Heart

From The Hot Girl – Part One

“Daddy?” For the sixth time, Deanna watched her father pull a card from a vase of flowers, put it in a stack with others just like it before he tossed the flowers into a rolling trash can, dumped the vase in the sink and set it on a nurse’s cart. “Why are you keeping the cards?”

Doc Collings turned toward Deanna from the other side of what had been her Gramma Cora’s hospital bed. “So your mother can send them ‘thank you’ notes.”

“Mom hates cut flowers. What’s she going to say, ‘thanks so much for sending dying flowers to my dying mother’?” She hadn’t expected him to wince.

“Flowers are okay at our house, DeeDee. Twice a year.”

“I know. Valentine’s and your anniversary. But you buy mom plants.”

“Sometimes what your mother says is okay, and what she really thinks is okay, are entirely different. She has tolerance for flowers on days where flowers are the norm. And tolerance for your brother or you giving her flowers or something fattening is different from her fully accepting it as okay across the board. Like with me. I don’t gamble with your mom. If I know where the strike zone is I don’t get fancy and try to throw curveballs.” He held his hand out perfectly flat. “I go straight down the middle. Living plants, in pots, are in the strike zone every time.”

Doc Collings’ sports analogies worked with his super jock son, but now he was in a situation where he was always lost. Alone, attempting meaningful conversation with his daughter. Who, since she’d outgrown her Sting-Ray bike and Barbies lived on an intellectual diet of Romantic poetry, art books, Medieval versions of fables and fairy tales, and top forty radio. And until his mother-in-law’s failing health had sent her to live with them a couple of years ago, there hadn’t been anyone else in their house who “got” the post grade school version of Deanna except their black lab, Hayden.

“DeeDee, your grandmother knew you cared.” He tossed another handful of flowers, spun a guest chair around and sat in front of her. “She had all the pictures you copied out of the art books for her. All of your notes and poems and Polaroids were taped to the wall. She was so sick the last week or so she didn’t open anything.”

“I looked for this card forever…” Deanna stared at the unopened envelope in her lap, a thumb and finger holding it on each side. “If she’d just opened it… Maybe… ”

“There was no magic in that card that would have saved her.” He ran his hand through his hair, left it at the back of his head. “I know how it hurts when you lose someone you love. In ways you can’t explain to anyone. My parents are gone, my brother died in the war… If you live long enough you lose people… And unfortunately, there’s nothing anyone can say… or do… to make it easier. I wish I could, but…” He reached out, put his hand on top of hers, took the card and gave it a long look before he handed it back. “Deanna, when things like this happen? The old saying about how ‘it’s the thought that counts’ is true. She knew how you felt, card or no card. Believe me.”

She searched his face, registered the hurt and confusion. “It’s okay, Daddy. She told me before. About her heart and everything.” She glanced around the room, landed in turn on the stripped bed, dying flowers, empty vases and back to her lost father. “And how if I gave myself time I’d realize the heart that doctors understand isn’t the most important one I have.”

Thoughts and commentary on this one are requested, here or via email

Mother Knows Best

My mom was an ex-model. And ambulance driver and dental assistant and she took no shit from anybody. Particularly men. Like Snow White, birds would fall out of trees for her, sit in her hair and sing. Rabbits would come when she called. She could throw my paper route when I had the flu and never meet a mean dog. Plants grew when she walked by. No matter who or what you were, you listened to my mom.

My mom had a thing for goats. She was from a part of the Ozarks that didn’t have power until the late Fifties when the Corp of Engineers built Table Rock Lake. Phone lines (whoa) didn’t make it until the Sixties. She could skip a rock, throw a baseball overhanded and knew which end of a funky old tractor was which. Milk a cow or a goat and tell a hen to lay an egg, or else. If it had fur or feathers it showed up when she whistled. She could bait a hook and fish and roll a cigarette for my Grampa with one hand. Something I wanted her to teach me in my teens but never got up the nerve to ask. But the goats? Mom loved her goats. When I would visit my grandparents in the summer for a couple of weeks, I learned about goats. Grampa would have to go and smoke and drink and sell bait around the lake, Gramma busted her ass doing everything else from the garden that fed them to cleaning fish and wringing a chicken’s neck for dinner. So me being six and in the Missouri hills and pretty much in the way, I got sent out to wander the hollers and cricks and hillsides. Tied to a goat. No shit. A rope around my waist and the head goat, off to explore the Ozarks. Why? Because the goat wouldn’t do anything near as stupid as I might, particularly around water. And it knew when it was time to eat and how to get home. Today I am sure that would be considered some kind of abuse, but I got along okay with the goat. Even after my Grampa made me a dead slow “go-kart” out of a upside down shopping cart and an old lawn mower, the goat went along. Mom would call, ask me what I did. “I went out with the goat.” “Oh good. I used to do that. Goats are okay, as long as you leave their heads and tails alone.”

