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Sunday, February 10, 2008
Last September, on a clear warm Saturday morning a week before my wedding, about ten of us celebrated my bachelor party by going fishing out in Sheepshead Bay. You pay $50 and get on the boat.
The seas were choppy and the boat was rocking as we headed away from shore, but even so a few of my friends climbed to the upper deck for the view. I followed them, but at the top of the steep stairs the boat listed to the left and I found myself suddenly at angles and without an easy grip. I tried to land on a plastic chair but went down too hard, and the chair exploded into three pieces, sending me backwards with my legs in the air. My friends thought this was wonderful. The boat's pissed-off captain ordered us back down to fishing.
“You are,” said Dave, whom I have known the longest in New York, and whose friendship is now comfortable and worn and tested, “a big and clumsy man.” I nodded. Dave, small and scrappy, is entertained by my giantism and likes to make me hold tiny things—miniature bottles of liquor or toy cars—so that I look even larger. “Big and little,” he explains, “classic.” He organized our day out.
I put a hook through the eyes of a minnow and took up a spot next to a man who was my neighbor for eight years, another great friend. He is from the former Confederacy, and whenever the boat stopped and the horn blew to let us know we could drop our lines, he would point to a bit of blank water a few feet away and say: “that right there's the honey-hole.” Soon the rest of us were pointing out honey-holes, and, after a dozen minutes, my honey-hole paid off and I pulled up an ugly sea robin. I fearfully tried to get my fingers into its thrashing mouth until my once-neighbor, shaking his head, reached over and yanked the hook for me, then threw the fish back into the bay and said something about my vagina.
We spent four hours in the sun, pulling up inedible bottom-feeders from the overfished waters then throwing them back. At last the horn blasted twice and a voice came over the ship's speakers to tell us that the morning run was ended. We put the fishing rods in their slots and tied down our hooks to keep them from flapping, and the engines fired up for a last push. I turned sternwards and looked upon the water in its infinitude, then faced the bow and saw the low towers of Kingsborough Community College slowly enlarging as we headed back to the dock. I contemplated a lifetime of incidental rituals, a gold ring, and water becoming land, and thought: huh.
“Listen,” said Dave, coming up beside me and leaning against the rail. “I need you to look me in the eye and tell me you didn't want anything truly awful.”
“I honestly don't,” I said.
He frowned and nodded. “Because I have shown remarkable restraint.”
But I think my blushing days are over. I've seen enough to know that a strip club, while sometimes fun, is at its essence overpriced alcohol and burdened, worried, naked single moms. And I thought back to another bachelor party three years ago, where the women turned out to be whores and a Russian man showed up with a gun. On that night, after seeing those things and some others, I had to go home and sit in the bath and look at my hands. From my own big day I wanted only for my mind to be as blank as the water, and to not hear certain words: hotel, rental, deposit, catering, family, necktie.
We disembarked, with maybe three fish between us, and some of the party split off, not wanting to see what came next; and half of us drove to the unconverted garage that Dave had recently bought from mobsters. There we would hang out, drink, reminisce, and whatever had been planned would happen. When I entered it was dark and there was a projection screen showing a slideshow of disturbing images, and into each my face had been digitally inserted—there I was staring out of the horrifically distended anus of the goatse.cx man, or grafted onto the body of a nude amputee. I was directed to sit in the large wooden chair below the screen.
“I asked Mo what you're not allowed to have,” said Dave, “and she said fried chicken and pudding. So we're going to eat that. And drink a lot of Scotch.” He put a bottle in my hand and looked at his watch. “Get drunk now,” he said. What a relief to be ordered to drink Scotch after months of list-making and phone calls and errands.
“I stink of fish,” I said.
“So smell like booze instead,” he said. “You have twenty minutes.” I dumped chicken and biscuits into my mouth, chased with huge gulps from the bottle, pausing to puff a cigar. The other men were mostly quiet, looking at each other, and then to me, and then to the door. Dave's cell phone rang. He took the call, and then he took away my cigar and said, “You need to wear a blindfold.”
Now all was blackness. Some pornographic music began to play, and there was loud cheering and clapping. I sat and smiled, a little wobbly. A minute passed and then I felt someone climb onto my lap, bare feet on my thighs. “Hello,” I said. “How you doing?” The person said nothing but put hands to my sides, rocking to the music, and my friends cheered. The music went on, as did the chorus of hooting all around, and something rubbed against my chest.
