“It all comes down to class, doesn’t it? And I mean the middle class, because there is no other significant class. It’s about the theme-park-ization of Britain. We’re all supposed to aspire to the generica that the middle class aspires to. It’s not only the working class that’s disenfranchised but the owning class as well – disenfranchised from their intellectual and artistic aspirations. For the middle class, the only thing that matters is sitting on the fence, whereas the disenfranchised classes aspire to soul values. I am of that other class that defined itself as different because – ridiculous word – we ‘discovered’ things and defended them with sharp objects and wrote them down.”
We kissed for the first time while sitting in a tree, eight feet up inside of Glenwood Park. We were drunk and it was 4 AM. We were 23 and we were young.
I had known Jen for six years; we had kept each other company during the loneliest of hours. There was that night in 1993 when Jen got into a fight with her boyfriend, and she and I sat on a merry-go-round, talking about our relationships until dawn. There was that morning when I came across Jen on the front porch of a beach house on Poplar Avenue. Jen was alone, wrapped up in a blanket. And we sat there and we drank and we listened to 100.7.
Jen worked the games on Surfside Pier from 1992 to 1994. She bounced from job to job after that, and eventually she stopped working on the boardwalk altogether. I called Jen after the two of us had lost contact, on Christmas Eve of 1995. Meghan and I had broken up, I informed Jen. I was in Delaware County, nearby. Jen rushed me off the phone, and after that we didn’t speak until the second week in August, 1997. Jen came meandering along the promenade one afternoon. She was holding hands with a boy named Andy. Andy was short and tan, wearing a tie-dyed shirt and a baseball cap. Jen introduced us, before continuing east to visit the water park. She returned alone a few hours later, at which point I agreed to meet her at the Poplar Café after work. Once there, Jen and I drank; we played the jukebox. We decided to leave. We walked through Glenwood Park.
It was Jen’s idea to climb a tree. She helped me up, then we sat cradled by the base. I kept trembling when we kissed, holding onto a nearby branch for balance. There was a gazebo to the right, and – for a moment – I considered leading Jen onto its canopy. We climbed down and wandered west toward my apartment. The following morning Jen made arrangements to stay with me for a few more days.
We avoided any talk of Jen’s relationship, opting instead to drink and dance, then eat at Ernie’s (the late-night king of sausage and eggs). Jen was a Northeast Philly girl; she had graduated from Archbishop Ryan. I was a product of the suburbs, Cardinal O’Hara. The two of us were skinny, built like coat bags; we had long hair with lemon streaks throughout. Time and again, Jen and I bonded over our lack of communication with our fathers. I was Jen’s mistress, and I felt in control.
Jen left town that Tuesday, but she came back the following weekend. On Saturday night, Jen got plastered and she told me that she and Andy had agreed to see other people. I assumed this was a lie told for our mutual convenience; one of those heresies people justify by saying, “It’s just made matters easier.”
Jen got along with my roommates, and the three of them spent a great deal of time together whenever I was at work. As a result, I became increasingly consumed with the possibility that Lori or Joanna might dissuade Jen from seeing me. Joanna, in particular, had ample reason to see me thwarted. I had acted cruelly toward her throughout that summer, acknowledging her with vitriol (on the occasions when I acknowledged her at all).
Jen and I were entering a new phase. We spent our free time at the apartment, or in public places, surrounded by people. Jen remained vigilant, fearful of who might see us on our own. There was sex, but only during pre-dawn hours, when the two of us felt weary and the walls ran dark with sweat. Beyond that, the closest thing Jen and I shared to intimacy amounted to passing notes beneath the bar. I dared not mention Jen to friends we shared in common, and Jen, at large, continued pretending as if I didn’t exist.
It was the bottom third of August now, and each day was passing by with the intensity of weeks. Jen’s late-night calls were arriving less frequently. I would phone Jen from the pier, only to be told that she was out. I knew Jen would be heading back to Shippensburg the first week in September, and I was growing frustrated over this when I came across Gerry Vessels one afternoon.