Mom had fashion sense. She’d been a model, right? Well, she was loud, anyway. She took flying lessons in the early Sixties. Soloed, got her license, never went up much after that. What our parents were really up to is a mystery still. Like the moose. What the hell, Mom? Dad?

 

 

 

My mom had my brother almost nine years behind me. And it screwed her all up. Not my brother, but the hormonal thing. Well, maybe my brother is in that somewhere. It is difficult to realize now that in the second half of the Twentieth Century women’s health care was non-existent beyond the OB-GYN basics. Mom was a victim. They messed with her hyper-active thyroid as best they could back then. The stuff that made her mad, depressed, borderline bi-polar wasn’t even on the research agenda. No shit really she went in for several hours every Saturday for a couple of months to get wrapped in cold sheets. So she’d feel better. She was “hysterical.” Come on. America in the Sixties. We put a man on the moon and my mom was wrapped in cold sheets like a freaked out, misbehaving Victorian? The alternative was Valium. Which by rights should have calmed her down. It lit her up like a Roman Candle. By the late Sixties and early Seventies there were birth control pills, but in my research I found that very little was done in that regard as far as hormone therapy. Birth control was the answer to rampant teenage promiscuity leading to pregnancy, not getting women on an even keel and helping ease the familial burden of “the menopause.” So she self medicated with alcohol in ever increasing doses until she killed herself with a Vodka bottle in her early sixties.

Mom had her moments. But she could tape an ankle for football practice and games better than the trainers and coaches. Lance a boil and pop a shoulder back into socket. Stop a dog’s ear from bleeding in a snap after a fight. She helped me build a Masonite and 2×4 “club house” in the back yard under her big mimosa tree. It rained one of those Oklahoma rains about two weeks later, and the Masonite dissolved. I was bummed. I’d taken my naughty library books with medical sketches of lady parts out there to read them, and my hideout had disintegrated. I got upset. Mom said “Look how much fun we had building it.” She winked, messed up my hair. “And you can read those books in the hammock.” She planted pussy willows where the club house had been since the grass was gone. They got as tall as me in a season.

No one is perfect, not even our moms. After you’ve been around a while, you understand that Mom was who she was, and we were just in the mix of her life. The goat, the hormones, even the instability and unpredictability of the nightly dinner table drama (Philip! Where did these pills come from? Who was that girl driving your car? Mr. Stinson said you had your bike on top of the school! For God’s sake, Philip!), none of it was mean spirited or intentional. It just was.

I was the only one in the room when she died, and like William Blake and his brother, I saw her leave. Call me crazy, but there it is. When my dad and brother showed up everyone said a prayer. I said I hoped she was somewhere peaceful, and free at last from her demons. My dad cried about that, and reminded me of it often. What he called the short and perfect eulogy for my mom.

Mom was pretty, smart in that rare common sense way, did her best and kicked some ass. She was more than a little whacked on some days, smoked like a chimney, swore like a sailor, had an opinion about everything and everyone and wore pants better than a lot of men. But out of all of that, good and bad and crazy and caring and over-protective and insecure and voraciously curious and more than occasionally angry, she was Mom. And we should all thank them for that, our mothers, no matter what we’ll never understand about them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Romantics

Deanna reached out with her first two fingers, touched the painted plate at 17 Molton St, London, left them there as big, silent tears rolled down her cheeks. People stared, she didn’t care. She’d ridden the train, by herself, from Cambridge to London for this visit to the last of William Blake’s original residences, only to discover it was another commercial address, not a shrine. She finally dropped her fingers, lowered her head in disheartened resolution.

“‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet, Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’” A black wool coat covered arm ending in a manicured hand reached out, touched the plaque where Deanna’s fingers had been. She looked up and an elegant man, easily her father’s age or older, had taken up residence on the sidewalk beside her.

