ben miller




NYRR, 5:43 pm, blond scrams into my car, suede purse swinging, reception suit askew, badminton bracelet rattling like a second set of teeth. Upsets the computer programmer with the cage on his lap containing the calikitty going to the North Shore Animal League for repairs but not me. Not this Kissinger. I live for the third rail. 

Wisha sonuvabitch would die. I mean that. I mean it I mean it I mean it. Have a nice life, prick. That’s what I told him. But I should have said death. His face on those rails (jabs Class of ’84 ring at floor) while this train is coming through. Could you arrange that for me, Mr. Conductor?

Kind of mood the engineer has been in lately I probably could. But I don’t say that. I don’t say a thing. I look back the way she came. No boyfriend. Good. Chase scenarios can get medieval. 5, 6, 7 cars. Mocha java tilting. Ticket stubs crumpling. Beepers wedging. Passengers playing trip the deadbeat with Newsday. They’re usually for the woman. If it’s two women, the skinniest woman. If it’s two men, they trip them both. I try and keep an open mind.

Her jacket is lamp shade beige. Necklace, fifth cousin of pearl.

I ask for the apartment keys and what do I get but a Yoo-Hoo shower. Look at this, just look at it. (Pinches up skirt wet spot.) My favorite drink when I was a little girl as he well knows because I told him. You tell a person a lot when you live with them. Too damn much. My next man is going to be a deaf-mute. Nobody gets hurt that way.

Where you going? Port Zachary. That’s 37 minutes and fifty miles. Why not sit down and catch a breath of the scenery?

It’s not my breath that’s the problem. He’s the one who needs help. Wanna know something? I’m the only person in the world who knows this but now you’ll know it too. Hell, everybody in the car will. I’m not shy!! I don’t care!! My ex-boyfriend, Calvin Yarkus, that’s Y-A-R-K-U-S, the guy in the yellow tie in the next car, right through that door, he looks all normal and everything, better than normal maybe, a bit like Charlie Sheen even, but he likes to do strange things with electrical tape when he’s bored, to wrap it slowly around the waxed gouda and pull it off even slower and then hold the sticky side out for the dachshund to sniff.

Reboot, sputters Wall Street, shaking briefcase bones. The spinal cord some people have, mutters Herald Square, rustling Van Gogh mugs. Must be the high tide, whispers West Hampton, head on clam pail. I’d guide her into a seat but there isn’t a free one.

And he’s got this Nilla wafer complex too, carries a camouflaged box of ’em around and drops ’em in public fountains like the one at Lincoln Center and then steps back real cool and easy and watches other people watch the cookies bob. That’s what I had to put up with for five years. Can you imagine?

Suddenly a big fella turns Gabriel and gets up. I’m thinking it’s not going to be so easy for him to stand all the way to East Stroganoff but like a natural he grips the bag rack and sticks his nose back intoPQ: Podiatrist’s Quarterly. Bless his wing tip inserts. Bet he got to aching and got a degree. Not a bad philosophy. Learn what you know. Could say the same goes for me.

And then there’s the light switch thing. I’m in the bathroom with the Comet and all the sudden I hear him yell Charlie Chaplin!! and there heis at the door flicking the lights off and on and bowing his legs like The Kid and he won’t stop until I yell the name of the first talkie which he won’t give me the slightest hint about.Skippy? All Quiet on the Western Front? The Way of All Flesh? No warmer. No colder. No mercy.

My hand encourages her to sit. The train stops, I’m busy, restroom doors to open, out-of-date tickets to question, elderly to reassure.No, you won’t have to walk far to the cab. Yes, they will try and rip you off.

When we’re rolling again I walk back to that end of the car and Yarkus is standing over her. Confused pleats, pilly Van Heusen shirt, birthstone tie that Hallmark makes for that new holiday they’re pushing–Business Man’s Day. Ruby no bigger than this. Set in rayon bright as mustard. Born in the month of Julius. Could be a paralegal. Professional underclass, both of them, definitely. Scuttlers out ofPrufrock. The big fish wear clothing that survives. You see that a lot in the club car. General Counsels gumming up the floor while their french cuffs are still having a cabernet of a time at the gulp bar.

Fine, go ahead, I don’t care, spread it thick and wide, crap like that is what makes flowers grow. You sure, Doreen? Then to me: This is a private matter, Buddy. But this isn’t a private car. I get the HOW sigh.

Oooooh. Oh-kay. Fine. Rightaroonie. Would you like it if I came into your living room and got between you and your whatever? Huh? Would you like that, me sticking my nose where there’s no room for it?

