Christian was waiting on the edge of a small park in Minnesota, downtown Saint Paul. He was waiting for his friend, Paul.
Christian was an architect. Christian despised being an architect. He had recently started taking bowling lessons. He wanted to manage a bowling alley and thought it might help to know how to bowl.
Christian had heard the expression that golf and sex are two things that you don't have to be good at to enjoy, and he thought it was the dumbest thing he had ever heard. Sucking at golf sucked, in his experience. It was exhausting and annoying and the expression was the product of people simple enough to enjoy sucking at something that sucked to suck at. Basically, cliché-ridden rich people too physically inept to excel at other sports.
Comparatively speaking, Christian decided, in the realm of athletes, golfers are the ventriloquists of comedians. In other words, for Christian, being the best golfer was like winning a Miss America pageant for women 6'9" or taller. Sure, congrats on winning, but it was largely by default. There were only four other contestants, and the winner happened to be the least ugly freak.
On the other hand, Christian had never seen any person unhappy while bowling, no matter how under par his or her score, so to speak.
At that moment, Christian was sitting on a park bench eating shelled peanuts. Unintentionally, he had begun to gather a crowd. Multiple pigeons and even a squirrel or two, albeit at a farther distance, had approached him, their pretend indifference terribly transparent.
Christian tossed a few peanuts to a safe distance onto the sidewalk. He began to giggle with his mouth closed and full of peanuts as he enjoyed the comedic, frantic eating styles of the pigeons and the squirreliness of the squirrels.
"Young man?" Christian was still deaf to the world as the sound of the peanuts crunching and his muffled giggles vibrated his eardrums.
"Young man," the old woman sitting a bench down to Christian's left asked more loudly.
Christian finally swallowed and sensed that someone was speaking to him. He turned and saw the old woman. She was classically attired, according to her age and gender. Orthopedic walking shoes leading to extra thick panty hose being covered to the ankle by a long knitted dress with a sweater and two, maybe three, coats covering her literally watermelon-sized bosoms.
"Old women no longer have breasts," Christian thought to himself. "They have bosoms. Old breasts blossomed disfiguringly. Blossomed breasts into bosoms."
She was wearing a hat over her striking silver and very purposefully curled hair. Christian considered that it must take her, and all old women who still dare to care about their appearance, at least three hours to get dressed, much like a mountain climber preparing to tackle K2.
"I'm sorry. Me, ma'am?" Christian questioned.
"Yes. Young man, are those peanuts salted?"
"What? Oh, umm, I don't know." Christian studied the bag but could find no words of relevance. "Yeah. Yeah, I think so," he assumed.
"Well, young man, you should not be feeding those peanuts to the pigeons and squirrels, or any animals. The salt is really bad for them."
"Really? I didn't know that. Well, it was just a couple. And food is food, right?"
"Young man, you heard what I said."
"Ok, ma'am. Don't worry. There are just a few peanuts left in the bag." Christian began to reach for the final hand full of peanuts. He was not prepared to relinquish his God-like pride and juvenile joy in feeding his new friends. He reached his hand down in order to toss the peanuts to a safe distance onto the sidewalk.
"Young man, before you do that, I want to let you know that if you throw any more peanuts on the sidewalk, or if you accidentally drop a single peanut on the sidewalk and fail to retrieve it before any other non-human creature does, I will rip out your throat with a shoe horn."
"Jesus," Christian whispered, stunned. "Wait, a shoehorn? I haven't seen a shoe horn in years, not since my dad used to come home from work and . . ."
The old lady reached down the collar of her sweater, under her multiple coats, as Christian was talking. And she slowly started to pull an object from between her literally watermelon-sized bosoms, a shoehorn.
Christian felt oddly intimidated. He felt stupid. He was a thirty-year-old man trying to give a squirrel a nut, so to speak. And he noticed the woman had a walker standing beside her. Not just a cane, and actual four-legged walker.