“You know about Blake? Really? That was him, the opening to London. I’ve always read it as bleak, but it was beautiful, how you quoted it. Sorry…I never…” She looked down again, the cloud over her returned.

“One needs to stand in a man’s shadow to understand his journey, and his poetry.” He handed Deanna a clean, folded, white handkerchief. “Dry your eyes. That was his story, his London. Commerce and need ruled the day in Old London Town, then as now. Blake knew that, as should you.” He took in all of Deanna, from the savage scissor attack of her hair to her ill-fitting jeans and bulky sweater, the ski jacket tied around her waist and well-worn running shoes, her pale complexion and sad eyes. “Student, or…” He wondered how a man his age should address a possible street girl or one of the thousands of foreign kids “finding themselves” by riding trains, smoking hash and sleeping in the growing number of hostels.

“Student. Newnham, Cambridge.” She turned, grabbed his coat behind his elbow, and glared at him. “It’s a bar, mister whoever you are. Blake’s house is a fucking bar! How can they do that?”

“It’s not him in Westminster Abbey, nor St. Mary’s. Nor any other place where they’ve hung a plaque with his name. Blake lives here,” he touched his chest over his heart. “Which I daresay is where he’d much prefer to reside with you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. As much as we can know a dead man’s wishes. Step inside. It’s a landmark, not a grave. My treat?”

“NO. It’s a —”

“Fucking bar. Yes, you’ve said. And I said one should trod the path of the man and salute his memory. Sandwiches and expensive drinks with a French flair make it no less Blake’s. I’m on my own today and it has been an age, several ages, since I’ve enjoyed a lively discussion of Blake with an overly serious young woman.”

“Are you a professor or something?”

“Or something. If it will put you at ease, I ask only for conversation. I am not, as is commonly observed when men my age seek to engage with young women, ‘a dirty old man.’”

Deanna could tell by the long wool coat, open scarf, creases, shiny shoes and hair cut he wasn’t dirty, or too old. Too old for that, but not too old to eat lunch with like a professor. And he had quoted Blake.

They followed the hostess to a small table at the back wall where he held her chair with one hand while he draped his coat over his own, sat down across from her.

“Okay.” Deanna felt trapped against the wall. “No funny business. I don’t do that.” She watched as he settled his napkin on his thigh and pushed his menu aside. She allowed herself to absorb some of his relaxed demeanor.

“A tired girl a long way from home, who has so obviously spent her food allowance on a train ticket to London only to arrive and discover desecration of what she thought Holy, then proceed to carry on crying about it, I wouldn’t think a ‘funny business’ type.”

“How do you know? Do you look for ‘funny business’ types?”

“No. I have daughters. One of them a hopeless romantic. I cried here myself when I was seventeen. Not so anyone would know, but there I was, just as you were. Would you prefer to sit on this side, and I on yours?”

“No. No that’s…I’m okay. Now.”

“Good. Blake and a double ham croissant are on order, I believe? Swiss or?”

“Yes. Yes, Swiss. Please. Did you know…”

***

Evan Drucker stood in the entryway of his Dawson Place home, handed his wife his coat and scarf, kissed her longer than the usual peck.

“So is it takeaway or some other mischief you fancy?”

“Takeaway? I might do. I took a walk and ate out once today.”

She dropped his coat over one arm and reached for a hanger in the closet she’d opened. “You’ll have me ask again?”

“No. Have you had a call from either of the girls?”

“Not midweek. I wouldn’t, would I? They have school and lives of their own.” She hung the scarf over the coat and closed the closet door. “Now I’ll have that ask, if you don’t mind.”

“I ate lunch with our Avey today.”

“Avianna? Where?”

“Having a quiet cry at Blake’s on Molton.”

“You took her there often enough. The two of you banging on like a pair of Romantic rabblers.” She picked up the faraway look in his eyes. “Our Avey’s away at school in the States, Evan. So who was it you saw shed tears for your Blake?”

“Her name was Deanna Collings, or so she said. An American girl studying in Cambridge, come to mourn at Blake’s. Seemed quite bright and deeply informed. She was a mess of a pretty young girl, though, and scared to death. Called what’s behind Blake’s plaque ‘a fucking bar.’”

“Ah, with the mess of a look and the language then it was our Avey.” She smiled, tugged on his tie. “I hope you’re both the better, having had Blake on for lunch. The kitchen’s cold and I fancy a curry. You?”

