Mr. Cab Driver

Mr. Cab Driver believes he is happy, but he really doesn’t care because he knows that no one will ever be reading this summation.  He has all of his ducks in a row, as far as he is concerned.  Everything he has done in his life has led to this point where he is happy.  He picks up two fares that make him question everything.  The first is a little old, Russian lady that is as ashamed of her son, as she is proud of him.  The second fare is an unsatisfied woman who looks to a cab driver to make her day.  He laughs at her, and he is disgusted by her, but she teaches him more about Mr. Cab Driver than he would care to admit.

Words: 17,221

Rated: R.  Some objectionable subject matter, and language, may not be appropriate for young minds.

Mr. Cab Driver

I am a cab driver. Most cab drivers will not tell you this when you meet them. Most of them will hyphenate their occupation with something else that they enjoy. Me, I have no hyphens, I am a cab driver, and I enjoy every minute of it.

imagesI fashion myself a realist. I’m not lazy, but I’m not extremely ambitious either. I’m not brilliant, but I’m not stupid either. I’ve had my work ethic, talent, and intelligence challenged by one of the city’s most prestigious brokerage houses, a complicated online company, and by one of the city’s most prestigious hotels. I’ve used my mind to its fullest extent, and I used that to succeed on many levels in those companies, but I got bored. There is a limit to the degree to which I could engage myself in those companies. I say this only to let you know I’ve seen the other side, I know the other side, and I’ve succeeded on the other side. It’s just not for me. I’m a realist, and I think I have a better grasp on this person that I am than most people. Some people say that you can become a better person by trying to live up to the lies you tell others about yourself. I’m not about all that. I’m much happier accepting who I am, warts and all.

“Now, wait a minute,” one of my fellow cabbies said, “How can you be a happy man? You’re down on your luck.” This guy came on very confrontational.  His manner suggested that I should be required to accept a truth about myself that he obviously hadn’t.  He was in my face telling me about my plight, and the plight of all cab drivers, and he would be damned if I was going to accept it and have the audacity to be happy about it.  We need to be angry about all that fate has thrown at us, this angry man basically said, and if you aren’t well you just need to sit down with yourself and re-evaluate all this.

Some of my fellow cabbies are here as a result of failure. Others, like me, have experienced the hustle and bustle of the big life, and we just didn’t enjoy it. Unlike me, however, most of these people will tell you that they were railroaded out of their career by some bigwig in the company that took a personal disliking to them. When one complains in such a fashion, you never know to what degree they’re telling the truth, but you usually take the side of the person speaking to you.  You usually sense that there’s something therapeutic to their rant, and you allow them to continue with their façade.

Some would say that it’s almost a sin to admit that there is a limit to your talent and their desire to succeed in the land of opportunity and sunshine. I find it liberating. Some consider it rewarding to speak of their paycheck and to talk about how many people they have working under them. I like to talk about freedom. I like to talk about how I work forty hours a week, I go home, I read or write or watch TV, and I go to bed. I am free to do what I want and when I want. I would rather be free than rich or prestigious. I am a cab driver.

“I am an entrepreneur slash cab driver,” you’ll hear my best friend in the Happy Cab company say. “I am an architect slash cab driver,” you’ll hear our best cab driver say. “I am an actor-cab driver,” you’ll hear our best looking cab driver say. His name’s Terry Byrne. I hear he’s hot.

There was a time when I did hyphenate and slash cab driver with a number of things, but I guess time just ate those dreams out of me. I became a realist. I became a person so comfortable in his own skin that I didn’t need the accoutrements that come with success, I didn’t need the validation of others, and I didn’t need to think of myself as successful to be able to sleep at night. I just needed enough money for my food, my books, my music, and my occasional night out.

I like to drive a cab for a living, but I’ve found that I have to keep that under my cap. I keep that a secret, because the guys in dispatch would have none of it. I used to trumpet it about on a daily basis. I used to counter my fellow cabbies complaints with, “Really? I kind of like it here.” The ‘S’ storm that would follow is the reason I now keep this fact under my hat. They would mock me, ridicule me, and do everything they could to keep me from saying it again. I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now. I like it here. I took their arrows for it proudly, until I realized that they weren’t slinging these arrows at me to get me to see the light. They didn’t want to look at themselves as cab drivers, and when I said all this, it caused them to look at themselves a little too closely for their comfort. There’s no such thing as cab drivers in my dispatch. We’re all on the road to glory in one form or another. We just haven’t found that right road in the here and now. I have. I’m a cab driver. Keep it under your hat.

If I were to pick a career, say Saint Peter were handing out careers not rears, like he did when people without a brain thought he said train and hopped on one, it would probably have something to do with telling stories.

Stories are my business. Telling stories to my fellow passengers and listening to their stories is how I make it through the day. It’s how I’ve managed to be so happy in my current career. I love to hear the stories of my fellow man. I love to hear what makes them tick. As you’ll read below, the stories of two women made my day and my week one time. I’ve told these two stories so often that they’ve kind of become mine in the process. I love that. I love to hear a fellow cabbie, such as Tad, tell another cabbie: “That’s nothing, Perry tell them you’re stories.” I’m Perry by the way, Perry Moore.  Sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier.  That was rude.  Anyway, Tad says, “Tell them that story about the old lady or the horny lady you picked up outside the Chicango. People identify me with these stories, and I can’t hide my thrill when this happens.”

I got over the idea that I would be the next Stephen King or Herman Melville some time ago, but that fact hasn’t killed my passion for telling these stories. I accepted the reality of it, and I moved on. I’m not a great writer, and I realized that a couple thousand pages in. Yeah, it was a painful realization, but I think it’s the painful and glorious realizations that shape us throughout the course of our lives. The painful realization that I encountered on this path was that I am not a great writer. I could never set up a scene in the manner Faulkner could, and I could never describe a character in the adept, economical manner of a Hemingway. It’s just not in me. The linear realization I made is that I don’t care for writers in my reading, when compared to being an incredible storyteller. The goal of course, as with those mentioned above, is to combine the two. I could not. I’m a cab driver. I’m a storyteller.

Friends have informed me that I am a born storyteller. I think they say this only to say something positive about me when we’re drinking and laughing and carrying on. I’ve never really showed any interest or aptitude for anything else, so I think they’re trying to prod me into doing something, as good friends will. Either that or they are just being kind. It wouldn’t matter if they said something negative, or nothing at all, I would still do it. Telling stories is just something I enjoy doing.

Being a real blabber mouth is one of the detriments to being a storyteller. People tell me secrets, I blab. I can’t stop it. If I spend time with a Janie, I’ll eventually tell her the tale that Ernie told me in the strictest confidence. I can’t help it. Rita once told me that it had something to do with the fact I couldn’t stand lulls, “because lulls let people look at you. They see you. They see what you’re made of,” she said. “That’s what you’re afraid of. A story distracts them from you.” I told her that that wasn’t it, and I truly believed that when I refuted her notion, but the more I think about it the more I think she was right smack dab on the mark. I’m a single, balding, forty-something male that doesn’t know how to dress, doesn’t have much going on in life, isn’t very ambitious, and prefers a night with a great book to a great career or a night out with the fellas.  It’s one thing to be who you are, and to love what you do, it’s quite another to lay it out for another to hear and evaluate on a grander scale.

“You have to promise you won’t tell anyone…” That’s how I usually start my diversions, my stories. It happens during the quiet moments when I think I’m losing someone. I see that now, now that Rita has caused me to look at myself in ways I otherwise wouldn’t. The guilt that follows divulging someone’s inner most secrets will keep me up at night, but the next day I’m up and at it again. Most people enjoy making people laugh and think and cry and shrivel up in fear. For me, it’s more of a compulsion. They say that storytellers are great liars, or that they were at one time until they learned to channel their desire to tell fibs into telling stories. I think storytellers are great liars and big blabbermouths, and with Rita’s summation of my personality in mind I have to say the two are probably conflated.

As with anyone who enjoys telling and writing stories, I enjoy hearing them almost as much. They’re boring stories for the most part. They’re usually pedantic, mundane, and so personal that they wouldn’t mean anything to those beyond the storyteller and his listener. But the one thing that I’ve realized more than anything else is that these ‘boring’ stories are our stories. They’re stories that make us who we are. They’re as much a part of us as our pancreas, our liver, or our earlobes. These stories are as deeply meaningful to us as The World According to Garp was to John Irving. We may not have the storytelling acumen that Irving puts forth, but that doesn’t mean that our stories aren’t every bit as meaningful to us as Garp was to Irving.

I had a fare on the morning I’m telling you about today who informed me that she was a mother.  She was a tiny, little Russian lady with broken English.  She was one of those poor, little immigrants that probably didn’t have too much money, but she always dressed in her finest dresses, and she never left the house without completely making herself up.  She was as demanding of those around her, as she was of herself, but she wasn’t demanding in a negative manner so much as she was direct and forthright.  She didn’t mince words in other words.

Most people feel compelled to hyphenate their lives for the approval of others, but this little old lady didn’t. Being a mother defined who she was. It was the joy and the sadness of her life. I respected that in a way that I believe all those previous paragraphs illuminate. Most of us are all about our expectations and promise in life, and that’s how we define our happiness to others. This woman was just as happy as anyone I ever met. She appeared to know her limits, but she couldn’t restrain her smile at the same time.

