Sir!? And to hell with you too, ya goddamn little zygote.
I responded in the manner to which years of practice and necessity in the art of sarcasm demanded: "What can I do for you, small child?" He sneered and said, "I ain't no kid anymore." I pointed out that at the age of thirty, I didn't feel as though I qualified to be addressed as 'sir.' He thought this over and shrugged. "Whatever. Is the number 9 bus still running this late? We gotta get to BART."
I broke the bad news that the 9, a commuter route, stopped running around 8:30, and they had about an eight minute window to get into the system at BART, and where were they headed?
"Eight minutes!? Fuck! Dude, we're so screwed!" His two friends, one of whom was weaving drunk, began bemoaning the fact that they'd have to spend the night on the pavement outside the North Berkeley BART station, that even in leathers they'd be cold, and no one's parents would give them a ride, not at this hour, so they'd probably all end up getting grounded for not coming home, even with phone calls made: evidently the parents of all three were direct blood descendants of Heinrich Himmler and Spiro Agnew. A sorry fate awaited them.
I repeated my question regarding their destination..
"We live in San Pablo, up the hill. Del Norte Station gets us close enough. We hike from there, though"
"You're in luck. I live on 19th Street in Scum Pablo. See that white Honda? Wait there, we'll leave in twenty minutes, I gotta help stock the store."
"Dude! Hella rad!" They trotted down to my Honda and sat on the hood, the drunk one bringing up the rear. I called down to them, "Hey! Is Mister Blitz gonna get sick? If so, tell him him to get it out of his system now! He pukes in my car and I put y'all out on the freeway!"
"He'll be okay, honest!" was the reply. I held up a hand in acknowledgement as I went back in the club.
"So what's cooking in the brain-pan, sweetness? You look distracted," said Brat as I walked into the "Store." Brat, Sunshine, and myself had worked the concession stand through a busy show, now it was time to restock the coolers, do inventory, and put together the deposit envelope for the bank. By the way, Sunshine is an eighteen year old guy. The moniker came from his constant smile and unflappable good mood. Sometimes you wanted to hug him for being so positive, other times you wanted to strap him to a chair and show him pictures of the Rape of Nanking.
Brat was a fifteen year old girl who would live up to her name with such style and panache you couldn't stay mad at her for too long. (Personally, it was her consumption of MDMA which enabled this little hat trick.) She was in love with me--- no, that's not true. She had a very hormone-driven crush on me. I could count on being reminded a half-dozen times a night that if I was in the mood for an eye-popping, teeth-rattling orgasm to just let her know and she'd be happy to oblige, in any manner I was in the mood for. I would remind her that even ignoring the legalities, even around Gilman it was considered very terrible form for thirty year old guys to fuck fifteen year old girls. ("I've got hands and and a mouth, and so do you," was her response/solution to this.) Despite her lust-driven interest in me --- possibly because of it; nothing was ever gonna happen between us, but it's still nice to feel wanted --- we were actually pretty good friends. It was a bit strange to spend ninety minutes on the phone gossiping like, well, a teenage girl, which Brat and I would do with regularity. The scary part was her parents didn't mind my presence in her life. They were aging hippie types who'd struck it rich and lived in Orinda, and had stopped involving themselves in their daughter's life when she hit puberty. I could have shown up at their house at one in the morning carrying a twelve-pack of Heineken, a crack pipe, and a box of Trojans and they'd have let me right in. Brat's mom made me nervous, though. I got a vibe from her that said, "Well, if your personal morality won't allow you to sleep with my daughter, you and I are closer in age.... You know, my husband and I have an understanding." ("So here's to you, Mrs. Robinson....")
"Eenh. Delay in getting you home tonight." (I'd promised her a ride home so she wouldn't have to worry about changing trains on BART at MacArthur Station.) "Three kids from my neck of the woods got stranded, so I told 'em I'd give 'em a ride home. Bloody little halfwits."
"What, did their ride ditch out on them?" asked Sunshine.
"Naw, they knew they needed to be at North Berkeley BART by 11:45, but they blew off checking bus schedules, and they waited too long, and.... Ah, they're just being flaky kids is all."
"Whereas you and I never committed a single fuck-up once when we were that age. We rode low and slow all through junior high and high school. Didn't we?"
"Damn right," I sneered. "I was perfect. I was on the water polo team starting my sophomore year; we were undefeated three years straight because I could drop-kick the ball. I didn't swim to the other end of the pool, I ran."
I sighed. "Look, I'm not trying to ride 'em. Maybe I'm feeling nostalgic. Maybe I kinda miss the age when you could blow minor things and somebody older would help cover your ass for you. Hell, you start college in the fall, so the person covering your ass is you.... At least it better be."