Finally the stripper took my hand and placed it on a rough-feeling, angular object that I gathered was supposed to resemble a breast, and now I knew for certain that, as I had come to suspect, I was getting a lap dance off a male dwarf—confirmed a few seconds later when the dancer took off my blindfold and was revealed, a Hispanic man in his twenties or early thirties, between three and four feet tall, in a gold lamé dress. “I'm Malachi,” he said. He smiled and we shook hands, and I blinked as flashbulbs went off.
He leapt from my lap and took off his wig to reveal shorn hair. He and I posed for pictures as everyone toasted us, and then he shook my hand again, grabbed his coat, and made to leave.
“Wait,” Dave said. “We paid for the hour.”
“But,” I said, “that's plenty, right?”
“Paul hasn't eaten pudding off your chest,” Dave said to the man in the dress, “has he?”
Malachi shrugged and laughed. It took a few minutes to set up, to get the angles right, but eventually he found a sturdy place on my lap where he could stand, and pulled my head into his false cleavage. He was very muscular; I remember his defined clavicle, and the powerful smell of his cheap perfume, joined with the mouth-texture of ultrapasteurized rice pudding and the tongue-burr of remnant tinfoil attached to the top of the plastic cup. I remember the softness of Malachi's dress as it brushed my cheek and the long pudding-coated wig hairs caught in my teeth, mixing with the chemical spices of greasy fried chicken. But you can only eat pudding that way for a few moments unless you use a spoon. So we played poker, and Malachi played my hands for me, and did very well.
Finally the hour was up, and he left, as did his two bulky handlers who called out the name of their website where you could rent little people for amusements. “Anything you want! Anything you want!” said one of them with an old-world-Brooklyn accent. “You want something crazy? St. Patrick's day, someone dances on the table, you need a dwarf at all.” As they left I saw that Malachi waddled a little in his dress, and noticed that he was wearing a kind of diaper.
After that a lull ensued, so we went out. “Originally,” Dave said as we walked to a bar, “the plan was to handcuff the guy to you while we were eating. And he would say nothing. Just come with you everywhere and look up at you and blink.”
“I'm glad that didn't happen.”
“You know what, though? You have no idea,” said Dave. “See, the key is when you get them on the phone to just keep saying, 'Well, okay, that's interesting, but what's possible if we go up in price?' Just keep repeating that. You learn things.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like how much it costs to have a dwarf in a strap-on hump a stripper on a wrestling mat. Which is four thousand dollars. And I think you are a wonderful friend, and I'm sorry, but you are not worth that to me.”
I thought this was fair and said so, drawing on my cigar. “You know,” I said, “that was incredibly exploitative. But for some reason the fact that it was a dude in a dress made it less bad. He's just getting paid.”
Dave shrugged, indifferent to this thoughtful and sensitive political analysis. “Do you feel properly bacheled?”
I said, “I will be very old and looking at my great-grandchildren play in the surf, and the sun off the ocean will bring unbidden to mind a vision of that blindfold lifting to show me a little man in a golden dress with his small hand on my chest. I am grateful for that.”
“Good,” he said. “That's what I was aiming for.”
From that moment the night splits into sloppy fragments: I was in a photo booth at some bar; I was sitting in a large leather chair scared to stand up; I was leaning over a toilet fountaining gobbets of chicken and pudding. A car was called; my former neighbor, he of the honey-hole, saw me home. I was through the front door to my building, and had to crawl up the stairs because I couldn't find the banister (it was there; I just wasn't looking). I closed the door behind me and turned on the light. It was still early—maybe eleven—and Mo was out with friends. The apartment was empty except for the cat.
Mo tells me that I called her from the bathtub. She had already heard the story and been warned of my state. “How,” she asked, “was your tiny dancer?”
“Baby,” I said, “I just love you so much. And I also am trying not to splash water on the floor.”
“Listen, don't fall asleep in the tub,” she said. “That is very important. And you need to throw up again. Do you want me to come home?”
“And you know I am so glad that I am going to marry you.”
“Yes, but you're going to vomit again first,” she said. “Promise me you will vomit.”
“Baby,” I said, “yes, of course, for you. In just a moment I am going to puke so much fried chicken and biscuits and Scotch and pudding and wig hair and cigars.”
She sighed. “Do you swear?”
“Right this minute. I'm getting out now. I truly, truly, truly, truly, truly, truly swear it.” I crawled out of the bathtub on my hands and knees. “I do,” I said, trying to keep the phone dry, carefully following instructions.
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