My girlfriend bought me a Prada shirt.
She’s rich. I’m not.
About my girlfriend’s looks because that’s always the question after, How rich is she? No supermodel if you get my meaning. Her hair rests on her shoulders and is the exact color of the micro-brew I puked up on a weekend bender: beer-binge blond. At one angle my girlfriend looks girly. She has a bright smile and a perky nose with little freckles, but at another angle, she looks like Tim Deedle, a femmy ginger I knew in high school who licked his palm and collected his zit puss in a candy tin. I like to sit on my girlfriend’s right side in restaurants to catch her girly side because I don’t like the thought that I’m on a date with Tim Deedle. My girlfriend always asks why I sit to her right. “It’s just a thing with me,” I tell her.
My girlfriend has more money than I will make in my entire lifetime–one hundred lives. She’s ambitious and self-made. The handbag boutique, which bears her name in New York, Tokyo and Milan, sold for $45 million. That’s a lot of money, but not enough money to get someone killed and get away with it. Not that she wants someone killed—just saying.
My girlfriend lives in a penthouse flat that overlooks the West River. My toothbrush is in her bathroom and is paying rent in ways that don’t involve money. She has space in her closet for the clothes she buys me: rows of shirts on wooden hangers, some Prada, some D&G, some still in fancy shopping bags, but nothing from The GAP. I like The GAP.
The Prada shirt she gave me is too tight. One day at a coffee place, a hot, Euro girl with long, dark hair and sleek legs told me that it looked cool on me, and then she asked in a Czech accent if I had time to hang and eat biscotti. Her name was Elka. Sure, I wanted to say, but my girlfriend was waiting for me at her place, and I was running late and felt guilty because I was wearing the Prada shirt she gave me. My girlfriend wouldn’t mind if I were late, but I figured she’d smell Elka on me, and then what would I do? Probably have to look for a new girlfriend.
After a first few weeks together, my girlfriend asked if she could be my girlfriend. “If it makes you happy,” I said. I’m only telling you that my girlfriend is my girlfriend. To anyone else, I say, “She’s just a girl I’m seeing.”
My girlfriend has a mind for details.
My girlfriend tells everyone about the day we met and the box. The one she signed for from Milan, on a Tuesday. It was the 17th she’ll say, outside her downtown Flagship store, the exact spot: a patch of sidewalk with a dove scribed into it. She’ll also add that the temperature was in the low 70°s, and the clouds were fluffy in a periwinkle sky (periwinkle, her word not mine.) I work for FedEx. I deliver 400 parcels a week. It’s a blur of orange and purple, so no way do I remember the package, but I tell her I do.
My girlfriend uses too much hairspray.
I don’t like the smell of hairspray.
My girlfriend is blind to my shortcomings. I overeat and have gas, though I do have good biceps and a tight stomach. My girlfriend says I have a God-given ass and a hockey player’s face. About my eyes: periwinkle. My driver’s license says, blue. I say blue.
Sometimes in my south side apartment, I’ll eat a head of iceberg lettuce over the sink with a bottle of Thousand Island dressing, a microwave burrito is good too, but the best is pizza with a cold beer or cold pizza with a beer but never warm beer and cold pizza. My girlfriend doesn’t know about this habit, which is good because she might consider it a shortcoming.
Sometimes my girlfriend has fishy breath.
We were going out a while when my birthday came up, and a bunch of cellophane balloons arrived at dispatch with happy faces and stars, and one single, heart-shaped red one, which I took as an expression of love. Barney, the fat Samoan I work for started to give me all kinds of guff like pursing his lips and rubbing himself down there. So I stuffed them in the truck before the other guys on the shift could see them because if Stew—a guy who most women categorize as a pig—got wind, he’d tape pictures from porno magazines inside my truck with nasty messages signed with my girlfriend’s fake signature.
Later, I popped the balloons with a pocketknife, and they went limp. I tossed them in a dumpster in the alley behind Morgan Stanley after my drop. That afternoon, over the phone, I made a big deal about how great they were.
Later that night, in a restaurant with waiters all in black, and things on the menu like truffles and escarole, my girlfriend gave me a birthday card. It had a picture of a tropical island in the middle of glass-blue water. Inside she wrote: We’re going snorkeling! Happy Birthday, Love, Your Girlfriend!
Weeks later, she took me on an all-expense paid vacation to the Caribbean. We flew first class and stayed at a luxury resort made up like a Spanish fortress. Beautiful, tan people in yellow Polo shirts and white shorts served us curried lobster on the beach as the sun set in shades of red I had never seen before.
