How is it I always end up like this? All my life, no matter what I do, where I am, I end up stranded somewhere. When I was twelve I had a baseball game on the other side of the city. A mean part of the town. I rode with a friend, but before I left, my Mom handed me a piece of paper with her cell number on it. “If anything happens, you need a ride, call me Bill.” So we're playing these kids, who are really just street thugs, and a riot of sorts breaks out in the stands. My team up and leaves. I'm desperately trying to find my friend and his Mom. During the riot, I get get pushed out of the park. I end up on the streets going west instead of east to my neighborhood. The thing is while playing, I lost that paper. By this time my mom had decided not to have a house phone. While walking through the roughest side of town, I almost end up out of city limits and a cop picks me up. Luckily he found my house by my infantile directions.
Several times I've been stranded. A date left me in Dutch town, Pennsylvania. I wont even go into that. In college I was left behind in a bar in New york drunk and only wearing a loin cloth. I wont go into that, either.
And now I'm stuck in the desert in the middle of an Arabic country whose name I can't pronounce. Billy, you are a shithead.
I followed Emily here. She wanted to see the middle east. I wanted to get in her pants. Once I did, I couldn't get rid of her. Plus the girl is loaded. I left college and my Mom is sick of caring for me. “Get a job,” My Mom told me. A job? Nothing could be more mundane. I met Emily at a friend's party.
And here I am.
The fucking desert with sand between my toes.
Emily said she wanted to shop in street markets. I said it was boring. So I went to the local tavern(?) bar(?) saloon(?)...whatever they call it.
I was sitting there drinking a beer....that's what they call beer? Camel piss I believe. It burned my throat. I nearly puked it up. A big burly guy came over to my table. He spoke broken English, a hybrid of Ebonics and middle earth (Tolkien fans way out here?)
We were talking and he was buying all kinds of drinks. I barely remember the time, but man, they knocked me out. I hazily remember feeling hands inside my pockets. I'm certain he got me wasted to roll me. When I did come to, I was laying between legs sitting at my table.
The worst hangover I ever had. I stumbled to the bar and asked the bartender what just happened, where my friend went. He ignored me. Finally, In his language I know he told me he didn't know English. That was lie.
It was night and I hadn't seen Emily at that bar yet. She told me she'd meet me there. I went over to a Jukebox. At least I thought it was a Jukebox. I don't know, maybe the damn thing was a slot machine. It only had three buttons, and under those three buttons were nameplates written in Arabic.
Shit on it. I thought. If I had a coin maybe I could win back some that Arabic Mickey mouse money.
I spoke to the bartender who was in the middle of closing up. He tried to ignore me.
“Hey buddy,” I told him. “My girl's parents are high up in American government doing business here. If I tell them you had a hand in that guy stealing my money, you'll be in deep shit.”
He lowered his head. “That machine broken, G.I .Joe.” G.I. Joe? I didn't even look like a fucking soldier. “Don't try it.”
I threatened him again. He sighed, flipped me a coin. He cursed me in his language. “Get out of my joint!” He screamed.
I ran to the machine and pushed the oversized coin in the slot. I pushed the first button.
Everything went black.
When I came to, I was on lying a linoleum floor with Emily and her parents staring at me.
“Are you alright?” Emily asked.
Her parents were standing over me, looking bewildered.
“Did he just faint?” Her Mother said.
“He just fainted...dropped like a cow being slaughtered.” Her Father said.
“What in the world is the matter with you, Billy? This is no time for jokes,” Emily told me.
“Especially when Emily is pregnant,” Her Mother scolded me.
“Come on, son. I know it's a shocker. But you have to buck up...be a man.” Her Father helped me to my feet.
Emily grabbed my arm and whisked me to the living room. “So it's settled. Dinner at Old Tom's Cabin,” Emily grabbed her coat and her parents were pushing me forward out the door and into their Lincoln.
I was confused. One moment I was in an Arabic bar putting a coin in a slot machine(or a Jukebox). The next minute I'm eating dinner with Emily and her parents discussing children and our future. I had to get out of there. I was being forced into a life I didn't want. I excused myself. I left them talking about diaper rashes and epidermal.
