MILES ABOVE THE EARTH'S SURFACE, N. America (ZP) -- It's amazing the things one thinks about at 40,000 feet.
I stared at the p. 40 of Bukowski's Hot Water Music, one of his short stories collections.
I was reading the same goddamned lines over and over again. One of the things I've come to appreciate about Hank's stories (especially after I met his widow at a cocktail party a few years back) was how he painted vivid portraits of the obscene in the most mundane manner.
The hippies loved him, those fucking Bay Area bards who, I've always imagined, sat in coffee shops and called him a genius simply because it made them feel better about being lazy and middle class. While they sat on college campuses, while they protested and marched and boycotted away the Sixties and Seventies, somebody - some misogynistic good-natured drunk was working the post office, sucking in now-forbidden nicotine at the races, made famous by working for the U.S. Fucking Postal Service.
Lilly was at home looking at an old Marlon Brando movie on television. She was alone. She'd always been in love with Marlon. She farted gently. She lifted her robe and began to play with herself.For some reason, the ending to that story made me laugh. The woman sitting next to me on the plane told me it was great to see a young man enjoying a good book. I was terrified she'd start rambling again, that she'd put down her goddamned Left Behind serial and want to talk about literature.
Retired librarian. What are the odds?
More appropriately, retired children's librarian, stereotypically dressed and still stereotypically upset that librarianship, as a whole, is ceasing to be a refugee camp for wallflower bibliophiles and hide-from-the-modern-world bookcart jockeys. The Internet had ruined the world, patrons loved surfing for porn and playing video games, and her director had - Gasp! - lifted the food and drink ban right before she'd retired.
I was pleasantly surprised when she just went back to her God is a Mean Bastard who Hates the United Nations tripe.
* * * *
I looked up. She was still staring at me, this kid afew rows up from my seat. She waved, ducked down and slowly peaked back over the seat. I'd waved back the first few times, until I'd realized that I probably shouldn't - I was encouraging her.
Her father finally pulled her back down in the seat, turned my direction, and said something along the lines of "sorry about that - she really likes your cowboy hat."
I don't think it was my hat, really. And, come to think of it, the little girl's father was actually her adoptive father.
What are the odds? Do you realize the kind of mathematical impossibility that is? Of all the days to fly the friendly skies, of all the airlines, of all the tens of thousands flying at that moment...
I looked back at the father and daughter. There was an empty seat right in the middle. On a full flight, one empty seat.
I used to think I was merely one of those people who was born under some bad sign, one of those poor bastards that had been marked with invisible metaphysical ink by Fate, a living, breathing practical joke of the gods, the guy some angel had outfitted with some gigantic "Kick Me" sign at birth.
Nope. I'm worse. I'm the Pale Rider atop the Horse of Statistical Anomaly.
What are the odds?
I went back to reading the same lines over and over again. More than two hours of torture lay ahead for me.
Fate hates my sorry ass.
* * * *
I'd started to put my clothes back on while "Tonya" was in the bathroom, talking to her husband. I looked at my cell quickly - still a few hours until Mom's Birthday Dinner. I turned on the television, trying to tune out the sound of an argument.
I lit yet another cigarette. I was on my second pack of the day, the second pack in four hours.
Four hours? A half-a-workday? That's it? It seemed like years had passed, eternities.
I stood there, pondering the obvious disruption in the Time-Space Continuum I must've fallen into, chainsmoking and watching some reality-television garbage. I didn't hear Tonya leave the bathroom.
I did, however, see the phone go flying across the room and hear it slam against the far wall. For some reason, it didn't shatter.
I knew what was coming. I was waiting, patiently, for Tonya to get all weepy, to start to painfully admit that she a) just lied to her husband, b) had to go back to her Mom's house to figure out how to lie to her husband, or c) was feeling so guilty about our actions and had to leave immediately.
I wasn't expecting for her to run and jump back into bed, to shove her face into a pillow, and to start screaming into it.
THIS IS FUCKING RETARDED!
* * * *I asked her what was wrong. I figured, having done this sort of thing before with, er, less matrimonially-bound women, that she'd either tell me that she didn't want to talk about it, or would, well, get all weepy.
I don't know what I was thinking. Part of the reason I did what I did, the big reason aside from physical attraction, was the fact that Tonya remains one of the most confusing - intriguing - women I've ever met. Never, ever been able to figure her out, to even begin to understand what goes on in her mind.
I've had women tell me that I'm like that, too, apparently a big part of my supposed attractiveness. Hell, Tonya even told me that.
"Tonya" just shook her head, face still buried in the pillow. All of these completely disconnected, chaotic thoughts filled my mind as I stood there, staring at a naked woman's back.
