--THERE IS THE MATTER OF WORTH AND VALUE AND THE MOMENT WHEN WE SET OUR PRICE
Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
Outside of Omaha, I stop at a bar and count how many women I’ve slept with since finding out about my wife’s affair. I get to ten and a half, the half being a prostitute who was actually a very convincing cross-dresser.
I think about the life I’ve left behind, the house on the lake, a home that always felt more like a prison or mausoleum. I try to tell myself things could be worse, they can always be worse. After all, it’s a grand adventure I’m on, traveling across the country without any idea where I’m heading, an unorthodox journey that just might be the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
I drain my glass, relishing the burn, and order another scotch. Even though we’re half way through a sunny May, it’s dark in the bar, quiet too, except for a garbled juke box that plays antique Buck Owens and The Buckeroos.
The guy on my right keeps farting into his barstool while reading a tattoo magazine and the guy on my right is busy flexing and unflexing his prosthetic hand. I try not to stare or make eye contact, but I can’t look away, and after a moment he says, “I’m still getting used to this thing,” adding that his name is Gary.
Gary lost his limb in Kandahar when he was on patrol, saw a ten dollar bill sticking out from a clump of dirt in the road, and an IED exploded after he reached for it. Gary chuckles. “Moral of the story--greed’ll get you every time.” He says he’s the luckiest sonofabitch on earth, says he could have easily had his head blown off, or any number of body parts.
Hearing this should make me feel grateful for my life, but I’m still wallowing in self-pity and all that optimistic bullshit I’d been contemplating moments ago now feels like tripe.
Gary asks me if I’m married. Gary asks me where I’m from, asks me all kinds of questions before wondering if I’d like to go get high.
Outside, back behind the bar, there are half a dozen garbage cans overloaded with beer and liquor bottles. It smells briny.
Before lighting up, I think of Lana and her boyfriend--the pair I’d met by chance at a convenience store--and what we’d smoked, so I say, “This isn’t laced with anything, is it?”
Gary looks at me like I’ve just told him his kids are ugly.
I take a long drag and hold it until I’m about to implode. Gary smiles a big shit-eating, I-lived-through-hell-and-I’m-still-alive grin, and I think I really like Gary and maybe I should use his example to reset my own pessimism.
Since we’re doobie brothers now, I take a good look at Gary’s hand. The prosthetic is a strange one, like a robot’s, only with plastic where the metal should be, and see-through screws. He catches me looking and says, “It’s the latest model.”
Eddy takes a long hit and tamps the lit end of the joint against his plastic hand where it leaves a gray smudge similar to a spider that’s been crushed.
With his other hand, he pulls a pistol out of his jacket and says, “Get on your knees, Fuckhead.”
I’m thinking I’m stoned already and that this is a hallucination, but then Gary swipes the air, his claw scraping a good section of my face.
“What the hell?”
“I’ve shot better than you, and I’m not the patient type.”
I get on the ground. It’s covered with broken glass and sharp rocks. My knees sting. I notice Gary’s wearing steel-tipped cowboy boots.
“Hand over your wallet, then put your hands on the ground, ass up, doggy-style.”
I don’t know whether to be more frightened about being robbed or the possibility of being buttfucked by some brute with a hook for a hand.
He stuffs my cash into his pocket and tosses the wallet so that it slaps my face and a creased photo of my wife flips out.
“You never asked where I’m from” Gary says. “You never asked a damn thing about me.”
He’s right, I hadn’t.
“You’re a selfish prick.”
He’s probably correct about that as well.
“Now get face down on the ground and don’t get up until you’ve counted to five hundred.”
“Hey, how about—“
In one swift move, Gary rams his boot tip, hitting the bulls-eye between my buttocks.
“I told you I was impatient,” Gary says, spitting before walking away.
My anus is enflamed. It’s hard to concentrate. I count to forty-five and stagger to my feet. I go back in the bar and ask about Gary, but they say they don’t know any Gary.
“Captain Hook,” I say, making my hand a claw. “The bruiser that was sitting on the stool right there, next to me.”
The bartender and fart guy look at me like I’m an idiot.
I start to get angry and ask again.
“You cause a fuss,” the bartender says, “I’ll call the sheriff.”
“I’m just asking about Gary.”
“And we just told you we don’t know any Gary.”
I figure they’re probably all in cahoots, but what can I do. “Fine, then give me another scotch.”
“No way, Jose.”
“We have the right to refuse service to whoever we want.”
“This is fucked.”
“Watch your pie hole.”
I go over to an ATM that sits by a video poker machine featuring Kim Kardashian’s enormous ass and cleavage. I withdraw a hundred, then take out the maximum it will allow in a day, leaving the bar with my middle finger upraised, my own ass smoldering, while I wonder how much a gun costs.