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for mothers. I lost mine at a very young age, and I’m attuned to them in a manner most aren’t. The unconditional love they have for their offspring really gets to me. It makes me think of everything the offspring has done and all the times the mother has had to be there for them to help them through. It makes me think of all the meals she has cooked for them with that special ingredient of care a mother puts into the food she is about to feed her children. It makes me a little jealous.

“His name is Timothy,” this mother said passing forward a picture of her beloved and slovenly creature who looked like he could use some introductory grooming and bathing courses at the local community college. Timothy chose to represent himself to the world with a Tolkeinesque beard, an automotive mechanic’s T-shirt, and a beer in one hand while sitting on what appeared to be his favorite couch. They were the qualities that only a mother could show with pride.

“He’s such a good boy,” she said when I handed that picture back. “He loves his mother with all his heart, but he isn’t much more than that. He had such potential at one time,” she added. “I thought the world was his oyster, and I told him that so.” Here, I’m thinking that any mother would say that. My mother probably would’ve said that if she’d seen me to adulthood. I’m sure I had a gift for something in life at one time, but I never found it, and I don’t think she would’ve been able to help me find it either. She probably would’ve talked about my potential though. What mother wouldn’t? What would it have said of her if she hadn’t? If she was being honest with the person she was talking to, though, I think she would’ve said that she just wanted me to be happy. She would’ve said, ‘I hope that he and his family love each other in the manner they appear to love one another.’ This old lady saw true promise in her Timothy though. She wasn’t faking it in that motherly manner.

“He was a basketball player,” the old lady continued. “He wasn’t a great ball player, but he was good enough to make the varsity his senior year.” The old woman smiled wistfully here, remembering the day. She was probably in the stands right then and there, in her mind, cheering him on.

“He convinced his coach, in one of his last games at the school, to let him play the piano at halftime,” she continued. “Timothy was a beautiful pianist. His piano teacher said Timothy had something of a gift that he should pursue. She said that Timothy played fairly complicated pieces effortlessly. When he played this tune, he decided to sing on it. Timothy didn’t have a great voice, and he knew it, so he sang softly on this tune to cover for his lack of voice. It was such a beautiful piece. I sat in the stands and just cried and cried. I caught a couple other people smiling, and the rest of the audience was at least respectfully silent if not appreciative. At the end, he stated that the song was for his Renee.

“You see your little boy grow up,” she said. A smile won out over her appreciative tears. “You see him say mama and dada, you see him walk and fall, and then if you’re lucky enough in life you get to see your boy do something really special. This was special. It was a piece he composed all by himself. I don’t know how long it took, but it was all his. It was too much for me. I was filled with such pride, that day in the gym, I just cried and cried. I don’t know if you have had a moment such as this, but it makes you feel like your boy heard all the things you said about how he would one day do something special.  When I go back to this day, in my memory, I see all the hundreds of people in that gym stand and applaud.  I see young mothers weeping and old men gleaming with pride.  That is a lie that I choose to believe.  In truth, maybe twenty people clapped.  They were probably confused that a love song would be played at a basketball game, but every single sound of two hands hitting together made my heart flutter as much that day as it does now.  It was the greatest moment of my life as a mother.”  The woman spent a few moments composing her face in the back of the cab. She was so overwhelmed at this point, she couldn’t speak.  Then, just as I was about to comfort her, she continued:

“Timothy’s Renee girl didn’t see it the way I saw it, or the twenty people who clapped their appreciation. She was embarrassed by it. You know how fickle young girls that age can be. You know it. I know it. Young boys don’t know it. Young boys idealize young women. They put halos around those they choose to romanticize. Timothy was devoted to his Renee. Well, she taught him some of those hard realities that you and I know about. He came home day after day just crying his eyes out. He couldn’t believe how cruel she could be.

“He came to me for answers. He came to his mama. Previous to that moment in his life, his mama had been able to make everything right for him. In that moment, I couldn’t think of a damned thing to say, and I’m one of the smarter ones. I’m one of those annoying people who always knows the right thing to say.   People have talked about my quick wit for as long as I can remember, but I couldn’t come up with a thing to say at the most crucial moment in my young boy’s life.

“I don’t know what this Renee girl said to my Timothy, but I never found the right words to counter them. I never found a way to soothe his soul. Oh, I tried all the usuals from the playbook: ‘You’ll find another, there’s plenty of fish in the sea,’ and I even tried, ‘you’re young Timothy. You’ll get over it. What seems like the end of the world now will seem silly when you become a man.’ None of these lines worked for him. He swore off the piano and everything else he could think up after that. I thought that was all just the foolishness of a young man whose heart had been broken. I had no idea that he would just give up on ever applying himself to anything again. I had no idea that he would fear rejection so much from that point forward that he would be afraid to try anything adventurous. You don’t think long term in situations like these. You think he’s eighteen, and it’s a learning experience, and he’ll move on.

“I often wonder how many brilliant, young men never saw the light, because some woman just tore it from their eyes. I wonder how many Mozart and Beethoven types never became what they were supposed to become, because some woman just tore the hopes and dreams from them.” Then, in almost the same breath, she added: “But I’m quite sure the poor girl, this Renee girl, had no idea how much influence she would have over Timothy’s life, or she wouldn’t have done what done.”

The woman then began to tear my heart out. “He’s a good man. He loves his mother. He does his job and pays his rent and does all the things a good man should do. He could’ve been so much more though. He could’ve been something if he was stronger. My boy’s weak,” she said. “He lets the little things just tear his heart out, and he gets so broken hearted. He knows he should do certain things in life, and a part of him wants to, but he has such fears, and it’s starting to be too late for him. Some of the times a mother has to kick her boy in the rear end and tell him to get out there and do something, and at other times she takes his head in her lap and tells him that everything is going to be all right while he cries himself to sleep. I can’t help thinking that if I had done something different my Timothy would be a better man. Some of them times even a mama doesn’t know what to say.”

There wasn’t anything more to that story. The woman remained quiet throughout the rest of the fare. I prompted her for more information. I loved the story. I wanted the answer to every ‘W’ question I could conceive. She answered all of my questions, but her answers were quick, simple responses that told me she could go no further. She laid her son’s story out from beginning to end with the thought that she would probably never see me again. She expressed the hopes and dreams she had for her son, but there comes a point in everyone’s story where one can go on no further. We tell people our story from our angle, but there comes a point in our story where we can no longer give our perspective and we must start in on the objective angle of the story that reaches into our inner core and tells us more about ourselves than we want to tell or see.

As I took the lady’s money and thanked her for telling me her story, I couldn’t help but think that she was a broken woman to some degree, and that she just needed to talk to someone. I realized that we all have stories, and we all need to get them out. If we don’t, we just whither on a vine and eventually drop off into the abyss of forgotten lives.

I told this story to Tad a couple days later, and he said he thought I was probably overdoing it. Most people say this about the stories I relate to them. They say I can get a little carried away. They say that I read too much into things, and they say that I fabricate details. I don’t. I tell the straight poop. I find that the truth is often far more compelling than that which my creative mind can create. Tad said that no matter what this old woman told me, she was too soft on her Timothy, or he would’ve gotten out there and done it. When I told him my theory on stories, he said I was overdoing that too. Tad’s never thought much of my stories.

I’ve written many stories of our days at Happy Cab. We have a ton to tell, but most of them are fairly common. Most of them sound great when we all sit down at dispatch with our cokes and coffees, but when they’re actually put to paper they lose something. The one story that appears to live well on paper involves a customer I picked up later than night. She was another person who had a story to tell. She never told me her full story, but what I saw was enough for me to ponder her story for many years thereafter.

This woman gave me no destination when she got in my cab. “Just drive,” she said. “Flip the meter and drive.” I know this has been depicted a number of times in Hollywood, but in my experience it’s rare. On the few occasions it’s happened to me, it has not turned out well. This woman was shaken. She was devastated by something that had happened inside the bar I picked her up at called The Chicango, and she appeared to need a long drive to nowhere to sort through it all.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” the woman asked. I told her I didn’t. She lit up. Her hand shook. She wasn’t scared. She was frazzled. She was a little upset. We didn’t speak for the first five minutes of the fare. After her hand shook when she lit up, her only movements were those involved in taking drags off the cigarette. She sat in the furthest corner of the cab looking out the window, exhaling out the crack in the window she made for her smoke. If she was better looking, the shot would’ve excited Fellini. I was so curious, I wanted to stare, but I didn’t. I merely took mental snapshots and devoured them mentally, conjuring up her story.

I’ve never been the type to pat someone on the shoulder and say there there, but I’m a great listener, and some of the times that’s all a person needs. Some of the times, I sense that a person needs a story. I tell them some story of my life, or a life I have created. Usually these stories involve some sort of humiliation. People seem to love them. It makes them feel better about themselves to hear that some poor slob’s got it way worse than they do. The Germans call it schadenfreude—taking joy in other’s pain.

I got the feeling this woman didn’t want a story. She was in a cocoon of her own sadness, and she needed to work herself out of it. I’ve learned that you don’t mess with someone when they’re trying to work their way out of a cocoon, for it gives them strength to do it themselves.