“Whatta you been up to?” Gerry asked. He was standing along the front porch of his house.
“I’ve kinda been seeing somebody,” I said. “I think it’s somebody you know.”
“Oh, yeah,” Gerry said. “Who’s that?”
“You can’t tell anybody,” I cautioned Gerry.
“Who the fuck am I gonna tell?” Gerry asked.
“It’s Jen,” I said. “Y’know, Pier Jen? Jen who used to work up at the Fishy Fish?”
“Hippy Jen?” Gerry wondered. “Like, Whacky Jen?”
“Yeah,” I said. “She’s been coming down every now and again.”
“Be careful with that,” Gerry told me. He was shaking his head.
“Be careful with what?” I countered.
“Be careful with getting too caught up in the way things were,” Gerry told me. “The two of you are older now. Besides, if I remember correctly, isn’t Jen a little shady?”
“Yeah, but not, like, bad shady, y’know?”
“Didn’t she get fired for stealing?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t get too caught up in it. That’s all I’m sayin’.”
“She’s got a boyfriend,” I muttered.
“A boyfriend?” Gerry blurted. “Dude, what are you thinkin’?”
I had made plans to travel back to Delaware County so I could see Jen before she left for school. Jen had agreed to this, but as the day in question neared, I could not get her on the phone. I traveled to my parent’s house anyway, taking two buses and one train to get there. I had been day-drinking, and when I called Jen, she insisted she didn’t have access to a car. I gave Jen the address of a bar where I would be, and she showed up unexpectedly around 9 PM. My demeanor was off-putting. I kept reintroducing Jen to a handful of people whom she had already met. Jen left alone – and unhappy – a few hours later.
Jen was gone now, back at Shippensburg, but I would think of her throughout September, whenever I passed that lazy cigar tree in the park. I’d envision Jen on autumn nights as if she was meandering the promenade – cigarette in-hand, wearing a cable-knit sweater that ran two sizes too big. We had shared this thing that maintained no integrity whatsoever. And it was because of it her sudden absence left a void … some emotional hurt based on having rediscovered each other after so much time, and determining in the end that neither one of us was especially proud of who or what we
Donald Trump is the most publicized human being on the planet, and he has been for a little over five weeks now. The momentum of Trump’s campaign is such that any Republicans who downplay his significance wind up making an embarrassment out of themselves. Take Lindsey Graham, a flat-lining senator who deserved to have his cell phone number released after referring to Trump – a man who he had previously petitioned – as a “jackass”. Take Jeb Bush, an ex-Florida governor who initially reacted to Trump’s comments regarding illegal immigration in the same way that an elephant reacts to a fly. Take Chris Christie, who could’ve been the Donald Trump of 2012, eons before bad press transformed him into a pariah. Donald Trump represents an age-old metaphor; that of the tall, dark stranger, wandering into town. His campaign will be undone, but not before it exposes several front-running conservatives for the antiquated group of charlatans that they are.
The danger of a Donald Trump, ironically, is that he is not funded by special interests. In fact, the only interests Donald Trump seems to be funded by are his own. Consider what Trump has said during interviews, how he’s used the approach of slapping China (pronounced Chai-nah) and Mexico down before extolling their virtues. “Their leaders are much smarter than ours,” Trump has said. “Their negotiators are much tougher.” A self-effacing statement; the type of rhetoric that’d cause any pundit to cream in his pants. And yet, what Trump is advocating for is this idea of cut-throat dealings; some notion, perhaps, that the goal of any first-rate power should be to keep the exchange rate under its heel.
A few weeks ago, Donald Trump suggested that George W. Bush should’ve invaded Mexico as opposed to Iraq. The obvious follow-up would’ve been, “Do you still believe that the United States could benefit from such an invasion, and, if so, would you pursue that type of invasion assuming you were elected into office?” Trump’s answer might’ve dovetailed into some rigamarole concerning how we need to build a wall, and how he could get the Mexicans to pay for it. But the real answer has to do with how – and why – Donald Trump believes we need to teach the rest of the world a lesson, and why he’d prefer to use our bordering neighbors as a means of establishing more control.