“I fancy a prayer for all our faraway romantic daughters, and a drink.” He reached one arm around her, leaned and kissed her on the forehead, checked her expression when he let her go. “Right. And a curry.”

Skin Deep

The Nutcracker – Dress Rehearsal 2016

“You looked great up there.”

“For someone more than twice as old as the principals from New York City Ballet.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I did. We’ve been married ten years longer than they’ve been alive.”

“So, it’s good that you looked great up there on the same stage with them.”

“Mmm. I’m not so sure how great I looked.”

“I have pictures.”

“You weren’t supposed to take pictures.”

“No flash. How long have I been doing this?”

“We just had that discussion.” She flipped the visor down, opened the mirror. “Anyway, my costume is a blue velvet corset I’m cinched into. And I have my extra nylon hair.” She put the ringlets in a large zip lock, stuffed them in the dance bag then dumped fifteen bobby pins that would stay in the cup holder on her side of the console until the next trip to the free vacuums at the car wash. Or we bought drive-thru coffee in her car. Or she ran out of bobby pins.

“You still looked great.”

“The secret is old lady ballerina make up.” She peeled off one eyelash that would have made Dolly Parton envious, blinked in the mirror.

“I didn’t know they made that.”

“Oh, they make it, alright.” The other eyelash came off, got stuck to a small piece of white cardboard with the first one, wrapped in wax paper, dropped in a make up bag. She blinked again. Her own lipstick had come out and she did that thing women do with lipstick and a car vanity mirror.

“What’s in it that makes it so special?”

“Spackling.”  She rubbed her lips together, checked the mirror, smiled. “And formaldehyde.”

The Nutcracker

Go see The Nutcracker, wherever you are, whoever is doing it. It’s good for you. Trust me, I’ve seen it more than a couple of times and it hasn’t killed me. Yet.

Nuts

She waved her hand in a wide but unobtrusive arc, more wrist than arm. “Every time I see these things I think about John’s nuts.”

Here we go. “Yeah? What things?”

“All these big green egg things. They remind me of John’s nuts, that’s all.”

Big green egg shaped things and John somebody’s nuts.

“He’s dead, now.” She let that hang a moment. “He was at work one day, all chirpy, saying he was okay, and he was gone the next day. It was all kind of sad.”

Okay, maybe this John guy had big green nuts and that’s what killed him. Big green nuts would do that, kill a guy if he didn’t get them checked out. If I woke up with big green nuts I would sure as hell beat it to the Doc’s.

“We all ate his nuts for like three months.”

Hold on. “You all ate John’s nuts?”

“So did we, you and I. You remember, from the Christmas party a few years ago? Taller, kind of poinky. Gray hair. He was gay and a really nice man. We saw him that time at the store and I introduced you?”

“Oh yeah, right. Him. You worked with him for a while?” The only person I remembered from the Christmas parties was a black dude trumpet player who taught music and was fun, and a sparkly older lady whose daddy had been a senator or governor or something from Louisiana. She held the patent on the old school Southern Belle thing and was sharper than a barber’s razor. Otherwise, like most work Christmas parties, there was never a lack of shortish or tallish, poinky-ish, gray haired, maybe gay people around.

“Yes. He’s dead now.”

“You said that.” Okay. Deep breath. “He didn’t die of giant green egg shaped nuts, did he?”

“No…” She was off somewhere remembering poinky gray gay John, missing his presence at work. Hopefully not his nuts. “It was cancer. They told him he had five or six years after his first round with it, and like clockwork, in four and a half years it was back with a vengeance. He was gone in six months. Anyway, he gave us all a big bag of his roasted nuts for Christmas that year and we ate them for a couple of months.”

“He didn’t like give us chunks of his big green egg shaped nuts that he roasted, right?”

“No. Listen, and don’t be goofy. He roasted his own nuts in one of these green egg griller-roaster things. And gave them to us in a big bag with a ribbon around the top. When I see all these green egg things it reminds me of him and his nuts. Like when I see those beat up cooking pots, you know, the big ones? I think of my grandpa’s boiled peanuts.”

“Boiled what?”

“Peanuts. Big ol’ green egg things and big ol’ beat up cook pots making me think about John’s and grampa’s nuts. I guess I’m weird, huh?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Oh, you. Stop it. Talk about weird, Mister Weird-o. Did you get those screw-on nipple things you wanted so we can leave?”

nipples

My Little Stiff Tool

Why DIY with your wife is more fun than doing it by yourself.

