Read Like We Care Online

Authors: Tom Matthews

Like We Care (4 page)

BOOK: Like We Care
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“I was at the game Friday. You should know that the entire faculty intends to see that Hawthorne’s coach is punished severely. That was a blatant shot you took.”

Joel could only shrug. He wondered why he was hearing this from his Social Studies teacher and not his coach, but thus far Coach Timmonds had been a no-show at the hospital. Joel would learn later that Coach Timmonds blamed his star player for losing the finals, questioning why Joel wasn’t anticipating a head shot when pitchers had been coming in tight on him all season. With so much on the line, how could Joel make such a mistake?

“Maybe because I just never figured a kid would try to kill me over a fucking trophy,” Joel thought to himself at the time.

“But you guys had a great season,” Mr. Kolak continued. “You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Thaingsss.”

The silence of the dank hospital room again pressed in on them. Joel fumbled idly with the homework folder that Mr. Kolak had brought.

“It’s real improvement, Joel. You’ve really come a long way this year.”

Joel flipped through the first couple pages, then he stopped uneasily. He held up the fourth page, which was flecked with blood. He looked to his teacher.

“Oh. . .”

Mr. Kolak flustered slightly, but surprised himself by not even considering a dodge. Maybe it was the vulnerability of the student laying before him. Or maybe he was ready to just stop caring.

“Sometimes I hurt myself,” he said softly, holding up his bandaged hand. “Sometimes I think I’m not feeling things the way I used to, so. . .”

His voice trailed off, his confession hanging in the air like a knot of dark secrets.

Joel didn’t know what to say. He was a teenager; he was not schooled in assessing the miserable contents of an adult’s soul.

He fumbled through his homework folder, then looked again to his teacher. He wanted to relieve Mr. Kolak of this awkwardness.

“Uuu know,” he began, fighting to be understood, “iff ah hat ben crotching down tree more intzes, like mah coatses ahways wahn-ned me to, tha ball woulda het me inda tempeh an ahd be det righ nah.”

He looked to Mr. Kolak hopefully.

“I’m sorry. What?”

Joel sighed, frustrated but not angry. The fact was he liked the company. And this was important.

“Iff.
Ah
. Hat. Ben.
Crotching
. . .”

Allah by the Ding-Dongs

T
he oppressor always entered at the sound of a bell.

Whether in the middle of the day, while he shivered in the ice box, restocking the spectacular range of beers and sugary soda pops he sold, or hours before dawn, as he napped in the back room, dreaming of his family and friends so far away, they announced their presence with the muted, harassing
bong
of the electric eye.

Each chime of the bell was like the next round in a prize fight, each customer through the door an intruder to be wary of. If he was lucky, they would stroll his aisles, load up with the snack items and beverages he was pleased to believe were rotting Americans from the inside out, pay his audaciously inflated prices, and get the hell out.

If he was not so lucky, he would be shot dead, like his cousin Nadir in Baltimore just two weeks ago. And his uncle in June. And his brother’s neighbor last year.

A marked man in a turban and a name tag, Daljit Singh took no chances, meeting every face that came through his door with a scowl so terrifying— usually further grizzled by a considerable lack of sleep—that many simply turned and ran. It was a scowl that said, “Feed your addictions. Deliver me your ill-gotten wealth. And flee into the night, you American bastards!”

(His name tag read “Jimmy.” Some genius from the Happy Snack field office had determined early on, when the Sikhs and other brown-skinned races started taking over the franchise market, that a bright, thoroughly Caucasian name tag could actually counteract a portion of the trepidation and outright racism festering at the cash registers of most of their outlets, boosting sales in some sectors by some fraction of a point. In Daljit’s case, however, nervous customers without fail kept their eyes on the transaction being negotiated, never lifting their gaze to Daljit’s chest, and certainly never his eyes. His name tag may as well have read “Carol Channing.” Nobody would notice.)

On weekdays, when the high school was in session, his customers were invariably teenagers, the boys with their fancy cars and their muscled, bully boy swagger, and the girls dressed like whores. They stole from him, made fun of his accent and his inability to speak their awful, lying language. But they had a seemingly endless river of cash, free to spend it on whatever decadent wish they desired, so he endured their deceitful ways.