Did she tell him? Did she lie to him? Did I really want to know?
Finally, Tonya sat up. I sat down beside her, pants still unbuttoned and my tee shirt hanging around my neck. Apparently, I'm funnier looking half-dressed than completely naked - Tonya just laughed.
And then she sighed.
Jason, I don't want you to feel guilty. I don't feel guilty. I think we both needed that.
I didn't really know what to say. So I didn't say anything.
If he wants to fuck Sally Suckyfucky, then you and I can fuck.
I started to say something finally, but I lost the words. I wanted to say something, something deep and meaningful.
"Tonya" had confessed everything to her husband. However, before she'd said a word, he'd apparently confessed to being too shitfaced to drive back up the coast...and to say that he'd hooked up with some woman the night before, a woman with possibly the worst nickname for an Asian-American female of all time.
Wait. Sally Suckyfucky?
Yup. That was it. Brain completely locked up on me.
* * * *
Sally Suckyfucky is, according to Tonya, the rather unfortunate nickname of one of her husband's college drinking buddies. Apparently, Sally had had lots of male college drinking buddies in college - Tonya had learned of her reputation right after she and her husband bought their first house together, right next to hers.
Sally had earned her collegiate nickname, according to what Tonya had learned, by being that girl who always seemed to want to drink until she felt obliged to go home with a different guy. According to legend, she once went home from a party with a faculty member, three girls from her academic discipline, and her husband. Pictures of the whole thing turned up at her husband's fraternity and are supposedly still passed around by current Greek members at her husband's alma mater.
Sally had been the only one of her hubby's college friends that she'd ever met, and living in the same city and both being small-business owners, they became good friends. Sally Suckyfucky was even a bridesmaid in their wedding.
They remained friends until Tonya came home from a business trip to find her best friend sitting on her husband's face. They were both drunk; rather than stop, they'd asked her to join in on the fun.
Instead, she left the house she'd made, threw up, went to her daughter's daycare, and the two went to live in a motel for three weeks. The only time in her life she's ever contemplated suicide was during those three weeks.
For her daughter's sake, she sucked it up, went back, and confronted both her husband and Sally Suckyfucky. Sally called her a prude, and the friendship ended; she and her husband reconciled into a marriage held together by joint holdings, investment properties, and shared business interests.
"Tonya" explained the whole thing in such a distant, almost third-person manner. She said she'd forgiven him, but didn't think she'd ever fall back into love again.
* * * *
I'm not in love with you. I just couldn't deal right now.
I thought about it for a second. I could've possibly fallen for "Tonya." In many ways, she's been a benchmark for me in terms of how I measure women. As shallow as it may seem, as downright disturbing as it may be to some, I still judge women on how they kiss - and there are way too few women on this soggy dirtball of a planet that have ever kissed me as she did back on the boat, back in 2001, even in 2006.
There are very few women I've ever kissed, ever done anything with, ever been involved with, who have ever kissed me so hard, with so much uncontrolled passion and tenderness.
But I didn't love her. I couldn't. I hadn't gone to that motel room with any expectations, with any emotional attachment, with any longing for the forbidden or to, well, fuck until I had to pop my shoulder back into place.
I was there, I'm sure, as the ghost of a 21-year-old who'd once had a hardcore crush on the ghost of a 16-year-old, a guy who'd once had to use every ounce of moral fiber to push that 16-year-old phantom off of him, who'd long ago sacrificed any chance of a meaningful relationship in order to maintain himself, to not get lost in someone again.
Chica, it's all good. Don't sweat it. Just sex.
So we're cool?
Yep. Are you cool, chica?
No, but I haven't had this much fun in forever. I needed this.
No regrets then, hon?
* * * *
After that, "Tonya" and I, well, just kept doing what came natural. We finished the fling off with Lucky Seven, the number of completion, checked out of the room.
I've never been so sore or so bruised in my life. As I write this, weeks later, I still have a few scabs on my arms from fingernails, my hips are still sore, and I think I may've cracked a rib.
She drove me back to the parking garage in SLO and we said our goodbyes.
And it was, well, goodbye for good. I made that clear. While she may be in a fucked-as-hell marriage, I told her that, well, I've never been in a relationship where I've cheated and that, should I decide to one day return to the world of dating and enter into another of the damned things, I wouldn't want to ever put a girlfriend, fiance, or wife through what she'd been put through with Sally Suckyfucky.
She seemed sad, but I think she understood. Maybe, I told her, we could just do coffee or something, in another life.
And that's how it ended, with an ending.
