Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Apophenia, Chapter Three



I haven't posted anything but goofy comedy fiction in a while, so here's the third chapter from my work in progress. Here are links to part one and part two.
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People really shouldn’t be surprised when they win the lottery. Think of all those tickets out there being purchased in gas stations by truckers, construction workers, stressed office geeks, single mothers, deadbeat dads. The odds are that somebody has to win. Why can’t that somebody be you or me? You lose, you lose, and you lose again, but you still come back to that gas station and pony up a couple bucks for that magical piece of paper that could change your fortunes. I buy a ticket every week on my way to work. The most I’ve ever won was one-hundred dollars, a scratch-off. Usually I go big and buy the pick-six. Once it was the same series of numbers two weeks in a row, which sent the media into a frenzy. The game is played twice a week, the numbers chosen from a set of forty-four. It would be odd if they never repeated, you know? There’s something called the Improbability Principle, which states that given enough chances, an unlikely outcome should be expected, despite the long odds of it occurring each opportunity. The Improbability Principle gives me hope every time I walk into the gas station. Maybe Chad was right. I should’ve been a math major.
            My workplace is located in a skuzzy strip mall about a block south of campus. This area’s businesses primarily consist of liquor stores, gas stations, and pawn shops. The erotic entertainment club across the street, Cans, is flashing its red lights sporadically, sending encoded signals to my brain as I walk past and enter Les Adultes. I’ve never been in there, though the place is a source of endless curiosity for me. What’s the quality of the girls? Are they immigrants bamboozled into indentured servitude? Are they college girls like me, looking to pay tuition? Are they local girls like me, trying to feed their kids? How pathetic are the patrons? How often do they soil their pants during a lap dance? How big is their bouncer? Could he out-lift the Conan twins?
            Stalin’s Mustache is sticking out of my book bag, and my boss, Leslie Svoboda, the possessor of a well-groomed mustached himself, raises a bushy black eyebrow and asks just what the hell am I reading.
            “Homework,” I say, pushing the book back into my bag.
            “What kinda shit you studying in that school?” asks Leslie, who looks remarkably like Joseph Stalin, I suddenly realize, if Stalin had forgotten his totalitarian ambitions and become a peddler of erotica. Leslie likes Hawaiian shirts, though, not communist uniforms. I can’t see him wearing anything else.
            “My professor is a Bolshevik. This is part of history. You’d be surprised how influential Stalin’s mustache truly was.”
            “What kinda job you gonna get with this degree of yours?” asks Leslie.
            “A shitty one,” I answer.
            He chuckles and shakes his head. The store looks cleaned and shiny; all our DVDs are shrink-wrapped and sparkling in the light. The five dollar dildos are piled neatly in their bin, the colors of purple, black, and peach visible for the choosing of the discriminate shopper. It smells nice in here—I detect vanilla, maybe a hint of evergreen. What we lack are customers.
            “Slow day?” I ask.
            “When is it not? I tell ya, the internet is killing this business. Cans ain’t doing that well either. I just had a meeting with my brother, and he says he wants to sell his share. What the hell, I tell him. He runs the place, not me. I don’t know how to run a strip club.”
            “Run a college kid special. Eighteen through twenty-one gets in free.”
            “Just get back there on the phone, Leona. Keep the door shut, though. I don’t want to hear what you tell those perverts.”
            I go into the back room and plop down on the leather couch and get to work. My hours are advertized on local channels. You know the ads with the sexy girl twisting the phone cord around her finger while wallowing on what looks like a seedy motel room bed? If you call that number between eight and midnight on select days, you’ll get me. I don’t look like her, though. Unlike most operators, I take my calls at Cans. My mother has no idea where I work, and I would like for it to remain that way.
            The first caller’s name is Steve. I tell him mine is Jasmine, my alias. Jasmine is up for anything. After processing his credit card number, I ask him what he’s into.
            “Feet,” he says, his voice a hoarse whisper.
            “I don’t know if I can do feet,” I tell him.
            “How big are your tits?” he inquires.
            “Big enough,” I reply.
            “That’s hot,” he says. His voice sounds like it’s dripping with saliva. There’s a repetitive noise in the background, the humming drone of a machine. I imagine a gremlin-like creature masturbating in a sweltering engine room full of pipes and steam.
            “I’m touching them right now,” I say, while thumbing through Stalin’s Mustache. An idea strikes me, and I decide to go with it.
            “You’re a ridiculously fat swine,” I tell Steve. “You’re a hairy twat.”
            “Are you touching your hairy twat?” asks Steve. There’s a hint of desperation in his voice that suggests this will not be a long phone call.
            “I was actually reading a poem written by one of my professors,” I answer. “Though yes, you are right, I am frantically pleasuring myself as we speak.”
            “Do you fuck your professor?” asks Steve.
            “That might get me kicked out of college,” I reply.
            “What about butt stuff? You like that?”
            “I am plunging my index finger deep into my anus. It is not fun, Steve, but I keep doing it anyway. I’m a dirty girl.”
            “Oh yeah,” says Steve. “You definitely are.”
            “Our love is bristly and porcine, you smelly, flee-bitten, poopy-eared Commie.”
            “What?” says Steve.
            “Did I say something wrong?” I ask.
            “I’m starting to lose it,” says Steve, presumably referring to his erection and not his sanity.
