Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
They advanced on me, their features resolving out of the shadows; muscular Lonnie, stooped Max and spindly Conrad. All my racing mind could think was that it looked like I was about to get the shit kicked out of me by an evolution chart.
Conrad was the first to speak, “I can’t believe you.”
“I thought you were our friend,” Lonnie’s voice was heavy with disappointment.
“Athena is a lady!” Max said. “Where do you get off talking to her like that?”
I put my hands up in a gesture of surrender, “I’m sorry. I was a complete idiot. This is something I’m going to be ashamed of well into my golden years.”
Lonnie’s face wrinkled with disgust, “Golden years? He’s talking his pervert shit to us now!”
“No. It was a… never mind.”
“I thought you were a gentle, misunderstood soul,” Conrad said. “Like me.”
“Misunderstood maybe,” I shrugged, “could we go someplace else and talk about this? Maybe someplace near a hospital?”
“Look punk,” Max was the first to make contact, he shoved me backwards. “I asked you a question. Where do you get off talking to our sister like that?”
Beatings had been a staple of my life since kindergarten and over the years I had developed a foolproof battle strategy for dealing with single or multiple attackers. After the first punch landed I would start sobbing and groveling. After that most attackers were too disgusted to take the beating any further. It wasn’t the most dignified way to go but it had saved my parents a lot of money on dental work and corrective surgeries. I didn’t think a strategy like that would serve me well here and truthfully I didn’t want to back down.
“Hey Max,” I said, “I seem to remember you telling me that I was supposed to treat a whore like a princess and a princess like a whore.”
He actually recoiled a little, “That’s not-”
“Is that what went wrong pal? Was I treating her like a whore when I should have treated her like a princess?”
That did it. They closed in and I was glad. I was sick of the way my life was going and I wanted something to change, even if it was just going to be my ability to eat solid foods for the next few months.
The few karate lessons I had ever shown up for resurfaced and I took what I hoped would be a defensive stance. “Hold on,” Conrad made a show of throwing off his jacket. “He’s mine!”
“What?” I almost lowered my guard at that but then got back into combat mode. I was mentally going through every Batman comic book I had ever read hoping that somehow those hours of studying the caped crusader’s adventures might have given me fighting skills by osmosis. I cursed myself for never having the foresight or finances to develop a utility belt.
Conrad pushed his brothers back, “I said he’s mine.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” I laughed a little.
“They’d go too easy on you. I want you to suffer.”
“I shared a motel room with you, isn’t that suffering enough?”
Conrad launched himself at me with a bloodcurdling scream; I threw the first punch. I thought of how people might laugh decades from now when I tell them the story of my first real brawl.
And I’m sure you will laugh when I tell you that trying to fight that wiry little bastard was like trying to field neuter a rabid ferret. I was scratched, slapped and had my hair pulled until I begged for mercy.
In case you’re wondering I never did see Athena again but I know her future must have been as bright and as beautiful as she was that summer. As I write this I wonder to myself if she even remembers me and if she does remember me, is it as ‘Al’ or ‘that jerk’?
A princess like a whore and a whore like a princess, I heard that so many times back then and so many worse things…
The only difference between a fox and a pig is a six pack.
It’s not the face you fuck it’s the fuck you face.
When girls say ‘no’ they really mean ‘yes’.
The problem was that none of these t-shirt worthy little slogans had taught me anything. I didn’t know what women wanted or how I was supposed to act around them. Who was I supposed to be? Mr. Rogers or Conan the Barbarian?
Paul had told me to be myself. Which myself was I supposed to be? The depressed and lonely Al? The creative and clever Al? The Al that everyone laughed at instead of with?
There were no answers for me that night, just the awful realization that once again I had blown it spectacularly.
I drove home slowly from my well-deserved beatdown, stewing in my own misery. When I got home that night I found that there were about three or four extra cars parked in the driveway of my house so I had to park on the front lawn. I headed inside and found that my stepfather, my brother and a half dozen or so of their closest friends were gathered around the TV watching Wrestlemania on Pay Per View. I had to pass the parlor to get to my room and even though I walked as fast as I could, my stepfather saw me.
“Albert?” he said. “Get back here.”
I didn’t even think to argue I just turned around and came back. The room fell silent as everyone looked at me; my clothes were dirty and torn, my hair was disheveled, there were bright red welts on my face and long ragged red scratches on each arm.
“Hey,” my brother stood up, his face filling with concern, “what the Hell happened to you?”
“Tonight...” a sob caught in my throat. I took a moment to collect myself before I spoke again, “...tonight I am a man.”
And the crowd went wild.