During previous election cycles, top party candidates were largely focused upon jobs, guns, the economy, the military, healthcare, terrorism, China, Iraq, equal pay, education, economic disparity, the government and taxes. These were bedrock issues, the kind that make or break a presidency (and a nation). In the absence of them, what have we got? Foreign trade, illegal immigration, building a wall, “getting the oil”?
Bill O’Reilly recently referred to Donald Trump as having “no fear,” but it would seem more accurate to assert that Donald Trump has got no shame. There is no lawsuit that can sully Trump, nor mortification that can deter him. And so what the American public is treated to amounts to political kabuki. There is an expiration date to such things, a shelf-life that is already dwindling. And in the end the corporate suits will hoist Jeb Bush upon their shoulders, parading him around despite disposing of their best-bad chance to win the presidency.
For now, Donald Trump will continue touting himself as a Wharton-educated billionaire who co-wrote a best-selling book about negotiating several years before portraying the unsympathetic figurehead on a reality TV show. In political terms, this means that Trump identifies as a ruthless capitalist villain who has proven brilliant at getting his own way. So why does it work? It works because Donald Trump is more in-touch than the average candidate, because Trump is intelligent and calculated and sober and the majority of his skeletons have already been flushed. It works because Donald Trump is not a prisoner, nor has he been in the game for too long. It works because Donald Trump has inserted himself into a party that is so far off in outer space its last high-profile endorsement came by way of Clint Eastwood, who was talking to a chair. It works because Donald Trump is a showman, much like his good friend, Vince McMahon. It works because Donald Trump is an orator, much like his good friend, Howard Stern. It works because Trump is aggressive, because he’s telegraphing the media, because his goal in every interview has become to “win” rather than explain.
It works because Trump is ingratiating himself to the far right-wing masses, preaching about how we need to give power back to the police and the military. His message is not so much about racism as it is about classism. This is a man who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, advocating the reinstatement of the death penalty to punish five innocent teens – all of them poor, all of them from minority households – who had been accused of raping a young, financial analyst from the Upper East Side. A quarter-of-a-century removed, despite all five boys being exonerated, Trump remained defiant, claiming (via Twitter): “Tell me, what were [those boys] doing in the Park, playing checkers?”
On balance, Donald Trump represents a positive for the Republican Party, a ritual cleansing. Trump is forthright, despite being misguided, and he may be on the mark when assuming that some – but not all – of America’s leaders are inept. The question we need to ask is what a man like Donald Trump might do after replacing all of our borderlands with walls … and how a fortified facade might actually appear to any countries on the outside looking in.
(Donald Trump is currently running for the American Presidency. He is, by his own admission, the best builder.)
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
The decline had been occurring over days – a heat wave during which I had continued going out every evening. Drinking was my respite. I had become so embroiled in the bar culture I dared not miss an outing … an outing where Petra or Marta or Tara or Erin or half-a-dozen others might be available for a fling. I had become obsessive and chauvinistic and hurtful and proud, my behavior so obscene that I had invited two girls back from the Fairview one night, with one arriving just after I had fallen asleep inside the other. I was self-medicating, addicted to the reinforcement one derives from dishing the dirt. I had grown more eligible, an available target for aspiring females who were excelling at a similar game. We were exchanging one another; we had become trading cards. I was 23, and my endurance was beginning to falter. One night toward the end of July, I had arrived at the apartment completely bloodied. “Something happened to me,” I had explained to one of my roommates. Whatever it was, I couldn’t recall.