Christian felt inspired. He squinted his eyes. The old lady squinted back. He feigned defeat. She was so gullible. "What a stupid old lady," Christian thought to himself. "She's totally buying it. I am Clint Eastwood. She is a manatee."
Christian sheepishly looked down, grabbed his shoulder bag, and stood to leave. He took three steps to his right, away from the old lady. With his head still lowered, he looked into the eyes of the pigeons and behind them at the squirrels that were pretending not to notice him. He had only one recourse. He looked over his shoulder. The old woman still glaring at him harshly. It was time.
"Eat my nuts," Christian exclaimed, as he threw all of his remaining salted peanuts high into the air.
Christian saw an expression of shock and fury overwhelm the old woman's face before immediately turning to sprint down the sidewalk.
He charged around the circular park, finally stopping based on his body's warning that his heart would soon explode. As he kneeled over with his hands on his knees, catching his breath, Christian felt paranoid. Regarding his surroundings, he was stunned by how little distance he had covered before becoming exhausted, and by the sight of the old woman only half-way through the process of using her walker as she attempted to stand up. Christian walked weak-kneed to the closest bench and again sat down.
It took much longer than it should have for Christian to catch his breath on his new bench. As three of his organs regained normalcy, his two lungs and heart, Christian also became aware of impending discomfort in two other organs, his intestines. He knew that it was far too soon to be true, but could not stop thinking that the large bag of shelled, and perhaps salted, peanuts he had just consumed were now coming back to haunt him. Either way, it was clear that he would require privacy and ideally indoor plumbing in the very immediate future.
"Young man," an old man seated on the bench to the right asked. Christian, however, could not hear him, as every muscle and sense under his control was focused on making his anus perfectly still and inwardly impenetrable.
"Young man," the old man again asked with more authority. Christian was feeling a temporary respite in the pressure in his lower abdomen. He sensed again that someone was speaking to him but, at the same time, felt the need to maintain focus. His eyes remained fixed on a pebble on the sidewalk in front of him as he leaned back far enough to relieve the crunch on his intestines but not so far back as to stretch and flatten his intestines.
"I'm sorry. Me, sir?" Christian asked without turning his head or moving his eyes.
"Yes, young man, you. Are you good?"
"Yes, sir. I'm fine."
"You sure as gravy don't look fine."
"Sure as gravy? Well, actually. Can you do me a favor? Is there an old woman with literally watermelon-sized bosoms using a walker to hurry down the sidewalk from my left?"
"No, young man. I don't believe so."
"Phew. Thank gravy."
"Young man, are you hurt? Is your neck good?"
"Well, sir, actually, I really need to use a restroom."
"Ahh, I get it. Maintaining focus, huh?"
"Yup. You got it."
"Well, there's a coffee shop right there just 'cross the street."
"Yeah, I see that, kind of. The problem is, my friend is supposed to pick me up here at one o'clock. What time is it?"
"Oh, well, let me look. Let's see. Says here that it's . . . oh, it's 12:57."
"Kind of figured. If I'm not here when he comes by, I'm not sure where he'll go. I can't miss him. Plus, he's driving an RV. There should be a crapper on it. I have to man up. Fight through this."
"Well, young man, it looks to me like you're about to pass out. If I didn't know your problem, I would be calling 911 right now myself. Can you walk?"
"Walk? Yeah, I think so. But I did just sprint a quarter of the way around this park. My muscles are weak."
"Well, young man, I'm fittin' to be here all day, and definitely for the next fifteen minutes. How about this? I can't stand to look at you right now. It pains me. If I had a gun, and you was a dog making that look on your face, I'd shoot you to put you out of your misery. So, I'll sit here, wait for your friend, and you go over to that coffee shop and do what you need to do."
"Jesus. Well, that would be great. Are you sure?"
"Yes, young man."
"You are a heavenly creature, sir."
"You said your friend would be comin' in an RV, right? Anything else you can tell me about how he looks? You know, so I recognize him?"
"Oh, well, uhh, he's about my age. Fit looking guy. He's black."