I felt the second tug on the bottom of my painting sweats, couldn’t look down from the ladder. “Yeah?”

“I need your little ‘stiff’ thingy for a minute.”

All of them ran through my mind. I landed on the most offensive, to me. “Little?”

“Yes. You know, your little ‘stiff’ tool?”

“Yeah, I know my not-so-little stiff tool. Just for a minute?”

She was oblivious. “Yes. Where is it?”

“I try to keep it with me. Hate to lose it.”

“Don’t be silly. You don’t have enough pockets for all this junk.” She was shuffling through the tools that shouldn’t have been on the end table. “I don’t see it down here.”

I got to a place where I could put the paint brush down and look at her. Jesus. The girl always got more paint on herself than anything she ever painted. I can still find thirty-year-old pink all over an aluminum step ladder from the time she and our daughter decided the steamer trunk for all nine thousand Barbies needed to be pink.

“I’m not sure what ‘stiff tool thingy’ you mean.”

“You know, the one I used to get caulk off the fireplace the other day.”

“You got ‘caulk’ off the fireplace with my ‘little stiff tool thingy?’” Still nothing. Oh well. “You mean the painter’s tool?”

“I guess. Only men would have a tool called ‘stiff’ that scraped up after their ‘caulk’ mess and had another name, too.” I wished I could have seen her face for that one.

It was killing me, but wisdom said leave it. “Painter’s tool. Just remember that. My little stiff tool thingy is a Painter’s tool. ‘Stiff’ is just how hard it is.” Still nothing. I eyed the tool bag on the floor next to the ladder. “There it is. Yellow tool bag, on the floor. Right next to my Big Johnson.” How could that have been  more perfect?

“Well, it says ‘stiff’ on the handle. And ‘stiff’ I can remember.” She gave me that devil girl look. “Barely.”

“I’ll be happy to fix that for you.”

“That’s what you said about this fireplace. Two weeks ago.”

“I didn’t know what I was getting into, or how much work it would be.” That was just stupid. Wide, wide open.

“So that’s what you’ll tell me? You didn’t know how much work I’d be? And I’ll have to wait two weeks?”

I wanted to say, “You could consider it foreplay,” but I don’t have a death wish. “I’m a part-time handyman, except on weekends.” I put on my best Barry White. “But you know, baby, I’m a full-time lur-uv machine.”

She walked away toward the kitchen, hair streaked with paint, my “little stiff tool thingy” in hand. “No you’re not.” She turned, looked back up the ladder and smiled. “But I knew there was a way to get you to finish this before Sunday afternoon.”

Keep the Tip

She put her hand up under my arm, squeezed, leaned into me a little and whispered conspiratorially as we walked out of Lowe’s, “God, that man’s giant weinie smells scrumptious, doesn’t it?”

“Say what?”

“That man’s weinie.” She squeezes a little more. “It looks so-o good and smells out of this world.” The grip starts to relax.

“What man?” The squeeze is back, full on, with a tug.

That man in the red shirt putting stuff on his weinie. Right there.” She glanced to her right, I started to turn. “Don’t look.”

“What, some guy has his weinie out and I–”

“Not that kind of weinie. The ones with grilled onions. And, ” she glanced again, “oh my God, some are even wrapped in bacon!”

“Ohhh….” I slow down, trying to be nice. “I think the guy selling them has Turkey dogs. You want one?”

“No, no. Keep going. I’m not really hungry, and I don’t like gross old weiners.”

I choke the laugh on that one. “Now you tell me.”

“Shut UP!” I can feel her nails in my inner elbow as I’m pulled through the parking lot. “I can’t go anywhere with you, can I?”

I know there’s a squeeze bruise on the inside of my arm, but man…It was worth it.

 

Fathers Day

If you’re a father you know how this goes. “Happy Father’s Day!” Maybe it’s wrapped, probably not. Then you go out to eat. You’ve gone out to eat somewhere kid or grand kid friendly for as long as you can remember, you get the check. Or someone with joint account privileges makes a nice gesture.

I got this one yesterday, Father’s Day Eve, which was okay because everybody is busy and “Dad doesn’t mind.” I tipped this guy the max. Twenty percent. In a Taco place with Formica tables and grand kid proof tile floors. Because you never know. I almost put the receipt in the charitable donations file because I’m still not sure if it was a tip, or a tithe. The scary thing? He kinda looked the part.