Sunshine smiled wider and said, "Who else? I'm not gonna be one of those dinks calling home to mommy and daddy twice a day."
"Especially since you can just walk over to whine to them." Sunshine lived just north of campus, four blocks above Oxford. "Are you gonna stay in a dorm, or stay at home?"
"Dorm. I figure if I'm a college student, I may as well do the whole gig, even if it means I can just carry laundry home to wash clothes."
I asked Sunshine, "I've kinda wondered about that. You have the grades, the grants, and the loans to go to any UC school you want. Why not San Diego, or Santa Barbara, or Davis? Why stay in Berkeley?"
"'Cos I'm already used to the place, I know the library, and despite your opinions, UC Berkeley is a good school."
I smiled and started singing, "It's a fuckin' college fantasy, I wish I went to the UCB...."
Sunshine and Brat helped fill in the rest: ".... Thirty thousand stupid kids, and they're all brainwashed into what they see!"* Laughter ensued.
I told Sunshine, "I've never criticized UCB as a place of learning. It's the dingbats and morons who come here to ostensibly learn that bug me. So you really don't want to go somewhere else? No appeal at all?"
Sunshine sighed and said, "All the other campuses pretty much dictate you need a car. Every other school has crap public transit. Just going to college is expensive enough, buying a car that'll last me four years? No way, just can't do it. My parents want me to be a full-time student: no job. No job, no extra money. No extra money, no car. I don't know how to drive anyway, so there's another hold-up."
"Huh. Hadn't thought of it that way. Well, least you're better than all the doofuses from Orange County who bring their cars up, then bitch about the lack of parking and all the tickets they get. Fuckin' idiots."
Brat spoke up. "Lenny, can I ask you a question?"
"Well.... It's like you hate college students, but your work and social life revolves around a college town. Why don't you hang out at the Stork or Connoly's, and deliver for an Oakland pizza place?"
"I dunno.... Working at Lefty's is damn good money, it's practically a habit, and I'd rather be here than the bars, what with me not drinking." (I'd been sober from alcohol for nearly a year.) "It's an uncomfortable feeling, being the only one with a soda in your hand at a bar. And I'd take umbrage at saying I hate students. I just get tired of idiotic behavior, and not just from the frats, where I expect stupidity."
"But how can someone who had the brains to get into UCB be an idiot?"
I pondered that a minute. "When I say 'idiot,' I mean 'aggressively lacking in common sense.' Seriously, I'm witness to the sort of behavior that makes me wonder how some of them tie their shoes in the morning without strangling themselves. And freshmen are the worst."
Brat defended, "Well, yeah, they're just eighteen, in a new environment...."
I turned to Sunshine and asked, "Tell me, do you know how to order a pizza over the phone, holding a menu in your hand?"
He looked slightly confused. "Um, yeah...."
"And you can follow instructions over the phone, things like, 'Meet me out front in five minutes'?"
"Congratulations. You're doing better than ninety-nine percent of the freshmen in Units One and Four for the first two months of every school year. See, it's not like studying ahead and knowing the campus shuttle bus schedule. Ordering a pizza is something that a person should have done by the time they're eighteen, or at least have the common sense to wade through the process. But for the first two months of every year, I can tell when we're getting an order from the freshman units, One and Four. The phone girls keep hitting mute and swearing angrily in Spanish, because the asshole on the other end keeps on saying things like, 'Your menu says you don't take checks. But what if it's from Wells Fargo?' or 'The driver just called and said to meet him at the gate. Why won't he deliver to my room? Can you call him and tell him I'm just gonna wait in my room instead?'
"My favorite, and this comes from all grade levels, is 'Why don't you have such-and-such as a topping?' Zucchini, eggplant, dried tomatoes, tilapia, portabello mushrooms, pine nuts --- honest to god --- and my favorite, kim chee. It's like they ate at one of that asshole Wolfgang Puck's places once, and expect a down-and-dirty pizza delivery place to match that garbage. It'd be one thing if they asked, we said no, and they let it drop... But they don't! 'Well.... Why not? You oughta offer such-and such, it'd sell really well.' No it wouldn't you fucking halfwit, if it did, you would already see in on the menu.. But nobody but you wants it, we won't waste the money stocking it, and we specialize in hot cheesy grease delivered hot, fast, and fresh. Make your choice off the menu. Assume it's not on the menu just to personally piss you off, sweetie."
"Then they say, 'But why don't you--- '"
"At this point I start yelling: 'Order off the goddamn menu or go someplace else, stupid! Try Fat Slice.... Oh, no, they only have about five toppings and they closed an hour ago. Mr. Pizza Man in Richmond will deliver down here, but they have a two hour wait, their food is always cold, and their topping selection is just like ours, and theirs isn't about to magically change for some nineteen year old gourmand who thinks by ignoring what he's told, the ingredients will magically appear in the restaurant. Now order off the fucking menu or go hungry!'
