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By Dan Sacharow
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Dan Sacharow
All rights reserved.
"This movie ... is terrible."
That was Raine Gilham. She said it like her brain was melting, which it probably was, and I didn't blame her one bit. The fact was she was right. The movie was terrible. What the hell was I thinking, taking Jill's recommendation? Again.
It wasn't like Raine needed to say it either. If you wanted to know how terrible this picture was, all you needed to do was turn your head one way or the other and see the light flickering off row after row of maroon colored, super comfortable, and super empty plush stadium seats. And this was Sunday night on the movie's opening weekend in a downtown multiplex, too, which meant real bad buzz already murdered the flick before it even got out of the gate. But let me tell you, this movie deserved to be murdered. Oh, did it ever.
A really corny line from the main character made me face palm. I made a point of overdoing it, too, so Raine could see I was in as much pain as she was. There was no way in hell I was going to let her think I was enjoying this. I was already embarrassed enough, thanks.
Jill would pay for this. By god, she would pay.
You know what, I'm not being fair. Jill did in fact mention that this masterpiece was a total chick flick, but she also claimed that it was a good chick flick. That should have been enough for anyone with any taste to run for the hills, but not me! That thought really didn't make me feel any better.
At least the popcorn was good—salty with just enough butter. Unfortunately, the bright colorful popcorn bucket had a picture on it that was advertising a much better movie I saw last week, which only reminded me again how awful this one here was. When I laid eyes on the bucket after grabbing a fistful, I almost groaned again.
I'm telling you, I could have spent the last hour staring at the shadows dancing across the pastel pictures of Chaplin and Monroe on the theater's walls and been more entertained.
I tilted the popcorn bucket at Raine, and I felt more like I was throwing a drowning woman a life preserver than anything else. She was slumped down low in her seat, her feet propped up on the railing in front of us. In the dim light I could see that her beat up combat boots were mostly coming untied, and that she was twirling a finger in her chin length purple bangs. She had her hair cut short almost everywhere except for that one part, and I have to hand it to her-she managed to pull off the look. She had the crinkled-up straw from her soda hanging from the side of her mouth like a cigarette, and it bounced up and down as she chewed on it. After a second or two she noticed the popcorn bucket, and she looked down it without turning her head.
"No thanks," she said, kind of through her teeth. The straw bounced harder."Eating would only prolong my agony."
I giggled. "Smart girl."
"Nah," she said. "Just basic self-preservation in reverse. I think." She shifted her feet on the railing a bit. I glanced at the movement, which made me think of another thing that should have tipped us off about this flick before we even sat down. What is that, you ask? Well, the row in front of the railing is always the first to fill up because you can prop up your feet like Raine was doing. Usually, getting a center seat in front of the rails in this place was like winning the lottery (and no, I am not exaggerating). The row was completely empty when we came in tonight, though. I swear, the next time I see this row empty I am going to run away screaming.
I plunked down the popcorn bucket on the floor and it bumped into an empty soda cup that was lying on its side. The cup rolled away under the railing and over the edge. I pictured myself doing the same off of a much higher edge if I had to stay here much longer. I turned and looked at Raine.
"Speaking of self preservation," I said, "can we go?"
"No," she replied. "You said this would be good. Suffer."
"Umm," I said. "I take it back. You're not smart. You know you're letting yourself suffer right along with me, right?"
"Well worth it to see you properly punished," Raine said, with a shit-eating grin.
'Please," I moaned, grabbing the sides of my head. "My brain is dissolving!"
"I never had one to begin with," she said. "But OK, fine. But you don't get to decide what we do next. Or ever again."
"OK, fine-you got it. Anything."
* * *
I've had worse.
I'm not sure exactly when, since I don't go out much, but I'm sure I must have at some point. Well now that I think on it, I'm probably not the best judge of what makes a good night out since nights out aren't really my thing. I'm terrible at them. I only went out tonight mostly to stop my friends from clucking.
Scratch that, it was entirely to stop my friends from clucking. Jill most of all-I'm telling you she just would not quit. I keep telling her and everyone else that my whole purpose in life is to find new and exciting ways to be left alone, but they all keep swooping in and doing everything they can to force me to have a good time, if it kills me. It almost did, tonight. I mean, it started out OK I guess—just a girls night out before the work week got us all tangled up yet again, and I have to admit that it took less arm twisting than normal for me this time, mainly because I had a huge presentation the next morning and I figured this might help me quit worrying about it for a couple hours. That was the theory, anyway. Dinner went well since I didn't really have to talk much, even though I had to at least make a passing effort at it since I just met Raine a week ago for the first time and we still hadn't really broken the ice. That's just kind of how I roll.