And that really got me to wondering. You know, what does that guy give his dad for Father’s Day? Did he wrap it?

Stigma

Neeko watched Lamar blow in through the door with the wind, late. He knew how much Lamar hated being late to anything, and on top of that, he was a sight. His half-a-head of hair windblown, the shirt tail on a cleaner’s stiff shirt was out. Slacks. Not the usual Friday Lamar. It was Neeko’s turn to offer the contents of the plastic wicker bowl when Lamar dropped on the stool to his right.

“Your girlfriend in the body shirt down there got your pretzels ready, I was afraid her heart would break when she thought you’d stood her up.”

Lamar looked down the bar, got a smile and a towel wave. Sure enough, Neeko’s offering was full of low-sodium baby pretzels. At least he could count on his friends.

“Hey, Neeko. You told her thanks and tipped her five, right?”

“Told her you were a dirty old man and the tip I offered was to run as far and fast as she could.”

“Fucker.”

“You’re late,” Neeko grinned, tipped a Collins glass that had been full of Coke, rattled the ice around. “Not like you.”

“Man. You know, what I wanna say is ‘what the fuck.’ Just ‘what, the, fuck.’”

“Long week?”

“Shit. It started last Sunday when I got light weight bad-husbanded. Marie and I spent half the day bustin’ ass on garden cleanup, I moved fifteen fuckin’ bags of wet cedar mulch into the van, out of the van and stacked up. Then up the sidewalk and stacked them again then threw them out in front of the garden like dead soldiers before I moved all of Marie’s rocks and pave stones and leveled a couple of giant pots. I finished all of that, went to the store covered in sweat and mulch, got her some shrimp, first time in forever she wanted to bust the ban of cholesterol. I had a good Sunday goin’. So she takes a bath while I’m gone and the whole bedroom smells like heaven when I get home so I took a shower and you what happened next. Later she tells me ‘I’m sorry I didn’t have anything sexy to wear, but my husband hasn’t bought me any new lingerie in for-ever.’ Which is bullshit because at Christmas I load her up on those panties she won’t buy herself. Loud, silky, fun everyday panties don’t count. I hear her when she moans about no off-white hose anyplace so I get online, deal with that and all of her ballet tights and leotards. None of that counts because it’s not that sort of lady gear. So I’m screwed. No Charming Charlie, no easy way out of lingerie.”

“That’s the what the fuck? Why you haven’t bought Marie sexy satiny nighties lately?”

“What’s the point? That lingerie shit’s coming off pretty soon anyway, right? This old fart told me back in high school that foreplay started at the mall, and I was like ‘What?’ Holding hands or go make out behind the big potted trees or what? No, he meant shopping for the right kind of undies and both of us thinking about what we were gonna do with that bottle of sandalwood body lotion, gettin’ primed in advance. And I haven’t been doing that, and that was why I took the bad husband bash. But my ‘what the fuck’ is way worse than that.”

“That wasn’t really bad enough for there to be a worst, man. Buying gas on a rainy day is worse than that if that’s all you got.”

“No, man. All week, when I tried to solve any kind of issue with her is why the what the fuck. I go to Home Depot, trying to replace an old faucet set. I’m waiting, and there’re these two women next to me, don’t even know each other and one of them asks the other a question about what the other one said about her health, and they go off on cysts. Vaginal cysts. How one has these cysts that show up and send her blood pressure through the roof and gave her a stroke, and she’s only maybe forty. The other one says how she had these cysts, and her metabolism was so cranked she could eat anything she wanted and lose weight but had to get it operated on, and they were telling all these vaginal scrape and medication stories, and all I wanted was a cheap bathroom faucet. Can I do that? Hell no. I get to wait for the one person with a clue in plumbing while these two women get down on their plumbing. It’s not like they didn’t know there were men around while they blew it out all over the aisle about growing mushrooms and shit in their vajayjay’s and how it fucked them up.”

“Marie might have your ass for doggin’ women not being able to talk about their business like anybody else.”