"See, these are a couple of many reasons why I harbor such contempt for college students. They act like whiny spoiled brats who still have the mentality of grade school children: if they nag and whine at mom long enough at the supermarket, they'll get the toy that caught their eye. I don't give a shit what it says on their driver's license, they are still children."
Brat and Sunshine both stared at me, wide-eyed. Brat finally said, "I see your point."
Sunshine said, "I promise to never do that to you guys when I order."
"Don't order when you're drunk and you'll be batting a thousand. And thank you."
Five punks jammed into a Honda Civic two-door. The three kids were quite mannerly: they took it for granted that Brat would be riding shotgun, up front with me, and the three I was doing a solid for jammed into the back.... Even the tall kid, who sat in the center so his knees would have space to go, wedged between the two seats. I was feeling bored and generous, so we stopped for donuts in Albany, much to the grateful joy of the kids ("Dude, this is just too awesome of you, righteous thanks, man." "Hell yeah." "Same here, fuckin' too cool."). The drunk kid, having emptied out while waiting for me, had regained his equilibrium and was speaking clearly. I got all three dropped at their respective houses, then jumped down to the freeway.
I could have taken San Pablo Dam Road, but previous experience had taught me that drive got Brat in a randy mood, and I didn't need my thighs massaged or my crotch fondled while I drove. I-80 west through the MacArthur Maze, and on to Hwy. 24 through the Caldecott tunnel and into Orinda.
To my amazement, Brat was not feeling scandalous. Perhaps the good manners of her fellow teenagers rubbed off on her. All the way home, the three had talked about standard stuff: which bands ruled, which bands sucked, who had been there and who hadn't, and of course girls they'd interacted with.... But in deference to Brat's presence (who could out-filth all three), anytime a sentence began with something like, "Dude, she had the biggest set--- " you'd hear, "Duu-ude!" from the other two, in an effort to cut off nasty talk in front of the female present. I believe they thought she was my girlfriend, and probably couldn't decide who was the luckier: me, for being an old guy but still having a total hottie for a girlfriend, or her for having a boyfriend old enough to buy beer. (I believe they thought Brat was much older than them, not the one year difference: here's this hot chick tooling around with a dude in his thirties, unconcerned by the lateness of the hour, and not engaging in the squealing repartee they were used to at school.)
Out of the blue, Brat asked, "Do you think college students are still children at heart?"
I paused, and said, "I think far too many of them have led highly protected lives up until now. They've never made any standard teenage fuck-ups because they've never had the chance, and personally? I think they're the worse off for it. They've simply had no experience with life, good or bad. It's like they've been raised in bubbles; I mean, how do you avoid an activity as mundane as ordering pizza?
"But it's more than that. Most of them never got the chance to screw up as teenagers. Those are mistakes, and you learn from mistakes. Now they're let loose into a great big world to explore.... And they don't have a compass or map, you know what I mean? Far too many are gonna end up on academic probation come spring semester, because they'll have spent fall semester finding out what it's like to get stinking drunk or smoke weed, and fuck people you barely know --- many for the first time, and guess what their new hobby will be --- and of course learning about which drugs are fun and which aren't, and generally living life, hard. But that's not what they're supposed to be doing. Also, since they have no practice at any of this stuff, they'll blow it much worse than if they'd just done a little bit of dabbling while in high school. They'll dive in head first, not realizing they're in the shallow end. Shit, you're fifteen, and you're better prepared for contending with the world around you than they are.
"I mean, be honest: for your age, you're pretty highly sexed, but you have never got knocked up, or contracted anything. What did you do to avoid the pitfalls of sex?"
Brat chuckled. "To be honest, I studied and asked a lot of questions. In a way, I'm lucky to have such hippie-ass parents. Not many girls can walk up to their moms at the age of eleven and say, 'Mom? I just had my first orgasm last night --- actually my first six, it was really fun --- so, um, now what? I guess find a willing boy is next, right?'"
"At age eleven!?" I shrieked.
"Made sense to me. I figured if it was that much fun by myself, doing it with someone else would be a complete blast. Heh, got that one wrong! When I did lose my virginity, it was a totally 'meh' experience. The boy --- who was fourteen, mind you, I didn't find a man --- was done in two minutes, then passed out on me. I was just getting started, and he was done.
"I guess most moms would have had screaming fits or something, at the very least fallen over in a dead faint. My mom told me she was happy for me, and that because of my age, to just enjoy myself, by myself, for a while.