As compelling as her sad little figure was at that moment, she was just another fare on another day that I would not have remembered in anyway, until she said: “Where do you go after your shift?”

It should be noted that I picked this lady up in front of a bar called The Chicango. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the bar, but everyone at Happy Cab knows it well. It has a reputation. Whenever a story begins, “So, I had this fare from the Chicango…” we all sit back with expectant smiles and someone usually says, ‘here we go’, and there’s always a line behind that. One of the best lines I heard was ‘if a lady couldn’t get laid after a night in The Chicango, she either wasn’t trying, had visible leprosy lesions, or she was a man.’ That line was from Tad. Tad is the comedian at Happy Cab. He usually has a line here or there that just floors you, and in my experience Tad ranks in the absolutely hilarious category for a man who considers himself an accountant before the hyphen or slash.

“I go home,” was all I said to this female fare’s question of where I go after my shift. I adjusted the brow of my cap to prevent her from seeing my eyes. I don’t enjoy the cat and mouse games women and men usually play with one another. I usually lose those games. Most men do, but most men don’t seem to care. They prefer playing the game to having no game at all. Women know that too, so they flirt for the harmless sport of it. They usually don’t mean anything by it, and they usually don’t want anything to come of it. They just do it to hone their cat and mouse skills and to validate their beauty. They don’t think anyone will get hurt by it. They don’t consider a guy’s feelings when they enter into it. Men don’t have feelings, they tell themselves. Well, I do.  I get hurt. It’s the reason I don’t play along.

“I don’t take cabs often,” she said. “And I don’t drink. For some reason, I decided to drink tonight,” she said. “For some reason, I decided to take a cab.” The two of us didn’t talk much in the first half hour of our drive beyond that. She made me uncomfortable. I kept looking at the meter, the lady, and the time. If she was planning on taking up my time like this, I thought, she had better give me a great tip. In the midst of a couple of my circular glances, I asked her which way to turn. She would always give me a direction, and then she would fall back to her silence. She was working her way through her cocoon.

“Is there a rule against passengers riding up front,” she asked, “or is it a standard?”

“They don’t like us to do it,” I said simply.

“But they leave it up to your discretion?”

“I’m a person who believes that all rules and…standards are put in place for a reason,” I said. She was disappointed and hurt by the statement, and a part of me hated to say it. As I said though, I was tired of the cat and mouse games that men and women play with one another at this point in my life. I like my women to be direct. I attribute the actions between men and women to be much like those involved in gambling, and I always lose on those rare occasions I choose to gamble. I have a standard line I use whenever the subject of gambling comes up: “I may have a problem with gambling one day if I ever win. Until that day arrives, it’s not going to be an issue for me.” The difference between gambling and women, of course, is that when you lose at gambling all you lose is money.  It may hurt your pocketbook, and it may hurt your mind to think of all the freedom you lost betting on a couple of dice, but your heart is usually left untouched by the event.

She was just a passenger. I had had about thirty to that point in my day. About twenty of them were talkative. I was all talked out. I wanted to pick up a fare, drop off a fare, and go home, read my book, and go to bed. The most interesting fares happen in those times, those times when you’re as disinterested as you could possibly be.

She told me about her overbearing mother; her no good “lay about” boyfriend who couldn’t perform sexually; and her incredibly boring job. “Why do we do it Perry?” she asked. The fact that she knew what my name was no surprise, she read it off my hack license. The fact that she used it so casually caught me a little off guard. She used it in a manner that suggested that we had been friends for years. “No one dreams of these jobs when we grow up. No one dreams of sitting behind a computer doing algorithm reports for twelve and a half years only to return to a home to a cat that hates you and a goldfish that’s still afraid of you after three years.

“I’ll tell you why we do it,” she said with a sparse pause between her sentences. “We want independence. We don’t want our mothers ruling our lives when we’re forty, so we take a shit job that doesn’t pay shit, to try and pay some bills with it, and somewhere along the line of our shitty lives we gain a sliver…a little booger’s worth of independence. After we have achieved this feeling of independence, we realize what a shitty life we’ve paved for ourselves, and we wish we could go back to that proverbial womb our mothers created for us. But our fucking moms are the ones who made us into the mess we are today, and we know it, so we keep the shitty job because we fear that this is the only thing preventing us from having to move back in with them. We also fear, because we’ve seen the kiss ass bitches schmooze and snooze their way to the top, that we can’t do anything else. We can’t rise within the corporation, because we don’t want to lower ourselves to Kate Underseer’s level of laughing so hard at the boss’s jokes that she throws her back out. We fear that no one will pay us this kind of money, because we’re not qualified to do anything else, so we adapt to all the shitty rules they enforce on us, and we say: ‘At least we have a job.’ And we say, ‘and in this economy that’s saying something.’ And we convince ourselves that we must be doing something right, because we still have a roof, we can call our own, over our heads.

“You want to hear the truly awful aspect of it all?” she continued. She spat out that last sentence with disgust. I couldn’t believe there was something truly awful that this woman hadn’t already covered, but I nodded her on. “We forget all the youthful enthusiasm that brought us to this point in life. We forget the bravado, the piss and vinegar, and the hours we spent in our dorm rooms studying whatever we had to to get away from mother. We want to forget. We don’t want to be reminded of the fact that we used to be truly independent and happy and carefree and lackadaisical about life. We hate people who remind us of that happiness, and we go home hoping some new episode of some stupid show will make us laugh that night, and if it doesn’t maybe we can get drunk and laid and forget out it all for just one night.”

“There’s some truth to that,” I said. I was filling the lulls, as Rita told me I have a propensity to do, but this lady did have some valid points. What was it Arthur Schopenhauer said, I asked myself, ‘truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first stage: it is ridiculed. In the second stage, it is opposed. In the third stage it is deemed self-evident.’ I wondered if this woman’s vengeful rant could pass through the Schopenhauer truth detector.

“And do you want to hear the worst part?” that sentiment was losing its cache with me. She used it too often. “I’ve stopped working out.” She bumped that out in a manner that was volleyed. I didn’t bite. “That’s right,” she said to fill in that blank I left for her. “I told the girls at my gym I can’t take it anymore when they asked me why I was canceling my membership. I can’t take being this aware of my life. They gave me this look like, huh, and I said I can’t take the acute awareness that working out gives me. When I go a week without working out, my worthless job seems bearable. I can sleepwalk through a day and be done in what seems like a flash. When I work out all my neurons are firing at maximum capacity, as the neurologists say, and every minute feels like an hour that I have to remain glued to my seat. Every miserable customer who calls me from their miserable lives to tell me that I’m a fucking miserable person makes me miserable. Every person who calls me bitch and…the ‘C’ word gets a fork in their eye in my imagination, and I’m sure that comes through in my voice. So, I just said fuck it. I’m not going to remember every second of every day, and I’m not going to work out anymore. Health be damned. I’d rather die than take a healthy, aware look at what my life has become.”

“Have you ever heard that Jeffrey Dahlmer drilled a hole in the top of the head of one of victims,” I asked.  This joke, this truth, has never gone over well.  I’ve told it a number of times, but no one has ever thought it was as funny as I have.  She said nothing.  She dragged on a cigarette and blew it out of the corner of her mouth to the crack in the window.  “In his diluted state, Dahlmer believed that if he could kill the brain, he could go on violating their bodies without the nuisance of the sass that they gave him when he violated their bodies.  He didn’t like all their screaming and fussing, so he thought if he could just kill off their brains he could have them do his bidding silently.  I’ve often wondered if corporate America wouldn’t love to do the same thing to us.”

She smoked, blew to the crack, and chased the smoke with her cigarette butt.  “Do you have a marijuana cigarette?” the woman asked. “Alcohol just isn’t doing it for me tonight,” she said, “and I’ve smoked enough tobacco tonight to drop a camel. I need marijuana,” she said pronouncing the latter word mary jo wanna in a joking manner I didn’t get.

“I don’t,” I lied. The idea that this woman was a cop hadn’t crossed my mind, until she asked that. One of my high school teachers taught me a lesson that stuck with me for life. After doing whatever he did, I can’t remember that exact incident sorry, he told me ‘when you’re in your most unguarded moments, you should be most on guard’. It was a valuable lesson then, and it had been used countless times. I was tired the day I picked this woman up. My day had been jam packed with nearly thirty passengers, and I hadn’t slept well the night before. The streets were as icy as they’d been in the seven years I’d been doing this job, and I was distracted. I was distracted and tired and unguarded, so I was most on guard.

“C’mon!” she said.

I hesitated. I opened the door to her inspection.

“I know you have to have a little something,” she said. “Something.”

“Let me see a tit,” I said.

“A what?”