I fell ill the first week in August, one night toward the end of my shift. My skin ran gaunt, my eyes severely jaundiced. A girl who I had a crush on told me I needed to go home and rest. This was the night of Mike’s party – the house party, the one where that girl and I had all but agreed to get it on. I would be fine, I assured myself. I would eat a cheesesteak and then I would be fine. Only my stomach kept doing somersaults, and I lacked the fortitude to call in my order. And so I went home and lay on my bed. And my belly began to hiccup just like a pile of broiling waste.
Around 2 AM I phoned Mike to let him know I could not make it to his party. Mike offered to drive me to Burdette-Tomlin, but I refused. I was entrenched now, an amplified version of that iatrophobe I had initially become as a child. Despite concerns, I had not submitted to any type of a physical in well over a decade. And so I lay there, on my back, and I experienced a series of fever dreams. I kept drinking water. I started to vomit around dawn.
It was morning now, a Saturday in August – one of the biggest money nights of the year. And the question became one of whether I would be able to make it into work. I had never called out sick. And it didn’t matter that I felt depleted or that my body kept alternating between spasms and chills. What mattered was perception, and the perception was sure to become that I was a drunk. The numbers at Bill’s Concessions kept dipping, in part because I kept scheduling myself off two nights of the week. My promotion had proven a liability, a perennial drain on whatever cost-benefit
Just short of noon I made the call. Perhaps this is a reckoning, I reasoned, some dark-end path meant to lead me to the main. I had bottomed out, no question. I was existing in a sandbox, perfecting circles in my brain. A handful of my friends were applying for first mortgages. They were driving fancy cars and they were getting engaged. I was still eating my dinner out of a grease-covered bag, inappropriately flattered by rumors I had gotten addicted to cocaine.
By 3 PM I had transitioned into bargaining, faxing terms off to a god that didn’t exist. There was a bucket sitting next to me alongside a Slurpee cup that I had filled with water. My lower-back was in a state of trauma; the soggy bedsheets smelled like urine.
My father arrived around dinnertime. “Hel-lo?” I could hear him calling at the door. I got up and I let him in and we went into the living room and we talked. My father was in town for the weekend, he explained, and he had gone up to the boardwalk looking for me. “You sure you don’t want to go out for a nice dinner?” my father kept saying, to the extent where it felt odd having to re-turn him down. This was how it had often been between the two of us, mutual frustration obfuscating concern. My father went out and he bought me an electric heating pad from CVS. He returned unexpectedly an hour later with a carton of ice cream he had bought me from the store.
It was dark now and it was cooler. I had watched the day-time shadows wax and wane across four walls. I was eating ice cream in bed, the second verse of John Mellencamp’s “Check It Out” playing on repeat in my head. I can make it into work tomorrow, I reassured myself. The fresh air will do me good. I hadn’t thrown up since 4 PM, this despite leaning my face over a bucket several times. Outside I could hear the echoes of late-night announcements across three piers – “15 minutes to get that last ticket for that last ride of the evening,” followed by, “Mariner’s Landing is now closed.”
I shut my eyes, considering the irony that I had taken ill during the least fashionable bar nights of the week. I fell asleep from 3 to 7. I took a shower and pulled the sheets off my bed. I made a breakfast sandwich, which I ate in tiny bites. Before leaving for work, I put the bucket and the Slurpee cup outside on the back porch. There was nothing but a few spare grains of sand in
Morning … no, afternoon. And the phone kept ringing loudly. It was July now, and I was sleeping on my stomach, dressed in boxer shorts and nothing more. The window fan kept rattling, streaming heat onto loose sheets that had been kicked onto the floor. I sat up, placed shaking hands upon the mattress. I lumbered hard into the kitchen, mumbling audibly “Hold on.”
“Hello,” I said.
“Bob, it’s John.”
“Hello, John,” I said. I lit a cigarette.
“I need your help,” John said.
“You need my help with what?”
“Well, we just opened and there are a bunch of wrestling guys up here and they’ve already started putting out tables and they–”
“Wrestling guys?” I said.
“Yeah, like, a bunch of them,” John said.