"When I did start fooling around with guys with any regularity, I knew enough to be the one to set the pace and the limits, and to tell the guys up front. Guys don't like hearing they aren't getting laid, but tough shit. I freely admit to being a horny person, but horny doesn't equal slutty. Heh, that is a confusion that has led to many less than satisfied guys. Never mind that I would make them come: they wanted intercourse, dammit!"
"You make it sound like they're ordering from Kwikway: 'I'd like two intercourse and a chocolate shake, please.' 'Yes sir. A side of fellatio with that, too?'" We both started laughing.
We pulled up at her house, situated high up the hill overlooking Orinda. If you didn't know where you were going, you could drive until daylight and still not find the place. Either her folks had bought the land when it was still cheap, or were even better off than I thought. I suspected the latter, having seen the place in the daytime, with the 7-Series BMW and Range Rover and Porsche in the driveway ("My step-dad's toy. I feel sorry for it, because it never gets opened up, you know? He drives it like an old man").
Brat invited me in. She immediately caught my cocked eyebrow and said, "Just to talk, and have some real food. I promise I will fight temptation and not assault you once we get in my room. Besides, I know you well enough to know you could stand some real food. Tell me, what have you eaten today?"
"Umm.... A couple bags of Whoppers for breakfast with Diet Pepsi. I grabbed a microwave burrito at a gas station in Livermore around two.... Two Snickers bars at the club, and an apple fritter and a glazed old fashioned at the doughnut shop. Plus Mountain Dew over the course of the day." I caught her glare and told her, "I was gonna hit the drive-through at Jack In The Box on my way home, honest!"
"Jesus Lenny, I'm amazed you haven't contracted scurvy! Wait in my room while I pull some food together." She let me in her room --- the door was locked, a concept that would have sent my own parents into a boiling fit when I was her age --- and flopped into one of those weird round chairs that makes you feel like you're lounging in a large satellite dish. For a girl her age, her room was very tidy. I'd asked her about it once, and she insisted, "I'm not a neat freak, I just hate losing stuff, you know?"
Brat came back a few minutes later bearing a wooden tray the size of a truck wheel. It was covered with cold pizza, brie and crackers, olives, grapes, summer sausage, two ice-filled glasses.... and four Twinkies. She had all this balanced in one hand, the other hand held two big bottles of San Pellegrino water. "Picnic time," she announced. "And if you eat the Twinkies and nothing else, I will assault you, and not in a good way."
"Yes ma'am," I said, grabbing a piece of pizza and some grapes. She set the tray down on the floor. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until I saw and smelled the food, real food. She felt the same way, as we both dived into the food like we were starving. Speaking for myself, I probably was. I had eaten like a kid would eat if left un-monitored, all day. Just junk food since about 5:30 this morning, when my first call came in. Brat sharing her MDMA with me was the only reason I was still awake. (Another indicator of her family's financial status: not many people can afford to run around with a pill jar full of Ecstasy.) She probably needed the food in her too, given the nature of MDMA: no matter how you slice it, Ecstasy is still methamphetamine; if she had been running on the stuff, she hadn't been eating. I asked her about it.
"Not days long, but hard," she said, "I took my first around ten this morning, then another after school, I doubled when I got to Gilman and started setting up. Y'know how I usually try to molest you when you come in? Umm.... Tonight I wasn't kidding. I was trying to think of some medical emergency where you'd need to put your hand down my pants in order to save my life," she laughed. "But the way I was thinking, I knew to not take any more tonight. Dammit Lenny, you know I want you, and I know the age difference is your barrier, so I'll bring the subject up, but I would have ruined our friendship if I'd followed through on what I was planning."
She stared at me while spreading brie on a cracker. "If you were twenty, would you make love to me?"
I rubbed my face with my hands. "I don't know. I guess? Maybe? I'd be a lot younger, so I don't think the difference in age would be as big of a deal." I refilled my glass with fizzy water. "Brat, the most difficult thing about you is that you aren't a child. You don't act fifteen, or look fifteen. You're still youthful, but you're not young, you know what I mean? That's hard for me to deal with, because no matter how you look or act, I'm not gonna fuck a fifteen year old. As much as I'd like you to be, you're not a woman yet. Legally speaking, you will be in three more years...." I snapped my fingers. "Make you a deal. On your eighteenth birthday, or damn close, I will take you out for a meal at a nice restaurant. After that, we check into the Marriott in downtown Oakland and don't leave for three days. Does that sound fair?"
Brat stared at me. At first I thought she was angry. Then she smiled and said, "Lenny, that's a perfect idea. You won't have any guilt about my age, and I have something to look forward to. that would be wonderful.. But I still reserve the right to sexually harass you in the meantime."