* * * *
I didn't even have it in me to cry as I drove back up the Cuesta Grade. I was too focused on trying to put my game face on for the family, to plan my first clandestine, discreet entrance into my parent's house in, well, probably a decade.
I snuck through the front door without anyone really noticing. I had that smell on me, that sex smell. I almost made it into my room and into the shower without either of my parents noticing.
I felt like I was, Christ, a fucking teenager sneaking back from a kegger after some fucking Homecoming Dance.
My mother's birthday dinner went off without a hitch. Great restaurant with some of the best fish tacos I've had in a long time. The tiramisu wasn't half bad, either.
Afterwards, my sister and I rode back together, taking the long way back so we could each smoke a few cigarettes and chat a bit.
My sister, who's only a few years younger than I am, is going through one nasty divorce. Her soon-to-be ex has been pulling all sorts of tricks, including trying to "bill" her for money he borrowed from his parents right after they were married.
The guy's not a bad guy, but he really didn't see the divorce coming. The divorce blindsided him, so he went into defensive mode. He thought my sister was happy, that their marriage was perfect. She wasn't - and didn't.
I wanted to tell the ZenFo Sis all about the day, to apologize for lying to her on the phone, to confess my sins. But I couldn't. I only see my little sister twice a year, if that. And she has her own problems, more than enough to keep her busy.
At one point, we were talking about why her marriage went south. She made a comment about how people had judged her, how she'd felt pushed into her marriage, that she knew it was wrong the whole time.
_______, just find happiness in yourself. Fuck guys. Nobody has a right to keep that from you, not you or (her ex-husband.)
I think that might be the single best piece of advice I've ever given my sister, in terms of relationships.
Trust me folks, for a fuck-up like me, that's pretty impressive.
* * * *
I finished rereading most of the stories in Hot Water Music by the time the pilot announced our descent into _______International Airport.
I pulled my hat down, closed my eyes.
I don't know why, but I wasn't looking forward to getting off of that plane.
Maybe, just maybe, I was afraid that that little girl in front of me, the kid with her mom's gorgeous eyes, would wave at me as we left the plane. Maybe Daddy would ask why she was so interested in the Strange Man in the Cowboy Hat?
Or maybe, just maybe, Mommy would be there at the airport, just as shocked as I was to be on the same flight with her husband?
Not incidents, really. The girl waved goodbye and smiled. I waved back. And "Tonya's" husband, a guy I'd only seen one photo of in my entire life, smiled and waved at me, too.
And Tonya wasn't out in the terminal, waiting to play the role of happy, loveless, housewife to her cheating, Sally-Suckyfucky-fucking husband.
* * * *Really, the only person I feel sorry for in the whole thing is that little girl. That's why I waved back. "Tonya" chooses her life, her husband chooses his, Sally Suckyfucky and I chose ours.
She doesn't have a choice. This is the world in which she will live in, a world where her parents sleep in separate rooms, friends but not lovers, with lovers other than each other. One day, her parents will split up, she could end up bitter and hurt, end up hating everybody who made her what she could become.
In the week following that flight, I tried to force myself to feel guilty about my actions. But if I can't. In all honesty, I don't feel guilty about a damned thing, given the circumstances.
I thought that guilt was what was keeping me from sleeping well since I returned to nice, boring, conservative, gossip-filled, Oxford Fucking Ohio, but it's not something as simple as feeling guilty over breaking one of those Big Fucking Commandments.
Writing this, this whole saga, has made me realize why I've been losing sleep, why I'm feeling more and more at peace as I write.
I feel sorry for Tonya's daughter. One day, if this blog is still here, if Blogger and its Google masters haven't gone belly-up, she'll find out about her mother's lousy relationship with her stepdad. And one day, against all sorts of odds against it, she'll find this series of entries, and remember that nice man from the bookstore, Mommy's friend, that guy in the hat from the flight.
And she'll read this and, well, not hate me.
Hell, if Destiny's willing to fuck with me this much, who's to say that the Old Lady won't one day choose to cut me some slack?
* * * *
I swear, the next time I fly cross-country, I'm half-expecting to see Bill Shatner go apeshit on the flight, shooting out the windows, trying to kill the evil gremlins attacking the wings of the plane.
I started to laugh.
And I laughed louder when I thought, for some reason, about that annoying old children's librarian sitting next to me, sharing a seat next to Captain Kirk, farting gently and masturbating while reading Charles Bukowski.
Man, you're one strange dude, Jason. Seriously.
I sat in the smoker-friendly airport bar, thinking, puffing away, drinking Jameson's and sucking on limes.
It's funny the kind of things one thinks about when one is traveling the friendly skies.
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