A few days after our arrival, we snorkeled around an atoll off Antigua. The gold Rolex my girlfriend gave me as a gift glinted under the water. I freaked when a Barracuda swam up to me to take a peek. Ever see a barracuda up close? This one: six feet long with spiky teeth. I spread my arms and legs and made myself big. Reef fish scattered in a shot of red and yellow. Then I screamed into my snorkel and gave the Barracuda the finger. It swam off slowly.
I followed my girlfriend through the bubble-blue water along the north side of the reef. The cellulite on the back of her thighs smoothed and her skin looked iridescent and youthful like it was fresh-born at eighteen. She kicked her legs, and her fins brushed up clouds on the ocean floor, and her hair pumped like the jellyfish, which minutes later, stung her arm. On the beach, I sucked on her welt, and she kissed my ear and said her arm still hurt. I told her that peeing on it would make it better. I think I heard that somewhere. We went behind a bush, and I cleared the coconut husks and knelt down. She knelt and lowered her arm. Then I let go.
“Feel better,” I asked.
“No, not really,” she said. “You sure about this?”
I pulled my suit up.
“Sorry,” I said, sheepishly. Then my girlfriend placed her hand behind my neck and pulled me close. I could taste the ocean on her tongue when she kissed me. It was a hot moment except for the dripping wet, fifty-something couple in scuba masks and orange fins standing a few feet away. They asked if we wanted to swing later that night back at the resort. I shouted into the man’s giant husk of a stomach. “No!”
The last night, we tried to do it on a secluded part of the beach in the warm trade winds, but sand kept getting into our privates. It was more painful than hot, so we ditched it and walked up and down the jetty with a flashlight pointed down in the water looking for nocturnal reef fish. A shark glided below the moonlight surface. “Whoa,” I said. “No skinny dipping tonight.” So we did it on the jetty under stars that looked like hot coals stuck in the sky. It was good until the steel drums began to play, “Oops! …I did it Again.”
A month later, for my girlfriend’s birthday, I wrote her a poem. It began with If you were a beer... That night, when the city lights were shining, I knelt on one knee in her penthouse flat, which overlooks the West River, and read it sincerely. She ooffed off a puppy sigh and then she attacked me with all her sex. Man, did I give it to her. Man, did she give it back.
Afterward, my girlfriend rubbed my back in bed and massaged me in the same spot until my skin became irritated. Her hands are tiny, and her nails are French manicured. We watched ultimate fighting on her 60” 4K TV. I’m considering ultimate fighting, but splitting time between work and her, and the gym, well, something’s got to give. She got hot watching it and put her hand down on herself. Then her hand went down on my private, and she suggested that she’d like to experience one of the submission holds that the ultimate fighter was doing on the tube.
“Really?” I asked.
“Really,” she said.
So I buried her neck between my forearms and squeezed gently. Like that, she passed out and was limp for like ten seconds. I freaked and shook her, and tapped her gooey face. Her eyes were slits, and when she came too, she shoved her tongue into me and went wild. “That was hot!” she proclaimed. She suggested a second round. What happens if she passes out, I thought, and falls out of bed and rams her head on the nightstand, and bleeds all over her 1,000 thread count sheets, and needs seventy-four stitches? Would that be hot? To the paramedics, maybe.
My girlfriend drives a silver Ferrari. I drive a red ‘95 Ford Mustang. They do the same thing, but sex is better in her Ferrari. My girlfriend makes me drive. I feel like an A-hole driving her car. She doesn’t see the A-hole in the driver’s seat next to her. She sees me. I don’t see me. I see the A-hole in the driver’s seat that people grope at as I pull past them on the highway, but I won’t argue with the stares from young girls. The Ferrari is a convertible. My girlfriend drives with the top down. It’s bad for the leather, I tell her, you should leave the top up. What’s the point of owning a convertible, she asks? Would you leave your living room furniture out in the sun, I say? But it’s her car.
My girlfriend has a custom perfume made for her. It’s made of exotic things like patchouli, sandalwood, and mint. If only I could bottle you, she says.
I have B.O.
We did it one night, and in the morning, when the sky came up gray and ferries crossed the river, I watched my girlfriend sleep. She wasn’t an angel in slumber but instead, bloated and ratty with her hair still poisoned in hairspray. Usually, my girlfriend sleeps. I snore. I snore, and she can’t sleep. My girlfriend lies awake for hours until she rolls me on my stomach to stop my snoring, and then she sleeps. My girlfriend never complains about my snoring. I woke her later that morning. She wanted to sleep. My breath was rotten as sun-warmed cheese. “Let’s get some coffee,” I said. My girlfriend groaned and kissed my stinking lips before she slid out of bed. Then we went for coffee.