"Fair enough," I sighed. A thought struck me. "Brat, why do you have a crush on me?"
She stood up, opened her mouth to speak, then bent over to pick up the wooden tray. "I'll tell you in a minute." She went out the door with the tray.
When she returned, there were tears in her eyes. I jumped to my feet. "Brat, you okay?"
She sniffed and said, "My answer is making me unhappy. You're a sweet guy, Lenny, you treat me --- hell, girls and people in general --- in such a giving, generous way, like those kids in San Pablo tonight, and you expect nothing in return. You're a genuinely good person. It just hurts that you're what I want, and you won't have me."
"But Brat, you're my friend, and a good one. So we aren't fuckin'. We still have a very close relationship, and I care a lot about you. Does that get negated because we aren't having sex?"
Brat said, "No, not at all. That's the problem: it kinda makes me want you more." She gave a small grin. "That, and remember your friend Keeks? The one you were fuck-friends with? She, uh, told me about you before she'd moved. Um, she was very flattering, let's just put it that way."
I was a little flattered, but mostly surprised. My sexual relationship with Keeks had been one of utility, not passion. We had seen each other intermittently --- when we were both single, both in the mood at the same time --- for about a year and a half, and had mutually approached it as a matter of, "We're friends, we trust each other, and it's better than jerking off." There was zero romance, by design: we never even kissed. Apparently Keeks had a higher opinion of me than she'd let on, if she was bragging to teenage girls that I was good in the sack. She'd never let on that I was anything other than acceptable.
"Well.... You don't have to wait too long, just two and a half years, right?"
"Feels like forever," she sniffled.
"You have to wait."
She pouted in a rather cartoonish manner. "Don't wanna," she said, and stuck her lower lip out.
"Don't start that shit, you'll sound like a UCB freshman. You're more mature than that," I told her, and wrapped her in my arms. She snuggled into me, in a warm and platonic way. We stood there in silence, simply feeling the genuine closeness of true friendship.
Then there was a knock on the door.
I had three windows which I could conceivably kick out and jump through, only each one had a thirty foot fall to the ground.... and after that, a cliff-like tumble to the first tree to stop me. It didn't matter, as Brat was casually calling "Come in!" and the door was opening. I truly felt like a deer: if I don't move, maybe they won't see me.
Brat's mom could see me just fine, greeting me with a calm, "Oh, hello Lenny," as though we were bumping into each other in an aisle at Safeway, not in her teenage daughter's room at one in the morning and me being twice her daughter's age.
.... Although I could smell the reason for Brat's mom being so nonchalant, in the form of the joint smoldering in her hand. "Sorry kids, I just couldn't sleep so I thought I'd stick my head in. Was it a good show tonight? No fights, I nope." I recognized the vocal tone. We could have told her the club had blown up, so the bands had performed nude in the middle of 8th St., prompting a bisexual orgy in place of a slam pit, and the only response would have been, "That's nice; does anyone want a toke off this?"
.... Which was her next offer. We both refused, with Brat pointedly reminding her mom she doesn't like the smell of "that crap" in her room. Brat's mom somewhat huffily apologized for smoking in her room, but if she changed her mind, she'd be awake in front of the television. "Thanks mom, we'll keep it in mind," sighed Brat, ushering her out.
"Sorry about that," Brat told me.
"Not a big deal," I assured her. "Better a joint than a tumbler full of scotch and ice, personally. The effects are very different, and I deal with too many drunks when I deliver pizza. It's weird: the students drink to be mature when they're young, and your mom smokes weed to feel young now that she's mature. I know I prefer dealing with people who are high than people who are drunk when I'm working."
"So the students drink to be mature?" asked Brat.
"In a way. It's what they're used to seeing their parents do, and their parents are their models of maturity, so it only goes to follow."
"And my mom....?"
"Started smoking weed when she was young, still enjoys it I suppose, and holds onto it because she feels it helps her feel young in spirit. Me, I stopped smoking around the age of 23 because I stopped enjoying it."
"Yeah, well, never let my mom hear you say that."
"What? Why not?"
"Because obviously you still enjoy it, you just refuse to admit it. You're forcing yourself into being a so-called adult by giving up pleasures you had when you were younger."
I stared at Brat. "That there is some twisted logic. Presumably I should also give up listening to hardcore, eating at Jack In The Box, and masturbating, too. That's bullshit: saying that maturity can only be reached by giving up things which gave us pleasure in our youth.... And even then, where do you draw the line? It's not like I'm gonna blow huge amounts of cash on Hot Wheels track and cars, but if you had a little brother of the right age? Damn right I'd be helpin' him lay track, trying to put down the coolest run we could. I have a better understanding of physics than a little kid, so I could help him lay track successfully, while he could come up with groovy ideas, you know? In a way, it's sort of like your mom smoking weed: holding onto a pleasure of youth, a time-consumer that doesn't really hurt anyone, but still makes people wonder why you're doing something so.... Well, childish."