“A tit.” At this point, in the story, I’m sure many of you are considering the fact that I may be a troglodyte who wants nothing more than to see a woman’s mammary gland, and that I get off on such degradation. You’re thinking that I take advantage of people, women, at their lowest point with this suggestion. Let me assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is I have tried everything. I tried, “are you a cop?” Someone told me that a cop has to answer that honestly, and if they don’t it is entrapment. Officer Hillencamp informed me that that someone was dead wrong. I’ve tried determining if a person was a cop based on the location where I picked them up. Officer Koiva taught me that that is not a solid plan. I’ve even tried turning down every fare who asked you for the stuff, but the extra cash is so good, and it’s so easy to sell. You can take a day off work after a day of selling this particular weed to eager passengers. So, with the ladies at least, I’ve taken to having them show me a breast before I go further. I haven’t figured out a perfect way to figure out male cops. I don’t want to go down that road. No female cop is going to show you her breast for the purpose of securing a possession charge. I usually keep two tightly rolled joints in my cab at any one time to prevent a possession with intent to sell charge. “You can have one of mine,” I said, “if you show me a breast.” I then informed her of my exorbitant hefty service and handling fees.

When I slowed to a stop at a stoplight, we stared at each other through my rearview window. I was gauging her, as she appeared to weigh how bad she wanted a joint. She looked out both windows. An impish smile crossed her face.

“I’m going to do it,” she said, “and it’s not that I want a joint that bad.” She leaned forward and lifted her eyebrows on me. “Got me,” she said awaiting my acknowledgement. I acknowledged her. “I’m not that fucking hard up,” she said, “just want to create a moment here.”

She struggled to get her breast out. I guess I never thought about how difficult it would be for a fully dressed girl to get a breast out, but this girl gave some unusual grunts. I didn’t watch her the entire time. I probably missed much of the hilarious, unusual moments of her struggle, but I had to keep my eye on the road.

“All right,” she said.

I glanced in the rearview, but from that angle I couldn’t see anything. I had to turn. I turned and saw her display it for me, but I couldn’t see anything. It was too dark. Right there, I should’ve just pretended I saw everything I wanted to see, but it had been a long time for me. I flipped the dome light on. I looked again. Most of us have don’t have very good organs and glands. Real life and real bodies are a lot different than those portrayed in Playboy and on Cinemax. Most people are soggy and they hang in odd ways when a cameraman doesn’t show you how to catch the light perfectly and how to oil up and gleam for the camera. Most people have bumps in certain places, discoloring and patches. She held her breast up for me to evaluate it. She appeared very insecure, and she should’ve been. With the dome light off, my imagination could’ve played with the idea of her contours and shape and voluptuousness. With the light on, the imperfections of her breast was open for my ridicule and scorn. It was an eyesore. She had trouble keeping it from drooping in anyway, she was cursed with way too much areola, and the color appeared to change four different ways. The latter may have been due to the lighting. I think it was. It was fairly large, but other than that it was awful. It had no ummph to it. I’ve been more turned on by a sack of radishes.

She made some joke about horny males that made her feel more comfortable about our respective roles in this endeavor. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’m not a horny male. I like women and all that, and I like carnal activity, but I’ve never been one to make a fool of myself in front of some woman so she might fondle my johnson at the end of the night. It made her more comfortable to define herself as the desired female and me as the lecherous male, so I left it at that. I even gave her a lecherous guy laugh to complete her characterization of me. If I were to play the tape back for you, though, you would see it as the forced laugh that it was. It was a soft, easy vomit laugh.

“How much time do you have left on your shift?” she asked. When she asked it, she asked it in a strained voice reserved for those toking on a strong joint. “Good shit!” she commented before I could answer.

“You’re my last fare.” I shouldn’t have said that. I had no interest in her. I had no interest in anyone at that time. I could’ve had Julia Louise-Dreyfuss in the back of my cab at that moment, and I would’ve allowed her to leave my cab, even if she was horny and hitting on me.

“Where do you head after your shift?” she repeated with an eagerness I thought lacked discretion for a woman alone in the city.

“Where are you headed?” I asked adjusting the brow of my cap to distract her from the fact that I was not interested. I was also not interested in putting myself on the line. If anything was going to happen, I decided after a turn onto Pacific Street, she was going to be the aggressor. I got the distinct feeling this woman would be more than capable of handling that role.

I was a bit like the old lady’s Timothy in this way. I did not like rejection. I hated myself later whenever I placed myself in a position where another could assume the role of rejecter. What I’m talking about here is the subtle difference between being rejected and feeling rejected. I’ve been rejected numerous times by women, but I’ve rarely felt rejected. I’ve rarely placed myself in a position where I was, excuse the expression, balls out for a blow. I have rarely placed myself in such a position, and I didn’t plan on it here. She wasn’t that good looking.

What I’m talking about is the respective roles in a relationship.  What was it Marcel Proust said about love and relationships?  “In a separation it is the one who is really not in love who says the most tender things.”  That sums it all up for me.  Relationships, even the most momentary, are all about power to my mind. They’re about hurting. Who can hurt who first, and if you hurt them more then they must’ve really loved you. That’s validation you can take to the bank. That’s more validation to some people than a huge paycheck, or the idea that you have thirty people working under you. It may be tougher to sell to a listener, without qualifying it with a laundry list of things you tried to save the relationship, but the personal rewards for laying someone out appear to be invaluable to some people.

“So, Mr. Perry Moore, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m what one would call a cab driver ma’am,” I said.

“No, silly,” she said. “I mean what do you do on your off time.”

“I read.”

“I love reading,” she said. “Books are among the most beautiful creations of man.” She was swooning. “I used to love to steal away on a park bench and watch life pass by with a book in my hands. I’d have the spring breeze lifting my hair. I’d have nothing to drink or eat. I’d just sit and read. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Unfortunately, the bitch keeps me locked up in my cubicle nine to five, and I’m too tired to do anything after that.”

Well, I thought, at least she didn’t say I don’t have time to read. I thought it was refreshing.

“I would love to have the time read now.” She said this within two seconds of my relieved thought. The excuse the separates readers and non-readers was out there for me to chew on. The tool was one that non-readers used to bridge the gap between those who do and those who dream about doing. They use it to make the reader feel silly about having too much time on their hands while they’re out there doing. I got a question for you, non-readers, what are you doing in your free time? I know, I know, you don’t have any, but what do you think of the latest American Idol winner? What do you think will happen to the latest movie star to fall prey to a drug addiction?

“Who do you read?”

“I prefer obscure writers,” I said, “I’ve read all the greats, but right now I prefer writers who have no format, no suspense, no mystery, and no horror. I prefer writers who just tell stories.”

“Well, I think we’ve established a bond here Mr. Perry Moore,” she said, “would you mind if I joined you up front?”

“We have standards and rules for a reason ma’am,” I said.

“I know, silly, I was just wanting to talk to you and look at you when I did,” she said. “Is there anything wrong with that?” she asked. “I hope you don’t think I’m going to rob you or anything. Maybe we could even pick up some fares and talk to them. You ever see that Taxi Cab Confessions show? Maybe we could pick up two transvestites, and they could fuck each other in the backseat for us. Has that ever happened to you? I can’t imagine,” she said without waiting for my answer. “I’m sure they scream and squeal and stuff. That shit’s gotta hurt. I’m no back alley Annie in case you were wondering.”

I wasn’t, but I gave her a lecherous, soft vomit laugh just to make her feel better about it.

“Please?” she said going back to her inquiry. “I’ll be good. I won’t touch you or nothing.”

“You can join me up front,” I said to try and get her to quiet a little. “We can’t take any more passengers though. That’s a strict rule. One passenger at a time.”

I pulled off to the right. I stopped, put the cab in park, and allowed her to enter the front seat. She seemed as pleased as punch by the event. “See here,” she said. “I thought it would be a wasted night. I thought I would be crying in the corner of my apartment thinking about how that gorgeous guy told me to get the fuck away from him. I thought I would go to work Monday as miserable as I was on Friday, until I met one Mr. Perry Moore. Thank you for saving my weekend.”

The girl was a talker. Rita accused me of being a person who couldn’t stand gaps, or lulls as she called them, but I was nowhere near as bad as this girl. She would exhale as she finished a sentence in the manner of a swimmer coming up for air.