My girlfriend talks until my brain drifts into another potential girlfriend, one who may not be rich but is prettier, maybe Elka.
At the coffee place, I saw Elka, who saw me and looked away. I wanted to talk to her but my girlfriend was with me, plus my breath still smelled like bad cheese, and even I know that’s not a turn on, so Elka and I went on like perfect strangers.
I cringe when Barney and Stew tell me I could get rich easily. “You marry her,” I tell them. They cup themselves down there and say, “F-in’ A! Give me her number.”
“Check it out,” I tell them. “We go to a movie, you know the funny one with the guy with the fake leg, and there’s this scene where he uses a piano leg in place of his real one and every time he takes a step it plays Mozart. So he takes a step, and she laughs really loud.”
“So,” they say.
“Only it’s not a regular laugh,” I say. “She whinnies like a horse, and everyone turns around and looks at us. How can I marry a girl I can’t take to a funny movie?”
The story is always the same: “Dude, she can horselaugh, fart, bitch, and smell like ass, and I’d marry her,” Stew says. “Yeah,” I say, “but she horselaughs, and could you take that for the rest of your life?”
“For $45 mil, I can take anything,” he says. Then I say, “It all looks good on paper, doesn’t it, Stew?” Then Stew rubs his privates and makes kissy sounds.
On top of the shirt, my girlfriend bought me Prada jeans. They’re too tight for my thighs and too low cut for my hips. I wear them to please her, but when I bend over my ass crack shows. Levi’s fit me better. I guess this is designer wear for you. She wants me to wear thong underwear. Somehow, I’m not too excited about this. I never mention this detail to Barney and Stew.
My girlfriend likes steak. I like steak. So we’re one for one.
My girlfriend counts the days we’ve been together: 327, she says. In her flat, she lights candles for each day we’ve been together. It looks like the vigil in a Catholic church, which makes me think of my great grandmother with her facial mole and missing pinky finger hunched over in her black widow’s dress lighting a candle for my great grandfather who made wine in his basement and ran around with cheap whores. “I’ll stop at 500,” she says. Some nights it takes a half hour to light them all. I watched one night as she leaned over each one very carefully with one of those plastic auto-lighters. Afterward, the whole room glowed hot orange. Then she put on goofy soft jazz, and wanted to get crazy with all her sex but complained that there was too much light. The tiny flames had me thinking about fire codes and exit strategies and church, which circled back to my great grandmother’s mole and missing pinky, which was a real woody killer.
“It’s okay baby,” my girlfriend said, rubbing my back. “Maybe tonight’s not your night. We’ll spoon instead.”
I don’t like to spoon.
One evening around seven, after our birthdays were months gone, I saw Elka again at the coffee place. She smiled, and I smiled back, and we reconnected with small talk about how the domed tops of plastic coffee cups look lame. My girlfriend was waiting for me, so I had to go—what else was new? Later that night when my girlfriend and I were using all our sex together, Elka popped into my head. I felt guilty about this, so I thought about my great grandmother again, and that did the trick. I remained limp, and my girlfriend was beginning to wonder if I had any sex left for her.
“Are you okay,” she asked?
“Yes,” I said. “Why don’t we talk? I like when we talk.”
“Okay,” she said, “We’ll talk and spoon.”
I don’t like to talk and spoon. So we spooned, and she talked and talked about how she misses her business and how the morons at the mega-conglomerate were screwing up her company, and what did they know about handbags anyway, and all the while my mind was playing panky with Elka.
The weekend came, and my sister visited me from Chicago. Saturday afternoon my girlfriend and she went to the spa together. When we met up at the restaurant for dinner, they strolled to the booth with fancy new handbags (my girlfriend’s) and shiny faces and laughed in the way punch-drunk slumber party girls do before sunrise.
“You guys are late,” I said.
I knew it was over when my girlfriend began to braid my sister’s hair after we ordered. I didn’t care for the fact that the two became BFFs—pressure.
Later that evening at my apartment, my sister tore into me, her words laden with disgust.
“She’s a perfect ten!” she said, her hands out wide. “What are you waiting for?”
“Perfect?” I said. Suppose the dumb look on my face set her off.
“Fine.” She snapped. “Die single. Wait a minute. Are you really my brother or some guy impersonating a dick?”
I couldn’t argue with that.
The day after Thanksgiving, that crazy Friday where people go into shopping convulsions, I changed the light switch in my girlfriend’s bedroom to a dimmer, cleared crap out of the showerhead aerator screen, and patched a gouge in her living room wall that the movers accidentally made after they rammed it with a $50,000 sculpture of a giant toy jack. I wore my tool belt with my best tools, and my girlfriend rewarded my effort with all her sex.
Then I put up Christmas lights.