Brat muttered something. I asked, "What?"
"I miss my Hot Wheels," she said. I had about thirty cars, and.... Jesus, about nine miles of that orange track," she laughed. Definitely a sign of my tomboy-ism."
"Really?" I said. "I never thought of you as a tomboy. Not much, anyway"
"Oh, I started getting all girly-girl as soon as I figured out how my clitoris worked. I knew boys --- or men ---held my interest. Tried girls and I guess I had fun.... But there was just no connection, the enjoyment was purely physical." She stared at me from the bed. "Have you ever gotten together with a guy?"
"Yes," I said. "It was a lot like the relationship Keeks and I had: total practicality between friends. Me and a friend, Z______, would get high and horny and take turns sucking each other off. I think our friendship grew stronger, but there was no sense of romance or emotional attachment. We were getting each other off, it felt a hell of a lot better than jerking it, and we had the trust between each other that we didn't need to play safe. Z______ self-identified as bisexual, because he'd had honest-to-god boyfriends; he didn't have any problem with my attitude of 'well, I like getting sucked, and sucking is fine with me.' This was.... Jesus, ten years ago, before most people understood HIV/AIDS at all, not the vague comprehension they have today...."
Brat was off her bed and pantomiming for me to keep talking. She snuck to the door.... Then yanked it open, bringing her mother crashing into the room from where she'd been leaning on the door eavesdropping.
Her mom reached a hand upward to get a hand up. Brat pointedly crossed her arms and asked, "Something I can help you with, mother?"
"Oohhh... I was just.... Bored.... And besides, we don't keep many secrets from you!"
"You're right, mom, me walking in on you and Jeff screwing removes a lot of secrets from our family dynamic. However, when you two are on the sofa in the living room, it's hard to hide much.... As opposed to being on the far side of a closed door!" She watched her mom get into an upright position. "Okay, so we, as a family, don't keep many secrets. Um, mother dear? Lenny isn't family. Why should you be privy to what he has to say, or think, or share with me?"
Mom stared at her feet like a scolded child, and said, "I'm feeling sleepy now, I think I'll head off to bed."
"Nighty-night, mom." Brat banged the door shut. Then she sat down on the bed and put her face in her hands. "Oh my God, I am soooo sorry about that, Lenny...."
"Umm.... She do that often?" I asked
"More than one would expect from a grown woman," replied Brat. "The thing is, she's not looking for ways to get me in trouble, she wants gossip, period. Her and a few friends get together a few times a week and kill a few bottles of wine, have food delivered, and gossip. She's got the best sources, 'cos she has her own daughter and friends as fodder. Let me put it this way: If you and I had been fucking, she could not have cared less that her fifteen year old daughter is taking on a thirty year old guy's cock, she just couldn't wait to tell the girls on Tuesday while they all get hammered on Merlot."
"That's.... Really disturbing," I said.
"Tell me about it. It's like I'm her primary source of entertainment...."
"Not that.... Although that's pretty bad. More that your mom has the same sort of mentality as an eighth grade girl. She's got to find dirt to sling, period. It's like she's stuck in junior high in her head."
"Honestly? I think it's how she thinks she'll keep young. Think like a youth, and remain youthful. Beats the hell outta skin cream, I guess. Considering that I balance her check book for her, and pay off her bills, and do the shopping half the time.... Shit, should I look like I'm forty? I've been raising her for three years. At least she's a good cook, and doesn't just ignore things. It's just up to me to make sure her Macy's and Nordstom's cards get paid off. I'm just glad we got that new online banking thing going, because she uses her ATM card like this magic wand that produces money and lets her buy shit. I took away her checkbook just to simplify my life, so she can't write checks without me knowing it."
As delicately as possible, I said, "Remember the show 'Absolutely Fabulous'?"
"Oh yeah. It's crossed my mind plenty of times, only it's worse."
"My mother isn't youthful, she isn't a wannabe teenager. She's a child." Brat sniffed, and tears began to roll down her face. "My mom is s fucking child, and I'm raising her.. You have no idea how much goddamn fucking resentment I feel for that woman. She's stealing my youth to use as her own!"
I sad next to her and held her. At first she stiffened up and pulled away --- There was no way Brat would admit she was so weak as to need comforting --- then she melted and held on to me, letting the cathartic release of tears come, and letting herself be close to someone with no sexual contact. She wasn't too used to that. I held her close and stroked her hair.