            “I’m sucking my own toes right now. I’m quite flexible. Limber. I can bend like a reed.”
            “What do your feet taste like?”
            “Sweat and cheese,” I say.
            “Christ,” says Steve.
            “Is that doing it for you?”
            “Come on now, don’t stop.”
            “I wish you were here right now to tickle my feet with a feather. You’d strap me down, and I’d scream, but you’d do it anyway. You’d keep doing it over and over again. I’d be helpless. Tied and bound. You could do anything to me. Anything you can imagine.”
            “Then I’d come on your face,” says Steve.
            “But you’d be a gentleman afterwards and hand me a towel,” I suggest.
            “No I wouldn’t,” says Steve.
            “So you wouldn’t. What could I do? I’d just have to lie there with your wet, hot load all over my face.”
            “Damn,” says Steve. He lets loose a triumphant sigh. “I just filled up a whole fucking sock.”
            “You’re a big man,” I tell him before hanging up, the allotted time having been exhausted. There are different ways of looking at this profession, and I’ve always viewed myself as a great humanitarian, not for the abuse I willingly suffer, but for the aid and relief I give my fellow man. Every caller presents a problem, and together we work toward the same conclusion. The money I make is a pittance that goes to my school books and tuition. It’s the satisfaction of helping people that really gets me going.
            The phone rings again, and I pick up.
            “Hello, Jasmine,” says a liquid smooth voice.
            “What’s your pleasure?” I ask.
            “What’s your real name?” he asks.
            “Roberto,” I reply. “Roberto Gonzalez. I have a fat, sticky mustache and a pot belly, and my favorite food is Old Milwaukee’s Best.”
            “You’re a school girl, aren’t you? You attend Hoover College.”
            “They don’t pay me enough to go to college.”
            “I’d pay you plenty to meet in person.”
            “Like, one-hundred thousand dollars, or like fifty bucks?”
            “I bet you’re from the neighborhood. You probably live in a dilapidated house, or maybe a trailer.”
            “What are you getting at?” I ask.
            “I see patterns wherever I go. It’s very human of me, you know? If I draw a circle and place two Xs equal distance from each other in the middle, and then put a line below, I’d see a face. You’d see a face. The chattel walking the streets would see a face. Isn’t that remarkable?”
            “This is the part where you tell me your credit card information,” I reply. If I was going to listen to weirdness, I was going to be paid for it.
             “But we’re just getting to know one another,” he says. “I bet your name starts with an L. Is it Lisa? Laura? Leo…”
            I hang up the phone before he can finish.
            I go outside for a bit and have a smoke. I smoke Morleys, just like that guy on the X-Files. A cigarette is a relaxing thing, an oral fixation, as Freud would say. It’s a habit I picked up from all the wonderful influences that enveloped me as a child. Mother had a boyfriend that used to breathe smoke into my face. He had a bulbous nose riddled with purple veins, and he always smelled like gasoline. That was back when mother was actually skinny, when her boyfriends were garden variety trailer trash instead of weirdos in love with her fatness. Dale, this one pasty freak who still comes around, spends all of his time feeding her like she is a pet hippopotamus. I wish I made enough money to move out.
            A girl comes out of Cans and starts walking across the street toward me. She’s wearing a tight shirt with a heart emblazoned across her large chest, as well as leather pants and stripper heels. The wind sends her hair flying out behind her, and her arms are crossed, her lips pursed and head down, heels clacking loudly on the empty street. A piece of garbage shoots past her, carried by the breeze, and as she crosses the barren concrete I smell a hint of gasoline and fire, as though somewhere in the near distance a fuel station has exploded.
            “Hey,” she says to me. She’s got a pretty face covered by too much eye-shadow and blush, but hey, what do I know, I’m no makeup expert.
            “Hey,” I say back.
            “Could I have a cigarette?” she asks. I hand her a cigarette. Her fingers are long and end in purple fake nails, so she takes the cigarette delicately, pinching it between fingers and holding it up to her plump lips.
            “God, it’s cold out here, isn’t it?” she says.
            “Yeah. It’s nice to get away from the recycled air, though, especially if you love the smell of diesel.”
            “Candy,” she says, extending her free hand.
            “Leona,” I reply, giving her my own.
            “I work at Cans if you couldn’t guess.”
            “I’m a phone sex operator at Les Adultes.”
            “Oh how is that?”
            “It’s not bad,” I say. “Though sometimes I look across the street and wonder how it is there.”
            “Do you want to dance?” she asks.
            “Hah, no, I don’t think I’d be too good at it,” I reply. “Are the men perfect gentlemen?”
            “Always,” says Candy, revealing perfect pearly white teeth.   
            “The things we do for money. Why stripping instead of waiting tables?”
            “I like being on the stage. It pays better than being a waitress. You don’t have to talk to people, really, or put up with their shit. It’s nice to be wanted. Does that sound weird?”
            “No,” I answer. “Hell, I like talking to weirdos most of the time. It’s hilarious what gets these guys off. There’s dark humor in every orgasm. I think of myself as a comedienne, a jokester, a prankster. But really, I’m helping people. Do you ever feel that?”
            “Yeah,” says Candy.
            “We’re in the orgasm business,” I say.
            “I guess we are,” she replies. “Thanks for the cigarette.”
            I watch her walk back across the street, wondering if I made a new friend.



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