but I didn't care because she loudly encouraged my cocktail hour advances. By eight-thirty, she was naked on my hotel room bed, save for her Just My Size knee highs. As I smoked her skinny designer cigarettes, she warmed up with a girlish finger fuck. She made me watch because she was an aspiring performance artist who hoped to open her own regional theater. The play's the thing.

The aftermath was less giddy. She was, it turned out, a manic-depressive who bitterly complained that she'd "lowered her standards to screw a tubby guy with stubble."

"Your standards?" I studied my pear-shaped torso and hunched shoulders in the dresser's mirror. Compared to her, I was petite.

Then she pointed at me. "Dirty man! You make me feel dirty!"

"Then shag your big ass out of here!"

"Dirty man!"

I had to drag her from my room by her thick ankles. I refused to let her back in, opening the door only to throw her shapeless appliquÇ dress at her.

Sex with Joan was less humiliating: at least she didn't point at me and cry afterward. But it was still like fucking your wife, you know? A wife who sees you only as a paycheck.

After the divorce two years ago, Joan got the house and quickly sold it. And now that I have a paycheck again, the court ordered that Joan receives a portion. A big portion. I wanted to fight it—Christ, she wasted no time in dumping me, but my lawyer advised me to shut up and live with it. Joan, she always makes out—she's even latched onto some spoiled sap down in St. Louis whose dead parents left him a bank-breaking trust fund. Meanwhile, I retreated here to my duplex, with the dusty couch downstairs and tiny john upstairs. The Korean family in the neighboring unit is OK. There must be at least twelve of them in there, and they often cook greasy pork.

Now you can see why I'm eager to perform well on this Drock deal. It's a chance to thumb my nose at Joan and start getting laid a lot more. I mean, it's goddamned awkward. I'll be 36 next spring, and I shouldn't have to bring a date back to this dump, with its weary furniture and scuffed squeaking floors.


 

END OF SAMPLE



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