I headed for the bathroom. Through the hallway, I passed an old man in his seventies making out with a woman with dyed blond hair in her seventies. I felt sick to my stomach.
I pushed open the bathroom door and saw it was empty. I thanked God for being good to me at that time. Then I cursed him after I found out the toilet I just puked in didn't flush. I went to the sink washed my face. In the mirror I stared back t a young man with the first few strands of gray hair on a cow lick that used to blond. For fuck's sake, I thought. As I examined the gray hairs, I saw in the background that slot machine had appeared. I swear to you, it had just appeared out of thin air. I know on my way to the stalls I didn't pass it.
I sighed, looking at the buttons. Still the nameplates above the button were in Arabic. Just by coincidence, I reached into my pocket and found a coin. I heard Emily's voice. She was calling to me. Quickly, I pushed the coin into the slot and slapped a middle button.
Everything went black.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw a great many people dressed in their best holding handkerchiefs to wet eyes. A casket lay on a platform at the far end of the room. The woman who had placed her hand on my shoulder whispered in my ear. “I'm sorry,Billy,” She said. “If there's anything...” She let her words trail off.
I nodded and stood from the pew. I made my way through a sea of people to the casket. All of them touching my arm, spreading their condolences. I saw Rev. white on the stage, fixing the microphone. He looked me, bowed his head. I flashed an uneasy smile. Then I looked down.
I saw my Mother lying there in that casket. To say I didn't handle the affair very well is an understatement. I began shouting all kinds of ugly words. Screaming obscenities at the top of my lungs. I was weeping angrily. I nearly knocked the casket over kicking at everything around it.
Someone grabbed me. I don't remember who, but they dragged me from the platform. I was howling like a wounded animal. Passing by the Rev. White, he begged me to get a hold of myself. I cursed and spat at him.
A woman was prying my mouth open and forcing a pill in, followed by some liquid. A few seconds later I felt much calmer. My legs were floating in warm water. If I had paid more attention I would've realized I was lying on a bed in a room in the back of the church. Rev. White's study, I believe. There were shelves all around loaded with books and a desk with notebooks scattered. I felt wonderful. So calm...but so sad.
I closed my eyes. Sleep was inevitable.
When I awoke, hours had passed. I forced my tired body off the bed. I walked out of the Church study to where my Mom's funeral was being held. Everyone was gone except Rev. White. He was sitting at a pew, reading. He had removed his tie and coat. He didn't look so stern as I remember being a kid listening to his sermons.
He looked up at me. Closed his book. He was reading one of the books from True Blood series.
I questioned him on that. “I do read things other than scripture,” He told me. “I am human, Billy, in spite of what others in my profession claim. How are you doing now?”
“Better than before. Sorry about that,” I said.
Rev. White waved a hand. “Don't worry about it. It's not the worst anyone has ever done. What are your plans now, Billy.”
“My Dad is going to sell the house. It's weird. They were a lot nicer to each other after the divorce. I don't know. I guess I'll follow Emily to the middle east...some country I can't pronounce the name.”
Rev. White stood, shook my hand. “I hope you find what you're looking for, Billy. Good bye.”
“Thank you. Good luck with that book,” I told him. He smiled, left the Church through the back door.
I sat on a pew., sighed.
I stood there in that Arabic tavern, staring at that slot machine (or was it a vending machine.) with my finger ready to push one of three buttons. “What the hell do any of them say?”
I was referring to the nameplates above the buttons. An old Arabic man in a powder blue evening jacket approached me. He smiled, shook his head.
“Something funny?” I asked him.
“Yes,” He said in a low voice. “These buttons—you ask. The first one,” He pointed. “Is confusion. The second, is sadness. The third is happiness.”
I cut my eyes at him. “Are you kidding me?” He shrugged, went to the bar, ordered a drink in his own language. I pushed the coin through the slot. “Here goes nothing,” I said and pressed the third button.
Everything went black.
I awoke with a mouth full of sand. I sat up, felt nothing but dry heat and the worst sunburn I've ever had on my face. I stood, looked around. There was nothing but desert behind me, or in front of me for miles.
Happiness. Solitude. Happiness. Loneliness. Happiness. Sand between my toes. Happiness.
Who the fuck would've thought this was it.