“I have a boyfriend,” she confessed. She was all over my face with her eyes after that. She scoured my eyes, tried to read detail in my cheeks, followed by a minute of measure on my lips. “But you don’t need to worry about him.” She smiled a soothing smile. “He’s a fucking loser. I hate him. He doesn’t know how to fuck or anything. He just sits there. I keep saying, ‘Donny, you need to fuck me hard.’ He gets all sad and tells me he’s trying as best he can,” she took on squeaky, female tones that women use to characterize men they disregard as weak when she said that. “And you can just tell he’s a momma’s boy.” Hearing women describe sexual activity has always made me queasy. I know they do it. I hear that women can be crasser than men in the closed quarters of other females, but I’ve rarely heard it. I think it has something to do with the mystical manner in which I view sexual activity. I’ve never been able to view it as casually as many do in our ‘enlightened’ era. It’s meaningful to me, and when women minimize it, it makes it more meaningless to me for a few moments. I don’t care if guys do it. I’ve never wanted to have sex with a guy. Women have a special role for me, and I can’t stand to see them ruin it. This lady wouldn’t quit. I don’t know if she sensed my discomfort. I don’t know if she would’ve stopped if she had. She went into explicit detail describing poor Donny’s efforts, but I blocked most of that out. She talked about Donny’s member in a manner I never wanted to hear another man described. She talked about his squeals. That was the word she used ‘squeals’ upon release. I wasn’t interested, but I couldn’t help but think of a pig, which led me to thinking of Ned Beatty’s character in Deliverance, and all of a sudden this Donny character had Ned Beatty’s face and curly hair in my mind. I couldn’t help but laugh at that point, and that invigorated her, and she was onto her breathless sentences again. She appeared to be choking in the proverbial sense from that point forward, fearing that she may lose the peak of my laughter, but unable to stop and enjoy my laughter for what it was. “You can tell he never did anything hard in his life. Never had to, I think, cause his mama always done it for him. Well, Mama can’t fuck me the way I should be fucked, so he’s lost and telling me he’s doing his best, (again with the squeak) and then he’s crying all over me. Did I tell you he once cried and slobbered all over my vagina once? Uh huh. Poor sack of shit done lost it. I had to towel off when he was done. Said he got caught up in the moment while he was going down on me. I was yelling and all that, and he said it was so beautiful that he lost it. Started crying and telling me that he loved to hear me yell in passion, which I only do when he’s eating me out, cause he ain’t no good at anything else, and he just ruined the moment for me, and I told him so, and he started crying all over again, saying ‘what do you want me to do Teri?’ and so I say ‘be a man’. That’s what I want you to do Donny!” she was yelling this part and screaming at me. “Be a fucking man! All he wants to do is do his work for the day, play computer games, and go to bed. I don’t know why I started dating him in the first place. But I wanted a guy who wouldn’t crowd me, or get all smothery and eat up my space, and Donny leaves me alone for the most part, but he’s gotta learn that when push comes to shove you have to perform in life…in all aspects. He’s cute and all that-”

“Cab 3125,” came a merciful call from dispatch. It was Sandy. I thought about asking Sandy for some kind of excuse. I wished at that moment that Sandy and I had developed some kind of code word that would allow her to say something to the effect that I had to get back to dispatch pronto, so I would have to end this fare.

“-but a woman wants cute and-”

“Ma’am,” I told this lady, “I gotta take this.”

“Ma’am?” she said with a quick laugh, “you can call me Teri.”

“Gotta take this,” I said clicking the button. “3125 to dispatch, I have a long fare here,” I said to explain why I hadn’t returned to that point.

“Okay,” said Sandy through the receiver, “I just wanted to make sure you were all right with all the ice out there tonight.”

“Thanks Sandy,” I said, “I’m fine.” I returned the receiver to its housing.

“Hey, you wanna sit in a bar for a couple hours?” Teri asked me with an intrigued tone I’d only heard women use in reference to other men.

At this point, I’m sure every normal male would’ve run for the hills, and I could’ve. I could’ve told her that our rules and standards prohibited us from fraternizing with customers, and I could’ve returned home to the novel I was thoroughly enjoying, and this whole thing would’ve been washed out of my memory in two or three days. This girl was a sure thing, though. She had done everything but pull me out of my jeans and measure me. If she were just another in a long line of conquests, I may have pulled the standards and practices line on her, but it had been a long space of abstinence for me at that point.

“Sure,” I said. At that point I was paying attention to three things at once. The itch in my jeans was first and foremost, but I knew if I didn’t give at least forty percent of my attention to the icy roads there would be no relief for that itch. I was also paying attention to her, but she wasn’t getting the lion’s share of my attention.

Our fair city is usually pretty good at clearing our streets, and I’m pretty good at managing that which they haven’t. As a lifelong resident of the city, I’ve grown accustomed to the icy conditions, but as I said this may have been the worst I’ve seen the streets in seven years. Teri had me distracted; both with the prospect of bedding her for the night and her breathless, punctuation-less sentences. I was in the ten and two position at 114th and Pacific, and that helped me successfully navigate a slippery patch that allowed me to go back to watching her speak a second later.

She went on and on about her Donny, and how she was looking for someone else. I laughed knowingly, the lecherous, soft vomit laugh. I was getting into this a little at this point. I can’t lie. She wasn’t good looking, but she could be aggressive. I was sure she would prove wanton in a manner to which I could be very attracted.

“Do you have your car at the dispatch area?” she asked brushing her hair in the mirror of the visor.

“Yes,” I said turning to her to answer. We slid on the ice again. I was white knuckling it at that point. I pulled hard to the left, and then I relaxed and let it move into and out of its slide. She remained unfazed. “Did you see that?” I asked breathing a little hard, my heart palpitating, and fear surely coursing through my eyes. I was amazed at how casually she gauged the event. She had stopped combing during the slide, but once we cleared the ice she started combing again.

“What?”

“That slide we just had?” I asked. “That ice patch.”

“I did,” she said. “I’m Teri,” she said laying out her hand to be shook, “Teri Tinglehoff.”

I’ve shaken hands with a multitude of people in my day, and I know you don’t shake hands with a woman in the same manner you do a man. I laid my hand out gingerly, and she grasped it in the most powerful manner she could muster. She began pulling it as hard as she could. “What are you doing?” I asked. I tried to maintain my focus on the road. I tried to maintain the cab on the road, but she kept pulling. “What are you doing?” I repeated.

“What?” she asked.

We didn’t careen. That would be too harsh a word to describe what we did, but we did swerve. She pulled my hand to such a degree that the steering wheel flipped from my grasp momentarily. I wasn’t prepared for her to put all of her strength into a handshake like that. Had I been, I may have adjusted accordingly. Her handshake wreaked enough havoc on me that we ended up over the median.

“Why did you do that?”

“Do what?” she asked plainly.  She wanted her plain expression to be placed on the record. She just shook hands that hard, it appeared she wanted said of her, and that girl doesn’t know her own strength. I was still looking at her, waiting for that expression to change to an apologetic one, when I turned and focused my attention back on our current predicament.

We were high centered on a median. I tried backing up, so we could position ourselves behind the cross walk, but the ice wasn’t giving. We sat there for a good minute. A minute may not be an eternity, and some of you may not think it even noteworthy, but when you’re stuck up on a median, held out for mockery among your fellow drivers, it can feel like an eternity.

My embarrassment, combined with the fear involved in losing control like that, almost had me to bawling her out. I decided not to say anything. I decided that she would only ‘Donny’ me and say something along the lines of: ‘All I was doing was shaking your hand’ in her emasculating, squeaky voice.

I probably should’ve told her to get out of my cab right then and there. I probably should’ve said screw it all. You ain’t worth dying for honey child. I should’ve screamed ‘get out! and reached across her and opened her door. I probably should’ve said something like, ‘I don’t care what your excuses are, you didn’t have to do that.’ That would have cost me a fare though, and her fare was pretty substantial fare at that point. It would’ve cost me a night at home with that itch and nowhere to dump it. It would’ve caused me to punch my pillow, roll over in frustration and sigh at the ceiling. It also would’ve caused confrontation. I’m not good in the face of confrontation, and if there was one thing I could tell that this girl was good at, in the brief spate of time we spent together, it was confrontation. Whether it was Donny, or her boss at work, or the manner in which she reenacted her confrontations with me, I could tell she thrived on confrontation. I decided to let it go, get us off the median, and let it go. It was still embarrassing going forward and backward.

I thought about that handshake when I finally got the wheels to catch. I thought about how she clenched her teeth and how it was important to her that I remember this handshake. A man shakes hard and gruff. A man puts a lot into a handshake for it defines him among men. Did she seek such definition in her handshake? Was she trying to prove to me that she was no one to mess with in her handshake? It was an odd moment to be sure, and I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of it. I was sure she would in short order. I was sure she would analyze it to death if I put it up on the table for discussion. She was a talker.

“I’m thinking a bar would probably work now. Now that I got a little pot in me, alcohol might taste better,” she said, “or,” and here she drew out the word ‘or’ in a thought-provoking manner. “Or, we could go to my apartment. We’re close to both.” Her shoulders rolled back in a weak manner. She looked at me with that weakness on her face. It was the only time she displayed any kind of weakness in the lengthy cab ride. “I could go either way,” she said. Previous to her vulnerable gaze, she had been rolling back and forth between breathless sentences and half laughs and gazes out the window to whatever day she was referring to in her Donny diatribes. She had been looking from the street to me and back, yet she was mostly unfazed by the conditions of the street. She held my face in that vulnerable gaze for nearly twenty seconds.

“What?” I asked. I was genuinely clueless. I didn’t understand the look. I didn’t understand the silence.

“Donny’s not home tonight,” she said. That was when she looked away.

“All right,” I said. “How do we get to your apartment?”

“Take a left here,” she said. She proceeded to left and right me through the city streets and her neighborhood until we were at a small, out of the way apartment complex that favored the color green and woods and trees and a swimming pool that appeared to have been last used when troops were still in Vietnam.

In her apartment, we sat at her kitchen table. We talked nonsense. I think I complimented her on her kitchen. I think she said it was that way when she moved in. I told her I liked her pictures. She said the pictures were shit. I was trying to be a good guest. She said that she had taken pictures 40 times better than those in the last two months. She was a photographer, she said. She said this like she was an artist. She wanted kinship. I’ve never felt kinship with photographers. They push buttons. They manipulate intrinsic products. They capture nature, smiles, snails, a dog chasing a ball, a caterpillar on a dandelion. Who gives a crap? Comparing a photographer to an artist is like comparing a karaoke singer to a musician.