“Like what kind of wrestling guys?” I said.
“Like, like, like King Kong Bundy’s sitting on a bench about 15 feet from me.”
“And what exactly are they putting out tables for?”
“One guy says they’re here to sign autographs. Another guy says they’ve already gotten permission from the More –”
“OK. I need you to sneak out of there for a minute so you can come down here and pick me up.”
I had been asleep for a little over four hours, in and out after drinking at The Poplar Café until dawn. I threw on a T-shirt. My upper-body smelled like cognac. I wandered down onto the sidewalk, led by a stultifying horn.
I was drunk, and I apologized to John for my appearance. This was my first summer assuming any significant management role. Bill Salerno had moved on, claiming ownership of a boardwalk eatery across from Surfside Pier. Bill’s departure resulted in a vacuum, and as I clamped my hair into a ponytail, it occurred to me I showed no signs of either leadership or control.
John parked his car beneath the boardwalk. I could not see the beach for sizzling fog.
“Who’s in charge here?” I shouted. I was speaking to a coterie of wrestlers, many of whom sat sprawling on the Dime Pitch counter. A bearded man with a shiny forehead pointed off toward the promenade. Out there, beyond the pier limit, stood a bleach-blonde man with a megaphone. He was reading notes off of a card.
“Tonight, at the Convention Hall,” this man declared, “it’s Bam Bam Bigelow versus Bobby Duncum, Chris Candido versus Balls Mahoney, and ECW Tag-Team Champions D-Von and Buh Buh Ray Dudley versus Axl Rotten and his partner, Nuuuuuuuuuuuuuu Jack.”
When the man took a moment to pause, I beckoned him over with a wave of my hand.
“Larry Sharpe,” the man said. “Are you the guy running the show?”
“I am,” I said. I gestured with my chin toward a pair of tables that had been set up along the front of the Dime Pitch. “Listen, I can’t have you blocking any major concessions along the foot
of this pier.”
“And what’s your name?” Larry said.
“Bob,” I said.
“Bob Morey?” he said.
“No,” I said, “Just Bob. I’m the day-time manager.”
“Yeah, well, listen to me, Just Bob. Morey told us we could be here, OK?”
I was staring at Larry. I had seen him on TV. Over the years, he had been affiliated with an abundance of east-coast wrestling promotions. Larry was also affiliated with The Monster Factory, a popular training facility located in Paulsboro, New Jersey. Up close, he had the sad-eyed look of Dusty Rhodes. Yet his demeanor was off-putting; his patois, extremely shrill.
“Bob, you gotta tell me what the problem is,” Larry continued, “cause my guys, they all came out here today hoping to sign some autographs for the fans.”
Larry’s coterie had taken to its feet, half-a-dozen of them strong. These guys didn’t appear so much like athletes as they did disgruntled dockworkers. I recognized none of them with the exception of Bundy, who had remained along a park bench, showing little interest
in getting involved.
Professional wrestling was experiencing a renaissance. The WWF stood months away from introducing the Attitude Era. Ted Turner’s WCW had taken control. WCW had been luring away talent – Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. The WWF was reinventing itself around a WCW transplant who had shifted his image to “Stone Cold”. The Monday Night Wars were underway – a series of prime-time, head-to-head, two-hour extravaganzas, pitting money and power against experience and verve. As the point man behind WCW, Eric Bischoff had taken the battle to WWE, eventually go so far as to broadcast the results of Monday Night RAW as it was in progress (via Monday Nitro). Vince McMahon, on the other hand, was about to step out from behind the announce table, reestablishing himself as the king hell bastard of that fold.
As a child I had been a fan of professional wrestling. I had collected all the thumb wrestlers; had acquired the plastic ring to go along. I had my favorites – Ricky Steamboat and the JYD. I owned The Wrestling Album, the gate-fold cover of which I had tacked onto my wall. Many of that era’s superstars had faded, replaced by HBK and The Undertaker; Hollywood Hogan and his NWO. Comparatively speaking, the cast of grapplers Larry Sharpe had assembled looked like jobbers – a team of aging, wound-down leftovers, full of liniment and oil.