"Oh he is, is he?"
Christian was struck by the way the old man asked the question. It sounded somewhat accusatory. He started to wonder if the old man was racist.
Instead, the old man was black. Christian had been too distracted to take note of his physical appearance. Christian immediately felt the blood flee from his extremely white, South Carolina face. He felt guilt, and then felt resentment for the guilt he felt.
"Yes. Umm, yes, sir. He is black. My friend, is black. I didn't mean, you know . . ."
"Young man, go do what you need to do. I'll keep two eyes out for your friend and let him know what you just told me."
"What I just told you," Christian asked while cringing.
"Yeah, that you need to relieve yourself over there 'cross the street and that he should wait here for you."
"Oh, ok." Christian had no other options. The old black man didn't appear to be going anywhere. And the old woman might still be gradually stalking him from behind. He had negligently forgotten to check on that. And, more importantly, he was about to shit his pants. It all added up. "Thanks, sir. I gotta go."
Christian stood, causing him to feel discomfort in a multitude of muscles, locations, and organs. He did not bother to look at oncoming traffic in either direction. His eyes focused solely on the coffee shop.
He heard screeching tires in the background but could not be certain as to whether he was the cause. Christian limped and awkwardly skipped his way to the coffee shop and burst through the front door. He made eye contact with no one. His line of sight was straight and undeterred.
Christian felt drunk, dazed. Much like cruising down the interstate during a long drive, he did not remember many of the details of his hunched walk to the bathroom. He did not remember sidestepping patrons or making the turn through the door. All he knew was that he was finally in a locked stall and seated thankfully on the toilet.
The explosion was rapid and constantly changing in substance. It was the big bang on an infinitely smaller scale. He tried to remember to breathe like a woman giving birth. It felt wonderful.
For several minutes after the worst of it, Christian instinctively remained seated. He was basking in his glory and appreciating the occasional and final regurgitations of his intestines. He was in control. He was, again, God-like. He had time to settle his mind and consider things. His guilt about how he had left things with the old man on the park bench was relentless. He had to rationalize it.
When did recognizing a black man as a black man become such a horrible thing? Especially when it's my friend? My eyes are capable of detecting color. It's really quite beneficial, being able to recognize color. If I see a black guy, my mind says, 'Hey, there's a black guy.' Just as if I saw a purple guy, my mind would say, 'Hey, there's a purple guy. That's weird.' And when I see a white guy, my mind says, 'Hey, there's a jerkoff. And if he's young, a white guy who is trying to be a black guy.' And if I see a red guy, my mind doesn't say, 'Hey, there's a Native American Indian, because that one doesn't make sense.' I mean, come on. What am I suppose to think when I see a black guy? 'Hey, there's a guy who, despite his dark complexion, may or may not be a black guy. And although his hair is short, black, and curly, decidedly non-European, maybe that's simply a style he is cultivating. Overall, despite my properly functioning eyesight, I'm really in no position to judge. In fact, maybe he is not only not black, maybe he is not a man. Maybe it's a transvestite, a transsexual, or a really ugly woman lacking the appropriate levels of estrogen. Maybe it is a man, but he doesn't appreciate being referred to as a man. Maybe he considers himself a pretty man, or prefers the term 'testicularly-endowed.' Maybe I shouldn't look at him at all, or just pretend that he's invisible. No, wait, that might be too dehumanizing. Oh well, damned if I do, damned if I do. When I see a black man, I see a black man. I see black men everyday. I am not a racist. People are idiots.
"Shit," Christian concluded, "I hope that old, black guy doesn't tell Paul that I called him a black guy."
Christian finally stood from the toilet, slightly expecting his legs, exhausted and perhaps then asleep, to collapse out from under his torso.
As he buckled his pants, Christian noticed that the toilet had not flushed. He was certain that the toilet was one that flushed automatically. It made him curious, the automated toilet that had yet to discharge his ungodly discharge.