Look, we all have family problems. I was the middle child of two children. My brother Gary had a split personality and #1 was ten years older than me and #2 was ten years younger. There I was in the imaginary middle. This was before drugs, remember. Patient negotiation had to do. Even now, with all the drugs, it still has to. For him. For me. For you. For all of us. I could kick you off the train but I’m not going to. I’m with you all the way. Through thin and thinner.

Both look at their Famous Footwear.

The calikitty wails and programmer gives it two medicated Skittles and then takes two himself. Others slowly lower dithyrambs, calorie logs, berry picking maps, coral reef charts, investment scrolls, video crossword puzzles. They’re afraid yet I don’t reassure because playing to the crowd is a mistake. It’s tempting because they’d love it, being not a crowd at all but a clutch of individuals shimmering with insecurity, but winknuzzle the innocent and you isolate the combatants and detente goes into the microwave.

Listen. Monday is Lump Day and you’ve both certainly taken yours. Why not do yourselves the favor you deserve and enjoy a frosty Rolling Rock in the club car, on me, no bubbles attached?

Cal nods, a smile creasing that broad and dumpy face, buying it, maybe lacking a mitigating father figure, in need of a touch of gray in his life like I got on my temples, so many Dads missing in action, mopey and impotent, castrated by a sea of files, a bog of need, covered with pumpkin rinds, glued by the helmet to the undersides of highway overpasses, all the time I get letters addressed to my sideburns and stubble, from a secretary from Levittown:Dear Mr. Salt, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your words of wisdom about cabinet depth; a construction worker from Queens:Dear Mr. Pepper, I was pouring a causeway and the rock smell reminded me of the you in me, and I’m about to get a postcard from him when she speaks up.

Give. Me. The. Keys. Cal. Vin.

You Doe. Reen. Forget I pay half the rent. Who built the dog tree? Painted theExile On Main Street album cover on the ceiling like friggin’ Mickoangelo? Drilled peep holes in the pot lid so you could see how done the lobsters were getting? You forget more than my Grandpa Alzie. Like I wasn’t the one that ruined Bermuda. You were the jelly fish magnet, giving off the scent that attracted them. The doctor said it was so. You emit. He whips out lucky key chain, swinging fur, taunting her highlights.

Anybody want a chick who gets off by sticking whole peppercorns up the ole shnozz? Who folds her panties into polygons and measures the sides with a ruler when she thinks nobody is looking and records the results in a black book that she has the pretension to call her diary with a capital D? Purse to the kisser. Squirrel foot to the cheeker. Kick, scritch, slamp, flump.

When he pulled out the keys I should have grabbed that arm and given the breath spiel:We don’t have roots like trees. What we have is lungs. But it can help to think of them, the lungs, as roots inside the chest, hollow roots that allow us to suck from the air the zinc of lifebut all is not quite lost due to the turn of the century police whistle I purchased at age fifteen at a flea market outside the municipal building where mother had dragged me to view carbons. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh!!! Gary is twenty. Look at this missing persons report. Youth, age 20, found inside cement truck . . . At certain times I agree with you. All the time, Dan. No matter how he acts. All the time he’s twenty. Here’s a vaccination coupon. Small pox doesn’t have anything to do with it. Look at this bicycle license. What’s 1965 minus 1945? Age is more than numbers. Look at this Trick or Treat crime log. Man found shaving with apple . . . Old today, young tomorrow. You’re not a middle child, Daniel. I want to know him both. One should be more than enough. That’s a half brother.Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh!!! Violent paraprofessional stares, the silence of the dental dams.

I’ve thrown them off-guard again and this time I make alfalfa, grab his clavicle, her sternum, tug the anatomy toward and then into the closet I call Geneva without the table.

Eau de Kiwi shoe polish. Damp first shift jackets. Box of walkie-talkie parts. Bowl of tarnished badges. Tit mags tucked in spare boots. Extra shoestrings in an onion skin pouch taped to the wall an inch from my weak chin. Close but that’s the point. Deal or suffocate.

Look at the facts. You’ve been chowing and sleeping together for two Olympiads and an equal number of presidential elections. More than the average lifetime of the domestic rabbit, the beaver and the maned wolf. 1825 plus days.

One bunny too long, sighs Doreen, rubbing hickory eye shadow.There must have been some nice moments. Cal sneers, pinches the padded shoulder of a rack jacket.

There was that wonderful evening when I went into the bedroom to find Ms. Pastoral’s rooster on the table where the alarm clock used to be. (His voice flew higher, head nodding left, right, left)I thought it would be a nice change of pace for us, honey. The man at the Farmer’s Market told me they were as easy to take care of as lithops.

And don’t overlook that birthday of mine when YOU came in with a provolone and salami hero instead of a cake and tried to make up for it by sticking candles into the bread.