She told me she loved to sing. Said she used to do choir. That I could believe in. Said her Aunt something or other said she had real talent. Said she loved gospel, but said she could sing all types of music if she had to. Said she had a gift for tone. “Most people think they can sing,” she said. “Most people don’t know shit about tone.”

“Really?!” I asked genuinely enthused. I was trying to be a good guest to give good will to the host for the vast amounts of seminal fluid I was generating in her sunflower dining chairs.  Mood rings can only tell one so much, yet they still leave much to chance. A girl needs to feel good about herself before reaching the transom between emotion and mood. “Can I get a piece of that gum?” I said when conversations of her musical gifts began to subside.

“Sure,” she said in a manner that appeared to contain a ‘t’ somewhere within. She foraged for a piece. She just had the pack out, she just took a piece out, and she was just now chewing on it. She had just placed the pack back in her purse, yet she appeared to struggle to locate it. She smiled shyly at me with some embarrassment colored her face, or maybe it was eagerness, or maybe it was borne of tantalization. A piece of gum is what I asked for.

“A piece of gum is what I asked for,” I said. I was thoroughly confused. I’m sure my face was coloring too, but my coloring was borne of confusion.

She put her face in her purse, as if to search deeper into the canvas bag. She came up with a contraceptive between her teeth. She growled at me. She shook the contraceptive in her mouth. She growled more.

“A piece of gum is what I asked for,” I said.

She growled some more, undeterred by my confusion.

“I have no idea what I’m supposed to say here,” I said.

“You still want a piece of gum?” she asked. The intonation suggested it was either or.  There was no turning back after a piece of gum leaves her purse and goes into my mouth I think is what she was saying. I’m still not sure what happened at that exact moment.

“Yes,” I said. “I would like a piece of gum.”

She went to fridge after tossing my piece of gum across the table. She had one of those fifty-fifty fridges that opened lengthwise. One side was a freezer. The other side was a fridge. She opened the freezer and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “You keep your cigarettes in the freezer?” I asked. I had never heard of such a thing.

“Yeah, don’t you?” she asked as if I were the lone human on Earth that still didn’t understand the principle of keeping cigarettes in the freezer.

“I don’t,” I said. I was astounded by the notion, but even more astounded by the idea that this girl thought it was such an accepted practice that she was astounded that I had never heard of such a thing. The exchange that lasted reminded me of old black and white movies with explorers meeting Aborigine people for the first time and being introduced to their customs and ways of life. This is what the white trash do I realized.

“It keeps them fresh,” she said with a degree of fatigue she was starting to give all my questions. It was her way of life, and she believed in it. Who was I, this exasperation said, to question everything she did. The other thing was I got the idea that each of my questions led her to believe that I was losing interest in her. I wasn’t interested in her to begin with if the truth be known. I wasn’t interested in her long term anyway. “My Dad taught me that,” she said.

Her family had some serious smokers in it I thought when I learned of the freshness technique. Another odd routine that people develop unnecessarily in life, I thought, to give them something to do, and talk about, and go on in their daily life. ‘Why you stickin’ your ciggies in the refridge Billy?’ ‘Keeps ‘em fresh Norma Lou. Darryl taught me that.’ I’m not an expert on cigarettes, but I have to imagine that they have a shelf life of over a month. Either these people don’t smoke that often, which I doubted seeing this girl smoke, or the Dad had so few lessons to pass onto his daughter that he came up with this little nugget to have his baby girl think we was smart in some ways.

“Would you like a glass of something?” she asked.

“That would be just fine,” I said. “I’ve been craving something carbonated,” I said. “I think I’m becoming a bit of an addict.”

“Sorry,” she said. “Filtered ice water and iced tea is all we have.”

“I think I’ll do that tea,” I said. “That’s about as close as we’re going to get to abating my need for caffeine.”

She didn’t think that was funny. She didn’t think I was funny. I know that my idea of funny is outside the realm of what others consider funny, but most people are more polite in their reactions. Teri gave me lookaways.  The lookaways contained a ‘weird’ expression on it, a ‘what have I got myself into’ look.  These were lookaways that suggested that someone else was in on her reaction to my jokes.  These lookaways were given to walls and open spaces, like she thought people were watching us. Like we were on TV, I realized watching her lookaways. She’s giving those lookaways to whatever audience or camera she dreams is watching us. She watches way too much TV I realized.

“I think,” Teri said. “I think I’m going to drink a beer.” This was said in the manner of a teen telling their reserved, well thought of parents that they were going to put a ring through their nose. She said it with flair and bravado, as if she didn’t care what the social norms are. I drink a beer a night on average. I wasn’t hip to her game.

She canned that beer. She upended it and put it down like a man. I’m sure she would love to read that sentence about herself. After it was gone, this Teri girl let out one of the loudest, manlier belches I’ve ever heard. I’m sure she would love that sentence too. She put the beer down on the table and slammed it into the table with more force than I could’ve ever dreamed her conjuring. She flattened it square too. Some people have some left or the right sliding in their smashing. This girl put it straight down.

She kept crushing it, until it reached a point where no observer would have been able to determine what it once was. Her effort on the can lasted two full minutes. And when she finished, she held the can out for observance with a proud smile on her face, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what she expected me to do, but when I said:

“Not bad!” She acted very disappointed. So she continued, ripping the can, grunting and groaning with the effort, and glancing at my expression between intervals. I shrugged.

“You’re bored,” she said.

“No,” I said. “No, I’m not.”  That was the God’s honest truth.  I may have been a little freaked out by this girl, but I wasn’t even close to bored with her.

I’ve seen a number of the fellas cheer on their women when they belch or fart or smash a can or break a bottle, and I assume that was to be my role here. So, I cheered her a little. I said “Yeah!” I looked at the can and said, “Yeah!” I’ve seen some of the fellas do some of the same things with girls like say, ‘That’s my girl,’ when their women lifted a cheek to pass gas loudly, belch, or smashed a can, but I didn’t go that far.

When the spectacle reached its conclusion, she poured herself a glass of tea, and we talked about stupid shit at her kitchen table for a little while until our glasses were emptied. At that point, she began crunching on ice with emphasis. She was crackling it in her mouth. It drove me nuts after about the fourth cube.

“Do you have to crack it like that?” I asked.

She ignored the question. She kept cracking. She was trying to be impish when she did it. That didn’t suit her at all. “You know what they say about girls that chew on ice dontcha?”

I did not, and I told her so.

“They give good blowjobs.” That line right there has haunted me to some degree. People may not consider that a line to haunt someone, but when you go through those long ‘single man without sex’ draughts these lines ring through your head over and over until you’re punching pillows at night with bulged eyes at the ceiling and clenched teeth. A smooth person would’ve removed themselves from the table, taken her by the hand, and led her to the bedroom to prove it.

I either can’t or don’t want to remember what I did at that point. Suffice it to say there were no blowjobs given at that moment.

I realize at this point that many men are mentally stating that there’s no way all of this happened at such breakneck speed.  Some may conclude that this is an amalgamation of dates that I’ve slammed together to make for one interesting story, but I assure you that all of these events happened one after another on one Monday night with one fare.

Moments after I neglected to cash in on this oral invitation, I informed her that I had to go to the bathroom. There was some frustration in saying what I said. There was some need to fill in the blank beyond that assessment, but I did have to go. She told me where it was. I was about two steps en route when she screamed, “WAIT!” She then brushed past me, went into the bathroom and locked the door. I didn’t know what kind of deprivation joke she was playing, but I didn’t like it. “I said I had to go,” I called through the door when all I heard was rustling and no peeing and more rustling. “Just hold on!” she said.

When she finally exited the bathroom, she held a box before her that covered her entire torso. “What was going on in there?” I asked.

“Just go to the bathroom,” she instructed. She was beat red when she said it. She wouldn’t look me in the eye.

To this day, I don’t know what was in that box. The impatient order to just go to the bathroom and forget what I saw; the embarrassment; the time spent in the bathroom collecting things; and the harried pace with which she passed me led me to believe that the products in the box were dildos, but I’ll never know for sure. Over the years, I’ve ruled out a number of things that could’ve been in that box. If all of that commotion were over tampons or maxi pads, this girl could’ve told me to grow up if I chose to mock her. She could’ve said something along the lines of, ‘you’ve been a bachelor too long,’ and she would’ve had me with that. Instead, she brushes past me, almost knocks me over, collects those certain somethings in a box, gets all red faced upon exit, and rudely tells me to just go to the bathroom. I’ll never know what it was in that box, but it must’ve been embarrassing.

When I exited the bathroom, she was standing in the middle of the living room. “Would you like to sit on the couch sir?”

“Certainly madam,” I said playing along. “I would fine that divine.”

At that point, she attempted to lift the couch with one hand. She was not able to do so on her first attempt, and this attempt caused her a great deal of embarrassment. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me today,” she said.

“Here, let me help you.”

“NO!” she shrieked. My hands went out, asking for clarification. She calmed herself, “no thank you. I can do this. I’ve been practicing.” One arm straining, red face glaring, nostrils flaring, eyes a bulging, and a single vein in her head protruding, release of air. “DAMN IT!” she screamed.