“Call Morey then!” I heard Larry say. He was speaking to Mike Strickler, an operations manager who had arrived to mediate the scene. “Cause I ain’t taking my tables down, no matter what some fucking peon tells me.”
“What d’you call me?” I inserted myself into their conversation.
“I called you a fucking peon,” Larry repeated.
“Fuck you,” I said. And with that, the bearded man with a shiny forehead came charging through the breach. “No, fuck you,” he said. He shoved me several feet across the boards.
“That’s enough,” Mike Strickler shouted. “I’m sure we can get this whole situation resolved.”
The bearded man started pacing now, muttering something about how, “You don’t talk to [his] fucking boss that way.” None of the other wrestlers had backed him, a dynamic which did nothing to allay my fears. I crossed my arms, positioned my back against a pillar. Mike Strickler got on the walkie, calling out to each of the Moreys, one-by-one.
The more attention this disagreement attracted, the more apparent it became that there was no problem, really. We were talking about a beach day with fewer than a hundred people along the strand. The cost-benefit of allowing the Dime Pitch to be blocked appeared negligible. The issue was that I had demonstrated zero initiative. On top of which, I had grown irritable, consumed with the notion that if those wrestlers remained up on that pier, then I would have to remain up there, as well. I wasn’t scheduled to come into work until five.
I could not imagine anything like this happening in Cape May or Ocean City. Sea Isle, maybe. Atlantic City, for sure. Wildwood had always seemed similar to Atlantic City – similar geography, similar design. Turn-of-the-century Wildwood, much like turn-of-the-century Atlantic City, was originally marketed as a spa, accessible by train with clean air and clean water and a wholesome bathing culture. The subsequent rise of Atlantic City occurred as a result of corrupt politics, driven by the criminal enterprises of the day. In the wake of prohibition, a lot of rackets had gone legitimate, bolstered by an infrastructure that was already in place. Atlantic City’s club owners, meanwhile, began exploiting the very African-American entertainers who – by day – were relegated to a block-long stretch of Missouri Avenue known as Chicken Bone Beach. Abbott & Costello were performing in black face. The ethos of greed began exacting a toll.
While the scale and timelines differed, Wildwood seemed intent on repeating a lot of Atlantic City’s same mistakes. By the summer of 1997, there were rumors, rather prevalent, that Wildwood Mayor Fred Wager had been negotiating a deal with the Lenni-Lenape – a Native American tribe that had originally settled the Delaware Bay. Wager wanted to welcome the Lenni-Lenape back in return for them opening a casino on sovereignty grounds. Assuming all of the pieces fit, Wager’s definitive stroke would be to approve construction smack-dab in the center of the island, at Schellenger and Pacific, a deteriorating block where both John Vollrath and Susan Negersmith had been fatally assaulted, less than 200 meters apart.
All of this kept running through my head as the North Wildwood Police pulled up in a patrol car. Larry Sharpe was being ordered to take his business elsewhere. A pair of wrestlers began collapsing tables, and as they descended the ramp at 26th Street, King Kong Bundy approached me from behind.
“How much for the lobster?” King Kong Bundy asked. He was motioning toward one of several four-foot pieces of plush hanging upside-down inside the Ring Toss. Normally I wouldn’t have sold that piece for anything less than $60 (a 114% markup), but given the circumstances, I sold it to Bundy for cost. The two of us got to talking, at which point Bundy made a joke about not even being on the card that evening. “Just in town to show my face,” he said. Bundy was wearing a gray cotton T-shirt. He was an Atlantic City native, as he went on to explain.