But after dinner Jill, Sammy, Carolina and Laurie all said they had to cut out early, before the evening even really had a chance to get going; Raine and (somehow) I ended up being the only ones who didn't want to pack it in. You should have heard their vague and lame excuses, too-they'd have killed you. I guess Jill figured she made up for it by recommending that horrific disgrace of a movie, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Raine had her doubts from the look of the poster, but like a big dumb dope I told her we could trust Jill's taste. So much for that. But who the hell knows? Maybe now that we were escaping the movie the night just might pick up. That has been known to happen from time to time, even to me.
Well, as Raine and me made our way out of the theater, I couldn't help but feel a slight pang of sympathy for those poor bastards who made that flick. I just bet they woke up every morning and thought they were making something wonderful only to end up with this atrocity. At what point, I wondered, did they realize the movie was compost? After the money was all spent, and they sat in the editing room watching the final cut, slowly overcome with crippling existential despair? What went through their skulls as they watched all those months of creative energy and hopeful anticipation get flushed and go swirling? It was like that gourmet dinner you dropped fifty bucks a plate on only to spend the night on the bowl.
You know what? Screw 'em. Their job is to entertain me. If I mess up at work I catch it, so why shouldn't they? Try harder next time. They're fired.
Seeing as that we left partway through the movie, we suddenly found ourselves with some time to waste—I mean spend. I guess technically we could have just called it a night, but both of us still didn't really feel like it.
It was a usual Sunday night at City Place, that little pretend city just outside of downtown West Palm Beach. It wasn't too crowded, not too quiet, and it was nice and brisk as mid December in South Florida usually is. Personally, I love it when it drops into the fifties; it makes the summer months of swamp ass at least somewhat bearable knowing there's a nice winter on its way eventually (if at all). You just try telling that to some of my native born friends, though. Yeesh, you'd swear we were in Siberia. I guess maybe I have a better perspective, since I lived all over the place, being an army brat. Raine didn't seem to care much, either; the girl had shorts on for crying out loud and she didn't seem to notice the cold one bit. Before we did anything else, we hung out for a second right outside the theater and put each other's numbers into our phones.
"That," Raine said, putting her phone away, "was brutal. We really need to cancel that out." I turned and gave her a face like I was trying to say you can say that again, but she wasn't looking at me. She looked like she was checking out the open-air jazz diner joint across the way where some four-piece band was doing their best to cover that song In The Mood. You know, the one big band tune everyone can hum. I started bouncing along to it before I realized I was doing it.
"Well Ms. Raine," I said, slipping my phone into my hoodie pocket and zipping up, "I'm seriously up for anything." I meant it. I am so low maintenance it's retarded.
"How about a drink?" she asked, turning back to me. A breeze blew her hair over her face, and she brushed it back.
I made it look like I was thinking; you know, I did the whole looking up and to the side thing and even went hmmm. Of course while I was doing that I wasn't looking where I was going, so I bumped into someone. Slick, that's me.
"Hey, man," said some chick's voice, and I got a flash of bright red out of the corner of my eye. I whipped my head around to say sorry to whoever that was, but for the life of me I couldn't see anyone or anything remotely red anywhere near enough to be bumped into.
"You ok?" That was Raine.
"Yeah," I answered, but I took one more real quick look around anyway. Seriously, that was weird. I just shrugged and went on.
"So, a drink?" Raine said, lowering her head a bit and looking up at me.
"Oh, oh, yeah," I said, but I think I still sounded a little distracted. "That's perfect. Wet Willies?" I pointed at the place. You could see the rows of colorful spiked slushies in the clear plastic bins from where we were.
"Nah," Raine said, and brushed her hair back again. "I think I need something more authentic after that ordeal. O'Sheas?"
"Oh now you're talking," I replied.
And was she ever. O'Sheas was one of my favorite spots. Not to mention it was about four blocks away, which meant a walk in this cool night air, which was just what I needed right then.
* * *
A stiff breeze made me hide under my hoodie as we made our way to O'Sheas. There were perfectly clean, empty condominiums on one side of the street that gave me the impression that I was intruding on an immaculate closed movie set, and on the other side there were empty lots of mangled grass and jagged concrete debris that made me feel like I was walking through a slum. All in all, it was an intriguing, if comically paradoxical juxtaposition. Sort of like myself.
Oooh, that was deep. No, I'm not Wangsty O'Emostein from Nihilist County, I promise. Well, not overly anyway. I have my moments, like everyone else, and the best I can hope to say is that they're few and far between. No, the truth is I am actually pretty seriously messed up on a fairly basic fundamental level.
Right now you're probably saying How messed up are you? Well ...
The truth is I play the banjo.
I'm joking. Well, not about that. I do actually play banjo, if you can call it playing. Not to put too fine a point on it, I suck out loud. Banjo is bad enough but a poorly played banjo is too much to ask of anyone, so solitude helps loads there. No, banjo is just an annoying hobby that I try to keep secret most of the time. What I'm talking about is worse, and it's the reason I usually keep to myself. It's not that I hate people or anything, and it's not like I don't want to find the right person and live happily ever after someday. The problem is that even if I do, there will always be this thing about me that will most likely end up coming between us.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Moving on.