“We can do it together,” I said. I was trying to understand this time.  I wanted to avoid another shriek. I picked the couch up with both hands, barely able to lift it off the floor, and swiveled it around to its place. “It’s a heavy couch,” I said to soothe her.

“I did it before,” she said eyes locked onto mine.

“All right,” I said. “I believe you.”

After another moment in time passed, Teri handed me the remote. I thought it odd that she should be handing me her remote, in her house, and she appeared to sense that: “I know how you men are about your remotes.” Whatever, I thought, and I began flipping. I wasn’t ten to twelve flips in, when the screen went blue. “What did you do?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “It’s your TV.” When the channels still wouldn’t flip a second later, I decided to show her what separated the true men from the emasculated, squealing Ned Beatty look alikes and I took the battery protector off and rolled the batteries. Nothing worked. The blue remained on the screen for another ten seconds. I was embarrassed and confused. “I was hitting the channel button, and-” The blue screen went black, in that VHS pattern, and a porn started. At that point, I was clicking all kinds of buttons, pleading ignorance, until I finally walked over to the TV and clicked the power button. It clicked immediately back on, and I clicked it off again.

“It’s me silly,” Teri said with that impish smile that didn’t appear natural on her. She pulled a VCR remote control out from her left side. She laughed. I didn’t. I was relieved. “Do you want me to leave it on?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “I’m good.”

We watched TV for a second longer when she invited me to see some of her ceramics. “They’re in my bedroom,” she said. As naïve as I have been in the past, even I knew that this was the gateway to the portal. I knew that this would initiate the porn music in any halfway decent adult flick.

We walked to the bedroom, and she showed me her Mickey Mouse collection followed by her Buggs Bunny collection. “I know how you fellas like your cartoons,” she said.

“These are pretty cool,” I lied. She seemed so fragile and crass at the same time. It was difficult to know how to act half the time.

“My songs!” she said. She just blurted that out in the midst of my false pleasantries regarding her Daffy Duck figurine. She said those words in an erratic fashion that almost caused me to drop Daffy Duck. She said it like she was on fire for a moment. The pace of her peculiarities left one dizzy at various points trying to deal with one while being introduced to another back to back.

“What?”

“You drove here to hear me sing, and I almost forgot.” I rummaged through our conversations, and I didn’t remember her saying anything about singing en route to the apartment, but I let that slide. She mentioned she was a singer in her kitchen, and I was more than willing to encourage her in this endeavor for more than selfish reasons, but she acted like it was a promise that she had failed to deliver on. She raced around her bedroom and the living room searching out that one perfect cassette tape. She held cassette tapes up to the light, and she tossed them across the room. She was cursing herself and running around. “I can’t find it!” she said tossing boxes and blank cassettes. “It’s all right,” I said, “just sing anything.” “No,” she responded, “it’s gotta be here…

“Here it is!” she said finally. She plugged the cassette home and began singing some Christian song. So far, this girl had hit every wrong note that I could conceive. She was nasty with the condom, she tried to hit the blowjob note moments after my keester touched the pad of her kitchen chair, the porn, the dildos in the box, and now she wraps all of it up with a stirring rendition of some song like Jesus Loves Me.

I’ve tried to remember the exact song she sang in my many retellings of this night, and I can’t remember it. As I said, her peculiarities were occurring one after another, at breakneck speed, so it’s been tough for me to remember exact detail. I’ve added that song in the story to make it funnier, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember the exact song.

Suffice it to say that was a very Christian song. It was a kiddie song, I remember that. I remember everything leading up to that point being almost entirely sexual. I remember thinking that she all but pulled me out to measure me as a prospective candidate to fill the void of her listless Donny, and I remember that the song she chose mentioned Jesus about twelve times. Whether it was, Jesus Loves Me or not, it was definitely a mood killer.

“You’re really good,” I lied halfway through her stirring rendition. It wasn’t an out and out lie. She wasn’t awful, but she had just filled my head with so much carnal knowledge in one evening that she could’ve sounded like PJ Harvey, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between good and bad.

“You’re bored,” she said. She was beat red.

“No,” I said. She turned the tape player off and flicked the tape across the room. “I said it was good.” I pleaded that part, because as nutty as she was I didn’t want to crush her dreams of being a singer. I’m not into crushing dreams in the manner we all seem to be in our pretend path to appearing knowledgeable and schooled in the way of the arts.

She lay down next to me on the bed, and we kissed. When we first started kissing, I could feel the resignation in the kiss. It was a ‘fine, let’s get to the fucking’ sentiment that she put into the kiss. I wanted to pull out of the kiss and say something along the lines of ‘you just surprised me and all with the song and the nature of the singing. I didn’t expect you to sing with such passion. I kind of thought it was a joke at first that I wasn’t getting, until I saw you were serious.’ See, I couldn’t have said that. Even if I left the last line off, everything I could’ve said would’ve been interpreted and misinterpreted seven different ways. I decided I lost that battle, and I got into the kiss.

And when I did get into the kiss, I realized that this girl had been blessed with some incredible lips. I couldn’t believe that such lips existed on such a poorly refined, unattractive and brash woman. I had to back out of the kiss for a moment to see that it was really her I was kissing. I know that sounds odd, but I did do it. I smiled a soft smile when she looked at me, and I made it seem as if I wanted to look longingly into her eyes just once. In truth, I was verifying that it was her.

Throughout this story of Teri Tinglehoff I’ve had to struggle for most of the minute details of what happened on that night, but those lips are fresh in my mind. I’ve met far more intriguing and more refined women than Teri, before and after, but I’ve never met another woman who had such tasty and sensuous lips. Previous to Teri, kissing was something I considered unnecessary foreplay to make the woman happy and satisfied and aroused and comforted with the thought that we were going to be more than a fling. Kissing was also something to do, so you didn’t have to look at your sexual partner while you grabbed at their vital organs. Her lips shocked me though. I enjoyed kissing them.

I tried to taste their essence and discover the meaning of sensuous. I’ve read that word attached to lips before, but I just thought that that word was something writers used to heighten the passion of the scene. I haven’t kissed too many lips in my day, but all of those lips that I kissed had the same tense nature. Teri’s lips had such give to them. I kissed her a little harder to see if the physical quality was just a flaccid reaction to my aggressive kiss, but when she kissed back they remained as soft as they had when I first kissed her. I couldn’t believe that lips could be this soft and sensual. I couldn’t believe that a pig like Teri Tinglehoff would be granted such a luxury. I couldn’t believe that they were natural one minute, and then I couldn’t believe that they would be anything but natural the next minute.

I wanted to kiss those lips all night long. I debated the best way to achieve their essence while kissing them. Should we remain kissing for long periods of time, or should I just move in harder? I was stuck in that quandary when I gathered myself and realized there would be a call to progress if I didn’t. I didn’t want to be like her emasculated Donald.  I wanted to be male, and aggressive, and lecherous.  I was no longer simulating the soft vomit laughter.  I was now into this. We were on a bed after all, we were horizontal, I was on top of her, and she was moving in that way that women move when they’re calling for progress. Something had to happen. I reached down and grasped another slice of heaven. I had been in the nether region a couple of times with a couple girls, and I usually found their vicinities to be generally unappealing on the surface. When push came to shove, I enjoyed their product, but on the surface I’ve generally found the nether region to be unkempt. Teri had really nice contours. I couldn’t see much in the way of upkeep, but she had been granted a degree of softness there that I had heretofore never experienced. Again, I thought of the injustice of this pig being granted such a delicate attribute. She wasn’t beautiful in the way most are when they’re granted beauty, but few have the entire package. Teri was granted beauty, it just happened to be granted in a manner few are aware of when they see her or talk to her.  She had a shitty mother, a boyfriend and a job that didn’t live up to her expectations in life, but she had been granted two sets of lips that would’ve been otherwise considered out of her pay grade.

My natural inclination for progress in this arena is slow and steady. This dates back to a conversation I had with a bunch of fellas in a college dorm room. These fellas had a lot more going on than I did. They may not have been experts in the field, but they had already achieved a level of sexual activity that I longed to achieve at that point in my life. Going slow was a quality the ladies liked was the theme of this discussion. I giggled when these fellas detailed the proper course of action, and my giggles were all of the knowing variety. I wanted to be perceived as one who already had hand in the game, but in truth I was furiously scribbling mental notes. I was going to be a smooth operator in the next life, I decided that night, and I was going to go slow with the ladies. Tease them up was the way one of these fellas put it. Have them just nipping at the cusp, said another. I was going to be one hell of a post-graduate, I decided, with all these notes. As awkward as I was in high school and college, I was going to be a man that women would swoon over in that next life, and these guys all appeared to have attained tickets to securing that persona.

Those ideas were the ingredients to my deliberation, but the fascination with both sets of lips was another. Before I kissed her, I’m sure that my expression revealed my boredom. She called me out for it, over and over, and to a degree she was right.  I was fascinated by her eccentricities, but bored at the same time.  It’s a little complicated, but suffice it to say that I wanted to get past all of her eccentricities, drill her, and go home and tell all my friends that the damned streak was over, but those lips brought me out of that. I was concentrating on her, I was fascinated and fixated and I wanted to fully explore and experience everything about Teri Tinglehoff.