“That night, in a tent, I had a war with some old Calypsonians. A tent is a bamboo shack with a palm roof. The Calypsonians sing in them during carnival and charge admission. A war is where three Calypsonians stand up on the platform in a tent and improvise in verse. One man begins in verse, telling about the ugly faces and impure morals of the other two. Then the next man picks up the song and proceeds with it. On and on it goes. If you falter when it comes your turn, you don’t dare call yourself a Calypsonian. Most war songs are made up of insults. You give out your insults, and then the next man insults you. The man who gives out the biggest insults is the winner.”
We were standing along the east wall of the Fairview. It was a Thursday after 2 AM. There were people brushing past on either side.
“I was going to have it aborted, but it’s already got limbs and ears, and so I guess I probably – ”
“You’re sure?” I interjected.
“Yes,” Laurie insisted.
“You’re sure it’s mine?” I kept right at it. An insult. A cliché. And yet it beckoned me to wonder. Laurie and I shared a history leading back to the previous April. The first time we’d had sex, it had started on a beach, then found its way into a bathtub. The second time, Laurie had requested that I tie her up with nylon binds. Laurie had a clit ring. She’d gone to bed with several locals. Over the course of 13 months I’d come to view her as a stalwart – irretrievably disposed to getting off at any price.
“How are we gonna handle this?” Laurie asked me. I could feel her blonde split
ends beneath my eye.
“Well, the first thing we’re gonna do is put this beer down,” I said. I took the Miller Lite from Laurie’s hand. “The second thing we’re gonna do is figure out what makes good sense.”
My mind was racing, cataloging through a series of events that had taken place within three months. There was that episode over Memorial Day, a gruesome lay that failed to account for any growth of limbs or ears. There was that episode toward the end of April, a drunken tryst throughout which I had failed to maintain any significant erection. And then there was that bender over Easter – a 48-hour period during which all the appropriate pieces seemed to gather. “It’s OK; I can’t
get pregnant,” a rum-soaked Laurie’d told me. And like a fool, I listened, digging in with
Laurie and I spoke at length, after which I left the bar alone. My legs had gone to jelly and the pulse of speakers filled my ears. I could not focus, and yet it occurred to me that Laurie’s story could’ve been for shit. Laurie had sound reason to feel spiteful. I had behaved like a chauvinist; enjoyed the spoils like a pig. And yet her level of complicity was such it begged the question of
All of these angles just kept orbiting, exploding in my consciousness at once: Would I be forced to stay in Wildwood? To secure year-round employment? Would I require benefits? A stroller? What would the costs be? Would there be any litigation? Would I love the child? Neglect it? Would I become a victim of postpartum? Would I wind up in a bar, passing around a picture, telling strangers, ‘She’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me’? How could I have been so fucking reckless? And Jesus-Lord, how could I make it stop?
I wandered back to the apartment, drank at the table until morning. It was the weekend now, which meant 14-hour shifts. I persevered, securing naps during my breaks. I’d told Laurie I would call her. Yet as the afternoons wore on, I put off looking for her number, completely cognizant of the notion once I phoned there’d be no turning back. I had only contacted Laurie once; had scrawled her number on the reverse side of a coaster. I employed that coaster as my alibi, maintaining I had little thought of where it might be found. In reality, I was 99% certain that it resided in a box stacked in my closet – Pandora’s chest among the ruins, the dirty secret in my room.
As passing days bled into weeks, there were only three people in whom I had confided. The first two were Lori and Joanna, and the third was a trusted coworker. I had told Lori and Joanna because they found me in the kitchen several hours after I had abandoned them at The Fairview that first night. I had told the coworker because I wanted credit for my ability to keep my head amidst the rush.
Toward the end of June my state of mind began to sour. I went from home to work to home again, and almost nowhere in between. I avoided the bars for the same reason I avoided my closet. Lori and Joanna had spotted Laurie in the nightclubs several times. According to them Laurie was drinking, going out of her way to smoke cigarettes on the sly. I hated Laurie. I hated her for what she had come to represent. I would envision her with an exaggerated overbite; I’d replace her nostrils with a snout. I would demonize Laurie’s stonewash jeans and that stupid ruffled shirt she wore. I would demonize the nasal quality of her voice, the way her cheeks ran deep with blush whenever she felt called upon to comment. I hated Laurie for allowing me to defile her; for failing to complain after I had passed out cold one night, then pissed on her during our sleep. I hated Laurie for liking me, for not accepting that I had nothing suitable to offer. The very idea of her made me nauseous; convinced I could not do the least bit better than myself.