Christmas week came, and there was Elka again at the coffee place, looking particularly delicious in her furry hooded coat and razor jeans. I was ready to make my move because I became tired of the horse laughing and the fish breath, of the constant yapping and smell of hairspray, and my inability to act on the hot girls who stared when I drove my girlfriend’s Ferrari. We struck up a conversation, and I got her laughing with my joke about the astronaut who tries to order a pizza from the space shuttle.
So we sat down at a café table as we should have months ago and drank coffee and ate biscotti. Elka turned out to be from Prague, which I found sexy. She came over to study chemistry with a minor in political science, and that’s when I thought I hit the jackpot because she was brainy and sexy, you know, the holy grail of chickdom. I dug watching her eat biscotti, how each bite began with a little crunch and ended with pursed lips when she chewed. I stared at her, which I think made her uncomfortable, me all sappy-eyed, but she stared back, and there was this moment when everything around me became fuzzy, and light, and happy.
It was Christmas time, and the weather was cold and damp, and I was working my arms hard with the 900 packages a week. It was also the season where little viruses from places like some duck farm in China arrive in the city via the cheap seats on Cathay Pacific. It was sudden, the pukey feeling, and those bits of biscotti started to churn inside my caffeinated gut. It was only minutes before I felt hot and sweaty and I could no longer think of Elka in all her perfection because the impulse to hurl like I did on that weekend beer binge became overwhelming. I think Elka realized my discomfort because she furrowed her brow.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Yes, no,” I said. “Yes, fine.”
I excused myself politely and headed to the can. There was a guy ahead of me in a slick, Stock Exchange suit shifting his weight impatiently and hemming and hawing and we both agreed that the dude in the toilet ahead of us should have been paying rent for the amount of time he was spending in there. The suit guy knocked.
“Do your business and get the hell out!” he said.
“No crap!” I said, super desperate because my head was boiling and my gut was gathering up like a tsunami. I poked my head past the corner and glanced at Elka, who smiled back with a look of concern. My heart raced. I forced a smile and raised my index finger and mouthed one minute, and that’s when a mess of nasty stuff exploded from me with the power of Texas oil well.
Elka’s eyes went wide, and she grabbed her furry coat and came running toward me. I thought she was going to help me to my feet, grab a few napkins, you know, wet them down with the pitcher of ice water on the condiments counter and wipe my mouth, but instead, she cut a hard right and ran out the door. I had an after-puke moment of relief, and the last thing I remember, through my embarrassment, was her shapely rear end and the brand name on her jeans pocket–Prada.
The city was cold, the winter night had set in, and it was as if the voices around me were mashed up like hip-hop played backward through a tube. It took all I had to hail a taxi. I slid across the vinyl seat and pressed my face against the cold window and eked out the address to my girlfriend’s place. In my haze, I swear I saw winged monkeys, and fluorescent orange pinwheels, and ghostly images of Elka in utter disgust. Then there were the potholes along 45th, which felt like a ball peen hammer to my skull. It seemed as if it was a day later when the cabbie pulled up to my girlfriend’s building. I had lost all sense of time.
The doorman looked at me like, God man, and put his hand under my arm and helped me to the elevator. I shivered, and my teeth chattered all the way to the 30th floor. The elevator pinged, and I dragged myself to the door of my girlfriend’s spacious flat overlooking the West River.
“Oh my god!” my girlfriend said.
I fell into her arms.
She helped me to the sofa and covered me with blankets she made warm in the clothes dryer. I slept there until she woke me with some homemade chicken broth and Saltines, and spoon-fed me with tiny scoops. She held vigil all night, checking my temperature, putting her cool hand on my forehead, always changing the blankets for warm ones as I sweated through her cotton cocoon. I heaved and heaved, and my girlfriend was right there, wiping my mouth with a wet cloth, cleaning vomit off the bathroom floor when my aim went off, carrying me back to the sofa without complaint.
The night crawled on like sludge filtering its way through a sewer. I saw winged monkeys again, and gunpowder flashes behind my eyes, and Elka’s branded ass mocking me on its way out the door without pity. Seriously, I wanted to die. I couldn’t move. My voice became a pathetic groan. And then it happened. Perhaps it was a moment of clarity, the eye of the hurricane so to speak, but somewhere in the pit of delirium I realized a few things: Hockey is really just a metaphor for making babies, that I’d rather be staring at a Barracuda’s teeth under the warm waters of the Caribbean than be sick in winter and that Elka, sexy Czech Elka, wasn’t as hot as I believed.
But above of all, I came to realize that I don’t deserve the person closest to me: the person who was at my side that night with good words and a comforting hand. The girlfriend of all girlfriends.