Christian stepped toward the toilet and then quickly backward, hoping to engage the sensor. Nothing happened. Christian attempted several more such tactics with similarly disappointing results. He then even went so far as to sit back down on the toilet and quickly stand up, exit the stall, and close the door. He heard only silence.
Christian felt very uncomfortable leaving his mess unattended. He re-entered the stall and leaned over the toilet. He stared at the red light on the automated sensor and began waving his hand in front of it, up and down, and side to side. Nothing worked.
Ultimately, he heard the splash of his wallet and the bottle of his allergy pills, both which fell from the breast pocket of the jacket draped over his arm, drop into the horribly tainted toilet water.
"Ooooooohhhhhhhhhh," Christian started to moan, softly at first, then louder and louder as he saw his wallet sink and his bottle of pills spread its contents throughout the bowl.
Shockingly, he finally heard the toilet start to flush. His medication was a lost cause. The violent flush left him with a "Lady or the Tiger" sort of decision, except his was much simpler. He closed his eyes, thrust his right hand and forearm, sadly, into the water, and gripped his wallet between his middle finger and thumb to yank it out.
Christian felt splashes of the toxic water stain his arm and cheeks. It re-enforced his efforts to keep his mouth and eyes closed.
After the sound of the flush completed, and Christian secured his stance, he immediately dropped his wallet to the floor and reached frantically for the toilet paper. Still reluctant to open either his mouth or his eyes, Christian used every scrap he could rip from the roll to wipe his arms, hands, neck, chin, and face. He was relentless. No sense of dryness would equate into cleanliness.
Several minutes later, he had to relinquish. He opened his eyes, slowly. He opened his mouth, so as to finally breathe fully. He felt the millions of horrific and disgusting molecules of bacteria all over him. He again picked up his wallet between his middle finger and thumb and exited the stall.
At the sink in front of the mirror, Christian rubbed every centimeter of exposed skin during the ordeal until it was red and lacking in at least three layers of normalcy. He wrapped his wallet mitten-like in a significant cushion of paper towels and stuffed it into his back pant pocket. It seemed like the safest place, considering its proximity to certain body parts.
Christian emerged from the coffee shop, feeling lighter and spry. He scanned the area for an RV, for Paul, his black friend, but he saw nothing. He checked his watch. It was 1:32. "Jesus," he thought, "a half hour in the bathroom? I got a little carried away. Totally worth it."
With no other options, Christian crossed the street back to the park and saw the old man still sitting on the bench, as promised. He sat down on the far side of the bench and pretended to be comfortable, both physically and socially.
"So, uhh . . ."
"No sign of you friend, son. I haven't moved. No RVs come through here."
"Oh, ok. Thanks, sir."
"And you was gone awhile. You grab a sandwich in there or something?"
"Yes, yes I did."
"They don't serve sandwiches in that coffee shop, son." The old man started laughing to himself, proud of his deception. He continued laughing as he tossed some nuts on the sidewalk in front of him.
"You know," started Christian, desperate to change the topic, "you shouldn't feed those birds salted peanuts. It's bad for them."
"Of course I know that, son. Only a damn fool doesn't know that. I want to kill these rodents. I hate them. Little bastards."
"Right. Say, did that lady with the walker ever come around here looking for me?"
"Nah, she didn't come around here neither."
"You know who I'm talking about?"
"I sure should. She's my ex-wife."
"Wow." It was the only response Christian could muster.
"Yeah, she's a surly old gal. You know something, we met on that bench right behind us in the middle of the park. That's where I first saw her, and knew I had to talk to her. She was, well, stunning. I was shy as a young man, about your age, but there was no way I could forgive myself I didn't go talk to her. So that's what I did. And, well, that was that."
"Yeah, her. She showed you the shoehorn, didn't she?"
"Yes. Yes she did. It was mortifying."
"See this little scar here, above my eye?" The old man dipped his head and started rubbing his left index finger on his brow. "That was a shoe horn from the old gal."
"Good gravy. But how? A shoe horn isn't sharp."