He sold them their beer, their condoms, and carton upon carton of cigarettes. For a long time, the only English he knew were the numerous brand names, and the accompanying discourse: “Give me the hard box.” “Got any matches?”

The prices kept rising—two dollars, three dollars, four dollars a pack— and yet the pockets of this privileged devil spawn never emptied. He took the money from them happily, and he allowed them to congregate and smoke in his parking lot without hassle, so they wouldn’t be encouraged to go spend it anywhere else. Happy Snack had suggested that, too.

Whatever they wanted, Daljit Singh would sell—even the vile, godless pornography that Happy Snack made him display behind the counter. Daljit could only imagine the hell that awaited these teenage boys—like Todd Noland, standing here before him—for the blasphemies within those pages they no doubt pleasured themselves with.

“Hey, Jimmy,” Todd began, weary yet again to be going through this awkward ritual, just to have something new to masturbate to. He was, of course, well-traveled in all the dank corners of the internet, and had an endless array of perversions available to him at the click of a mouse, but he considered himself to be something of an old school chicken-choker. Besides, he had once ejaculated all over his keyboard, and nearly died of embarrassment trying to explain the accident to his parents so they’d replace it in time to get an extra credit project done in World History.

There was just no substitute for the slick, forbidden pages of an old-fashioned porno rag.

He always felt that a cool, familiar tone made this transaction go down the easiest; just a coupla men of the world here, Todd’s brown-skinned friend probably just as interested as he was in this month’s fifteen-page, full-color lesbo lickathon.

Hence: “Hey, Jimmy.”

Daljit Singh simmered. To hell with the Happy Snack, no one should address him by that accursed name. And yet, because he was about to indulge in one of his favorite forms of amusement, he grunted back almost tolerantly.

“Okay, so I got a Coke here, two packs of gum, a Snickers,” Todd began, seamlessly steering toward the promised land, “and I’ll take one of those
Hustlers
back there.”

Daljit turned and grabbed a phallic pickle-on-a-stick. He kept the display right next to the porno rack for just this purpose.

He forced it upon Todd and started ringing up the sale in one fluid motion.

“No, not the pickle. Next to it.”

Daljit blinked dimly. Todd sighed. Holy
fuck
, could he not find just one girl who would sleep with him and deliver him from this horror?

“The magazine. There!”

Daljit growled, turned again, and came back with the current
Playgirl
. This was his favorite part; he’d flip through the pages, find a steely, circumcised penis waving out at him, and then utter some dark native curse at the homosexual standing before him.

“Blah blah
faggot
blah blah blah,” the Sikh gibberish usually went.

Todd nearly whimpered as an old woman entered the store and headed toward the back. Now it was a race against time.

“No,
Hustler. There!!

Daljit glared at Todd, once again turning to the porno rack. He finally grabbed the
Hustler
and tossed it—cover up—onto the counter as he rang up the sale.

Todd quickly flipped it over, turning again toward the old lady. She was on her way.

Daljit saw her, too. If he timed this just right, he could make an extra $3.50 off this horny boy.

“Thirteen eighty-five.”

Even knowing the gross mark-up of convenience store fare and pud-pulling accessories, Todd recognized that this was too high. He looked at the receipt.

“You charged me for the pickle.”

Whatever English Daljit knew—and the truth was, he knew a lot— seemed suddenly to have left him.

“Eh?”

Todd squirmed. The old lady was almost upon them.

“There! You charged me for—Christ!”

He threw a ten and four ones on the counter, grabbed his goods, and skulked from the store.

Daljit was happy inside, the happiest he’d been all day.

“Do you sell thread?” the old lady asked.

Daljit trained lasers of hate upon her.

“Bread. Aisle two. No squeeze.”

Birdland

“F
ive.

“Four.

“Three.

“Two.

“One.”

“Hey! What-up? Casey Lattimer, rockin’ on through the night, being on the rammer for the third—”

“Cut. From the top.”


Whatever. . .

“Five.

“Four.

“Three.

“Two.

“One.”

“What-up, y’all? Casey Lattimer, rockin’ on here wit ya, being on the rammer for the third straight—”

“Cut!” the voice cried impatiently from the booth. “Christ, Casey, read the fucking line.”