"I still wanna be a kid," she sniffled. "I can't be because of my mom."
"What about your dad--- "
"That's not my dad," she said. "That man in there is husband number three. I thought about family counseling, but I'm the only one with a problem, you know? He's got somebody to make hime come two or three times a night, she's got somebody to keep her bank account full and to keep it balanced.... I'm the only one who's unhappy."
"Uh, I've never actually met... Um... "
"Jeff, thank you, and the way your mom smokes weed and drinks wine, I don't know how happy your mom is at all. You have your MDMA, which sometimes worries me, but at least you can still feel emotions. Alcohol and marijuana? That's someone trying to get numb."
Brat got up to blow her nose in the bathroom. She returned and said, "Okay, you may be right. The fun would be getting my mom to admit she's not happy. She'd do her 'Lah-ti-dah, nothing to see here' routine like she just did."
"Just.... Damn, I worry about myself being stuck in a state of semi-maturity, not quite out of being young, not quite an adult. I just... I feel confused about it, you know?"
Brat said, "Confused in what way? You seem pretty together to me."
I said, "Okay, I pay my rent and make my car payments and buy groceries... But is that it? A couple generations ago --- fuck the Boomers --- I'd already be married and well-settled in to a career, or at least a trade, and could count on it being there until I'm 65, at which point I take up fishing and goofing around with my grand-kids. All that fell apart, but the world still expects me to get my shit together, you know? It pisses me off."
"But Lenny, you're only thirty! What do you expect from yourself?"
I sighed. "'Only thirty.' Thank you. Last generation said not to trust anyone over thirty.... Then they all turned thirty and became assholes, a bunch of selfish jackoff hypocrites.... Who give shit to my generation because we don't know what we're doing. Personally, I figure I was out sick that day, when they handed out the pamphlets on how to how to have a fulfilling life, a successful career, and a generally happy outlook, all without attending a four-year college. You used to be able to do that, you know.
"Now it's a vicious circle, a trap. You go into massive amounts of debt to get your degree, only to find you can't find a job in your field of study. You've got two choices: grab any job you can at any wage they deign to pay, or go into more debt by going to graduate school and hoping that this time, having a Master's or Ph.D will crack the nut."**
I ran my hands through my hair. "But that's the crux of it: I'm pretty sure I've spotted the mugg's game that's supposed to be 'normal life'.... Or have I? Am I just fooling myself, making excuses for being kind of a fuck-up? I thought I'd finished growing up, but a lot of the time I feel like I'm still twenty-two or something, staring down the barrel of life and feeling like it really is a gun barrel.... And if I don't change, I eat a round. But I don't know how to change course."
Brat rubbed my shoulder, and chuckled. "You realize you're asking this of a fifteen year old, right?"
I sighed. Yeah, I know... But a very smart fifteen year old. I mean, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"Honestly, Lenny, I don't know. I figured I'd go to someplace like UC Santa Cruz or a liberal arts college. So long as my gold-digger of a mother doesn't blow this marriage, I'm lucky: I don't have to worry about tuition. I will have four years to work out the answer to that question. And tell me, what did --- or do --- you want to be?"
"So long as you don't say 'street mime', you're fine."
"A truck driver. I've wanted to be a truck driver since I was seven."
Brat looked confused. "What's wrong with that?"
I rolled my eyes and said, "Hah. Ask my parents what's wrong with that. It's been hammered into my head how smart I am since I was six. Still didn't change what I wanted to do to earn a living. You wouldn't believe the lecturing I constantly received about how I'm far too intelligent to do something as base as drive a long-distance freight vehicle to earn a living. They'd saved up a load of money for me to go to college, and I worked it out one day: the money they saved would pay for truck driving school, and put a nice down payment up for me owning my own rig: low mileage, cabover sleeper, lots of chrome, the works. They said no way in hell, that money was to go to a real school, not truck driving school, and not to invest in a business as pedestrian as an independent truck."
"Jesus Christ, Lenny.... I can't believe they'd do that to you! Why did they hate the idea so much?"
"Like I said, I'm too smart to be a truck driver. Just ask them. Never mind that it's what I wanted to do, that I would take enjoyment out of my work. Truck driving was right out, full stop. At least I'm driving for a living right now. And I am happy. I just.... Could have had more...." It was my turn to sniffle. Brat cuddled up to me; I needed it.
Brat said, "They never should have done that to you. Holy shit, they acted like it would have brought shame upon your family."
"I know, I know...."
She giggled. Guess I'm lucky. I don't have any dreams for my folks to fuck up yet."