“We have to hurry!” she said to break me out of this deliberate enjoyment.

“What?” I asked. “Why?” I almost forgot she was there. I almost forgot what I was doing. I was enjoying it that much. “I’d like to go slow.”

“We can’t,” she said. “Donny will be home soon, and if he finds you here, he’ll kill you.” Here’s where I have put a stop to the laughter that I have heretofore taken with good measure, and I have to ask my listeners/readers what would you do? When the woman says she wants it fast, you give it to her fast. When the woman tells you her Donny is coming home, and he’s going to kill you, you give it to her fast. You can only give me that ‘you’re so naïve’ laugh for only so long before reality kicks in and you realize that you gotta do what you gotta do.

She initiated this expedited progress by unbuttoning my shirt. She did it kiss by kiss. Then, to my exposed chest she went, dabbing kisses her and there, and finally biting my nipples. I followed suit, when she righted and flattened out for my turn. I closed my eyes and unbuttoned her sweater button by button, kiss by kiss. I was not anxious to see those soggy breasts again, but we were progressing and bringing her mammary glands out felt like a natural progression. No self-respecting male puts a halt to the progress and states ‘this doesn’t feel right.’

I don’t know if she did it on purpose, but the light from the bathroom only softly illuminated us. It was a soft light, a romantic light that called for slow progress, and it called for soft whispers that two on the road to progress should share. She wanted it fast though. Donny was coming home. As much as she appeared to loathe Donny, she did not want that ruined, not yet, not until she had a sufficient backup plan, and I wasn’t about put my card in the deck for that role.

I decided I would bring out her soggy, mammary glands without looking at them. I decided to explore the notion that what’s pleasing to the touch may not always be pleasing to the eyes.

I reached in slowly, eyes closed, and focused on kissing those incredible lips. I worked my kisses down to her neck and onto her chest, as I unbuttoned. I knew she had an undershirt on, for her sweater had a relatively low neck-line, but what hid beneath her sweater surprised me. I actually felt it first, seeing as how my eyes were closed throughout. It felt like an iron-on melted on top of what felt like an aerobics outfit. I pulled back from the kisses I’d been applying to her chest. A shield is what it was, ironed out onto a nylon outfit: a crayola yellow shield with red borders and a large red ‘S’ in the middle of it.

“You wear underroos?” I asked confusion overcoming discretion.

“No, silly, they’re not underroos.” She laughed. “I’m superwoman!” As quick as that laugh appeared, it disappeared. A look of vulnerability appeared. She was asking me to be sympathetic and understanding at the same time. Her expression suggested that she had taken a lot of grief for this in the past, and she would not be able to withstand more from me. She still wanted me, that expression suggested, but I would have to accept her for who she was. I broke eye contact and began removing the shirt more. I removed the shirt and her pants. It was a full body suit. Around her neck was a string. I followed the string around her neck and found a cape attached to it, hovering just above her back. I couldn’t believe that in all our fondling, I hadn’t felt the cape. Maybe I did, and I didn’t think much of it. It was just a loose fabric beneath a shirt after all. It was cold out, I thought, and she needed as much clothing as she could gather.

That didn’t work for me. I couldn’t reconcile it. It was strange. She was strange. When I came back to her face there was such a soft, sweet smile there that I couldn’t just get up and walk out on. She was pleasant in that moment. All the crassness and sentences without punctuation were gone. In their place was a soft, sweet, and pleasant smile. She appeared to think I understood now. She appeared to think that I saw her flaw, and I was willing to move forward despite it all. I couldn’t, and I was ready to say so when I saw that vulnerability for what it was.

I saw myself in that vulnerability. I saw that I didn’t just leave the brokerage, the online job, and the hotel, because I discovered some flaw in their system. I discovered there was a flaw in my system: A flaw that I had developed to cover for my flaws.  I left these jobs, because I wanted to withdraw. I wanted to escape in a persona. I wanted to be a Mr. Cab Driver without hyphens or slashes. I wanted to escape in a world of happiness and bliss that was free the constant anal exams these corporations performed on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. What’s wrong with freedom, I thought when I dreamed of leaving that life. I feel good about myself now I tell myself. I no longer have someone constantly telling me I’m doing something wrong. I get to be free. That’s what I keep telling myself, but in the illumination of her vulnerability, I saw that we are all susceptible to evaluation no matter where we run.

We run from their evaluations with masked identities.  We are superheroes in our eyes, and that person that sits in that cubicle and receives all of their criticisms is just our alter-ego.  We need something in our heads that tell us that their evaluations are incomplete.  If they only knew who we really were, they wouldn’t dare criticize us, we say in some recess of our mind that keeps us sane.

That passenger that sits in the back of my cab—I had a face for this otherwise anonymous figure in that moment—is the one who is succeeding in the corporate world. This otherwise anonymous figure talked to me, and told me about life in corporate America. He told me how he succeeded in that world.  I gave this man a knowing smile. I said I knew all about the life. I told him my history. I saw his reply. I saw it in his eyes. I saw the question, ‘if you succeeded in the manner you say, why aren’t you still there? Why aren’t you more than a cab driver?’ During this conversation, with this otherwise anonymous figure in my cab, I convinced myself that I never needed to answer that question.  I convinced myself that in the shroud of my Mr. Cab Driver identity, I did not experience failure, and this particular man didn’t know the extent of my character well enough to pass such an evaluation.  Staring into Teri’s eyes, seeing her vulnerability, and looking down occasionally to the iron-on on her chest, I realized that there was some part of me, some part of all of us that is constantly susceptible to evaluation no matter what identity we choose to shroud our self in.  You can have your alter-egos, you can be Mr. Cab Driver, or a Superwoman, but you only do it because you need to hide that soft, inner core that people are constantly trying to penetrate.  You need to sport an identity that they know nothing about, because you do need something in your head—as a reply you never give voice to—that tells them that when their evaluations are harsh you have a satisfied smile to give them that is convinced that they don’t really know how special you are, but there’s no escaping true evaluation.

“You’ll love this,” the now mild mannered Teri said removing herself from my hold. “All guys love shit like this,” she said. “Cartoons and all.” She went to the headboard and stood with her arms out and an expression that suggested she was intensifying and focusing all thought. After achieving the mindset she felt she needed to achieve, Teri Tinglehoff took two quick steps to the foot of the bed.

She hit the floor hard. Her body made no instinctual preparation for the landing, as if she had convinced her body there would be no need for preparation. She landed flat. I winced.

She groaned. She held her chin, then her shoulder. She rolled slowly to her side and held her head with both hands. She looked at me with an expression that suggested she was more than physically wounded.

“Are you okay?”

She said nothing. She got to her feet, scrambled onto the bed, and stood at the headboard. “You’ll love this,” she repeated. Her arms went out, her expression intensified and focused, and she ran for the foot of the bed again. I don’t know if she hit harder the second time, or if I thought that her body should’ve rebelled against the neurological notification that it didn’t have to prepare for a fall. I think that was some of it, but whatever it was the second fall felt more painful to me. She attempted to gain flight two more times when I told her I was done.

“What do you mean done?” she asked.

“Well,” I said. “How long are you going to continue with this?”

She colored in the same manner she did when her singing didn’t go over well. “You’re bored,” she said.

“I’m not bored,” I said. “This just isn’t the way I thought this night would play out.”

Our eyes met in a standoff. She buckled. She removed the superwoman outfit with great haste and resentment. I apologized in the face of that. I felt bad. I informed her that I would try to be more understanding. I gained the knowledge of her need for alter-egos after all.  I knew why she needed it now.  I followed that with a statement about how I couldn’t believe that I was so judgmental, but that I didn’t want to see her get hurt. She would have none of it. She stood before me nude. She flopped down on the bed and laid flat in a resigned nature. I pleaded with her more. I felt that our psychologies had somehow become entangled, and I needed to salve her wound to salve mine.

“Just kiss me,” she said.

I realize that many of you who read this will believe that I am only telling my side of the story, and that I only list all that I have to qualify the pain I caused her. I can only tell you that I did all that I could to salvage this girl’s self-esteem, but she was already too damaged by the world before I got there.

“And hurry,” she said without detailing all that I had to hurry through, “before Donny gets home.”

When I tasted those lips again, and felt those lips again, I thought this would be a pleasurable ride. Instead, she continued to insist on hurrying throughout my progressions. She looked at the clock, and she told me to hurry. Her pleas gained urgency each time through. So, here I ask you, what would you have done? All of you who mock me, need to ask yourselves what you would’ve done. I hurried. She gave me a strange look while I was at it. The look, that which I’ve feared ever since, asked me what I was doing. The look asked me if I’d ever done this before. I have been informed that I am to hurry, my eyes pleaded back. I was afraid that if I said anything, at that point, I would be in her story with squeaks in my voice, and my representation in stories has always been vital to me. I went at it without another word, I released, and I wiped hands on pants. In a fashion similar to the joke told about hand dryers: I pushed button, held hands under dryer, and wiped hands on pants. I removed the condom, flushed it, and left. I would never see her again.

###

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