“Dude, I’m reading right off the fucking PrompTer.”

“You said ‘being on the rammer.’ Twice. Does that make any sense to you?”

“It’s on the fucking PrompTer, dude!”

This was not cool. With scores of dopey-eyed teens pressed against the glass, watching Casey Lattimer tape his “live” video intros in R
2
Rev’s Manhattan studios, it would not do for the network’s star veejay to betray the stoned, mellow-assed persona the creative team had spent so much time crafting.

Hutch watched from the shadows, curious to see how his newest star would handle himself, knowing it was just a matter of time before they had to free Casey from the safe-to-tape confines of the studio and set him loose as a functioning audience interactive. It was the flaw in Hutch’s good fortune, the greasy spot on his high-wire, that so much of his success depended on the on-camera skills of borderline mongoloids.

“If it’s on the fucking PrompTer, I say the fucking words. If you don’t want the fucking words coming out of my fucking mouth, then get fucking someone to fix the fucking PrompTer!”

Hutch looked to the kids gathered outside the studio on this Tuesday afternoon. Intoxicated at being so close to an actual TV celebrity, they nevertheless were squirming uncomfortably at the hint that bad vibes were seeping into their fantasy world.

Everything was shiny on R
2
Rev; everybody was
down.
Hutch could practically read it on one chubby girl’s anguished face: Are there bad vibes at R
2
Rev, just like out here in the real world? Do they hate each other here, just like my mom and dad?

Hutch stepped onto the heated studio floor, putting a supportive hand on Casey’s shoulder as he squinted at his stage crew beyond the lights.

“How about it, Neal? Do we need to make some changes around here to make sure that the TelePrompTer is set properly for the talent?”

The disembodied voice of Neal, the long-suffering floor director, absorbed yet another loss in the battle of “talent” versus common-fucking-sense. “We’re on it, Hutch. Won’t happen again.”

“Come here,” Hutch said to his star, wanting to get him away from the scrutiny of the teens outside. But first, some damage control. “Give ’em one.”

As programmed, Casey cast off his dark mood, turned to the throng with a taunting leer, and laid his trademark on them: both middle fingers, raised rigidly. Twin totems of maximum bad boy-ness.


Fuck you!
” his trademark said. “I’m in here, drawing a nice paycheck for selling you the darkest, most cynical load of crap we can come up with, while you’re out there shivering in the cold instead of getting an education that might actually make you smart enough to see through this scam.

“But just in case you fail to grasp the true terms of our relationship, here’s a genial ‘
FUCK YOU!
’”

(Somewhere tucked into a lightless corner of the control room was an NYU film school grad, whose sole job was to work within the 30-second tape delay to digitally blur any offending fingers before they were beamed to the world. Twice in the net’s brief life, they had failed and the network had been fined. Hutch kept the toothless FCC complaints framed behind his desk.)

Thrilled and flattered, the gathered gumheads saluted back in kind, already looking forward to the envious looks on the faces of friends somewhere else when an actual TV personality told them to go fuck themselves.

“Fuck
you!
” their frozen middle fingers replied. “Fuck all of us! Goddamn, aren’t we something, out here with our
attitudes
and our middle fingers all up in the air like this!”

Casey basked in their adoration, extending his arms to their limit, willing his middle fingers to reach even greater heights of outrageousness: Fuck
yoooouuuuuu!!!!!!!

This could go on all day. Hutch finally led Casey to a dark corner of the studio.

“It still works, dude,” Casey beamed.

“Look—”

“Hey, I saw Dr. Poon flippin’ off his crew on ‘Rap Slap’ last night. Tell the nigger—”


Hey.
” Hutch almost never took a harsh tone with the talent. “How many times do I have to tell
you
that you can’t call them ‘niggers’? I can’t, and you can’t. That’s
their
thing.”

“Whatever. Tell the man that the flippin’ off is
mine
. Grabbin’ his dick, that works for him. He can grab all he wants, the fuck do I care? But I got to the finger first.”

“Do you mind? We’re on the clock here.” Hutch softened his tone, knowing there were several mucky layers to penetrate here. “Look, you
have
to go over what’s on the PrompTer before the tape rolls. That’s your job.”

BOOK: Like We Care
10.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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