"Nah, it isn't. But she didn't stab me with it. She threw it at me, like a disc, while I was eating my toast and reading my morning paper."
"Damn right it was. Hurt like hell."
"What did you do to deserve that?"
"Nothing? I can't believe that."
"Nah, it's true. I even asked her. I said, 'What did I do to deserve that?'. And she said, 'Nothing, just been wanting to do it for a long time.'"
"Wow. Is that why you got divorced?"
"You see, son, when you spend twenty, thirty years with the same person, things get hard. You get complacent first. Then you get hateful."
"My parents got divorced. But their shoe horn was infidelity." Christian was being honest.
"Oh, yeah. We had our spat with that, infidelity. You got time for a story, son?"
"It looks like it. My friend is nearing an hour late. Where am I going?"
"Good. Well, listen up. That old gal and I had been married for a while. It was two weeks to the day, actually, after we celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary. On that night, you know, we went to the fancy dinner, exchanged expensive, empty gifts, and then made love and pretended to enjoy it. The whole charade. But, two weeks later, we found each other in the kitchen of our house, both of us enraged. Believe it or not, we had each found an empty condom wrapper amongst the other's things. You believe that?"
"I'm struggling to, sir."
"Well, that's what happened. Serendipity, son. There's no stronger force in the world."
"What about gravity? Atomic? Static shock on a door knob?"
"You're young, son. So I'll forgive you being a smartass. It comes with the territory. Anyway, when we both realized that we were both pissed off, and caught, things oddly calmed down. We got to talking, very civilized. And we came to find out that we both had slept with someone else. Not only that, we had both slept with someone else the night before, likely at the same time. And not only that, we had both slept with the Johnson's."
"I had slept with Susan Johnson. And my old gal back there had slept with Hank Johnson. They were a married couple friend of ours."
"You're joshing me. I know it."
"Son, I'm too old to josh anyone. I don't have the time for it. Anyway, we got to talking about it, and, well, it was great. We were both so relieved. So happy that we didn't have to feel guilty. We felt free, for the first time since our wedding day. We even started to share stories about what had happened. We shared making fun of our Johnson partners. Susan, well, she sure was a dead fish and all. No denying that. But I had nothing that could top my wife's story. She told me that while she was having sex with Hank, when she was on top, you know, he insisted that she slap him in the face. He got off on it and stuff."
"Oh, God." Christian felt queasy again, for entirely different reasons.
"Yeah, I know, right? Anyway, she didn't know what she was doing, but she tried. She said that she slapped him a few times, but that she was reluctant, for good reason. And that finally, she got so annoyed with him whining about wanting to be slapped harder, that she really laid into him one. She said by that point she was actually pissed and did want to hit him. Anyway, and this is just rich, she said she reached back and slapped her hand across Hank's face as hard as she could. She was happy to do it. But, the thing is, her wedding ring, the wedding ring I spent two months pay on to buy for her, got tangled on one of his eyebrows. And the force of her slap ripped a chunk of his eyebrow clean off."
"Actually, yeah, that is pretty rich." Christian found himself laughing, unexpectedly. The best kind of laughing.
"Ahh, man. We chuckled about that for hours. She said that Hank started crying. I mean actually crying. She said that he ran into the bathroom screaming and bleeding, and that he wouldn't even finish having sex with her. I never laughed so hard in my life. And, you know, a few days later I bumped into Hank Johnson at the bank, and it sure was a damn struggle not to laugh in his face as I stared at his weird eyebrow. It looked ridiculous. He had tried to use make-up to cover it up."
"You think the Johnson's had a talk about you and your wife the same way you guys did about them?" Christian was genuinely curious, suddenly.
"I don't know about that, son. And I don't care. All I remember is that my old gal over there led me upstairs to our bedroom after that, and we shared the best night together we ever had. It sure was something. I don't remember ever being so happy with her."
"Wait, what?" Christian was genuinely confused, suddenly. "I thought you guys got divorced because of infidelity, not became closer because of it?"