Throughout high school and early college I was decidedly pro-life, denouncing abortion as a mainstream failure of accountability. My position reflected a lack of empathy, a lack of experience, a lack of respect for what it meant to carry any entity full-term. My position reflected the fact that – up until the age of 18 – I was a virgin, lacking any relatable compassion for what it meant to be a woman. Confronted with a child I was in no way prepared to adore, I had adjusted my perspective, maturing into yet another asshole for whom there was no right or wrong … only the sanctifiable promotion of self-interests.
Working on the boardwalk, I would often see them – disgruntled parents who had transformed their summer dalliance into a choice. Most of these parents were single, overweight, poorly dressed or oddly formed. Their children appeared distant, apprehending the world via snarl and glare. Looking at them reinforced the notion paternity was not a role for which I would be suited. Paternity remained the purview of my father. My father? The news would come as a surprise to him, but not a shock. My mother would cry. My sisters would fret. In the meantime, I kept refusing to answer the phone, fearful of who – or what – might force me into any obligatory disclosures. I started sleeping on the sofa, wind-drifting off into a world full of ambient sound.
“Bob … Bobby.” The voice belonged to Joanna, but it could’ve just as easily belonged to
I sat up, disoriented. I could feel the mist of dawn through sapphire blinds.
“I have to tell you something,” Joanna insisted. She was sitting along the edge of the couch. “I saw Laurie at The Fairview tonight. She was drinking a Miller Lite.”
“Oh, who cares?” I bristled. “I think we both know what Laurie’s been up to this entire time.”
“I said something to her,” Joanna interrupted.
“You said something to her about what?”
“I said something to her about this,” Joanna responded. She was circling the sofa with her arm. “I suppose that I thought it needed to be done. Anyway, I went up and I asked Laurie what the fuck her fucking problem was, and she looked at me as if I was insane. Only I kept at it, explaining you were sick to death over everything that was happening, and that it didn’t help that she was out enjoying her good time.”
“Why would you do that?” I stretched one hand across my temples. “Now she’s gonna show up at our door, assuming that I need her by my side.”
“No, she’s not,” Joanna lit a cigarette. “In the middle of our spat, Laurie started to cry.”
“She claims she had a miscarriage.” Joanna told me. “She claims that it happened a couple of weeks ago; that she was afraid to tell you for fear of how you might respond.”
“And then what?” I muttered.
“And then she left,” Joanna told me. “Ran out before I could ask her anything more.”
I leaned my head against the armrest. “You think she’s full of shit?” I said.
“No,” Joanna paused. “Up until tonight I would’ve said the entire pregnancy was just a hoax. But if that display that Laurie put on over at The Fairview was any indication … well, I just figured that you’d want to know.”
“Yeah … no … I do. I appreciate it. Thank you,” I said.
Joanna disappeared into her room.
Later that evening, Joanna and Lori surprised me with a “Bitch-Ain’t-Pregnant” party – a mid-July gathering that neglected to account for, or even acknowledge, any truth regarding my cowardice. There were loose-leaf banners strewn across the walls. “No Baby for Bobby,” one read; “You’re Free to Go Fuck,” another one offered. My secret was out, assuming that it had ever been an actual secret at all. And who could complain, what with all the pressure of it resolved? Tomorrow I would go to work, and I would have no way of knowing whether to mourn or curse or celebrate. Or at least that’s what I’d tell people. In my mind it remained fairly certain that I would’ve abandoned Laurie. The sudden news of any miscarriage only meant there’d be no dealing with that chore.