* * *
There I was looking over the empty windows of the meticulously painted condominiums, hoping that maybe, just maybe, tonight they would betray some sign of life and prove that the whole building wasn't some plywood façade that would topple in a stiff breeze. Not surprisingly, the windows remained dark and blank.
"That movie," Raine grumbled, but I could tell she wasn't being too serious, "What the hell were you thinking?"
"Oh quit," I said, smirking."I didn't write it, film it, shove a gun up your ass and force you to watch it."
As you can see, I have a prodigious, elegant vocabulary. Two years of college well spent; just ask my mom. It looked like Raine liked it, though. She cracked a smile.
"I trusted you," she said, pointing at me and doing her best to look serious. "And you betrayed me. You've made a powerful enemy tonight."
I clasped my hands together, and did my best puppy-dog look; you know, I opened my eyes a bit wider, lowered my head and looked up at her. "Wilt thou please grant me another chance?"
"Sure," she replied, and then she stopped, turned and pointed. "Here it is. Riddle me this. What do you see there?"
"See where?" I said, looking. If I wasn't wrong she was pointing straight at one of the empty lots across the street. "What, that?"
"Yeah," she said.
"What, behind that empty lot?" I asked.
"No, on it."
"Huh? There's nothing there."
"Wrong," she said, and took a seat on a low wall just off the sidewalk. She crossed one leg over the other, titled her head to one side, and made like she was concentrating. "I see a live open mike music bar. Yeah. Like I saw in Savannah once." She motioned with both hands. "Over there's the hand-painted marquee-it's got a some cool cartoon on it-and there's the big window where someone can play to people walking past. You know, to lure them in. Right there's the front door. It's always open so you can hear the music, and the stage is all the way in back but you can see it from the street."
"Wha—?" I said, blankly. I was lost for a second, but then I got what she was doing. It was kinda goofy, but I had to hand it to her; she definitely could think left handed. Maybe I saw it as a challenge or something because I played along. "Oh yeah," I said, as casual as I could make it sound, and sat down next to her. "One of those would be fun around here. You play?"
"Tone deaf," she said, and she gave her head a tiny little toss to get her bangs out of her eyes. "You play?"
"Technically yes, I guess."
"Really?" She leaned in a bit and smiled. "What do you play?" I shook my head. "You don't wanna know."
"Then why'd I ask, genius?"
I looked sideways at her, and braced myself for the question I knew would follow. "Ok fine. Banjo."
Her eyes went wide. "Really? That's freaking—I've always wanted to learn to play that thing. Can you do "Dueling Banjos"?"
There it was, the question that always followed. I nodded, and tried not to let my lips go tight. I just knew she would ask me that, mainly because everyone always did. It's like a reflex. I'm no genius on the five string or anything, but I already got the impression that asking for "Dueling Banjos" was about as welcome as asking a rock band for free bird. But could you beat it, a second later Raine said about the coolest thing she could have said.
"Don't worry," she said, and patted me on the shoulder. "I wouldn't ask you to play that. I'd be like that asshole who shouts "Free Bird" and thinks she's the first one who did that on the whole planet. Nah, I like clawhammer better than finger picking anyway."
I looked at her like I couldn't believe my ears, which was pretty much the truth.
"You're shitting me," I blurted, and then wished I hadn't put it quite like that. Raine didn't seem to care, though, so I went on. "You mean, you know there's more than one way to play banjo?"
"Oh yeah," she said, and shrugged. She put her palms down on the concrete and stretched her legs out a bit. "Well, I didn't until I saw Steve Martin on YouTube. It looked like he was just strumming it but he was playing melody and rhythm at the same time. It blew me away."
I didn't say anything for a second. This was eerie. I knew which video Raine was talking about, because that was the video that made me want to learn to play. I must have watched it something like a thousand times.
"Wow," I said, brilliantly.
"Wow what?" she asked, one eyebrow up. I almost winced; I've always wanted to be able to raise one eyebrow but I could never figure it out. I can't stand seeing other people make it look so easy. But, in the end I forgave her because she ended up looking kind of adorable.
"Forget it," I said, and decided to move on before I started babbling; I was still having trouble dealing with her knowing about clawhammer. I couldn't think of anything bright to say, so I just turned and pointed at the empty lot. "Well you wanna know what I see there? A tattoo shop."
"Really? You're an artist too?"
"When I was four," I said. "But then I quit improving."
"Like a lot of inkers I've seen," she said, all serious, without pausing. I started to laugh at that but only ended up snorting. She went on. "You have any?"
Excerpted from Adobe Kroger by Dan Sacharow. Copyright © 2013 Dan Sacharow. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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