"Jesus, son. Don't you listen? I said that when you spend twenty, thirty years with the same person, things get hard. You get complacent first. Then you get hateful. You brought up infidelity."
"I'm confused, sir."
"She threw that shoe horn at my head because she was hating me. That's the same reason I later set all of her shoes on fire in the back yard. I don't know what the expression is, but it expresses it well."
"Familiarity breeds contempt?"
"Yeah, that's it. No truer words have ever been spoken. We had been secretly hating each other for no reason for the better part of a decade. I'm only here now because once a week she would make me sit on that bench with her and watch her feed these rodents that I hate. Little bastards. I guess I'm waging a passive war against her, seeing how I'm not allowed to be within fifty feet of her. Don't worry, son. I measured it. I'm safe here."
"That's terrible, sir."
"Heck, now that I think about it, we should have been unfaithful more often. At least it mixed things up a bit."
"Well, that sure was a good story, sir. Remind me to yell at my friend for being late."
"You mean your black friend, smart ass?"
"Yes, sir. And again, I didn't mean . . ."
"You know, son. It occurs to me that there is a pretty young gal sitting behind us on the bench in the middle of the park. She sure looks pretty anyway. And, as you said, your friend is late. Serendipity, it is a powerful force."
"Well, now that you mention it. Man, she really is pretty." Christian found himself in awe at the side of the young girl's smile.
"Young man, go need what you need to do. I'll keep two eyes out for your friend and let him know what you just told me."
"What I just told you?"
"Yeah, son, that the girl back there sure is pretty. If he is your friend, as you insist, he'll understand, right?"
"Yes. Yes, he would."
"Well, get to it, son. And don't forget, use the word 'stunning,' if it comes to that."
"Thank you, sir."
Christian stood from the bench and walked away. It was not in his nature, whatsoever, to approach a random girl, attractive or otherwise. But he was relieved to be relieved of his conversation with the old man and assured by then having the old man's bat shit crazy ex-wife in his sight in front of him. Paul was clearly running late and Christian had nowhere else to go. He had to stay in the park. Why not spend it seated on a bench with an attractive, no, a stunning young woman instead of either of the remnants of a hostilely divorced old couple?
Christian approached the bench in the center of the park and prepared to sit down, if such an action were acceptable. He decided on being overly polite. At least that way he might avoid being arrested, if nothing else.
"Excuse me, miss, would you mind if I rest for a bit here," Christian asked.
"Oh, no. Not at all. This is a public park. Who am I to grant permission?"
"Ok, well, thanks, I guess." Christian sat down. He noticed that the young girl was, indeed, attractive, optimistically so. Attractive in a way that made him immediately wish that he were a better man. This made him feel decidedly pessimistic.
"What's that smell," the attractive girl asked suddenly. This served to only increase Christian's insecurity. He had a pretty good idea about what her nose was sensing, the odor coming from his back pant pocket.
"Ahh, it's probably all those pigeons and squirrels hanging around here. You wouldn't believe what I've seen around this park. Trust me, these are the most well-fed animals in the world."
"Well, I don't know if I trust you. But I do trust that these are the most well-fed animals in the world."
"Oh, he didn't tell you?"
"He?" Christian felt queasy, his customary state in the park.
"Well, I assume my mom didn't have the chance to tell you, the way you cowardly ran away from her and all. But, you did talk to my dad for a while. I guess he must have told you about the time he and my mom cheated on each other, right?"
"Well, yeah, I guess so . . . Wait, what?"
"The lady sitting on the bench in front of us is my mom. The old, black man sitting behind us is my dad. This is the only way I get to spend time with both of them. They are my parents."
"Yes. Yes, of course they are." Christian pondered the idea of being able to punch serendipity right in the face. He was left with only one thought, aside from wondering what was delaying Paul. "Good gravy."
"Gravy? Well, that's my name," the attractive girl responded.
"Of course it is," Christian concluded while placing his face in his hands.