“Not my point. Look, I had a nut twist in junior high, and it got the size of an orange. They un-twisted it, it was okay. I didn’t stand around in the hall with girls in earshot talkin’ about my giant nut or how my nutsack got so stretched it lost the raisin look. A couple of years ago I thought I was dead because fluid can settle around your nuts and I had a regular and a large in there. I didn’t even wanna tell the doctor. ‘Hey, Doc, while I’m here, am I dying or what?’ He talks about this happens a lot, the fluid on a nut thing. Okay, cool. But you and I, we’re waiting in Home Depot, and we are not going to say ‘swollen nuts’ out loud. ‘Oh? Really? How big did it get? Well mine was ginormous, and I fell in love with pizza again, and I looked great in tight jeans. I mean that shit belongs where it belongs, not in the plumbing aisle.”

“Did you not tell Marie you thought you were dying of a giant testicle? Because that would be stupid. What do you say to her just before you croak? ‘By the way Marie, I, uh, had this giant nut just like killed me overnight.’”

“Marie is going to know if I have a giant nut, that’s how I got the bad husband knock in the first place. The other thing is she decided to start watching this NetFlix show and will I watch it with her so sure, whatever. It beats ignoring reruns and wishing she was wearing something sexy I forgot to buy so we watch, and there’s a hint of a plot and BANG, Kevin Spacey has his face buried in the crotch of this girl half his age while she talks to her father on the phone. And there’s three-way sex and gay sex and all of this in the middle of an episodic treachery drama, and I’m like no wonder she wanted me to buy her something sexy because all these people are standing around in their underwear with their tongues out and moaning. And I’m like wait, this is TV. That’s porn, not a politics show. Every episode it’s like somebody has to assume the bra and panties or less pose and fake an orgasm. If Marie binges on two or three on the weekend it’s like all these people trying to fuck each other over, and then actually fucking each other, over, under sideways, and that’s a TV series? I mean politics by Leave it to Beaver. Beavers.”

Neeko thought about the pretzels in front Lamar, held up his Collins glass instead. “Television isn’t the same, Lamar, nothing is the same. We could talk about why forever. Shifting cultural paradigms and all of that. We know better than to waste air on that shit, part of it is our fault. Nothing is new, it’s just more out front.”

“That’s the deal, Neeko. Stigma. There is no fuckin’ stigma about anything. And in some ways, that’s a good thing. I’m just not ready for anatomical funk where sex happens to be like, ‘Oh, did you have any hail damage Friday? How is your vag?’ at Home Depot.”

“None of that is enough to piss you off.” Neeko was shaking a little with silent laughter. “Get to the good shit before I have to leave.”

Lamar ran his tongue around his teeth, gathered it all up.

“This morning, the reason I’m late? Victoria’s Secret. I’m too old for that place, and that is an unfortunate stigma. But I defy the letch shit and go in. First, they don’t have anywhere near what I found online. Then I’m prowling through silk and satin and being followed by this big bi-cultural guy who asks me in a very affected way if I need any help. A guy. In Victoria’s Secret. A linebacker-sized gay guy who is delighted by the complimentary colors on the nightie I pick out. Of course, it’s not Wal-Mart where the cheap itchy lace panties are on the same hanger. So he goes off to find me some non-itchy Victoria’s Secret matching undies while a couple of girls, one with a figure that would have netted me a restraining order forty years ago are giggling and watching this whole episode go down like something out of Marie’s NetFlix. The gay linebacker comes back really pleased with himself waving Marie’s ‘aren’t these just perfect?’ panties like a fuckin’ ‘Go Niners’ banner. We transact, the girls all still watching while he rolls everything up in pink tissue paper, you know down to the size of nothing and puts it in a bag that might as well have been a billboard for me to carry out of the mall. ‘Old dude buys peach colored panties!’ Jesus. You know? What, the, fuck?”

“A gay, I’m guessing half-black linebacker since you don’t like to talk race at all, helping you pick panties for Marie that you probably wouldn’t have found on your own, that’s the big ‘what the fuck,’ right? The rest of it was just –”

“No the rest of it is just all of it. I want to know when did stigma go away.”

“I’m not sure there was a sell-by-date posted anywhere or if it was officially repealed. It just happened. Why?”

“Here’s why. You remember when I was a kid and sold expensive men’s clothes for a while in college? People called me sir when I was twenty-one ‘cause I had on a Pierre Cardin suit and needed a haircut. Well if stigma had taken a hike earlier and men could have sold lingerie my whole career path might have changed. I woulda stuck around a lot longer and had a shitload more fun with a tape measure at Victoria’s Secret measuring what needs measuring in there than I did knuckle knocking nutsacks out of the way to measure inseams.”