"It does seem to be a theme in youth: find out which of your dreams will get destroyed once you enter full maturity. That, and people look at you funny when you play with your cool toys."
An idea popped into my head. "You don't mind being looked at funny, right?"
She smirked at me. "Let's see, piercings, green hair, white Doc Martens.... You take a guess."
I smiled and said, "In a couple weeks, let's have fun."
"I'd like to have fun right now," Brat told me.
"Sorry, but no. However, if it's all right with you, I'd like to sleep here tonight I'm too exhausted to drive home."
Brat considered this. "I'll assume you simply want to sleep, and that's all. No fun."
"You may share my bed, Lenny, and I will not harass or attempt to seduce you. I give you my rather reluctant word."
"Unless you become incredibly aroused by guys twice your age snoring, I'm not too worried. And thank you for your word. Boxers and t-shirt okay?"
"So long as you're comfortable with panties and a t-shirt."
I smiled. "Shall we tell your mom we slept together?"
Brat smiled back and kissed my forehead. "We'd miss out on all the fun if we didn't. I'll leave it up to you to explain how we didn't do anything. Work in your friend Z______ somehow, so what if it's been ten years. Let the bitch wonder."
"You realize, we may never do this again. We'll get it out of our system, be happy we did it, and that'll be that."
"Tell you what," I said, "if that's the case, we donate it all to a shelter. We got enough track and gizmos to keep ten kids happy at once. We'll just buy more cars."
It was two weeks later. We were leaving the Toys 'R' Us in Emeryville after having pretty much looted the Hot Wheels section of ramps, loops, power attachments (which speed up the cars via battery-operated wheels), cross-overs.... And every piece of track they had.... Not to mention all of Brat's old track, sitting in the basement. My trunk and back seat were stuffed. The one thing we hadn't gone nuts on was cars. We decided to just get a couple new cars each (Brat still had her old ones): I chose a 1968 Corvette and a 1971 Challenger. Since I had the movie 'Vanishing Point' in mind, Brat promised to let me stick a tablet of MDMA in the Challenger. (If you've never seen the movie, that won't make any sense.)
It was fairly early on a Sunday, and we were gonna play with our Hot Wheels.
Even with the double track (so we could race), we had enough stick-together track to go at least a block and a half. I began sticking lenghths of track together and laying lengths of it along the side of the road. We would install loop-de-loops, banks, jumps, dips, humps, anything we felt like.
When we finished, it was nearly two blocks long, and it was beautiful. Hopefully none of the six neighbors on that side of the street were planning on going anywhere....
We were using the trunk of my car as the launching pad. "Ready?" I asked Brat.
"I want to be down at the bottom. That way, if we screwed this up, I can see where." She began jogging down the road.
I heard her yell, "Okay!" and I let the two cars go.
They started off slowly, and gained speed. Through a couple curves into a power-up, through a loop-de-loop, a long steep straightaway, over a jump, another loop-de-loop, more curves...
The cars bounced into the pillow we'd placed there to catch the them at the finish line. It had run flawlessly. Brat and I began cheering and jumping up and down, and hearing her neighbor's car horn.
"Tasha, what are you doing?" he asked.
"Playin' with our new Hot Wheels," she told him. I confirmed as much.
"I need to get going," he told Brat, giving me a vaguely suspicious look.
Brat said, "Aww... Don't you wanna play with Hot Wheels instead?"
"It's really fun," I confirmed. "Look at all the track we set out."
The neighbor looked at the expanse of track, then at his watch, then at us, then at the track again... Then in the trunk. "Can I be the red one?" he asked.
"Sure!" we chorused. "You wanna walk down towards the end? It's a better view."
He smile and said, "Sure! But I can only play for a little bit, I'm headed out golfing."
Within an hour, there were a good forty spectators lined up along the track. There was much cheering and rooting (and bets placed). We figured out a charity scheme: two people would pick cars, and --- in a switch --- the winner would have to donate at least one dollar to Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. Fives, tens, and twenties were all dropped in an impromptu cash box by the "winners." At the end of the day, Glide was nearly $400 richer, and we'd decided to donate that track and all the cars to their day care center. And Brat's neighbor never did get around to playing golf: he was having too much fun watching the races (and placing private bets, like most everyone else did).
In the late afternoon, when there were just a few spectators left, Brat and I broke down and boxed up all the track and gizmos, putting it in her garage for our donation run next weekend. Her mom came out and asked, "Where have you been all day?"
"Right out front here, mom."
"What have you been doing?"
"Playing with Hot Wheels."
Her mom made a chuffing sound and went back in the house.
*"Berkeley Is My Baby (But I Should Have Aborted It)", Blatz, 1990, Lookout Records. No copyright.
**This is before things got much worse for the college students.