But whatyouoverlook, Doreen, was that our strength was the little things.The way we’d look out for each other on the ordinary days. By not scooping the dog pan, for instance.

By bringing up budget issues after ten o’clock at night, she growled. By rentingLegends of the Fallon the way home from work. By licking stamps with the saliva from my french kiss. By counting my sneezes and hiccups out loud. By jumping into the shower just as I was about to flush, miring me for a good ten minutes.

By flossing the delicate gristle loaf I spent two hours on instead of your teeth to make a way too obvious point about dental hygiene.

By your coordinated exaggeration of lip and eye movement which turned the simplest disagreement into a form of hari-kari.

For all you students of reconciliation out there I’m not thinking about them at this moment but about myself. Got that? Their reality must be channeled through my life experience in order for me to be any help to them. Maybe there’s a better way to say, but not a truer one. We all have the ability to share more than we dare admit, just like Gary taught me, eyes on toes, ears on elbows, sparks for molars, leading the way into the stand of birch behind the houseLes play hide and hidedown the rickety pier at Goose LakeWhat a splendorous evening, I believe I’ll take a dipinto the sirloin locker at Hab’s Groceryjust like havin three arms init?

Cal picks a discolored badge out of the bowl and points the needle at me.

I don’t think I have to take this from you or her. Hard to tell who in the hell is a cop today, more and more people dressing like them, but I don’t think you can legally keep me here and I’m. . .

I softly grip his sweaty digital watch, letting the plastic talk to my thumb and forefinger. Doreen’s badminton bracelet joins in. Chitock, chitock, chitick. These two are grumpled and trumpled, runny with anger and humid with possessions, like I am, like we all are. Leggoame. You got junk? Hey, man, I don’t. . . Lots of junk, right? Couches. Chairs. Audio equipment. Blenders. Well, lets consider that for a second. You go home now and something is gonna get broke. Maybe a lot of stuff. Am I right? I’ll chop her ceiling vacuum in two. I’ll kick your kerosene grill in. OK, fine. I get the picture. But you both work hard for your money, don’t you?
Fifty hours a week, she mutters. Weekends and holidays, he adds, slouching. So if you go home now and get violent not only are you going to be on your own tomorrow but you’re going to be on your own without your own junk because what you break you won’t be able to replace right away, am I correct? Two defeatist nods. So imagine this. Imagine not having to break the junk you can’t afford to break, not even having to waste time fighting over who gets it, just waltzing out of here with a check in your pocket, cold clean cash you could each use in your own way to build the new life you so desire. . . Righuuuuut. No, Doreen. I’m serious. I mean it. How big is the TV? 36 incher. Two years old.

Fifty bucks. Sight unseen. Right here, right now. 25 for you. 25 for Calvin. I’ll pick it up on Saturday. All of the crap. In my van. You don’t even have to help me load it in. I’ll bring a friend.

You mean that? I could be free tonight? Just pick up my shaving bag and go? No strings? No hassle with her or a moving company? Pocket full of dough?

You got it, Calvin. They exchange disbelief.

Mine has to do with the fact I never thought of this before. What could make more sense? Kids buy good stuff today. They buy better stuff then their parents ever did. Especially the troubled couples. Bloomingdales. Bed Bath and Beyond. Saks. The aisles are full of young couples trying to save their relationship with the right CD mini-system.

I get out a pad to show I’m serious, start His and Her columns.Have a dining room table? 
Ikea, he says. Paid five-fifty for it.
Give you a hundred. Sold!! she screams. Thing was cursed, he mumbles. I know I have them then. We go from room to room, prince sized bed, sheet obelisks, towel dressers, ambivichair, manity, cravenport, dachshund and tree, spy cabinet, kiss blender, sack lighting, floral pans, cinema shelving, glove toaster, block-pot, chopping dock, boom, boom, boom, boom. Total, 1800.

I write out two 900 dollar checks, signing with a flourish. They grip me, thank me, grab me, thank me, for helping get their life back on track. The accidental pun sends them higher. She lunge-hugs me again and because she’s holding the check I only feel one palm on my back. Which reminds me of Gary, one hand patting my head, the other tugging my pant leg. Learned to read years before I did, then he’d forget everything and I’d start teaching him all over withWhere the Wild Things Are. This here is a dowel, Gary. This one is a conososnit. Until, that is, he’d suddenly remember how again and pick up at the old level and start lording Frank Norris over me. Put that kid stuff down, Danny, and listen to this: It was the hideous yelling of a hurt beast, the squealing of a wounded elephant. McTeague framed no words; in the rush of high-pitched sound that issued from his wide-open mouth there was nothing articulate. It was something no longer human; it was rather an echo from the jungle.

More than anything I learned to duck. Which, as we leave the closet, is what I do again.